The Shattering of the Mask 25
See part 1 for disclaimer
The V'tx'n prime regarded the distraught alien with pity. Since his government had been at pains to explain their own attitude towards suicide before accepting his request to descend to the planet, he knew that this 'Chakotay' was serious in his intent. However, in view of his own personal beliefs in the sanctity of life, he felt it was incumbent on him to try to convince the alien to accept another option before his ship left V'tx'n space.
"Since, despite your knowledge of the events that occurred, you have no actual memories of your behaviour during your illness, can you not find a way to reconcile the knowledge of what you did?" he asked gently.
Chakotay shuddered, but he knew he had to give the V'tx'n a response. He had already been through this with both Kathryn and Tuvok and had wrested their reluctant acceptance of his choice, so he knew that the V'tx'n, who unlike Tuvok and Kathryn had no reason to care for him at all, would accept his reasoning and allow him to die.
It would, of course, have been simpler to have merely put a phaser to his forehead, but the same beliefs that demanded his death also demanded the manner of it. There were rituals he must perform of cleansing and atonement before he offered himself to the judgment of the Spirits.
He understood that his decision to die on this Alien world was causing consternation to its inhabitants and he was truly sorrowful for the trouble that he was causing them. Performing the rituals on Voyager would have been far more difficult though, and at least this way Tom would never know the decision that he had made.
Chakotay could not even begin to understand what courage it had taken the pilot to allow him to stay on board, he was certainly not willing to throw Tom's attempt at mercy back in his face by publicly taking his life.
This way, at least, Tom Paris would believe that he was safe and alive somewhere. Why the pilot would even care about his livelihood was beyond Chakotay's understanding, but he had harmed him enough without blatantly refusing Tom's offer of forgiveness.
"It does not matter whether I remember what I did, or whether I was responsible for my actions at the time," he told the V'tx'n official. "It was these hands that struck the blows, this body that assaulted, this mouth that abused. This body I am imprisoned in is guilty of those crimes."
"Yet, surely, this pain is in your mind, and your mind is not guilty," the V'tx'n told him.
"Oh yes it is," Chakotay whispered.
Chakotay knew about the Cardassian pathogen. It was no excuse. It had, perhaps, caused parts of his mind that would otherwise have remained forever dormant to emerge and take control, but had those evil possibilities not lurked within his brain, then even the disease could not have brought them to life.
The pathogen had removed his conscience and morals, it had stripped him of the ability to have caring or guilt or remorse. It had allowed him to act in a way so immoral and cruel that it was beyond his comprehension to even visualize some of the things that he had apparently done. It had made him into a monster.
Yet, that monster was born of him.
He had not been possessed by an alien being who had used his body for its own nefarious purposes. The person who had abused Tom Paris was himself. A monstrous creature created out of the darkness that lurked inside his own soul. Born of fear and shame and frustration in the wake of his inadvertent murder of the Bajoran Simon.
The blood of an innocent near-child was on his hands, and then he had added to that burden of sin with an eight-year campaign of terror against Tom Paris, culminating in three months of such bizarre and inhuman cruelty that it was a miracle that Tom hadn't simply curled himself into a traumatised ball and refused to ever emerge again.
It didn't matter whether he would never have consciously chosen to do the terrible things that he did. That excuse was no more valid than if he had gotten himself drunk and then raped or attacked someone. If the capacity for the cruelty were not inside him, then he would not have been affected in that way by the Cardassian drug.
He said as much to the V'tx'n who argued the point, saying that *everyone* carried the capacity for evil as well as good.
"Surely your burden of guilt over this situation proves in itself that you are ultimately a good man, Chakotay. Even your own people found it impossible to pass judgment upon you. Look at how they tried to refuse your request to come here and die."
"They did not understand at first. They thought that my decision was based on the fact that I felt unable to live with the guilt of what I had done."
"It is not?" the V'tx'n asked.
"It is," Chakotay acknowledged. "It is more than that though. I am not such a coward that I would run from punishment. If I had been sentenced to a lifetime in the brig or to corporal punishment for my actions I would have accepted that punishment before this ritual. I would still have ultimately have performed it though. This is not about reparation for my crimes or even the fact that I cannot bear to live with the knowledge of what I have done. It is a spiritual necessity for me. I must release my spirit from this mortal body and face the judgment of the Great Spirit for my actions."
"I do not believe you, Chakotay," the V'tx'n Prime said mildly. "This is what you said to your crewmate Tuvok, because his people share this belief that ritual suicide is an honorable choice. This is what you said to your Captain because the laws of Starfleet itself prevent her from interfering in your spiritual beliefs. I know this because I spoke with them at length before agreeing that you might come down to our planet.
"Personally, I see only a man who wishes to run from the burden of his own pain and grief into the oblivion of death. Surely your responsibility was to your victim. Was not the bravery of Tom Paris in allowing you to stay aboard, worthy itself of you facing the burden of your own guilt? If he could forgive you, could you not in time have learned to forgive yourself?"
"I love him," Chakotay replied.
The V'tx'n Prime closed his eyes in sorrow. In those three words understanding lay. For an obviously honorable creature such as this alien was, the knowledge of what he had done would have been haunting and terrible whoever his victim had been, but to have done it to the person that he loved was beyond his ability to live with.
"I understand," he murmured. "It will be as you wish."
"Thank you," Chakotay said softly, and waited until the V'tx'n left his room before he allowed himself the indulgence of tears.
He could not remember any of the incidents that the medical file had suggested. At first his immediate reaction had been complete disbelief and he had accessed Tom's medical files to cross-reference. It had been the catalogue of Tom's injuries that had convinced him. Tom hadn't been subjected to a brutal rape as everyone had told him.
Tom's injuries went back years. Layer upon layer of scar-tissue hid year upon year of abuse from the first day that he himself had apparently arranged for Tom to be captured by Starfleet in the knowledge that all Maquis were automatically sent to the maximum security penitentiary in Auckland. He had read Tuvok's report on the mind-meld with himself and then had accessed the security records of Ayala, Dalby and Smith for the details of their confession.
He disregarded all mention of the way that they had apparently manipulated him towards mutiny. He was disinterested in that. He was interested only in discovering why a monster like himself was still walking freely around Voyager.
He discovered the details of his implant and the lesser monitoring device in Tom.
And then, finally, he had read Kathryn's confidential notes on her on-going counseling of Tom Paris. He read her horrified diatribe about the way that Tom had been so brainwashed by his abuse that Tom now thought Chakotay was the only person who could "cure" him.
It explained everything. Tom's terror of him. The way he had acted in the turbolift and the mess hall. The way Tom had sunk to his knees in abject submission when he had slapped him to get the knife. It even explained Tom's need to keep calling by his office everyday despite the fact that he was always white with terror as he came.
Just as Tom had been using the knife to punish himself for "allowing" the abuse, now Tom was using Chakotay as the knife to cut himself with. Daily he had been going to Chakotay's office with the express purpose of punishing himself with a dose of pure terror.
The realisation had horrified him. The fact that he had borne feelings of sexual attraction for Tom during those visits horrified him even more.
What if subconsciously he had "wanted" to do it? There *had* been times in his life, during his long lonely years of enforced celibacy, that he had seen someone and had fantasized about them. Had even once or twice dreamt of *making* someone love him back.
He knew that everyone had the occassional fantasy that they were ashamed of, but he hadn't just fantasized, had he? He'd done it. He had kidnapped and raped and beaten and abused a man until the poor bastard apparently thought he had fallen in love with him.
Perhaps, one day, Chakotay might have learned to live with the guilt of what he physically had done to Tom Paris. He would never, in a million years, be able to live with the psychological damage he had caused him.
He deserved to die.
He deserved to be put down like the mad dog that he had behaved like.
But, more than that, he wanted to die.
The V'tx'n Prime was right.
This wasn't just a spiritual necessity for him, it was what he wanted too.
When a strange V'tx'n visited his room the next morning and told him that Voyager had now left V'tx'n space, Chakotay nodded his thanks.
He refused the V'tx'n's offer of food.
He explained that it was necessary for him to fast and cleanse himself for the ritual ahead and requested that he be allowed privacy to meditate and prepare himself to meet his Spirits.
With sadness, the V'tx'n agreed.
"Standing by is no better than murder, father," B'kn'd said, with passion.
The V'tx'n Prime, Q'sd'n shook his head wearily.
"Although it has been centuries since such a thing has happened upon our world, it is proscribed within our laws that suicide is legal."
"But the method he has chosen for his death is barbaric, father. Surely it is not necessary that he should suffer so badly in the leaving of his life," B'kn'd argued.
"The fasting and the knife are part of his beliefs, my son. It is not our place to question what he believes is necessary for his crossing over to the other side," Q'sd'n replied. "He is a man in torment. It is not for us to decide what can or cannot ease that pain. In allowing him to come to our planet, we agreed to his choice."
"But to stand aside and allow another creature to suffer like this is immoral."
"He will not suffer long. He has announced that after his third day of fasting he will take his life during the rising of the dawn."
"So soon?" B'kn'd asked
"Yes. By tomorrow his tortured soul will be at peace. I pray to whatever Gods he believes in, that in death he will find the absolution that he cannot find in life."
"I have read the details of his crimes, father. He was not responsible for what he did. Even his own victim absolved him. Why can he not accept that?"
"Because he loves the man that he abused. It is a pure love, the love of a good man, the kind of love that protects and nurtures and raises the loved one upon a pedestal. His love for this Tom Paris is as true as my love for you, my son, and just as I would cut my arm off before I ever raised it in violence to you, so he cannot bear to live within a body that has abused that which he loves."
"I still feel that there is *something* we should do to help him live rather than standing by an allowing him to die," B'kn'd argued.
"My son, there is nothing that we can do for him. Forcing him to live would be a cruelty. Particularly now that he is alone here on an Alien world. Perhaps this young man that he loves could have somehow convinced him to live, but he is gone and Chakotay is alone. It is, perhaps, an act of mercy to let him die."