The Shattering of the Mask 36
See part 1 for disclaimer
Chakotay gave a wide, contented smile and prayed silent thanks to the spirits for the sweetness of this dream.
"Mmmmm," he moaned, as Tom's naked body slid under the sheets and curled against him.
To his surprise, this dream-Tom was trembling, his flesh cold and shivering under Chakotay's exploring hands. Chakotay reached in for a kiss and found Tom's face wet with tears.
He jerked fully awake in horror, understanding that this was no dream after all and that the real Tom was here, crying in his bed, instead of sitting at the helm.
"Tom? What's wrong? What are you doing here?" he demanded, worry making his voice sharp.
"Don't be mad," Tom begged.
"I'm not mad. I'm worried. Why aren't you on the Bridge?"
"Sick," Tom whispered.
"You're sick? Are you in pain? Did I hurt you last night? Let me look," Chakotay demanded frantically.
"*Said* I was sick," Tom lied. "Missed you."
Chakotay's eyes darkened with fury that Tom had pulled a sickie, abandoning his post just to jump back in bed with him. Yet, no sooner had the anger struck him than it fled. Tom *was* ill, mentally ill. He had been for months and the cause of Tom's illness was Chakotay himself. It was a miracle that Tom could function at the helm at all, under the circumstances. He could surely be forgiven the odd relapse.
Although Chakotay was sure that the previous night had been a positive step forward for the pilot as well as their relationship as a whole, who knew what mental strain it had still put Tom under. If Tom felt needy enough to abandon the helm he loved in favor of a comforting hug, then Tom *really* needed a hug, he decided.
"Two steps forward and one back, huh?" he muttered, pulling Tom into a fierce embrace.
Tom just whimpered and accepted the comfort of Chakotay's arms. He wasn't sure how long he'd got. Maybe the whole day, maybe less if someone commed Chakotay and told him what had happened.
In the midst of his near-hysterical shouting match with poor Harry, Tuvok had appeared and had escorted Tom quietly to sickbay. After the Doctor had judged his panic to be *mere* psychological distress rather than something that could be helped medically, Tom had been relieved of duty and sent home. He'd begged for the right to tell Chakotay the news himself, and surprisingly it had been the Captain herself who had finally agreed.
What no one had realised was that Tom had no intention of telling Chakotay at all.
He knew, of course, that the reprieve was temporary at best. The most he could hope for was to keep the news from Chakotay until his next duty shift. That gave them twenty hours at most, assuming Chakotay didn't leave Tom's quarters and no one came calling.
Twenty hours was a hell of a short forever.
"I've got a couple of hours booked on the holodec. It's a remote beach, hot sun, calm sea, want to come?" Chakotay offered.
"Can't," Tom replied, his eyes flaring with alarm. "I'm sick. I can't use the holodec."
Chakotay laughed. "If anyone questions us, I'll make the Doctor say he prescribed it as medicine."
Tom shook his head frantically.
"Don't want to go out," he mumbled. "Wanna stay here, with you. Let's fuck."
"Let's eat first, huh?" Chakotay laughed.
"Not hungry," Tom whispered.
"Oh," Chakotay replied with a concerned frown. Then his expression cleared. "I forgot you had breakfast with Harry. How is he? Any gossip?"
Tom's face blanched, his eyes growing impossibly huge before he dropped his face from Chakotay's concerned gaze.
"Okay," Chakotay growled, reaching forward and grasping Tom's chin firmly enough to force his face upwards again. "What's going on? What's happened?"
Tom began to shudder, his eyes stark with terror.
"Don't leave me," he begged.
Chakotay released Tom's jaw and instead bundled him up in his arms. Lifting Tom up as though he weighed nothing, Chakotay carried him into the bathroom. Without releasing his precious, trembling burden he adjusted the shower setting from sonic to water and stepped inside the cubicle, Tom still in his arms.
As the warm water beat down on their heads, Chakotay soothed and stroked the younger man, waiting for the heat of the shower to permeate Tom's chilled skin. Chakotay knew Tom's trembling was shock, that the icy pallor of his skin was due to a psychological insult, not a physical one, but he also knew that physical comfort and warmth were necessary to calm Tom before Chakotay had any chance of discovering whatever had terrified Tom so badly that he was unable to talk about it.
There was an element of hurt lurking in Chakotay's heart, an echo of the pain when Tom had rejected his proposal, but there was no feeling of irritation or blame. Tom had lied, had tried to deceive him, but that didn't matter. That had just been Tom's fear driving his actions. The important thing was that in this moment of crisis, whatever it was, Tom had still turned to *him* for comfort and safety.
Tom loved him, and he loved Tom, and whatever this crisis was, they'd face it together and emerge stronger.
When he finally judged that Tom could stand safely, albeit with support, Chakotay lowered him to his feet and then hugged him under the powerful, healing spray. Tom nuzzled against him, just seeking comfort at first and then slowly his movements against Chakotay's body became more purposeful, more needy. He suckled at Chakotay's neck, rubbing his erection meaningfully against Chakotay's hip.
Chakotay reached an arm down to capture and caress Tom's cock, deciding the relief of Tom's sexual pressure might open the floodgates to allow his other emotions through. As soon as he touched Tom's erection, however, the younger man spun in his arms and braced himself against the wall of the shower.
"Tom?" Chakotay queried softly through the streaming water.
"Please," Tom begged.
Chakotay didn't waste time playing games or second-guessing Tom's plea. Tom's distress was obvious and his body was radiating a desperate need for comfort and reassurance. Reaching for the soap, praying it was unperfumed, Chakotay lathered his cock and pressed it against Tom's ass.
Tom groaned in obvious relief, adjusting his legs and bending forward to allow Chakotay a better access.
Because of Tom's fragility and the precariousness of the wet floor, Chakotay didn't attempt any finesse. He used one hand to hold himself upright, the other to immediately begin pumping Tom's cock and he entered Tom in a slow but hard thrust that dragged a ragged gasp of pleasure out of the younger man.
It took little effort to coax an orgasm out of Tom. A dozen firm strokes, the synchronous internal caress of Chakotay's cock, and Tom cried out in relief, the tension exploding out of his body accompanied by a founting spurt of semen. He sagged bonelessly in Chakotay's arms, barely even aware of Chakotay withdrawing to finish himself off with his own hand.
Chakotay detached the showerhead to sluice them both down and then helped Tom out of the shower, sitting him down on the toilet seat while grabbed towels and a couple of robes. Chakotay briskly rubbed Tom dry, using the towel to massage a little life back into Tom's still worryingly pale limbs, then he wrapped Tom in a robe, picked him up in his arms once more and carried him back to the bed.
It wasn't until they were snuggled together, Tom on his lap, the duvet wrapped in warm comfort around their bodies, that Chakotay finally asked Tom to tell him what was wrong.
Chakotay listened in silence, only the gradual tightening of his arms around Tom's chest proving that he was listening at all.
Tom finished his tale and fell silent, waiting in trembling terror for Chakotay's reaction, but Chakotay couldn't talk, couldn't think for the panic rushing through his veins. He just sat there, crushing Tom in his embrace, as a myriad of nightmare consequences tumbled through his head. When Chakotay finally reacted, it wasn't with words, it was with the simple act of climbing out of bed and proceeding to dress himself in his uniform
"Don't go," Tom begged. "Don't leave me alone."
He was still huddled under the duvet, as though his limbs were still too weak to even push the covering aside, but the true reason for his inability to move was that Chakotay's grim-faced silence was terrifying him.
Chakotay stepped forward toward the bed, hesitated and let his arms fall awkwardly to his sides. He couldn't lie to Tom, couldn't make meaningless promises, couldn't offer false comfort. Unable to look at the burning misery in Tom's eyes, yet helpless to remove it, Chakotay simply turned away.
"I'll be back soon," he muttered and was gone.
Tom gazed at the closed bedroom door with dead eyes.
"No you won't," he whispered into the empty room and his words hung invisibly in the air like a storm cloud.
A couple of hours later, when Chakotay had neither returned nor commed him, Tom knew his instincts had been right. He didn't cry, didn't even curse, he simply rose, walked into the bathroom, locked the door firmly and retrieving his regenerator from the cabinet, Tom liberated the small blade he had taped inside the toilet cistern.
The first insertion into his skin made a surge of bile rush into his mouth, burning like acid into his throat lining as it passed in each direction. After that, though, Tom barely felt the knife slicing the careful lines into his forearm.
The stark ragged letters mocked him. Their red ugliness no less transient, no less a lie, than Chakotay's use of the word.
One sweep of the regenerator and the word and the pain would be forgotten, just as Chakotay's vow had been so obviously forgotten.
Tom grabbed a towel, wrapped it tightly around his forearm to stop the bleeding and returned to the bedroom, crawling under the covers and clutching his still stinging arm. Left untreated, the wounds would heal into paper-thin scars, a permanent tattoo, less perfect, less obvious than Chakotay's but no less spiritual to Tom.
Forever. He'd meant it, even if Chakotay hadn't.
Chakotay checked the time and cursed. He'd been gone from Tom's quarters for almost five hours and despite the way he and Tom had connected the night before, Tom's attempt to hide the truth from him that morning proved that Tom's trust was far more fragile than his love.
Don't do anything stupid, he prayed silently. Please don't give anyone any more reasons to destroy us.
He desperately wanted to at least call Tom, but Tuvok and the Doctor's constant presence was constraining him.
The Doctor finally finished regenerating the knuckles of Chakotay's right hand and sighed loudly before moving his instrument to Chakotay's left hand.
"There would have been less swelling to deal with if you had allowed me to deal with your injuries before those of your victims, Commander," the hologram griped.
"Since Crewman Doyle was choking on his own blood and Crewman Jarvin was asphyxiating from his crushed larynx, the Commander's insistence that you treated them first was logical," Tuvok interrupted. "Otherwise, the Commander would currently be in the brig on a charge of manslaughter."
The Doctor just snorted.
"As it is, although Doyle and Jarvin have been charged with assault on a superior officer, I still require an explanation of why you found it necessary to deal with their verbal insults in such an extreme manner, Commander," Tuvok continued, making a mental note to ask Seven to check the Doctor's ethical subroutines.
"They are my crew, Maquis crew, and Maquis discipline was applied," Chakotay replied coldly.
"May I remind you that the crew of Voyager is ONE crew. The original Starfleet and Maquis designations no longer apply," Tuvok pointed out. "I also fail to understand your reasoning. Unlike the majority of the crew, these crewmen did not verbally abuse you for your actions during your illness. I myself witnessed Crewmen Fitzpatrick and Ashmore confronting you on deck 4. They called you several names for which I have put them on report, yet you did not even react to the insults."
Chakotay just shrugged, willing the Doctor to hurry up so that he could get back to Tom. He was terrified some other ignorant bastard like Doyle and Jarvin might attempt to confront the pilot directly.
"Your response is inadequate, Commander. I require your version of events before I question the prisoners."
Chakotay swallowed heavily. Even the idea of repeating what Doyle and Jarvin had said to him made him nauseous.
"They were not disciplined for verbally assaulting me," he finally answered. "The charge of assaulting a senior officer refers to what they said about Tom."
The Doctor snorted loudly again, leading Tuvok to the conclusion that he already knew what the crewmen had said. It perhaps explained his attitude towards them.
"Commander?" Tuvok asked, now deeply intrigued.
"They called Lieutenant Paris a whore," Chakotay replied tightly. "They said he was well known as no more than a 'bitch-slut' in Auckland, that he deserved everything I did to him and that they had taken 'a piece of his ass' themselves when we first came aboard."
"I see," Tuvok replied quietly.
"DO YOU?" Chakotay roared. "Do you have any idea how it felt to hear the man I love talked about in that way and know it's MY FAULT? Shit, I thought nothing could be worse than walking into a room and knowing everybody inside thinks I'm a monster, knowing that they'll all be pressuring Tom to leave me, trying to convince him for his own good that he's crazy to be with me after what I did to him.
"That's all I could think about this morning when Tom finally dared to tell me. Not my own reputation, not the fact that my chance of living and working on this ship has probably been irrevocably destroyed. Just the fact that he needs me, and nobody will understand that, nobody will just let him make his own choices anymore.
"It never even fucking occurred to me that there were bastards on board who would use it against Tom. What kind of sick person could try and justify what I did?" he demanded. "I'm ashamed I ever allowed scum like them on the Crazy Horse. There's certainly no place for them on a Starfleet Vessel."
"Indeed," Tuvok agreed, deciding perhaps the Doctor's sub-routines were fine as they were.
"Tom?" Chakotay called out worriedly as he entered Tom's quarters and saw the living area was abandoned. It was almost 1700, he'd been gone for seven hours without a word and his gut instinct was insisting that Tom would have over-reacted to his absence.
No sooner had the Doctor finished repairing his hands than he had been forced to give a formal statement to Tuvok about his 'disciplining' of Doyle and Jarvis. Then the Captain had summoned him to give an update on the 'damage limitation' she'd been doing. He was grateful for her concern, relieved to hear she had been personally visiting the various decks to replace rumors with facts. Chakotay had been unwilling to comm. Tom in front of any of them, knowing they would listen in and make judgments based on the level of panic in Tom's voice.
Before Tuvok had arrived in Sickbay, Chakotay had asked the Doctor to monitor Tom's quarters. The computer would have sounded an alert if Tom's life signs had gone critical, if Tom had left or if another person had been registered entering his quarters. Chakotay at least knew Tom was here and alive. So it wasn't Tom's physical health that was worrying him, it was his mental state.
Chakotay had been cursing himself all day. In a state of selfish, self-indulgent shock he had left Tom without even a single word of comfort. Despite his decision to share the problem with Tom and face it together, the moment the crisis had hit Chakotay had just charged off in a testosterone induced rage. He hadn't even paused to tell Tom that he loved him.
He knows, he'd told himself all day. I told him we were forever so he knows that I love him, that somehow I'll make everything all right. But the words had been cold comfort because Chakotay knew that Tom was too fragile for faith, too damaged for real trust to flourish in the barren wasteland of his battered spirit.
I should have told him I loved him, and the obvious truth of that regret was what fired Chakotay's panic.
He found Tom in the bedroom, still huddled under the duvet. He was sleeping, his breathing low but steady, his face stained with the tracks of countless tears. Chakotay stroked the fine blonde hair, and looked carefully at the too-thin face that was screwed up in misery, even in sleep.
He was too pale, paler even than when Chakotay had left him. He probably hadn't eaten all day, Chakotay decided. Tom had simply cried until he was too exhausted to continue and then had finally dropped into an equally restless sleep.
Chakotay bent and kissed a white cheek, surprised at the heat that was burning from such bloodless flesh. Tom was fever hot without even the slightest blush staining his cheeks or forehead.
With a feeling of foreboding, Chakotay gently shook Tom awake.
Blue eyes fluttered slowly open, dark flat pools of misery that suddenly sparked with life as they focused on Chakotay's face.
"Chak?" Tom queried hesitantly, in a voice ragged from his earlier sobbing.
"Yes, sweetheart," Chakotay replied. He wasn't a man given easily to endearments but Tom's fearful expression demanded the kind of reassurance that only nonsense could supply.
"You're back," Tom said vaguely, disbelievingly.
"Of course I'm back," Chakotay said, with a gentle smile. "Forever, don't you remember?"
Alarm flared in Tom's eyes, a guilty unmistakable terror.
"Tom? What's wrong?"
"Oh god, oh shit," Tom mumbled. "I thought, I thought you'd gone, I thought.."
Looking at Tom's darting eyes and observing his panic, the feeling of dread that had accompanied Chakotay all day coalesced into a grim certainty.
"What have you done, Tom?" he asked urgently.
Tom was shaking, biting his lower lip hard enough to draw blood. Then, as abruptly as the panic had started, it ceased. Tom raised his fever-bright eyes to Chakotay's face and laughed instead. The sound was so inappropriate that it was terrifying.
"Help me," Tom urged, a sly smile creeping across his face. "The bathroom. That's it. They don't need to know. We don't have to tell them. Secret. That's it. Our secret, Chak. Okay?"
"What secret, Tom?" Chakotay asked softly, even as he wondered why the whole room wasn't echoing with the sound of his own breaking heart.
Tom looked suspiciously around the room as though checking there were no lurking spies listening into their conversation. Then, seemingly satisfied, he leant forward and whispered "Forever".
Chakotay swallowed convulsively, his stomach churning as his trembling right arm reached for the corner of the duvet. Somehow he already knew what he was going to find, wasn't surprised to peel back the bedcover and discover that Tom was lying in a dark puddle of blood, he wasn't even shocked by the towel wrapped around Tom's forearm that was so saturated with Tom's blood that it was wet and heavy as Chakotay unwrapped it.
What drove Chakotay to his knees, as his stomach disgorged itself in a series of wracking spasms, was the word that Tom had carved into his flesh.
"He's restrained," the Doctor agreed, "but he's too sedated to be distressed about it."
"If he's that sedated, why do you need the restraints at all?" Chakotay demanded.
"I agree," Kathryn said. "He's ill, not a prisoner. Restraining him will surely only make the situation worse and what we all want is Tom to recover from this setback as soon as possible."
The Doctor stiffened imperiously.
"The only way Mr. Paris is *ever* going to recover, is if you all stop playing at being physicians and let me do my job."
"Tom's frightened of you," Chakotay reminded him. "He still has nightmares about what you did to him before."
"Odd," the Doctor replied snidely. "Since *you* were the one responsible for my reprogramming and he doesn't appear to have nightmares about *you*."
"Tom will NOT be restrained," Kathryn interrupted firmly. "Drug him if you have to, put a forcefield around his bed if you are that concerned, but Tom Paris will never be physically restrained again. I made him a promise, and no matter how ill he is, I won't break it."
"Thank you," Chakotay said, giving Kathryn a grateful smile.
"Very well," the Doctor sniffed. "No visitors however, particularly *not* the Commander."
"Bullshit," Chakotay growled. "What Tom did was stupid, I agree, but he did it because he thought I'd left him. His self-mutilation is always a response to him being separated from me."
"Which is exactly why it's been a mistake to allow him to use you as a crutch," the Doctor replied. "It allows him to function well enough to fool people into thinking he's recovering, but remove the crutch and Tom collapses."
"The Doctor's right, Chakotay," Kathryn said gently. "No one is trying to separate you from each other. It's obvious that despite everything that has happened, you and Tom have a very special relationship. However, Tom is clearly unwell and as his Captain it is both my legal and moral duty to do what is best for him until he is able to look after himself. Until that time comes, you are to stay away from him."
"No, you can't make that decision for him. He loves me. He *needs* me," Chakotay argued.
"What he needs is to get better, Chakotay. Think about it. The whole crew is up in arms about your relationship with him. They all see it as just a further form of abuse, you taking advantage of him, and Tom's mental instability is just proving their theory right."
"So you're allowing their stupidity and prejudice to influence you," Chakotay accused.
"Yes," Kathryn replied. "Not because I am personally worried about their opinions, Chakotay. But because Tom can't cope with any more pressure and as long as he stays with you he'll have to run the gauntlet of that public opinion. All I'm suggesting is a little breathing space. Give Tom a chance to grow stronger, give a little time for this to blow over, concentrate on re-building your own fences with the crew. Win their support, *then* we'll see about letting you and Tom resume your relationship."
"You're playing God, Kathryn," Chakotay spat, although he was honest enough to acknowledge her points to himself. She was right, but she was also terribly wrong because Tom would never understand Chakotay's apparent desertion of him.
Kathryn shrugged ruefully.
"I have to," she said sadly. "I'm the Captain."