The Shattering of the Mask 39
See part 1 for disclaimer
The hesitant voice was so quiet that Chakotay barely registered it. He was absorbed in a report of the various items that Voyager was running low on. He had started his search several days earlier to devise a valid reason for stopping at some advanced civilization for trade. The exercise had begun as no more than an excuse to get Tom and himself off the ship but the more he had delved into the information the more he had begun to realise that Voyager had a serious shortage of far more than energy.
The Sickbay was seriously under stocked since their last encounter with the Borg, Neelix's already questionable cooking abilities were being stretched to the limit with the lack of perishable foodstuffs and the engineering sections were now stripping parts from shuttles to keep the main systems running. The skilled crewmembers were devising their own solutions to their individual problems rather than coming to see him, as First Officer, and so had managed to hide the extent of the overall situation.
He was concluding two things from the data. Firstly, that Voyager would eventually grind to a halt unless they stopped somewhere and traded seriously for supplies (regardless of whether the planet suited his own purposes) and secondly that unless he managed to regain the trust or at least the co-operation of the crew, he was going to have to resign as First Officer.
The voice was still hesitant but now held a slight tone of irritation. It broke through Chakotay's introspection and he looked up in surprise. Other than Tuvok or Kathryn, no one had voluntarily come to his office for months.
Sam Wildman gave a nervous smile, her right hand fiddling awkwardly with her unbound blonde hair. So, despite her uniform, she was obviously off-duty, Chakotay concluded. Then he felt a momentary shame that it was only her loose hair that told him the fact. There would once have been a time when he would have known the duty roster of every member of staff. He hadn't been doing his job, he'd allowed his own guilt and shame, not to mention the antipathy of the crew, to affect the performance of his own duties.
Chakotay straightened his shoulders and fixed a welcoming smile on his face, gesturing the young woman to take a seat and deciding to ignore her obvious nervousness and simply do his job. The job he had neglected for far too long.
"Sit down, Lieutenant. How can I help you?"
Sam cautiously seated herself, her awkwardness etched in every line of her body. She chewed hesitantly on her lower lip as her carefully rehearsed words fled in the face of Chakotay's presence.
"Would you like a drink?" Chakotay asked kindly. "Coffee? Tea? Water perhaps?"
Sam flashed him a grateful smile.
"Water," she agreed.
Chakotay fetched a jug of water and two glasses from the replicator. He was pleasantly surprised to note that Sam didn't follow his movements with her eyes, she just continued to look at the seat Chakotay had vacated. It gave him his first clue that her nervousness was not due to being in the same room with him after all and a tiny voice at the back of his head began to niggle him with the thought that perhaps the ongoing awkwardness between himself and the crew was as much his own fault as theirs.
"Thank you," Sam said, as she reached for the water he poured and took a long sip.
"Now, what can I do for you?" Chakotay asked quietly.
Sam blushed and ducked her head.
"I know you've got more important things to worry about," she began hesitantly, "and I've tried to deal with this myself rather than bother you, but whenever I come up with a solution, someone else always has a more important need for the resources and I'm beginning to feel like I'm running around in circles."
"What is the problem?"
"Naomi," Sam admitted. "Don't get me wrong, Sir. Everyone's great with her. Even Seven takes a lot of time with her, but it's not the same. It's not right."
"What's not right?"
"That she's growing up without any formal schooling. I mean, I understand the problems, Sir, but I think her education is important and every time I come up with some schedule that I can work with, either my shifts get changed or my terminal is taken off line because of problems elsewhere on the ship."
"I see," Chakotay said slowly.
"Do you?" Sam asked hesitantly. "I do understand that the situation on board will never be conducive to Naomi having a normal childhood, and in a way I feel that her experiences on Voyager are an education in themselves, but still, when we get home she has to be able to fit in to a normal world too."
"You're right," Chakotay replied. "Let's take a look at your duty schedule and fit it around Naomi's needs. Then when we've established the best time for her schooling I will place a priority code on your own terminal for that period of time. That will prevent routine power re-routing from taking it off line."
The look of complete, bewildered gratitude on Sam Wildman's face was enough for Chakotay to give himself a long overdue kick up the backside. He decided that as soon as he had finished solving her problem he would start summoning the various department heads to his office. If they wouldn't voluntarily come to him with their problems, he would start forcing the issue. It was time to prove that his rank wasn't just a title.
Tom couldn't hide a wide grin of triumph as he left the Doctor's office holding a data padd that confirmed he was not only cleared for full duty but that he was now judged competent to handle his own affairs. Affairs. He'd had to stifle an inappropriate giggle at the terminology since the only affair he wanted to handle was Chakotay.
He wanted to run to Chakotay's office and wave the padd in his face, wanted to post a ship-wide announcement that from that day forward he would be living with Chakotay again. Instead he quietly returned to his quarters and sent a message to Harry that he would meet him after shift.
"Ensign Kim?" Chakotay asked formally.
Harry swallowed awkwardly, looking around at the tired faces of the crewmembers who were sifting through the cargo bay under Chakotay's direction.
"Sorry to disturb you, Sir. I thought you were off-duty tonight. I came to invite you to dinner."
He saw the flash of pain in Chakotay's eyes as the older man registered the unspoken message that Tom was waiting for him in Harry and B'Elanna's quarters.
"Good news?" Chakotay asked quietly.
"The best," Harry grinned.
Chakotay closed his eyes in relief, allowing himself just a few seconds to savor Tom's triumph, then he shook himself, looked Harry in the face and gestured helplessly at the surrounding chaos.
"I'm sorry, Harry. I can't see any of us getting away before midnight. The supply shortage I've been investigating seems to be far more serious than I imagined."
"You've got to eat, though," Harry pointed out loudly, realising that Chakotay could hardly go off duty and leave the others working but surely no one would resent him disappearing for half-an-hour to eat, freshen up or whatever else Chakotay and Tom could manage in thirty minutes.
It was only when everyone stopped sifting through boxes and glanced surreptitiously over to Chakotay that Harry realised this was about far more than supplies, it was about Chakotay exerting his authority over people who had made no secret of their dislike for him and maintaining his control by proving that he was willing to work along side them.
"Perhaps you could arrange for Neelix to send supper over for all of us, Ensign Kim," Chakotay said quietly. "We're all tired and hungry."
"Of course, Sir. I understand," Harry said formally, giving Chakotay a private nod to say that he would explain the situation to Tom.
Tom shuffled nervously at the helm. The viewscreen was completely filled by the dominating presence of a warship so huge that it made Voyager look like a shuttle in comparison. The aliens had so far ignored their request to change from verbal to visual communications and the combination of the unfriendly guttural voices coming through the comm. panel and the unmistakable gun ports trained on their own shields was enough to make the entire bridge crew wonder whether their request for peaceful trade was going to end with Voyager simply being vaporized.
It wasn't the general nervousness that was affecting Tom though, it was the fact that the negotiations had been going on for hours with little chance of success and it was now 2145 on Saturday night which meant 'Poker Night' would presumably have to be cancelled for another week.
Tom had understood why Chakotay hadn't been able to meet him on Wednesday, and had managed to hold himself together in anticipation of tonight. The probability of having to wait a whole week more before it would be safe for him to meet with Chakotay out of public scrutiny was too much to face, though, and it was only the sound of Chakotay's calm voice as he negotiated carefully with the suspicious aliens that kept Tom from screaming his frustration out loud.
Chakotay's low, soothing voice seemed to eventually have a similar effect on the aliens. Their earlier hostility had eased somewhat since the Captain's temper had frayed at their continued obstinacy to her own entreaties and she had signaled that Chakotay should take over the conversation from their end, before retiring to her ready room in disgust. Now, several hours later, the aliens finally agreed that Voyager could follow them towards their homeworld to continue the discussion. By that time, the whole crew were in agreement that it would probably be wiser to politely decline and move on to a friendlier world but there didn't seem to be any way of refusing the alien 'invitation'.
"You will follow the proscribed flight pattern. Any deviation from the set course will result in the destruction of your vessel."
Tom shivered slightly at the cold menace of the words. He could feel the eyes of the entire bridge crew fastening on the back of his head as they evidently prayed he wouldn't fuck up. His entire self-confidence collapsed under the obvious doubt of his crewmates and his hands shook as he reached for the helm.
Then a large hand descended on his shoulder and squeezed reassurance. Tom spun his head round to look at Chakotay who had crossed the bridge so quietly that Tom hadn't even heard him approach. Tom beamed at Chakotay's face, drinking in the comfort of Chakotay's smile, then he stiffened as he realised they were being observed.
"Have you fixed the course settings, Lieutenant?" Chakotay asked aloud, while his fingers made their own conversation on Tom's shoulder.
"Yes, Sir," Tom replied, only his sparkling eyes answering Chakotay's secret gesture of love and faith.
"Then proceed," Chakotay said, giving one last squeeze before returning to his seat.
Kathryn regarded the somber faces of the Senior Staff and sighed internally. She knew the whole crew had been looking forward to the idea of some shore leave and the Carskoni's absolute refusal to allow anyone to descend to the planet below was going to cause a lot of resentment.
"Please advise your individual departments that as soon as the negotiations are complete and we have traded with the Carskoni, we will leave this system and find an uninhabited m-type planet to orbit while we implement the systems repairs. We can't turn down the technology they are offering us but we can wait until we are at a more hospitable planet before installing it."
Her decision was met with general smiles of relief. Only Tuvok noted the look of despair that crossed Tom's face at the news. He then saw Chakotay shift slightly in his seat and from the immediate mask of bland indifference that shuttered over Tom's features, Tuvok concluded that Chakotay had kicked Tom under the table.
Observing the exchange, Tuvok's suspicions crystallized into certainty.
"Typical," Harry spat.
"What is?" B'Elanna asked, her voice muffled by the wardrobe as she rummaged frantically for shoes to match her only decent dress.
"We sit here, twiddling our thumbs for three days and now, when the trading is finally over and we're preparing to leave, the Carskoni decide to invite us down to the planet after all."
"Well only the Senior Crew," B'Elanna pointed out, "and the Captain didn't even want to agree to that since it leaves Voyager vulnerable."
"Since we're surrounded by Carskoni warships that could blow us out of the sky, we can hardly be any more vulnerable anyway," Harry griped.
"Which is why she finally agreed," B'Elanna said. "Do you think these shoes are better?"
"Yeah, sure," Harry said helplessly, not seeing any significant difference from the last three pairs. "I just feel bad for Tom and Chakotay."
"The dinner is only going to be three hours, Harry. They could hardly do anything significant in that amount of time and Carskon doesn't seem to be the kind of place you'd want to abscond to anyway."
"I know," Harry agreed. "Still, it seems weird that Tuvok made such a point about not letting Tom attend. If the Carskoni can't be trusted, it's hardly going to make any difference whether our pilot is on the surface or on Voyager, is it?"
"Well, whatever his reason was for interfering, Chakotay stopped arguing with him after he went down to the surface himself."
"Yeah, that's weird too, isn't it? Chakotay was screaming blue murder about Tom's exclusion and then suddenly changed his mind completely. What do you think that means?"
"It means he obviously doesn't plan to run away with Tom on Carskon," B'Elanna replied. "I'm sure we'll soon find out why for ourselves."
Kathryn gestured Tuvok to a seat and gave him a smile of invitation to unburden himself. Despite the typical lack of expression on his face, she had known him too long not to sense his discomfort.
"What's on your mind, Tuvok?" she asked. "Is this about your reasons for excluding Tom from the Carskoni's invitation?"
"The Commander's own report on the aliens is sufficient reason to refuse Mr. Paris's participation in tonight's festivity. It is a logical assumption that he would find the situation disturbing in view of his own experiences."
"I find it disturbing myself, Tuvok. Had I realised the Carskoni had a culture based on slavery I wouldn't have entered negotiations with them. I certainly am not looking forward to spending an evening with people who believe it is acceptable to own another person. We can't refuse their hospitality now, however. Offending them would put Voyager in too much danger."
"I concur. It is not our position to make moral judgments on other civilisations, Captain. From what the Commander has described, the Carskoni are not barbaric and although it was obvious that there are two distinct castes, slaves and masters, he saw no evidence of cruelty and no suggestion that the slaves are discontent. His main concern relates to how Lieutenant Paris would react to the situation."
Kathryn nodded thoughtfully.
"I agree with both of you that Tom should stay on Voyager," she replied. "What I still want to know, though, is why you made that decision *before* you discovered the situation below. For some reason you were adamant that Tom shouldn't leave the ship and I want to know why."
His completely unexpected answer sent her reeling into her own chair.
"If Mr. Paris were to resume his relationship with the Commander, what would your reaction be?" Tuvok asked.
"Has he spoken to you?" Kathryn asked, as she gathered her thoughts from where they had immediately scattered in panic.
"No," Tuvok replied. "I am asking the question as a theoretical point, at the moment."
"Then my truthful reply would be that I would do everything within my power to keep them apart," Kathryn replied finally.
Tuvok merely nodded thoughtfully, as though her answer had been expected. He steepled his fingers, narrowing his eyes as he pondered carefully how to continue the conversation.
"May I point out that your decisions regarding the handling of Mr. Paris have been inconsistent, Captain. It was, if you recall, your own suggestion that their relationship be resumed after the Commander's suicide attempt."
"I did what seemed best at the time. Chakotay was suicidal, Tom was suffering from clinical depression, allowing them to continue their relationship seemed the only way to save them both," Kathryn said defensively.
"Yet, you then decided that their relationship was harmful."
"It was harmful to Tom. What the hell was I supposed to do? Stand back and watch a member of my crew carving words into his own flesh? It was obvious that Chakotay had found some way to deal with his own guilt, he was no longer likely to take his life. My decision had to be based on what I judged best for Tom. This last six months has proven me right. He's back at the helm, his response times are almost back to normal. I don't expect him to simply "get over" Chakotay, but I'm putting my foot down here. Whatever the Doctor says about Tom's mental health, the idea of allowing Tom to resume his relationship with Chakotay is out of the question."
"It is not your decision to make," Tuvok replied quietly.
"WHAT?" Kathryn demanded, her whole body stiffening with outrage.
"Personal relationships between crewmembers, unless proven to be detrimental to the welfare of the entire crew, are not under the jurisdiction of the Captain. While the Lieutenant was judged mentally incompetent, you had the authority to decide who he did or did not socialize with. Now he has passed the Doctor's assessment, your autonomy over his personal life has been cancelled."
"You said it yourself, Tuvok, 'unless proven to be detrimental to the welfare of the entire crew' and I think the possible suicide of Voyager's best pilot is detrimental, don't you?" Kathryn spat.
"Mr. Paris's actions during his illness are not admissible now as justification for that decision. It is the professional opinion of the Doctor that Mr. Paris is now capable of stable and intelligent choices in his personal life."
"The Doctor who just happened to also tell me that Tom was having a breakdown and advised me to put him in Chakotay's hands in the first place. He's a hologram, Tuvok," Kathryn replied angrily.
"Are you inferring that the Doctor's programming has been interfered with to sway his decision?" Tuvok asked, his shoulders stiffening in personal affront.
"No, of course not. I know you have taken personal responsibility for ensuring that the Doctor cannot be interfered with and I have complete trust in you, my friend," Kathryn assured him hurriedly.
"Then your difficulty is clearly a lack of faith in yourself."
Kathryn's eyes flashed and she opened her mouth to violently deny the accusation. Then she sighed and shrank slightly in her seat, an aura of haunted doubt settling over her like a tangible weight.
"Of course I lack faith in myself. It's my fault, Tuvok. All of it. I'm the Captain of this ship, Tom's superior officer. The day I offered him his commission I told him he was safe on board Voyager. I vowed to protect him, I even assured him that Chakotay would be his personal protector. I was blind, Tuvok. I saw nothing. I knew Tom was the most vulnerable member of this merged crew and should have expected problems. The retrieved files from Sickbay prove that Tom spent the first six months of our Voyage being systematically abused by the Maquis, to the point of almost dying on several occasions, and I knew nothing. NOTHING!" She slammed her right palm down on her desk to emphasise her frustration.
"The Lieutenant chose not to inform you of the abuse, Captain. I could go as far as suggesting that he made every effort to conceal his problems from you," Tuvok pointed out in a mild voice.
"Because he didn't trust me, Tuvok. Hardly surprising, is it? I'd promised him safety and then I'd thrown him to the wolves. No wonder he saw me as his enemy too. Then, despite him spending several years proving his value as an officer, his strength and his talent as a pilot, I never questioned the Doctor's diagnosis of his nervous breakdown. I gave him to Chakotay, Tuvok. I virtually gift-wrapped and delivered him for that abuse."
"I also was completely fooled by the situation," Tuvok replied. "The Commander managed to conceal his illness from the entire crew. I was under-cover on the Crazy Horse before you even met the Commander. To that extent, my own failure to identify his madness is greater than your own."
"But you're not the Captain. It wasn't *your* responsibility, it was mine. I don't sleep, you know? I close my eyes and all I see is the hell Tom went through because *I* didn't do my duty to him, because I failed him. I can't forgive myself, Tuvok."
"And you are now trying to compensate for your own guilt by denying Tom the right to make his own choices."
"Is that so wrong? How the hell can I stand back and just let him be destroyed? I have failed Tom Paris since the first day he set foot on my ship. I refuse to fail him again. I have to do what I judge is right, not what Tom says he wants. He's lost the ability to know what is right or wrong for him," Kathryn explained. "Whatever happiness Tom and Chakotay could find together isn't worth the risk to Tom's sanity if it goes wrong again."
"And when did you gain the ability to make the correct choices on his behalf, Captain?"
Kathryn reeled as though Tuvok had slapped her. She gazed at him in disbelief as he continued his unexpected verbal attack.
"Since you have already admitted that your decisions relating to Mr. Paris have been consistently erroneous, it is unlikely that your current decision is any more correct. You are still allowing your decisions to be based upon emotions rather than facts. While I do not agree with the extent of culpability that you choose to lay at your own feet, if you continue to use that personal guilt to influence your decisions to the point of bending Starfleet Rules, I predict that the outcome will be injurious to us all."
"Are you making a formal protest, Tuvok?" Kathryn snarled, her whole body tensing in anticipation of a bitter argument.
"I believe such an action would be irrelevant Captain. As you have already stated, it would be detrimental for Voyager to lose Lieutenant Paris. It would be possibly more detrimental to lose the Commander, yet the proscribing of their relationship will inevitably cause both men to chose to leave the ship," Tuvok replied calmly.
"Nonsense. Neither of them argued with my decision to separate them six months ago. They both are continuing their duties. There's no reason to believe they even want to resume their relationship. It's been a week since Tom's assessment and he hasn't as much as suggested that he wants to see Chakotay again. Chakotay himself has finally started to overcome the antipathy of the crew. These past few days he's been running people ragged over the supplies problem and I've received barely a handful of complaints. As far as I can see, they are both determined to just get on with their own lives."
"Your statement is erroneous, Captain, because you are not fully aware of several relevant facts."
"The fact that Lieutenant Paris and Commander Chakotay have been meeting each other surreptitiously for over five months. From their failure to request official sanction of their relationship, I conclude that their intention has been to resign from their posts and leave Voyager. Although the supply problem is genuine, I believe that the Commander's decision to investigate it was initially inspired by his desire to find an excuse to stop at an advanced civilization where he and Mr. Paris can begin a life together. That is why I initially prevented Mr. Paris's inclusion in tonight's event. I was concerned that if they both disembarked, they would possibly not return to the ship."
"I don't believe it."
"It is, however, the truth."
"How long have you known?"
"I have been constantly aware of their subterfuge," Tuvok admitted.
"And you didn't tell me? I thought I could trust you, Tuvok. Now it turns out that you've been betraying me for months?" Kathryn accused, her cheeks flushing with rage.
"It was not betrayal, Captain. It was the logical response to the situation."
"And how the hell do you figure that?" she demanded.
"The situation with Mr. Paris and your personal feelings of guilt were affecting your performance as Captain of the ship. Informing you of their continued assignations would merely have increased the pressure that you were already under. I made the decision to monitor the situation personally and advise you only if I saw a problem develop."
"You saw no problem in the fact that they were breaking my orders?"
"As I have already stated, I do not believe the mandate of a Captain includes interference in emotional attachments. The only justification for your order was to protect Mr. Paris from harm. The decision to separate him from the Commander was based on emotion. Logic suggested that it was an inappropriate reaction to the situation."
"So you're saying you personally decided my order was illogical and disobeyed it?"
"*I* did not disobey, Captain. I merely observed," Tuvok replied, with a barely perceptible shrug.
"Why didn't you bring this 'observation' to my attention months ago?"
"Because the subterfuge in itself has been beneficial to several important members of this crew, not least yourself. You have been unencumbered by the knowledge so have not been forced to agree to a situation which could have escalated back into tragedy. The only way to enforce their separation, given their determination to continue their relationship, would have been to arrest one or the other for disobeying your orders. I could not have agreed with the decision to incarcerate the Commander for breaking an order that you were exceeding your authority in issuing. You could have isolated Mr. Paris since he was completely under your authority due to his illness. That, however, would have probably sent Mr. Paris further into a state of depression and Voyager would have lost her best pilot."
"So you took it upon yourself to let them see each other in secret, knowing that Tom was still unstable and might have harmed himself again?" Kathryn snarled.
"I have been monitoring them constantly. Had their relationship proven to be detrimental, I would have admitted my knowledge, accepted the blame for allowing the situation to develop and you would have been spared the additional guilt. The necessity to keep the relationship secret has had several salutary effects. Harry Kim and B'Elanna Torres have been actively encouraging and facilitating the relationship. In this way they have found some manner of personal redemption for their own feelings of guilt. You are not the only person who feels responsible for what happened to Mr. Paris."
"So these Poker Evenings were actually four members of my own crew defying my explicit orders?" Kathryn demanded, her eyes narrowing in fury.
"If you choose to see it that way, Captain."
"How the hell else am I supposed to see it?"
"Another benefit of the subterfuge is that the relationship has proceeded slowly and with care," Tuvok continued, deliberately ignoring the question. "Because of the need for secrecy and the constant chaperonage, the progression of the relationship has been cautious. The resolve of both parties has been tested. Had their need for each other merely been physical attraction, the difficulty of their assignations would have caused them to move on to new partnerships. In the adversity of this enforced separation, their feelings for each other have deepened."
"So why haven't they simply started dating again now that the Doctor has removed Tom from my guardianship?"
"I suspect that they believe you will interfere, Captain. As indeed you have already said that you would."
"Look, Tuvok. I'm pissed as hell at you, make no mistake. You *will* pay for this deceit," Kathryn growled
"I do not doubt it," Tuvok replied calmly.
"But, I'm honest enough to admit that I'm relieved they took the decision out of my hands. All I wanted, all I *ever* wanted, was to put things right for Tom. The fact that I haven't known about the relationship hopefully means it hasn't harmed either of them since the Doctor has been monitoring Tom for evidence of any physical abuse, particularly self-inflicted injuries."
"Then you will advise them that their relationship may continue?"
"No," Kathryn replied.
Tuvok blinked in disbelief.
"I understand your decision not to interfere, Tuvok. It was 'logical', just as it seems logical to me not to interfere either. So they can do what they want but I refuse to officially sanction it."
"Because the very fact that Tom is still so obsessed with Chakotay tells me that the Doctor's assessment of his mental state is wrong. No one could forgive what Chakotay did, Tuvok. No one could suffer what Tom suffered and come out of the experience with true feelings of love for his captor, no matter what extenuating circumstances existed."
"In your opinion," Tuvok interrupted.
Kathryn shrugged. "It's up to them to prove me wrong, isn't it?"
"So you will neither prevent their relationship nor condone it?"
"As you have already pointed out, Tuvok, my own interference in this has never done any good. As long as they can both do their jobs, as long as Tom remains stable, I'll turn a blind eye and allow the situation to develop naturally."
"Yet in failing to advise them of your decision, you will force them to continue their subterfuge," Tuvok pointed out.
"It's up to them to fight for what they want, Tuvok. If they aren't prepared to stand up to me publicly then their relationship will never survive anyway."
"So, if they force your hand you will concede?"
"Perhaps," Kathryn allowed.