"Two loves I have of comfort and despair,
Which like two spirits do suggest me still:
The better angel is a man right fair,
The worser spirit a woman coloured ill."
Part One of "Rivers of the Soul"
He lies beside me where he belongs, where he has always belonged if only I'd had the sense to realise it. His face is currently soft in repose. Sleep smoothes the lines that furrow his brow, strips away the years of pain, lays a gauze over the wary tension that haunts his waking features. I can almost imagine he is truly at peace in my arms.
I watch his eyelids fluttering as he dreams and imagine that the eyes they conceal are still the clear lapis-lazuli of my memory. The truth, of course, is that they are shadowed as darkly as storm-tossed seas but while he sleeps I can, at least, pretend.
He no longer sprawls in his sleep. He no longer dominates the mattress with his long gangling legs. He has lost that careless casual openness of youth. Now he curls in upon himself, his arms hugging his knees with an almost fetal protectiveness. In this unconscious choice of position his true vulnerability is revealed. In the lines of his rigid spine and the shape of his body's self-protective coil, his wounds are stark and accusing. He wears the scars of my careless ownership like a grotesque but invisible tattoo that is evident only to my own eyes.
And perhaps Tuvok's, of course. It would be stupid for me to underestimate Tuvok's clarity of vision. I have belatedly come to the realisation that there is very little those Vulcan eyes miss where Tom Paris is concerned.
The musky scent of our sex is still heavy in the air. The faint dampness of the mattress beneath my hip attests that we made love tonight and the heat where our bodies join, as I spoon up behind him, cannot dissolve the sticky trace of my semen where it has spilled like overflowing tears down the tender skin of his thighs.
I nuzzle into his neck, breathing in the sweet scent that is Tom. There is still a faint smell of salt in the damp tendrils of his hair but I know that it is not a residual trace of sea water but rather the evidence of my own tears.
For hours I have lain here, since he finally escaped my attentions by the simple act of falling into an exhausted sleep. My arms curled possessively around his waist, my thighs pressed tightly against the back of his legs, I have cried for the years that I threw away.
He is here. He is with me and it is more than I hoped for, certainly more than I deserve.
How easy it is to throw away a possession, believing it to be something that is discardable, valueless, only to realise, too late, that without it you are nothing.
There is an old saying, "familiarity breeds contempt". To an extent that was true of my relationship with Tom. I was so secure in my knowledge of his love for me that I took it for granted. Tom blended so seamlessly into my life that I forgot how empty my life had been before he entered it. In loving me, he made me feel worthy of being loved. Like a bubbling spring, his effervescent personality spilled over into my own personality. In his irreverent laughter I found my own sense of long-buried humor. With the gift of his ceaseless optimism he taught me to loosen the tight bondage of my own stoic practicality and I learned to dream once more.
In my resultant state of smug happiness I conveniently forgot that he was the foundation on which those dreams were built. My love for Tom opened my heart to more extreme possibilities. For many years I had convinced myself that I would never find someone who I wanted to share my life with. So I had put aside my desire for companionship and family. I had wrapped it up in a little box and had buried it with all the other broken dreams of my life.
Tom taught me to love again, and in doing so he opened Pandora's box. All of my previously discarded dreams tumbled out of my subconscious, whispering insidiously that if I could have one of my desires after all, then surely I could have them all.
I know I am not being fair to myself. My decision wasn't purely founded on selfishness. My intention was never to leave him simply because I wanted the family that he couldn't offer me. The truth is that I thought I could have it all. In my arrogance I believed that Tom would capitulate to me. I assumed that he would cave in, would accept my demand that Charis became part of my life as being simply the price he had to pay to keep me.
It never even once occurred to me that he would have too much pride.
I underestimated him. I didn't respect the validity of his own beliefs. To be perfectly honest, I thought he would regret his decision to reject Charis and was trying to save him from what I perceived as being a huge mistake on his part.
That's why I was arrogant. I assumed I knew best. With the dogmatism that has always been one of my less admirable qualities, I was so *sure* he would come around to my way of thinking that I never stopped to consider the fact that he might have been right after all.
Now, twenty years later, I am guilty of the same crime once more.
I have inadvertently used his vulnerability against him. I have used my knowledge of his terrible loneliness, his suicidal unhappiness, to bring him full circle back to the place where he so clearly proved he did not want to be.
It seems that the cost of my love hasn't changed. I am still demanding that he accepts the responsibility of a ready-made family, that he embraces both the children and myself into the brutally scarred tissue of his heart.
The only one of us who has truly changed here is Tom. The years of bitter loneliness have weakened his resolve, have battered down the walls of his pride.
Knowing this, I am ashamed.
As much as I love my children, *our* children, there is a part of me that actually wishes that Tom had carried through his threat to leave the ship. I would have followed him, of course, but our relationship would have been on *his* terms this time.
Instead, we have remained on Voyager and he has agreed to come back into my life, back into my bed. He doesn't trust me, I know that. He is simply accepting whatever bone I throw him until the time comes that I leave him once more.
Even if I had harbored any doubts about that fact, our love making tonight proved my suspicions to be correct. His hunger for me, the way he devoured me like a starving man offered an unexpected banquet, the way he clung to me afterwards like a drowning man clutches a life raft and then the way he finally turned away from me, curling up in his sleep, every line of his body radiating his need for self-comfort.
What I am asking of him is more than any man can give. I am asking him to forgive me for twenty years of neglect. Twenty years. Just two words that cannot even begin to portray the months and weeks and days of pain that he has suffered.
Oh yes, I suffered too. I lived most of those years with a woman whose beauty was a cruel hoax. Seven wasn't a rose with thorns, she was one living, breathing thorn whose prick was fatal poison.
Even so, I had the children. Tom had nothing. Tom had no-body. To compare my pain with his is to insult him.
His strength bewilders and astounds me. His willingness to give me this chance humbles me.
I don't deserve him.
I know this. Know it in every fibre of my body, in every corner of my soul.
And Tuvok loves him.
I don't know why that realisation struck me with such surprise. Why wouldn't Tuvok love him? Why wouldn't anyone? Tom is the most loveable person I know, and yet in all of these years it never even occurred to me that Tom might find someone else to replace me in his heart. Arrogance again, I suppose.
Then this afternoon, when Tuvok came to sick bay to witness the salt water being pumped out of Tom's tortured lungs, I saw it in his face. Nothing as tangible as an emotion. Spirit's forbid that even love would cause a Vulcan to lose his composure, but there was a tightening to his jaw, a darkening to his eyes, a tension to that proud Vulcan spine as he waited for Tom to live or die, and that's when I knew. That's when I realised that Tom had never needed to be alone at all.
So I know there'll be no second chances this time.
Tuvok is only biding his time, waiting for me to fuck this up and this time Tom won't have to freefall. Tuvok will be there to catch him. *That's* the message I read in good old Captain Tuvok's eyes today.
As I sat in the bathroom tonight, waiting for Tom, trusting he'd come, terrified that he wouldn't, I thought about Tuvok a lot. I was mystified by his decision to step back and allow me to try and woo Tom back to me. Understanding was a long time coming (as was Tom) but when it finally struck me I was doubly ashamed of my own behaviour.
Tuvok loves Tom too much to want to own him. All he wants is Tom's own happiness. Tuvok's love is real. It's that kind of honorable love that poets write about. A selfless love.
Not like mine.
As much as I want Tom to be happy, I want to be happy too. I want Tom's love because it makes me feel invincible. Tom fills a part of my soul that I only realised was empty after I had already thrown him away. I want my soul back. I want to feel complete again.
I'm using Tom to shore up my own inadequacies.
That's why I'm ashamed.
Because I know that and I still won't give him up.
And that's why I'm crying.