"They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, not the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them."
Part Two of "Rivers of the Soul"
There's a faint layer of dust on the inspection manifolds. It drapes wraith-like over the once shining metal and mutely accuses me of my recent neglect. It reminds me that I abandoned this room with barely a backwards glance as I hurried to play my particular sick version of Happy Families with Chakotay on Holodec One.
The dust isn't really an issue though. It's almost deliberate to tell the truth. It's a way to try and hide the real problem. This isn't seven days worth of chaos. It's not something that can be eradicated with merely a wet cloth and an apologetic smile.
The whole engine room has had a shabby, neglected air for years. Where once was spartan efficiency and gleaming panels there is now a sprawling muddle of wires as tangled and obscenely exposed as the entrails of a butchered corpse. To add to the general chaos, the floor and consoles are scattered with bastardized machine parts. They have been garnered from the several dozen civilisations that we have traded with over the years and linked together in weird assemblies in brutal evidence of my untalented but sincere efforts to keep Voyager's heart beating.
The long-deceased gel-paks have been gradually replaced with technologies that constantly argue amongst themselves. Their discordant electrical circuits are forever hissing and spitting like ill-tempered cats. The scene is more reminiscent of a back-street twentieth-century automobile workshop, or perhaps a mad-scientist's laboratory, than the heart of a modern starship.
B'Elanna would go crazy if she saw it.
She'd call me a pig, a p'tak, a butcher, if she were alive to see the chaos I have made of her beloved engine room.
Not that I had any choice, under the circumstances. I've done my best and at least Voyager is still limping along. If she coughs and wheezes occasionally it is no more than can be expected of a geriatric lady stranded light years away from her home port.
I'm limping a little myself this morning, but for once it isn't because I spent the whole night tossing and turning on my single bed, chased by nightmares that I previously could never escape. The pain isn't from knotted muscles. It's the good, long forgotten ache you feel when you have been well and truly fucked.
I'd almost forgotten how that felt. Other than at the time of Tuvok's actual Ponn Farr, he's a sadly disinterested lover. Although he's consented to mate with me on the odd occasion since, there's always been a remote and mechanical aspect to his attentions as though he's merely going through the motions.
The crude expression for it is a "mercy fuck".
So I've been fucked more in the last seven days than I have in twice as many years and although I can't deny that my muscles are mumbling a low chant of discontent, my body suddenly feels alive again.
When you spend your days merely breathing and working and eating and sleeping, it sometimes escapes your notice that you aren't actually *living*.
I'd forgotten that.
Of course, there's a downside to living. Living means feeling and feeling means letting other people past the armor you have painstakingly built to protect yourself from hurt. Living, *real* living means taking a gamble and I'm still unsure whether I have sufficient emotional currency to enter this high-stake game.
Yet, unless I take the risk, I suppose I might as well be dead after all.
Which brings me back to B'Elanna. *And* Kathryn and Harry, if I'm going down the treacherous path of *that* particular self-torture.
What would Harry do if he were me?
The obvious answer is that Harry would never have found himself in this position anyway. Oddly enough, although all Harry *thought* he wanted to be was a rebel like me, Harry couldn't escape the undeniable fact that he was the consummate squeaky-clean Starfleet Academy graduate.
Harry *tried* to be bad sometimes, imagining maybe that it would make his persona more interesting, but he was no more capable of really fucking things up than I was ever capable of doing things right. Sometimes it isn't a case of who you want to be, but simply who people perceive you to be. Life can trap you that way.
Harry and I both bore our pasts like heavy, inescapable shrouds.
For Harry that meant he was the eternal wet-behind-the-ears ensign. No matter how many years of experience he tucked under his belt, despite his marriage and consequent fatherhood, no one ever saw Harry as truly 'grown-up'. Except me, but my opinions have always been seen as suspect, so my perception of him didn't count.
Similarly, no one ever looked at me without seeing me as the fuck-up son of the Great and Inimitable Admiral Paris. It's a strange but sadly true fact that once your feet have taken that first step on the road to notoriety, your every future action is carefully scrutinized for evidence of further transgressions. Kathryn gave me a chance, gave me her trust, then came down on me like a vengeful demon when I took just a small step away from her careful tutelage.
What I did at Monea was wrong, but it was 'right' too and any other member of the crew would have been given the benefit of the doubt. Hell, over the years we all broke the rules. The only difference on that occasion was that *I* broke the rules, and so I paid the price.
Things were never the same between the Captain and I afterwards. Sure, we moved on and gradually put it behind us but neither of us ever actually forgot. When I married Chakotay I was finally allowed back into the inner sanctum of her close regard. I got the honor of calling her 'Kathryn' in private. Hell, I even received the occassional mug of her jealously hoarded coffee.
Truth is though that the only thing that changed was the fact that she no longer perceived me as the Admiral's son, but as the First Officer's husband. It entitled me to a level of respect that had previously been denied me. As Chakotay's husband I was 'respectable'. It was assumed that my behaviour would be exemplary simply to avoid embarrassing him.
As Tom Paris-Chakotay I was reborn.
I hated it.
I had spent my whole life trying to escape the unbearable burden of being the Admiral's son. I spent years on Voyager trying to re-create myself as Tom Paris the individual and then I threw it all away by marrying Chakotay.
Which would have been worth it, of course, if he'd actually stayed with me.
The role of Chakotay's cast-off seemed to suit the crew's true perception of me, though. I was cast as the villain of the piece, the jealous spiteful ex-lover, the man so selfish that he tried to deny his husband his own child. They believed it of me because it was just proof of the old adage that a leopard never changed its spots.
Like oil in water, I have always managed to sink to a particular scum-level. Every time I return to that place of low public esteem, I recognise the residual traces of my last occupancy there and feel oddly at home.
Maybe that's why I never tried to defend myself against their silent accusations. I'd learnt too often the futility of battling against injustice. Besides, Chakotay's desertion struck me as something that had always been inevitable. I knew I didn't deserve him, so in a way it was almost unsurprising when he recognised that fact for himself.
Sure it hurt. It hurt so bad that there were times I literally couldn't breathe for the weight of agony in my chest. I would find myself gasping for breath, my heart racing, tiny lights flashing in the corner of my darkening vision as though I would pass out from the pain of the invisible hands that were crushing me down towards a place so dark and empty that I could see no escape.
The real mistake I made, the mistake I *always* have made, was being too fucking proud to let anyone see the pain.
Harry wouldn't have made the same error. No one ever hurt Harry twice because once you had experienced first-hand the Harry Kim wounded-puppy expression, you sure as hell avoided causing it a second time. So the truth is that Harry would never have given Chakotay up in the first place. He would have hovered around, supporting Chakotay's decision about Charis, never complaining about his behaviour, and all the while his big brown eyes would have been giving an uncanny impression of a beaten puppy, until he finally shamed Chakotay into returning to him.
Harry was a smart guy, truth be told.
I miss him.
I miss them all. Even Kathryn, who never *meant* to be a patronizing cow.
To be honest, I think she might have even helped me if I'd given her the chance. You see, Seven made the same mistake with Kathryn as I did. She fucked up.
Kathryn was the kind of person who demanded perfection from her protégés. She reached out to me at the beginning of our journey, gave me a chance that possibly no other Captain would have offered me, and then she sat back and basked in the glory of her proudest achievement , the reformed and grateful Tom Paris.
In my less charitable moments I used to wonder whether she was just hoping to score brownie points with the Admiral when we finally got home. Other times I simply took the unexpected gift of my second chance and worked it. I suppose I fell into the same trap with her as I had with my father. I *wanted* her approval, craved it like a drug, and the harder I tried to obtain it, the more impossibly high that pedestal began to feel. Every time she beamed at me in self-congratulation, I felt myself tottering with vertigo, knowing in my bones that I was inevitably going to fall.
When Seven first joined us, I was the first to offer her friendship. Which is ironic, I suppose. The truth though is that she was a kindred spirit, an outsider forever staring in to the unbreachable sanctum that was Voyager's family.
Neither of us belonged.
Not that a casual observer would have realised my own exclusion. I had learnt to thrust myself into conversations with an air of self-assurance. Yet, other than Harry, who accepted me unreservedly from the first day we met, and B'Elanna who grew to appreciate me over the years of our journey, the doors of true friendship were kept firmly locked and bolted against me.
Seven's arrival was the beginning of my downward spiral, although I didn't immediately recognise the danger she posed.
Kathryn, still glorying in her success as the mentor and reformer of the previously untamable Tom Paris, met Seven of Nine and was instantly transported to a new level of nirvana. My own reclamation paled into insignificance next to the challenge of a Borg drone and I was cast back out into the cold wasteland of Kathryn's disinterest.
At first it was somewhat of a relief, to be honest. Until Monea, that is, when I learned first hand just how frigid and hostile life could become on the hinterland of Voyager's inner circle.
On the other hand, it was in the wake of my demotion that Chakotay first revealed his interest in me.
I'd had a few problems in the brig. A lot of old baggage came tumbling out of storage during those long lonely days of incarceration and maybe because I needed to have at least *one* of the Senior Officers talking to me, I turned to Chakotay for help.
In retrospect, maybe I'd have been better off turning to Tuvok.
Anyway, I began seeing Chakotay a couple of times a week, then it trailed off to once a week and then just the occassional pool session. Other than Harry and B'Elanna he was the only person willing to publicly socialize with me while the Captain was still obviously pissed off with me.
You'd think I'd remember something as incredible as the moment I realised I'd fallen in love with him, but it didn't happen like that. It wasn't a sudden bolt of lightning. It was like a slow moving tide that crept up at such a leisurely pace that I barely noticed it happening.
It was several months after I stopped seeing Chakotay for counseling sessions that I realised I wanted him sexually. Slut that I was, it took me less than a day after that realisation to end up in his bed. It didn't mean anything more than that to me at the time. I didn't *want* it to mean anything more.
I was hungry, lonely and horny and all I wanted from Chakotay was a meal, a conversation and a fuck. I expected no more or less from him than from any other sexual encounter I had experienced.
Chakotay, unlike me, took sex a lot more seriously. He thought that the fact we had slept together meant we were a couple. In that moment of post-coital bliss when the usual advantage of fucking a guy is that he no more wants to hear sweet-nothings than you want to say them, Chakotay decided to tell me that he'd been in love with me for years.
An attack of the Borg wouldn't have gotten me out of his bed any faster. I was dressed and out of there so quickly that you'd have thought the red alert was sounding.
So, when it all comes down to it, the real reason I hate him so much is that he *made* me love him.
It wasn't me. It *never* was me. I was happy to just fuck and forget him. It was Chakotay who wanted more. It was Chakotay who pursued me so long and so far that I was dizzy and exhausted by the time he ran me to ground. It was Chakotay who forced me to fall in love with him, and when I finally did, I was free-falling without a parachute.
By the time Chakotay asked me to marry him, I would have crawled over hot coals just to make him smile.
And then he left me.
This engine room is full of ghosts. If I close my eyes a little, to filter out the light of reality, I can see the shade of B'Elanna fussing over the warp core. From the corner of my eye I can see Harry creeping in to whisper to Jenny. Up there on the deck I can see Joe Carey and I wonder about the two little boys he left in the Alpha Quadrant. They must be men now, just as Charis is a man.
I wonder whether Joe's face lives in their memory as it does in mine.
Voyager is full of ghosts. Most of them wear faces. Some of them are less tangible than that. They aren't the pale wraiths of people, they are the bitter shades of broken dreams.
Is it possible to repair a broken dream?
I don't know.
I fear that my heart will end up like this engine room; a chaotic sprawl of mis-matched parts wired loosely together with no more than tenuous threads of hope and trust.
That's the real biggie though, isn't it?
I trusted Chakotay before. Hell, when a guy like that comes at you at warp nine refusing to take no for an answer, it sweeps you off your feet so high that you forget how fucking painful its going to be to crash back down to earth again.
I've spent twenty years thinking about the bad times and that hurt. Remembering the good times, though, is somehow even worse.
One day at a time. That's what I promised myself last night. I'd try to believe for just one single day at a time that Chakotay really loves me.
So maybe I should stop feeling sorry for myself and try to do something about these fucking relays.