Spirit of the Earth, Spirit of the Sky
This story was inspired by a recent discussion about Chakotay's spirit guide. If you accept the Star Trek books as "canon", his guide is a snake. Most fanfic writers prefer to write his guide as a wolf (myself included). However, the discussion inspired this story. BTW : The legend about the relationship between snakes and dragonflies is true Native American folklore, although it originates in the Appalachians rather than Central America..
"Is it really true?" Tom Paris asked, sitting himself down at Chakotay's table.
Chakotay frowned, knowing Tom deliberately hadn't asked for permission to join him because he knew from past experience that he wouldn't be given it.
"Is what true?" Chakotay asked, narrowing his eyes suspiciously at the grinning pilot.
Even in the dim light of Sandrine's, Tom's brightness dazzled his eyes and Chakotay felt the first dull throb of an impending headache. This was the third night in row that Tom had singled him out after shift. The last two nights he had avoided the pilot by expressing polite indifference rather than resorting to rudeness. Even so, any *normal* person would have got the hint by now.
He could only assume that Tom was too arrogant to recognize a polite brush-off.
Instead of answering him immediately, Tom began such an intense lingering inspection of his face that the older man felt his cheeks beginning to flush.
"Didn't anyone ever tell you it's rude to stare, Lieutenant?" Chakotay growled, trying to mask his discomfiture with a frown.
Tom just gave a solemn nod.
"Uh huh," he murmured, his eyes clearly measuring and judging the face in front of him. "I can see it now I'm looking at you."
"You can see *what*?" Chakotay growled impatiently.
"It's your eyes that give it away. You *do* have mesmerizing eyes, Commander."
Chakotay looked suspiciously at what could only be described as a seductive smile on Tom's face. Then he pondered the drink in Tom's hand. Either Tom had found a way to doctor the synthale again, or he was up to something. Knowing Tom as he did, it was probably a little of both.
If he hadn't been so tired, and if Tom hadn't looked so damn edible in the loose emerald silk shirt he was *almost* still wearing after several hours of falling out of it over the pool table, Chakotay might have been entertained enough by the pilot's persistence to play along. Even though he knew Tom wasn't serious, Chakotay could have chosen to be flattered that Tom thought he was worth flirting with.
Instead he was infuriated by Tom's arrogance, by the way the younger man flaunted his looks and assumed he was irresistible enough to wear Chakotay down.
The fact that Chakotay *did* find Tom little short of irresistible didn't help. While he wasn't the celibate monk people seemed to imagine, Chakotay preferred to be cautious in his sex life. He didn't object to a little meaningless sex now and then with people who clearly understood that he wasn't interested in starting a relationship. It was easier that way. No one got hurt. Including himself.
But Tom was different.
Over the years as he'd learned to respect Tom professionally, he'd often regretted the fact that their past history and their difference in ranks had prevented them ever becoming friends. Only, to be honest with himself, Tom had often attempted to bridge the invisible gap beneath them. It had been Chakotay himself who had spurned Tom's hesitant overtures of friendship. Not to mention his occasional attempts at seduction.
Chakotay wasn't even sure *why* he always refused the pilot.
Tom was bright, funny, entertaining and had a reputation of leaving his bed-partners well satisfied with the experience. Tom was also well known for rarely returning for 'seconds'. He knew Tom saw sex as nothing more than recreation and that *should* have made him the perfect safe casual partner.
But something about the idea repelled him.
It wasn't that he was in love with the pilot, or anything stupid like that. He was just a little disconcerted by him. He had the feeling that if he ever let Tom get under his skin, he'd have a hell of a job getting him back out again.
It was like looking at a special vintage of wine and knowing that if you tasted it you might never be satisfied by anything else. So it was better not to taste it at all, just in case.
Over the last few years, Tom had made several attempts to interest him. Each time the pilot had blithely accepted his rejection and had moved on as though the incident had never happened, only to resume his hunt again some months later as though he was sure Chakotay's defeat was simply a matter of time.
Chakotay had decided that Tom had some kind of internal sensor that helped him hone in whenever his potential victim was feeling a little vulnerable. And he *had* been watching Tom a little too frequently of late. wondering and fantasizing. So it was probably his own fault that Tom thought he was ripe for potential acquisition again.
Damn his arrogance.
Chakotay had no intention of ever becoming just another notch on Tom's bedpost.
He was exhausted after pulling a double shift and he was damned if he was doing to spend a third sleepless night fantasizing about something he had too much pride to ever allow happen. The sooner he got Tom out of his sight the better.
"Yes?" Tom asked eagerly.
"Go away before I say something you regret."
"But I wanted to…"
"GO AWAY, LIEUTENANT."
Tom's eyes darkened and the smile slipped off his face. If it had been anyone else sitting in front of him, Chakotay would have felt guilty. But he'd decided that nothing less than blatant rudeness was going to work with Tom Paris.
"You're being rude," Tom pointed out unnecessarily.
"No ruder than you were when you sat down without asking permission," Chakotay pointed out. "If it's work related, speak to me when we're back on duty."
"It's a personal matter," Tom replied, in little more than a whisper.
/What a surprise/ Chakotay thought tiredly. "My counseling sessions are between 1000 and 1400. Make an appointment."
Tom sighed dramatically.
"Maybe not then," he said mysteriously. "You're definitely *not* slow to lose your temper, are you?"
/Not with you/ Chakotay thought, and his unspoken words hung in the air between them, making Chakotay feel a little ashamed of himself for snapping at the irritatingly effervescent pilot. /I snap at you because it's the only defense I have against you. Because you either have no idea of what you do to me or you know *exactly* what you do to me. And whether it's ignorance or deliberate cruelty on your part, it hurts me too much/
"Tom, I'm sorry I snapped. I've had a long day. I just wanted a quiet drink before retiring. I don't mean to be unfriendly, but I'm not in the mood for company tonight."
"Or any other night," Tom muttered under his breath. Then he rose to his feet, plastered a wide, almost convincing, smile across his face and shrugged.
"It's a shame, though."
"What's a shame?"
Chakotay regretted asking when Tom took the question as an invitation to sit back down.
"That I was wrong. I really could have done with winning the bet. I don't suppose you'd…no, never mind…Of course you wouldn't."
"What bet and *what* wouldn't I do?" Chakotay asked, intrigued in spite of himself.
"The bet everyone has going over your spirit guide," Tom replied.
"Your animal totem. You know, the little furry critter you talk to when you think no-one can overhear you. Well, if it is furry. Which I didn't think it was, but I guess it is, after all."
Chakotay rubbed his eyes tiredly, more than a little confused. He was uncertain whether to laugh or to punch Tom in the face.
"Let me get this straight. There's a bet going on over the form my spirit guide takes?"
"Yup," Tom agreed, with a winning smile.
"Why?" Chakotay asked mildly.
"Why not? It's an unwritten rule that the crew have an obligation to gossip and speculate about Senior Officers. The real game is in figuring out the mystery. Turning it into a bet just makes it more fun."
"But why bet about my spirit guide?"
"Well there's little point speculating over your love life, is there?" Tom snapped.
Chakotay took a deep breath and decided to pretend he hadn't heard the comment.
"My spirit guide isn't a secret anyway."
"It's not?" Tom asked, his surprise evident.
"No. It's a private thing that I prefer not to discuss, but there's no taboo about it."
"Then you'll tell me?" Tom asked excitedly.
"I would have," Chakotay replied. "If you'd given me a good reason for telling you. I don't consider trying to cheat on a bet to be a good reason."
Tom's face crumpled.
"That's where you've got me all wrong, Commander. We've already placed our bets. All I need you to do is tell me so we know who won."
"Oh?" Chakotay asked, both surprised and a little ashamed that he'd apparently misjudged Tom again. He seemed to make a habit of doing that. On the other hand, there *was* something decidedly off-kilter here. He couldn't put his finger on it, but Tom *was* deceiving him in some way. Despite the innocent expression of dismay on Tom's face, the blue eyes were shadowed with secrets.
"What are you actually up to, Tom?" Chakotay demanded. "If you *don't* have anything to gain from finding out, why are you bothering?"
Tom looked so despondent that Chakotay had the insane desire to apologize. He still didn't trust Tom's motivations but it was pretty clear that he'd genuinely hurt the younger man's feelings.
Before he could speak, Tom gave a deep sigh.
"It doesn't matter. I was obviously wrong anyway. I told B'Elanna the whole thing was a waste of time. Only I was kind of hoping…oh shit…this is so fucking stupid. It doesn't matter what your stupid guide is anyway."
"Okay, I'm probably going to hate myself for asking this, but what *did* you think my spirit guide was?" Chakotay asked.
"A snake," Tom replied miserably.
"A snake?" Chakotay repeated, in complete disbelief. "Why?"
"Well I checked it out in the computer records. Snake people are charismatic, but difficult to comprehend, and they have eyes that mesmerize you so they can look into your heart and soul."
Seeing Chakotay staring at him with little less than amazement, Tom blushed furiously before continuing.
"It's supposed to be very strong earth energy to have a snake as a spirit guide. It apparently ties people to the practical, analytical and physical side of life. I thought it suited you. I was obviously wrong."
"So why did you change your mind?"
"Because you're supposed to be slow to lose your temper."
"You didn't research enough, Tom. Snakes may be slow to lose their temper, but once it's lost, their bite is quick, sharp, and direct," Chakotay replied.
"You're saying your spirit guide is a snake?" Tom demanded excitedly.
Chakotay shook his head.
"I'm just pointing out that there's far more to a spirit guide than you can learn from the computer, Tom."
"So what is your guide?" Tom demanded.
"I'd rather not say," Chakotay replied firmly.
Tom nodded miserably.
"It doesn't matter now, anyway," he said, avoiding Chakotay's eyes. "I'm sorry I bothered you, Commander."
Chakotay watched the younger man walk away from him, and almost regretted being so abrupt.
Charismatic and mesmerizing. Why the hell had Tom Paris imagined those adjectives described him? Chakotay had no idea, but was oddly disappointed that Tom had obviously changed his mind.
The next night, although Chakotay spent several hours nursing a solitary drink in Sandrine's, Tom made no effort to approach him.
Initially Chakotay was pleased that he'd managed to escape so lightly. Usually it took the best part of a week before Tom gave up and moved on to a new victim. He spent the first couple of hours congratulating himself as Tom concentrated on the pool table, apparently oblivious to his presence.
Then Chakotay spent the next hour growing increasingly irritated.
He told himself that the speed with which Tom had lost interest in him again just proved the pilot had never been interested at all. Unless not even Tom had enough bravado to simply shrug off the almost brutal rudeness of his rejection.
Tom *did* seem a little subdued, his usual brightness a little dark around the edges as though his gay aura had been slightly singed by the heat of Chakotay's scorn.
So Chakotay spent the final hour feeling an increasing weight of guilty regret descending on his own shoulders.
He waited until the bar was almost empty, and Tom was tidying up the pool cues, and he approached the pilot himself.
"Commander?" Tom replied, his face a mask of indifferent politeness.
"You never came to see me about your personal issue."
Tom looked blank for a moment, then his ice-blue eyes shadowed.
"I told you. I just wanted to find out about your spirit guide for the bet. That was all."
"Was it?" Chakotay asked dubiously.
"What else could I possibly want to discuss with *you*?"
The rudeness of Tom's reply was unexpected but not particularly surprising under the circumstances, Chakotay decided.
"Tom, I was unforgivably rude to you yesterday..." he began.
"So what's new?" Tom muttered under his breath.
"But the problem is the way you deal with me."
"You either ignore me completely or approach me head-on like an out of control shuttle. It's always all or nothing and I find that difficult to deal with. I'd like to be your friend, Tom. Can't we give that a try instead?"
Tom gazed at him in disbelief. For a moment Chakotay saw something a little fragile and vulnerable flicker deep within the younger man's eyes. Then Tom's face twisted with anger.
"I've already got 'friends'," Tom snapped.
"Then what do you want?" Chakotay demanded.
"You said it yourself. Everything or nothing, and since the answer's definitely nothing, we've got nothing else to say to each other."
He shouldered roughly past Chakotay and strode out of the holodec without a backward glance leaving Chakotay more than a little confused.
Chakotay was just about to enter his quarters when B'Elanna's door opened further down the corridor and she strode out, looking slightly flustered, and headed for the turbolift.
"B'Elanna? Wait up. I want to talk to you about something."
She flicked her head to acknowledge his comment but continued towards the lift.
"B'Elanna?" Chakotay repeated, a little louder.
She slowed to a halt with an audible sigh and half-turned to look at him.
"Can it wait? I'm really tired and there's a problem in Engineering that I need to check before I turn in."
"I'll accompany you," Chakotay offered.
"I'd rather you didn't," B'Elanna snapped, giving him a decidedly unfriendly glare.
Chakotay blinked in surprise.
"Have I done something to upset you?" he asked cautiously.
"Let's see. You've just kicked one of my best friends in the teeth, yet again. Does that upset me? Oddly enough, yes it does, Chakotay."
"I did what?"
"I really thought better of you, Chakotay. I know you don't like him, and I don't know what you actually said to him because he refused to tell me, but if you have a problem with the spirit guide thing you should blame me, not him."
"I don't have a problem," Chakotay replied, completely bemused. "I thought it was amusing to tell the truth."
"AMUSING?" B'Elanna bellowed. "No wonder you upset him. Kahless, I never thought you were even capable of being so insensitive."
"Insensitive? How did you want me to react? You're lucky I didn't take offence. To tell the truth, I had every right to feel hurt. I can understand the bet, kind of. But it surprises me that *you* got involved in it. I thought you had more respect for my beliefs."
"What bet?" B'Elanna demanded.
"Spirit guides," Chakotay prompted.
B'Elanna looked perplexed for a moment, then she frowned again.
"I didn't think you'd mind. After all, you didn't mind introducing *me* to the idea of a spirit guide. Given your strained relationship with each other, Tom didn't want to approach you about it. He didn't think you'd believe he was sincere. Seems like he was right, after all, if you thought he'd just done it as a bet."
"I'm a little confused," Chakotay admitted. "What *exactly* did you do, B'Elanna?"
"I introduced Tom to his own spirit guide."
"HIS spirit guide?"
"There's no need to sound so surprised, Chakotay. It was you who pointed out that everyone had one if they just took the time to look. Anyway, Tom met his guide and seemed really depressed about what it turned out to be. So I told him to go and do some research about his totem. Next thing I know, he's grinning from ear to ear like he'd just discovered the meaning of Christmas. THEN, he speaks to you and comes back looking like he'd been kicked in the teeth.
"I don't know why you found it so damned 'amusing', Chakotay, but if you accused him of doing the whole thing as a joke, you not only misjudged him seriously, but you were out of line."
"Tom didn't tell me he'd met his spirit guide," Chakotay said, when she finally ran out of steam.
"He asked me what form my own guide took and when I asked him why he wanted to know, he said there was a bet going on over it on the lower decks."
"But…but why would he do that?" B'Elanna asked. "And if that's all you talked about, why's he so upset?"
"I don't know," Chakotay replied. "Did he tell you anything about his own spirit guide?"
B'Elanna gave a reluctant laugh. "It was an insect," she confided. "He was pretty disappointed, like I said. I think he expected something a little more dramatic or at least romantic."
"What kind of insect?"
"Some kind of fly," B'Elanna replied, racking her memory. "I think he said it was called a dragonfly or something like that."
She was amazed at the slow, amazed smile that spread over Chakotay's face at the news.
"I should have guessed," he replied quietly. "It's so appropriate, in a strange way."
"The Dragonfly is the doorkeeper who allows the gates to the dream dimensions to be opened through the breaking of physical illusion. It's a beautiful totem, which suits him, but even more appropriately the dragonfly represents the power of flight," Chakotay explained.
"That is appropriate," B'Elanna agreed with an answering smile.
"Dragonflies break down the illusions we hold that restrict our actions or ideas. They help us seek out parts of our lives we need to change. With dragonflies, things are never completely as they seem."
"That definitely sounds like Tom," B'Elanna laughed, then her laughter trailed off and she frowned again. "So why did Tom want to know what your spirit guide was? And why did he lie to you about why he wanted to know?"
"I think it was my own fault," Chakotay confessed. "He made several attempts to approach me off-duty and discuss a 'personal' matter, and I was so off-hand and rude to him about it that he probably made up the story of the bet just to find a way to bring the subject up."
"Why *are* you always so rude to Tom?" B'Elanna asked.
"Because I didn't understand. When he said he wanted 'everything or nothing' from me, I just thought he was talking about sex."
"Knowing Tom, you're probably right."
"That's just it, B'Elanna. I don't think any of us really know Tom at all, but I think I'm finally beginning to understand him. Particularly since you said how upset he was after we discussed my own Spirit Guide."
"Why was he so upset?"
"Because I lied to him," Chakotay confessed. "The whole lie about the bet was his way of trying to get me to admit he was right about my own totem. He guessed my guide was a snake, and I was so stunned and threatened by the accuracy of his guess that I denied it."
"You lied to him?"
"Not in so many words, but I deliberately allowed him to believe he'd made a mistake. So, yes, I lied. To be honest, it's not the first time I've lied to him."
"He obviously doesn't bring out the best in you," B'Elanna pointed out dryly.
"Everything or nothing," Chakotay muttered.
"With most people you find a balance, your relationship finds a mutual comfortable level. With some people though, there's a spark between you that generates far too much passion for comfort. You can't find a peaceful equilibrium. You either hate them or love them. There's no in-between. Like Tom said, he and I *can't* ever be friends. We burn each other simply by existing in the same space."
"I'm a little confused here. Are you saying you hate him or you love him?" B'Elanna asked.
"Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference," Chakotay admitted. "Although I've never even admitted it to myself before, I think I've always loved him. But, before I started this conversation with you, I would have said Tom hated me. Now, I'm more worried that I have broken something precious between us because I didn't even know it existed."
"With your lie, you mean?"
"With all my lies."
"But why does it matter to Tom what *your* guide is, anyway?" B'Elanna asked.
Chakotay closed his eyes for a moment, and his head filled with a living rainbow of flashing red, dazzling green, brilliant blue and shimmering gold as Tom's words tumbled through his mind. Tom had described him as mesmerizing, as charismatic, and with the memory of the words, a thousand other images tripped through his head.
Tom laughing. Tom frowning. Tom's blue eyes sparkling with fun. Tom's eyes darkening with sorrow. Tom's hand reaching out to save him over a crumbling staircase.
"Your life is mine," Tom had said.
"Wrong tribe," Chakotay had lied.
And that had been the start of the lies, the beginning of the denials, the moment when he could have chosen to embrace Tom's brightness instead of spending years with blinkered vision. He suddenly realized that he'd been blind for years. His eyes had been so locked inside a monochrome world of lonely bitterness that he hadn't even seen the beauty that Tom Paris had been trying to offer him all along.
Just as he'd tried to refuse the hand that had offered him his life, he'd spurned every subsequent attempt the younger man had made to offer him friendship.
Even when Tom had made it blatantly obvious that he was attracted to him, Chakotay had reacted with suspicion. He'd assumed Tom was taunting him or trying to manipulate him or attempting to use him.
For seven years he'd flung every gesture of affection back in Tom's face and instead of seeing Tom's persistence as bravery, he'd assumed that it was arrogance.
"Do you remember me showing you my medicine wheel?" he asked B'Elanna. "The circle represents the Circle of Life, the connectedness of all things to each other, and the eternal connection of man to the universe.
"One of the things my ancestors believed was that it was bad luck to kill a dragonfly. You see, although dragonflies seem fragile creatures, my people believed that they were the protectors of snakes. I suppose you could say they believed the snake's life belonged to the dragonfly.
"But it worked both ways. If you killed a dragonfly, its snake would come after you for vengeance."
For a moment all Chakotay could hear was the fluttering sound of rainbow-hued wings.
"He once told me my life belonged to him, B'Elanna, and I think I've finally understood what he really meant by the comment."
"I think perhaps it's time you told *him* that, rather than me," B'Elanna suggested softly.
"Perhaps it's too late," Chakotay replied sadly, his heart aching as he remembered his perception of Tom in Sandrine's, his bright aura singed black around the edges.
"Do you really think he's waited for you to come to your senses for all these years only to reject you now?" B'Elanna asked, with a small smile. "Go find him, Chakotay. Open yourself up to him. It seems he's already opened the door and shown you what you need to change in your life. Why not offer him 'everything' this time."
Everything or nothing.
For a moment Chakotay remembered himself tottering on an abyss, as terrified of reaching out to the hand that offered him life as falling to certain death.
"Your life is mine," Tom had said.
"Yes," Chakotay answered, but he wasn't so much agreeing with B'Elanna as speaking to that ghostly voice of his memory, finally saying the word that he should have uttered all those years previously.
And with a feeling of peaceful contentment, he turned away from B'Elanna, walked towards Tom's quarters and pressed the entry panel.