Tides of the Heart- Part Fourteen : Reflux
I am sitting on the shoreline, watching the ebb and flow of the sea as the sun begins to set on this, my last day on Voyager. My last day of life.
It is the last sun that I will ever see the setting of. That, somehow, saddens me more than anything else, that I will never see such beauty again. Yet in the heart of a star perhaps there is a beauty too. In that heat and fury all fear and confusion will burn away until not even ashes remain.
There is, surely, beauty in peace.
The sand beneath me is still dark, its grains cloyed together, and my body is chilled with the dampness that has spread through my jeans and into my skin. The tide is receding. Each flooding wave is shorter than its ebb, yet still the sea tumbles towards the shore in a desperate refusal of the inevitability of defeat.
Its impotent surging is like the flow of blood through my own heart. Repeatedly I am washed with waves of hope only for the backflow of fear to push me back into the depths of despair once more.
I feel a little faint, slightly light-headed, and the more I struggle for understanding the more confused I become, but I tell myself it is more likely lack of food that afflicts me than grief.
I do not know where he is. Perhaps he has left the holodec and I am truly alone. I could ask the computer and yet it is better, perhaps, to wonder, than to know for sure. Like the cat in Schroedinger's box, Chakotay's presence is just a cloud of possibilities as long as I do not open the box, and that little hope is surely better than discovering the worst.
We argued. I stormed out. He did not follow.
Why didn't he follow?
Because I didn't deserve him to follow. Because I am a liar and a cheat. I demanded the truth from him while still trying to hide my own secrets. I worried at him like a cat harassing a mouse and he tried so desperately to evade me without lying, to tell me half-truths, to divert me with inconsequential facts, but I would not be dissuaded. Not now, not after all these years.
So he told me. Told me everything. Tears streaming down his face as though he would cry an ocean in which we would both drown.
And I did what? Did I comfort him? Did I admit that I already knew much of what he thought was hidden from me? Did I tell him my own secrets?
I ran from my room, pausing only to grab the clothes I had discarded the night before, and I kept running until the resort was lost in the distance, and I was alone on this deserted, holographic beach.
That was at noon, and now the sun is setting, and still he has not come to me, and still I have no answer for him if he does.
What can I say?
What possible words can leave my lips and make things better, rather than worse?
They can be worse, you know.
Do you know what I regret most? That I forced Chakotay to kill his own wife. No matter that she deserved death. I have no pity for *her*. She was a witch, that lowest of creatures, a mother who would devour her own child. *My* child.
Oh god that hurts.
To know that Tayven was *my* own son and in his twelve years of life I spared no more than a passing thought for him. He was the inconvenience that sometimes accompanied Charis on his visits. He was no more to me than that. I feel sick with guilt.
Not because I did not know he was my son.
Because, to tell the truth, it makes no difference.
In my mind he was Chakotay's boy. That was enough to inspire what little interest I had in him. It was enough to make me want to reveal the monstrous act of his murder although I had no proof, only suspicions.
The terrible, tragically ironic thing is that Chakotay and I are so alike that it is terrifying.
Knowing that the children were mine, he gave them all the love that he would have given his own children.
Thinking the children were his, I tried to care about them.
How many times do I have to say it before you understand?
I DID NOT WANT CHILDREN!
I have grown to love Charis. He is special to me. A friend. A confident even. And yes, I admit it, that these days I am glad that he *is* my son. Propriety alone forced me to pretend an interest in him, yet as the years passed he slowly stole my heart.
Given a choice though, I would never have had him at all.
Chakotay gave his life and our happiness to protect the interests of children that I did not even want. How can I admit that to him? That although he loved them as being part of me, I never have felt that way about them myself and knowing that Anika and Tayven were mine would not have hurt me. Not really. Not if he'd *told* me.
He should have told me.
I spent twenty years believing that I was unloved, unlovable. Twenty years believing that I was undesirable, cast off like an old shoe when a better option was offered. For twenty long years he let me believe that I meant nothing to him, while all the time he was, in his own peculiar way, proving that he loved me more than any man deserves to be loved.
What hurts more than all those years of loneliness though, when my heart was a barren wasteland, its surface pitted and scarred like the landscape after a nuclear explosion, is that in many ways he was right.
I did not *want* to have children.
Does that make me a bad person? Is it a wickedness, a flaw, that I did not? Did I deserve my pain because I was too selfish to embrace the imperative to reproduce myself? Am I, like Seven, a monstrous and unnatural being that I chose to cleave only Chakotay to my heart and find contentment in his love alone?
Tuvok said that love was not like a cake. It is increased by the addition of recipients, not diminished. Does that mean that love is decreased by the refusal to add children to a partnership?
Yet, though I regret it, and feel guilty about it, it is who I am.
I was not brought up in a loving family like Chakotay. Nothing in my childhood ever inspired me to believe that children were a blessing. I was a burden to my parents. They believed that I should be 'seen but not heard'. Actually, not seen either was their preference.
I was paraded out for visitors and then returned to my room until the next performance was due. I was taught that I was a 'Paris', that my existence was not as an individual but that I was merely the next in line to push the Paris name onwards. Our family was its own Borg collective. I was programmed to be the dutiful, perfect son and resistance to my father's ambitions was futile.
I learnt that children were not born out of love, but out of a need to continue a family name. I was not to be Tom, an individual, but simply the next in line to wear the mantle of Admiral Paris.
Is it any wonder that I found the idea of bringing another generation of Paris's into being to be a repulsive one?
Discovering, as a teenager, that my crush on an older male student was not a 'phase' but the beginning of an acceptance that I was gay, brought me a freedom in that I found myself biologically disinclined to reproduce. I remember getting a little drunk and toasting the realisation that I would never, after all, be forced to bring another sad little Paris boy up to fill shoes that could never be filled.
No wife would ever insidiously demand that I provided her with a child.
It never occurred to me that a husband would inadvertently place me in the same position.
I was ill-prepared for the shock of Charis's conception, and although the birth of the other children would have been less traumatic due to the fact that I was at least aware by then that I could be 'forced' to reproduce against my wishes, it would not have made the reality of their existence easier to bear.
In taking my DNA, Seven raped me. Perhaps not physically, but the sense of violation is still as strong. No means no. I do not want a child means I DO NOT WANT A CHILD. It is not a negotiation. It is not fair that someone should be able to have said, in effect, you don't really know what you want and I'll prove it to you by going against every thing that you know to be true and forcing you to accept the consequences.
Don't misunderstand me. Charis and Anika are my children. I did not want them, but they exist and they deserve to be given love and acceptance. They did not choose to be born. They are as much victims in this as I am. They are part of Voyager's family and I would die to protect any child of *any* crewmember. They are our future. Our hope. Like Harriet is an echo of Harry and Jenny who will, in some small way give them eternal life. I understand that now. It does not, however, mean that I am a different person than I was. I have not miraculously developed paternal feelings after all.
Well, perhaps I have in a way, but only in the fashion that a drip of water can eventually wear away the hardest granite. Over the years, my defenses crumbled in the face of Charis's charm and I suppose if Il walk back out into the corridors of Voyager to see Anika, I will see my daughter in a new, more fascinating light.
I have a daughter.
It's a strange and frightening thought, but not entirely unwelcome. Just something I need to think about a little more, perhaps.
I had another son, and he is dead. Twice dead.
It's why I ran from Chakotay.
Not because, as he suspects, I blame him for what he did. I ran in guilt that I did not take the burden of that decision upon myself.
I understand why he did it like he did. He could not afford for Charis and Anika to become aware of their mother's crime. He could have denounced her, and she would surely have been either banished or even perhaps executed for her most unnatural crime. It would, however, have hurt the children past endurance.
This way, at least, her 'accidental' death allows her to live eternally in their memory as the mother that they loved.
I understand that choice. It was the same reason why I never spoke out about my suspicions.
Yet again, Chakotay did the *right* thing, although it went against all of his personal beliefs to take such an action.
That's what I hate myself for. I could have acted on my own suspicions. I could have taken the necessity of Seven's death out of his hands. I should have become the villain myself and thus saved Chakotay from a stain on his soul that he must always live with. He does not deserve the burden of Seven's death on his conscience.
I, more than anyone, understand how guilt over such a thing destroys a person. Even now, almost thirty years on, I still dream about the friends who died at Caldik Prime. Their ghosts still visit me in the stillness of the night. They haunt me.
It was an accident. That is all. I know that. It does not help. Not really. No more than knowing that he had no other option will help Chakotay when the shade of Seven visits him as she surely will, and he, unlike me, is a good person who cannot hide his feelings behind the walls that I have erected. I have worn armor around my heart since I was a child no older than Tayven was when he died. Oh I feel, and I suffer and I grieve, but I survive. Like driftwood I toss and flail in the spinning eddies of my life and yet I never become water-bound. I never sink. I struggle and I choke but I never drown.
Chakotay could drown. He is too open and honest for his own good. Even today, when I kept all my own secrets jealously guarded, his own tumbled out like a flood tide from a sluice gate. Once he started his confession he could not stop. He drowned himself.
When he admitted what he had done, I responded with complete shock at first that he would have done such a thing. If I had harbored any doubts about his love of his children, his terrible decision would have laid them to rest in itself. He called himself a murderer, and it broke my heart. He did not murder Seven. He took a necessary action in the defense of his family and his action, in a way, was a kindness that Seven did not deserve.
Had it been me, I would have chosen to throw her to the wolves. I would have wanted her to suffer for her crimes. I would have made her face the wrath and disgust of the crew *before* I killed her.
Or maybe not. Because of Charis and Anika.
I never wanted children. It's not fair that they burden my conscience like this. I am too selfish for this responsibility. I am not Chakotay. I never *pretended* to be the kind of person who wanted this type of obligation.
God forgive me, but I am *glad* the Tayven clone died in her womb.
How can I say that to Chakotay though without him seeing me for what I really am? He thinks, no, *expects* me to be outraged. I am simply relieved. Yet how can I find the words to explain that to him without him thinking that I wish that Anika and Charis were dead too.
When I first discovered that Seven was pregnant, I demanded that she should be forced to terminate the pregnancy. Chakotay has never forgiven me for that desire. I think it's why he left me. It's certainly why he never confided in me that Anika and Tayven were mine.
When Seven became pregnant with Anika, Chakotay was too frightened to reveal the baby's parentage because he expected me to demand that Seven had an abortion.
*That's* why I have been alone for all these years, because Chakotay saw *me* as the greatest threat to the children's lives.
The worst of it, is that it is true.
Even though I had begun to accept Charis as a child who must be protected and cherished, had I known that another baby was growing inside Seven's womb, I would still have demanded that the pregnancy was terminated. She had no right to do what she did.
Once the children were born though, that was a different matter altogether. It is one thing to contemplate the ending of a life before it has even drawn breath, another thing entirely when it is a living, breathing child.
That's where Chakotay and I will never see eye to eye.
For him, Seven's fourth pregnancy was an abomination because it had no spirit. In his beliefs the soul exists in the fetus. Had the baby not been a clone, he would not have allowed it to die. Me? I don't believe in spirits or souls at all. It is impossible for me to believe that a microscopic dividing egg is already a *person* who has a right to life at the cost of the sanity of those who are already living and breathing.
I came here, to this simulation, to say goodbye to a man who had wronged me beyond endurance. Instead I discovered that I had spent twenty years hating a man whose every choice, right or wrong, was based on his love for me.
I entered this holoprogram safe in the certainty that I was the innocent party who had been abandoned by a man who now only wanted me because I was all that he had left to turn to. Now, I have found out that I am not the runner-up at all. He did not lose his wife and then turn to me as a replacement. He broke every belief that was integral to his own heart to protect me and my children from harm.
I agreed to these seven days to discover whether I was desperate enough to forgive him for his abandonment only to realise that in the most important of ways, he never left me at all.
Yet now, as I sit here alone as the waves ebb and flow and the twin moons rise so that their eerie blue light plays over my chilled body, I shiver not from cold as much as fear.
Just as Chakotay is not what I have believed him to be, so, evidently, I am not the person that he believes he loves.
It is this that I cannot bear. That he will discover me for what I really am. That he will hate me for not being what he dreams that I am.
I *am* unlovable after all.
For twenty years he has constructed a fantasy around me, believing even now that I would bemoan the death of the child in Seven's womb.
He does not love me.
How can he when he does not even know me?
He does not love *me*.
Perhaps he never did.
I cannot put it off any longer. I have to know.
"Computer, is Captain Chakotay on the holodec?"
"Negative," the computer's dispassionate voice replies.
So, he has gone and I am alone.
I hug my abandonment around myself like a cloak, yet it is a bitter, chilling garment sending icy fingers of dread into my already frozen limbs.
I am alone.
"Location of Captain Chakotay?" I ask when I finally catch my breath once more.
"Captain Chakotay is in his quarters," the computer replies.
"Is he alone?" Like I am alone. Like I am *always* alone.
"Lieutenant Charis Hansen and Ensign Anika Hansen are with Captain Chakotay."
Fuck him. Fuck all of them. Fuck him and his fucking FAMILY.
He does not need me. He has them. He will always have them, his children. Our children. *My* children. Oh shit, what the fuck am I going to do?
Just get on my shuttle and go. Leave them behind and run away, like I've been running away all my life. Run away from responsibilities I don't want and obligations I can't bear, and a husband who loves me enough to have given twenty years of his life to nurture *my* children.
I should have left the day that he divorced me. I should have set him free as he tried to set *me* free. If I really loved him, shouldn't I have given him the chance of a new life instead of haunting him like a vicious, vengeful ghost? Was it love that kept me on Voyager or just the same selfishness that forced him to choose between me and our son?
I don't know any more.
And if I leave, am I leaving to punish him or to punish myself?
I won't survive without him. I know that. I've always known that. To leave is to die. It's the act of a coward, perhaps. If I take the shuttle I will plunge her into the heart of the first star that I find.
I never *really* wanted to go anywhere. I just wanted to end the pain.
I still do.
Yet, is leaving, is dying, the only way to end the pain? Does this *have* to be all that there is? Can't my love for *him* be enough? Can I really turn my back on him only out of fear and wounded pride? What if I *try* at least?
I could go to him. Go to *them*. Offer to try at least to be the person that he wants me to be.
Would it really be too hard to embrace my children and offer them what little of myself that I *can* offer? Can I look at Anika through new eyes as I have learnt to look at Charis? Can I try, for their sakes, to accept Harriet as my grandchild? Can I reach out to Chakotay and bridge the years of pain and misunderstandings with four simple words?
"I love you *all*," is all I must say.
Just four words and, perhaps, we can turn the tide back towards the shore. One short sentence and the reflux will be halted in its tracks. One simple phrase and hope will replace fear and forgiveness will finally be able to find a chink in the barriers that we have all erected.
I am alone, and Chakotay is offering me a home, a family, a life. He and his children are a life-line and I am drowning in my own self-pity. I can reach out, clutch at rescue and become the person that they want me to be.
And I, Tom Paris, will cease to exist.
Their triad will increase to embrace me and I will be swallowed so that I am just one quarter of a family.
I will no longer be me.
Unless Tuvok is right after all.
Perhaps I will be four-times me. Perhaps the empty shell of Tom Paris will come alive once more as I replace loneliness with not just one love, but three.
Or I could simply turn my back on them all and leave, safe in the knowledge that I have been true to myself. That I have not given in to Seven's plot to reduce me to just another Borg in *her* collective.
It's a hollow victory though, isn't it?
Over the years I have played many games of Solitaire. It's a nice uncomplicated game and I usually win, and if I don't, no-one is there to witness my defeat. I can even cheat if I want and since I am only cheating myself, it doesn't matter, does it? I am just changing the rules to make myself happy.
So maybe, just maybe, I am just changing the rules a little if I stay.
It's my game, isn't it? My life. My loneliness. My pride.
Maybe I never wanted children, but does it really matter since they exist? They are real. I cannot turn back the clock and wink them out of existence, and even if I could, I don't believe that I would.
If "Q" himself came and offered to return me to a time before Seven was even on board so that I could change the turn of events, would I do it?
Despite the pain and loneliness of all these bitter years, I could not do it.
I cannot kill my children. I cannot wipe them out of existence as though they are an inconvenience that I would rather not have dealt with. I cannot even wish it to be so without guilt gnawing at me.
So, perhaps, I *do* love them after all.
And, if that is true, then perhaps Chakotay is not *totally* wrong about me, after all.
So, maybe he *does* love me rather than just an image in his head of how I *should* be.