Tides of the Heart- Part Five : Ecclesiastes
Sprits forgive me.
I had the dream again last night.
Here I am, dressing once more in my Captain's dress uniform to attend the birthing ceremony of my first grandchild, and less than an hour ago I was sobbing in my bathroom because I woke and found that the dream was not true.
The dream that none of this ever happened and that Tom and I stayed together.
I have lost a little weight, it seems, since I handed over command to Tuvok. No matter how I adjust my jacket it still hangs uncomfortably on my shoulders as though it is a borrowed garment.
In a way it is, I suppose. It seems ludicrous for *two* Captains to attend the ceremony, and I suggested that I should wear civvies instead. Tuvok wouldn't hear of it. He said that I hadn't given up my rank, only my command, when I decided that having Charis, Anika and Menily on the bridge meant that my judgment during crisis situations would be inevitably affected by their presence.
I had never wanted the Captaincy, really. Only, after Kathryn's sudden death, everyone turned to me in expectation that I would take them home, and as always duty and responsibility came first.
I cannot begin to explain how painful those first years were, when I would sit in the Command chair, scant meters from the back of my husband's, ex-husband's, head and watch his graceful fingers flying over the console as once they had caressed my flesh. So terrible to issue orders in a low monotone that would be answered by a stiffening of his shoulders and a curt," Yes Sir."
He never smiled. Not once.
In one cruel twist of fate, whatever indomitable spirit had lived in Tom was extinguished and he became the model officer. There were no more jokes on the Bridge, no more irreverent comments, only a darkly brooding misery that wafted off him in such powerful waves that they were almost visible.
Tuvok advised me privately that when I was off the bridge Tom was far more relaxed, although he was still unnaturally quiet, so I began spending more time in my ready room, performing now the role of First Officer *and* Captain.
Officially, Tuvok was now First Officer and Tom had taken his place as Lieutenant Commander, but in practical terms nothing really changed. Tuvok still manned Tactical. Tom remained our Pilot, and I retained those dreaded crew rosters and evaluation reports.
If anything, the exodus from Voyager made my job more difficult. I had less than half as many crew to look after, but that meant, equally, that I now had barely sixty adults on board to crew a Starship that needed three times as many people to operate efficiently.
Then, as more children were born, the number of "available" adults was reduced ever further as the need to care for, and educate, the children became unavoidable.
I was forced to break the shift pattern from three shifts to two, and then eventually down to just one shift and a period of complete stop so that just a handful of crewmembers could look after us as we all slept, dead in the water, prey to anyone who came across us unless they kept vigilant watch.
So, in this way, we limped and stuttered towards home.
Because it takes energy to even hold a Starship at halt, instead of conserving our fuel reserves, the slower we journeyed, the more our engines were drained in the torturous progress from one star system to the next.
We were forced to stop at every hospitable world to trade for fuel.
I admit, privately, that I even broke the prime directive a few times, trading technology to people who were not strictly advanced enough for it, and although it was never weapons systems or even replicator technology, and I was always careful to ensure that I did no perceivable harm by my actions, I am still ashamed of what I did. But I had the responsibility for nearly a hundred adults and children, so sometimes I bent the rules a little.
Sometimes, Tuvok does too.
Of course, in a way, it is easier now. We have the new generation taking over the main stations. Naomi is our Science Officer, Charis our Pilot, Menily has taken her father's old Ops station, Anika is learning tactical, although she is too young for the responsibility in my opinion. Of course, that's just a protective Father speaking, I suppose.
I am "officially" First Officer again, although I remain a "Captain" and Tom is now the Chief Engineer. He is the first to admit that he doesn't know one end of a warp engine from the other, but he has always been a genius with computer programming so now he has lost interest in holoprograms he spends his time repairing the ship's main computers and inventing ways to bypass the now defunct gel paks to keep the ships systems on line.
He misses piloting, I'm sure, although we never talk so I don't know his thoughts on the matter. On the other hand, piloting a ship that is only capable of Warp 2 probably would bore him to death, anyway. It's enough for Charis to cope with at the moment, though. He shares Tom's love of the helm, but doesn't have that spark that Tom took to everything he ever did.
His mother's influence, I suppose. Charis always had spirit and fire, but Seven instilled too much self-discipline in him for him to ever let his flying be governed by instinct instead of training. So he will never make the mistakes that Tom made. He will never manage Tom's wild feats of pure instinctive genius either.
Not that there is much spark in Tom these days.
But sometimes, late at night, I prowl over to holodec one and press my ear against the door.
In the privacy of the holodec, Tom still flies.
His helm is now a keyboard, his fingers no longer coax Voyager into dancing through space, they claw hauntingly desolate notes out of a piano.
When I listen to the crashing waves of music, when the primitive, tortured notes slice through my soul like sharp knives, I realise that the icy exterior of Tom Paris is a lie so tragic that I can barely breathe for the pain I have caused him.
It is as though a glacier has settled over a volcano, so that all you see is an endless expanse of cold, yet under the surface a fire burns with such heat that it could blind you.
Then I stagger back to my quarters, feeling so desolate and old that my legs can barely support me.
And then I dream.
I dream that time has reversed itself back to twenty years ago. I dream that before Seven had her mad plan we found a way home and that Tom and I left Voyager together, hand in hand, and settled somewhere far from the ghosts of our past and that we then grew old together, alone.
Spirits forgive me, I dream that Charis and Anika were never born. That I never had to seal Tayven in a coffin and let him float away into the cold lonely forever of space. I dream that I never destroyed my beloved Tom.
When he comes to me in my dreams, Tom is not young. He looks as he does now, silver and gold, but his eyes are not cold. They are as soft and welcoming as calm water under a clear sky.
In my dreams, Tom still loves me.
I lie in my bed, somehow aware that I am dreaming, and yet still not waking. He climbs in beside me, his skin warm and velvet soft as it slides over mine. He kisses my tears of joyous relief away, and then his lips work their way down my jaw, and I arch my head backwards to allow his mouth to linger on the sensitive skin of my neck.
He sucks and nibbles at my skin, his breath hot and heavy, as our hips grind against each other so that our erections meet and glide in a tango of desire.
Then the dream shifts, and suddenly he is on his knees, and he is young again, and I am deep inside him, sliding in and out of his heat as he quivers and moans beneath me, and he is purring in ecstasy as I fill him, and his voice is hoarse and deep with excitement as he begs "Fuck me, Tay."
I thrust myself inside him, filling him, claiming him, possessing him, and as always, at that moment, the com badge chirps.
I snap awake with a howl, to find that I am alone, that my cock is weeping into nothing more than a pillow.
Then I cry.
I wail my grief for what might have been, and my guilt for wishing that it was so. I mourn the husband I lost even as I beg forgiveness of my children that I could even dream that they had not been born at all.
As Tom would once have said, I am pretty fucked up, I guess.
"Captain," I greet Tuvok, at the door to holodec one.
"Captain," he replies with a nod.
Then we both look a little embarrassed at how stupid it sounded. At least his uniform fits him. I find myself doing the "Picard Maneuver" with the bottom of my jacket again. At least it is something to do with my hands.
They feel a little clammy and hot, and my fingers itch so much that I have to consciously stop myself from twisting my hands together to relieve the sensation.
I have decided not to even acknowledge the fact that Charis has set Tom up and that Tuvok has obviously colluded with him. The fact that Tuvok has made attendance of this ceremony compulsory for all crewmembers is clearly designed to force Tom to attend.
I am so mad on his behalf. Why the hell should he have to come if he doesn't want to? He never wanted a child. Charis was thrust upon him and it is only proof of Tom's basic good heartedness that he made an effort to be friends with the boy at all. There is no need to slap Tom in the face with the responsibility of a Grandchild too.
More than that, though, as Harriet's only Grandparents we will be expected to sit together on the front row with Charis and Menily. I can hardly bear the thought of him sitting in the same room with me and I am the villain here. How much worse will it be for him?
I can only hope that Charis has the sense to seat himself and Menily between us. I swear that if Tom gets hurt any more today, if it is even possible for him to be hurt any more than he already has been, I will prove to Charis that he still isn't too big to have his ass spanked.
Since Charis deliberately made himself scarce yesterday so that I couldn't confront him about it, and believe me, on a ship the size of Voyager you can't *accidentally* cause the computer to pretend you aren't even on board when someone is looking for you, I have decided to *pretend* I don't know what they are trying to do.
I will not mention Tom at all to Tuvok and I will simply show Tom the same professional courtesy that we used on the Bridge for all those years.
That decided, I calm down a little.
Then I turn to Tuvok and hear myself say, "Is he here?"
"Not yet," Tuvok says calmly, but I swear I can see a little tension in his eyes. I can also see, instinctively, that Tuvok will no nothing to enforce his order if Tom chooses not to attend after all. If Tom truly cannot face today, then no one will force him.
That, at least, is a comfort to me.
At the same time, now that my own danger is averted, and it looks like I will not see Tom after all, instead of being flooded with relief, I am filled with bitter disappointment.
Like I already said, I'm a little fucked up.
As soon as I enter the crowded room and walk down the centre aisle, relief takes over once more that Tom has not come.
Charis, the light of my life, who will soon have an ass as red as his uniform if I have anything to say about it, has purposefully left only two seats free on the front row, and they are side by side.
I glower at my son as I take the seat nearest his, and he has the grace to look embarrassed, but my ire is quickly extinguished by his evident misery that Tom has not come. I find myself squeezing his hand and actually feeling angry with Tom instead.
Then I hear the door open, and footsteps down the aisle and swing around in a strange mix of fear and hope, only to realise that it is Tuvok, who has obviously decided to give up on Tom and start the ceremony without him.
Tuvok begins with a flat-toned, but nevertheless touching history of Voyager. How we arrived in the Delta Quadrant, how the crews merged and why we made the decision to destroy the Caretaker's array so that we were stranded so far from home.
Then, one by one, other people step up to the podium and speak. For all we adults who started the journey it is a sad and touching journey down memory lane. For the youngsters, although they already have heard the tales their parents have told them, it is the first time that we have all gathered together to share our joys and sorrows.
This is our first Ecclesiastes. Our first ever gathering for anything other than a funeral or a wedding or a briefing. This something special. It is an affirmation of our Community, our family, and I realise that if Kathryn were here she would have loved it. She would have embraced this attempt to remind everyone *why* we have chosen to keep journeying to a home that many of our crew have never even seen.
As Samantha Wildman steps off the podium, having talked about Harry and Jenny and the tragedy of their deaths, yet her joy in raising Menily as her own daughter so that in Harriet, the Kims would live on, I see Tuvok raising an eyebrow at me in mild suggestion that I should step forward.
I cannot do it. My eyes are too wet, my knees too weak for me to try and rise. I know that I must, but I will wait a little longer. I will save my speech for the naming ceremony. I want to talk about hope and the future, not shattered dreams of the past. Such is my grief, as the ghosts of Voyager are brought to life and named, one by one, that I need a little time to compose myself.
Charis rescues me by rising to his feet and taking the podium himself.
As he stands there, so tall and proud, his voice clear and steady as he tells us all of how his life on Voyager has been, and how the knowledge that his daughter will one day walk on the soil of Earth makes every deprivation and challenge worthwhile, I am blinded by my love for him.
I notice that his face becomes more animated, and that his eyes suddenly sparkle with joy, but I do not realise the reason for his happiness at first. I am too occupied with my son to even notice Tom arrive.
My first awareness of him is as he sinks, shuddering a little, into the seat on my right, so that his trembling left leg inadvertently touches my own thigh, and then he jumps as though scalded, and cringes to the right of his seat so that he is as far away from me as possible.
I try to focus on the words that are being spoken, but I cannot. I am too guilty that yet again in my life I completely forgot Tom because of my adoration of our son. Now, instead, my awareness of Tom prevents me from even hearing Charis's voice. All I can hear is Tom's ragged breathing, and the faint tap of his left shoe on the floor as his knee continues to tremble. My proximity alone is enough to make him shudder.
I find my right hand sneaking out towards him, needing to offer him comfort, and my gesture makes him sob and flinch away as though my touch alone would thaw his icy armour and leave him defenseless and exposed.
How can I live with this knowledge?
That twenty years, twenty long interminable years, have passed and still his wounds are as fresh and painful as the day I inflicted them.
His hatred would bruise me. His scorn would make me bleed. I deserve them both and would gladly suffer the hurt as at least a little penance for the terrible wrong that I did him.
But his pain, I cannot bear.
I cannot sit here, listening to him suffer, knowing that every time he stalked away in supposed anger from me, it was truly only his way of preventing me from seeing the power that I still held over him.
He is barely holding it together. His breath is quickening, his foot is tapping such a staccato rhythm now that it is obvious that at any moment he will surge to his feet and run from the room, forever losing whatever self-respect he has managed to keep in front of the rest of the crew by pretending indifference to my abandonment of him.
Everyone will know, finally, that he is not ice, but rather a broken, tortured soul that I destroyed.
They will pity him for his inability to let me go.
Perhaps even laugh at him.
It is intolerable.
So I do the only thing I can do for him, the only thing that I know will save him from the humiliation of revealing his wounds to the whole crew.
I surge to my feet, and run from the room myself.