Tides Of The Heart by mort
Summary: This is not a main character death story as such, although it assumes that Voyager never found a short-cut home and is set more than 20 years after Season 6, so inevitably a number of the crew have either died or have chosen to leave the ship and settle down rather than complete the Voyage home.
Categories: Chakotay/Paris Fanfiction Characters: None
Genres: A/U
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 16 Completed: Yes Word count: 64369 Read: 32741 Published: 30/08/03 Updated: 30/08/03

1. 1 LAMENT by mort

2. 2: DESIDERATUM by mort

3. 3: REQUIEM by mort

4. 4: Sostenuto by mort

5. 5: Ecclesiastes by mort

6. 6: Aristarchus by mort

7. 7: Appassionato by mort

8. 8: Genesis by mort

9. 9: Icarus by mort

10. 10: Ouroboros by mort

11. 11: Doctrinen by mort

12. 12: Quiddity by mort

13. 13: Confessional by mort

14. 14: Reflux by mort

15. 15: Trinity by mort

16. 16: Communion by mort

1 LAMENT by mort
Tides of the Heart

Part One : Lament



The starfield slides past the viewport like streaming ribbons of light as we surge forward through space towards our long lost home.

We original Voyagers are few now. Weary and tired, often lost in reflection of what might have been had we just taken a small step in a different direction before our feet were inexorably caught in this bitter path.

There is another generation now on the Bridge and Captain Tuvok shepherds them with a protective aura of complete emotionless assurance. He has survived the physical loss of one mate, T'Pel, and the death of two more, yet still he remains a rock of calm and continuity as time erodes everyone and everything he ever knew.

He does not adapt to the changes as much as he molds the new crew into fresh imitations of the old.

Charis, the only child of myself and Tom Paris, now has taken the place of his father at the helm. Sometimes, if I visit the bridge and see the back of his blond hair, and the careless way he tosses his head as he laughs with delight, I am transported back two decades to a time when I only dreamt of possessing the beauty and wildness that was Tom.

The resemblance of my son to his other father is almost frightening. Rarely do I ever see in his features even the smallest resemblance to myself. It is as though Tom’s genes completely overwhelmed mine as they mixed, even before Charis was transplanted into Seven’s womb.

Seven raised him with the same understated love as she did all of our children and never allowed him to feel any less treasured or wanted than the others. Conversely, she always managed to cover up my own thoughtless favoritism for him lest his siblings grow jealous. As much as I adored Anika and Tayven, they never stole my heart like my first born. When Tayven died, at the tender age of twelve, a part of me died with him. Had it been Charis who had died though, I don't think I would have survived.

Seven and I had three children. Three blond blue-eyed angels, and they were all complete little devils, but I suspect, of course, that it was the Paris influence in Charis that inspired his devilry, and the other two simply followed in the footsteps of their older brother.

Tom himself refused to acknowledge Charis at all until he was about two years old, when the toddler staggered across the room to him, lost his feet and would have fallen if Tom hadn't finally stopped pretending he was invisible.

Over the years, Charis's love of flying and mischievous nature have slowly chipped away at Tom's reserve and they are friends at least. They can often be found playing pool together. Not in Sandrine's. The program was deleted by a computer malfunction during one of our many battles as we have limped home. Tom replaced it with a perfectly functional bar, one that bears no more clues to his soul than the frigid mask that has guarded his expression these past years.

Should I enter the bar on an evening and walk towards them, my son's bright smile of welcome is totally eclipsed by Tom's scowl as he hurries from the room rather than face me and say, in front of Charis, things that we would both regret.

Day by day, as Seven’s jumpsuit was distended by the growing presence of Charis in her womb, Tom grew more distant from me. At some level he understood why I had made the choice that I did, and yet overall he was bitterly disappointed in me.

As he said, if he wanted children he wouldn’t have married a man.

It was Seven’s fault, although she meant no harm and I cannot say that I truly regret her actions since I cannot even consider the idea of how my life would have been if Charis, Anika and Tayven had never existed. Things happen in life and we make our choices and then we have to live with them, whatever the personal cost.

Seven decided that she wanted a child. She decided that she wanted me to be the father and with convoluted logic, since I was married to Tom at the time, she concluded that if the child was both mine *and* Tom’s then we would be less upset with her when we found out. Since she quite rightly assumed we would be emotionally outraged by the idea, she decided it would be more “efficient” to tell us what she had done, after the event.

So Seven acquired samples of our genetic material from the Sickbay files and then Tom and I were presented with a fait accompli. A three-month old fetus already gestating in Seven’s womb.

Tom was furious. He considered her actions little less than a Borg-assimilation of his genetic code. He was so outraged that he demanded her actions were undone by the Doctor since it was still early enough for a safe termination of the pregnancy.

His attitude horrified me. I shared his outrage and sense of personal violation, but the child was still a human being and was innocent of any wrong doing. After my initial shock, I also accepted that Seven had had truly no conception of the wrong that she had done.

I finally convinced him to allow her to bear the child to term. I pointed out that it was my child too but I promised him that I would lay no claim on the baby.

I lied.

I always wanted children, you see, and although I had taken Tom as my Life Partner and in doing so had turned my back on my dreams of a family, I couldn't escape the call of my own feelings as my son gestated.

If Seven had had an easy pregnancy, perhaps the subsequent events would never have happened. Certainly Tom wouldn't have divorced me.

He made me choose between him and my son, and my son won.

Over the years, most people have taken my side. They have said that Tom was unreasonable to try and deny me access to Charis. It wasn't as simple as that though. Since Tom and Charis have always had a special relationship together, and he has acknowledged his own, albeit reluctant, responsibility towards the boy, it is not fair to say that he would have denied me the chance to be Charis's father.

What he wouldn't, couldn't accept, was the way that I grew to care about Seven and her child.

Don't misunderstand me. Although I grew to love her in my own way, and we had two more children together over the years, Seven never replaced Tom in my heart. Tom has always known that, and after the first few years of bitter animosity, he finally let go enough of his resentment to at least talk civilly to both of us when we were on duty.

He never re-married though.

I think I destroyed in him whatever capacity he had to trust another person with his heart. He flaunted his casual affairs with the same brittle mask of glib indifference as he had shown in the early days of our voyage. As always he hid his pain behind a playboy veneer and was often heard telling people that his marriage to me had been a mistake and he had been glad of a reason to end it.

I was only hurt by his words because I knew the truth. That I had almost destroyed him with my decision and that his only way of coping was to pretend that he didn't care. I hurt because I had hurt him, not because of his words, and I never resented the lies he told that helped him keep the shredded tatters of his pride.

If I could have torn myself into two people, I would have.

Even so, had he been able to control his jealousy I would never have had to leave him.

Seven's borg-implants continually rejected the presence of Charis. At the same time his tiny fetus was infested with borg-nanites that needed to be constantly replenished by Seven's immune system. This meant he could not be removed from her womb and placed instead into the safety of an incubation chamber.

From the fifth month of her pregnancy, Seven was forced to remain permanently in a regeneration chamber while the Doctor fought a daily battle to save the life of both her child and herself.

The specter of termination hung over my son's head for four months as Seven suffered untold agonies in her determination to proceed with the pregnancy, and during those four months I spent almost every available moment at her side.

How could I not?

Yet, how, conversely could I have expected Tom to tolerate my behaviour?

For four long months I deserted our quarters, I abandoned our marital bed, and I stood vigil over a child who should never have even been conceived in the first place.

I bitterly regret that I didn't fit Tom around the corners of my life. I should, at least, have gone straight home occasionally from the Bridge instead of first rushing to check on the status of my son.

How can I blame Tom for believing that Charis's welfare came first in my mind?

I suppose I thought he would understand that the situation was temporary and that as soon as Charis was safely born, Tom and I could return to our previous relationship.

He didn't see it that way, though. He saw only a future of me being at Seven's beck and call. Rushing to her side whenever she needed anything. Visiting my son every evening instead of going home where I belonged. He knew that I would want to be there for my son's first step and first word. That I would want to spend my days off with my child rather than with my lover.

Spending time with my child *and* my lover was not even offered into the equation. Tom did not want the boy, did not want to spend time with him, and clearly stated it was unreasonable of me to expect that he should.

He was right. He had no obligation. It was wrong of me to try and force him into a relationship with our child when he had never pretended to have any paternal urges.

Tom didn't hate children. He's always been *good* with children as long as they have reached the age of mischief. Once Charis, Anika and Tayven were all walking, talking and had developed interesting personalities, he even babysat for Seven and I so many times that the children all grew up loving "Uncle" Tom.

Sometimes I wondered whether the mess I always found our quarters in after he had minded them was a subtle form of revenge. Tom never controlled them, he just played with them. On the other hand, discipline was never one of Tom's strong points and his failure to control my rowdy brood was just one of his ways of demonstrating why he wasn't cut out for parenthood himself.

It wasn't until they were in their teens that the kids finally noticed that "Uncle" Tom never arrived until I was leaving and always left as soon as I returned home so that "Hello", "Thank you" and "Goodnight" were the extent of every conversation.

Sometimes, over the years, I have resented Tom's lack of faith in my love for him. I had room in my heart for Charis *and* Tom. Then I remember his own insecurity, his neediness, his deep vulnerability that made him hide behind a wise-cracking persona and I understand that he was too fragile to share me.

On the other hand, what else could I have done? For me to have turned my back on Seven and her child would have been against everything that I believed in. Even Seska had realised that my heart bore no armor to shield it against the need to take responsibility for a child of my body.

Tom divorced me, and despite his bitterness I honestly still believe that it was an act of love on his part rather than hatred. I was being ripped in two between Tom on one side and Charis and Seven on the other. So he let me go.

I agreed to the divorce out of my love for Tom. The situation was obviously intolerable for him. I wasn't cut out to be a "weekend" father and despite all of my best intentions to put Tom first, whenever Seven commed me that there was a problem with Charis, I would drop everything and run.

Charis was five before the Doctor finally came up with a way of controlling the nanites in his bloodstream. Up until then, his body over-reacted to every childhood illness so that a simple case of croup would cause his bloodstream to fill with tiny robotic defenders, clogging his arteries until his body's own immune system became more dangerous than the disease.

Quite simply, there were too many crises for my relationship with Tom to survive.

The final straw for Tom was when Charis was 9 months old. A series of minor emergencies had followed each other so quickly that I had moved a cot into the quarters that had been adapted for Seven and our son. I hadn't even shared a meal with Tom for ten days.

The night I finally returned home, he was quiet but made no comment on my absence. He even made the effort to enquire as to Charis's welfare and then pretended to be interested as I gave stupidly recounted all the intricate details. When I finally noticed how glazed his eyes were becoming, I decided it was time I took him to bed and reminded him why I was worth putting up with.

So many things in life just come down to timing, don't they?

I have had twenty years to wonder what would have happened if Seven had commed me just 10 minutes either earlier or later. Regrets can't change the past though.

He had been ready for me after all the days of deprivation. I remember him purring like a contented lion as I ran my hands over his perfect ass cheeks and my fingers found that he was already prepared for me. My heart and cock had both leapt in love at that moment, for my tolerant husband who had not even known whether I would bother to come home at all, but had readied himself for me just in case.

I remember sliding into him in one smooth continuous movement, delighting in the hot, velvet tunnel that welcomed me in, and then tightened with possessive glee.

"Fuck me, Tay," he had groaned, and the need and love that he transmitted with those three words have filled my dreams ever since.

Nightmares, to be more precise, since they were immediately followed by the chirping of my Com badge, Seven's hysterical scream that I had to come immediately, and Tom's bitter, heart-wrenching sobs as I pulled out of him and hurriedly dressed.

The next day, he sent a message to the terminal in Seven's quarters to say he wanted a divorce.

I commed him, begging and pleading with him to reconsider and he *did* agree to meet me to discuss the situation, but I had to cancel because Charis took ill again. He refused to take my calls after that and eventually I gave in and agreed to his request. Not to free myself, but because it seemed unfair not to free *him*.

After a couple of years, I finally agreed to marry Seven. I didn't love her, not like I loved Tom, but we shared a child and I practically lived in her quarters so it seemed logical in the end for us to become a proper family.

Seven's pregnancies with Annika and Tayven went more smoothly because of the lessons we had learned from Charis and although we never shared a passionate love for each other, Seven and I became comfortable with one another and I gradually learnt to be content with my life.

It's difficult, when you have known true love, to settle for a mediocre one. Especially as the only person who has ever made your heart burn is still in the periphery of your life. In a world as small as the confines of Voyager, Tom and I could not avoid each other. If we were on duty we would manage to at least be civil. Off duty, I would enter a room and he would leave it. This became the pattern of our behaviour for years.

Every time Tom turned his back and stalked away from me, the hurt evident in every line of his back, I would have to bite my tongue not to beg him to come back to me.

I was never that selfish though. I bore my own pain in private and prayed only that Tom would one day meet someone who would mend his shattered heart. Someone who would not abuse his love as I had done.

He never did though. He was as prickly as a porcupine and although his looks and charm ensured a constant stream of visitors to his bed, the moment anyone tried to climb under his skin he would shoot them down with a volley of well-placed spikes.

He's with Tuvok now, off and on. Tuvok cannot face anymore emotional entanglements. After the death of Kathryn, he mated with Megan Delaney. After she died of a virulent Delta Quadrant disease that took 12 victims, including my son Tayven, Tuvok did not take another mate. Tom helped him through his Ponn Farr two years ago and I believe they occasionally still sleep together, but they have not bonded and never will.

Neither are interested in an emotional relationship.

So, twenty years have passed by, my wife is dead, and my son is a grown man now. He has married and his wife, Menily Kim, has just borne my first grandchild.

Her parents, Harry and Jenny, died years ago in the Borg attack that took Kathryn from us. Now that Seven has died, Tom and I are the only possible Grandparents that the baby will have.

That's why Charis is insisting that I finally make my peace with him.

Now Seven is no longer here as the unbridgeable gap that has prevented us from even speaking to each other. Now that I have handed the Captaincy to Tuvok and Tom has finally acceded the helm to younger hands so that he can spend more time patching up the sad remains of the Engine Room in the hope that one day we might again exceed warp 2. Now, perhaps, it is time that we talked.

Since the warp engine explosion that took B'Elanna to her final voyage on the Barge of the Dead, we have been virtually crippled. The gel paks, that new science that made us so sleek and fast, have degraded past repair.

It is not an engineer we need now to get us home, but a miracle.

If we could just get the warp engines running to 40% even, we could be back within range of the Alpha Quadrant in just 5 more years. As it is, at our current speed, it will be nearer to 12.

No wonder so many people have abandoned ship.

With Kathryn's death, a lot of people decided not to continue the Voyage. Within her tiny body had resided an indomitable spirit that had shamed people into sharing her dream of returning home. With the quenching of that spirit a lot of the soul of Voyager died too.

Only a few dozen crew stayed with we diehards of the Senior Staff. Me, Tuvok, Tom, Seven, Harry, Sam, Vorik, B'Elanna and Ayala. Now only Tuvok, Tom and I remain of the original officers.

To be honest, I didn't think Tom would stay on board when the others left, and if he had decided to leave, I am not sure what I would have done. Impossible that I could have turned my back on my family and followed him. Equally impossible that I should have let him go.

Fortunately, he never thrust that decision on me. Perhaps because he had lost his last ultimatum and therefore knew ultimately that my children would come first. Or maybe, because he stayed for his own reasons and he really is now as indifferent to me as he appears.

Charis says it's time I made my peace with him.

He's right.

More than anything I want Tom's forgiveness.

Who am I kidding?

What I really want is Tom's love. I want back what I lost all rights to when I chose Charis over his father. From Tom's point of view, though, it will probably seem that I only want him because Seven has gone.

My vanity tells me that I have aged well. That the silver at my temples suits me. That I am still physically strong and hale. That I still am the man that Tom fell in love with, albeit my face bears the many lines of laughter and grief that the last twenty years have brought me.

Tom himself is a little heavier, but it suits him. His hair is a little thinner and is peppered with silver. That suits him too. It emphasizes the blue of his eyes, like sunlight and clouds over pools of clear water. He still inspires the poetry of my heart, although those pools are frigid ice whenever I am reflected within them.

Perhaps it is too late to thaw that ice for my sake. But maybe, just maybe, he will defrost just enough to agree to attend the naming ceremony of our granddaughter.

It is time that I talked to him, at least.



Continued in "Desideratum"
2: DESIDERATUM by mort
Part Two: Desideratum



Desideratum. It means your heart's desire. For many years, my heart's desire was Chakotay.

Have you ever walked into a room, seen a stranger and felt your heart turn a somersault at the same time as your stomach cramps, and your mouth goes dry, and your brain goes fuzzy because all your blood drains down to your groin as your cock leaps to attention like a battering ram?

Have you ever spent years chipping away at someone's resistance because you simply cannot exist unless they finally acknowledge that they love you too?

Has the object of your obsession ever turned to you and said those two most wonderful words in the history of the universe, "I do" ?

No? Well, you're lucky then.

Love sucks.

I'm not talking about lust here, although that's part of it, or even what people "call" love when they are talking about someone who makes them feel happy and good about themselves, I talking about real love. The kind that shreds your soul and sends splinters into your heart and makes you so sick you want to die. It assimilates you, sending its tendrils through every part of your being so that you cannot remove the emotion without amputating your own heart.

After my heart turned to ice, it found a new desideratum.

There's a line I remember from a children's book that I read to Charis when he was about six or seven. "Rejoice, the wicked witch is dead!"

For years I waited for the chance to say those words out loud. The dark brooding hatred that has never released its stranglehold on my soul, lurked in eager anticipation of the day she would finally be dispatched to whatever hell awaited her for her crimes.

When the situation finally happened, though, instead of feeling satisfaction, I felt deflated and sad. Empty somehow. It was as though my hatred of her had managed to keep me alive. Perhaps my insane jealousy had been the only thing that had kept me going. It was certainly the only thing that had kept me on Voyager for all these bitter, lonely years.

No matter how much it hurt to stay, I had refused to give her the satisfaction of seeing me run. She had already stolen the only thing that I had ever wanted or needed. All I could do was hover in the background like a bitter ghost, knowing from the pain that occasionally flashed in Chakotay's eyes that he still loved me at least a little, despite everything that had happened.

In this, at least, I kept some small part of him for myself.

I denied her that last final victory.

He never truly loved her.

Seven was a beautiful and deadly spider, spinning a web of such cunning deceit that to this day I don't believe that Chakotay ever saw through her deceptions. He saw her as naive. He accepted her protestations that she was innocent of deliberately stealing his seed to entrap him. Her beauty blinded him to her true nature.

She was a witch.

She was the Ice Queen.

I know. I'm bitter and I still hate her, even now that she is dead, but that's not why I call her names. My words are not just the vitriolic defense of a scorned lover against his replacement. Had she played fair and won him from me through charm rather than deceit, I would still have hated her, but I would perhaps have at least been able to let him go.

No. That's not true. I couldn't have ever removed him from my heart, but I would have at least have found the strength to leave Voyager so that I didn't have to daily face the person who had abandoned me, who had taken all that I had and found me wanting.

She gave him the one thing I couldn't. Children.

I hate him a little for that, though. I don't care how much he wanted a family. If it meant that much to him to have a son, why the fuck did he marry me?

Besides. Why wasn't I enough? Why didn't my love fill up the corners of his heart? Why did he need more than me? I didn't need more than him. He was the air I breathed. He was the alpha and omega of my existence. I would have died for him.

In a way, I think I did.

I haven't truly been alive for years. Sometimes, as I lie in bed at night, unable to sleep, I can hear my heart beating in the still silence of my lonely bedroom and the sound surprises me. How can a heart as frozen as mine manage to beat at all?

The days of my life have blended into a ceaseless haze, as I wander the lonely corridors of Voyager, as pale and insubstantial as the ghosts who surely wander invisibly by my side. My son now flies this gallant old lady as she limps slowly towards home, while I tend her engines.

I'm no engineer, but I'm the best we've got. At least I know my way around programming. Besides, I understand Voyager. Her heart, this engine room, is as broken and tattered as my own.

Since Seven's death I have spent most of my time here. It's the only way I can avoid seeing him. Besides, I need to complete my repair of the antimatter containment field so that I can leave the ship when we arrive at the next technologically advanced planet. To be honest, I don't give a stuff about the Prime Directive any more. I'd rather live with a group of stone-age savages than stay on board any longer, but Tuvok is a stickler for these things, which is why I'm still here, nine months after Seven died. I'm still waiting for permission to disembark.

Sometimes I think he is deliberately avoiding anywhere suitable, just to keep me on board until the Engines are fully back on line. I know it's not true though. We are moving at barely Warp 2 so we aren't passing that many inhabited worlds. Besides, in his own way, he cares about me and understands my pain. I don't think he would deliberately prolong it. Twenty years is more than enough torture for anyone to bear.

As long as Seven was still alive, the suffering was worth it. Just to keep her on her toes. Now she's dead, I don't have the energy to cope anymore. Now that my hatred has lost its original target, it is eating at me instead. Devouring what little remains of Tom Paris so that soon, even the hollow shell that wears his face will somehow crumble into the dust that is my soul.

I admit it. It wasn't Chakotay that kept me on board. It was my hate of Seven.

You see, I know she always intended to steal him from me.

Charis was only the weapon she used to ensnare him.

That's why she stole my DNA too. So that Charis would look like me and thus doubly capture Chakotay's heart.

I took a blood sample from Charis once, when he was too young to understand what I was doing. I was suspicious because he looked so very like me, although the Doctor's tests had conclusively proven that we were both his fathers.

Blue eyes are genetically recessive. That got me thinking. I did a Punnett square, which is a simple graphical way of figuring out how the genes from each parent might combine to produce an offspring. Blue eyes don't always mean that you don't carry the genes for other colors, but I don't. My parents, my grandparents, and so in, ad infinitum, have never had anything other than blue eyes and blonde hair. Even if Chakotay carried the genes for another eye color, which is highly unlikely given his heritage, our son could only have had brown or maybe hazel eyes. As could the children of Seven and Chakotay.

Hair-colour is a little less easy to accurately gauge. My own hair is a reddish blond rather than the Nordic blonde of Seven. Logically, Charis should have had either ginger or brown hair, maybe black like Chakotay, very unlikely that he should be blond, but not impossible. Anika and Tayven though shouldn't have been blue-eyed blondes like their mother.

What I'm saying is that Seven bore Chakotay three perfect angelic children and they had all been genetically manipulated by her to some extent to ensure that they all conformed to the ideal that Chakotay had indicated he preferred by marrying me.

Although Charis is Chakotay's son, Chakotay's genetic markers in the boy were deliberately repressed.

Which puts the obvious lie to the fact that Seven simply wanted a child of Chakotay's. Since she deliberately suppressed any of Chakotay's dominant genes, she never intended her children to look like him so there was no point in stealing his genes in the first place.

So she never wanted Chakotay's children. She wanted Chakotay and she used the children to catch and then keep him.

Too scientific for you?

Okay, try this one on for size instead.

I found a holoprogram in the archives. She had illegally created a hologram of Chakotay and had practiced seducing him. The date on the program predates Charis's conception by several months.

My conclusion is that she wanted him, and with Borg determination she profiled him and then attacked him at his most vulnerable level. Resistance being futile and all that crap. She must have gone through all of Voyager's databases searching for his weakness and Seska had thoughtfully given her the opening she had needed by demonstrating both his desire for a son and the fact that he would accept the obligation of a child whether he was a consenting party in the conception or not.

He was caught in her web, as helpless as a fly, from the moment she announced her pregnancy.

So why did I let her get away with it?

Because I didn't understand at first. I was too distraught because of Chakotay's agreement to our divorce and his subsequent remarriage. I spent years with my head so far up my self-pitying ass that I couldn't see Seven for what she really was.

Charis was already four when Anika was born. It was only the moment that I saw the new baby's blue eyes, that something finally clicked in my head and I realised that Charis had been genetically altered.

I considered telling Chakotay what I had realised, then decided it would make no difference. Seven would find some innocent explanation for the suppression of his genes and I would only undo four years of trying to pretend that I hated him. I couldn't bear to see the inevitable pity in his eyes as he listened to what I had to say and then still refused to come back to me.

Then it took another two years for me to find the holoprogram that Seven thought she had deleted. I was trying to find any trace of the Sandrine's program because we had lost it during a fire fight that destroyed many of our computer systems.

Instead I hit pay dirt. Finally I had proof of her duplicity. Finally I had a way to get Chakotay back.

I rushed to their quarters with a data padd of evidence clutched in my fist. My heart was hammering with nerves so badly that I nearly passed out in the turbolift before I got there. I remember my hand shaking so badly that I could barely press the panel to request entry. I was so excited, so ecstatic that I charged through the door as soon as it opened, waving my evidence like a madman.

Only to slide to a confused halt.

Chakotay was settled on the couch giving a bottle to Tayven, their third child. Charis was sitting at his feet, happily crayoning into a coloring book and Anika was curled up against his side. For a moment, he was too occupied to look up and see who had entered the room. His face had a beatific softness as he gazed down on his children. I had only seen that expression on his face once before. It had been at the moment that I had said "I do" to him.

The witch, on the other hand, reacted immediately to my presence. Her cold eyes flickered from my face to the data padd in my hand, and then they narrowed as though somehow she knew what I was carrying.

With cool poise, she stepped forward and took the baby from Chakotay's hands so that he could pay attention to me. I saw his face screw up a little as he reluctantly released the child, then he turned to look at me.

A flash of guilt and hopeless longing raced over his face as he saw me standing there and I knew that he still loved me, knew that if I told him the truth I could have him back.

Before I opened my mouth though, I saw Seven standing behind Chakotay's back. She made a quick, but unmistakable motion across Tayven's neck with the sharp point of a borg-probe that had burst out of her left hand, reminding me suddenly of exactly what manner of predator lurked under her comely exterior.

Would she really have done it? Killed Chakotay's children, her children, just for vengeance if I had dared to steal him back to me?

I don't know for sure.

It seems improbable, but then she hadn't had the children out of a maternal instinct, she had borne them with the sole purpose of capturing Chakotay. I couldn't take the chance. Even if Chakotay won custody and moved the children in with us, which was something that made me want to run and hide anyway, in the meantime they would be left in her clutches.

I think she would have killed them. She didn't see them as children. She saw them as weapons, as part of her own collective and ultimately she would have sacrificed them just like any other drone who had ever been under her control. She was Borg. It didn't matter how beautiful she was, or how well she learnt to imitate a human being. Underneath that sleek blonde exterior beat a heart of pure titanium.

I made some pathetic excuse for my presence in their quarters and left.

Over the years I sometimes regretted my decision, but two years ago something happened that has at least reassured me that I made the right choice after all.

You see, I am pretty sure that she killed Tayven.

Two years ago, Chakotay and Seven had a crisis in their marriage. Charis was eighteen then, Anika fourteen and Tayven was twelve. Seven wanted another baby. I think she could see the beginning of the end for her relationship with Chakotay. Charis had moved out into his own quarters and she could see that Anika and Tayven would follow within a few short years, and that as soon as the children reached maturity Chakotay might feel his obligation to Seven was over.

He refused to have another child. He put his foot down and said he was too old to start a new family. That three children were enough for any marriage.

Two weeks later, Tayven died of the Lemukong Fever.

Okay, he was only one of twelve victims and there's no real reason to believe his death was foul play.

But, like Charis and Anika, Tayven had the Borg nanites. Once they reached puberty all three were immune to just about every disease that could be thrown at them. That's why she chose Tayven, I think. He was just young enough that his death wouldn't cause undue suspicion. The whole ship was down with the fever, the Doctor was putting people in body bags daily, and by the time Chakotay's own fever broke, his youngest son had already been dead for a week.

Seven was smart enough to let Chakotay grieve for a year and then, on the anniversary of Tavyen's funeral, she announced that she was pregnant again. She told Chakotay that she hadn't planned it and that the baby was obviously a gift from the spirits to allow Tayven's soul to return to them.

Chakotay is no fool.

Perhaps that's not the impression I've given so far, but he isn't. He had been willing to suspend his disbelief and give Seven the benefit of the doubt in the beginning, and for eighteen years, for the sake of his beloved children, he had accepted the emptiness of his marriage as being the price he paid for the joy of being a father.

I'm not suggesting he suspected that Seven had anything to do with Tayven's death. Even I don't know for sure, and I have the benefit of knowing the rest of her ruthless deceptions. He instinctively knew she had deliberated defied him with her pregnancy though.

Of course, the witch then did her drama queen impression, sobbing crocodile tears and pretending that her grief over Tayven had forced her to do it.

How do I know?

Charis was there and told me everything. Told me how Chakotay had folded before her tears. Told me how he ended up apologizing to her for being as selfish as to deny her a child to replace the one that she had lost.

So, in one brilliant stroke, Seven trapped Chakotay for another 18 years.

That was the point at which my own brittle heart finally shattered completely.

I remember running to Tuvok's quarters after Charis had broken the news to me and begging the Vulcan to fuck me into oblivion. Tuvok just raised one eyebrow to the ceiling and sighed. Since we didn't bond during his Ponn Farr, he has little or no interest in me sexually. He feels an obligation towards me though, since I helped him out and saved his life. He tries occasionally to give me what I need, if I am really in pain and need the brutality of a mindless, Vulcan rut to replace the pain in my heart with the pain of my body,

Just as I once saved his life, after I learnt of Seven's fourth pregnancy Tuvok saved my sanity.

Two weeks later, Seven was dead.

Perhaps she had been right after all. Perhaps the child was the spirit of Tayven returned to her to put right the wrong of his death. The baby killed her, you see. Something went horribly wrong with the pregnancy. Her body interpreted the child as an infection and her implants went into overdrive. She refused to agree to a termination, despite the fact that the baby was killing her, realising perhaps, that now Anika was almost old enough to move out, the baby was her last chance to keep Chakotay.

In retrospect, I think she died for nothing.

Chakotay wouldn't have left her. It would have upset Charis and Anika if he had turned his back on their mother and he would never have done anything to bring them harm. He would have lived the rest of his life in a bitter, loveless marriage to the Ice Queen.

Seven had forgotten the possibility of grandchildren. They would have bound Chakotay to her just as effectively. Chakotay wouldn't have wanted the children to be confused by the fact that their grandfather and grandmother lived in separate quarters.

It's a funny thing about Chakotay that he can't even bear to see a child cry, but he's been content to let me bleed for twenty years.

I know that's not a fair thing to say. I know he found himself trapped between a rock and a hard place. I know he didn't want to leave me.

But you know something?

It doesn't help.

It should make me feel better, but it doesn't.

The bottom line is that he didn't love me enough. If he had, he would have found a way for us to stay together. He wouldn't have agreed to divorce me.

Yes, I know. It was the stupidest stunt I ever pulled, requesting a divorce and then refusing to take his calls. But I just wanted to show him how much I was hurting, how scared I was of losing him. I needed him to prove his love to me after all the months of neglect. I was so sure he'd come after me. I thought he loved me. I expected him to behave the same way I would have under the same circumstances.

I would have crawled to him on my belly for forgiveness if he had ever asked me for a divorce.

I wanted him to come chasing after me. I needed him to do it. If he had I would have stayed. Even if he'd beaten my ass and chained me to his bed to keep me from leaving him, it would have proved that he loved me.

But he obviously didn't love me enough.

And now it's too late.

Charis and his wife had a daughter last week. As far as I can tell, she must have been conceived within days of Seven's funeral. That makes sense, though. Charis adored his mother and he re-affirmed his own survival with the urge to procreate. It's a natural response to grief, I am told.

Charis has asked me to attend the naming ceremony, but I have refused. It's not only that I can't face Chakotay. It's because Charis and Menily want to name their daughter Seven. Just the thought is enough to make me choke, but obviously I can't say anything.

Realistically, I think Charis is the real reason I never aired my suspicions about Tayven's death.

It had nothing to do with me trying to save Chakotay pain. I am years past the point of allowing my love for him to guide my decisions, and other than my temporary madness at discovering that Seven was pregnant the last time, I have not allowed myself to even dream of him coming back to me.

It's too late.

The wicked witch is dead, but unlike the tin man, I never managed to find a heart to replace the one that Chakotay shattered.

There's another fairy tale I once read to Charis. The Ice Queen. It is ironically apt. A young man is captured by the ice queen and she pierces his heart with a single shard of glass-like ice. It immediately freezes him so that he is incapable of emotion, or caring or compassion. He becomes as soulless and heartless as a machine.

Sometimes, as I walk down the now almost deserted corridors of Voyager and into my lonely quarters, I can feel that shard of ice still lodged inside my chest.

Continued in "Requiem"
3: REQUIEM by mort
Tides of the Heart


Part Three: Requiem



" A fair slim boy not made for this world's pain,

With hair of gold thick clustering round his ears,

And longing eyes half veiled by foolish tears

Like bluest water seen through mists of rain."

Somehow that sonnet always reminds me of Tayven. Menily found it for me in one of her father's books from Earth. There's more, but I never manage to get past those four lines without crying.

I have been crying a lot, recently. Always in private of course. My Father says that there is absolutely no shame in a man crying, but that it is always best to lock the door first, just in case.

I've only ever seen my Father cry actual tears once. Even when mother died he was dry eyed. He does his crying with his soul. Sometimes his eyes are so dark and blank with misery that even now that I am fully grown, I find myself rushing up to him and flinging my arms around him as though it is I who needs the comfort.

Sometimes he gives me a rough affectionate hug and then thrusts me away as though we both should pull ourselves together. Other times he clings onto me as though I am his only anchor in the midst of the storms of life.

My mother was an unaffectionate woman. She cared for us all deeply, but she never liked us to actually "touch" her. She was like a perfect, beautiful statue who existed to be adored but not marred by our childish fingers.

She was perfect and wonderful and I adored her. If she was a little cool, I understood that it was only because that was her nature.

My father suffered because of her coldness, though. Theirs was a loveless marriage. I never understood that completely until I met Menily and realised that married couples could hug and kiss and dance in public and no one would as much as bat an eyelid.

I know the lack of physical affection was on my mother's side because my Father never failed to show my siblings and I so much love that we barely even noticed the emotional failings of our mother.

Every night-time, mother would graciously allow us all to give her a peck on her exquisite cheek as we said goodnight. Father, on the other hand, would always insist on a hug and a real kiss. Often he would sling Anika over his shoulders, and Tayven and me under either arm and would carry us bodily to the bedroom before dropping each of us on our beds and tickling us until we would scramble under the sheets in helpless laughter.

He was the Captain of the Ship at that time, but he never once, in all my memory, missed our bed times. When I look back at all the battles we fought, and the alien governments he would often have to negotiate with for hours at a time to obtain supplies or safe passage, I consider it a miracle that he never let us down.

He was my hero. I grew up believing that even alien battle cruisers wouldn't dare attack us at the precise moment he was due in our quarters. It wasn't until I was about nine or ten that I realised that it wasn't so much that he arrived at the same time each night, but that he forbade my mother to put us to bed before he came home.

Even so, the fact that he loved us too much to even let us go to sleep before he had a chance to remind us how much we were loved, is something I will never forget.

I pray that I will be as good a father to my own children.

Of course, with Menily being such an affectionate woman, it is not so necessary that I do it. I will not have to give double the physical love to make up for my spouse's failings like he did. Still, I want my children to grow up loving me as much as I adore my father Chakotay.

"A fair slim boy not made for this world's pain.." I read this to my father once, several weeks after Tayven's funeral. That was the one time I saw him really cry. He just broke down and wept. I was beside myself, realising that I had inadvertently wounded him when all I had been trying to do was somehow comfort him.

It was one of those rare occasions that my mother exceeded my expectations. She came forward and sat beside my Father, taking one of his hands in her own and stroking it gently as he sobbed. It was not much, but for her it was a lot, and I loved her for it.

My Father never mentioned the incident to me again, but Menily told me that he had come around to our quarters and made a copy of the sonnet for himself.

I imagine that when the door is firmly locked, he reads it and allows himself to cry.

I have a feeling, though, that Tayven is not the only fair, slim, blond and blue-eyed boy that he grieves for.

~~~

Now that Mother is dead, it is time that my father allowed himself to be with the person that he has loved all along.

I loved my Mother, and I miss her terribly. She was never a physical comforter but I miss her quiet, unemotional advice. It is good sometimes to have a relationship with someone who is not prone to mood swings. She was always constant and it was comforting to always know exactly how she would react to a situation. She never lost her temper with us, no matter how much our "inefficient use of our time" irritated her, and she taught us all a self-discipline that I now find invaluable.

But she didn't actually love us and she didn't even really love my Father.

I don't think she was capable of the emotion.

She was fiercely possessive of him though. Whenever he was in the room, her eyes would track him constantly, and when he was a little boisterous and over exuberant in his play with us, I sometimes saw her eyes narrow into a faint scowl of disapproval. Not because he was playing, but because his attention was purely for us at that moment.

I think, to be brutally honest, that she was a little jealous of us all.

It must have been terrible for her, though. She wasn't capable of intense emotion. It wasn't her choice to act as she did. It was some implant that the Borg had left inside her. When I was finally old enough to understand my Mother's history, and when I had reached the age where I had begun to resent her indifference rather than just giving her the blind adoration of my early years, my Father took me aside and explained why she was how she was.

From that moment on, whatever happened, I never allowed myself to be anything but completely tolerant of her foibles.

On the other hand, I became equally positive that my parent's marriage was a mistake.

It was at that same inquisitive age of 12 or 13 that I finally realised how much I looked like my Uncle Tom. At first it only puzzled me a little, but it wakened my awareness to other things. The fact that Father and Uncle Tom were so brusque and rude to each other, that seeing them together you couldn't imagine that they were the same people that individually were both so warm and kind.

Except that's not strictly true of Uncle Tom. He was warm and kind with *me*. He seemed to have few other friends on Voyager and he treated everyone with the same icy indifference, except for my Father and Mother who he seemed to hate, my brother and sister who he was vaguely affectionate towards, and me, who he seemed to genuinely like.

I was the only person who ever caused him to smile. He smiled widest at the things I did that caused everyone else a fair amount of consternation. I never *meant* to be bad, I just had this insatiable curiosity that seemed to always get me into scrapes. If there was a Jeffries Tube I could get lost in, I did. If there was an over-enthusiastic science project that blew up half the laboratory, it was mine. If there was a computer program that turned into a virus, I had written it.

My mother would discipline me by boring me to death with long lectures on using my time more efficiently. My father would discipline me more effectively by simply giving me no more than a disappointed look that would break my heart.

Uncle Tom, when told of my misdemeanors, would usually laugh himself stupid and then tell me something similar that *he* had once done. Don't misunderstand me, he never encouraged my behaviour. He just had a more understanding perspective about the way that my attempts to do good always blew up in my face. Sometimes literally.

I was 14 when I did something unforgivable, that hurt my Father so much that I barely can face remembering it, but it lead to my discovery of the real truth so it's too important not to recount.

I think all children go through a period of teen angst, and being trapped on Voyager only made it worse. In some ways, living my whole life aboard this ship has been an adventure. In other ways it has been a form of Purgatory.

Sixty-Seven children of my generation were born on this ship, all told. Nine, including Tayven, died. Twenty-six left the ship when their parents chose to settle on worlds that we passed. That left thirty-two. It sounds a lot until you divide that by the sixteen years of my official childhood and realise that I had, at most a half-dozen playmates of a near enough age group to become my friends.

For some reason, they were all girls.

Not that there was anything wrong with them. One of them was Menily after all. Only at age 14 she was still a little buck-toothed and plump so I never realised she was going to turn into the most gorgeous woman in the Galaxy.

Besides, it wasn't my hormones that were the problem. What I wanted was a friend. A REAL friend. A boy. Tayven was 8 at the time, and those six years were a lifetime of difference between us. I loved him, I played with him, but he was my little brother. I wanted a friend.

All of this background is just my way of trying to justify my behaviour on Kapoonis, I guess. We had found the natives welcoming and had landed the ship to do some long overdue hull repairs. So I had a whole month to run on real grass, under real skies, and I went a little wild. I also made friends with the son of the local Mayor. He was my age, and worldly wise in ways I had never even dreamed possible.

While my Father was busy with supervising the ship's repairs, and my Mother was preoccupied with a ten year old Anika who had suddenly become aware of "fashion" and dragged her from market to market in search of booty, Musin and I got up to all the no-good that we could get away with.

It was mainly harmless stuff. Climbing trees. Scrumping apples. Building a dyke across the town's main water supply (okay, that wasn't so harmless). Catching the half-broken saddle beasts that were turned out to pasture and riding them barebacked and bridle-less until they threw us to the ground and escaped. Raiding his father's study and stealing his liquor (filling the bottles back up with water to hide our crime) and generally anything else we could think of.

We got away with it until the day that Mother insisted that I took Tayven with me to get him out from under her feet. I so bitterly regret that day now, for so many reasons.

Had I known then that his time in this life would be so short, had I understood that he was just "a fair slim boy not made for this world's pain," I would never have wasted a single moment of his short life by making him cry.

As it was though, I was just furious to have my fun curtailed and I ignored him, as best I could. Musin and I laughed and joked together as we walked along and left Tayven miserably sniffling along in our wake. Musin got bored, of course, and our path led us up to the pasture so it was too much to resist our game of riding the saddle beasts.

Tayven wanted to ride too, and I refused, so he started to cry and then threatened to tell Father what Musin and I had done unless he had a turn too. So I put him on one of the animals, slapped its ass, hoped he'd fall off and hurt himself and inevitably he did.

Of course, I had wanted him to get a couple of bruises for sniveling, not fracture his arm in three places.

Father went crazy. It was the first time he had ever really lost his temper with me and despite the fact that I was almost as tall as him, he bent me over his lap and smacked my bottom.

It was the humiliation more than anything that upset me so much, and I was so hysterical with sobbing outrage at his discipline that I said something that I'll regret for the rest of my life.

I told him he had no right to spank me, because he wasn't really my Father.

I didn't mean it. It was anger talking and the fact that for two years I had become increasingly convinced that Uncle Tom was my *real* father and that was why I looked like him so much. It also explained why he and my Father hated each other. Uncle Tom had obviously had an affair with mother, and I was the result.

It didn't mean that I loved my Father any less, just because I thought Uncle Tom was my *real* father, if you know what I mean. Uncle Tom was just Uncle Tom. He was a great guy, but he wasn't exactly cut out to be a father. I was old enough to understand that Father's discipline and love was more important than Uncle Tom's amused tolerance. Even if Uncle Tom was more fun.

So I guess I only said it to get Father back for having had the audacity to spank my ass.

I never expected to really hurt him.

He turned white. Like a ghost. It was as though he were filled with air and I had pricked him with a pin. He deflated in front of my eyes. My wonderful, heroic Ship's Captain of a father was so wounded by my spiteful words that he almost collapsed.

As soon as I saw his pain, I threw myself at him, begging and pleading for his forgiveness. Assuring him, over and over, that I loved him, only him, and I *was* his son and he *was* my father and would he please, please forget that I had ever said those cruel and stupid words.

My Father's capacity for love and forgiveness have always been humbling to me. No sooner did he see *my* distress than he forgot his own and sought to comfort me instead. He hugged me and held me as though I was the most precious treasure in the universe, and he told me repeatedly that I was his heart, and his soul, and that nothing I ever did or said could extinguish his love for me.

And when I had finally calmed down, he wiped my face, and said that it was finally time that I knew the truth but that he needed to talk to someone first.

He moved over to the comm unit and had a brief, terse conversation with someone that I afterwards realised must have been Uncle Tom, and then he came back and told me everything.

He glossed over a lot of it. He didn't mention that my Mother had conceived me against my fathers' wishes. He protected her from that much and it was years later that another crew member accidentally let it slip in conversation to me.

He didn't tell me that Uncle Tom had wanted me to be aborted. Uncle Tom himself told me that. He explained himself in such a way that I have never resented him for his feelings at the time. To the extent that he has been able to, he has made room in his life for me, and considering what my birth cost him, I can hardly believe he can look me in the face at all.

Sometimes, when I think about how my own life has destroyed the lives of the two men that I love most in the universe, I am humbled that I bear their genes. My Father lived for nearly twenty years with a woman as emotionally cold as a glacier just so that he could raise me with his love. Uncle Tom spent those twenty years in lonely bitterness. Yet neither, even once, has ever borne any resentment against me, the cause of it all.

Like I said, I loved my Mother, but sometimes, when I think of the harm that she did, I am pleased not that she is dead, of course, but that she passed away before either of my Fathers did.

Surely, now, they could steal back a little happiness together.

They are both strong and healthy men. They could spend the *next* twenty years together to slowly mend their hurts, and then the twenty years after that simply celebrating their love.

If only I can keep Uncle Tom from leaving Voyager.

Captain Tuvok has been surprisingly co-operative with me in allowing me to make sure our course never passes a warp-capable society. He agrees that the situation can't go on and that Uncle Tom running away is no solution for his pain. I think Tuvok loves Uncle Tom a little himself, although he would probably turn a peculiar shade of green if I dared accuse him of anything as human as an emotion.

Uncle Tom saved his life a couple of years ago, when he came into Ponn Farr shortly after his wife died of the same fever that killed Tayven. I don't think two people can share that kind of experience without forming *some* form of attachment for each other, human or not.

I had hoped that my daughter's naming ceremony would be a place for my stubborn, heart-broken fathers to finally at least stand in the same room for more than two minutes. Then I made the mistake of saying we were considering naming her Seven.

The blood drained from Uncle Tom's face as soon as I uttered the word, and I kicked myself for my stupidity. Of course he wouldn't want his grand-daughter to be named after the woman who had stolen his husband. She did, of course, steal his husband. But like Father says, she didn't know what she was doing and we shouldn't resent her actions because without them Anika, Tayven and I would never have been born at all.

So Menily and I have decided to call our daughter Harriet, after her maternal grandfather, and instead of the private ceremony we had intended, we are going to have a Requiem for all the Voyagers who have left and a Reaffirmation of those of us who continue the journey together.

The Captain has declared that attendance at the ceremony is mandatory.

There is an old saying that you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink. Similarly, we can force my Fathers to both sit next to each other but we can't make them talk.

At the moment, I'd settle for Uncle Tom giving Father a well-deserved slap across the face.

It would, at least, be a start.



Continued in "Sostenuto"



(The Sonnet quoted is "Wasted Days" by Oscar Wilde)
4: Sostenuto by mort
Tides of the Heart



Part Four : Sostenuto



It is the witching hour, but the witch is dead, and my hands flash over the ivory and ebony keys in affirmation, as I play the "Danse Macabre" with its waves of taunting, mocking crescendos, as I spin her bitter memory away from me in a tornado of sound.

"Midnight....The claws of Death raps a gruesome cadence on the tomb at midnight....white skeletons skip and dance through the shadows....the bones of the dancers clatter as they dance..."

The poem was by Henri Cazalis, I have forgotten who wrote this grisly symphonic accompaniment, that makes the walls of the holodec shudder as I wrest the screaming laments from the piano keys. Camille Saint-Saens, I think, but I'm not sure.

No matter.

It's been many years since my fingers first learnt to dance to this particular descant. I learnt the tune as an exercise in musical complexity. Its haunting melody only serving to teach my hands the dexterity that would eventually cause a Starship to waltz under the guidance of my fingers.

Never did I imagine that thirty odd years later I would use its cadence to try to lay a real ghost.

I never reach the last movement. I ride the last crescendo of the music to the four bars of twelve identical chords that demand that the whole weight of my body crashes down behind each thundering repetition, and the resultant scream from the instrument that I am abusing sounds like the howl of Death himself . Then I collapse over the keyboard, so much perspiration running from my forehead that, for a moment, it manages to drown my tears.

In the sudden, deafening silence I find, perhaps, a little peace.

~~~

Charis visited me again today.

My son.

Strange, after all these years, that I finally understand the power of those two words "my son".

He has always been a mystery to me. How to deal with him, I mean.

I didn't want him. I never wanted him. For the first two years of his life I hated him as much as I hated his mother. I saw him as no more than a thief. No more than a cancerous growth that had been nurtured at the breast of a viper for the sole purpose of destroying my life.

I saw him as a human cuckoo, an interloper with no rights, yet it was *I* who had been pushed out of the nest to make room for him.

He was invisible to me. It was the only way I stopped myself from using his tiny fragile body as a punching bag for my fury. I couldn't have really done it, of course. I am not capable of hurting a child. Even a child of Seven. But, I admit, that I thought about it a lot.

I hoped he would simply die.

So, you see now that I am a wicked man, don't you? I deserve my pain, my torture, my loneliness. I once prayed that my own son would die so that my husband would, in his grief, turn back to me once more.

I was a little mad, I think, but still, it is unforgivable.

Then one day, when Charis was two, and still unsteady on his feet, I walked into the observation lounge, too wrapped up in my own miserable self-pity to realise that Seven and her monster were inside.

I froze, in horror, as the creature began tottering towards me with a happy, sunny smile on his face. His arms were outstretched in blind trust that I would move towards him and swing him up in my arms. I remember starting to back away, my stomach churning, as this tiny Borg attempted to assimilate me.

God, it's impossible to explain how I felt. It was Charis, an innocent toddler who I knew was really my son, and yet, for me, he was the embodiment of everything that had destroyed my life. I had to get away from him.

Yet, before I could complete my intention of spinning on my heels and racing from the room, he stumbled, forced by my retreat to walk further than his tiny legs could stagger, and his face screwed into terror as he began to fall towards the deck.

And then I was on my knees, catching him, my arms full of child, not monster, my nose pressed into the softness of his hair, so that my nostrils filled with the sweet scent of shampoo, and milk, and something indefinable that was simply the smell of Charis himself.

I remember trembling a little, shaking as I finally accepted that he was real, he was a person not a monster, and I knew, in that moment, that I would never, ever, let any harm come to him. It was the moment that I also realised that Chakotay would never come back to me.

How could I, Tom Paris, ever compete with someone as beautiful and innocent and *worthy* of love as my own infant son?

After that time, although I made little effort to involve myself in his life, I at least put away my hatred for the boy and instead directed it where it belonged, at his parents.

It was hard to hate Chakotay though. Hating him was like hating myself. But then again, I *did* hate myself too, so I simply got used to simply hating everyone.

I blamed them all for allowing it to happen. I hated Kathryn, god rest her soul, for defending Seven's actions as "understandable" once she had gotten over her initial fury. I even hated my best and only friend Harry for having a spouse who could bear him his *own* child so that he would never leave Jenny, as Chakotay had left me.

Then, before I could make my peace with them, before I could ask forgiveness for my complete self-indulgent bitterness, we were attacked by the Borg, and Kathryn, Harry and Jenny were all dead.

What little was left of my heart died with them.

Samantha took tiny Menily into her life, and brought her up with the same calm and tolerant love that she bestowed on her own daughter Naomi, who was about nine by then.

Despite the many desertions of Voyager that followed in the wake of Kathryn's death, the corridors of the ship soon rang with the voices of many children, and I was forced to retreat constantly into my own, lonely quarters to escape the pain of hearing their joyous laughter.

I began to believe that *I* was the monster on Voyager. I seemed to be the only person that didn't feel the urge to procreate. I felt guilty, unnatural, and my shame finally forced me to at least start to pretend a little interest in Charis.

Neelix did the negotiation for me, acted as the intermediary between Chakotay, Seven and I.

I think Chakotay agreed that I could occasionally "baby sit" because he hoped that if I learned to love Charis, I would find a way to forgive Chakotay for loving him too.

I suppose it worked to an extent. Charis turned out to be surprisingly interesting and over the years we seem to have become genuinely fond of each other. I became his "Uncle" Tom, and although he knows now of my biological connection to him, he still addresses me as Uncle. We both prefer it that way.

Even so, he *is* my son.

No matter that I never wanted a son, still I have an obligation to him. It is not *his* fault, after all.

I don't think I love him. I think I lost the capacity for that emotion years ago. Seven *did* assimilate me into her collective, after all. I am a drone. I eat, I sleep, I work, I talk (if I absolutely have to) and that is all.

My only emotional outlet is in the privacy of the holodec when I run my program with the baby grand, and I let ivory and ebony do my crying for me.

I *like* Charis though. I really like him, and I like Menily too, so even though I know that tomorrow will be a walk through hell itself, I will agree to attend after all.

For Harry, perhaps.

The idea that he will live on through his grand-daughter touches me in a place I had forgotten existed. Perhaps *this* is the real reason for children, after all.

Immortality.

A requiem for the dead and a celebration for the living, both wrapped up in the promise of one tiny girl child who will be known as Harriet.

I like the idea.

Perhaps I will even take the opportunity to play my Danse Macabre for the crew and finally, publicly, lay all of my ghosts before I leave these Voyagers behind to travel on without me.

Sostenuto. It is a musical term. It means to sustain longer than a note's natural length.

I have suffered here long enough. No matter how selfish and wicked I once was in dreaming that my own happiness was more important than the life of a child. I have no more tears. I have no blood left to bleed. I have stayed long enough that my son is now a man and now has his own child to protect. He does not need me any more.

Perhaps he never needed me at all. No more than Chakotay needed me.

Perhaps it has always really been about what I needed, after all.

The last crescendo has been played, there is no necessity for me to play the tune to the bitter end. The drama is over. The danger averted. The witch is dead. What is left is only aftermath.

It is time for me to move on.

Continued in "Ecclesiastes"
5: Ecclesiastes by mort
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.



Continued in "Aristarchus"
6: Aristarchus by mort
Tides of the Heart


Part Six: Aristarchus



I have done some damn stupid things in my life, and somehow the worst of them have always been when I have tried to do something right. Once, when I was thirteen and the gel paks first began to fail on Voyager, I decided that I would come up with an alternative. With the supreme arrogance of a teenager, I was positive that I could find a solution where the Adults had failed.

I based my alternative on my own Borg nanites, since the gel paks were, after all, a mix of bio-engineering and technology, much like the microscopic machines that live in my bloodstream.

It never even occurred to me to wonder why, if it was that simple, Mother had never tried it herself.

I rigged up an isolation chamber in the Science Lab and because I said it was going to be my entry for the children's Annual Science Competition, no one found my insistence on secrecy to be suspicious.

It worked. I extracted nanites from my own bloodstream and managed to create a solid communication relay from one terminal to another without the need for circuitry or wires and only the tinniest expenditure of energy. Instead of demonstrating my success to my Mother, who would no doubt have pointed out that I was working in such a closed environment that I hadn't considered the many other factors involved in Voyager's design, I decided I would save the ship single-handedly.

Since our main problem then, as now, was energy, I decided that the first demonstration should be the way my new invention could make the replicators work with a fraction of the normal energy drain. I took a hypo of my reprogrammed nanites and injected them directly into the gel paks in the Jeffries Tube between decks seven and nine. Then I sat back and waited for the adulation.

It was two years before Mother let me in the Science Lab again without supervision. It took nearly that long to remove the nanites. They bred almost faster than they could be removed and for the best part of eighteen months, every time someone put an order for coffee into a replicator, they got a serving of Tomato Soup.

Uncle Tom was the only person who thought it was funny. Then again, he *likes* tomato soup.

If it hadn't been for his intervention, I think B'Elanna would have disemboweled me and hung my intestines up in Engineering as a warning to all would-be do-gooders to keep the hell out of things they don't fully understand.

This morning I tried to manipulate two people that I love more than life itself into facing the obvious fact that they both need each other and instead I only drove them even further apart. I honestly didn't think that was even possible.

So maybe I should have butted out and minded my own business, instead of doing what I have just done.

But it's too late. What's done is done and I'm just praying that *this* time, I've done the right thing.

The thing is, I know I'm young, and pretty naive about love. Growing up in the sheltered confines of a Starship, with a Borg for a mother, I have been protected from a lot of the realities of human relationships. Menily and I never played games with each other. We decided to date at 16, married at 18, had a child at twenty and have never even thought about anybody else romantically. In my own marriage I have little experience of complex situations and grief, I grant you.

But there is another side to the coin too.

I have seen more deaths than any man my age who lives in safe Federation Space rather than on a battered Starship years from any safe port. I have experienced more danger and more loss. I have looked in the face of death myself more times than I can count.

So in some ways, I am far older than my years.

I'm not sure what age I first became aware of my own mortality. It just slowly crept up on me every time Voyager was assaulted by hostile forces.

With each sounding of the red alert I grew up a little, until the sound no longer brought me childish excitement but instead instilled dread in my heart. Then the loss of Tayven, and then my Mother, have taught me that life is precious and short and we cannot allow ourselves the luxury of self-pity.

That's what Father and Uncle Tom are wallowing in. Self-Pity. I'm not disparaging their pain, or pretending that the last twenty years haven't been a tragedy, but what is the point of keeping old wounds open like this?

I'm not suggesting that they can just shrug and forget what has happened, but surely they can try a fresh start. It's not as though Uncle Tom needs worry that Father will ever leave him again, and Father *knows* that Uncle Tom has always loved him. Sure they will probably fight and scream and yell at each other like alley cats until they get all the pain out of their systems, but the love will be enough to see them through in the end.

How many people would mourn a love for twenty years? How many people are capable of still feeling that much intensity of emotion after all this time? Doesn't their pain prove, just by itself, that they are destined to be together?

I don't care about the general opinion. Just because everyone, except Captain Tuvok and I, believe that my Father and Uncle Tom hate each other, it doesn't mean that it is true.

It is impossible to grow up on a Starship without learning a love of space, even if your Mother isn't the Astrometrics Officer. What intrigued me most of all though was the fact that people had ever managed to leave their home planets and take that first, terrifying step into the unknown.

Back on the unimaginatively named planet Earth, fifteen centuries before the first man-made craft finally broke through the atmosphere to land on its sole satellite known as the moon, a man named Aristarchus once dared to put forward the idea that all the planets of that solar system, including the Earth itself, revolved around the Sun.

Everyone laughed at him. He was luckier than some people who shared his beliefs in later centuries because by the time of Galileo, science had been supplanted by religion and superstition so no one cared about facts any more anyway.

The reason no one believed Aristarchus though, wasn't because of blind religious insistence that "God" made the Earth so therefore the planets revolved around *it*. They didn't believe him simply because he never bothered to do the mathematics to prove his theory.

That's why the measurement of distance in the solar system is known by humans as the Copernican System. Because although Copernicus didn't come up with the idea, he was the first person to do what was necessary to *prove* the theory.

That's why what I did this morning was so stupid. I had a theory that Father and Uncle Tom, if forced together, would finally admit to each other that they need each other. I didn't bother to do the mathematics. I just threw them at each other and inevitably they just both charged off in different directions without even *trying* to talk.

I should have known better. They have both managed to avoid each other for twenty years on a Starship so small that you can visit every meter of it in less than a day.

So I have come up with a new plan. One which will *force* them to talk. It's pretty low, I admit, but I've tried talking to them separately and I've tried putting them together voluntarily, and neither works.

They don't believe that they are as helplessly caught in each other's gravity as twin planets. I don't care what they believe. I'm going to prove it to them.

At least I don't have the added problem of religion to overcome. At least I don't think so, but with Father, you can't be too sure.

My Father has never asked me to partake in his beliefs. He says that they were force-fed to him as a youngster and that they cannot be taken lightly, so rather than teach me as a child and insist that I pay respect to them, he instead promised me that when I was an adult, if I still chose to learn, then he would be happy to introduce me to my Spirit Guide.

I never did get around to asking him, and he never mentioned the subject again.

Now I regret that because I really wish I could get inside his head and understand what is making him so damned stubborn. Maybe it's a tribal thing.

As for Uncle Tom, I understand his fear completely. That's why I know that the move *has* to come from my Father. I'm not saying it's *his* fault, exactly, only that he is the one who left, so he has to be the one who goes back.

And if he doesn't do it NOW, it's going to be too late.

After I fucked everything up today by going too far and instead of satisfying myself with getting them in the same room, tried to be clever by making them actually sit side by side, Uncle Tom went to see Captain Tuvok and said that if we don't drop him off at the next habitable planet he is going to help himself to the Delta Flyer and leave by himself.

Shit. What did I think I was doing? Did I expect them to end up holding hands and making up, or even making out?

Yeah, to be honest, I kind of hoped they would.

I mean they love each other, they obviously have the hots for each other, and the way I see it, the only way either of them are ever going to heal is if they just put everything behind them and start where they left off.

I don't care if that sounds unrealistic. It's the truth and I'm going to prove it.

It's the spirit of Voyager.

You suffer, you lose people, you grieve, you move on, you make do and you never, ever, give up hope of a happy ending.

It's the mantra I grew up on and if I have to stuff it down their throats until it chokes them, I am going to make my Fathers believe it too.

If I have to believe in the dream that we will someday reach the Alpha Quadrant, and that it will be a good thing (which considering the fact that one of my Fathers is a wanted terrorist and the other is a prisoner on parole, is not always an easy idea to swallow), then my Fathers can try and believe in themselves.

If you could only have seen them this morning, you would understand.

Two strong, good, brave men, falling to pieces just because they were seated a few inches apart from each other. Both of their faces filled with so much pain and distress that it ripped my own heart apart to witness them.

Believe it or not, most of the crew *still* think that they hate each other. That my Father left the room because he couldn't spend another minute sat next to the man who has been heard to say on so many occasions that he hates my Father too. The fact that Father returned to the room in time for Harriet's naming ceremony, but only after Uncle Tom had left, seems to prove their theory right.

What no-one knows though, is that it was Uncle Tom himself that insisted he returned.

He didn't speak to Father himself, unfortunately. That would have been too easy. He spoke to me, after I had raced out after my distraught Father. Uncle Tom followed me into the corridor, said he was returning to his quarters and that I should find my Father, explain that he had left, and that Father should fulfill his duty to his Grand daughter.

Oddly enough, when I found Father, he wasn't as distressed as I thought he would be, and I began to realise that he hadn't left the room because he couldn't bear being with Uncle Tom, but because Uncle Tom was so distressed at *his* presence.

I always knew that Uncle Tom loved Father and that's why he was still alone, and I had guessed that my Father never stopped loving Uncle Tom either, but I wasn't *sure* how much.

Now I know that they both *really* love each other.

So they may as well stop fighting it.

Come to think of it, I had better check their vitals again, just in case they *are* fighting.

There's not a lot of room in a turbolift, so they could be doing each other a fair amount of damage, I guess.

Captain Tuvok is pretty angry with me, but not so much that he has forced me to give him the over-ride codes. He's more disgusted that I couldn't think up something more original. I think. But it's a Starship, there aren't *that* many completely confined spaces to trap them inside. Tuvok is more annoyed with me for using the red alert to herd them inside.

The only reason I'm not in the brig is because I jerry-rigged the computer so that the alert only sounded on deck six, at midnight, when I knew the only people who would be there would be Uncle Tom beating the crap out of his holographic piano, and Father lurking outside with his ear to the door.

Hey, I love them. Of course I know what's been going on.

So, anyway, only *they* heard the red alert, and Father was already inside the turbolift, trying to close the door that, oddly enough, wouldn't shut, when Uncle Tom leapt inside after him.

Before either of them had a chance to react, I closed the doors, cancelled the alert, took over the controls of the lift, blocked outwards transmissions from their comm badges and then I called Father, told him what I had done, said they weren't getting out until they had at least talked to each other, and then cut him off before he could finish telling me what he was planning to do to me when he got out.

Sometimes I find it "efficient" to be the son of a Borg.



Continued in Appassionato
7: Appassionato by mort
Tides of the Heart



Part Seven: Appassionato



As soon as Tom dove through the turbolift door and realised that I was inside, I saw him turn white with shock under the flashing lights of the red alert. Despite his training, I think he honestly would have turned and raced back out of the confined space if the doors hadn't instantly slammed shut behind him.

I tried to ignore his obvious panic, concentrating on slamming my hands against the control panel because for the last few minutes the computer had completely failed to respond to my verbal commands.

As my palm slapped against the clear glass, the red alert abruptly ceased and I saw Tom take a deep, relieved breath and move towards the door to exit the lift. It didn't open. He repeated my response to the control panel but with his feet, as he kicked violently at the unyielding door.

Which was when my comm badge chirped and Charis's low, melodic voice sang out into the lift, smugly advising us that he had deliberately trapped us together. I saw the complete horror in Tom's eyes and began to bellow into my comm badge, telling Charis that if he didn't open the doors immediately he wouldn't be able to sit down for a week.

His only reply was to cut communications.

If I had thought Tom's breathing was ragged earlier that morning, it was nothing next to the way he began to almost choke. The room filled with the sound of his tortuous gasps for breath. I stepped forwards towards him and he swung away in panic, pressing his back into the wall as though I was leprous. Realising my mistake, I stopped my advance and retreated instead so that I was pressed against the opposite wall and my action was enough for him to regain enough control of himself to slide a facade of cold indifference onto his face.

"I'm sorry," I told him, and I meant for Charis's stupid irresponsible act, but as I said the words they twisted in my mouth and came out as such a sad, desperate wail that they incorporated everything I had to be sorry about.

Tom stiffened, as though my words offended him, as indeed they must have. How pathetic and useless and inadequate words are to express anything as terrible as the way I had betrayed him.

We stayed like that, frozen statues caught in an endless tableau of guilt and hate, for so long that my calves began to tremble with fatigue. I wanted to slide down the wall and sit on the floor, but although that would make me smaller and less threatening to him, a seated position would also mean that I inevitably would be a little nearer him, invading his need for distance.

He was still as rigid as ice, his eyes fixed firmly on the wall some several centimeters over my head so that he could pretend I wasn't there.

The silence was unbearable.

"I *am* sorry, Tom," I found myself saying, my own eyes fixed at a point near his feet. "I know that isn't enough, that there's nothing I can say or do to make things better between us, but it's still true."

He pretended not to hear me and my words faded to distant echoes, invisible and impotent, before I managed to speak once more.

"Tuvok said you wanted to leave the ship, Tom. I don't understand. Why now? Why after all these years? Please don't leave, Tom. We need you. Voyager needs you."

Like ice-glazed stone his face remained unmoved by my words. Not even a flicker in his frosty eyes suggested that he had heard me. So I said it. I finally said it.

"*I* need you, Tom."

As though I had slapped him, his head suddenly dropped so that he faced me and his eyes darkened with such hatred that I felt myself wither inside. With his eyes alone he flayed my heart. Then a shudder ran through him, and he simply looked away once more, his lips still pursed and silent.

"Aren't you going to say something?" I begged. I was beyond pride perhaps, or maybe I just wanted to hear his scorn and anger so that I could focus on his rage instead of my despair. I had no right to say that I needed him, even if it were true.

And it was.

Suddenly, with blinding clarity, I realised that if he ever *had* left Voyager, I would have followed him. I would have taken my family with me, but I would have followed him. And if my wife had refused to accompany me, I would have simply taken the children and left her behind.

Simply by staying, he had allowed me to pretend that I didn't need him, but it had *never* been true.

And whatever it took, I would never let him leave me. Even if I had to spend the rest of my life following him around the galaxy like a love-sick hound while he continued to deny my existence

"Please, Tom. Talk to me. Say *something*," I begged.

For a long time he still pretended that I was invisible, and then that dark look flashed in his eyes again.

"Fucker," he spat at me, and then he turned his back so that he was facing the wall. I saw him brace his hands and then lean his forehead on the cold metal and I could imagine him closing his eyes and fighting for control of his breathing once more.

I swallowed uncomfortably. I was going to kill Charis for putting Tom through this, I decided. Even so, I finally had the opportunity to put things right between us before Tom left the ship. Maybe right enough that he *wouldn't* leave the ship.

I couldn't afford to hope for anything more than that, but the thought of Tom packing a bag and leaving was more than I could bear.

"Look, I know this is hard, Tom, but Charis is right. We do need to talk about things. We never did, did we? Talk I mean?"

A minute shiver ran down Tom's spine and I saw his muscles rippling under his thin t-shirt, and his knuckles whitened.

It was true. In twenty years we had never spoken about it. Even the divorce was simply signatures on data padds. Except for the terse necessities of orders exchanged on duty and the monosyllabic exchange of conventional pleasantries like "hello" and "goodbye" when he had collected Charis, Tom and I had not spoken a single word to each other in twenty years.

We hadn't spoken since the night I abandoned him in the midst of our lovemaking.

Spirits, how much he must have hated me for all these years. The more so because he never stopped loving me.

"Tom?" I pleaded. "Please say something to me."

"Fucker," he hissed into the wall.

"How about something else?" I asked lightly, teasingly, as though I still had the right to talk to him in that way.

It was my tone of voice that got to him, I think, rather than my words.

He spun around to face me.

"What you don't like that word?" he demanded. "Try this one then, Slut!"

I nearly fell over.

"What?" I asked, too confused to even take offence.

"That's what you call someone who just wants to get laid, isn't it?" he demanded bitterly. "You feeling horny, Tay? Is that what this is about? Your wife's dead and you want a shag so you thought you'd come by for a quick fuck from desperate Tom for old time's sake?"

"Come by? I don't understand. We're just stuck in a fucking turbolift, Tom," I replied. "And you followed *me* in if you remember."

How the hell had "I need you" ended up as "I want to fuck you"? Even if it was the truth, I wondered. Did he really think that the only reason I wanted him was because my wife was dead now? Probably. Why wouldn't he? The last time he had offered me the precious gift of his body I had abandoned him unfulfilled, sobbing as though his heart was breaking as I dressed and hurried from the room, my head too full of worry for my son for my heart to even acknowledge Tom's pain.

"What were you doing on Deck 6, Tay? Checking the paintwork?" he challenged.

I flushed. Since there is nothing on Deck 6 except the holodecs and holodec two hasn't worked for three years, Tom was right. There was *no* reasonable excuse for me being there. There was only the truth.

"I was listening to you playing, Tom, that's all," I admitted shamefully.

He jerked as though slapped and the anger in his eyes was replaced by a look of hurt, humiliation and complete betrayal. I knew what I had done was wrong, a breach of his privacy, but I had no idea he would take it so badly.

"You had no right. NO FUCKING RIGHT!" he screamed at me. "That's private stuff, do you hear me? Private. You had no fucking right to listen to me!"

He was right, of course. I had given up that right twenty years ago.

"I just wanted to be near you," I admitted quietly.

His face shattered under my words. His icy facade melting as his features twisted through emotions so quickly that I barely registered one expression before another replaced it. Bitterness, sorrow, pain, rage, confusion, hatred all skipping over his face in a crazy blur until he bared his teeth at me in such pure animalistic agony that I staggered as the burden of his pain crushed me.

"Shit, shit, shit, shit," he hissed, as though incapable of finding any other word to express his agony, and then he screamed "SHIT!" and swung back to the door and punched it so hard that his scream became a howl of pain.

Then, as though the pain was what he wanted, he continued to strike the metal door panel repeatedly until it was dented and scarred, its white surface smeared with blood from his split knuckles.

I jumped forwards and grabbed his elbow, desperate to stop his self abuse.

"DON'T TOUCH ME!" he screamed, spinning around in furious panic.

I let go apologetically but as soon as I did, he turned and struck the door once more, before staggering slightly from the pain.

"STOP IT!" I yelled at him. "If you need to hit something, hit *me*!"

It was enough to make him turn back to face me once more, his eyes dark with pain and confusion, his lower lip quivering as though he would cry.

"Please, Tom," I begged. "Stop hurting yourself. Hit me if you want to but stop hitting the door. Look at your hand!"

A little dazed, he looked down at his swollen right hand. The skin was ripped and bleeding across his knuckles. He gave a choking sob, as though the pain finally registered once his own eyes witnessed the damage.

I never even saw his left fist swing at me until it connected with my stomach with sickening force. The impact forced all of the air out of my lungs and I doubled over, in as much surprise as pain, as I gasped for breath. He took the opportunity to strike me in the face with his right fist, hard enough to make us both cry out in pain, and suddenly there was so much blood dripping onto the floor that I couldn't tell which was coming from his broken hand, and which was from a deep split in the corner of my mouth.

For an instant the fury in Tom's eyes was replaced by a little fear, and he stiffened defensively, obviously expecting me to strike him back. Perhaps he even wanted me to, because when I opened my arms in submission, indicating that he could strike me with impunity, instead of hitting me again, his face contorted in pain and he backed away.

"Fuck you," he hissed, shaking his head in denial. "It's not that fucking easy, you bastard. This isn't going to happen. I won't let this happen. Do you hear me? DO YOU FUCKING HEAR ME?"

"I hear you," I replied softly, sadly. I understood. He couldn't allow himself to lose control like this in front of me, not even in anger. He couldn't trust himself. And in admitting that, he gave me the opening I needed, and I took it. I moved towards him.

He scuttled backwards in panic, hit the wall, realised he had nowhere to go and came out fighting.

He kicked me, punched me, slapped me. Spirits, he actually bit me at one point. And all the time I did not strike him back, I simply grasped his shoulders to prevent him from putting any weight behind his blows so that as much as he twisted and spat and hissed at me, as he slapped my face and ribs because his hand was too damaged to make a fist, he couldn't truly hurt me.

Well, not to the point of breaking my bones, at least, though my skin turned an interesting dark rainbow under his blows.

He was hyperventilating, his breath coming in such short, sharp gasps that the more he fought, the weaker he was becoming as his lungs failed to replenish the oxygen he was burning with his assault.

I felt his knees giving way, so I sank with him, still holding him as he sobbed for breath and he collapsed against me, his now sodden hair pressed into my chest as my hands finally released their stranglehold on his shoulders and began to caress his back in deep, soothing strokes.

We stayed like that for a long time, too exhausted both physically and emotionally to move away from each other, and all the time my hands offered him what tiny comfort they could offer, while my face burned where his hands had struck me.

Then he stiffened, and I released my embrace so that he could scramble backwards until his back was to the doors again and when he looked at me, his face was sad and a little shamed.

"I'm sorry," he whispered.

"It's okay," I replied carefully, through my split and swollen lips.

It was about an hour later that he broke our mutual silence with a low rueful chuckle.

"What?" I asked.

His miserable blue eyes met mine.

"I thought I'd feel better," he replied.

"Don't you?" I asked.

"Not really," he replied.

"I'm sorry," I said sincerely.

For the first time in twenty years, he looked me straight in the eyes with no attempt to mask his emotions and quietly said, "I know."

We lapsed back into silence again, but this time it was more sorrowful than frigid. I began to doze a little as exhaustion and pain took their toll.

"He's got to let us out soon," Tom suddenly announced. His voice surprisingly loud and clear. "We need food and water and I need to take a piss."

A few minutes later the air shimmered and a tray of refreshments appeared on the floor, as did a Sickbay urinal.

"I knew the little fucker was monitoring us," Tom snarled, but his voice wasn't as angry as I expected. There even seemed to be a tiny vein of amusement deeply tucked away in his tone.

"I don't think he's actually listening to us," I replied with difficulty. My mouth was really starting to hurt. "He probably set the computer up for certain key words like 'food' and 'water.'"

Tom nodded in reluctant agreement.

"Good job I said 'piss' then. I doubt he programmed it for 'urinate'," he replied.

"I guess he knows you too well," I commented lightly.

Tom rewarded me with a reluctant smile and a nod. Then he flushed a little.

"Speaking of which," he mumbled.

My face burned in sympathy, I think, although it was already so hot and swollen it's hard to be sure. I tried to turn so that he had some privacy, but trying to move just made me groan. I gave him an apologetic shrug.

He bit his lip uncertainly, then made a decision, grabbed the urinal and turned his back on me. The moment he placed the urinal back on the floor, it vanished.

My temper snapped.

"The little bastard *is* watching us," I hissed.

"No, he's not," Tom replied with a wry grin. "He just programmed it to be removed as soon as it was used."

"How do you know?" I demanded.

"Because if he was *watching* us, he'd have sent a straw," Tom answered, gesturing towards the water containers.

I ran my fingers tentatively over my swollen mouth. Tom was right. There was no way in hell I was going to be able to drink, and my throat was killing me.

"I'd rather he sent a regenerator," I hissed.

A regenerator appeared next to the tray.

We both chuckled simultaneously, before we remembered we were both supposed to hate each other, or something like that.

I tried to fix my own face, but it was pretty impossible without a mirror and in the end Tom slid over and helped me. Then he insisted that I took a drink before I fixed his hand with the regenerator and then held it in mine to check there was no damage under the surface. I ignored the way he stiffened as I made an unnecessary performance of rubbing each individual finger to check it was okay.

"Good as new," I finally pronounced, reluctantly releasing him.

He made a fist experimentally.

"Are you going to hit me again?" I asked him, half-seriously.

"Should I?" He demanded, and there was no humor in his voice.

I thought about it some, as I took another drink from the water container. Then I met his eyes.

"Yes," I replied honestly. "I think you should."

He did.

As I mopped miserably at the new blood on my tunic, I contented myself that noses *always* bled that much when you are punched in the face and that just because my nose was on fire, didn't mean it was necessarily broken.

It was only when Tom gave up nursing his hand, called for another regenerator and proceeded to silently repair the damage that he had done my face that I began to wonder how many regenerators we would have to call for before Charis opened the door. Which made me wonder what would happen if we had a *real* medical emergency, which in turn made me suddenly realise that if I simply called out "Medical Emergency" the probability was that Tom and I would be automatically beamed to Sickbay.

As soon as the thought struck me, I also realised that it wouldn't be long before Tom had the same realization. I was running out of time, and we had resolved nothing yet.

This time, as I ran the regenerator over Tom's hand, I not only held it too long, but I pointedly caressed it, and although he jerked and tried to pull back, I didn't release him.

"Let me go," he hissed.

I let go with my right hand, and he began to relax, which meant I was able to capture his left hand too, so that I held both his hands. "Or what?" I asked, with a soft smile to take away the sting of my words.

He didn't struggle, he just looked at me with helplessness of a wounded animal, and then I saw his eyes flood with tears. I released him so abruptly that he almost fell.

"Spirits, Tom, I'm sorry. That was unforgivable," I apologized, and wondered whether he was going to hit me again as he stood there shaking, his hands now at his sides, spasming in and out of fists.

He sprang for me so suddenly that even had I intended to defend myself I could not have and his body crashed into mine, toppling me backwards into the wall, and then his mouth was on mine, crushing my lips in a fiercely bruising kiss.

I was too stunned to react at first, as I felt his tongue dart savagely into my mouth with a savage violence that stole my breath. He raped me with his tongue as his hands pinned my shoulders to the wall, and his hips ground against my groin until it was pointless for either of us to pretend we didn't want this, need this, and I groaned and relaxed, giving as easily as he was taking.

My hands were on his head, my fingers running through his hair, feeling the perspiration on his scalp as his breath was hot and heavy in my mouth, and I was gasping as my own tongue thrust back with equal savagery as I pulled him tighter into my embrace.

His hands slammed me back against the wall once more and he used the momentum to thrust his body away from me. He threw his right arm up in warning as he backed away, while his left rubbed desperately at his face as though to deny his own mouth's betrayal. His eyes were huge with shock and fear at his own actions, and his evident horror was enough to prevent me from stepping towards him.

He reached the door and slowly sank down until he was sat on the floor, where he folded his knees to his chest and hugged them in misery.

I allowed my own quaking knees to bend and carefully seated myself opposite him. For a long time, neither of us spoke, both too stunned by what had just happened to even deny it.

I had an insane desire to apologise to him for letting him kiss me, but it seemed too odd a thing to say, although, in a way, I knew that I should.

Instead, I told him that I loved him.

I waited for the explosion that never came. Instead he just gave a tortured sigh and said, "I know."

There was no joy in the acknowledgement though.

"It's not enough, Tay. Love's not enough," he whispered bitterly. "If love was enough, you wouldn't have left me."

I digested his words for a moment, forcing myself to ignore the pain in my own heart and address the pain in his.

"You mean that if *I* had loved *you* enough I wouldn't have left you," I eventually replied.

He gave a small sob, half an acknowledgement, half surprise that I should have said it.

"You're right," I told him. "I didn't love you enough. I didn't put you first. I should have."

Tom looked up in surprise, his eyes a little wary, but he was obviously listening now, so I continued.

"No matter what I felt about Charis, I should have put you first. If I had, then between us we could have become strong enough to deal with the responsibility of our child. I should have trusted you, Tom. I should have told you how I felt, what was going on in my head. I should have known that your love for me was enough. That you would have made room for Charis in your heart, if only because he meant so much to me.

"I wronged you, Tom. I agreed to our divorce because I wanted to free you from a responsibility that wasn't yours and that you had no obligation to accept. I should have refused to let you go. I know that now. I understand that you were only testing me. Testing our love. I failed. I failed you, I failed us and I failed our son."

I could barely see Tom for the tears that were stinging and blinding my eyes and when his soft, broken voice replied, "It's okay, Tay, it doesn't matter any more, anyway. It's over," the desolation in his voice almost choked me.

"It doesn't have to be over, Tom. I love you. I know what love is now. Love is when just the idea of someone leaving your life makes you feel as though your heart is being ripped out of your body. That's how I feel about you, Tom. If you leave this ship, I will follow you. There's nowhere you can go, nowhere you can hide, that I won't be there."

Instead of being moved, Tom laughed. It was a bitter and horrible sound in that tiny room.

"You'd leave Charis and Anika for me?" he mocked. "I don't think so."

"You're wrong, Tom. I would. I'd miss them. I'd grieve for them, but I *would* leave them. They're adults now. My love for them is eternal, but my responsibility to them is over. Now my responsibility is to you." I told him calmly.

"I don't want you," Tom spat.

"Yes you do," I told him. "I don't deserve you, I know that, but I know that you *do* want me."

"Ah," he chuckled sarcastically. "You're right. I do. But you know something? I learnt something twenty years ago. It doesn't matter what I want. It's always been about what *you* want, hasn't it? What I want is *irrelevant*."

I flinched as his barb hit home.

"Spirits, Tom..." I began.

"Fuck your Spirits, Tay and fuck you."

I closed my eyes and prayed for divine intervention, prayed for someone or something to give me words that could sway him, but all I could come up with was "I love you, Tom."

"IT'S NOT ENOUGH!" he screamed. "Do you really, honestly think I can turn back the clock, Tay? Do you think I can pretend you never left me? That you never married *her*? How the fuck am I supposed to pretend none of it ever happened and go back to where we left off?"

"You can't," I admitted.

"I wish I could," he whispered, then he buried his face in his hands and sobbed.

I sat there as he cried, thinking if only I could turn back time, take back the pain, undo the wrongs, return to that moment when the comm badge sounded and make a different choice, take a different step, walk a different path.

And that's when I realised my mistake.

I *couldn't* turn back the clock to that moment. I could never expect to recapture that happiness I had turned my back on. Tom could *never* conveniently forget the last twenty years and turn back to that one moment in time.

No one can go backwards.

All we can do is move on to new beginnings.

"I want us to start again, Tom," I told him.

"I TOLD you, I can't forget what happened," he spat.

"You're not listening to me, Tom," I replied calmly. "I want us to start again completely. As though *none* of it ever happened. As though we are strangers meeting for the first time."

"You're crazy," Tom protested.

"Maybe," I admitted. "But you said you wanted to leave Voyager."

"I do," he said, although his voice wavered a little.

"So are you planning to spend the *rest* of your life on your own? Or have you decided it's time to find someone else?"

"I don't know. Maybe," he said.

"So, if you find this someone else, you will accept that they have had lovers before you, and that they have a past, and that they have made mistakes, but you will give them a chance anyway?" I demanded.

"I guess," Tom admitted, looking confused.

"And when you find that hypothetical lover, will you judge them by their past, or by how they treat you?" I asked.

"What are you trying to say?"

"Give me one week, Tom. That's all I'm asking for, and I know I don't deserve it, but I'm asking anyway. Give me one small week. For just seven days, pretend that *I* am that new person you have met. Give me a chance to start over with you as though we have just met, for the very first time. Pretend you don't know me. That I never hurt you. You can do that, can't you? Give me just one more week of your life?"

"Can I?" he asked, a little hysterically. "Is it that fucking easy?"

"Of course it's not easy, Tom. Nothing worth having ever is."

"Are you worth having?" he spat.

"Give me seven days and find out," I replied gently.

He didn't reply, he just curled up tighter and closed his eyes. I stayed silent as long as I could, until I thought I might explode with tension, and then I couldn't bear it any longer.

"Tom?" I asked hesitantly.

"I'm thinking, okay?" he snapped back petulantly.

And that's when my heart began to soar, because if he was willing to at least consider my proposal, then I knew that it was only a matter of time before he said yes.

I struck the final nail in his coffin.

"Of course, I will understand if you are too scared to try," I murmured sympathetically.

His eyes flew open in outrage.

"I'm not scared of you, you bastard," he snarled.

"So that's a yes?" I asked pleasantly.

"It won't work," he replied.

"That's not your problem, is it? It's mine. All I'm asking for is a chance," I replied mildly.

"And if it doesn't work, what then? You'll let me leave and keep the fuck out of my life?" he demanded.

"No, Tom. I told you. I'll follow you wherever you go, whether it works or not," I replied.

"What if I say I'll give you your seven days *if* you agree that I can leave afterwards on my own?" he asked.

I pretended to think about it.

"I suppose we'd just have to give it a miss, and I'll go pack my bags," I replied.

Tom ducked his head, but not before I saw a tiny reluctant smile on his face. You see, I *can* learn. I don't *always* fail tests.

"Okay," he muttered.

I whooped, leapt forwards and grabbed him in my arms.

He hit me.

"What was *that* for?" I demanded, as the blood started to pour down my face again.

The patent, Tom Paris smirk came out in full bloom.

"What do you expect? Grabbing hold of a complete stranger like that?"

And before I could even react, he spoke again, to the computer this time.

"Medical Emergency."



Contined in "GENESIS"
8: Genesis by mort
Tides of the Heart



Part Eight: Genesis



I am sitting in a patch of the long pampas grass that is scattered over the rocky shoreline, dangling my legs in the pleasantly cool water of a calm rock pool that has been left behind as the tide receded. My shoes and socks are discarded at my side, and my jeans are rolled up to my knees.

They are a little uncomfortable, to be honest. My jeans, I mean. I have gotten out of the habit of wearing civvies since I work and I sleep and that's the extent of my life. Because Starfleet Uniforms have a lot of give in them, I hadn't noticed putting on weight. It's not much weight, otherwise the jeans wouldn't have done up at all, and at least my ass is firm and looks good with the tight denim, but the button in the waistband is digging into my navel and it hurts.

I don't dare unfasten it though, in case I give the wrong impression.

Not that I'm a fat bastard, because at my age I deserve to be able to carry a couple of extra pounds so stuff him if he's got a problem with it, but I don't want him to think that I'm easy or something.

Chakotay hasn't arrived yet, but that's okay. He's not late, I'm early. I asked Tuvok to let me into the holodec an hour early so that I could try to calm down and prepare myself.

Tuvok is a strange person.

He would rather cut his head off than admit to emotion, but underneath the cool exterior, he's surprisingly romantic. Why the hell else would he agree to this mad idea when Voyager has so little energy?

Tuvok *said* it was because the ship is so understaffed that he would do anything to avoid losing her only half-decent Engineer. Maybe that's the long and short of it, but I've slept with the guy so I *know* he isn't as cold as he pretends to be.

I wonder how he's explaining this to the rest of the crew? He hates lying, but I suspect he'll pretend the holodec is off line. Since holodec 2 was destroyed during our battle with the Tunai, the idea of letting Chakotay and I hog holodec one for the next week is completely outrageous.

It's also the only chance we have of ever possibly working anything out.

We need neutral territory for this.

We can't possibly even try to make it work otherwise.

I cannot look him in the eyes while the ghosts of our mistakes haunt us from the very walls of our cabins. I cannot begin to pretend the last 20 years never happened when just seeing the faces of Charis and Anika slap me with reality.

For this masquerade to work, we need a virgin beginning, and then maybe, just maybe, we can begin to slowly stitch up our wounds.

It won't work, of course. How can it? How can I possibly put aside all these years of hurt and want and need? I want to. I wasn't lying when I told Chakotay that I wished that I *could* forget. From the moment of Seven's death, I have thought of nothing else.

I admit it. My very first thought, on hearing that the witch was dead, was this really pathetic, "He'll come back to me now."

For twenty years I thought of nothing but the moment when he realised his mistake and came back to me. But you know something? She took even *that* hope away from me. In dying she stole any chance I had of him choosing to come back to me. I guess that sounds crazy, but it's true. I'm no longer Chakotay's *choice*, I'm merely the fall-back position. I'm just all that is left on the playing field. And for me, that's not enough.

Which begs the question of why I am here at all, doesn't it?

The answer is nothing for me to be proud of.

I'm here because I'm too fucking pathetic to spend the rest of my life with my last memory of Chakotay being the back of his uniform as he walked out of our bedroom, each step of his boots carelessly crushing my heart underfoot.

I know twenty years have passed. I have seen him countless times, on the bridge, in his quarters, in the mess, on the holodec. Hell, I have seen him *thousands* of times since that night.

But like a broken recording, my mind is forever trapped in that one moment when he left me.

I have a sordid, bitter secret.

On this same holodec that I am now sitting in, I have replayed that moment countless times with an illegal simulation of Chakotay. I wrote a program where he didn't leave. Where the comm badge never sounded. Where he stayed the night through. I even programmed it once that the comm badge *did* sound but that he made me dress and accompany him, and then afterwards we returned to our quarters together.

I only played that scene once though, because the realisation that I should have followed him instead of sobbing in my bed like a selfish child, told me that everything was my own fault, after all, and I couldn't face the realisation.

My pain was only bearable if it wasn't my own fault, if I could call myself a victim and wallow in my self-pity. I only tortured myself with the simulation for two years. The day I erased that program, was the day I first held Charis in my arms in the observation lounge.

So, in a way, this is just like replaying that long erased program.

If I can bear it, if I can see it through, I will at least have a new, less bitter memory of Chakotay to take away with me when I leave. It will be sex this time, not lovemaking, but still the memory will be better.

I will leave, of course, and Chakotay won't follow me, because, when all is said and done, his responsibility to the ship will keep him here. The fact that he *thinks* he will follow me, though, is at least proof that he has enough love for me to make this bizarre goodbye ritual worth trying.

Chakotay called this a new beginning, a genesis.

He's wrong.

It's just a goodbye.

~~~

As I walk across the sand, weaving through jagged rocks and patches of long grass, towards where he is sitting by the water with the sunlight playing over his silver-gold hair, I am so nervous that I can barely swallow.

I know he doesn't think this will work, that he is putting himself on the line like this just for some form of closure. Why else would he have agreed?

He owes me nothing.

He has already given me twenty years to correct my mistake and I have no right to ask for even one more second of his attention, let alone seven whole days.

His bravery astounds me.

I am, however, realistic enough to know that at any moment it may become too much for him and he will run from this holodec, and from this ship.

So I have already packed my bags and said my goodbyes to my children, just in case. Before I came here this morning, I visited the shuttle bay and discovered that the Delta Flyer has been fuelled and prepped for take off. I overrode Tom's locks and entered the tiny shuttle where I discovered that he has already transferred his few belongings.

My own bags are now stashed in the Flyer's hold, next to his, and I have arranged with Tuvok that as soon as the tiny shuttle makes a break out of the hold that I am to be beamed onboard it. Then Tom will either have to fly me back into Voyager, or space me. Otherwise, I will shadow him across the galaxy until he either gives in or kills me.

Anika cried a little, but she is her mother's daughter and surprisingly self-contained for her age. She does not have Charis's grasp on the situation, but she is generous enough to agree that my duty to Tom is greater now than my duty to her.

Charis, on the other hand, was so disgustingly smug that I didn't know whether to hug him or hit him for what he had done.

He confused me completely by ranting on that some ancient astronomer had been the reason he had locked Tom and I in the turbolift, but finally I understood. You have to remember that my children had a Borg for a mother, and their thought patterns are sometimes a little "odd" as a consequence. The bottom line is that Charis is the only person who has *any* chance of knowing what is really going on between Tom and I, since he is the only person who really knows us both.

I have told him how I feel, perhaps not so much with words, but certainly by behaviour and so has Tom. He tried "telling" me that Tom still needed me. He tried "telling" Tom that I needed *him*, but neither of us wanted to listen.

We knew what we *wanted* to believe and we weren't prepared to listen to any other opinions.

So Charis decided to prove it to us.

He certainly managed to prove his theory to me, but Tom has always been a hell of a lot more cynical, and he has good reason to be.

But there is fire between us. It burns and it scars and it scalds. It hurts more than anything you can begin to imagine. The flames between us rage with more heat than lies at the heart of a star. If I can capture that heat, turn it, control it, perhaps I can temper Tom's hatred back into love.

There is too much passion between us for it to fade away.

We will either come together and merge our flames, or we will explode in a fury that will destroy us both.

Either way, this will end in a bang, not a whimper.

~~~

I do not hear his footsteps.

It is only when his shadow cuts across the sunlight that I am aware that he has arrived, and I stiffen in tension and sudden fear.

"Hello," he says politely. "It's a hot day. Do you mind if I share the water with you?"

I can't do this.

I can't sit here and play this game.

I start to scramble to my feet in panic, preparing to run from the holodec, only to be trapped by the misery in his eyes at my decision.

"Please," he whispers. "Please try."

I owe him *nothing*, I remind myself. He has no right to ask this of me. Yet I cannot bear to look at the pain in those deep brown eyes and know that I am the cause of it. *I* am the one who is supposed to look like that, not him. How dare he make *me* feel guilty?

But I do.

"Sure," I find myself agreeing. "There's plenty of room," and I sink back down into the long grass once more.

He sits beside me, keeping the polite distance of strangers between us, and begins to unlace his boots.

"Are you staying here long?" he asks casually.

I jump, as though he is demanding to know whether I intend to run again, only to realise he is simply getting on with the plot.

"I've got a week's leave. I arrived today," I answer, with a shrug.

"Me too," he says.

I try skimming a pebble over the water so that it skips once, twice, a third time and then descends with a dull plopping sound.

He repeats my action, but his pebble simply hits the water and sinks.

I show off, choosing a slim flat stone that glides over the water, barely kissing the surface each time before continuing it's smooth flight path.

He copies my choice of pebble, but still his next attempt only skips once before crashing.

I rub the point home, with a third perfect flight.

"You're good at this," he comments easily.

"It's aerodynamics," I shrug.

"You a pilot then?" he asks, still looking over the water rather than at me.

"Used to be," I say, a little sadly.

"Me too," he replies. "A long time ago."

I look at him in surprise. I had forgotten that. I've forgotten a lot of things, perhaps.

We sit there in a companionable silence, broken only by the occasional bird cry and the skipping of my stones until I can no longer find any pebbles worthy of launching.

"Are you here on your own," he asks, out of the blue.

"Yeah," I answer, non-committally.

"Me too."

"So?" I challenge, suddenly feeling a little aggressive.

"So, I thought maybe you'd join me for lunch," he replies easily. Then, as I give him a suspicious glance, he shrugs casually. "I thought maybe we could talk about flying. It's better than being alone."

"Yeah," I mumble. Anything's better than being alone.

"My name's Chakotay. My friends call me Tay," he offers.

It's a lie, of course. I'm the only one who ever called him Tay. Which is probably why I am a little snide with my reply.

"Nice to meet you *Chakotay*," I say, with icy politeness. "Name's Tom Paris. I don't have any friends."

Before he can reply, I jump to my feet and lead the way back to the resort.

~~~

It's going both better and worse than I expected.

Tom hasn't left yet, although there was a moment when it was touch and go. He also is trying to get into the spirit of things, but the "I don't have any friends" comment was a definite barb. It's hardly the thing you say to a complete stranger who just invited you to lunch.

His refusal to call me Tay is a little disappointing too. I shouldn't have offered him an alternative, of course. It just gave him a barrier to hide behind.

The restaurant is nice though. The interior is clean but a little dark and mysterious. It has wood paneled walls, and real cloth on the tables which are all set in deep, private booths. It's one of the reasons that I chose this program. Wuarha is not as blatant a vacation world as Risa. Although everything here is designed to facilitate romance, from its twin moons, cosy restaurants and secluded beaches, there is nothing cheap or obvious here.

Wuarha is a world to find love, rather than a lover, and the difference shows.

We are eating our first course. Tom is being perverse. He has ordered snails, just to see me squirm as he eats. The smell of the garlic butter that drenches their shells is so overwhelming that I have ordered myself a side dish of garlic bread since the only way to deal with garlic is to eat it yourself too.

My action at least wiped a little of the smugness off his face. He's trying to control the situation, and I understand that, but I can't let him do it.

"Want one?" he asks suddenly, waving a snail under my nose.

My stomach recoils, but I force myself to smile apologetically as I shrug and explain that I am a vegetarian.

"Weird," he replies crushingly, then makes a performance of enjoying the little corpses on his plate.

It is not until our main courses have been cleared and we are drinking coffee that he speaks again.

"You married?" he asks, so abruptly that I am too surprised to answer at first.

"I was," I admit cautiously. "I'm not now. You?"

"I was once," he replies. "The fucker left me though."

I choke a little on my coffee, and when I look up there is a satisfied grin playing around his lips in an otherwise expressionless face.

And suddenly I realise, believe it or not, that I am almost enjoying this.

~~~

My already tight jeans strain a little under the weight of my lunch. I wasn't even particularly hungry. I only ordered the starter so that I could horrify Tay with the snails *and* stink my breath with garlic in case he thought he was going to try for a quick grope in the booth.

Once he ordered his own garlic, it put paid to *that* cunning plan, of course, and after coffee and a couple of brandies, I wouldn't have made *too* much of a fuss if he'd made a move on me.

Instead, he asked me if I had ever ridden a horse.

I blushed, choked a little on my brandy, and looked up into deeply amused brown eyes. He did it deliberately, I think. He obviously still remembers how crude my mind is, and my first thought had been that he was referring to his own impressive cock and I swear he read my mind.

"I thought we could take a ride down to the next beach," he added quickly, before I said something stupid.

I was so embarrassed at my misunderstanding that I found myself agreeing, so that's why we are cantering down the sand on a couple of holographic horses.

He's showing off, of course. Riding bareback like he thinks he's a *real* Indian, and I am quickly realising why cowboys always walked bow legged. My denim caged crotch is pressed between hard leather and by own body weight, and the movement of the horse beneath me is making me so hard I could explode.

Or maybe its just the sight of Chakotay's muscular back, and the way his strong legs are clamped to his horse's sides so that he is more secure without a saddle than I am with one.

From behind, I cannot see his horse's head, and he has removed his t-shirt so that all I can see is his black hair, and tanned skin as he blends into his bay steed so seamlessly that it is as though I am following in the wake of a centaur.

"TAY!" I yell into the wind, and he reins back to come alongside me.

"I wanna stop now," I tell him.

For a moment fear flashes over his face as he misunderstands me.

"My ass is killing me," I clarify.

He gives a relieved grin and slows his horse down to a walk so that we can meander towards a small bay, where we dismount and tie the horses up.

Well, he ties his up. When a low flying bird suddenly spooks the animals, my mount rears up and tears off back towards the resort in a flurry of hooves.

"Shit," I mutter.

"Never mind," Chakotay says casually. "We can ride back on mine, he can carry us both."

My face flushes at the thought.

"I'd rather walk," I hiss.

Chakotay just shrugs and begins to peel his trousers off.

"What the fuck are you doing?" I screech.

"Going for a swim," he replies casually. "Want to join me?"

"NO!" I practically scream at him.

He just shrugs again and continues to strip until he is bare-ass naked in front of me.

"Something wrong, Tom?" he mocks, as my face flushes and I look anywhere but at the evidence of his interest.

His tone forces me to look up. This isn't the Tay, I know. This is a stranger. Tay would never just strip off on a public beach and then laugh at my discomfort. That's the sort of thing I used to do. Not him.

As I stand there, drowning in the flashing darkness of his eyes, he is suddenly dangerous, unpredictable and as sexy as hell. I don't know him suddenly. He *is* a stranger to me. For the first time in years I don't look at him and think about love. I just think about lust.

And, in that awareness, I find freedom, and begin to unfasten my jeans.

~~~

I suddenly realise that I'm not going to take my swim, but that's okay because I never wanted to swim anyway, I just wanted an excuse to take my clothes off.

I see something change in Tom's eyes as I mock him with my nakedness and it isn't necessarily an improvement to see his sad, blue eyes flame with sudden lust. There is no pretence at emotion. This is not about us learning love and trust. It is just basic animal desire.

The kind you feel for a stranger when you have a one-night stand.

Although the sudden heat in his eyes makes my cock begin to bleed tears of excitement, another part of me mourns that we will play this game of nothing more than raw, violent sex. Yet this was the game we had agreed to play and all I can do is try to use my body to once again enslave his heart.

Spirits, he is so beautiful as he strips, as his pale flesh is revealed with its light dusting of hair and his proud cock that is angry red as it escapes its denim prison.

Then he moves towards me, wordlessly, and there is so much aggression in his face that I don't know whether he is planning to fuck me or hit me, or maybe both.

He takes advantage of his extra height, pressing his body into mine and grabbing the back of my head so that he can force my mouth against his, and as he did in the turbolift, he uses his tongue to force my lips apart and then thrusts it violently against my own.

Our cocks are being ground and crushed between our stomachs, and I can feel trickles of wetness although I am uncertain whether it is the snail's trail of my excitement or his, that is being smeared between our firm bellies.

His hands release my head and drop to grasp my ass cheeks instead, and I moan as his fingers dig and knead at my flesh with bruising force.

I find my own hands on *his* ass, squeezing with equal brutality as my fingers creep towards his crack and push against his pucker. It is tight, and unwelcoming, and rather than his resistance putting me off, it makes me more determined to break it down.

I had imagined, when coming here this morning, that I would offer him my ass first. When we were married, we would often swap and change positions, and in view of how I had left him, I thought he would hardly trust me with his ass too soon. Now, as he is in my arms, I realise I am wrong. He already knows that I am his, if he wants me. That I want to belong to him once more.

What he needs to learn is that he wants to belong to me again too. I have to take him, possess him, force him to accept that he needs me, in his life, in his heart, in his ass.

I am going to fuck him until he can't walk, and then I'm going to fuck him some more. In seven days I'm going to give him twenty years of loving until he is so dazed and confused and needy that he can't imagine life without me.

I can feel our hearts thundering together as he grinds his need into me. I can taste the garlic in our breaths but instead of being unpleasant, it is heavy and musky and somehow arousing, and then his hands release my ass as he sinks downwards to his knees.

He ignores my cock, licking instead at the precum on my stomach, his tongue laving into my belly-button so that I jump in surprise, and then he licks down to my pubic hair and chews on it. The sensation is strange, but pleasant, until he snaps his teeth shut and rips a mouthful of hair out by the root.

"FUCK!" I scream, clouting him across the head.

He grabs me by the back of the knees and wrestles me to the floor, where we roll and struggle against each other's embrace, somewhere between violence and passion.

I finally force him onto his back and straddle him, pinning his arms and trapping them against his sides with my thighs as I rain a series of kisses on his lips. He alternates between returning my kisses and trying to bite me, his eyes wild but his cock digging into the insides of my thighs proves that this is still foreplay not fighting.

It is only when I reach over into my discarded pants to retrieve a vial of lube, that his eyes flash with uncertainly rather than wild lust, and a little hurt perhaps that my preparation suggests that it is I who planned this assault rather than he.

I don't give him a chance to change his mind. I bite down into his neck, so savagely that I almost break the skin, and he bucks and threshes under me.

Its never been like this between us. We have shared passion many times, but we have never hurt each other in the process. But somehow, this is what we both need now, this violence, this pure basic sex.

He thrusts suddenly, rolling us over once more, so that now he is on top, he is the aggressor, and he bends down and bites sharply at my left nipple. Instead of releasing me as I howl, he bites harder, drawing blood and I smack the side of his head again.

Then all hell breaks loose between us.

We are rolling, punching and kicking at each other until we are both blinded by the sand in our eyes, and then we are kissing again, our mouths grinding in passion, even as our teeth gouge rips in each other's lips.

I wrestle him over, so that he is face down in the sand, my left hand pinning the small of his back so that despite his threshing he cannot rise again. I use my teeth to rip the lid off the lube and I coat my right fingers and rather than teasing him open, I find myself simply thrusting my fingers brutally inside him.

He screams in rage, then chokes a little on the sand, and I freeze in horror at the violence of what I have done, only for him to force himself up onto his hands and knees and then push backwards, inviting my fingers deeper inside.

He rocks as I speed the rhythm of my hand, his whole body shuddering as I punch my fingers in and out of him, then he cries out as I withdraw my fingers long enough to find the cockring that is in the back pocket on my pants. I slide it carefully over my engorged cock and heavy balls. I have waited too long for this moment to allow my balls to dictate the longevity of our pleasure.

I coat myself with lube, realising belatedly that there is as much sand on my cock now as gel. Shit. We'll both be rubbed raw, I realise. Before I can complete the thought, Tom howls at me, "Fuck me, Tay," and it's too late to stop.

I plunge into him, ramming in with no more consideration than a rapist. He punishes me by slamming backwards, taking me so deeply inside that I howl as his balls slap savagely against my own.

There is nothing tender here, there is only heat, and need, and the feel of my flesh sliding in and out of his, and I thrust harder and deeper with each stroke, until no matter how he tries to brace himself against the sand, each time I slam into him he is knocked back onto his face, and between each howl of pleasure, he whimpers as the friction of the sand burns against his cock.

I grab his hips, sit back on my own ankles and lift him so that my thighs become a cushion for his ass as I move him up and down on my shaft. He is trying to rub his own cock in rhythm to my deep strokes, but there is too much sand on his hands and he is sobbing in frustrated desire.

Instead of taking pity of his helplessness, I abuse it, continuing to pound him up and down until my own cock feels raw and my balls are straining against their restraint as though they could rip through the metal hoop.

He is screaming and howling in abandonment, his head threshing so wildly that several times it connects with my forehead and the mutual pain only drives us to continue until he is so sweat-slicked that I can no longer hold him without digging my fingers in so hard that I can see bruises forming on his hips.

Then, although it takes all of my strength to do it, I push up from the floor, dragging him with me until we are on our feet and I make him walk towards the sea. He is sagging in my arms, his ass so deeply impaled by my cock that he can barely take each step as we move down the beach. I move him like a marionette, rewarding each tentative step with a twist of my own hips so that my shaft slides over his prostate, sending a frisson of electricity through his ass and dragging a moaning keen out of his exhausted throat.

Only when we are knee-deep in the waves do I allow him to sink slowly back to his knees, controlling his body so that our precious link is not severed and then as the waves wash over us, I resume my rhythm into his ass, while reaching under him to pull and tease at his own cock now that the water has washed the stinging sand off its sensitive skin.

He is revitalized by the feel of my fingers on his shaft, humping into my hand, as I hump into his ass, having to gulp breath between waves as the incoming tide crashes over our heads, and I am careful to time his release so that that his scream of ecstasy doesn't award him a mouthful of brine. Then as he bucks under me, his ass muscles ripping and squeezing my cock, it is only the tight ring around my balls that prevents me from exploding inside him.

I kneel back once more so that he can rest on my thighs, his head clear of the water as he slowly tries to wake up from the fever of our lovemaking, and I hold him tightly, my lips nuzzling at the back of his neck as above our heads the Wuarthan sun begins to set, as though we have exhausted it.

It is a long time before he manages to speak, and when he does, his voice sounds lazy and amused.

"Are you ever going to get out of my ass, Tay?"

"Not if I can help it," I reply with a chuckle.

"I hate to burst your bubble, big guy, but it's getting late, it's starting to get cold and I'm beginning to wrinkle like a prune."

He's right. The sun is starting to dip behind the headland, the water is getting chilly and his cock is dangling miserably between his thighs.

I ease us both to our feet, still keeping myself buried in his ass for as long as possible and then withdrawing.

We both sigh at the sensation of loss, and Tom shivers suddenly and shakes his head as though he is coming to his senses. I can't allow it. I can't lose this temporary truce between us.

I quickly march us up the beach, so that he is stumbling with fatigue, and then as he sways there uncertainly, I undo my horse's reins and vault on, still naked, and offer Tom my hand.

He blinks at the sight of me sitting astride the horse, my rigid cock thrust up from his flanks.

"Climb on," I whisper.

His eyes widen as he realises what I am suggesting.

"We can't ride back to town like that," he stutters.

I'm uncertain whether he means naked, or with him impaled on my cock, and I can hardly say the other residents are only holograms without breaking the spell.

"It'll be dark by the time we get to town. No one will see us," I reply.

"There's no saddle," he whimpers.

"You don't need one," I reply, and rub my thumb over my glans suggestively.

"This is crazy," he whispers.

"Yeah," I agree with a broad grin.

The horse spooks a little as he scrambles up in front of me, and I have to take his bruised waist carefully in my hands to maneuver him until he can sink down onto my cock.

As I glide back into his hot, welcoming warmth I gasp with pleasure and he leans back against my chest so that my right arm can caress his newly reawakened groin.

He clings to the horse's mane with his fingers for balance, and as the twin moons rise so that we are bathed in cool blue light, the raging heat where we are joined dispels the chill of the night air.

It is sheer devilry on my part that I make the horse trot all the way back to the resort.

~~~

It's a fucking good job its a holoprogram.

How the hell we would have explained a *real* horse returning to its stable with cum dripping down its mane and withers doesn't bear thinking about.

I've decided it isn't Tay at all. I've been suckered.

It's an alien impersonator.

A sadistic bastard of an alien impersonator.

A sex-crazed deviant sadistic bastard of an alien impersonator.

Or maybe he's just decided that if he permanently stretches my asshole so wide that I spend the rest of my life shitting as I walk, I won't be able to stand up long enough to run away.

I don't know what hurts more, my ass or my balls.

He made that fucking horse *trot* all the way home. Can you even begin to imagine how that felt? I'm bouncing up and down on every pace, sliding up and down his cock, my balls exploding so many times that the horse looked like it had been slimed by the time I got off it and all the time Tay is chuckling like a madman while I call him every dirty name I can think of in five different languages.

He had to carry me into the hotel, took me to *his* room, cheeky fucking bastard, put me in his bed where I just passed out and then I was woken up this morning because he was inside my fucking ass again.

I called him a couple of names, and he asked did I want him to stop, so I called him a couple *more* names, and so he fucked me senseless again, and now I've woken up and he wants to know whether I want to take a hover up to the mountains and go skiing.

Skiing? I can't even fucking walk!

I don't think I am ever going to be able to walk again and I've still got six more days of this to go.

Not that I'm really complaining.

I should feel cheap, giving in to him like I did yesterday.

Instead, this stranger with Chakotay's face has somehow, in less than 24 hours, made me at least feel like I'm desirable.

I haven't felt that way for 20 years.



Continued in "ICARUS"
9: Icarus by mort
Tides of the Heart


Part Nine: Icarus



Tom is sulking, but I have decided that it's okay, because he must be as confused as hell about what has happened between us this last 24 hours. I certainly am. He's only coping at all because we are sticking to the pretence of being strangers who are simply 'enjoying' a holiday romance. The problem is, of course, that no two strangers could ever possibly have experienced the intensity of emotion that we shared yesterday.

I'm not talking about the sex. Lots of people have wild, passionate, irresponsible sex with virtual strangers. Sometimes it's even as tinged with violence as our coupling was. Nevertheless, our passion was too tempestuous for strangers, too personal, too full of an emotion so frenzied that it was impossible to distinguish between the borders of love and hate.

That's what's bothering us both most, I think. Our *whatever* it was. I want to call it lovemaking, but it wasn't. It wasn't just sex though either. Maybe it was even hatemaking.

Now, in the wake of what we did, it is hard to resume the pretence that we are merely strangers who have shared a single day of passion. It is at the tip of both our tongues to start flinging accusations and denials at each other, and we are instead falling back on the neutral ground of me pretending to be cheerful and Tom constantly complaining.

I understand that his petulant complaints about the weather, the food, our destination, the soreness of his ass, the stupidity of me trotting the horse home, and so on and so forth, are just a way for him to start telling me the thousand real hurts that lurk in his heart. He has two decades of resentment to work through.

So I am not biting back. Much.

Besides he's actually one of those people who is cuter when he pouts. He has this tremulous lower lip, and he has chewed on it until it is bruised and puffy, which is sexy in a strange kind of way.

Since I have made him accompany me onto the hover, he thinks that we are going skiing after all, despite his very vocal protests that his ass isn't up to it. He is right. Despite a long session with a regenerator, I can't imagine that he will walk comfortably all day, let alone go skiing.

I am shocked by the amount of damage that I did him. I am more shocked that I don't really feel guilty about it. I should have felt ashamed of myself when I saw how swollen and sore he looked early this morning and still decided to wake him by caressing his ass from the inside.

But it wasn't really a matter of choice, and it wasn't even exactly enjoyable. If he thought his ass was raw, he should have seen the state of my cock.

I carried him to bed last night, and believe me, it wasn't easy to do. He isn't as skinny as he used to be, after all. So my back hurt, and my ass hurt from the riding, and the inside of my thighs was on fire from clinging to the horse, and my mouth and left tit were burning from where he had bitten me, but all of those aches were nothing next to the volcanic pressure inside my balls.

I sat on the toilet seat and it took me over an hour with a regenerator before I could finally tease the cock ring back off my groin. My scrotum was bruised almost black, and the skin on my cock was literally blistered. I hadn't even noticed the pain at the time. It was only when I was back in the hotel, and Tom was crashed out unconscious on my bed, that the endorphins fled and my blissful pleasure turned into an agonising pain.

I had come a dozen times or more, but the cock ring had prevented my ejaculation so that my bladder had filled instead, and when I could finally bear to hold my cock once more, I spent the best part of the next hour, trying to piss the cum out of my system.

By the time I felt human again, I had almost lost the magic of our joining in the first place. The pain, regenerator and toilet bowl had a sad way of making the whole experience seem suddenly sordid rather than special.

So I rejoined Tom in bed, where he was tossing and turning, as though trapped in a nightmare of regrets himself and I decided I needed to reclaim the magic for *both* of us.

He woke up as my well-lubed cock slipped easily between his still loose ass, and called me a few choice names, but he was quickly as lost in the sensations as I was, and when I came with a roar of relief, as I filled him this time with my now liberated seed, we both collapsed into an exhausted rest that this time was dream-free for both of us.

Now though, I'm so sore again that I'm no more capable of going swishing down a mountainside than he is.

I have a completely different agenda in mind, but I want to surprise him and since he isn't actually demanding the arch, just grumbling and whining, I am leaving him in suspense.

I chatter aimlessly about the wonderful view as we rise towards the mountain top, playing the tourist, and eventually he gets into the spirit of things by complaining that the view is shit, and he's vacationed in far better places, with far better views and far more interesting companions, and he is looking at me pointedly as he says it.

"So, Tom," I ask him. "Have you traveled a lot?"

"More than I ever wanted to," he says tightly, although his eyes are suddenly a little haunted.

"I would have thought, being a pilot, that you'd enjoy voyages," I counter.

"Some voyages go on too long. Sometimes people don't know when to quit," he replies.

"Quitting is never a good idea, though, is it? It just wastes the effort you have already put in to something," I argue.

"Sometimes it's best just to cut your losses."

"You a gambler, Tom?"

"I used to be," he replied, his eyes narrowing. "I lost too badly though, so I gave it up for Lent."

"Forty days?"

"Twenty years."

"That's quite a long abstinence," I say lightly, trying to mask the knife that has begun to twist in my stomach.

"Not long enough," he replies pointedly.

I close my eyes for a moment, needing to avoid his bitter glare as I gather my strength. I cannot allow myself to get drawn into his pain. One of us has to look beyond the hurt and see hope. I need to break his mood of self-pity and if the only way I can do it is by sparking his anger again, then so be it. Passion is better than depression.

"Odd that," I drawl.

"What is?"

"I took you for a risk taker last night," I say, a small smile deliberately playing on my lips to confuse and infuriate him.

"You took me wrong," Tom snaps.

"Oh? I thought I took you exceedingly well," I purr.

"Fucker," he hisses, flushing.

I smirk and we lapse back into silence.

~~~

Have you ever picked at the scab on a wound?

That's what I'm doing, I think. There's no other explanation I can think of for my decision to stay here in this simulation. As soon as Chakotay finished patching up my ass this morning so I could at least walk, I should have cut my losses and high-tailed out of here.

Instead, I'm sitting in this hover, with Chakotay's strange smirk mocking me, and all I want to do is call for the arch and call an end to this bizarre masquerade, yet every time I open my mouth to tell him to simply fuck off, I find myself literally biting my lower lip instead.

It's like having an itch that I can't stop scratching, even though the more I scratch, the more I itch and the worse the pain becomes. Or maybe a fatal addiction to something, like drug abuse, where you know every dose will take you nearer to destruction but you can't stop yourself doing it anyway.

That's what I'm doing maybe.

Testing myself to destruction.

Yet, oddly, I feel more alive now than I have for years. Or perhaps it isn't odd after all. It is like an adrenaline buzz. The kind you feel when you look death in the face, and your life flashes in front of your eyes, and in that moment, as your shuttle crashes to ground, or the phaser fire flashes towards you, and death might be just seconds away, you somehow feel more alive, more *real* than you have ever felt before.

Perhaps it is fatalism. That nothing could ever be worse anyway. That I can't feel anymore psychological pain than I already do, so no matter what happens, it cannot be worse than I already feel.

Physical pain, on the other hand, is a completely different ball game.

I am fucked if I will ski back down this mountain. I will come back down the way I am going up. My ass firmly placed on the thankfully padded seat of this hover car. If *he* wants to show off, then fine. I'll wave him off politely and with a bit of luck he'll break his stupid neck.

Except the holo safeties are on, of course. The only bruises and breaks that are real here are the ones that we give each other.

Even so, I saw the state of his dick this morning. It was the same dark purple as it hung in limp sadness between his thighs as it is when he is aroused. The sight was enough to make my own cock weep a little in sympathy.

It must hurt like hell in those tight ski-pants he is wearing. It'll hurt more if he tries skiing. I'm looking forward to the moment that he is on his skis, preparing to launch down the slope. I'm going to lean into his ear at the last possible moment and say something so crude and suggestive that he will get the hard-on of his life, and then I am going to get back on the hover and enjoy the thought of the way his pants will torture him all the way down the mountain.

Yeah. That's it. *That's* why I'm still here.

~~~

There's a decidedly nasty smirk on Tom's face.

At least it means he's back with the program again. He's plotting something unpleasant. Some form of payback, maybe.

I'm relieved.

Firstly it means he isn't planning to run off yet. Secondly, since he has absolutely no idea of why I am taking him up the mountain, I doubt that anything he is imagining doing will actually pan out for him.

My idea is to keep him guessing. Keep him amused. Keep him intrigued enough in the things that I think up this week, for him to at least see the whole seven days through.

I did, I admit, consider just tying him to the bed and fucking him senseless for a week, but neither of us are as young as we once were and, anyway, at some point I would have to untie him again. Besides, I made him a promise that he could leave the holodec at any time. I pointed out that if he did I would follow him but, even so, tying him up would be a breach of my promise, and I already once broke the most sacred promise of all to him. I will not add to that crime.

So I have to keep him interested and a little confused.

~~~

I groan as I pull myself to my feet as the hover lands near the summit. I have stiffened up and the idea of walking again is not a pleasant thought.

"Are you alright, Sir?" the bright-eyed stewardess asks as I limp past her towards the door. "Have you hurt your leg?"

She's only a hologram, so I decide what the fuck.

"It's not my *leg*, it's my butt," I snarl.

Her pretty holographic face does a talented impersonation of a blush.

"Horse-riding," Chakotay clarifies as he reaches the exit, giving the stewardess an apologetic smile.

"Fuck, Tay," I drawl loudly, so that all of the other (holographic) passengers turn to listen. "Your cock isn't THAT big."

Then I turn to the stewardess whose mouth is gaping in shock and give her a wink. "He likes to think he's hung like a horse, but to tell the truth, he's more of a pony."

Grinning with satisfaction, I start down the ramp, the pain of my ass almost forgotten at the sound of Tay's embarrassed splutter.

"Well, that was rude," he says lightly as he catches me up.

"Rude or crude?" I mock.

"Both," he replies.

"Good," I snap, and start limping towards the ski lodge. He doesn't follow me.

I obviously *did* piss him off, because he lets me hobble almost to the door before his voice sings out, "Tom? You're going the wrong way."

I swing around, narrowing my eyes at the smug grin that is obvious even with 12 meters of snow now between us.

"What?" I demand, angrily.

"Unless you *do* want to ski, of course," he adds politely.

"I DON'T WANT TO FUCKING SKI!" I yell.

Several of the disembarking passengers turn to look at me in evident shock and distaste at my language.

"You can all fuck off too!" I tell them.

I am pissed.

~~~

I can see from the flaming glow of Tom's cheeks that he is *not* amused, and decide it's time to tell him the real reason we are here before he decides he's had enough.

"I know you don't want to ski, Tom," I murmur placatingly, approaching him carefully because I can see him clenching his fists.

"So what the fuck *are* we doing up here?" he snarls.

"I thought we'd fly back down," I answer.

"Fly?" he asks, looking back at the hover in complete confusion as to why I would make him come all this way, just to ride straight back down again.

"No," I say gently. "I mean *really* fly."

I see something that is almost excitement in his eyes before his expression becomes guarded again, and he crosses his arms over his chest and demands, "Explain!"

"I thought we could hand-glide down to the bay," I say softly.

His eyes widen and then he limps across to the fence that separates the hover pad from the view down the mountain. We are several thousand feet above sea level and the panoramic view from this place is breath-taking. His breathing quickens as he looks at the way the mountain is formed, at the deep gullies and cliffs and his pilot's brain switches into gear as he considers the probability of air currents and eddies.

"Difficult," he whispers.

"Yeah," I agree. The idea is pretty terrifying, to be honest, now that I am looking over the edge at the sheer drop.

"There's going to be a lot of turbulence. We're as likely to smash into the mountain as get clear. There's a really strong wind off the sea," he whispers, but there is a longing in his voice, as though he has temporarily forgotten everything else. As though his desire to fly once more is suddenly more important than anything.

It's easy to say that Tom stopped being the pilot of Voyager because we needed him more as an Engineer, and that it was Charis's turn at the helm, and that flight at warp 2 would have bored him anyway.

But it's a lie.

Tom stopped flying because he lost the joy in it. He lost the joy in *everything* when I left him.

This is only a holoprogram. The safeties are on. There is no real danger here. But somehow, it doesn't feel that way. Here and now, as we stand on this cliff and consider the thought of just blindly launching ourselves off the edge, at the mercy of thin fabric wings and the vagaries of the air currents that swirl below, there is something almost sickeningly real about the fear that churns in my stomach. From the sudden excitement in his eyes as he turns to look at me at last, I realise that he feels it too.

For just this moment, at least, Tom's spark is back.

"Let's do it," he grins.

~~~

My enthusiasm wanes a little when Tay leads me to where our glider is waiting and I realise that it is designed for two men, so that we will be tightly cocooned together inside what is little more than a glorified sleepingbag harnessed onto the aluminum frame that wears the wide fabric wings.

"Are we going down naked?" I snarl, deciding that this is just Tay's unique way of wanting another poke of my ass.

"Only if you can steer and fuck me at the same time," Chakotay replies pleasantly.

I flush as I realise that as the *pilot* I need to be nearer the wings, so Chakotay will be the one underneath, with his back to my chest. Which means I just have a dirty mind after all.

Proved immediately by the fact that I start wondering about whether it *is* possible to concentrate on steering *and* fuck him at the same time. He smirks when I finally give a reluctant sigh of disappointment. Proof again that he *can* read my mind. When he can be bothered to, that is.

So we strap ourselves in the cocoon, my cock hard against his ass, but trapped behind two layers of fabric, and we hop a little awkwardly towards the edge, our wings outstretched behind us, and there is nothing in my vision except the back of his head, and a sheer drop of perhaps four thousand feet.

I can feel his heart racing, as is mine, and it takes a few moments to settle myself before I can launch us over the edge. If I time it right, if I catch an updraft as we topple off, we will be swept upwards rather than down and will then take long, lazy circles down towards the sea below.

If I make a mistake, we will smash headlong back into the cliff edge.

Perversely, I decide to give Tay no warning of my intention to launch. I enjoy his involuntary scream as he is suddenly thrust out into nothing, and we begin to plummet downwards before the wind catches our wings and we are lifted up, soaring up over the cliff edge like a huge bird.

Then I am laughing in pure joy, as the wind whips my face, and I am flying, *really* flying, and when he turns his head back over his shoulder so that he can almost face me, it is only natural that I bend my face down and kiss his soft, welcoming lips.

We cannot sustain the kiss though, because I need to watch where we are going, and the wind pressure is too great for him to keep his head twisted in my direction, so I content myself with grinding my groin against his ass, and wishing desperately that I *had* climbed in naked, or at least unzipped my fly so that I could rub myself between his strong thighs.

We are sweating so much that I can detect a definite smell of garlic and the realisation makes me laugh out loud. The sound of my laughter is stolen by the rushing wind, but I feel Chakotay tense beneath me, as my shaking obviously disturbs him. Perhaps he thinks I am crying, so I lean down and kiss the nape of his neck in reassurance.

For perhaps an hour, as we slowly circle downwards towards the bay, I am lost in a daze of pure joy. An emotion so alien to me that it almost hurts to experience it.

Perhaps that is why the other thoughts start to intrude.

I try to refuse them entrance. I try to throw up a barrier against them, but it is no use. The glorious vista of the bay is blurred by a series of images that my mind begins to play like a holovid.

Faces start to flash in front of my eyes. Harry. Megan. Jenny. Ayala. Geron. Kathryn. Seven. Tayven. Carrey. Chell. Kes. B'Elanna. Vorik. Baytart. So many faces gone for all time. So many people dead. And for what?

I forget where I am, what I am doing, even who I am with. I drown in the visions. So much pain. So much loss. So many battles won and yet one by one, person by person, we have been losing the war.

It's been pointless.

All of it.

My life.

Pointless.

~~~

A warm updraft catches us and we spin closer and closer towards the edge of the mountain.

"TOM," I roar in panic, as I saw the cliff-edge approaching us at terrifying speed, and I twist my face to look at him.

He looks down at me, his eyes glazed, his face streaming with tears, and then he deliberately pulls on the left control cord so that we spiral directly into the rockface.

As we crash, everything blurs. I am screaming as we smash into the jagged rocks with a tangle of wings, and the mountain disappears, as does the mangled glider, and we find ourselves tumbling in the soft sand of the beach.

It takes me a moment to catch my breath, for my rampaging heart to accept that I am not dead, after all, not even bruised, although how I haven't simply had a heart attack from sheer shock is beyond me.

"What the fucking hell did you do that for, you stupid bastard," I scream at his back.

He refuses to turn and look at me.

"The safeties were on, weren't they?" he mutters, sullenly.

"Fucker!" I snarl.

He swivels around to face me and gives me a frighteningly cold sneer.

"Pissed your pants did you, Tay?"

"Fucker," I repeat.

"How about saying something else," Tom mocks, but above his sneer, his white face is tear-stained and his eyes are terrifyingly blank, almost opaque.

My anger is quenched by his obvious distress.

"What's wrong, Tom? Why did you do it?" I ask him as gently as I can manage through teeth still chattering with shock.

He simply closes his eyes to deny me sight of his pain.

"What's wrong?" I beg, almost in tears myself now.

"EVERYTHING!" he screams suddenly, dragging himself to his feet.

For a terrible moment he looks down at me, the torments of hell itself flashing in the depths of his haunted eyes, and then he swings away and yells "ARCH!"

I panic. I don't stop to think. I just lunge for the back of his legs and before he can take more than a couple of steps towards the exit that has appeared so incongruously in the middle of the beach, I tackle him to the ground.

We roll in the sand.

He is biting, screaming, punching, kicking and this is not anger but panic on his behalf, and I understand that, and try not to hurt him as I wrestle, try not to respond to his punches with blows of my own, but I am panicking too, and before I know it, we are both swinging at each other, striking blows meant to hurt, not subdue.

There is nothing but blood and sweat and tears and pain, and the sound of fists striking flesh, and lungs gasping for breath, and sobs of pain, and anger and frustration, until we both are too exhausted to do anything but simply collapse on our backs, side by side in the sand, as our tortured lungs recover and our battered flesh seizes and stiffens into numbness.

"This is getting real fucking old, Tay," Tom finally hisses as he spits sand out of his bleeding mouth.

"I know," I gasp back. I try to sit up, but my ribs protest too much so I give in and content myself to just lie there, listening to his own fruitless attempts to move.

It is perhaps twenty minutes before he speaks again.

"We had a deal, Tay. If I want to go, you let me."

"Not until you tell me why," I reply.

"Fuck you," he spits, trying to get up again, but collapsing with a bitter groan of pain.

I roll onto my side so that I can see his face, too angry to listen to my body's scream of protest at the movement.

"WHY?" I roar. "What did I do? Just fucking tell me what I did!"

He closes his eyes to avoid me, and his voice, when it finally replies, isn't angry, it is just bitterly sad.

"Nothing. I just want to go. Please, Tay. Just let me go."

His pain crushes me, but rather than defeating me, it just makes me more determined to get to the bottom of what has just happened.

"Not until you tell me why," I tell him.

Tom sighs in defeat, too hurt perhaps to keep his pain to himself anymore.

"It's all fucked up, Tay. Everything's fucked. Don't you understand that?"

"What happened up there, Tom? Please, tell me what I did wrong," I beg.

He struggles up to a sitting position, his right arm pressed for support against his bruised stomach, his left hand gingerly wiping his face. He only succeeds in smearing sand into his bleeding lips and he winces in pain. His right eye is black and swollen. It is watering so violently that he seems to be crying one long, continual tear.

Perhaps he is.

"It wasn't about you," he whispers. "Not *everything* is always about you, you bastard."

I wince a little, but nod my acceptance of his point.

"Then what was it?" I ask.

"Kathryn," he says, and he begins to cry.

I just look at him blankly, and then the memory hits me and I close my eyes against my own sorrow. Of course, Kathryn and Leonardo's mad escape flight on a glider, so many years ago.

"I remember," I say softly.

"They're all dead, Tay. Everyone's dead."

"Not everyone," I murmur, but he's right really. The list of the dead is shattering, soul destroying. "Shit, Tom. Can't you see that's *why* we can't give up on each other?" I beg.

"It's too late, Tay. Everyone's dead. What's the fucking point anyway? Half the people on this ship have never even seen Earth and if we do get home, what's waiting for us?"

I have no answer. Our long range communications system was destroyed years ago. We have no way of even telling anyone that we are coming, let alone knowing what will greet us if we arrive. For all we know, the Maquis, and maybe even Tom, will be greeted by a prison sentence if we do get home. Even after all these years there are no guarantees. There's no Federation Statute of Limitations on Terrorism.

"We can't give up hope, Tom," I finally reply. "That's the legacy Kathryn left us. Never give up hope."

"Hope did fuck all for her, did it?" he hisses

"You're wrong, Tom. She was a Starfleet Captain and she died at the helm of her ship, fighting overwhelming odds, and she won. She died, but she won. Voyager is still here. We're still here and one day we will get home and her story will be told and she will be remembered always as one of Starfleet's finest Officers.

"If there is no other reason to go on, we owe her that much. That we take the records of our journey home. That we take the records of everyone home."

"I'm just so tired, Tay. Tired of fighting and running and hoping and losing. "

"I know, Tom. We're all tired," I say gently. "That's why we all need each other. We can't go on alone."

"I'm just so tired," Tom repeats brokenly.

"I know," I repeat, as I slide over to him and gather him into my arms, ignoring his momentary resistance, crushing him to me as though I could infuse him with my own strength and then he sags against me, his head buried into my chest.

When I finally say "Computer, cancel arch," he stiffens but says nothing, and as the first of Wuartha's twin moons appears in the twilight sky, he lets me take him by the hand, help him to his feet and then we start our long, painful stagger back to the hotel.



Continued in "OUROBOROS"
10: Ouroboros by mort
Tides of the Heart



Part Ten: Ouroboros



I cannot sleep.

I lie here, thinking of Chakotay lying in *his* bed, in *his* room. I wonder whether he is awake too, or does he sleep peacefully under the silver-blue moonlight. If he sleeps, does he dream? Does he, perchance, dream of me?

Perhaps he does. We are perhaps *both* as helplessly caught in the gravity of our emotions as the two satellites of Wuartha that mock me in the night sky with their pale, heartless light.

There are no shutters on the windows, no drapes to pull across, no way to prevent the pale blue glow of Wuartha's twin moons from bathing my body in their eerie glow.

The furthest moon is pregnant. Full and round it is a shining silver circle as it throws the light stolen from its sleeping sun down onto my bedcovers. The nearer moon, though far larger and more dominant in the night sky, is on the wane. It looks as though some huge monster has bitten into its dark, hard flesh leaving a gaping wound.

Not a crescent moon, yet. Simply a ravaged one.

I can hear the waves crashing on the beach below as the tides shift in confusion between the gravitational pull of either moon. It is as though a battle is being fought out there in the depths of the sea between the healthy smaller moon and its far larger but wounded opponent.

Their battle is endless and pointless, of course.

The smaller moon will win for a short time, a few days perhaps, as the nearer moon retreats in defeat. Then the distant moon will wane, as its adversary returns in full strength to banish its power.

And then, they will do it all over again.

Endlessly.

Pointlessly.

That is what life is all about. Spring follows winter, and eventually winter follows fall. Only to repeat itself like an endless circle of birth and death. Like a snake swallowing its own tail.

The universe itself is just a vast Ouroboros serpent. It survives by devouring itself.

The moonlight inspires these thoughts perhaps. Moonlight has always fascinated people, weaving a spell of mystery, causing dogs to howl, and tides to change, and lovers to succumb to the lie that love is eternal when the truth is that *nothing* is eternal.

The only eternal truth is that nothing lasts.

Planets, civilizations, people, we all fall under the scythe of time and are swept underfoot like ashes.

We die, and are replaced as though we never existed at all. Our dreams are stolen by new dreamers and then, in their turn, their dreams are stolen too.

For the few short years that we bear this mortal coil, we try to make our lives have meaning. We try to change things, make our impact, create for ourselves an illusion that we might be immortal. Perhaps, like Chakotay, we have children to foster that illusion that we are more than just a single frame in a vid so huge that our lives are less than a blink of an eye in the whole scheme of things.

By now, few people on Earth probably even remember our existence. Voyager is no more than a tiny log entry on an endless list of lost ships. Even if we return and are greeted as heroes, in another hundred years no one will even remember our names.

Perhaps Chakotay is right that they will remember Kathryn for a while, but even so, eventually her memory will fade too. That is the way life is.

Pointless.

I suppose I may as well admit that I have often contemplated suicide in the long endless hours of the night. It seems such an easy solution when you are alone with your thoughts and you know that no one will truly miss you. That you are suffering your pain for no reason because no one cares anyway and ultimately, even if they do, they will move on and forget you, and then *they* will die and be forgotten too, so all you are doing by living is prolonging your own agony for absolutely no reason at all.

In the daylight though, even though it is the harsh artificial daylight of Voyager's internal lights, I always feel vaguely ashamed of those night time fantasies of a cowardly escape. When so many people have died, when people like Harry have lost their lives, it seems almost insulting that I should be so self-indulgent as to carelessly throw my own life away, saying "I don't want it anymore. Take it back."

I don't though. Want it I mean. No one *chooses* to live feeling like this.

But, then again, that's what everything comes down to. Choice. The choices that we make. Like my choice to let Chakotay go even though I knew that in losing him, I lost everything.

Like my choice to carry on living, when nothing has been worth living for since that decision.

Shall I tell you the truth now? The real truth?

The reason I didn't take my life was because I couldn't bear the guilt that he would feel if I did. Because I hugged my pain to myself like a jealous child and refused to give it to him instead. I still don't know whether I loved him too much to hurt him or I hated him too much to give him that last part of myself.

It is *my* pain.

MINE.

That was my choice. To survive by devouring myself.

Back on Earth, millennia ago, people believed that their lives were governed not by chance and their own actions, but by the capricious whims of celestial beings. They believed that the time of our birth and death was pre-ordained and that only three times in their lives did every traveler face major choices in their life and they would pray for guidance to the goddess of pathways traveled by night, Hecate. Goddess of moonlit crossroads.

Nonsense, of course.

Gods and goddesses, I mean.

Religion was just a way of making sense of the inexplicable before the ultimate god, science, ripped away the comfort of blind "belief". My family's god was Starfleet. Like the testing of Abraham, my father took his only son and offered him in sacrifice to his god. My life was given to Starfleet, and although I rebelled and struggled and resisted, it is a vengeful god that owns me, a jealous god that punished my attempted defiance with an inescapable obligation.

So, when I consider the three important choices in my life, I do not count my decision to join this ill-fated journey as one of them. That was never a choice, it was just destiny.

My first real important choice was when I agreed to marry Chakotay. My second choice was when I divorced him. Now the final choice that I must make in this moonlit crossroad of my life, is whether or not to finally leave him.

~~~

Even in my dreams I am somehow aware of the moonlight that streams through my windows, because when it is broken by shadow I wake with a start, only to freeze lest my movement should make him flee.

He is on my balcony, looking out over the waves that crash on the beach below, his fair hair bathed in a ghostly silvery-blue halo.

He has come to me.

Perhaps only to be near me as he thinks, to be near my presence as he contemplates the horizon, as he considers our future.

When we returned to the hotel earlier this night he shrugged away my offer to help him regenerate the injuries that I had inflicted. Instead he limped slowly to his room and shut the door firmly in my face.

Yet, he chose to stay at least, and it was more than I deserved, more than I dreamed possible, and although I instructed the computer to inform me immediately if he should call for the arch once more, I was at least able, after I had soothed my own battered body, to crawl into bed and hug my pillow and dream, at least, that he was in my arms.

And now he is here, scant hours later, in my room.

I am not so foolish as to think I know the reasons for his presence. Perhaps he has only come to say goodbye. He looks lost and alone on the balcony, as though he is assailed by doubts and confusion. He seems oddly frail, ephemeral, as though he is even just an illusion that might disintegrate if I dare to approach him.

He calls to me though, silently. His rigid back, the misery in his shoulders, the sadness of his bowed head as the moonlight seems to weigh him down with sorrow and bitter regret. All these things draw me, against my better judgment perhaps, to slide out of bed and pad softly to his side.

~~~

He does not speak. Perhaps he is frightened of breaking the spell. Afraid, no doubt that I will spook and run like an untamed horse.

I would if I could, but I am like those white horses that rampage in the water below, forever running and fighting but always in the same direction. Like the waves, my momentum itself will bring my own destruction on me.

I cannot run against the tide. I can only let myself rage and scream until I am smashed against the unyielding shore, there to dissolve and dissipate until nothing remains.

I wish I could make him understand how I feel, how he makes me feel. Out of control, rushing to my own destruction, so in love that even though I know he is destroying me I can't let go. So hurt and wounded now that nothing can ever make me whole again and still I find myself wanting to leap into his flame and be burned once more.

I wonder whether he even knows that there is a point where you stop looking for pleasure within pain, and the pain itself becomes your addiction.

I lean back against his chest, allowing his arms to snake around me so that the warmth of his embrace dispels some of the chill wrapped around my heart, and we simply stand there together, in the silent moonlight.

~~~

"Come inside, Tom. It's cold," I finally have to whisper.

Goosebumps cover my outer arms and my bare feet are chilled by the stone floor of the balcony and he is shivering. He twists violently in my arms and I am terrified that my words will cause him to run from me but, instead, he grabs my shoulders and pulls my face towards his.

For a moment, the cold reflection of the moonlight in his eyes makes me shudder. His expression is as alien and remote as the twin moons themselves.

Then he is kissing me, the heat of his mouth driving the chill from my body with its hungry flames, and I am lost in the savagery of his attack, staggering back into the bedroom as he pushes my shoulders with his hands until I reach the bed and then he forces me backwards until I am prone and he is ripping at my sleep pants with a hunger that is both exciting and terrifying.

His lips are bruising my mouth just as his nails are raking my hips as he struggles with my clothing. His need is so obvious that I find myself lifting my hips to help him strip me and then drawing my legs up and apart to demonstrate that I am his, that there is no need for him to be rough with me because I will not fight him.

He slaps my face savagely, sliding between my open thighs so that his cockhead pushes against my dry pucker, and then he tries to simply force himself into me.

I try to relax and allow him to enter me. His face is tormented, possessed, and I understand his need to take me dry. He wants to hurt me, rape me, violently rip me apart as I have ripped his very soul apart. He wants me to scream and writhe and whimper beneath him in a blind agonised mixture of pain and pleasure.

He wants to finally be in control, and I want to let him do it. I want to give in to his desperate need to defeat his demons by taking without asking, by forcing me to give him what I have denied him for so long. I don't deserve the luxury of tender preparation or lubrication.

This isn't sex he wants. He just wants a little control. He wants to steal a little of my pride to try and use it to patch over his own wounds.

Yet, as much as my head and my heart wants to give in to him, my traitorous body refuses. As soon as he begins to breach me, and the pain shoots through my ass, I instinctively begin to fight his entrance. My legs come down and draw together so that my strong thighs force him to retreat.

He dives on top of me to wrestle me over onto my front, and I so bitterly regret that my treacherous body refused his need that I simply turn over, offering myself to him.

Several minutes pass as I lie there, my butt trembling in anticipation of an assault that doesn't come.

Eventually I turn over once more, stunned and then concerned that Tom is just sitting on the edge of the bed, his head drooped in misery.

Understanding hits me and I am ashamed of myself. He wanted to fight. He wanted us to struggle and wrestle so that he could lose himself in the violence of our lovemaking. He didn't want my compliance. He wanted my defeat.

I cannot do it though. If I fight him, either we will draw or I will win. Tom never wins in a physical confrontation between us. Not because I am stronger, but simply because he defeats himself. Always, when victory could be his, he backs down, unable to see it through.

Yet he needs to feel in control. I understand that much. That he is scared. That he feels that the situation is spiraling out of his control. That I am calling the shots, just as I have been for the last twenty years.

As he said to me, this is always about what I want. Even our lovemaking is controlled by my desires and his body's desire to please mine. It's never, ever, been about simply what he might want.

So I slide out of bed, as he sits there in misery, and I rummage in the bedside cabinet for the restraints that I replicated in case an appropriate moment might arrive, and lest he should misunderstand my intentions, I am already fastening a cuff around one my own wrists before I turn and show him what I am holding.

His eyes widen so comically that I have to bite back the urge to laugh.

"What are you doing?" he hisses, as I climb onto the bed and shackle my left wrist to the headboard.

I just lie down, throwing him the other restraints, and say "I can't fasten the rest myself, you'll have to do it yourself."

"Why?" he asks in a small, frightened voice.

"Because I am too sore to fight you, Tom, so if you want to have your wicked way with me, this will be less painful for both of us."

"So," he says finally. "You're saying I can tie you up and do "anything" I want to you?"

"Yes," I reply calmly.

"I'll be in control?"

"Yes," I agree.

He sits there for a long time, turning the restraints in his hands as I see the possibilities flashing through his eyes, and I admit that I am nervous at the power I am giving him over me, although if I didn't trust him, I wouldn't have made the offer.

Then he jumps to his feet and flings the restraints at me in disgust.

"FUCKER!"

"What's wrong?" I ask, as I see tears of frustration start to trickle down a face now red with anger.

"You have to be in charge, don't you?" he accuses. "You have to control everything."

I look at him in complete bemusement.

"I just wanted tonight to be different," he adds. "I wanted it to be about what *I* wanted for a change."

"But that's what I'm offering," I say helplessly.

"No you're not. You've ruined everything."

"I don't understand," I tell him.

"You never did," he replies bitterly, turning and walking out of my bedroom in disgust.

~~~

He ruined everything.

It was supposed to be *my* fantasy. It was supposed to be *me* in charge.

It was supposed to be *him* helpless in my hands while I took and devoured without mercy.

I wanted to take him. I wanted to fuck him into submission with my cock. I wanted it to be *him* howling in helpless ecstasy as I defeated his body and his pride with my own ability to drive him out of his mind.

I didn't want to hurt him, I just wanted to ravish him until he didn't know whether to scream for help or scream for more.

I just wanted him to feel, for once, how I feel.

Out of control.

~~~

As soon as the door banged shut behind him, I realised my mistake.

He's right, in a strange way. By offering him my complete capitulation, I took away his chance to dominate me. In suggesting the means by which he could subdue me, I took away his control.

Tom didn't want to hurt me. I understand that. Even though he would have ripped me with his dry entry, that was no more his attempt to hurt me than when I lost control last night and savaged him with my fingers.

The violence between us is only a symptom of our pain, it is not the reason for our actions. The violence is a means to an end, it does not exist as a purpose unto itself. I know that even had Tom agreed to proceed with the scenario I had suggested, that whatever pain I suffered would have been more than compensated for by the pleasure that he gave me too. It is not in Tom to be cruel. He is incapable of such a thing.

I am beginning to believe that there is *nothing* I can do that will make things right between us.

If I push my intentions on him in an attempt to prove that I find him irresistible, he will interpret my actions as nothing more than a way of getting what I want from him. He will feel used and cheap, as though he is nothing more than a convenient body for my pleasure.

If I use these few days to try and be just his friend and don't attempt to make love to him, he will see himself as undesirable. He will think that my disinterest proves I do not love him.

Even in offering him my own body, he has seen my offer as an attempt to control him.

There is a saying, you can't do right for doing wrong.

That is how it is between Tom and I now. He is being unreasonable, perhaps, but his reactions are perfectly understandable, so I cannot even afford myself the luxury of frustration at his failure to respond to me.

He doesn't trust me. That's the bottom line. He believes that this is a temporary thing for me, that my feelings are valid but merely transitory. That I will cause him to let down his defenses and then I will leave him again.

He needs me to prove myself to him, and yet he denies the validity of any proof that I offer him. He looks constantly for the trap, for the trick, for the evidence that I am merely a confidence trickster.

He is breaking my heart.

I will not give up though. If he needs me to beg, I will beg. If he needs me to grovel, then I can do grovel. How can I dare say anything that he demands of me is not worthy of my losing my pride, when I so brutally once savaged *his* pride? Pride doesn't keep you warm at night. Pride doesn't hold you when you need the touch of another's arms. Pride is a poor and sorry substitute for a Tom Paris.

The only way that I can ever prove to Tom that I love him, is to never let him go.

So that is why I am sitting here, ignoring the cold discomfort of the floor, careless of what he may be thinking of me as I tap constantly on his bedroom door, whispering my words of regret and love, begging for him to let me in so that I can show him how much I love him.

I will stay here all night until he opens the door. I will stay here all week if I have to. I will beg and plead to be let in, until my voice can no longer make sounds, and then I will keep tapping the door until my fingers bleed, but I will not move, I will not give in, I will not go away.

I will stay here until he opens the door.



Continued in Doctrinen
11: Doctrinen by mort
Tides of the Heart


Part Eleven: Doctrinen



I am trapped between the cold glare of moonlight and the frantic tapping on my door. I have tried huddling in my bed, covering my head with my pillows to block the sound of Chakotay's pleas. He has finally stopped talking yet, somehow, the faint persistent scratching of his fingernails on the wood is cutting through me more viciously than his words. My heart is beating now to the rhythm of his taps. When he pauses, my heart lurches to a halt, my lungs scream as they drain of oxygen, and then his tapping resumes and I find myself gasping in sympathy, drawing in breath in shuddering relief.

If he gives up, if he leaves, will my heart stop completely?

Perhaps.

Each time he pauses I am terrified that he has gone.

When he resumes and my frantic heart jumps to dance to his discordant tune, I am both relieved and angered by his persistence.

I feel alone, lonely, trapped, abandoned yet harassed.

I find myself back on my feet, pacing now, my footsteps jerking in time to his insistent scratching. I freeze as he pauses. I am spurred to movement as his tapping resumes.

I can feel the pressure building up inside me. It churns and boils like lava, threatening to erupt in a screaming fury. It is a familiar feeling, one that usually drives me to my piano. The music is a relief valve for me. A way to pour my soul out in safe privacy.

There is no privacy here, no way to release the pressure without betraying myself to him.

I need to escape, run away. Before I give in to his summons or he gives up on me. What is worse? I don't know. If he never leaves I shall go mad. If he does leave, I think I might literally die.

I reach for my comm badge and call Tuvok.

He responds almost immediately, with none of the ire that most people would show for being rudely hauled awake in the middle of the night.

"I need you to transport me out of here," I tell him.

"Why did you not simply call for an arch?" he replies logically.

"I don't want Chakotay to know I am leaving," I confess.

There is a long silence before he gives a careful measured reply.

"You are, of course, free to leave, Thomas. He will not stop you. You do, perhaps, owe him the courtesy of an explanation or at least a goodbye," he chides quietly.

"You don't understand, Tuvok. I'm not breaking our deal. Well, not really. I just want to talk to you and I don't want him to know I have left the holodec," I assure him.

"You want to talk to me?" Tuvok finally answers. I can picture his left eyebrow raising in a minute expression of confusion and the image is comforting to me. Strange perhaps that I should turn to a man with no emotions to discuss the raging tides of my own feelings. But I need someone to help me separate fear from truth and emotions from needs.

I cannot think while my heart dances to Chakotay's tune.

I need wiser counsel than that of my own beleaguered soul.

"Very well," he replies.

Instead of the expected relief, I feel guilty as I feel the tingle of the transporter against my skin. Guilty that Chakotay should be sitting in that cold corridor imagining that he still has an audience for his sad performance of grief.

~~~

I am not prepared for this.

Tom's request is logical. I understand that he is confused, that he feels helplessly cast adrift on a sea of conflict. His fear and his desires are still caught in the same polar opposition.

He loves Chakotay. He needs Chakotay. He fears the acknowledgement of his desires because of his justified terror of being abandoned once more. He sees me as a anchor in his confusion. I am something stable and unchanging in a world that has changed so much in the last twenty-six years that few of the people who remain on Voyager are even recognisable as the crew who were first lost here in the Delta Quadrant.

Over the years, most of those people have done Tom a grave disservice. They saw what they chose to see and ignored the truth.

It was Tom's own fault to an extent. Perhaps it was his pride alone that kept him from correcting people's misunderstandings. I believe, however, that his love for Chakotay and his grief over Chakotay's abandonment, caused him to care little for anyone else's thoughts on the matter until it was too late and he found himself completely alone.

Everyone saw his actions as selfish and unnatural. That he would seek to keep a father from his own son was perceived as the act of a jealous and spiteful person who deserved to be abandoned.

The obvious truth was that Tom was hurt and frightened of losing his husband to Seven and her child. Chakotay should have involved him, should have even perhaps forced him to participate in the pregnancy. Chakotay should, at least, have taken every step to assure Tom that he still loved him.

It is evident that he did. That both men have separately suffered twenty years of regret and loss over the actions that they both took. The difference is that Chakotay had a wife and family to comfort him and had the support of the crew for his decision. Tom was alone.

Tom chose to be alone, admittedly. Like a wounded animal he curled up and licked his wounds, snarled threateningly at anyone who approached him and deliberately shut himself off from those who would befriend him. It was not truly deliberate though. He acted with his instincts and those who might have been able to break through his self-imposed barrier to help him, died before they had the opportunity to try.

I have tried. I have failed. My own fear has constrained me. I am a Vulcan. Once, when I was younger, I allowed myself to rail against my people's habit of controlling our emotions. I do not regret that temporary flaw in my self-discipline. It taught me an understanding of emotion. It also taught me that I could never allow myself to again relax my mental control.

Sometimes though, I admit, Tom Paris has found a tiny chink in my armor and has unwittingly pried at it mercilessly.

His pain calls to something dark and wild that hides deeply under my self-control.

That is why I did not mate with him.

We shared my ponn farr and I touched his mind with mine and what I found spiraled me so near my own destruction that I immediately pulled back. I threw a barrier up between us so solid that we can now even share sexual relations without me knowing what is happening inside his mind.

The pain inside him is like a voracious beast that is devouring him and in touching that agony I almost lost myself forever. I would have drowned in the tempestuous sea of his emotions and I reacted with fear and revulsion. Not of Tom but of how thin I discovered my own facade of self-control to truly be.

I cannot give him what he needs.

I should have though.

Two years ago, had I taken the risk, opened myself to him, I would have shared his pain and together we might have found a way to overcome it.

He would be mine.

There. I have said it. I want Tom for myself.

Peculiar that he lives his life believing that no-one loves him and yet both Chakotay and I would both do anything to prevent him leaving our lives now.

I am not jealous of Chakotay. That is a human emotion. It has no place in a Vulcan's heart. If I were to allow myself the luxury of jealousy, I would again be opening that dangerous chink in my armor and all my long buried emotions might spew out to destroy me, and this ship needs me whole.

Logically, there is only one path that I can walk now. I must find a way to reconcile Tom and Chakotay. Chakotay can offer Tom what he needs, what I cannot allow myself to offer. Chakotay can, perhaps, convince Tom to stay on Voyager.

I need him in my life. I need to know that Tom is well and happy. I need to know that he, at least, can escape the loneliness of living in an emotional vacuum. I need him to feel the emotions that I cannot dare to feel myself.

It is not logical.

It is, however, the truth.

~~~

"It's just sex, isn't it?" I tell Tuvok.

He steeples his fingers and peers at me from the emotionless mask of his face.

"Is it?" he asks.

"Maybe. He just does something to me. He always has. Ever since the first moment I looked at him. The way he walks, his voice, his eyes, shit, even his smell. The blood leaves my head, rushes to my cock and I can't even think. I just want him. I just want to forget everything and give in to my desire."

Tuvok is silent for a long time. If I didn't know better, I would think that my confession has upset him. Maybe it's not a good thing to admit to someone you have fucked that another person turns your brain to mush. Tuvok and I have never had a 'relationship' though, so it's not really the same as talking about a boyfriend to an ex-boyfriend or whatever the hell terms are appropriate to describe the fact that I let my ex-husband fuck me senseless yesterday.

"You are attempting to separate your feelings of sexual attraction from your emotions," Tuvok states finally, his expression too neutral for me to judge whether the idea is good, bad or indifferent.

"Is that wrong?" I ask him, worriedly.

"Not in principle. It is not necessary to have an emotional bond to enjoy mutual sexual relief. You and I have shared physical intimacy in such a fashion," he points out.

"I know, and I value you as my only real friend, Tuvok. You've always been there for me and under the circumstances I know it hasn't always been easy for you to do so," I tell him apologetically.

A strange expression flickers over his face as though I have wounded him in some fashion, which was the last thing I intended.

"Explain," he asks, his voice a little tight.

"I know that you would have preferred to mind-link with me and mate properly. I'm sorry that I didn't let you do it. Its obvious to me that the barrier is on my side. I guess I am so screwed up over Chakotay that it's impossible for me to let down my defenses," I apologise.

Tuvok relaxes a little at my words, as though my confession that it is my fault that we never managed to go beyond meaningless sex together has reassured him that I have never been stupid enough to expect more from him than his friendship and the occassional comfort of his body.

"You wish to pursue a similar relationship with Chakotay now?" he asks me.

"I can't," I admit. "I can't separate my feelings like that."

"You did with me," he points out.

"I used you," I find myself blurting.

His expression doesn't change but somehow his eyes seem to soften and this time when he simply says "Explain" it is not a demand but an invitation to unburden my soul.

"When I agreed to help you with your Ponn Farr, it was for my sake as much as yours. I thought, I thought," my voice falters.

I cannot continue. I am still unable to articulate what I hoped so much that my link with Tuvok would finally allow me to reveal. Just as he had once mind-melded with me and learnt my deepest secrets, I had thought that as a touch telepath, our sexual joining would throw my mind open to his perusal.

"You thought that I would link with you. That I would share your pain," Tuvok states calmly.

"You knew?"

"I failed you Tom. I knew what you wanted. I understood that you threw me a life-line in the hope of clinging onto it yourself. I never considered your needs to be any less an imperative than my own at the time. You needed to share your pain. I failed you. I will always regret that failure."

I close my eyes in both gratitude for his forgiveness and guilt that I caused him to feel failure over something that he had no responsibility for. My burden is heavier than he realises though. I didn't want to just share my pain with him. I wanted to share my thoughts about Seven. Too much of a coward to break Chakotay's heart myself, I had tried to give the responsibility of my suspicions to Tuvok. I had tried to destroy Chakotay and Seven's marriage while remaining apparently blameless myself.

I am bitterly ashamed of that truth. That I ignored the additional suffering that my accusations would have caused a man already ripped apart with grief over the death of his youngest son.

Selfishness. That's all it was. Selfishness and bitterness and jealousy. I tried to use Tuvok as my sword of Damocles.

"Is that what you are afraid of now, Tom. That by accepting Chakotay's offer of his body while rejecting his offer of love, you will simply be using him?" Tuvok asks quietly.

"Aren't I?" I demand. "Besides, I can't do it, even if I want to. I can't separate sex from love anymore, Tuvok. I don't want to offend you in any way, but I couldn't do it with you either."

I see Tuvok wince a little as though pained and I regret my admission.

"You believe that you love me?" he asks me sorrowfully.

"I'm sorry," I mumble. "I know I'm not supposed to, and its nothing like the way I feel about Chakotay. It doesn't diminish my feelings for him, although perhaps it should. Its different. All I know is that even though we never shared our thoughts, we shared our bodies and that has made you a special person in my life. I know you don't understand or approve of that sort of thing, but its true regardless. I do love you Tuvok and I'm going to miss you when I leave."

~~~

When I was first stranded in the Delta Quadrant and I realised that I might never see T'Pel and my children again, I felt pain. When Kathryn and Megan subsequently died, a little of myself died with them too. None of those feelings were even close to the agony of hearing Tom's confession that he loved me and that he would still leave.

I cannot recall a moment in my life when I have struggled more to retain my composure. A life-time of meditation is not enough to compensate for the knifing agony of knowing that I could have reached out and claimed him, and in his grief and loneliness he would have clung to me and made me his.

Too late now.

He finally has the chance to reclaim his true love and the only way I can demonstrate my own feelings without destroying myself is to help him to find the courage to take Chakotay back into his life.

He has unwittingly offered me a way to do that, and I will take it.

~~~

"I have married three times Tom and I have fathered four children," Tuvok says.

His comment is so unexpected that I find myself riveted by his words and his calm, placid features.

"I have, therefore, loved seven times in the way that you are referring to, though perhaps without the intensity of human emotions," he continues. "Neither Kathryn nor Megan inspired the depth of feeling in my heart that T'Pel did and always will. With the birth of each of my children, I did not feel my love for T'Pel diminish. I found my capacity for affection to increase with each child while my affection for T'Pel remained constant or perhaps even deepened.

"Chakotay's love for you was not weakened by his love for his children. It was not even diminished when he learnt to love Seven. Love is not a cake that can only be cut into slices, each slice reducing the original whole. A person's capacity for love increases as each recipient of that love is added.

"You say that you have learnt to care for me and yet your love for Chakotay has never faltered. Can you not, in the same way, see that Chakotay's love for you has remained constant too?"

I know that he is right. I know that Chakotay loves me. It's not the point though, is it? The question is whether Chakotay's love is enough for me. He is not like me. He is calm and rational, he thinks everything through, he makes his choices based on honor and responsibilities and common sense. He does not feel the fire that I do. His passion doesn't rip him into shreds until all rational thought is discarded, sacrificed to the raw passion of his emotion.

In this he is like Tuvok. Both men are dark, mysterious, strong, untouchable, dependable and a little cold. Chakotay's chill is demonstrated most clearly by the way he can separate his own desires from what he feels he *should* do. Like his choice to leave Starfleet and join the Maquis. Like his choice to leave me and marry Seven. Like his choice to become Captain when he did not want the role and his decision to give the Captaincy to Tuvok when he didn't really want to give it up.

Chakotay will always do the *right* thing, no matter the personal cost. One day, if the time comes again that he must choose between the right thing and me, he will leave me again. Knowing that, it is impossible to give what remains of my heart back to him.

"He'll destroy me," I whisper. "When he leaves me next time, I won't survive."

Tuvok bows his head in acknowledgement. He knows that it is true.

"Where will you go?" he asks me suddenly.

I am too surprised by his sudden capitulation to answer at first, and when I do it is with hesitancy since I don't know the answer myself.

"I don't know. I just want to leave. I haven't thought it through yet."

"You wish simply to run away," he accuses.

"So?" I spit. "It won't be the first time I've run away from a problem. It's a Paris specialty."

"We are in an uncharted region of space. You could run out of fuel or oxygen before you find a place to land," Tuvok tells me.

I shrug. I know he's right but if I agree to stay until we reach a suitable place to disembark I have a strong feeling that we will never reach one, at least not until Voyager can no longer put off the need to replenish her own supplies. I don't care anyway. I'm not afraid of dying alone. I've been alone for so long that the idea is oddly comforting.

It's not suicide, is it? It's just taking a chance, spinning the wheel of fate, and no longer caring about the outcome.

"Have you decided that you wish to die alone?" Tuvok asks me abruptly.

I feel myself flushing in guilty fear that he has finally read my mind, only to realise that he is actually asking whether I will remain a solitary wanderer or seek to find a new mate.

"It wouldn't be fair, would it? Asking someone to fill his shoes, I mean. I can't ever love anyone else enough, and I know myself how much it hurts to be on the other side of that kind of relationship. Chakotay loves me but he doesn't love me enough."

"Are you sure?"

"HE LEFT ME," I scream.

"That was twenty years ago, Thomas. Can you not allow yourself to believe that he has changed?"

"I can't afford to believe," I reply sullenly.

"What are you risking by trying? Can you be *more* unhappy than you are right now? Do you truly think that it will hurt more if he leaves you a second time? You are already prepared to set off on a possibly suicidal journey alone just to avoid him. You may as well give him the benefit of the doubt first and enjoy whatever happiness *does* come your way.

"What is the point of worrying about what *might* happen? We could all die tomorrow. Voyager could be attacked and we could all perish, or perhaps either you or Chakotay could die. Life has no guarantees and you know that. You are also not a coward. You know that everyone must take life one day at a time. Either you are lying to me or you are lying to yourself."

~~~

My cruel words are a calculated risk and I am consequently not surprised to see Tom jerk to his feet in outrage.

"What the fuck do you mean, calling me a liar?" he demands furiously.

"When Chakotay asked you to give him a second chance, to share these seven days on the holodec, you had every reason to refuse. He no more deserved a second chance than he deserved the fact that you have stayed with him for all these years. You have enjoyed these past few days, despite the undoubted pain that you have felt and you have shared sexual relations with him despite the fact that you are no longer a person who can do that with someone that you do not care for deeply.

"You say that it is your way of saying goodbye. I believe it is your way of punishing Chakotay. You wish to make him suffer. You want to force him to love you again and then you will leave him, just as he left you. This is not a reconciliation, Thomas, it is your way of hurting him, as he once hurt you. You want to fly away safe in the knowledge that he now suffers as greatly as you do so that you can *both* die in unhappy loneliness."

"It's not true," he protests, his face twisted in misery that I should vocalize such an accusation.

"Is it not?" I ask softly.

His whispered "No," is little more than a sob.

Tom's pain knifes me but I cannot relent. I am being unfair, being cruel perhaps but it is the only way to force him to face up to his own needs. I cannot let him run. I cannot turn my back on his pain. I must push him beyond his current grief so that he can perhaps finally find some happiness. Giving wise counsel is not always a case of telling the truth. It is advising someone to believe something that will help them.

It would be easy to side with Tom on this issue. I would find it frighteningly easy to take a stance against Chakotay, to vilify his actions and applaud Tom's strength in resisting Chakotay's current overtures.

Easy, but wrong.

"Then prove it. Go back to the simulation and actually *try* this time. Stop using this as an opportunity to show Chakotay your pain. He *knows* your pain. He has lived with the guilt of it for twenty years. Try to give him a real chance or stop torturing him and leave now," I tell him bluntly.

For a moment, as Tom sways indecisively between anger and fear that I may be right, I worry that I have gone too far. I do not believe Tom is deliberately punishing Chakotay with his behaviour and some part of me is applauding the fact that Chakotay is finally seeing first hand the anguish that tortures Tom. Yet, I believe my words too. Subconsciously at least, Tom *wants* this to fail.

Unless I can convince him to embrace the situation with more determination to succeed we may as well escalate it to the next step. I would prefer Tom to choose to accept Chakotay rather than let Tom leave and then transport Chakotay onto his ship. On the other hand, perhaps it will take the proof that Chakotay is willing to leave Voyager to convince Tom.

I want to avoid that option. I could lose both of them and apart from my personal feelings on the issue, Voyager cannot afford the loss.

"I never wanted to hurt him," Tom protests, his eyes sparkling with hurt and a little fear that I am right.

"But you have. Just as he never meant to hurt *you,* Thomas. Sometimes we all do things for more than one reason. We think we are doing the right thing at the time and only afterwards do we reflect on our mistakes. Why did Chakotay agree to divorce you?"

"Because he didn't want me anymore. He had a family. I was just a loose end," Tom spits

"Do you really believe that?"

"I don't know," he confesses. "We never talked about it."

"Perhaps, before you 'run away' you should have that talk then. Perhaps you will still chose to leave but at least you will understand *why* you are leaving."

~~~

I am so numb with cold that my limbs have frozen so that only my tapping fingers still have life in them.

I am exhausted. Despite the discomfort of my position I keep finding my head drooping towards my chest and then, strangely, the ceasing of my own tapping is what jerks me awake once more. Odd that the absence of noise becomes almost a noise by itself.

When the door opens I am so surprised that I unbalance and sprawl gracelessly into the doorway.

Tom's hands are gentle as he helps me up onto my numb legs and half-drags me to the warmth of his bed. I am too stunned to even protest as he pulls the covers up over my chilled body and when he crawls in next to me and then spoons up behind my back so that the warmth of his own skin begins to seep through my pajamas, I am simply so relieved that I can barely speak.

"I'm sorry," I whisper, as his arm snakes around me and clutches me tightly.

"Shush," he whispers back. "We'll talk in the morning. Go to sleep, Tay."

There is something a little ominous about the way he mentions that we will "talk in the morning", a slight harshness in his tone that is not reassuring, and yet I am in his room, in his bed and he is holding me as though my presence is welcome and even after all these years our bodies still mould together with the perfect fit of two halves of one whole.

As the chill leaves my body, banished by Tom's warmth, I dare to hope that perhaps the rising of the dawn will bring hope to us after all.



Continued in "Quiddity"
12: Quiddity by mort
Tides of the Heart



Part Twelve: Quiddity



The dawn has broken. Warm beads of sunlight bathe the room in a glow of pale yellow as fiery tendrils of light play over the duvet from the wide windows of the balcony. High in the sky I can still see the pale silver shadow of the second moon as it lazily creeps to its rest and small wispy clouds trail across its face, hastening its departure.

Through the open windows I can hear the faint crashing of waves on the beach and the occassional hawking cry of a lone, spiraling sea gull. These sounds are drowned though by the steady musical rhythm of Tom's breath as he dreams behind me. I can feel his lips against the nape of my neck. With each breath they flutter slightly and then a tiny draft of warm air caresses my skin, causing me to tremble with excitement.

His right arm is still draped around my waist, pulling me closely against his chest as though I am a comforter. At some point in the night our legs have tangled and entwined so that I can feel his leg between my thighs and his right knee is raised and resting on my hip so that his unconscious erection is pressing with innocent cruelty against my ass.

Guiltily I listen to check that the steady constancy of his breathing has not changed and when I am sure that he is sleeping still I let my right hand creep down to answer the hungry demand of my own groin. My cock is lying hard and insistent against my stomach and as I stroke it furtively, I tell myself that I merely wish to save Tom the embarrassment of waking to my obvious hard-on.

I am, of course, lying to myself. I merely wish to fantasize that I am here in his bed because we are lovers once more, that the erection that pokes so hungrily against my ass cheeks is really for me, not for whatever dream lover has caused Tom so sleep so soundly and well. I do not fool myself that he will wake and wish to gift me with his interest, so I am stealing what little happiness I can.

My fingers trail with delicious slowness up and down my shaft. I torture myself with just the briefest, faintest strokes so that I can elongate this moment into an eternity of memories lest I never again lie in the protective cocoon of Tom's embrace. I find myself shuddering a little, trembling with both excitement and deep sorrow. I am so lost in my blissful despair that I do not hear Tom's breath catch and change.

My first realisation that he has awoken is when his right hand releases its tight embrace of my waist. I freeze and close my eyes in horror, waiting for him to scramble away from me in disgust. The air is heavy with the musky scent of my arousal and it is obvious what I have been doing. I am too filled with shame to even apologise.

Instead, his hand snakes down to displace my own and his fingers begin to trace a slow, swirling dance down my cock. As his thumb hesitates over my glans and then rubs against the tears of pre-cum that are weeping from my slit, I find myself gasping in a fervent prayer that he is not toying with me.

Perhaps he is still half-asleep. Perhaps I should turn so that I can check that he is fully cognizant, that he knows what and *who* he is doing.

Spirits forgive me, I cannot.

I cannot do anything that might break this spell.

His hand releases my cock, and before I can groan in misery he brings his arm upwards and thrusts his thumb against my slack lips so that I can taste my own arousal on his digit. I find myself sucking hungrily on his thumb, tasting the delicious merging of my cum and his own salt-sweet taste.

Then he is untangling his legs from mine, pushing me insistently on my right shoulder so that I turn onto my stomach, wincing a little as my cock protests the way it is pressed into the mattress. He rewards my compliance by leaning down over me and fastening his teeth into the flesh of my shoulder. He bites down hard and I buck as the sharp pain sends quivers of excitement down my torso.

He sucks hard, marking me, claiming me, and then his mouth moves in a slow arc of tiny kisses until he reaches my opposite shoulder and I tremble in expectation as he pauses before gnawing deeply into my skin once more.

There is nothing vicious about his bites. They are as natural and passionate as a wild animal's. When he moves to pin my neck now between his teeth I am reminded of the mating of big cats, and despite the pain I find myself purring complacently under his demand that I submit to him.

I draw my knees under my body so that I can raise my hips and without releasing the tender skin of my neck he slides between my open legs. Before I can change my mind and fight his dominance, he slides a hand around my hips and begins to stroke my cock, his rhythm fast and furious so that I am writhing beneath him, bucking and gasping as my senses overload, and I cannot hold myself.

"Tom, stop. I'm going to come," I warn him.

His only answer is to bite harder and increase the speed of his strokes so that I erupt into his fingers.

I almost black out with the intensity of my orgasm. Only his strong left arm around my waist keeps me on my knees. Then, as my senses slowly return, I can feel a slick finger pressing gently against my anus, and I laugh in sudden delight as I understand why he made me come first.

I will myself to relax. It is on the tip of my tongue to tell him to wait a little, give me a chance to douche myself and prepare myself properly. I am not frightened that he will hurt me, I simply want to prove my willingness to be breached. I bite my words back into my throat. Last night I ruined things by trying to take control. I will not make that mistake again.

It has been so many years that my ass resists his entrance despite my best attempts to relax. He does not lose patience with me though. He removes his finger, releases his hold on my neck and slides back to begin a slow, thorough exploration of my ass with his tongue and teeth.

As he trails a slow progression of kisses and nips over my ass cheeks, I can feel my cock stiffening in excitement once more and I am quivering with excitement as my fear of penetration is washed away in a frantic need to feel him inside me.

"Fuck me," I beg him.

"Not yet, Tay," he whispers, and I groan in frustration even as his first words since he has awoken at least prove that he *does* truly know what he is doing and with whom.

I feel his tongue flickering at my pucker and I moan as twenty years of abstention from this pleasure makes me jerk and writhe in reaction to the wet heat of his eager flesh.

"Spirits, Tom. Please. You're torturing me here," I gasp.

He freezes so suddenly that I have the realisation that I have said something terribly wrong, something hurtful, and I fear that he will leave me now, run away, and an image flashes unwelcomingly into my head of the night that I left *him*. For a moment, I am terrified that his intention is only to remind me of how despicably I treated him that night by driving me to the same point of need and then leaving me frustrated.

Then I feel his finger pressing against my pucker once more, sliding in easily this time now that my ass is crying out for his presence and I sob in a combination of relief and shame that I should have thought such a thing of him.

The finger is swiftly joined by a second and I yelp as he finds that long forgotten place inside me where a single touch sends shivers of delight through my body. How could I have forgotten how wonderful this felt?

He is taking his time, stretching me, gently easing me for his entrance, refusing my increasingly frantic urges for him to simply get on with it. Even in this, when my own lust is uncaring of my own comfort, his love for me is evident. He is refusing to hurt me, to tear me, he has what he wants, my compliance, and so he no longer feels the need to take me viciously, although at this point, I don't care how he takes me, I just need him inside me, where he belongs.

"Please, poocuh," I beg.

He freezes once more, and I curse myself for my stupidity. I lost the right to call him that twenty years ago.

Yet, somehow, he manages to forgive me.

He withdraws his fingers and replaces them with his cock. I tense a little as I feel the blunt flesh against my ass. It feels too thick, too large, and then I remind myself that this is my Tom, my poocuh and I relax and invite him in.

Slick and hard his flesh glides into me in a smooth flow of liquid metal. There is pain, the sharp burn of molten steel, and then as he fills me, as he breaks down my resistance with the silken pressure of his relentless shaft, sharp tendrils of pleasure shoot through to my groin and my cock rears and slaps against my stomach in a greedy demand for attention.

He pauses, until my breathing steadies, and then he begins to move within me, flesh in flesh, caressing, possessing, his deep strokes dragging hoarse gasps from my throat with every maddening movement of his hips.

Andante he slides within me, then his quick talented fingers play an arpeggio on my cock as he throws his hips against me, building to a wild crescendo as he wrests the sounds of ecstasy from my throat, until we reach a fever pitch of emotion and he slams repeatedly into me as though each plunge is a heavy chord that he must force my voice to scream.

Then with his last thrust, his own voice ululates a howl of abandon as his essence gushes into my depths, and my own cock arches in duet so that we both thrash together in the throes of our orgasms. I crash down onto the bed and he falls with me, both of us so overcome with our release that we sink into unconsciousness together.

~~~

The sun is bright now, so high in the sky that it is noon perhaps. I am sprawled on top of Chakotay still, our bodies entangled and smeared with slicks of dried sweat. His shoulders are deeply bruised with my teeth marks and the skin at the nape of his neck is a deep purple where my sucking has caused the blood vessels to burst.

I am a little sorrowful that I hurt him, yet oddly pleased that he bears my mark like this. It is somehow more real than the stale smell of sex in the air or the crumpled pajama bottoms that I don't even remember ripping off him.

He is still sleeping, his face turned sideways on the pillow so that I can bend forwards and lick softly at the lines of his tattoo. The tentative touch of my tongue wakes him and he opens soft, sleepy brown eyes to look at me and a smile of such happiness crosses his face that I almost regret the words that we must speak today.

He turns on his side, wincing a little as he detaches his stomach from the dried cum that has adhered his skin to the bed, and he gathers me in his arms for a hug.

I resist for a moment, but the look of fearful sorrow that clouds his face at my hesitation is unbearable, so I snuggle down into his arms, allowing him to tuck my head under his chin so that my cheek is resting on the slow, happy rhythm of his chest.

"Thank you," he whispers.

And I begin to cry.

It is too much. Being here with him like this and wondering whether we will ever be like this again. I want to mold with him, slide under his skin and become part of him, attach myself like a Siamese twin so that we can never be parted.

Why can't I just take this moment and enjoy it? Why can't I forget tomorrow and tomorrow and the thousand other tomorrows and simply, as Tuvok suggested take one day at a time?

Why do I need to say the words that might end everything forever?

~~~

"You called me poocuh," Tom says softly.

I stiffen a little and tighten my arms around him. My heart begins to thud in my chest as I realise that it is now time for "the talk". It is obvious that Tom can no longer play our game of strangers. Our lovemaking this morning was a re-affirmation of our real love, our real relationship. Now, I suspect, Tom wants to know whether that relationship is enough for him, whether *I* am enough for him.

I decide, whatever the cost, I will be honest with him. I will tell no lies. I will not try to make myself look better in his eyes. I will not hide behind the pale and inadequate excuses that I have given for all these years. He deserves my honesty, and I, perhaps, deserve that he should leave me, but if he does, he will do so in full knowledge of the truth. That it is I who was weak. That I am the one who proved unworthy of his love, not he that proved unworthy of mine.

"You have always been my poocuh, in my heart," I reply gently.

He is silent for a time, digesting this.

"Is that a 'tribal' thing?" he finally asks. His voice is bitter, and mocking, but I know the pain that his words hide so I will answer the question.

"In a way, I suppose. For my people, marriage is for life. We married according to Dorvanian traditions. Both our divorce and my marriage to Seven were civil ceremonies. They had no validity in my heart or in tribal law. Should we ever return home, my people would see you still as my one and only husband," I tell him quietly.

He reacts with the fury that I expect, wrenching himself out of my arms and scrambling out of the bed. He angrily paces up and down the room, his mouth moving silently as though he cannot find words sufficiently ugly to tell me what he thinks about my confession. Then his rage flushed face blushes with a new heat as he suddenly remembers he is unclothed and he grabs a robe to cover his nakedness.

It is only when he has the barrier of clothing between us that he finds the composure to speak.

"You're saying we are still married?" he demands.

I drop my head from his accusing glare but I cannot lie.

"In my beliefs, yes. Our marriage was sacred, Tom. Only the spirits can separate us. You are and always will be my poocuh."

Tom sits down abruptly as though the strength has drained from his legs.

"You don't believe in divorce?" he demands.

"No," I reply.

"Do you believe in polygamy then?" he spits.

"It is not against my beliefs," I admit. "Had I married Seven according to the laws of my people, my marriage to her would have been acceptable, but it would not have dissolved our own. I didn't though. My marriage to Seven was a legal nicety according to Federation laws. It allowed my children to bear my name and ensured my legal rights and also theirs in the event of my death."

Tom gives a bitter, slightly hysterical laugh.

"So, let me get this right. You only 'pretended' to divorce me and only 'legally' married Seven but only for the sake of the children?"

"Yes."

"Did she know?"

"Of course she knew. She accepted that my beliefs were sacrosanct and that it made no difference to her own situation," I tell him.

"So, Mr. High and Mighty I don't believe in divorce, why the fuck DID you pretend to divorce me?" Tom roars.

"Because you asked me to," I reply.

"What?" Tom asks, his face turning so pale that I fear he might faint.

"I didn't expect you to follow my own beliefs, Tom. I knew that you found my relationship with Seven unbearable. I knew I had been acting abominably towards you. I was so wrapped up in my worry about Charis that I cut you out of my life instead of putting you first. It was no wonder you got tired of the way I was neglecting you. You deserved better. You deserved to be loved better than I loved you. When you asked for the divorce I didn't feel that I had the right to refuse you. I didn't deserve you any more and I wanted you to be free to find someone new.

"I thought it was what you wanted. It was only when I saw the way that you fell apart after I had signed the form that I realised you had only been testing me. I understood then that you only asked me for the divorce because you thought it would shock me to my senses."

I pause because Tom is hunched in misery. He has pulled his legs up into his chair so that he can hug his knees and rock as he did in the lift. The sight is so pitiful, so heartbreaking that I am shocked speechless. It is he who finally breaks the silence.

"So why didn't you come back to me?"

So many reasons, the greatest of which is a secret that I can never share with anyone, not even my poocuh.

"At first, you wouldn't see me, which I understood completely. I thought it best to leave it for a little time until the pain dulled a little and we could talk without bitterness and recrimination taking over. Cowardice, I suppose. Then Charis was constantly ill. For the first five years of his life he spent more time in the sickbay than out of it, and somehow, every time I finally gathered the courage to meet with you, I would be called to sickbay."

"Why did you marry her if you always wanted to come back to me?" Tom challenges me.

I hesitate. It is the first truth that could lead me to an admission too terrible to confess. Yet, I have no ability to lie to him as he sits there so vulnerable and wounded.

"She said that if I did not marry her, she would take Charis and leave the ship," I tell him quietly.

"But she couldn't," Tom gasps. "She didn't have the right. You could have stopped her."

I close my eyes and struggle for a little calm. I have to be so careful now. I must not lie, yet I cannot tell the whole truth.

"She had the legal right to take him, Tom. I couldn't have stopped her," I say quietly.

I see a guilty look flash over his face.

"It was my fault, wasn't it?" he demands, his face now impossibly whiter than before.

"No, Tom, of course it wasn't," I assure him but he is not listening. He is years away, remembering no doubt that he had signed the document that stated he abdicated all his rights in his son to Seven.

Then he shakes his head furiously.

"It doesn't matter," he hisses in self-defense. "You're Charis's father too."

And here it is, time for the first confession, the fact that has haunted me for years, the reality that Charis once unwittingly struck me with when he was just fourteen.

"No I'm not," I admit, and with the vocalization of the words a dam inside me breaks.

~~~

I don't know what shocks me more, Chakotay's words or the fact that he utters them and then visibly shrinks as though the weight of the truth is crushing him. His body is starting to rack with dry, heavy sobs. I find myself hurtling out of my chair and back onto the bed, pulling him into my arms so that he can bury his face into my chest and hide his tears in the deep pile of my toweling robe.

The way things are going, it's going to be soaked before we both finish this conversation.

"I know Seven messed with him, Tay," I whisper, as Chakotay shakes in my arms. "I know your genetic markers were suppressed. That's why he looks like me. It doesn't mean he isn't your son. The doc confirmed he has your DNA," I tell him quietly.

"No he doesn't, not in any real sense," Chakotay says, pulling back a little and rubbing his eyes in an attempt to regain control of his emotions. "She deliberately infused a pattern to suggest my DNA was present and suppressed but it was a red-herring. Just a dormant string of DNA that is floating in his cells for no other reason than to fool me into thinking he is my son. She admitted it to me when Charis was two and you had finally stopped treating him like he was a mini-Borg.

"I finally thought we could work things out, that I could come back to you without you minding about Charis. I told her I was going to see you and so she told me that if I did, she would leave. That's when she admitted that I had no legal right to stop her taking Charis away. I didn't want to believe her. I took him to sickbay myself and checked for myself. He's your son, Tom. Yours and Seven's only. Biologically at least."

"I don't understand. If you knew that, why did you stay with her?" I demand.

"Because I love Charis. I loved all of them. They *were* my children, Tom. Besides, how could I let her take *your* son away from you, even if you didn't want him? He was the child of my heart *and* the son of my poocuh. I couldn't let him go."

"So you married her, knowing what a witch she was, I buy that. How the fuck did you fall in love with her?" I demand.

"I never fell in love with her, Tom. I grew comfortable with her over the years though, I admit that. I was civilized with her at first simply because I didn't want Charis to witness my anger towards her, and in time my anger died. I admit that I didn't really blame her for what she did. It was how she was, Tom. It didn't matter how many implants the Doc removed, she was still Borg in her soul. She always did what she needed to do without conscience or remorse because that was how she thought. She wasn't evil, Tom. She did some evil things but she never did them to hurt us. She didn't know any better."

"Shit, Tay. You are so fucking reasonable sometimes that I could kick you," I hiss. "Anyone else would have kicked her butt, but not you, oh no, you preferred to kick mine."

I'm only going through the motions of anger though. I am still too shocked by his confession that Charis is *my* son. It changes things, doesn't it? That he didn't leave me over *his* son, he left me over mine. Wasn't that, somehow, a proof that he *did* always love me? I don't know. I'm too confused to think now. There's something more important at the moment than my own feelings though, something that I have to say.

"You *are* Charis's father, Tay," I assure him. "He adores you."

Chakotay gives me a shaky smile of gratitude.

"Thank you, Tom. I have never *not* felt that I am his father and once I married Seven I was 'legally' his father too, and that was important to me, but it never made any difference to my heart. He is the son of my heart, Tom, because *you* are my heart."

And now it is I who is crying once more as we hug each other on the bed and I am suddenly sure that I never want to be anywhere except in his arms, yet, somewhere inside me, I know I have barely scraped the surface of the secrets that Chakotay has protected me from over these long lonely years.



Continued in "Confessional"
13: Confessional by mort
Tides of the Heart



Part Thirteen: Confessional



"I still see myself in Charis sometimes," I tell Tom, as he rests against me, wrapped in the temporary safety of my arms, his cheek to my chest, his body exhausted by his tears.

"Although I know it is an illusion, I still sometimes imagine that my dormant genes have some life within him after all, that they have had some tiny influence on him. That your genes did not completely displace my own as they mixed in the petri dish. Yet, then I wonder whether his expressions are just those that he learnt from me, like the timbre of his voice and his occassional placidity of nature."

"I can think of many adjectives to describe Charis," Tom replies with a choking laugh. "Placid is never one of them."

I merely smile down at him softly. I cannot explain what I mean without hurting him. I cannot detail those precious moments that I have shared with my son, *my* son, as he has grown. Despite the raging power of Tom's genetic inheritance, Charis has found a stillness and peace within himself. I like to believe that it is my calming influence and perhaps a tiny trace of rebellious DNA that would not accept its redundancy in his cells. I probably fool myself with that thought though. The real difference between Tom and Charis is that Charis had a father who gave him unconditional love.

I gave to Tom's son that which I could not give to Tom. I couldn't replace Tom's bitter childhood memories of a father who was cold and remote from him. I did, however, give Tom's son a better start in life. I gave *all* Tom's children that better start.

He doesn't know. He never knew.

I, on the other hand, always knew Tayven and Anika were not mine. Seven and I did not share the manner of relationship that would have allowed for a natural pregnancy and, of course, each time that Seven declared herself pregnant it was in response to a crisis in our lives when I would finally feel that I could no longer keep the charade of our marriage together.

When Charis was two, I married Seven to keep him on board, just as I have admitted to Tom. I thought that it was the *right* thing to do, the *noble* thing. It was just stupidity really. Within a year, I was chaffing at the bonds of that marriage because the man that I loved more than my own life was falling apart. He had just lost his best friend in the same accident that killed Kathryn Janeway who had, in many ways, been almost a surrogate mother for him since the day she had rescued him from Auckland and taken him under her protective wing with tolerance and affection.

I wanted to go to him. I was Captain now of the ship. I had the authority to break whatever Federation Laws I wished. Not so noble after all, was I? Seven could no longer take Charis without my permission. I could let her go wherever she wished and I could keep my son, Tom's son, and reunite with my poocuh. He would forgive me, I knew that he would. He would take me back.

So Seven became pregnant once more.

At first I did not care. The child was not *my* responsibility after all. This time I would not take the child into my heart. Which is when she told me who the unknown father was of the baby.

She was clever, of course. This time it was Tom's genes that she suppressed. There is nothing in Anika that betrays the Paris spirit, she does not have her father's fire and I never, I admit, have loved her quite as much as Charis because of that.

But I *do* love her. From the first day that she opened her perfect blue eyes I saw Tom's eyes not Seven's and although her hair grew with her mother's Nordic blonde and her nature was quiet and reflective rather than inquisitive and fiery like her older brother, she was the perfect angelic child of my Poocuh. She was Tom's daughter and so she was mine.

I fell in love with the perfection of her tiny fingers, so long and elegant even when she was just a few hours old, and I was trapped once more into my loveless marriage because with Anika's birth all hope I had of Tom's forgiveness was severed.

He turned away from me on that day. Before then he had been cutting and rude, yet he had still mourned me from afar. After the birth of Anika, he could often be heard disparaging me in public, telling people that he hated me and that our marriage had always been a mistake. I knew his words were only because of his pain, but his very vindictiveness proved that I had now hurt him beyond forgiveness.

Tom naturally assumed that the conception and birth of Anika was proof that Seven had replaced him in my affections.

I know, damnit. I know I should have told him, should have confided in him, should have given him the opportunity to claim me and his children. Only I was too frightened that he would reject me, reject them and they would grow up as he did, unloved and bitter.

In acknowledging that I was not their real father, in publicly denouncing their mother, I would gain nothing for Charis and Anika. Seven would have been forced to leave Voyager as the weight of scorn descended on her shoulders for actions that I hate her for, yet even now I still do not truly blame her for. The best that Charis and Anika would have had was an "adoptive" father and Tom's disinterest.

I could not risk that for them. They grew up safe in the love of a mother and father. We were a family. For their sake it had to be enough and I had to content myself that the status quo should continue.

Our next crisis was two years later with the gradual exodus from the ship. One by one and couple by couple, people were leaving Voyager. Each time we stopped for supplies we lost another member of the crew and I became increasingly certain that Tom would soon follow them.

I became jittery and nervous, constantly checking on his whereabouts on the ship, refusing to stop at any inhabited worlds unless it was imperative and never sending Tom on away missions lest he should take the opportunity to abscond. Seven, of course, became aware of my distraction and decided on her own.

Thus Tayven was conceived.

I was furious with her. I truly lost my temper with her for the first time, calling her names that even Tom would struggle to repeat, only to be brought crashing down to earth again by the frantic wails of Charis who was now old enough to understand too much of our discussion. He ran to protect his mother from my wrath, planting his tiny body in front of hers as though he would die to protect her.

It was the end of my rebellion. The end of all hope.

There was never any need for a fourth child.

My children loved their mother and I could not destroy their faith in her without destroying something within them too.

Tayven, like Anika, did not have that Paris spark that so enchanted me in Charis. Even so, I adored him and although I threatened Seven that if she should ever become pregnant again I would reveal her perfidy to the crew, I do not know whether that is true or not.

But, like I said, there was no need for another child because I knew that it was too late to leave my family now.

As the years passed and our children grew, Seven and I grew comfortable together. I suppose that is an unbelievable fact for you to understand, yet it is true. Long familiarity becomes a form of contentment after a time. It becomes easier to accept a life which is sorrowful but familiar rather than take the risk of breaking away to find something new and better.

Besides, my children were a constant joy and comfort to me.

Sometimes I am honest enough to wonder whether I always favored Charis because I knew that *somewhere* inside him there was part of me. I do not really believe that though. I favored Charis because he was so like his father that in a way, despite the fact that I had lost Tom, I still kept him.

I loved Charis because in many ways he *was* Tom.

Yet Anika and Tayven stole my heart too. Anika was so beautiful, so prim and precise, such a lady even when she was just a tiny girl. A child that even Admiral Paris himself would have worshipped if he had met her.

And Tayven, my youngest son, was in many ways my pride and joy. He was a quiet boy, introspective, a loner. Just as Charis was Tom's wilder side, so Tayven was his vulnerable one. In Tayven I saw the quiet reflective side of my Poocuh. Charis was a warrior, Tayven more destined to be a shamen.

His death ripped my soul apart.

I had been ill with the fever myself, as had we all, and then I discovered that my youngest son was only a memory when my fever broke. I remember visiting him in the make-shift morgue in cargo bay two, where the environmental controls could be adapted to keep the bodies in a state that still allowed visitation.

He was perfect. A little pale perhaps, but nothing else suggested that he was anything but asleep and as I rocked his frail, empty corpse in my arms, I howled not only for him and for me but for his *real* father who had never even known that he had this child to lose.

That's why I cannot tell the truth to Tom. The whole truth I mean. Not just because I cannot tell him of my crime, but because I cannot bear to tell him that he had not one child, but four, and that I allowed one of them to be murdered and the fourth died still little more than a promise in his mother's treacherous womb.

Secrets and love make poor bedfellows.

I love Tom. I always have and yet I did not love him enough to trust him. In not trusting him, I caused the death of two children that should never have even been born. *His* children.

Perhaps that is the truth of why I suggested this bizarre simulation where we could pretend to be strangers. Because Tom already has enough reasons to hate me without him knowing the rest of my secrets.

If I do not tell him the truth, he will leave me. I understand that now. It is what he is demanding, my confession. It is the price I must pay to keep him.

It is also what will drive him away from me forever.

I am not the person that he thinks that I am.

I am a murderer.

There. It's too late now. You know the truth. I have taken a life and I do not regret it. I only regret that it took me so long to do it.

Could I turn back time and retrace my steps back to that moment, I would still not change my actions despite the cost that I must pay.

You see, I think he will forgive me for killing Seven but how can he ever forgive me for the death of his son in her womb?

I killed my beloved Tayven twice.

I believed he had died of the fever the first time. Why wouldn't I? He was one of twelve victims and to be brutally honest, the fact that he was dead at all was too much for my mind to accept. I didn't have the strength to even imagine that there could be anything worse than that single fact.

Can you imagine how it feels to seal the body of a child in a casket and watch it float out into the lonely depths of space? To know that he will forever be alone. That you cannot wrap your arms around him and comfort him in the darkness of forever. My mind told me that he was dead. That his spirit was free and happy on the spirit plane. My heart insisted that my baby boy was cold and alone in a tiny tube, endlessly crying out to me for warmth and comfort.

A part of me wanted to be sealed into that casket with him so that I could hold him through eternity.

A part of me still does.

Sometimes, in the still of the night, I wake in the silence and imagine that he is calling me though the endless expanse of space and time, crying in his abandonment and I have to stop myself racing to the shuttle bay and chasing after his floating tomb.

Tayven's death affected me badly. So much so that I asked to step down as Captain. I could not sit on the bridge and give orders that might cause Charis and Anika to take that same solitary journey into the depths of space. Something broke in me the day my youngest son died and it has never mended.

Of all the times I was tempted, that is the time I would have finally turned to Tom, too numb in my grief to even care anymore for propriety. Yet I could not. Tuvok lost his wife to the disease and then, perhaps hastened by grief as though his body was responding to the age old need to replace old life with new, he unexpectedly entered his ponn farr.

Few of the crew were single by then, and of that bare handful it was only Tom who had the courage and kindness to step forward and offer himself to save Tuvok's life.

I knew that they would mate, they would mind-meld and I would lose Tom forever just as I had lost his child and it seemed to me, in that time of grief, that this was the Spirits' punishment for my carelessness in letting Tayven die.

Had I known then, in that moment of total despair, the truth of Tayven's death I think that I would have not only taken Seven's life but that of my own too.

As it was, time moved on, Tom did not mate with Tuvok, for reasons that they may never explain to me, and although I did not 'get over' Tayven's death any more than *any* parent can get over the death of their child, I remembered my responsibilities to Charis and Anika and I carried on.

It was on the anniversary of Tayven's funeral that Seven admitted that she was with child once more. I was furious at first. I could not bear the responsibility of another child. More than that though, I could not believe that she would have the affrontery to again steal Tom's DNA.

She cried in the end, an unnatural and ugly thing it was to see, her emotions clearly an act although, as I have said many times, I did not blame her for her deception. She was incapable of acting in any other way.

She told me that she hadn't taken the DNA from Tom this time, that the baby was a gift from the Spirits, a way that Tayven could be reborn to us and something clicked inside my head. I insisted that she came to the Sickbay with me and the Doctor withdrew a sample of her embryonic fluid and my suspicions were confirmed.

The baby inside her *was* Tayven. A clone duplicated from his very own cells. She told me that she had taken the sample from his body as a way to bring him back to life.

I am a spiritual man. To me the body is only the host of the spirit. What was growing inside Seven was not a child, it was an obscenity.

But that is not why I killed her.

I killed her because the Doctor confirmed that the cell that she had taken from Tayven must have been removed before his death and before his illness.

So that is when I knew.

She had killed my son, Tom's son, and whatever travesty was growing within her womb was a mockery of my beloved child.

I did not kill her in anger. She was what she was. She had seen that I would leave her once the children were grown and so she had done what she believed needed to be done to keep me. If anything, it was my fear for Charis and Anika that moved my hand, and to be honest, the fear that she would logically turn on Tom if she saw him as a real threat once more.

I realised that she had only ever let Tom live because he was her hold over me. If her carefully constructed web of lies and deceit began to crumble, then Tom would be an obvious casualty.

Not even my children questioned her death. Everyone knew that her pregnancies had been life threatening, although the more I think about it, the more I believe that her life was *never* in danger. It was always an elaborate deception, as were my children's childhood illnesses. All were controlled by her Borg nanites for maximum effect.

I suppose, if I am being completely honest, there was perhaps some element of vengeance in my decision to kill her, but it was not for my sake, or even for Tom's, but for the countless times my children had suffered the agonies of their supposed illnesses and for my son Tayven who will spend eternity alone in space.

How can I say any of this to Tom? How can I possibly hold him in my arms and tell him the secrets that will make him spurn me forever?

I cannot.

Yet, if I stay silent, he will leave me and even though I will follow him to the ends of the galaxy we will never bridge the rift of distrust that I will dig by my silence.

At this moment, as he rests in my arms, his head so trustingly bent into my chest so that his tear-stained cheek presses into my skin, I have never felt so terrifyingly alone in my whole life.



Continued in "Reflux"
14: Reflux by mort
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?

No.

I ran.

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?

Perhaps.

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.

Of course.

"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?

Leave.

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.

Shit.

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?

No.

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.

Perhaps.



Continued in "TRINITY"
15: Trinity by mort
Tides of the Heart


Part Fifteen: Trinity



I am beginning to think that I have made one of the biggest mistakes of my life, and let's face it, I have made more than a few really bad judgment calls in my personal life, but this is possibly the worst one since the night I walked out on Tom in the middle of our lovemaking, twenty years ago.

This time I walked out in the middle of an argument, and somehow it seems worse. Less redeemable. Which is patently absurd since I have made such a complete mess of redeeming *that* mistake too.

Strictly speaking, Tom walked out first, but since he stayed in the holoprogram instead of high-tailing it to the Delta Flyer, he clearly had no intention of actually running away. I realised that he just needed time and space to think over what I had said and so I fought my impulse to chase after him and allowed him to run down to the lonely beach. I watched him until he was little more than a speck in the distance and the very distance he ran showed that he was not hoping that I would follow. It wasn't a dramatic demand for attention. It was a serious cry for solitude.

That's why I didn't go after him. He clearly needed some privacy and I wanted to respect that. Well, that's one of the reasons I didn't go after him. The other was that in the middle of my confession to Tom, a realisation struck me. Just when my burden of guilt was already choking me, another reason to berate myself flashed into my already beleaguered mind.

Anika.

Yes, I had already visited her and pointed out that there was a strong likelihood that I would be leaving Voyager if Tom chose to go. I had said my tearful goodbyes to both her and my son. What I hadn't done was told her the truth.

I'm not talking about Seven. Wild horses couldn't drag that information out of my lips to anyone other than Tom. Not because I fear repercussions over my own actions but because the love and tolerance that my children have always borne for their mother is a precious thing that cannot be lightly thrown aside. It would serve no purpose to tell them the truth of their mother's perfidy and would cause such hurt that I will avoid it at all costs.

I'm referring to Tom.

He *is* her father.

She should know that, at least, before he leaves her life forever.

Only now, as she stands here, her perfect face stained by tears, her wide blue eyes red-rimmed and haunted by knowledge that she never *really* needed to learn, I feel like a fool. I have, perhaps, thrown away the love of my daughter for nothing other than the easing of my conscience.

"He doesn't know?" Anika demands again, her voice tight with pain.

"He didn't. I told him today," I repeat yet again, wondering a little tiredly when it will sink in and yet dreading the explosion to come when it does.

"He knew about Charis though," she accuses, sending a knifing look towards her brother who is sitting on the edge of my bed, his expression an odd mix of embarrassment and compassion.

"Yes, he did," I agree.

"He didn't want Charis. He wouldn't have wanted me. That's what you're saying," Anika spits bitterly, her face twisted with anger yet her eyes so sad and hurt that I can see Tom clearly in her for the first time.

It is Charis who jumps to Tom's defense, before I can even formulate a reply.

"Why should he?" he asked calmly. "He had no reason to love me, Nik. He never asked to be a father. He wasn't given a choice. When mom got pregnant with me, Uncle Tom lost Father. He had every right to hate me. Instead he was my best friend when I was a kid. He was always there for me. He gave me all the time and love he was capable of and he would have done the same for you if he'd known. Besides, Uncle Tom's always been good to you, hasn't he? He always made time for you because of Father."

"He's not *Uncle Tom*," Anika hisses back as though the name is enough in itself to offend her.

Charis is cool as he replies.

"I know *that* Nik. He's family though and we already have a father."

"Do we?" Anika spits.

I stagger a little. Her attack is not unexpected but even so it is more than I can bear. I can't help a low moan of distress escaping my lips as my little girl repudiates me and spirits forgive me I almost feel angry at Tom, as though he has forced me into this confession . Yet it is my guilt and my choice alone, and my unfair anger at Tom only adds yet another weight to the unbearable burden of regrets that I must already carry.

"I have loved you both since the moment that I learned of your existence," I tell her quietly. "Not a day or an hour or a moment have passed that you have been out of my thoughts. You are my life, and my happiness. In loving you I destroyed the only person who ever owned my heart and yet I have never regretted my choice. You may not see me as your Father, Anika, but you are my daughter. My heart has always known the truth of that," I tell her, my voice breaking on the words as though they are shards of glass that rip me apart from the inside out.

~~~

I am angry.

Wouldn't you be?

I am eighteen years old, nearly nineteen. I have lost my mother. My father has told me that he may leave the ship and never return, and now he is telling me that he isn't even my *real* father. That a man I have always known as Uncle Tom is my real father.

That's a lie anyway.

I never call him *Uncle* Tom except in front of Charis and Father. He's Odd Tom. That's what we call him. My friends and I. A sad, bitter man who is so cold and brusque with everyone else that I have never bothered to tell the others that I have seen a different side to him. I figured they would laugh at me if I said he was nice really. That he could tell jokes and play the piano. That he had once spent a whole night without sleep to retrieve a computer program of mine that had been accidentally deleted.

It had been a project for the annual children's science competition and I had worked on it for weeks. Mom told me to back it up. She droned incessantly on about the need to always keep faithful duplicates of my data. Only I was running out of time and I was over-excited by my project, so for a couple of weeks I had been writing the program right up to the last moment in every class and so I never had the time to do a back-up.

Then, just two days before the competition, Voyager was attacked. It was the bad one, the attack that crippled the warp engines and killed Lieutenant Commander Torres. She was a scary person, B'Elanna Torres. As bitter and cold as Odd Tom but without his gentleness of nature. She nearly killed Charis once for messing up the replicators and I have never forgotten the sight of her in full fury. I was ten years old at that time and in the subsequent five years until her death, I never got over my terror of her.

Mom warned me she was unpredictable and dangerous. She said I should stay away from her and I did. Mind you, Mom told me the same about Odd Tom. Now I can see there is another reason Mom didn't want me to hang around with Tom though, so maybe B'Elanna wasn't so bad after all. Maybe Mom just didn't like her.

Anyway, after B'Elanna died, Tom was obviously distraught. I hadn't even realised that they were friends though. You wouldn't have realised it since they never spent any time together but I guess some friendships don't need constant re-affirmation. They just exist, timeless and unchanging, so that just a polite nod or a small smile in passing confirms that the old bond remains, buried but true. But I was a kid and the complexities of relationships hadn't yet penetrated my teenage self-centeredness.

My project had been wiped out in the attack but I had this vague hope that it still existed somewhere in the damaged computer. I couldn't face telling Mom what had happened. She was never sympathetic about carelessness, let alone my obvious failure to obey her orders to always back my work up. Father was the Captain of Voyager. I knew he would have done everything to help me if I'd told him but even I wasn't stupid enough to imagine that my minor problem should interfere with his job when crew had died and the ship was almost crippled.

Even so, it wasn't a minor problem to me.

I was literally sick with worry. I couldn't eat. Couldn't sleep. Couldn't face mom's disappointment in me. That was the thing with mom. She never lost her temper and shouted. She just had this way of looking at you as though you were beneath contempt. Like you were a member of a species so distasteful that even the Borg wouldn't bother assimilating you. You'd have to experience that look to really understand how I felt but, believe me, telling her that I had stupidly lost all my work was not a viable option.

It was Charis who told me to ask for Tom's help.

I didn't really know Tom. Sure, he had babysat for me a lot of times, and he'd been fun a lot of the time, and I knew that he laughed about things that made most adults furious, but still my friends all told me he was Odd and as teenage girls are, I was far more interested in popularity than in defending someone who really had nothing to do with me. Still, I was desperate and so I went to him.

In retrospect I still don't know why he helped me. His last and perhaps only friend had just died and he and I had always had an indifference to each other. Yet he listened to my tearful plea for help and then, I later learned, he stayed up all night tracking down the errant ghostly echoes of my program.

When I woke up on the morning of the competition, I found my terminal blinking and when I turned it on, my whole program tumbled down in front of me, restored and completed.

I never told anyone.

Why?

Because, although I am ashamed to admit it, the program Odd Tom returned to me wasn't just restored, it was improved. He had found the flaws in my programming and had invisibly tweaked them so that although on the surface it was all my own work, internally it was far better.

My mom was so proud of me that I never dared confess and rather than seeking Tom out and thanking him, I avoided him in case he mentioned the improvements he had made.

I'm still ashamed of myself for that, and for never telling the other kids that he wasn't "odd", he was sweet and kind and had saved my ass in a big way.

And now it turns out he's my Father.

Only he's not really, is he? Like Charis says, we already have a Father and I have just wounded him unforgivably by my angry unthinking words.

Maybe I haven't grown up at all.

Here I am, angrily telling everyone that I am an Ensign now, a grown woman, someone who should be trusted with the Tactical station on the bridge and I am still the same selfish brat who took Tom's gift and never even had the grace to acknowledge it.

Tom. Not Odd Tom or even Uncle Tom. Not Father. Dad maybe. My dad Tom. My dad Tom who had a wrecked engine room to deal with, and a friend to bury, and yet still gave up hours of his time to rescue the completely irrelevant program of a selfish little girl just because she cried.

My dad Tom who would be so ashamed of me for letting my Father stand there, his face twisted with the agony of rejection because of my thoughtless words.

~~~

"I love you," Anika cries unexpectedly, and launches herself into my arms.

Stunned, I can only clasp her to me, hugging her slender trembling body and crying into her pale golden hair. I do not deserve this. This love, this forgiveness but I embrace it because without the love of my children I am nothing but a hollow tired shell.

"I love you too," I whisper. "Both of you."

I hold my left hand out to Charis and he moves into the circle of my arms so that we three are pressed together, sobbing and comforting one another. To my surprise, it is Anika who recovers first. She pulls herself back, straightening herself and regaining her poise with gestures that are an unconscious imitation of her unlamented mother. Still, she makes the gestures her own. They become endearing to me simply because it is Anika who now uses them.

"So, what are we going to do about Daddy Tom?" she asks clearly.

"Daddy Tom?" Charis repeats, clearly torn between humor and confusion at her expression.

"I am *not* calling him uncle," Anika replies firmly. "He's our Dad. Just like Father is our Father."

"I don't think he *wants* to be a dad, honey," I find myself saying sadly. "It's not that he doesn't care. It's just that he -"

"He didn't want to be a dad," Anika interrupts. "It's okay, Father. I have realised that. It is irrelevant."

I blink. For a moment I see Seven in front of me. I find myself waiting for her to say 'resistance is futile'.

"Resistance is futile," Anika says, but she is laughing and there is a Tom-like twinkle in her blue eyes.

"Look, Nik. You can't *make* him stay. He's already had us rammed down his throat. If he wouldn't stay for me or Father, he's not going to stay for you, is he?"

"You think so?" Anika replies archly. "You obviously don't realise that he is completely defenseless in front of my tears."

I don't know what she is referring to. I didn't ever realise that Anika and Tom had any form of relationship. Even so, I can't allow it.

"I won't have him pressured, Anika. It's not fair and it's not right. If he stays it has to be his own choice," I say firmly.

"Bullshit," she snaps, suddenly so unlike her mother that I am too speechless to even chastise her for her language.

"The problem with Daddy Tom is that he has never felt loved. That's what he needs. LOVE. He needs to be bombarded with it, drowned in it, forced to face the fact that there are *three* people who love him so much he can't possibly turn his back on us," Anika exclaims.

Charis rolls his eyes at her.

"You can't walk up to him and say, 'Hi, I just found out you are my dad so I love you.' He won't buy it, Nik. No one would. It's just words."

"He's right, honey," I agree miserably.

"Do I look stupid?" Anika replies with an imperious shake of her head. "Of course he won't buy it *immediately*. It will take time."

"We don't have time," I mutter defeatedly. "He's leaving at the end of the week."

"Look, if he *wanted* to leave he would have gone years ago. If he still wanted to leave he wouldn't be giving you a chance to change his mind."

"I don't think he is, Anika. He's just saying goodbye," I reply honestly. I can lie to myself, but I can't lie to my children.

Anika raises her eyebrow in an uncanny imitation of Tuvok.

"You're wrong," she says with the confidence of a teenager. "Dad isn't the suicidal type. He doesn't *want* to die. He wants us to save him."

I feel my knees give way as her words sink in and I collapse into my chair feeling old and faint. She's right. Of course she's right. Tom isn't planning to simply run away. Tom is planning on killing himself. How could I still have been so blind?

I have been arrogantly planning to follow him wherever he runs to. Why didn't I see that he is planning to run somewhere that no one *can* follow?

"Help me," I beg shamelessly, as the tears begin to roll down my cheeks in waves of hopeless anguish.

Anika and Charis exchange glances and their faces go blank. I shudder as I realise that they are talking to each other in their heads, like drones. They aren't Borg. They are individuals. Yet the nanites in their blood have not only given them Borg resistance to infections and incredible healing powers over injuries. They also occasionally use them to communicate with each other silently. I imagine it is helpful in battle situations. It's disturbing to witness off the bridge though.

Yet it is part of who they are and I accept it with the same unconditional acceptance that I have always awarded them. They are my children and I love them.

~~~

//He's still on the holodec, Nik//

## Good. Lock down the exit arch##

//He has a comm badge//

##Nullify communication protocols##

//Complied//

##Check holo-safeties are on line##

//Affirmative//

##Amend program parameters to delay sunset##

//Too late. Program has reached moon-rise configuration//

##Shit##

//Now?//

~~~

I see Anika dissolve in a fit of giggles, destroying momentarily the image of two drones communicating with themselves and perhaps even the main computer.

Just as Charis had interfered with the lift, I know that he can directly link into any of the ship's systems. I think Tuvok knows what he is capable of but he has never broached the subject with me, since Charis rarely abuses his abilities and usually only with the best intentions.

I have a sudden feeling we could all end up in the brig for whatever my children are silently plotting this time though, but I don't care. All I was worried about was hurting Tom. Now I have a greater fear. That Tom will die. So all bets are off. It's not a game anymore.

We will do whatever it takes and pay the consequences.

Together, we three will save Tom.

We have to. After all, it is our trinity that has unwittingly destroyed him.

~~~

##Locate Dad's position##

//Remote beach location. Low tide.//

##Replace beach entrance with high cliffs. Cut off all escape routes##

//Complied//

##Initiate thunder storm.##

//Force level?//

##Nine##

//You sure Nik? That's gonna be scary//

##Safeties are on line##

//Even so//

##Wuss##

// ~~~~//

##Comply##

// Complied. Hope you know what you're doing, Sis //

##Turn tide. Ensure that high tide will reach the cliff edge##

//He'll drown//

##He can't drown. I just want him to think he will.##

//He knows he's on the holodec//

## ~~~##

//Nik?//

## I'm thinking.##

//We could tell the computer to tell him safeties are off-line//

##Brilliant. Do it.##

//Me and my big mouth. Complied//

##Okay. Set program to reach optimum danger at 1930##

//You're going to terrify our Dad for an HOUR?//

##Listen dimwatt. He thinks he wants to die. We need to convince him that he most certainly wants to live. Nothing like a bit of real danger to make you want to live. After an hour of watching that tide rise he's going to be damned well grateful when the cavalry arrives##

//He's more likely to just want to kill us too//

##That's okay. I'll just cry and say you made me do it##

//NIK//

##I'm kidding. Cool down. It's just a case of taking Father's scenario a step further. It's a metaphor, that's all##

//?????//

##Think about it, Charis. Dad is drowning. He can't escape on his own. He's trapped between fear and anger. Like the sea and the cliffs. Both only offer him death and pain. We are his only hope of rescue. We are a life-line. He might not want us, but we are all he has. He has to make the choice to grab onto the rope that we throw him. He has to choose to live##

//You're going to throw him a rope?//

##Not literally, you idiot##

//Oh//

##Actually, that's a damned good idea for a dimwatt. We throw a rope from the top of the cliff and it will take all three of us to haul him up. He'll have to trust us, because he'll think the safeties are off line. He will literally have to believe in us all. He'll have to trust us.##

//Father will never agree to this, Nik//

##Did I ask him to? At 1915 we simply escort him back to the holodec and let it play out##

//He'll just tell the computer to cancel the program//

##And surprise, surprise, it won't comply##

//He'll kill us. They will both kill us//

##Just as long as they kill us together. That way they can share a cell in the brig##

//It's not funny//

##Who's laughing?##

//Flood tide has commenced//

##Adjust holodec temperature ten degrees. He's going to get wet. No need to freeze his balls off too##

//NIK!//

##Well, Father wouldn't be happy, would he?##

//I was referring to your language. You're hanging around with Nix Ayala too much//

##Not too much, just enough. You can't marry a guy you don't spent time with##

//Marry?//

## Well, only if Father and Dad say it's okay, of course ##

//You're serious about this Dad thing, aren't you?//

##Honestly? Not really. Not in that sense. We're both a little old to need a new 'Dad' in our lives##

//So why are you doing this?//

##Because once upon a time, Tom did something for me that convinced me that he's a seriously nice guy. The kind of guy that Father deserves. I want Father to be happy and the only way that's going to be possible is if Tom is happy too. Shit, Charis, we stole the guy's genes *and* his husband. We owe him.##

//Do you think you can love him though, Nik? If you pretend you'll just hurt him even more than he's already hurt//

##Could I love him? Let me tell you something about Tom Paris, our Dad. Do you remember when the ship was attacked? The bad one I mean. When Lieutenant Commander Torres died?.................##



Continued in "Communion"
16: Communion by mort
Tides of the Heart


Part Sixteen: Communion



The evening is surprisingly warm. Perhaps the thankful rise in temperature is the reason for the storm clouds that are gathering ahead, though. A low pressure front moving in from the ocean and preparing to do battle with the frigid air that rolls from the nearby mountain range.

I've never been to the real Wuartha. It's not the kind of resort you can visit on a cadet's pay and, let's face it, between being kicked out of the Academy and joining the Maquis I had neither the funds nor the inclination for pleasure resorts. I found most of my relaxation in the bottom of a bottle of cheap wine.

It's one of France's most endearing national resources. Cheap wine. Of course, you are as sick as a dog the next morning but then you just start drinking again and the pain goes away.

Maybe I should have turned to the bottle when Tay left me. I wanted to. I actually had to struggle hard not to. Yet people already thought I was a bum and a loser for the way I had 'made' Chakotay leave me and I was determined not to give them the satisfaction of proving them right. Maybe I should have done it though. Drunk him out of my system. Enough alcohol in my bloodstream and I could have pickled my heart so that it forgot how it felt to feel love and then lose it.

No matter.

What's done is done. These thoughts churning through my head are chaotic enough without the false comfort of an alcoholic perspective on my life. It's already hard enough to focus. Where was I?

Oh yes, I've never been to Wuartha.

So I don't know whether there are storms there. It doesn't seem likely though, does it? Not on a resort planet. Still, there is a beauty in the sudden churning of the tides. The waves are being whipped by the wind so that they lash like the tails of angry cats and there is something so wild and elemental about their sudden fury that I can feel a little of my icy blood thawing in sympathy.

A deep angry growl rumbles through the air, swiftly followed by an arc of white fire. Too swiftly. The storm clouds must be clashing almost directly overhead and I am suddenly aware that I am alone on a flat deserted beach which means the white fire will seek me out and strike with the deadly accuracy of a cobra.

My heart leaps in my chest, thudding in panic, as I begin to scramble to my feet. Then I remember belatedly that this is the holodec and the safeties are on. My laugh of relief as I settle back into the damp caress of the sand is both embarrassed and excited. The tide is turning now. The waves arching and hissing as they dance higher and faster so that their ebb is swallowed mercilessly by the rampage of their flood.

A heavier growl ripples through the night air, pierced immediately by a spear of fire that spikes into the sand mere inches from my sprawled legs and I feel the hairs on the nape of my neck prickle as the thick air tingles with electricity.

I laugh again, this time delighted, as the first of the flooding waves breaks near enough to almost kiss my toes before reluctantly retreating. Yet, despite the warm charged air, my jeans are damp and uncomfortably cold already and I am loathe to trudge back to the resort soaked to the skin. The too-tight denim will chafe against my thighs and ass, I reluctantly conclude.

It must be a sign of age, I guess. That instead of sitting here and enjoying the harmless fury of the waves I am more concerned with the discomfort of the long hike back to the resort.

Unless I just call for the arch. There's no reason to return to my hotel room after all. Chakotay has already left. I may as well just exit the holodec and go to my quarters to change.

Fuck.

My clothes are in the Flyer.

Not that I need them where I am going, but I figured it would look damned suspicious if I didn't pack to leave. I don't fancy piloting the shuttle in these damp clothes though.

Better than *wet* clothes though.

I scramble to my feet as a more adventurous wave crashes onto the sand and floods hungrily into the slight depression that my ass had made in the sand. The water is cold on my bare feet and by the time I remember that my shoes and socks are discarded on the sand, they are waterlogged.

Shit.

I take a last look at the beauty of the dark, broiling sea and sigh. It's time to leave. No point putting it off. The black water is momentarily illuminated by a bright, dazzling glare and then sand and plastic explodes onto my body as a tongue of lightning pierces the air and goes to ground where my wet shoes lie.

The illusion of danger is so good that I utter an involuntary yelp of fear as my pumps dissolve into blackened shards.

Illusion or not, my nerve breaks.

"Computer, arch," I demand.

Nothing happens.

"Fuck it. Computer ARCH," I repeat over the rolling, snarling thunder.

Still the computer fails to respond. I spin around, suddenly sure that the arch has appeared behind me on the long flat beach. That's when the first trickle of fear strokes lightly down my spine. No arch. No control panel, and where before there had been a long expanse of gently rolling dunes, now there is a black forbidding wall of granite.

"Halt program," I snap a little hysterically. This isn't supposed to happen. The parameters of this simulation are pre-set. This is supposed to be Wuartha and the mountains are twenty kilometers away from this beach. They *can't* move. There *can't* be cliffs on this beach.

The computer finally responds to me, as though it has understood the real panic in my voice.

"Unable to comply. Holocontrols are off-line. Program parameters are off-line. Safety protocols are off-line. Exit controls are off-"

I don't wait to listen. I am racing towards the cliffs, belatedly aware that my shoes hadn't been holographic projections. They had been real and they had just been fried by a supposed illusion. I am in danger here. Real danger.

To prove the point, perhaps, no sooner have I lurched into a run than lightning arcs into the spot I have just vacated. A heavy spray of sand thuds against my back and I glance over my shoulder as I run only to see white flames chasing my fleeing footsteps.

It's chasing me. The lightning is fucking chasing me.

I hit the cliff edge and leap onto a scattered pile of rocks, scrambling desperately upwards on the slick, jagged granite until I can rise no further. My heart is beating a frantic tattoo against my chest, my ribs ache with the effort to drag air back into my drained lungs, but the hungry flames sizzle and die as they hit the stone beneath my feet.

It is only then that I become aware of the stinging pain in my palms and the soles of my feet. I raise my hands in disbelief and see that they are dark with blood.

Something's gone wrong. Badly wrong. Perhaps the ship has been attacked. That would explain the systems going off line. Fuck. What if the engine room has been damaged? There's no one else on board who can cope with the warp core if it overloads. I have jerry-rigged so many systems to keep this bucket of bolts flying that no one else has a chance of figuring things out.

I'm trapped in a holoprogram gone mad and the whole ship could be in danger.

No, I tell myself firmly. The glitch is only here, in *this* program. Otherwise I would have felt the ship rock or something. Or would I? Maybe the thunder is the program's way of interpreting an external attack.

Shit. My kids are out there. Chakotay is out there. What the fuck are they going to do without me to sort out the warp core?

Whatever they will have to do when I am *really* gone, I remind myself and am surprised how much guilt I feel about the idea.

In the shelter of the cliffs I am safe from the lightning strikes at least. I don't feel safe though. I see the cold white spears crashing down around me and huddle into the dark rock, ignoring the way the sharp jagged stone grazes me through my thin shirt. Even the pain is comforting as the elements crash around me in a violent fatal dance.

The sea is churning in full fury now. The waves growing progressively bolder as they advance up the beach like battalions of cavalry. The spray of their furious decent is splattering the rocks that I stand on now as the waves surge towards high tide.

Where *is* high tide?

Realisation strikes me with such a bolt of pure terror that I may as well have been pierced by one of the lightning forks. High tide is *here*. The waves will not cease their assault until they are restrained by the cliffs themselves. I'm going to drown.

I claw at the rockface, heedless of the way my fingers tear on its sharp surface. I am looking for handholds, some way of climbing the forbidding prison wall. High above me I can see the cliff-edge beckoning me, taunting me with its promise of safety.

The rock is impervious, too slick and sharp, too smooth yet viciously marbled with a coarse sandpaper texture that rips at my flesh without offering me the salvation of real cracks that I might climb.

The waves are battering at my feet now. Occasionally, a larger wave rises above its companions to wash over me, causing me to slip and slide on my precarious perch.

I'm going to die.

I want to die.

Don't I?

Not like this. Not smashed against a rock by the vicious water.

Maybe I should launch myself into the sea, battle against the tide, swim out until I am free of the perilous bite of these dark forbidding rocks.

Then what? Pray for rescue? Swim until I am too exhausted to keep myself afloat and then simply let myself sink? It strikes me as a painless death. Definitely preferable to hovering here, waiting for a wave to sweep me off my temporary safety and dash me against the cliff until I break like a ragdoll.

But I can't.

What if the ship *is* under attack? What if they *do* need me? What if I take the easy option and then Chakotay manages to break into the holodec only to find me drowned. What if he realises that I didn't even fight to live?

They might need me. I can't give up.

But I was leaving anyway, wasn't I?

Was I?

~~~

//Something's wrong//

##What do you mean, Charis?##

//I've lost contact with the holodec, Nik//

~~~

"Dammit, Charis. Get the door open now," I hiss.

For the last half an hour I have been feeling increasingly uneasy, as though a sixth sense has been warning me that something is terribly wrong. As soon as Charis and Anika began to tell me what they had done, the feeling of dread coalesced. I didn't wait for the whole explanation, I began to race towards the holodec, barely aware that my children were running with me.

"I'm trying," Charis gasps, his face filled with panic. "It shouldn't be doing this. It should let us in."

"The safeties are on line," Anika insists, but her eyes are wide with terror.

"Computer, Emergency transport. Locate Lieutenant Commander Paris and beam him out of the holodec," I snap.

"Lieutenant Commander Paris is not on board," the computer replies.

"I disabled his comm. badge," Charis admits, his face white with panic.

I want to scream at him, at both of them. My gut is telling me that Tom is in real danger, that their stupid prank has obviously spiraled out of their control.

Instead I take a deep breath and will my face to a picture of calm.

"Okay. Calm down. Both of you," I begin.

"But dad's-"

"In need of our help. Panicking will solve nothing. Charis, I *know* you can get that door open. I believe in you, son. Anika, I want you to stop crying now. You need to contact the Captain and the Doctor for me. We need to be ready to use the transporters as soon as Charis breaks the door seals."

I don't wait to see whether they obey me. I have to trust them. They made a stupid mistake but they will put it right. I trust them. I have to.

That decision made, I allow myself to trust in my spirits, in my love for Tom.

I sink to the floor of the corridor, allowing the sight of my children to blur from my vision as I seek my heart.

~~~

I can't hold on.

The waves are sweeping over my body now, thrusting me into the cliff edge with each flux then wrapping their wet embrace around me and dragging me backwards with them as the granite refuses their advance.

My hands are so numb and ripped that my clawing purchase of the rock is weakening with each watery assault.

I can't hold on any longer.

I'm too tired. Too sore. Too fucking lonely to even try.

I should just let go.

The waves will claim me as their prize and dash me against this harsh, unforgiving rock and it will be over. This pain. All my pain. All gone. All swept away. The dross of my life will be smashed against this cliff and it will finally be over.

Just one last terrible pain and then peace.

Let go. Just let go. Just force my fingers to release their claw-like grip on this savage rock.

Another wave crashes into me, battering me, choking me and I begin to slowly release my death-grip. It's over.

/Tom?/

I shake my head tiredly, my eyes too stung by the lashing salt-water for clear vision.

/TOM?/

"Go 'way," I hiss, then cough and splutter as my open mouth is assaulted with the brine of another punishing wave.

/I love you, Tom. Hold on. Trust me. I will save you. You just have to hold on/

"Too tired," I mutter, groaning as my bruised ribs are smashed against the cliff once more.

/Please, Tom. Don't give up. I need you. Charis and Anika need you/

"You're not real," I spit.

Fuck. Aren't I supposed to see my life flash before my eyes or something? I'm not supposed to go mad, am I? Maybe I am. Maybe I've been mad for twenty years. I laugh a little hysterically and am rewarded with another mouthful of saltwater as another wave sweeps over me.

/I'm here Tom/

Yeah sure. You always float cross-legged over the sea like you think you are jesus fucking christ or something. You're not even fucking wet, Chak. You're about as real as the idea that you really love me.

/I do love you Tom. You're my life. If you die, I will die/

"Yeah?" I splutter. "Then get ready, big guy, cos there's a real mother of a wave coming."

My hallucination turns his head and actually manages to look worried, which is kind of nice I guess. Nice to know that someone cares, even if it is a figment of my imagination.

I brace myself, suddenly unwilling to give up without a fight. I know I've lost. The wave is huge, a couple of meters tall and still growing as it advances toward me. It will rip me off this rock and plough me into the cliff edge. I'm dead. I find myself laughing, or maybe crying, as it approaches. Time seems to slow down as the last seconds of my life tick away.

/Let me hold you?/

Yeah sure. I'm really going to let go and try to cuddle an hallucination when a fucking tsunami is about to smash me into a million pieces. Do I look that stupid?

I let go and crawl tentatively towards the illusion, my knees slipping on the slick rock, my heart thudding in my chest.

The wave rears over my head and seems to freeze there for a moment, like a monstrous shadow, like the grim reaper himself. Then as it scythes down to sever me from life, I fling myself into Chakotay's arms and use my last breath of life to tell him that I love him.

~~~

"Where are they?" he asks coldly.

"In the brig," I reply. "Tuvok let them wait until the doctor said you'd definitely pull through and then he escorted them there himself."

"Good," Tom snaps.

I bite my lower lip. I have explained what they did and *why* they did it and he just listened without his face even twitching out of its cold mask. The Doctor has regenerated the torn skin on his hands and feet, has eradicated the vicious scrapes on his spine, ribs and knees. The salt water has been pumped from his tortured lungs. Apart from some noticeably fresh pink skin and numerous faded bruises, there is no evidence to suggest that just two hours ago he was seconds away from death.

I said it was a miracle, the gift of the spirits, that Charis opened the door at the precise moment that the wave broke so that the transporter beam caught Tom a mere second before he was irreparably smashed against the cliff.

Tuvok, who does not believe in miracles, said it was pure chance and that Charis and Anika could spend thirty days in the brig considering the stupidity of their actions.

Personally, I think the fact that they know they were nearly responsible for Tom's death is more than sufficient punishment and I have a feeling that Tuvok feels the same way too. I suspect that he will release them in the morning as long as Tom doesn't file an official complaint.

"They didn't mean to do it. Charis over-stretched himself. He tried to take over too many systems at the same time and accidentally triggered a firewall within the program. It locked him out but by then it had already accepted the commands to change the program and it misinterpreted his command to *tell* you the safeties were off line as a command to actually turn them off," I tell Tom quietly.

He nods, accepting the explanation, but his face remains cold. I can't blame him. It's all very well saying "oops, I made a mistake". It doesn't make up for an hour of terror and a near-death experience, though.

"Why?" he finally grates, his icy eyes boring into mine as though I am responsible for what has happened. Then again, I am, aren't I? I asked them to help me, knowing they are just children. Bright, intelligent, grown-up children but nevertheless I know that the youngsters brought up in this artificial world of Voyager are all a little naive. They have spent their lives seeing Voyager seemingly pull off one miracle after another just to keep going and despite the death and loss that they have experienced, none of them have ever accepted that defeat is possible.

"They didn't want you to leave. *We* didn't want you to leave. We knew you were intending to kill yourself," I answer. There. I've said it.

"So you decided to save me the bother?" Tom drawls, although his icy eyes darken as though cracks are rippling through the glaciers within.

"They thought if you faced the reality of death, you would realise that you wanted to live," I reply.

"Bizarre," Tom hisses.

I take a chance.

"What do you expect, Tom? They *are* your kids."

For a moment he glares at me and then I see the corners of his mouth twitch.

"Fucking stupid thing to do," he snaps. "Fucking stupid thing for you to *let* them do," he adds, but his eyes are no longer flat and cold and despite his angry words there is a definite edge of humor in his voice.

"They did it because they love you, Tom."

He purses his lips, his shoulders hunching slightly as though the idea pains him.

"We all love you. We need you. I need you. Charis and Anika need you," I urge softly.

Tom blinks slowly.

"You said that already," he mumbles, his eyes a little wary and frightened.

"And you said you loved me," I reply.

"Fuck it. It didn't happen. You weren't there. How the fuck *could* you have been there? It was in my head. That's all," he snaps defensively.

"Okay," I shrug. "I wasn't there. It was a dream. An illusion."

He nods in agreement.

"So you only dreamt that you chose to come into my arms instead of dying alone," I tell him softly.

"Yeah, No, I mean I, I-"

"I don't expect you to ever forgive me, Tom. I don't expect it. I can't expect it when in some ways I don't even regret the choices that I made. If I could turn back time I would have never let you go, but I would still have wanted Charis and I can't honestly say that I regret the fact that circumstances gave me Anika and Tayven too.

"I can't undo the past. I can't take away your pain. I can give you a future though. I can offer you my love and that of our children. We can start a new life together. We can work together to take our children home to Earth. I love you and I know you love me and I believe our love is enough, Tom. It's strong enough to carry us through the bad times. It's powerful enough to bridge the chasm between us."

"I don't trust you, Chakotay," Tom mumbled sadly.

"I know. I know I have to earn that trust. Maybe it will take twenty years to prove to you that you can trust me. I don't care. I'll take it one day at a time. What have you got to lose, Tom? Honestly? Haven't you learnt anything today? You *want* to live, Tom. You want to survive. You want to be loved. Let us love you. Try and love us. But I'll tell you something now, it doesn't matter whether you love us or not. We love *you* too much to let you go."

"Fuck, Tay. I don't know. You make it sound like its easy. Like I can just say 'okay' and put my feelings aside. I can't do it. I can't just let the feelings go. They are part of me. I'm always going to be looking over my shoulder for another Seven. I'm going to go crazy whenever I so much as see you look at someone else. I'm going to have a panic attack every time you are late home. I don't think I can live like that."

"You have to Tom, because you can't live alone anymore and I won't let you die. It will get better. You know it will. Time will pass and I'll earn your trust once more. One day at a time, Tom. We can make it. I know we can. I believe enough for both of us. I love enough for both of us. It will work because I won't allow it not to work."

"You're not going to accept no, are you?" Tom says ruefully, but his eyes, though bright with tears, are a little pleading.

"I've arranged for our stuff to be taken off the Delta Flyer, " I reply.

"*Our* stuff?" Tom demands, although he flushes at the confirmation that I know he didn't expect our seven days to work.

"I had already arranged to be transported onto the Flyer if you left," I admit.

"You were gonna make me come back?" he challenges.

"I was going to try and persuade you, although I would have simply accompanied you if I couldn't," I reply.

"Oh," he replies, a little confused.

"I've had it put in our quarters," I add into the silence.

"*Our* quarters?" he snarls.

"Tuvok agreed that we could have one of the empty family quarters on Deck 7. It seems better to start afresh somewhere new. A room with no bad memories."

"You're taking a lot for granted, aren't you?" Tom snaps.

"I know," I admit. "I'm sorry. Should I return our stuff to the flyer instead?"

"Bastard."

I shrug.

"Does it have a bath?"

"What?"

"I've got half a fucking ocean in my hair, Tay. I want a bath. Not a shower. Not a sonic. I want a fucking bath."

"I would have thought you'd swum enough today," I reply with a smirk.

"Very funny."

"Shall we go?" I ask him, offering my arm like an old fashioned courtesan.

He shakes his head.

"No, you go ahead and get the bath ready. I've got something to do first."

I tense in sudden fear.

He smiles sadly at me.

"Trust, Tay. Remember?"

I sigh and nod in acceptance. He's right. It's going to be hard for both of us to learn trust. We are both so terrified that the other will leave.

One day at a time, I tell myself, and leave to run Tom his bath.

~~~

##It's my fault, Charis. Please stop crying.##

//I nearly killed him, Nik. I thought I was so fucking clever. He's going to hate me forever. He's probably so mad he won't even wait. He'll leave before we get out of here and we'll never even get a chance to even tell him we're sorry//

##I know. I fucked up, Charis. I only had a dad for an hour and then I nearly killed him##

//Don't cry Nik. Father will explain.//

##He's so angry with us Charis. He let the Captain arrest us##

//Father always forgives us, Nik. He will. I'm sure he will. Eventually//

##Dad won't though, will he?##

//Don't cry, Nik. Please. I can't bear it//

##I can't stop!##

//I know//

##Hold me?##

//Sure, sis//

~~~

"I died," I say quietly.

Tuvok raises his eyebrow imperiously.

"You did *not* die, Thomas. Not even clinically. You ingested an unhealthy amount of sea water and were badly bruised. That is all."

"I know," I agree impatiently. I don't know how to put my thoughts into words. I don't know how to explain how I feel. I need help though. I need *his* help.

A tiny, perhaps imaginary, flicker of pain appears in his dark, fathomless eyes and he swallows audibly. I see him close his eyes as though needing privacy for the decision he will make, and then he slowly reaches out towards me, his stony face concealing the bravery of his decision.

"Your mind to my mind," he says, as his fingers touch my temples.

~~~

I flinch and tremble as the images tumble into my head, wild, uncontrolled thoughts and emotions, each blinding me with its pain, its loss, its depth of agony.

Wave after wave of images until I am choking and gasping, drowning in Tom's mind, battered against the cliff of my own impenetrable self-denial.

This, here, is the man that I love in all his raw, unbridled glory.

His hurts, his fears, his loves. Each a strike of a whip against my undefended heart. I am scourged and cleansed and freed by the knowledge that he shares with me so openly.

I break away from him, gasping for breath, my assaulted heart still hammering in my chest.

He is not mine. He was never mine. He never could have been mine.

In knowing that, accepting that, I am free.

"At the moment the wave broke, when you clung to the image of Chakotay, you truly believed that you would die," I tell him.

He nods, smiling tentatively that I understand.

"You feel reborn. Resurrected perhaps. You have faced death and it has brought you no peace. So now you are willing to try to find peace in life, instead. This has a certain logic."

Tom just nods again, but his shoulders relax as though I have confirmed with my words that his confused thoughts are valid, if somewhat unexpected.

"You have not let your fear and hurt go. You have, however, found the strength to face your feelings instead of run away from them. You love him."

"Enough to try," Tom admits. "But not alone. I don't want to be alone anymore. I've tried that. I can't be that person anymore. I need friends. I need you Tuvok. I need to know there is someone who understands me."

"Chakotay understands you more than you yourself believe, Thomas," I tell him.

"I hope so," Tom says sadly.

"What of your children?" I ask.

"Are you really going to leave them in the brig?" he asks, perhaps just to put off answering my question.

"That's your decision, Thomas. After all, it is you that they 'killed'."

He smiles softly and the beauty of that smile could break my heart, except I am a Vulcan, of course, and I am not victim of such emotions as jealousy and regrets for what can never be.

"I think they've learned their lesson, don't you? Besides, Harriet can't spend a month without her father," he says gently.

"I will release them in the morning," I reply. "Will you visit them now?"

"No, I've got a date with a bath and a husband, Tuvok. It's time we both put ourselves first. Time enough to deal with the kids tomorrow. "

"I wish you luck, Thomas."

"I love you, Tuvok," he replies, and leans forward to kiss me on the forehead.

I close my eyes until he is gone and remind myself that I am a Vulcan.

~~~

It's been nearly an hour.

I have refreshed the bathwater twice now.

Where is he?

I reach for my comm. badge then pause mid-gesture. I won't check up on him. I won't. I won't ask the computer whether he has left the ship. I won't ask for a location check. I won't. I trust him. I have to trust him.

Tom isn't cruel. He wouldn't promise to try and then leave instead.

He loves me.

I know he loves me.

I pray that he loves me.

I'll run some more hot water into the bath for when he gets here.

~~~

The lights are low in the unfamiliar quarters and it is silent within.

Have I been too long? Has he given up on me?

I told Tuvok that I wouldn't go to the brig but I changed my mind. I couldn't get the image out of my mind that Anika would be crying.

She was. They both were. They were huddled together on a narrow bunk in the cell, hugging and sobbing together as though their hearts would break. When they finally noticed my silent inspection they both froze like terrified rabbits, their blue eyes huge in anticipation of my rage, the silence of the cell broken by Anika's sniffles and Charis's occassional hiccup as he tried to hide the tears that his sister allowed to run freely.

"You do know that neither of you are too old to be spanked," I told them solemnly.

Their eyes grew impossibly larger and Anika burst into fresh hysterics. Charis straightened his shoulders bravely.

"Yes, Dad," he said.

I swayed a little, suddenly choked by emotions I was not ready to deal with yet.

"I'm sorry, Daddy," Anika sniffled.

I wanted to run. Wanted to hide. I felt pressure building up inside me that threatened to rip me asunder. Yet somehow I found a smile for them, instead.

"Save it for your other Father. *He's* the one who wants to spank you," I told them gently, and as their faces blossomed with hope, I turned and quietly walked out before I lost all self-control.

That was an hour ago or more. I needed to calm myself. Needed to think things through. I needed to come here open and honest, or not at all.

I walk into the bathroom. The bath is steaming. How often has he filled it to keep it so perfect for over two hours? He is sitting on the edge of the toilet seat. Dejected. Alone. He has not heard me come in.

"Tay?" I whisper.

His head rises and he shakes it a little as though he is unsure whether I am an illusion. When I fail to dematerialize, a slow hesitant smile creeps across his face.

"Tom?" he asks, as though he cannot quite believe his eyes still.

"I'm home," I reply.

The significance of my carefully chosen words is not lost on him. His smile becomes radiant as he rises to help me peel off my salt-slicked clothes until I am naked before him, my soul as exposed as my body.

Our mouths meet in a kiss so soft, so tender, that the strength drains from my limbs and I collapse against him, trusting him to catch me, to hold me.

And he does.

As weak suddenly as a new-born kitten, I let him help me into the bath and ease me down into the warm welcome of the water. No fear here. No lashing waves. No lightening bolts. No pain. No loneliness.

The water is as warm as his smile as he takes the washcloth and slowly wipes the encrusted white smears from my chest and shoulders with firm, gentle strokes. The motion lulls me into a haze of contentment as the exhaustion of the day's traumas exacts its toll now that I am safe, now I am no longer alone.

I do not notice him pause to strip. I barely register him climbing in behind me so that his chest becomes a pillow for my back and his strong bronzed thighs enfold my legs in their protective embrace. All I am aware of is a feeling of peace and contentment as I relax against him, deciding to trust, deciding to love because I need him. I've always needed him, and I can't face another day of being on my own.

Life is risk.

Everyday that we are out here in the hostile cold of space, we face the risk of losing each other. Each morning we wake up to find ourselves still alive is a bonus. Each day that takes us one tiny fraction nearer home is a miracle.

So one day at a time, I will love him.

One day at a time I will wake and believe just for that one day that he will not leave me.

One day at a time I will believe in our communion.

And one day, perhaps, I will wake up and not even wonder whether that one day will be our last.



The End

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