How Will I Remember You?

Tom stared out of the small porthole in the room. He couldn't think of them as "his" quarters, couldn't bring himself to face the apparent reality of his... reality. He shook his head, darkly amused at the irony. All his amusement, lately, was dark. It wasn't really surprising. He had been on this alternate Voyager for nearly a month -- without the best part of his life for twenty-seven days. Twenty-seven nights. He stared out of the porthole and wondered if he would ever get home.

"Kim to Paris."

Tom moved away from the stars and tapped his comm-badge, remembering only then that he had agreed to meet Harry at the holo-deck. "Paris... I know, Harry. I'm late -- I'm on my way." He couldn't muster a more enthusiastic tone than sounding like he was at least awake.

Harry sounded amused as he replied, "OK, Tom. Just checking."

Giving the stars one last brief glance -- they looked the same, they always looked the same -- he headed out.

Tom didn't really mind being dragged out to spend time on the holo-deck, or the mess hall, or anywhere else for that matter. For the first two weeks after Captain Janeway had given him the news, Tom had shut himself away from everyone in an attempt to avoid answering the inevitable 'How are you doing?' and 'Are you OK?'. He didn't want to lie to anyone but formulating answers meant putting his pain into words. It was hard enough just surviving. Tom would have been content to remain shut away, except for Deli and Harry. The first of their invitations he'd accepted more from a lack of will to argue than a desire to be with anyone. The fourth time he'd been taken to the holo-deck he'd discovered that for nearly an hour he'd been distracted from the facts of his new life. Lightyears from being entertained or actually happy, the time spent with other members of the crew gave him a respite he found he needed.

He knew that if he spent all his time remembering, he'd have gone completely insane. It was difficult to forget, even if so much of this Voyager's similarities reminded him of home. The differences were stark enough to never let him truly forget. It wasn't just that this Voyager was an entire scale larger or that Deli's was a brand new face. The real difference was much more obvious and made the grief that much more keen. Fortunately Commander Chakotay seemed willing to avoid him. Tom was assigned to the delta shift, late in the evening. The commander stood the alpha shift, while Tuvok and Janeway alternated beta and delta shifts. Three minutes each day, the time it took to change-over gamma to alpha, was all he ever saw of the commander. Less, when Deli arrived for her shift early which seemed to happen more often than not. Harry had explained to him once that usually Chakotay stood delta shift; Tom was touched by the man's willingness to make things easier on him. He didn't dwell on the man's being nice to him.

Tom headed down to the holo-deck now, two hours after he'd gone off-duty. The commander would be safely on the bridge and Harry would be waiting at the bar called Sandrine's, a program which their Tom Paris had written. Tom had never been to France, never frequented the bar the alter Paris had been so attached to. The programs Tom had written back home had been -- as far as he could tell -- just as skillfully done as this was, so apparently it was a talent both men shared. In an odd way Tom foundit reassuring. He wasn't sure he could deal with this crew constantly discovering how odd he was, how different from their absent friend.

Bad enough when they were surprised to find him similar. Tom dwelled on it as he headed to meet Harry. Better dwelling on that than other things, even if the look on Susan's face made him feel as if he'd grown a third head. It had been breakfast in the mess hall, and Tom had cracked a joke. Falling back into habits he'd slowly been shedding during the last three years, he had set about to amuse his companions with his wit. Susan had been walking past and stopped, listened to a short joke, and then gave him that look. When he'd asked her what was wrong she'd shrugged, and said he'd sounded exactly like Paris. Tom had grinned, given her an "Imagine that," then laughed with her. He'd turned back to Deli and Harry, moving on to another amusing story as if it didn't matter. From the look Harry had given him he wasn't sure the other man was entirely fooled.

That was when he'd invited Tom to Sandrine's today. Tom was actually looking forward to it; he'd never been one for bars, although he had learned to play pool fairly young. As a teenager he'd used pool as a way of blocking out all thoughts trying to bother him -- back then it had been his father, most of the time. Maybe it would work again, and help him not think about--

//Thinking about the fact that you're not going to think about it won't help, Tom.//

He sighed, and hurried on to the holo-deck. Otherwise he would have to stop and beat his fist against the bulkhead until he broke something and he wasn't certain Captain Janeway would appreciate that. Their EMH could fix it just fine, but it would make her worry about her new pilot's sanity. Tom didn't like worrying his Captain. He didn't like wanting to hit the wall until bones snapped, either. He rounded the corner, trying to get out of the thoughts he was lost in, and stopped one foot before running into Commander Chakotay. The other man stopped as well, and for a second just stared at him.

"What am I gonna do?" Tom's words and confusion were out before he could remind himself this was not the man who loved him. He tried to take them back; if only his brain would wake up and write an apology he could leave this new encounter with some dignity.

"I don't know," the commander answered him before Tom had a chance. For a moment the look on his face was Chakotay's. Tom felt the deck beneath his feet slip, and wondered if this was how Alice saw the world when she went through the mirror. He wanted to reach out, touch this man, and find out whether he was made of flesh or stone -- as if that would tell him who was before him. The commander continued, "Is there any way I can help?"

The question was spoken carefully, as if the commander were afraid of how Tom would react to the offer. Tom shook his head. "I don't know." The conversation sounded so normal. He suspected that if he asked about Chakotay's plans for creating more social areas on the ship, something his lover had begun talking about three months ago, the man before him would answer. Tell him how they were still looking for appropriate space, but that Captain Janeway was all for the idea. Tom bit the inside of his cheek, wondering what would happened if he tried it. "Commander?"

When Tom added nothing to the question, Chakotay prompted him. "Yes, Lieutenant?"

He wanted to throw himself in his lover's arms. Instead Tom found himself leaning up against the bulkhead. The world coalesced into itself again -- the man looking at him with so much concern no longer looked like his loved. Tom shook his head. "I'm sorry." He wanted to explain the mistake he'd tried to make and couldn't.

The commander stepped forward, started to reach out then stopped. "Do you need to go to sickbay?" His tone was mercifully formal, sounding to Tom like nothing more than a commanding officer concerned for the health of his crew.

Tom shook his head again. "No, I don't think so."

"Are you sleeping all right?"

Tom looked down, then gave an honest answer. "Sometimes."

"Tom," the voice was eerie, echoing in his head for a moment. Tom glanced up, relieved to see the stranger looking back. "I know I may not be the best person for this, but if you *do* want to talk... I'm here. Don't think you'll make me uncomfortable talking about him."

This would not do. With a struggle, Tom mentally pulled himself back, erecting the walls he'd worn for most of his life. "I appreciate the offer, Commander." Tom gave his walls an experimental tap. Holding. "I don't know if I'll take you up on it, though." Commander Chakotay stepped back in response to Tom's bringing the conversation to a close. Tom ignored the thought that wanted to say //Look how well he reads you, Tom.//

"I understand. Lieutenant... I wish there was something I could say. I'm sorry. I hope that being here gets better for you. There's nothing we can do to make up for what -- for whom -- you've lost." He hesitated, then continued with no more warmth than he had before. Warm, friendly, inviting. Concerned. Tom gave his walls another tap. "If there's anything we can do to make it easier, let us know. Tom, I... want you to know you can come to me, if you need to talk about anything. I...." Suddenly the commander looked uncomfortable, and Tom recognised it as his lover's 'I'm about to say something you're going to think is strange' expression. It comforted him even as Alice's world came slipping back into place. The bulkheads here were made of glass, and one little punch would probably shatter them into a million shards.

"What is it?" Tom heard himself using that same tone he used to encourage his lover into trusting him.

Chakotay looked at him. "I had a vision, a few nights ago while I was meditating. I... saw myself. He asked me to take care of you. I said I would because I know if I were in his place, I would need to know someone was looking after the one I loved. I don't know if this makes sense, but I feel responsible for you in a way. I've never felt anything like love for the Tom Paris I've known in the last four years but he has become a friend and I feel as if I owe it to him, myself, and the other Chakotay to do whatever I can to take care of you. I understand if you prefer I stay away from you but I wanted you to know how I feel about this situation."

Tom felt the cold, hard pressure of the bulkhead wall against the entire right side of his body. Dimly he could also feel the vibrations of the engines throbbing at warp speed. Starfleet designers had once, about fifty years before, tried to eliminate those vibrations -- every engineer and pilot who had been on the test flights hated it and refused to serve on such redesigned ships. Tom merely stared at the man before him and tried to take in his words. The little voices in his head were telling him to take them as they appeared and throw himself into this man's arms. He couldn't make his body move, though. Maybe it was afraid of waking up in another dream, clutching at nothing in a dark room. He stood still, and waited.

"Tom?" The commander took a step closer. Tom felt himself shrink back. Then Chakotay reached out and touched him lightly on the arm; the touch was real and Tom threw himself forward.

Tom found himself wrapped in Chakotay's arms. Warm, safe; nothing like the feeling that you are loved to make you feel right with the universe. Tom smiled, snuggled deeper into his lover's embrace. He loved waking like this, before the alarm went off, giving him time to enjoy the cuddle before they had to get out of bed. He yawned, and started to roll over onto his stomach so he could get one arm free to wrap around Chakotay.

His lover responded by shifting slightly, giving him room to rearrange himself. Tom kissed a bare shoulder, and felt an answering sigh. Chakotay was awake. Tom smiled. This could be good. He opened one eye and saw the clock; one hour before the alarm was set. Even better. Tom gave the shoulder another kiss, feeling the warm skin beneath his lips. Scooting up he continued laying kisses along the collarbone, up the neck, and along the jawbone. Chakotay moved his head towards him, mouth open and inviting. Tom skipped it, teasing, and laid the next kiss on Chakotay's cheek.

Arms circled him, pulling him onto his lover's body. Tom laughed, one foot out for balance as he continued kissing, tracing the outer lines of the tattoo before crossing Chakotay's forehead and down the other side of his face. He felt lips press against his throat, sucking slightly and he shivered. Closing his eyes he enjoyed his lover's embrace for a moment then finally, eagerly, leaned down to kiss him properly. His body was awake, ready to remove the pajamas he'd so foolishly gone to sleep in. Tom smiled, and hunted for his lover's mouth.

He found nothing. Opening his eyes he saw the pillow lying askew beneath him, felt the blankets wrapped around his legs. Chakotay was not there. Had never been there, Tom remembered as reality came crashing in on him. He found himself shaking, and curled into a tiny ball. The sobs threatened to destroy his lungs, ripping them asunder and leaving his body aching, bleeding, and alone.

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