Green Ruins and Antique Palaces by Polly Bywater
Summary: My answer to the 'silence challenge' posted on ASCEML 1-10- 02. The challenge was 'write a story in which the pairing of your choice are together for a significant period of time (at least a day, preferably more) during which they are not allowed to speak or communicate in any other fashion such as written notes or sign language. The setting could be a silent retreat, a Vulcan or Bajoran monastery, or anything else your imagination conjures up'. Well, here's what my imagination conjured. Hell, it only took me half a year.
Categories: Chakotay/Paris Fanfiction Characters: None
Genres: none
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 2 Completed: Yes Word count: 22875 Read: 5940 Published: 27/09/03 Updated: 27/09/03

1. Part 1 by Polly Bywater

2. Part 2 by Polly Bywater

Part 1 by Polly Bywater
VOY
Title: Green Ruins and Antique Palaces 1/2
Author: Polly Bywater
Feedback: Pollyabywater@yahoo.com
Pairing: C/P
Rating: NC-17
Disclaimer: Paramount/Viacom owns all things Trek, including the
boys. I'm just out to torture then reward them, no money changes
hands.
Archive: ASCEM, Cha_Club, TPDorm
Website: http://www.geocities.com/polly_bywater/index.html
Summary: My answer to the 'silence challenge' posted on ASCEML 1-10-
02. The challenge was 'write a story in which the pairing of your
choice are together for a significant period of time (at least a day,
preferably more) during which they are not allowed to speak or
communicate in any other fashion such as written notes or sign
language. The setting could be a silent retreat, a Vulcan or Bajoran
monastery, or anything else your imagination conjures up'. Well,
here's what my imagination conjured. Hell, it only took me half a
year.
Notes: This is a sequel to the 'Whisper' stories. The boys have been
lovers for few days, but haven't admitted being *in love* yet. The
title comes from the poem, 'Silence' by Thomas Hood (1798-1845). I
have to add, this story actually has [gasp] a plot, of all things, so
there's less s-e-x than in some of my other work.

Green Ruins and Antique Palaces 1/2

Chakotay awakened to such pitch-black darkness he had to put his
fingers on his eyelids to make sure his eyes were open. It felt like
he was floating in tepid water, but it couldn't be just water,
because it was holding him up somehow. The silence was incredibly
thick. He could hear nothing over the painful pounding of his
heartbeat in his head.

Was he blind, or was it just that dark? He fought back an
instinctive surge of panic and steadied himself, searching his
memories to try to recall how he had ended up here, wherever here
was. What had happened?

The last thing he remembered was transporting down with the landing
party to some planet... what was the name? It eluded him. They were
supposed to meet with... he gasped as he realized he couldn't
remember that either. Okay. Go back farther. Who else had been in
the landing party? Kathryn, B'Elanna, and Tom.

Oh, Tom. Where are you, baby?

Not now, Chakotay. Concentrate.

They were supposed to negotiate with the Vieltkor... yeah, that was
the name of the aliens. The Vieltkor.

Odd-looking androgynous people with bony-ridged faces and gray skin.
He hadn't trusted them, but he hadn't been able to tell if his gut
was on target or only reacting to their unfortunate resemblance to
Cardassians. They'd been met by a Vieltkor named Ek and taken inside
a building.

That's where his memories ended. Chakotay probed at the blank spot
in his mind and couldn't push past it. The effort was making his
head throb harder by the minute, so he took a couple of deep breaths
and let it go. The pain subsided slowly.

At least he *was* breathing. He could hear the air moving in and out
of his mouth and feel his chest rise and fall. So what was this?
Some kind of sensory deprivation chamber, obviously. How big was
it? Fresh panic washed over him, carried with the suspicion that he
was entombed in some kind of coffin-like box. His hands flew up then
out in an automatic reaction, but he could feel nothing above him or
beside him. Not within reach, anyway.

Chakotay forced himself to calm, concentrating on his breathing.
Aside from a massive headache, he wasn't hurt. He needed to stay
focused.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out.

Eventually his heart rate slowed and his terror faded somewhat. He
became aware of a faint, oddly briny smell.

He reached down with his feet, righting himself in the watery liquid
to search for the bottom with his toes. There was nothing there, and
he couldn't submerge himself past his chest. Whatever this bizarre
fluid was, it wouldn't let him drown himself either by accident or
intent. Being upright made his head hurt worse, so he let himself
float back into a supine position, where he lay still for a while,
wondering what had happened to the rest of the landing party. Were
they similarly trapped?

They could be in here with him and he wouldn't know, he realized.

Goaded by the thought, Chakotay managed to propel himself around in a
kind of backstroke, sighing when he came to a curving wall. He
reached up as far as he was able, and could find no vertical end, no
place where wall met ceiling... or lid, his mind insisted on
supplying. He pushed that cheerful mental image away with an
irritated grimace and set himself to following the wall laterally,
choosing to go left in a purely arbitrary decision. It was while he
was moving through the liquid that he realized he was no longer
wearing his uniform. In fact, he was wearing nothing at all.

After an unknown amount of time, Chakotay came to a place where the
wall angled sharply back, no longer curving. Some kind of
partition? He tried reaching up again, and found the new wall ended
only a foot or so above the fluid level. Grunting with the resultant
pain, he righted himself again and by dint of steadying himself on
the edge of the wall was able to reach over the top and downward. He
wasn't surprised to find his fingers touching liquid again.

So maybe he *wasn't* in here alone. Maybe he should try calling out.

"Cap—"

A huge bolt of agony shot through his head, cutting him off in mid-
word and sending him flopping backward, moaning. Shit, it felt like
his head was going to blow apart. He clutched the back of his neck
with his hands and pressed his forearms against the sides of his
skull, hissing with the nauseating torment. It faded slowly, leaving
him feeling weak and wrung out.

When he felt able, Chakotay reached for the wall again, levering his
upper body over the top and slithering until he fell in on the other
side. He took a minute to notice how the fluid automatically flipped
him onto his back and pushed his face out, faster than he could have
consciously done it. Hell, he was exhausted, and he had no idea how
much time was passing. That alone was disorienting, but combined
with the dark and the silence and the lack of tactile stimulus he was
hard put to keep from howling.

Then, suddenly, the silence was shattered.

- - - - - - - - - -

The nightmare had Tom in a cold and bony-fingered grasp, clawing
through his mind like a ghoul fighting its way out of a grave. He
was dying, praying for death, dead already, trapped in a small dark
room, hands holding him down, and the burning agony splitting him in
two—

He woke up screaming, and the pain was real, horribly and palpably
real, slicing through his brain until he couldn't tell where he
stopped and the screaming started and the dark all around and he was
*drowning*, trapped, and the pain, the pain...

"Tom! Shit, that hurts! TOM! *SHUT UP*!"

The voice got through to him then. Chakotay. Tom quieted the best
he could, his fist crammed against his mouth to catch the whimpers
still fighting to break free. Chakotay. Chakotay was here with
him.

Tom took a shuddering breath and tried to control himself, the
nightmare still riding him hard. God, he was so fucking scared he
wanted to puke, but Chakotay was here. He wasn't alone.

Where the hell *was* here, and why did his head hurt so damned bad?
What was this shit he was lying in? He couldn't see. Was he blind?

Breathe, Tom. Just... breathe.

"Cha— Oh, *fuck*!"

The torturous spasms lanced through his skull again, and Tom writhed
convulsively until it passed, coming around to find himself being
held. One finger covered his lips, a warning Tom didn't need. Stay
quiet. Okay, he got that. He nodded his head and the finger went
away, an unseen hand pausing to squeeze his shoulder. Amazing how
much that reassured him, Tom thought wryly, forcing himself to calm
down and assess their situation.

They were in a pool of some weirdly buoyant liquid. There was no
light whatsoever. Aside from the sounds he and Chakotay made, there
were no noises. He was butt naked, a discovery that made him shudder
anew.

Tom searched his memories, and although he had no way to know it, he
didn't remember much more than Chakotay had.

Maybe if he whispered.

"Where are—"

Chakotay winced helplessly as he heard Tom moaning, the younger man
twitching against him like a seizure patient. All he could do was
cradle Tom's head against his chest until the pain eased. So they
weren't even permitted to whisper, although apparently low, non-
verbalized sounds were allowed. Guess that was good to know,
although he prayed Tom had caught up enough to keep his mouth shut
now. Shit, this was a miserable situation, but at least they were
together.

Chakotay allowed himself a heartsick moment to wonder what would have
happened to Tom if he'd awakened totally alone, screaming like that,
caught in the grip of whatever awful nightmare he'd been having.
Would the pain have killed him before he could have calmed himself?

Oh, well. He didn't and it hadn't, and what ifs were a waste of
time. Might as well wonder what if he and Tom hadn't become lovers
last week. What if they hadn't beamed down to this planet together;
something Tom had volunteered himself into.

He and Tom were going to have to have a nice long talk when this was
over -Spirits, let it be over soon- so he could remind Tom of the
number one rule in the military. Never volunteer. The notion made
him smile, and he pulled Tom's hand to his mouth so his shaken lover
could feel it.

Tom gave a tiny snort of amusement, further reassured by Chakotay's
gesture. God, and Chakotay thought *he* had a twisted sense of
humor. He had to wonder what the other man thought was so damned
funny about this, but finding out would obviously have to wait.

Chakotay tugged at his hand and led him to the wall, beginning
another perimeter survey. As soon as Tom figured out what he was
doing, he pulled back on Chakotay's hand, stopping them. Tom took
Chakotay's hand, tapped on his own chest, and pointed in the opposite
direction. Chakotay understood what he meant, although it made his
liver pinch. It *did* make more sense for them to split up; they'd
cover more ground that way as well as getting a better idea of how
large an area in which they were confined.

He hated the idea of letting Tom go off alone as much as he hated the
idea of being alone himself.

If only it wasn't so damned *dark*. Like being underground. Still,
that was preferable to thinking he'd lost his eyesight.

Tom could feel Chakotay's hesitation, and he empathized with it. He
was scared, and he didn't want to let Chakotay go either. He had to
fight the urge to cling to the big man like a petrified child. Had
to remind himself that he was an officer, part of a landing party
that was plainly in trouble.

It was an effort.

Tom put his free hand on Chakotay's face and patted him. Chakotay
sighed faintly and nodded, releasing Tom's other hand.

In the end, it wasn't as bad as either had feared. They could hear
each other's quiet splashing, and by the time they met back up at the
opposite side of the enclosure they both had a pretty good estimate
of how large this half of the tank was, about five meters in
diameter. There were no more partition-type walls besides the one
that had separated Chakotay from Tom, and neither had found anything
that resembled a door, or hatch, or whatever.

Exchanging that information proved a bit difficult. Tom finally took
Chakotay's index finger, drew a square and wrote 'no' with it on his
other palm, and won himself a nod from his companion.

Tom had discovered, as Chakotay had earlier, that he couldn't immerse
himself in the liquid beyond mid-chest no matter how hard he tried.
If he bent double and tried to dive headfirst into the lukewarm
fluid, his body was abruptly flipped over to his original supine
position. Major weird shit, he thought, content for the moment to
float next to Chakotay while they both tried to decide what their
next move should be.

He drew Chakotay's hand to him again and wrote 'B', 'C', and a
question mark. Chakotay put Tom's hand on his face and shook his
head. He didn't know where B'Elanna and the Captain were. In an
identical tank next to theirs, maybe? It was Tom's turn to sigh, and
Chakotay knew his lover was anxious. So was he.

They dragged themselves to the partition wall and crawled over it,
completing another useless perimeter survey of the side of the tank
where Chakotay had originally been.

They eventually huddled into each other the best they could. There
was nothing else for two tired, hurting, and frightened men to do but
try to sleep.

- - - - - - - - - -

"An interesting experiment, Li," Ek noted, watching the two male
humans curiously. "The young one seemed most fearful at first, but
the presence of the elder one plainly settles him."

"The young one had sleeping images in his mind that frightened him.
I do hope it does not skew my test results."

"How are the females reacting?"

"The younger female became quite agitated and was unable to silence
herself voluntarily, which resulted in a lengthy period of
unconsciousness. The elder female learned quickly, as did the elder
male subject."

"As I understand it, the younger female is hybrid of some type, not
pure human. Perhaps there is an age-related component in their
ability to learn."

"Perhaps. Still, they are quite adaptable. Have you been in contact
with the starship?" Li wondered idly, hir narrow eyes studying the
brainwave patterns. "Look. Sleep spindles. Fascinating. They must
be very social creatures, to cling together so even while sleeping."

"Hmm. So it would seem. I spoke with the second officer, a nonhuman
male who calls himself Tuvok. He is very insistent that we permit
him to- what do they call it? Beam down? –and assist in the search
effort. Of course, I refused. I told him we are making every effort
to find the missing crewmen."

"Of course." They exchanged a smile.

"Why did you choose to pair them by gender?" Ek inquired.

"Our studies of their ship's database revealed the males are
culturally conditioned to protect the females. It was a variable I
wished to eliminate since it is irrelevant to us. I am, however,
curious to see how their age differences influence their behavior.
That is the point of contention currently being debated among the
Council, which is why I was instructed to test the humans."

"Indeed. What does the next stage of the experiment entail?"

"I plan to assess their willingness to sacrifice for one another," Li
replied.

"That should be interesting, as well."

"I agree."

- - - - - - - - - -

"Diagnostics on the sensor array confirm they are functioning
properly?" Tuvok asked Harry, reiterating the ensign's assessment in
that most toneless of Vulcan tones; the one that betrayed Tuvok's
absolute frustration with the current situation.

"Yes, Sir. The inability of ship's sensors to detect the landing
party *has* to be a result of something the Vieltkor are doing on
their end," Harry answered as calmly as he was able, considering his
intestines felt like they were being trampled by a pack of charging
targs.

"There are three hundred and seventeen areas on the surface that are
impenetrable to our scans," he added, reporting to the acting captain.

"Understood, Ensign Kim. Please list these locations by planetary
longitude and latitude and transmit the list to Facilitator Ek.
Advise me when this task is complete."

Tuvok steepled his fingers and stifled a sigh, already mentally
rehearsing his lines for what was certain to be another fruitless
conversation with the elusive Vieltkor. He would attempt to persuade
the facilitator to have the shielded areas searched for Voyager's
missing crew. If- *when* the facilitator refused, he would, at
least, have an idea of where to start looking himself. Once the
captain, commander, engineer, and pilot were back on board, as chief
of security, Tuvok had some suggestions for the composition of future
landing parties that didn't include having four senior officers off
the ship together.

He refused to consider the possibility that he might not have the
chance to make those suggestions... no matter how illogical that
refusal was.

- - - - - - - - - -

What fresh hell is this, Kathryn wondered irritably, rubbing at her
temples in a wasted effort to relieve the killer headache she'd had
since she woke up. At least Torres was finally keeping her mouth
shut. If Kathryn could have figured out a way to do it, naked in the
pitch black dark, she would have gagged the Klingon engineer hours
ago... then again, whatever twisted technology this was had done that
for her, more than once, actually, by knocking B'Elanna unconscious.

Might as well face it, she was worried. How many times could
B'Elanna suffer that kind of pain before she sustained permanent
damage? Where were Chakotay and Tom? What was going to happen to
them? What the hell did these aliens want?

It galled her to admit there was absolutely *nothing* she could do
but lie here floating in this crap, waiting for the aliens to make
the next move. By nature, she wasn't a reactor, she was a
*pro*actor, but the circumstances weren't giving her much choice.

Better to rest as much as she could. Be ready for whatever came
next.

Kathryn crossed her arms over her chest and tried to sleep.

Tried to pretend she wasn't as scared as she secretly was.

Tried not to cry.

- - - - - - - - - -

When Tom awakened this time, he kept his mouth shut and remained
motionless. Chakotay had managed somehow to wrap one arm underneath
his neck, and Tom's head was resting on Chakotay's shoulder, while
his arm was flung over that warm chest. Despite the circumstances,
which had not changed as near as Tom could tell, he felt blessed at
waking next to Chakotay. It had happened every morning for the last
four mornings, and it was his heartfelt wish that he be allowed to
awaken like this for the rest of his days.

However long that was going to be, he added to himself with a sigh.

The situation was grim. Tom tried to reassure himself with the
thought that if the aliens had merely wanted them dead, they would
*be* dead, but there was no comfort in that, really. They'd been
abducted and forced into this bizarre chamber, and for what? What
was the point, and would he even be able to comprehend it if he knew?

At least his headache was mostly gone, but he wasn't about to speak
and risk bringing it back. Tom wondered how much time had gone by.
He was hungry and thirsty, but felt no need to relieve his bladder.
Thank heavens for small favors. Could this weird liquid be dialyzing
them somehow? Draining their body wastes directly from their skin?
It didn't feel wet, and that was almost frightening by itself. When
Tom stuck his hand in it, then pulled it back up, his skin was dry.

He shivered involuntarily, and felt Chakotay stirring, so he quickly
put his hand over Chakotay's mouth in case his lover tried to talk.
Chakotay didn't always wake up completely aware of his surroundings,
unless the ship was at red alert. It was a discovery that had made
Tom laugh when they were safe on board Voyager, but if Cha forgot
himself and spoke here he'd be in for a world of hurt.

Chakotay nuzzled the palm over his mouth and wondered vaguely why the
bed felt so funny, then he opened his eyes and memory came crashing
in on him. He caught back a startled gasp. Shit. The landing
party. The tank. The dark. Thank the Spirits Tom was here with him.

"Shh," Tom dared quietly, relieved when he wasn't struck with
retaliatory pain. When Chakotay nodded, Tom moved his hand to pet
that pretty face. It didn't matter that he couldn't see it, he could
see it in his mind, and it still felt just as pretty under his
touch.

Chakotay tightened his arm and cuddled Tom closer, unerringly finding
that sweet mouth with his. No sense in altering their morning
routine, he thought hazily, lost as always to his lover's singular
flavor. Just like the first time, just like every time they kissed,
nothing and nowhere else existed besides each other. They passed a
short, delightful while in that bright place, separating reluctantly
and with barely muffled moans.

Tom drew a question mark on Chakotay's chest, and felt Chakotay
shrug. What *could* they do?

As if the thought was some kind of signal, a tiny light flashed on at
the edge of the tank, revealing a small platform that extruded from
the wall. On the platform was a tray holding what appeared to be
food and drink.

Both men were intensely relieved to discover they *weren't* blind.

It was amazing how strong a very small light could become in total
darkness, Tom thought, but it still wasn't enough to illuminate
anything but the tray on the platform. He pointed Chakotay's hand to
the tray and drew another question mark. Should they?

Chakotay considered for a few minutes. It was a tough decision, a
command decision, in fact, and he appreciated the fact that Tom had
recognized that. Do they eat, and in doing, cooperate with what
their captors apparently wanted? Or do they refuse to eat, as a show
of passive resistance? Under these circumstances, and knowing that
the first duty of a prisoner is to survive, they would need to keep
their strength up... but there was always the possibility the food
was drugged or poisoned. That was unlikely, however, since they were
already under their captors' total control.

Chakotay grabbed Tom's hand, spelled out "wait" on his palm, and
propelled them to the opposite side of the chamber from the light.
He was hungry, and thirsty, but not desperately so. Maybe they could
induce the aliens into showing themselves by resisting.

Tom nodded, after making sure Chakotay could feel it, and let his
thoughts drift along with his body. He trusted Chakotay's judgement
more than he trusted his own, and the first chance he got he was
going to tell Chakotay so... and while he was at it, Tom decided, it
was past time he told Chakotay something else.

He was in love with Chakotay. Had been for *years*, but having
Chakotay as his lover was such an all-consuming experience that Tom
had hesitated to confess his heart. He wasn't sure Chakotay would
even believe him, since they'd gotten together so abruptly after his
affair with B'Elanna ended.

Tom admitted to himself he'd been afraid Chakotay wouldn't take him
seriously, or worse, think he was fickle... which wasn't the case at
all, because Tom had been in love with Chakotay *during* his fling
with B'Elanna.

He still didn't know how Chakotay would react to learning that piece
of information. Part of him was afraid Chakotay would be angry -
would think he'd been unfair to B'Elanna or something- but *B'Elanna*
had known Tom was in love with someone else while he was with her,
and she'd already moved on. Her relationship with Harry was now out
in the open; the subject of so much shipboard gossip B'Elanna had
jumped at the chance of landing duty detail.

Tom frowned, aware of how frantic Harry must be by now, along with
the rest of the crew. He was worried, too. He hoped that wherever
the Captain and B'Elanna were, they were together. He didn't envy
Captain Janeway if they were, though, given B'Elanna's likely
reaction to what they were currently going through.

Tom ruefully remembered the discussion he and Chakotay had had about
whether or not to disclose their involvement to B'Elanna and the rest
of the crew.

Chakotay was naturally inclined toward wanting his private life
private, besides being reluctant to ruffle B'Elanna's feathers... and
despite her complete lack of justification, they both knew B'Elanna
would be upset. She would be furious with Chakotay for taking what
she would consider 'her place', and hurt that Tom had found her so
easy to replace, no matter how glaringly inaccurate either of those
perceptions might be.

Regardless of her affair with Harry, and having publicly dumped Tom
in Sandrine's, she'd be impossible to deal with, and an unhappy
B'Elanna Torres guaranteed there would be a *lot* of unhappy people
on Voyager. Which meant, since on board Voyager shit rolled uphill
more often than it rolled in the other direction, Chakotay would be
unhappy, too.

Tom simply wanted Chakotay to be as happy as possible. There was
also the fact that Tom didn't want *anybody* to think Chakotay was
just his rebound man.

Given all that, they had decided together to keep things quiet, at
least for a couple of weeks. They'd laughed about it, actually,
thoroughly enjoying the faintly illicit sensation of sneaking around,
since they'd known it was only temporary.

Tom re-hung one arm over Chakotay's chest and hugged him tightly.

If- *WHEN* -they got back to Voyager, that was going to change, Tom
decided. As soon as he was able to talk, he planned to tell Chakotay
how much he loved him... then he'd be shouting it in Voyager's
corridors and announcing it on Neelix's morning show, just for the
pure pleasure of being able to say it.

When they got back. He smiled at the thought.

He yawned, and let himself drowse, secure in Chakotay's
proximity.

- - - - - - - - - - -

After what felt like hours, but could have been minutes or days,
there was less to smile about. Tom's guts were burning and twisting,
his mouth was dry and his lips were cracking. Chakotay was no better
off. He felt hot under Tom's hands, feverish. More convinced than
ever that the liquid they were lying in was doing something to them,
Tom thought they'd be in actual physical danger if they didn't eat or
drink soon.

Chakotay was coming to the same conclusion. He offered up a sigh and
motioned Tom's hand toward the light. He and Tom approached the tray
slowly, and Chakotay wanted to curse when he discovered that the
closer he came to the tray, the more his head hurt. Once they were
within a couple of meters, the pain became a sharp, nauseating
throb. That Tom was similarly affected was obvious, even in the
black dark.

It's a fucking experiment, Tom realized dimly through the roaring
torment in his head. He pulled Chakotay back, and sure enough, the
further they got from the food the less his head ached. They held
onto each other and shuddered, gasping for breath as the pain
receded. Tom used Chakotay's hand to write 'test' in his palm, and
felt Chakotay nod his understanding. 'Lab rats', Tom spelled out
slowly, then tapped Chakotay's fingers to both their chests.

Chakotay shivered again, remembering some of the things he'd heard
and seen during the Cardassian occupation of the frontier planets.
He had to agree. The Vieltkor were testing them, for whatever
reason, and he had to wrestle down a fresh surge of anxiety. Tom's
arm crept back across Chakotay's chest, and Chakotay sent up another
silent prayer of gratitude that Tom was here. As much as he wished
Tom had stayed on Voyager.

They lingered on the far side of the tank for another indeterminable
amount of time, until Tom noticed that Chakotay's skin was getting
even warmer, burning now. He mentally recited a string of the worst
curses he could think of, consigning this chamber, the aliens, and
the whole Goddamned Delta quadrant to the deepest rings of hell.
Anger was good, he thought, bracing himself for what he was about to
do. The real problem would be getting Chakotay to let him, but he
wasn't going to float idly by and let Chakotay get weaker.

He pushed the big man closer to the wall and set out, backstroking
through the freakish ooze toward the light. Of course, Chakotay
caught his foot, so he used his other foot to shove Chakotay again,
an unmistakable message in the action. He could sense Chakotay
shaking his head, and knew Chakotay was getting pissed off at him.

Oh well. He'd get over it eventually, if they lived long enough, and
the fear that they might *not* gave Tom the strength to break free of
Chakotay's grasp.

"Lieu—"

A loud, hurting groan behind him now, but Tom wasn't stopping this
time. He got nearer to the platform, and once again the pain lanced
through his head in increasing waves of agony. It wouldn't kill him,
Tom said to himself. It wouldn't. It was a test, to see how much he
could stand, and if these asshole aliens thought humans were weak,
they better think again. It was only pain. These bastards were
amateurs. He'd been worked over by professionals.

Oh, fuck, but this was close. Fuck. Fuck. The expletive became a
mantra in his mind, giving him a focus.

By the time he got to the tray, the anguish inside his skull was near
to overpowering, turning that one tiny light into dozens. He knew he
was whimpering; hated that Chakotay had to hear it.

Just a little bit more, now.

He dragged the tray off the platform, relieved when it floated, and
pushed it carefully in Chakotay's direction before following.
Chakotay had been smart enough to wait outside range, and Tom waited
until he was sure Chakotay had a grip on the tray then released it.
Retching now, his breath whistling in and out of his lungs, Tom swam
away from the platform as quickly as he could. The pain and nausea
leveled out a little then began to subside, but Tom wasn't finished
yet.

"I've had worse hangovers, you motherfuckers!" He screamed
furiously, only to be slapped unconscious with the resultant wave of
fiery torture.

Chakotay got a hold of Tom's arm and dragged his lover back towards
the far wall, the tray secure in his other hand. As mad and worried
for Tom as he was, and as truly awful as he felt physically, he
couldn't help but laugh inside at Tom's verbalized act of rebellion.

Spirits, he loved this brave fool, Chakotay thought to himself, then
gasped, thunderstruck.

Shit.

He *loved* Tom. He was *in love* with Tom. Of *course* he was!

The realization shocked him to his core. He knew he cared deeply for
the wild young pilot, knew he'd been physically attracted to Tom for
years, in fact, he wanted Tom until his bones ached with it; but
until this very moment, Chakotay hadn't suspected how genuinely deep
the feelings ran.

He couldn't understand now why he hadn't seen it sooner. It wasn't
like him to be so out of touch with his emotions... but in his own
defense, the situation between him and Tom had changed so fast that
Chakotay hadn't really had a chance –for want of a better term- to
assimilate it. Tom Paris had swept over him like a storm at sea,
swamping him in a tsunami of desire that had left him foundering.

Chakotay grimaced; chewing his already painfully cracked lower lip.

Now that he knew, he wanted to scream it out loud, and he couldn't do
it. He couldn't even tell his lover how he felt.

Chakotay wedged them both in the corner where the partition wall met
the side of the chamber, carefully lining up the contents of the tray
along the top of the wall. As much trouble as Tom had gone to in
retrieving it, he didn't want to chance it sinking. His fingertips
identified a container of what he hoped was water. He tasted it to
be sure it was and allowed himself a swallow before refilling his
mouth.

Bending to cover Tom's lips with his own, Chakotay passed the water
into Tom's mouth. It was the only way he could think of to get it
into his insensible lover without spilling it in the dark, and it
worked like a charm. Tom swallowed then kissed him back, a low hum
of pleasure escaping from deep in his throat.

Relieved Tom was awake, Chakotay gave him another drink, took one for
himself, then carefully set the container aside... and being quite
overwhelmed with his recent discovery, Chakotay then grabbed Tom by
the shoulders and shook the shit out of him for risking himself like
he had.

Since this gesture lost most of its force given what they were
floating in, Tom didn't protest, although it still felt like his
brain was going to be rattled right out of his skull. He
understood. He'd probably scared the hell out of Chakotay, as well
as disobeying an order, however silently voiced, to not do what he'd
just done.

At least Chakotay wasn't punching him this time, he thought wryly,
sliding his arms around his lover when the shaking stopped. It took
him a few moments to realize Chakotay was trembling.

Tom decided he'd find out just how buoyant this liquid was, and
climbed on top of Chakotay until he was lying full length along that
strong body. As he'd suspected it would, the fluid held both their
weights with the same bizarre ease, so Tom relaxed and tucked his
head under Chakotay's chin. He felt Chakotay sigh, then the big man
wrapped him up tightly, holding him close. Tom let out a sigh of his
own. This was what he'd needed most.

Chakotay felt the same way.

They rested for a while, then shared the remaining water and the food.

- - - - - - - - -

"Fair day, Li. How goes the latest round of testing?"

"Ah, Ek. It is good you are here. There have been some curious
developments, and I am unsure if it is gender or age related."

"What progressed?"

"The elder female subjected herself to the cranial nerve stimulator
in order to retrieve sustenance for herself and the younger female,
and went so far as to insist the younger female consume a portion of
the nourishment first."

"Hmm. That *is* surprising, Li. I had not supposed these humans
would behave in a civilized manner. What of the males?"

"Their behavior is much more ambiguous. Neither approached the
nourishment directly until they were very nearly in danger of doing
themselves physiological damage, then the younger male subject
appeared to defy the wishes of the elder male in order to retrieve
the sustenance tray. In the process, the younger male became quite
vocal and was rendered unconscious. The elder male attended to the
younger, then when the younger one became conscious, the elder male
apparently punished him, after which they jointly consumed the
nourishment."

"Strange, indeed." Ek frowned. "I must confess, Li, I am not
certain what the Council hopes to gain by insisting on these tests.
The societal mores of gendered aliens cannot possibly be applied to
our people."

"That is not for me to question, Ek, but I admit I wonder if this
particular pair of males is truly representative of whatever passes
for normal among humans."

"What do you mean?"

"Voyager's data indicated that humans customarily mate trans-gender,"
Li explained, as s/he demonstrated to Ek a few salient sections of
surveillance video. "Therefore, I initially believed their conduct
to be unremarkable. However, these males maintain physical contact
for significantly greater intervals than the females. Almost
constantly, in fact. Also, the males exhibit forms of touching that
the females do not, such as this pressing together of the oral
openings. I now believe these males to be an iso-gender pairing.
This is not seen as unacceptable among their species, but it is
somewhat less prevalent."

Ek rubbed hir fingers together, a Vieltkor statement of exasperation.

"My point, Li. We know nothing of these humans beyond what we
scanned from their starship's database. If they behave in an
atypical fashion for even their own kind, of what possible use are
any conclusions we can draw?"

Li made a face that was the equivalent of a shrug.

"I plan to suppress the males' memory pathways and supply a different
environment in order to obtain a more accurate instinctual response."

Ek looked surprised.

"I mean no offense to you, Li, but is such a procedure within our
capabilities? I should dislike causing them permanent harm."

"No offense taken. Your concern does you credit, Ek. You need not
fear. Humans do not process their memories as we do. There is no
single area in their brains that governs the storage of data. Human
memories are stored in a more global fashion using a chemical and
bioelectrical system of engram patterning. Additionally, humans form
two distinct types of memories, motor-skill memory and factual
memory. Our process will not affect their motor-skill memories, and
will merely suppress their factual memories for only a matter of
days. It will cause no permanent harm."

"Very well, then. I shall inform the Council that results are thus
far inconclusive, and return nextday for an update."

Ek bowed at Li and took hir leave, while Li watched the human males
sleeping together.

Time for the next test.

- - - - - - - - - -

He awakened to find himself lying in a field of soft yellowish grass,
a wide green sky stretching endlessly overhead. The air was hot. He
felt tired, and rather weak, his thoughts fuzzy. It took him a while
to realize he was not alone.

Another lay near. Similar to him, yet not... for he was brown
skinned and this other was very fair. Very still, which troubled him
for some reason he could not identify.

He went to the other's side and crouched beside –him? Yes, that much
he knew, although he was not sure how. They were male.

Men. He, him, his.

Head cocked to one side, he could almost hear a voice saying those
words. A... teacher? then it was gone, and he focused his attention
on closely examining the supine form laid out so motionless before
him.

Slim. Clean-limbed. Good bones. Finely grained skin. Tawny gold
hair covering a well-shaped skull. High forehead, faintly arched
eyebrows drawn over shadowed, shuttered eyelids. Narrow nose,
sweetly molded pink lips slightly parted in sleep, stubborn chin.
Long neck, throat bared and defenseless in a way that made him want-
what, exactly? He wasn't sure.

He frowned at himself and continued his inventory.

Body hair that he did not have- another difference. He admired the
way that hair glittered in the daylight. Heavier patches on the
chest that narrowed to an eye-catching line adorned the slight
convexity of the other's abdomen, then spread into a soft, shining
thicket at the join of thighs; a nest against which rested the
other's lolling pink manhood, gently curled and quiescent.

He took a moment to assess his own equipment and found it compared
quite favorably, dangling from a bed of silky black fur, maybe a bit
larger than his unconscious companion's. That indefinable feeling of
wanting *something* came over him again, and he sighed, finishing his
inspection of the other's rangy lengths of leg and long, slender
feet.

He put out his hand and touched one pale shoulder, briefly admiring
the contrast in their skin tones. The other moved then, quickly,
startling him. Flinched away from his touch and rolled into a ball,
protecting a vulnerable belly first, before looking at him and
freezing.

An odd pang ached in his chest, and he rubbed at it absentmindedly,
his eyes trapped in the other's gaze. Blue. He knew the name of
that color. He knew the names of all the colors he saw, but some of
them didn't seem to be in the right places. Surely, it was the sky
that should be the same clear blue as the other's eyes?

He held out his open hands and ducked his head a little, and saw the
other gradually relax. It made his lips curve, and he watched with
pleasure when the other's statement echoed his. The other uncurled
himself and knelt, and they passed a short time just scrutinizing
each other's appearance.

There was a word, wasn't there? He could almost- Yes. Beautiful.
That was the word. He thought the other was beautiful, skin now
flushed pink, bright hair catching the light.

Eventually, he stood, holding his hand out once more to the other,
who regarded him cautiously then accepted his hand, standing with
him. He was a bit surprised to see that the other was a little
taller than he, but his body was stronger, he judged. Not that the
other seemed frail. No, he would not say that. Just lean, where he
seemed sturdier. It was a difference that also pleased him.

He stared around them curiously. There were stones piled up in the
distance. Some kind of- shelter? Everywhere else was merely grass
and sky. He pointed to the stones, and the other looked too, then
turned those blue eyes back on him, a question in their depths.

Nodding his head before he even thought about it, really, he touched
his own chest, motioned at the other, then pointed again at the
stones and started walking. The other fell in beside him, and they
made silent progress towards their goal.

Time was a meaningless concept, but he noticed the movement of the
glowing ball across the sky, and was aware of a pain in his stomach.
He knew he had felt it before. Hunger. He was hungry and thirsty
and still unreasonably tired. He sighed deeply, and the other
touched his arm and gave him a worried frown.

He shook his head; another gesture the other seemed to recognize and
accept, and they walked on.

Their destination was coming into closer view when the other stumbled
on something he didn't see, almost falling to the ground. He was
quick to catch the man's arm, a frown on his own face when he
realized the other's skin had become very wet, chill to his touch
despite the muggy warmth in the air, that pallor returned and even
more pronounced.

It's the heat, some voice told him. He's having a reaction to the
heat.

He linked their arms securely together, using his free hand to lift
his companion's chin and look into those eyes. Their blue seemed
duller, but the other pulled his chin away and nodded towards the
stones. He understood, but did not take his supporting arm away
during the time it took them to traverse the remaining distance.

Even through his concern, he was aware it satisfied him to be so
close to the other man. They were not strangers, he thought,
although he could not determine how he knew that to be true.

The stones did make some kind of shelter, a rough building little
better than a shed, but it was shade, and he urged the other to sit
while he pushed his own fatigue aside and looked around. There was a
smaller structure nearby, with a handle attached to a crossbar and a
bucket dangling underneath. Below that was a hole in the ground.

He knew this thing. It was a well. Water lived there. They needed
water to drink. Water would help the other recover from the heat,
water and rest.

Carefully inspecting the workings, he turned the handle and lowered
the bucket into the darkness... although looking into the darkness
made his skin crawl. He heard a splash and waited a few minutes,
then cranked the handle again to retrieve the bucket, now full.

He unfastened the bucket and took it into the shed, feeling an
irritation that seemed somehow familiar when he discovered the other
was not resting, after all. The man was gingerly sorting through a
box he had not noticed earlier, pulling out smaller packages.

Touching the other's arm, he frowned, pointing to the side of the
shed where he'd set the bucket down. The other looked up at him and
gave him a weary grin, but obeyed, crawling to the place he'd
indicated.

He tried not to ogle the view.

They shared the water slowly, his companion understanding his
gestured instructions not to drink too much too fast... although he
could not tell how he knew that was necessary. When he judged the
other had had enough, he moved the bucket away and urged the other to
lie down by lying beside him.

It seemed wholly natural to take his companion in his arms and hold
him; after a momentary surprise, the other allowed this and relaxed
into his embrace. He was relieved to see the other's skin had
warmed, and while still damp, was no longer losing such profuse
amounts of fluid- Sweat. It was sweat. He knew that now.

He watched over the other until sleep closed those blue eyes, then
content, he drifted off himself, still holding his beautiful
companion.

+ + + +

When he awakened, he was alone and it was dark. Alarmed, he rushed
out of the shed, startled when the other stopped him just outside.
The other took his hand and drew him down to sit, leaning against the
outside wall of their shelter, then pointed above their heads. A
million tiny lights glittered against the black canopy of the night,
soothing in their sparkling luminescence.

He calmed almost immediately, sighing at the loveliness of the sight,
finding more than the sky to distract him. His companion seemed to
glow with the reflected light, and he found himself smiling despite
an odd tightness in his throat.

"Stars," his companion said very quietly. "I remember them. They're
called stars. We're meant to be there, I think."

"Yes," he found himself agreeing automatically, surprised on some
level that he could speak. "How did we get here?"

"I don't know. It feels like we've always been here, but we are
supposed to be there. Wherever we are, I think we're supposed to be
together. It doesn't make much sense." The other man shrugged. "Do
you know what you're called?"

"Ch- Cha-" An echo of pain thrummed inside his skull for a moment,
and he pushed it aside, shrugging back at the other. "There's more,
but it won't come."

"That's how I feel, like my thoughts won't come out. I think
something happened to us, happened to our minds," his companion
remarked, and Cha nodded. That sounded right, but it was a notion
that frightened him. His eyebrows drew down and he shuddered, cold
dread prickling up his spine.

For an instant he pictured a gray-faced *something* in his inner
vision, then it faded, slowly taking the fear with it. Cha took a
deep breath, meeting the other's concerned eyes.

"Do you remember what you are called?" He asked, and his companion
shook his head.

"Not even a little, Cha."

"You've called me that before," he said, certain of it.

"Yeah. It feels... familiar. Maybe you'll remember what to call me."

"I'll try," Cha promised, hearing that faintly wistful tone. "Do you
know what we're supposed to do there, in the stars?"

"We... fly," the other explained hesitantly, his gaze fixed on the
showy sky. "We fly there. We belong there. I see... a home in the
stars... people like us... our- our family?"

Cha watched, distressed, as tears filled his companion's eyes,
lending them a bright glitter that rivaled the night sky. He put his
arm around the other and leaned their heads together, his hand gently
kneading a tense shoulder that gradually relaxed. The other's skin,
now warm and dry, was smooth under his touch.

He liked this. It comforted him to offer comfort, at the same time
somehow giving him the sensation of having done this before.

"Cha? Do you think we'll get back there?"

That sad little question made Cha's chest hurt, and his arm tightened
involuntarily.

"I don't know, baby."

The word slipped out, and Cha grinned when the other looked at him
incredulously, eyes wide.

"Is *that* my- my name?"

"Does it sound familiar?"

"Yeah, it does... but I think I'm called something else, too," he
said with an inwardly turned frown, then he shrugged and grinned back
at Cha. "I guess until I remember what it is, 'Baby' will have to
do."

They sat there smiling at each other until Cha's stomach rumbled
loudly. Baby gave him a gentle nudge.

"I think there's food in that box."

"It's too dark in there," Cha complained before he could think better
of it, but Baby merely nodded with an understanding statement.

"It bothers me too, Cha. I don't- don't want to be in the dark
either."

Cha pointed at the horizon, where a strip of lighter gray seemed to
be forming.

"I think the... sun? Sun will be up soon. We could wait."

Baby nodded again, and together they watched the dawn break in a
spectacular display of bizarre colors that reminded both men, once
again, that this was not where they were *meant* to be.

- - - - - - - - - -

"Fair day, Ek. You rose with the sun."

"Yes, I confess, Li, I am anxious to hear the most recent results.
What progresses?"

"I believe I have learned as much from the females as possible. The
pattern of their behavior has remained relatively consistent. The
elder female protects and cares for the younger female despite
whatever provocation we supply."

"That will certainly gratify the conservative elements among the
Council. I will arrange to deliver the females back to their ship
when you are ready. What of the males?"

"Regrettably, the memory alterations I spoke of lastday were less
successful than I had hoped." Li sighed. "They have already
regained the ability to speak and have begun to recall scattered
portions of their factual memories. This will, of course, affect the
results of my latest experiment. Superficially, the males appear to
follow a pattern similar to the females, but I cannot supply a
definitive determination without further data."

"Do you plan further testing, then?"

"In fact, I do have one more experiment to try, Ek. I will present
them with an outside threat. Perhaps that will determine which of
them considers himself most expendable."

"I will see you nextday then," Ek replied. "Contact me when you are
ready to release the females."

"As you wish."

- - - - - - - - - -

Once it was light enough to see, Cha and Baby had gone back into the
shed and investigated the contents of the box. There *was* food of a
sort... shrink-wrapped bars of dried fruits, nuts and grains that
Baby turned up his aristocratic nose at, but ate anyway at Cha's
urging.

Later, stomachs full if not satisfied, they went back outside and
looked around for a while, eventually settling in the same spot from
where they'd watched the sunrise. They sat in similar positions,
leaning on the exterior wall of the shelter with their knees drawn
up, arms lightly resting wrapped around their legs. Subconsciously
defensive against a threat neither one could consciously detect.

Cha caught Baby watching him with a slight frown furrowing that high
forehead.

"Is there- Do you- What's wrong?" He finally managed to ask.

"I feel like... there was something I was going to tell you... but I
can't remember what it was."

Cha snorted.

"I've felt that way since I woke up- what's the word? The day before
this day."

"Yesterday," Baby supplied with a sigh. "It's getting easier to find
words, but I still feel like my mind is full of holes."

"Have you remembered anything else about our home?" Cha asked, and
Baby nodded.

"Small stuff. Images. I see myself sitting in front of some kind of
panel, with lights," Baby fanned his hands out in front of him. "I
see you behind me, watching over things, with another person... a
woman, a short, red haired woman who usually sits beside you. I see
other people, too, but I don't know who they are. A younger man who
stands behind you and the red haired woman. A dark-skinned man with
pointed ears. Another woman, too."

Baby rubbed at his forehead, then gave Cha a wry grin.

"I remember enough to know that we don't go naked there," he said,
motioning at their unclothed bodies.

"I don't think we have a lot of choice here, Baby," Cha shrugged,
holding out his hand. Baby took it automatically. Cha rubbed his
thumb over Baby's long fingers and heard his companion gasp.

"What is it?"

"That. When you touch me it- *does* something to me," Baby admitted,
gazing at Cha intently.

Cha smiled, watching the way those blue eyes darkened.

"When I look at you, it does something to *me*, Baby. I like it."

"Yeah?" Baby asked, breathing a little faster than he had been a
moment ago, a hectic flush mottling those ivory cheekbones.

"Yeah. I've had this reaction to you before, I think. It feels like-
" Cha hesitated, not sure how to explain. Baby shifted his position
to stretch his legs out in front of him, treating Cha to the very
visible confirmation of what they were both feeling... that lovely
length of muscle between his thighs quiescent no more.

Cha caught his breath, aware of his own body's identical response,
and had to move his own legs to accommodate the growing pressure in
his groin. He felt more than heard Baby's soft groan, a sound he
duplicated when Baby straddled his thighs and cradled his face in
those long fingers.

"It feels like hunger," Baby whispered, his fascinated gaze fixed on
Cha's. "But it's stronger than that. It's- It's burning me, Cha. I
need- need to- need *you*."

Cha wrapped his hands around the sides of Baby's head and drew their
lips together, instantly ablaze in sensation when that hot mouth
opened on his, feeding the fire he felt flaming up from some place
deep inside. Baby licked at his lower lip, then bit, and Cha
understood the burning Baby spoke of. Understood the *need*.

He was dying with it.

Operating on pure instinct now, Cha broke the kiss and pushed himself
off the wall, falling sideways; rolling Baby beneath him with a feral
growl the other man echoed as their bodies pressed together in full
frontal contact. Baby's legs wrapped around his thighs and pulled
him even closer, hips arching high, grinding their hard cocks
together. Heat ran over Cha's nerves, every inch of him prickling
with a fierce flush of arousal, producing sweat that slicked the
voluptuous slide of skin on skin.

He took that mouth again, roughly, capturing Baby's tongue between
his teeth then sucking away any sting, sending his own tongue deep to
drink the sweetness he found.

Found himself moaning when the wildness in his mate rose to meet
his.

Heard the last confused cry of his conscious mind, torn apart by the
inexplicable dichotomy of knowing he'd done this before, and the
equally strong sense of it all being new... then thought became a
memory and this primal desire was the only thing left.

Baby flung his head back and bared his throat, seizing Cha's ass in a
bruising grip that was less submission than raw demand. Cha fastened
his teeth on the strained tendon under Baby's ear, biting hard as
they thrashed against each other, drawing blood at Baby's low, urgent
wail.

The pressure kept building, pushing them past sanity while they
fought to get closer, blindly rutting, then Baby convulsed beneath
him and screamed. Cha felt a warm gush of fluid on his belly, gave
one more desperate thrust and flew apart; roaring as his balls poured
out their own ecstatic release.

They collapsed together in a sticky, sweaty heap, gasping for breath,
and when Cha salvaged his awareness, he realized he was whispering in
Baby's ear, the words welling up from some nameless place in his soul.

"Mine, Tom, you're mine... now, always... Never let you go, Tom.
Love you, baby... love you all my life."

"Chakotay," Tom whispered back, remembering no more than that name
and the sure knowledge that he loved this man in his arms, loved him
completely and without reservation. "Chakotay. Love you, too."

Chakotay shifted to Tom's side, pulling him into a hard embrace,
sighing as he nuzzled that bright head resting against his shoulder.

"Mine. My Tom," he said quietly, and felt his lover smile. "What?"

Tom levered up on one elbow and looked at him, blue eyes shining.

"You can still call me Baby, you know," he teased, and Chakotay
huffed out a laugh, cupping that precious face in one palm.

"Always," he promised, and kissed his Tom gently.

- - - - - - - - - -

"Facilitator Ek is hailing us, Mister Tuvok," Harry reported, dark
circles under his eyes the only visible evidence of the last 72
miserable hours. He'd been on duty for two-thirds of them and awake
for almost all of them, despite Tuvok having ordered him to sleep.

Harry couldn't sleep. Every time he tried, every time he dozed off,
he saw the shape of his life without B'Elanna and Tom. Already
reeling with the guilt he felt at being the 'other man', with all the
attendant strain that situation had put on his and Tom's friendship,
Harry was now convinced this was his punishment; losing both B'Elanna
and Tom, forever, with the captain and Chakotay as well.

"Put it onscreen, Ensign Kim," Tuvok replied evenly. It would have
taken someone who knew the Vulcan extremely well to see how disturbed
he was... and the only person on Voyager who knew him *that* well was
among the missing.

"Fair day, Lieutenant Commander Tuvok."

"Facilitator Ek."

"I have a favorable development to report. We have located two of
your officers. Captain Janeway and Lieutenant Torres are in our
health treatment center."

"What is their condition?"

"I was told they are undamaged. Neither was conscious on admission
to the center, and they do appear to have sustained some loss of
memory, but you may retrieve them at your convenience."

Tuvok's eyes narrowed and his face went very still; a reaction that
would have been an offended glare coming from a human.

"If you will provide coordinates we will immediately transport them
to our sickbay."

"Of course," Ek commented casually, supplying the necessary
transporter coordinates. When s/he had finished, Tuvok ordered Harry
to handle the transport, then turned back to the facilitator. He had
questions.

"Under what circumstances were the captain and lieutenant found, and
is there any sign of Commander Chakotay or Lieutenant Paris?"

"Regrettably, I have no further information for you, Lieutenant
Commander Tuvok. Naturally, we are still searching for your other
officers, and I will contact you with any further developments. Fair
day."

Ek signed off, and Harry muttered a curse under his breath that Tuvok
chose to disregard. Tuvok was quite aware of the recent developments
between Ensign Kim and Lieutenant Torres. Vulcan hearing didn't miss
much, and had Tuvok been so inclined, he could have been the premier
gossip on board ship.

A few moments later the comm for which they'd been waiting came from
sickbay.

"EMH to bridge."

"Yes, Doctor. Report."

"Following an extremely *brief* examination, I can report that
Captain Janeway and Lieutenant Torres both appear to be uninjured
beyond a mild electrolyte imbalance and residual headaches. Captain
Janeway and Lieutenant Torres are on their way to the bridge," the
holodoc's voice betrayed no little irritation as he passed along that
tidbit. "EMH out."

Tuvok allowed himself an instant to confess he was relieved, then
wrapped his control around him like the shield it so often was,
politely ignoring the muffled sound that came from the vicinity of
the Ops console.

The cause was sufficient. Now if only they had Paris and Chakotay
back, as well...

- - - - - - - - - -

Tom couldn't help but smile as he watched Chakotay pick through the
box of ration bars. It had to be close to midday, and they *were*
hungry, but it was hard to work up much enthusiasm for the food
they'd been provided. At least the water supply was plentiful.

They'd used some of that water to rinse each other off earlier,
baking themselves dry in the morning sun, but Chakotay had insisted
they duck back into the shed when the heat became oppressive. Tom
rather vaguely wondered why he hadn't gotten sunburned yesterday, but
that question, like so much in his memory, seemed distant and
unimportant compared to what was happening in the present.

In fact, looking at Chakotay made Tom believe there was nothing else
he wanted to think about, anyway.

No past, no future, just here and now and this exquisitely beautiful
man who made him feel so many powerful, wonderful sensations.
Chakotay had taken Tom on a whirlwind tour of emotions; from feeling
safe and protected, to feeling wanted and needed with unquenchable
passion, to feeling loved and cherished.

And then there were the physical reactions Chakotay provoked.
Intense, soul shattering, transcendent.

Tom wasn't sure about much. He barely recognized his own name, but
he recognized Chakotay's. He knew they weren't supposed to be where
they were, but he knew he was supposed to be with Chakotay.

It was enough.

He could do a lot worse than make Chakotay the center of his
admittedly limited world, he decided, flashing the other man a sunny
smile when a ration bar was tossed in his direction.

"Thanks, Cha."

"You're welcome, baby. Eat up, now. When it gets a little closer to
sundown, I want to start walking. I think we've been victims long
enough," Chakotay said a bit grimly, following his own advice and
biting into one of the dried bars.

He'd been having flashes of memories all morning, since making love
to Tom. Visions, really, of some of the people Tom had spoken of
earlier, and the place where he and Tom normally lived. However
they'd gotten here- *whoever* had *put* them here, it was time for
Tom and him to take a more proactive stance. With luck, their minds
would continue to recover and they could find their own way home.
One thing was certain, they weren't going to get any closer by
staying here.

"Drink as much water as you can this afternoon, Tom. We don't have
any way to take water with us," he added. Carrying the bucket would
be unwieldy and impractical. As it was, they were essentially
limited to what they could carry in their bare hands, which meant
they weren't going to be able to carry much food, either.

"Say, Cha, did you have Professor Cesay at the Academy?" Tom asked,
then looked surprised at his own question. "Damn, where did that
come from?"

"I don't know. It's too much to hope that our memories will return
in any kind of linear fashion... I *don't* remember Professor
Cesay. Why do you ask?" Chakotay asked interestedly.

"She taught-" Tom frowned, concentrating on that elusive wisp of
recollection. "She taught some kind of anthropology class... pre-
industrial cultures or something. Lots of hands-on examples of
primitive tools. I remember her teaching us to weave- it was a great
dexterity exercise. Anyway, I think I can weave a bag out of that
grass. We could soak some of those fruit bars and carry them. It
won't be waterproof, but it will give us something to travel with."

"That sounds good, Tom." Chakotay fingered the edge of the
thermoplast box the food had been found in. "We need a weapon."

Tom nodded, picking up on Chakotay's sudden unease. It was a
reminder that they were in this situation because somebody had
deliberately damaged their brains then left them here.

"You have any ideas?" Tom asked, thinking *he* didn't, given the
regrettable lack of raw materials for making even the most basic
weaponry. The rocks constructing their shelter were mortared in
place; there were no trees to pull branches from or loose stones
lying around. Of course, he could always throw these damned rock
hard ration bars, he noted to himself with a smirk as he gnawed on
one.

"Yeah, actually," Chakotay said, dumping out the remaining contents
of the box onto the ground. He lifted the box and walked over to the
shelter wall, swinging the box with a hard grunt. The thermoplast
obligingly shattered into several fair-sized pieces. Chakotay sorted
through them and picked a couple that had a knifelike appearance.

"I can put a sharper edge on these and wrap some grass around the
hafts," Chakotay pointed out to Tom's nod.

"That should work," Tom remarked, impressed. The thermoplast knives
wouldn't be particularly durable, but they'd definitely be better
than their empty hands.

"We'll *get* to work, then, as soon as you're done eating," Chakotay
remarked, chuckling at the face Tom made. Tom didn't argue, though,
and they plowed through the rest of their uninspiring lunch as
quickly as possible, soon starting on their projects.

- - - - - - - - - -

Kathryn rubbed her temples, resisting the urge to snap at either
Harry or Tuvok. This damned headache was going to drive her nuts,
and she almost regretted not staying in sickbay long enough for the
doctor to get rid of it.

She definitely regretted not ordering B'Elanna to stay there. The
chief engineer was behaving in a manner so unlike her usual self that
nobody knew what to think, parking herself on a chair once inside the
ready room and remaining almost totally silent. She wouldn't meet
anyone's eyes, and Harry, after giving her a wistfully anxious once-
over, wouldn't look at her again.

Kathryn was too tired to completely analyze what was behind this
latest bit of drama, but she would have bet her Ops officer's guilt
was getting to be too great for him to bear. If they didn't manage
to get Tom and Chakotay back, she anticipated that Harry and
B'Elanna's relationship would go down the tubes. It hadn't been
going on long enough, nor was it strong enough to endure that kind of
blow.

Kathryn took just a moment to wonder when life on Voyager had become
such a fucking soap opera, quelling the pang of anxiety her thought
produced on her chief pilot's behalf. Tom had once written her a
holodeck program to illustrate what a 'soap opera' was. She took a
deep breath and pushed her concerns aside. She couldn't afford to
give in to her worry for either Tom or Chakotay. Once her friends
were home, she'd worry at her leisure.

"That's it?" She asked, trying and failing to keep an accusatory
tone out of her voice. "We were missing for over three days, and
nobody knows anything."

"We *have* concluded that you were held in one of the sensor-shielded
areas, Captain, but without the cooperation of the Vieltkor, our
options were limited," Tuvok stated calmly, understanding the
captain's frustration better than she realized. "The Prime Directive-
"

"Christ, Tuvok, don't remind me!" She did snap then, and immediately
apologized. "I'm sorry. It's just- I don't remember a lot about
what happened to us, but I know it was painful."

"It is quite apparent that Facilitator Ek knows more than it is
willing to admit about your abduction, Captain," Tuvok said, absently
noting the unfortunate lack of a Standard pronoun for androgynous
races. The use of 'it' was woefully inadequate as well as
potentially insulting, but then, there was no acceptable word in
Vulcan, either.

"Hmm. Tuvok, maybe it's time to invite the facilitator up to
Voyager," Janeway commented as an idea came to mind.

"Here's what I want to do."

End part one
Part 2 by Polly Bywater
VOY
Title: Green Ruins and Antique Palaces 2/2
Author: Polly Bywater
Feedback: Pollyabywater@yahoo.com
Pairing: C/P
Rating: NC-17
Archive: ASCEM, Cha_Club, TPDorm
Website: http://www.geocities.com/polly_bywater/index.html
Disclaimer, Summary and Notes: See part one
WARNING: Character death depicted, but it's not permanent. I mean,
it's not really him! I mean – well, you'll see.

Green Ruins and Antique Palaces 2/2

"Welcome to Voyager, Facilitator Ek," Kathryn Janeway said smoothly,
watching as the alien looked around the transporter room with
interest.

"Thank you, Captain Janeway. I trust you have recovered from your
dreadful misadventures while on our world," the Vieltkor responded,
and for the life of her, Kathryn couldn't tell if the alien was
sincerely concerned or completely indifferent.

Hell. After wasting three hours on negotiations, assurances, and
downright pleading to convince the Vieltkor to transport up, ask me
if I give a shit, she thought with disgust, carefully plastering her
best 'brown-nose the brass' statement on her face.

"Yes, thank you, Facilitator. Please, allow me to escort you to the
bridge. We greatly appreciate you coming here to review our sensor
logs. Perhaps you'll have some suggestions that will help us improve
our search efforts."

She gestured for the Vieltkor to precede her out of the transporter
room, glancing back at Harry, who gave her a small nod.

Good.

Maybe they'd have some answers soon.

- - - - - - - - - -

Chakotay and Tom had been walking for a while. Long enough for dusk
to be on the verge of turning into full dark, long enough for their
surroundings to have finally changed from endless plains of grass to
a wooded area full of strange, twisted trees and the occasional patch
of heavy underbrush.

Having discovered a small river about a half an hour ago, they were
now following it downstream. The rough footing was slowing them down
some, Tom more so than Chakotay, although neither was accustomed to
tramping around outdoors with bare feet.

"You okay, baby?" Chakotay asked, hearing a grumbled curse behind
him. He paused to give Tom a chance to catch up, frowning when he
saw the way his lover was limping.

"Fine, Cha. Just stepped on a rock."

"Sit down and let me see," Chakotay ordered, setting aside his
thermoplast dagger and Tom's woven grass bag, which had surprised him
with its quality and capaciousness.

"Don't know how much you're going to be able to see, Cha," Tom
pointed out, but he seated himself on a tuft of grass with a relieved
groan and obediently held up his foot for Chakotay's inspection.

Chakotay could see well enough. Tom's sole was bleeding from more
than one small laceration. He knelt, settling his butt on his heels
and resting that long, narrow foot on his thighs.

"Let me see the other one."

It wasn't in any better condition.

"I'm sorry, Chakotay," Tom said with a sigh, aware he was slowing
their pace.

"Spirits, baby, it's not your fault!"

Chakotay shifted around untangling his legs so that his own soles
were visible, and Tom grimaced to see similar wounds marking his
lover's feet. He put down his own weapon in favor of rubbing gently
at those broad soles, carefully avoiding the little cuts that were
faintly visible in the rapidly dying light.

"Can you weave us some foot coverings?" Chakotay asked with a grin,
enjoying Tom's attentions.

"Yeah, but not in the dark," Tom replied, lifting one foot to his
mouth to plant a kiss on an ankle. "Don't know how long they'll
last."

"Why don't we find some place to stop for the night, hmm? Now that
we're under shade, we can walk all day tomorrow, if we have to." He
sure hoped they wouldn't have to, Chakotay thought, slowly pulling
his foot out of Tom's grasp and standing. He held out a hand to help
Tom get up. "Come on, sweetheart."

"*Sweetheart*?" Tom laughed as he rose, distracted from the pain in
his feet by Chakotay's use of the endearment... just as Chakotay
intended.

"Well, you *are*," Chakotay informed him amiably, keeping hold of
Tom's hand while he used his other to scoop up the bag and both
knives.

"I don't know, Cha. I'm pretty sure that's the first time you've
ever called me sweetheart."

"Won't be the last, then," Chakotay assured Tom as they scouted
around for a potential campsite.

A few moments later they discovered an area several meters from the
riverbank where a large tree had become partially uprooted, falling
securely into the embrace of a companion tree and creating a crude
lean-to. The ground underneath was covered in dried leaves and
looked cozy enough from the outside, but once they were inside it
seemed uncomfortably stygian in its gloom.

Chakotay and Tom settled themselves with simultaneous sounds of
relief, both glad to be off their sore feet and even happier to be
huddled next to each other.

"Do you think we've always been afraid of the dark?" Chakotay
wondered with wry self-consciousness. He wished they could see the
stars through the forest canopy, but even that small comfort was
denied them here.

"No, I don't, Chakotay. I think that comes from whatever happened to
our minds here on this planet," Tom answered seriously. "I think
we'll get over it when we get home. Have you remembered anything
else about our real lives?"

"Not really. Bits and pieces. I- I remember being somewhere else
with you, somewhere underground? We were on a staircase that was
shaking apart... some kind of explosions... and you saved my life."

"Yeah?" Tom sounded pleased. "Guess we're even, then, Cha, 'cause I
feel like you saved my soul, you know."

"See?" Chakotay asked, his voice gone husky as he wrapped his arms
around his lover and bore them both gently down to lie together on
the leaves. He maneuvered Tom until the younger man was lying on top
of him, then rested his chin on that soft hair, breathing in on a
sigh.

There was no dark as long as he held this light.

"See what?" Tom inquired absently, distracted by Chakotay's warm
hands on his back, stroking him in long, sweeping caresses. His
desire rose slow and steady, as inexorable as the passage of time,
but without that earlier sense of wild urgency. No less strong,
though... and no less shared, given the way Chakotay was responding
beneath him.

"That's sweet, what you said," Chakotay explained, enjoying himself
and the lean body covering his. He smoothed his palms over the
satiny flesh below Tom's lower back, admiring the firm swell of that
narrow ass. He was rewarded with a series of tiny shivers and the
sensation of Tom licking his chest, a rough-soft rasp over his own
sensitive skin. "You're sweet. Sweet baby. Sweet heart. I love
you, Tom."

"Chakotay. Love you too, Big Man," Tom whispered, sliding south just
far enough to tease one of Chakotay's nipples with his tongue,
smiling to himself when it pebbled into a hard nub.

"Oh... feels good... You've called me that before," Chakotay
realized, dismissing the memory as unimportant when Tom suckled at
him then carefully nibbled, that talented mouth eventually moving
across his chest to grant his other nipple equal time. "Ah, Tom.
Please."

"Please what, Cha? What do you want?"

Chakotay groaned, Tom's throatily voiced question sending a bolt of
sensual lightning straight to his groin. His hips rolled upward,
seeking, rubbing his erection against Tom's body.

"You, baby. Just want you."

"Want you too, love."

Tom moved until he was kneeling between Chakotay's legs, letting
instinct and half-remembered pleasures prompt him into taking
Chakotay's ass in his hands. He squeezed a lush double handful with
an appreciative murmur and lowered his head, led by scent and heat to
nuzzle along the hard length reaching out for him.

"Mmm, Cha. Smells so good." And Chakotay did, natural and basic and
human, the sweat of the day mingling with the musk of arousal. Pure
Chakotay, and Tom inhaled greedily, marking that beloved aroma before
going on to taste.

Chakotay lost his breath on a long hiss as Tom's tongue traced the
strength of his need, wet warmth leisurely dragging over him from
root to tip, then lapping thirstily.

"Tastes good, too," he vaguely heard Tom say before he found himself
fully encased in that most intimate kiss, hips bucking
involuntarily. Tom stayed with him, adjusting to his erratic
movements, hands on his ass guiding him into a rhythm that sent
shockwaves crawling up from his balls. Chakotay became aware he was
babbling, begging interspersed with incoherent gasps and moans... to
which Tom responded by humming around him, ratcheting up this
ferocious tension to an even greater level.

*Everything* about this is so fucking good, Tom thought, flattening
his tongue to rub hard against the sensitive underside of Chakotay's
cock and earning himself a strangled shriek from above his head.
There was no denying he'd done *this* before, and apparently he was
pretty damned good at it, too, judging from Chakotay's reaction.

What surprised Tom was how genuinely satisfying it was to give his
lover this pleasure. Had it been described to him he might have
believed it a one-sided act, but nothing could be further from the
truth. Feeling the pulsating throb of Chakotay's cock pumping in his
mouth gave Tom an unexpected joy, and he wanted nothing more than for
Chakotay to take him, use him, and own him.

He wondered a bit sadly if this revelation was something he'd known
and then forgotten, but lost the question in the rush of Chakotay's
climax, swallowing the thick salt-sweet cream his lover gave up so
beautifully. Tom reveled in each convulsive surge, Chakotay's cries
ringing in his ears... delighting in the way those cries faded to
exhausted whimpers, Chakotay's body trembling and momentarily weak.
Owned, as well as owner, Tom realized, releasing Chakotay's cock with
a lingering kiss to the softening shaft.

"Chakotay. Thank you," Tom murmured, scooting up to claim another
kiss, this time from those perfect lips. Chakotay didn't disappoint,
searching his mouth for the taste of himself, reminding Tom of his
own need. Tom was shaking by the time Chakotay broke the kiss, sure
he was going to explode hands-free.

"Oh, Tom. That was- You-"

Giving up on speech, since he couldn't finish a sentence even inside
his own mind, Chakotay sat up and leaned against a tree, pulling Tom
onto his lap. Tom took Chakotay's fingers and wrapped them around
his rigid erection, gasping when Chakotay's grip tightened.

"Cha, *please*! Yes, God!"

It was a mere matter of a few quick strokes before Tom came apart in
Chakotay's arms, liquid fire pouring over his hand as he caught Tom's
scream in his mouth. Witnessing that exquisite release without
benefit of sight made it seem even more intense, the aftershocks
reverberating along Chakotay's nerves by means of some invisible
connection, making his head spin. Curious, he brought his fingers to
his mouth and tasted Tom's come, finding it a familiar, welcome
flavor.

"My baby. So sweet," he whispered in Tom's ear after licking his
hand clean. Tom groaned and sought his mouth for another kiss, this
one gentle and undemanding, sharing gratitude and devotion.

"Love you so much, Cha," Tom rasped tiredly, barely aware when
Chakotay shifted their positions to spoon together in their bed of
leaves. He was asleep before Chakotay had time to reply.

Chakotay tucked his forehead against the nape of Tom's neck and held
his lover tightly, his last waking thoughts centered on his great
good fortune.

- - - - - - - - - -

"Go ahead, Doctor."

"I have searched five of the sensor shielded areas and am proceeding
to the sixth now. There has been no sign of Commander Chakotay or
Lieutenant Paris, but I have heard some interesting gossip. It seems
the Vieltkor are undergoing some kind of social upheaval centering on
issues of age. From what I have been able to determine, the older
Vieltkor are wholly responsible for the younger ones, maintaining
absolute control over them in all aspects of life until a Vieltkor
reaches an age equivalent to 45 Standard years and is then considered
an adult. There has apparently been a growing movement among what
they term older children, whose ages range from 25 to 45, to gain
more autonomy and freedom of self-statement. The subject is
currently being debated in their government's council meetings. You
may also find this interesting, Captain. The general populace is
aware that Voyager is in orbit, and there have been some questions
put to the council about how the aliens, meaning us, handle age
related differences."

Kathryn looked at Tuvok, who was sharply raising one eyebrow.

"Understood, Doctor. No one has questioned your appearance?"

"No, Captain. I have been accepted as an adult Vieltkor and accorded
every courtesy."

"Very well. Continue searching, Doctor, and report in as scheduled.
Sooner if you find our missing men."

"Of course, Captain. EMH out."

"Tuvok," she began wearily, rubbing her temples again in a gesture
that had grown automatic by now. Her long time friend and
disapproving third in command stood up and went to the replicator,
bringing her a fresh cup of coffee and a couple of round white
tablets.

"What is this?" Kathryn asked, almost too tired to be curious.

"Six hundred fifty milligrams of acetylsalicylic acid, also known as
aspirin. A traditional Terran remedy for headache... since you will
not go to sickbay."

She rolled her eyes at him but took the tablets without further
argument, slowly sipping the hot coffee.

"Impressions?"

"I find it significant that the Vieltkor segregated you and
Lieutenant Torres from Commander Chakotay and Lieutenant Paris. In
either pairing, the age difference is notable for one partner being
within what the Vieltkor consider adulthood, while the other partner
would be considered a child," Tuvok noted evenly.

"I don't understand why they felt the need to abduct us and do
whatever it is they did to us without our consent, and why, if they
learned what they needed from B'Elanna and me, haven't they released
Tom and Chakotay yet?"

"Those are questions only the Vieltkor can answer, and as we have
observed, they do not seem to be very communicative."

"That's an understatement," Kathryn replied, thinking about the
fruitless visit paid on them earlier by the facilitator, Ek.

Still, Kathryn had gotten what she wanted out of that- the chance to
download the Vieltkor's recorded transporter pattern into the
doctor's mobile holo-emitter, enabling the EMH to transform himself
into a facsimile of the elusive aliens and transport down to the
surface unnoticed when Ek had left Voyager.

She stifled a yawn, wondered precisely when she'd gotten so sleepy,
and had time to shoot Tuvok a glare before her eyes drifted shut and
her head fell sideways. Had Tuvok been human, he might have
congratulated himself on a job well done- after all, the captain
hadn't asked him what was in the *coffee* -but since he was Vulcan,
he merely picked up his sleeping captain and laid her down on her
ready room sofa.

There were twenty-three of the null-scan areas in the capital city
alone, which made it likely the EMH would not locate Paris and
Chakotay any time soon. Tuvok believed the logical thing for the
captain to do now was rest and recover.

Whether she wanted to or not.

- - - - - - - - - -

Harry Kim *still* couldn't sleep.

He was sitting on the edge of B'Elanna's bed, watching her restless
slumber as she occasionally twitched and whimpered. When they'd been
ordered off duty earlier, she had asked him back to her quarters, her
tone so subdued and apathetic he couldn't refuse her... although he'd
wanted to, he realized unhappily.

They hadn't made love. He hadn't been even remotely tempted. He
assumed he was too over-tired and stressed... so B'Elanna had asked
him just to hold her.

He hadn't wanted to do that, either, although he had, at least until
she'd finally dozed off in the middle of telling him some of what had
happened to her and the captain.

What was wrong with him? He loved B'Elanna. Didn't he? Sure he
did. Why else would he risk losing the friendship of his *best*
friend just to be with her?

The part of Harry's mind that was too exhausted to pretend had other
questions.

Had he started seeing B'Elanna just for the illicit thrill of it?
Had he felt a little smug at stealing Tom's girl? Handsome,
confident Tom, who could have had anybody he wanted... but he hadn't
wanted Harry, had he? Not like that.

"Oh, my God," Harry whispered to himself, shocked to his soul by this
unwelcome revelation. "No. No, that can't be right. I didn't jump
into bed with B'Elanna because I really wanted *Tom*."

But Harry recognized the truth floating up from his undefended
subconscious.

He dropped his head into his hands and wept bitter, bitter tears.

- - - - - - - - - -

Tom woke up smiling from a lovely dream, in which Chakotay and he
were making love for the first time, in his quarters on Voyager. It
took him a while to understand it hadn't been a dream, but a
*memory*. If anything, it made his smile even brighter. Especially
since Chakotay was still snuggled up close behind him, a solid warmth
at his back.

Exploring his mind, Tom realized he could actually recall most of his
life. He remembered his parents, his childhood, his Academy years,
Caldik Prime, the Maquis, and New Zealand. Voyager. The caretaker
array. The Delta quadrant. A lot of bad memories mixed with a
little good, but none of the bad could touch him, because he also
remembered Chakotay. Remembered meeting the big man for the first
time, so long ago; remembered thinking even then that this was
somebody he could spend the rest of his life with. He remembered
saving Chakotay's life in the Ocampan underground, and he started
snickering as he remembered Chakotay telling him "wrong tribe".

"*What* is so funny?"

Tom rolled to face Chakotay, planting a big sloppy good-morning kiss
on his startled lover.

"What do *you* remember, Cha?" He challenged, and watched Chakotay's
eyes lose focus as Chakotay looked inward... then got the joy of
seeing those eyes clear and a gorgeous double-dimple smile gracing
that pretty face.

"I remember a *lot*, baby," Chakotay recognized, mentally clicking
through an inventory much like Tom had done. "Hey, I remember
Professor Cesay!" He said, surprised, and they laughed out loud,
holding onto each other. Almost giddy with relief, because they'd
both been secretly afraid their brains were permanently damaged.

Chakotay rolled Tom beneath him, grinning into those amused blue eyes.

"I believe you're out of uniform, Lieutenant."

"I believe this is the uniform of the day, Commander," Tom pointed
out with a helpless giggle when Chakotay tickled his ribs.

"You know what else I remember, sweetheart?" Chakotay asked,
dropping a kiss on the end of Tom's nose.

"What, Cha?"

"I remember the first time I saw you. I remember how beautiful you
were... and you're just as beautiful now. Maybe more so, because I
can see what you feel when you look at me. I also remember the first
time we made love," Chakotay added, punctuating his words with a
serious kiss, searching and deep, before pulling his head back.

"I do love you, Tom."

"Chakotay. I love you, too. I always have, you know, since the day
you hired me then sobered me up. You're the first person I saw
clearly after the worst time in my life... the *only* person I've
*ever* felt this way about. I used to think it was hopeless," Tom
admitted, no longer worried about how Chakotay might react.

"I'm so glad you were wrong," Chakotay told him gravely, then they
were laughing again, happy just to *know* each other.

Eventually, however, they became anxious to get moving, both hearing
the echo of duty calling, now that they remembered what it sounded
like. Chakotay stood, helping Tom up with a quick tug, neither
paying much attention to the lingering soreness from yesterday's
trek.

"Come on, Lieutenant. We've got a ship to get back to."

"Yes, Sir, Commander Chakotay, Sir!"

"Smart ass," Chakotay said, fighting to hide a grin as he smacked
said ass, appreciating the way his handprint appeared on that pale
butt.

"Ooh, Cha, I don't remember you being into *that*," Tom remarked with
mock surprise, grabbing up their meager supplies and dodging another
slap as he dashed sure-footedly towards the river.

"Promise me you'll do that again when we get home?" He tossed over
his shoulder, laughing.

"Count on it, baby," Chakotay said, chuckling as he followed.

A crash in the underbrush.

Tom turned to look and linear time slowed, each second dragging by in
that peculiar, inexorable, crawling way that only happens during
accidents and disasters. Tom knew the phenomenon from Caldik Prime.

An alien stepped into view, familiar, but not, holding a weapon fixed
firmly in his direction.

Skinny gray finger tightening to fire.

He heard Chakotay yell his name. Couldn't answer, no time. Couldn't
move. No time.

Chakotay tackled him, covering him. Protecting him. Saving his
life...

//Wrong tribe.//

That strong body jerked on top of his with the force of some blow,
once, twice; breath gasped out in Tom's ear... saying something that
might have been his name, before that body went limp.

Motionless.

Not breathing.

No time...

Warmth yanked roughly off of him, leaving a spreading cold void that
disconnected Tom's mind.

//I do love you, Tom.//

Lost. Outside himself. Numb.

Watching impassively as he rolled and sprang at the alien, going for
its throat... knocking its weapon aside in a purely incidental move.
Shoving the alien to the ground, hands tightening on its scaly dry
neck, lifting its head and pounding it into a rock.

Sickening crack, gray blood spattering. Dead.

Dropping it, already forgotten.

//You're just as beautiful now.//

Turning... stumbling to his knees beside Chakotay's still form.
Ribbons of red decorating that pretty brown skin.

No time.

Rolling his Cha over. Gently, gently.

//You're sweet. Sweet baby. Sweet heart.//

Listening. Ear pressed to that broad chest. A silence so profound
Tom could hear his sanity shattering, hear his own heart breaking.
Gory exit wounds mocked any notions of resuscitation. He looked into
Chakotay's eyes. They were already filming over, pupils fixed and
dilated.

No sickbay. No last minute saves. No time.

No time.

Tom cradled Chakotay's head in his lap, fingertips carefully closing
those fragile eyelids before he started screaming.

//Count on it, baby.//

- - - - - - - - - -

"Captain, Facilitator Ek is hailing us," Harry reported in a tired
voice.

"Onscreen, Ensign," Kathryn ordered, wondering when was the last time
her Ops officer got any sleep and making a mental note to keep an eye
on him. She herself was headache free and well rested, thanks to
Tuvok's meddling, for which Kathryn had reamed him a new one earlier,
then thanked him.

The viewscreen shimmered into the image of the Vieltkor politician,
whose demeanor seemed unusually emotional.

"Facilitator Ek."

"Captain Janeway. May I speak with you privately? It is a matter of
some urgency."

"Of course. Harry, pipe this into my ready room."

Kathryn tried not to rub at the cold dread knotting up her stomach,
certain that this couldn't be good. She strode into her ready room,
punching the control that would activate her own desktop viewscreen
before sinking into her seat.

"Go ahead, Facilitator."

"We are aware your holographic doctor is in our city searching for
your missing crewmen. We require its immediate services here to
treat your older child. Your presence as responsible elder is
likewise urgently required."

"We're on our way, Facilitator. Janeway out."

Kathryn commed Ops.

"Harry, locate the EMH and beam him directly to the coordinates from
where the facilitator's transmission originated. Get somebody to
grab a medkit out of sickbay and meet me in transporter room one.
I'm beaming down."

Tuvok met her at the ready room door and she blew past him on her way
out, not so quickly that she couldn't recognize the Vulcan's disquiet.

"Captain-"

"I *know*, Tuvok. We haven't got a choice. Ek asked for the EMH
*and* me. Something's wrong with Tom. You have the bridge."

Standing on the transporter platform, medkit in hand, Kathryn
mastered her own personal fear at the prospect of once more
voluntarily placing herself within reach of the Vieltkor. Anxiety
hummed along her nerves and strung her up tight, prompting her to
check for the reassuring presence of her phaser.

"Energize."

She materialized to find herself standing in a corridor, Ek and two
other Vieltkor hovering nearby. It took her a moment to realize one
of the Vieltkor was the EMH, disguised, who upon seeing her nod
fiddled with his holo-emitter controls and resumed his usual
appearance. She handed him the medkit, happy to see him.

"Doctor."

"Captain. What is the nature of-"

"Captain Janeway, we owe you an apology, but there is little time,"
Ek interrupted abruptly, visibly upset. "I will explain quickly.
This is Li, a social scientist and anthropologist, I believe is your
term. Li was tasked with experimenting on you and your officers for
reasons I have no time to expand upon. Part of the experiment
involved suppressing the memories of your male officers and testing
their instinctive responses. Like you, we have a form of virtual
reality technology into which your males were placed. Li confronted
them with what they would perceive as a life-threatening situation.
We intended no permanent injury to either of your officers, but I
fear we did not fully understand the implications of performing this
experiment on a mated pair of humans. The scenario witnessed by your
older child involved the death of your adult male."

'The death of your adult male'.

Kathryn felt the blood drain out of her head, and swayed. The EMH
took her arm to steady her, an effort she barely noticed, absorbing
nothing beyond the last words the Vieltkor spoke. They resounded in
her mind.

'The death of your adult male'.

"Are you saying Chakotay is dead?" She asked, almost whispering as
she forced the question out past a huge lump in her throat.

"No!" Li contradicted, looked equally as horrified as Kathryn felt.
Ek gestured at it, apparently ordering it to be silent.

"No, the adult male is unharmed, truly. What the young one perceives
as the elder's dead body is merely part of the simulation. The one
named Chakotay sleeps. I will take you to him, but it is your older
child who needs you now," Ek insisted.

"Precisely what is wrong with Lieutenant Paris?" The EMH asked
calmly, gently squeezing Kathryn's arm in a warning. Unlike the
captain, he hadn't missed what the facilitator said about 'a mated
pair of humans'.

"From his point of view, Chakotay was killed defending his life. We
have scanned medical information from your ship, and if I understand
the terminology correctly, your older child has consequently suffered
an acute dissociative episode, a psychotic break. He is, by your own
definition, insane. We cannot approach him. He has already killed
one of Li's staff."

"Why didn't you just end the simulation and show him that Chakotay is
alive... if that's the truth?" Kathryn demanded, beginning to feel
angry now that her shock was fading. In fact, she was becoming
downright furious. Shaking with it, actually. It took an act of her
formidable will not to draw her phaser and start firing.

"I promise you, Chakotay is not injured. As for ending the
simulation and permitting your older child to see Chakotay, we were
uncertain what effect that might have on his mental state. Li and I
therefore elected to contact *you* to handle this, quite without
consent of our council, I might add."

"Consent doesn't seem to be much of an issue with you people,"
Kathryn snapped. Both Vieltkor bowed their heads in what looked like
an statement of remorse.

"We deeply regret this incident, Captain, and of course, there will
be no consequences to your older child for actions he took in what he
perceived as self-defense. We wish only for you to treat him and
take him home, and if I may be so bold as to quote your vernacular,
get the hell out of Dodge. I will be unable to stall the council for
much longer."

"I want to see Chakotay. Lieutenant Paris will need to see him,"
Kathryn said tonelessly, practically chewing her tongue in an effort
to restrain herself from telling the Vieltkor just what she thought
about their condescending generosity. Big of them, to abduct,
torture, brainwash and terrorize her officers, then overlook the acts
to which they'd driven one of them... then there was the issue of
what had obviously been a *very* thorough study of Voyager's
database. These people had better be damned grateful for the Prime
Directive, she concluded, tempted as she seldom ever was to blast a
planet into a smoking ball of rubble.

"This way, please," Li said softly, exchanging a glance with Ek that
said both Vieltkor were very aware of the captain's reaction.

Li lead them through a door into a laboratory, and Kathryn bit back a
thankful gasp as she spotted Chakotay, neatly dressed in his uniform
and stretched out on a cot, apparently sleeping the sleep of the just.
She went to his side and spent a few seconds watching him breathe.

"Is he sedated?" The EMH asked, and Li motioned a negation.

"He may be awakened in your normal fashion."

Kathryn placed her hand on his shoulder and shook him gently.

"Commander. Wake up."

Those big brown eyes blinked open at her, followed by a relieved
smile.

"Captain! Spirits, it's good to see you." Chakotay swung his legs
off the edge of the cot and sat up, looking around him, smile fading
fast when he caught sight of the Vieltkor. "Doctor. Where are we?
Where's Tom? Are you and B'Elanna all right?"

Shit, I don't know where to start, Kathryn said to herself with a
sigh.

"B'Elanna and I are fine. How much do you remember, Chakotay?" She
asked as the EMH ran a scan on the commander and pumped a hypospray
into the side of his neck.

"You had a mild electrolyte imbalance, Commander," the holodoc
explained to Chakotay's glare. "I am very happy to report you are
perfectly healthy, otherwise."

"Thank you, Doctor. I remember transporting down here with you,
Captain, and Tom and B'Elanna. Things get foggy after that. I
remember being somewhere with Tom..."

She watched Chakotay search his memories, a sudden pallor under that
bronze skin as he began to recall what had happened.

"I remember an alien holding a weapon on Tom! I pushed Tom down and
something hit me- *Where is Tom*, Kathryn?" Chakotay grasped her arm
in an unconsciously biting grip, eyes blazing.

"You and Tom have been the subjects of a virtual reality experiment
run by our hosts, Chakotay. I'll explain it later, but right now we
have to help Tom. He thinks- they *let* him think –that you were
killed."

"Oh, no," Chakotay whispered, nauseated at the thought of Tom's
likely reaction, knowing how he'd feel had the situation been
reversed. "I need to see him- need to let him know- Where is he?"

He stood up and started to shove past Kathryn, but the Vieltkor
scientist stepped in his way.

"Wait. If I may show you the visual record," Li offered.

"Li-" Ek started to protest.

"Ek, I am of the opinion they should know the precise circumstances
if they are to comprehend the child's state of mind. It will also
prepare them for what they will find inside," the scientist
interrupted, moving to a control panel and pressing something. A
screen appeared, flat gray clearing to show Tom, laughing, that slim
pale body sprinting ahead of Chakotay toward the riverbank, Chakotay
laughing with him as he followed.

Chakotay and Kathryn watched, horrified, as the alien stepped out of
the bushes and leveled its weapon on Tom... saw Chakotay throw
himself on top of Tom, saw the alien fire, saw Chakotay get hit with
something.

"A short acting tranquilizer," Li supplied quietly, and the
shattering review continued.

Chakotay's limp body dematerialized and a replicated image was
inserted in his place, complete to blaster wounds pumping out scarlet
blood. Kathryn let out a low, involuntary exclamation when Tom
attacked the alien, dispatching it with frightening efficiency before
turning to kneel beside Chakotay's mortally injured doppelganger.

"The first Vieltkor your older child killed was part of the
simulation."

Chakotay moaned as Tom turned the body over and listened to its
chest, the statement on his face perfectly blank as he moved to
check its pupils, then held its head in his lap and closed the eyes.

Neither Chakotay nor Kathryn could bear to look when Tom started
screaming, and even the doctor glanced away until those wails
hoarsened then faded to a low keening. When they turned back toward
the viewscreen, Tom was slowly rocking himself, one hand repetitively
stroking the body's cheek.

"God, oh, God," Kathryn whispered, having to hang onto Chakotay's arm
just to keep standing in the face of this raw grief. Chakotay leaned
on her as much as she was leaning on him, his heart aching for his
lover's pain. If he had ever once entertained any doubts about the
depth of Tom's feelings for him, those doubts were gone forever.

Li took a deep breath, sorrow on hir face that only Ek could read.

"At this point, we attempted to halt the simulation. My assistant
entered the scenario intending to sedate the lieutenant."

Another Vieltkor entered the picture, approaching Tom cautiously,
calling him by name. With infinite tenderness, Tom lowered the
body's head to the ground, straightening its neck and smoothing its
hair.

The following sequence of events happened almost to rapidly for their
eyes to follow. Tom uncurled himself and leaped on the Vieltkor,
burying his thermoplast knife to the hilt in the alien's throat, gray
blood spraying out in a fountain of gore.

The alien dropped like a stone. Tom casually wiped its ichor off his
face, and returned to his vigil beside the body. His statement
never changed from that blank, emotionless facade.

"Oh, Tom."

Chakotay lowered his gaze to stare at the floor, and when he lifted
his head the flash in his eyes was deadly. He grabbed Li before
anyone could stop him; fingers clenched around the scientist's neck,
shaking it like a rag doll as he shouted in its face.

"What right do you have to do this? How the hell can you live with
yourself? What kind of people are you?"

"Commander! Stop!" Kathryn ordered, despite her desire to do the
same thing. "Chakotay, we have to do what's best for *Tom* now!"

Chakotay flung the alien away from him, rubbing his palms on his
uniform in an unmistakable gesture of contempt. Ek helped Li rise,
settling hir into a chair before coming forward to face the furious
commander.

"I could say we were only following orders. It is an excuse those of
your race have used in your past, is it not? We of the Vieltkor have
long made a habit of studying other races in our belief that the
knowledge gained will benefit our entire society. Plainly, however,
what we have done here is indefensible. I can only apologize, and
give you my word that nothing like this will ever happen again."

H/she motioned to another door.

"There is the virtual reality chamber where your older child awaits.
The program is frozen so the distance you must walk to reach him is
only the actual width of the room. I wish you well. Naturally, we
will not accompany you."

Chakotay wheeled around, shoulders hunched and fists balled tight.
Kathryn inhaled slowly, closing her eyes for a moment.

"Doctor. Recommendations? Should we transport Lieutenant Paris
directly to sickbay?"

"In my opinion, such an abrupt change in surroundings will reinforce
the lieutenant's psychosis and could result in long-term impairment
of his ability to judge reality," the EMH replied in his usual
verbose fashion, almost audibly checking through his database before
offering an alternative suggestion.

"It is imperative that Lieutenant Paris recognize he has been the
subject of an experiment. I would therefore recommend that you and I
go to him first and attempt to explain what has happened before
permitting him to see Commander Chakotay. At that time, the virtual
reality program should be discontinued. If Lieutenant Paris remains
rational, he should then be shown the lab area itself before
transport to Voyager."

"Chakotay? Do you agree?" Kathryn wasn't sure she was asking him as
the acting ship's counselor, or as the man to whom Tom Paris was so
obviously devoted. Maybe it didn't matter.

Chakotay merely nodded, unable to speak past his fear for Tom's
sanity. He yanked the sheet off the cot he'd been lying on and
silently handed it to Kathryn, who took it then patted him on the arm.

"Doctor?"

The EMH opened the door and they walked through into another reality.

- - - - - - - - - -

Tom sat quietly, fingers tracing the lines of Chakotay's tattoo,
hearing Chakotay's voice.

//Are you out of your mind?//

"Yeah, Cha. This time I really am," he said, absently thinking that
was probably pretty funny... if he could feel it. If he could feel
anything at all besides this all-pervasive numbness.

Good thing it was there, though. He didn't think he'd be able to
breathe if he let himself acknowledge how much he should be hurting.

Intellectually he understood that Chakotay was dead, and that the
voice he was hearing was coming from his own subconscious, but he
couldn't *feel* it. He couldn't feel anything.

It was better to feel nothing.

Chakotay's skin was beginning to cool, he noticed, moving his hand to
stroke through that silky hair.

//Tell me what really happened, Tom.//

"I don't know, Cha. I really don't. It was just like Caldik, you
know? One second everything was fine, and the next second it was all
over. Everything changes so fast. You're alive and then you're
dead. No explaining it."

//I'm sorry I hit you.//

"Oh, hey, Cha, that's okay. I liked it. I thought we'd get back on
board Voyager and explore the possibilities of erotic spanking. You
think you would have liked that?"

//I don't want it to be over too soon, baby. Are you sure it's not
too soon?//

"Yeah, *that* I'm sure of. It's over *way* too soon. Hope you're
going to wait for me, Big Man. I don't think it'll take me too long
to get there."

He heard a noise, a *real* noise, and felt that cold snake inside him
coiling up to strike again. He picked up the remaining thermoplast
knife and held it in front of him, shifting his position to crouch on
the balls of his feet, ready. Maybe this time the aliens would just
shoot him and get it over with.

He wished they would.

Captain Janeway came through the brush, the holodoc at her side,
mobile emitter on his arm. Man, she looked pale.

"Tom?"

She sounds funny, Tom thought. Funny peculiar, not funny ha-ha. Oh,
Tom, you idiot. Of course, she sounds peculiar. Chakotay is dead.

"I'm sorry, Captain," he said, meaning it sincerely, even if he
couldn't feel it.

"It's okay, Tom," Kathryn said helplessly, wincing at his hoarse
rasping tone as well as his appearance. Tom Paris was ashen pale,
covered in dirt, gray alien blood and red smears of what she hoped
was simulated human blood and not his own... his face so still and
his eyes still screaming.

"No, Ma'am. With all due respect, you're wrong. It's never going to
be okay again," he commented in the same calm tone he might have used
to report a minor course correction.

"Tom, can you put the knife down? I'd like to wrap this sheet around
you. Aren't you cold?"

He pitched the knife into the river, then watched her approach him,
waiting until she knelt beside him before plucking the sheet out of
her hands and using it to cover Chakotay. Chakotay wouldn't
appreciate lying here naked in front of the captain like that, and he
didn't need the sheet, himself.

"I'm not cold, Captain. I can't feel anything."

"You're in shock, Lieutenant Paris," the holodoc informed him from a
squatting position on his other side, running a tricorder over him.
Tom nodded. He should have realized that himself. Some medic he
was.

"Tom, do you remember when the landing party beamed down to this
planet and met these people? The Vieltkor?" Janeway asked, pointing
at one of the nearby gray corpses.

"Yes, Captain."

"They ran experiments on us, Tom. Do you remember the tank?"

"Yeah, I think so... We couldn't speak. Gave us a headache.
Chakotay was with me, you know."

"That's right. B'Elanna and I were together. We ended up with some
nasty headaches, too."

"Bet B'Elanna ended up unconscious," Tom remarked idly, tucking the
sheet in around Chakotay's shoulders and leaving his face bare. He
just couldn't cover up that pretty face yet. Just couldn't do it.

That would make it too real.

"You'd win that bet, Lieutenant," Kathryn said a bit unevenly; more
nervous than she could remember being since Voyager's last encounter
with the Borg. It was as if she could see Tom hanging onto the
remnants of his sanity by a very thin thread, depending on them to
reel him back in without snapping the thread completely. She glanced
behind Tom's back at the EMH, who nodded at her reassuringly.

"Everything that's happened here has been an experiment, Tom. This
environment we're in, it's like a holosim. We're actually in a lab
near the Vieltkor medical facility."

"Yeah? Quality programming. I never would have guessed." Tom
looked around him, noticing a few things he hadn't seen earlier. The
river was static, motionless. There was no wind in the trees, no
sounds of birds or insect life. "I guess they froze the program?"

"Yes, they did, Tom. They froze the program so we could come in and
get you out."

"We aren't going to leave Chakotay here, are we?"

"Tom, this isn't Chakotay. It's... a holocharacter," Kathryn told
him and held her breath. Tom stared at her, obvious disbelief in his
eyes.

The EMH touched his arm gently, drawing his attention, and handed him
the tricorder.

"Lieutenant, scan me. That's an order. What am I?"

Tom frowned, but obeyed automatically, not surprised by the readings.

"You're a photonic being. I knew that."

"Now scan yourself and the captain, please," the EMH directed. "What
are you?"

"We're human. I'm dehydrated. The captain checks out just fine."

"Now scan the body in front of you."

"I can't do that," Tom explained in what he thought was a reasonable
tone. "Don't you understand? I can't scan Chakotay's body, and look
at the proof of his death. I can't look where it says 'vital signs
absent', or look at the damage assessment, and I especially can't
look at the readings that recommend treatment options. How am I
supposed to look at those things?

Kathryn flinched at hearing that eerily level voice, seeing that
thread fraying in her mind's eye.

"Tom, the doctor and I just saw Chakotay. We spoke to him. He's
fine. Scroll up on the screen, and you'll see. The doctor scanned
him just before we came in."

"If that was true, Chakotay would be here," Tom reasoned hesitantly,
his numbness starting to break apart under the combined weight of
hope and grief.

"I *am* here, Tom. I'm right here," Chakotay said, taking that as
his cue to step into view. He couldn't bear to wait any longer.
Hearing what Tom said had almost brought him to his knees. He hurt
so much on Tom's behalf he didn't even feel the tears running down
his face.

Tom's gaze narrowed suspiciously, and Kathryn realized she was
holding her breath again, her own eyes wet.

"How do I know *you* aren't a holocharacter?"

"Run the scan, sweetheart. Then we can go home."

Tom's lower lip quivered until he clamped it firmly between his
teeth. He looked at the tricorder in his hands, gave it back to the
doctor without using it, and climbed slowly to his feet, going
towards Chakotay as if it hurt him to move. Chakotay waited until
Tom was less than a meter away, then opened his arms, and was the
only one who saw those blue eyes fill up and spill over.

"Chakotay?"

"Come here, baby."

Tom threw himself into those beloved arms and felt them close hard
around him... pressed his face firmly into the side of that warm
neck... inhaled... and finally believed. His legs went weak and he
sagged, but Chakotay held him up.

Chakotay held him.

He started crying, almost soundlessly since his vocal cords were so
strained, feeling the wetness on his skin where Chakotay was weeping,
too.

"Cha, oh God, Cha- I thought- thought you were-" Tom couldn't
finish, but Chakotay heard what Tom was unable to say, his embrace
strong and sure.

"I know, my baby. My sweet Tom. I'm so sorry they put you through
this. It's all right now. I love you so much," Chakotay told him,
feeling the way Tom shook against him, grateful for every sob, every
tear, and every tremor that that signified a *normal* reaction.

Kathryn wiped her eyes, peered sideways at the doctor and startled
them both when she grinned. She wasn't very clear on just when this
thing between Tom and Chakotay had started, but there was no denying
it was incredibly real, and incredibly beautiful to witness.

"'These two, imparadised in one another's arms, the happier Eden,
shall enjoy their fill of bliss on bliss,'" she murmured to the EMH,
amused when he snorted.

"Milton, Captain?"

"According to Academy legend, Admiral James T. Kirk recommended
Milton as a course requirement, Doctor."

Her comm badge chirped.

"Janeway here."

"This is Ek. Are you prepared for us to end the simulation? I must
insist you depart as soon as possible for your own safety, Captain."

Chakotay eased his grip on Tom just enough for the younger man to
breathe, and they both turned their heads towards the captain, who
searched Tom's eyes for a moment before responding.

"Affirmative, Facilitator. End program."

Tom heaved a deep sigh when their surroundings vanished into a gray
and black paneled grid pattern much like the holodeck on Voyager.
The sheet that had covered Chakotay's simulated corpse pooled flat on
the floor, absent any simulated bloodstains, and Kathryn picked it up
as she stood, handing it to Chakotay.

Chakotay wrapped the sheet around Tom, aware from his sudden
stillness that he had caught sight of the genuine dead body on the
floor.

"Oh, my God," Tom whispered, stricken.

"Lieutenant, you acted in self-defense. Everyone here understands
that, including the Vieltkor," Kathryn said, one hand on Tom's chin
making him look at her. "However you feel about what you had to do,
don't forget that fact."

"Yes, Captain. Thank you."

"Let's get out of here."

They walked quickly toward the exit, Chakotay never leaving Tom's
side, and when they reached the control room the Vieltkor were gone.
Tom's belongings were sitting on the end of the cot. The EMH
retrieved them while Kathryn tapped her comm badge.

"Janeway to Voyager. Four to beam up. Energize."

+ + + +

She commed the bridge as soon as they materialized.

"Tuvok, we're all home. Break orbit now and get us out of this
system, best possible speed, heading at your discretion."

"Understood, Captain. Tuvok out."

"I *will* see you both in sickbay, Commander, Lieutenant," the EMH
said, handing Chakotay Tom's belongings on his way out of the
transporter room. Tom's hands were full trying to keep the sheet
wrapped around him, a sight that made the captain want to smile as
she inspected her officers. They were still standing so close to
each other she couldn't have slid a data PADD between them. 'The
happier Eden', indeed.

"You heard the doctor. Sickbay for you, Lieutenant, and you too,
Commander. Consider yourselves both off-duty until Alpha shift, day
*after* tomorrow."

"Captain-"

"That's an order, Lieutenant Paris. Take some recovery time."

"I wasn't going to argue," Tom noted mildly. "I was only going to
ask if we could have a site-to-site transport to sickbay." He
motioned at his attire, or rather, lack thereof.

Kathryn grinned.

"I hate to deprive the rest of the crew of the chance to see you
parade down the corridors dressed in a sheet, Tom, but I suppose
that's a view only Chakotay gets to see from now on."

Chakotay gave her a penetrating look.

"Are you okay with this, Kathryn?"

"After what we've all been through, I think I'm envious," she
admitted, and in a rare gesture hugged them both. "I'm fine with it,
Chakotay, Tom. You're very lucky men."

"Thank you," Chakotay murmured, a sentiment Tom quickly echoed.

"You're welcome. Now, back on the transporter pads with you!"

The captain sent them to sickbay herself, still smiling.

- - - - - - - - - -

"Very well, gentlemen. You are released from sickbay," the EMH
announced, having treated Tom's dehydration, strained vocal cords,
and the lacerations on their feet.

"I must remind you both, you have sustained considerable
psychological trauma. You may expect nightmares and other sleep
disturbances as well as general malaise and fatigue. Should you
require a sleep aid-"

"I think we'll already have one, Doctor," Chakotay interrupted, and
the EMH regarded him with a visible twinkle in his photonic eye.

"Yes, I suppose you will. Mister Paris, please try to refrain from
making any loud sounds until your larynx is completely healed."

Tom looked up from where he was tugging his boots on and grinned, but
said nothing. Chakotay held out one hand to him that he accepted
gratefully, and they left sickbay that way, fingers entwined,
ignoring the startled, amused, and blatantly shocked stares they
received from everyone they passed in the corridor.

"Your place or mine?" Tom quipped as they stepped into the
turbolift, thankfully alone.

"Deck four. Yours tonight, mine tomorrow night, and we'll keep
alternating until you're ready to move in with me," Chakotay
commented comfortably, loving the statement of stunned joy in those
beautiful blue eyes.

"Cha, are you sure?"

"I'm sure I never want to spend another night without you,
sweetheart."

They made it to Tom's quarters without running across any more of the
crew, not that either of them cared who saw them. Nothing like
abduction, physical and psychological torture, and a near-death
experience or two to put your priorities in order, Tom thought rather
grimly, stripping off his uniform the minute the door hissed shut
behind them.

"I want a shower, bad," he explained to Chakotay's attentive scrutiny.

"Can I shower with you?"

"You don't ever have to ask, Cha. You have an open invitation."

Once under the hot water spray, Tom started shaking again. Chakotay
held him with one arm and used his other hand to wash away the last
traces of Vieltkor blood. Lots of lather, tenderly applied... and
lots of bodily contact, just to remind Tom they were fine. By the
time Chakotay finished turning that long body this way and that,
rinsing him clean, they were both trembling for another reason
entirely.

"Want you, my baby," Chakotay whispered in Tom's ear, switching off
the water and easing them out of the shower stall. "Are you up to
it?"

"Does this feel like I'm up to it?" Tom asked, luxuriously rubbing
his erection against Chakotay's wet skin. Chakotay gave him a solemn
look, and Tom put his hands on either side of that pretty face and
returned Chakotay's intent gaze.

"I need you, Chakotay. Need to feel you on me, in me, around me. Do
you have any idea how much I love you?"

"Yes, I do," Chakotay replied seriously, having had it so
emphatically demonstrated to him this very day. "I won't ever forget
it, either, baby. I hope you know I love you just as much."

Tom smiled, the same gorgeous, open, unclouded smile that had taken
Chakotay's breath away the first time they'd made love. It still
affected him the same way.

"Yes, I do," Tom repeated Chakotay's own words, grabbing a towel and
rubbing Chakotay dry with the kind of agonizing attention to detail
that finally made Chakotay growl and drag him unceremoniously towards
the bed.

"You, Lieutenant Paris, are a tease!" Chakotay announced, pushing
Tom down onto his belly and sitting beside him, hands running over
that silky ass.

Tom huffed out a laugh, squirming as those broad hands stroked and
explored, his erection pressing into the mattress making him gasp.

"You can spank me for it next time, Commander. Right now I want you
to fuck me."

"Nope, you aren't desperate enough if you can still speak in whole
sentences," Chakotay decided, rolling Tom over onto his back and
smiling at him.

Tom caught sight of those dimples, and his heart melted all over
again. He held open his arms, amusement forgotten in a painful rush
of love and desire.

Chakotay saw Tom's emotions, so plain in those darkening eyes, and
prayed he would always deserve such pure, unvarnished adoration.

"Chakotay. Make love to me," Tom whispered.

"All my life, Tom," he promised, lowering himself into that waiting
embrace. He cradled Tom against him like the precious, delicate
possession this man *was*, and covered that sweet mouth with his own,
determined that by the time he was finished, there wouldn't be an
inch of Tom Paris left that he hadn't worshiped.

- - - - - - - - - -

"Tuvok, can I speak with you?"

The Vulcan hid his surprise at finding B'Elanna Torres at the door to
his quarters. It was a rare occurrence indeed for her to pay him a
personal visit.

"Of course, Lieutenant. Come in. May I offer you a refreshment?"

"N-No, thank you. I just... I need to talk to somebody, and I can't
go to Chakotay with this."

"Then you are here for counseling?"

"I guess you could say that," she said unhappily, and Tuvok motioned
her into a chair, noticing how strained her statement was as he
seated himself.

"What is troubling you, Lieutenant?"

B'Elanna sighed, looking at the deck as she tried to order her mind.

"I can't stop thinking about what happened on the planet... I- I made
things so much more difficult for the captain. I couldn't control
myself- my temper, but it's not just that. I was so- so *scared*,
Tuvok, and I couldn't handle it. I'm so *ashamed* of myself."

She lowered her head and covered her face with her hands, the very
picture of abject misery, startling Tuvok with an unexpected twinge
of sympathy.

"It would be unreasonable for you to expect yourself to feel no fear
under such difficult circumstances," Tuvok began. "However, if I
understand you correctly, it is not the fear itself that shames you,
but your behavior in the face of that fear. Is that correct?"

"Yes. The captain stayed so calm. So focused. I wish- I want to be
able to be like that. She didn't seem scared at all."

"*Seem* being the operative word. I can assure you the captain was
quite afraid." Tuvok knew this to be true, having just spent an hour
with Kathryn during which she brought him up to date on everything
that had happened with the Vieltkor, Tom, and Chakotay; including her
own frightened reactions, both to the Vieltkor themselves and to Tom
Paris' brush with insanity.

"How does she do that?" B'Elanna asked, truly bewildered. "How does
she handle her fear without losing control?"

"Would you say that you *fight* your fears, B'Elanna?"

"Of course," she said, in a tone that implied he was an idiot for
asking her that.

"It might benefit you to consider another approach. Admit to
yourself when you are afraid. Acknowledge *why* you are afraid,
without placing a judgement on whether or not it is merited. Accept
your fear instead of fighting it. Allow yourself to feel your fear.
The mental energy you waste in trying to convince yourself that you
are *not* afraid can then be used to assist you in modifying your
reactive behaviors."

"That sounds like one of those 'easier said than done' things."

"Indeed. It is equally true this technique can be applied to any
emotional reaction, negative or positive."

B'Elanna thought about that for a moment.

"Can you help me? Learn to do that, I mean?"

"There are exercises. Teaching tools. I am willing to assist you."

"Thank you, Tuvok." She started to get up, then hesitated. "Can I
tell you something else? I don't want this to get around."

"Naturally, anything you choose to tell me will be kept confidential."

"This thing with Harry- I made a mistake, there. Oh, I don't mean I
should have stayed with Tom. Tom and I weren't in love with each
other, but I'm not in love with Harry, either. I'm not sure I even
know what love is supposed to feel like, Tuvok."

"What do *you* feel you should do about Ensign Kim?"

"I think- I think I need to spend some time working on *myself*
before I get involved with *anybody*. I think I need to tell Harry
it's over. What do you think?"

"In this I cannot advise you, but I will tell you that self-analysis
is a logical and necessary course of action."

B'Elanna nodded, and took a deep breath, feeling as if a weight had
been lifted off her shoulders. She would do it, then. She would
tell Harry she couldn't continue their affair, and she would accept
Tuvok's offer of assistance.

She got to her feet and smiled at the Vulcan, thinking it was
probably the first time she'd smiled in almost a week.

"Thank you, Tuvok," B'Elanna said again, and this time she sounded
sincere. "When should I return for another session?"

"Nineteen hundred hours tomorrow is an acceptable time for me," Tuvok
informed her, and she nodded.

"I'll see you then. You know, there's a rumor going around that Tom
and Chakotay are involved... I know you can't confirm that, but I
just want you to know, it's not going to be a problem for me."

"That is... a mature attitude, Lieutenant," Tuvok remarked,
apparently with more surprise than he had intended, because B'Elanna
Torres was chuckling as she walked out of his quarters.

- - - - - - - - - -

By the time Harry got off-shift, he was on fire with the need to see
Tom. He had to speak to him, had to apologize. Whatever it took to
mend the situation between them and get their friendship back on
track... and if he secretly wanted things to move beyond that
someday, well, Tom didn't have to know that right away. It was going
to take him some time to extricate himself from B'Elanna's clutches,
anyway.

Heading straight for his deck- Tom's deck –for once Harry didn't
dawdle long enough to listen to any gossip, although his information
radar picked up on the unusual numbers of people clumped around
talking about something. It could wait. He couldn't. *Tom*
couldn't.

He'd already checked for Tom's location and knew Tom was in his
quarters. Harry imagined Tom must be resting after his ordeal on the
planet. B'Elanna had told him a little bit about the sensory
deprivation tank and they way they'd been tortured if they talked.
He thought that was pretty ironic, really. Usually people got
tortured to *make* them talk. He didn't know what had happened to
Tom today, but the captain had said Tom was fine when she returned to
the bridge.

Harry hesitated outside Tom's door. Granted, he and Tom weren't at
the 'not speaking' stage any more. Tom had even congratulated him
and wished B'Elanna well in Sandrine's last week. Still, he and Tom
hadn't exactly been close lately. Not like they used to be, when
they would let themselves into each other's quarters without using
the door chime.

If only he'd figured out what was really motivating him sooner. He'd
really fucked this up, but Tom was the forgiving type. Surely, he
would understand.

He opened the door and walked in; noticing the lights were on at
about the same time he realized the living area was empty. Tom must
be in bed, then. He was halfway to the bedroom door when he heard
voices. Flattening himself against the bulkhead automatically, he
quietly stepped close enough to eavesdrop. His heart sank as he
realized what he was hearing.

Tom was having sex. Who with? Harry listened, and felt his jaw drop.

"Ah... God, so good, Cha. Love you- *Love* you!"

"Shh, sweet baby. No yelling, remember?"

"Yes... oh! That's- harder, yeah! So good, so good, so good..."

"I know, baby... just relax, and let me love you, hmm? Love you so
much, Tom. Love the way you feel."

"Chakotay, please! Let me- let me-"

"You're right there, aren't you... Spirits, you're beautiful,
sweetheart... beautiful. Let go. Now, Tom. Come for me-"

The beginning of a scream was quickly muffled, and Harry dared a
look, seeing an image he knew would stay burned on his retinas for
years to come. Tom and Chakotay, wrapped face to face in each
other's arms, the commander catching Tom's cries in his mouth as Tom
arched and shuddered beneath him, one big hand between their bodies.

Just enough space to see the way Chakotay worked Tom, familiarly,
knowingly, confidently giving Tom the utmost ecstasy. Just enough
space to see Tom's release pulsing out of him in that extremity of
joy.

Tom sagged back onto the bed and stroked Chakotay's face as the
commander lifted his head. Both men were gasping, staring into each
other's eyes.

"Cha... love you... want your come now... want to watch you."

Chakotay groaned, shifted his position a bit, and drove hard into
Tom's welcoming body. Only a few strokes- he must have been hanging
on out of sheer willpower –before he threw back his head with a roar,
but what froze Harry was the look on *Tom's* face. Transcendent.
Grateful. Loving. As if Chakotay's completion completed *him*.

He finally gained the presence of mind to move himself out of the
door, absently noticing his legs were shaking. He wasn't sure how
long he stood there before he heard them talking again; low tones
interspersed with soft kisses and blissful hums.

"Oh, Cha. That was- amazing. Thank you."

"No, baby, thank *you* for letting me love you like that."

"You're a hedonist, Chakotay," Tom accused in a teasing tone.

"When it comes to pleasuring you, absolutely," Chakotay agreed with
audible satisfaction. "I love you, Tom."

"I know. I really, truly know. By the way, have I thanked you for
saving my life today?"

"I think you just did... and I didn't, really."

"You didn't know that at the time, and neither did I," Tom said in a
near whisper and burst into tears.

"That's right, sweet baby. Let it all out. It's all right now."

Harry peeked again, and saw Chakotay holding Tom, petting and
soothing him but allowing him to cry. The love and care was so plain
on the commander's face that Harry felt a deep surge of shame rush
through him. He had no right to be here. No rights at all where Tom
was concerned. There was only one man on Voyager who did.

Harry let that understanding wash through him, then finally turned
and walked away.

- - - - - - - - - -

Chakotay watched Tom sleep, studying the bundle of contradictions
that he held in his arms.

On the surface, an uncomplicated man.

Cheerful, friendly, irreverent. Skillful and self-confident, able to
find humor in the most unlikely places.

Then there was the Tom Paris he was privileged to know, full of
unexpected depths and surprises.

Loving. Loyal. Stubborn. Intense. Capable of going to the mat for
his ship and its crew. Strong enough to lean on... and strong enough
to allow himself to lean. Resilient in so many ways, yet so
curiously fragile Chakotay wanted to wrap him up in cotton wool and
protect him from the universe.

He laughed silently to himself. As if Tom would let him do that!

Tom shivered, a low moan escaping as one hand blindly reached out.
Chakotay caught that hand and put it to his face with a murmured
reassurance in Tom's ear, and Tom quieted immediately.

Chakotay felt his throat closing.

This man, who loved him so much that even with their minds wiped had
known they were meant to be together. Had come unhinged at believing
him dead. Had killed to avenge him.

This man, who even asleep responded to his voice, his touch.

Chakotay realized he was weeping at about the same time Tom opened
his eyes and discovered it too... and Chakotay smiled through his
tears when Tom moved to comfort him, holding him tight, gently
rubbing his shoulders and dropping soft kisses on his hair.

The captain was right.

They *were* very lucky men.

The End
22 June 2002
This story archived at http://www.tomparisdorm.com/viewstory.php?sid=2568