Green Ruins and Antique Palaces by Polly Bywater

[Reviews - 1]   Printer Chapter or Story | Table of Contents | - Text Size +
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