|Kill or Cure
"Oh, my God!"
With disbelief, combined with a huge dose of panic and outright confusion, Tom dropped to his knees next to Chakotay. His hands shook as he reached out to place his fingers against his lover’s neck, his panic rising even further as he felt the coldness of Chakotay’s skin. "Oh, God. Oh, God. Chay…." Repeating the words over and over, he frantically sought to find a pulse.
Standing a few feet away, next to her silently-watching brothers, Neereta could see that the blond-haired man wasn’t handling the situation well. He was distraught, and she knew his emotional state was making it very difficult for him to concentrate on his task. Walking forward, she knelt down beside him. "Please, let me," she said softly, gently urging Tom to move aside. "Sit. I will seek the rhythm."
Tom shook his head, his fingers still desperately searching. "No. I can’t. I have to… I have to know. I… Oh God! Yes!" His exclamation was made as he finally found the right spot and he felt a faint but regular throbbing beneath his fingertips. Chakotay was alive.
The urge to just gather the still unresponsive man to him and hold him close was almost overwhelming, but, instead, Tom pulled himself together enough to draw on his medical training. After calming himself a little he began to quickly but thoroughly check Chakotay all over for signs of injury. Although his hands still shook and tears of relief stung his eyes, Tom methodically followed a path from Chakotay’s head, running his fingers through the mussed black hair that was flecked with dirt, then on down the Commander’s cold, tunic-clad body all the way to his dust-covered feet; nothing was overlooked.
Tom gave several huge sighs as the examination progressed, overjoyed that he could find no evidence of broken bones and nothing to indicate that Chakotay had been ill-treated. But he was still extremely anxious that the older man was unconscious. He knew that Chakotay was suffering from hypothermia, but although he was fairly sure it wasn‘t the cause of his lover’s unconscious state, without the aid of a medical tricorder he couldn‘t be certain. He decided he would have to proceed as if it *was* the cause; Chakotay would have to be moved as gently as possible.
As Tom concluded his inspection, a sudden low groan disturbed him and made him look up. Bending over, his long blond hair brushing the dirt-covered rocky ground, Mherkal was clawing at a silver band that was fixed tightly around his left ankle.
"You must go, brother. You have tarried far too long," Fenarew advised, gently placing his hand on Mherkal‘s shoulder. He was well aware that the pain inflicted by the band had increased, knowing from experience how much it could hurt. "It will only get worse if you do not get to your work station soon, Mherkal. Go. Neereta and I will be fine. The newcomer will help us take his kinsman to our dwelling place."
Mherkal nodded as he straightened, grimacing. "You are right, Fenarew, I can delay no longer," he said quietly. The pain was making him nauseous, and his voice was strained as he continued. "Take care, brother. You too, my sister. I will return later." He began walking, heading towards a small, dull-grey metallic door that was set into the rock wall a few yards away. It slid noiselessly open at his approach, revealing a narrow, well-lit passageway.
Mherkal entered the corridor, and Tom just made out the fleeting shape of another figure there before the door closed again, hiding it from view. As the grey metal slid firmly back into place, Tom returned his full attention to Chakotay. With great care he gently manoeuvred his unconscious lover into his arms, then slowly stood up. Neereta had also risen. "I need to get him out of the cold," Tom stated, looking at her hopefully.
Neereta nodded, but her eyebrows were raised. Although she’d realised that the newcomers had fared well before their capture, she was still amazed that the man beside her possessed enough strength to carry his kinsman on his own. "Please," she said, her thoughts returning to the situation at hand. "Come with us. Fenarew and I will lead you back to our dwelling place." She pointed across the large open space to the craggy wall beyond. "Let us hurry."
Despite the fact that Fenarew guided his steps as much as he could, the five-minute walk proved to be both awkward and painful for Tom. Although the lights in the cavern were now a vivid yellow rather than the previous soft orange, making it much brighter than before, it was still difficult for him to see the ground. Chakotay’s body obscured his view most of the time, and there were several occasions when he almost stumbled or found himself treading on parts that he should have avoided. By the time they approached the small room - the first irregularly-cut entrance on their left, Tom noted - his feet were sore and bleeding, lacerated by the sharp rock.
"Tom! What happened? What‘s going on?"
The familiar voice came from the doorway. It was B’Elanna; she was leaning against the rock, looking very confused and worried. "Help me get him inside, and as soon as he’s stable I’ll tell you everything I know," Tom answered, moving towards her. His own curiosity about B’Elanna was quelled by his concern for the man in his arms; Chakotay was all that mattered to him for now. "He’s alive, thank God, but I don’t know yet how seriously he’s been hurt," he continued as B’Elanna took careful hold of the Commander’s feet and helped him to manoeuvre the unconscious man through the door and into the tiny room.
"Lay him here," Neereta instructed as she stepped past Tom and pointed to a spot near her still-sleeping son. "I will fetch blankets." She moved to where Tom and B’Elanna had slept, and gathered up the covers they’d used, waiting patiently then as Tom laid Chakotay in the hollow she’d indicated; her own sleeping place. "It is amazing that he lives," she remarked, handing the blankets to Tom, and watching as he tucked them closely around the unresponsive man’s body. "Night times outside the dwelling places are extremely cold; it is a miracle that he did not freeze to death."
Tom sighed as he brushed his fingers over Chakotay’s forehead. "A miracle, yes. But he’s not out of the woods yet." He glanced at B’Elanna, who had sat down next to him. "We need to warm him up," he stated. "You lie one side of him and I’ll lie the other. And let’s hope and pray that our body heat will be enough."
Stretching out alongside Chakotay, Tom wrapped his arms around his lover. He was only vaguely aware of B’Elanna as she took up her own position.
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