Tom Paris stopped and turned around as he heard the voice of his best friend call after him.
"Hi, Harry. What's up?" he asked as Harry Kim came to stand in front of him.
"That's what I wanted to ask you. We haven't seen much of you the last four days. I know you were in quarantine for the first day but now, as soon as your shift finishes, you disappear. B'Elanna and I were hoping you'd meet us in Sandrine's tonight, if you're not busy."
"I can't, Harry, sorry," Tom replied. "I've got to go to sickbay."
"Why? Don't you feel well?" Harry asked, looking carefully at the pilot. He noticed that Tom's face was paler than normal, and he looked tired. "Have you been having trouble sleeping?"
"Yes, but I'm fine. That's not why I'm going to sickbay," Tom answered, walking towards the turbolift. He stepped in as the doors opened, Harry following. "Sickbay," Tom commanded, then leaned back against the wall.
"So why *are* you going?" Harry asked with a frown.
"To see Chakotay."
"Oh. Well that won't take too long then. You can come to Sandrine's afterwards," Harry replied, smiling. "The pool table's missed you."
"No, Harry, I want to stay with Chakotay a while. It'll be too late for pool afterwards," Tom said, moving towards the lift doors as they opened.
Harry followed Tom out of the lift and into the corridor. He grabbed Tom's arm as the pilot started to walk towards sickbay.
"Tom, wait. I don't understand. Why do you have to spend so long with Chakotay?" Harry asked, puzzled.
"He needs visitors, Harry. I know he's in a coma but there's lots of evidence to show that comatose people respond to the presence of others. He needs people there, talking to him. It could be what eventually brings him out of it," Tom answered, running his fingers through his hair.
"Well, yeah. But why would he respond to you? No offence, Tom, but for a long time you didn't see eye to eye with him over anything. I know the two of you are friendlier now, but I'd have thought the Captain or B'Elanna would have a better chance of reaching him than you."
"And how often do they visit him?" Tom asked calmly, although inside he was anything but calm. He knew the two women had called into sickbay several times, but they always left after what he considered to be the most cursory of visits.
"B'Elanna's called in every morning before her shift," Harry answered, looking oddly at Tom. "And I'm sure the Captain does the same. They both care about him y'know."
Tom snorted and moved away from the slightly indignant ensign. "I'll see you tomorrow, Harry," he called over his shoulder. Now wasn't the time for further discussion, he decided. He stepped through the sickbay door as it swished open, leaving Harry standing nonplussed in the corridor.
"Ah, Mr. Paris. Back again I see," the Doctor commented as he finished yet another scan on the still form of Voyager's First Officer.
"Do you have a problem with me being here?" Tom asked, not really caring whether the Doctor did or not. He was determined to stay whatever the sometimes petulant EMH thought.
"No, Mr. Paris. In fact, you can make yourself useful. I've just completed my latest scan of the Commander and was about to freshen him up a little. Perhaps you wouldn't mind doing that for me."
"Of course I'll help, Doc. Just face and hands?" Tom asked as he picked up a towel and slung it over his shoulder.
"Yes, Lieutenant, that will suffice," the EMH replied, handing Tom a washcloth. "Physical contact is an important factor in healing. We need to provide as many stimuli as possible to reach the Commander."
"How's he doing?" Tom asked as he approached the bed where Chakotay lay, a thin blanket pulled up over his pyjama clad body. The Commander's face was pale but peaceful and he looked as though he was merely taking a nap. Tom reached down and took Chakotay's right hand in his and held it tight.
"He's fairly stable, although his blood pressure is a little on the low side. He's still unresponsive, but there has been a small but unusual rise in brain activity. I'm not quite sure what it means."
"Perhaps he's coming round," Tom said hopefully.
"I don't think so, Mr. Paris. You see, the readings I took came from a part of his brain not normally active in any human. Some things are still a mystery, even now in the twenty fourth century, and the function of certain parts of the human brain is one of the biggest mysteries of all."
"You don't think he's in any danger, do you Doc?" Tom asked, gazing worriedly over at the EMH.
The Doctor noted the concern on Tom's face and softened his tone as he responded to the anxious pilot's question.
"As I said before, he's fairly stable. There doesn't appear to be anything life threatening at the moment. I'm sorry, Mr. Paris, but I can say no more than that. I'm afraid I cannot give you any guarantees. The sooner he comes out of the coma the better the prognosis. Unfortunately, the chance of permanent damage to various parts of his system increases the longer he remains in this state."
Tom nodded, his eyes scanning the face of his lover. "I understand," he said quietly.
The Doctor moved forward, and gave Tom a comforting pat on the shoulder. "Same routine as last night, Mr. Paris?" he asked.
"Yeah," Tom replied. "I'll reactivate you on my way out."
As the Doctor took himself off-line, Tom perched on the side of Chakotay's bed. He gently ran the damp washcloth over the older man's face and neck, then bent forward to place a soft kiss on his slightly parted lips.
"I hope you can hear me, Cha," he said as he used the towel to dry his lover. "I hope you know I'm here. Please wake up soon, I want us to be able to talk to each other. We've only had one time together and I want us to have more. Lots more."
Tom lifted each of Chakotay's hands, gently washing each finger carefully, then kissing them one by one as he dried them.
"Please, Chakotay. Come back to me, don't leave me here, alone. Please," he whispered as he stroked the older man's cheek. "I need you."
He gave Chakotay another kiss, on the forehead this time, then stood up and grabbed a chair. He placed it close to the head of the Commander's bed and sat.
"I'm gonna tell you about my day now, Cha," he said, taking hold of his lover's hand again. "It's not the same on the bridge without you, y'know. I don't like it when you're not sitting behind me, watching me, keeping me in line. I need you there, I always have."
He sighed and shifted to lean against the bed. "Anyway, Cha, about my day...."
"Hi Harry. Where's Tom? Is he coming?" B'Elanna asked as Harry took the seat next to her. She pushed a glass of cold beer in his direction as her eyes darted across the other occupants of Sandrine's.
"No, he isn't. He's in sickbay," Harry said irritably. He grabbed the beer and took a quick sip as B'Elanna frowned at him.
"What's he doing there?" she asked with concern.
"That's nice of him, but couldn't he join us afterwards?" B'Elanna asked, taking a sip of her own drink.
"That's what I said," Harry replied. "But he insisted he couldn't. He said Chakotay needed company."
"Why does he think Chakotay needs *his* company? They've never exactly been best friends."
"B'Elanna, you're just repeating everything I've already said to Tom. I tried telling him that you or the Captain would have more chance of reaching Chakotay and he walked off. He just left me standing in the middle of the corridor."
"Perhaps that mood enhancer affected him more than anyone realised," B'Elanna suggested.
"Maybe," Harry sighed. "Although, he wouldn't have been cleared for duty if there were any obvious problems."
"No, he wouldn't," B'Elanna conceded. She stood up and tapped Harry on the shoulder. "Come on, the pool table's free. You can give me some pointers."
"That should be Tom's job," Harry muttered as he rose, glass in hand. "But, if he wants to play nursemaid instead...."
They crossed to the pool table and were soon engrossed in their game. All thoughts of Tom were forgotten as they played. It was only when the Captain appeared next to the pool table almost two hours later, that they were reminded of him.
"Good evening, B'Elanna, Harry," Janeway said, nodding to each of them. "Who's winning?" she enquired.
"It's about level, actually," B'Elanna replied, laying her cue down on the table. "Harry's not a bad teacher."
"I'm surprised Tom's not here to give the lessons," Janeway remarked as the three of them moved to sit at a nearby table.
"I did ask him to join us," Harry commented. "But he decided to spend the evening in sickbay, with Chakotay."
"Tom seems to be missing the Commander's presence on the bridge," the Captain said, leaning back in her chair. "He doesn't seem quite himself at the moment."
"We noticed," B'Elanna agreed. "He's not been in Sandrine's since the quarantine ended. We've been wondering if he's okay. I know the Doctor declared him fit, but there's definitely something up with him."
"Perhaps I should have a word with him," Janeway said, looking thoughtful. "Computer, location of Lieutenant Paris."
"Lieutenant Paris is in sickbay," the computer responded, neutrally.
"Still?" Harry remarked. "He's been there well over two hours now."
The Captain rose from her chair. "I was going to call into sickbay anyway," she said. "I'll speak to Tom while I'm there. Enjoy the rest of your evening."
She left quickly and arrived at sickbay just a few minutes later. The door slid open and she stepped inside.
It was quiet, except for the occasional beeping noise from one of the monitors. The Commander lay unmoving on his bed and next to him, in a chair, was Tom.
Janeway walked forward quietly and stopped by the bed. Tom's arms were on the edge of it, his head resting on them and he was fast asleep. She smiled at the unexpected sight, then her expression turned to one of puzzlement as she noticed that Tom was holding Chakotay's hand. Deciding to leave them as they were for the moment, she activated the EMH.
"Please state the... Ah, Captain. What can I do for you?" the Doctor asked as he appeared by the bed.
"I was just calling by to see how the Commander was. I wanted to have a word with Lieutenant Paris as well but he seems to be asleep."
"Mm, yes. He really is in need of sleep but it would be better if he accomplished it in his own quarters. I think I should wake him and send him home. Unless it's urgent, it might be best if you spoke with him tomorrow," the Doctor responded as he touched Tom on the shoulder. "Mr. Paris," he called. "Mr. Paris!"
Tom woke with a start and gazed around with bleary eyes. "What's the matter?" he asked sleepily.
"You need to go home and rest, Tom," the Captain said gently. "You can't be comfortable like that."
Tom stretched and rubbed the back of his aching neck. "You're right," he agreed. "But I'll just stay here a few more minutes. I'm not awake enough to get up yet."
"Very well, but don't be too long. Oh, and I'd like to see you here before your shift tomorrow," Janeway said as she looked carefully at Tom.
"Yes, Captain," Tom responded.
"Now, Doctor," Janeway began as she turned to face the EMH. "Perhaps you can give me an update on the Commander's condition."
"Yes, certainly. If you would accompany me to my office, I'll give you my report."
The two departed, leaving Tom alone again with the First Officer. He stood and gazed down at the comatose man.
"I'm sorry I fell asleep, Cha," Tom whispered, smoothing his lover's dark hair. "But I really am tired. I have to go now, but I'll be back tomorrow, I promise." He leaned forward and gently kissed the older man's lips. "Come back to me soon."
With one last kiss, Tom straightened and headed for the door, calling 'Good night' to the Captain and Doctor as he passed the office.
He felt exhausted and as soon as he reached his cabin he quickly stripped and climbed wearily into bed. The last few days had taken their toll on him and sleep claimed him almost immediately.
For the next hour he slept, oblivious to his surroundings. Then, something disturbed his slumber and he stirred, opening his eyes. A movement in the shadows near the door caught his eye and he sat up as he stared at the 'intruder'.
"Chakotay?" Tom whispered in disbelief. "How? I mean..." He trailed off as the older man stepped forward, smiling.
Tom was unable to speak further as his naked lover lifted the bed covers and climbed under. Chakotay wrapped his arms around the shocked pilot and pulled him close. Tom sighed and snuggled happily into the warm embrace. He'd ask his questions later, he decided. For now, all he wanted was to share the rest of the night with his lover. Everything else could wait.
Chakotay moved to look into Tom's sparkling eyes, then gently ran his fingers down the side of Tom's face. He smiled and softly kissed the tip of the younger man's nose. Tom reached out and pulled Chakotay towards him, capturing the Commander's lips with his own. He revelled in the feel of Chakotay's mouth on his and silently thanked whoever might be listening for bringing his lover back to him.
As the night wore on, not a word was spoken between the two. The only sounds in Tom's bedroom were those of gentle love making as they celebrated being together again.
It was a long and passionate night.
"Janeway to Paris," the Captain called as she tapped her comm badge.
There was no response and she repeated her hail, a slight note of irritation in her voice. She had been waiting in sickbay for fifteen minutes with no sign of the errant pilot.
"Perhaps he's still sleeping," the Doctor suggested, checking on the Commander as he had done at regular intervals throughout the night.
Janeway scowled and asked the computer for the Lieutenant's whereabouts.
"Lieutenant Paris is in his quarters," the computer replied.
"Perhaps you're right, Doctor," Janeway said as she walked towards the Commander's bed. "I'll get Tuvok to go and check on him."
She contacted the Vulcan, then started to question the Doctor about Chakotay's condition. The Doctor's detailed reply was interrupted after a few minutes, however, by an announcement from the computer.
"Medical emergency. Transport in progress," the female voice stated.
Janeway and the EMH turned to look at the next bed as the new patient materialised. Tuvok's voice came over the comm system at the same time.
"Go ahead, Tuvok," Janeway instructed as she looked down at Tom's still form. The pilot lay clothed only in a pair of sleep pants that the Vulcan had hastily dressed him in prior to transport.
"I was unable to rouse Lieutenant Paris from sleep, Captain. He would appear to be in a coma," Tuvok informed his commanding officer. "I will check his quarters for anything that might be a contributing factor to his current condition."
"Thank you, Tuvok, keep me informed. Janeway out."
The Captain turned to watch as the EMH ran scans on her senior pilot. "Can you bring him round?" she asked.
"No, Captain. Commander Tuvok was correct in his diagnosis. Lieutenant Paris is in a coma. There's nothing I can do I'm afraid," the Doctor replied, checking his monitors.
"It has to be that mood enhancer," Janeway mused as she looked from Tom to Chakotay. "That's the only connection between the two of them."
"Well, the only medical connection, yes," the Doctor agreed.
"What do you mean by that?" Janeway asked, puzzled.
"Well, they do have a connection in their personal lives."
"Do they? What? Other than both being senior officers," Janeway questioned.
"Well, other than both being senior officers, they happen to be lovers," the Doctor replied nonchalantly.
"Lovers? *Chakotay* and *Tom*?" Janeway repeated incredulously.
"Yes, Captain. The Commander and Lieutenant Paris."
"Are you sure?" Janeway asked, looking again from one man to the other.
"Positive. I spoke briefly with Mr. Paris on the matter on the day of the accident, and he's spent hours here with the Commander since."
"Well this is news to me," Janeway said, shaking her head.
"So I gather," the Doctor replied. "It's not common knowledge yet, I take it."
"No, it isn't. And I think we should keep it that way. It's not for us to divulge their personal arrangements." She stopped speaking momentarily as an alarm sounded. "What's that?" she asked.
The Doctor stood between the two beds as he checked the monitors. "The Commander's blood pressure has dropped, although it's levelling out now. Mr. Paris' as well. And the Lieutenant's brain activity has also increased, to match that of the Commander's."
"What does it mean? Are they in danger?"
"As long as their blood pressure doesn't drop much further, then no. I shall monitor them a while longer before I try to raise it with medication. I don't want to administer anything unnecessarily as it might cause further problems."
"I understand, Doctor. I have to get to the bridge now but keep me appraised of their condition," Janeway said as she took one last look at her officers before heading for the door.
As it swished open, another alarm sounded and Janeway spun around, watching anxiously as the Doctor rushed forwards.