Tom stood trembling as the thick fog that had surrounded him began to dissipate, and he gazed silently for a moment at the familiar figure before him. It wasn't who he'd hoped it would be.
He thought he'd heard Chakotay calling to him, promising to take him home, and it had soothed his frayed nerves. The sound of his lover's voice had broken through the haze of fear that had clouded his mind, and he'd thought his torment was at an end. But it wasn't to be. He'd endured a myriad of frightening visions from a past that he'd tried hard to bury deep in his subconscious, and here in front of him was another apparition.
Tom didn't recognise the dark man standing there as Chakotay, all he saw was Seldon, the most feared of all the inmates at Auckland. Cries that had too often haunted Tom's dreams began to ring in his ears. He could plainly hear his friend Evan calling for help as Seldon's thugs beat him to death with lengths of metal piping stolen from the machine shop. Tom, like everyone else, had been unable to help Evan, kept from the scene by Seldon's 'guards'. Evan's body had never been found, and the investigation into his disappearance, like those of the others Seldon had disposed of, came to nothing.
Tom shivered in terror as Seldon smiled at him, and he dropped to his knees, knowing that if he didn't he'd end up dead. Seldon was top dog and everyone was expected to acknowledge the fact. Tom dropped his gaze to the ground as memories of Evan filled his mind. Feelings of guilt and remorse washed over him and he began to sob uncontrollably, grieving again for his lost friend.
Chakotay's thoughts were in turmoil at Tom's actions, and he called out softly to him. "Tom. It's me," he said as he took a step forward.
Tom's fear increased dramatically as he heard Seldon speak his name. Other than the hand-picked members of his vicious gang, Seldon never spoke to anyone except for one reason; to indicate his next victim. If he spoke to you, your days were most definitely numbered. Tom's terror escalated and tears streamed down his face; he was certain that Seldon would soon strike the blow that would end his life. With Evan's pain-filled screams still echoing around him, Tom collapsed sobbing to the dusty ground.
Chakotay rushed forward as Tom buried his tear-streaked face in the dirt, and he gently touched the younger man's shoulder. As Tom felt the large hand just to the side of his neck, he shrieked in terror. Seldon had him! He was going to die!
In a moment of blind panic, Tom leapt to his feet and started to run. He rushed headlong through the banks of fog that swirled up to greet him, heedless of where he was going. He didn't care where he was headed, he just had to get away from Seldon. On and on he ran, time and distance passing rapidly as he tried to escape. But no matter how fast, or far, he went, he could always hear Seldon's footsteps pounding the ground behind him.
Chakotay had been immobilised at first by the way Tom had reacted to his touch, but he'd quickly shaken it off, and for the last fifteen minutes he'd been swiftly pursuing Tom as he tried to flee. Chakotay knew he couldn't afford to lag too far behind or he would lose sight of his lover in the thick fog. He pressed on as fast as he could, but he was aware that he was tiring. He would have to slow down soon, and he prayed that Tom would have to also.
Tom turned his head and looked back over his shoulder. Seldon was still there! He screamed as he noted the man's gaze fixed on him, and even though he was near to exhaustion, he managed to accelerate away from Seldon's relentless pursuit. As his path took him across uneven and rock-strewn terrain, he continued to increase the distance between himself and his perceived attacker.
Chakotay gasped as he struggled for breath. He was close to collapsing, and he knew it. His legs felt like lead, and his lungs were screaming out for more oxygen. His heart was pounding rapidly, the sound of it filling his ears as he witnessed Tom's burst of speed. The younger man was pulling away from him with every step now, and Chakotay wanted to cry out in his despair. He didn't though, instead using every ounce of his remaining energy to plow determinedly on.
Tom glanced back again and saw that the gap was still increasing. He felt exhilarated by the sight, and his sense of triumph pushed him onwards, revitalising his tired limbs. Seldon wasn't going to catch him! He wasn't going to die! He risked one more look and was rewarded with the vision of Seldon laying sprawled out across the ground. Tom shouted ecstatically, but he carried on, running as fast as his weary legs would let him.
Tears rolled down Chakotay's cheeks as his body finally succumbed to his exhaustion and he crashed heavily to the ground. He watched helplessly as Tom continued his flight, moving ever further away from him. Just a few moments later and Tom had disappeared from view.
Chakotay's anguished cries filled the dark, fog-enshrouded landscape as he lay forlornly on the dusty ground. His legs were shaking from the strain of the chase, and he couldn't stand. He didn't want to give up though, so he forced himself forwards on his hands and knees, sharp stones cutting into him as he crawled painfully along.
Even though it was dark, from his new position Chakotay could see Tom's tracks, and he slowly followed them. He hadn't gone very far when a sudden frantic scream pierced the gloom, sending a cold shiver down his spine. He stopped and listened, but all was silent again. The only thing he could do was to press on, following Tom's tracks for as long as they were visible, so he struggled forwards again.
Chakotay had no idea how much time had passed, and in a way he didn't care. He'd meant what he'd said to Janeway; he would search for Tom for all eternity if he had to, although he prayed it wouldn't come to that.
When the fog had first cleared and he'd seen his lover standing in front of him, he'd been elated. He had thought they would be on their way back by now, waking up together in sickbay. Instead, Tom had taken flight, and Chakotay feared for the younger man's safety. The longer Tom remained in the clutches of whatever fear he was experiencing, the harder it would be to convince him it wasn't real.
Chakotay stopped and rested a moment, rubbing at his aching legs as he did. He peered into the darkness, hoping that Tom hadn't gone much further. His knees hurt, so he decided it was time to see if his legs would bear his weight again. He climbed shakily to his feet, his muscles protesting the unwelcome action at first. He took a tentative step forward, then closed his eyes and smiled. He would be able to walk.
As he stood looking around, he suddenly realised that the fog had gone. He hadn't seen it clear as he'd had his gaze firmly on the ground while he tracked Tom. He was thankful though, as it would make it a lot easier now to follow the younger man's path.
The absence of fog wasn't the only change, Chakotay noted. The dark foreboding clouds that had covered the sky were also gone. In their place were twinkling stars and a large yellow moon that reflected light to the ground below. The atmosphere was in complete contrast to the way it had been just a short while ago, and Chakotay wondered why. What had happened to bring about such dramatic changes? With his mind sifting through possible explanations, Chakotay resumed his quest for Tom.
Tom opened his eyes. His head was pounding, and a sharp pain shot through his left leg as he tried to move. Where he was, or what had happened, he had no idea. He gazed around him, looking for clues that might lead him to the answers.
He appeared to be in a ditch, it's sides steep and slippery-looking. It was dark here, with just a faint glow of moonlight filtering down through the trees marking the edge above so that Tom had difficulty seeing anything clearly.
He groaned as he tried to move again. The pain radiating from his leg made him nauseous, so he lay still once more. His brain went into overdrive as he tried desperately to recall the circumstances that had led to him being here. There was nothing he could think of that would explain it. Where was he? Had he been alone here? Did anyone know what had happened to him? Question after question flashed through his mind, but not a single answer.
He took a deep breath, ignoring his discomfort as he shuffled to lean back against the side of the ditch. He peered down at his leg and tried to assess how badly injured it was. As he felt along the painful limb, he came to the conclusion that it was fractured just below the knee. He sighed, then ran his fingers through his hair as he wondered what he was going to do now. He could see nothing nearby that he could use to splint his leg, and there seemed no way out of the ditch other than to clamber up the steep sides. With a fractured bone, that was probably an impossibility, but he would have to try. Otherwise, unless someone found him, he was stuck here.
He lay back and closed his eyes, deciding to rest a while before making the attempt.
Chakotay looked up to see that the landscape had changed yet again. Small patches of grass had appeared, dotted here and there across the stony ground, and ahead of him a group of trees stood swaying in the light breeze. He wondered again what was causing the changes, then continued to follow Tom's tracks.
He could tell that Tom had been extremely tired at this point as the tracks showed that he'd been dragging his feet. He also noted that Tom had evidently headed for the trees. Chakotay walked quickly towards them as silently as he could. After the way Tom had reacted to his voice and touch, he didn't want to chance frightening his lover into running again.
As Chakotay neared the trees, he noticed that the ground there was much rougher. The stones that lay scattered about were larger, and Chakotay could see where Tom had kicked a few of them along the way. He stepped between two large trees, then stopped. The ground in front of him was badly scuffed, and Chakotay surmised that Tom must have fallen. As he took a step closer, he realised *where* Tom had fallen.
A deep ditch ran along the edge of the trees, and there were no other tracks to indicate that Tom had gone anywhere other than into it. Chakotay peered cautiously over the edge into the darkness below. It was difficult to see, but he was certain there was something down there. He could make out a dark shape resting against the side of the ditch that was closest to him. He watched it for a few moments, and when it didn't move, he decided he would take a closer look. He searched until he found what appeared to be the easiest way down, then began his descent.
He picked his way down carefully, finding himself at the bottom about five minutes later. Chakotay looked towards where he'd seen the shape and breathed a small sigh of relief. It was Tom. He looked as though he was asleep, so Chakotay edged his way closer as quietly as he could. The younger man was covered in dirt from head to foot, his clothes torn beyond repair. Chakotay bent down to get a closer look at his condition.
Tom's hand was clutching his leg, and there was a slight hitch to his breathing as he slept, but Chakotay's real worry was how Tom would react when he woke up. Would he be terrified? Would he try to flee again? Chakotay prayed not. He decided there would be nothing to gain from delaying the inevitable, so reached out to lightly touch Tom's arm. "Tom," he whispered. "Tom, wake up. It's Chakotay."
Tom stirred, and his eyes slowly opened. He looked in bewilderment at the man who had woken him. "Who are you?" he asked sleepily. "Have you come to rescue me?"
"Yes, Tom, I have," Chakotay replied. He was worried that Tom didn't seem to recognise him, but it was better than his reaction last time. That was when it occurred to Chakotay that the change in the environment had been down to Tom. Before, Tom had been terrified, and the surroundings had reflected that, now he was calm the atmosphere had improved. Chakotay was convinced now that this was Tom's dreamscape, and his emotions determined it's appearance.
Tom frowned slightly as he stared at the man before him. "Why did you call me Tom?" he asked.
"Because that's your name," Chakotay replied gently. "And my name's Chakotay. Don't you remember?"
Tom shook his head. "No. I don't remember anything. Where is this place? What happened?"
Chakotay took a deep breath as he decided how to answer. He wasn't sure how Tom would take it at the moment, but the truth seemed the best option. He took hold of Tom's hand as he tried to explain. "This may not be very easy for you to understand at the moment, Tom, but please just listen to me. Okay?"
Tom was unsure why this man was holding his hand, but he nodded, and Chakotay continued.
"I believe this place is a dreamscape. Your dreamscape. We came here because of an accident that occurred. Our physical bodies are in the sickbay of our ship, and we need to get back to them. I know you don't recognise me, but we're lovers, Tom. Please just trust me, and I'll help you get home."
Tom looked closely at the dark-haired man who said he was his lover. The man was attractive, and seemed gentle and sincere, and Tom could understand how someone like that would appeal to him. Perhaps what this Chakotay said was true, perhaps they *were* lovers. Tom still had some questions to ask before he trusted him though. "If this is a dreamscape as you say, why is my leg broken? Things like that don't happen in dreams."
"This isn't an ordinary dream, Tom. I think we're bound by the same constraints here that we have in the physical world. I'm sure if I were to leap off a cliff here, my body would perceive it as actually happening and I would most likely die from shock. You fell down a ditch. Your body interpreted it as real, and hence your leg is broken."
"So how am I gonna get home if I can't walk?" Tom asked as Chakotay moved to sit next to him.
"You don't need to walk to get home, Tom. With my guidance, you'll be able to leave this place without moving an inch," Chakotay answered. He placed his arm around the younger man's shoulders and gently pulled him close. "All you have to do is just listen to me, and trust me."
"Will I be able to remember you when we get back?" Tom asked, turning his head to look into warm, dark eyes.
"Yes, Tom, I believe so. It was the fall here that caused you to lose your memory. Once we're back you should be fine," Chakotay said softly. He placed a small kiss on Tom's cheek, and Tom sighed. This did feel right. He was sure now that Chakotay was telling the truth.
"What do we have to do?" Tom questioned as he snuggled into the older man's embrace.
"The most important thing is to relax," Chakotay answered. "You need to feel safe and secure so that you can focus on returning. Push any worries or doubts out of your mind, and remain calm. If you let anything distract you, it will hinder your progress. Just listen to my voice and allow me to guide you back."
"I wish I knew where we were going," Tom commented.
"We're going to start our future together, Tom. Back on Voyager," Chakotay replied, then bent to gently kiss Tom on the lips.
Tom smiled and returned the kiss. "I think I like the sound of that," he said grinning.
"Then let's get on with getting home," Chakotay smiled back. He wrapped his arms tightly around Tom as he began to whisper words designed to relax and soothe the younger man. His low, insistent tone soon lulled Tom almost to sleep, but not quite. Once Chakotay was certain Tom was in the right frame of mind, he began to gently guide him back towards Voyager.
As Chakotay spoke, his words came to life in Tom's mind. Tom could see almost everything that Chakotay was describing, from the bridge of the great ship to his own quarters. He could see the mess hall, then his beloved Delta Flyer. A moment later, the scene moved to sickbay, and Tom looked down to where two biobeds were pushed close together. On the beds were two men, Chakotay and himself.
Tom felt an incredible rush of emotion as he gazed at the sight, then felt as though he was being drawn swiftly towards it. The room was spinning and he started to panic, but he remembered Chakotay's words warning him to stay calm. He felt light-headed and dizzy, and his ears were filled with the sound of his own blood coursing rapidly through his veins. He closed his eyes and tried to ignore the cacophony of strange sounds that echoed inside his head. When the noises stopped and he opened his eyes again, he was lying on the bed. He turned his head to the side and saw Chakotay smiling at him. As the Doctor lowered the force field that had surrounded them, Tom reached over and pulled Chakotay close, then thanked him for his safe return with a lingering kiss.
"Welcome back, gentlemen," the Doctor greeted them happily. "I shall inform the Captain that you have woken. Don't go anywhere while I'm away, I shall want to give you both a thorough check-up before I let you go."
His words went unheard as the two men continued to kiss passionately. It felt very good to have their real bodies back.