Life in the Delta quadrant had been peaceful of late. It had been three weeks since Voyager and her crew had last encountered hostile action; from a small ship whose commander, seeming to suffer from delusions of grandeur, had demanded they surrender and prepare to be boarded. It hadn't seemed to matter to him at first that Voyager was at least ten times the size of his ship, with fire power in proportion. He'd eventually got the message, but not until several shots across the tiny ship's bows had rocked it severely. The ship had left swiftly and hadn't been seen since.
According to the Yartisian diplomat that Captain Janeway had just finished speaking with, the small pirate ships were a well-known nuisance in the area.
Diplomat Evin had given Voyager permission to take up orbit around Yartis, and had arranged for trade negotiations to take place. There was also the promise of shore-leave for Voyager's crew. Four of the senior officers would go first on a sort of pre-leave inspection. Partly to assess suitability, and partly in order to be acquainted more with Yartis life and customs prior to the commencement of formal talks. They would be going down in pairs, Janeway and Tuvok, Chakotay and Paris, thus ensuring that the Captain and First Officer were not off the ship at the same time.
Chakotay had convinced the Captain that Tom and himself should check the place out first, with regard to Janeway's safety. It wouldn't do, he'd argued, for Voyager to lose her Captain. Something that Janeway didn't always stop to consider when she occasionally rushed headlong into the thick of things.
Chakotay and Tom were welcomed warmly on their arrival by Diplomat Evin. They had been transported down to a large, sprawling government building at the heart of one of the planet's main commercial centres. They were given a short tour of the impressive structure, and it's grounds which were a beautiful combination of tree-lined gardens and fountains.
Evin had arranged for the two men to be supplied with an amount of the local currency, and urged them to visit one of the city's pride and joys; a large and busy market, reminiscent of an old Earth bazaar. It was, apparently, a focal point for all the artisans and traders in this part of Yartis.
Although extremely large, the market was well sign-posted, and there were plenty of 'you are here' type map displays to be seen. The Artisans were extremely friendly, with an apparently crime-free society, so the two officers decided to explore without the aid of a guide.
The bustling market stretched over an immense area, and Chakotay and Tom were instantly struck by the diversity of sights, sounds and smells, as they stepped from the shuttle that had taken them there.
"Wow, have you ever seen so many colours in one place before, Cha?" Tom asked, looking with wonder from one stall to another.
"Only on the suits that Neelix wears." Chakotay grinned, as he too looked around.
Tom laughed and grabbed Chakotay's hand. "Come on, let's see if we can find something to take home"
They strolled hand in hand through rows of eager traders, mostly Yartisians, although there were a few other species represented that they didn't recognise. There were craftsmen of all types, from carpenters to potters, sculptors to makers of strange musical instruments. Handmade rugs, of intricate designs, hung side-by-side with beautiful paintings and tapestries. Everywhere there was something new and exciting to see.
"What sort of thing were you thinking of buying, Tom?" Chakotay asked, as they stopped to look at a tray of exquisite jewellery.
"I'm not sure yet, but I'll know it when I see it." Tom replied with certainty.
Chakotay smiled, and slipped his arm around Tom's waist. "Let's walk on a little further, I smell food ahead."
"God, Cha, you're not still hungry are you? We only ate a couple of hours ago."
"I know, but something smells good. I'm just curious as to what it is, that's all."
"That's a feeble excuse, Chakotay." Tom laughed "You're just trying to fill yourself up, so you don't have to eat in the mess-hall tonight."
Chakotay smiled "And that's a bad thing?"
"Now that I think about it, no." Tom grinned "Perhaps I'll do the same."
They walked on, following their noses, until they spied a small food bar. Low benches and tables, many occupied, were spread out in front of it in a semicircular fashion. As they approached, Tom suddenly stopped. "Look, Cha" he said, pointing to a rather dingy-looking stall. He walked quickly across to it, Chakotay trailing behind. The stall-holder, a small Yartisian, smiled as they approached.
On the stall were many artefacts, most of which they couldn't identify. Tom, however, stood transfixed by the object at the centre of the display. It was a translucent sphere containing a mirror that appeared as though it was made of molten silver. The images it reflected were clearly and sharply defined. The sphere rested on a circular base, seemingly made of stone. Around the edges were small crystals of different colours.
"You like?" asked the still smiling trader.
"Yes, I do, it's very unusual" Tom replied, as he took a closer look.
The trader pointed to a round object, like a large glass marble, resting in an indentation in the sphere's base. "Leave here, you stay" he said. At Tom's puzzled look, he continued "You hold, you return. It works, you hold, you return"
"We have to return to our ship soon, yes" Tom answered, not really sure what the trader was trying to say. The universal translator was doing it's best, but it seemed the Yartisian just had a very poor grasp of his own language.
"Yes, yes. Must return, you hold."
"I think he's pushing for a sale, Tom" Chakotay offered.
"I think he's got one, it's beautiful" Tom answered. He looked at the trader "How much?"
"Fifty" came the reply
"That's quite a lot, I'm not sure I can give you fifty"
The trader looked askance at Tom "It works, fifty!" he insisted.
"How about I give you forty?" Tom tried.
The trader looked thoughtful a moment "Forty five" he said.
Tom smiled "Deal" He handed over the money, and the trader began rummaging around below the counter. A brightly coloured box was pulled out, but before the Yartisian packed the sphere into it, he fixed a retaining clip to the base to hold the 'marble' in place.
"Good journeys" the trader said, bowing.
"Thank you" Tom replied, as he stepped away.
"Have you finished shopping?" Chakotay asked as he slipped an arm around Tom's shoulders "Can we go eat now?"
Tom rolled his eyes "Yes, Chakotay, we can eat now" he answered with a grin "Come on"
They walked on to the food bar and ordered, then took their meals to one of the tables, seating themselves side by side on the accompanying bench. The food was almost as colourful as the surrounding market, but its wonderful aroma made them eager to try it.
"This is great" Tom enthused, as he ate with gusto.
"Yes, it is" Chakotay agreed "I usually have to check alien food very carefully, it's not always easy to tell whether it's meat or not"
"No problems here though, Cha. A whole planet full of vegetarians, you'd fit in well"
"Are you trying to get rid of me, or something?" Chakotay asked, giving Tom a mock glare.
"Never" Tom replied sincerely, and he reached over and kissed Chakotay softly on the lips.
They smiled at each other, and continued their meal
"How long until we have to be back on Voyager?" Tom asked, between mouthfuls.
"About an hour, so there's no need to rush here. It should only take us about twenty minutes to get back to the shuttle"
"I suppose we'll need to report to the Captain as soon as we get back on the ship" Tom remarked.
"Well, as soon as we've showered and changed anyway. Her and Tuvok will be able to transport down today as well then" Chakotay replied, as he picked up his glass of juice.
"How long are the negotiations likely to take? Do you know?"
"I'm not sure, but judging by what we've seen today, I think it should go well. The Yartisians are a very open, honest lot, so I don't think there will be too many problems to overcome"
"I hope they include this food in the trade deals, it's the best I've tasted in a long time" Tom commented.
"I still have some money left, perhaps we could take our own supply back" Chakotay said, thoughtfully.
"Great idea. We can save it for when the mess-hall actually serves what it's name suggests!" Tom grinned.
An hour and a half later, the two officers were back on board Voyager, showered, changed and entering the Captain's ready room.
"Have a seat, gentlemen" Janeway offered, gesturing to the couch. She took a seat opposite. "How did it go, Commander?"
"Very well, Captain. I don't think there will be any problems allowing the crew shore leave, and I think trade negotiations will probably go smoothly as well. Yartisian society is well-ordered, crime-free and friendly"
"And the food's great" Tom chipped in, smiling.
"Well, it all sounds promising" Janeway said, sitting back in her chair "Tuvok and I will transport down shortly. I think we will need to remain in orbit for another four days, to allow all the crew about five hours of daylight shore leave each. We'll send them down in groups of twenty. Hopefully, negotiations can be completed within that time"
"I think that's probable" the First Officer said "There doesn't appear to be any lengthy ceremonies, or the like, that we'll be expected to take part in. It should be pretty straightforward"
"Good" Janeway said, standing up "We'll have a proper chat and compare notes tomorrow. Thank you for your observations, Chakotay, and you too, Tom"
"Have a good time down there, Captain" Tom said "And don't miss the market, it's amazing"
"I'll be sure to have a look" Janeway replied, as the two men headed for the door "I'll see you tomorrow"
"What do you want to do now, Tom?" Chakotay asked as they walked towards the turbolift "We're not on duty for the rest of the day"
"Let's head back home, I want to unpack that sphere" Tom replied as they entered the lift.
"Okay" Chakotay agreed, and called for their deck. They arrived quickly, and walked down the quiet corridor to their quarters. Once inside, Tom picked up the colourful box from the table, where he'd left it earlier, and carefully removed the sphere.
"Where are you going to put it?" Chakotay asked, looking over Tom's shoulder.
"I'm not sure" Tom looked thoughtful for a moment "How about in the bedroom?"
"Let's take it in there, and see what it looks like " Chakotay suggested "Why don't you leave that clip in place, it'll stop that marble thing from getting lost"
"Good idea" Tom agreed, as he carried the sphere into the bedroom, Chakotay following. He placed it on the cabinet and took a step back to admire it. Strong arms wound themselves around his waist.
"What do you think, Cha?" Tom asked, leaning back against the solid body behind him.
"Perfect" Chakotay whispered in Tom's ear, as he dropped his hands to Tom's groin.
"Mmm, what are you doing?" Tom asked, his eyes closing.
"There's a couple of spheres here that I'd like to unwrap" Chakotay murmured, as he squeezed gently. His hands travelled up to undo the fastenings of Tom's pants, and then gentle fingers worked their way inside, rubbing Tom's growing erection through the material of his shorts.
Tom moaned softly, and shifted slightly as his pants and shorts were tugged down below his knees. Chakotay pressed himself hard against Tom's back as he resumed his caresses.
"That feels so good, Cha" Tom breathed out, as Chakotay began to kiss and lick his neck. Teeth soon followed, and Tom moaned louder, reaching back to run his hands down Chakotay's thighs. The hand stroking his erection gripped tighter, and started to speed up, as all the while he was fondled gently. Both men's breathing started to become ragged, as Chakotay rubbed himself against Tom. Tom's head tilted to the side, exposing more of his neck, and Chakotay sucked hungrily on it, leaving marks as he did. Tom felt the end approaching, and thrust furiously into Chakotay's hand, finally coming with a loud cry.
"I love you, Tom" Chakotay whispered, as the younger man sagged limply in his embrace. He sat Tom down on the edge of the bed, then bent to kiss him slowly, lovingly. He pushed Tom to lay flat on the bed, removing the pilot's shoes and socks, pants and shorts, then continued the slow, lazy kisses.
Tom's hands reached for the older man's pants and undid them. Chakotay kicked off his shoes, and pulled his pants and shorts down and off. They lay half naked in each other's arms, kissing and stroking, as Chakotay rubbed himself against Tom's groin.
"I love you so much, Cha" Tom murmured softly, as he gently rolled Chakotay over, and bent to take the man's erection in his mouth. Chakotay groaned, and lifted his hips, forcing himself deeper into the moist warmth. He was too aroused for it to last long, and as Tom sucked powerfully, he came hard into the pilot's mouth with a loud growl. Tom gently licked him clean, then moved up the bed to lay in Chakotay's arms. They snuggled together drowsily, drifting off to sleep minutes later.
The previous two weeks had been hectic, to say the least. The trade negotiations had gone well, being completed within the four days allotted for shore leave, and technology had been exchanged. The Yartisians had been extremely interested in the holodecks, and had been given equipment to create their own. In return, Voyager had received the means to enhance her sensors and shields. Something that was proving extremely useful, as she had been the target of several pirate ships since leaving Yartis. The shuttles' systems were also being upgraded, and Tom had been busy test-flying, when gaps in the attacks allowed. It had been just after he had completed his final flight, the day before, that he'd been called to help out with routine cases in sickbay, while the doctor coped with an emergency.
It was B'Elanna. She had gone into very early labour, and the doctor was trying everything he could to halt it. Unfortunately, nothing was working. Harry sat next to her bio-bed, distraught, as the doctor told them he could now only concentrate his efforts on keeping the baby alive once it was delivered.. It would be difficult though, as at twenty four weeks many of it's vital organs would be underdeveloped.
Tom watched with sadness, as his ex-wife and ex-best friend struggled with their grief. He wanted to try and console them, even though they had hurt him badly, but he didn't think his attentions would be welcomed. He treated a few minor injuries, all the while monitoring developments from a distance. He was there as B'Elanna and Harry's daughter was delivered. Despite the doctor's best efforts, she only lived for fifteen minutes, her tiny lungs totally inadequate for survival. B'Elanna was sedated, and the doctor had dismissed Tom from sickbay, his services no longer required.
Almost as soon as he'd left, the red-alert had sounded, and he'd raced to the bridge. They were under attack again from another renegade ship. They had managed to deter it, but shortly after, another took it's place. And so it had continued, they would chase off one rogue ship only to be confronted with another a few hours later.
Now, twenty four hours later, everyone was feeling the strain. Voyager had sustained only minimal damage, but her crew's nerves were becoming frayed from the constant attacks.
Janeway looked around at her bridge crew, most of them had only had a few hours sleep in the last two days. They looked haggard, and in desperate need of rest. Long range scans showed the surrounding area clear for now, so she decided to take advantage of the lull and take some of her officers off duty.
"Mr. Paris, I've called up a replacement for you. Once he arrives, you are to take a break. Try and get some sleep, I'll comm. you if you're needed"
"Aye, Captain" Tom replied, gratefully.
"Commander" she said, looking at her First Officer "I'd like you to get some rest now too"
"With respect, Captain" he replied "I think you're more in need of rest than I am. Why don't you take a few hours off first, you've been on the bridge longer than I have"
Janeway thought for a moment "Maybe that would be a good idea" she agreed "I'll take a three hour break, you have the bridge until I return"
Tom's replacement arrived, and he left the bridge, smiling warmly at Chakotay on his way out. "Love you, Cha" he whispered, as he walked past.
Chakotay smiled back "See you later, Tom"
Tom arrived back at their quarters to find a few things on the floor of the living area. Must have been that attack when we didn't get our shields up quick enough, Tom thought. Some padds had fallen from the table, and a bowl of Yartisian fruit was also a casualty.
He picked everything up, and made his way into the bedroom The first thing he saw, as he almost trod on it, was the 'marble' from the base of the sphere. He picked it up, and walked towards the cabinet. The sphere was on the floor, but appeared to be intact. He retrieved it, and put it back in it's spot. He looked carefully at the base, the crystals there seemed to be glowing. That's odd, Tom thought, and he touched the blue crystal with his finger. The others ceased to glow, but a bright blue light shone from the mirror, and enveloped Tom.
It was just over three hours later, that Chakotay arrived at the quarters that he and Tom shared. He stepped through the doors and into the living area. The lights were low, and all was quiet. He crossed quietly to the bedroom, expecting to find Tom still sleeping, but the bed was empty. Perhaps he's gone to the mess-hall, Chakotay thought, as he removed his clothes, he'll probably be back soon. He ordered the computer to wake him in three hours, lay down under the covers, and fell asleep almost instantly.
He slept soundly, only waking at the sound of the alarm. He awoke slowly, and stretched his arm over to Tom's side of the bed, but it was still empty. He was disappointed, but he had to get back on the bridge. He took a quick shower, dressed, and made his way there.
"Commander" Janeway addressed him as he took his seat "You look a little more rested"
"Yes, I am, thank you. What's our status?" he asked, leaning back in his seat.
"All clear at the moment. We did pick up five ships on long range sensors about two hours ago, but we increased our speed and they didn't pursue. I'd still like to clear this area of space as quickly as we can, though"
"As they didn't pursue, perhaps we've left their 'territory'" Chakotay suggested.
"That's what I'm hoping" Janeway replied "If we don't run into any more trouble within the next three hours, then I'd like to get the crew back to normal shifts"
Chakotay nodded "I'll work out the roster. If you don't need me on the bridge for the moment, I'll take care of it in my office"
"That's fine, Commander, I'll let you know if you're needed here"
Chakotay left, and went to his office. It took him almost an hour and a half to juggle the crew into some semblance of normalcy. When he returned to the bridge, everything was still calm. He gave Janeway the roster for her inspection, as he retook his seat.
"This looks fine, Commander. We'll implement this in ninety minutes, if our luck holds"
It did hold, and Voyager began the task of getting back to normal. Chakotay was now off duty, and he decided to go back to his cabin and change out of uniform. He walked in to find his quarters still deserted. He looked around to see if Tom had left him a message anywhere, but there was nothing.
"Chakotay to Paris" he called, as he hit his comm badge. There was no answer. He tried again, with the same result. He frowned, wondering where Tom was.
"Computer, locate Lieutenant Paris" he commanded.
"Lieutenant Paris is not on board Voyager" came the reply
Chakotay was shaken; what had happened? "Computer, at what time did Lieutenant Paris leave Voyager?" he asked, with trepidation.
"Lieutenant Paris left Voyager at 13.07 hours"
That was almost nine hours ago, just after Janeway sent him to rest, Chakotay thought. "Computer, was there a transport registered for that time?"
"Negative" the female voice replied.
"Chakotay to Janeway" he called, his voice shaking, as he sat down heavily on the couch.
"Janeway here. Is everything okay, Commander?"
"No" he took a deep breath "Tom's gone"
"What do you mean, gone?" Janeway sounded puzzled.
"He's not on the ship" he said, anxiously.
Janeway could hear the fear in his voice "Where are you, Chakotay?" she asked
"My quarters" he managed to reply.
"Stay put, Tuvok and I will be right there"
Tom lay on the ground feeling groggy and confused. He knew he'd been asleep, but he wasn't sure for how long. He was still exhausted from the long duty shifts, and it was interfering with his ability to think clearly. What had happened? He slowly sat up, his eyes closed. His head hurt, and he struggled to call to mind the events that had led to this situation. He remembered being in the bedroom, and the sudden flash of blue light, then the sensation of falling. He opened his eyes slowly, and took in his surroundings. He wasn't on Voyager. Where was he?
It was almost dark, but he could see he was in a clearing in the midst of a forest. There was a large boulder behind him, with stones scattered around it. In front of him, a track led towards the trees. A slight breeze rustled the leaves, but otherwise, there was silence. Tom looked up, and saw stars shining brightly in the cloudless sky. He realised then, how cold he was, and wrapped his arms around himself to try to retain some warmth. What do I do? he thought How do I get back to Voyager? He tried his comm badge, to no avail. "Where are you, Cha? Help me, please" he said softly, his mind in a whirl.
He sat still a while longer, but the cold was starting to permeate his bones. He decided there was nothing else for it, but to head for the trees. He set off warily down the track, the silence eerie around him. Just beyond the nearest trees, he came across a patch of thick bushes with broad leaves. He pulled the branches apart, and scrambled into the interior. It was warmer here, a thick layer of leaves around and beneath him, insulating him from the cold outside. He curled into a ball, intending to sleep until daylight. Perhaps then he could figure out what to do.
Chakotay sat, his mind numb. They could find no trace of Tom. They had run every scan they could think of, and drawn a blank. They could find no evidence of alien intervention, and no-one had any theories that were plausible.
"Where are you, Tom?" Chakotay whispered, in the emptiness of his quarters "Please come back to me. I love you" Tears ran silently down his cheeks, as he wondered what he could do.
Janeway had promised that they would check, and recheck everything to make sure nothing had been overlooked, but she had decided it would be too dangerous for Voyager to retrace her path. Even if Tom had been lost in that region of space, they couldn't go back for the sake of one man, when it could mean losing the lives of everyone on board. They would continue their efforts to find Tom, but they would maintain their present course away from the pirate ships.
Chakotay sighed, and rubbed his hand across his eyes. He was on duty again in six hours time, how he was going to keep his mind on his job, he didn't know. He lay down on the couch, not wanting to go to the too big and empty bed, and closed his eyes. He slept fitfully, visions of Tom lost and helpless plaguing his dreams.
It had been two days since Tom had unexpectedly arrived in this alien world, and he was no nearer to figuring out how to get home. He had wandered through the forest, hungry and alone, no closer to a solution. He had hoped to find evidence of civilisation, but had so far found nothing. He had no food, and even if he found anything that looked edible, he had no way to tell if it was poisonous. He decided it would be best to go without for now. The stream he had found had a few fish-like creatures swimming in it, so he had taken a chance that the water would be safe. He had taken a good drink a few hours ago, and still felt okay, so hopefully the water wasn't toxic.
If he followed the stream, he thought, perhaps he would find intelligent life. He couldn't go far during the main part of the day as the sun was blinding, and his eyes hurt with the brightness. He walked as far as he could in the early morning, and then retreated into the trees until late afternoon, when he once again followed the course of the stream. He didn't know how far he had travelled, but he kept going, hoping against hope that he would find help.
The sun had almost set now, and Tom could feel the air starting to chill. He knew it was time to take shelter, before he started to feel the effects of the cold. He stopped, and looked towards the trees, searching for a suitable resting place. He spotted some large bushes, at the base of a tree, and walked wearily towards them.
Something hit his neck, and his hand flew up automatically. His fingers closed around a needle-like object, and he pulled it out, wincing. His vision began to blur, but before he lost consciousness he was aware of his clothes being tugged at and torn. Blackness descended, and he passed out.
It was two days later, that he came to, although he had no way of knowing how much time had passed. He awoke to find himself inside a very small, sturdy cage. It was so small, that he was hunched over, his knees bent up to his chin. He shivered, and, looking at his body, discovered he was naked. He looked around as much as he could, and surmised that he was deep in the forest. At first, he thought he'd been left there alone, but as his eyes adjusted to the low light level, caused by the lateness of the day and the canopy of the trees, he noticed movement about thirty feet away.
There were several humanoids present, leaning against the trees. Tom couldn't make out their features clearly, as they blended well with their surroundings. They looked to be about five feet tall, their skin dark with a greenish tint. Their hair was a similar colour, and most of them had it tied back. They were all naked.
Tom caught sight of several spears, standing upright against one of the trees, and he shivered again, frightened now as well as cold. He didn't know how he was going to get out of this, or even if it was possible. He closed his eyes tightly, but couldn't prevent his tears escaping as his thoughts drifted to Chakotay. How was the big man handling his disappearance? Did he feel as alone? Was he as frightened? Tom sobbed quietly, his mind repeating one phrase over and over - Please, Cha, please find me. Please.
As Tom sat lost in his fear and misery, he was unaware of the figure approaching him. Without warning, a hand shot through the bars of the cage and grabbed his hair roughly. He shouted out in his panic, but could do no more, as his assailant was behind him. Even if he could turn, he had no way of fighting back. His head was yanked back against the bars, and he felt a blade slice through his hair, uncomfortably close to his scalp. He shouted again, but quickly fell silent as the alien then held the vicious-looking blade to his throat. Tom closed his eyes, and tried desperately to stop his fear from overwhelming him. He stayed as still as he could, and a few moments later, he sensed the blade being withdrawn. He kept his eyes shut a while longer, trying to blot out, for a time, the hopelessness of his situation.
He felt a sharp pain in his side, and his eyes flew open to face his attacker. A youngish looking male stood next to the cage, a long pointed stick in his hand. He looked at Tom, and silently sneered, before jabbing the stick once more into Tom's side. Tom was vaguely aware that none of the aliens had yet made a sound. He tried to shuffle the few inches to the other side of the cage, but the alien just grinned, and prodded harder. Tom wanted to cry out in his pain, but he forced himself to remain quiet, hoping that with the lack of a response, his tormentor would lose interest. After two more hard stabs, the alien spat at Tom and walked away.
Another male crept towards Tom, from the opposite side, and started a similar assault; stabbing at him mercilessly before eventually wandering off, apparently bored. It happened again and again, until all the group had taking a turn at attacking him. Then, as one, weapons in hand, they walked silently off into the forest.
Tom found himself shaking uncontrollably. He wrapped his arms tightly around his knees, and willed himself to calm down. It took a long while, but eventually his body quieted, and his mind shut itself down, and he fell asleep, numb with shock.
When he awoke, hours later, sunlight was filtering through the trees, and as far as he could tell, he was alone. His muscles were cramped and hurting, and he tried to stretch, but there just wasn't enough room. His sides still hurt, and when he put his hands to them, he found they were caked with dried blood. He reached up to the back of his head, a large chunk of his hair had been cut away, but he was otherwise unhurt there.
Looking closely at the bars of the cage for the first time, he discovered they were made of a very hard type of wood. He tried repeatedly shaking them, kicking them and hitting them with his hands, using every ounce of strength he still possessed, but they held firm. The cage door opened, he noticed, by sliding upwards, but it had been securely fastened with metal bands around the top and bottom. Tom concluded that there was no way out without help.
He crouched there in his tiny prison, hungry, thirsty, frightened and in pain, awaiting with dread, the return of his captors. They never came back.
"Chakotay, it's been six days now. I'm sorry, but it really is time to accept that Tom has gone" Janeway said firmly "We have no clues as to what happened, and we've run out of options. There's nothing else we can do. As I've already told you twice before, the investigation into Tom's disappearance is now closed"
"He's got to be somewhere, he needs our help! We've got to find him. We've got to keep looking!" Chakotay demanded, his ire and desperation rising rapidly.
"No, Commander. My decision is final. I'm as upset as you are, but it's over. There will be no more investigation!" she stated again, her arms folded across her chest.
"That's what you think" Chakotay barked angrily, as he stormed out of the ready room and onto the bridge, totally oblivious to the scrutiny of the crew.
Janeway followed quickly behind him "Commander, return to my ready room. Now." she insisted, her face pale with anger and annoyance.
"Why?" Chakotay asked, glaring at her "So that you can tell me again how you intend to abandon Tom? I don't think so!"
"Commander, I will not tolerate this kind of behaviour" Janeway warned, her voice louder now.
"And I won't tolerate you giving up on Tom Paris" Chakotay shouted back, any control he'd had left, completely gone now "If it was Seven, it would be a different story, wouldn't it? You'd never give up on HER! You'd be leading the rescue, consequences be damned!"
"That's enough! I will NOT be changing my decision!" Janeway exclaimed, loudly and emphatically, as she stared directly at him.
"Then, fuck you!" Chakotay seethed, as he turned abruptly away from her, and strode off the bridge.
A few minutes later, and Chakotay was standing alone and disconsolate in his quarters, the stress of the last six days clearly evident, as tears rolled freely down his face. He sank down on the couch, his head in his hands, as he felt his heart breaking into innumerable pieces. "Tom" he sobbed, plaintively "Where are you?"
He lifted his head, and looked, with tear-filled eyes, around the room. Tom's ids were on the shelf next to a picture of him and Chakotay, and Tom's few ornaments were arranged nearby. There was also a bowl, still containing some of the fruit they'd bought on Yartis.
Chakotay rose slowly from the couch, and walked to the bedroom, opening the closet door. Tom's clothes were there, intermingled with his own. He reached, with a shaking hand, for Tom's dark blue shirt, his favourite, and ran his fingers gently down the sleeve. "You can't be gone, Tom" he said softly "I need you"
He sighed heavily, as he sat down on the bed. His roving gaze fell on the sphere, sitting on the cabinet, and he remembered Tom's joy at buying it. The thought brought a faint smile to his face, and he stood up to take a closer look at Tom's purchase.
He frowned slightly as he saw the 'marble' was missing. He looked around on the floor, but it was nowhere to be seen. He returned his gaze to the sphere, and noticed the glow coming from the blue crystal on it's base. He was drawn to touch it, and as he did, he was surrounded by a flash of blue light from the mirror. He suddenly felt himself falling, and closed his eyes until the sensation passed. When he eventually opened them again, and looked around him, he didn't have a clue where he was, but he knew for certain that this was where he would find Tom.
Just as Chakotay's finger was touching the crystal, Janeway and Tuvok arrived outside his cabin door. Janeway pressed the chime, but received no answer. She tried again, with the same response. The Captain gave an exasperated sigh, and hit her comm badge "Janeway to Chakotay" she said, irritably. She was greeted with silence.
"Computer, locate Commander Chakotay" she snapped, as she stared at the closed cabin door.
"Commander Chakotay is not on board Voyager" the computer answered, dispassionately.
Shock and disbelief flooded through Janeway, and she stood in the corridor, stunned. Her First Officer and her Senior Pilot were both gone. What was she supposed to do now? She hadn't been able to find one officer, how was she going to find two?
Chakotay carefully took in his surroundings, looking for any signs of Tom. He had already tried his comm badge, to no avail. He scrutinised the track in front of him, and noticed where the dirt had been scuffed up, and as he looked closer, he found a clear imprint of a shoe heel. Chakotay knew Tom had been wearing regulation shoes, the same as he had on now. He pressed his heel into the ground, next to the print, and discovered they were the same. Chakotay breathed a sigh of relief, as he knew now, without a doubt, that Tom had been here.
The sun was quite low in the sky, and Chakotay knew there wouldn't be too much daylight left. He decided to follow Tom's trail, until it became too dark to see. He found Tom's first refuge quickly, and nodded to himself in approval, as he knew he would be sleeping someplace similar soon. He stopped there a moment, and listened. It was strangely quiet here, he thought. There was no bird-song or any other noise for that matter. He checked the ground around him, and found another shoe-print that pointed down the track, and he resumed his search for Tom.
It was an hour later that Chakotay had to stop, the darkness too great for him to see the tracks now, and it was getting cold. Large bushes, just off to his left, would be his resting place tonight. He scrambled into the middle of them, and sank down into the pile of dead leaves that littered the ground. He thought of Tom, and prayed that he was safe and well. "I'm going to find you soon, Tom" he whispered into the loneliness of the night "I haven't given up on you, and I never will" He closed his eyes, breathing slowly, as he forced himself to sleep.
The next morning, he awoke early. The first rays of light were just starting to break through the trees, as he crawled out from his sleeping place. After stretching his aching limbs, and brushing the leaves from his clothes, he resumed his quest for Tom.
The trail wasn't too difficult to follow, now that it was light again. The soft ground retained impressions well, and Chakotay hurried hopefully onwards.
By midday the sun was very bright, but Chakotay didn't want to stop, even though the glare was hurting. He picked a large leaf, to hold above his eyes, as a shield against the light. It wasn't a perfect solution, but it would let him continue his search for now.
He lasted about an hour longer, before he had to take a break from the sun, and he moved to sit in the shade of some large trees. He decided to rest until his eyes were less sore, and then track again for another hour or so before resting again. He would carry on in this fashion, until the light level dropped.
By the time the sun was setting again, he had reached the stream. Tom's tracks led down to the waters edge, and Chakotay could clearly see where he had knelt down. As Tom had done, Chakotay decided to chance that the water was safe to drink. He washed his tired face, and looked around for somewhere to sleep. He settled into some bushes, and once again prayed for Tom's safety. He hadn't found Tom yet, but he consoled himself with the thought that he was one day closer to doing so.
For five hours the next morning, Chakotay followed Tom's trail along the edge of the stream. He was just contemplating taking a rest, when something red, at the base of a nearby tree, caught his eye. He walked quickly towards it, and picked it up. His blood ran cold, as he realised he was holding part of a Starlet uniform. Checking the ground, he noticed Tom's tracks, a short distance away, leading to a group of bushes. He followed them and stopped dead, as he noted, with horror, the signs of a struggle. There were prints of naked feet, and evidence of something heavy having lain there.
Chakotay closed his eyes as fear washed through him. With great effort, he willed himself to remain calm, as it would be too dangerous to let panic overtake him. He needed his wits about him, if he wanted to avoid being detected by Tom's assailants.
He took a few deep breaths, and looked around. He noted that the footprints led into the forest, and he followed them, warily. He had only gone about a hundred yards, when he found the tattered remains of Tom's jacket thrown carelessly into a bush. His eyes filled with tears as he picked it up, and he sank to his knees. He held the material to his face and cried silently, as his mind frantically sought an explanation other than the obvious one. Tom couldn't be dead, he told himself over and over, he couldn't be.
Eventually, Chakotay got shakily to his feet, his mind made up. He slowly rubbed his hands across his eyes to clear them "I'm going to find you, Tom" he vowed "No matter what"
He set off determinedly, tracking the footprints through the trees. The sun wasn't as blinding in here, and he pushed himself to take advantage of that fact. He knew he wouldn't stop until darkness made it necessary.
He ploughed on, and by late afternoon he was deep in the forest. A slight breeze rustled the leaves, and in the light filtering through the canopy above him, Chakotay saw something swinging from a low branch. He went to grasp it, but stopped, his arm frozen in mid-reach, as he suddenly recognised what it was; a clump of Tom's hair tied round with twine.
He felt sick, his stomach churning, and he cried out in anguish as he stumbled blindly through the trees, and into a small clearing. Through bleary eyes, he saw what looked to be a crate, and his feet automatically took him towards it. He could see there was something inside, but it wasn't until he'd taken a few more steps that he realised what it was.
He stared in shock and disbelief at the pitiful sight before him. Tom lay still, his back against the rear of the cage, and his head lolling forward onto his drawn-up knees. He was dirty, and covered in dried blood and bruises, and there were insect bites all over his thin body. A large section of hair was missing from the back of his head. Chakotay bent anxiously down next to the cage.
"Tom" he called, softly, not wanting to startle him "Tom, it's Chakotay. Open your eyes, Tommy, please"
When he got no response, he reached through the bars and gently touched Tom's neck, searching worriedly for a pulse. Tom's skin was very cold, and Chakotay feared the worst, until he felt it; a faint but steady rhythm under his fingers. He stroked Tom's cheek softly, as he called his name again, but Tom still didn't respond.
Chakotay sighed, and looked closely at the cage as he tried to determine how to get Tom out. He would need to either break the bars, or prise open the metal bands that secured the door. "Tom, I'm going to get you out of there" he promised "I'm going to try and find something I can use as a tool. I'll be as quick as I can"
Chakotay ran his fingers tenderly down Tom's right arm, and took hold of his hand "I love you, Tom. Just hang on a little longer. I'll be right back" He brought Tom's hand to the bars, and placed a soft kiss on it, before setting off on his task.
Tom stayed silent and unmoving, although he had been tempted to open his eyes. He thought he'd heard Chakotay talking to him, but he was convinced it was another illusion. He'd had a lot of those, although this was the first time he had imagined Chakotay touching him. He remained still though, he wasn't going to take notice of dreams. He had been disappointed by them enough.
Chakotay searched the ground around the clearing, trying to keep one eye on Tom as he did. The floor was littered with dead leaves and he rummaged through them, hoping to find something useful. He found a few small stones, and then some slightly larger ones as he neared the trees. It was about ten minutes later when he found a large rock that he thought might be handy. Then, to his amazement, he had an incredible stroke of luck.
He had just kicked aside a pile of leaves from the base of a tall tree, and there, lying half buried in the ground, he found a large spearhead. He pulled it out and examined it. It was solid metal, and he knew it would make a very effective tool. He took it, and the rock, back over to the cage. "Soon, Tommy" he promised, as he touched the pilot's leg.
He looked at one of the metal bands that had been pressed together around the top of the door, and inserted the blade of the spear where the edges met. By hitting it with the rock, he forced it slowly open. He had to keep varying his angle of attack, but eventually he managed to get the band off. "One down, Tom" he commented, before tackling the next one. After twenty minutes of concentrated effort, the final band fell to the floor.
Chakotay took hold of the door and slid it upwards, removing it completely and throwing it aside.
"Come on, Tom, it's time to come out of there" he said softly, as he took hold of Tom's left leg and began to slowly and gently straighten it. He was about to do the same to the other leg, when Tom's eyes flickered open. Tom stared at Chakotay, unable yet to fully comprehend what was happening. This couldn't be real, could it?
Chakotay smiled with relief, and carefully manoeuvred Tom until he was out of the cage, and in his arms. He hugged Tom tightly to him, rocking him gently as his own tears fell on the younger man's skin.
"I've got you now, Tom. Everything's going to be okay" he whispered "I love you, Tommy"
Chakotay felt a tentative hand on his arm, and he moved slightly to look at Tom's face. Blue eyes, clouded with uncertainty, gazed back at him.
"Are you real?" Tom whispered, as he studied the older man's face.
"Yes, angel, I'm real" Chakotay assured him, as he placed a soft kiss on Tom's lips. He stroked Tom's cheek gently, and smiled. "I'm going to lay you down for a while, Tom, okay? Just while I take my jacket off"
Tom nodded slowly, still unsure. Chakotay did as he'd said, then put the jacket on Tom. "We need to get you warmed up, Tom" Chakotay explained, as he looked into Tom's puzzled face. "I'm going to massage your legs now, they're very cold and they must be stiff"
Tom lay still as his legs were rubbed and kneaded. Feeling slowly returned to them, and he gradually came to the conclusion that this wasn't a dream. He looked at the man bending over him, and started to sob quietly with relief.
Chakotay stopped as he felt the shudders running through Tom's body, and looked up. "Tom? What is it?"
Tom stretched his arms towards the older man, and Chakotay went to him, laying down beside him and pulling him close. "I love you, Cha" Tom murmured "You found me"
Chakotay hugged Tom tightly to him "Yes, Tom, I did" he agreed "But we've got to get you moving now, we can't stay here. We need to head for the stream. Do you understand?"
Tom nodded his head against Chakotay's shoulder.
"Good. I'm going to put my pants on you, and then we're going to see if you can stand. Okay?"
Chakotay stood up and removed his pants, then dressed Tom in them, leaving himself clad in his shorts and undershirt, socks and shoes. He knew the pants would be a bad fit for Tom, but they would keep some warmth in and that was the priority.
"Now, Tom, let's see if you can stand" he said, as he wrapped an arm around the pilot, and cautiously pulled him upright. Tom was too weak to support himself though, and he grabbed on desperately to the First Officer with both hands.
"I can't, Cha. I can't stand"
"Then I'll carry you" Chakotay told him as he picked him up. Tom was much lighter than normal, and Chakotay winced internally at the realisation. "Have you eaten anything?" he asked, as he started to retrace his steps.
"No" Tom replied, wearily "I had some water, but I don't know when that was" He snuggled against Chakotay's chest "How long have I been here?"
"You went missing over a week ago" Chakotay answered "We didn't know what had happened to you"
"You found me, though." Tom yawned, as his eyes closed, and he fell asleep.
Chakotay walked slowly on, carrying his precious bundle, until darkness fell. He found a suitable resting place, and carefully placed Tom down amongst the leaves. Wrapping himself around the still sleeping pilot, he settled down for the night.
Tom woke first the next morning, feeling much warmer than he had of late, and he wondered why. When he opened his eyes, the events of the previous day flooded back. Chakotay had found him.
The big man's arms were wound tightly around Tom's body, and Tom could hear his steady breathing as he slept on. He reached up and ran his fingers affectionately through Chakotay's hair. He smiled then, as sleepy brown eyes opened and looked down at him. Chakotay smiled back, and bent to give Tom a loving kiss. They gazed at each other, thankful that they were together, and then just hugged for a long while, content in each other's arms.
"We'll need to get going soon, Tom" Chakotay said eventually "We have to get to the stream, you need to drink"
"How far is it?" Tom asked quietly. His voice, like the rest of his body, was still weak.
"Not too far, we should get there in about an hour"
"Okay, but I'm still not sure I can walk yet" Tom commented, concern clouding his face.
"Don't worry about it, Tom. I can carry you. Once you've had a drink, and I've cleaned you up, you'll feel a bit better" Chakotay assured him. "Let's go now, then we'll have plenty of time before the sun gets too bright"
Tom nodded, and with effort pushed himself into a sitting position. Chakotay stood and stretched his muscles carefully to loosen them, then gently lifted the younger man up. He cradled him securely, as Tom held on to his neck. Chakotay pushed his way cautiously out of the bushes, and set off for the stream.
They made steady progress, keeping a watchful eye for signs of possible attack, and reached their goal just over an hour later. Chakotay sat Tom down on a grassy mound at the edge of the stream, and helped him to take a drink of the clear water.
"Take it easy, Tom" he cautioned "Don't have too much in one go. Just keep taking lots of small drinks"
Tom's eyes closed in sheer bliss, as he drank the cool water, and he could feel it wend it's way to his stomach. He couldn't remember the last time he had enjoyed plain water quite so much.
"What are you doing, Cha?" he asked, as Chakotay pulled off his shirt, and soaked it in the stream.
"You're going to have a wash" Chakotay smiled "Let's take your jacket off first, and I'll start cleaning you up"
He helped Tom to remove the jacket, and then used his wet shirt to gently wipe Tom's face.
"That feels wonderful" Tom sighed.
Chakotay smiled, and washed around Tom's neck. He rinsed out the shirt, and looked with concern at Tom's body.
"I'm going to clean this blood off you now, Tom. I'll be as gentle as I can" he promised, as he carefully began dabbing at Tom's right side. Numerous puncture wounds were revealed as the blood and dirt were removed.
"What happened, Tom?" Chakotay asked quietly "What caused these injuries?"
"Sticks" Tom answered, staring off across the stream "Sharp ones. They kept prodding at me, I don't know why"
"Were you in that cage all the time?"
"I'd been here two days when they caught me" He took a deep breath and continued "They drugged me. Poison dart to the neck. When I woke up, I was in that cage"
Chakotay stopped his ministrations with the cloth, and hugged Tom to him, as the younger man started to tremble.
"They had a few hours fun with me, then left me there alone. They never spoke once." He looked up at Chakotay "I thought I was going to die there, Cha. I didn't think I'd see you again"
Chakotay sighed as he soothingly rubbed Tom's back. "I was getting worried that I wouldn't see you again, Tom" he confessed "I ended up here by accident. We'd tried everything we could think of, and got nowhere"
"But you touched the crystal"
"Yes. I was feeling a little lost, I'd just had a slight disagreement with the Captain, and I went to our quarters. When I went to the bedroom, I noticed the marble was missing from the sphere, but I couldn't find it. Then I noticed the crystal, and something just made me touch it, and I ended up here"
"I had the marble, I found it on the floor" Tom recounted "Then I did what you did, touched the crystal and got stuck here"
"We need to find a way to return to Voyager. Any ideas?"
Tom frowned in concentration. Something was niggling at him, but it was just out of reach.
"What are you thinking, Tom?" Chakotay asked, as he watched the younger man lost in his thoughts.
"I'm not sure. It was when you said about returning to Voyager, I thought...." he trailed off "The trader" he said suddenly.
"What about the trader?"
"Don't you remember? He was pointing at that marble, and saying something about returning" Tom reminded the First Officer.
"Yes, he did" Chakotay answered thoughtfully "He said 'you hold, you return'. I thought he just wanted you to buy the sphere and go back to the ship"
"Perhaps that's how we get back" Tom said, hopefully.
"Except, we don't have the marble" Chakotay gently reminded him "Do you know what happened to it?"
Tom thought carefully back to when he had first arrived, in this alien world. "I had the marble in my hand when I touched the crystal. You said you didn't find it in the bedroom, so I probably still had it when I got here" he reasoned "I remember waking up next to a boulder, I must have dropped it there"
"Then we'll make our way back to the boulder" Chakotay decided "We're going to rest here a while first, though. I want to finish cleaning you up, and I want to get some more water in you before we even think about moving"
He picked up the wet shirt, and resumed his task of cleaning Tom's abused body.
"Can't I just sit in the stream?" Tom asked, as Chakotay rinsed out the cloth again.
"Once I've cleaned the blood away, yes. But the water's quite cool, and I don't want you in there too long, so I'm going to finish with the cloth first. Okay?"
"Okay" Tom agreed, and smiled lovingly at the older man. "When we get back to Voyager, you can take over my shifts in sickbay" he teased.
Chakotay just laughed, and remembering the scene on the bridge, thought to himself 'when we get back to Voyager, I'll probably be going straight to the brig'. He finished cleaning Tom's sides, and then looked, with worry, at the wounds. Some of them appeared to be infected. He prayed silently that they would get back to Voyager, and soon. For now, all he could do was to keep washing the area, while they were still close to the stream. Once they had left it, they would need to travel quickly. Tom hadn't eaten in over a week, and although he now had some water inside him, there would be nothing to drink on the last leg of their journey back to the boulder, as they had no means of carrying any water with them.
He rinsed the cloth a final time. "Ready to go in the water, then?" he asked, as he wrung his shirt out and spread it over some rocks to dry.
"Yeah. Are you coming in as well?"
Chakotay nodded, as he removed his shoes and socks, and then his shorts. "Let's get those pants off you, Tom"
Tom undid the fastenings, and with the older man's help, wriggled free of them. His dirt covered legs contrasted sharply with the rest of him. Chakotay entered the stream first, and sat down in the gentle flow. From his sitting position, the water covered most of his chest. He reached up for Tom, as the younger man shuffled towards him, and guided him onto his lap.
"God, that feels good!" Tom exclaimed, as the water washed over him and Chakotay carefully rubbed at his legs with gentle hands. Tom sighed, and rested his head against Chakotay's neck. "I really do love you, Cha" he said, with undisguised emotion "Thank you so much for loving me"
Chakotay wrapped his arms around Tom, and squeezed tenderly, as tears stung his eyes. "I'm not whole without you, Tom" he said softly "You're part of me. The part I can't do without. I love you more than I'll ever be able to put into words. More than I'll probably ever be able to show you" He took a deep breath "Without you there's nothing, I just wouldn't exist"
Tom lifted his head to gaze into Chakotay's tear-filled eyes. He silently pulled the older man's head towards him, and kissed him with every ounce of love he possessed, as the stream flowed quietly around them. Minutes passed, as they kissed, trying to convey to each other, without words, their deepest feelings, until Tom shivered involuntarily.
Chakotay pulled away in concern "You're getting cold, Tom. Come on" He gathered Tom to him, and lifted him out of the water, placing him carefully down on the grass. He picked up his damp shirt and used it to wipe as much water as he could from Tom's body, before helping him to dress. Chakotay put his shorts on, then placed the wet shirt back on the rocks to dry.
"Have another drink, Tom, then we'll rest until the afternoon. My shirt will be dry by then, and we'll miss the worst of the sun"
"How long will it take to get to the boulder?"
"It took me about a day and a half to get from there to here, but I was pushing myself. Realistically, I'd say we're looking at adding at least another day to that"
"Do you think we'll make it? I mean, I haven't eaten in the last week and you haven't eaten since you got here either. And you have to carry me" Tom noted with concern, as he looked intently at the older man.
"We'll do it, Tom" Chakotay answered with certainty "I'll make sure we do" He dipped his hands into the water "Let's drink now, and rest. Then we'll go as far as we can before it gets dark"
After a long drink, they snuggled together in the shade to sleep, in readiness for the journey ahead.
When they woke, the sun was well past it's peak, and the glare was bearable. They drank again, and set off following the stream back towards the point where they would branch off into the forest. There was about four hours of light left, and they used it as best they could, stopping every hour to rest and drink. By nightfall, they were over halfway to where they would leave the stream.
"It feels colder tonight, Cha" Tom remarked as they settled down to sleep.
"Come here, then. Let me warm you up" Chakotay replied. He rubbed briskly at Tom's arms and legs "Feel any better?"
"A little. But what about you? You've got less on than I have"
"I'm fine, Tom. I don't feel the cold much" Chakotay answered, as he cuddled Tom to him, and rubbed his back "Try and sleep now. I'll keep you as warm as I can"
He wrapped his body as tightly as he could around Tom, and piled leaves on top of them as insulation. Tom drifted off to sleep, and Chakotay soon followed.
The sunlight filtering through the bushes woke Chakotay the next morning. Tom lay still sleeping in his arms. He lay watching Tom for a while, before deciding to wake him. They needed to get moving soon, to make the most of the early light. He gently shook Tom, as he called his name. Blue eyes finally opened, but barely.
"Tom? I need to clean your wounds before we go. Okay?" Chakotay said, as he looked closely at Tom.
"I'm tired, Cha" Tom mumbled as his eyes closed again.
"Tom. You've got to wake up now" Chakotay insisted "You need water, come on" He pulled Tom into a sitting position, holding him against his chest as Tom struggled to open his eyes.
"I'm taking you down to the stream now" Chakotay told the younger man as he picked him up.
He carried Tom down to the water's edge, laying him down and removing his jacket. He ripped a sleeve off his shirt, not wanting to use all of it this time, and soaked the material in the water. He dabbed gently at the angry wounds on Tom's sides. Tom lay quietly, trying to stay awake, but it was a struggle.
Chakotay rinsed out the cloth, and washed Tom's face. That revived the younger man enough for Chakotay to get him to drink.
"Have a little more, Tom" Chakotay coaxed as he held his cupped hands full of water to Tom's mouth. Tom sipped, with effort, at the water, but was too sleepy to take much.
Chakotay put the jacket back on him, and lifted him up. They needed to cover as much distance as they could, as quickly as possible. Chakotay set off resolutely along the track. He pushed himself to keep going, even though, today, Tom seemed heavier in his arms. He knew it was the lack of food starting to kick in, sapping his strength, but he wouldn't allow himself to give in to it. He focused his mind on their goal of reaching the boulder, and pushed all other thoughts aside.
It took three hours, having stopped several times to drink and rest, to reach the point where they would leave the stream. It was almost midday, the sun high in the sky. Chakotay decided he would have to rest longer this time, as every part of him ached from his efforts, and they needed to make the most of their last chance of water.
He set Tom down on the edge of the stream. The pilot had slept for almost the whole three hours, only waking when Chakotay had roused him, to drink. Now, he was slightly more alert, and Chakotay was grateful for the fact.
"Tom, I'm going to soak in the water a while, try and ease some of my aches. Will you be all right there?"
"Could I go in as well?" Tom asked quietly.
"Let me go in on my own first, then you can have a quick dip before I get out. Okay?" Chakotay said, as he brushed his hand over Tom's cheek.
Tom nodded "Okay. I'll lay here 'till your ready for me"
Chakotay smiled, and placed a quick kiss on Tom's nose, before he removed his clothes and shoes. He took the torn shirt sleeve, that he'd carried tucked into the waistband of his shorts, and wet it. He gave it to Tom to wipe his face with, then stepped into the stream. He sank down gratefully into the cool water, resting his head on the bank as he stretched out. He closed his eyes against the glare that was starting to build in intensity, and let the stream wash the weariness from his limbs.
Tom lay on his stomach on the bank behind Chakotay, and gazed fondly at the big man as he soaked in the water. He could still hardly believe that Chakotay had found him. It was a miracle, he thought. A shudder ran through him as he thought what his fate might otherwise have been. A vision of himself starving to death, alone and trapped in a cage in the forest of an alien world, flitted in front of his eyes, and he closed them to shut it out. He only opened them again when Chakotay called to him.
"Do you want to come in now, Tom?"
"Yeah, but could you give me a hand getting these clothes off?" Tom asked as he slowly rolled onto his back.
Between them, they removed Tom's clothes, and Chakotay helped him into the stream. They sat together, Tom on Chakotay's lap, and enjoyed the feel of the soothing water, drinking as they did.
"The next part of our journey is going to be harder, Tom" Chakotay commented, as he used the cloth to wash Tom's neck. "I need to sleep for a couple of hours before we set out"
"I wish you didn't have to carry me. It would be easier then" Tom said, feeling guilty.
"Don't worry about it. I'll sleep, drink as much as I can before we go, and I'll be fine. You do the same as well. Once we get to the boulder, we'll find that marble thing, and get back to Voyager" Chakotay said positively.
"We don't know how it works, Cha"
"The trader said 'you hold, you return', perhaps that's all there is to it. Perhaps you're meant to leave it somewhere when you arrive, and collect it again when you want to leave" Chakotay suggested.
"I hope it's that easy" Tom replied, looking into the older man's eyes.
"We'll do it, Tom. I know we will" he said reassuringly. "I think we'd better get out of here now, before you get too cold. We'll get dressed and try to sleep then"
Two and a half hours later, with as much water in them as their stomachs could hold, they started on the next part of their journey, away from the stream. The glare wasn't so bad now, but Chakotay walked in the shade of the trees as much as he could. They had soaked the piece of cloth in the water before they'd left, and Tom held it, using it to cool Chakotay's face every once in a while as the older man carried him.
They walked for forty-five minutes, then rested for fifteen, repeating the pattern for the next two hours. After that, Chakotay found he was tiring quicker, and had to rest after thirty minutes. He pushed on, though, as far as he could before night put an end to their travels. Sleep came quickly to the exhausted and weakened men, as they curled up together in a nest of leaves, at the centre of a group of broad-leaved bushes.
It was an effort to rise the next morning. Chakotay's muscles were still protesting from the previous day's exertions, but he willed himself to move. He knew they were only about a day away from the boulder now, and that thought spurred him on. He stretched his muscles, warming them up for a good fifteen minutes, before rousing Tom.
Tom came to slowly. He felt very weary, and his movements were lethargic as he attempted to sit up. Chakotay hugged Tom to him, and kissed him tenderly, before they set out once more.
Chakotay wasn't too bad for the first two hours, but each time they stopped after that, he found he could walk for less and less time before tiring. He felt sluggish, his legs like lead at times, and Tom seemed to weigh more as the hours passed. As the sun climbed high in the sky, he came to the conclusion that he would have to stop for a more substantial rest.
They stretched out in the shade, and slept for a couple of hours, as the brightness of the day increased around them.
Chakotay had hoped the rest would have helped more than it did. As he picked Tom up to resume their journey, he knew he wouldn't get very far before he had to stop again. He managed to walk for fifteen minutes, then had to rest for another fifteen.
"Cha?" Tom whispered "Let's stop for today. You're too tired"
"No, Tom. I know I'm tired, but it won't help to stop for that length of time. By tomorrow we'll both be even weaker, and it will be that much harder to go on" Chakotay replied, as he rested his head against the tree behind him. "We'll be stopping when it gets dark in about four hours time anyway. I'm just going to go on for as long as I can each time, even if I only last five minutes before stopping. Each step is a step closer to getting home, and we've got to do it before we're too weak to make it. The longer we go without food and water, the worse it's going to get"
Tom sighed, and rested his head on Chakotay's shoulder as they sat side by side. "I wish I wasn't so useless" he muttered.
Chakotay slipped his arm around Tom's shoulder and squeezed gently "You're not useless, Tom. Your body's just had too much to cope with" he reassured the younger man.
He climbed wearily to his feet "Come on, let's get going again. See how far we can get this time"
They progressed slowly, stopping and starting at very short intervals, for the rest of the day. By the time darkness fell, Chakotay found he was barely shuffling along, with Tom limp in his arms. His muscles were screaming at him by the time he laid Tom down for the night. The pilot had slept for the last hour, and now Chakotay joined him in slumber. Tomorrow they would reach the boulder, he thought, as sleep claimed him.
Night gave way to day, and Chakotay slowly opened his eyes. He looked appraisingly at the man laying in his embrace. Tom's face was pale and thin, and he was in desperate need of medical attention. Even though Tom hadn't complained, Chakotay knew the infected wounds were causing him pain. The insect bites on his body were irritating him too, and he was weak from lack of food and water. He had to get Tom back to Voyager today.
He rose shakily to his feet. He felt light-headed, and every part of him hurt. He stood still a moment, to clear his head, then bent to scoop up the still-sleeping pilot. Tom never stirred as Chakotay carried him from their resting place, and back onto the track that led to the boulder.
Chakotay tried to divert his mind from the pains that ran through his body, and concentrated instead on just putting one foot in front of the other for as long as he could. He trudged on, in spite of his muscles' protest, for half an hour before he gave in and stopped.
He sat down, still cradling Tom in his arms, as he tried to summon up the energy to continue. He forced himself to rise ten minutes later, and he struggled onwards.
For the next two hours, he inched his way forward. Tom had stirred a little, but hadn't woken fully, and Chakotay was concerned about him. He shuffled on, and, looking ahead, saw that he was approaching a clearing.
Even though he could now hardly stay upright, and every muscle hurt more than he'd ever experienced before, he suddenly wanted to run. There, fifty yards in front of him, was the boulder.
"Tom! Tom! Wake up!" he said excitedly, as he walked on up the track "We're there, Tom!"
Tom stirred as Chakotay neared the boulder, and his eyes flickered open just as Chakotay stumbled and fell.
Tom landed on his back with a thud, Chakotay falling to one side of him, his feet towards Tom's head. The older man had managed to twist as he fell, in order to avoid landing on top of Tom. Tom lay still a moment, as his brain processed what had just happened, until he realised that Chakotay wasn't moving.
Tom lifted his head and looked over at Chakotay. In his efforts to avoid hurting Tom, Chakotay had struck his head on the boulder. Blood was pouring from a nasty gash, and Chakotay was unconscious, his face pale.
"Oh my God! Cha!" Tom shouted, panic-stricken, as he tried to sit up. He called up all the strength he had, and pulled himself closer to the boulder. He looked at Chakotay's head wound, and knew he wouldn't be able to stop the bleeding easily. He had to find the 'marble' and hope it would take them home.
He pressed his hand to the gash, as he looked desperately around, fear fuelling his energy reserves. He tried to remember back to his arrival here, and what position he had woken up in. An image formed in his mind, and he looked to where his hands would have been.
He didn't see it at first, but the second time he scanned the ground, he spotted it. There was the 'marble' lying amongst the stones next to Chakotay's foot. 'You hold, you return' flashed through Tom's brain, and he prayed it would work. And if it did, that both of them would be taken back. Tom took his hand away from Chakotay's head, and wrapped it around the man's legs as he reached out with his other hand to pick up the 'marble'.
For a few seconds, nothing happened. Then a blinding flash of light hit the two men, and Tom shut his eyes as he clung tighter to Chakotay's legs. He felt as though he was spinning, and then, suddenly, the sensation ceased. Tom opened his eyes. Voyager! They were on the floor of their bedroom!
Tom let go of the 'marble', as his vision began to blur. "Computer, medical emergency. Two to beam directly to sickbay" he managed to call out before his body finally succumbed to his ordeals, and he collapsed on top of Chakotay.
Kathryn Janeway had the shock of her life. She was in sickbay, in deep discussion with the Doctor, when her missing officers appeared on the floor almost directly in front of her. For an instant, she stood immobilised as she took in their battered condition, and the pool of blood that was forming on the floor around Chakotay's head. The Doctor's frantic actions snapped her out of her frozen state, and she helped him get the two men on to adjacent bio-beds.
Chakotay's head wound was the Doctor's first priority, and he worked quickly to stem the flow of blood. Once that was done, he checked for other injuries. There was nothing life-threatening, he concluded, although the Commander would need to be treated for blood loss, dehydration and exhaustion. The appropriate drips were quickly set up, and the Doctor turned his full attention to Tom.
It was obvious that Tom hadn't eaten in quite a while, and as well as dehydration and exhaustion, he had other problems. Janeway looked on with shock, as Tom's jacket was removed. There were badly infected wounds on both his sides, along with numerous red insect bites, some of which were also infected. She stood back and watched for the next half hour, as the Doctor worked steadily to repair as much of the damage as he could for now.
"I'm going to attend to the lower half of Mr. Paris' body now, then I'm going to keep them both sedated for the next twelve hours" The Doctor informed Janeway. "Although, of course, I shall have to wait for the Commander to regain consciousness naturally first. I want to check him out fully before I give him a sedative. Can't be too careful with head wounds"
"Would I be able to speak with him for a few minutes before you knock him out again?" Janeway asked.
"Quite possibly, yes. I'll let you know when he wakes up"
"Very well. Keep me informed of Lieutenant Paris' condition as well, Doctor" Janeway said, as she walked towards the door. "I'll be in my ready room"
It was half an hour later that Chakotay began to stir. His head hurt, and he kept his eyes closed as he struggled to recall what had happened. He'd fallen while carrying Tom, he suddenly remembered.
"Tom!" he shouted out, as he sat up quickly. The sudden movement made his head swim, and it wasn't until he heard the Doctor's voice that he realised where he was.
"Doctor? How did I get here? Where's Tom?"
"Relax, Commander, Tom's fine. If you look the other way, you'll see he's in the next bed. As to how you got here, I'm not sure" the Doctor said, calmly "Now, please lay back down. I don't want to have to replace those drips"
Chakotay lay down, his gaze fixed on Tom. He was also attached to various drips, but Chakotay breathed a sigh of relief. They were home. He wasn't sure how, but it didn't really matter right now.
The sickbay doors swished open, and Captain Janeway appeared at Chakotay's bedside, the Doctor having called her when Chakotay first awoke.
"Commander. How are you feeling?" she asked, looking carefully at him.
"Glad to be back" he answered tiredly.
"I found Tom" he replied, as he struggled to stay awake.
"Captain? I think it would be best if you were to speak with the Commander tomorrow, after he's rested" the Doctor advised.
"I think you're right" she agreed, then turned back to Chakotay. "I'll see you tomorrow, Chakotay. We'll talk then, if you're up to it"
Chakotay nodded, too tired to speak. He fell asleep without the aid of a sedative.
It was fifteen hours before Chakotay woke again. This time, his head felt fine, and the Doctor had regenerated the wound while he slept. His limbs no longer ached, although he still felt a little weaker than normal. The drips had also been removed, he noticed.
He sat up carefully, and looked around. Tom lay on the next bed, his drips also gone. Chakotay swung his legs over the side of the bed, and stood, a little shakily at first. He walked the few steps to Tom's bed, the sickbay pyjama bottoms feeling strange on his legs after days of just wearing boxers.
Tom looked a lot better than he had. His face had a little more colour now, and Chakotay gently brushed Tom's cheek with the back of his hand. Tom shifted slightly in the bed, and opened his eyes. Chakotay's brown eyes gazed back at him, and smiles crept over both their faces. They hugged then, as they reassured each other that this was real, and not a dream. They were home.
The Doctor cleared his throat twice before he got their attention. "How are you feeling, gentlemen?"
"Fine" Chakotay answered "A little weak, but I'm okay"
"And you, Lieutenant?"
"Much better, Doc. And ready to get out of here" Tom answered with a grin.
"You still need to rest, Mr. Paris, and I'd like to see you eat before I let you go. How long were you without food?"
"I'm not sure, about nine days or so, I think"
"Then you may find it difficult to take solid food again straight away. I suggest you start with something along the lines of soup. I will continue to give you supplements along with the antibiotics you also need"
"So if I eat now, I can go?" Tom persisted.
"Yes, Mr. Paris. But I want you back here in eight hours for your medication. And you are to rest. I don't want reports of you playing pool at Sandrines, or any other such nonsense. Do I make myself clear?"
"I'll make sure he behaves, Doctor" Chakotay said, smiling "I'll bring him straight back if he doesn't"
"I'm glad to hear it, Commander. Now, both of you go and replicate some soup, and you can go when you've finished it"
"Doc? Could we be transported back to our quarters? I don't fancy walking through the ship in pyjamas" Tom said, as he headed for the replicator.
"Fine, Mr. Paris, I'll transport you. Now get on with your meals"
When they eventually arrived back at their quarters, Tom headed straight for the bedroom.
"What's the rush, Tom?" Chakotay asked, as he followed behind.
"That marble thing. I left it on the floor by the bed when we got back" He stopped just inside the bedroom door, and stared at the floor. It was stained with Chakotay's blood.
"What happened, Tom?" Chakotay asked, as he saw the mess "I don't remember how we got back"
"Let me just put the 'marble' back where it belongs, and I'll tell you" Tom replied, as he picked the object up. He placed it quickly on the sphere's base, noting as he did that the glow from the blue crystal was extinguished.
"You were right about how to get back, Cha" Tom said, as he guided Chakotay back to the living area, and on to the couch. "You'd knocked yourself out when your head hit the boulder, and you were bleeding badly. I found that 'marble' amongst the stones. I grabbed on to you, and picked it up. A few seconds later, we were in the bedroom"
"You got us home, Tom" Chakotay said, softly, as he hugged the younger man.
"God, Cha. If it hadn't been for you, we'd never have made it. I don't know how you managed to carry me for so long"
"Let's just say we got each other home then" Chakotay said, smiling fondly at Tom. "Now, though, you'd better rest, or the Doctor will want you back in sickbay"
"Okay, but I'll stay here. I don't want to go back in the bedroom for now. I can't handle seeing your blood again just yet"
"Lay down here then, Tom. I'll get you a pillow and a blanket" Chakotay said, rising. He returned from the bedroom a moment later, and settled Tom down on the couch. "Go back to sleep, and I'll get the bedroom cleaned up. Okay?"
"You should rest too, you know. Don't overdo it" Tom said, as he held Chakotay's hand and rubbed his thumb over the back of it.
"I won't overdo it, I promise. But it's my mess, and I'll clean it up. I'll rest when I've finished" He kissed Tom's forehead "Sleep now. We'll eat again when you wake up"
"Give me a good night kiss then, and I'll sleep" Tom grinned, as he remembered their first night together.
"Okay, but that's all you're getting for now" Chakotay grinned back "The rest will have to wait until we're both fit enough"
They shared a long, loving kiss which Chakotay eventually broke. "No more just yet" he said, tapping Tom on the nose.
Tom sighed, and snuggled under the blanket. "I'll sleep now, then" he yawned.
Chakotay smiled, and got up. After one last look at Tom, he headed for the bedroom.
He'd been scrubbing at the floor for twenty minutes, when he heard the door chime. He quickly grabbed his robe, and pulled it on over the sickbay pyjamas that he still wore. "Enter" he called out, as he returned to the living area.
"Chakotay, how are you?" the Captain asked, as the door closed behind her.
"I'm fine now, thank you" he answered quietly, as he looked across at Tom. The younger man was fast asleep. "Have a seat" Chakotay gestured.
They both sat at the table, and Chakotay took a deep breath "I should apologise for my behaviour on the bridge, I shouldn't have spoken to you like that. Although, I won't apologise for my reasons for doing so" he stated calmly "I'll understand if you wish to send me to the brig"
Janeway sighed, and studied Chakotay's face. "I won't be sending you to the brig, Chakotay. It was my fault as much as yours. I could see you were very upset, I shouldn't have pushed you. If I'd let you calm down, we could have continued talking later, in private. I suppose I just didn't expect you to react like that"
"I'm only human, Kathryn. I can only take so much. I know everyone expects me to always stay calm, and level-headed, and I do try, but when Tom disappeared so did my reason for living. I couldn't think straight. All I knew was that I had to find him. I couldn't give up"
"And you found him" Janeway smiled "But where? What happened? I couldn't believe it when you disappeared as well. Where did you go?"
"It was something Tom bought on Yartis. It seems to be a transport device, although we didn't know that then. Tom went through a portal, if you like, and ended up being imprisoned. He'd been attacked, and they had left him in a tiny cage to die" Tears welled in Chakotay's eyes, as he remembered how he had found Tom. "He hadn't eaten, and they... . I can't, I'm sorry" his voice trailed off, as he struggled with the painful memories.
"It's okay, leave it for now. Let me get you a drink" Janeway offered, and walked to the replicator. "Tea?"
"Yes, please" Chakotay replied, as he rubbed his hand across his eyes.
There was movement from the couch, as Tom stirred and opened his eyes. "Cha?" he called softly.
"I'm here" Chakotay answered, as he walked across to him, and kissed him tenderly. "The Captain's here as well" he informed Tom.
"How are you feeling, Tom?" Janeway asked, as she noted the obvious love the two men had for each other.
"A lot better, thanks, Captain" Tom said, sitting up.
Janeway handed Chakotay his tea "Would you like a drink, Tom?" she asked.
"Not just yet, thanks"
"I was just explaining to the Captain about the sphere" Chakotay said to Tom, as he sat next to him.
Tom snorted "I wish I'd never seen that thing" he said, emphatically.
"Where is it now?" Janeway asked.
"In our bedroom" Tom replied "But I think we need to get rid of it. It's too dangerous to keep here, who knows what else it might do"
"I agree" Chakotay said "Although I would recommend putting it into secure storage rather than disposing of it completely. If it can be studied safely, off the ship, it might turn out to be useful"
"Can I see it?"
"Certainly, Captain. But don't touch it" Chakotay warned "That's how we got into trouble"
Janeway followed the two men into their bedroom, where a bowl of water and a cloth still sat on the floor.
"Excuse the mess, Kathryn" Chakotay apologised "I head-butted a rock just before our return"
Tom avoided looking at the floor, and went towards the sphere. "This is it, Captain" he said, pointing. "I just thought it was an elaborate mirror. Shows you what I know" he grinned, wryly.
"It's beautiful, Tom. I can see why you bought it" Janeway commented, as she looked at the object in front of her. "But I think it deserves to be called a looking-glass. It's too fancy to be called a plain old mirror"
"Maybe" Tom answered "But it can go. Take it away, I never want to see it again. After all the trouble we had, I can tell you, Tom is definitely through with the looking-glass!"