|Lost and Found
Tom woke up to be greeted by a stiff and aching back, the night on the couch having taken its toll on him. He slowly rolled over and sat up, his muscles protesting even the most careful of movements. Gently rolling his head from side to side to work the kinks from his neck, he glanced across to the bed.
Chakotay was still asleep, his naked body face-down on top of the covers, and he was snoring softly. Tom allowed his gaze to travel freely over the Commander's smooth, dark skin, appreciating the sight as he thought back to the previous day, and the strange behaviour Chakotay had exhibited.
Frowning, Tom got up and approached the bed, his still-clothed body warmed further by the bright early morning sunshine that streamed in through the window. Looking the older man over carefully, he attempted to reconcile the normally quiet and understanding First Officer with the man who had forcefully pinned him to the wall, then made it an order that they should kiss.
Tom found it was a difficult thing to do. He'd never known Chakotay to behave that way before, and the only reason he could think of that might account for it, was the amount of liquor they'd consumed as they'd made their way from bar to bar.
Sighing, Tom's thoughts turned towards Amshev, and the way the alien had intimately touched the man now lying in front of him. Why had Chakotay allowed it? Had it all been part of the mission? Tom was confused. The older man had shown no interest in *him* until after the encounter with Amshev, then Chakotay had been all over him as they'd made their way back to the hotel. Why?
Shaking his head, perplexed, Tom wondered whether Chakotay would be back to his normal self when he awoke. Most of him hoped so, although there was a part that longed for a continuation of the attention he'd received from the older man the night before. Chakotay's kisses, and the man's firm, aroused body pressed against his, had felt good, and Tom felt himself begin to harden at the memory. He looked again at the sleeping form on the bed, feeling an almost irresistible urge to reach out and gently stroke Chakotay's soft-looking skin, and wanting to run his fingers through the long hair that had partly fallen across Chakotay's face, hiding most of his altered features.
With another sigh, Tom resisted the temptation. He'd already touched Chakotay once before while he slept, and felt guilty that he'd taken advantage of the man. He wasn't about to do that a second time; it wasn't right. If he wasn't going to allow Chakotay to use *him*, there was no way he would use Chakotay. With one last lingering look at the man he'd wanted for so long, Tom reluctantly moved away and made his way to the bathroom.
When Tom returned, the bed was empty, and there was no sign of the Commander. The clothes that Chakotay had taken off the night before and left on the floor had gone, and the bed was neatly made. Tom frowned and looked around, eventually wandering over to the window to gaze out at the street below.
The scene was the same as the previous morning. A bustling crowd of Nahldarians filled the pavements, their exuberance hardly diminished by their lack of sleep, their only goal being to enjoy themselves as much as possible while in Velator.
The tables and chairs in front of the building were almost all taken, occupied by happy couples eating breakfast, and enjoying each other's company. Tom smiled as one pair in particular caught his eye; two young women feeding each other from plates that overflowed with exotic-looking fruit, giggling as they competed to cram as much as they could into the other's mouth, while juice ran down their chins to drip onto their already-stained clothes. Tom smiled at the sight again, then turned his attention elsewhere.
There was a figure standing to one side of the paved area, his features obscured in shadow, but Tom immediately knew who it was. During their years on Voyager, and his keen studying of the older man, Tom had seen Chakotay in enough situations to be able to identify him under almost any circumstances, and this one was no exception. He didn't need the help of the sunlight to know that the man standing alone, and with a decidedly unhappy posture, was the man he'd been in love with since their first meeting. Unsure of what sort of reception he'd receive, Tom decided he would go down and see if Chakotay was okay.
Arriving at the front of the building, Tom was pleased to see that Chakotay was still in the same place, although the Commander's head was bowed, and he seemed to be intensely studying the ground by his feet. Tom stepped closer, squinting slightly as the sun's bright rays hit him full in the face, feeling nervous about what to say to Chakotay, and how to say it.
A movement, and the sudden darkening of the bright patch of ground to his right, caught Chakotay's attention, and he looked up to see Tom just a few feet away from him, and moving closer. Chakotay's eyes closed briefly, and he sighed. He'd left the hotel room while Tom was in the shower, hoping to have some time alone in which to sort out his thoughts. He'd woken up with vivid recollections of the previous evening, and shame at his actions had flooded him. He couldn't believe he'd acted the way he had, especially towards Tom, and despite his efforts to come up with some rational explanation for his behaviour, he couldn't. Nothing would seem to explain it. Not even the amount of alcohol he and Tom had consumed. Chakotay was no stranger to drink, even if others thought he was, but it had never had such an effect on him before that he had behaved so far out of character, and that concerned him deeply.
"Is everything okay, Chakotay?"
Tom's hesitant voice broke through Chakotay's thoughts, and he nodded briskly, his eyes riveted on a spot somewhere beyond Tom's left shoulder. Knowing he really should apologise, but unsure how to do it, Chakotay automatically shifted into First Officer mode. "Everything's fine, Lieutenant. Let's get on with our mission." He started walking off almost before Tom had chance to process what he'd said.
"Hold on a minute. We've not even had breakfast yet," Tom protested, his annoyance at Chakotay's abruptness showing in his voice.
Chakotay's pace never slowed, and his gaze remained fixed on the street ahead of him. "We'll get something later," he responded as Tom caught up with him. "We need to find Telsesh as soon as possible."
"Telsesh?" Tom queried. "Or do you mean Amshev?" he asked, a hint of the previous evening's jealousy flickering inside him, growing stronger as he stared at the impassive face of the man hurrying along beside him. "Perhaps it's *him* you're in such a hurry to see. Maybe you can't wait to reacquaint yourself with your little sex toy."
Chakotay stopped and turned towards the Lieutenant, his face a mixture of barely controlled anger and embarrassment. "I don't give a damn what you think, Paris. Just follow orders, and keep your comments to yourself." He stalked off again, ignoring the looks he was getting from some of the couples around them.
Tom stood still a moment, wondering what the hell had possessed him to talk to Chakotay like that, before he finally noticed the stares he was getting from curious onlookers. Realising that Chakotay's reaction to his accusations had drawn attention to them, Tom set off at a jog and once again caught up with the Commander. "We seem to have attracted an audience," he whispered nervously as he caught hold of Chakotay's arm.
Chakotay sighed, then slowed his pace, the welcome touch of Tom's hand warring with his anger at both the younger man and himself, and he stopped again, the significance of Tom's observation sinking in. The area they were in was for couples; happy, contented couples. Nahldarians never argued with each other in public, so he and Tom couldn't either. It was vital for them to maintain their cover at all costs.
Chakotay slipped his arm around Tom's waist. "For the sake of the mission, and our own safety, we'll continue to the club like this," he announced, his face showing none of the turmoil that he felt inside.
Tom nodded, relieved that Chakotay seemed to be ignoring his unwarranted jealous outburst, and he copied Chakotay's action, placing his own arm around the Commander's waist. Then, both feeling awkward, but no longer attracting unnecessary attention, they walked the rest of the way to the bar in silence.
"That door doesn't actually look as though it's in general use," Tom commented as he and Chakotay stood to one side of the club's main room, looking across at the door they'd been taken through the previous night. "D'you think it'd be okay to just enter, or are we supposed to wait for an invitation again?"
Chakotay shook his head slowly. "I'm not sure, Tom. Let's get a drink and just observe for now," he answered. "If we see others using it without an escort, then we'll chance it, too. Come on," he instructed, and started off towards the nearby bar.
Tom nodded, and followed, pleased that Chakotay was back to calling him 'Tom', and not 'Paris' or 'Lieutenant', and he hoped he wouldn't slip up again, and make another stupid comment. He could see by the way the Commander had acted so far that the older man was obviously embarrassed by what he'd done the night before, and he didn't want to add to his discomfort. Something had caused Chakotay to act out of character, and Tom decided he would try his best not to lash out verbally at the Commander for something that he was positive could in no way be the man's own fault.
Stopping at the bar, Tom put his thoughts to one side and turned to face Chakotay. "What would you like, Chayelah?" he asked, aware of the bartender just a few feet away. "The same as yesterday?"
"No," Chakotay answered quickly. "I think I'll just have fruit juice." He looked away then, deliberately avoiding Tom's gaze, and fixed his attention on the door they intended to watch.
Tom nodded to himself, realising that Chakotay was erring on the side of caution in case the alcohol they'd consumed before had been to blame for how he'd acted. He smiled at the bartender. "Two glasses of bevnah juice, please," he requested, opting for something he knew was safe to drink as they'd been served the sweet, pale pink juice as part of their breakfast the previous morning. He handed over his payment card, then took the drinks from the bar tender, replacing the card in his pocket when the Nahldarian returned it a few moments later. "There you go, Chayelah," he said, handing one of the small glasses to Chakotay. "Enjoy."
Chakotay took the proffered glass, and smiled slightly. "Thank you, Temospah," he replied softly, then took a small sip of his drink.
"Excuse me. You are Chayelah, yes?" a voice quietly queried from behind Chakotay.
Chakotay and Tom both turned around, and found themselves face to face with a familiar looking Nahldarian dressed in a similar fashion to the way Amshev had been attired, although the man's loose clothing was deep pink rather than red. He smiled at them. "And I believe you are Temospah, is that correct?" he continued, addressing Tom.
"Telsesh," Chakotay stated, holding out his hand. "It's good to see you again."
"It is," the Nahldarian agreed, briefly taking Chakotay's hand in his. "But I'm afraid you have me at a disadvantage. When I visited your ship, none of the crew were disguised as members of my species, therefore, although you recognise *me*, I do not know *your* real identities. I was only informed of your fake Nahldarian names, and not your true given ones."
"Our real names are not important," Chakotay said with a small smile. "But if all you knew were our assumed names, how did you recognise us?" he asked.
"From our security monitors," Telsesh replied, gesturing towards one of the small, almost hidden objects above the bar. "Amshev told me that you were here last night, and that you were looking for me; he pointed you out on the surveillance recordings."
"Oh," Chakotay muttered, Amshev's name reminding him too vividly of things that he was ashamed of doing.
"It would not be advisable to continue our discussion here. Let us go to the other room," Telsesh suggested. "Come with me."
Chakotay and Tom quickly finished their drinks, and then once again they were led through the door that was situated close to the bar, and along the passageway to the secluded room.
Once inside, Telsesh ushered them towards a table at the back, and indicated that they should sit together, facing him. "We must be careful," he said quietly, once he'd taken his seat. "You know that I am still employed by Kenthah, but just recently this club has had several unannounced visits from other members of his staff."
Tom glanced around swiftly. "Is that why you didn't turn up at the arranged rendezvous site?" he asked, returning his gaze to Telsesh.
"Yes, Temospah. That is the reason," the Nahldarian confirmed. "After I returned from your ship, I noticed that almost everywhere I went, another of Kenthah's men seemed to be nearby. I could not take the risk that I would be followed if I tried to meet you. I had to trust that you would be able to find *me*, and not the other way around. I did not know what you looked like until Amshev pointed you out, so hopefully Kenthah will also be ignorant in that regard. If he or his men see me talking to you now, here, in this place, they will think little of it."
Telsesh shifted forward in his seat and turned his attention to Chakotay. "Even if you were not recognised, it is quite possible that you *were* seen here last night, but the fact that you were with Amshev will have thrown any observer off your scent. They will not be suspicious of someone who was so intimate with my colleague. That was a very clever move on your part."
Chakotay visibly paled at Telsesh' words, and he stood up almost before the Nahldarian had finished speaking. "I'll be back in a moment," he said, avoiding both men's eyes. "I need the bathroom." With that, he quickly walked off, leaving Tom to deal with Telsesh, alone.
"I must say I was surprised by your friend's actions last night; and yours also," Telsesh remarked as Chakotay disappeared from view.
"*My* actions?" Tom questioned, totally in the dark about what the Nahldarian was referring to. "What do you mean?"
"Well, as I said to Chayelah, his interaction with Amshev was a clever move. Kenthah's men would not have taken much notice of someone using the services of a Vlenkla, especially as that Vlenkla was not me. And as for you, well, I can see by the way you look at Chayelah that you care for him a great deal, so it must have been hard on you during that session; I have reviewed the evening's security recordings, and so I know everything that occurred. I was unaware that you had so much knowledge of our ways. That you obviously do, surprises me."
Tom shuffled his chair forward, a deep frown on his face. "Telsesh, I'm not sure I know what you're talking about," he stated. "Just what does this term 'Vlenkla' mean?"
"You really don't know?" Telsesh asked, surprised.
Tom shook his head. "No, I don't. Perhaps you can explain it to me."
"I will try," the Nahldarian responded. "Although I do not understand why Chayelah would accept Amshev's offer if he had no knowledge of the nature of a Vlenkla's services."
"Amshev never made any offer," Tom said, springing to Chakotay's defence. "He just led us to this room, gave us a drink each, then took Chayelah on to the dance floor."
"But Amshev must have asked you if you were looking for a Vlenkla," Telsesh insisted. "He would not have brought you to this room if you had not indicated that you required his services."
"No, he never mentioned the word 'Vlenkla'. Amshev just took Chayelah's hand and said that he believed Chayelah was looking for someone."
"Ah, I see. And you did not realise that this was Amshev's invitation to partake of his services," Telsesh said, nodding.
"That was an invitation?" Tom asked, disbelievingly. He shook his head, then leaned back in his chair. "You really need to explain this to me, Telsesh. What is a 'Vlenkla'? I mean, I take it it's a job description, and I can make a bit of a guess about what kind of job it is, but I'd rather hear *your* explanation. And I'd like to hear it now."
"Of course. But I am unsure where to begin," Telsesh responded. "How much do you actually know about Nahldarian society? Are you aware that when two people become life mates, it is exactly that? That they are bonded for life; they will never part under any circumstances."
"Yes, I know that, but what does that have to do with my question?"
"More than you think," Telsesh answered seriously. "In our society, only those who are mated can hold any sort of high office. And once mated, the law requires couples to stay together. If they become unhappy with each other for any reason, they must sort their problems out as quickly as possible, and in private. If there is any hint of what we regard as scandal, the individuals are publicly stripped of their positions, and suffer the humiliation for the rest of their lives."
"You have very strict rules," Tom commented.
Telsesh nodded. "Yes, we do," he replied. "And that is where the Vlenkla come in. Let me explain. If a couple's problems are with the physical side of their relationship, and they believe their difficulties to be so extreme that they cannot solve them themselves, then they are allowed to obtain help. It is generally frowned upon to have to resort to it, and it is not a subject that Nahldarians speak of as a rule, but in certain circumstances it is permissible for couples with problems to discreetly visit a Vlenkla. This club is one place where meetings between Vlenkla and potential clients can take place with a degree of anonymity."
"So a Vlenkla is some kind of sex therapist?" Tom asked, trying to clarify what Telsesh was saying.
"That would be one interpretation, yes," Telsesh confirmed.
Tom fell silent as he tried to process all the information the Nahldarian had given him, but his thoughts were finally interrupted by Telsesh' voice.
"You look troubled," he observed. "What is it that you do not understand?"
Tom looked up, frowning. "It's probably a different matter altogether, but I just don't know why Chayelah reacted to Amshev the way he did," he said quietly. "It was completely out of character for him."
"And your feelings while the two were together, were they normal for you?" Telsesh asked, reaching across to pat the back of Tom's hand. "Or do you think that your responses to the situation were heightened?"
"What are you getting at?" Tom asked, pulling his hand away. "Were we given something, somehow?"
"Yes," Telsesh replied simply. "You were drugged."
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