|Lost and Found
An almost unnatural stillness pervaded the room as Tom stared wide-eyed at Chakotay. Both men were hardly breathing, and Tom was far too stunned to respond to what the older man had just told him. He couldn't believe that he'd heard him correctly. In fact, he was certain that he must have misunderstood. Chakotay couldn't *really* love him. Could he? He swallowed heavily as he continued to stare at the man lying motionless next to him, unable to put his conflicting thoughts into words.
As the excruciating silence stretched on, Chakotay gave a defeated sigh, then spoke in a quiet, resigned voice. "Tom. I'm sorry," he whispered. "It's pretty obvious that you didn't want to hear those words from me. I should've kept them to myself. I just thought, maybe...." He sighed once more and closed his eyes, no longer wanting to see Tom's look of shock, and trying to keep at bay the tears that he could feel beginning to well up. "I'm sorry," he whispered again.
Tom's response was cut off before he'd even opened his mouth. There was what sounded like phaser fire in the corridor outside their room, and then the door slid open to reveal a familiar, but unexpected, figure.
"Amshev? What the hell are *you* doing here? What's going on?"
"I have no time for explanations, Temospah," the Nahldarian said, walking quickly towards the bed. "I must get you out of here. Move aside," he instructed Tom. "Chayelah, stay still. I will release you from your restraints." As the two officers complied, Amshev passed a small silver box over each of Chakotay's wrists, the metal bands around them springing open less than a second later.
With a groan, Chakotay moved his aching limbs for the first time in many hours, and struggled upright. He smiled at the Nahldarian. "I didn't expect to see you again, Amshev, but I'm very pleased you're here."
"And I am pleased to be here, Chayelah," Amshev replied, reaching out to gently brush Chakotay's hair away from his face. "But we must go now. Your Captain is expecting you."
Tom felt a sudden pang of jealousy at Amshev's intimate gesture, but he knew, as his Star Fleet training took over, that now wasn't the time for personal matters; every minute could be vital to their escape. Once they were back on the ship, he would talk to Chakotay and try to straighten everything out. He stood, shakily, his feelings well hidden. "Where's Telsesh?" he asked, watching Amshev help Chakotay to his feet. "And Kenthah?"
"Hopefully, in custody," Amshev replied, slipping his arm around the Commander's waist. "My men should have apprehended them by now."
"Your men?" Chakotay queried as Amshev steered him towards the open door. "What men? Who do you work for?"
"For the people of Nahldar," Amshev replied proudly. He stopped, briefly glancing around at Tom before looking deeply into Chakotay's eyes. "As soon as you are safe, I promise I will explain fully. For now, though, just trust that I am your friend. I will not let you come to any more harm. Okay?"
Chakotay nodded, a bit bewildered by the turn of events, yet knowing that they probably had no other choice but to take Amshev at face value. He turned to Tom, casting a brief, wistful glance over the younger man's half-naked body, before he returned to his professional demeanour. "Let's go, Lieutenant. We don't want to keep the Captain waiting."
Tom noticed the look Chakotay gave him, but before he could give it any thought, a sudden flash of memory took precedence. "What about the stolen parts?" he asked, remembering that he'd seen Telsesh with them in the control room. "Has anyone been instructed to retrieve them?"
"Yes," Amshev confirmed as he led both men into the corridor and started towards the lift. "We know where the components are located. My men will get them, then pass them on to your Chief Security Officer who is waiting outside to collect them."
"This is a joint operation then, between yourself and Voyager," Chakotay commented as they walked quickly along the deserted corridor, a haze of grey, acrid smoke from some unknown source swirling around near the ceiling.
"Not exactly," Amshev said as they reached the lift, the door opening at their approach. He ushered the two men inside, then tapped the control panel, instructing the lift to take them to the surface. "Your Captain explained that, due to certain circumstances, one of your regulations prevented her from giving us as much assistance as she would have liked. I also believe she was concerned that I might be like Telsesh; that I had a hidden agenda and would, maybe, take more of her crew as hostages rather than arrange for your release. Because of this, only my men entered the building."
"I presume the regulation you're talking about is the Prime Directive," Tom remarked as the door opened, and they stepped out into the corridor that he knew would lead them to the kitchen area. "But why would *that* be involved? This is just a straightforward rescue situation, isn't it? It's hardly likely to alter the course of your planet's history."
"That is where you are wrong, Temospah," Amshev said seriously. "It is a moment of great importance for Nahldar."
"How so?" Tom asked as they passed through the kitchen and out into the room where he'd once sat and talked to Telsesh. A light shone from a lamp in the corner, and he looked around as they headed towards the door on the other side, his question momentarily forgotten as he took in the disordered state of the room. The glass-strewn floor beneath the shattered window, the liberal smattering of recently-shed blood that decorated one of the upturned chairs, and the table tilting precariously to one side where one of the legs had been broken, testified to the fact that Telsesh' men had put up some forceful resistance here.
"All your questions will be answered in due course," Amshev said, opening the outside door and walking out into the garden. It was late evening and almost dark, the last of the sun's rays mostly hidden by patches of cloud, but there was just enough light for them to dimly make out their surroundings. He gestured towards a small group of people standing in the black shadows beneath the garden's largest tree. "Your friends await you," he said, smiling. "It is time for you to return home." He turned to face Chakotay then, speaking to him as though Tom was no longer present. "Chayelah," he said softly, taking hold of Chakotay's arm. "I would like to visit you on your ship. You have been in my thoughts since we first met, and I would like to spend some time with you before you leave this region. Please," he continued, stepping closer to the Commander and moving his hand to Chakotay's bare shoulder. "Let me come to you privately, after all the explanations have been given." He leaned forward as soon as he'd finished speaking, and gave Chakotay a quick, gentle kiss on the lips. "Please, Chayelah? May I visit you?"
Tom watched and listened to the men's interaction with trepidation; his stomach was in knots as he prayed desperately that Amshev's request would be refused. Unconsciously, he held his breath as Chakotay answered.
"I would be honoured if you would visit me, Amshev," the Commander replied, smiling softly. "And I'll look forward to seeing you as soon as all the official business has been completed."
Tom heard no more. A muffled silence filled his ears, and his vision blurred, blackness threatening to engulf him as the blood rushed from his brain. He was vaguely aware that he was about to pass out, but there was nothing he could do to stop it. On unsteady legs, he took one faltering step towards the group of people that he could only just see standing beneath the tree, but before he could get any further, an arm was wound around his waist and he was held close to another's warm body. Just before he lost consciousness, he faintly heard a concerned voice quietly calling his name.
Chakotay lay on his bed in sickbay, and studied the man lying on his own bed, nearby. Tom's face was pale and drawn, and even though it had been fifteen minutes since Voyager's transporters had whisked both men away from the planet's surface, Tom still showed no signs of coming round. Chakotay sighed. The suddenness of their rescue was a little hard to comprehend just yet; one moment they'd been talking in their cell, the next, Amshev had led them outside and they'd been beamed to sickbay. It almost seemed as though all the preceding events had not taken place; he might even have believed they *hadn't*, but for the fact that Tom was lying unconscious just a few feet away.
His thoughts were interrupted as the door swished open, and the Captain entered. Tearing his gaze away from the man lying on the bio-bed adjacent to his, he looked up at her.
"Commander. It's good to have you back with us," she stated, stopping next to him and looking him over carefully. He'd donned a pair of pyjama bottoms that the EMH had handed him shortly after his arrival, but his upper body and arms were still uncovered. The mottled bruises on his face and chest, and the blood-soaked rags that she could see around his wrists, made her wince.
Chakotay smiled, noting the sympathetic look Janeway was giving him. "I'll heal," he assured her as he slowly sat up.
"Yes, of course," she said, nodding. She turned her gaze to Tom, lying unmoving nearby. "How has he been, Chakotay? Has he regained consciousness at all since Telsesh marked him?" she asked quietly.
Chakotay inhaled sharply at the mention of the Nahldarian's name. "You know about that?" he queried. "You know who did it? What happened?"
"Yes," Janeway confirmed. "I saw the whole thing. Telsesh had contacted me to conduct what he apparently thought of as negotiations. When I refused to cooperate with him, he decided to claim Tom as his property and marked him accordingly, while I watched."
"I didn't know you'd witnessed it, Kathryn," Chakotay remarked, trying to remain calm. "After he was returned to our cell, Tom was only semiconscious most of the time. Then, after he did come round fully, we didn't really get chance to talk."
"He *has* been conscious, then."
"Yes. But all he told me was that Telsesh had contacted you. I never heard any of the details," Chakotay responded, his gaze wandering back to Tom.
"I see." Janeway looked up as the EMH came out of his office, a pensive look on his face as he quickly walked across to stand at the foot of Tom's bio-bed. "Is everything all right, Doctor?" she asked as he looked down at the still figure there.
"Not entirely, Captain. The results of the tests I ran on Lieutenant Paris show that his present condition is quite serious," the EMH replied, turning his attention to Janeway. "The problem stems from the crystals that form the design on his chest. They are also present in his bloodstream, and are reaching toxic levels. I need to operate in order to remove the source of the chemical before his vital organs are affected."
"How long will the operation take, Doctor?" Janeway questioned, her eyes trained on the blue pattern just below Tom's left shoulder. "And is it likely to be successful?"
"The entire procedure will take about an hour, and although Mr. Paris' current status is poor, once the chemical has been eradicated from his system, he should recover quite quickly. After the operation, while he's still sedated, I'll take the opportunity to remove the sub-dermal implants from his face. He'll be back to his normal self when he wakes up."
Janeway gave a sigh of relief. "That's good news. How long before you can begin the operation?"
"I'll start as soon as I've done something about the Commander's injuries," the EMH replied, moving towards Chakotay. "None are life-threatening, but I don't want them to become infected. It shouldn't take more than fifteen minutes to regenerate the worst of them. The Lieutenant won't come to any harm in that length of time." He addressed Chakotay directly, then. "But I won't be able to remove *your* implants until later, Commander. You'll need to return to sickbay after I've finished operating on Mr. Paris. I'll remove them then, and finish regenerating your more minor wounds."
Chakotay nodded, his mind occupied with matters besides his own condition, and he made no objection when the EMH took hold of his right arm and began to unwind the cloth from around his wrist. It was Janeway's voice that eventually brought him out of his reverie.
"Chakotay? Would you feel up to joining the rest of the senior staff in the briefing room in about half an hour? I'm expecting a visit from Amshev. He's offered to bring us up to date on the current situation, and to answer any questions we have."
Chakotay answered as the makeshift bandage was finally removed, and the damage to his wrist was exposed to the Doctor's keen inspection. "I'll report there as soon as the Doctor releases me, Captain," he said, watching her as she then nodded and moved towards the door.
"Good. I'll see you again, shortly," she remarked, before addressing the EMH. "Inform me if there's any change in Lieutenant Paris' condition, Doctor," she instructed. "I'll be in the briefing room."
"Yes, Captain," the Doctor replied, then returned his attention to Chakotay as Janeway left.
Janeway looked around at the people assembled in the briefing room, acutely aware that her Chief Pilot was not amongst their number; the atmosphere was a little subdued, Tom's often irreverent humour conspicuous by its absence. But he wasn't the only member of the senior staff not in attendance. Chakotay had yet to arrive from sickbay, and B'Elanna was busy in engineering - the reinstallation of the retrieved components, her main priority.
Janeway glanced at Tuvok, who sat to her left. The Vulcan had not long returned from Nahldar, but he was his usual immaculately-turned-out self. He was sitting perfectly still, silently regarding Amshev. The Nahldarian had accompanied Tuvok back to the ship, along with the parts that his men had recovered, and was now attempting to engage Harry Kim in small talk while they waited for Chakotay to arrive. But, despite Amshev's pleasant manner, Janeway noticed that Harry seemed slightly on edge, and assumed, correctly, that he was worried about his best friend, currently being operated on by the EMH.
The door opened, and interrupted Janeway's thoughts. She looked up, smiling. "Well, Commander. You look much better than you did earlier," she remarked as Chakotay entered, pleased that there was no longer any evidence of bruising on his face. He still had Nahldarian features, his long auburn hair neatly tied back with black cord, but the uniform he now wore, and the confident air he exuded, clearly showed that he was Voyager's First Officer.
"Thank you, Captain. I feel much better," Chakotay answered with a smile of his own. He stepped further into the room, but stopped as Amshev rose from his seat and stood in front of him.
"Chayelah. You are looking well," the Nahldarian greeted him softly. He gestured towards the empty seat to the right of his own. "Come. Sit next to me."
Chakotay nodded, and they sat, at least two sets of eyes watching them with curiosity. Janeway broke the silence that had ensued.
"Now that everyone who can be here, *is* here, let's begin." She turned her gaze to Amshev. "For the benefit of the Commander, perhaps you could tell us again how you came to be involved in his and Lieutenant Paris' rescue."
"Of course, Captain Janeway." Amshev smiled, then turned to face Chakotay. "It is very simple really, Chayelah," he stated. "Kenthah, Telsesh and I work for the same people."
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