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As the door to Tom's quarters closed, Chakotay walked quietly out of the bedroom and into the living area. He stood still for a moment as he took in the dejected appearance of his lover. Tom was slumped on the couch, his head buried in his hands, and Chakotay didn't need their link to know that he was extremely upset.

Chakotay had heard every word that had been exchanged between Tom and Harry, but he'd stayed in the bedroom in deference to Tom's wishes that they keep their relationship private. He had felt Tom's shock and anger wash over him as Harry had spoken, and now he could see, as well as feel, his lover's pain.

Chakotay crossed to the couch and sank down next to Tom. Wordlessly, he wrapped his arms around the younger man and pulled him into a tight embrace. All Tom's sorrow flooded Chakotay's mind, but he made no attempt to block it; he wanted to share it. There was no way he would allow Tom to suffer alone.

Tom rested his head on Chakotay's bare shoulder. Tears streamed silently down his face and fell onto his lover's warm, dark skin as he physically expressed his feelings about what he perceived as Harry's betrayal of him. The Ensign's admission that he wouldn't want a friend that was gay, had wounded Tom deeply, and left him numb inside.

Tom's distress was all too clear, and Chakotay reached out with his mind to connect with Tom's troubled thoughts. He allowed them to flow from the younger man into himself, absorbing and neutralising them, then sent back wave after wave of love and comfort in their place.

Tom's tears gradually died away as Chakotay held him close both physically and mentally, and he softly kissed the older man's neck.

//I love you, Tom,// Chakotay responded.

Chakotay's unspoken declaration reverberated in Tom's mind, and he knew then that the only opinions that truly mattered were his and Chakotay's. It was of no consequence if other people didn't approve of them, they would stay together whatever anyone else thought. And if it meant losing his friendship with Harry, well....

//Let's go back to bed, Tom,// Chakotay suggested. //We'll talk about everything properly in the morning.//

"Okay," Tom whispered, and gave his lover another soft kiss before they stood and made their way back to the bedroom.

After climbing into bed and once again entwining themselves body and mind, they drifted to sleep.

They awoke the next morning to find a message waiting for them from the EMH. He was annoyed that they had managed to avoid several of the check-ups that he'd ordered after their return to consciousness, and  insisted on seeing them both before breakfast.

With their intended discussion about the previous evening's events temporarily postponed, they quickly showered and dressed, then headed for sickbay.

"Good morning, gentlemen. How lovely to see you," the Doctor gushed as the door opened to admit them. "Just take a seat, and I'll be with you in a moment," he continued cheerily.

"You haven't been experimenting with that mood enhancer again, have you?" Tom asked, wary of the Doctor's cheerfulness.

"No, Mr. Paris, I haven't," the EMH replied huffily. "Whatever would make you think of such a thing?"

"No reason. You just seem to be in a pretty good mood that's all."

"Well I... Ah, Seven! How nice of you to join us," the Doctor remarked, as the door opened once again. "I was just about to start the tests."

"Then proceed, Doctor," Seven instructed him. "I will monitor the results with you."

"Excuse me," Chakotay interrupted. "But why are you here, Seven? Medical examinations are usually confidential. And," he added, turning to the EMH, "Whatever the reason, Tom and I should have been consulted first."

"I am sorry, Commander, I did not intend to intrude on your privacy. I am merely continuing my investigations into how you were able to access the computer systems while in a coma," Seven stated. "Any information that I obtain here will be subject to the same security protocols as the rest of my research."

"Does that include the contents of the vid that you gave to the Captain?" Tom asked. "And any conclusions that you might have reached about Chakotay and myself?"

"Yes, Lieutenant. I will not be divulging anything that I have seen, or deduced, to anyone other than Captain Janeway."

"Very well," Chakotay commented. "But I would still like to know why we were not told of your participation in these tests."

"Ah, I'm afraid that's my fault," the Doctor stated a little reluctantly. "I didn't think you would mind. After all, Seven has helped me with the test results before."

"Maybe so, Doc, but as I understand it, we were both unconscious at the time and had no choice in the matter," Tom informed the EMH. "We're not unconscious now, though, so it would've been polite to ask us first."

"Then I apologise," the Doctor said contritely. "If it's all right with you, I would like Seven to help."

"No problem," Tom replied. "But I'll let you know right now that I'm hungry, so whatever you're gonna do, don't take too long about it. I want my breakfast."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Harry? What are you doing here?" B'Elanna asked with surprise as she answered her door chime. "It's not even breakfast time yet."

As the door closed behind him, she ushered the tired looking Ensign into her quarters and gestured for him to take a seat on her couch. He sat down wearily and looked over at her as she joined him.

"I know it's early, B'Elanna," he apologised, "but I really needed to talk to someone, and you're the only person I could speak to about this."

"What's wrong?" B'Elanna enquired. "You look like you didn't sleep last night."

"I didn't," Harry confirmed, "I had this stupid argument with Tom. I was thinking about it all night and it kept me awake."

"An argument about what?" B'Elanna asked puzzled.

"Something really stupid," Harry repeated. "And all because Tom didn't have the decency to inform me about his change of plans."

"Change of plans? You mean he didn't go to the holodeck with you last night?"

"No, he didn't. I waited for him for fifteen minutes, then I spent the next fifteen minutes trying to comm him. The computer said he was in his quarters, so I kept trying because I thought maybe he was showering or something. In the end I gave up and went round there."

"And?"

"And we had this stupid argument about him being gay. I tried to reason with him and gave him my honest opinion about it, but he got all angry and told me to leave."

B'Elanna sat forward and looked carefully at Harry. "He told you he was gay?" she asked.

"Well, no, he never actually said that. He just kept asking whether I'd still be his friend if he *was*. I told him it was a daft question because he isn't gay, but he insisted that I answered it."

"I see, and what brought that subject up? I mean, you went there to find out why he didn't meet you, so how did you start talking about the possibility of him being gay?"

Harry sighed, and his tired expression was replaced with agitation. "Because I told him that *that's* what people would think," he informed her gruffly. "And they *would*. I know what they're like." At B'Elanna's puzzled expression, Harry continued. "You didn't see how the Commander was behaving on the bridge yesterday. It was sickening! He was all over Tom, and he couldn't keep his hands to himself! I tried to explain to Tom that if it carried on, then people would talk."

"You mean they would say that Tom was gay?" B'Elanna questioned, as she attempted to clarify Harry's comments. "And that they'd think he and Chakotay were together?"

"Exactly! Only Tom didn't seem bothered. He didn't seem to understand, or even care, why I'm concerned about him."

"And why *are* you, Harry?" B'Elanna asked sharply, as her growing suspicions about his apparent concern for Tom began to show. "What would it matter if Tom *was* involved with Chakotay? Chakotay's a great guy and he'd be really good for Tom. They're both adults, so I can't see what the problem is."

"What do you mean 'you can't see what the problem is' or why it would matter? Of *course* it matters!" Harry exclaimed with exasperation. "They might be adults, but they're both *men* and Tom's *my* best friend! People would talk!"

B'Elanna gazed at Harry in complete disbelief as his statement appeared to confirm her thoughts. "I hope you don't really mean that," she growled menacingly. "Because if you do, you can get the fuck out of my quarters right now!"

"Mean what?" Harry asked, being deliberately obtuse.

"Oh for fuck's sake, Harry, you *know* what! But just tell me if I'm wrong, okay?" B'Elanna challenged him, her anger growing astronomically. "For some obscure reason, that I just *can't* comprehend, you're prejudiced against same-sex relationships, aren't you? You're not just worried that Tom might be gay, but that it might reflect on you!" she accused him. "I bet that's the reason why Tom threw you out!"

When Harry remained silent and failed to refute her statement, she stared directly into his eyes and continued with increased fury. "You're not interested in Tom's happiness at all, are you? You'd rather he spent the rest of the journey home alone than spend it with a man! You'd begrudge him the chance of love just because his partner didn't meet with your approval!

"You're just a selfish little prick who's only concerned about himself! I don't know who these 'people' are that you're so worried about, but tell me now that you wouldn't care what they'd think of *you* if Tom *was* gay!" she snarled.

"Of course I'd care what people would think of me! I'm not gay, and I have no intention of being labelled as gay!" Harry practically shouted, as he stood up. "I came here because I thought I might be able to talk to you, but you're starting to sound just like Tom!"

"Then perhaps that should tell you something, Harry!" B'Elanna shouted back as she got up to stand in front of the Ensign. "Perhaps you should actually start thinking about what you're saying, then shut the fuck up!"

"I know *exactly* what I'm saying!" Harry insisted angrily. "I'm saying that I don't want people talking about Tom, and I don't want them talking about me either!"

"And why the *fuck* would they do that? Not everyone's a narrow-minded little asshole like you, y'know! In fact, I can't think of *anyone* that would care one way or the other if Tom was gay or not! They wouldn't care if *you* were either, for that matter!"

"Well, *I* care! And I have no intention of hanging around with Tom until he gets all this *crap* out of his head!" Harry announced as he walked towards the door. "I'll see you around."

"Not with that attitude you won't!" B'Elanna retorted as Harry stepped into the corridor. "You're on your fucking own from now on!"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Well that was an interesting morning," Chakotay commented to Tom.

The two men were sitting together in the dark and enjoying the quietness of the small observation lounge at lunch time.

"Yeah," Tom agreed, "What with the trip to sick bay, Janeway's attempted interrogation of us at the morning briefing, and Harry's death glares, it was very interesting."

"Well, it could have been worse," Chakotay remarked as he took hold of Tom's hand and stroked it gently.

"It could? How?" Tom asked, intrigued. He moved closer to the older man and softly kissed Chakotay's cheek as he waited for his reply.

"We might have had the same problem that we had yesterday," Chakotay grinned. "Remember?"

"Oh, God, yeah!" Tom laughed. "That was an experience! I wonder why we felt so drawn to each other, though?"

"You mean you don't know?" Chakotay asked with a cheeky grin. "And I thought you loved me." he teased.

"I do, and you know it! And yes, I'm always drawn to you, but not always as urgently as yesterday, that was just incredible. I wonder why we don't feel like it today?"

"Probably because yesterday we went straight to bed as soon as our shifts finished," Chakotay guessed. "Apart from Ensign Kim's little interruption, we must have spent about fourteen hours in your bedroom. We even forgot to have dinner."

"We should do that at the end of every day - make love all night, I mean, not forget about dinner, but it should be minus the outburst from any homophobic associates, of course."

"Of course," Chakotay agreed. He turned slightly to look at Tom's face then. "I really do love you, Tom, and I'm incredibly lucky to have you, especially when you're willing to give up your best friend for me," he said softly.

"Cha, I can't give up my best friend, because my best friend is you," Tom replied, leaning forward to kiss Chakotay on the lips. "I don't need anyone else, ever."

Chakotay wrapped his arm around Tom's shoulders and pulled him closer. He was lost for words, so instead he filled Tom's mind with all the love he possessed.

Tom snuggled even closer to Chakotay and lost himself in the warm feeling of love that now surrounded them both. They were content in a way that they could only be with each other, and relished every moment of it.

As they sat enjoying their unique closeness, swirling clouds of colour appeared in their minds. The light they had seen when they'd been given the Derzai's gift glowed dimly at the centre, until it suddenly leapt towards them with an amazing burst of energy. Chakotay and Tom reached out for each other as the light moved closer. As it stopped just before them, and the brightness dimmed, a familiar face became visible as it peered out from a bank of blue mist.

"The gift is growing, my friends," Azai stated softly, his voice barely audible in the quiet room. "So now it is time."

"Time for what, Azai?" Chakotay asked, looking at the vision in front of him.

"It is time for you to receive an important message," Azai replied. "The one that comes to you because of the knowledge, and that I will now reveal. You must listen carefully and follow the law."

"Why didn't you tell us about this before?" Chakotay enquired. "Wouldn't it have been simpler when you were on our ship?"

"Listen carefully," the vision repeated, "and you will understand."

As the men listened, another voice began to speak.


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