Chakotay and Tom held each other close as a low, soft voice drifted towards them through the mist and filled their minds.
"You are one. We are one," it stated. "The gift was accepted and it grows. You must now know the Law and obey. You are ready."
"We don't understand. What are we ready for?" Chakotay asked quietly. "Why were we not told about your laws before the gift was given to us?"
"You could not be told before. We had to be certain that the gift would not be rejected by you. If we had told you of the Law and then the gift was refused, too much would have been revealed. By knowing the Law, a part of the gift is also known."
"Why would it matter?" Tom queried. "Wouldn't it have been better if we'd had more information to decide if we really wanted your gift?"
"No. The gift must be accepted unconditionally, it cannot be discussed. Our Law is strict with regard to this, and no exceptions can be made."
"Tell us more about your law," Chakotay suggested. "What is it that we're supposed to do?"
"Obey," the voice responded softly. "Listen to me and follow my directions. I tell you first, that the knowledge that is steadily growing must never be revealed to those who are not Derzai.
"Each gift is unique, and yours was determined by what Azai saw inside you both. You must not reveal its nature to anyone, no matter what the consequences for keeping it secret may be.
"The knowledge you will gain may be used to help others, but they must never know the source of their help. You will not take credit for your accomplishments.
"Be aware that if these Laws are broken, anything resulting from the use of your knowledge will be returned to its original state. All will be as it was, and the gift will be reclaimed. You will not remember. Use what you have been given wisely. Obey, and do not waste this opportunity, my young ones. There is much that you can do."
As the quiet voice ceased, Azai reappeared in front of Chakotay and Tom. He gazed to where they still sat together in the darkness, and spoke once again. "You have heard the Law from the one that came with me," he stated. "Take heed of what was said. Keep the Law and the gift to yourselves."
"How are we to do that?" Chakotay queried. "Our Captain already asked us about the gift this morning. She wanted to know if we'd learnt anything new."
"But you did not reveal what you have seen."
"No, we didn't. We decided to keep things to ourselves until we understood them more. It wasn't easy to evade her questions, and it will just become more difficult in the future."
"Yet you understand the importance of secrecy, I know. When I first saw you both it was obvious to me that those around you were unaware of your bond; you had concealed your link from them. It is still unknown to your colleagues, and must remain that way now that the gift is growing."
"So, we'll never be able to tell anyone about that either?" Tom asked, looking at the vision of Azai floating before him.
Before Azai had a chance to reply, Chakotay interrupted with another question. "Why did you mention our bond in front of the Captain if no-one is supposed to know of it?" he asked.
"Because of her position," Azai answered. "As the Captain, she is responsible for each member of her crew; much like the mother of children. The parent's permission must always be sought. I knew from her reaction to my statements that she did not understand - she knew nothing of the completion of your bond - but still I had to seek her permission for you to accept the gift. By asking you in her presence, and by her passing the decision to you, the Law was followed."
"I see," Chakotay nodded. "But," he added, "how are we to keep all these secrets? The Doctor is already concerned about us. He says our brain wave patterns are becoming more unusual. He will keep checking up on us, and it's going to be hard to keep his curiosity under control."
"Do not worry, you will find a way to curtail his testing. You do not realise yet what you can do," Azai said with a smile.
"The other one said that you determined what our gift would be," Tom commented. "Can you tell us what it is?"
"I cannot. To do so would be to reveal the path that you must find for yourselves. I have given you what I believe will bring you happiness, but there are many ways in which it can be used. I must not influence you, or tell you things that you are not yet ready to accept. As your knowledge grows, you will understand."
"But what are the images that we keep seeing?" Tom persisted. "What do they mean?"
"The beginning; creation; the moment of birth. It is how the knowledge starts, but I cannot tell you more," Azai replied quietly. "It is time for me to go now," he added, "but I will come to you again soon. Take care, my friends, and keep the Law."
As he finished speaking, Azai's face disappeared with the mist, and the two men were left alone in the quiet room. Tom pulled away slightly from Chakotay, and sighed.
"This is getting pretty weird, Cha," he remarked. "I know I didn't want anyone to know about our link, but d'you think it's safe to keep all this to ourselves?"
"I hope so, Tom, because at the moment I don't see that we have any other choice. We've been given something that we're told can be used to help others and will bring us happiness. What other choice do we have but to find out what it is?"
"None, I guess," Tom agreed. "But like you said, it's gonna be difficult keeping it all from the Captain and the Doc."
"Azai said that we'd be able to do something about the Doctor's tests," Chakotay commented. "We'll have to try and figure out what that is before our next appointment. Perhaps once that's out of the way we'll be in a better position to deflect the Captain's curiosity."
"You mean let her think that the gift was just a gimmick? That nothing's come of it?"
"That's a possibility. We'll have to give it more thought once we've sorted out our trips to sick bay."
"Okay," Tom agreed, "I suppose we'll come up with something."
"I'm sure we will," Chakotay remarked and moved to give Tom a gentle kiss on the cheek. "Come on," he said then, "We should be getting back to the bridge. Lunch break's almost over."
Tom smiled, and they shared one long kiss before leaving the dark observation lounge to resume their shifts.
The afternoon passed quietly, with Harry studiously ignoring both Tom and the Commander, and Janeway off the bridge for most of the shift as she attempted to catch up on her reports.
When it was finally time to leave, Chakotay and Tom made their way to the turbolift. They held the door open for Harry to join them, but he returned to his station on the pretext of having forgotten something. As Tom sighed and allowed the doors to close, Chakotay took hold of his hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. They rode in silence, exiting the lift when it reached their stop, then walked down the corridor to Tom's quarters.
Once they had entered, Tom crossed immediately to the replicator. While he ordered two cups of tea, Chakotay pulled off his uniform jacket and sank down onto the couch. When the cups had been placed on the low table in front of Chakotay, Tom discarded his own jacket and sat next to his lover.
"I wonder if we'll ever have days where strange stuff doesn't happen," Tom mused as he snuggled against the older man. "I mean, nothing's exactly been normal since our mission to that mud-ball planet."
Chakotay gave a soft snort as he smiled at Tom. "That mission wasn't exactly normal either," he commented. "I spent most of the time there wondering if you were as interested in me as you seemed."
"You mean you noticed?" Tom grinned. "And I thought I'd concealed it so well."
"Not that well," Chakotay laughed. "You got all flustered as soon as I was naked."
"Yeah, well, you don't know the half of it," Tom muttered.
"Oh? Are we talking about you rushing off to pee in the woods?" Chakotay asked as he prodded Tom in the ribs. "Or were you up to something else?"
"What d'you know about that?" Tom asked in surprise. "Did you follow me or something?"
Chakotay laughed and was about to answer when the door chime sounded.
"I'll have your answer to that question later," Tom stated, before calling for his visitor to enter.
The door opened and B'Elanna walked in, her gaze going straight to the two men sitting side by side on the couch. They looked extremely relaxed in each other's company and B'Elanna smiled as she greeted them. "Hi, I hope I'm not intruding," she said. "I just wanted to have a quick word with you, Tom."
"That's okay, B'Elanna, have a seat," Tom replied, waving her towards a nearby chair. "What can I do for you?"
"Well, I'm not sure. I wanted to tell you about a visitor I had this morning, but...." She stopped, unsure whether to continue in front of her former Captain.
"Was it Ensign Kim?" Tom asked.
"Yes," B'Elanna replied. "He came to see me before breakfast."
"And what did he say? That I threw him out last night?" Tom guessed.
"Yes, but is it okay to talk about this now? I don't want to reveal anything that you might want to keep private."
Tom smiled at her concern, then nodded towards his lover. "It's okay, Chakotay knows everything," he assured her. "Just tell us what happened."
"He said you'd had an argument," B'Elanna began, "That you'd kept asking him if he'd still be your friend if you were gay."
"Did he tell you what his answer was?"
"He never told me exactly, but considering his attitude towards same-sex relationships and his fear of being labelled 'gay', I sort of got the feeling that his answer was probably 'no'."
Tom snorted at what he knew was a deliberate understatement from B'Elanna. "Did he say anything else?" he asked, leaning his head on the back of the couch.
"Yes," B'Elanna confirmed. "He wasn't happy with Chakotay either. I'm sorry," she added, turning to the Commander, "But Harry thinks you're the reason that everyone will assume that Tom's gay."
"Because I touched Tom's shoulder a couple of times while we were on duty," Chakotay said, nodding.
"Harry seemed to think it was more than a couple of times. He said you were all over Tom."
"Yes, I know what he said. I was here when he said the same thing to Tom."
"He never mentioned that," B'Elanna said, looking puzzled.
"That's because he didn't realise Chakotay was here at the time," Tom said, glancing at his lover.
B'Elanna looked from one man to the other. She decided it was time to ask the question that she'd often thought about. It had resurfaced when she'd seen the pair of them leaving the turbolift the previous day. "I know this is none of my business," she began. "And you can tell me to get lost if you want to, but I have to ask this. Are you two together?"
"Do you think we are?" Chakotay asked softly.
"Yes, I do," B'Elanna answered with a nod. "You've spent all your spare time together lately, ever since you left sick bay in fact. We never see one of you without the other when you're off duty. And then there was yesterday, when you got out of the lift that I was waiting for. You both looked like you were about to jump each other in the corridor. So, yes, I think that you're together."
"And if we said that you were right, what would your reaction be?" Tom asked as he moved closer to Chakotay. "What would you say, B'Elanna?"
"I'd say 'congratulations', Tom, and I'd mean it," B'Elanna said sincerely. "I can't think of anyone better for you than Chakotay, and I think you'd be great for him too."
//It's your decision, Tom,// Chakotay remarked silently.
Tom nodded in response to his lover's unspoken words, and took a deep breath before addressing B'Elanna again. "Then you'd better say 'congratulations'," he said with a smile.
"Another trip to sick bay after lunch. I can't believe it," Tom remarked as he and Chakotay left the ready room and entered the bridge the next morning. "What're we gonna do, Cha?" he added quietly.
"Improvise, I suppose," Chakotay responded. //And stop talking about it out loud,// he added.
/Yeah, that would be a good idea,/ Tom conceded as he approached the helm.
Chakotay smiled and sat down in his chair. He looked across to where Harry was already busy at his station. "Anything to report, Ensign?" he asked.
"Just a nebula that our scanners detected about an hour ago, Sir," Harry replied coolly. "It's not directly in our path, so there's nothing to worry about."
"Thank you, Ensign, but I think either the Captain or I will be the judge of that," Chakotay remarked as he turned to check his own readouts.
"Aye, Sir," Harry responded quietly.
A moment later, Harry looked closely at the information in front of him. "Sir?" he said, addressing the Commander. "I'm detecting an energy pulse from somewhere on the other side of the nebula."
"Can you pinpoint it's location?"
"Yes, Sir, I think so," Harry replied as he interpreted the readouts. "It appears to be coming from a small M-class planet, but that's all I can tell you for now because the nebula is interfering with our scans."
"Is the energy pulse likely to be a natural phenomenon, or is it artificial?" Chakotay asked.
"I would say the pattern suggests that it's artificial, Sir. I think it's a beacon of some kind."
Chakotay nodded and hailed the Captain. "Captain, you're needed on the bridge," he told her "I think we have something that needs investigating,"
"Very well, Commander. I'll be right there. Janeway out."
/So, Cha, is this gonna be another day of strange events?/ Tom queried silently as he faced the viewscreen.
//I have no idea, Tom,// Chakotay replied. //We'll just have to wait and see, won't we?//