The first thing that Tom noticed when he awoke was that the rain had stopped and sunlight was pouring in through the open tent flap. He rubbed his eyes and glanced around; there was no sign of Harry or the pile of wet clothes from the day before.
A slight breeze rustled the sides of the tent, but the warm morning air had chased away the chill of the night and Tom noticed that the sleeping bags he'd used to cover Chakotay and himself had been kicked off sometime before he'd woken.
Tom sighed as he wondered what Harry's reaction had been to seeing them wrapped around each other, naked, the way they still were. He hoped it wouldn't create more problems between themselves and the Ensign, but he resigned himself to the fact that it probably would.
Chakotay had seen this mission as a chance for them to talk privately to Harry; to tell him about their relationship and hopefully get him to understand how they felt about each other. Now that Harry had been confronted with their intimacy without prior warning, Tom was pretty certain that the Ensign would have a very hard time accepting it.
Tom sighed again, then put his thoughts to one side and turned to gaze at the sleeping form of his lover. Chakotay's head was resting on his chest and Tom gently ran his fingers through the dark hair and down his lover's neck to his back. Chakotay stirred slightly, but instead of waking he just snuggled closer to Tom.
Tom smiled and kissed the top of Chakotay's head, then closed his eyes as he wrapped his arms tightly around the older man's warm body. He lay content awhile, feeling Chakotay's soft breath against his skin, before he finally decided he should rouse his lover from his sleep.
"Chakotay," he called quietly as he stroked the other man's back. "Time to wake up. Come on, Cha."
As Tom's words filtered through to him, Chakotay took a deep breath, then slowly opened his bleary eyes. They eventually focused on the blue ones gazing down at him and he smiled.
"You wore me out," he mumbled as he moved up to kiss Tom on the chin.
Tom snorted, then smiled back lovingly. "So much for not getting too carried away, huh?" he said as he continued to gently rub his lover's back.
"It's really hard not to with you, Tom," Chakotay replied sleepily, and reached up to caress Tom's cheek. "You're everything I've always wanted."
"That's how I feel about you too, Chakotay," Tom said softly as he gazed into warm, brown eyes. "In fact," he continued quietly, kissing the older man's nose, "I honestly don't think I could exist without you any more."
"Well, I don't intend to let you find out whether you could or not, Tom," Chakotay replied, moving his hand to the younger man's hair. "Because I *know* I wouldn't last without you." He trailed his fingers down to the dark mark on Tom's neck that he'd made the night before, then kissed it gently. "You're mine, Tom," he whispered. "And I'm never going to let you go. You're stuck with me."
"Good," Tom stated firmly, "I wouldn't want it any other way, because you're stuck with me, too."
Chakotay smiled broadly, then touched his lips to Tom's. "I love you, Tom," he murmured, then kissed him tenderly.
They continued to kiss as the morning sun streamed in to warm them, until an unexpected noise outside the tent caused them to reluctantly pull apart and sit up.
"Harry," Tom said with a sigh. "He wasn't here when I woke up but I'm sure he must've seen us cuddling."
Chakotay's face hardened as he thought back to the Ensign's actions of the previous night, and the hurt look that had been in Tom's eyes. "I don't give a damn any more, Tom," he stated quite angrily. "Harry's always complaining that people still treat him like a child at times, but if he wants to be treated like an adult, then he'll just have to cultivate the maturity he needs to accept adult relationships.
"His behaviour towards us so far has been nothing short of petty, childish and hurtful; if he's like that with other people, then it's no wonder they treat him the way they do. He only has himself to blame.
"As far as I'm concerned though, I love you, Tom, and if I want to express my love physically when we're off-duty, then I will. I'll be damned if I'm going to tiptoe around any longer because poor, sensitive Mr. Kim doesn't like it!"
"Okay," Tom said soothingly, a little surprised at Chakotay's vehement outburst. "You're right, we shouldn't hide our feelings. I was just hoping that we might've been able to head off any more tension, that's all."
"Yes, I know. I'm sorry," Chakotay apologised with a sigh. "But I can't help being angry. Harry's attitude has caused you a lot of pain and I don't like to see you hurt. And I don't believe that his disapproval should prevent us from being ourselves."
"I know," Tom said, resting his forehead against Chakotay's. "It shouldn't. And from now on we won't let it."
Chakotay nodded, then softly kissed Tom's lips. "We'd better get dressed," he said, pulling away a moment later. "It's going to take us the best part of the day to reach that beacon, and we need to find it before it gets dark again."
"Yeah, you're right," Tom agreed as he looked around the tent. "Our clothes aren't here though, Harry must've taken them outside."
"What, all of them? Even the dry ones we put on before we went to sleep?"
"Looks like it. I seem to remember we threw everything behind us last night but there's nothing there now."
"Then we'd better go and find them," Chakotay said tersely, and crawled towards the open tent flap.
Tom sighed and followed Chakotay out of the tent, silently praying that this incident wasn't going to add fuel to his lover's already hostile attitude towards the Ensign.
As they emerged from their shelter and looked around, they noticed their clothes in a pile about ten feet away, at the base of a large rock. Tom quickly walked over to them and bent down to pick them up; they were still wet and so were the previously dry ones that had been mixed in with them. Tom closed his eyes briefly as he considered what Chakotay's reaction was going to be to that piece of news.
"I think we need to spread them out in the sun for awhile," Tom commented lightly as he started to walk back. "They're still a bit damp."
Chakotay remained silent as Tom set about hanging the wet articles over the small bushes behind the tent, but his dark eyes continued to carefully scan their surroundings. There was a group of small rocks that appeared to have recently fallen from somewhere higher up on the mountainside and that, Chakotay deduced, had been the noise that he and Tom had heard from inside the tent.
"I think I'll take a walk and see if I can locate our Mr. Kim," Chakotay finally said as he noticed some tracks that led away from their camp. "He and I need to have a private little chat."
"It's not like Harry to just wander off. You don't think he's been hurt or anything do you?" Tom asked as he crossed to Chakotay's side.
"No," Chakotay replied quietly, "I don't think he's been hurt. At least not yet."
"What d'you mean by that?" Tom asked warily. "You're not gonna do anything except talk to him, are you, Cha?"
"Of course not, Tom. I'll just ask him a few questions, we'll have a little discussion about his conduct and then I'll bring him back. There's nothing for you to worry about." Chakotay stated calmly. "You stay here and start packing up, okay?"
"Okay," Tom agreed reluctantly. "I'll get a small fire going as well, then we can have breakfast when you get back."
"Sounds good, Tom," Chakotay said, nodding. "Harry can't have gone too far so I doubt we'll be very long."
"I'll get your tricorder from the tent," Tom offered, and disappeared inside. He returned a moment later with the small device and handed it to Chakotay. "I would say 'take a comm badge', but you don't seem to have anywhere to pin it," he grinned, trying to lighten Chakotay's mood.
Chakotay laughed, then pulled Tom towards him and gave him a quick kiss. "See you soon, and if I need to get in touch with you, then I'll use our own communication method," he said, then allowed his gaze to travel over Tom's naked body. "And don't get sunburned while I'm gone," he added. "I'm not exactly sure that pink would suit you."
"Yeah, right. I'm sure my *change of colour* would be your first concern," Tom grinned. "I suppose the thought, that if *I* burn, then *you* don't get sex, never entered your head, did it?"
"Not once, Sweetheart," Chakotay grinned back cheekily, then set off quickly before Tom could comment further.
An hour later, Tom sat beside the small fire that he'd lit, drinking coffee. All their equipment was now packed except for the tent, their breakfast items and their clothes that still hadn't dried.
Tom stared into the crackling flames, lost in his thoughts, and didn't notice Harry's approach. The Ensign was dressed in the clothes he'd worn the night before, and Tom only saw him as he walked past on his way to the tent.
"Harry!" Tom exclaimed in surprise. "Where have you been? And where's Chakotay?"
Harry shrugged. "I had some thinking to do so I went for a walk. I haven't got a clue where your boyfriend is," he replied gruffly. "Have a lovers' tiff, did you?"
"No, we didn't," Tom replied as calmly as he could. "My *boyfriend* went out to look for the idiot who left our clothes in a wet heap."
"Yeah, well, that wasn't intentional," Harry muttered. "I gathered up the clothes on my way out because I thought they'd dry better outside. I couldn't spread them out then because it was still too windy, so I decided I'd do it when I got back."
"So where's Chakotay?" Tom asked worriedly as he stood up. "Did you retrace your path or come back a different way?"
"I came back the same way," Harry replied, looking at Tom's troubled face.
"And you didn't see him?" Tom queried as he went to get the tricorder from his pack.
"No, but I came across a rockslide on my way back that hadn't happened earlier. It'd taken part of the path out and there wasn't much room to get through."
"How far away?" Tom asked as he urgently began to scan for Chakotay.
"About twenty minutes walk," Harry replied and headed towards their packs, his former offhanded manner put to one side now. "But if he got caught up in that, then we'll probably need lines. It's pretty steep there."
"Get them, Harry, because if your estimate's right it matches this readout," Tom said looking anxiously at the tricorder. "We'll need the med-kit, and a couple of blankets too,"
Harry nodded and quickly gathered up the equipment as Tom continued to stare at the device in his hand. It showed Chakotay's position and the fact that he was alive, but until they could get close enough to use the medical tricorder Tom wasn't able to tell what his actual condition was.
Tom's thoughts were in turmoil as he considered the probable reason why Chakotay hadn't been in touch with him via their link, but he managed to calm himself enough to make his own attempt.
/ Chakotay! / he called silently.
/ Where are you? Answer me, Cha, please! /
There was no response and Tom knew for certain then that Chakotay was unconscious. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes as he desperately tried to suppress the feeling of panic that was threatening to overwhelm him. They had to get to Chakotay quickly and he knew he couldn't allow his anxiety to slow them down, but he found he was unable to move.
Tom stood rooted to the spot until Harry's voice eventually cut through his thoughts and he turned to look at him.
"What did you say, Harry?" he asked quietly.
"I said you should get dressed, Tom. I know the clothes are still wet, but you're gonna need some protection. I made the mistake of going out without boots and my feet are a bit sore now; it'll be worse if we have to clamber over rocks."
"Yeah," Tom answered distractedly, and walked across to pick up his shirt and pants from the bushes.
After taking Harry's advice and pulling on his footwear, Tom picked up the med-kit. Harry collected the rest of the equipment and they set out with their tricorders in hand to look for Chakotay.
Harry led the way while Tom followed silently, the readouts confirming that Chakotay had followed the same path that the Ensign had taken earlier.
The cold wind and rain that had assailed them the previous evening had probably led to the rock falls, and both men were thankful that those conditions no longer prevailed. Instead, the morning was warm and visibility was perfect as they continued along the track.
They made good time. Harry's estimate of twenty minutes hadn't taken into account that they would be wearing shoes instead of walking barefoot, so they arrived at the site of the fallen rocks after just twelve minutes.
It was as Harry had said; part of the ledge that he'd crossed earlier that morning had been broken away, while other parts were strewn with rocks and boulders of various sizes.
Tom scanned the area and found to his dismay that Chakotay was somewhere below them. The readings indicated that he was within fifty feet of their current position and Tom put his tricorder away as he ventured a look down the steep slope.
The area was scattered with the debris from the rockfall, and Tom concentrated on visually mapping the path that the slide had taken. He followed the trail downwards, his gaze taking in the way some of the rocks seemed to be perched precariously on top of others, until something else caught his eye.
"Harry!" Tom called over his shoulder. "I can see him! He's about thirty feet down, lodged behind a large boulder."
Harry crossed quickly to Tom's side and looked to where Tom was pointing. Chakotay was lying on his front, part of his body covered by dirt and small stones, and he wasn't moving.
"I've got to get down there," Tom announced, looking around for somewhere to attach a line. "And I'll have to take the med-kit with me. I need to know what his injuries are before we try to move him."
"Will the medical tricorder work from this distance?" Harry asked worriedly as he pulled the med-kit closer and opened it.
Tom stopped his search of the area and turned to face the Ensign. "Why, Harry?" he asked with a feeling of dread. "What's the matter?"
Harry looked down at the regular tricorder in his hand and then back up at Tom's pale face. "The Commander's life signs are no longer registering." he said quietly.