Tom stared at Harry in disbelief, his mind suddenly numb from the effect of Harry's words. Chakotay couldn't be dead; it wasn't possible.
Numbness immediately turned into panic and Tom felt a sudden urge to run as fast as he could, to get as far away as possible; he didn't want to be there if what Harry had said was true. But as quickly as that feeling had come over him it fled and he was galvanized into action. He grabbed the med-kit away from Harry and closed the lid, then secured it to his back with the carry straps.
"What are you doing, Tom? Aren't you gonna use the medical tricorder?" Harry asked as he watched Tom's frantic actions.
"Fuck the tricorder!" Tom shouted as he picked up one of the lines they'd brought with them. "Just get this line attached to that rock over there. And hurry!" he commanded, pointing to a large rock that protruded about four feet out of the ground.
Harry obeyed wordlessly as Tom attached the other end of the line to himself. After ensuring everything was secure, Tom eased his way off the ledge and determinedly, but carefully, began his descent.
He edged his way down, avoiding the path of the rockfall as much as possible because of the trail of loose dirt and stones that it had left in its wake. Despite his best efforts to avoid disturbing them though, as he reached halfway a few small rocks suddenly slid from under his boot and bounced away down the slope.
Tom watched with trepidation as they hit other rocks and sent them tumbling too, one just missing Chakotay as it glanced off the boulder that he was lodged behind. Dirt continued to slide for several minutes, showering the Commander's prone form, before it finally slowed and became just a fine trickle of dust.
Tom's heart was beating rapidly as he resumed his downward path, closing in quickly now on his lover's position. The nearer he got the easier the terrain became, but he suppressed his desire to sprint the last few feet, going slowly instead to prevent the fall of any more stones.
Anxiously he made his way to Chakotay's side, reaching out for him as soon as he was close enough. Chakotay lay on his front on a patch of soft ground, his head and neck coated in dirt and fragments of rock which Tom quickly brushed away. He touched Chakotay's neck and while the fingers of that hand desperately searched for a pulse, Tom's other hand removed the med-kit and opened it.
Tom fumbled blindly in the box, trying to locate the medical tricorder by touch alone, as trembling fingers failed time and again to find Chakotay's pulse point. A wave of panic surged through him and he momentarily shifted his gaze from Chakotay, just long enough to spot the tricorder and pull it from the box. With a mixture of relief that he'd found it and a fear of what it would show, Tom switched the device on.
There was a heartbeat. It was faint, but steady and Tom silently thanked every deity that might be listening that the first hurdle had been crossed. He kept the lid on his optimism though, unwilling to celebrate until he'd seen the extent of Chakotay's injuries.
As he passed the tricorder over his lover, Tom also checked his condition visually. There were numerous cuts and abrasions scattered over Chakotay's back and legs; a gash just below his left eye from which blood had run across his nose and mouth, and a finger that was bent awkwardly and was definitely broken. Tom was thankful that, despite his battered appearance, Chakotay's injuries so far were fairly minor, and he prayed he would find nothing worse once he was certain it was safe to turn Chakotay over.
Tom looked down at the readouts produced by the tricorder and what little colour there was in his face drained rapidly away. The display was fluctuating wildly; one moment showing Chakotay as completely uninjured, the next that his condition was critical.
Tom swore loudly as he realised that something in the surroundings was affecting the tricorder and, with another loud curse, he hurled the useless item back into the med-kit. Clenching his fists, he took several deep breaths as he willed himself to calm down, then once again returned his attention to Chakotay.
Without the aid of the medical device he would have to catalogue Chakotay's injuries by sight and touch, starting with another attempt at finding a pulse. Tom urgently resumed his task, hoping against hope that the tricorder had at least been accurate when it had registered a heartbeat. He steadied his nerves and this time found what he was looking for within seconds; a steady and comforting rhythm under his fingertips.
Tom closed his eyes briefly as he breathed a sigh of relief, then moved his hands up to Chakotay's neck and cautiously began to check for signs of any hidden injuries. Once he was satisfied that nothing was broken he repeated the procedure on his lover's back and legs. As he reached the conclusion that it was probably safe to turn Chakotay over, a sudden shout from Harry, and the noise of falling rocks, caused him to look up sharply.
"Tom, the ledge is starting to crumble!" Harry yelled down at him. "You need to get back up here now!"
"Get the other line to me, Harry," Tom called back. "I'll attach it to Chakotay, then you'll have to keep it taut while I carry him."
"I've got the line here," Harry said, throwing it down. "Be quick, Tom, there's a large rock up here that's already shifted a bit; it could fall any minute."
"Okay," Tom shouted, grabbing the line. "I'll be as fast as I can, I just have to turn Chakotay over and get him ready to be moved."
"Is he okay, then?" Harry asked as he kept a careful eye on the men below and the unstable ledge that was crumbling away piece by piece.
"He's alive, Harry, but I don't know the full extent of his injuries yet, there's something around here that's affecting the tricorders. I just hope they work again once we're out of the area." Tom answered as he kept his attention on Chakotay.
Carefully Tom rolled his still unconscious lover onto his back, wincing as he noticed the multitude of dark bruises and lacerations that covered Chakotay's chest and stomach.
He quickly performed the same examination that he'd done on Chakotay's back, then carefully secured the second line and gently lifted the older man up. As an increasing amount of dirt and small stones began to rain down, Tom hoisted Chakotay over his shoulder and began his upward journey.
Harry watched the proceedings closely, ever alert to the danger presented by the large rock that had again shifted position. Tom was making his way towards him slowly, just approaching the steepest part of the climb, when, with a loud rumble, the rock finally broke free and gravity prevailed.
"Tom, look out!" Harry shouted as it started to slide, gathering momentum and taking with it a large quantity of smaller stones.
Tom looked up and saw the boulder heading his way. He flattened himself against the slope, covering Chakotay's body with his own as the rock passed within inches of their position. Sharp fragments of rock flew up and hit him everywhere and he was thankful for the still-damp clothes that he wore. Although he knew that he'd been cut in a few places, Tom realised that without the clothes his injuries would have been greater.
When the worst had passed, Tom eased away from the slope and shifted Chakotay into a more comfortable position. As he did, the older man groaned and Tom manoeuvred him again until he could see Chakotay's face.
"Chakotay? Can you hear me?" Tom asked hopefully, but the only response he got was another moan as Chakotay's face contorted with apparent pain.
With more dirt and detritus continuing to fall, Tom knew he couldn't delay his ascent any longer; he would have to wait until he reached the top before he could attempt to bring Chakotay around. With his mind made up and praying that his lover wasn't suffering from internal injuries, Tom again repositioned Chakotay and set off up the slope.
It was an awkward and tiring climb, made worse for Tom when he lost his footing several times and it caused Chakotay to moan pitifully. The sounds cut through Tom like a knife, but he knew he couldn't stop. If he did they could both be killed in the next rockfall.
He continued upwards and by the time they finally reached the top and Harry helped them onto the remains of the ledge, Tom was consumed with worry that there might be something seriously wrong with his lover.
Gently, he laid Chakotay down on the blanket that Harry had placed on the ground, then went to remove the med-kit. A sudden tremor ran through the ledge though and he stopped, wrapping the blanket around Chakotay as he realised they would have to move quickly.
"We've got to get out of here!" Harry yelled as the path started to disintegrate in front of them, large chunks breaking away and crashing noisily down the route that Tom had just climbed. "You grab the lines, Tom, and I'll carry the Commander," he added, moving towards the older man.
"No!" Tom exclaimed, waving Harry away. "I've got him," and he carefully lifted Chakotay up and started to move quickly away from the collapsing ledge. After snatching up the lines and his backpack, Harry followed.
As they headed down the track that led back to their camp, it was obvious to Harry that Tom was extremely tired but, at Tom's insistence, they walked rapidly on until the sound of falling rocks could no longer be heard.
Reaching a small sandy patch, Tom gently placed Chakotay down, another small sob escaping the older man's lips as his body touched the ground. Running his fingers nervously through his hair, Tom studied his lover's pained face.
The gash under Chakotay's eye was bleeding freely and he was quite pale, his occasional moans louder now. Tom decided to try scanning Chakotay again and, with tears threatening to fall, he opened the med-kit and pulled out the tricorder.
Harry watched as Tom switched the device on. "Is it working now?" he asked, stepping forward to look over Tom's shoulder.
Tom didn't speak, he just shook his head as he stared at the still-useless tricorder, then reached out to gently stroke Chakotay's hair.
"Do you think you should try bringing him round?" Harry asked as he bent down next to Tom, taking note of the silent tears that were running down the pilot's face.
"No, not yet," Tom answered quietly. "I'll regenerate the cut under his eye but that's all for now. We're not far from camp, I'll wait until we get there before I do anything else."
Harry nodded, then watched as Tom cleaned the blood from Chakotay's face before taking the dermal regenerator from the med-kit and healing the wound. As soon as Tom was finished and had packed everything away he carefully lifted Chakotay up and they started out for camp.
The sun was higher in the sky now, shining brightly on the men as they made their way back along the rough path. As they walked, Tom noticed Chakotay beginning to stir, moaning softly and squirming slightly in Tom's grasp before settling down once again.
Tom grimaced at Chakotay's soft sobs but his hopes for his lover's return to consciousness were encouraged a little by the older man's small movements. He continued on, following Harry until, with a sigh of relief, he found himself standing outside of their tent.
With Harry's help, Tom carefully manoeuvred Chakotay inside and gently laid him down. As he did, Tom felt a sudden wave of pain hit him and he knew that it came from Chakotay. He blocked it for a moment as he realised he would have to get Harry to leave, he couldn't allow the Ensign to witness anything that might reveal the link that he and Chakotay shared.
"Harry, could you get the fire started again?" Tom asked. "I'll need some warm water to clean Chakotay's wounds before I regenerate them."
"Yeah, sure Tom. I'll sort out some breakfast for us as well." Harry replied.
"Thanks," Tom said quietly, then turned back to Chakotay as Harry left.
Taking Chakotay's hands in his, Tom reached out to his lover with his mind, allowing the older man's pain to flow through him as he called out silently.
/ Chakotay, can you hear me now? We're back at the tent and I'm going to assess your injuries again, then give you a painkiller, okay? /
Chakotay remained silent, the only response Tom received was an increase in the level of pain that he was experiencing. Tom decided he needed to administer an analgesic to Chakotay immediately and tried to temporarily sever their link so that he could concentrate on loading a hypospray.
Despite Chakotay's weakened physical condition, his mental hold proved to be very strong and Tom found that he was unable to break away. Instead, he became aware of a new sensation; the unnerving feeling that he was floating around inside Chakotay's body.
Tom could hear his lover's heart beating out a steady rhythm as a bright red river of newly-oxygenated blood made a sudden appearance, flowing swiftly around him before its rapid current captured him and swept him away on an unexpected tour of Chakotay's arteries.
Tom was tossed around like a piece of driftwood, unwittingly carried along with no idea of where he was or where he was going. The warm, rushing stream surged on, taking him with it, until the motion began to make him feel nauseous and he called out silently, entreating Chakotay to release his hold over their link.
At first, nothing happened, but after a second impassioned plea Tom found himself stationary again, the red river leaving no evidence that it had ever been there. Tom peered around in the darkness that now enveloped him, his gaze then drawn to bright flashes of brilliant white light that suddenly began to burst above and in front of him.
The pain he felt increased with each flash and Tom tried hard to fight it. As he concentrated on trying to stem the agonising flood, Tom's brain began to release pain-relieving endorphins. After a few moments, he realised that his body's natural response was not only helping him, it was also helping Chakotay.
Their bodies as well as their minds seemed to be existing as one for now and Tom took advantage of that. He reached out and sent an urgent message to Chakotay's brain, encouraging it to release more endorphins of its own.
As it responded to his instructions, the pain gradually began to subside and Tom felt his lover's consciousness starting to surface. The flashes of light faded away, disappearing completely as the pain eventually reached a tolerable level and Tom once again became aware of his physical surroundings.
In a state of near exhaustion, he gazed down at the still form of his lover and tears began to form. Chakotay was staring back, his dark, tired eyes trying hard to focus, as the faintest of smiles appeared on his pale and bruised face.
Relief and an overwhelming feeling of love flooded through Tom and he bent down to lightly brush his lips over Chakotay's. Then, as the control that he'd worked so hard to maintain finally shattered, Tom gently wrapped his arms around his lover and he began to cry.