"God, Chakotay, don't *ever* do that to me again," Tom said, holding the older man close to his chest and rocking him gently. "I was so scared, I really thought you were dead."
"I'm sorry," Chakotay whispered as he felt Tom's warm tears dripping onto his face. "I don't know what happened."
"What's the last thing you remember?" Tom asked, stilling his movements and tilting his head to look into Chakotay's puzzled eyes.
Chakotay frowned as he tried to recall the events that had led to him waking up in their tent. "I'm not sure," he said quietly. "I went for a walk, didn't I?"
"Yes, you went looking for Harry," Tom confirmed. "You wanted to talk to him."
"Yes....but I didn't find him....Has he come back? Is he okay?"
"He's fine. He helped me get you back here. Do you remember walking along a ledge a short way from camp?"
"I remember a ledge, yes," Chakotay answered after a short pause. "There was a noise......I looked up to see where it was coming from......I don't know what happened after that."
"There was a rockfall, you got caught in it," Tom explained. "I'm not certain, but I think you must've been unconscious for about two hours before you came round a few minutes ago. You've got a broken finger and a lot of cuts and bruises that need regenerating. I'm not sure what else because the tricorder's not working properly at the moment."
Chakotay nodded. "It hurts, Tom," he said softly.
"I know, Cha, but I promise I'll make it better. Let me lay you down again and I'll get a painkiller for you, okay?"
"Okay," Chakotay agreed and closed his eyes as Tom carefully placed him on the floor.
The fire was burning and Harry noted that the water in the metal container over it was heating up nicely. He got up from his place next to the crackling flames and made his way to the group of low bushes over which the Commander's clothes were still draped. A surge of guilt rushed through him as he gathered up the now dry garments and he shook his head.
Chakotay had almost been killed; Tom was beside himself with worry. 'And,' Harry thought, 'it's all my fault'. He turned to look at the small tent as he thought about his behaviour towards the two men that were inside it.
It was obvious to him now that Chakotay and Tom's relationship was more than just sex; they cared deeply for each other, he could tell. When he'd left the tent he'd known that Tom was on the verge of breaking down but he also knew that his attentions were unwanted. It was the first time since he and Tom had become friends that Tom hadn't wanted him there when something was wrong. 'And that's my fault too', he thought.
Harry sighed as he folded the Commander's clothes, his mind replaying the scene in Tom's cabin not so long ago. The hostility he'd shown towards Tom had started because of jealousy, he decided. It had been clear to him that Chakotay was interested in Tom and that had led him to conclude that Tom would no longer want him as a friend if Chakotay was around. The missed holodeck appointment had just reinforced that idea.
'And then I didn't listen when he tried to tell me something really important,' Harry thought as he remembered Tom's insistent questioning. 'And was Tom right when he said I was worried that I might get tarred with the same brush if people thought he was gay?' Harry stopped to consider a moment before answering his own question.
'Yes, he *was* right. And it *still* worries me even though I know it shouldn't. B'Elanna said that no-one would care one way or the other if Tom was gay or not; I know *she's* right too, they wouldn't. Everyone would just accept it. So why can't I? Surely Tom's friendship means more to me than my own ridiculous fears!'
Harry rubbed a hand across his forehead as he became more confused about his own actions. It was hard to sort out all the conflicting thoughts that ran through his mind but he was determined he would try. It might take awhile, he knew he couldn't resolve everything yet, but he decided he would make an effort to be more understanding and tolerant for the rest of the mission. With that positive thought in his mind he went back to the fire to collect the water.
As the flap closed behind him, Harry placed the Commander's dry clothes on the tent floor. Then he sat down and quietly watched as Tom finished working on Chakotay's broken finger.
"All done, Cha," Tom said, lifting Chakotay's hand to his mouth and gently kissing it.
Chakotay gave a tired smile and reached up with his other hand to stroke Tom's cheek. "Thank you," he said. "That feels much better."
As Tom returned the smile, Harry moved towards the two men and placed the container of water on the floor next to them.
"Will that be enough, Tom?" Harry asked as Tom turned to face him.
"Yeah, Harry. Thanks," Tom replied, releasing Chakotay's hand. "But could you do something else for me? Could you have a look at the tricorder? Maybe you can fix it."
"I'll try," Harry said, removing the device from the med-kit. "I can't promise anything, though."
Tom nodded. "I know, Harry, just do your best."
"Okay, I'll take it outside and work on it now while breakfast's cooking." Harry replied, pushing the tent flap open. "I'll be back in awhile. If you need anything before then, just shout."
"Thanks, Harry," Tom said sincerely, then turned his attention back to Chakotay as Harry left.
After an hour, Tom had Chakotay cleaned up and looking almost as good as new and, as Tom ran the regenerator over the last bruise on Chakotay's back, Harry returned, smiling.
"Try it now, Tom," he said, handing the medical tricorder to the other man.
"You've fixed it?" Tom asked looking hopefully at the still smiling Ensign.
"Yeah," Harry replied, sitting down next to Tom. "There was a very fine film of dust clinging to it, it was really difficult to remove. I don't know what the dust contained but whatever it was it interfered with the tricorder's ability to scan accurately."
"So you'll be able to fix the other tricorders too?"
"Yeah, as soon as we've had breakfast," Harry said. He turned his gaze to Chakotay then. "How do you feel, Commander?" he asked as the older man sat up and faced him.
"Much better, thank you. I'm just a little tired now, that's all. I should be fine after a few hours sleep."
"A few hours?" Tom interrupted. "You're gonna need longer than that, Chakotay. You're not leaving this tent until tomorrow."
"Are you giving me orders, Lieutenant?" Chakotay asked, raising an eyebrow at Tom.
"Yes, Sir, I am," Tom replied, looking seriously at his lover. "And what's more, you're gonna follow them. I had to use the regenerator on a large area of your body, your energy reserves are gonna be pretty low for awhile. You're gonna sleep for the rest of the day to build them up again. Understood?"
Chakotay gave a slight smile. "Understood, Tom," he said resignedly.
"Good. Now lie down and let me check you over with the tricorder. Let's see if there's anything I've missed."
As Tom scanned Chakotay, Harry rummaged around and retrieved the other tricorders, putting them to one side to repair later. He looked up to see Tom smiling and putting the medical device he'd fixed back into the med-kit.
"Everything okay, Tom?" Harry asked.
"Fine, Harry," Tom said with obvious relief. "Let's have breakfast."
"It was a really strange experience, Cha," Tom said as they lay holding each other later that day. "It was like I was inside your body, like we were one person. There were these flashes of light and I knew they were coming from the areas where you were more seriously injured; each time I saw them there was pain. Then, somehow, I managed to control it, to send messages to both your brain and mine to release natural pain inhibitors. It was really weird."
"It sounds that way, Tom," Chakotay commented, lightly kissing the top of Tom's head. "But I don't remember any of it. All I remember is waking up to find you looking like death warmed over. I had no idea what had happened. You'll have to share the images with me when I'm feeling stronger."
"D'you think it was another part of Azai's gift, or a side effect of our link?" Tom asked, snuggling closer to the older man.
"I don't know, Tom. It's hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. Although, from what you've said, the gift sounds the more likely explanation."
"Yeah, that's what I thought too. Azai did say we didn't know what we could do."
"He did," Chakotay agreed. "He also said there were many ways the gift could be used. Perhaps that was one of them."
"Maybe, but I get the feeling that there's more to come. He said we'd be able to help others but so far it's just been between you and me. There's got to be something else."
"I think you're right, Tom, and I'm sure the beacon we've been sent to find has something to do with it. It's got to be more than just a coincidence, especially as we seemed to have an almost clear path through the nebula to get here."
"Yeah, not too obvious, was it?" Tom snorted. "But I wonder what the beacon is, what purpose it serves. And why the hell things can't ever just be straightforward."
"That would be too easy, Tom," Chakotay laughed. "And besides, I get the impression that we have to be at a certain level of understanding before we're allowed to know more. Azai said the gift would grow, that we'd understand more as it matures until one day everything would be revealed. I think we're a little closer to that now."
"Yeah," Tom said quietly. "And tomorrow, if we find the beacon, we might get closer still."
"We might," Chakotay agreed, wrapping his arms around the younger man and kissing the mark that he'd made on Tom's neck the previous night. "But for now let's make the most of the time we have alone. Harry will want to go to sleep soon; he won't want to sit outside forever."
"I guess not," Tom replied, closing his eyes as Chakotay nipped at his skin. "But we're not gonna do anything strenuous, Cha. You need to rest, okay?"
"Okay, Tom," Chakotay murmured and moved up to gently kiss him.
It was late and Harry was tired. He sat next to the dying fire and stared at the glowing embers as a faint breeze stirred them. A small cloud of ash flew up, sending a shower of tiny sparks into the air before they were blown away into the dark night sky.
Harry rubbed his hand across his eyes, then checked the time. He'd been outside for almost an hour, he noted. The moon was out now too, hanging silently above him, and Harry decided he needed his bed. He got up, kicked dirt over the remains of the fire, then walked slowly towards the tent.
He opened the flap quietly and peered inside, the faint light from the overhead lamp illuminating the tent enough for him to make out the forms of the two men asleep on the floor.
They were in almost exactly the same position that Harry had seen them when he'd woken up that morning. Chakotay had his head on Tom's chest, the younger man's arms wound tightly around him, the older man's hand resting on Tom's shoulder.
Harry studied them for a moment more, then walked across to where his sleeping bag had been laid out ready for him, his sleep pants placed neatly on top of it. He smiled and changed his clothes, then sank down wearily onto the tent floor.
Opening the sleeping bag he crawled inside and snuggled down, wondering, as he did, what tomorrow would bring. He hoped and prayed it would be better than what they'd been through today.
As his brain began to shut down for the night, Harry closed his eyes. He smiled as one last picture formed in his mind; Tom lovingly kissing Chakotay's hand.
Feeling more comfortable now with the two men's relationship, and understanding his own fears a little more, Harry wriggled further into his sleeping bag and gradually drifted off to join the others in sleep.