"Nearly home," Tom commented as Voyager came into view and he adjusted the shuttle's heading to take them on a direct route towards the ship. Having once again navigated the glowing cloud safely, encountering no problems on the same still-clear path that they'd used on the outward journey, the nebula was now almost two hours flight time behind them.
After several hours spent sheltering inside the rock, when the storm that had threatened finally became a reality just as they'd decided to leave, it had then taken them a little more than a day to return to the shuttle and begin the journey back to Voyager.
Now, as they approached the Starfleet vessel that had waited patiently for them to return, Tom smiled as he thought of what lay ahead for him and Chakotay.
//You look happy,// Chakotay remarked as he caught sight of the pilot's face. //Looking forward to something?//
/Nothing that I can think of,/ Tom replied, turning his attention to the controls in front of him, and trying his best to keep his smile from widening.
Chakotay moved behind him and placed his hands on Tom's shoulders, rubbing them gently. "Glad to be back home, Lieutenant?" he asked, leaning forward to lightly kiss his lover's neck. "Eager to go see the Captain?"
"Yeah," Tom said, grinning and looking up. " I am. I'm sure she'll be really interested in reading my mission report," he teased.
"Oh?" Chakotay questioned, looking back over his shoulder to make sure Harry hadn't returned yet. The Ensign had gone to the rear of the shuttle a few moments before, to repair a fault he'd noticed in the comm unit. "And just what will be in your mission report that the Captain will enjoy reading?" Chakotay continued, turning back to Tom and running his fingers through the younger man's hair.
"Well, actually, the report might be of interest to the Doctor as well," Tom said, moving his head to one side as Chakotay kissed his neck again. "I thought I'd tell them all about your unique cure for the insomnia I had the first night we were on the planet."
"Oh, you did, did you?" Chakotay remarked, nipping the skin just below Tom's right ear, then kissing it when the pilot winced slightly. "And why do you want to do that, Tom?" he asked, turning Tom's seat around until his lover was facing him. "Trying to make them jealous?"
"Well, actually, I wanted to embarrass you," Tom confessed with another grin. "I thought it was about time I got my own back for that stunt you pulled when we first found out about our link. You know, when you sent me those erotic images, and I nearly came in front of the Captain."
Chakotay laughed and shook his head. "I'd forgotten about that," he said, standing up, his hands once again on Tom's shoulders. "But you're right, I do deserve some sort of punishment for it."
"Yes, you do," Tom agreed. "I'll have to think of something suitable."
Their conversation was interrupted as Harry returned and sat down. "The comm unit's repaired, Commander," he reported as Chakotay moved away from Tom and retook his seat. "But I'll mention it to B'Elanna as soon as we get back, and ask her to check out the other systems in that section too."
"Good idea, Ensign," Chakotay said, studying the readouts in front of him. He looked up then as they were hailed by Voyager, and Captain Janeway appeared on the small screen in front of him.
"Good to have you back, Commander," she said, smiling. "You too, Mr. Paris, Ensign Kim. I shall look forward to reading your reports." She frowned slightly as a muffled snigger came from Tom. "Everything okay, Lieutenant?" she asked, one eyebrow raised.
"Yes, Captain. Everything's fine," Tom responded, his composure regained. "I was just trying to clear a tickle in my throat."
"I see. Perhaps you ought to report to Sickbay after you've given me your report. I'll ask the Doctor to give you a check up. Can't have you coming down with anything, can we?"
"I'm fine, Captain," Tom insisted. "It was nothing, honestly."
"Well, we'll let the Doctor be the judge of that," Janeway replied, ignoring Tom's slightly pained expression. "He can give you a thorough examination."
"Yes, Captain," Tom answered sullenly.
"So, Tom. What did the Doctor have to say?" Chakotay asked with a grin. "Any diseases I should know about?"
"Yeah, Chakotay," Tom answered, staring at his lover in the corridor outside sickbay. "I have a disease. It's called 'never knowing when to keep my mouth shut'."
Chakotay laughed and put his arm around Tom's shoulders. "I don't think there's much the Doctor can do about that. I believe that disease is incurable."
"Thanks," Tom said with a snort. He turned around to face Chakotay. "But there is some good news," he continued. "You were right about our advanced mental capabilities. The Doc decided to scan my brain again while he had me captive, and I found it really easy to influence the readings. The only problem was, the Doc got so flustered when they came out as normal, he insisted on testing me again."
"I suppose he'll be scanning me as well, then," Chakotay muttered, staring at the sickbay doors.
"Yeah, he did mention something about comparing our results," Tom confirmed. "If you hadn't had to stay behind after the senior staff meeting, he would've probably seen us at the same time."
"Probably," Chakotay agreed. "But my medical examination was less important than what the Captain and I had to discuss. The results of the analysis that Seven ran on the star chart needed further consideration. Especially as she confirmed what you and I already knew; that the dark spots marked on it are wormholes. I believe, as you do, that the chart was provided by Azai, and because of that I'm certain that one of the wormholes leads to the Alpha Quadrant. If that's the case, we need to make sure the crew is adequately prepared for the return home."
"Yeah, you're right, your discussion with the Captain *was* important, but I'm glad she insisted you see the Doc afterwards. I certainly don't agree with her other decisions today, especially the one regarding our deviation from the marked flight path, but she was right about sending you to sickbay. The fall you took from that ledge was a bad one, and I'll be happier once I'm sure I didn't miss any injuries."
"You looked after me very well, Tom, I know you never missed anything. You were pretty thorough," Chakotay assured him as he leaned in and kissed his cheek. "I'm sure the Doctor will agree."
"I hope so," Tom answered. He put his arms around Chakotay's waist and pulled him close. "You'd better go for your appointment now, Cha. But come to my quarters later," he said as he returned the kiss. "As soon as you've finished here."
"Okay. I'll see you later, Tom," Chakotay replied. He gave Tom another soft kiss, then disappeared through the sickbay doors, leaving Tom to return to his cabin.
"Are you sure you want to go to Sandrine's?" Chakotay asked, buttoning up the black shirt that Tom had chosen for him. After the Doctor had performed several repeat scans, he'd given the Commander a clean bill of health, and Chakotay had made his way to Tom's quarters. As Tom had already changed into off-duty clothes, they'd left shortly afterwards, and were now in Chakotay's cabin.
Moving in front of the older man, Tom slowly inspected him from head to toe. "Yeah, Cha," he replied. " I want everyone to know how lucky I am. I want to show you off."
"Really?" Chakotay asked with a pleased smile. "You want to give up one of our secrets, and let everyone know we're together?"
"Yeah," Tom answered, nodding. "We've kept it to ourselves long enough. And besides," he added, moving into Chakotay's arms. "It's not as though it's that much of a secret any more. I mean, the Captain knows, so does B'Elanna and Harry, the Doc and Seven, and Tuvok probably knows as well. Why not let everyone else know? It'd come as a bit of a shock to them if they only found out after we're married."
"Yes, it would," Chakotay agreed, hugging Tom tightly and kissing his neck. "Especially as we plan on marrying as soon as possible."
"Exactly," Tom said, pulling away from Chakotay's embrace. "So let's go," he added decisively.
"One moment, Tom," Chakotay said, halting Tom's path towards the door. He stepped in front of the younger man and placed his hands on Tom's arms. "There's something else that needs to be addressed."
"There is? What?" Tom asked, frowning.
"Our living arrangements," Chakotay stated. "I want you to move in with me tonight."
"You do?" Tom questioned with a smile.
"Yes, Tom," Chakotay confirmed. "And then, as we're agreed it should be as soon as possible, I think, tomorrow, we should ask the Captain to marry us."
Tom's smile widened. "I like your way of thinking, Cha," he said, leaning in for a kiss. "Let's go to Sandrine's and celebrate. And although it's probably a foregone conclusion, on the way there we can discuss who we want our witnesses to be."
"Good idea," Chakotay remarked, and they left for the holodeck, walking slowly, and arriving there ten minutes later.
It was busier than normal, as word of the wormholes' existence had quickly spread throughout the ship. Almost all the off-duty crew members had been drawn to the bar, and were talking excitedly with each other about the discovery, and the possibility of going home.
As they looked around, Tom spotted B'Elanna. She was sitting on her own at a table near the back of the bar, and waving at him and Chakotay to join her. Tom tapped Chakotay on the arm to get his attention, then led the way across the crowded room to where B'Elanna sat waiting for them. Grabbing a spare chair from beside the next table, Chakotay placed it close to the empty one that B'Elanna had already secured, and he and Tom sat down.
"You two look happy," B'Elanna remarked, looking from one man to the other. "What's put the smiles on *your* faces?" she asked. "D'you think this could be it? Our way home?"
"Perhaps," Chakotay answered noncommittally. "But there's no point getting excited unless we know for sure. We've been disappointed too many times in the past."
"I agree," B'Elanna said, nodding. "So," she continued. "If *that's* not the reason you commed me a few moments ago and asked me to meet you here, what is? Something happen on the away mission that never went in your reports?" she probed, turning her attention to Tom. "After all, Harry was being quite professional towards you both during the staff meeting. Hardly obnoxious at all. What's the reason for that?"
"I'm not really sure," Tom said, frowning. "He seemed to change his mind about us after Chakotay got caught in the rock fall. Harry helped me rescue Cha, then his attitude towards us just sort of improved. It made life a lot more bearable, so we never really questioned it."
"Oh," B'Elanna commented, taking a sip of the drink she'd ordered on her arrival. "So, did anything else happen while you were away?" she persisted.
"Not really," Tom replied with a shrug. He looked across at Chakotay. "Can you think of anything, Cha?"
"Well," Chakotay began, looking thoughtful. "We *did* have quite an interesting discussion at one point, Tom. You know, when you asked me to marry you, but apart from that...."
"What?" B'Elanna asked loudly. "Tom asked you to *marry* him? And *you* said nothing else happened," she continued, pointing her finger at Tom. "I'd call *that* a definite something. And judging by your faces, I'd say the answer was 'yes'," she added with a smile. "Congratulations."
"Thanks, B'Elanna," Tom said as she placed her glass back on the table, then reached over to hug them both. "But there's one more thing."
"And that is?" she asked as Chakotay thanked her with a kiss on her cheek.
"The reason we dragged you away from your engines," Chakotay stated as he took Tom's hand in his. "We'd like you to be one of the witnesses, B'Elanna, and we'd be honoured if you would agree."
"Of course I agree," B'Elanna replied with another smile. "And it's *me* who's honoured. But who's gonna be your other witness?" she asked.
"Well, I commed Harry on the way here as well, and asked him to meet us; I'm going to ask *him*," Tom replied, glancing at Chakotay, then back to B'Elanna. "I know he treated us badly to begin with, but he and I were friends for a long time before that. I'd like him to be there when Cha and I get married."
"Mm," B'Elanna mumbled. She fell silent a moment, then took a deep breath and smiled brightly at Chakotay. "Well, Chakotay, I think you should let me know all the juicy details in private. Come and dance with me, and you can tell me everything," she said standing and holding her hand out to Chakotay, then pulling him to his feet. "I'm sure Tom can survive on his own for five minutes," she added, noting the Commander's reluctance to leave.
"I'll be fine, Cha," Tom confirmed. "And I won't be on my own, actually. Harry's just come in."
"Oh. Well, maybe I should stay then, so we can speak to him together," Chakotay offered, moving to sit down again.
Tom stopped him. "Nah, you go and dance. I'll ask him myself. I don't mind," he insisted.
Chakotay nodded, then bent down to place a tender kiss on Tom's lips. "Okay, Tom. I won't be long. Have fun with Harry until I get back."
"I will, Cha," Tom answered with a smile. He watched B'Elanna lead Chakotay away, then looked over to where he'd seen Harry. He frowned as he noticed that the Ensign had turned back towards the door and appeared as though he was about to leave. "Harry!" he called, making himself heard over the soft music that was playing. "Over here."
Harry turned around and gave Tom a small wave before making his way over to him. "Hi, Tom. I didn't see you there," he said quietly as he sat down. "It's a bit crowded in here tonight."
"Yeah, it is," Tom agreed, although he was almost certain that Harry *had* noticed him, despite the crowd. He'd caught a glimpse of the Ensign out the corner of his eye, and was fairly sure he'd seen Harry looking directly at him just before Chakotay's kiss.
"So, what did you want to talk to me about?" Harry asked, glancing around. "You were pretty insistent that I came here, so it must be important. Is it anything to do with the wormholes?"
"No, Harry, it isn't. It's something much more important than that," Tom said seriously. "I want to ask you something. Chakotay's already made the same request of B'Elanna, and she's agreed. I hope you will, too."
"What do you want me to agree to, Tom?" Harry questioned.
"Chakotay and I would like you to be a witness when we get married," Tom stated. "Would you, Harry? Please?"
Harry looked completely stunned. "*What*?" he asked incredulously. "I don't understand, Tom," he continued, shaking his head. "You and Chakotay want to get married? Why? I mean, what's the point?"
"What d'you mean, 'what's the point'? We love each other, Harry. *That's* the point. We're gonna spend the rest of our lives together, and we want our commitment to each other officially recorded. Can't you understand that?"
"No, Tom, I can't," Harry replied with a condescending snort. "After all, you're both men."
Tom shook his head in disbelief at Harry's words. "Fucking hell!" he exclaimed loudly, agitatedly running his hands through his hair. "I thought we'd got past all this! What's got into you this time?" he demanded. "What's changed?" Sudden realisation hit Tom as the words left his mouth, and he nodded in understanding as he looked at Harry. "It's because we're back on Voyager, isn't it?" he stated more than asked. "You were all right with Chakotay and me while we were on the mission, because there were no witnesses. No-one to cast aspersions on *you* for being friendly towards us. But now we're back, and off duty, we embarrass you, don't we Harry? That's why you were gonna leave just after you got here. You saw Chakotay kiss me, and you couldn't handle it!"
Chakotay and B'Elanna had heard some of Tom's outburst from across the room, and quickly made their way back to him. "Are you okay, Tom?" Chakotay asked, placing his hands on Tom's shoulders as he looked with concern at the younger man's pale face. At Tom's nod, he then turned his attention to Harry, his anger apparent. "Just what the hell have you been saying *this* time?" he demanded.
Harry shook his head, and stood up. "I'm sorry, Commander, but I have to go," he said, moving away from the table.
Chakotay caught hold of his arm and stopped him in his tracks. "You're not going anywhere until I say so," he growled. "Now explain to me what's been going on here."
"It was just a difference of opinion," Harry muttered. "It's not my fault if Tom can't accept that we disagree on some things."
"He's right, Chakotay," Tom said, trying to stay calm now and head off further trouble. "I just want to forget it and go home. Okay?"
Chakotay glared at Harry for a few moments more. "Okay, Tom," he eventually agreed. He released Harry's arm then, and pushed the Ensign in the direction of the door. "I strongly suggest that *you* go home, too," he said in a soft, controlled voice. "Get out of here, Ensign Kim."
Harry stumbled forward, then pushed his way through the crowd of silent and amazed spectators, their interest in the wormholes forgotten as they witnessed the unexpected drama between senior members of the crew.
"I told you while we were dancing that I was sceptical about his so-called change of heart," B'Elanna commented to Chakotay as she watched Harry's exit. "Once an asshole, always an asshole," she asserted.
Chakotay nodded in agreement.
"I know you keep insisting you're okay, Tom, but you don't look it," Chakotay remarked as he and Tom sat together on the couch in their quarters. "Do you want to share your thoughts with me again?" he asked.
"That's all I've been doing for the last hour, Cha. Ever since we got back from Sandrine's," Tom said with a smile. "Although I must admit, I haven't let *all* my worries pass along our link. But I assure you, what's on my mind now has nothing to do with Harry. I'm not gonna waste any more time worrying about *him*."
"So, what *is* bothering you?" Chakotay asked, gently stroking Tom's cheek. "Is it anything I can help you with?"
"No, Cha," Tom sighed. "It's just something that's been bugging me since the staff meeting. It's the Captain's decision to alter our flight path, I think she's wrong. I don't think we should be following a different course, because I'm sure Azai had that route mapped out for a good reason."
"I agree, Tom, but what can we do? If we tell the Captain we believe the star chart was provided by Azai, she'll want to know why we think that way. It could lead to her finding out about our link and the full extent of the Derzai's gift. We can't allow that. We just have to accept the Captain's decision. It *is* an understandable one. She wants us to reach the wormholes as quickly as possible, and the new route will cut over two weeks off our travelling time. We'll be there in a matter of days this way. And if our long range scans had been able to penetrate the nebula's interference, and we'd found the wormholes without the aid of the star chart, she'd have reached the same decision. We'd *still* be on this flight path."
"I know, but I don't like it," Tom remarked, edging closer to the older man. "I know this probably won't make any sense, Cha, but all I can think about is the warning Azai gave us, that nothing ever comes without a price. Those words just keep rolling around inside my head, and the more I think about them the more worried I get."
"Well, don't think about them, then," Chakotay advised, gently kissing Tom's cheek and reaching up to stroke his lover's hair. "Think of other things; more pleasant things."
"Like what?" Tom asked, smiling and leaning into Chakotay's hand as it moved to caress his face.
"Like, how about we pay the Captain a visit and ask her to marry us?" Chakotay suggested, kissing Tom's cheek.
"You mean right now?" Tom asked, a bright smile lighting up his face. "I thought we were gonna go see her tomorrow?"
"Well, I've changed my mind," Chakotay stated. "Come on, let's go." He grabbed Tom's hand and pulled him upright, then led him towards the door. "I know she has nothing planned for tonight, so I'm sure she won't object to us calling on her," he said as they stepped out into the corridor.
Tom laughed, then shook his head at Chakotay's impulsiveness, and together they quickly walked the short distance to the Captain's cabin.