"Inspired flying, Mr. Paris," Janeway commented, rising from the command chair and approaching the helm. "Without your expertise, Voyager would certainly have sustained far more damage than she did."
"Thank you, Captain, but it's all part of the service," Tom replied with a smile as he turned around to face her.
"And a first class service it was, too. But, as the threat seems to have receded for the moment, I want you to go and get some sleep," Janeway ordered. "That also goes for the rest of the senior staff," she continued, addressing the other crew members on the bridge. "I want you all rested in case of further attacks. It's almost 0100 hours now. Unless there's a red alert situation, you will remain off-duty until 0900 hours. As soon as your replacements arrive, you may leave."
"What happened, Tom?" Chakotay asked as the turbolift doors closed. The lift began to move, taking them away from the bridge, and Chakotay pulled Tom into his arms. "That wasn't just inspired flying as the Captain suggested, was it? There was something more."
Tom nodded. "You're right, Cha. There *was* something more," he confirmed. "But I couldn't let you know while it was happening. It was impossible to use our link, because my mind was completely occupied with evading those hostile ships. There was just no way I could concentrate on two things at once."
"And how *did* you evade them? At times, it seemed as though you were acting more on intuition than on the readouts in front of you."
"That's because I was, Cha," Tom responded. The lift stopped then, and the doors opened. Chakotay released Tom from his embrace, and they stepped out into the corridor and headed towards their quarters. Once inside, Tom continued his explanation. "Actually, I'm not really sure if intuition is the right term," he remarked, sinking down onto the couch. "It was more like I could 'see' the ships in my mind. I knew exactly where they were. It started just before the attacks began, although all I was aware of then was a sort of premonition of danger, and this weird feeling of pressure building up inside my head."
"Yes, I remember when we got into the lift, just after the red alert first sounded, you said you had a headache," Chakotay remarked, sitting down next to Tom. "I knew there was something unusual about it, but at the time, the Captain was expecting my input on the attacks, and I couldn't really ask you anything."
"I know, Cha. But even if you *had* asked, I wouldn't have been able to tell you much. Not then, anyway. It was only once I was at the helm that I started to realise what was happening. Even before the information flashed in front of me, I could 'see' where the alien ships were. At first, I thought I was imagining things, so I waited for the readouts before I reacted, but the ships attacked just as I knew they would. They fired on us, and we took a couple of hits, and that's when I decided to trust my senses."
"And you did very well, Tom. Because of your precision flying, Voyager's repairs are minimal, and we managed to inflict enough damage on both attacking ships to cause their retreat. But if the same situation arises in future, you'll have to be very careful not to react too soon. If you pre-empt the readouts by too much, you'll draw attention to yourself. Then people, especially the Captain, will start to ask questions."
"Yeah, they will," Tom conceded. "But it's strange that you never shared my experience. How come *you* never sensed the attacking ships?"
"Who knows, Tom," Chakotay shrugged. He shifted nearer to the younger man, draping his arm around Tom's shoulders, pulling him close. "This gift we've been given is anything but straightforward. It's just like a jigsaw puzzle, but we only seem to get one piece at a time."
"Yeah," Tom agreed, happily snuggling into Chakotay's embrace. "But we should have all the pieces soon. We're only a couple of days away from the wormholes now."
"And most likely just a couple of days away from the Alpha Quadrant, too," Chakotay added, twisting slightly so that he could nuzzle Tom's neck. He pulled down the collar of the white silk shirt that Tom still wore, then gently kissed the skin beneath, smiling as Tom sighed and tilted his head to one side for Chakotay to explore further.
"Mmm, that feels good," Tom murmured, kicking off his shoes as Chakotay continued to kiss his neck. He swung his legs up and lay back against the arm of the couch, then pulled at Chakotay until the older man was lying almost full length on top of him. "Let's just hope there's no more red alerts for a while," he added softly.
Chakotay nodded, his fingers busy with the buttons on Tom's shirt. "My thoughts exactly," he said, pushing the material aside. He dropped his mouth to Tom's exposed chest, teasing each nipple with his lips and teeth until Tom groaned, his head momentarily tilting back over the arm of the couch.
Tom grabbed at the soft, black fabric that covered Chakotay's back. "Get this off," he whispered. He tugged it up, then ran his hands over the warm, smooth skin beneath. "Quickly, Cha. Please. I want to feel you against me."
Chakotay smiled, then leaned forward for a lingering kiss before complying with Tom's wishes, straddling the younger man's thighs as he quickly undid the shirt and removed it. "Your turn now," he said, tugging at the younger man's shirt and pulling it off. He threw it behind him, not caring where it landed, then dropped his hands to the waistband of Tom's pants and quickly undid them.
"Oh, yeah. That's good," Tom sighed as Chakotay's questing fingers found their way inside his shorts, then slowly stroked his erection, his body trembling from the touch. He shifted slightly, and the hand gradually slid lower, fondling his balls. Tom groaned softly, pushing his pants and shorts down, wriggling until Chakotay pulled them off for him. "Oh, God, Cha," he said, reaching up to run his hands over Chakotay's chest. "Please. Let me feel you. I need to feel you."
Chakotay stood up, toeing off his shoes, then hastily removed the rest of his clothes before reclaiming his place on top of the highly aroused pilot. As their bodies connected, and a loud moan of satisfaction came from the younger man, Chakotay grasped Tom's head with both hands. He claimed his lips, kissing him deeply and possessively, over and over. "I love you, Tom," he whispered, breaking away to gaze into his husband's eyes. "I love you, and you're mine."
"Always, Cha," Tom murmured, his fingers caressing Chakotay's cheek. He moved his hand upwards, running his fingers through the dark hair that had fallen over Chakotay's forehead. "Always yours."
Chakotay smiled, love and contentment coursing through him as his mind jumped back in time to recall his first moment of passion with Tom. How he'd taken Tom in sickbay, shortly after the away mission to the mud-covered planet, and how he'd made his first declaration to Tom that he wanted the younger man to belong to him. Chakotay smiled again, knowing that as much as Tom was happy to belong to *him*, the reverse was also true. //And I'll always be yours, Tom,// he stated, bending down to nip at Tom's neck.
Tom smiled, then closed his eyes, his hands moving to Chakotay's shoulders as his arousal grew further. He pulled the older man tightly against him, relishing the warmth of his body, while their thoughts and feelings became one. His fingers drifted downwards, caressing Chakotay's back, then lower still, running over his husband's hips.
Chakotay raised up slightly as Tom's hand slipped beneath him, his breath catching as he felt strong, warm fingers wrap around his erection, gripping, then stroking him firmly, the incredible sensation increasing dramatically as his own arousal was fuelled by Tom's. He groaned, drowning in the waves of excitement that surged back and forth between them, his entire body tingling at Tom's touch. //I love you so much, Tom. I always will.//
Although Tom didn't answer verbally, Chakotay knew that his husband felt the same way he did. With their thoughts combined, they had no secrets from each other; words were unnecessary. All they felt for each other was now expressed through their shared emotions; a whirling, all-consuming passion that seemed to have a life of its own.
Moving together in complete harmony, they gave and received pleasure, love and desire flowing incessantly between them as they continued to celebrate their marriage, Azai's voice echoing in their minds; two halves of one whole.
Tom came to with a pounding headache. Groaning, he gently extricated himself from Chakotay's embrace, then climbed out of bed, the older man moaning softly at the loss of Tom's warm body, and his eyes flickering open. As Tom stood, the reason for his discomfort suddenly became apparent to him. "Oh, shit! Wake up, Cha. We've got to get to the bridge," he said urgently, turning back to the bed and shaking the still half-asleep Commander. "Come on!"
"What? What's the matter?" Chakotay mumbled, sitting up. "Tom?"
"I can see those alien ships again, Cha. We're gonna be at red alert any minute. We've gotta get dressed," Tom replied, moving to the closet. He grabbed Chakotay's uniform and threw it onto the bed, then hastily retrieved his own. "Every second's gonna count, because there's four of the bastards on an intercept course."
"What time is it?" Chakotay asked, wide awake now and quickly reaching for his clothes.
"The time is 0530 hours," the computer informed him.
Chakotay groaned as he realised they'd had less than two hours sleep, their lovemaking having lasted for several blissful hours before they'd both finally succumbed to tiredness and sought out their bed. He got up, his pants already half on, and scanned the room for his shoes as he finished dressing.
"They're in the living area, Cha," Tom said, realising what Chakotay was looking for. "Next to the couch."
Chakotay nodded. "Thanks, Tom." He moved out to the other room, Tom following him. As he sat down to put his shoes on, the ship went to red alert.
Within seconds, both men had their footwear on, and were heading for the door, exiting into the corridor where other crew members were stumbling out of their cabins, many still not quite awake, and some still in their sleep wear.
Chakotay grabbed Tom's arm, and they made their way to the turbolift, arriving at the bridge just as the ship rocked violently. They took up their posts, and Tom soon found himself accurately anticipating the attacking vessels' every moves, counteracting them with almost apparent ease.
Janeway looked on in amazement, marvelling at Tom's flying abilities as time and again he managed to fly Voyager out of one tricky situation after another. But just as she'd started to believe that the ship would survive without any major damage, two more alien craft joined the fray, and Tom found that he couldn't concentrate on all of them at once.
"Hang in there, Mr. Paris," Janeway called from the command chair. "You're doing an excellent job."
Tom barely heard her, his mind racing in an effort to evade the attacks. He was dimly aware that Voyager was returning fire, but conscious of every hit that the Starfleet vessel took. He employed every skill he had at his disposal, doing his best to dodge each shot that he knew was about to happen, but it still wasn't enough. Despite the destruction of two of the alien craft, and the retreat of two more, Voyager's shields had begun to weaken, until eventually, just as the number of attacking vessels was reduced to one badly damaged ship, they failed completely.
Chakotay rose from his chair and made his way to the helm, resting his hands on Tom's shoulders as Harry reported that many essential systems were off-line. The ship was without shields or weapons, and as Tom attempted to manoeuvre Voyager away from the last enemy craft, the engines went off-line too.
Watching the still-functioning viewscreen, Chakotay felt his mind begin to merge with Tom's as an overwhelming need to protect the younger man consumed his being. The alien vessel, that had failed to respond to any of Voyager's hails, and appeared to be without weapons of its own, was now on a collision course with them, its hull starting to break up as it headed straight for them.
Gripping Tom's shoulders more tightly, Chakotay began to feel as though he was floating through space instead of standing on the bridge of Voyager. He could sense Tom at his side, the stars prominent specks of light in the darkness that surrounded them. The alien vessel was visible in front of them, growing closer and closer with every passing nanosecond, until it was almost on top of them.
An intense wave of fear and anger, mixed with determination that Tom would come to no harm, exploded from within Chakotay, blasting out into the area of perceived space around them with a force of such magnitude that the hostile ship was deflected by it as though it was no more than a toy, the unexpected action causing the craft to spin wildly before it began to disintegrate. Chakotay and Tom stared with incredulity at the spectacle as large pieces of debris passed them harmlessly by, before they found themselves once again on Voyager's bridge, Janeway's voice bringing them back to physical reality.
"What the hell happened?" she demanded, turning to face Harry. "Did our shields come back on-line?"
"No, Captain, they didn't. I don't know *what* happened," Harry reported, a frown on his face as he checked and rechecked the readouts in front of him. "All I can tell you, with the limited information I have, is that internal sensors picked up some kind of energy build up near the helm, just prior to the alien vessel's destruction."
"Well, what could've caused *that*?" Janeway asked, approaching the helm herself to check the panels in front of Tom. "And could it have caused some kind of temporary shielding for the ship that the scans didn't detect?"
"I'm sorry, Captain, but with so many systems off-line, I have insufficient data to be able to answer that," Harry replied with a sigh. "I'm afraid we might never know."
/Thank God,/ Tom commented silently, turning to face Chakotay. /To repeat the Captain's earlier question, Cha, what the hell happened?/
//I think we just received another part of the puzzle,// Chakotay answered, giving Tom's shoulder a gentle squeeze before moving back to his chair and sitting down, still feeling stunned by the recent events.
Janeway also retook her seat, and for the next hour, she and Chakotay gradually organised the crew until they had brought Voyager back to order, breathing a sigh of relief when all the ship's systems had been restored to a comfortable minimum, with no further attacks seemingly imminent. At that point, she decided rest was once again needed, and that Tom should be given priority as she wanted him at his best if the aliens returned.
Looking at her First Officer, she noted his gallant attempts to remain awake, and came to the conclusion that *he'd* be more use to her after a rest, too. Smiling, certain in the knowledge that not all their tiredness could be attributed to the battle that had recently been fought, she dismissed the two men, and sent them to their quarters.
"I don't think we've seen the last of those aliens, Cha," Tom commented as he sat forward on the couch, twisting slightly so that he could face the older man who sat alongside him, both trying to unwind a little before heading to bed. "I'm positive they'll be back," Tom continued. "But if they do return, your part of Azai's gift combined with mine means we have the ability to stop them now."
"Yes, I know, Tom," Chakotay said quietly. "But I can't use my part of the gift again. At least, not yet. If we attempt a repeat performance of what happened earlier, it will once more show up on internal scans, and the readings would probably lead to our detection next time," he remarked, running his hand across his forehead. "And remember that the law giver, for want of a better phrase, told us we could help others, but they were never to know the source of their help. We can't risk our actions being discovered. If they are, then, apparently, everything returns to the way it was before, and we'll have no memory of what's happened. We'd have lost any chance we had of helping. The ship would be in an even more vulnerable position then, and would very likely be destroyed."
Tom got up from the couch, then paced over to the viewport and stared out, shaking his head as he digested Chakotay's words. "I know you're right," he admitted, turning around. "But it's just so fucking frustrating! Especially when you think about all that stuff we studied as well. I mean, we spent ages in Azai's room, learning about God knows what, and to what end? Why the hell did we have to study so many things if we can't use any of them?" he demanded.
"Because no-one, not even Azai, knew what we *would* need to know, or what situation we'd find ourselves in," Chakotay replied calmly as Tom wandered back to retake his seat on the couch. "He told us the future was our own. He knew that our greatest desire was to see our friends reach their homes, but even *he* didn't know for sure how we'd accomplish that. I know he left the star chart for us, but I don't think he would have done so if we'd left the room too early. I think it was a reward for passing another of his tests. I'm convinced that if we hadn't studied enough, we wouldn't have received the chart. But I believe the primary objective of all the studying was to increase our mental capabilities."
"Probably," Tom relented. "But there's got to be *something* we can do," he insisted. "We can't just sit back and watch while Voyager gets destroyed."
"No, we can't, and we won't. Because there is a solution," Chakotay replied, watching Tom's face closely as the only option open to them became apparent to the younger man, and Tom swallowed heavily at the realisation. "But we have to plan it," Chakotay continued. "Then wait for just the right moment. In the meantime, only *you* can use the gift we've been given. Discreetly. To try and keep Voyager out of harm's way as much as possible. I can't become involved, no matter what situation arises. The risk that the energy generated would be detected, and traced back to me, is just too great. But as long as Voyager stays in one piece until we reach the wormholes, I'm certain our friends will be out of the Delta Quadrant and close to home shortly afterwards."
"I *knew* we shouldn't have deviated from Azai's marked flight path," Tom stated emphatically. "We've strayed into these aliens' territory because of it, and the outcome is pretty much a foregone conclusion now, isn't it?" He shifted on the couch to face Chakotay, then continued quietly. "I know I said earlier that my Father's approval didn't bother me, but I would've liked one more go at getting him to see me differently. With what we have to do, I don't believe I'll ever get that chance now. I'll never get him to change his low opinion of me, and we won't be able to gain his acceptance. Because, even if Voyager manages to make it home, you and I are probably gonna die in the process, aren't we, Cha?"
Chakotay sighed heavily, his face pale and serious as he reached out to take Tom in his arms. "Yes, Sweetheart," he replied softly, resting his forehead against Tom's. "That's an accurate assessment. We'll do our best to survive, of course, but realistically, our chances aren't good." He sighed again, then looked deep into Tom's eyes as he continued. "Azai warned us that nothing ever comes without a price, and it looks as though he was right. Our lives could well be the price we have to pay in order to save our friends."