Part: 1/3 Rating: R for language.
Warning: ** Typical Mort Angst **
Tom's heart sank as the Captain's words sank in. Two weeks. Two whole fucking weeks. The prospect made his stomach churn. Two fucking weeks alone with Chakotay and the Delta Flyer.
Shit. If karma truly existed then he had definitely pissed off a whole slew of gods in some previous existence. Klingon Gods, probably. The real vengeful kind.
He tried his trademark grin, deliberately flashing his baby blues at Janeway, his face schooled into a picture of innocence.
"As much as I appreciate the assignment, under the circumstances, Captain, I think that it would be a great opportunity for Baytart to get some hands-on experience in the Flyer. Besides, what if you run into trouble? I really think that I should stay at the helm of Voyager, Ma'am. Just in case."
He tried to ignore the sorts of amusement from Harry and B'Elanna, and the expression of pure disgust on Chakotay's face, at his obvious attempt to avoid the mission. To be honest, he didn't give a damn what they thought. The bottom line was that Chakotay hated him and there was no way in hell he was going to spend two weeks alone with him without a fight.
"The Betlanni have assured us safe passage to their home world, Lieutenant," Captain Janeway replied. "It is an ideal opportunity for us to refuel and gather provisions. In the meantime, the Commander and yourself can continue the exploration of this nebula. Seven reports that the third planet is not only uninhabited, but is rich in useful ore deposits. I want you and Chakotay to map the region in the flyer and pinpoint the most suitable sites for excavation.
"We will return to collect you in less than a fortnight. I am sure that Voyager can manage to survive your absence for that long," she added sardonically.
As Tom ducked his eyes from Chakotay's stony glare, he decided that it wasn't `Voyager's' survival that was worrying him as much as his own.
Sure, a casual onlooker might think that he and Chakotay had put aside their differences, but that was only because they were both careful to keep a mask of camaraderie on show for the rest of the crew.
As soon as they were alone, which was fortunately not too often, Chakotay's face would stiffen back into its expression of distaste, and Tom would find his own features contorting into a defensive cocky grin.
Dammit, he HAD tried. He had saved the bastard's life hadn't he? Then he had flushed out the traitor and thereby saved them all. So, okay, he had enjoyed decking the Commander as part of his charade, but that was only because he was pig-sick of the way Chakotay was being so publicly understanding of his `problems' while taking every private opportunity to berate Tom for being the fuck-up and coward that he believed him.
That had been five years ago. Five fucking years and still Chakotay loathed him. It didn't matter what he did, or how hard he tried, still the Commander blanked him.
It hurt most that Chakotay never did it in public anymore. Hell, no. In front of the others, Chakotay would laugh at his jokes, would pat him on the shoulder for a job well done, would even condescend to play pool with him if the eagle-bright eyes of the Captain were watching.
Yet, the moment they were alone, in the turbolift, or the corridor, or even when Sandrines had finally emptied to leave them without witnesses, the mask of disgust would settle back on Chakotay's face and he would stalk silently away, without even a goodbye, as though even the act of existing within the space that Tom breathed offended him.
So, of late, Tom had avoided him. It had been months since he had allowed himself to be within the Commander's proximity, except during staff meetings and duty shifts.
The idea of two weeks alone with the Commander in the close confines of the Delta Flyer and possibly the even closer confines of a sleeping tent, if they landed on the planet, was enough to make him want to howl.
The worst of it was, that he was pretty damned sure that the Captain was doing it deliberately. She probably had some fucked-up idea of forcing them into some bizarre `male-bonding' crap.
Tom had too much respect for Janeway's acumen to believe that she had fallen for their pretence of comradeship. She was probably taking the opportunity of the Betlanni's invitation to try and make him and Chakotay settle their differences. The problem was, that some people just weren't destined to hit it off.
Chakotay had hated him from the first moment he had set eyes on him, and no matter how hard Tom had tried to break through the other man's obvious disgust, all he had ever seemed to do was dig an ever deeper pit in which to flounder, as Chakotay tossed words of derision down onto his head like rocks.
Two weeks alone, to put right five years of mutual antipathy?
Shit, two fucking years wouldn't help.
"You're drifting off course again, Lieutenant," Chakotay snapped. "If you are too bored to pay attention, I am sure I could find some other task to occupy you."
"Maybe you'd like to fly, Sir? I mean it would be a good opportunity for you to crash a different style of shuttle wouldn't it?" Tom drawled back, his face carefully blank in contrast to his mocking tone.
It was the third day, they were finally approaching orbit of the tiny planetoid that Seven had directed them to, and their painful silences had given way to petty bickering, more at home in a nursery than a Star Fleet vessel in Chakotay's opinion.
Of course, the Star Fleet Vessel in question was a shuttle so small that he couldn't escape the scent of Tom's body and it was driving him to distraction.
Even within the confines of Voyager, Chakotay had been able to keep his distance from the infuriating pilot. This was the first time that he had been forced into a long-term, one-on-one situation with the man who had dominated every waking hour of his existence for five years, and not a small proportion of his dreams too.
Like a moth drawn to a flame, Chakotay had identified Tom as his enemy the first time he had cast eyes on the younger man's cocky, irritating and undeniably beautiful face.
In that first moment, he had weighed Tom up and had identified the danger that he posed. As sparkling and beautiful as a finely polished knife. A tease. A heartbreaker. His looks as cunning and deadly a camouflage, as the multi-hued scales of a viper were.
Tom's charm was just guile. His smile was that of a ravenous devouring beast who would steal his heart then rip it asunder, trampling it into the dust before he stalked off after his next victim.
And there had been enough of those on Voyager to prove him right. One by one, Tom had worked his way through the lonely hearts of Voyager, using his looks to seduce and beguile, only to quickly lose interest and move on to the next vulnerable soul.
Except sometimes in the quiet of his own cabin, alone with his thoughts and regrets, Chakotay would wonder whether he was being fair in his interpretation of Tom's wandering affections.
Perhaps Tom was simply as lonely as he was, yet instead of wrapping his loneliness in a mantle of chastity, he instead skipped like a bee from flower to flower, hungrily tasting in hope, only to find himself still dissatisfied and then moving on again.
If he stopped pushing Tom away, if he stopped long enough to let him taste his nectar, could he tame the bee? Could he addict Tom to the taste of his own flesh and thereby bind him to him?
It was possible. Hell, anything was possible. But he simply didn't have the nerve.
What if he finally let down his defences, dropped the mask of indifference, and then Tom scorned him? Better to keep his pride than let Tom shatter his heart, he reminded himself firmly.
"Unless you want to be on report for disrespect to a Senior Officer as WELL as dereliction of duty, Lieutenant, I suggest you keep your eye on the view screen and your mouth well and truly shut for the duration of this mission," he snapped. He averted his eyes from the look of pain that flashed over Tom's face at his harsh reprimand.
It's an act, he told himself. Tom isn't really hurt. It took a conscience and a heart to be capable of feeling pain and he was pretty damned sure that Tom didn't possess either.
After a day spent sweeping a low orbit over the planet, mapping the geological profile and establishing the site where the optimum excavations could be made with the minimum of effort, Chakotay instructed Tom to land.
He was mildly concerned by the high level of electrical disruption in the planet's atmosphere, but the computer judged them within acceptable parameters and he couldn't wait to be free of the confines of the tiny craft and put as much distance as possible between himself and the pilot.
Four days of Chakotay's snapping discouragement had finally proven Tom to be less irrepressible than he had imagined. Tom had descended into a major funk of sulking, now only responding to Chakotay's tense commands with a bitter "Yes, Sir" and "No, Sir."
Chakotay was finding the resultant near-silent hostility too much to deal with, although he was at least honest enough to acknowledge that it was largely his own fault.
If it had been any other member of the crew, he would have made an effort to be civil, would have been concerned with the morale of his subordinate. As it was, he was too frightened of over-compensating to offer any apology for his admittedly unprofessional behaviour.
If he started to apologise to Tom's rigid back, he might find his tongue running away with him. He might even confess the truth. That the reason he couldn't hold a civil conversation with the other man was because every time Tom opened his mouth, Chakotay had an insane desire to thrust his tongue between Tom's parted lips.
He strapped himself in the passenger seat behind the pilot, relieved that Tom's back was turned from him so that he could simply enjoy watching the talented fingers flashing over the helm without having to control his expression of admiration.
Tom was incapable of doing anything ungracefully, he decided. Even though he was still rigid with rage from Chakotay's earlier heckling, in the pilot's seat he was the consummate professional, his concentration evident as he guided the flyer through a small eddy of storm clouds. Like the rider of an untamed horse, Tom whispered to the flyer as he flew, his voice low and melodious as he soothed the craft through the jostling air-currents.
"Okay, honey, that's it, that's right," he whispered as he banked the Flyer flawlessly through the buffeting of the atmosphere and glided down towards the ground.
A flurry of rising air currents rocked the ship, but Tom quickly compensated, his fingers flashing over the controls until the Flyer steadied.
"Come on my beauty," Tom whispered, oblivious to his passenger, as the shuttle battled the electrical currents.
Chakotay closed his eyes, drowning in Tom's words, as a multitude of fantasies coalesced and he imagined that the endearments were whispered to him, that the undisputed tone of love was directed not at the non-sentient Flyer but at him instead.
So he never saw the ball lightening that rose and smote the flyer. It was only the sound of the explosion that dragged his eyes open in terror, just in time to see the console erupt in Tom's face.
Spiralling wildly out of control, the shuttle dropped the last fifty feet like a bomb, impacting on the ground with a screaming grind of twisted metal.
The suddenness of the descent caused Chakotay to black out. He never even felt his legs snap as his chair was crushed to the floor.
When he woke, he was lying on his side, still strapped into the chair. He could barely open his eyes for the sticky blood that had poured from his forehead, matting his hair to his skull before congealing in his eye sockets. His ribs ached as though they had been kicked by a horse, and he could feel the straps of his seat harness cutting into his midriff. It was an effort to even take a breath. The pain was almost insignificant next to the nauseous waves of agony that flowed from his legs. Somehow, his legs were folded beneath him, pinned by the broken chair and his own body weight.
"Tom," he gasped, twisting his head frantically to look for the pilot.
The console was just a twisted tangle of warped, smouldering metal and the pilot's chair had been ripped off its base and hurled through the viewscreen.
Chakotay screamed in horror, his own pain forgotten as he visualised Tom's body thrown headlong through the shattered screen. Somewhere, outside the corpse of the Flyer, lay the shattered lifeless body of her pilot.
"TOM!" Chakotay howled, letting all of his pain and misery escape in a roar of animalistic torment.
It was only when he finally stopped sobbing, and began to realise that he was alone on this planet, ten days from any possible rescue and unable to even move from the chair, let alone find a med-kit, that he finally heard a whimper from the rear of the shuttle.
"Tom? TOM?" He demanded, his fright transforming to relief and then to rage as the whimpering simply increased in volume.
"Lieutenant, I need HELP, here!" he yelled.
He twisted his head around, still unable to see into the recesses of the shattered craft where the whimpering sound was coming from.
He's hurt, he reminded himself quietly, trying to calm his urge to scream at the pilot again. The console exploded in his face, he has to be badly hurt. That's why he's not responding. Maybe his legs are as mangled as my own. That's why he isn't coming to help me.
"Tom," he pleaded softly. "Are you hurt? Do you need help?"
He had no idea what he could do if Tom replied yes, but in the darkness of the twisted cabin, Tom's incessant whimpers were beginning to terrify him.
"Tom?" he repeated, forcing his voice to remain calm. "Can you hear me? Talk to me, Tom."
The whimpering sobs quieted a little at his soothing tone. Calling on his spirit guide for strength, Chakotay managed to keep his voice light, despite his growing unease and the gnawing pain that knifed through his lower body.
"Tom? Come here, Tom. Please," his voice breaking a little on the last word.
He held his breath as he heard a slithering movement from the back of the cabin. He could hear Tom moving, thank god, and that meant that Tom could release him, could fetch him the med-kit.
"Come on Tom," he crooned, "come here. Help me."
From the corner of his eyes he saw a skittering movement as Tom appeared in the doorway only to freeze there, his face pale and eyes huge as he looked down at the Commander.
Chakotay was torn between relief that Tom was alive and an urge to punch him in the face for scaring him so badly. Shit, he'd thought a lot of bad things about Tom in the past, had called him a lot of cruel names, but he had never thought of him as the kind of coward who would fall apart like this in an emergency.
Damn, he wondered. Was this why Tom had lied about Caldik Prime? Had Tom fallen apart then too? Had he just curled up in a ball of misery that time and let his passengers bleed to death, like he himself was bleeding to death?
He struggled to keep the bitter disgust out of his voice as he called to Tom again.
"I'll kill you, you bastard," he muttered under his breath. "When we get out of this, when we get back to Voyager, I'm gonna kick your sorry little ass all the way back to the Alpha Quadrant."
Yet all he said out loud was, "I need help, Tom. Please help me. Fetch me the med-kit and let me out of the chair. Come on, Tom. Help me."
He watched in disbelief as Tom slowly stepped out of the doorway and hesitantly approached him.
He was fine. Spirits, there wasn't even a mark on him. Except for the tear-streaked powder burns on his face, he bore no visible injury at all.
Fury filled Chakotay. He was lying on the floor, his legs crushed and mangled, the pain in his ribs suggesting possible internal injuries, and Tom Paris had simply walked off and left him to die.
"Bastard," he snarled.
Tom's face crumbled at Chakotay's bitter tone. He began to wring his hands in misery, tears filling his blue eyes as he stared helplessly down at the Commander.
"Help me!" Chakotay roared, then gasped as a fresh wave of pain hit him. He struggled for a moment, unsuccessfully fighting to control the agony, and then slumped back into unconsciousness.
When Chakotay finally woke, he realised that the straps were still biting into his ribs, his legs were still pinned under the crushed seat, although they had gone worryingly numb, and a hand was gently caressing his hair.
His eyes shot open in disbelief. Instead of making any effort to help him, Tom was sitting cross-legged on the floor next to him and was running his fingers through his hair.
"Lieutenant," Chakotay gasped, the word seeming to rip its way out of his dry throat. "What the hell's WRONG with you?"
Slowly, Tom raised his head until their eyes met. Chakotay went cold with the sudden realisation that Tom's eyes were completely blank and unseeing.
"It's shock," he told himself, "he's in shock, that's all."
But then, Tom twisted his head slightly, and Chakotay finally saw the injury that was so small that he had completely failed to notice it before. On Tom's left temple there was a deep purple bruise, no larger than a fingerprint.
"Tom?" Chakotay asked, trying to keep the panic from his voice. "Can you understand me? Do you know where you are? Do you know WHO you are?"
Tom just continued to stare at him blankly, then reached out his hand and began to swirl his fingers over Chakotay's tattoo, suddenly too fascinated by the pattern to even pretend to listen to the strange sounds of Chakotay's voice.
Watching Tom with growing fear, Chakotay felt true fear begin to clench at his guts. He understood enough about impact wounds to realise that the smaller the surface area of the point of contact, the deeper the damage travelled.
The bruise on Tom's temple looked innocuous, but in all likelihood hid a brain injury so intense that Tom was barely able to function at all, let alone process a coherent thought. His brain was undoubtedly bruised, perhaps even bleeding and swelling within his skull with life-threatening rapidity.
No wonder he had just curled up and cried. He was probably incapable of understanding his own injury, let alone realising Chakotay's need for assistance.
Oh, Spirits, Chakotay prayed. I'm sorry I shouted at him. I'm sorry I thought the worst of him. Please let him be alright. Even if I don't get out of this, let Tom be alright.
But he wouldn't be, Chakotay realised. If the injury to Tom's brain was as bad as he suspected, then even if the pressure of the haematoma didn't kill him, Tom would be incapable of looking after himself until rescue arrived.
Which meant that Chakotay couldn't let himself just lie here and die either. Somehow, Chakotay had to get them both through this. Somehow, he had to make Tom fetch him the med-kit and then he had to somehow keep them both alive until help arrived.
"Tom," he pleaded gently. "Listen to me, please."
Tom at least responded to his voice, turning his face towards him and smiling sunnily at Chakotay's pleasant tone.
"Tom, go fetch the med-kit," Chakotay gasped, painfully raising his hand to point at the supply panel.
Tom simply regarded his hand with obvious interest.
Chakotay waved his hand, pointing desperately, but his gestures only increased Tom's fascination with his fingers. He reached out his own hand and tentatively touched Chakotay's outstretched finger with his own, then beamed happily.
Chakotay dropped his hand with a groan of frustration. He simply couldn't think of a way to communicate his needs to Tom.
Maybe if he managed to free himself from the straps, and tried to drag himself out of the chair, Tom would understand enough to help him move, he decided.
Tom watched with apparent fascination as Chakotay began the slow, torturous process of digging his fingers into his swollen stomach and teasing at the buckle of the harness. Releasing the strap caused the blood to rush to Chakotay's battered rib cage and he screamed involuntarily as pain knifed through his guts.
Terrified by Chakotay's scream, Tom scrambled away and hid in the rear of the shuttle again. It took Chakotay nearly an hour to coax him back to his side.
Inspired by Tom's instinctive urge to flee from the scream, Chakotay had finally formulated a plan. He would grab hold of Tom's arms and then deliberately let loose a blood-curdling yell. When Tom tried to run, he would cling on to him and hopefully be hauled out from under the chair before he fainted from the pain.
Then, when he recovered enough, he would drag himself to the med-kit himself.
It was a desperate plan but, under the circumstances, Chakotay simply couldn't think of anything else to do.
R for language.
Warning: ** Typical Mort Angst **
Chakotay tried to keep the exasperation from his voice. Tom was badly hurt and confused. He's like a child at the moment, he reminded himself. A very badly behaved and mischievous child perhaps, but still, he needed to get his own temper under control.
It wasn't Tom's fault, that he couldn't keep still or that the Tricorder seemed to terrify him. It definitely wasn't his fault that the pain in Chakotay's legs was almost driving him insane. Still, the very fact that he WAS Tom didn't help.
Chakotay just couldn't escape the suspicion that Tom was fooling around deliberately.
Maybe the whole brain damaged thing was just an act and that was why Tom wouldn't let the tricorder anywhere near his skull.
The med-kit had barely survived the crash. A whole section of the navigation console had ripped through the bulkhead where the med-kit was located. Behind the jagged edges of a ripped metal panel, he had found the tricorder in a tangled mess of smashed drug ampoules, scattered with the debris of a completely shattered bone-knitter.
Fortunately, he had also found one still fully charged regenerator, several doses of painkillers and an assortment of other drugs that had survived the crushing.
Desperately calling on his own long-forgotten Medical training, Chakotay had quickly catalogued his own injuries. One of the things he had remembered was the necessity for the would-be healer to heal himself first. Neither of them could survive if they were both severely injured. Yet, without knowing the extent of Tom's injuries, he had barely dared to use more than a minimal amount of the regenerator's charge on himself.
He had managed to stop the slow internal haemorrhaging from what the tricorder had identified as a ruptured spleen and had dealt with the absolutely worst fractures of his legs.
He wasn't going to be walking anywhere soon, but he had repaired enough of the damage that, with help of the painkillers, he would at least be able to drag himself around the shuttle now without passing out.
Or at least he would be able to if he could find something to splint his legs with.
He didn't NEED to be able to walk, he reasoned. The planet was too inhospitable to offer any solutions to their immediate problems. The temperatures outside ranged from eighty degrees in the mid-day to 20 degrees below at night, so there was no point in doing anything except sitting tight and waiting for rescue.
It was already bitterly cold in the shuttle. The power had gone out in the crash and although Chakotay was reasonably certain that he could rig something up, the immediate problem was Tom.
He had no idea how long he had been unconscious after he had scared Tom sufficiently to drag him out from the chair. It must have been hours though, because by the time he finally come to, the air had been frigid with cold, the light had the dim hazy quality of dawn, and Tom was curled up on top of him, fast asleep.
He could only assume that, at some point, the terrible cold must have overcome Tom's fear enough for him to instinctively burrow into the only source of heat. The fact that the source of heat was Chakotay's body was probably the only reason either of them had survived the night.
So Tom had inadvertently saved his life again, and despite the fact that waking meant facing the increasing pain in his chest and legs, Chakotay had still taken a moment to enjoy the feel of Tom sprawled bonelessly on top of him, his warm breath tickling Chakotay's neck before rising in a blue fog into the chilly air.
Yet, the pressure on top of his cracked ribs had eventually forced Chakotay to wake up and face reality. He had reluctantly released a hand from under Tom's bulk and had patted the pilot awake.
He could still picture that first vision of Tom waking. For the first time in his memory, Tom's face hadn't been clouded with a mask of sarcasm or cocky indifference.
Instead, Tom had blinked several times to try and focus his soft, sleep-filled eyes and then a huge smile had lit his face. Like the sun breaking through the clouds of a gloomy day, Tom's bright-eyed smile had cut through the morning chill, sending a shaft of warmth straight into Chakotay's heart.
"Spirits, you're beautiful," Chakotay had found himself murmuring, before the sound of his own sleepy words caused a blaze of embarrassment to fire his face.
Yet, when Tom's happy expression failed to twist into the mockery he expected, the realisation that Tom still couldn't understand him was worse than any amount of humiliation.
So he had panicked a little. Okay, a lot. He had raised his voice, demanding that Tom respond to him, and Tom's innocent smile had immediately been chased away by a look of terror and he had scrambled quickly off Chakotay, his flailing limbs tangling with Chakotay's legs.
Chakotay had literally howled with pain as one of Tom's knees accidentally struck his groin, and Tom had run away to hide.
Which was why, four hours later, he considered it a miracle that Tom had agreed to approach him at all. Even so, the fact that he seemed to think that the tricorder was a deadly weapon, wasn't helping Chakotay's temper at all.
Chakotay decided to change tactics. He put the tricorder down and began to croon at Tom, patting his lap and inviting Tom to crawl into it. It was worryingly effective. As soon as Tom lost sight of the tricorder, he seemed to instantly forget its existence. His face quickly resumed its former happy grin and he obediently slithered into Chakotay's lap.
Feeling oddly guilty about abusing Tom's trust, Chakotay took a firm grip of Tom's left shoulder blade, grabbed the tricorder with his left hand and thrust it against Tom's temple.
As Tom struggled in his arms, Chakotay kept up a mantra of soothing noises, until the message that flashed up on the Tricorder literally stole his breath.
Of course he had realised that Tom had a brain injury, yet seeing the reality in print, suddenly brought home to him exactly how alone they were here.
"Severe swelling of the Temporal Lobe. Insult to the posterior frontal lobe. Diagnosis: Fatal if untreated," the tricorder stated.
"What's the treatment?" Chakotay typed furiously.
"Injury requires neurosurgery. Prognosis without surgery, seizures, coma, death, within 72 hours"
Chakotay wasn't a doctor, he couldn't perform surgery, and the chances of them being rescued within the next three days were slim to none. He felt the first fingers of panic clutching at his heart, even as his stomach lurched guiltily for doubting Tom's injury was even real.
There had to be something he could do, something that would give Tom more time.
Frantically he questioned the tricorder.
"Reducing the swelling will slow the progress of the symptoms," the tricorder advised.
Chakotay looked guiltily at the regenerator. Was there enough charge left or had he selfishly stolen Tom's only chance of survival by treating himself?
There was only one way to find out.
He pulled the struggling pilot towards him and began to run the regenerator over Tom's forehead until he had used the remaining charge. Then he raised the tricorder to check his progress.
It was too much for Tom. He went crazy with fear, squirming in Chakotay's grasp, his fists battering into Chakotay's still sore rib cage. Chakotay doubled over, losing his grip on Tom, and was helpless to prevent the tricorder being knocked out of his hand by Tom's flailing arms.
By the time Chakotay recovered enough to crawl over to where the tricorder had landed, Tom had disappeared into the hold once more.
He picked up the broken instrument and groaned in frustration. Without it, he had no way of knowing whether his cure had been even partially successful.
He wasted half-an-hour trying to coax Tom out, then gave up and crawled back to the med-kit to inventory the unbroken supplies.
Tom's battering of his ribs had left him feeling light-headed with pain but he resisted the urge to take more pain-killers. He couldn't waste the limited supply. There was enough for a week if he was careful. As soon as he had used them up, he would be unable to move his shattered legs at all.
He collected all the ampoules and tucked them carefully in the inside pocket of his jacket to keep them out of Tom's reach. He was reasonably certain that they would be dangerous to someone with a brain injury.
He was carefully gathering up the smashed bottles, to dispose of them safely as well, when he came across one marked Diazepam. The name rang a bell and he frantically searched through his memory, trying desperately to remember what he knew of the drug but it had been too long since he studied Field Med. 101, and he hadn't even been particularly interested in the subject at the time.
Deciding that the reference might come to him, he carefully separated the tablets from the broken glass and tucked them away in his pocket too. He had a gut feeling they were important, but just couldn't remember why.
"Damn it, Tom. Aren't we in enough fucking mess without you breaking the damned tricorder?" he snarled towards the rear of the shuttle.
Tom replied with a plaintive whimper and Chakotay was suddenly ashamed of his outburst. It wasn't like him to be so ill-tempered, but his legs were beginning to ache like a bugger again, and he was becoming aware of an unpleasant ache in his bladder.
He contemplated the long crawl to the head, sighed, and decided that it would just have to wait. Curling up into a ball to ward off the waves of pain that coursed steadily through his body, he slipped into a fitful sleep.
"Chakotay, Chakotay, WAKE UP CHAKOTAY!"
The panicked voice finally broke through Chakotay's restless dreams and he opened his eyes cautiously, only to jump in surprise. Tom's eyes were mere centimetres from his own, their blue depths swirling with panic.
"Tom?" Chakotay asked warily, furtively covering his groin with his hands in case the pilot scooted away in panic again. His balls still ached from Tom's last `attack' and the throbbing pain in his bladder wasn't helping matters either.
"Where are we?" Tom asked hesitantly. "What happened?"
Spirits, Tom was talking. TOM WAS TALKING! It had worked, the god- damned regenerator had worked.
"The shuttle crashed, Tom." Chakotay replied carefully. "Don't you remember?"
Tom's eyes darted in panic as he looked around the shattered craft.
"Crashed," Tom repeated slowly, his brows furrowing as he digested the fact.
"Tom. This is kind of embarrassing but I need you to help me get to the head, okay?" Chakotay asked as his kidneys knifed him viciously again.
"My head hurts," Tom replied vaguely, turning to look with evident fascination at the smashed console.
"I KNOW your head hurts, Tom, and I'm sorry, but I really need some help here," Chakotay replied, fighting his exasperation.
Tom simply ignored him, his gaze fixating on the chair that was wedged in the viewscreen.
"LIEUTENANT," Chakotay yelled.
Tom swung his head back to face him and frowned again.
"Help me get up," Chakotay snapped, feeling so guilty for shouting at Tom that it only increased his irritation.
Tom's face cleared, this he could understand. He jumped eagerly to his feet, only to suddenly sway ungracefully, struggling for balance.
"Are you alright?" Chakotay asked, his own pain forgotten in the face of Tom's peculiar clumsiness.
Tom gave a beaming smile. "Sure," he replied breezily, reaching a strong hand down and hauling Chakotay easily to his feet.
Chakotay wrapped his right arm around Tom's shoulders, Tom hooked him around the waist, and they slowly hobbled towards the bathroom. When they reached the tiny room, Chakotay was relieved to see that it had escaped the crushing damage of the Port section.
"It's going to take me a few minutes," Chakotay gasped, as the pain knifed through his legs. Although he was using his arms to rest most of his weight on the wash basin, still he could barely think for the waves of agony rising from his legs. He was going to have to take another painkiller, just to manage to get his trousers down, he realised.
"Why don't you go and sort out the supplies? There should be more than enough food for us, but you're going to have to get it out of storage and check for damage," he gasped.
Tom looked at him blankly.
"Food, Tom. Food!" Chakotay snapped.
Tom suddenly grinned.
"Food," he repeated happily.
"Go find food, Tom," Chakotay said more gently, and closed the door in Tom's face.
The painkiller worked swiftly enough for him to sit down gingerly on the toilet seat before he allowed himself to consider Tom.
Whatever he had done with the regenerator, it obviously hadn't been nearly enough. Tom might be talking, but he obviously wasn't `thinking'. So it was hardly fair of him to keep biting the poor bastard's head off.
He was bitterly ashamed of himself. Just because he was in so much pain that he could barely think straight, it was no excuse for him to take it out on Tom Paris.
Except, that was the problem too, wasn't it? If he was really honest with himself, he had to acknowledge that he wouldn't react this way if it was anyone else.
Not because he hated him, whatever anyone else thought, no, it was because he couldn't face the idea of Tom dying.
And that was the bottom line, wasn't it? If Tom didn't pull himself together, he was going to die.
Sure, he can just "pull himself together", another voice in his head mocked sarcastically. "He has a fatal brain injury but that's okay, all he has to do is act normally and it will go away?"
Chakotay closed his eyes in pain.
"Please, Tom," he whispered. "Please TRY. Please don't die on me."
"WHAT THE HELL?" Chakotay yelled, his decision to stop shouting at Tom flying straight out of the window as soon as he dragged himself painfully out of the head and came face to face with chaos.
Oblivious to his outrage, Tom merely looked up with an ecstatic grin.
"Food," he said proudly.
Chakotay looked despairingly at the scattered piles. Tom had obediently dragged all of the packets out of the storage locker and then had opened more than half of them. The room was steaming from six dozen self-heating meals having been opened and then discarded on the floor.
The smell made Chakotay's stomach rumble, even as the desecration of their food supply made him want to howl.
He took a deep breath to calm himself, then deciding that saying nothing was the safest way of ensuring that he didn't shout again, he cautiously dragged himself through the scattered debris and taking one of the warmer packets in his hand, he simply began to eat.
"Good?" Tom asked happily.
"Good," Chakotay agreed mildly, dipping his eyes away from the orange stain that covered Tom's chin and most of the front of his uniform. Somehow, in all the chaos, Tom had obviously managed to find some Tomato Soup.
He had to struggle against a sudden desire to cry.
It wasn't until his own stomach was full, that Chakotay felt more able to consider their situation. The food wasn't ruined really, he told himself. Sure, half of it was ruined. It was cold now, and would spoil rapidly, but there was still plenty left. They wouldn't starve before Voyager rescued them.
Not that starving to death was going to be Tom's problem, anyway.
"How's your head, Tom?" he asked.
"Head hurts," Tom replied, his smile slipping a little.
"I know," Chakotay replied sadly.
"Food?" Tom asked hopefully.
Chakotay dragged himself painfully over to the pile of unopened packets and squirrelled through them until he found another portion of tomato soup.
Tom met the offering with a smile of such pure, innocent delight that Chakotay felt his heart give a lurch before he busied himself quickly with sorting the rest of the packets out.
"Why the hell didn't you put a replicator in the flyer, Tom?" he muttered to himself, then realised that since the power was off line, the self-heating food packets WERE a damn good idea.
"You know, I never really paid much attention to the Flyer before, primarily because YOU built her," he confessed.
Tom just continued to placidly guzzle his soup, seemingly oblivious, but that suited Chakotay, anyway. It was easier to make confessions when the listener wasn't listening.
"I wanted to. I mean it was the prettiest bit of engineering I had witnessed in a long time. People forget that I'm a pilot too. I'm just the First Officer to them, aren't I? Even Kathryn seems to have forgotten who I USED to be. Hell, even I forgot who I used to be.
"But you remembered, didn't you? Every time you baited me, every time you defied my authority, it was like you were trying to remind me that I was no more a Starfleet puppet than you are. You always saw the rage that I had learned to suppress so carefully.
"And the more I think about it, the more I suspect that your attitude is just an act too.
"You know why I suddenly had that blinding realisation? Because, here we both are, me with my legs shattered, and you with a terrible brain injury, and I can't keep my temper under control, while you just want to smile.
"So, now the chips are down, and neither of us are capable of maintaining our normal masks, I can't help wondering whether this is the real you, as much as this is the real me. Maybe, under all your brash posturing, there's just a sweet eager-to-please kid, after all."
Chakotay gave a deep sigh, both relieved and disappointed that Tom wasn't listening to him. After finishing his soup, the pilot had zoned out completely, his eyes glazed and mouth slack in his expressionless face.
"Help me to the bunk, Tom. I don't want to spend another night on the floor," Chakotay asked tiredly, deciding that confession wasn't good for the soul, after all. It was just tiring.
Tom obviously heard him this time, turning his head but just regarding him so vaguely that Chakotay had to fight another wave of unfair irritation. Deciding it was the complexity of his request that had been the problem, Chakotay simplified it.
"Help me to bed please, Tom."
Tom grinned, jumped to his feet, then froze. A few seconds later, he staggered slightly, his face filling with panic as he lost his balance. Then, just as Chakotay feared he would fall, he straightened again and his fear-filled expression was instantly replaced by the inane smile that was really starting to get on Chakotay's nerves.
Before he had a chance to feel guilty about THAT, Chakotay felt himself swung up easily in Tom's arms and carried to the bunk.
His relief at not having to walk, warred with terror that Tom would stumble and drop him. Yet Tom carried him without any apparent difficulty and gently lay him down in the bed. Chakotay felt the blanket tucked carefully around his shoulders, and then was shocked when Tom crawled in to spoon next to him, curling up so that his face was tucked into Chakotay's neck.
"What are you doing?" Chakotay demanded, his voice tinged with panic.
"Bed," Tom replied sleepily, closed his eyes and immediately began to snore softly.
Chakotay reached out to give him a shake. It wasn't conceivable that anyone could simply fall asleep that quickly.
"Unless they have a fatal brain injury, of course," that sarcastic voice drawled in his head.
He shivered and found his gesture altering to a hug as he pulled the pilot closer. It would be cold soon anyway, he reasoned. It made sense for them to share body heat. He could hardly make a badly injured man freeze to death just because he couldn't control his own emotional reaction to sharing a bed with Tom.
He chuckled ruefully as he realised that he had finally achieved his long term fantasy of sleeping with Tom Paris.
Chakotay struggled angrily against the voice that was trying to force him out of the sanctuary of dreaming and into the harsh reality of their plight.
"TAY?" the voice wailed in his ear.
Chakotay's eyes shot open. `Tay?' What the hell did THAT mean?
Again, he found himself staring into frightened blue eyes.
"Tay? Wha appen?" Tom begged, his voice badly slurred, his eyes filled with frightened tears, yet there seemed to be a spark of lucidity there that had been missing the evening before.
"We crashed the shuttle, Tom," Chakotay said patiently. "We're waiting for Voyager. Don't you remember?"
Tom's brow furrowed with almost painful concentration, then he gave a hesitant nod.
"utt caysed," he slurred, "ep Tay."
Spirits, Chakotay groaned to himself as he tried to understand. Universal Translators obviously couldn't cope with brain damage, he decided irritably. He closed his eyes for a moment to think Tom's words through.
"Shuttle Crashed, Help Chakotay?" he cautiously interpreted.
Tom rewarded him with a wide grin, carefully unravelling his long legs from Chakotay's as though he was truly aware of Chakotay's injuries. Then he climbed out of the bed, reached down and carefully picked Chakotay up.
Chakotay's heart lurched as Tom staggered for a moment under his weight. By the time he found himself safely in the bathroom, he could see perspiration trickling down Tom's forehead.
Tom hadn't found him too heavy the day before, yet this morning it was obviously an effort to carry him. Chakotay could only assume it meant that Tom was beginning to be physically affected by the brain injury.
Chakotay wondered whether Tom's difficulty in speaking today was physical, rather than mental. He was definitely smarter, somehow, more lucid. Like he had been when he had first woken up after the regenerator.
"SHIT!" Chakotay groaned.
Silent episodes. The zoning out. The tiny staggers. Tom was ALREADY having fits, but so tiny that he hadn't even realised.
Obviously sleeping helped Tom recover a little mentally, yet the physical effects of his fits remained. The unavoidable truth was that he was getting progressively worse.
How long before Tom had his first full scale fit?
How long before he slipped into a coma?
How long before he died?
R for language.
Warning: ** Typical Mort Angst **
"Tom," Chakotay said gently, after Tom had carried him back to the bunk. "I need you to listen to me. Can you do that?"
Tom was sitting on the edge of the bunk, trembling with obvious fatigue, his head twisted towards the scattered piles of food. He didn't even react to Chakotay's words until Chakotay tapped him impatiently on his left arm.
Tom spun in surprise, his face swiftly regaining its bright smile as he noticed Chakotay's attention on him.
"Fud Tay?" he asked hopefully.
"Not yet, Tom," Chakotay replied patiently. "I need to ask you something important, and I need you to try and concentrate."
Tom tipped his head to one side, frowning slightly. "Eh?" he queried.
It was obvious to Chakotay that he was trying to listen, but simply couldn't follow the complexity of Chakotay's words.
Chakotay tried to imagine he was talking to Naomi.
"Tom, does your head hurt?"
Tom nodded, his face screwing up in misery.
"That's because your brain is hurt, Tom," Chakotay explained slowly. "Your frontal lobe is hurt. That's why you can't remember things. But the real problem is your temporal lobe."
"emfal obe," Tom repeated slowly, "Eashuh."
Chakotay jumped with excitement. He had been right. Tom WAS able to think, at least in a limited capacity. He HAD made the connection.
Well he had if "Eashuh" meant what Chakotay hoped it did.
"That's right, Tom. Your temporal lobe is damaged," he agreed. "That means you are having seizures. I need your help, Tom. You have to tell me what I can do. How can I help you Tom?" Tom blinked slowly, his face screwed up in pain, as though the very attempt to think was agonising for him.
"Eashuh?" he repeated slowly.
"Yes, Tom. What will help?" Chakotay begged.
"V- V- v-," Tom slurred, unable to get past the single letter.
Chakotay's mouth filled with a bitter taste as he understood the word Tom was struggling with.
"Voyager is still more than a week away, Tom. We're alone here. There's only us."
Tom began to rock miserably, wrapping his arms around his chest, and he began to cry softly.
"Tam gun day," he finally managed, a tear escaping his brimming eyes and slowing dripping down his cheek.
`Tam gun day?" Chakotay repeated to himself desperately, and then realisation struck him, and he covered his own face in horror.
Shit, what had he done? He had been trying to help, dammit. He had been praying that somewhere under Tom's confusion there was still enough spark of knowledge remaining to help him. Instead, all he had accomplished was to inform the already terrified pilot that his injury was fatal.
He reached out and clutched Tom's hands in his own.
"NO," he growled. "Tom is NOT going to die."
But the blue eyes dipped away from him miserably, as though Tom couldn't bear to see him lie.
"Tom. Listen to me. TOM," he squeezed Tom's fingers cruelly, forcing the younger man to flinch and pull back, but also to turn his head towards him once more.
"Diazepam, Tom. What is it? What does it do?" he demanded.
For a long moment, Tom's fear-filled eyes stared at him blankly, then the pilot frowned, his forehead wrinkling with thought.
"eashuh," Tom whispered.
"Diazepam prevents seizures?" Chakotay demanded excitedly.
"Tam day," Tom just muttered miserably in reply and, wrenching his fingers out of Chakotay's hands, he staggered to his feet and headed to the far more interesting piles of foil packets.
Watching Tom's retreating back, doubt assailed Chakotay. What if Tom had been trying to say that Diazepam CAUSED seizures? What if "eashuh" actually just meant, "Let me go. I'm hungry and I can see a pile of food in the corner?"
Giving Tom the wrong treatment would surely be worse than doing nothing. The wrong drug could cause convulsions, perhaps even precipitate a coma. He had no idea how effective the regenerator had been, after all.
What if the swelling HAD been reduced enough for him to survive until rescue, but Chakotay's `cure' killed him?
He seemed happy enough, now Chakotay had left him alone. He was cheerfully sifting through the food packets, moving the piles into patterns that obviously held some meaning to him, judging by the broad grin on his face.
It was late the next evening before Chakotay became desperate enough to take the risk.
Tom's behaviour had been rapidly changing, becoming increasingly erratic.
The inane grin, the one that had irritated him so much, was soon interspersed with flashes of a temper so volatile that Chakotay was desperate to regain the happy Tom of the day before.
Tom would sit for hours, happily playing with the food packets, building intricate patterns, only to occasionally freeze for a few seconds, then bellow with rage and destroy his own carefully constructed fortresses. Then, as quickly as the tantrum came, it would leave and he would collapse in the midst of the chaos, weeping at the sight of his own destruction.
Twice Chakotay had witnessed Tom's face during the seconds preceding his tantrum, and on both occasions, Tom's eyes had rolled back in his head and his body had been shaken by almost imperceptible spasms.
But that evening, everything had taken a dramatic turn for the worse.
He had finally managed to lure Tom away from the bright foil wrappers that so fascinated him. It had taken a long time to catch his attention because he had been sitting on Chakotay's right side at the time, and Chakotay had finally realised that Tom seemed to be completely deaf in his left ear.
Chakotay was ashamed that it had taken so long for him to realise that the reason Tom alternated between responding to him and totally ignoring him, had very little to do with concentration. It simply depended which way Tom was facing at the time.
Since the damage was in the left hemisphere of Tom's brain, so his hearing and movement in that side of his body was particularly affected.
The truth was, that it had only been when Chakotay noticed Tom beginning to limp, favoring his left leg, that he had finally made the connection.
No wonder Tom had rarely reacted to being shouted at for being inattentive. When his right ear was turned away, only a raised voice managed to register with him at all.
So, because he couldn't catch Tom's attention with his voice without yelling loud enough to make his diaphragm spasm violently against his cracked ribs, Chakotay had crawled painfully off the bunk and had dragged himself towards the pilot.
By the time he reached Tom's side, his biceps were trembling with exhaustion, knifing pains were shooting through his legs, and he had collapsed unwittingly against Tom's latest masterpiece.
As the towering edifice of food packets tumbled to the floor, Tom had screamed in outraged panic, his arms flailing crazily to catch the falling food and only causing the foil to spin wildly in all directions.
"BAA TAY!" Tom howled, his face flushing with rage, "BAA BAA TAY!"
"I'm sorry Tom," Chakotay had apologised as Tom's face screwed up in an uncanny imitation of a thwarted three-year old's and then Tom began to bawl loudly, tears streaming down his furious face.
"I'll help you build it again," Chakotay promised desperately.
The tears stopped as abruptly as though a faucet had been turned off. Tom's furious expression was wiped away by a huge sunny smile, and Chakotay heaved a sigh of relief.
And that was when Tom's body arched in a spasm, his spine contorting unnaturally, as his eyes rolled back until his orbs were horrifyingly white, and he began to convulse.
It wasn't dramatic. He didn't thresh about, or foam at the mouth as Chakotay had expected. He simply sank to the ground and trembled silently, his skin twitching as though an army of ants was crawling under the surface.
The very quietness of his fit was somehow the most terrifying thing for Chakotay.
It only lasted a few minutes, although it felt like hours to Chakotay as he watched helplessly. And when it was over, and Tom's eyelids fluttered open to reveal his bewildered blue eyes, Chakotay took the opportunity to thrust two of the Diazepam tablets into Tom's slack mouth.
Tom chewed the tablets dry, his face screwing up in disgust at the taste, and then turned on his side and fell instantly into a deep sleep.
Chakotay had to fight the impulse to shake him awake again. What if this wasn't sleep? What if it was a coma? What if he had inadvertently poisoned Tom?
Yet Tom's breathing was steady, his breath punctuated by his usual soft snores. So, exhausted by Tom's fit and overcome by the ceaseless waves of pain in his legs, Chakotay simply rolled over, pulled Tom against him in a hug and tried to fall asleep himself.
The softly spoken word was enough to break into Chakotay's dreams.
"Yes, Tom?" he murmured sleepily.
"Hurt, Tay. Head hurt," Tom moaned with such misery that Chakotay had to choke back a sob, even as the clarity of Tom's words jolted him to full awareness.
"I gave you the Diazepam, Tom. Did it help? Do you feel better?"
"Seesurs," Tom nodded painfully.
"Diazepam prevents seizures?" Chakotay demanded hopefully.
"Seesures" Tom agreed, with a tired nod.
Chakotay had a sudden urge to jump to his feet and dance. A jolt of pain through his legs sobered the impulse.
"How long between doses, Tom?" Chakotay asked, praying that Tom was lucid enough to give him the correct reply.
"How – how – " Tom struggled, then gave up.
"How MANY doses?"
Tom gave a tired nod.
"There are six more, Tom."
"V- V- Voy-" Tom demanded.
"I don't know. Maybe five or six more days," Chakotay confessed.
"Goan die Tay," Tom mumbled.
"NO. I won't LET you die, Tom. We're going to make it, Tom. Both of us. You are NOT going to die," Chakotay snapped.
For a moment Tom held his gaze, then as tears brimmed in their blue depths, Tom closed his eyes tightly.
"Goan die Tay," he whispered again, the moisture beginning to trickle from beneath his wet lashes.
Chakotay desperately gathered him in his arms.
"You won't die, Tom. I promise. I promise you won't die," Chakotay choked, hugging Tom tightly.
But Tom didn't reply.
Chakotay tried to make the Diazepam last, waiting until Tom actually began to have a fit before dosing him, yet the intervals between episodes shortened with each application of the drug.
Less than 24 hours after Tom's first petit mal seizure, the medicine was gone.
Then Tom's seizures began to increase in strength and rapidity, each one leaving him more confused and helpless. After each fit Tom would sink quickly into a state of unconsciousness. Each time he woke, his eyes were more glazed, his voice more slurred, his motor functions swiftly failing.
Barely able to move himself, let alone drag Tom, Chakotay pulled the mattress from the bunk and made a nest on the floor next to the tiny bathroom.
He dragged as many of the unopened food packets as possible until they were next to the mattress, so that he only had to move himself the few meters from the head and back to both take care of his own bodily needs and to enable him to keep Tom as clean as possible.
Tom lost control of his bodily functions at about the same time as he finally lost the ability to speak.
Chakotay could only pray that Tom was unaware of his own body's betrayal. He surprised himself with how easily he adjusted to having to look after Tom in this fashion.
Somewhere in the last few days, all his rage and anger had dissipated, his own selfish concerns about his own pains faded and he found comfort at least in being able to do something.
He might not be able to save Tom's life, but he was sure as hell going to let Tom die with dignity.
Despite the sub-zero temperatures of the nights, the days were the hardest, when the temperature in the shuttle rose to stifling levels, making it uncomfortable for him to lie with Tom in his arms, as perspiration stuck their bodies together and the heat of Tom's body against his own became almost unbearable.
Yet, since Tom seemed unaware of the heat as he lapsed in and out of consciousness with increasing rapidity, Chakotay suffered in silence. He also stopped taking the painkillers. Without them, the dull pain in his legs blossomed into agony, yet they made him sleepy and he was terrified that he would fall asleep and somehow fail Tom.
The thought of even releasing Tom from his arms terrified him. What if he let him go and Tom had a fit, without the comfort of Chakotay's arms to ease the terror? What if Chakotay released him and Tom chose that moment to die?
That terrified Chakotay more than anything. That Tom would die alone. That he would take the opportunity of Chakotay sleeping, or even dragging himself to the head, to simply pass away.
What if, in that last moment, Tom woke and was lucid? What if he passed into the spirit world in the belief that he had been abandoned and became one of the spirits who forever roamed the spirit plane in lonely, bitter madness because their passing had seemed to go unmourned?
In the end, Chakotay designed a make-shift chamber pot and a bowl of clean water and rags for cleaning them both, and refused to leave Tom's side at all. Without the painkillers he could barely move anyway, so the mattress became their mutual prison.
Chakotay simply lay on the narrow mattress and talked endlessly to the unresponsive man in his arms, knowing that Tom couldn't understand him, but sure that the sound of his voice would somehow ease Tom's fear.
"And then the Captain told me what you did, and I had to literally bite my lips not to laugh out loud. I know that you find that hard to believe, considering the way I reamed you out over it, but the truth is, I DID see the funny side.
"I OFTEN see the funny side of your behaviour, Tom. Just because I chose to sit alone in my cabin while you gallivant around the ship with your holoprograms and pool games and scams, doesn't mean I'm not aware of what you are up to."
Chakotay chuckled ruefully.
"To be honest, I love that part of you, Tom. The irrepressible mischief maker. Always at the centre of whatever scam is going down on the lower decks. I love the way you hustle at pool. The way that everyone KNOWS that you are hustling them, but they still can't resist letting you hook them in anyway.
"And I love the other side of you, too. The way you are such a good friend to Harry. The way that you befriended Seven, when most of us couldn't see past the Borg to the vulnerable woman beneath. I love your protective nature, Tom, your unfailing need to be on the side of the underdog.
"I guess, the bottom line is, I love you, Tom Paris," he confessed. "I never dared to tell you that. I let you think that I hated you because I just didn't have the courage to face the fact that you might reject me.
"Hell, Tom. Of course you would have rejected me. Why wouldn't you? You're like something free and untamed, and I'm the foolish hunter who wanted to trap you and cage you and make you mine.
"I know you'd never meet me on my terms, you see. You wouldn't have wanted to settle down with a middle-aged man who has seen too much, and experienced too much, to be able to just let go and relax.
"I could never have settled for PART of you, Tom, and I knew you weren't willing, or able, to give ALL of yourself to anyone, let alone me.
"So I couldn't take the risk. I couldn't even meet you half way when you tried to offer me your friendship. I always felt like I was teetering on the edge of a precipice whenever I was near you and that if I took a single step towards you, I would fall off the edge."
Tom stirred restlessly in his arms, and Chakotay stiffened, his body tensing as he waited for the inevitable seizure to begin.
It was worse this time, lasting almost ten minutes, and by the end of it, Chakotay was trembling with the exhaustion of trying to keep Tom still.
"I'm so sorry, Tom. Sorry I didn't have the courage to tell you how I felt when there was still time. I know it wouldn't have changed anything. I know you would still have said no. But, at least, if I had had the nerve to step off that cliff and confess my feelings, then at least you would know that your death DOES matter.
"At least you would understand that someone DID love you and you wouldn't be feeling so frightened and alone."
"Shit, if we'd gotten along better, if we'd been friends, we probably wouldn't have even been sent to this god-forsaken place together. So, it's all my fault, Tom. All of it," Chakotay confessed and then he silently began to cry.
A little later, while Tom was sleeping, Chakotay dragged himself to the edge of the mattress and stacked the food packets into a new, intricate tower. Although he had no idea what Tom thought he was seeing when he looked at the bright foil wrappers, it obviously comforted him in some way. Perhaps a new structure would break through his haze, spark a little interest in him, remind him to keep breathing.
But Tom never woke to see Chakotay's offering.
The last fit had ruptured too many blood vessels. He lapsed into a coma and his body began to silently shut down, perhaps relieved to at last be free of pain.
Chakotay felt Tom's life slowly ebbing away, as the heart beat slowed against his own chest, and Tom's breathing began to hitch and grow ragged, until with a final rattle of breath, Tom's heart finally stopped.
As he realised that the Shuttle was going to become Tom's tomb, Chakotay simply reached into the inside pocket of his jacket, retrieved the remaining painkillers and injected them one after another into his own thigh.
"Why the hell didn't we get here sooner?" Kathryn Janeway demanded furiously. "The doctor said it was eight minutes, just EIGHT minutes. We didn't have to stay with the Betlanni for so long. We had the supplies we needed. Why didn't I come back for them earlier?"
Tuvok merely raised his brow at the Captain's self-recrimination.
"There was no logical reason to suppose that the Shuttle had crashed, Captain. You responded as soon as we received the automatic emergency signal from the shuttle. Consequently, we arrived three days earlier than scheduled. Had we returned at the pre-arranged time, then both the Commander and Lieutenant Paris would have died," he reminded her.
"The Doctor assured me that Chakotay would make a full recovery," Kathryn admitted. "He's already walking, but I think it will take a long time for him to get over what happened to Tom."
"Commander Chakotay did an admirable job, under the circumstances. The Doctor says that Tom's injuries should have proved fatal within three days. The Commander should be commended for managing to keep him alive for as long as he did," Tuvok stated.
"I need you to talk to him Tuvok. The Doctor says that the overdose was probably accidental, given Chakotay's physical debilitation and state of mind, but I don't want to take any chances," Kathryn said.
"It is `possible' that the Commander did attempt suicide," Tuvok confirmed reluctantly. "However, the Commander was in considerable physical pain, believed that Voyager was still several days away and that he would be incarcerated for several days with Lieutenant Paris's corpse. It is not surprising, therefore, that he made a mistake when administering his own medicine."
Kathryn smiled gratefully.
"For a Vulcan, you have a remarkable habit of using `logic' to justify illogical behaviour, Tuvok. But, I thank you, for it. The official logs will mirror your opinion that Chakotay simply made a mistake. However, I still would appreciate you taking the time to talk to Chakotay, as a friend."
"I DO consider the Commander to be my friend, Captain, and I will do as you ask. I believe it will be unnecessary though. The person whom Chakotay needs to confide in is Lieutenant Paris."
"Well, the Doctor said he would be up to having visitors today, although it will be a couple of weeks before he is fit for duty again. Knowing Tom, he'll decide to spend his recuperation in the Resort." Kathryn chuckled affectionately.
"Since the desire to procreate is a natural reaction to the threat of death, Captain, it is more logical to assume that the Lieutenant will spend his recuperation in bed," Tuvok said dryly.
Kathryn's mouth gaped open and then she gave a bark of laughter.
"The next time someone accuses Vulcans of having no sense of humor, I shall quote you, Tuvok," she chuckled.
Tuvok merely raised his eyebrow in response.
"Thank you, old friend," Kathryn murmured. "Talking to you has helped. Now I can walk back out on the Bridge, at least, without constantly wondering how it felt for Chakotay to hold Tom in his arms and watch him die."
"While I do not deny that it was a traumatic experience for the Commander, since they were transported to the sickbay only eight minutes later, and the sub-zero temperature of the shuttle prevented the Lieutenant's brain from being further damaged during that time, I believe the human saying is "all's well that ends well.""
"But will it?" Kathryn asked, and was rather pleased to see Tuvok's look of bewilderment. It was good to know that Tuvok's wisdom was not omniscient.
Her attempt to make Chakotay and Tom face their obvious attraction to each other, rather than continue to spat like a couple of angry alley cats, had tragically backfired, admittedly.
Yet, who knew what might still happen?
Chakotay approached the bio-bed nervously. The Doctor had taken great pains to advise him that not only was it highly unlikely that Tom would have more than vague memories of what had happened down on the planet, but that Tom would probably not have heard, let alone understood, anything that Chakotay had said while he was comatose.
It didn't stop Chakotay from flushing with embarrassment though, when Tom's eyes flickered open.
"How are you feeling?" he asked awkwardly.
"Not bad for a dead guy," Tom replied flippantly, only to be stunned by the look of grief that flashed over Chakotay's face before he managed to control his features back into a mask of calmness.
"I'm sorry, Comm-, Chakotay. I know it must have been pretty bad down there, but I can't remember that much of it. Just bits and pieces. It just feels weird that I actually died, you know?" Tom said in a softer voice. "The Doc says you saved my life, that I should have died days earlier."
"You saved your own life, Tom. If you hadn't looked after me those first few days, giving me a chance to heal a little, I wouldn't have been able to look after you when you got really ill," Chakotay replied. "Besides, it was you who told me that the Diazepam would help."
"Really?" Tom grinned. "It's good to know that all the shifts I have had to pull in Sickbay, were worthwhile after all. And all the time, I thought you only assigned me here because you know how much I hate it."
What the hell was he doing here? This was Tom Paris, remember? The cocky, smart-ass who hated him. This wasn't the man who had curled up in his arms for comfort. This wasn't the man who had scuttled around the shuttle, with a beaming smile, doing his best to help Chakotay even as the pressure in his brain was slowly dragging the life out of him.
That Tom had died, had died in his arms, down on that lonely planet.
He had come here to face Tom, to finally say face to face what he had only been able to whisper as Tom had died in his arms. Yet, the mocking glare of those blue eyes drained his courage, turned his intended words of love into dry ashes in his mouth.
"I'm glad you're feeling better," was all he managed to choke before he turned around and hurried towards the door, both hating himself for his cowardice and grateful that he hadn't just blurted out his confession of love.
Tears stung his eyes as he cursed himself for a fool.
The plaintive word stopped him in his tracks. For a moment he hesitated, unwilling to turn around because he suddenly couldn't control the expression of pain that ravaged his features.
If he turned around, if Tom saw him like this, then his pretence would be over. He would never be able to face the pilot again without knowing that the other man knew him for the middle-aged fool that he was.
He took another resolute step towards the door.
The panic in Tom's voice was too much. He couldn't refuse it, couldn't escape the siren call of Tom's voice, whatever the price his pride would have to pay.
His whole body stiff, he slowly turned, allowing Tom to see his tear- stained face, only to see that Tom's eyes were sparkling with unshed tears too.
"What do you want, Tom?" he asked, his voice gruff with emotion.
"You were just planning to leave, huh? Just like that? Without saying anything else?" Tom demanded.
"What did you want me to say?" Chakotay challenged warily.
"Oh, I don't know. I guess I was just kind of hoping that you might want to find out what would happen if you DID step off that edge," Tom replied.
Chakotay flushed, his heart beginning to beat a rapid tattoo in his chest.
"You remember?" he gasped.
"Enough," Tom admitted with a shrug.
"What WOULD happen if I stepped off, Tom?" Chakotay asked, feeling a ridiculous urge to close his eyes, in case Tom's face twisted into that familiar mocking smirk.
But instead, Tom's face blazed into a huge, sunny smile.
"I'd catch you," Tom promised.