"You'd think things would cool down at night." Tom Paris used his shirt sleeve to wipe perspiration from his forehead. Chakotay chuckled. "This is a coastal city in a sub-tropical zone in this hemisphere's summer. It's supposed to be hot and steamy. I thought you knew that." "The planetary government is in the other hemisphere. It's too *cold* there. They have the tech level. Why don't they practice climate control?" Chakotay looked at Tom, his face saying quite plainly, "Spoiled Earthfolk!" Tom was very uncomfortable. He'd worn perfectly normal off- duty clothing, and now his pants and shirt were clinging to him and making the heat and humidity even worse. Chakotay, on the other hand, looked perfectly at ease in the local native costume he'd found. He also looked *good*. Local custom had men wearing a loose, sleeveless wrap shirt over a short kilt and sandals. It showed off sweat-glistened skin and muscles in a way that the uniform never could. The air outside the temperature controlled transport station was heavy with smells of sea and flowers and spices, and Tom could hear the sounds of odd, sensual music and native voices from a short distance away. It promised to be everything Chakotay had said it would be. This would be an unforgettable night. The mess hall was empty, so Tom was eating lunch by himself. Everyone else was on duty or on leave, but he'd just piloted the Captain and Neelix back to Voyager after a local morning of negotiations. Maybe it was the fresh supplies; maybe it was because someone else had done the cooking; maybe he was just hungry - the locals happily fed the negotiators, but the chauffeur had to wait for his food - but the lunch leftovers were actually good. Tom was giving them his full attention when he heard Chakotay enter the room. "Good afternoon, Mr. Paris. May I join you?" The first officer was grinning ear to ear. "Good afternoon, sir. Certainly." *Whenever you like. I can play this game, too.* "Thank you." Chakotay got himself a cup of whatever was currently passing for coffee and sat down. " Mr. Paris. Tom." The grin lit Chakotay's face. "I know you have leave this afternoon. So do I. Would you like to join me?" "Commander?" *Please. Oh, please.* "I'm going to that city the natives are always talking about -Anden. It has quite a ... romantic reputation. I'd be happy if you joined me." "Are you asking me on another date, Commander?" Tom's grin answered Chakotay's. "Yes I am. Unless you're turning me down. In which case, I'm making a fool of myself again." Tom reached across the table and touched Chakotay's arm. "You never make a fool out of yourself. When do we leave?" "How soon can you change? It's night time there right now, which is supposed to be the best time to visit it. It's also summer. Pretty Tom, this will be a night to remember." An hour later, they'd beamed down to the planetary capital and taken the local transport. An hour after that, they were in Anden. Voyager was in geosynchronous orbit over the capital, so Anden was out of transporter range. Tom wanted to find a city tour book, but Chakotay insisted that they wander around. After all, it wouldn't be hard to get directions back to the station if they needed it, and all the local museums and so on would be closed anyway. "We'll just follow our ears and our noses. They should lead us to the right places." "This is not very like you, Chakotay." "Actually, it is very like me. You just haven't seen me off duty often enough. Starfleet, even ersatz Starfleet, can be a heavy burden, and I'm glad to lay it down once in awhile. My spirit feels lighter and I want to play." He gave Tom a long, intense look. "Sticky looks good on you, Tom." There was that grin again. It outshone both moons. Tom blushed again, hidden in the darkness. Hand in hand, they walked into the sultry night. It wasn't long before they came to a huge courtyard holding what seemed to be an outdoor party. There were brightly colored lights everywhere. Live musicians were playing that odd music, and there was a dance floor filled with couples dressed for the weather - the men in kilts and the women in shorts or in floaty longer skirts. There seemed to be no rules about who danced with whom. The natives here could almost but not quite pass for human - they had the same general build, but they were on average 233 cm tall and their skin tones ranged all over the spectrum from pale gold to deep autumn orange. Here in this city, the skin tone seemed to be in the middle ranges. Most of them seemed to have variations of dark and curly hair, arranged to show their large and rather fluffy ears. And most of them were genuinely happy to see the newcomers. Chakotay and Tom soon found themselves at one of the many tiny tables scattered over the courtyard, surrounded by natives asking questions. "Are you really that far from your homeworlds?" "Do you miss it?" "How do you like Tanik?" "How do you like Anden?" "What's your home like? Is it like ours?" "Is everyone so small? Ouch! Stop kicking me, Marl! They know they're small." "Have some ale." "Have a fruit cooler." "Try my pastries. They're the best." "Try these. They have no meat." "Aren't you hot in those clothes?" "Are you worried about the Isolationist threats?" "Do you like this music?" "Do Federations dance?" "Are you two together or can anyone dance with you?" "Dance with me! Ouch, Marl!" Chakotay and Tom reluctantly took up the Starfleet burden again as they played ambassador to these friendly, charming people (except for Marl, who seemed embarrassed by his companion.) They were plied with exotic drinks and foods, procured at little food kiosks all around the courtyard - and sometimes provided directly by the proprietors of those kiosks. They answered what questions they could, and ignored the more personal ones. Despite everything, they enjoyed themselves - they even got a few questions of their own in. And neither noticed three men in dark kilts hovering in the background of the jabbering, happy crowd - three men who didn't eat anything, didn't dance, didn't ask questions and who showed up only shortly before the pair decided they'd had enough. Neither were concerned about the Isolationists - a small group who were trying (and failing) to stir up anger and fear against the "Federations", whom they were convinced were going to take over their helpless planet. The "Federations" made their escape from their fans very simply. They got up to dance. The music was different than either was used to, but rather irresistible with a odd and happy beat. Tom, who was graceful and loved dancing, found that Chakotay knew how to move and felt delightful in his arms. They whirled and followed the free-form steps of the locals until they'd danced themselves to an alley at the edge of the courtyard. They dashed through it, and stood trying to pant and laugh at the same time in darkness lit only by the two small full moons. "So much for leaving responsibility behind, *Commander.*" "Oh, well. The music is still pretty loud, and there's no one around. Want to dance some more, Tom?" The alley was narrow and dark, but they could improvise their own steps and hold each other reasonably closely. Tom could not remember the last time he'd felt so relaxed in a romantic situation. When he and B'Elanna courted, it had always been awkward, and both were glad to give it up, as much as they had loved each other. The tempo changed and their dance turned into a shuffling hug - the universal slow dance common to all cultures who permitted couple dancing at all. Chakotay laid his head on Tom's shoulder, and Tom kissed the other man's cheek. They were lost in the music and the moment and each other - too lost to hear the sounds of a party being disrupted. Something hit Tom on the back of the neck. Starfleet reflexes kicked in, and he let go of Chakotay and got into fighting position. Chakotay turned around so they stood back to back and brought his own hands up. In the moonlight, for that split second, they could see three men surrounding them, and then the fight began. It was short and vicious. The three natives obviously outnumbered them. They also were taller and heavier and were used to the climate and had the advantage of surprise. Tom and Chakotay were tired from dancing, caught off-guard and there had been alcohol in some of those drinks. Both were also exquisitely aware of the other's presence and both felt the need to *protect* - in this case, draw the fight away from a friend and lover. Finally, beaten and bleeding, the men from Voyager collapsed on the pavement. Tom tried to send a distress call to Voyager, but before it could be acknowledged, the communicators were torn from their chests and tossed away. One of the locals kicked Tom in the head and that was the last thing Tom could remember. Tom woke up cold and nauseous in a climate-controlled room. He could see the glow of lights behind his eyelids, and decided to leave them closed. He was lying on his side on a hard surface, and he was bound - his hands behind his back and his feet together. Everything ached and his nose felt odd. *Oh, no. Not again.* He heard a soft groan next to him and reluctantly opened his eyes. Lying next to him was Chakotay, similarly bound. Nothing else was in the room. Even the lighting came from the walls. The commander was bruised all over and there was blood on the kilt and shirt. Both of Chakotay's closed eyes were black and his lips were swollen. A bruise obscured the tattoo on his forehead. He was shivering. "Commander? Can you hear me?" Tom's face ached. "I'm awake, Tom." Chakotay seemed to force his eyes open. "I've been waiting for you. I don't think I lost consciousness." "What happened? Where are we?" Tom began to inch his way over to Chakotay, slowly and painfully. "I don't know. After they kicked you, they blindfolded me and tied us both up. Then they took us in some personal transport to this building, and just dumped us here on the floor. My time sense is completely gone. I have no idea how long we've been here. What's wrong? What are you doing?" Tom had tried to sit up, but that just made him more nauseous. He rolled in the other direction and vomited all the nice tidbits he'd eaten plus the lunch he'd had before then. "Don't move until you're sure you're empty, Tom. The last thing you need is to vomit on your back." Tom nodded weakly. He'd managed to keep the stuff away from his clothes so he didn't have to wear it. After a few minutes, Tom felt better and able to move again. This time, he made it all the way to Chakotay - a full thirty centimeters. He pressed himself as close to the other man as possible, so he could share his own body heat with him. Tom could feel how cold Chakotay was through his clothing. "Sorry about the bad breath." "No problem. I don't feel all that romantic anyway." Grinning hurt. "How nice. Our other guest has woken up." The two humans rolled back slightly at that. The three native men walked into the room. Two seemed average for the city. The other was taller, with a truly rich orange skin and thick muscles visible through his wrapped shirt and beneath his dark kilt. All three men wore a medallion of some sort around their necks. Isola- tionists - Tom remembered seeing pictures of the medallion over the entertainment channels he'd watched while waiting to chauffaur the negotiators. They were armed with both holstered guns and sheathed knives. The first worried Tom - he knew that Tanikians preferred projectile weapons to energy ones. Those tended to hurt or kill, not stun. "I'd hardly call us guests. You'd better let us go." Chakotay managed to sound as if he were in control. "Why? Will your wonderful starship come and kill us if we don't? That would be hard since no one knows where you are. I've taken care of your little communication devices, and this room is underground and impervious to your sensors." "Captain Janeway will find us. She will leave no stone unturned." Tom shivered at Chakotay's words. They were all too familiar. "Of course. And if she doesn't, well, she could just blow the planet to smithereens and go on her merry way. Or maybe she'll do it even if she finds you." "The Captain would never do anything like that." "No? She's sitting there in orbit in sync with the capital, her weapons bristling at us. Weapons we cannot defend against, and that she will not give us in trade so we can find a way to defend against them." "The Federation would never permit anything like that!" Tom was getting frightened at the paranoid words. What were these men planning if they thought they were doomed anyway? "Your "Federation" is 70 years travel away by *your* star- ship. No one is controlling your captain." "Where Captain Janeway is, the Federation is. The last thing she would do is violate any of its laws." "Lies! You can say anything you want from this distance!" The tall man walked over and kicked Chakotay in the ribs. Tom could hear a crack. Chakotay gasped in pain and his breath- ing became labored. "You Federations are so fragile. Maybe that's why you need to hide out there in orbit, behind those energy beams. Weak! Well, we're strong. We know how to fight. Look how we bested you." "Yeah. Three against two, and outmassing us." One of the the men stepped on Paris' arm when he said that. He could feel it break. *Idiot!* He gasped. "Brave words, but pain cuts them off. As I said, you are weak. Just look at that disgusting mess beside the pale one." "Mr. Paris is right about you. You are cowards indeed." What was Chakotay trying to do? Was he trying to get them killed? Paris stiffened. That might be what the first officer was doing. Perhaps he didn't realize there was an intermediate step that went through hell. "Commander, no! You don't know what they might do." "I'm not afraid of death, Mr. Paris." Unlike Paris, Chakotay spoke those words loud and clear. Paris groaned. Just as well he'd been made part of Voyager. Chakotay did not have the temperament of a terrorist. Too noble. *Oh, coeur fort. Don't you know what such men do?* The tall man grinned. "You're not afraid of death, com- mander? Good. We'll have you begging for it soon enough." He clapped his hands sharply, twice. One of the other men dragged Chakotay to the center of the room. The third went to Tom and pulled him to a sitting position, and held a knife to Tom's throat. The second man drew his own knife and began to cut away Chakotay's brief costume. The kilt wrapped and buttoned, but he cut it away anyway, incidentally cutting Chakotay in the process. The commander himself remained silent despite the pain he had to be feeling. Or so Paris thought until he caught a glimpse of the bruised face. Chakotay was mouthing words - he was praying. Paris, who knew what was coming, hoped it would help, but had his doubts. When Chakotay was naked, his hands were untied. The second terrorist turned him on his stomach, retied Chakotay's hands and punched and prodded him until he was on his knees and elbows. There was sheer terror on Chakotay's face and he'd stopped praying - but he stayed silent. The first man removed the undergarment beneath his own kilt. When he opened the skirtfront, Paris saw a penis that was only partially engorged, and about the size of a human's. The tall native began stroking himself, and then seemed to think better of it. "Now, *Commander*, it's time you got a taste of what your precious captain is doing to our planet." He knelt in front of Chakotay, who was forced upright on his knees by his personal captor. "Ah, Commander - look at your lover over there. If you don't do as I want, I'll have Relly cut his throat. And then we'll have fun with his dead body." Both Relly and the second man looked fairly sick at that prospect, but remained silent. Tom willed also himself to silence. After all, if he were dead, it wouldn't matter. "Open wide." Chakotay opened his mouth, and the Tanikian pushed his penis in. It was obvious that the human was not going to do more than open up, but the tall native didn't seem to notice as he moved back and forth. It took some time, and Chakotay was trembling with fatigue, but the terrorist was finally ready. Chakotay's eyes glittered. The man pushed his victim back onto his face and, with the third terrorist holding Chakotay's head down, he shoved his penis into the human's anus. Chakotay cried out in agony and anguish as his delicate tissues were torn. Involuntary tears ran down his face while he screamed. As the rape continued, the screams became sobs, wrenched from Chakotay's throat the way they'd been wrenched away from that alley. These were the tears of a proud man who could no longer control his fate. Tom could only stare in horror at the cruel parody of the gentle act he'd been anticipating all evening. His own tears, unnoticed, ran down his face to mingle with the blood from his nose. Finally, finally, the terrorist was finished. He released his victim, who fell forward and continued to sob more softly. Blood and a very little semen leaked from Chakotay's rectum. "So, weak man. Should I kill you now or let someone else have a turn?" Softly. "Please. Not again." "Please what? Ah, weak little Federation, beg me. Beg me not to hurt you again." He kicked the human. "Beg me!" "Please. Not again. I'll do anything. Please! You can kill me if you like, but please...not Tom..." Chakotay's breathes were coming hard and fast. It sounded like he was hyperventilating. "I'll see. Maybe I'll be more merciful then you deserve. Human." Chakotay passed out. Still angry, the rapist kicked him, but Chakotay didn't respond. His breathing, though, began to ease. "Very well. Relly, get rid of that one's clothing, too. You - if you try anything funny, your precious commander dies." Relly looked at Paris as if to say, "This wasn't my idea." and removed Tom's bonds. He looked like he was going to permit Paris to undress himself, but the leader glared and Paris, too, was laid bare with the knife. He, however, wasn't cut. His broken arm was agony and needed setting. It hung uselessly from his shoulder. Even if Chakotay hadn't been under threat, Tom could not have done anything. "Relly, why don't you take your turn with him?" "I don't really want to. You are sick, Larten." "And you are weak. I should have known you were weak. No stomach, just like that Federation. I'll deal with you later, traitor. Not just a traitor to me, but to your whole planet. This is an alien, Relly. He doesn't deserve consideration. Doun, you take him instead." Larten looked furious. Doun grinned and left the now semi-conscious Chakotay, and exposed himself to Paris. Unlike the leader, Doun was already erect. With skill born of long practice but the awkwardness of injury, Paris struggled to his knees in front of him. Before he could do anything more, he heard shouts from outside the room. Tuvok came running into the room, flanked by a security squad and holding a phaser rifle. Tom threw himself down as phaser fire blanketed the room. It was all over in moments. The terrorists didn't have time to draw their pro- jectile weapons. Tuvok appeared to be taking in the scene - the three natives lying stunned, and his two crewmates who were clearly injured, although he could not tell to what extent. He had Voyager beam them directly to sickbay. The Doctor and Kes were not prepared for the sight of the two men. Chakotay was lying on his stomach, barely conscious. He was bleeding from his rectum. Tom was kneeling next to him, stroking Chakotay's hair gently with his good hand. The other, clearly broken, dangled from his shoulder. Both men were literally covered in bruises, blood and filth. The Doctor was more concerned with their injuries than with their nudity, but Kes found a moment to drape blankets over both of them. Neither noticed. Nor did they seem to care when the Captain burst into the room. "Doctor, how are they?" "I am attempting to determine that now. According to their appearance, they seem to have been subjected to a violent physical attack. They have multiple bruises and lacerations. Mr. Paris has a broken arm and a concussion; Commander Chakotay has two broken ribs. He also appears to have been raped." "Raped!" Chakotay started. Tom glanced at Janeway, and turned his attention back to his friend. The Captain went on more quietly, even as shock and anger blazed from her eyes. "Are you sure about this, Doctor?" "It's possible that the activity was voluntary, but given the circumstances, unlikely. The commander's anus has been subject to severe trauma and there are very small traces of non- human semen. It is also apparent that both the commander and the lieutenant are suffering from both physical and psychological shock, and the commander seems to have been more severely affected." "Tom wasn't...raped?" Why was there relief in her voice? "No." The Doctor shut off his scanner. "There now. All injuries have been recorded and I can stop being a police adjunct and become a physician again. Captain, I suggest that you leave us for the moment. I will call you when they are able to speak to you." Janeway reluctantly nodded and left the room. Kes took a regenerator and knelt beside Chakotay. She tried to remove the blanket. He clutched it tightly, and moved closer to Tom, even though his face turned white with the pain of his broken ribs. Tom awkwardly put his arm around the big man's shoulder. Chakotay began to whimper - a very unnatural sound from his throat. Tom's heart ached to hear it. "Commander, please let me help you." Kes' voice was gentle. "I can ease your pain if you let me." "No! Don't touch me." There was sheer terror in the first officer's voice. "Get away from me! Tom! Where's Tom?" Chakotay blindly buried his head in Tom's shoulder - the bad one. "Shhh, shhh. I'm right here, coeur fort. There's nothing to hurt you here. Look, it's Kes. Kes only wants to help you. Shhh. It's all right." Tom's voice was as gentle and slow as the breezes in Anden that night. He clumsily patted Chakotay, and kissed the salt and pepper head. Chakotay quieted and wrapped his arms around Paris as if holding on to his own life. "Kes, I think you can treat him now. And, please - do it quickly." She nodded, and began a slow monologue. "Commander, I'm just going to take away the blanket. Good. See? It didn't hurt. Now, let me run the regenerator over you. First your ribs. Then your bruises. Now, isn't that better?" She was treating the normally dignified commander as if he were a child. Paris hated to hear it as much as he knew Kes hated to do it, but right now it was the only way to get him physically healed. Chakotay himself was silent against his shoulder. Kes moved on to treat the most traumatic of the injuries. Paris was grateful for her intelligence and tact - she just said words of reassurance instead of saying what she was doing. With the pain gone, all Chakotay had left was the shock and trauma - and the blood and filth. He relaxed in Tom's arm and his breathing improved. "Chakotay, coeur fort, you have to let Kes clean you up. Then you'll feel better and I can be treated." Chakotay nodded. Kes used a sonic cleanser to remove the last of the evidence, and Chakotay let her dress him in a sickbay gown and led him to a biobed, where he promptly fell asleep. Paris drew a sigh of relief, and prayed to whomever would listen that his sleep would be peaceful. They numbed Tom's arm, set it straight and regenerated it, his nose and the spectacular bruises. They judged him steady enough to take a shower if he sat in a chair. He was extremely grateful for the shower. He was equally grateful for his own gown and for a bed to lie upon. "There you are, Tom." Kes tucked the blanket around him. "Can I get you anything else?" "I'm hungry. Can you get me some plain, hot tomato soup?" Tom smiled. He was feeling a little better now that they were safe and the pain was gone. Chakotay was deeply asleep now, and his vitals were normal, so Paris could put his worries aside for a short time. Tom expected to have bad dreams and flashbacks that night, but that was normal enough and he certainly wouldn't be alone in sickbay. His smile fled. He'd hoped to spend this night with Chakotay, but not like this. Now he didn't know when they would have each other. Kes noticed. "He'll be fine, Tom. He's strong." "I hope so. I truly hope so." *Coeur fort, sleep well.* "I'll get you that soup. You need fluids." While she was gone, Chakotay began to toss and mutter in his sleep. Tom immediately got out of his bed. Just as he got to his side, Chakotay screamed. "No! Get away! I'll do anything! Get away!" Kes and the Doctor ran into the room. Tom took Chakotay's hand as tightly as he could. "Chakotay! Wake up. It's me, Tom We're back on Voyager. We're safe. You're safe. I'm here. Wake up, mon coeur." Chakotay opened his eyes and clutched at Tom's hand. "Tom? Is it true? Are we home?" "We're home. This is sickbay. No one can get us here." "No one can get you anywhere." Janeway and Tuvok came in the room. Her voice was confident and satisfied. "Quite true, Captain, in this case. One of the Isola- tionists who kidnapped you - a Mr. Relly - has made a full confession." "And Larten?" "I regret to say, Mr. Paris, that Mr. Larten is dead. He stabbed himself as soon as the stun wore off - which occurred sooner than I had expected. We were unable to save him." Chakotay's voice was hoarse and harsh. "Do you have a picture of that? I need to see that for myself." "Are you sure, Chakotay? It's probably rather disturbing." "I need to know that he's dead, Kathryn." "Mr. Tuvok, if you do have a picture I want to see it myself. Call it closure." Tom knew it wouldn't actually be closure, but it would help. "Very well, Lieutenant. I will get it to you as soon as the authorities on the planet are finished." Janeway moved closer to Chakotay and touched his shoulder. He flinched and moved away from her hand. She blinked in sur- prise - and blinked again when Tom began to stroke her first officer, calming him. "Captain, Chakotay may not be himself for a while. Please don't take offense at his reactions." "You sound rather confident, Mr. Paris." Tom smiled tightly. "I have some knowledge of this." He quickly turned his attentions back to Chakotay. He hoped she'd get the hint. He didn't see her nod. "Then I'll leave you to it." She and Tuvok left. Tom sighed in relief. He began to shake. Kes immediately got him a chair and sat down next to him with the bowl of tomato soup. "Tom, you have to eat." "I know. Chakotay, are you hungry?" Chakotay hesitated. "Ye-es." "What would you like, commander? The Captain has authorized extra rations for both of you, so you can have anything." "Anything?" He looked worried. It was just the shock and the nightmare, Tom told himself. "I'll have...what Tom's having. Tomato soup." The next morning, Tom woke up feeling almost well, but quite alone. Kes told him that Chakotay had left earlier and that he himself was ready to be discharged. He could return to duty the next day. Tom dressed in the clothes Kes fetched from his cabin, and went to the mess hall for a belated breakfast. He was grat- ified if overwhelmed at the reception he received there. It seemed everyone had been worried about them. He'd a dozen requests to play pool before he left. He'd thought he was going to his own cabin, but he stopped in front of Chakotay's. He decided his subconscious had the right idea, and signaled at the door. "Who is it?" Chakotay's voice sounded odd. "It's me, Tom. Can I come in and talk to you? I can help." "No! Please, go away. I don't want to see anyone. I want to be left alone." "Chakotay, please. You shouldn't be by yourself." "Don't you think I can take care of myself, lieutenant?" *No, coeur fort. I think you're bleeding to death in there.* "That's not it, commander." "Consider it an order. Go away." "Okay, I'm going. But if you ever need me, even if it's the middle of the night, call me." *please* "Don't wait up." Tom decided it would be best to let Chakotay have the last word and went to his own cabin. Chakotay didn't call on him that night, and the next day they were back on duty. The holds were full, and the penitent government had refused any payment for the supplies, and the crew was anxious to leave orbit. There was no reason to hang around since there would be no trial, not with a confession and a suicide. Both Chakotay and Tom had pictures of the dead Larten. Tom was not very surprised that it didn't make him feel any better. Tom got to the bridge on time that morning. He needed to take the ship out, and leave Tanik and her nightmares behind. Chakotay seemed to have the same idea. He was already present and as impeccable as always - except that Tom could see a hint of puffiness around the dark eyes. He wondered if it was visible to anyone else. If it were, no one was making any mention of it. "Mr. Chakotay, would you like to give the orders for departure?" "Nothing would give me greater pleasure, Captain. Mr. Paris, prepare to leave orbit." The commander's voice sounded perfectly normal. "Aye, sir. It can't be soon enough for me." "Lay in a course towards home." "Aye, sir. Course laid in." "Take her out, Mr. Paris." "Leaving orbit now." Tom could feel the ship as she climbed out of the gravity well around the planet, and the deeper one around the planet's sun. As usual, she felt like an extension of his brain and body. *So long as I have a ship to pilot, I'll survive, even if I don't get you back, coeur fort.* The rest of the shift and the next few days went more or less smoothly. The ship had food and fuel and they were in a peaceful, well-mapped area of the quadrant. Chakotay acted as if nothing had happened. His behavior on duty was perfect, and off- duty he, was, if anything, more social than ever. He was in Sandrines or the Holoresort every night, playing pool or swimming. In fact, he was never by himself except at night. He even brought his work into the holodecks with him. On the other hand, he also took great care never to be alone with Tom, either. That's when Tom realized the commander was in heavy denial. And Tom wasn't sure he had the courage to help. Meanwhile, there was Harry and B'Elanna's wedding to plan. The wedding took place a week after leaving Tanikian space. It was beautiful. Tom stood up for both of his former lovers, and gloried in the joy he saw in their faces. Neither was right for him, but both were right for each other. The whole crew was there who could be there, and the party afterwards was planned so that everyone could join in - some would lose sleep, but that was all right. The resort was full of people. There was sunshine and the sound and smells of the ocean. Some were swimming, some standing around and taking refreshments and there was dancing. Yael was dancing with Torres, the two women swinging each other in the middle of a circle of their friends. Yael's long black braid and flowing skirts flew as she danced faster and faster with the bride, who was wearing a swimsuit and a wedding garland. The groom, who was using his own wedding garland to keep his newly long hair back, stood to the side and clapped. The music had a driving beat that encouraged dancing. Tom was about to take Harry's arms when he saw Chakotay out of the corner of his eye. The commander was standing by himself next to a column, his back to the party. His hands were covering his eyes and he was breathing heavily. *Damn! What was I thinking?* Before he could move, though, he saw Janeway walking towards Chakotay. Tom smiled. That's what made her a great captain - she noticed things. Janeway touched Chakotay on the shoulder. He flinched very slightly, so Janeway put her hands behind her back. She began to talk to him, but Chakotay just shook his head. She gestured towards herself, towards the Doctor, towards Kes, towards *Tom*. Chakotay became angry and Janeway backed down. Chakotay left the holodeck entirely, while the captain wandered back to the party. Tom moved quickly to catch her. "Captain, can I talk to you? It's about Chakotay." "Yes, Tom. Let's go over there." They walked to a somewhat isolated table far from the band and sat down. "What did you want to say?" "We both know Chakotay needs help." "I didn't until today. He seemed to be functioning normally." "I know. I was fooled for awhile, too, and I shouldn't have been." "Why not, Tom?" "I...would rather not say right now. The point is, Chakotay's in denial and in pain, and he needs help." Tom squeezed his hands together until his knuckles turned white. Janeway looked at him and smiled slightly. She touched his hands. "You love him." "I'm very much in love with him. Weren't you?" "No. Not really. He's the best first officer I've ever had, and one of the best friends I'll ever have, and that's all and enough. Does he feel the same towards you?" "I don't know. I think I would have found out that night. Damn!" Janeway held his hands while he cried away days of anger and frustration. Eventually, he was able to lift his head and wipe away his tears. "I'm sorry, Captain." "I'm glad it happened. Look. No one noticed." Actually, Harry and B'Elanna both had, but they were more relieved than upset, and knew the captain was the best person to take care of him. "I can't explain what it was like - seeing the man I loved hurt in that way, and knowing I couldn't help it at all. And...damn, it's irrational, but I hate that they spoiled my *date*. We could have had something wonderful, like those two, but it's dead. He's hurting and he won't even talk to me about it." "He won't talk to anyone. Neither would you." "I was too busy being worried about him." He wiped at his eyes and grinned ruefully. "Tom, talk to me. I'm always available to you. You can tell me anything. *Anything.* Together we can find a way to help Chakotay." "Can't you order him to talk to the Doctor or something?" "Only if it affects the performance of his duties. It hasn't. Yet. Also, I don't know if the Doctor can help. I don't know if anyone on board this ship is qualified to do rape counseling." She looked Tom straight in the eyes as she said this. *What does she know?* "I...happen to have a program that might help. I worked with a...friend who was a rape counselor. Back in the academy. It was a class project of sorts. Maybe I can add it to the Doctor's programming." "Good idea. Talk to the Doctor and B'Elanna before you do anything. Now, then. I can't order you to do this, either, but may I have this dance?" Paris grinned and took her arm. Several more weeks passed. Chakotay began to keep more and more to himself, although he still found ways to not be alone. Sometimes, while walking past Chakotay's cabin at night, Tom could hear music or voices, and knew that Chakotay was trying to fill empty air so he could sleep. And on duty, Chakotay began to act distracted. Tom was grateful that the area of space was so dull. "Captain, I'm picking up a spatial anomaly, bearing..." WHAMMMMM! "Harry, the captain!" "She's out, commander. Sickbay, emergency on the bridge!" "Internal transporters are offline! I'm sorry, ensign. We can't get the captain to sickbay." "Inertial fields stabilizing!" "Commander, I have to take the engines offline!" "Commander, we have reports of injuries on all decks!" "Hull breach, deck nine. Shields holding." "Commander, we need to get emergency teams out." "Commander, we need to study this anomaly." "Chakotay, I have to leave this area. What heading?" Paris stopped fighting his controls long enough to turn around. What was wrong with Chakotay? Why didn't he say anything? The commander's face was a mask of terror. His hands were open helplessly in front of him. His eyes darted around the room. He flinched when anyone asked him a question. And he was starting to shake. "Mr. Tuvok, help!" Tuvok made his own evaluation. "Commander, I will have to assume command if you cannot function." Chakotay nodded, once, and collapsed on a chair, his head in his hands. Tuvok began issuing a series of orders that soon brought order back to the ship. Almost at the same time, Janeway opened her eyes and struggled to sit up. "Mr. Tuvok, report. Why are you giving orders?" "Captain, we hit the space anomaly approximately 9 minutes and 51 seconds ago, and you were knocked unconscious. Mr. Chakotay was unable to take charge and permitted me to do so. No severe injuries or damage reported. I respectfully request that you relieve Mr. Chakotay as he is unable to fulfill his position." Paris could hear Chakotay crying softly behind him. He longed to go over and comfort him. "Commander, are you all right?" Her voice was gentle. Chakotay took a deep breath. "No, captain. I...panicked while you were unconscious and was unable to make any decisions. I must report myself unfit for duty and ask to be relieved." "Request accepted. I'm so sorry, Chakotay. Mr. Tuvok, you are now *acting* first officer." Just then, Kes and a medical kit materialized on the bridge. She immediately knelt beside Janeway and ran a scanner over her. "Captain, I'm afraid you'll have to go to sickbay. That's a rather severe concussion. Oh, and the transporters are back on line." "Mr. Tuvok, it seems your first duty as acting first officer is to be acting captain. The ship is yours." Tuvok nodded. At Janeway's request, she, Kes and Chakotay were beamed directly to sickbay. The comm signal was insistent, waking Tom up after he'd finally fallen asleep that night. He glanced at the bedside chrono. It was 4:30. He fumbled at the communicator on his bedside table. "Paris here." *and it better be an emergency.* "Tom? I need you! Help me." It was Chakotay, and he sounded on the edge of hysteria. Tom didn't stop to look for a robe. He grabbed his communicator, pinned it to his pajama pants, and ran barefoot down the corridor to Chakotay's cabin. The door wasn't locked. He entered to find the sitting area empty. Chakotay was sitting on his bed, dressed in a nightshirt. He was staring intently at one of his souvenirs - a knife made of obsidian. He held it in one hand and stared at the other wrist. Tom stood as still as he could. "I can't live like this, Tom." Chakotay's voice was dull, emotionless. "Yes, you can." "When I go to sleep, I see his face, feel his touch. When I eat, I taste *him* in my mouth. I know he's dead, but I can't get rid of him." Chakotay looked worse than he did earlier that day on the bridge. His face was tight and his eyes were swollen. His hair was very, very clean but uncombed and untrimmed. The nightshirt looked too big for him. "I can't make him go away." "No. But you can let him go." "It would be easier to let myself go." Tom sat down on the bed, carefully keeping his distance from Chakotay. "I don't think so. I don't see a man letting go. I see a man hanging on for dear life." "I can't meditate, you know. I've always been able to meditate, but now I can't do it. Maybe it's a sign. Like I can't do my job anymore; like I can't make any decisions any more." "You made one tonight. You called for help. I'm ready to help you, coeur fort." "That means 'strong heart', doesn't it? Mine is not very strong." "We'll see. I have faith in you, if you let me in." Tom reached out his hand. Chakotay put the knife in it, and Tom breathed a sigh of relief. He put it behind him on the bed, and reached out his hand again, but Chakotay just sat there staring at his empty palms. "How do you know what I'm going through?" "It happened to me." Paris calmly met Chakotay's eyes when the other man raised his head almost surprise. "You?" "Yeah, me. The privileged admiral's kid." "When? In prison?" Tom laughed softly. "I was in a Federation prison. They don't let those things happen. This was much earlier. It's not on my record at all. Dad made sure of it." "How old were you?" "This was the summer before I was to enter the Academy. I was about seventeen years old." "You entered the Academy at eighteen. I've seen your records." "Yeah. Funny, that. Anyway, I was hanging out with my friends at a local pool hall. Bunch of Starfleet brats using fake id's that fooled no one. They let us in, but no one would serve us even synthehol, and we didn't ask. Most of us were going away soon, so we wanted to really enjoy the summer. I remember winning transporter credits. Then it was closing time and everyone scattered. I was walking by myself - who's scared on any city on Earth? Even at 2AM? And this was San Francisco, too. "It wasn't like...there. I was stunned, not beat up, and they tied me to a chair instead of, well, you know. There were five of them - all humans. I was scared to death, but part of me was thinking about my father. How disappointed he would be that I let myself get caught. Paris's don't let themselves get captured." Chakotay was actively listening now. "Well, you know me. I can't keep quiet. I told them who I was. They weren't impressed at all. They said they knew and that's why I was there. And that I was very pretty. "I was seventeen. That was the last thing I wanted to hear. And they were looking at me like I was a piece of meat. So, I mouthed off again. I told them that my father would be here soon and they would be in trouble. "They laughed." "Why did they take you?" "They wanted to hold me hostage so that their cause would get some publicity and so that my father would pull political strings to help them." "What was the cause?" "Damned if I know. They told me with all sorts of high- flown words, but I was too scared to care, and it didn't matter. Anyway, a few hours passed. They let me get up to go to the head, and they fed me. And they watched all the news channels, but no one mentioned me at all. And I kept being a brat. I was very good at that. I think I hoped that if I annoyed them enough, they'd let me go. "Finally, they had enough. First, they gagged me. Then maybe they liked the sight of me sitting there tied up and gagged. Some people say that that can be fun if you are willing. I wouldn't know." Paris stared at the wall, remembering a boy called Tommy. "What did they do?" "They raped me. All five of them. They didn't need the gag afterwards. I just sort of sat there and cried." "Was it your first time?" "Gratefully, no. Nor would it be my last." That had been Harry. Tom smiled at the memory of their one sweet night. Tom and Harry were meant to be friends, not lovers. "Good." "Yeah, well. It took my father, working very quietly, a week to find me. Those thugs never got any publicity at all, or any contact with Dad. They got very frustrated, and they took it out on me. Every night. Rape isn't sex, Chakotay. It's an act of violence and of power. I learned that lesson very, very well. They beat me, too. I wasn't so pretty by the end, but surgery does wonders." Paris was shaking. "What happened afterwards?" Chakotay's voice was curious and gentle. He moved closer to Tom. "The thugs were tried and put in prison. If they are still alive, they are still there. I don't know where. I barely remember the trial. I was in lousy shape. Depressed as hell, actually. I didn't leave my room unless I had to, and I never looked at people. The very thought made me panic." Chakotay blinked. "I also hated myself. I hated my body for attracting them. They called me pretty, after all, so I must have enticed them somehow. My father didn't help with this. I think he was ashamed that his son had let himself be shamed by this. Dad could be a real throwback." Chakotay was truly outraged. "It wasn't *your* fault. You were overpowered. How could you have stopped them?" Chakotay's eyes widened. "Oh. I see." "That's right, coeur fort." Tom grinned, and grinned bigger when his friend took the hand he offered once again. "It took months of therapy before I could even *think* that, much less believe it." "*You* were an untrained kid." "I was a Starfleet brat. I learned martial arts before I learned to read. As my father kept telling me." "That's not much good against a phaser." "Or an ambush. Anyway, it took a year for me to start to put it behind me. The first crisis was the Academy. My dad was all for me going right away. He kept talking about it, about how it would make me into a man. And I couldn't face it. Finally, I asked for delayed entry. My dad didn't speak to me for months. He did find me a therapist, though - one willing to keep this shameful secret off the record. At first, I accepted that, but later I got angry. He said he did it to protect me. Later, he said that he did it so no one else would get the idea to kidnap another admiral's kid. The real reason was that he didn't want to face it. He never joined me in any of my therapy sessions, either. "I will never forget that year. I bounced from celibacy to promiscuity to swearing undying love to celibacy again. They got me just as I was doing the normal adolescent experiments, and took away all of my judgement about myself - and convinced me that I was unworthy of love." "When did that change?" "Harry. And B'Elanna. I only spent one night with her, too, but our courtship and friendship turned out to be important to both of us. I'm glad they married each other. They complement each other so well." He smiled in memory of their wedding, and in anticipation of being an uncle in a couple of months. "Tom?" "Yes?" "Do you know what was the worst part for me?" "Tell me." Chakotay gripped Tom's hand tightly. "That you were there. That you saw it all - you saw my humiliation, you saw my loss of control, you saw them break me. I was - I am - in love with you, but could you love me after seeing all that? You keep calling me 'coeur fort', but I was weak, and how can you love weakness? No, shhh. Let me finish." Chakotay touched Tom's lips with his other hand. "Then we were back on the ship, and things got worse, and you kept offering to help, but I was paralyzed, the way I was on the bridge that day. You were so assured after the attack, and I couldn't stand it. I couldn't stand anyone, not even Kathryn. I was very alone. Not even my spirit guide could help me, because I couldn't meditate. Then tonight, I saw that knife. I spent hours holding it, staring at it. I kept thinking that it was the best thing I could do, that the ship would go on and you'd find someone else, someone who was truly strong. I couldn't do it, and I couldn't *not* do it. That's why I called you, Tom. I had to do something, and I wanted to stay on this side." "Has it helped?" "I don't know." Chakotay turned away. "Know this, mon coeur. You are strong enough for me. Even in the middle of that horror, you were willing to go through it all again to protect me. I loved you before that night, and I love you now." Tom felt tears grow in his eyes. "Do you? I'm not the same man." "You've been many men, Chakotay. And I've loved all I've known. This one - this one is nobler and stronger and better than any other. This one was ready to go through hell again to protect me, and this one was strong enough to call for help." Chakotay couldn't say anything. He was crying - deep, cleansing sobs wrenched from his heart. Paris silently held him in his arms. After a while, Chakotay quieted and pulled back. "Tom, I don't want to be alone tonight. Stay here. I need the company...I need you." "Just company, right?" "Frankly, pretty one, I'm too tired for more." He grinned. Tom hadn't seen that in a long time. "Good. I'm exhausted." Chakotay managed to go to sleep in Tom's arms, but Tom himself could not turn off the memories he'd awakened. He held his lover and waited for dawn. As he did, he wondered at the memory of a redhaired lieutenant. Both Janeway and Tuvok noticed how bleary-eyed Tom was when he reported to the bridge not long after. The Captain motioned him into her ready-room. "How is he?" "You don't waste time, Captain. Better. He called me this morning, on the cusp between life and death. We talked for a long time. I think he's meditating now. He couldn't before." "Will he be able to come back on duty soon?" "I hope so - maybe even in a couple of days. I'll steer him to the Doctor if his own methods don't work." "Very well. The modifications to the program worked?" "We can't know, but B'Elanna says that the therapy algorithms are meshing with the rest of the Doctor. I hope we never need to use them, but they are there if we do." "How did you happen to have rape counseling programming available?" "I wrote them with a therapist friend in the Academy, and I don't feel comfortable saying more." "Quite all right, Mr. Paris. I'm just happy they exist." "Captain...you know, don't you?" She nodded. "I was working with your father at the time." "I didn't remember you at all." "You weren't noticing much of anything, Tom. I'm not surprised." "Are you going to put in my record?" "No, but you might think about trying your own modifications." "Maybe I will." He grinned. "Dismissed, lieutenant." As he left the room, Janeway remembered the weeping boy she'd held in her arms for what seemed like hours while his father raged. It was more like several months than a couple of days. Chakotay spent long hours with the modified doctor. So did Tom. He had to deal with his own memories, and he had to help Chakotay. He spent many more nights in Chakotay's quarters - sometimes talking, sometimes sleeping on the couch and sometimes just sharing a bed. Chakotay said that someday it would be more, "when his spirit could dance again." Meanwhile, they worked on getting it to walk. Chakotay was back in uniform and back on the bridge soon enough. Tom could tell that he was nervous. Janeway must have noticed this as well, but she hid it well. After an hour or so, the nervousness faded, and he was back to giving orders and standing beside his captain the way he truly belonged. They encountered the lifeform two hours into the duty shift. Janeway immediately retired to her ready room. It looked like an asteroid, but it was going at impulse speeds and it seemed to change course when it sensed Voyager. Calmly, Chakotay evaded the monster without firing a weapon, and attempted to communicate with it. Meanwhile, Harry began to scan it, and figured that it was hungry and probably non-sentient. Just then it decided the ship was food. It didn't hit hard, but there was some excitement. Chakotay received reports and gave orders. And then a bigger "rock" showed up. The little one sped to it and nuzzled. Mama investigated Voyager for a moment, and then took her baby away. Laughing, Chakotay fell into his chair and wiped his forehead. Crisis averted. "And may all our crises be like that one." Janeway strode out of her ready room. "Amen, Captain." "Welcome back, Mr. Chakotay. I missed you." "Deck seven. Well, coeur fort, it seems you're dancing again." "I'm glad to be back. And now that I am, we have a date to finish. Can you meet me in my cabin tonight? No uniforms. No kilts, either." "I'll be there in an hour." Tom practically ran to his cabin. He found a blue and gold silken outfit that suited his coloring and brought out his eyes. He showered and shaved and fussed over the fit of the soft tunic and trousers and the lay of his hair. Then he replicated a bouquet of wildflowers, tied with blue and gold ribbons and strolled to his lover's cabin. Chakotay met him at the door. He was glowing in the earth tones he loved so much. He took the flowers and kissed Tom quite thoroughly. "Welcome, my love. I've missed you." Tom sighed. "I'm glad you're back." A shadow passed over Chakotay's face. "I'm not who I was." "You are in all the important ways." Tom stroked the broad back. Chakotay drew him into his cabin. He put the flowers in an empty bottle and added it to the table. The cabin was lit dimly and there were candles everywhere. There was slow, cool jazz from Earth playing - safe, familiar but very sensual. As far from the music of Anden as he could get. Chakotay took Tom into his arms and held him closely. They began to sway to the music in the timeless, eternal slowdance. Tom bent and slowly covered Chakotay's face with delicate small kisses, conveying oceans of love with each one. Chakotay shivered, held his lover closer, and kissed him deeply and passionately. Tom felt his lips melt and his desire grow. They kept dancing as they undressed each other slowly, article by article, kissing and gently nibbling at each other as they did so. Finally, they clasped each other skin to skin. Without words, they moved together to finish the dance that had been interrupted before, swaying to the music and to the rythmns of their own hearts.
copyright 1997 Debra Fran Baker and NightRoads Associates
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