Tom Paris felt the ground lurch under his feet. His vision blurred alarmingly,
and he was suddenly aware of an uncomfortable heat surging through his body…..
He grabbed the nearest solid object, and felt warm, pliant flesh beneath his trembling fingers.
"Tom?" a voice murmured……the breath brushing against his feverish skin, cooling and yet burning at the same time.
Tom reached blindly forward, desperate for a secure place to anchor his shaking body, to lean his aching head against something still, and cool, and safe. As his arms reached forward, hands clutching at the shoulders beneath them, Tom was racked by a jolt of pain, so severe that he almost cried out. Almost.
He swallowed the agony, and knelt slowly, his fingers locked into the uniform of his companion, head bowed against the waves of nausea. He felt hands in his hair, stroking softly, and he leaned imperceptibly forward, his head coming to rest against Chakotay’s stomach, his fingers twisted in the Commanders uniform. Chakotay continued to run his hands through blonde hair, surprisingly noting its texture as he felt the breath surge in and out of the man kneeling before him.
"Tom…..Tom….what’s happening…..what’s the matter?"
Chakotay tangled his fingers in the brown gold hair and exerted a slight pressure, bringing Tom’s head slowly up and back, so that the two men made eye contact.
"Chakotay…..I…..I don’t know……the ground moved…..there was pain…."
Tom’s face blanched of all colour and his eyes widened as another jolt of agony coursed through his body. His uniform was drenched in sweat, and his skin was burning. He would have fallen at Chakotay’s feet had the Commander not dropped to his knees in front of Tom, moving his hands from hair to face, bracing the man’s trembling body with his own.
The two men faced each other on the dusty ground, Chakotay holding Tom against him as the shudders ripped through his body. Tom was moaning softly now, the pain a continuous fire that tore through his skin. Chakotay released Tom with one hand, and felt for his comm badge. He knew that Tom was not going to last much longer, and he felt a coil of fear stir in his stomach.
"Chakotay to Voyager…..emergency beam out required……."
He was surprised by the emotion in his voice. He was functioning on adrenaline, and the fear he heard in his voice didn’t seem connected to his actual self. He held Tom with one arm, pulling him hard against his body, as if to try and absorb some of the convulsions that were now shuddering through the pilot. Tom was barely conscious, and his eyes were wide open. Chakotay could see the agony inches from his face, and felt his own fear rise to meet it.
"Chakotay to Voyager……come in please…..we have a medical emergency here….."
Chakotay tore his eyes away from the ever widening horror of Tom’s and glanced over at the bags. The medical kit was a good 50 metres away…..he had to get to it.
He looked back at Tom, and something twisted in his heart as he looked into the anguished blue eyes. The pain was palpable, Tom was shaking soundlessly, his uniform stained with sweat. The long, mobile fingers were scrabbling at Chakotay’s chest, and Chakotay knew he had minutes left.
He lowered Tom to the floor, aware suddenly of an aching coldness where he had held him seconds before. He brushed a finger down the side of Tom’s burning face, and ran the 50 metres to the Med Kit.
"Damm you Voyager…..where the hell are you……He’ll die……he’s dying…..I can’t save him…I don’t know what happened……I don’t know what I’ll do….."
Chakotay managed to separate his mind from his body, and despite the screaming panic he was registering in his thoughts, he found himself back at Tom’s side with the Med Kit in under 40 seconds.
For a hideous moment he thought he was too late.
As his heart began the slow explosion that he would remember for the rest of his life…..he found his hands automatically scanning Tom’s still, silent body with the tricorder.
Chakotay could feel his heart expand with the force of the blast. He could see the bloody flesh erupting from his chest, the stain spreading outwards across his uniform. He could feel the coldness begin to claim his extremities, and the tears streaming down across his face. All this took 30 seconds.
Chakotay looked down at his chest, expecting to see bloody flesh . He saw no evidence of injury. He could still feel the steady expansion of his heart, the inexorable fall in blood pressure, the coldness in his hands…..but with astonishing clarity he realised that he was having an emotional reaction, not a physical one. He reached down for Tom, and finally he could see the tricorder readings. There was a single flashing light, a thready line of data that tied Tom to the living.
Chakotay ignored the flood of incredible relief, ignored the sudden, intense realisation of what he had discovered in his heart as it had erupted in his chest. He knelt close to Tom, passing the tricorder closer over the frighteningly still body, and reached into the Med Kit for the hypo spray. His hand trembled slightly, and he fought to control it, pressing the spray into Tom’s clammy skin, aware that he was holding his breath.
"When you breathe I can breathe…" he whispered, realising that if no breath came, then his heart would break.
He waited the 60 seconds it took for Tom to breathe. It seemed as if worlds were turning, stars were forming, elements combining to create a new universe.
5…….He is everything to me
10… I will die without him
15 ….I will never leave him
20 ….He is mine
25… I am his
30… I would die for him
35…. I need him
40…. I love him
45…. I love him
50… I love him
55… I love him
60… I never knew
Tom gasped. He sucked in air and gasped again, his brain registering the lack of pain. He relaxed slightly the knotted muscles of his body. As he relaxed, he felt warmth beneath his shoulders. His head was leaning against something hard yet warm, something alive. He turned his head a little, and felt hands in his hair. The fingers were gentle, stroking softly, brushing the sweat-soaked strands away from his face. He allowed his head to turn a little more, and then one of the hands slipped down, so that it cupped Tom’s face. Tom turned further towards the caress…..the fingers were warm against his skin, and he allowed his lips to brush across them, hearing a soft, sharp inhalation and feeling the other hand tighten in his hair.
Tom breathed a little more deeply, and feeling slightly steadier he pushed against Chakotay’s legs to achieve a more upright position. Chakotay pulled him gently into his arms, leaning him back against his chest, Tom’s head resting on his shoulder. Both men were sitting on the dusty ground.
It had been five minutes since Tom’s attack had begun.
As Tom’s head cleared slowly from the pain, he turned his head towards Chakotay. The hard, warm body beneath him was trembling almost imperceptibly, and Chakotay’s fingers seemed unable to stop their gentle, hypnotic wanderings in Tom’s hair and across his face. Tom reached up and stilled one of the hands with his own, interlocking his fingers with Chakotay’s. As their fingers locked, so did their eyes, and Tom read the message burning in the dark gaze focused upon him.
Tom felt the relief and joy and love and terror that this man elicited in him flood through his exhausted body.
Chakotay read the emotions in Tom’s face and wondered that it had taken so long to read them in himself. He ran his fingertips over Tom’s mouth, tightening his grip.
Tom simply turned his head into Chakotay’s body, letting his tears soak into the dusty uniform, not daring to speak, just holding on tightly to his reason for living, a fierce joy beginning to steal into his thoughts.
"Oh Gods….he’s mine…he loves me……he wants me……he’s realised…finally…"
Chakotay leaned his head forward, rested his cheek against Tom’s hair and breathed deeply, in time with Tom’s more shallow breaths. He felt his heart still exploding, but in slow motion, with no physical damage.
The comm badge crackled into life.
"Chakotay……Chakotay…….just received your message…..6 minute delay….beaming you both to sick bay…"
Chakotay and Tom prepared for the familiar beam-out sensation to flood their senses.
"Chakotay…." breathed Tom
"It took you long enough to realise….."
"It only took five minutes…"