Trouble Breathing

Chakotay was having trouble catching his breath. Every now and then he would find the air caught in his throat, and his hands rising unbidden to his chest, as if to somehow smooth away the constriction. He gasped now, stopping his tightly controlled pacing across his quarters. He breathed deeply several times, flexing his shoulders and expanding his chest to the limit. It felt like a test, to see if his heart would take the exertion. As his ribs braced and his lungs tightened he half expected to feel a sudden wrench, as if his heart was rupturing from the inside out.

Chakotay breathed steadily, the panic retreating momentarily. The fear of sudden cardiac trauma having abated a little, he sat carefully on the chair in his quarters, and allowed his mind to connect with his wildly spiralling emotions. He felt as though he had been flayed. He felt naked, stripped and incredibly vulnerable. His hands shook a little as he rested them on his thighs, feeling the muscles tense beneath his touch, remembering the feel of Tom’s hands on him yesterday, as he had fought for his life on the planet.

Chakotay allowed his thoughts to continue back, assembling a collection of images and sensations, the texture of Tom’s hair, the unbearable sound of his pain. The exquisite brush of Tom’s mouth against his palm, the astonishing look in his eyes when he had looked up at Chakotay just before the beam-out…

It was hard to breathe again, and Chakotay leaned back in the chair, gripping the sides tightly as he fought to regain control of his respiration. If he wanted to re-live that incredible moment, seeing unshielded emotion staring him in the face, he had only to walk over to the mirror. He had done that earlier, looking hard into his own dark eyes, trying to see what Tom had seen, looking for what *he* had seen reflected back at him in shades of blue and grey.

Chakotay sat in the chair for an hour, his body gradually loosening and lengthening, the tightly knotted muscles in his stomach relaxing, his breathing becoming more regular, less frightening.

In sickbay Tom Paris lay in semi-darkness, covered in a soft grey sheet. He did not fight for breath, his eyes were closed, his muscles loose, hands lying limply along his sides, head turned slightly to one side. An onlooker would have been forgiven for thinking he did not live. The biobed readings flickered then steadied. The Doctor sat in the next room, looking at his patient through the transparent window. His eyes jumped from Tom to his monitor, then back to Tom. It was a puzzle. The condition had come on suddenly; Commander Chakotay had said that only minutes had elapsed between Tom’s first attack of pain and his near death. In fact the Commander had been unusually specific about the time.

“Five minutes…” he had insisted emphatically.

The hypospray had saved Tom, that and the fact that the beam out had finally been possible. Chakotay had stayed in sickbay until he was sure Tom was out of danger, pacing restlessly around the room, breathing erratically and in obvious discomfort. He had endured the Doctor’s check-up, and once cleared of any trace of the toxin, he had quietly left.

That had been an hour ago, and Tom was still sleeping, the residue of the alien poison finally removed from his system.

The screen flashed, and the Doctor looked up sharply, noticing that Tom had changed position. He seemed to be coming round. The Doctor watched as he began to sit up carefully, bracing his lean body against the hard cushions of the bed.

Chakotay heard the soft voice of the computer through layers of sleep, and was instantly alert. He responded to the summons to sickbay automatically, running a hand through his tousled hair. At the touch of his own fingers he felt a deep, dangerous ache begin to invade his senses, his arms seemed heavy, his hands cold, his head light, his breathing shallow. As he walked through the corridors of Voyager, he fought back the panic, his hands fluttering to his throat and chest as his breathing faltered.

When he reached sickbay he was certain he could not go in. He could barely think, his body felt taut, stretched, almost at breaking point. He was breathing in shallow, gasping breaths, a tight pain in his chest. As he forced himself to walk through the doors, and towards the soft light of the biobed, he shook his head.

"I can't…it’s too much…"

Tom heard the doors open, and sat very still on the bed. He still felt echoes of the pain, delicate fingers of memory stroking his skin. He also remembered warm, strong fingers, in his hair, along his cheek, across his jaw. He felt his body tighten at the thought and closed his eyes very slowly, allowing the most overwhelming memory to wash over him, the unguarded emotion he had seen blazing from Chakotay’s eyes at the end…

Chakotay reached Tom just as his eyes had closed, so the pilot didn’t see the sudden clutch of hand to throat, darkening eyes lit with passion. Tom did hear Chakotay’s savage intake of breath, and his eyes flew open in concern.

"Chakotay…. I thought…"

Chakotay's head was bowed in confusion as grey eyes widened then narrowed in understanding. Tom stood shakily, and waited for Chakotay to raise his head. When he did not, and when the man’s agonised attempts to steady his breathing seemed to take too long, Tom could bear no more. He stepped forward, into the heat radiating from Chakotay, and reached forward. With his eyes fixed on the dark head inches from his own, he allowed his finger tips to brush through the short black hair, barely suppressing an incoherent sound at the feel of it against his skin.

"Oh Tom, I can hardly breathe…I don't know what to do…"

Tom slid his fingers through Chakotay’s hair again and again, matching his breathing to the ragged breaths from the man in front of him.

As Tom caressed him, Chakotay could feel the fingers in his hair as if each one was on fire. His chest felt too small, his lungs too big, his heart…his heart would surely fail him now, here in the grip of his terror, his fear. The two men moved closer, without volition. Only when Tom stopped stroking his hair did Chakotay realise that they were touching along the length of their bodies.

"Look at me…please…" Tom's voice was an intense whisper.

He pulled Chakotay’s head up slowly.

Chakotay steadied himself for the moment when their eyes met, but nothing had prepared him. Tom let his hands drop suddenly, and they stood, eyes locked, unable to look away, unable to speak or move. It was all there, blazing forth, the longing, the desire, the need. From both men. From dark eyes and grey eyes, like a living thing, awake and hungry.

Chakotay felt his heart pump wildly, out of control, and braced himself against the madness. Astonishingly, his breathing suddenly slowed to a regular, steady pattern. He had a split second to wonder before he realised his mistake. He had thought he was afraid, filled with panic. He had been sure that his feelings of panic and anxiety had been fear, fear of Tom, the feelings he had seen in those clear, pain-filled eyes. Chakotay smiled at about the same time that Tom did, reaching up and running a finger slowly down Chakotay’s face, across his jaw and along his neck.

Tom smiled with relief, he had seen the realisation flood into Chakotay’s eyes and felt his own fear washed away.

“Love feels a lot like fear….” Tom said very quietly.

Chakotay leaned forward a little, resting his forehead against the other man’s, eyes half shut against the passion he could see millimetres away. Tom let out his breath in a short, soft sigh, and allowed his hand to move behind Chakotay’s head, brushing the short, spiky hair at the nape of his neck. The two men stood, leaning against each other, breathing in rhythm, as each allowed the emotional impact of their feelings to resonate fully.

“I was having trouble breathing…” Chakotay murmured, the breath a whisper across Tom’s face.

“Are you still?”

Chakotay stepped closer, his mouth almost touching the lips that trembled imperceptibly so close to his. He replied so softly that Tom only felt it, warm breath on his lower lip, followed by the softest touch of a mouth, the slight pressure alone enough to drag small incoherent sounds from both men.

“No, no trouble breathing now…”

July 1997