"Have you got him?" Chakotay barked into his com badge.
There was a long silence, pregnant with despair, then a choking sob of terrible admission.
"Keep trying," Chakotay yelled.
"It's not...he can't...I can't..." Harris wailed.
"Try again, damn you!"
The Captain surged to her feet, horror warring with sympathy on her face as she clutched at Chakotay's arm.
"It's too late, Chakotay. He's gone."
"NO!" Chakotay screamed at her. "Try it again," he ordered into his comm. badge.
Before Kathryn could belay the order, the entire bridge crew heard Harris's panicked breathing and the whine of the transporter mechanism.
A distorted howl of panicked agony immediately ripped through the comm. link. The voice was contorted almost beyond recognition, but there was no doubt in anyone's mind that it was Tom. The transporter chief's fingers flashed over his console dissolving and reforming Tom's atoms endlessly in a frantic hopeless effort to stabilize his matter stream into the pattern buffer, until the whole crew were almost retching at the sound of Tom's ululating wails.
"Chakotay...Chakotay...Chakotay...Cha..." Then Tom's fading voice was cut off mid-word, and he was gone.
In the sudden shocked silence, Chakotay staggered blindly and almost fell. He barely heard Harris tearfully admit that Tom's pattern had finally degraded past any hope of retrieval. He didn't even hear Harry's scream of agony as he finally accepted his best friend was dead. Chakotay wasn't even aware of the silent tears streaming down his own face or of the comforting hand Kathryn placed on his arm.
In that moment, he was drowned by the memory of Tom's face, Tom's smile, Tom's touch, and the emptiness inside him was so great that he felt hollow and insubstantial enough to disintegrate too.
"I'm so sorry, Chakotay," Kathryn whispered, her own eyes brimming with tears.
For a long moment, Chakotay merely stared blindly at the debris of the Delta Flyer as it cascaded down the viewscreen. Then he gently disengaged the Captain's fingers from his arm.
"Permission to leave the bridge," he asked, his voice surprisingly calm.
"Of course," Kathryn choked..
He staggered towards the turbolift, his gait stiff and unnatural to compensate for the weakness in his knees, his face impassive except for the tears that were streaming down his cheeks.
Only as the door closed behind him did he allow himself to give voice to his anguish. In the privacy of the lift, Chakotay collapsed to his knees, threw back his head and howled.
Tom woke with the mother of all headaches.
Wave after wave of pain throbbed through his temples and just the effort of opening his eyes made him roil with nausea as a blaze of light knifed through his retinas. He squinted carefully and tried to focus, but just that effort drove him to the floor with a howl of misery, as a series of flashing lights scalded his head like a shower of liquid fire.
"Oh fuck," he groaned painfully, his throat raw from his earlier screaming. He hugged his chest and swayed miserably on his knees. Whatever had hit the Flyer hadn't just decimated the shuttle, it had apparently scrambled his brains too.
He pressed his palms against his eye sockets, pushed desperately to repudiate the sickening pressure inside his skull, and he gave a small sob of self-pity. Where the hell was the Doc? Why hadn't he been transported straight to sick bay? Why the hell wasn't Harris running forward to help him? Where *was* Harris? More to the point, where the hell was his husband? Considering the way he had just played peek-a-boo with the transporter, Tom was surprised the whole crew hadn't come to witness him bouncing in and out of the transporter room like a rubber ball.
So where the fuck was Chakotay?
Where the fuck was everyone?
After searching the First Officer's quarters and finding nothing except an abandoned comm. badge, Kathryn had panicked slightly. Although she'd never seen Chakotay as the suicidal type, she knew that losing a husband only three months after the wedding was enough to drive anyone over the edge. More so if, like Tom and Chakotay, that marriage had been so obviously happy that the early bloom of their honeymoon had continued to blossom rather than fade.
The two men's relationship had left the whole crew awed, envious and completely mystified.
Perhaps it was simply because no-one had ever suspected that the lanky irreverent pilot and the stolid, down-to-earth Commander could even bear to be in each other's company until the day they had announced out of the blue that they wanted to get married. The revelation of their secret romance had been so unexpected that the ship's grapevine had erupted immediately with uncharitable bets over the probable date of their divorce. It was, however, to everyone's credit that they had all seemed ecstatic to lose their wagers. Ninety days into Tom and Chakotay's marriage, Harry Kim (the only person who had placed a bet on the marriage actually working out) had been declared the winner of the bet. He'd immediately spent his winnings by throwing Tom and Chakotay a long overdue wedding reception.
Now, just two days later, Tom Paris-Chakotay was dead.
By the time he figured out that no-one was coming to help him, Tom was pissed off enough to overcome the thudding pain in his skull and drag himself to his feet. He swayed precariously as the room spun around him and he closed his eyes in desperation. He took several deep breaths, then risked taking a cautious peek at the room again. With a choking gasp of horror he slammed his eyes shut again, counted to ten, then extremely slowly he edged just one eyelid upwards.
Nothing changed. The door was *still* left of the Transporter console.
He *knew* that the transporter console was on his left and the door was on his right. It was just his eyes that were fucked up, so he walked to the right, confident that the door *was* there. When he instead collided with the console he panicked, slammed his hand against his comm. badge, then froze.
No comm. badge.
Fighting his nausea long enough to look down at his chest, Tom frowned in confusion at the bare spot where his comm. badge belonged. He swallowed heavily and swayed a little as lights continued to flash at the edges of his vision. It took him a little while to identify the dull gleam on the right of his uniform. He closed one eye and concentrated on focusing the other until the blurring cleared and he could see what was on the right side of his chest.
When he finally identified the object, Tom sank back to his knees and threw up.
Kathryn found Chakotay in holodec one. The Sandrine's program was running, or at least what was left of it. Every bottle, table and chair in the program was lying in crushed ruin on the bare-wood floor. The few residual holocharacters were huddled in apparent terror on the far end of the bar, Chakotay was sitting on the floor amidst the carnage and Sandrine, Tom's 'friend' was hovering a few feet away from him, wringing her hands in agitation.
"Compute, delete holocharacters," Kathryn said quietly.
They winked out of existence and Chakotay's blank eyes flickered.
"They're gone," he whispered. He turned his haunted face to Kathryn's. "They thought they were real, Kathryn, but all you had to do was say three words and they're gone."
"They're just holocharacters," Kathryn murmured.
Chakotay didn't seem to hear her.
"Do you think that's how the Spirits see *us*?" he asked bleakly. "Is that why? Are we just amusements to them that they simply discard when they're bored?"
"It was an accident, Chakotay. Just a senseless, terrible accident. I am so sorry, Chakotay."
She reached out to comfort him but he jerked to his feet and back-pedaled away, as though even her touch would burn him.
"He materialized nine times, Kathryn. Each time his pattern disintegrated more. Did you hear him? He was screaming my name, Kathryn. He thought I'd save him...I should have saved him. The night I married Tom I promised that I'd look after him... I promised."
"There was nothing you...."
"He was screaming my name!" Chakotay howled.
"I'm so sorry, Chakotay. So sorry," Kathryn said helplessly.
He sobbed for a while, hugging himself as though his heart was threatening to explode out of his chest. Then, with a visible effort, he gulped for breath, straightened himself and stared Kathryn in the face.
"Why?" he demanded. "I know *what* happened, but I want to know *why*."
His eyes were so blank that Kathryn could see herself reflected in their darkness. She grimly decided she'd string Harris up by the balls for letting Chakotay hear Tom's death, but she pushed that anger aside to concentrate on the agony of the man before her.
"You did everything you could, Chakotay. We all did. Our sensors said the flares from the nebula were just harmless gas. There was no reason to suspect the gas would harm the Flyer. As soon as it permeated the hull and Tom said it made his skin tingle, we locked onto Tom's signal immediately. We were already beaming him out when the shuttle blew up but the gas was already inside him. The automatic safety systems rejected the alien material and the transporters couldn't isolate his pattern."
"He must have been so frightened," Chakotay whispered.
"It was over in seconds, Chakotay. He probably would have been too confused to know what was happening to him," Kathryn swore, and prayed that it was true.
Okay, Tom decided, trying to ignore the sweet pungent aroma of vomit. He'd thrown up until he felt like he'd ripped the lining out of his already raw throat, but at least he could think a little clearer now. He decided his brain was simply screwed up, either from the fucked-up transportation or simply because his head hurt so much that it felt like it was exploding. It was like being drunk, maybe. Only instead of seeing double, he was seeing in reverse.
He raised his left hand and slapped the comm. badge.
"Paris to Chakotay," he called out, then winced as his own voice reverberated painfully through his throbbing skull.
There was no response.
Great. Fucking great!
Then a horrifying thought struck him. What if the alien gas had penetrated the bridge? Maybe the reason no one had met him or answered his comm. badge was because everyone else was dead.
"CHAKOTAY," he screamed and passed out again.
"How is he?" B'Elanna asked, as the Captain emerged from Sickbay.
Kathryn smiled sadly at the young woman who had been hovering in the corridor in an increasing state of agitation ever since she had heard about the emergency medical transportation.
"He's sedated. The Doctor says he'd rather keep his eye on him for tonight."
B'Elanna nodded, then her face twisted into angry confusion.
"I want to know what happened," she demanded.
Kathryn gave a helpless shrug.
"We were just talking, Lieutenant. He'd trashed Sandrine's before I got there but he'd calmed down and was just crying a little. He seemed okay, or at least as okay as he could be under the circumstances but then..."
Kathryn pursed her lips and glanced up and down the corridor to make sure they were alone.
"He stiffened and went white as a ghost. then he started shouting at me. He said he'd heard Tom scream his name."
"Harris told me," B'Elanna whispered.
"No. I don't mean during the transport. Chakotay thought he heard Tom screaming for him when we were in the holodec. He started insisting that Tom was still alive, that he'd been trapped in the transporter somehow but that he was calling for help. He got so hysterical that I had to call the doctor."
"Maybe he was right," B'Elanna growled. "Perhaps Tom IS still alive but out of phase with the rest of us. It's happened to people before. "
Kathryn shook her head sadly.
"I wish you were right, B'Elanna. It's the first thing Tuvok checked for after Tom's pattern was lost. He used a modified Anyon emitter to run a spectral analysis over the whole ship and even the surrounding space in case the Doppler compensator had failed. If Tom was here but out of phase, we'd have found him. Besides which, the transporter records confirm that Tom didn't simply disappear, his whole molecular structure changed before he dissolved. According to the transporter logs, he...well...let's just say that by the last attempt to transport him, less than 30% of his pattern was still identifiable as Tom Paris. There wasn't enough of his body remaining for him to survive in *any* phase."
"Poor Tom," B'Elanna muttered. "Do you think he..he.."
"No," Kathryn interrupted. "He didn't really suffer, B'Elanna. It was over too quickly."
"It's never going to be over for Chakotay though, is it?" B'Elanna said sadly.
"No," Kathryn admitted. "But he'll deal with it and he'll move on, because he has to. We need him, and he knows it, so he'll force himself to cope."
"HARRY!" Tom shouted, too panicked to care about the damage his volume would inflict on his still over-sensitive head.
When he'd finally woken up he'd felt a little better. Enough that he could at least walk without every step he took making him think that a pair of cymbals were crashing around his ears. He'd staggered slowly down the corridor to the turbolift. Then he'd reversed direction until he found the lift on the *other* side of the corridor. When it had failed to open at his approach he'd been irritated but he'd just assumed that whatever was affecting the ship's communications was also affecting turbolift controls and so he'd used a Jeffries tubes to reach the bridge.
Exhausted by his climb, he'd been too weak to open the hatch that opened on the bridge. He'd screamed and banged and pushed against the metal for over an hour before giving up and crawling sideways to shinny through an open air-duct instead. Landing painfully on the bridge, he had paused in confusion at the sight of everyone just calmly going about their duties. Tuvok had the helm and the Captain and Chakotay were missing, but everyone else was at their stations.
"Well, I didn't expect a brass band, but a 'welcome back' would have been nice," he'd drawled sarcastically.
No one had answered.
Actually, no one had even acknowledged his presence.
Fighting a rising panic, Tom had looked disbelievingly around the Bridge. Harry was at Ops where he belonged, but Ops was now to the right of the command chair. Tom had been so disconcerted by that fact that he'd practically tip-toed over to where a red-eyed Harry was sniffling over his console.
And Harry hadn't acknowledged him either.
"HARRY!" Tom shouted.
Nothing. And that's when he knew.
Oh shit. I'm dead. I'm fucking dead. I'm a fucking ghost.
"HARRY" Tom screamed in panic, and slapped him across the face.
"Where's Harry?" Kathryn asked, noticing his absence the moment she re-entered the bridge.
"There was a disturbing incident," Tuvok replied calmly.
"What kind of disturbing incident?" she demanded.
"Ensign Kim had to be relieved of duty."
"As you know, despite his personal grief, he elected to remain at his station until the ship was clear of the nebula," Tuvok told her. "He controlled his emotions sufficiently to perform his duties with adequacy if not efficiency."
"So, what happened?" Kathryn asked.
"His grief emerged in a fashion that was inappropriate for a bridge officer."
"In what way?"
"He became hysterical, Captain. He insisted that the ghost of Tom Paris was on the bridge."
"He described feeling a cold sensation briefly touching his cheek, and he interpreted it as being the Lieutenant's hand."
I'm fucking dead.
I'm a fucking ghost!
The thoughts crashed like waves through Tom's head as he raced through the ship in terrified panic. Several times he collided with crewmembers in the corridors and although the impacts were painful to him, his victims barely hesitated in their tracks. They simply shivered slightly as though they had been struck by a chilly breeze.
After one particularly painful encounter, when a collision with the hefty frame of Ayala had knocked Tom onto his ass, he learned to be more careful although he was unable to stop himself from rushing head-long from deck to deck in the desperate hope that someone, somewhere, would finally be able to see him.
Chakotay. I've got to find Chakotay.
The need for his husband was like a physical ache, driving all his other fears into submission. Even the fact that he was dead seemed relatively unimportant compared with his need to see Chakotay's face. Maybe that *was* what he needed. Maybe he was here just to say goodbye. As terrible as that thought was, it wasn't a fraction as terrifying as the thought that he might have died and *not* had this last chance to see his lover.
Maybe Chakotay would even be able to see *him*. Chakotay had been scrupulously careful to keep his own spiritual beliefs out of their relationship. He hadn't even insisted on a traditional wedding. Still, it had been impossible to share Chakotay's life and bed without absorbing some knowledge of Chakotay's faith simply by osmosis.
Chakotay knew he was dead of course but maybe, if Tom's understanding was correct, he'd be looking for him on the Spirit plane. Perhaps that was even why he was here. Perhaps he was unconsciously answering a summons from Chakotay. Tom didn't know how these things worked but he was pretty damned sure he should be meeting Chakotay in some peaceful, spiritual forest instead of tumbling in panic through the corridors of Voyager like an invisible bowling ball.
Then again, he'd always been a complete fuck-up in life so he decided it was hardly surprising that he was fucking-up his death too.
A thought that he became more convinced of when he finally arrived outside their quarters and spent a futile half-hour silently pounding against the door until his knuckles were torn and he finally accepted that he had no way to get inside. He began shouting at the top of his voice, screaming Chakotay's name in the wild hope that he would somehow break through Chakotay's meditative trance. When he was too hoarse to shout anymore, he sagged against the door, resting his forehead on the cold metal, and he closed his eyes as he tried to visualize Chakotay inside.
The door opened abruptly and, off-balance, he staggered forwards into the empty quarters. He had barely straightened himself when a shoulder struck him so hard that he was knocked to his knees.
"Kahless, these quarters are freezing," B'Elanna complained. rubbing her chilled shoulder absently.
"The whole ship feels cold today," Ayala answered. "I nearly froze walking down the corridor on deck eight earlier."
"Let's just grab the picture and go," B'Elanna suggested, shivering uncomfortably.
"Are you sure it's a good idea? Maybe it will just upset him."
"The Doc's shot him full of sedatives," B'Elanna replied. "But when he does wake, I'm sure he'll want the picture. It will remind him of how happy they were together."
"Yeah, like I said. It'll upset him," Ayala grumbled.
They headed for the door, still arguing, leaving Tom so frozen with misery that he barely remembered that unless he dove out of the door after them he'd be trapped inside. He leapt through the door just as it was sliding closed and raced after B'Elanna and Ayala as they headed for the lift.
He was too late. The door closed in his face, leaving him stranded as they headed for the Sickbay without him. He ran to the Jeffries tube in an attempt to catch up but the hatch was firmly sealed and he couldn't prise it open. He sighed then shrugged. What was the point anyway? Chakotay was out for the count, and he was dead. There was no rush.
He waited by the turbolift door until it eventually opened again. This time the Captain stepped out. He saw her shiver slightly as she walked blindly past him and he almost followed her, but the empty lift was too tempting. He dove inside and waited for someone to summon it. He gave a sigh of relief when the lift began to move upwards and crossed his fingers as he prayed that he might finally luck out and find himself at the sickbay.
Instead it was the beginning of a two hour nightmare.
The lift halted, the doors opened and five people crowded inside. Tom found himself crushed against the back wall and then the back of someone's head impacted against his nose and Tom's skull smashed against unyielding metal. As blood began to pour down his face, his headache came back with a vengeance and then he screamed as someone's heel ground down on top of his left foot.
Get the fuck off me, you bastard! Tom wailed.
"The environmental controls must be off line," his assailant muttered. "It's freezing in here." He shivered violently and his elbow connected with Tom's gut.
The lift stopped and the occupants started to pile out. Tom hobbled after them in panic but was too slow. He was knocked back into the lift as a drunken Ensign Harris staggered inside, a Delaney Twin hanging on each of his arms.
"Jeez, it's fucking cold in here," Megan swore, tossing her head in irritation.
Tom jumped backwards to avoid being whipped by her pony-tail.
"Tom..." Harris slurred, his red-swollen eyes seeming to stare directly into Tom's face.
Can you see me? Harris, can you see me? Tom demanded excitedly.
"I killed Tom," Harris moaned, and now Tom realized Harris was simply looking *through* him.
"Hell, it's not your fault, Johnny. Nobody's blaming you except yourself," Jenny replied. "You did the best you could and I'm sure Tom barely felt a thing."
"He was screaming," Harris sobbed. "He was in agony, Jenny."
Yeah, you tell the stupid bitch. I felt the whole fucking thing like it was happening in slow motion and it STILL fucking hurts!
Jenny wailed and began to cry.
"Oh god, poor Tom. Nobody told me he *knew* what was happening to him. Oh shit!"
Oddly enough, Jenny's tears made Tom feel even worse.
It's okay, Jen. I'm here.
He tapped her on the shoulder and she jumped backwards in shock. Tom yelped as a stiletto heel scraped against his shin.
"It IS freezing in here," Jenny sniffled. "I could swear I just felt an icy draught down my back."
"Maybe some of the gas that blew up the Flyer got on board when Johnny tried to save Tom. It might have affected the environmental controls," Megan suggested.
"Yeah, that's probably it," Jenny replied.
"I killed Tom," Harris interrupted. "I need a drink."
"You've had enough, Johnny. What you need is a good fuck, honey," Megan replied. "At least that's what I need right now."
"Amen," Jenny agreed.
The turbolift doors opened and the three stumbled out, leaving Tom alone. He stared after them as they headed for Harris's quarters and vaguely contemplated following. He was tempted to go and watch the twins attempt to cheer Harris up. Since it was *his* death that had inspired their orgy it seemed only fair that he could watch. What was the point of being a ghost if he didn't take advantage of the fact? But the doors closed again before he'd made up his mind. He shrugged. It probably wasn't a good idea to tease himself that way, he decided, although he rubbed his crotch and wondered whether a ghost could get a hard-on.
The next time that the lift stopped only Sam Wildman entered and wary of being trodden on again Tom took the opportunity to slip past her and found himself on deck seven. Feeling increasingly lonely, he meandered slowly around the ship. The corridors were marginally safer than the lifts he discovered, but not much. As his ribs grew progressively sorer, he experimented with ways of sliding cautiously around the jostling elbows of anyone he passed.
He was beginning to really hate being dead.
Sick of being bowled off his feet, Tom decided the safest thing would be to find somewhere relatively quiet to sit down and wait for Chakotay to wake up. As far as he could work out from the number of people rushing back and forth down Voyager's corridors it was the shift change from Beta to Gamma, which meant that the Mess Hall would have enough people inside to drive away his aching loneliness with their idle chatter, but not so many that he couldn't find a quiet corner to hide in.
By the time he figured out that the Mess hall was now situated on Voyager's left side and found the entrance, he was exhausted. He waited for someone to enter, snuck in after them and crept into an empty corner. He sank carefully into one of the vacant chairs, half expecting to simply sink through the seat. To his considerable relief, the chair felt as solid under his ass as the floor did under his feet. He'd been cursing the fact that he couldn't just walk through walls (and people) like ghosts were supposed to be able to do but, now he thought about it, he decided it was just as well. Otherwise he might have simply sunk through the floors of the ship and found himself floating around outside. It wouldn't be much fun haunting empty space.
Then again, he wasn't having much fun haunting Voyager either. The only thing he'd achieved so far was to send Harry into a fit of near-hysterics and everyone else he touched running for a sweater. So he simply sat there in the Mess Hall, feeling sorry for himself and wondering whether he was going to spend eternity wandering around the ship being knocked onto his ass by every passing crewman.
He was too tired and miserable to even think about it. He shuffled uncomfortably on his bruised butt and sniffed appreciatively at the smells emerging from the galley to his right.
Neelix had waited until he was dead before finally making something that smelt edible.
Or maybe since everything else was back to front in this weird reality, maybe Neelix could actually cook here.
Tom's mouth watered and his stomach growled angrily. Maybe he'd just mozy on over and grab a plate. Just because he was dead, it didn't mean he had to starve, he decided.
Do dead people feel hungry? Do they throw up? Do they get headaches? Do they bruise?
Of course they fucking don't.
I'm not dead.
I'm invisible maybe, but I'm not fucking dead!
"I'M NOT DEAD YOU BASTARDS!" Tom yelled out to the oblivious diners.
He jumped to his feet and gave the chair an experimental shove, deciding that sending it spinning across the room would be a damned good way of alerting people to his presence. His LIVE presence.
Although he felt the painful impact of his hand against the chair, it didn't even move. He grunted and used all his strength to push against it. It rocked a tiny, almost imperceptible amount, but that was all.
Fucking great. Why the hell is everything so real to me? Why can I feel people but they can't feel me? Why can I touch things but not move them? And why the hell is everything back to front?
Dead or not, Tom concluded that being invisible sucked. And he was still hungry.
Can I eat? What if I can't? What if I starve to death before I figure out a way to let people know I'm still alive?
There was only one way to find out. He cautiously approached the galley, wary of the other crew now that he realized he was vulnerable to them, even if they weren't vulnerable to him. He tried to pick up a plate but although his fingers grasped it well enough, it felt too heavy for him to lift.
Great. I'm invisible AND a fucking weakling.
He gave up, decided no one could witness his bad manners anyway, and simply reached his hand into a bowl filled with a fluffy, blue gloop that smelled a hell of a lot better than it looked. He felt the warm mass compress fractionally under his fingers but not enough to even make a visible impression.
Panicking now, he leant down over the bowl and licked his tongue across the surface of the tantalizing food. A taste vaguely reminiscing of cheesy potato exploded against his tongue and his stomach growled with excitement. He thrust his mouth against the food and tried sucking a mouthful but he couldn't create enough suction. So he lapped ravenously, savoring the taste even if he couldn't absorb the substance of the food. The sensation soothed him momentarily but still it just made him feel hungrier than ever.
Then, while he was still puzzling over what to do next, someone reached a ladle into the bowl. The resultant smack on the back of Tom's head was painful enough for him to cry out and scramble away from the galley in panic.
He hovered in the gangway, tears of despair pooling in his eyes as all around him the sound of cheerful munching and slurping made the painful knot in his stomach twist and churn in envy. Then he had to dive for safety between a couple of tables as a bunch of new arrivals ploughed into the mess hall and charged towards the galley for their dinner.
There was an abandoned tray on one of the tables where someone had rushed off to answer a hail without disposing of their meal. Feeling too desperate for pride, Tom crept over and looked down hungrily at the half-empty plate. The chair had been pushed back under the table, so he couldn't sit down, he could only bend over and lick tentatively at the cold stew. Again, although he could *taste* the food, he couldn't *eat* it. He couldn't even manage to suck the thin gravy from the side of the plate. He lapped desperately at it but, when he pulled back his head to check his progress, he discovered that he hadn't even managed to ingest the liquid.
It seemed he was dead, after all.
Because although he might survive several uncomfortable weeks without food, dehydration would kill him within 72 hours. So he only had three days to not only convince people he was still on board and alive, but also for them to figure out a way to get him back.
And his only chance, the only person who might actually have had enough faith to believe in the impossible, was currently lying in sickbay sedated to the eyeballs.
Chakotay groaned and struggled fitfully with the bedcovers. The Doctor hurried over to check his patient and gave a deep, almost-human, sigh of combined relief and concern. Although the sedatives hadn't worn off as the Doctor had feared and Chakotay was still sleeping; he certainly wasn't resting. His tossing head was sweat-sheened, his eyelids were flickering with the unmistakable signs of REM sleep, and from his knotted brow and the occasional whimpers that hissed through Chakotay's clenched teeth, it was obvious that his dreams were far from peaceful.
The Doctor hovered uncertainly, unsure whether it would be a mercy to wake Chakotay from his nightmare or a cruelty to force the grieving man to face the horror of reality. He was only a hologram, but he understood emotion; he understood grief. He had loved and lost a holographic daughter. So he knew what Chakotay was suffering.
His own initial solution to his own grief had been to re-write his matrix to remove the painful memories. That wasn't an option he could offer Chakotay, even if he thought the First Officer would agree to have his memories of Tom removed. Perhaps B'Elanna had even been right to bring the wedding picture that stood sad vigilance over Chakotay's bed.
Only. looking at it himself, seeing the way the two men were entwined so closely that their sparkling smiles seemed to blend together into just one rapturous expression, the Doctor couldn't imagine it doing anything except driving home to Chakotay the extent of his loss.
The Doctor had been one of the few guests invited to the private and very personal wedding ceremony, one of just five people who had witnessed that embrace first hand. Now, although that moment was captured for all eternity in the photo, it was no longer a picture of hope but rather of loss. And, although holograms weren't meant to be superstitious, he shivered a little as he looked at Tom in the picture.
Had Tom somehow known?
Was that why he'd worn black to his own wedding?
"TOMMY?" Chakotay yelled. He pushed against Tom's bathroom door impatiently, swearing when it refused to open..
"It's locked, doofus," Tom's voice pealed out. "You aren't supposed to see me this morning, remember? And I told you NOT to call me Tommy!"
"We're going to be late," Chakotay pointed out, nerves making him sound irritable.
"We can't be late," Tom chuckled back. "They can hardly start without us, can they?"
"That's not the point, and you know it," Chakotay snapped back.
There was a long, pointed silence from behind the bathroom door.
"Tom?" Chakotay wheedled, tapping the door more gently this time. "I'm sorry babe, I didn't mean to yell. I'm just strung up tighter than a warp core here. I spent the whole night thinking you were going to change your mind."
The door swung open abruptly and Tom was there before him, his blue eyes soft with obvious love, his mouth set into a gentle, almost sad smile.
"I love you big guy," Tom said, then his lips quirked cheekily. "Even if you are a doofus."
Chakotay gave a laugh of relief, and it struck him suddenly what a strange thing love was. It cast a filter over your vision. Offered a new color palette with which to paint the world. It changed your perception of everything. It changed Tom's irreverence to something endearing rather than irritating and. in allowing himself to drown within those blue blue eyes Chakotay felt himself reborn.
Then, like the sensation of a cloud passing over the sun, Chakotay shivered with a strange chill.
"Tommy?" he began.
"I told you not to call me that," Tom growled, but his eyes sparkled with inner amusement.
"I know we said we weren't going to be traditional," Chakotay said cautiously. "but don't you think black is a little inappropriate under the circumstances?"
Tom looked down at himself thoughtfully and ran his fingers slowly over the fine black silk on his chest. Chakotay swallowed heavily as the material tightened over Tom's nipples.
"I think it's a good look for me," Tom argued. "Don't you think I look good in it?"
"Yeah," Chakotay choked "But you'd look better *out* of it!"
Although he'd only reluctantly agreed to having a private ceremony without even a reception afterwards, he abruptly decided Tom's plan to have the shortest wedding ceremony in the universe was a damn good idea after all. A couple of "I do's" and they could back here again within twenty minutes. His fingers itched in expectation of ripping through that black silk to the treasure it concealed.
Tom just smirked as though he could read Chakotay's mind.
Tom was sitting on the floor of the corridor, his back pressed into the wall, his hands hugging his lower legs and his chin resting on his knees. He was attempting to make himself as small as possible to reduce the likely hood of being trodden on by any passing crewmember. He'd realized that people tended to walk down the middle of the passage ways, unless they were in groups, so although he felt vulnerable and shivered with fear whenever anyone approached, he had only been the recipient of two kicks in the last few hours.
Despite his fear, and the discomfort of the cold, hard floor on his ass, he was too exhausted to keep his eyes open. Not that he slept, exactly, he just dozed fitfully, always jerking awake whenever he heard footsteps approaching.
He didn't *want* to sleep. If he had, he'd have crept into a corner of the cargo bay or something. What he *wanted* was to get inside Sickbay. Only no-one had gone in or out of the room for hours. He could only suppose that the Captain had left standing orders that no-one was to disturb Chakotay and, baring some crisis, that meant no-body visiting Sickbay.
So he just sat there on the floor, trying to ignore the chilly metal against his ass and back and the low insistent growling of his empty stomach, and he occasionally prayed that someone would injure themselves.
He knew it was an uncharitable thought and was vaguely ashamed of himself but, on the other hand, since he was literally fighting for his life here, it didn't seem too mean to wish a few cuts and bruises on someone else.
Come to think of it, maybe he could create his *own* crisis to speed things along. Maybe he ought to go find Harry since he seemed to be the person most sensitive to his presence.
"I know you're grieving, Harry," Kathryn said sympathetically, as she turned from the replicator with a fresh cup of coffee. "Tom was your best friend. It's only natural that you are very upset, but you must see that what happened on the Bridge was simply in your imagination."
"No," Harry replied firmly. "It was Tom. I can't explain *why* I know it was really him, but it was. I heard this really faint voice calling my name, and then he touched me, Captain."
You tell her, Harry, Tom grinned smugly from his perch on the side of the ready room table. He had barely arrived at Harry's quarters before the door had opened and Harry had hurried out towards the turbolift. Tom had followed him, keeping as close to the Ensign as he could without suffering physical damage, and they had ended up here, visiting the Captain herself.
Kathryn seated herself, put down the cup and gave Harry a sad look.
"The gas flare from the nebula caused an anti-matter explosion in the shuttle, Harry. That same gas was inside Tom when we tried to transport him. Tom's pattern was filled with baryon particles. Even if we'd managed to stabilize his signal, the moment he solidified he would have...well...he would have..." She paused, uncertain how to put it nicely.
"He would have imploded," Harry finished, with surprising bluntness.
Kathryn swallowed heavily and nodded.
"So that's why we know, beyond any doubt, that he's really dead, Harry."
"I *know* he's dead," Harry snapped, then blushed at the rudeness of his tone.
"Then he couldn't have been on the bridge, could he?" Kathryn pointed out gently.
"I never said he was," Harry replied quietly. "I said his ghost was on the bridge."
"There's no such thing as ghosts, Harry," Kathryn said, with a tired sigh.
Harry's face stiffened.
"With respect Captain, the belief in ghosts is part of my culture. I know you don't share that belief, but that doesn't mean that I am wrong. Whether you chose to believe in ghosts or not, I *know* Tom is still on Voyager and he needs my help."
"Exactly what form of help?" Kathryn asked, regarding Harry cautiously.
Damn, she thought. You always had to watch the quiet ones. She'd always considered Harry to be one hundred percent straight-laced and reliable. Now it seemed that the quiet ensign wasn't as stable as he'd always appeared.
"The only reason Tom's ghost would be trapped here is if he needed something before he moved on. I expect it's just closure with Chakotay but since you've had him sedated, Tom couldn't resolve whatever it is that is keeping him here. So he came to me. When Chakotay wakes up, I'll be able to tell him Tom is here. Chakotay will know what he needs to do. He believes in ghosts too."
Yeah! Go Harry! Tom cheered. His friend's belief in ghosts was a bit fucked-up, but at least he *knew* Tom was really here. Surely he'd be able to convince Chakotay to at least start looking for him.
"I'm really sorry, Harry, but I forbid you to talk to Chakotay about this. The poor man is already grief-stricken. You running to him and telling wild ghost tales is likely to drive him over the edge, and so for his sake, and that of the whole crew, I'm making this an order, Mr. Kim."
BITCH! Tom screamed, jumping up and down furiously.
"I can't tell you what to think, and I am not trying to interfere with your cultural beliefs, but I cannot, and will not, allow you to infect other members of the crew with your theory. I've already received numerous reports of people claiming to have felt cold spots all over the ship. There's already an unhealthy rumor that Tom is haunting the ship and I refuse to allow you to feed it."
She saw Harry opening his mouth to argue, sighed and grabbed her coffee, deciding she needed more caffeine-assistance to cope with Harry's hysteria. She raised the steaming cup to her mouth, inhaled the coffee aroma with pleasure and then she dropped the cup with a yelp.
No sooner had she registered the feeling of freezing numbness that had caused her fingers to lose their grip on the cup handle, than she screamed in true agony as her lap and thighs were scalded with near-boiling coffee.
As Harry called for an emergency medical transport, Tom jumped into the Captain's lap and threw his arms around her neck. Her cries of pain were choked off abruptly as a feeling of intense cold soothed her burns. Tom clung on tight and prayed as the transporter beam caught the Captain and Harry. He didn't know whether he'd be transported with them or left hugging the chair, so he closed his eyes and simply prayed.
"Please state the nature of...oh it's you Captain. What happened?"
Hearing the Doctor's voice, Tom snapped his eyes open in disbelief, gave a holler of excitement and, leaping off the Captain's lap, he raced toward Chakotay.
As soon as the numbing coldness left her, Kathryn was assaulted again by the fierce agony of her burned thighs. She gave a gasp of pain, then passed out.
Wake up, Chakotay. It's me. It's Tommy. I'm here. Please Chakotay. Please wake up. Please see me, Tom chanted in a ceaseless mantra, almost oblivious to the small drama happening behind him as the Doctor attempted to remove the Captain's pants without taking half her scalded skin away with the material it was fused to.
He felt vaguely guilty, of course, but he knew she'd barely felt the pain because of his immediate jumping into her lap and, besides, the doctor could just swipe a regenerator over her burns. All in all, she was in a far better position than he was. Even if he somehow managed to survive this whole experience, he'd probably end up in the brig for attacking a superior officer.
Shit, Chakotay. You've gotta wake up.
He stroked desperately at Chakotay's forehead, tracing the pattern of the tattoo that now graced Chakotay's right temple, but although the older man flinched from Tom's icy touch, he just moaned and continued to sleep.
CHAKOTAY! Tom wailed, tears of frustration rolling down his cheeks. He leant down and pressed his lips against Chakotay's mouth. He tried to press his tongue between the slightly parted lips but they wouldn't allow him in, so he just sucked desperately, drinking in the taste of his beloved, his tears dripping down onto Chakotay's face.
He didn't hear Harry run over, he only felt the violent shove that knocked him off the bio-bed to land heavily on the floor.
"Doc," Harry yelled. "Come here. There's something wrong."
The Doctor raced over and Tom scrambled backwards hurriedly, unsure whether a collision with a hologram would hurt but unwilling to find out.
"His lips are blue," Harry explained, frantically.
The Doctor impatiently thrust Harry out of the way and ran a tricorder over the sleeping man. He looked at the results and looked puzzled.
"It's not oxygen deprivation, it's just a reaction to cold," he told Harry. "Which is peculiar since the ambient temperature in here is more than adequate for a human and the rest of his body is normal."
Harry blinked. He'd been in too much of a panic to register it at the time, but now his heart had slowed down a little, he remembered hitting an invisible wall of intense cold as he had approached Chakotay's biobed.
"Tom?" he questioned warily, looking around the room with an expression of combined fear and hope. "Are you here?"
"What ARE you talking about, Ensign Kim?" the Doctor snapped impatiently.
Harry glanced worriedly over to the Captain. He saw that she was still unconscious but he still lowered his voice cautiously before replying.
"Tom's here," he said with confidence. "That's why the Commander's lips are cold. Tom kissed him."
Oh shit, Harry. I LOVE YOU, Tom yelled, surging to his feet and hugging himself gleefully.
"Tom's here?" the Doctor asked, his face a mask of polite interest.
"Tom's ghost, I mean," Harry clarified. "You've got to wake the Commander up."
"Yes," the Doctor replied calmly. "If Tom is here to see him. I'd better wake the Commander up."
Harry grinned in relief as the Doctor reached for a hypospray.
"Tom won't be at peace until he's said goodbye," he chattered happily, relieved that at least the Doctor was taking him seriously. "It's okay Tom," he called out to the room. "We're going to wake him up for you."
Which was when the doctor pressed the hypospray to the back of Harry's neck.
FUCKER! Tom screamed at the hologram. He raced forward and aimed a punch at the back of the Doctor's head. His arm passed right through the holographic image and smacked into Harry's face. Fortunately, the only damage Tom did was to his own knuckles.
That's interesting though, he told himself, as he watched the Doctor haul the now unconscious Harry over to a spare bio-bed. I can see the Doc, but he's no more real here than I am.
Tom narrowed his eyes in thought. The Doctor was a collection of photons, just a trick of light really, and although he was visible to Tom, he had no real presence. Tom had flunked most of his science classes as the academy, only staying enrolled (until his ignominious dismissal) by virtue of his high scores in computer programming and flying. So although he had a niggling suspicion lurking in his subconscious, he couldn't quite get his head around the problem. But it had something to do with the properties of light, he was sure of that, even if he didn't know what those properties were.
No-one, including the Doc, could see him but he could see them. So they fit within the spectrum of his vision but he didn't fit within theirs. So, in a way, he was like a hologram here himself, only he was a *different* kind of hologram. He looked at Chakotay again, narrowing his eyes at the tattoo.
If he worked on the assumption that everything on Voyager was normal, then rather than everything (like Chakotay's tattoo) being reversed, it was he himself who was reversed, and maybe that meant his 'light' was reversed too. So instead of being visible light like the Doctor, he was *invisible* light.
Tom had no idea what it meant if he was right, but somehow it still made him feel better. He had a hypothesis to work with, which meant he maybe had a chance to solve his own problem.
Which was just as well.
Seeing the way the Doctor had responded to Harry, Tom was suddenly sure that it would be a seriously bad idea to be here when Chakotay woke up. If Chakotay *could* see him, Tom had better make damned certain that he approached his husband when they were alone.
"Tommy!" Chakotay screamed.
"I told you....umnnn....not...uhh...to call...argh...me that...ohhhhhh," Tom gasped, as he ground his hips and gave a few last quivering jerks as Chakotay's contractions viciously squeezed the last drops out of his cock. He collapsed on top of the older man, his face burrowing into the strong, hairless chest, his lips laving hungrily at Chakotay's nipples.
"Don't move," Chakotay whispered. "Stay there."
Tom just grunted his agreement since he was too exhausted to move anyway, and Chakotay lay there in contentment. He knew Tom's softening cock would eventually slip out from between his thighs, but in the meantime he wanted to savor this joining for as long as possible. His ass tingled as an army of would-be Parises surged around in a hopeless quest for immortality. He felt slightly sorry that the marriage had effectively rendered Tom's sperm redundant. The universe would probably be better for the presence of more Toms.
Maybe if they ever got home, Chakotay would bring up the subject of children. In the Alpha Quadrant they'd just have to visit a clinic, donate some DNA and return nine months later to pick up the baby. Then again, he didn't see either Tom or himself as the type to change nappies.
"Maybe we could collect it when it's a toddler," he murmured aloud.
"What?" Tom mumbled sleepily, before returning to suck placidly on Chakotay's right tit.
"Nothing," Chakotay replied with a shudder, remembering that toddlers turned into teenagers. Maybe they should collect the kid when he or she was past puberty.
Then, as Tom continued to suckle hungrily, Chakotay wondered why he was even thinking about children at all. Just because he'd always equated family with kids, was no reason he had to follow that path. The truth was that Tom was all the family he ever needed. Tom was all the *anything* he ever needed and no amount of children would replace the gaping hole that Tom's absence in his life would create.
He shuddered a little and hugged Tom tightly, abruptly aware of how fragile and mortal the man in his arms was.
"I love you Tommy," he whispered fearfully. "Don't ever leave me."
"I ain't going nowhere, big guy," Tom promised.
Chakotay snapped awake with a howl of "TOMMY!"
He jerked upwards in the bio-bed, looking around the room with blind, helpless panic.
The Doctor rushed over, hypospray in hand.
"Commander?" he asked cautiously.
Chakotay just looked blankly at him, silent tears streaming down his cheeks, but before the Doctor could make the decision to sedate him again, Chakotay caught sight of the wedding picture.
"He lied," he whispered.
"He said he wouldn't leave me," Chakotay explained quietly, "but he lied."
"I want to go back to our quarters," Chakotay said with quiet dignity. "I have preparations to make."
"For the memorial service," Chakotay explained. "There are certain rituals that I need to perform. I need to meditate and I have to do that in private."
"Of course," the Doctor agreed. He understood that humans used rituals as part of their grieving process and since the Commander seemed in control of himself, he could think of no medical reason to keep him in sickbay.
Tom crouched under a vacant table, out of the way of passing feet, until the Mess Hall emptied. Only when even Neelix had left did he find the courage to scurry out and approach the galley. He was so thirsty that his voice was now little more than a croak, not that anyone could hear it anyway, but his main problem was that his lips were beginning to crack and scab. He'd spent the last hour practically drooling at the thought of pressing his mouth against the side of the cold food compartment. Neelix hadn't defrosted it yet this week and there was a thin layer of ice crystals along the edges of that section of the galley.
He approached the galley with trepidation. He'd run the idea through his head a thousand times over the last hour and he still didn't know whether there was any scientific basis for his theory. It was just that he'd been thinking about his inability to drink the gravy. Perhaps it had been as much to do with temperature as anything else. He understood why food would be a problem. He seemed to have a far lighter density than the rest of the ship. Even if he managed to swallow something it would probably sit like a lead balloon in his stomach. Which would be interesting if people could see the morsel of food floating around. He surely should be able to ingest a little liquid though. Perhaps he'd simply congealed the gravy by touching it. It was possible that a more simplistic liquid would be easier to ingest.
He knew he was taking a risk with the ice. Considering the fact that his touch was icy to everyone on the ship, there was the distinct possibility that he'd touch the ice and turn it even colder. Which would leave him adhered by the lips to the side of the compartment. But maybe, just maybe, he would have the reverse affect on the ice. Perhaps in this fucked up reality, his touch would melt the ice and maybe, in the act of changing it into water, he'd also somehow transform it into a substance that he could absorb. He knew it was a pretty fucked-up and desperate theory, but it was the best he could come up with.
He touched the ice tentatively with the tip of his finger, deciding it would be less painful to rip the skin off his hand than off his lips. For a moment nothing happened, and then instead of the biting sensation of cold, he felt a tiny drop of moisture on his finger. He lifted the finger to his mouth and licked. It was impossible to tell whether it had worked or not, since his finger remained damp. Deciding what the hell, he stuck his face into the compartment and thrust his face against the ice crystals.
Oh GOD, Tom groaned in ecstasy as he rubbed his chapped lips over the ice. He didn't know whether he was managing to drink any of the melting liquid, but it sure as hell felt fucking wonderful against his mouth.
There was nothing except a blackness so intense that it was less a color than simply a complete and absolute absence of light.
Chakotay's eyes struggled bravely to adjust, but this was not gloom, it was *nothingness* and there was nothing to adjust to. There was no spirit guide here to guide his way, no path to follow, no understanding to be reached.
Just the frigid blackness of complete vacuum. It drained the strength from his legs and the courage from his spirit until all that was left, in that terrible, lonely place, was the slow pounding of his own broken heart.
"What the hell is going on this ship?" Kathryn growled, slamming herself into her chair then wincing as the newly regenerated skin on her thighs punished her with a resentful twinge. She glared at Tuvok angrily as though he was personally responsible for the chaos of the last few hours.
Since, as Security Chief, Tuvok *did* feel slightly responsible, he took her unfair attitude in his stride.
"I believe it is a collective case of mass-hysteria, Captain. Tom's death has affected the whole crew very deeply it seems and they are responding in a most illogical manner."
"To put it mildly," Kathryn huffed. "Have you isolated the problem with the environmental controls yet?"
"There is no problem," Tuvok replied. "We have run a level three diagnostic over the whole infrastructure of the system and the ambient temperature is remaining constant all over the ship. The incidents people are reporting must therefore be psychological in nature."
"Bullshit," Kathryn snapped.
Tuvok raised one eyebrow in a gesture presumably meant to convey both surprise and disapproval. The Captain decided she didn't give a damn.
"I experienced the phenomena myself, Tuvok, and I am most certainly NOT hysterical."
Tuvok gave her a slightly doubtful glance, but merely nodded.
"I will run a more thorough diagnostic," he offered.
Tom finally tired of racing around the ship like a capricious spirit, frightening the bejesus out of everyone he passed.
He'd discovered that if he stood far back enough from people before punching them in the face he was less likely to be struck by them as they flailed in panic. It took a full-fist blow to affect them enough to nearly jump out of their skin, and his fist was beginning to swell to the size of a basket-ball, but the 'rumor' of his haunting was becoming the only conversational topic on the ship.
Harry might be doped up in sickbay, and therefore unable to tell Chakotay he was here, but Tom was making damned certain that the rumor reached Chakotay anyway.
It had begun as an act of desperation, then he had started to enjoy himself, but now all he wanted to do was return to Chakotay. He had overheard that Chakotay was back in their quarters, so all he needed now was a way to get inside and it seemed he had just lucked out. He'd emerged into engineering just in time to hear B'Elanna say she was on her way to check Chakotay was alright since he wasn't answering her hails.
He followed her into the turbolift and kept well back, worried that if she 'felt' him she might return to engineering to check on this new evidence of a 'cold pocket' in the lift. Then he shuffled impatiently from foot to foot as she wasted several minutes requesting that Chakotay let her in.
Just override the fucking door panel, Tom groaned.
And, although she didn't hear him, she did exactly that.
Tom punched the air in relieved celebration and began to follow her gleefully into his Quarters, only to collide painfully with her back when she abruptly halted.
"Chakotay?" she whispered.
Rubbing his swollen nose in annoyance, Tom skipped around her then froze too. Chakotay was sitting cross-legged in the middle of their living room. He was stark naked and swaying over his medicine bundle. His eyes were open, but they were blank in a face that was frozen in an expression of bleak hopelessness, and he was making small mewling noises of obvious distress.
B'Elanna opened her mouth to call for medical assistance, then abruptly changed her mind. This wasn't a medical crisis, she realized, it was a spiritual one and waking Chakotay abruptly could have tragic consequences. She raced for the bathroom, grabbed both Tom and Chakotay's robes and then draped them around Chakotay's rigid frame, praying that the warmth would somehow help to comfort him. Then she sank to the floor, crossed her own legs, took Chakotay's frozen fingers in her own and closed her eyes, willing herself to remember all he had taught her about spirit walks.
Tom, in the meantime, paced around the room in complete panic. It looked to him as though Chakotay had gone looking for him, and from the expression on his face, whatever he'd found was as much a nightmare as Tom's new reality.
He saw the way B'Elanna tried to help and his heart warmed. At least Chakotay had some *real* friends, people Tom could depend on to help the big guy get over him if he died. There was a certain amount of comfort in that thought, at least.
But not *that* much comfort.
Come on, Chak. Snap out of it. I need you! he shouted suddenly, smacking his palm against the side of Chakotay's face.
Or at least that's what he tried to do. Instead, his hand simply sank *into* Chakotay's face and stayed there. Tom panicked and tried to pull his hand out, but it wouldn't move. He wriggled his wrist and pushed forward until his whole arm disappeared. It wasn't like when he passed *through* the Doctor, this time he was actually being absorbed *into* Chakotay's body.
Closing his eyes, Tom made a leap of faith, and let his whole body fall against Chakotay's.
There, finally, in the midst of the darkness, Chakotay saw a tiny pinprick of light. Barely trusting his eyes, Chakotay staggered to his feet and began to stumble awkwardly forward towards the light that flickered like a candle blowing in a faint breeze.
TOMMY? he yelled.
All around him, the darkness constricted, then seemed to ripple and he was thrust forward at a sickening speed until he crashed heavily to his knees in front of the glowing form of his husband.
"Chakotay?" Tom asked cautiously. The tunnel was so bright around him that it blinded his eyes and he could barely see the figure crouching within the strange orb of dark light.
Tommy? Chakotay sobbed.
Tears of relief began to stream down Tom's face.
"I told you not to call me that," he sniffled. He tried to reach out to touch Chakotay but the dark light repelled him.
I miss you so much, Tommy Chakotay sobbed. But it won't be for long. Now I know you're here. Now I know you're waiting for me, I'll come to you. I swear Tommy. You won't be alone for much longer.
Tom's face blanched with horror as he understood Chakotay's meaning.
"No, Chak. You don't understand. I'm not dead. This isn't the spirit plane. Or maybe it is, I don't know, but I'm not dead. I'm still on Voyager. I'm just invisible. Well I'm more than invisible. I'm all fucked up. But I'm not dead."
You're alive. YOU'RE ALIVE!
Chakotay surged to his feet and dove for Tom. He wrapped his arms around him in an enveloping hug, too excited to see the way that Tom winced in pain as the dark light surrounded him. Chakotay drove his mouth against Tom's and pressed his tongue hungrily between Tom's lips.
Only to abruptly release him and stagger back, rubbing his mouth frantically against the sickly-sweet taste of Tom's flesh. His nose and mouth were filled with a smell and taste so foully repellant that he stumbled back in panic when Tom tried to follow his retreat.
Tom smelt and tasted of diseased rotting flesh
"Chakotay?" Tom wailed, heart-broken as Chakotay staggered away from him with wide repulsed eyes.
You're not Tom, Chakotay sobbed. You're an evil spirit mocking my grief
Then, before Tom could deny it, Chakotay simply disappeared. Then the tunnel of light disappeared too, and Tom found himself back in his quarters where Chakotay was busy throwing up on the carpet.
"What if it really was Tom?" B'Elanna asked, although she was only playing devil's advocate.
"How could it be?" Chakotay replied sadly. "He repulsed me, B'Elanna, and how could I ever feel that way about Tom? Everything about him was *wrong* somehow. It wasn't just his taste and smell, he didn't even... well somehow, he didn't even *look* like Tom."
"Well if he didn't look like him, why did you think he *was* Tom?" B'Elanna asked reasonably.
Yeah, you tell him B'El Tom sniffed from the corner of the room, hugging himself in misery and shooting decidedly unfriendly looks at his so-called soul-mate. I repulsed him? Fucking bastard. If I ever get rescued I'm gonna kick him in his fucking balls for saying that!
Chakotay frowned in confusion.
"He did look like Tom but he didn't."
B'Elanna gave an exasperated sigh of confusion that was echoed far less sympathetically by Tom.
"I can't quite put my finger on it, but he was *wrong* somehow." Chakotay stared thoughtfully at a picture of Tom on the wall, then snapped his fingers excitedly. "That's it. He didn't look like Tom. He looked like a picture of Tom, or more like a reflection, a mirror image maybe. His hair was wrong."
"It was parted on the wrong side!" Chakotay said triumphantly.
"But if he was an evil spirit, why would he have been trying to convince you NOT to kill yourself?"
Chakotay looked at B'Elanna in sudden terror.
"It's okay, Chakotay," she murmured, rubbing his fingers sympathetically. "I know you want to be with him, and I understand. What doesn't make sense though, is why this mirror Tom would have told you he was alive. Surely it would have made more sense for an evil spirit to confirm Tom was dead."
"What if he IS alive?" Chakotay asked, then surged to his feet in excitement.
"What if it WAS Tom?"
"You've lost me," B'Elanna said, completely bemused by Chakotay's about turn.
"I saw him in reverse, didn't I?"
"So you say," B'Elanna agreed cautiously.
"So maybe I sensed him in reverse too."
"Now you've definitely lost me."
"Look B'El. I adore Tom. I adore everything about him. The way he looks, the way he smells, the way he tastes. But if Tom was reversed, then maybe his scent would repel me."
"I need to talk to the Doctor and the Captain. I'm not good at science, but I've got a vague idea of what's happened to Tom. I think Tom IS alive, B'Elanna and with a little help I can maybe prove it."
Hallefuckinglulyah! Tom sighed, deciding he'd maybe hold back on the kick to Chakotay's balls after all.
"So what did he smell like?" the Doctor asked.
"Doctor," Kathryn interrupted, concerned that the EMH seemed to be feeding Chakotay's delusion.
"It's important," the hologram snapped impatiently.
"Wrong," Chakotay replied slowly.
Kathryn sighed impatiently but the Doctor ignored her.
"Explain," he demanded excitedly.
"I smelt something," Chakotay explained, "but it wasn't Tom, I can't explain what it was. Except that somehow it was the complete opposite of Tom. Almost a sickly sweetness like…like decay perhaps. It was repugnant."
"So in this so-called delusion, Tom's taste and smell was repulsive?"
"Yes," Chakotay admitted with a guilty sob. "But he *was* there. I saw him. I know it was him. Maybe my senses were just playing tricks on me."
"As it seems were your eyes," Tuvok murmured dismissively.
"IT WAS TOM!" Chakotay roared.
"Yes," the Doctor replied. "Perhaps it was."
Everyone, including Chakotay, turned to look at him in astonishment.
"I've got a theory," the EMH explained slowly. "I need to check on some things, run a few experiments. I need Seven's assistance I think because I'm not sure how the helicity of the nebula could have done it, but it makes some form of sense."
"Chirality," the Doctor replied. "If I'm right then it is possible that Tom Paris is still alive, in some fashion at least."
"What's chirality," Chakotay demanded.
To his surprise, it was the Captain who answered him.
"In simple terms, chirality is "handedness"; the existence of left/right opposition. Look at your right hand, Chakotay. It's asymmetric. Its mirror image is your left hand. If you tried to superimpose your two hands you couldn't do it. Something is chiral when it is not superposable to its mirror image."
It was the sudden excitement in her voice that broke through to him. He looked at her in wonder. Her previous expression of sorrowful skepticism had been abruptly replaced by a frowning look of intense concentration.
"Tuvok," she snapped, turning to the Vulcan . "I want you to double check the spectral analysis you ran on the ship directly after Tom's disappearance. Look for unusual wavebands of circularly polarized ultraviolet light."
"To what end?" Tuvok queried impassively.
"We're looking for evidence of a circularly polarized violation that could have caused asymmetry between matter and anti-matter."
"I understand the theory Captain. With circularly polarized light, the electric field direction rotates along the beam, so it is a chiral phenomenon. "
"Exactly," the Doctor beamed.
"However it is highly improbable. Circularly polarized light is absorbed differently by left and right enantiomers. It would be unlikely to produce the necessary 100 % homochirality required for life."
"But it's possible," Kathryn argued.
Tuvok nodded reluctantly. "Highly improbable but, you are correct, that it is possible."
Chakotay surged to his feet, his eyes flashing dangerously.
"What the hell are you all talking about?" he demanded furiously. "IS Tom alive?"
"We don't know," Kathryn replied, "but it IS possible. You understand the Big Bang theory?"
Chakotay nodded cautiously.
"Well, it's a little complicated, but basically the Big Bang almost produced an equal amount of matter and antimatter, but not quite: for every 10 billion anti-baryons, 10 billion and one baryons were produced. One theory is that it was a violation of circularly polarized light that caused the asymmetry between matter and anti-matter in the Universe."
"What does this have to do with Tom?"
"Chirality," the Doctor interrupted. "You said that when you saw Tom he had somehow been reversed. You said that his taste and smell repelled you, rather than attracting you. Those are also reversed reactions, but more than that they are chiral reactions. The chiral opposite of sweet is sour and it can occur in a single molecule. So the right-hand of the molecule is the opposite of the left-hand."
"The transporter records confirm that Tom was altered at a molecular level," Tuvok added, his posture relaxing slightly as his resistance to the possibility began to transform into guarded interest.
"Most life molecules turn the polarity plane to the left. but amino-acids, which are supposed to be at the origin of life, are of right chirality," the Doctor continued.
"But what has this got to do with what happened to Tom?" Chakotay demanded.
"Well that depends on the helicity of the flares from the nebula, which is something Seven can check for us. In theory, a zero mass neutrino can only have a left helicity. It is very peculiar to the weak interaction, which produces only left helicity neutrinos. A neutrino could be of left or right chirality. But a zero mass neutrino having a left helicity would be always of left chirality... "
"Except that a wrong-handed amino acid disrupts the stabilizing a-helix in proteins. DNA could not be stabilized in a helix if even a single wrong-handed monomer were present, so it could not form long chains. This means it could not store much information, so it could not support life." Tuvok argued.
"The proteins that make up muscles, the glycogen in liver and blood, the enzymes and hormones, are all optically active and we can only speculate as to the origin of the optically active enzymes" the Doctor snapped.
Seeing Chakotay about to explode with frustration, Kathryn took pity on him.
"Put it this way, Chakotay. We don't know the true origin of life, but if we accept the big bang theory then we are saying that the Universe we see was created by a violation of circularly polarized light. Now since that universe is based on the principle of symmetry, chirality suggests that there is also a mirror universe that co-exists with this one. Only, in that universe everything would be reversed. What we're speculating about is that if the flares from the nebula were generating zero mass neutrinos of a right helicity, then they couldn't exist in our universe. They would enter the mirror universe instead.
"When the gas entered the shuttle it caused an antimatter explosion. That suggests that the balance of baryons was contrary to normal matter in our universe. But for some reason, as we attempted to transport Tom, his body's chemical balance altered so that only the left-hand of his molecules remained. His density, temperature, even the way he smells would have been changed. That way, he would have been able to survive the gas, but he should have rematerialized into the mirror universe and the Tom in that universe should have rematerialized here. By which we mean an asymmetrical mirror image. It would have been confusing for Tom because as far as he was concerned, everything would be back to front."
"Only he didn't, because NEITHER Tom rematerialized here," Chakotay argued.
"Perhaps he did in a way. Tom gained the properties of the mirror universe, but rematerialized on the wrong ship. He came back here, instead of going there and vice versa I assume." Kathryn answered. "Which leaves us with two options, as I see it. We return to the nebula, isolate Tom's pattern now we know what to look for and either try to convince this Tom to allow us try transporting him to the other universe, or simply attempt to reverse the chirality effect."
"What if they don't do the same in the other universe? What if our Tom ends up there and we don't get their Tom in return?" Chakotay asked.
"Then at least ONE of the Toms survives. Think about it, Chakotay. What is he eating or drinking here? His body is incapable of surviving in the wrong universe. Maybe that explains the increased reports of 'hauntings'. He's been getting increasingly desperate. He knows he's dying."
"Tom?" Chakotay asked cautiously, as he entered their quarters and looked around the empty room with an expression of combined hope and embarrassment.
Tuvok and the Captain just shuffled a little awkwardly in the doorway. It had been one thing to discuss the theoretical possibility that Tom was alive but invisible; another entirely to walk through the ship calling his name out to thin air.
Not expecting an actual verbal reply, Chakotay braced himself for the icy touch that the other crew had described in their hysterical reports of 'hauntings'.
"I thought he'd be here," Chakotay said plaintively, as Tuvok's brow rose in a gesture of returning skepticism and the Captain began to wonder why the hell she had ordered a course change based on nothing more than a wild hypothesis. Tuvok's earlier mention of mass-hysteria was beginning to chime an uncomfortable note in the back of her head.
It had been two hours since Seven had confirmed the helicity of the Nebula was consistent with their theory. It had been almost three hours since anyone had reported feeling 'Tom". They had adapted the ship's sensors to detect the presence of any anomalous residues that might suggest the presence of a baryon discrepancy, but the only abnormal readings found so far were in the galley. Which, as several uncharitable crew members had pointed out, was hardly surprising given Neelix's spirit of culinary adventure.
"He's obviously not here," Kathryn said, patting Chakotay's shoulder comfortingly although her tone clearly suggested that she was beginning to doubt he was anywhere on board after all.
"He could be hurt," Chakotay argued. "You said yourself that he's unable to eat or drink. He might simply be too weak to show us that he's here," he added a little dubiously. It was hard to keep the unwavering conviction of Tom's survival in the face of the empty quarters they had shared.
He saw their wedding picture and choked back a sob of distress. What if grief had simply made him clutch at straws? Had the conscious decision to take his own life caused his subconscious to respond with a fantasy of false hope?
Of course I'm fucking here, you Doofus! Tom snarled sulkily from his perch on the arm of the couch. Where the fuck else would I be considering the way you slammed the fucking door shut in my face?
It was an exaggeration, of course. The door to their quarters *couldn't* be slammed, but Tom had spent the last few hours in a growing state of agitation. His whole body ached from the numerous inadvertent kicks and blows of the other crew, his stomach had been empty for so long that he was sure his already lean body had begun to gnaw at his own internal organs just to gain the energy to stay awake and his mouth and throat were so dry and sore that he felt as though they had been blow-torched.
His initial relief at Chakotay's decision to pursue the possibility of his existence had begun to fade the moment the door of the quarters had whooshed shut behind Chakotay and B'Elanna's backs, leaving him trapped inside. He'd tried to get out of the door in time, but he was feeling so damned weak that moving at all was becoming an effort. Moving quickly was just about impossible.
If Tom had allowed himself to stop and really think about the reasons for his physical lethargy, he might have just curled up in a corner and screamed himself sick. Instead, he'd concentrated on feeling pissed. Although at some level he knew he was being unfair, his anger was the only thing keeping him sane and he was reluctant to let it go. As long as he was pissed, he wasn't crying and quite apart from the fear that if he started to cry he might never stop, Tom was too dehydrated to risk wasting any valuable water on something as useless as invisible tears.
So, instead of attempting to make his presence felt, he just glowered from the edge of the couch and tried to ignore the obvious grief on Chakotay's face.
"You are positive that this is the place of his last known supposed manifestation?" Tuvok asked imperiously.
"There was nothing 'supposed' about it," Chakotay snapped back, with more assurance than he felt. Although he was beginning to doubt his own senses, he had no intention of allowing either Tuvok or Kathryn to see that doubt. "Tom somehow managed to penetrate my spirit walk. Perhaps doing so drained whatever energy he had left. He hasn't been felt anywhere else on board since then, so he must still be here."
"If you are correct," Tuvok replied doubtfully, "since he does not show up on our scans, is invisible to the naked eye and has no tangible presence other than an ability to affect the temperature of someone who touches him, how do you suggest we locate him?"
Chakotay opened his mouth to reply. Tom decided to save him the bother. He rose from the couch, staggered awkwardly for a moment as the change of altitude made him a little light-headed, then regained his equilibrium, walked over to Tuvok and kneed him savagely in the balls.
Tuvok's body went rigid. His face remained expressionless but a small exclamation of shock escaped his lips.
"Tuvok?" Kathryn asked worriedly.
For a long moment the Vulcan was silent. Then, when he did reply, it was in a voice almost painfully precise.
"I appear to have experienced the manifestation for myself," he said stiffly.
"Tom touched you?" Chakotay demanded.
"I felt a sensation of extreme cold," Tuvok agreed, narrowing his eyes as he glared accusingly around the empty room. He would have added that it didn't necessarily prove that Tom was the cause of the cold, except that he couldn't imagine anyone other than Lieutenant Paris touching him in such an embarrassing fashion. To his considerable relief, neither the Captain or the First Officer thought to ask which part of his anatomy had felt the cold touch, and Tuvok decided there was no logical reason to bring the subject up himself.
"Tom?" Kathryn called out experimentally.
Since he was still feeling guilty about the coffee incident, Tom restricted his response to a slap across her cheek. She gasped, her eyes widening as she felt the feather-light sensation of intense cold caress her face.
"Thank god," she murmured. She smiled with relief and although she still felt a little ridiculous addressing someone who was invisible, she forced a note of confidence into her voice. "We know what's happened to you Tom, and we're going to help you. We're heading back to the nebula so that we can reproduce the circumstances that affected your transportation. We know you may be hurt or in pain, but just hold on, Tom. By this time tomorrow we should have found a way to bring you home again."
Just like that? Tom asked. It's that easy?
Then, he saw a shadow flicker in the Captain's eyes and turned in time to see a similar expression of sorrow lurking beneath Chakotay's tentative smile.
So, it's NOT that easy, huh? Tom whispered. Still, he was too excited by their acceptance that he was alive to give more than a fleeting thought as to whether he would stay that way.
Chakotay's immediate response was confused jealousy that Tom had touched Tuvok rather than himself. Then he gave himself a mental kick. Somehow Tom had managed to convince even Tuvok that he was alive and that was little short of a miracle in Chakotay's opinion.
"Tommy?" he asked, opening his arms expectantly.
I told you not to call me that, Tom replied, but he was laughing as he bowled into Chakotay's embrace, wrapping his arms around the older man, thrusting himself full length against the solid body and covering his face with kisses.
Chakotay willed himself to stand still as a knifing cold invaded his torso and face. His body shivered violently as the icy assault continued, but he was deaf to its protests.
Tom was alive. Tom WAS alive, his heart sang and in the blazing flame of that relief, the discomfort of his body faded into irrelevance.
"If the sensors can't pick him up, we can't transport him," Harris pointed out dejectedly.
"I don't want to hear why we *can't* do it, Ensign. I want to hear how we *can*," Kathryn replied firmly. She turned to the rest of the gathered staff and addressed them all as she continued. "We know Tom is here and that time is running out for him. We've managed to communicate with him slightly by using a one touch for yes, two touches for no method, but we don't know all the right questions, he doesn't know all the right answers and besides, yes/no answers are proving limited at best.
"Here's what we *do* know: He's in pain, he can't eat or drink and he's getting progressively weaker. We appear to have substance to him, despite his lack of corporeal presence in our universe. That corresponds with our assumption that he has a far lighter density than ourselves. It's also perhaps one of the reasons we are having such a problem isolating his pattern. His mass is just a fraction of what the computer expects to find when asked to transport as large and complex a life form as a human being. That's one of the anomalies that is causing the error messages.
"In less than ten hours, we'll be back at the nebula. Because of the very real danger of a flare affecting Voyager herself, we need to be ready to attempt the transportation as soon as we arrive there. We'll probably only have the opportunity to try this once so we've got to do it right. Besides which, the Doctor doesn't believe Tom can survive for much longer in our environment. Time's running out for him. So, by no later than 0700 I want you all back here with your suggestions as to how we *can* do this. That will give us two hours to explain the plan to Tom and get him in place."
Chakotay shuddered involuntarily and pulled the duvet tighter against his body to assuage the terrible, numbing ice of Tom's embrace.
Sorry Tom whimpered apologetically. Despite Chakotay's verbal denials of discomfort, his whole body was now quivering so violently that Tom was well aware of his suffering. Tom struggled to control his urge to burrow against Chakotay's warmth. He'd rather die than cause Chakotay pain, but he couldn't convince his body of that noble intention. Possibly because, although he'd been cautious in his earlier replies to the Captain's awkward questioning, he'd become increasingly certain that he wasn't going to live through the night. He was so dehydrated that he could barely breathe. His tongue was so swollen that it felt like an alien invader inside his mouth. Whenever he moved, he was so light-headed that he almost fainted, and his heart was starting to skip the occasional beat.
It was this arrhythmia that convinced Tom that any rescue attempt was going to be too late after all.
He wasn't even scared of dying anymore. He'd moved beyond that point, too tired to even care if he might close his eyes and never wake up again. He just wanted to die in Chakotay's arms, and since that wasn't possible, lying pressed against the solid warmth of Chakotay's body was the nearest thing to comfort that he could imagine.
Even through the duvet, the chill of Tom's touch permeated Chakotay's flesh and seared his muscles with cold fire. He tried to ignore the discomfort, clenching his teeth firmly as they began to chatter with shock. He could feel goose-bumps raising along his arms and tremors began to wrack his whole frame as his body attempted to compensate for the cold.
The initial sharp pain of Tom's touch had gradually faded to an almost bearable numbness, but in the last hour he had moved beyond that state and back towards a ceaseless throbbing misery.
"Tom," Chakotay groaned eventually, although the confession broke his heart.. "I'm sorry babe, but you're freezing me here. You're going to have to let me go."
Although Tom had been telling himself the same thing for over an hour, he still jerked off the bed, unbearably wounded by Chakotay's rejection. He blinked furiously to control his tears of frustrated anger. He was dying, damnit! Surely Chakotay could bear the cold just long enough to let him die in his arms.
Feeling the chilly touch leave him, tears of shamed distress filled Chakotay's eyes. For all he knew, Tom was as cold as his touch felt. It seemed heartless to reject his obvious need for whatever little comfort he could gain.
"I've got an idea," Chakotay said, swinging out of bed and heading for the bathroom where he immediately started to fill the bath with steaming water.
When the water was deep enough and as hot as Chakotay could bear to enter, he carefully lowered himself into the steaming water, then held out his arms.
"Come on babe," he whispered. "Join me."
Tom eagerly started to climb into the bath, only to find that he couldn't enter the water. He lowered himself gingerly onto the hot liquid and gasped at the pleasure of the sensation. It was like lying down on top of a scalding hot water bed. Chakotay moved, and the surface of the water rippled down the length of Tom's naked body.
Well, that proves I'm not a ghost, Tom thought with a chuckle as the friction of the water brought his cock to life.
He latched his lips against Chakotay's neck, and although the older man shivered at the contrast between the hot water and the icy touch against his neck, Tom's touch was now like a pleasant cool breeze offering relief from the almost sauna-like heat of the bath.
"Oh, that feels good, Tommy," Chakotay whispered, reaching under the water and stroking his groin.
The movement of his hand caused the water to ripple again, and Tom arched in pleasure.
Oh God that DOES feel fucking good, he agreed with a groan.
"You okay?" Chakotay asked.
Tom pecked him once on the cheek. YES
Chakotay gave a tired smile of relief.
"I'm imagining this is your hand, Tommy," he explained, as he continued to rub himself under the water. "Is that okay?"
"I love you, Tommy."
The two brief touches terrified Chakotay to a halt. He froze, his eyes wide with sorrowful fear as he tried to understand what Tom had meant. Then a slow, hesitant smile crept over his features.
"Don't call you Tommy?" he asked cautiously.
Chakotay laughed. It was as much hysteria as genuine humor, as much a release of tension as the acquiring of happiness, but it was heartfelt enough to rock his body in the water, and the resultant movement of the water's surface played a harmony of ripples across Tom's body.
Oh yeah, shit, god, oh hell, Chakotay Tom muttered wildly, the pain of his various bruises drowned by the delicious, almost rubbery vibrations against his groin.
Chakotay blinked and seemed to slowly get the message. His hand increased its tempo on his cock and the water surged in time with his strokes, dragging Tom into his rhythm.
Shit, shit, shit, shit, oh shit Tom gasped, as he stared through the clear film of the water and watched Chakotay's cock swelling and pulsing beneath him. He squirmed against the water, grinding his hips into the sensation, gasping in time with Chakotay's ragged breath.
"TOMMY," Chakotay screamed, as he clouded the water with his eruption.
FUCK , Tom screamed in tandem, as he exploded in sympathy, pumping until he could feel the sticky heat of his own cum adhering his stomach to the rippling water.
"I love you, Tommy," Chakotay choked, tears filling his dark eyes and spilling down his face to drip into the rapidly cooling water.
It was all Tom could 'say', but somehow it was enough. Or perhaps too much. Chakotay rocked forward in the water until he could hug his knees for comfort, and he began to cry.
Tom, now sitting on the bathroom floor on an exceedingly sore butt having been bounced clear off the water by Chakotay's abrupt movement, struggled between feelings of sympathy, self-pity and a considerable annoyance at his rude dislodgement.
He opened his mouth to complain, then paused, considered and shook with a combination of tears and hysterical laughter.
I want to live he told himself. I'm GOING to live. I'm going to fucking beat this thing because I love him, and I can't leave him and, besides, I've just experienced the weirdest hottest sex of my life, and I'm fucked if I'll die without telling Harry all about it!
With a complete disregard for the state of his ration account, Chakotay programmed the bath to keep the water at a constant temperature, alerted the computer to monitor his life-signs in case he sank under the water and drowned, and once he had felt the cold touch of Tom's lips against his neck once more, he gradually slipped into an uneasy sleep.
It took Tom a lot longer to find rest. He had cautiously climbed back onto the treacherous elastic surface of the water and had sprawled full-length on the delicious heat, enjoying the way that the rising steam vibrated against his skin and massaged his bruised flesh. What should have been no more than the feel of thin mist felt instead like the jets of a Jacuzzi, and he luxuriated in the pleasurable sensations rippling over his abused body. Yet, even the pleasure of the massaging steam was little compensation for the increasing, gnawing ache inside his stomach and the stinging fire of lips so chapped that Chakotay's neck was smeared red with Tom's blood.
Yet, despite his discomfort, Tom eventually joined his husband in fitful sleep.
"Tom? Tom are you still here?"
It was the tinge of panic in Chakotay's voice that dragged Tom back to consciousness. The effort of opening his eyes was too much for him to face, his whole body felt too exhausted for even such a tiny effort as the twitching of his eyelids. Even the comforting heat of the rising steam barely compensated for the feeling of intense, bone-deep heaviness that pervaded his whole body. So he settled for simply nuzzling a little closer into Chakotay's neck, trusting that his icy breath would be answer enough.
"TOM?" Chakotay's tone was pure terror now.
I'm here, big guy, Tom croaked, then winced as the effort of speaking ripped the freshly formed scabs from his lips.
"TOM? Where are you?" Chakotay demanded.
Eyes still closed, Tom only registered Chakotay's intention to surge out of the bathwater when the surface he was lying on contracted like a trampoline. He was hurled in a flailing tangle of limbs, not only off the bath but clear across the bathroom, his blind headlong flight ending abruptly when he hit the wall.
For a moment there was no pain, just shock and the sickening sound of shattering bone as his right wrist crumbled against the unyielding metal. Then a savage fire ripped through his right side, starting in his broken fingers and gnawing with merciless hunger as it surged the length of his arm. In an instant of clarity before the pain stole all reason from his brain, Tom realized that the impact had shattered his bones all the way from his fingertips to his collar bone. Then, as he crumpled to the floor with a howl of agony, he felt his left ankle break as it tried to brace him against the impact of the floor.
Tom rolled on the floor and screamed in fresh terror, as Chakotay swung his muscular body out of the bath to stand on the floor only inches from Tom's writhing body. His left foot merely brushed the tip of Tom's left cheek, yet the impact of that brief touch was as painful as the punch of a fist.
As the agonizing, searing fire rippled through his body, Tom lost the ability for coherent thought and his body's own self-protective instincts took over, flooding his limbs with endorphins and adrenaline, pain transforming into the simple urgent need to escape the man who had so abruptly changed from comforter to mortal danger. Half-crawling on his unbroken ankle, half merely dragging himself across the tiled bathroom floor with his undamaged arm, Tom scuttled out of the bathroom like a broken crab.
All he could hear was the thunderous sound of Chakotay's footsteps in his wake, all he was aware of was the fact that a foot landing on his head or torso in his new, brittle state would be fatal. Sobbing with terror, whimpering with pain, Tom dragged himself across the bedroom floor and crawled under the bed. Then he simply lay there in the semi-darkness of his shadowy hiding place, mewling with fear each time he saw Chakotay's bare feet approaching the bed as the older man prowled with increasing agitation around their quarters, calling Tom's name.
Only when Chakotay finally stormed out of the bedroom to check the living room did Tom finally relax a little. It was a mistake. As soon as the mind-numbing terror receded a little, the pain surged back with a vengeance. Only then did Tom make the mistake of attempting to inspect the damage inflicted on his shattered right arm. But it wasn't pain that made him scream and pass out, so much as the fact that he could see clear through his forearm to the carpet below.
"Tom? Tom? You've got to listen to me Tom. Wake up. TOM!"
Fuck off and die.
"Tom Paris, get your fucking self-pitying head out of your ass right now or I'll kick your fucking butt."
Tom gave a resentful sigh and cautiously opened his eyes.
"Yeah, I know. It's a shock isn't it?"
Who? What? Fuck I've gone mad.
"Well, either we've *both* gone mad or I'm really here. Wherever here is, of course."
Tom paused his frantic attempts to reconcile the unbelievable sight straight in front of his eyes and glanced around them. He was back in Chakotay's dreamscape as far as he could tell.
I guess this is some kind of Jungian crap, huh? Meeting the inner me?
"That's inner child, and from where I'm standing you're the fucking child here, not me."
That's easy for you to say. You're not the one who's just been thrown at a wall.
The other Tom smiled sympathetically, then winced when the expression tore at the tender broken skin at the edges of his mouth.
"Yeah, I admit you're in worse shape than I am," he allowed. "Odd that. You'd think, being mirror images of each other that we'd have experienced exactly the same things."
Maybe it's different because we're fucked up now, neither in one place or the other.
Mirror Tom gave a small chuckle.
"What you just said. It's the answer maybe. I think I've just figured some of it out."
Tom arched his eyebrows in disbelief.
Who are you trying to kid? he scoffed. I'm you, remember. I KNOW you know fuck-all about quantum physics.
"Listen, smart-ass. We should have swapped places, shouldn't we? I should be on *your* Voyager, and you should be on mine."
Yeah, well surprise, surprise, we fucked up!
"Shit, are you always this irritating?"
Dunno, I never talked to myself before. Well, not so that I could answer back. Hey, I just noticed something.
"What?" Mirror Tom asked.
You're a damn good-looking guy, Tom smirked, giving Mirror Tom a speculative look. I could fancy you myself.
Mirror Tom's eyes sparked with appreciation.
"What a wet dream. Being able to fuck myself. Don't think Chakotay would approve though."
Hey, we're both me. I'd just be jacking me off.
"Tough talk for a guy who's got so many broken bones he can't even move."
THAT bone's not broken.
"It's not a bone."
Sure feels like one at the moment.
"You're so full of shit," Mirror Tom chuckled. "You couldn't get it up in this state if Chakotay turned up here naked and did the lambada over your cock."
Yeah, well, it took my mind off the pain for a moment, Tom sighed.
"I was trying to tell you what I'd figured out."
Go on then, knock yourself out, amaze me with your deductive skill, Tom drawled.
Mirror Tom looked at Tom in concern. Tom was pale, his face desiccated by dehydration, his eyes so sunken in his head that his face looked like a skull, and he knew Tom's swinging moods from crude innuendo to sarcastic wit were an attempt to hide the unbearable pain of his injuries. He shivered, feeling more terrified now than he had for days, because if this Tom died, they would both die.
"I think we're trapped in the glass."
"One of the Voyager's is the *real* Voyager. The other is like it's reflection in a mirror. You with me so far?"
"When the transporter went wrong, we got swapped with each other, only instead of arriving at the opposite ships we somehow both got trapped somewhere in the middle, like we're suspended in the mirror itself, neither in one place or the other."
Maybe, Tom allowed, only I think I *must* be on the other ship because everything's reversed here.
"I don't think so," Mirror Tom replied. "I think we both changed as we transported. We took on the properties of each other's universe but didn't actually arrive there. It's like we are both on opposite sides of the mirror-glass. We're both *almost* inside the other universes but we're facing in the wrong direction."
So that's why we can see our *own* ships, but from a reversed perspective?
"That's what I think."
Why can't anyone see us though?
"Maybe we aren't really here. We're just looking through the glass at a sort of illusion."
Believe me, that wall was no fucking illusion.
Mirror Tom shrugged helplessly.
"I never said I had all the answers. I just think I'm on to something. I've got the feeling that the only way we're going to survive this is if we work together."
Work together how? In case it's escaped your notice, I can hardly fucking move and we're both almost dead from dehydration.
"I don't know. I just have a feeling that we have to be together if we're going to have any chance of surviving the attempt to transport us again."
Yeah, well don't hold your breath for the cavalry. We're too insubstantial for the instruments of the ship to find us. They can't transport us if they don't know where we are.
"He's gone, Chakotay," Kathryn finally admitted. "We've scanned the entire ship and there's absolutely no trace of him. I'm so sorry."
"But he was here. He was with me last night. I felt him, dammit. I KNOW he was here."
"I'm not doubting you, Chakotay, but he was very weak and I think he simply faded away. You said he had gone by the time you woke up. I imagine he just slowly dissipated throughout the night. At least he was in your arms, Chakotay. At least he was with you until the end."
Chakotay simply glared at her dismissively and then turned to B'Elanna.
"You said you'd found a way to reverse the effects of the transportation error?"
"We think so. We've extrapolated all the data from the original transport and have built a matrix program based an old pattern buffer from a previous successful transportation of Tom."
"We've incorporated a large portion of the original EMH matrix," the Doctor interrupted.
"You're plan is to turn Tom into a hologram?" Chakotay demanded.
"No, well kind of," Harry replied. Seeing the horror on the Commander's face, he hastened to explain. "The problem is that there isn't enough of either Tom left to even make one whole person, let alone two, and as we understand the properties of the mirror universe, unless Tom rematerializes in *both* places, he can't rematerialize at all. So our idea is to create two stable holographic matrices based upon Tom's DNA, one keyed to our universe, the other to the mirror universe."
"If it had worked, Tom would have been a combination of himself and his records from a previous transportation all held together within a holo-matrix, with a built in holo-emitter." B'Elanna said.
"So a hologram," Chakotay choked.
"But a stable one, with Tom's true memories. He would have felt as solid to the touch as a human. He would have been able to function in exactly the same way. The only difference would be that he'd never have visibly aged and he'd no longer be susceptible to illnesses."
"Except possible power failure," Seven pointed out dispassionately.
"But, in a way, he'd never have *really* survived," Kathryn said gently. "So perhaps it's for the best."
Chakotay was silent for a long time, his face expressionless. A single tear formed in the corner of his left eye and tracked with fascinating slowness down his cheekbone. Then he smiled.
The expression was so incongruous that the other members of the Senior Staff simply looked at him in disbelief.
His smile widened until his eyes crinkled and dimples dented his cheeks, and when he turned to the Captain to reply, his voice was soft.
"You think so?" he asked quietly.
"I don't understand," Kathryn admitted, as she watched Chakotay settle himself cross-legged on the floor of the transporter room and prepare himself for his spirit journey.
"Chakotay found Tom on the spirit plane before. There's at least a good possibility that he'll find him again. If he succeeds in connecting with Tom and bringing him through, the transporter will lock onto the space around Chakotay and attempt the transport. We've already locked the pattern buffers to avoid Chakotay's own body, otherwise we could get Tom back and lose Chakotay instead," B'Elanna explained.
"I understand *that*," Kathryn replied. "If I didn't think it was worth a try, I wouldn't have agreed to this. What I don't understand is how easily Chakotay accepted that Tom would come back to us as little more than a hologram."
"Oh, that part's easy," B'Elanna replied. "Chakotay isn't in love with Tom's body. He's in love with his spirit and it's his spirit that will be coming home. It's irrelevant whether that spirit is housed in a body of flesh and blood or in a solid holo-matrix. All that matters to Chakotay is that *Tom* survives."
Kathryn looked at her dubiously. "Let's hope that Tom feels the same way."
This time when he arrived in the dark place, Chakotay didn't panic. He didn't allow the feeling of vacuum siphon at his soul. Instead he simply stood there in the dark, steadied his breathing and concentrated purely on his memory of Tom's face.
For an interminable time nothing happened, but he refused to doubt, refused to allow the fear to drain his strength. Tom was here. Tom *had* to be here, because the alternative was that Tom had truly gone and if that was the case, then Chakotay would simply remain here in this dark, silent place until his own spirit also left his body to follow Tom to wherever he had gone.
As though it sensed his decision to remain whether Tom was here or not, the darkness finally wavered slightly to reveal a tiny pinprick of light in the distance.
"TOMMY?" Chakotay yelled.
As before, all around him the darkness constricted, then seemed to ripple and he was thrust forward at a sickening speed until he crashed heavily to his knees in front of *two* Toms.
Chakotay spun in confusion. In the darkness with him the form of Tom was pale and insubstantial, swaying a little on legs weakened by hunger and thirst, but otherwise unharmed. His smile was radiant as he looked at Chakotay, even despite the vicious scabbing that covered his lips and the cracked corners of his mouth.
The other Tom was bathed in a circle of light, but it's glow only served to highlight the vivid bruises that marred his face like a camouflage mask. His entire right side seemed off-balance, and Chakotay choked in horror as he realized that Tom's right arm had been virtually crushed. It hung at an unnatural angle from his collar bone to his mangled fingers.
"Tommy?" he choked.
Tom tried to smile.
I tripped in the bath, he joked.
Chakotay's eyes flared with terrible understanding and he turned almost accusingly to the other Tom.
"*He's* my Tom, isn't he? You're...you're the other one."
The mirror Tom gave a sob of agreement, then surprised Chakotay by hurtling into his arms and clinging to him tightly for comfort. As Chakotay inhaled to sweet scent of mirror Tom's hair he understood that in this strange mixed up never-never land, the wrong Tom was the one who felt good, who smelt right, but that the other Tom, the one crumpled on the ground in agony was *his* Tom.
He detached himself from the mirror Tom, kissing him lightly then pushing him away with gentle insistence. He sank to his knees and crawled carefully towards Tom, cautious of his movements because Tom trembled at his approach as though he was in so much pain that he couldn't imagine Chakotay's touch bringing him anything except more pain.
Chakotay had to swallow to resist the instinctive gag reaction that struck him as soon as he entered the bright circle that surrounded Tom. The smell inside the orb was rank and sickening, the air pungent with the stench of rot and decay.
But this time Chakotay *knew* this was his love, and so he ignored the spasming of his gut and the bile that raced through his throat as he carefully leaned forward and kissed Tom's lips.
Chakotay, Tom wailed, clutching at him with his one good hand.
"I love you, babe," Chakotay gasped, forcing himself not to flinch from the almost burning ice of Tom's touch. "I've come to take you home."
"We've returned to the nebula. We're going to reverse the transport and get you back."
"I don't think you can," the other Tom interrupted sadly. "We didn't just get swapped over. We somehow lost so much of our patterns that we ended up stuck here like ghosts. I don't think there's enough of us left to even make *one* real person again."
"I know," Chakotay replied. "We're going to have to mix your pattern inside a specially designed holo-matrix. It will absorb your essence and, well, padd the rest out with bits and pieces from the memory bank and parts of the EMH program."
Oh fuck. I'm gonna be Tuvix Tom choked.
"More of a Toc, from the sounds of things," Mirror Tom quipped.
"Toc?" Chakotay asked, swiveling from Tom to Tom in bewilderment. He'd always struggled to cope with Tom's tendency to deal with crises by joking. Faced now with two joking Toms he felt completely out of his league.
Toc: Part Tom, part Doc, Tom explained.
"Fuck, does that mean we end up bald?" Mirror Tom demanded, a look of true fear breaking through his careful mask of nonchalance.
Chakotay had an insane urge to make his own joke about that, but fought the impulse knowing it was just an hysterical reaction to the fact that both Toms still hadn't really caught the point of the matrix.
"Your appearance won't change," he assured them both.
That's a relief, Tom said. 'Cos Tom's a good-looking guy, isn't he? He gestured towards his mirror image with a cheeky smirk.
Mirror Tom choked as he remembered the last time Tom had made that comment.
Chakotay regarded them both with a combination of sadness and the exasperation of a man who'd never learnt how to cope with one Tom, let alone two. Perhaps that was why he suddenly blurted it out.
"You'll be a hologram."
Then, in the silence that followed, Chakotay just stood there in complete shock at the brutality of his own words.
It was Tom who finally broke the silence.
I guess that means at least my fucking arm will stop hurting.
"Do you think we'll be able to walk through walls?" Mirror Tom said. "Only it was a real fucking disappointment to be a ghost and not be able to do that."
You too? Tom asked. Shit, the only fun I had was making the Captain spill coffee all over herself.
"The Captain? Damn, wish I'd thought of that. I only did it to Tuvok and he didn't even scream. He just made this peculiar choking noise like he was constipated."
If Chakotay hadn't seen the almost artic look of horror in both the younger men's eyes, he could have almost believed they were as unaffected by the proposed 'rescue' as they were pretending.
You ever fucked a hologram, Chak? Tom asked casually.
Chakotay knew Tom was barely coping. Between the pain of his injuries and the terror of the situation, a passionate avowal of love would probably break down Tom's shaky defenses and send him into a spiral of hysteria. So he squeezed Tom's hand, stared him firmly in the eye so he could make no mistake whether Chakotay had truly understood all the deeper terrified questions masked beneath that one innocuous query, but answered with the same light humor.
"It's my duty, Tom. The Captain fell in love with a hologram, so as her First Officer it's my duty to carry on the tradition, don't you think?"
Tom gave a choking bark of laughter, and the moment passed.
"What will happen to me?" Mirror Tom asked cautiously.
"I'll take you with me too. You'll be transported into your own matrix and sent back to your own ship, I hope."
No he won't.
Chakotay and the two Toms jerked in surprise at the unexpected voice.
"Chakotay!" Mirror Tom yelled, surging to his feet and flying towards the new arrival.
Chakotay had to choke back a chuckle of amusement as his counterpart visibly recoiled from Mirror Tom's kiss and wiped his mouth frantically.
"See?" he told Tom. "Tom2 tastes as bad to Chakotay2 as you do to me."
Tom blinked slowly then grinned cheekily.
Dunno why you're laughing, big guy. For all you know, I'm still gonna taste this bad when you get me home and you're gonna be stuck with me for ever, husband of mine. I know we had a quickie ceremony, but the 'til death do us part still stands.
But before Chakotay had thought of a suitable rejoinder, the smile suddenly slipped from Tom's face and his eyes widened in new fear.
Only, I AM dead, aren't I? Oh shit. I get it now. That's what this means. I'm just going to be a fucking ghost walking around Voyager again. The only difference is that this time people will be able to see me. Oh fuck. Oh shit, I can't...I can't... no, I can't do this, Chak. I'd rather die here than face that.
"You're *not* dead, Tom. You're alive. Wonderfully, gloriously alive and you're coming home with me where you belong."
My body's gone Chak. My fucking body's gone. What kind of life is that?
"It's life, Tom. That's all. There's no degrees to life. You're alive or you're dead, that's all and you, my love, are very much alive. Do you really think it matters what your actual body is made of? So what if you aren't flesh and blood? Think of the advantages Tom. You'll never feel the kind of pain that you're suffering now. A holographic body won't break or bleed. A holographic body won't age. You'll be as perfect in fifty years as you are right now. It ought to scare me more than you, that I'll grow old while you stay young and beautiful. I'll spend the rest of my life terrified that you'll grow tired of me and move on."
Never. NEVER. I'll never leave you, Chak. I'll stay with you until you breathe your last breath and then I'll smash the fucking matrix and follow you. Tom hissed.
"So, you'll come with me? You'll accept what needs to be done?"
I've got no choice, have I? Tom said sadly. Because even if I'm dying either way, this way I get to stay with you. Then a small smile quirked the corner of his mouth.
I just figured a new advantage.
Think about it, big guy. No more limitations of flesh and blood. I'm going to be a permanent, ever-ready hard on.
Chakotay looked at Tom in disbelief, then he gave a choke of laughter that echoed throughout the tunnel.
"I think we're creating an unstoppable sex-craved monster," he admitted.
Yeah, Chak. But, I'll be *your* unstoppable sex-craved monster, he promised with a leer.
Chakotay opened his mouth to reply, but was interrupted by the arrival of their mirror counterparts. From the grin on Mirror Tom's face and the slight blush on Mirror Chakotay's cheeks, Chakotay had a suspicion that they had just engaged in a similar conversation.
Are you ready? Mirror Chakotay asked. We have to do this together. I'll take my Tom back to our ship now and attempt the procedure from our end. You take your Tom and do the same. Good luck.
"No," Mirror Tom interrupted. "It won't work like that."
"Why not?" Chakotay demanded.
"I don't know for sure, but I'm pretty certain you have to take the *wrong* Tom back with you, otherwise we'll end up reversed."
Still seeing everything back to front. It plays havoc with hand-eye co-ordination, Tom agreed.
Are you sure? Mirror Chakotay demanded.
The two Toms simply shrugged helplessly.
"We have to assume their instincts are right," Chakotay decided firmly. "We're running out of time, we're only going to get one shot at this so let's just do it."
Tom didn't know what to expect. He didn't even want to think about it. He still remembered the pain of bouncing in and out of the transporter room like a yo-yo, and given his broken ankle and shattered arm, he didn't know whether he could bear to go through the experience again.
Especially since he was going to be facing it with the *wrong* Chakotay. Except, in all honesty, he couldn't really tell the difference between them except that *this* Chakotay wasn't bravely trying to avoid throwing up whenever Tom breathed on him.
In the event, the whole thing was an anti-climax. He simply held onto Chakotay as the tunnel seemed to disintegrate around them, he had a sensation of falling through an almost endless blackness and then, when he finally felt himself stop moving and opened his eyes, he was lying on the floor of the transporter room.
"Chak?" he managed, then the sensation of moving occurred again, and this time he opened his eyes to find himself in the Sickbay with Chakotay, the Captain and the Doctor all hovering around him anxiously.
"Tommy? Talk to me," Chakotay begged.
"So what's the verdict? Am I officially alive or now merely considered part of the general fixtures and fittings of the ship?" Tom drawled, swinging himself off the bed and flexing his now undamaged right arm with evident relief.
"I object most strenuously to the suggestion of any hologram being a 'mere' fixture of the ship," the Doctor huffed. "Of course, given the tendency to turn me off-line without so much as a consultation I..."
"Computer, end EMH program," Kathryn snapped impatiently, seeing the way that Tom's eyes were widening in fear despite his attempt at levity.
She only realized her mistake when Tom yelped in fear as the Doctor dematerialized and then backed away from her in terror. Chakotay shot her a glare of pure malice before fixing his face into a softer expression and approaching the trembling blond.
"Have *I* got an off-switch too?" Tom screamed. "Have I got a fucking off-switch? You gonna start turning me off when I piss you off, huh? Guess there's no need for a fucking brig when you can just pull my plug."
"Tom. Tommy, please," Chakotay begged, as Tom continued to back away from him.
"No," Kathryn snapped, understanding Tom's fear and knowing that she was the only person who could reassure him of the truth. "There's no 'off-switch', Tom. You aren't part of the ship's systems. Your matrix is fully self-contained. You can draw on the ship's energy and your matrix is backed up inside the main database for safety, but you're self-contained. You aren't part of the computer system. Your 'body' is as solid and real as a human one. Unlike the Doctor, you can't change your appearance, you can't be turned on and off. You can't even chose to turn yourself off but although your body can't tire, your mind still requires rest so your body will imitate sleep.
"You won't be able to eat real food, but you'll be able to eat and drink and enjoy the taste of holographic food. You'll be able to see, touch, taste, feel just like you always have, perhaps even better than before. To all intents and purposes, with just a few obvious exceptions, you are the same Tom as you were before. You're still the pilot of this ship, the husband of Chakotay and a valued member of this crew and someone I consider a personal friend.
"But more importantly, perhaps, there is and always will be a vast difference between you and the Doctor and that's why I turned him off. Not to show any disregard for his rights but to save his feelings. As self-aware as the Doctor is, no matter how advanced and independent his program becomes, he isn't and never will be as real as you are Tom. You aren't a hologram with Tom's memories, you ARE Tom, the real Tom and all that has happened is that your spirit, as Chakotay calls it, has been transplanted from a human body into a photonic one. So you're alive in a way that the Doctor can never truly be.
"So in answer to your original question Tom, the only way in which I consider you part of the fixtures and fittings of this Ship is in the fact that your ass, and that of every other member of this crew belongs completely and absolutely to me," Kathryn ended with a self-depreciating smirk.
"Uh huh," Tom replied, his eyes now sparkling with equal humor. "My life is yours to command, Captain, but my ass belongs to my husband."
"I think that's a very long-overdue conversation that you should have *with* your husband," Kathryn replied with a gentle smile. "Since you're both on duty tomorrow, I suggest you hurry up and get the hell out of the sickbay to go 'converse' in your own quarters."
"Tomorrow?" Tom protested. "That's not fair, Captain. Think of the stress I've been through. I'd get a week off for a broken leg. I sure as hell should get some vacation for being dead."
"You're NOT dead," Chakotay snapped, unappreciative of Tom's humor.
"Two days?" Tom suggested to the Captain, with a cheeky wink. "Just to make sure everything's in working order, you know?"
"Tommy," Chakotay growled warningly, grabbing his husband by the arm and starting to manhandle him to the door.
Kathryn's mouth quirked.
"Twenty-four hours," she offered. "I don't want my First Officer ending up in sickbay."
As Chakotay marched Tom outside of sickbay, she turned to the terminal and made the duty roster adjustment. It meant she'd have to pull a double shift herself the next day but the sacrifice had been well paid for by the magnificent blush she had just witnessed on Chakotay's normally stoic face.
"So," Tom purred, twisting in Chakotay's arms the moment the door of their quarter's closed behind them. "You wanna take this new body for a test drive?"
"Bath first, sex later," Chakotay growled huskily into his ear.
Tom gave a small shiver of fear at the thought of returning to the bathroom where he had been shattered like a fragile vase, then laughed shakily as he remembered that he was not only supposedly indestructible but was actually capable of entering the water now rather than bouncing on top of it.
"You okay, babe?" Chakotay asked, his passion frozen as soon as he had felt Tom tremble.
Tom smirked and bent to nip the tip of Chakotay's nose.
"Yeah, I was just thinking why not combine the two."
He squirmed with excitement as something prodded him in the thigh.
"That a phaser in your pocket, Commander, or are you just pleased to see me?"
It was just a throwaway quip. He hadn't even thought about the significance of his words until Chakotay grasped him by the shoulders and pushed him backwards until he was at arms length. Then his spine tingled at the look of hot passion in Chakotay's eyes as they raked his face, devouring every feature with a hunger that was breathtaking.
"I see you, Tom," he husked, and then he began to shake as the tension of the last few days finally caught up with him. "I see you. I never thought I'd see you again." And he began to cry.
"Oh shit, Chak," Tom gulped, throwing his arms around the older man and clutching him so tightly to his chest that he could feel the dampness of Chakotay's tears seeping through his shirt.
"I'm sorry," Chakotay gulped, trying to push away from Tom's embrace and pull himself together.
"What?" Tom demanded softly. "Am I the only one who's allowed to cry around here? Just let it go, you big doofus."
He waited until the worst of Chakotay's sobs had subsided and then began to pull him towards the bedroom. Chakotay stumbled after him in a half-daze and allowed himself to be undressed and propelled into bed. It was only when his head hit the pillow that a little reason returned to his eyes.
"I wanted a bath," he whined.
"What's the point of getting clean when we're about to get dirty?" Tom snickered, removing his own clothing and crawling onto the bed next to his husband.
"Spirits, Tom. You're so beautiful," Chakotay whispered. "I never thought I'd see you again, never thought I'd touch you again."
"Am I?" Tom asked suddenly. "Am I still beautiful to you? Is this body beautiful to you?"
The vulnerability in Tom's voice made Chakotay's heart lurch.
"Let me prove it to you," he whispered, sliding down the bed until his face was at Tom's groin and then licking slowly at the soft skin of Tom's scrotum.
Tom gave a squeal of surprised pleasure and the skin under Chakotay's tongue immediately tightened.
"Let's see," Chakotay teased. "Seems to react normally there. Let me test somewhere else."
He licked upwards along Tom's shaft, delighting in the way the organ swelled with immediate excitement.
"Yep, that works," he sniggered, then swirled his tongue around the weeping cock-head, flicking his tongue to lap at the tiny beads of liquid that had begun to leak from it's tip.
"Uh oh," Chakotay suddenly muttered, as the taste exploded on his tongue.
"What? WHAT?" Tom demanded, in panic. "What's wrong?"
Chakotay raised his head, his face solemn as he met Tom's frightened eyes.
"It's the taste," he muttered.
"Oh fuck," Tom sobbed. "I still taste bad?"
A huge shit-eating grin split Chakotay's face almost in two.
"No, you taste fucking wonderful," Chakotay sniggered. "So good I'm going to have to do this." And opening his mouth wide, he bobbed his head and imprisoned Tom's cock in his throat.
"You bastard, that wasn't funny, that was fucking mean, that was..that was...oh god, yeah that feels good."
Chakotay smiled around his mouthful of cock, then began to hum merrily deep in his throat. The resultant vibration against Tom's cock made the younger man squirm and buck so much that Chakotay had to use all the strength in his left hand to hold Tom's hips in place, while his left hand crept between Tom's thighs and began to tease them apart.
As much as he had assured Tom that he felt no differently about this new body, it wasn't really true, but he didn't know anyway to explain his feelings without causing Tom some emotional pain and self-doubt. This *was* his Tom, he knew it in every fiber of his being. He believed this was Tom as certainly as he believed that the Spirits existed.
Yet, there was another truth, as important in his own mind even if he would carry the feeling in secret to his own grave.
This body was virgin.
Not only had he never touched this flesh ,that wasn't flesh, before. Neither had anyone else. He'd never even realized before that it had bothered him that hands other than his had touched his husband. He wasn't proud of the thought. It seemed immature, old-fashioned, selfish and pure damned possessive to be jealous of the ghost fingers of Tom's past lovers. He'd never even been consciously aware of the jealousy, it had been enough for him to know that Tom had never *loved* before.
But now, touching Tom, knowing that no person had ever blazed the trail that he was taking as he explored Tom's intimate places, he understood that just as Tom's spirit had come to him untouched by love, now he had been given the gift of Tom's body similarly pure.
He released Tom's cock from his mouth, ignoring the younger man's sob of disappointment, and concentrated instead on driving his blunt fingers against the tight ring of muscle that concealed Tom's hot treasure from his own questing cock.
"You're mine," he growled. Only mine. Only I'm going to fill you. Only I'm going to boldly go where no man has gone before.
Tom's only answer was a contented thrumming purr, because he was too busy ferreting in the bedside cabinet for the lube to form a coherent reply. He gave a gasp of triumph, retrieved the tube, slapped it into Chakotay's free hand and then threw his legs up over Chakotay's shoulders in expectation.
"Just do it," Tom begged, as Chakotay continued to drive him mad with his careful stretching. "I won't break Chak. I *can't* break now, remember. Just do it. I'm not a fucking virgin."
Oh but you are, Tom. For me you are. You really truly are *only* mine for the first time ever, Chakotay thought, but decided it would be wisest to keep the thought to himself.
He slicked his cock with lube and pushed against the loosened hole. Tom gave a grunt of pure delight and crossed his ankles behind Chakotay's head, using his calves to encourage Chakotay to plunge deeper inside.
Tom gasped with relieved surprise as whatever now constituted for nerve-endings inside his ass sent a delicious ripple of sensation throughout his body in response to Chakotay's invasion. When he'd heard that he couldn't truly experience pain in this body, he had been terrified that it meant he equally would barely experience pleasure. The two were so intermingled, particularly during the act of sex that it seemed impossible that they could be separated. Yet this clever new body of his seemed able to filter out the bad, keep the good and balance the two effortlessly.
The gliding feel of Chakotay's cock as it powered inside him was so *almost* identical to their previous love-making that Tom couldn't understand the niggling feeling that kept intruding into his thoughts when all he wanted to do was close his eyes and abandon himself to pleasure as Chakotay reclaimed him as his own.
That's when it hit him. He gasped out loud with surprise, but fortunately Chakotay failed to notice that his exclamation was more than simply a sound of passion.
I *am* a virgin. This body's never been touched by anyone but him. He's my first. He's my only.
He knew he'd never be able to say that to Chakotay without it sounding as though he was either uncomfortable with the new body, or that he'd been a slut before their marriage and neither were true. It was simply that he felt clean, reborn and truly worthy of Chakotay for the first time ever. It was as though he'd been slightly used before, a little shop-soiled, something to be sold on discount rather than a treasure to be coveted.
It was crazy, old-fashioned, maybe even immature to believe that the gift of virginity to a marriage was something precious and almost spiritual, but Tom suddenly felt cleaner that he'd ever remembered feeling in Chakotay's arms.
"I'm yours," he whispered, "only yours," and he not only meant it but he actually believed it as he had never been able to believe it before.
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