Chakotay, already settled into his Commander's chair on the Bridge, glanced up when the Captain's ready room door slid open. She was prompt as usual.

"Any word from the away team?" Janeway asked as she sank comfortably into her chair.

"No." Chakotay returned her smile with one of his own.

"Good. I take it B'Elanna hasn't punched anyone else yet."

"Now, Kathryn," chided Chakotay quietly, "you know that incident wasn't her fault."

"I didn't say it was," Janeway protested with a smile. She leaned closer to him and spoke in a conspiratorial whisper. "So what do you suppose really went on between B'Elanna and Vorik?"

From his Bridge station behind them, Tuvok contemplated the Captain and Commander, their heads bent close together in whispered conversation. Their words were too soft for Humans to hear but carried to his Vulcan ears clearly. He frowned, not understanding this Human predilection to engage in gossip. It seemed a waste of time. With a mental sigh he would never have voiced, he returned his attention to his station.

"Carey said Vorik was acting strangely all morning," Chakotay whispered.

Janeway looked intrigued. "Strangely how?"

"He said Vorik was following B'Elanna around like a lost puppy. And that he seemed a little . . . agitated."

"Vulcans don't get agitated," Janeway said.

"I know," Chakotay answered. "That's what's so strange."

"Actually," Janeway said slowly, "Vorik has been following B'Elanna around a lot lately. Did you see them at the luau?"

Chakotay grinned. "Vorik practically stole B'Elanna right out from under Paris's nose."

Janeway stifled a chuckle. "Poor Tom."

The chirp of the comm system interrupted their speculation. "Paris to Voyager."

Sharing a guilty look and feeling somewhat as if they'd been caught with their hands in the cookie jar, Janeway and Chakotay quickly moved apart. Tom's next words sobered them instantly.

"We've got problems down here."

Janeway didn't like the sound of that one bit. "What's wrong, Tom?"

"Neelix is hurt. I think his leg is broken."

"Are you and B'Elanna all right?"

There was a momentary pause before Tom answered. "I'm fine."

"And B'Elanna?" prodded Janeway.

Tom was obviously choosing his words carefully. "I'm not sure."

Exasperated, Janeway rapped out, "Report, Lieutenant."

"She's gone."

"Gone?" repeated Chakotay. "What do you mean gone?"

"She took off," Tom said, his irritation not quite covering his concern for the errant chief engineer. He continued in obvious agitation, "I haven't been able to contact her. She's either out of communications range or just not responding."

Janeway shot a concerned glance at Chakotay. "Are you able to get a fix on her location?"

"Last I could verify she was about ten meters below us. I tried to stop her from leaving, Captain, but she got very hostile and . . . bit me."

Chakotay met Janeway's shocked gaze in silence for the few seconds it took him to recover his voice. The disbelief in his voice carried clearly. "She bit you."

There was a slight hesitation before Tom replied, "She seemed to be enjoying it, in a Klingon kind of way." Embarrassment colored his voice. "She's really not herself."

Rising to her feet, Janeway turned to the ensign at Ops. "Any luck in getting a transporter lock on them?"

The ensign shook her head. "No, they're too far beneath the surface."

Janeway strode across the Bridge to Tuvok's station. "Tom, I'm sending an away team down to you. We'll get Neelix out of there, then go after B'Elanna. Tuvok, you're with Chakotay."

Chakotay, passing Tuvok's station on his way to the turbolift, paused near Janeway when Tuvok spoke up. "Captain, I request a short delay. I may have an explanation for Lieutenant Torres's behavior."

Janeway knew better than to question Tuvok further until he had all the answers he sought. She simply nodded. "Very well."

Chakotay waited until Tuvok boarded the lift before stepping in himself. Tuvok directed the turbolift to Deck Five and then fell into the familiar but annoying silent Vulcan mode of staring into space with hands locked behind his back. To his disgruntlement, Chakotay's curiosity got the better of him within moments. "You want to fill me in, Tuvok?"

"I would prefer not to elaborate, Commander," replied Tuvok evenly, "until I have verified my suspicions."

Chakotay frowned. "Does this have something to do with Vorik?"

Tuvok's face grew fractionally colder. "Unlike Humans, Vulcans do not gossip."

Chakotay, his voice equally chilly, retorted, "I'm well aware of that, Lieutenant. I trust you will let me know any pertinent details before we beam down."

"That is my intention, Commander."

The lift slid to a stop and Tuvok stepped out, continuing on to his destination.

Irritated with himself for trying to hurry information out of Tuvok when he knew the Vulcan had no intention of sharing just yet, Chakotay redirected the lift to his destination. Shaking off his annoyance, he focused on getting his away team together and allowed himself a short moment to worry over B'Elanna's odd behavior. Whatever the problem was, they'd solve it. Somehow.

After breaking the connection with Voyager, Tom turned to Neelix. "You all right?"

"You should go after Lieutenant Torres," Neelix encouraged.

Tom didn't miss the wince of pain Neelix tried to cover. "I'll never find her in these tunnels. And I don't want to leave you here alone with a broken leg." Kneeling down beside the Talaxian, he absently rubbed at the bite mark on his left cheek.

Concerned, Neelix squinted up at him. "That looks pretty bad." He struggled to sit up but Tom pushed him back down.

"It's nothing, Neelix." Actually, the bite was starting to itch, and Tom could feel the area beginning to swell. Feeling fidgety, he climbed to his feet.

Neelix settled back down on the cold ground but his eyes followed Tom's restless pacing. Within minutes he found himself shivering as the chill from the ground worked its way through his body suit. He rubbed his hands vigorously on his arms in an attempt to warm them. "Brrr."

Tom turned to stare at him. "Are you cold?"

"Yes. Aren't you?"

"No. It's hot as hell in here." Tom returned to Neelix's side. "Probably shock setting in. Wish I had a thermal blanket or something to keep you warm until the others get here."

"Don't worry about it, Tom. I'll be fine."

Tom climbed to his feet again. "What's taking them so long?"

"It's only been a few minutes."

"How long does it take to get an away team together?" Tom asked impatiently. "They know you're injured. They should be here already."

Neelix stared up at the normally unflappable Paris, who was now looking decidedly jumpy. He's worried about Lieutenant Torres, Neelix deduced. Out loud, he said, "I'm sure they'll be here as quickly as possible. Lieutenant Tuvok and Commander Chakotay are both very efficient at their jobs. They're probably just making sure they take the proper precautions."

Tom ran a hand roughly through his hair. "I wish they'd hurry up about it." He strode around the small cavern -- no, stalked would be a better word, Neelix thought -- stabbing violently at his tricorder. "I can't get B'Elanna's signal at all anymore."

"You'll find her," Neelix said confidently, concerned by Paris's increasingly obvious agitation.

Tom didn't answer, except to unzip the front of his bodysuit a few inches. "Damn, it's hot in here."

Janeway met Tuvok and Chakotay in the transporter room. "All ready to go, gentlemen?"

"Ensigns Harris and Moore will be meeting us here in a few minutes," Chakotay said. "We'll need their help to get Neelix up the shaft."

Janeway turned to Tuvok expectantly. "And you, Lieutenant? Were you able to confirm your hypothesis?"

"Yes, Captain." Tuvok's solemn gaze moved from Janeway to Chakotay then back, including both of them in his reply. "Ensign Vorik's actions earlier today were precipitated by Vulcan pon farr. During the confrontation, he initiated the mating bond with Lieutenant Torres. I believe her unusual actions are a result of this."

Janeway frowned, but it was Chakotay who spoke. "I don't understand. How could Vorik's pon farr be affecting B'Elanna?"

Tuvok was gratified both the Captain and Commander appeared to have some knowledge of pon farr. It would save him having to explain the Vulcan condition in excruciating detail. "I believe Lieutenant Torres has also contracted pon farr."

"Correct me if I'm wrong, Tuvok, but I thought pon farr was a Vulcan disease," contradicted Chakotay.

Tuvok shifted uncomfortably. "It is a condition, not a disease. You are correct that it is generally restricted to Vulcans. However, it would appear during the earlier altercation today between Lieutenant Torres and Ensign Vorik that blood was drawn. The Doctor believes there may be something in the makeup of Klingons, or perhaps in Lieutenant Torres's unique Klingon/Human heritage, that has made it possible for her to be . . . infected with this Vulcan condition. He is currently researching that possibility."

"Could this be life-threatening?" asked Janeway worriedly.

"It can become so for Vulcans."

"And for Klingons?" Chakotay asked, fighting down a sudden surge of panic.

"I have no way of knowing. However, there is no reason to assume Lieutenant Torres would be immune to this particular side-effect."

The transporter room door slid open and Ensigns Harris and Moore entered, both loaded down with medical evacuation equipment.

"It seems we have no time to waste, gentlemen," responded Janeway, bringing their conversation to an end. "I'll check with the Doctor. You two rendezvous with Tom and get B'Elanna back to the ship as soon as you can."

Once planetside, Chakotay and Tuvok quickly rappelled down to the bottom of the shaft. Harris and Moore remained above to pull Neelix to safety.

Tom, flushed and sweaty, was waiting for them. "It's about time."

Tuvok raised one eyebrow. "It has been less than half an hour, Lieutenant."

Ignoring Tuvok's mild rebuke, Tom said, "We need to get Neelix back to the ship and find B'Elanna."

While Chakotay went to see to Neelix, Tuvok pulled Tom to one side. He held his words for a moment, noting that Paris was fidgety and sweating in the cool air of the cavern. "Lieutenant," Tuvok said carefully, "I believe you must be made aware of Lieutenant Torres's condition."

Tom looked at him impatiently. "Condition? What condition?"

"We believe she has contracted pon farr."

Paris stared at him. "Pon what?"

"It is a Vulcan condition," Tuvok explained stoically.

"What kind of Vulcan condition?" asked Tom sharply.

Tuvok cleared his throat uncomfortably. "A . . . condition which must be resolved every seven years for mature Vulcans. It is a . . . biological function," he completed reluctantly.

Tom shifted restlessly. "We don't have a lot of time here, Tuvok. Get to the point. What kind of biological function?"

Looking decidedly uncomfortable, Tuvok said, "It has to do with Vulcan reproduction."

"Sex," Tom corrected tensely, his gaze narrowing. "You say she contracted it. She's Klingon/Human, Tuvok," he finished in exasperated confusion. "How can she contract a Vulcan mating urge?"

"How she contracted the condition is not of importance," replied Tuvok stiffly. "Our priority now is finding Lieutenant Torres as quickly as possible. It is difficult to estimate how soon her condition will become life-threatening."

Paris's distracted eyes suddenly locked with Tuvok's. "Life-threatening? She could die from this?"

"Yes," Tuvok said calmly.

"And you've gone through it every seven years of your adult life?"

"You only need be concerned with Lieutenant Torres's situation."

With Neelix hoisted to safety, Chakotay joined Tuvok and Paris. "Looks like finding B'Elanna won't be easy. Scanning range is limited to about twenty meters, and even that's not too reliable."

"You stated Lieutenant Torres was going after the gallicite," Tuvok said to Paris. "I suggest we do the same in the hopes it will lead us to her."

"Good idea," Tom said, hoisting his pack onto his shoulders and already starting to move toward one of the tunnels. "She went down this one." Without waiting to see whether Chakotay and Tuvok were following, Tom disappeared.

"Paris, wait!" called Chakotay.

Tom poked his head back around the corner, irritation evident on his face. "What?"

Chakotay was still struggling into his pack. "Slow down. We're not ready to go yet."

"Well, hurry up, will you? We've got to find B'Elanna." He turned and reentered the tunnel without a backward glance.

Bemused, Chakotay turned to catch Tuvok's gaze, but the Vulcan was staring after Paris's retreating form with an unreadable expression on his face.

"I suggest we keep up with Mr. Paris, Commander," said Tuvok, striding after the Lieutenant.

Having no choice, Chakotay quickly followed them.

When Janeway walked into Sickbay, she found the Doctor staring intently at a computer console. "Doctor?"

"Ah, Captain. I was just scouring the Federation database for information on pon farr."

"Have you found anything useful?"

The Doctor scowled. "Not particularly. Vulcans are extremely hesitant to discuss this condition with outsiders." He motioned to a padd on his desk. "I am, however, in the process of developing some alternate therapies to help Ensign Vorik."

"You'll need some therapies for Lieutenant Torres, too," Janeway revealed.

"Lieutenant Torres? Don't tell me she's suffering from a similar Klingon affliction? At least there should be more information in the database about Klingon mating habits," the Doctor grumbled. "The Klingons are much more willing to share facts regarding their sexual habits."

Ignoring his last comment, Janeway chose instead to correct his assumption regarding Lieutenant Torres. "We don't believe it's a Klingon affliction. Tuvok thinks B'Elanna may have contracted Vulcan pon farr from Ensign Vorik. Vorik evidently began the mating bond with B'Elanna before she . . ." Janeway paused to choose her words carefully.

"Punched him?" supplied the Doctor helpfully.

"Broke the bond," the Captain corrected acerbically. "Commander Chakotay and Lieutenant Tuvok have beamed down to assist Lieutenant Paris in locating Lieutenant Torres. Do you think you'll have a treatment for her by the time the away team beams back up?"

The Doctor frowned in concentration. "Hmmm. A Klingon/Human hybrid infected with Vulcan pon farr. This could make for a fascinating paper."

"Doctor!"

"Hmmm? Oh yes. Of course." The Doctor turned his attention back to immediate business. "Could you describe the symptoms Lieutenant Torres has been exhibiting?"

"She's been agitated and unpredictable," Janeway offered, "and apparently bit Lieutenant Paris."

The Doctor's eyes lit up. "Really? That's very interesting. There is an entire section in the database on Klingons and biting."

"Doctor," Janeway warned.

Ensign Harris's voice came over the comm system. "Harris to Sickbay. We've got Mr. Neelix, Doctor."

"Very good," the Doctor replied. "Have him beamed directly to Sickbay."

An instant later, a shimmering light appeared over one of the biobeds and Neelix materialized. "Doctor," he gasped, "I think my leg is shattered."

The EMH scanned the injured leg. "Hardly," he said dryly. "You have a fractured femur, which can be easily repaired." As he worked, the Doctor questioned, "You saw Lieutenant Torres, Mr. Neelix. Was she behaving oddly?"

Neelix nodded. "Very oddly. Why, she even bit Tom!"

"So I've heard," the Doctor said. "Did you happen to notice where she bit him?"

"Right on the cheek," Neelix answered.

The Doctor's eyes gleamed. "On the cheek! That's even more interesting. According to Klingon custom, a bite on the face means . . ." The Doctor's voice trailed off. "She bit him. Did you see the bite mark, Mr. Neelix?"

Neelix nodded. "Yes. It was very swollen. You could even see the imprint of individual teeth."

"She didn't break the skin?"

Neelix squinted in concentration. "I believe she did. Yes, I'm sure of it. There was blood on Tom's cheek. Why?"

"I'm not sure," the Doctor mused. "It's just a hypothesis, really."

"What is?" Janeway asked impatiently.

"Theoretically," the Doctor said slowly, "pon farr could be transmitted through blood and saliva. So if Lieutenant Torres was infected by Ensign Vorik, then, in theory . . ."

"B'Elanna may have infected Tom," Janeway finished, eyes wide. "Oh no."

Neelix looked up from his biobed in confusion. "What's pon farr?"

Nearly ten minutes later, Chakotay and Tuvok finally caught up with Paris, and then only because he'd stopped for a drink of water. Even in the dim light of the tunnels, Chakotay could see the flush on the pilot's face. As they approached, Paris dropped his backpack and unzipped his uniform down to his waist, shrugging out of the sleeves.

"Hot, Lieutenant?" Chakotay remarked curiously. Admittedly, they'd been moving at a brisk pace, but as they moved deeper into the caverns the air was growing decidedly cooler.

Tom shot him an irritated glance. "Of course I'm hot. It's like a sauna in here." He hefted his backpack, slinging it over his shoulder. "Come on, she's down this way."

Shaking his head over Tom's unusual authoritarian behavior, Chakotay followed him, looking down at the readings on his tricorder as he did so. The bemused expression on his face slowly changed to one of confusion. Still trailing a few steps behind, he called out, "I'm not getting any readings showing B'Elanna's location. How do you know we're even headed in the right direction?"

Tom's only answer was to increase his pace. Chakotay opened his mouth to order Paris to stop so they could discuss their course of action. For all he knew they were headed in entirely the wrong direction.

Tuvok's soft voice at his side delayed that order. "Commander." The Vulcan held his tricorder out so that Chakotay could see the readings on it as they continued to follow the brisk pace Tom was setting. Chakotay glanced at the readings then took a closer look when he realized what he was seeing. Lieutenant Thomas Paris. Human male. Elevated temperature. Hormonal imbalance. Elevated testosterone levels. There was more but he had seen enough to realize that their problems had suddenly doubled.

He glanced at Tuvok. "What the hell's going on?"

A wrinkle appeared in Tuvok's forehead. For a Vulcan, it was a sign of distinct discomfort. "It appears that Lieutenant Paris has also contracted pon farr."

"I can see that, Lieutenant. But how? Vorik wasn't anywhere near Paris this morning."

Tuvok's gaze remained on Paris. "I believe Lieutenant Torres must have infected Lieutenant Paris."

Chakotay stumbled and nearly fell. "How?"

"It is possible that when Lieutenant Torres bit Lieutenant Paris, she transferred the condition to him." Before Chakotay could open his mouth to protest, Tuvok continued, "Vulcans do not bite, Commander, even under the influence of the pon farr, so there have been no similar cases of such a transference. However, in theory, such an infection is possible. Regardless, the evidence seems irrefutable." He paused and then softly added, "There is also evidence that Mr. Paris is, for lack of a better term, homing in on Lieutenant Torres's location without the use of his tricorder. I believe he is feeling the urge of the mating call and responding accordingly."

Chakotay looked ahead once again, his gaze coming to rest on Voyager's pilot, whose attention was focused solely on his forward trek to the exclusion of all else. Paris moved with a quick, rigid stride. "Don't you think we should tell him?" he asked Tuvok.

"He is entering the plak tow, Commander. It will be difficult to gain his attention, as he will be strongly focused on the mating call. However, I do believe we should attempt to enlighten him before we reach Lieutenant Torres. If he is aware of what is happening, perhaps he will be able to curb his initial need to mate with Lieutenant Torres. The urge will be overwhelming for him."

Chakotay frowned in dismay, and rubbed at his forehead. "And B'Elanna?"

"It would be wise to keep them apart once we have located her, Commander." Tuvok paused. "That is assuming, of course, that you do not wish to allow the pon farr to reach its natural conclusion."

"You mean let them mate?"

"It is not unthinkable, Commander. In fact, it may prove difficult to prevent. The longer it takes to locate Lieutenant Torres, the less likely it is that we will be able to keep them apart once we find her."

Chakotay looked at him quizzically. "But it's only been a few hours. From everything I've heard, and admittedly that's very little, when a Vulcan goes through pon farr, he has days, even weeks, before the urge becomes . . . overwhelming."

Tuvok nodded. "That is correct. However, we are not dealing with two Vulcans. Lieutenant Torres's Klingon ancestry makes her particularly susceptible to the loss of emotional control that comes from the pon farr, and Lieutenant Paris . . ."

Chakotay quirked an eyebrow as Tuvok's voice faded. "Yes?"

Tuvok coughed uncharacteristically. "Lieutenant Paris has in the past proved to be rather susceptible to his hormones. I suspect his response to the pon farr will be even more extreme than Lieutenant Torres's."

Chakotay looked at Tuvok dourly. "Great."

Chakotay and Tuvok rounded a bend in the tunnel. Their discussion abruptly discontinued when they caught sight of Tom pacing back and forth in the middle of the tunnel. His hands were running distractedly through his hair and he was muttering to himself. They could only pick up disjointed parts of what he was saying.

". . . tracking her somehow . . . lost it . . . can't . . . damn it! Think, Paris! . . . have to find her . . . how . . ."

"Paris?" Chakotay said cautiously.

Tom stopped pacing abruptly and pulled his tricorder off his belt, thrusting it toward Chakotay. "You see this?" he said agitatedly.

Chakotay took a step backwards and focused. "See what?"

"Life signs. You see any life signs?"

"No. . . ." Chakotay answered slowly.

"Exactly." Tom took a deep breath. "There aren't any life signs on this thing but I know exactly where B'Elanna is. It's like I've been tracking her with some sort of internal sensors, but that's just plain crazy." He looked at them dubiously. "But I know I was following her trail. I'm certain of that. And now I can't find her."

"Lieutenant--" began Tuvok, only to be cut off by Tom.

"Don't you see? I feel . . . linked to her somehow. It makes no sense, but I felt this pull and I knew if I followed it I would find her. Only once I realized it was there, it disappeared." Tom's voice was growing in volume. "I don't even know how I was doing it! But I can't feel her anymore! All I know is that she needs--" He stopped abruptly and made a visible effort to pull himself together and calm down.

"She needs what?" Chakotay asked.

"Me," Tom said softly, bewildered eyes meeting theirs. "She needs me. She's calling me, somehow, and I have to find her. I need . . ." His voice trailed off and, anguished, he looked to his commanding officers.

Tuvok's voice was calm. "You need her, Lieutenant. Correct?"

Tom spoke in a voice barely louder than a whisper. "What's wrong with me?"

"I believe the bite Lieutenant Torres inflicted upon you has transmitted her pon farr to you," explained Tuvok.

Tom's disbelieving glance traveled from Tuvok to Chakotay. Chakotay nodded his affirmation of Tuvok's statement. "The tricorder shows elevated hormonal levels in your system that are consistent with the state of pon farr."

Tom backed away from them until he came up against the tunnel wall. He clung to it for support. "But-but," he sputtered. "That's not possible! Is it?"

"Apparently, it is," Tuvok said. "It is imperative that we locate Lieutenant Torres and transport you both back to the ship as soon as possible."

Tom grappled with the confusion of having apparently contracted pon farr then thrust it aside to focus on B'Elanna. "How are we going to find her? I can't sense her any longer, Tuvok." Tom stared at Tuvok and Chakotay, his eyes beseeching them to find a solution, and tried not to think about what Tuvok had said earlier about pon farr possibly being deadly.

"I believe I can assist you in homing in on Lieutenant Torres once more," Tuvok replied, his calm, imperturbable voice reassuring Tom. "You have been tracking her telepathically."

Tom looked at him blankly. "I'm not a telepath. Neither is B'Elanna."

"No, but the pon farr initiates a telepathic bond between mates. Were you Vulcan, you would by now be able to hear each other's thoughts. However, even the weak bond you share should be strong enough to allow you to find her." Tuvok approached Paris cautiously. "Close your eyes. You must clear your mind of all distractions."

After a hesitant delay, Tom complied. Tuvok continued, "Focus your thoughts on B'Elanna. Listen for her with your mind."

Tom's eyes snapped open. "What? I don't know what that means."

"You are agitated, Mr. Paris. It is understandable, but you must try to collect yourself. Close your eyes. Block out all external distractions. Listen for B'Elanna."

Eyes shut, Tom complained, "I can't hear anything."

If the situation hadn't been so serious, Chakotay would have laughed, but it was serious. Deadly so.

"Do not listen with your ears, Mr. Paris. Listen with your mind."

Tom opened his mouth to protest again but then snapped it shut. His forehead creased with determined concentration. An instant later a faint look of wonder crossed his face. "I can hear her," he whispered.

"Very good," encouraged Tuvok. "Focus on her. It may help you to visualize the link as a thread between you that cannot be broken. Follow that thread, and you will find B'Elanna."

Chakotay watched Tom's face, seeing the lines of worry smooth out. Tom's eyes snapped open again but it was clear he was no longer seeing Chakotay or Tuvok.

Tom shoved past the two men and moved quickly down the tunnel, practically at a run. Chakotay and Tuvok found it difficult to keep up with him, but knowing what was at stake, they matched his urgent pace.

As they descended deeper into the tunnels, Tom's pace continued to accelerate, to the point where Chakotay was afraid he was going to fall behind. Without warning, Paris stopped short. "She's here," he said breathlessly before he rounded a corner in the tunnel to find B'Elanna in a small cavern, staring fixedly at something embedded in the wall.

As soon as Tom entered the small cavern, B'Elanna turned to him, her face glowing. "Tom," she said, practically purring, and ran to him, "come see what I found." She pointed toward the wall with one hand, and grabbed onto Tom's arm with the other.

Her hand slipped into his as she pulled him toward the wall. He tried to concentrate on what she was doing as she pointed her tricorder at the wall, revealing the gallicite deposits, but her nearness consumed him. Her scent. Her touch. Her warmth. He was reaching to draw her close when Tuvok's calm voice penetrated his fevered haze.

"Lieutenant Torres. We must speak with you."

At Tuvok's side, Chakotay watched as both B'Elanna and Tom turned toward them. A visible shudder ran through Paris and then the pilot pulled his hand from B'Elanna's and attempted to put distance between them.

Tom's hand shook badly when he brushed it through his hair in an attempt to gain some control over the mating urge. He had left himself wide open when using the link to locate B'Elanna and was discovering it was next to impossible to shut it down, especially with her in near proximity. He backed another couple of steps away from B'Elanna but couldn't bring himself to put any more distance between them.

"Look at this!" said B'Elanna excitedly to the three men. "I found the gallicite!" She reached for Tom's hand once more, bringing his palm to her cheek in an unconscious caress as she pulled him close. Tom sent a beseeching look to Tuvok and Chakotay that screamed, Get me out of this or I won't be responsible for what I do next!

"B'Elanna," said Chakotay, "we have to get you back to the ship right away."

"What are you talking about? I found the gallicite! Look!" Her movements pulled Tom even closer as she urged him to look over her shoulder at the mineral deposit.

Tom's breath quickened. His hand moved to her hip and his head lowered so his lips could nuzzle at her neck. B'Elanna leaned back into him, lifting her head to give him better access. The thought that this behavior was at the least unusual, and at the worst inappropriate, didn't enter either of their minds, so it was something of a rude surprise when they felt themselves pulled roughly apart.

"Lieutenants," Tuvok's voice said firmly, "please try to restrain yourselves."

"Get off me," B'Elanna said dangerously, twisting in Tuvok's grip. "What are you doing?" The oppressive heat that had been dogging her all morning had built to an intolerable degree, and she was suddenly aware of an intoxicating scent overwhelming her senses. She sniffed. It was Tom. She needed to taste him again. Growling, she strained against the hold Tuvok had on her.

In some small rational part of his mind, Tom knew that he ought to listen to Tuvok, that he really ought to try to regain control of himself, but every nerve in his body was screaming to get B'Elanna back in his arms again. He took a step forward, only to feel Chakotay's hands tighten on his upper arms.

"Easy, Paris," Chakotay soothed.

Primitive instincts took over, and Tom growled. A sudden, violent jerk sent Chakotay crashing to the floor. Tom crossed the few meters to where B'Elanna was still struggling in Tuvok's arms. Tuvok. He was the only thing preventing Tom from getting to her. Without giving it a second thought, he lashed out, his fist catching Tuvok on the jaw.

Tuvok staggered back, struggling to keep his balance, losing the battle when the ground chose that precise moment to start shaking. Tom stumbled and was thrust against an outcropping, bloodying one bare shoulder. Chakotay rode it out from the ground where Tom had thrust him. Only B'Elanna managed to remain standing.

A loud rumbling sounded around them as the ground continued to shake and then, in a loud roar of dirt and rocks, the away team was sealed in the cavern.

Tom felt as if he'd been run over by a ground transport. Everything ached. He had vague, confused memories of the ground shaking, the floor moving, rocks falling . . . oh god . . . "B'Elanna?"

There was an interminable silence before he received an answer. "I'm all right."

Regaining his feet, Tom leaned against the wall, and blinked. Dust and rubble were everywhere. B'Elanna was to his right, and to his left, Chakotay and Tuvok were shaking their heads and testing for broken bones. "Everyone okay?" Tom asked, feeling remarkably clear-headed.

Chakotay nodded. "I'm all right."

"I, too, am uninjured," Tuvok concurred. "How are you feeling, Mr. Paris?"

Tom took a moment to shake the stiffness out of tense muscles and run a mental checklist for injuries. "Okay. At least I can think clearly again."

B'Elanna turned from Tom to Tuvok and back to Tom again. "Is something wrong with you, Tom?"

Tom grinned feebly. "Nothing wrong with me that isn't wrong with you, B'Elanna." Ignoring her uncomprehending stare, he turned to Tuvok. "Unless it's over already?"

Tuvok was already scanning him with a tricorder. "Unfortunately not. The adrenaline surges have temporarily suppressed the symptoms, but they will recur shortly."

"What symptoms?" B'Elanna asked aggressively. "What the hell is going on?"

"You are experiencing a condition known as pon farr," Tuvok said calmly.

"Pon what?" shot back B'Elanna, her reaction eerily reminiscent to Tom's initial one.

"Your emotional balance has been disrupted," Tuvok explained. "You may not be in control of your more aggressive instincts."

B'Elanna's gaze immediately went to Tom and the bite on his cheek. Not sounding apologetic as she looked back at Tuvok and Chakotay, she said, "I lost my temper for a minute, that's all."

"I'm afraid that isn't all it is, B'Elanna," Chakotay said. Indicating his tricorder, he said, "Both you and Tom are exhibiting symptoms that the medical database classifies as Vulcan pon farr--"

"Vulcan?" B'Elanna interrupted, her voice still rough with confusion and anger. "Does this have something to do with Vorik's assault on me earlier today?"

"Ensign Vorik is undergoing pon farr," Tuvok admitted reluctantly. "I believe the Ensign was attempting to establish a mating bond with you, Lieutenant."

"That petaQ!" B'Elanna spit out as she began pacing restlessly back and forth in the small confines of the cavern.

Tom watched her energized movements with narrowed eyes. His brief spurt of rationality was rapidly fading, and he clenched his fists for control as he fought the urge to throw her on the ground and take her for his mate.

B'Elanna's pacing stopped abruptly when all that Tuvok had said penetrated. "So you're telling me he infected me with some weird Vulcan disease? Some strange mating thing?" She glared at Tuvok before her gaze slid to Tom, whose own feverish eyes met hers. He shrugged noncommittally but she could see the tension in his body as he held himself in check. She felt herself wavering. She wanted to feel his body crushed against hers. She wanted to take him, and be taken by him. He belonged to her. He-- B'Elanna tore her gaze from his before she fell into those blue depths so far there would be no hope of ever climbing back out again.

Spinning back toward Tuvok and Chakotay, she threw all her frustration in their direction. "I thought Vulcans were supposed to be logical! What's with this-this pon farr business?"

Tuvok spoke quietly, forcing her to calm down so that she could hear him. "There is nothing logical about pon farr, Lieutenant. It is a time when instinct and emotion dominate over reason. It cannot be analyzed by the rational mind, nor cured by conventional medicine. Anyone who has experienced it understands it must simply be followed to its natural resolution."

At that, Tom's head whipped around. "What exactly does that mean?" he demanded.

"There are three options that I am aware of," Tuvok replied. "Taking a mate, which Ensign Vorik attempted to do with you, Lieutenant Torres; ritual combat, which does not apply in this situation--"

"Combat?" quizzed B'Elanna.

"An ancient tradition of fighting for one's mate, which, as I have said, is not relevant here. The third alternative is intensive meditation, which I believe you should try until we are able to return to the ship. Hopefully, by that time the Doctor will have found a medicinal solution."

"Or we could just have sex," B'Elanna stated baldly. She turned to find Tom's heated gaze on her.

Tom's fists clenched even tighter, his nails digging into the palms of his hands. He finally turned away, breaking the molten thread flaring between them. The strength of the arousal that had coursed through him at B'Elanna's words shocked and frightened him. If it weren't for Tuvok and Chakotay standing there watching, he'd have taken B'Elanna then and there. How could he possibly control this? He crossed the cavern to get as far away from B'Elanna as he could. "Maybe we'd better try meditation," he croaked.

B'Elanna fought back the impulse to follow Tom to the other side of the cavern. Tempted as she was to dismiss the whole pon farr thing as ridiculous, she couldn't deny the raw emotions and urges ripping through her. Nor could she ignore the obvious outward signs of Tom's own discomfort and the way he was carefully holding his body in check.

It hit B'Elanna with the force of a genesis wave that perhaps this pon farr business was not something to be taken lightly. Tom looked very serious. She switched her gaze to Tuvok and then to Chakotay. Chakotay returned her look with a grave expression that spoke volumes.

"What happens if the Doctor can't find a cure?" she finally asked.

"If the pon farr is not resolved in some manner," replied Tuvok solemnly, "it is quite possible the result could be your deaths."

B'Elanna's gaze slid to Chakotay's for confirmation. Chakotay nodded silently. Almost without thought, B'Elanna turned her gaze back to Tom, who was leaning against the far wall, his lips drawn tightly together in a grimace of pain. B'Elanna tried to speak and found her voice unexpectedly hoarse. "How long do we have?" she asked softly.

"It is difficult to be certain," Tuvok answered. "Based on the rapid progression of your symptoms, I would surmise there remain a few hours perhaps before the condition becomes life-threatening."

The fatalistic silence was broken by the chirp of Chakotay's combadge. Janeway's voice filled the small cavern. "Voyager to away team."

Chakotay tapped his badge. "Go ahead, Captain."

"Have you found B'Elanna, Commander?"

"Yes, Captain. Unfortunately, we've been trapped by a rockslide."

"Is everyone all right?"

Chakotay paused before answering. "Yes, Captain."

"We'll send down a team to try and dig you out, Commander, but it may take a while to reach your position."

"Understood."

"Commander." There was an odd hesitation in Janeway's voice. "Is Lieutenant Paris all right? The Doctor was afraid there might be some complications with the . . . bite."

A loud snort of amusement came from Paris's side of the cavern.

"I'm afraid there are some problems, Captain," returned Chakotay carefully. "Lieutenant Paris's bite seems to be infected. Hopefully, you can get us out of here in time for the Doctor to treat it."

"You can drop the veiled phrasing, Commander." The Captain's voice once more had its usual snap to it. "I'm in my ready room. I take it Tom has contracted pon farr as well."

"It seems that way, Captain."

"The Doctor mentioned that as a possibility. How long before it becomes crucial that Lieutenants Torres and Paris receive treatment?"

Chakotay deferred to Tuvok on that one.

"Unknown, Captain," replied the Vulcan. "Were they Vulcans I could unequivocally tell you that they would most likely be able to control their urges with meditation for a time. However, we are dealing with individuals of Human and Klingon descent and have no data upon which to base a hypothesis. I would urge haste in any event."

"Understood. The rescue team is preparing to beam down as we speak. I'll keep you apprised of their progress. Janeway out."

An uncomfortable silence followed the breaking of the comlink. Chakotay used the opportunity to surreptitiously scan both Tom and B'Elanna with the tricorder. The readings indicated that Tom's hormone levels had been more severely disrupted than B'Elanna's, but that B'Elanna's were rising rapidly. Chakotay peered at the readings again and did some rapid calculations in his head. Based on the readings he'd taken when they first entered the cavern, B'Elanna's hormone levels had been rising slowly and steadily from the instant Vorik had attempted the mating meld. Yet in the past ten minutes, they'd nearly doubled.

Chakotay tapped Tuvok on the arm and showed him the tricorder. "What do you make of this?"

The slightest of frowns crossed Tuvok's normally impassive face. "This is troubling."

"What does it mean?" Chakotay asked, glancing with concern at B'Elanna, who had crouched down against the wall and was staring fixedly at Tom.

"I believe that the Lieutenants' proximity to each other is aggravating their condition. Their pheromonal responses to each other are heightening the plak tow. It is not entirely unexpected, but it may make the situation more difficult."

"Tuvok?" Tom's voice, harsh and breathy, startled them.

Tuvok moved quickly to kneel next to the pilot. "Yes, Mr. Paris?"

Tom closed his eyes, breathing deeply. When he opened them, Tuvok could see the discomfort there. "You'd better help me with some meditation, Tuvok, because I don't know how much longer I'm going to be able to take this. I need to . . ." He closed his eyes and swallowed. "Can you help me?"

"Of course. Can you describe the sensations you are feeling?"

"No!" The frustrated cry escaped his lips. "I can't. It's not like anything I ever . . . god, I want her, Tuvok. I'm trying not to think about it but it's like . . . it's like I'm dying of thirst and I . . . she . . ." With a groan, he buried his head in his knees and wrapped his arms around his legs, clutching them desperately.

Tuvok sat back on his heels, face composed and placid. "Pon farr is often described as a feeling of overwhelming thirst, Mr. Paris. Apparently the condition is affecting you in much the same manner as it affects Vulcans."

"Wonderful," Tom muttered, head still buried. "How do you control it?"

Tuvok shook his head. "You cannot control the uncontrollable, particularly in circumstances such as these. Vulcans meditate in order to distract the mind from the needs of the body."

"Okay," Tom said hoarsely. His breathing was becoming increasingly ragged.

"Perhaps," Tuvok suggested, "we should start with some breathing techniques." His gaze lifted to find Chakotay watching them, and he shook his head slightly.

Chakotay understood the unspoken message. Not good. He moved over to where B'Elanna sat. Crouching beside her, he softly asked, "How are you doing?"

"I can't believe that idiot Vulcan did this to me -- to us," she amended, her gaze fixed across the way on Tom. She watched as Tuvok talked softly to Tom, apparently instructing him in some breathing and mental exercises to help him stay in control and not allow the mating urge to overtake him. Tom's hands, which had been clasped knuckle-white around his legs, slowly loosened but the tenseness remained in his body.

"You heard what Tuvok said," Chakotay said quietly. "This isn't a time when Vulcans are exactly in a rational frame of mind. You--"

"I want him, Chakotay!" she whispered fiercely, her fists pounding at the cavern floor futilely. She started to instinctively move forward toward Tom but Chakotay blocked her with his body. His hands grasped her shoulders.

"B'Elanna."

Still she pushed forward.

"B'Elanna," he said more forcefully. "Listen to me!" Chakotay tried to keep his voice low so he wouldn't distract Tuvok and Tom from what they were doing. It was difficult. Voices carried easily in the small cavern.

Suddenly, B'Elanna wilted in his grasp. He eased her back against the rock face of the wall, all the while making sure he remained in her line of vision to Tom, hoping if he blocked her sight of him it would help.

"You have no idea how hard it is to fight this!" Her breathing was growing more ragged. "I feel like I'm crawling out of my skin! I need to-- he's in me, Chakotay -- I need him -- need to touch him -- have to-to--" Her disjointed rambling died out with an agonized whimper of pain. She buried her face in tightly clenched hands.

Chakotay crouched before her helplessly. With anyone else, he might have attempted to move them into a meditative state much as he used when he spoke to his spirit guide. He knew from experience, however, that B'Elanna wouldn't react well to that. Forgetting his intent to block her view of Paris, Chakotay moved to sit next to her. His hand rubbed over her back in a comforting motion. "Maybe if you concentrate on something else," he suggested. "Something technical. Maybe an Engineering problem? How about a refit of the warp core? Come on, B'Elanna," he encouraged. "What's the first step in a warp core refit?"

After a long moment, she spoke in a muffled voice as she began mentally rebuilding the warp core.

Across the way, Tom felt as if he were about to combust. He'd never experienced a need this strong. It was burning him up from the inside out with its overwhelming hunger. Every thought fed the flames. He kept his body tightly coiled, as if that could hold it in. It wasn't helping. He rocked back and forth in restless movement as he tried to concentrate on Tuvok's calm voice. That wasn't helping either. He tried concentrating on the flight scenarios Tuvok had suggested he run through mentally. That helped somewhat, but it wasn't enough. Finally, Tuvok's stern Security Officer voice broke through Tom's mental chaos and he raised haunted eyes to meet the Vulcan's as Tuvok attempted to gently lead him down a quieter path.

When Tuvok was finished, Tom felt somewhat calmer and bit more in control. He was fearful that control would snap at any moment, however. The urge to throw himself across the cavern and at B'Elanna had not disappeared, but it had receded to a more manageable level -- for the moment.

"Kim to Chakotay." Harry's voice was loud in the stillness of the cavern.

"Thank the spirits," Chakotay said under his breath, and tapped his combadge. "Go ahead, Harry."

"We're at the entrance to the cavern, Commander, but that last landslide completely blocked it in. We're going to need to get some heavy-duty mining tools just to get inside the tunnels."

"Understood," Chakotay answered.

There was a short pause before Harry's voice filled the air again. "Commander? We have a problem out here. Can you contact the ship?"

Tuvok immediately tapped his combadge. "Tuvok to Voyager."

There was no response.

Chakotay spoke into the air. "No, Harry, looks like we can't. What happened?"

"I don't know, sir. We tried to contact them in order to get some equipment, but they're not responding."

With a worried glance at Tom and B'Elanna, Chakotay asked, "Without that equipment, how long will it take you to get into the caves?"

Harry's voice was frustrated. "I'm not sure. We've only got hand tools here. We thought we'd just have to move a few rocks out of the way." He paused. "A few hours, maybe, unless we can re-establish contact with Voyager."

"Keep trying, Ensign," Chakotay instructed. "And keep us apprised of your progress. Chakotay out."

Chakotay paced a few meters away as he once more took readings of B'Elanna and Tom. Tuvok joined him. The Vulcan spoke quietly. "If their symptoms continue to progress at this rate, I do not believe they have a few hours to wait for Ensign Kim's away team to dig us out."

"What do you suggest?" asked a frustrated Chakotay. "It's not as if we have a lot of options."

"I suggest we continue to monitor Lieutenants Paris and Torres and assist them in maintaining their mental equilibrium. However--" Tuvok paused.

"Yes?" questioned Chakotay.

"It is possible, Commander, that they may have to resolve their pon farr in the customary manner."

"You mean--" Chakotay couldn't even say it. He gazed past Tuvok's shoulder, his dark eyes focusing on B'Elanna and Tom, both battling the effects of the pon farr from opposite sides of the cavern.

"It could be worse, you know," said B'Elanna. Chakotay started, thinking for a moment she had overhead his and Tuvok's conversation and was commenting on it. Then he realized that she was gazing across the cavern at Tom, who was returning her look with one of his own.

"Yeah," remarked Tom amusedly, his voice still ragged. "We could have been stuck in here with Neelix telling us leola root is good for what ails us."

"Or the Doctor hovering and making snide remarks," shot back B'Elanna. She and Tom shared a grin.

Chakotay realized they had been silently communing across the cavern while he and Tuvok held their little powwow off to one side discussing their predicament and were now making a point about being excluded from a decision that rightfully was theirs to make. With a sigh, Chakotay turned to face Voyager's engineer and pilot. At least they were talking without trying to mate.

"I must warn you," said Tuvok, "the strength of the urges caused by the pon farr will not remain consistent."

"It's gonna kinda ebb and flow, isn't it?" asked Tom, his tone indicating he had already figured out this much for himself. "Like waves on an ocean?"

"I was thinking more like antimatter in a warp core," put in B'Elanna.

"You would," shot back Tom. They both grinned tiredly.

"You must not let your guard down," cautioned Tuvok. "Each new wave of the pon farr will be harder to resist."

"Watch out for the undertow," muttered Paris.

B'Elanna surprised him with a bark of laughter. His eyes met hers. Something hot and dangerous flashed in both their gazes. Tom's eyes closed, a strong shudder running the length of his body as he tried to get the urge under control once more.

B'Elanna pressed herself back against the hard rock wall of the cavern, biting her lower lip until she drew blood as she attempted to master the fiery trail of desire and need that coursed through her. It burned. She burned. For him.

Fragile moments later, Tom choked out, "Harry's not gonna get here in time, is he?"

"It is unlikely," Tuvok replied.

"God," Tom said miserably, dropping his head to his knees again. His body was aflame. He wanted her. He needed her. He ached to hold her, love her, take her . . . take her hard, mark her, make her his . . . to join with her, be one with her, be in her, feel her around him, hot and warm and . . . oh god. "Come on, Harry," he muttered under his breath. He wasn't going to be able to withstand it much longer.

B'Elanna stared across the cavern at Tom's trembling figure, fighting instincts that would have her flinging her body across the cavern to take him by force. If Harry didn't get there in time, she and Tom were going to have to mate, or else risk death, and she certainly wasn't prepared to die just to avoid having sex with Tom Paris.

You don't want to avoid it, a voice inside her whispered. You want this. You've wanted this for a long time. And he wants it too.

"No," B'Elanna whispered, denying the truth she'd been hiding from for months. With a groan, she wrapped her arms tighter around herself.

This can't be happening, Tom moaned to himself dismally. He wanted B'Elanna. He couldn't deny that. He'd wanted her for months. What scared him now though was being forced to engage in-- damn! He grimaced as the pon farr sent another stabbing flame of lustful hunger coursing through his body at the mere thought of her. He didn't want only to have sex. That was what scared him. He wanted an actual relationship, with all the highs and lows that came with it. He was scared that being forced into this now would destroy any hopes of their friendship developing into something deeper, something more meaningful.

"It's not supposed to happen this way," Tom muttered, not realizing he had spoken aloud.

"What's not supposed to happen this way?" B'Elanna asked, resting her chin on her knees and risking a look at Tom.

Tom risked a look back. "Us. Our first time. It's not supposed to be like this."

B'Elanna snorted. "Getting a little ahead of yourself, aren't you? There is no us."

Tom shifted uncomfortably. "You must have known I was interested. You couldn't have missed it. You . . . you must have known."

B'Elanna was quiet for a long time before she answered softly, "I knew. How could I not? All those invitations to dinner. All those times on the holodeck -- the way you would stare at me when you thought I wasn't looking. And the invitation to go sailing on Lake Como? I'm not blind, Tom."

"No. You're just not interested in me." His voice was wistful.

B'Elanna frowned. "I never said that."

Tom grinned weakly. "You didn't have to. You made it perfectly clear without saying a word. I'm not blind either, B'Elanna."

B'Elanna stared at him. He looked so forlorn, so lonely, all huddled by himself against the cavern wall. She had no idea she was presenting the same picture. All she knew was that she wanted nothing more than to go to him and hug him and tell him he was wrong. "I was just afraid to admit it," she said softly.

Tom closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Don't do this." His voice was weary. He was weary. "Don't pretend it's something it isn't. It's already hard enough as it is to fight this . . . this urge off."

"Then maybe you should stop fighting it," she replied in hushed tones.

Tom stared silently across the cavern at her. Suddenly there didn't seem to be such a big chasm between them.

"Just let it happen," she encouraged him.

A breath of dismay hitched in his chest. It was the blood fever talking. This wasn't B'Elanna. She didn't truly want him. What she wanted was to fulfill her overwhelming instinct to mate. His eyes dark with sorrow, Tom said, "I hope someday you'll say that to me and mean it."

B'Elanna let loose a weak, disbelieving laugh. "Are you sure you're Tom Paris? The Tom Paris I know was never this hard to get."

Tom grinned tiredly at her. She had a point. He never thought to find himself in a situation where a beautiful woman was offering herself to him and he would refuse. But this was B'Elanna. She was special. His expression sobered. "I'm making an exception this time. You have no idea how much I want to--" He sighed. "I can't. Not this way. It's not right. For us." His eyes met hers. "You deserve better."

B'Elanna stared at him long and hard, trying to fathom where this Tom Paris had been hiding for the past three years. Then, breaking eye contact, her head drooped wearily back down to rest on her knees as she murmured, "There isn't better. I just want you."

Tom's gaze remained on the lone figure on the other side of the cavern. She'd never been so close and yet so far away. Not fair! he silently cried, wincing as another wave of the mating urge coursed through him, stronger than the last and actually painful. He felt as if he were being consumed by an inferno. With a last defeated look in B'Elanna's direction, his eyes closed, a grimace crossing his face as he tried to fight off the blood fever.

Across the cavern, Chakotay remained silent. He'd heard every word of Tom and B'Elanna's conversation -- it would have been impossible not to -- and he was finding it difficult to come to grips with the fact that B'Elanna had apparently fallen hard for Tom. And even more difficult to conceive was Tom Paris's evident refusal to take what B'Elanna was offering. It was not a level of gallantry he would have expected from a man like Paris. Giving a mental shrug, he turned to Tuvok, who was running another scan on the two lieutenants. "What's the verdict?" he whispered.

"The pheromonal effect is continuing to accelerate the course of the pon farr. They must act soon."

Chakotay looked around the cavern. Then looked again. "Tuvok," he said, voice slightly strangled, "have you given any thought to where this act is going to take place?"

"Here, of course, Commander."

"Here--" Chakotay paused. When he spoke again, frustration colored his voice. "Have you looked around this cozy little cavern we find ourselves in lately?" he asked. "There's no place for them to go to do it in privacy."

"On the contrary, Commander. Where they should go to resolve the pon farr is not the problem. The problem is where we should retreat to."

"There is no place to retreat to!" Chakotay hissed under his breath.

"As Captain Janeway is fond of saying, Commander," replied Tuvok blandly, "we shall have to make the best of the situation."

There were times when Chakotay felt he could cheerfully strangle Tuvok. This was definitely one of those times. He took a deep, cleansing breath, attempting to think clearly about the situation. As much as he hated to admit it, Tuvok was right. B'Elanna and Tom weren't the problem. He and Tuvok were.

Chakotay turned to check their status. Their condition had deteriorated drastically in the past twenty minutes. Both were hunched close to the ground, listless and no longer responding to their surroundings or each other.

"They can't wait any longer, can they?" Chakotay asked reluctantly. "It has to happen now."

"Soon they will be past the point at which they can act on their impulses, Commander," Tuvok stated. "It must be now, before it is too late."

"Or we lose both of them?"

Tuvok's grim gaze confirmed that.

Frowning, Chakotay approached Paris. Tuvok followed. They knelt on opposite sides of Tom. Reaching out, Chakotay placed a hand on Paris's shoulder and gently shook him. "Tom?"

There was no reaction. Chakotay and Tuvok shared a concerned glance before Chakotay shook Tom once more and repeated his name loudly.

Finally, Paris's head lifted lethargically and his unfocused gaze rested on Chakotay for a long moment. He squinted blearily at Chakotay, trying to get him into focus. Once his vision cleared, he took in the Commander's grim expression. A melancholy smile crossed fleetingly over Tom's face. "Harry didn't make it in time, did he?"

Chakotay shook his head. "You can't wait any longer, Tom."

Tom's gaze took in B'Elanna's still form before turning back to Chakotay and Tuvok. A look of dismay flitted across his face as he stared at the two men, then stared around the small cavern. "Where . . ."

"Here," Chakotay answered succinctly.

Tom's eyes showed his dismay. "But--"

"We won't watch," Chakotay reassured him, forcing a wry smile. "I promise." Seeing Tom's dubious expression, Chakotay shook his head. "There's no choice anymore. If you don't do this, you'll die. You'll both die."

Tom's shoulders slumped. "I know." He reached for a handhold on the wall and tried to pull himself to his feet, but was forced to give up after a couple of tries. "I don't think I can walk."

"We will assist you, Lieutenant," Tuvok responded calmly. "Give me your hand."

Tom held out a shaky hand for Tuvok to grasp. As Tuvok pulled him to his feet, his legs faltered. Chakotay quickly got an arm around his waist and held him up until his legs steadied. They walked him part way across the cavern, until Tom suddenly stopped. "No," he said softly.

"Tom," Chakotay said firmly, "B'Elanna will die if you don't help her, and so will you."

"No." Tom shook his head. "I mean," he paused, taking a steadying breath, "I have to go the rest of the way by myself. This is between B'Elanna and me."

"Are you certain you can make it on your own, Lieutenant?" asked Tuvok.

"I can make it," Tom said determinedly.

Tuvok and Chakotay released him, both keeping a vigilant eye on him as he made his way unsteadily to B'Elanna's side.

Tom carefully lowered himself next to B'Elanna. Reaching out, he tenderly lifted her head and brushed the hair back from her face.

"Umm," moaned B'Elanna at his touch before her eyes snapped open. "Tom?"

"Here, B'Elanna. Right here. It's time."

"Time?" Her eyes clouded in confusion.

"Time for us." Tom's eyes were bright. She was so close now. Her presence soothed him, grounded him. She was his. Leaning forward, he kissed her gently, his pulse building to a dull roar when her lips parted beneath his.

B'Elanna was barely conscious. Everything ached, everything felt wrong. She needed . . . she needed something . . . and then there was a gentle presence next to her, a soft voice speaking to her, and then lips on hers. A jolt of electricity ran through her as their mouths met. Yes, oh yes, this was what she needed. She opened her mouth wider, welcoming him.

Tom shuddered. God, oh god oh god . . . a jolt of energy coursed through him, frightening in its power, intoxicating in its intensity. "B'Elanna," he breathed into her mouth. She responded with a moan and suddenly kissing wasn't enough, wasn't nearly enough. He needed everything, all of her, all at once. His lips never left hers as his hands ripped at her clothing, fighting against the unyielding fabric, growling in victory as the cloth tore at the seams.

B'Elanna gasped as the cool air hit her fevered skin. Blindly, she reached for Tom's jumpsuit, clutching and clawing at it until the fabric shredded beneath her fingers.

Chakotay jumped when Tuvok's hand touched his shoulder. "I believe we should retreat now, Commander."

The sound of fabric ripping galvanized Chakotay into action. "Yes, you're right." He turned away and followed Tuvok. The Vulcan settled on the ground near the buried opening where, hopefully, Ensign Kim's away team would eventually put in an appearance. Pulling out his tricorder, Tuvok sat with his back to Torres and Paris and proceeded to pull up a file on his tricorder for data input.

Sitting beside him, Chakotay asked, "What are you doing?"

"Working on upcoming security personnel reviews," replied Tuvok, apparently unaffected by the sounds coming from the other side of the cavern.

It wasn't so easy for Chakotay to tune the sounds out. He heard more noises that sounded like fabric ripping interspersed with satisfied sighs quickly buried by groans of passion. He sat stiffly beside Tuvok, who seemed totally unconcerned by current events, and tried to concentrate on anything but his immediate surroundings. It didn't work. Sudden, unexpected noises from behind him kept jerking his attention back to the here and now. Groans. Moans. Soft murmurs. Silence that painted vivid pictures in his mind of what might be taking place just a few meters behind him. Unexpected laughter and further moans of frustrated arousal.

Chakotay could only hope it would be over quickly, and that the Vulcan at his side would not notice how his body was responding to the erotic serenade that played beautifully to the acoustics in the cavern. Being unable to see what was happening only made it worse. His imagination took over and in his mind's eye he saw two unclothed bodies moving together, pale flushed skin sliding over heated bronzed skin. The urge to let loose a frustrated groan of his own was overwhelming but Chakotay knew all that would garner him was a raised eyebrow from Tuvok.

The back of Tom's tank top parted beneath B'Elanna's questing hands. She pulled it off him in no time flat and then she drew him to her, lips seeking his throat, his jaw, his mouth. Her fingers raked over his back as she reveled in the feel of her bare breasts crushed to his chest.

Tom's hands moved from her shoulders, sliding in a sensual path down her sides to her hips. He pushed impatiently at the uniform there, wanting it gone, wanting all barriers gone. He pressed her to the ground, quickly divesting her of boots and the remainder of her uniform and undergarments.

With a guttural growl, B'Elanna thrust herself at him, knocking him to his back. She landed astride him, giving him a wide grin. Grinning back, Tom reached up, cupping her breasts, their peaks already hardened from the blood fever. She extracted herself from his grasp with a flirtatious wiggle and slid down his body. Pulling off his boots, she flung them far away. The rest of his clothing soon followed.

Chakotay grunted when something hit him unexpectedly in the back. He instinctively turned to see what it was and found his gaze trapped by two nude bodies writhing together on the ground. Face flushing with embarrassment and arousal, Chakotay grabbed the boot that had impacted with his spine and quickly turned back around.

Tuvok glanced over at the boot Chakotay held. "Events are proceeding as expected," he noted before returning his attention to his tricorder, apparently oblivious to the action behind them.

Chakotay sent a gaze heavenward, beseeching his gods to intervene and spare him from the rest of this. He pulled his own tricorder out and pretended to be studying something on it. His hearing, however, refused to grant him ignorance to activities occurring in near proximity, and he couldn't help noting that they seemed to be picking up the pace with louder, more pronounced, vocalizations. He wasn't looking forward to the reports that would have to be made and filed following this away mission.

Tom was having a very difficult time remembering why this had seemed like such a bad idea earlier. Right now, it seemed like a good idea. A very good idea. An amazingly excellent idea. B'Elanna crept back up his body and straddled him, teasing him with her moist heat, rubbing back and forth along his fully aroused erection. He growled with frustration as she continued to torment him, her face flushed with desire. After a few more seconds of the enticing torment, he decided he'd had enough.

Reaching up, Tom grabbed B'Elanna by the shoulders. With considerable effort, he pulled her down until she lay fully on top of him. The heat of her against him was almost more than he could bear. Grunting with exertion, he flipped her over so he was on top, pinning her down by her wrists. This, he thought enthusiastically, was more like it. Her breasts tantalized him and he moved in.

B'Elanna arched upward with a loud gasp when Tom's mouth made contact with her breast. Oh gods. The sensation tore through her body, settling in her groin. A rush of wetness soaked her upper thighs. She couldn't remember the last time she'd been this excited. She didn't think she'd ever been this excited.

Tom wedged one leg between hers and teased her with a firmly muscled thigh. She thought she might explode from the sensual overload alone. She wanted him. Now. But he was holding her captive, and she was either still weak from the pon farr or Tom was stronger than she'd thought, because she couldn't quite break his hold. Or perhaps it was simply that she didn't really want to.

Switching back and forth from one breast to the other, Tom wished he could somehow suck on both of them at the same time. B'Elanna's panting and moaning and her soft cries excited him. With a groan of his own, he moved in on her mouth, plundering it with his tongue, before nipping at her jaw.

As Tom's teeth grazed her jawline, B'Elanna couldn't hold back a frenzied exclamation. Her eyes flew open. Tom's face was close to hers. Her gaze was drawn to the bite mark on his cheek. Her mark, a reminder of her claim on him. Instinctively, she leaned forward and bit him again -- hard.

From his uncomfortable seat on the hard ground, Chakotay could hardly avoid hearing the sudden and loud, "OW!" He was almost tempted to turn around but, with a great effort of will, restrained the urge, only to find himself shifting uncomfortably again but for entirely different reasons. Damn these Starfleet away uniforms anyway. He was afraid he was going to split his at the crotch, and how in the world was he going to explain that to Ensign Kim when he showed up?

With a sigh, he turned back to his padd, glancing out of the corner of his eye at Tuvok's still form. Damn Vulcans, and double damn their mating urges.

Tom's head reeled. She had bitten him. Again. It should have hurt, but the pon farr transformed the sensation into a shivering, ineffable burst of pleasure. He pulled back to look down at her, lying on the ground, pinned beneath him, sensuously licking the blood off her lips. He ground his groin into hers, drawing a provocative moan from her. She arched upward, seeking his body. Grinning, he lunged impulsively for her cheek. As his teeth sank into her skin, B'Elanna screamed and writhed beneath him, sending a fresh wave of arousal through his body. She quivered in near orgasmic delight as he continued to lay claim to her.

B'Elanna was lost. No one had ever bitten her before, and she couldn't believe how erotic it was to have Tom's tongue brushing over the open wound, sending tiny slivers of pleasure through her with every lick. His erection pulsed against her leg and she hoped she wouldn't have to wait too much longer.

She whimpered with disappointment when his leg, wedged between hers, was removed. The fire that coursed through her veins wasn't enough to sustain her. She needed him. His touch. His-- She gasped as his hand dove into her warmth, his fingers rubbing at her swollen center. She pushed her hips up toward his touch, wanting more. He obliged her by plunging a finger deeply into her.

"More!" she chanted. "More moremoremore."

Tom couldn't hold back any longer. The blood fever roared in his ears, demanding release. Demanding that he join with her. Demanding that he plant his seed within her. In one quick movement, he released her wrists and, when her hips rose up to meet his, he plunged into her.

"yyyeeeeeeeesssssss."

Chakotay's eyes shot upward from the tricorder. He focused intently on the rockslide before him, knowing he dared not so much as glance at Tuvok lest his own arousal be revealed. He recognized the fulfillment in Paris's voice. It was the satisfied sound of joining. His eyes closed and his fists clenched, fighting the overwhelming urge to slide his hand to his cock and relieve the building pressure there.

Moments later, Chakotay's eyes snapped back open at the sound of his combadge chirping. It was only then that he realized, to his horror, that he had been rocking in time to the frenzied movements and panting behind him. With a great deal of effort he stilled his movements, forgetting what had prompted him to open his eyes in the first place.

"Your combadge, Commander?" reminded Tuvok, barely loud enough to be heard over the rising crescendo of the joined couple behind them.

Feeling the heat rise in his face, Chakotay activated his combadge, giving no thought to the fact that the noise in the background was certain to be picked up by the party calling him.

"Chakotay."

Harry started to speak but felt his mouth snapping shut at the unexpected guttural noises coming from Chakotay's end of the comlink. It sounded like -- but no, it couldn't be -- they wouldn't -- not with Chakotay and Tuvok there -- would they--? Harry nearly had himself convinced himself that he was not hearing what he thought he was hearing until his gaze met Harris and Moore's. Their eyes immediately darted away but not before verifying Harry's first impression. He swallowed uneasily.

"Uh, Commander, is everything all right over there?"

"Everything's fine, Ensign," returned Chakotay in an uncharacteristically clipped tone of voice. "What progress have you made?"

"We're past the rockslide outside and are in the tunnels headed for your location, but we still have to--"

"Harder!" came B'Elanna's passion-filled voice over the link, followed by sharp, staccato gasping as her request was apparently satisfied.

Harry rushed to finish what he had been saying before he lost his nerve. "--we still have to dig you out of the inner cavern, so it could be some time yet before we get you out of there. And I haven't been able to contact Voyager."

There was no mistaking what he was hearing over the link now, and Harry was too well acquainted with those voices to not recognize them, even in the throes of an all-too-audible passion. He shut his eyes, trying to banish the unsettling images flashing through his head. The Doctor had indicated that Tom and B'Elanna were both in need of medical attention but hadn't been more specific than that. And the Captain had stressed that speed in retrieving the trapped away team was of the utmost importance. Harry had been visualizing all sorts of bloody scenarios not-- He gave himself a mental shake. Not this, whatever this was.

Tom's voice joined B'Elanna's in a pitch that indicated they were rapidly approaching climax. His face burning with embarrassment, Harry turned away from the knowing eyes of Harris and Moore. He spoke quietly spoke into his combadge. "Commander, are Tom and B'Elanna all right?"

On the other end of the link, Chakotay's eyes widened, only then realizing that Harry was hearing everything that was happening in the cavern. Chakotay opened his mouth to utter a very old oath but what came out instead in rapid-fire monotone was, "They're fine, Ensign. Get here as soon as you can. We'll worry about contact with Voyager then. Chakotay out." He slammed a hand to his badge, severing the link, wishing he could sever the sounds behind him as well.

B'Elanna brought her legs up, wrapping them around Tom's waist, pulling him in as close as she could, but it seemed impossible to get close enough. He was a thirst she couldn't quench. The more he filled her the more parched she grew, panting with a need that torched her depths and set her blood afire. She shifted beneath him, seeking the thus far elusive completion. His essence filled her and yet she reached for more, and kept reaching, until the kindling flame within her burst into a raging bonfire.

His hands returned to her wrists, holding her arms down on the ground over her head and, inflamed by her nearness, he pounded relentlessly into her, moving with deep, passionate thrusts, all the power of the blood fever behind them. B'Elanna pushed her hips up to meet his thrusts. She burned with a ferocious need. And only he could satisfy the burning.

"Harder," she pleaded.

"Want you!" he gasped. "B'Elanna!"

"Now--!" She cut off, a breathless orgasmic scream shooting forth instead.

"God!" Tom grunted convulsively, his whole body heaving.

Overwhelming pleasure blinded them, flooding every pore, lasting for an infinite eternity.

When it ended, they collapsed heavily to the ground, Tom barely managing to roll off B'Elanna before his arms gave way. Like fish out of water, they lay on the floor of the cavern, panting in tandem and, for the moment, completely spent.

Thank god. Chakotay exhaled a huge sigh of relief. An intolerable half an hour was over. Now Tom and B'Elanna could get dressed, and he could forget that this whole miserable experience had ever happened. He hoped.

Next to him, Tuvok had pulled out his tricorder. Without turning around, Tuvok held the tricorder behind him, aiming it at Tom and B'Elanna. After a few seconds, he brought it back around and scrutinized the display.

"Well?" Chakotay prompted, impatient with the prolonged lack of reaction from Tuvok. "Will they be all right?"

"They will be fine, Commander," Tuvok assured him. He continued to fine-tune the readings on the tricorder, frowning slightly in concentration.

Chakotay relaxed. "I should go make sure they're all right."

Tuvok arched an eyebrow at him. "That would not be advisable."

"Why not? They might need medical attention."

Tuvok opened his mouth to answer, then closed it, uncharacteristically at a loss for words. He handed Chakotay the tricorder instead.

Frowning, Chakotay took the tricorder, squinting at the display. It took him a few seconds to process the information, and a sinking feeling settled in his stomach. "Tuvok," he said slowly, "their hormone levels are almost as elevated as they were before."

"Indeed," Tuvok said, taking the tricorder back. "I suspect their inability to establish a full mind-meld prevented them from completely resolving the pon farr."

"What does a mind-meld have to do with anything?" Chakotay asked, wincing as he heard low murmurs start up behind him.

"The pon farr is purged from the body through a combination of chemicals released during orgasm. The mind-meld enhances the production of these necessary chemicals. Without the mind-meld, a single act of intercourse is apparently insufficient to completely resolve the pon farr."

Chakotay couldn't hold back the groan that, predictably, earned him a look of disapproval from the Vulcan at his side. "So how many acts will it take?"

Tuvok tapped a few more tricorder buttons. "It is difficult to be certain. There are many variables which cannot be predicted with accuracy."

Chakotay was desperate. "Take a guess, Tuvok."

Tuvok should his head. "I cannot. We will have to wait and see, Commander."

Chakotay sighed, dropping his head in his hands as the soft noises behind him started to change in tone from whispers to moans. "Great."

Tom couldn't stop panting. He had never -- never -- had an orgasm like that. It was like . . . like . . . words failed him. His heart was pounding so hard, he figured Chakotay and Tuvok could hear it on the other side of the cavern. Next to him, B'Elanna lay on her back, hand over her eyes. Tom saw, with some dismay, bruises on her wrists. "Did I hurt you?" he said softly, running his fingers over the marks.

"Huh?" B'Elanna opened her eyes and blinked, staring with surprise at the dark marks on her wrists. "No. I didn't even notice."

There was an awkward silence for a few minutes as they both shifted restlessly, trying to get comfortable on the unyielding cavern floor. Finally, Tom asked, "How are you feeling?"

"Fine," B'Elanna said, rubbing some sweat out of her eyes and getting dirt in them in the process. "You?"

"Okay," Tom answered. "My heart's still pounding overtime though."

"Mine too," B'Elanna answered, grinning weakly. She placed her hand on her chest, feeling the pounding so close to the surface. Her breasts itched. Without thinking, she reached to scratch them.

Tom watched with fascination as B'Elanna idly ran her hands across her breasts. His breath caught in his throat at the sight and he felt a twitch between his legs and a low burning sensation in his groin. "Um," Tom said nervously.

"What?" B'Elanna asked, becoming uncomfortably aware of an ache down deep in her belly.

"I think . . ." Tom paused, swallowing, quickly losing the battle against the urges that were rising out of nowhere. "I think I need to . . ." He swallowed again, shuddering as need flared up once more.

B'Elanna saw the struggle in his face and knew it was echoed in her own. A pointless battle, she realized. There would be no stopping this. "Tom," she said intently, "don't fight it so hard this time." She stared into his eyes until she saw full-fledged arousal flash in them. Pulling him to her, she claimed his mouth with her own.

The kiss quickly turned possessive. Her tongue invaded his mouth, plundering it mercilessly. He tried to answer back but found that his own tongue kept running into the barrier of hers, allowing him no harbor within her mouth. Giving in momentarily, Tom lay back, pulling her with him so she was atop him. His hands stroked her back and buttocks. A fresh wave of unfulfilled need burst within him when her mouth left his to trail along his jaw line, the bite, then his neck. Her hold loosened and, giving a heave, Tom rolled them over so he rested atop her. He settled between her legs, enjoying the feel of her thighs coming into contact with his hips as her legs wrapped around him. He was caught off guard when she rolled them over again and once more gained the upper position.

She sat astride him and gave him a feral grin. Tom tried to reach up to
capture her breasts, but her hands moved from his shoulders to his wrists. She forced his arms down until his hands were trapped on the ground beside his head. Clamped in her tight embrace, Tom tried to break her hold and found he couldn't. Giving her a big grin, he heaved, trying to dislodge her from her perch but found she wasn't budging.

Her eyes flashed with arousal and she released a low, dangerous growl. "You're mine."

Gods, they were actually talking this time, despaired Chakotay. Bad enough to hear the lovemaking noises just a few meters away but now he'd be privy to their intimate lovers' voices as well.

"You're mine."

"So take me!"

Chakotay winced at Paris's challenge. A sudden, loud "oomph!" from Paris and then a sound suspiciously like a body slapping against a hard surface told Chakotay that the dare had been taken and met. A momentary silence had him close to turning to check their status, until Paris's voice stopped him. A long drawn-out groan that spoke of unnamable pleasures filled the cavern and Chakotay found himself wishing for a pair of earplugs. And privacy from shrewd Vulcan eyes.

Tom wasn't sure how it happened. One minute he had been on the ground with her hovering over him with an expression that promised many wonderful things and the next she was slamming him back against the cavern wall. He didn't even have time to register the rough rocks cutting into his backside before she pinned him to the wall and roughly took his erection in her hand, wrapping possessive fingers around him. The blood fever flared impossibly bright. He had to have her. Now.

Tom's gaze snapped into focus when her intoxicating touch was suddenly gone. He wilted against the cavern wall for a moment before searching her out. She was near, kneeling before him, a deceptively gentle expression on her face. Then that feral look was back as she reached out, ever so slowly, to gently run a finger up and down the length of his erection.

With a roar, Tom launched himself at her. She jumped to her feet. He followed. Grabbing her by the shoulders he turned her and slammed her into the cavern wall, grinding his body against her, his mouth devouring hers. She moaned. Loudly. Inflamed, he pushed in between her legs. She pushed him away. He came at her again. She dodged out of his reach, a hand briefly skimming over his erection and buttocks. His hand found her shoulder and pulled her back against his chest, one arm encircling her chest and pressing against her breasts, the other diving into the warm channel between her legs. His head descended and he bit her right shoulder, drawing blood. She screamed her hunger for him before spinning out of his grasp.

Her leg kicked out, sweeping his long legs out from beneath him. Tom went down on his back, the impact knocking the breath from him, and then she was on him, all over him, frenzied in her attempt to cover every inch of his body. He reached for her but she pinned him to the ground, not giving him permission to move.

They froze in place, their breathless panting the only sound in the cavern. Then a wave of intolerable heat tore through Tom and he bucked underneath her. His throbbing erection brushed against her heated channel and she gasped, but stayed astride him, not permitting anything more from him.

"B'Elanna . . ." Tom moaned, fighting against her hold on his wrists.

Ever so slowly, B'Elanna began to rub her body up and down Tom's length. Growling low in her throat, she tantalized him, inch by inch, sliding back and forth in a sensual full-body caress.

"B'Elanna . . ." Tom moaned again. "Please."

Grinning, she shook her head at him and kept up her slow assault.

Chakotay was running out of meditation techniques to try. As a last resort, he attempted to list them, in his mind, in the old tongue. Eyes shut tight, as if that would help to block out the noise, he chanted softly to himself.

"Oh god!" B'Elanna's cry cut through his concentration like a knife. Her breathy panting grew louder and louder. Soft moans became high-pitched gasps. "Oh god, so good . . ."

There was no answer from Tom except a frustrated moan. Chakotay shook his head, not even needing to imagine the scene behind him. Gods, was this never going to end?

Unable to move, Tom was helpless to prevent B'Elanna from taking her pleasure how she wanted it. She moved against him frantically, her eyes closed and her head thrown back. Rubbing harder and faster against him, she moaned her delight. "Oh god oh god oh god," she chanted, moving more quickly.

Tom ached to be inside her. Not that this didn't feel good -- it felt great -- but the pon farr was demanding that he join with her completely. Futilely, he bucked underneath her again, whimpering slightly when his erection slid between her swollen lips only to slide back out and away.

"Yes!" Grinding down hard, B'Elanna caught her breath and screamed.

Beneath her, Tom was transfixed by the beauty of B'Elanna's face as she writhed in orgasmic pleasure. It was almost enough to make him forget the need that still burned within him. Almost.

Panting, B'Elanna opened her eyes. Tom lay trembling beneath her. His erection pulsed against her, beating a tattoo of need near her center, near the hollow ache inside her. An emptiness within cried out to be filled. By Tom. She wanted him inside her, deeper than anyone had ever been, thrusting and thrusting until he filled her. She moved against him again. The warm fluid that had leaked out from between her legs coated his erection.

"You want me, Tom?" she asked hungrily.

"Please," he answered desperately, feeling a renewed rush of heat tear through him. If he had to wait any longer, he was going to scream.

Deliberately, B'Elanna positioned herself above him, wrapping a warm hand around him and using the other to open herself. In one swift movement, she impaled herself on him.

This time it was both voices crying out in ecstasy. Chakotay bit back a groan and shifted restlessly, itching to relieve the ache in his own groin. Beside him, Tuvok remained still, implacable as ever. Chakotay shot him a nasty glance and went back to his useless meditation.

Hands finally freed, Tom gripped B'Elanna's hips, holding her in place as she rode him. With tiny shifting movements, she slid up and down, her inner muscles caressing him, her heat surrounding him. Tom was dimly aware of rocks cutting into his bruised back, of an ache in his already bloody shoulder, of a burning sensation in his cheek where B'Elanna had marked him. Yet those sensations paled in comparison to the overwhelming feeling of B'Elanna taking him. God, it was so good . . . so, so good. Groaning, Tom gripped her a little harder and pushed his hips up to meet her downward thrusts.

"Mmmmmm." B'Elanna was humming softly to herself, long past the point of coherent speech. Faster, harder, deeper . . . each downward push brought her that much closer to the delicious edge she was perilously near sliding over. She didn't want it to be over, yet she was frantic for release. In the end, the urge for completion won. She leaned over and, bracing herself on Tom's chest, thrust frenetically against him.

The coil of sexual frenzy wound tighter and tighter within Tom until he felt as if he was going to burst and scatter across the universe. Every nerve in his body, every fiber of his being, was screaming for release. He wasn't sure which was faster:  the pounding of his heart, his constant gasping for breath, or the rhythm of his cock inside her.

B'Elanna stiffened and threw her head back. "Now, Tom, now."

And the universe exploded in multicolor flashes of light and sound and joy.

The cacophony of joyous moans died down and Chakotay permitted himself to take a deep breath. Across the cavern, Tom and B'Elanna were still panting, but were otherwise silent. No moans, no little cries of joy, no whispered words of loving. Whew. He mopped his brow, dismayed at the sweat he found there. This was slow and painful torture, that's what it was. This last round had sounded boisterous enough. Chakotay had high hopes that it was the end of this craziness.

Tuvok was running another surreptitious scan with the tricorder held behind his back. It only took a minute, and then he brought the tricorder back around to his front, the display a riot of blinking red and green lights.

Chakotay peered at the tricorder hopefully, but Tuvok simply shook his head. Not done yet.

Stifling a groan, Chakotay seriously contemplated banging his head against the wall until he knocked himself unconscious. Then, at least, he wouldn't have to listen to . . . that . . . again. Or he could throw himself at Tuvok . . . snorting to himself in amusement, Chakotay settled down to his padd again. Desperate as he was for relief, he was nowhere near that desperate. Not even close.

A muffled moan from across the way distracted him, and for a minute he was afraid they were already starting up again. God, what exactly does this pon farr business do to you, anyway? But then he realized that this moan was one of genuine pain. From Tom.

"Ow. Ow ow ow."

B'Elanna looked at Tom in concern. "Are you all right?"

"No." Tom shifted uncomfortably on the floor. "There's a rock underneath my shoulder blade. It's cutting into my back."

B'Elanna moved off him and helped him up. "Let me see," she said efficiently.

Tom turned his back to her and B'Elanna paled. "Oh Tom, you're a mess!" The rock had gouged a huge scrape in his back and there were innumerable other bruises from when B'Elanna had slammed him into the wall, not to mention two long sets of bloody scratches that B'Elanna suspected had come from her nails. She didn't even remember scratching him. "Does it hurt a lot?"

"Not really," Tom said curiously. "It's more uncomfortable than anything else."

Standing up to stretch, he walked around to view her back, wincing at the bruises he saw there. "I hate to say it, B'Elanna, but your back isn't in much better shape." Red-faced, he remembered the first time they'd made love, she flat on her back on the uneven stony floor, crushed by his weight as he pounded into her. Even as he blushed, he felt the first stirrings of life down below again.

He sighed. "You're not going to believe this, but . . ."

"You're still horny," she said, eyeing his rising erection appreciatively. "It's okay. So am I."

B'Elanna sidled up to Tom, leaning into him while her hand slowly trailed down his chest to his attentive erection. She grasped him firmly, giving a possessive squeeze before a sly smile overtook her face and she knelt down, inhaling his musky scent. Taking the tip of his already stiff cock in her mouth, she teasingly swirled her tongue around it.

Tom's fingers tangled in her hair with a deathlike grip. He fought the urge to force himself deep into her mouth, striving to let her set the tempo. But, gods, she felt so good! B'Elanna's hands, holding his hips, moved around to his backside to caress his cheeks and lower back before sliding between his legs to cup his aching balls. Tom groaned.

"B'Elanna," Tom pleaded.

A ripple of pleasure thrummed through B'Elanna at the raw need in Tom's voice. Acquiescing to his request, she teased the tip of his erection with her tongue once more before engulfing it completely, slowly taking him into her mouth.

Almost unconsciously, she thrust a hand down between her legs to pleasure herself while she tasted Tom. Her fingers kept tempo with Tom as he slowly thrust in and out of her mouth, his eyes closed in utter bliss. Picking up speed, they both lost all sense of self-restraint, moaning and bucking wildly as the sensations intensified. Tom's whole body stiffened the instant before his orgasm hit, and then B'Elanna was greedily swallowing his essence, reveling in the intimate taste. Her blood roared with the fervor of ownership. He was hers.

Groggy from yet another intense orgasm, Tom reluctantly pulled from the warmth of B'Elanna's mouth, holding her as she continued to pleasure herself. Her head rested against his thigh, one hand splayed in casual possessiveness across his groin while the she stroked herself to climax with the other.

When B'Elanna came back to herself, Tom was softly stroking her hair, watching her with a soft, gentle smile. Dropping to his knees, he gathered her in close for a kiss, tasting himself on her lips.

They collapsed to a sitting position. Tom, leaning back against the cave wall, pulled B'Elanna to him, holding her in a loose embrace. Neither spoke, both unwilling to break the warm intimacy of afterglow, both content to hold and be held.

When the silence from behind them continued for several minutes, Chakotay silently argued with himself whether it would be wise or not to turn and check their status. Luckily, Tuvok saved him from having to make an immediate decision.

"The fever is abating somewhat," Tuvok quietly informed Chakotay. The Vulcan made some minute adjustments to his tricorder, held it behind him pointed in the general direction of the now silent couple and then pulled it back around in front of him to recheck the readouts.

"Well?" Chakotay asked.

"While the fever is not completely purged from their systems, I believe they are now in enough control that we can move them from this location to a beam-up point."

Timing is everything, thought Chakotay ironically when, at that very moment, a head-sized rock rolled from the cave-in debris and Harry Kim's dirt-smudged, but welcome, face peeked through.

"Commander, are you all right?"

Moving closer to the cave-in location, Chakotay said, "We're fine, Harry. How much longer before you have us out of here?"

"Give us another twenty minutes, Commander. We need to stabilize the tunnel so it doesn't collapse again."

Nodding his understanding, Chakotay started to move back but Harry's hesitant voice halted his retreat.

"Commander? Are Tom and B'Elanna all right?"

Chakotay chose his words carefully. "We've had a bit of a situation but they should both be fine once we get them back to Voyager." He softened his tone somewhat in the face of Harry's obvious concern, and added, "They're going to be okay, Harry." Chakotay moved back to rejoin Tuvok. "Time to start rounding up the troops, Lieutenant."

Tuvok didn't move. "I will leave that task to your more humanistic approach, Commander."

"You're much too kind, Lieutenant," Chakotay shot back under his breath. Raising his voice, he called, "B'Elanna? Tom?"

No response.

He tried again with the same results. Strengthening his voice with the force of command behind it, he loudly demanded a response. "Lieutenant Paris! Lieutenant Torres!"

Surprisingly, it was Paris who responded and then only with a disinterested mumble of "whaaa . . .?"

Chakotay fought the urge to heave a loudly expressive sigh. All that would earn him was another raised eyebrow from Tuvok. Staring at the ground with unseeing eyes, Chakotay contemplated his next step. Then, in one quick, decisive move, he raised his head, turned and approached Tom and B'Elanna, gathering pieces of frantically discarded clothing along the way.

Clothing and boots in his arms, Chakotay stopped short at the sight that greeted him once he finally got up the nerve to look.

B'Elanna, cradled in Paris's arms, lay across his lap, her head resting on his shoulder and one hand resting on his chest over his heart. Paris's head rested atop B'Elanna's, one arm around her shoulders and a hand gently caressing her thigh. The picture the two painted was an intimate one that Chakotay knew he should have never been privy to, something he would have to pretend he had never seen. The tenderness of the scene took him by surprise and left him uncomfortable in ways he couldn't begin to articulate. He cleared his throat loudly, hoping to get this over with as quickly as possible. Paris and Torres, however, weren't cooperating. They didn't respond to his presence at all.

Refusing to look over his shoulder to see if Tuvok was observing his dilemma, Chakotay swallowed his nervousness and squatted down next to the pair. "B'Elanna? Tom?" His voice was soft, as if trying not to startle a wild horse while attempting to coax it closer. Hesitantly, he reached out to touch Tom's bare shoulder.

Tom reacted, but slowly, raising hesitant and confused eyes to Chakotay. He stared blankly at the older man for an instant, comprehension noticeably absent from his expression, then he blinked, startled, and glanced reflexively down at the woman in his lap. When he looked back up at Chakotay his eyes were filled with a mixture of obvious panic and utter humiliation.

Chakotay handed the clothes over wordlessly, sure that nothing he might say could possibly make the situation any better.

"Thanks," Tom rasped softly, voice hoarse. He clutched desperately at the clothing and, looking anywhere but at Chakotay, cleared his throat a few times before risking speech again. "Is it over?"

Chakotay shrugged slightly. "More or less."

Tom's eyes widened before glancing down at B'Elanna, who was resting with eyes closed, seemingly oblivious to her surroundings. Chakotay couldn't help notice how Tom's hand tightened protectively around her shoulders, pulling her fractionally closer. "What do you mean, more or less?"

"Your hormone levels are still elevated, but they're dropping. Tuvok said you should be able to control the urges now." Tom nodded jerkily, and clutched at the discarded uniforms like a lifeline.

Chakotay hesitated, but time was of the essence if they were to avoid further embarrassment for them all. He put on his most diplomatic commander's face. "Ensign Kim and his team have nearly broken through the rockslide and will be in here in a few minutes. Do you need any help . . ." Chakotay trailed off, his command presence failing him only to be replaced by surprisingly strong empathetic pangs for Paris. He nodded at the inert woman in the other man's arms and was heartened with Paris's quick response. One good thing about Paris was that he was never slow to catch on.

"I think I can handle it, Commander." Paris's voice was firm and confident but Chakotay didn't miss the way he still kept his eyes averted.

Chakotay stood. "Try to make it quick, Lieutenant. We're about to have company."

When Chakotay turned to walk back to the other side of the cavern to rejoin Tuvok, Tom's eyes finally did raise, just in time to catch Chakotay attempting to make discreet adjustments to his uniform. Tom recognized that particular maneuver, basic to most humanoid males, and found himself flushing hotly when it began to sink in just how much Chakotay and Tuvok must have overheard. But he had spent years putting his best face forward even when his world was falling apart around him, and he would do so now. If not for his own sake, then for the sake of the woman in his arms.

Sitting up straighter, he winced as various aches and pains started making themselves known. B'Elanna murmured something under her breath in protest against being dislodged from the warmth of his chest. Tom, knowing he didn't have time to indulge but doing so anyway, took a moment to gaze down at her. A small smile tilted up the corners of his mouth, marred only by small frown lines between his eyebrows. Right now everything that had happened was simply too much to comprehend, and they needed to get moving before company arrived. There would be time later to deal with it all.

He gently shook B'Elanna awake. "B'Elanna, come on, we have to get dressed."

Burying her face in his chest, she mumbled something incomprehensible.

He shook her again, equally gently. "Harry's coming."

This time, at least, he could understand her. "Tell him to go away."

A grin slid across Tom's face. "I wish I could, but we're in a cave, B'Elanna. And we're not wearing any clothing. . . ."

That got a reaction. Her eyes flew open and searched the cavern frantically, and with a sudden violent motion, she pulled herself up and out of his arms. "Oh my god," she muttered, face flushing hotly as memory returned with brilliant clarity. "Oh my god." She turned on him, eyes flashing. "Where are my clothes?"

He held the clothing out in mute supplication, and she snatched them from him angrily. He took a deep breath. "B'Elanna, calm down."

"Calm down? Don't tell me to calm down! Do you have any idea what we just did?"

"Yes. I was there," he said wryly.

B'Elanna's eyes flashed dangerously. However, she didn't say another word. Her movements stiff from pent-up anger, she pulled on what was left of her uniform.

Tom, likewise, slipped back into his uniform but did so much more calmly than B'Elanna. Unfortunately, both their undergarments were complete write-offs. At the best of times, the Starfleet bodysuits didn't hide much. They hid even less without that little bit of padding that the undergarments provided.

Tom attempted to fasten the neck of his uniform only to find there wasn't much there to fasten any longer. Giving up on it, he glanced over to see how B'Elanna was progressing. The sight of her made Tom all the more aware that he was still feeling the remnants of the pon farr coursing through his blood. Thankfully, it had finally faded to a dull roar that was manageable. At least, he hoped it would be manageable.

B'Elanna's hair was in disarray, one arm was completely missing from her uniform and the other side of the neckline running down across her left collarbone was open wide in a gaping rip. Her face was smudged with dirt, and Tom thought she looked absolutely beautiful, especially now that the confused expression was gone from her eyes and had been replaced with her usual fire.

B'Elanna counted to ten under her breath, attempting to get whatever she was feeling under control. It wasn't outright anger. It was worse than that. Much worse. It was primitive and feverish and not on as short a leash as she would have liked. And it was pulling her toward Tom, no matter how much she tried to deny it. She nearly groaned aloud when she looked up to see Tom watching her.

Dirt from the cavern floor had turned his hair several shades darker than usual and crossed his face in disorderly streaks. She could see the smudges where he'd attempted to wipe the dust away, but had only succeeded in smearing it around. Even as he stared at her, he was struggling with the remnants of his uniform, trying in vain to figure a way to hold the fabric closed across his chest and not succeeding. He winced as his fingers brushed against a long bloody scratch crossing his torso; B'Elanna flushed hotly when she realized how he'd gotten it.

The unmistakable beep of a tricorder jolted her out of her near trance, and she caught a glimpse of Tom shaking himself, too.

Glancing down at his tricorder, Tuvok suggested blandly, "It might be best if you maintained your distance from each other."

Tom nodded jerkily and moved as far across the cavern as he could, eyes downcast, searching for his boots. He froze when he found the second one, and she saw the blush rising up his neck before he worked up the nerve to approach her. "I think this is yours," he muttered, dropping a crumpled piece of fabric in her hand and studiously avoided contact with both her eyes and her skin.

He was back across the cavern before she realized that he'd given her bra back, but she was saved from replying by the welcome sound of rocks being cleared away. Harry's head, covered with dust and streaked with sweat, poked through a hole in the wall. "Are you guys all right?"

"We're fine, Harry," Chakotay said. "But the sooner you can get us out of here, the better."

"It should just be a couple more minutes, Commander," offered Kim. The younger man's eyes moved beyond Chakotay. He had accounted for the Commander and Lieutenant Tuvok but had yet to see Tom or B'Elanna. Harry spotted both of them lurking toward the back of the cavern in the shadows. He opened his mouth to call out a greeting but was intercepted by Commander Chakotay.

"We could use a working medkit, Ensign. We seem to have lost ours in the cave-in."

Harry's head disappeared only to reappear a few seconds later as he handed a medkit through. "Is anyone injured, Commander?"

"Just a few minor abrasions and bruises, Ensign. Nothing to worry about."

Harry's eyes strayed to the back of the cavern again, his mind replaying those sounds he had heard over the comlink. He might have been a green ensign when he first boarded Voyager back in the Alpha Quadrant, but he hadn't been naive about sex in a long time. And he was nearly one hundred percent certain that Tom and B'Elanna had been having sex in the cavern. A quick glance around the small space confirmed his suspicion that there was no privacy to be had anywhere, which meant that not only had Tom and B'Elanna been having sex, they'd been doing it with Chakotay and Tuvok right there. He struggled for a plausible explanation, any explanation, but failed to find one, and resigned himself to waiting for a moment alone with Tom to satisfy his curiosity.

The shadows prevented him from getting a clear glimpse of his two friends. And if Harry didn't know better, he would swear that Chakotay was acting as a buffer between him and Tom and B'Elanna, which was very strange, given the lack of friendship between Chakotay and Tom Paris.

Tuvok. He had been so quiet Harry had forgotten about him. His eyes found Voyager's tactical officer, who was looking more taciturn than usual. As badly as he wanted to know what was going on with Tom and B'Elanna, Harry knew where his first duty lay. There would be time for questions later and Tom always told Harry whatever he wanted to know so he figured he'd get the whole story eventually. Right now the first priority was getting everyone out of here and finding a way to get back in contact with the ship. He could see that Tom and B'Elanna were both on their feet under their own power and knew he'd have to be satisfied with that for now.

"We'll have you out of there in no time, Commander," reassured Harry before he retreated to help his away team resume their efforts to widen a hole big enough for the others to crawl to safety.

Chakotay, medkit in hand, approached Tom and B'Elanna. Both were obviously attempting not to stray too close to each other but that was difficult to accomplish in the close confines of the cavern. He handed the medkit to Paris. "Thought maybe the two of you could use this." He raised his voice a bit to ensure that he had B'Elanna's attention as well. "Harry and his team should get us out of here shortly. You both up for the hike back to the main cavern and the climb out of there?"

Getting a distracted nod from Paris, who was rummaging through the medkit, Chakotay looked over at B'Elanna, getting his first good look at her since he and Tuvok had retreated to let the pon farr take its course.

Her whole posture screamed defiance. Narrowed eyes dared him to say anything about what had occurred. Chakotay would have grinned in relief at sensing an all too familiar hostility radiating from her except he wasn't so sure she wouldn't haul off and hit him. Instead, he walked over to her and asked gently, "You okay?" He knew she hated admitting to weakness but would appreciate a small offering of compassion so long as he didn't get overly effusive.

"If you so much as breathe a word about this to anyone, Chakotay," she growled, "I'll . . ." B'Elanna trailed off, seemingly unable to think of a suitably dire punishment to inflict upon Chakotay for this particular transgression.

"My lips are sealed," he promised her. Chakotay squeezed her shoulder before rejoining Tuvok near the cavern entrance where Harry's team was working at clearing the rubble. B'Elanna tracked his progress with her eyes, then turned back to find Tom's eyes on her. His gaze dropped rather than meet hers; a wave of irrational irritation passed through her.

"What?" she demanded hotly, stalking towards him.

He backed away, instinctively keeping an imaginary buffer between them. "Nothing." Her answering growl made him flinch, and he stammered, "You don't really expect this to stay a secret, do you?"

"Yes," she answered hotly. "I'm not going to tell anyone, and neither are you. Chakotay--"

"Chakotay has a hard-on so bad he can barely walk!" Tom spat it out and regretted it instantly when B'Elanna flushed and turned away. Taking a deep breath, he approached her, tentatively placing his hand on her shoulder. "We weren't exactly quiet, B'Elanna. If Harry commed Chakotay or Tuvok at all during . . . you know . . . he must have heard us. And," he added wryly, "the state of our clothing isn't going to help matters any." His eyes raked appraisingly up and down her body just to prove the point, and he found himself blindsided by a hot wave of desire. "Shit," he muttered, and backed deliberately away. "God, I feel so . . ."

Her voice was unexpectedly tender. "I know."

"The situation will improve." The calm and cultured tone startled them as Tuvok approached cautiously from across the cavern. "It may be difficult for you to believe now, but the cravings you are feeling will subside."

Tom rubbed a weary hand across his eyes. "Are you sure, Tuvok? Because to be perfectly honest, I don't feel a hell of a lot better than I did a few hours ago."

"Residual discomfort is normal. It will subside."

"But we're not Vulcans," B'Elanna burst out. "How can you be sure?"

Tuvok raised an eyebrow. "I cannot. I am merely making an educated guess."

Tom stared at him bleakly. "You're guessing. Well, that's just great."

"I am extrapolating from the available data, Mr. Paris. To this point, the pon farr has progressed as it would have for a Vulcan mating pair. I see no reason it will not dissipate in the same fashion." His eyes flickered briefly back to the front of the cavern. "Ensign Kim's team is nearly here. Will you require assistance through the tunnels?"

Tom and B'Elanna were saved having to answer Tuvok's inquiry and from further extrapolations about the state of their sexual well being when Harry's team broke through.

Nothing much was said until both away teams were safely back in the open caverns. Lights had been set up to point at the cave-in while Harry's team worked to dig out the others and it was there that everyone got their first good look at Tom and B'Elanna as they crawled to safety and stepped into the light.

Harry's expression underwent an amazing number of transformations in a matter of seconds. His two friends were a bloody, disheveled mess. Chakotay and Tuvok were, by comparison, clean and tidy. And the smell. Harry had stepped toward them as they emerged from the other cavern and had been assaulted with what he could only describe as the musky scent of . . . sex. Both his friends were studiously looking elsewhere, refusing to meet his gaze, which only further cemented Harry's speculations.

Harry glanced at Harris and Moore, knowing they had overheard part of the background noises on the comlink when he and Chakotay had been talking. Harris's expression was carefully blank but Moore's lay somewhere between amusement and disbelief. Harry had a feeling his own expression wasn't far from Moore's more open one, and he envied Harris that ability to wipe all expression from his features.

"Ensign Kim?"

Harry started, only then realizing that the Commander had called his name once already. Harry dragged his attention away from Tom and B'Elanna and focused on his commanding officer. "Yes, Commander?"

"I've lost my bearings. How far away is the surface?"

Harry didn't realize his eyes had drifted back to Tom and B'Elanna until Chakotay repeated, "Ensign?" He couldn't prevent a slight blush when his eyes met Chakotay's and saw confirmation of his conjecture in the Commander's gaze. Harry was proud of himself when he managed to sound calm and official with his reply. "We had to come around from the other side, Commander. It's only a few kilometers back up. Maybe an hour's hike."

Chakotay nodded and took a step closer to Harry, who backed minutely away, as if afraid that whatever had been going on in the sealed cavern might be catching. Unease flashed briefly in the Ensign's eyes. Chakotay grinned ruefully to himself, and gave earnest thanks that his erection had finally subsided. "Your virtue is safe with me, Ensign. Tom and B'Elanna's condition is not contagious. Not anymore, at any rate."

Harry's eyes shot back to Tom and B'Elanna, who were standing awkwardly apart, and he found himself talking before his brain caught up to tell him it was a bad idea. "Commander, what I heard . . . I mean . . . what I didn't hear . . . did they really . . . I mean, they didn't really . . . did they? Well, obviously they did, but why . . ."

"If you have questions, Ensign, I suggest you take them to Lieutenants Paris and Torres directly. Although I won't speculate on the effect it might have on your chances of procreating in the future."

Harry paled and busied himself gathering up some of the equipment they'd used to dig out the cavern. Chakotay, taking the opportunity to run a quick scan on Tom and B'Elanna using the more sophisticated diagnostic tricorder that came with the medkit, frowned at the result. He was no medical technician, but surely the readings ought to have been leveling out by now.

"Can we get out of here already?"

B'Elanna's voice, tense and strident, cut through the air as she paced restlessly. Chakotay was too far away to hear the words Tom said to her, too far away to even hear the tone of Tom's voice, but he saw -- they all saw -- the way B'Elanna calmed down instantly at the touch of Tom's hand on her shoulder. So startling was the effect of that simple touch that Chakotay nearly missed the lights spiking across the tricorder display. Oh, damn.

"This is most unexpected."

Chakotay glanced up at the quiet observation but instead of looking to its Vulcan owner, he gazed at Tom and B'Elanna. Careful to keep his voice down so the others couldn't hear, Chakotay asked, "How so?"

"Their readings are not reverting back to normal as quickly as a Vulcan's would, Commander. It is possible that their Human and Klingon heritages will have some unforeseen side effects on the resolution of the pon farr."

Chakotay bit back his sarcastic reply, knowing it was directed at his own frustrations and not at Tuvok. "We're not going to have a repeat of the last few hours, are we?"

Tuvok was silent for so long that Chakotay finally turned his head to look at the Vulcan, who was gazing thoughtfully at Paris and Torres. "Tuvok?"

"Commander, there is obviously some physical and mental discomfort still present for both Lieutenants Torres and Paris; however . . ." Tuvok trailed off, observing B'Elanna when her frustration surfaced again only to be quieted by Tom's close proximity and light touch.

"However?" Chakotay prompted, hating it when Vulcans got vague. It usually didn't bode well.

"Despite neither of the Lieutenants previously exhibiting any telepathic abilities, they appear to have established a mental link of some sort. This is the normal outcome of a pon farr between Vulcans. I had not anticipated that the Lieutenants might also be capable of such a bonding."

Further chance of pursuing this line of conversation was cut short by B'Elanna, who had finally had enough of waiting around. A light once more affixed to her wrist, she took off down the tunnel Harry's team had arrived by, refusing to accept any more delays.

Throwing a helpless look in Chakotay's direction, Tom took off after her.

The pounding in B'Elanna's temples finally began to abate somewhat as the low rumble of voices behind her grew softer. She'd been close to losing control in that cavern, close to striking out at someone, preferably the smirking Crewman Moore. Only Tom's presence, a presence growing increasingly familiar, had kept her calm. She heard him walking behind her, but felt him there even more strongly, felt him in some way she had no words to describe. She had the oddest feeling that if she just thought to him . . .

"What?"

She stopped moving instantly and he nearly slammed into her, stopping mere inches from her, and backing away slightly when she turned to face him.

"What?" he repeated, searching her face in confusion.

"What do you mean, 'what'?" she retorted, unwilling to believe he could have possibly . . . it was utterly ridiculous to think that he could have . . .

He blinked and, leaning tiredly against the wall, wiped away some of the sweat beading on his forehead. Looking dirty, disheveled and completely worn out, he said, "You called my name."

B'Elanna shook her head slowly. "No, I didn't."

He grinned. "I may be exhausted, but my ears still work. You called my name, B'Elanna."

"I didn't," she insisted. "I was just thinking." She tried it again, not really expecting or believing he could possibly hear her, and yet . . .

Tom swayed and stared at her with wide eyes from a face gone suddenly pale. "Oh, shit," he whispered, swallowing heavily.

They stood in the dimly lit tunnel, staring at each other, until B'Elanna suddenly sensed a soothing, luminous warmth in her head. The presence was utterly, unmistakably, Tom Paris. She gasped and took a step backwards. Oh god oh god oh god . . .

Tom swallowed nervously. "What did you hear?"

"Nothing. Not really anything. Just . . . I felt . . . you."

He nodded jerkily. "Me too."

B'Elanna took a step back from Tom. As if that will help, she scoffed at herself. This bond, this relationship -- hell, she didn't know what to call it. Whatever it was, it was moving too fast. She didn't know how she felt about it, and she certainly wasn't ready to talk about it. But he was standing there, looking so lost and confused that B'Elanna had a strong urge to hug him reassuringly. Yet was that the message she wanted to send to Tom right now? Did she really want to encourage this?

"B'Elanna--"

He reached toward her but she stepped back, avoiding his touch.

B'Elanna found herself balancing on a precipice of indecision. Dive into a relationship with Tom and all that entailed or retreat to a place of safety that would leave her isolated -- isolated from him. The war within herself was interrupted when footsteps heralded the arrival of the rest of the away team. Words tumbled out of her mouth before she could give much thought to them.

"I can't." Her eyes held apology and distress. "I just -- not yet. I can't." She turned and walked away, hating the stricken look in Tom's eyes. Hating that she had put it there.

Can't what? Tom wanted to scream after her. Can't talk? Can't deal with the pon farr? Can't deal with me?

B'Elanna's step faltered momentarily and Tom knew she had picked up on his distressed thoughts. But as the others caught up to them, she quickly moved away and Tom could feel her own distress rolling off her in waves.

Chakotay and the others caught up to a disconcerted Tom staring after B'Elanna's quickly retreating form, her stiff stride indicating that something was amiss. Given what had happened these past few hours, however, there was no way in hell Chakotay was about to quiz Paris on it. Harry Kim, on the other hand, seemed to have no such scruples.

"What's going on?" Kim asked, keeping his voice low so only Tom could hear.

Dismay flashed across Tom's face, followed by a hint of vulnerability that was quickly replaced by a bland expression most strangers would take at face value. Those that knew Tom Paris, however, recognized it for the cover it was.

His reply to Harry was uncharacteristically short. "Nothing."

"Tom."

"Harry."

"Tom."

Frustrated, Harry took a step forward. Tom invited him even closer. In a low, conspiratorial whisper, he said, "Take a whiff, Harry."

Perplexed, Harry did as he requested.

"What do you smell?"

Harry stepped back, flushing, not quite able to bring himself to put a name to the scent. "Well . . ."

Tom snorted. "If you can't even say it, Harry, you're not ready for any details. When you think you're up for your birds and the bees talk, let me know."

Turning on his heel, Tom took off after B'Elanna, a smirk lifting the corners of his mouth when he heard B'Elanna's appreciative laughter rippling through his mind like a small stream winding its way through a sunny meadow.

Chakotay watched Tom's quick retreat after B'Elanna. There was definitely something weird going on with those two. Well, something weirder. More and more, he was dreading filing the report for this mission. Following an altercation with Ensign Vorik, and as a direct result thereof, Lieutenant Torres bit Lieutenant Paris, thereby infecting him with the Vulcan hormonal imbalance known as pon farr with which she herself was infected. Before the Lieutenants could be returned to Voyager for medical treatment, a cave-in sealed them on the planet surface with Commanders Tuvok and Chakotay. Ensign Kim's team was unable to rescue the away team before the Lieutenants' condition became life-threatening. As a consequence, Lieutenants Paris and Torres were required to have intimate relations-- Now, did he have to say exactly how many times they'd done it? Surely that could be omitted with no loss of clarity, right? And maybe he could just omit the fact that he and Tuvok were there the entire time. Did anybody really need to know that? Chakotay's breath huffed out of him in a discouraged sigh. Maybe the whole damn report could be omitted.

"Away Mission Protocol requires a complete and accurate accounting of all events, Commander," Tuvok intoned blandly.

Chakotay flinched. Damn it, he'd been speaking out loud. It just showed how unnerved he was by the whole thing.

"However," Tuvok continued, too softly for anyone other than Chakotay to hear, "in this case I believe we can safely exclude some of the less relevant details."

Chakotay remembered B'Elanna's whispered threat and grinned. "Discretion is the better part of valor, Tuvok?"

He got a raised eyebrow in response. "Indeed."

B'Elanna!

B'Elanna stopped abruptly, and whirled around, glowering. "Don't do that," she snapped as soon as Tom came into view.

He collapsed against the wall, panting a bit. "I wouldn't have to if you'd stop when I call."

"I don't want you in my head, Paris."

"I'm not any happier about it than you are, but it seems we're stuck with it for now. Maybe the Doc can do something about it."

She frowned and looked away. "What do you know about Vulcan mating bonds?"

He shrugged. "Not much. Why?"

"We had a Vulcan on our crew in the Maquis. He told me once that he could still communicate with his wife, even though she was on Vulcan."

"So?"

"So he said a mating link is permanent, Tom. Not broken until death."

Tom shrugged again. "We're not Vulcan. This is probably just a fluke. It'll go away."

She met his eyes searchingly. "And what if it doesn't?"

Tom shrugged a third time. "We learn to live with it and go on from there."

She shot him an incredulous look as they both started walking down the tunnel again, this time side by side. "That's your solution? Learn to live with it?"

Tom resisted the urge to shrug yet again. That was an old habit left over from his adolescent days when he wanted to aggravate his father. That careless shrugging, over the years, had turned into a defense mechanism -- a defense against letting others know that he cared or was worried. He was, after all, Tom Paris and had a certain carefree facade to keep up. It was expected of him. But this was B'Elanna. She deserved better. She deserved his honesty.

"B'Elanna, I have to admit that the thought of you in my mind for the rest of my life is unsettling. I like my privacy. But," he hesitated and then decided to shoot for total truth, "if I had to put up with someone being in my head all the time, well, I could have done a lot worse than you."

B'Elanna didn't know what to say to that. It was a backhanded compliment but a compliment nonetheless. Tom's way of saying he trusted her, she guessed, and while she wasn't willing to admit it aloud, she knew she could have done a lot worse than Tom Paris for this whole mating fiasco as well. There was a part of her, a part she was afraid to examine too closely, that reveled in those mental touches of Tom's. A part of her that purred like a contented cat whenever his mind brushed hers. There was a certain comfort in knowing he was there -- that she was no longer alone. But part of her was writhing uncomfortably at the invasion of her privacy, leaving her uncertain how to deal with this new aspect in her relationship with Tom.

Once outside the caverns, both Tom and B'Elanna tried to contact Voyager with no luck. Silence reigned while they paced restless circles around each other, the events of the past few hours hanging heavy in the air.

The rest of the away team, once they caught up with Tom and B'Elanna, had no better luck contacting Voyager. The comlink remained stubbornly silent, causing B'Elanna's simmering agitation to explode into a discordant scream in Tom's mind. He reacted instinctively, reaching out with his mind even as he stroked her arm to soothe her. "Relax, B'Elanna. I'm sure we'll figure out--"

"You are MY mate! Not his!"

Everyone spun around, startled, at the vehement snarl. Vorik, unsteady and pale, emerged from behind a tree.

B'Elanna growled and surged forward, only to be halted by Tom's fierce grip on her arm. "What are you doing here?!" she spit out.

Vorik's eyes glinted feverishly, and the wild emotions churning across his face were wholly un-Vulcan. "I have come to claim you. To fulfill our bond."

"Are you responsible for the ship being out of contact?" demanded Chakotay.

"It was necessary to disable communications, the transporters and the shuttles." Vorik clenched his teeth against the pain of his unfulfilled pon farr. "No one will keep me from my mate!"

"I am not your mate!" B'Elanna struggled to escape Tom's arms but he held her fast, murmuring soothingly into her ear while sending his own glare in Vorik's direction.

Visibly outraged at the sight, Vorik straightened to his full height and stated formally, "I declare koon-ut-kal-if-fee."

"The ritual challenge to fight for one's mate," Tuvok calmly explained to the others.

B'Elanna bristled. Tom tightened his hold and protested angrily, "She's not his mate!"

"If he wants a fight," B'Elanna snarled, "I'll give him one!" She surged forward again but Tom still held her back, and she was unwilling to hit him to gain her freedom.

Tuvok remained predictably composed, ignoring B'Elanna's outburst. "Ensign Vorik, it is too late to claim the right of koon-ut-kal-if-fee. You may not--"

Completely disregarding Tuvok, Vorik charged toward B'Elanna and Tom. Chakotay and Tuvok both quickly stepped into his path and forcibly restrained him. He struggled futilely against their hold.

Across the clearing, B'Elanna was also struggling in vain. "Let me go!" she demanded furiously. It was maddening. Vorik wanted a fight and she was more than ready to oblige him. Why wouldn't Tom let her? He had as much reason as she did to want to beat the Vulcan petaQ into the ground.

"B'Elanna."

"Let. Go." She pushed at his immovable arms and even thought briefly of using a nerve hold on him, but couldn't bring herself to do it.

"B'Elanna!"

Tom's voice held an authority she couldn't ignore. Her struggles lessened. His chest to her back, he leaned over her shoulder, his head next to hers. She could feel his breath, wild and hot, on her cheek. Then she felt him. In her mind. Silently communicating, trying to lessen the gravity of the moment in a way that only Tom Paris could.

B'Elanna's abrupt bark of laughter startled everyone to a standstill. The sparkling brightness within her told her that Tom was grinning also, and the sudden release of tension was almost anticlimactic. Her body relaxed against his as she finally understood that Vorik was no longer her problem to deal with.

Tom, now holding B'Elanna in a less confining embrace, gently pulled her away from the needless confrontation. As one, they both said, "Let Harry have him."

"Wha -- what?! Harry stammered.

Chakotay was hard put to stifle the grin that threatened to erupt, but his good humor quickly fled when he was forced to make another grab for Vorik as the Vulcan attempted to pursue Tom and B'Elanna. Vorik didn't get far. Without raising a brow, Tuvok silently subdued him with a neck pinch. Unprepared for Vorik's sudden trip to unconsciousness, Chakotay lost his hold on the young Vulcan and Vorik slid to the ground, leaving Tuvok and Chakotay staring at each other. For a split second, Tuvok's weary expression reflected his own and Chakotay sensed that Tuvok had reached his limit on emotionalism for the day.

"Good call, Lieutenant."

Chakotay bent down to retrieve Vorik's combadge and was relieved when his hail to Voyager was answered this time.

As the group assembled for beam-up, Tom leaned in close to B'Elanna, his whispered words carrying to her ears only. "It'll be okay, B'Elanna. I promise." The vocalization was accompanied by a mind-touch of such caring protectiveness that B'Elanna couldn't doubt Tom's sincerity. She believed him. It would be all right. The two of them would make it all right.

The first sight that greeted Janeway when she entered Sickbay was Tom slouching against a biobed, arms crossed uneasily across his chest, a flush highlighting his cheeks, and teeth marks blazing vivid red on his left jaw. He was disheveled, to say the least, dirt and dust and sand covering the remnants of what was, in theory, an indestructible away team uniform. She focused on his boots for an odd moment, noting surreally that they were dusty but intact. Of better construction than the uniform then.

A territorial growl caught her attention next and her eyes landed with shock on B'Elanna, sitting restlessly on the biobed across from Tom's, and in no better condition than he, down to a matching bite mark gracing her jaw. Chakotay hadn't mentioned that, Janeway mused distractedly, wondering if the bites were as painful as they looked.

The smell of sex was overwhelming, even from this distance, and that, Janeway thought to herself wryly, was at least one question definitively answered.

The Doctor moved energetically between Tom and B'Elanna, waving his tricorder at them and humming under his breath. "Interesting," he murmured. He ran another scan and stared with obvious interest at the readouts. "Truly remarkable."

Tom shifted uneasily against the biobed. He was clearly trying to keep his eyes anywhere but on B'Elanna, with limited success. Janeway watched him watch B'Elanna, blue eyes roaming hotly across her barely covered body. He wrenched his gaze away with obvious effort, but she noted his eyes kept roaming back in B'Elanna's direction.

He clenched his eyes shut in an effort to avoid temptation, but his mind's eye was still seeing B'Elanna. He shuddered. B'Elanna moaned.

"Stop it," she muttered, eyes shut tight.

"Sorry," Tom said thickly.  "But you look . . ."

"Tom--"

"I'm sorry," he said miserably. "I can't help it." Head hanging, he swallowed convulsively. B'Elanna bit her lip and shivered.

The Doctor stood between them, peering with clinical interest at the display on his tricorder. "Fascinating." Brows knit closely together, he touched a few keys and waited impatiently for the result. "Would you please touch Lieutenant Torres, Mr. Paris?"

Tom flinched. "Why?"

"Please, Lieutenant."

Worrying at his lower lip with his teeth, Tom complied, stretching a long arm to gently graze B'Elanna's arm. Even from where she stood, Janeway could see the readings spiking across the tricorder display, could hear both Lieutenants catch their breath.

The Doctor shook his head in wide-eyed amazement. "Incredible. I would have expected . . . how many times did you say you had relations?"

Tom's face flooded with color. "We didn't," he muttered.

"Didn't have relations? Really, Lieutenant, it would be obvious to anyone with a modicum of observational ability that you most certainly--"

"We didn't say," Tom interrupted uncomfortably. "We never said how many times we . . ."

"Had sex. Really, Mr. Paris, we're all adults here. There's no reason to be embarrassed about it." The Doctor waited expectantly, gaze flickering back and forth between Torres and Paris. "Well?"

"Well what?" B'Elanna answered belligerently.

"How many times did you have relations?" He spoke patiently, as if to children.

Janeway watched in absorbed fascination as Tom's blush deepened. He stared at the floor and coughed out an answer that she couldn't hear.

The Doctor blinked. "You don't know?" he said skeptically. "Surely you must--"

"We weren't counting," B'Elanna said.

"It was kind of hard to concentrate," Tom added uncomfortably.

"Three." It was a croak from across the room, and all eyes fell on Chakotay, who flushed under the heat of the combined gaze. "It was three times, and before you ask, that's all I'm saying."

Tom couldn't remember the last time he had felt so mortified. And it hadn't passed his attention that B'Elanna was so uncomfortable that she had fallen uncommonly silent. Even her legendary temper wouldn't rise to the occasion.

"Thank you, Commander." The Doctor seemed, as usual, oblivious to the many undercurrents in the room. He punched a few keys on his tricorder, squinted at the display, then hit a few more keys in dissatisfaction. "According to my calculations, your symptoms should have began dissipating after the second or third time you had intercourse -- you did have actual intercourse, correct?"

Tom nodded stiffly.

"Every time?" the Doctor persisted.

"No," Tom ground out. "Look, is this really necessary? It's bad enough we had to . . . with them there . . . but you're talking like it's . . ." He took a deep breath and clenched his jaw, visibly holding himself in check. "Can't you just give us a hypospray or something? Everyone kept saying we'd be all right when we got back to the ship. Well, we're back now, so why don't you just fix it already?"

"Mr. Paris," the Doctor stated matter-of-factly, "as you are aware, I must obtain a complete assessment of your condition before beginning treatment. That includes not only obtaining a verbal report from you but running a full diagnostic as well." Not waiting for an answer, the Doctor raised the medscanner to run it over Tom once more. Tom, to everyone's shock, angrily ripped the scanner out of the Doctor's hand and sent it flying across the room. It hit the wall and crashed to the floor in pieces.

"Tom." B'Elanna, voice low and quiet, was at his side in an instant. The touch of her hand drained most of the tension out of his body, and he relaxed against the biobed.

"Sorry," he said softly. "It's been a hell of a day."

"For all of us," Chakotay agreed wryly. "Tom has a point, Doctor. Perhaps we can save the clinical discussion until after you've resolved their illness?"

"It is not an illness, Commander," the Doctor pointed out. "It is a hormonal imbalance, and I don't believe there is a way to medically resolve it."

"What?" B'Elanna said furiously.

The Doctor took a step back. "Don't misunderstand me. I only mean to say that I have no therapy to offer which would be any more effective than the course of treatment you have already begun." He pointed to the display on a second tricorder he had picked up discreetly. "You have quite clearly established a mating bond, which is affecting your endocrine systems at a cellular level. So long as you remain in close proximity, your hormone levels will remain elevated. If you stay apart from one another, your hormone levels should gradually decline."

Tom was looking very uncomfortable. "Can't you just synthesize something?"

"I would need to synthesize separate medicines for both of you, which would take several days. And, frankly, I'm not convinced your bodies would be fooled. Human sexual responses are mental as well as physical, as are Klingon responses."

"So you're saying you can't help us?" B'Elanna growled.

"I'm saying you don't need any help," the Doctor answered smoothly. "Not medical help, at any rate. If you avoid all contact with each other, the symptoms should abate on their own over the next few days. Or, if you prefer, you could speed up the process naturally."

"Naturally," Tom said. "You mean . . ."

"Have further sexual relations. Really, Mr. Paris, you're not usually this obtuse."

Tom growled, his posture stiffening, and Janeway stepped forward, deciding this would be a good time to let her command presence be known. Moving past the Doctor, she effectively blocked his efforts to run further scans on his patients and, consequently, acted as a much-needed buffer between the two Lieutenants, if the body language she was picking up from Tom and B'Elanna was any indication. She smiled at them but was careful not to touch, recognizing they were both in a hypersensitive state. "It's good to have you both safely back on board."

Eye contact didn't seem to be a big priority with either of them at the moment but the Captain didn't miss Tom's quick, beseeching glance for release from the current situation. Janeway turned to the Doctor, who was being less than discreet in his attempts to get around her to run more scans on his patients. "I think it's time you attended to Tom and B'Elanna's obvious wounds and stopped rhapsodizing over the scientific ramifications of them being infected with pon farr, don't you, Doctor? I assume there are only superficial wounds to be dealt with?"

"Yes, Captain," replied the Doctor, "but--"

"Fine." The Captain turned back to Tom and B'Elanna, effectively dismissing the Doctor from the conversation. "Once the Doctor has treated your injuries, you're both off-duty for the next few days. We'll reevaluate the situation daily. Get some rest." Raising her voice so the Doctor, who was hovering over her shoulder, couldn't miss hearing, she said, "And don't let the Doctor badger you into staying for further scans. Unless you feel you have medical needs to be addressed, you both are officially banned from Sickbay for the next few days."

"But, Captain--"

A raised hand cut off the EMH.

"Understood?" she asked her Lieutenants.

Tom gave her an appreciative grin as both he and B'Elanna chorused, "Yes, ma'am."

Janeway then turned toward the other side of Sickbay where Chakotay, leaning against a table, was trying not to be too obvious about keeping his distance from Paris and Torres. Tuvok stood nearby looking as imperturbable as ever. "Chakotay, you're looking a little weary yourself. I don't want to see you on the Bridge until tomorrow morning."

Chakotay looked so relieved that a mischievous imp in Janeway couldn't resist adding, "But I'd like your report on the away mission on my desk by this evening. Tuvok?"

"Yes, Captain."

"I assume you'll be available for private consults, off the record, should Tom or B'Elanna have need?"

"Of course, Captain."

"Well, good then. We're all finished here, aren't we?" she stated with a pointed look in the Doctor's direction. Not waiting for the expected agreement, Janeway sailed out of Sickbay, leaving no doubt who was in charge. Chakotay was right on her heels, leaving Tuvok to enforce the Captain's directives should the Doctor become over-enthusiastic once again.

A subdued EMH finished up quickly with Tom and B'Elanna and released them, trying not to be offended when they practically tripped over each other in their haste to escape Sickbay. It did not, however, escape his notice that Tom exited via the port door and B'Elanna via the starboard door. Clucking thoughtfully to himself, the Doctor headed directly for his office to begin writing up his report.

The Commander's report was remarkably free of detail -- though what little detail was there was intriguing. Even with all the intimate details carefully edited out -- if indeed Chakotay had been able to bring himself to enter any of them in the first place -- it made for some first-rate daydream material. Though perhaps not for Chakotay, who'd actually been forced to live through it. Janeway carefully replaced the padd on her desk, then schooled her expression as best as she could before glancing over at the Commander. He was sitting on the ready room couch fidgeting and met her gaze for only an instant before flushing and uncomfortably looking away.

"It seems a little . . . light, Commander," Janeway said with care. She was not going to laugh at him. She was the Captain, damn it!

Chakotay flinched. An actual, physical flinch. "I think I put in everything that was relevant," he said desperately.

She did not laugh. She didn't even chuckle. Janeway was very proud of herself. "But it's only ten paragraphs. You were down there for six hours."

"Captain--"

"That's less than two paragraphs an hour, Commander. When I ask for a report, I expect it to be thorough and detailed."

"But Captain--"

"For instance," Janeway interrupted, "this paragraph about the time you spent in the cavern. Tuvok's report indicated that he completed five personnel reviews during those two hours." She inconspicuously bit her cheek to deflect a smirk. "What did you do, Commander?"

He glared at her, far too astute not to realize she was playing with him. Still, she was his Captain. "I was meditating."

"Really?" A tiny chuckle escaped despite her best efforts. "Because you don't look very relaxed, Commander." Oh, it was a good thing he didn't know she could read lips or else she'd have to put him on report. She laughed then, and crossed to the couch to sit next to him. "Was it so terrible, Chakotay?"

Chakotay sighed. "You can't even imagine."

TWO DAYS LATER:

"Are you going to eat that? Tom? Hello?"

Tom blinked as Harry's hand waved two inches from his eyes. He looked up to find his best friend grinning at him. "Sorry. Guess I spaced out for a minute. What did you say?"

Harry pointed his fork at Tom's plate. "I said, are you going to eat that?"

Tom looked down at the mostly uneaten chili on his plate and grimaced. "No. Here, take it." He pushed it over to Harry, relieved that he'd no longer have to fake an appetite he was far from feeling.

Harry tilted his head to one side, fork poised over the plate, and studied his friend. "What's wrong? You love chili."

"Just not in the mood, I guess," Tom answered, shifting restlessly in his seat. "Are you almost done? We've been here forever."

"We've been here fifteen minutes," Harry answered, bemused. "What's with you? You've been acting weird for a couple of days now. You're okay, right? I mean, the Doctor did release you from Sickbay."

"Captain's orders," Tom answered. "Thank god." He grinned automatically, then pushed his chair back from the table impatiently. "Come on, Harry."

"Give me a minute," Harry said. He chewed slowly and meticulously, studying Tom all the while. "You don't look so good. Are you sure you're all right?"

"Sure," Tom answered, the lie automatic and easy. In truth, he felt achy, feverish, irritable and generally out of sorts. Thank god he was still on medical leave; he couldn't concentrate well enough to write up his report on the mission, much less take a shift at the helm. Still, being off duty was significantly less relaxing than he'd hoped. Plenty of time and nothing important to do, yet the one thing he craved most -- a good night's sleep -- was utterly out of reach. What sleep he managed was fragmented and restless, and he often woke more tired than when he'd gone to bed.

Plus, the simple act of leaving his quarters was enough to give him a bad case of nerves because all he did was worry he might run into B'Elanna. Just the thought of her was enough to put him on edge -- more on edge, at any rate -- and he was genuinely afraid of what he might do if he were actually to see her. So far, they'd done a truly impressive job of avoiding each other since they'd come back. He hadn't seen her at all since they left Sickbay through opposite doors.

Well. That wasn't exactly true. He'd seen her quite a lot, actually, in those frenetic workouts that passed for sleep these days. He'd seen her over and over in the daydreams that seemed to creep up on him whenever he let his mind wander just a bit. And of course he'd seen her hundreds of times out of the corner of his eye, whenever anyone in a gold Engineering uniform would pass by.

It was small consolation to know that B'Elanna was feeling no better than he was. He picked up on her discomfort sometimes, mostly when he was lying in bed trying to sleep, and failing miserably. He'd get a sense of it then, the aches that she tolerated with faint grace, the hot flashes and cold sweats that woke her in the middle of the night, the indefinable hunger that no food or drink would satisfy.

She wanted him.

He wanted her.

God, it was going to kill him, how much he wanted her. A few days, the Doctor had said. A few days and the symptoms would subside, but Christ, it had been two days and there had been no subsiding to speak of. So he avoided her, because God only knew what he'd do if he saw her, if he got close enough to smell her, or touch her, or . . .

Tom stifled the groan that threatened to erupt. It was going to kill him; he was sure of it. His whole body was out of sync. Never mind what the Doctor said. What the hell did the Doc know about it, anyway? He didn't even have hormones, and he certainly couldn't understand what it felt like to burn up from the inside out. The Doctor was an idiot. Tuvok was an idiot. Vorik was an idiot -- no, Vorik was a demon. Yes, Vorik was some kind of demon, and Tom was going to take great pleasure in strangling him. Very, very slowly.

An image of a rippling lake and cool breeze flashed briefly in his mind. B'Elanna, picking up on his agitation and trying instinctively to soothe it. He took a deep breath and tried to relax, more than a little disturbed at how easily B'Elanna seemed to read him even though they were decks apart. That damned mental link. It frightened the hell out of him, frightened the hell out of B'Elanna too, and it was the unspoken reason why they were so hell-bent on avoiding each other, why they were tolerating this mostly intolerable separation.

Because that link existed against all odds and all logic. Because they'd formed some kind of temporary mating bond and, so far as they knew, once Vulcans formed a bond under the same circumstances it lasted for life. Because both of them suspected that if they mated again, this temporary link was going to become permanent.

And that was just a little too much to deal with.

This is crazy! thought B'Elanna. As if her life hadn't been turned upside down enough down on Sakari, with Chakotay and Tuvok as witnesses to boot, now it seemed that this pon farr stuff she had in her blood was not settling down like the Doctor had indicated. She had followed his instructions. She had stayed away from Tom, even going so far as to check with Voyager's computer as to his whereabouts so she didn't accidentally end up in the same room with him.

It wasn't helping. She swore the harder she fought this pull -- she refused to acknowledge it was a mating call -- the more the bond they shared tugged at her. She kept waking in the middle of the night and finding herself already halfway out of bed and headed for the door to go to Tom's quarters.

And the dreams. They seemed so real. Dreams of her and Tom, together, that left her so aroused she couldn't get back to sleep. Worse, she'd soon discovered she couldn't manage any self satisfaction because Tom would be all too aware of it. They had stumbled upon that little problem the first night when Tom had attempted to -- B'Elanna wasn't prone to nervous giggling but that had certainly generated some. Tom's mortification when he realized she was there along for the ride would have been amusing -- if she hadn't been in the same boat. That realization had stopped them both cold.

It was a constant struggle. She had taken a record number of late night showers in an effort to cool down but the heat seemed to come from within and refused to be assuaged. B'Elanna knew if she went to Tom that this misery would abate but she was afraid what the long-term outcome of such a coupling would be. Then there was the worrying uncertainty of whether this mutual attraction she and Tom were sharing was even real or just a side effect of the pon farr.

What was with this bond thing anyway? she wondered apprehensively. While it had helped her understand Tom in ways she hadn't previously, and she found herself liking him all the more for it, she hated the loss of control and privacy. She would have been much better off if Vorik and his stupid Vulcan mating cycle had never been forced upon her. Then she wouldn't have to be dealing with any of this. Or Tom. And that would be better. Wouldn't it?

Doubt gnawed at her. She could feel the blood fever simmering beneath the surface, constantly hammering at the bars of the cage she imprisoned it in. Unfortunately, all that confinement had accomplished so far was to exacerbate her already volatile temper, not to mention agitating the unrequited sexual tension. Except unrequited wasn't exactly truthful, she ruefully acknowledged. They had certainly done their share of requiting down on Sakari. And Tom was having as much trouble fighting this urge as she was.

The strong emotions and physical sensations experienced on Sakari flowed through her again. Eyes closed, she shuddered as a fiery trail burned through her, leaving her longing for Tom and more pounding hard, rutting sex.

Her eyes flew open. Damn them! Damn all Vulcans and their stupid mating urges! Who would have thought it could possibly be contagious? Her anger soared and took flight. With the walls closing in on her, she stomped out of her quarters and headed for Engineering in an attempt to escape the one she burned for.

Joe Carey eyed the commotion on the other side of Engineering. B'Elanna Torres was angrily manhandling a recalcitrant panel that evidently refused to pop free. He flinched when a Klingon curse split the air and she brutally hit the panel with a spanner. That would leave a dent, he couldn't help thinking. The Chief was obviously in a temper. He hadn't seen her throw a tantrum like this since the early days.

Never one to give too much credit to rumors, Joe couldn't ignore the fact that something was bugging the Chief, and he'd heard that Paris had been uncommonly irritable as of late also. It was all over the ship, of course, about what had supposedly happened down on that planet between Torres and Paris. Rumors were flying fast and furious regarding their current status.

Joe winced when the panel finally popped free and B'Elanna flung it halfway across the room in another explosion of anger. If he didn't stop this soon, she might actually do some serious damage, not only to herself but to his beloved Engineering system.

He considered his options. He could approach the Chief and try to calm her down -- his hand reached up to absently rub at his nose. Maybe not such a good idea. He tapped his combadge and summoned the one person he knew stood a chance at calming her down and possibly not suffering any bodily damage in the process.

Chakotay slipped unobtrusively into Engineering. B'Elanna was on the far side of the room angrily slamming engineering equipment around, her whole demeanor overwhelmingly exuding a 'don't approach' warning. Sidling up to Joe Carey, Chakotay asked, "How long has this been going on?"

"Not long," replied Carey. "But it's getting worse. I wasn't sure what to do, Commander. I haven't seen her like this in some time, and you know how she gets . . ." He trailed off, uncertain how to put it tactfully.

"Irrational?" suggested Chakotay helpfully. "Don't worry, Lieutenant. I'll handle it."

Steeling himself, Chakotay approached B'Elanna, taking care not to be too stealthy about it. Catching her by surprise when she was in this sort of mood could have bad repercussions.

"B'Elanna, I thought you were on medical leave."

"I am." Her voice was clipped, discouraging further conversation.

"Then what are you doing in Engineering?"

"Just trying to catch up on a few things." She slammed a hydrospanner down on the panel he was leaning against. Chakotay avoided flinching, just barely.

"Looks more like you're trying to break a few things," he offered evenly.

She whirled on him, eyes flashing. "I'm doing fine, Commander. Why don't you go find somebody else to harass?"

He eyed her for a long moment, the sounds of her heated moans of passion suddenly erupting in his memory. Running a hand over his face, he shook the memory off. "B'Elanna, I know this is a difficult situation--"

"You know nothing, Chakotay!" She glared at him. "Let me tell you something. This thing between Paris and myself is not dissipating. It's growing stronger again and harder to ignore. And I'm tired of it! I'm tired of everyone watching  me, taking bets on when I'm going to jump Paris."

"B'Elanna, that's not--"

"Don't tell me there's not a betting pool on us, Chakotay. I think we both know better. I just--" All the anger flowed out of her with a suddenness that was alarming. "I don't know what to do," she finally admitted, her tone soft and hurt.

Chakotay grimaced. This would be so much easier if he could just shift all the blame onto Paris but Voyager's pilot wasn't any more at fault for this than B'Elanna. He couldn't even really fault Vorik. The young man had been nearly out of his mind from the blood fever and had not been responsible for his actions, and that left no one to blame but Fate herself.

"B'Elanna, it's not like you to let a situation get the better of you. Talk to Paris about this."

"I -- I can't." Her eyes were fearful.

"Why? What are you afraid of?"

She turned away, muttering. Chakotay leaned closer to hear what she was saying.

"I'm afraid of how much I want Tom. And I'm afraid because I don't know if I want him or if it's the damned pon farr that wants him. I don't know what is and isn't real anymore."

Chakotay silently offered up his own curse on pon farr and out-of-control Vulcans. Helpless, he glanced around Engineering, searching for the right thing to say. When the idea came to him, he couldn't believe he was about to place himself smack dab in the middle of all this again. It was the last place he wanted to be. But still, things certainly couldn't continue as they were. He sucked it up and made the suggestion.

"Would a mediator help, B'Elanna? If you're afraid of your reactions when you're in close proximity to Paris, would it help if I was there as a buffer?"

Indecision warred with acceptance and then outright denial on her face. "I know you like to handle your own problems, B'Elanna," he offered. "And, believe me, the last place I want to be is between you and Paris right now, but I also want to help you. I don't like seeing you in distress. And from what you're telling me, the situation is getting worse instead of better. It's either me or the Doctor."

That got her attention. "Fine," she practically snarled at him. "Call a meeting, Chakotay. Let's get my sex life straightened out so we can all go back to being proper little Starfleet officers again."

"B'Elanna--"

"Just do it, Chakotay." Her voice held a world of weariness. "I'm tired of fighting this."

Chakotay tapped his combadge. "Computer, location of--"

"He's in the holodeck with Harry," B'Elanna interrupted.

"How . . .?"

She gave him a pointed look before marching past him and exiting Engineering.

Chakotay looked after her warily. Exactly how deep did this bonding thing between her and Paris go? he wondered, suspecting he wasn't even close to getting the whole picture.

He headed out of Engineering to track Paris down in the holodeck. If B'Elanna's reaction to his offer to intercede was anything to go by, Chakotay wasn't looking forward to approaching Paris about it. At least Paris was a lot more even tempered than B'Elanna. He wouldn't bite Chakotay's head off just for offering to help.

Chakotay entered the holodeck still wondering about the bond apparently linking Tom and B'Elanna. Lost in thought, he didn't see the small ball flying through the air toward him until it stopped abruptly an inch from his face. The holodeck safety alarms blared a warning that jolted him to attention. Chakotay realized, to his embarrassment, that he'd wandered directly into the middle of the playing field. He was rebuked instantly.

"Thanks a lot, Commander," Tom said sourly, stalking over and grabbing the ball out of mid-air. "That would have been the setting point."

"Yeah, thanks, Commander," Harry said gratefully, panting as he approached from across the field. He was covered in sweat, walking slowly, and listing oddly to one side.

"Are you okay, Harry?" Chakotay asked. The younger man looked completely exhausted, and in some amount of pain.

"Fine," Harry lied. "Never been better." He rubbed at his side to soothe an obviously cramping muscle.

"Come on, Harry. We only have the holodeck for another fifteen minutes," Tom said, rocking on his heels and bouncing the ball against his racquet.

"I think the Commander must need something," Harry said, looking at Chakotay hopefully.

"Actually," Chakotay said, "I came to talk to Tom. But if you want to finish your game first--"

"No!" Harry said emphatically, and then flushed slightly. "I mean, if you came all the way down here to find him, it must be important, and I don't want to let a silly little Paresis Squares game interfere with command business."

"But--" Chakotay said, only to be cut off by Harry, who was already edging toward the holodeck door.

"No, no, don't let me stop you. Please. We can finish the match later, Tom," he said brightly, and nearly tripped over his feet in his hurry to get out of the holodeck.

Chakotay chuckled lightly, but found upon turning back to Tom that the Lieutenant was looking very much less amused.

"What's so important? I'm up-to-date on all my helm reports, and personnel reviews aren't for another month."

"I just want to talk," Chakotay said reasonably. "What did you do to Harry? I thought he liked Paresis Squares."

"I didn't do anything to Harry," Tom said impatiently. "I don't know what you're talking about. He does like Paresis Squares."

"The way he ran out of here you'd think--" Chakotay stopped abruptly when he saw the frown on Paris's face deepen. Paris looked more on edge than Chakotay could ever recall seeing him. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine," Tom said irritably. "Why does everyone keep asking me that? Do I have some weird tattoo on my forehead that says I'm not okay? Wait, no, that's you." He turned back to the court and smashed the ball violently toward the wall with a ferocious swing of his racquet.

Chakotay let the flip comment slide with no more than a disapproving frown as he absently tracked the ball with his eyes. Tom caught it smoothly in the curve of his racquet and hurled it toward the opposite wall. "I was just speaking to B'Elanna," Chakotay said, ducking out of the path of the swiftly returning ball.

"Oh?" Tom stilled for only an instant and then turned his focus back to the ball, catching it and heaving it across the court in one smooth, rapid movement. Chakotay was beginning to understand why Harry had fled the holodeck. Tom looked possessed.

"She seems a little agitated," Chakotay said mildly.

"No shit," Tom growled. "It's not bad enough I have to deal with my own--" He suddenly cut himself off, face tight. "Sorry. I'm not quite myself."

"No, you're not," Chakotay agreed. "And neither is B'Elanna. She said it's not getting any better. Is that right?"

Tom laughed roughly and slammed the ball against the wall. "That's right."

"It's been two days. It's pretty obvious that keeping your distance from each other isn't working. Maybe you should look for another solution."

Tom turned to him, eyes wide and incredulous. "Another solution? There is no other solution."

Chakotay coughed. "You could always . . ."

"Fuck again?" He waited for Chakotay's embarrassed nod before shaking his head firmly. "No. Not an option."

"Why not?" Chakotay was honestly curious, unable to understand why both Tom and B'Elanna seemed to be fighting this so hard. They were obviously miserable, and it wasn't like they hadn't already done it. Three times, in fact.

Tom didn't answer at first. Instead, he slammed the ball against the wall a few more times. "We can't," he said finally, weakly. "We just can't."

"Why?" He got no answer from Tom, and frowned. "You're not getting better, and I'm not convinced you're going to get better until you resolve this, one way or another. I think you at least need to talk to each other."

"No," Tom said firmly. "No way."

Chakotay sighed. "I don't know what problem you two have with each other, but you've got to get past it. I already offered B'Elanna my services as a mediator if you want it."

"A mediator?" Tom repeated blankly. "What are you going to mediate?"

"Your discussion."

"We're not fighting, Chakotay. I think we can handle our business by ourselves. And even if we can't, you're the last person I want to discuss my personal life with. At least I don't have to wonder about what you jack off to at night anymore. I saw you on Sakari," he accused. "You were so hard you could barely even walk. Get off on watching, huh?"

Chakotay's patience was wearing thin, especially under this unexpectedly crude assault. Still, he could hear the humiliation underlying Tom's anger, and reined in his temper. Tom was sick and worn out, and not to blame. "No," he said, as inoffensively as he could manage. "And when I jack off, Paris, you can rest assured I am not thinking about you."

Point scored. Tom flinched, then looked away uncomfortably. "Christ," he said wearily. "I'm sorry. I don't even know why I said that."

"You're sick. And you're forgiven. My offer still stands."

"So does my refusal. We don't need a mediator."

"Then what do you need?"

"Her," Tom said hoarsely. "God. I need her." His hands tightened convulsively around his racquet. "I can't see her, Chakotay. If I see her, I'll take her. There won't be time for talking, or mediating, or anything. And it won't even matter that she doesn't want me the same way."

Chakotay blinked. Surely Tom realized B'Elanna was in the same state. "Of course she wants you."

"No. I mean wants me. It's not . . . I was just the guy who happened to be there. She doesn't really want me."

Chakotay frowned. It was an odd time for Paris's insecurities to be making an appearance, given the physical discomfort he was obviously in. And since when had Paris cared why his bedmate was sleeping with him? Back in the Maquis he'd slept with anyone who didn't move away fast enough. It wasn't like . . .

Oh. Oh. Maybe it was like that, after all. Well, that was an unanticipated development. Though Paris had been anything but subtle in his pursuit of B'Elanna, Chakotay had never imagined that she was anything but another conquest to him. That Paris might have real feelings for B'Elanna that ran deeper than the obvious physical desire was something Chakotay simply hadn't considered. Faced with it, Chakotay wasn't quite sure how he felt about it. He found, to his surprise, that it no longer bothered him as much as it once had.

"She likes roses," he said presently. "Red ones. And chocolate, of course. Especially dark chocolate truffles. She doesn't much like music but she loves poetry, especially 15th century Klingon sonnets. She once said she thought Gurash was especially romantic."

Tom stared at him silently, clearly taken aback.

Chakotay shrugged, face neutral. "Just giving you a few helpful hints."

"Uh huh," Tom said skeptically. He fidgeted with his racquet, the nervous energy dissipating slowly. "It's not just the sex that's the problem," he admitted finally. "There's some kind of link between us."

Chakotay nodded. "Tuvok mentioned that as a possibility. Physical and mental?"

"Yeah." He shivered a little. "I don't know what will happen if we, you know, get together again."

"You're afraid having relations again will somehow strengthen the link?"

Tom shook his head. "No, it's not that. Not just that, at least." He looked up, eyes wide and a little scared. "Chakotay, Vulcan mating links are permanent."

Chakotay exhaled a deep, cleansing breath, which did nothing to dissipate his frustration. Damn all Vulcans, anyway. He stared at Paris, his mouth compressed in a grim line. "Paris -- Tom, I understand your concerns, but I don't honestly see the situation improving. You might want to consider which is the worst of two evils:  being permanently bonded to B'Elanna or continuing to feel like this for the rest of your lives."

He softened his tone. "I can't tell you what to do, but unless you can come up with a better solution . . . if this lingers too much longer the Captain may be forced to step in and order medical intervention." Voice even gentler, he added, "And there's no guarantee that will work."

Tom had turned away but Chakotay could see his shoulders slump.

Chakotay paused on his way out the door. "You know what the Doctor's recommendation is. I think it would be better if the decision came from you and B'Elanna rather than higher up, don't you?"

The door slid shut behind Chakotay with hollow finality.

"Spare me a minute, Commander?"

Chakotay could just about hear the lilt in Janeway's voice, and grinned to himself. Despite the gravity of the situation, he was seeing a new side to Kathryn Janeway and was thoroughly enjoying it. Who knew she was such a gossip hound? Perhaps, he speculated, it just took the right kind of gossip.

He stepped into her Ready Room and waited for her to indicate that he should join her on the couch. Up until that moment there'd been a possibility -- albeit a slim one -- that she'd actually called him in to discuss ship's business. But if that had been the case, she'd have been sitting behind her desk and would have expected him to remain standing in front of it.

No, the way they were sitting on the couch, intimate and cozy and confidential . . . that was for sharing secrets. And as much as he generally disliked spreading gossip, he found himself in dire need of someone to talk to about the whole mess.

"So tell me, Chakotay, what's this I hear about B'Elanna tearing apart Engineering panel by panel?"

He made a face. "A bit of an exaggeration. It was just one panel. I'm sure Carey will be able to get it back into shape. Eventually."

Janeway chuckled. "Well, B'Elanna lives and breathes Engineering. I'm sure being off duty is very frustrating for her. Personally, I think we're lucky she's taking it out on the panels instead of Vorik or the Doctor."

Chakotay chuckled. "Trust you to find the silver lining."

"Always the optimist," Janeway agreed, grinning. "At any rate, I suppose things will be getting back to normal soon. The Doctor said it would only take a few days."

"Yes, he did," Chakotay said, frowning a bit. "About that. It, um, it seems to be going a little slower than the Doctor anticipated."

From the look on her face, this was news to Janeway. "Really?"

"Really. Actually," he admitted, "I don't think they're getting any better at all."

Janeway gazed at him quizzically. "What do you mean?"

"Well," Chakotay said slowly, "I've had run-ins with both of them today. They're both extremely on edge, and Paris looks to be in physical discomfort as well. I called them on it, and they both admitted that they've had no contact since we came back aboard, but that the symptoms are not easing."

Janeway, suddenly serious, stared hard at her first officer. "Chakotay, are they in trouble? Do I need to intercede and order medical intervention? I'm sure the Doctor could--"

Chakotay winced. "I don't think either of them will be particularly receptive to the Doctor right now. I doubt he'd be much help, anyway. I think Tom and B'Elanna need to resolve this situation themselves. I'm just not sure how to get them to do that. I already offered my services as a mediator, but neither of them was particularly enthusiastic about the idea."

Janeway sat back on the couch. "I don't mean to be indelicate, but all we're talking about here is sex, right? If Tom and B'Elanna have relations with each other, won't this whole problem will go away on its own?"

"As I understand it, yes."

"Well then, what's the problem? Why deny themselves the cure? It's not exactly an unpleasant treatment."

"There are complications." He paused awkwardly, not sure how much to say.

"Such as?"

Chakotay squirmed uncomfortably. "It seems that Tom is harboring some pretty strong feelings for B'Elanna that were there before all this pon farr business."

Janeway smiled delightedly. "He actually admitted it? It's about time."

Chakotay blinked. "You knew?"

"Of course I knew! For heaven's sake, Chakotay, he's been following her around for months. Personally, I think they'll make a lovely couple. Maybe in a way the pon farr is a blessing, if it finally gets them to admit their feelings for each other."

"Well, that's another part of the problem. B'Elanna's confused if what she's feeling is real or just the pon farr." He sighed. "I don't know if either of them was really quite ready to begin a relationship. Before all this, they might have been starting to test the waters a bit, but--"

"--but now they've been forced into something a lot sooner than they would have otherwise," Janeway said, deflating slightly. "How serious do you think this is?"

"Serious. Serious enough that they're both willing to suffer through an unresolved pon farr. And there's more. This bond they're sharing -- Tuvok called it a mating bond -- it seems to still be going strong, and it's not only physical, it's mental as well. B'Elanna was able to tell me where on the ship Tom was today without consulting the shipboard computer."

"Are they communicating telepathically?"

"I'm not sure exactly. Neither of them seems to be willing to talk about it. I get the feeling they're not very happy about it."

Janeway's expression cleared as she finally realized what the problem was. "They're afraid this bond they're sharing might become permanent if they get back together?"

"Yes."

"It sounds like they need to speak to Tuvok to get some more information. He's very reluctant to discuss it, but I'll order him if I have to."

"Maybe you should be the one to speak to Tuvok," Chakotay suggested slowly. "He's closer to you than anyone else on the ship. He may not feel comfortable enough with either of them to discuss the details. Plus, you have the advantage of not being infected with pon farr."

Janeway grinned. "Tell me about it."

"I'm serious," Chakotay answered, fighting off a grin of his own. "Fact is, neither Tom nor B'Elanna are particularly rational right now. I'm not sure either of them would be able to frame the questions they need to ask, much less process the answers."

"You're probably right," Janeway agreed. "But even if he's talking to me instead of Tom or B'Elanna, Tuvok is going to be uncomfortable discussing this particular topic. I think it would be best to do it in an informal setting. I'll speak to him tonight in his quarters. That is, assuming you think it can wait until then." She looked at Chakotay searchingly. "You don't think this is at a critical stage yet, do you? It can wait a few hours?"

Chakotay nodded. "They're skittish and uncomfortable, but I don't think their health is immediately threatened."

"I'll speak to Tuvok right after his shift." She chewed at her lower lip absently. "I just wish there was something else we could do."

"We could always just order them to have sex again."

"Don't joke. It may come to that." Janeway grinned a little devilishly. "It would be a hell of an order to give, don't you think?"

"Once in a lifetime," Chakotay agreed, grinning himself. "Though I'm not sure how I'd actually do it."

Janeway patted his leg comfortingly. "I have faith in you, Commander. If it comes to that, you'll think of something." She climbed to her feet, the meeting clearly over.

He looked up at her, eyes suddenly glinting. Janeway, studying his face, sat back down. He looked positively gleeful. "What?"

Chakotay smirked fiendishly. "You know, if it does come to that, I think I already have an idea."

ONE DAY LATER:

"He what?"

"Tom, sit down."

"The hell I will! Are you serious?"

"Completely. If you'd just sit down for a minute, I can explain."

Tom whirled. Janeway was taken aback by the wild look in his eyes. "He wants her for himself, doesn't he? He knows she used to have a crush on him, now he's going to take advantage of it!"

"Have a seat, Tom. You're not thinking rationally about this."

"Not thinking rationally? I'm not thinking rationally? You're telling me that Chakotay is going to sleep with B'Elanna, and I'm the one not thinking rationally?"

"I didn't say he was going to sleep with her."

"That's exactly what you said."

"Mr. Paris. Please sit down and listen. I did not say Commander Chakotay was going to sleep with Lieutenant Torres. I said he was going to offer--"

"--to sleep with her!"

"Yes, but--"

"So he is going to sleep with her!"

"No, he's going to offer, and-- Tom, sit down."

Tom sat. Perched precariously on the edge of his seat, flushed and agitated and trembling with some emotion Janeway couldn't easily identify, he sat.

Kathryn willed patience and compassion into her voice. "Tom, listen to me. For personal reasons, you and B'Elanna are unwilling to resolve your pon farr with each other. That's a perfectly legitimate choice, but it forces us to seek out other alternatives. We checked with the Doctor, and he believes that at this point, there is no effective medical treatment he can offer. That brings us back to the old-fashioned way."

"Sex."

"Exactly. And if you aren't willing to do it with each other, then the logical alternative is that you find other partners."

"And Chakotay just happened to nominate himself to be B'Elanna's partner?"

"Yes. Because he's her friend, Tom, not because he's got some ulterior motive."

"Bullshit. He knows how desperate she is; he knows she won't be able to turn him down."

"Of course she might."

Tom snorted. "Forgive me, Captain, but you have no idea what you're talking about. Right now, I wouldn't turn down Neelix. Christ, I can't believe this. I can't believe you let him do this." He ran trembling fingers through his hair. "Where exactly does this leave me? Who am I supposed to sleep with?"

Janeway shrugged and smiled gently. "Anyone you want to. I'm sure there are plenty of people on board who'd be happy to help out."

"But -- I -- You -- She -- SHIT!" Unable to sit still, Tom jumped to his feet, pacing agitatedly around the perimeter of Janeway's office.

"Tom." Janeway was careful to keep her voice quiet and soothing. "You need to resolve this -- with or without B'Elanna. Your behavior has become increasingly erratic. Chakotay can--"

"Chakotay?!" Tom exploded, his whole demeanor reflecting his outrage. "Son of a--"

Tom was out the door before Janeway could blink. She followed after him, wondering if she had perhaps underestimated the situation. Harry's stunned stare in the direction of the turbolift told her what she needed to know.

"Is there a problem, Captain?" Tuvok inquired.

"Nothing I can't handle, Tuvok." As the lift doors closed, she added under her breath, "I hope."

Tom launched out of the turbolift like a torpedo homing in on its prey. It didn't take him long to reach B'Elanna's quarters. He slammed his hand onto the scanner beside her door.

"Who is it?"

Chakotay? Answering for B'Elanna? Tom's rage shot up another notch. "Let me in!" he demanded.

The door slid open and Tom charged in to see Chakotay holding B'Elanna closely -- too closely. Territorial rage swept over him, turning his vision red. He shot across the room and ripped Chakotay away from B'Elanna, slamming the other man into the nearest wall.

Arm jammed tightly across the other man's throat, Paris snarled in warning, "MINE!"

Even with Paris's arm cutting off his air, Chakotay still attempted to reply, to calm Tom, who was enraged beyond anything Chakotay had ever seen. But before Chakotay could utter a sound, Paris was violently ripped away with a suddenness that sent Chakotay stumbling.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?!"

B'Elanna, looking as furious as Paris, flung Tom across the room. Chakotay was hesitant to intercede, mostly because he suspected any effort to do so would be violently rebuffed by both. He eyed them and wondered if the plan to lure Paris here would have the outcome he and Kathryn were hoping for.

Tom and B'Elanna, both breathless, were circling each other as if looking for an opening. The aggressive anger of a moment ago was rapidly dissipating, however, to be replaced by an escalating passion.

Not wanting a repeat of the experience of being an unwilling observer to Tom and B'Elanna's sexcapades, Chakotay sidestepped unobtrusively toward the door. He almost made a clean escape, until Paris got a little too close too soon for B'Elanna's liking. Chakotay's only warning was an all too familiar deep-throated growl.

B'Elanna shoved Tom away with a violent slap of her palm to his chest. Not expecting to be spurned, Paris flew backwards. Chakotay barely managed to avoid being flattened by the other man.

Sensing a body nearby, the door slid open just as B'Elanna forcibly hit Tom on the chest again, shoving him from her quarters to rebound off the opposite bulkhead. Growling aggressively, B'Elanna charged after him.

Chakotay cautiously exited B'Elanna's quarters to find Kathryn, eyes wide, standing to one side. Stopping in the doorway, Chakotay found his own gaze riveted on the pon farr-infected duo.

Tom's eyes, hooded with unvoiced, fiery passion, found B'Elanna's. His predatory gaze stopped B'Elanna in her tracks, and Chakotay found himself amazed once again by Paris and his apparent steadfast devotion to B'Elanna. Overpowering lust filled Paris's gaze, but underlying it all, overwhelming the intense desperation of the pon farr, was a deep affection.

Tom stepped toward B'Elanna in what could only be described as a sexual prowl. Grinning ferally, B'Elanna took a step back toward her quarters, clearly daring him to follow. There was no hesitation in his response. He was all over her in a matter of seconds. Their lips met in an aggressive kiss as hands confidently began undoing uniform fastenings, and they stumbled back toward B'Elanna's quarters. Once again finding himself an unintentional obstruction under threat of being run over, Chakotay barely got out of the way in time.

This was becoming too familiar a scene, Chakotay thought dismally. Flashes of forbidden images and sounds from the Sakarian cavern superimposed themselves over the current scene playing out, and a nervous sweat broke out underneath his uniform. He had no desire to play witness again to what was clearly a very intimate, if highly energetic, moment. It certainly didn't help that the Captain's presence was preventing him even a discreet tug at his suddenly uncomfortable uniform.

Tom, hands braced on either side of the doorway, had stopped short of entering B'Elanna's quarters. She tugged but Tom playfully resisted the pull. Grinning, B'Elanna gave another tug. Irritation marred her features when he refused to budge but continued to rake her with heated, amorous gazes.

When Chakotay saw her hand headed toward Paris's obviously bulging groin, he decided enough was enough. Moving quickly, he batted one of Paris's braced arms loose. B'Elanna grabbed the front of Tom's uniform and dragged him inside.

The Captain stepped over to Chakotay's side. They studiously avoided each other's gazes, instead choosing to focus on the now-closed door. Dead silence took possession of the corridor and Chakotay was certain Kathryn could hear the sweat trickling down his back.

"Well." There was a wealth of expression in Janeway's voice.

THUD!

Both jumped like green cadets at the unexpected noise from B'Elanna's quarters. They stood frozen in place for a moment but there were no cries of pain from behind the door, and Chakotay decided it was probably safe to go. "I think we sh--"

THUD!

Doors slid open up and down the corridor and heads poked cautiously out. Lieutenant Carey, two doorways down from B'Elanna's quarters, stepped out into the corridor. "Captain?"

"Everything's fine, Lieutenant," Janeway assured him. Raising her voice slightly, she addressed the others. "Return to your quarters. Everything is fine."

thump THUD!

Janeway winced but the stern look she sent the puzzled crew had them retreating quickly into their quarters.

Tugging at the neckline of his uniform, Chakotay turned to his captain. "Perhaps . . ."

"Yes. Of course. Computer, put a lock on Lieutenant Torres's quarters until Lieutenant Torres or Lieutenant Paris request otherwise."

"Computer lock engaged," came the monotone reply.

"Commander, care to join me for a cup of coffee?"

Chakotay knew she was going to want a full report of what had occurred before she arrived on the scene. He wondered if he could persuade her to put something a little stronger than cream in his coffee.

They were halfway down the corridor when--

THUD!

thump

CRASH!

They both missed a step before continuing on their way.

"I'm glad they're resolving things," Janeway offered noncommittally. "Although, I didn't expect them to be so . . . vigorous. Was it like that down on the planet?"

"Worse," confirmed Chakotay in as bland a tone as he could manage.

"Oh?" Janeway's eyes glinted as she considered her first officer. Coming to a decision, she tapped her combadge. "Mr. Tuvok."

"Yes, Captain."

"You have the Bridge until the next shift."

"Understood, Captain."

"Tuvok?" Janeway's voice had lowered.

"Yes, Captain?"

"Ignore any reports concerning disturbances in Lieutenant Torres's quarters."

Tuvok's reply was just a touch slow in coming. "Understood, Captain. Tuvok out."

"Commander, let's adjourn to my quarters. I have a bottle of brandy that needs breaking in."

As they stepped into the turbolift, a faint, rhythmic thump thump thump echoed down the corridor. Janeway decided silence was the better part of valor. Chakotay discreetly tugged at his uniform. Both gave a prayer of thanks when the lift doors slid closed and whisked them away.

Wow. That had been . . . wow.

B'Elanna lay on her back, eyes closed, struggling unsuccessfully to catch her breath. Beside her, Tom was apparently having no better success in a similar endeavor. His breathing was ragged and uneven, and in between all the thready inhales and exhales she could hear an occasional muttered curse. She might have minded under different circumstances, but frankly, "Holy fucking shit" seemed incredibly appropriate at the moment.

"Wow," she finally said, less profanely.

Beside her, Tom snorted in amusement. "You can say that again."

"Wow," she repeated sincerely and with a great deal of feeling.

Tom started shaking with laughter. Since she hadn't yet bothered to open her eyes, she couldn't see him, but she could feel his body quaking next to hers, sending pleasant little tremors through her own body in response. "Can I say it too?"

B'Elanna was feeling generous. "Go right ahead."

The slightest hint of humor lined Tom's voice as he spoke. "Wow." Then again, in a sort of breathless, reverent whisper. "Wow."

B'Elanna grinned and stretched, every muscle protesting the action. She felt wonderfully and utterly debauched. It was a feeling she could easily get used to. "Do you think," she said presently, "it will be like that all the time?"

There was a short but potent silence, during which B'Elanna could practically hear the words all the time ricocheting around Tom's head. They beeped and pinged each time they hit his skull, building up more speed with every rebound, nearly achieving warp before Tom found his voice again. "Well," he said hesitantly, "you know, usually I can't . . . I mean, not that I wouldn't like to, but . . . well, after the first or second time I generally . . ." He cleared his throat, coughed a little uncomfortably. ". . . after that I'm usually done for the night."

B'Elanna laughed. "For god's sakes, Tom, I didn't mean it like that."

"Oh. Good," Tom said, with such evident relief that B'Elanna couldn't help laughing again.

"I just meant," she said, still giggling, "do you think it'll be that intense every time?"

"I hope not," Tom said sincerely. "Otherwise, we'll spend all our free time putting your quarters back together."

Oh. Hmm. Enjoying the licentious afterglow, she still had no desire to open her eyes. Tom, however, evidently had. "They're in bad shape, I take it?"

He didn't sound the least bit perturbed. In fact, he sounded almost impressed. "Completely trashed."

It was really no great surprise, considering how she felt. You couldn't have a proper debauching without a lot of collateral damage to your quarters. "Do I even want to look?"

"I don't know," Tom said easily. "Depends on how attached you were to your bed."

"My bed?" Her eyes flew open. "What happened to my bed?"

He was propped up on his elbow, grinning down at her. "We broke it all to pieces."

That was impossible. You couldn't break a Starfleet bed. They were indestructible.

"Not as indestructible as we thought," Tom said, and it was oddly not disconcerting to have him answering her unspoken thoughts. It felt kind of natural, actually. Normal. Like it was meant to be that way.

B'Elanna took a quick survey of the room. They hadn't really broken the bed, had they? Oh god, yes, they had. "How in the world did we manage that?"

"I dunno," Tom said. He was still grinning at her, but he flopped back down on the -- B'Elanna took a quick look down to see what they were lying on -- mattress. Well, that was something. At least the mattress was intact. "We broke the desk, too. And dented the wall."

Now she was sure he was joking. "You can't dent durasteel."

"Tell it to the wall," he said, waving vaguely before his arm flopped down over his eyes. His breathing was just now getting back to normal.

His eyes were closed under his arm, and B'Elanna indulged herself in some gratuitous Paris-ogling for a minute, watching with lascivious satisfaction the play of muscles under the tanned, fuzzy chest. Sighing with contentment, she turned her head just far enough to look where Tom had been waving. "Oh, my god," she breathed, "we really did dent the wall."

"I just wish I knew how," Tom said wistfully. "Someone's bound to ask, and I'd hate not to have a good answer." He peered at her from under his arm. "I don't suppose you remember?"

"No." No, she didn't remember denting the wall. She didn't remember much except the blissful satisfaction of finally giving in to every carnal thought she'd been so violently suppressing, and having orgasm after blinding orgasm, crying out his name and hearing him cry out hers. And somewhere in the middle, she'd taken him and made him her own -- body and mind and soul.

They'd been so scared, both of them. Yet in the end, it wasn't scary at all.

"It's a little scary," Tom said gently.

"A little," she agreed, feeling the touch of his mind against hers, light as the brush of a butterfly's wing, just strong enough to tickle. "But it's nice, too." More than nice. Addictive, she was starting to think. Knowing now what it felt like to be that close to someone, how could she ever go back to being alone again?

B'Elanna felt a flutter of unease -- her own or Tom's, she couldn't be sure. "What is it? What's wrong?"

"Nothing," Tom said quickly, reaching for her hand to soothe away any fears. "It's just that . . ." He paused and turned to her, eyes open and honest. "It's just that I've wanted this for a long time. Well, not exactly this," he said with a quick grin. "But I've wanted us for a while. Which I think you know."

She knew. She'd known for quite some time that he was interested in her. What she hadn't known until recently was that his feelings ran deeper than sexual desire. And while she hadn't really believed it before, there was no doubt left in her mind at all now.

Tom, still talking, was looking down at their intertwined hands in fascination. "I'd be lying if I said I was sorry it happened."

"I don't think you can lie to me now," she interrupted softly.

Tom gazed at her thoughtfully for a second. "No, I don't suppose I can." He took a deep breath. "This thing we have . . . I mean, I can feel you in my head, you know? And it's incredible. But it's not . . . we shouldn't make it something it's not. It's not love."

"Not yet," B'Elanna said gently.

He caught his breath. Stared at her with wide, imploring eyes. "I don't want to screw this up."

There it was again. That feeling, like quicksilver running through her, as Tom's mind brushed lightly against hers. "I don't want to screw it up either."

He gazed into her eyes. On the brink of falling into her, he said softly, "It would be so easy to get lost in you, B'Elanna. But how would we ever know it was real?" His voice contained a hint of cautiousness as he continued. "Maybe we ought to slow this down a bit. Not rush into anything."

She could feel the wrongness of that, and she could hear the wrongness of it in his voice. He was ready. Had been ready for months. Her own uncertainty was what was making him cautious. Chivalrous bastard, she thought fondly, amused when his head jerked, indicating he had caught that thought. She already loved him, she was just realizing. The only question now was how deeply.

Smiling brightly, she allowed those thoughts to surround his own in a gentle caress. "We take it one day at a time. But," she raised an admonishing finger, "I have no intention of giving up the sex, Paris."

A grin lighting his face, Tom rolled until he rested half atop her, the bulk of his weight supported by one of his arms. Joy shone as he leaned in to snatch a quick kiss. "Be careful what you wish for, Torres."

B'Elanna pushed him onto his back and slid atop him, taking pleasure in the feel of his body beneath hers. She kissed him gently. "Why is that?" she murmured.

"--'Cause--"

kiss

"--you just--"

kiss

"--might--"

kiss

"--get it."

Laughing, they kissed one last time before settling back down to bask in the sensual warmth of each other. They lay in contented silence until--

"Stop it," B'Elanna drowsily ordered.

"What?" Tom, confused, started to rise but B'Elanna pushed him back down and reclaimed his chest as her pillow.

"You're glowing," she accused, her own happiness mingling with his as they drifted off to sleep in each other's arms.

ONE DAY LATER:

CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER'S REPORT:
Ensign Vorik remains in his quarters under medical supervision. While the pon farr is not yet completely purged from his system, his hormone levels are approaching normal. The meditation techniques Lieutenant Tuvok suggested appear to have been successful, and I believe medication will ease any residual discomfort Ensign Vorik experiences.

I have released Lieutenant Paris and Lieutenant Torres back to active duty. The pon farr has been purged from their systems, apparently in the conventional manner. Neither Lieutenant Paris nor Lieutenant Torres exhibits any further unusual symptoms.

However, I continue to be frustrated by their lack of cooperation in researching the effect of pon farr upon species other than Vulcan. The Captain has forbidden me to delve into the, and I quote, "intimate lives of Lieutenants Paris and Torres," unquote, and has strongly suggested I research the Human capacity for obsession. She seems to believe I am exhibiting symptoms of this Human malady.

On a side note, but possibly related to the Paris and Torres medical case, Commander Chakotay's blood pressure has finally settled back within normal parameters.

End Chief Medical Officer's Log.
 

~Finis


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