October 1997
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Chakotay pulled the blanket down to Tom's waist and ran the cloth, dipped in warm water, over the other man's chest. Paris stirred restlessly, quietly murmuring beneath his breath but the words were too slurred to be made out. As he wiped the feverish man down, Chakotay replayed the last few days in his mind.

It had begun when Captain Janeway had assigned him to lead an away team to this planet to negotiate for some star charts in the local inhabitant's possession. He had taken Tom Paris, due to his position as ship's conn officer, with him as well as Ensign Azrael from Security.

The Planerians had been most cooperative and enjoyable hosts. They were a long-limbed, pale-skinned species with huge blue eyes that could have made them look comical except for the fact that those eyes conveyed such strong emotions. Their average height being around seven feet only added to the illusion of frailty; however, Chakotay had quickly learned the Planerians were far from frail. Within a day of being there, his negotiations with their alien hosts had been concluded and the star charts were safely in his possession. Then chaos had broken loose.

A plague had hit the local village where Chakotay and his away team were housed. Planerians fell victim to the plague quickly. Fevers, chills, no appetite. Then it grew worse. Bodily functions began to fail, and they lost their first victim to the plague.

Knowing they had already been exposed, Chakotay, Paris, and Azrael had done all they could to assist the Planerians. Tom, with his limited medical knowledge, had volunteered to help in the infirmary, which had been moved to a local gathering hall due to the growing number of patients. Paris had drafted Azrael to help him where needed. Chakotay had conferred with the local Planerian leaders and offered his assistance where possible.

On the second day of the plague, Chakotay had come to the infirmary to check on his away team's status. None of them had come down with the plague yet, but they had no proof they were invulnerable to it. He had come across Azrael first.

"Where's Lieutenant Paris?" Chakotay asked.

Azrael tiredly nodded his head toward an area further down the long room. Looking past the rows of beds, Chakotay saw Paris hunched over one of the beds. "We just lost another patient," Azrael told him. "A young child. Elysia. You remember her?" Azrael looked as if he were about to cry.

Chakotay's breath caught. He clapped a hand to the ensign's shoulder. Elysia. She had latched onto the offworlders almost immediately, seeming to take an immediate interest in Tom Paris. The pilot had teased the young girl mercilessly and she had loved every minute of it.

"Get some rest, Ensign," Chakotay told Azrael. "You look as if you could use it." After another long look in Paris' direction, Chakotay headed toward where he sat on an infirmary bed.

Tom stared down at the young girl he held cradled in his arms, where she had drawn her last breath. He couldn't believe she was gone. Just two days ago she had been so full of life.


Tom looked up blankly, Chakotay's presence not really registering with him.

"Tom?" Chakotay sat on the bed next to him. "I'm sorry about Elysia."

Tom carefully placed Elysia back on the bed. As he pulled the covers back over her as if tucking her in for the night, he hesitated, then he pulled the sheet up the rest of the way, covering her face as well. He wiped a hand tiredly over his own face.

"Are the Planerian doctors any closer to finding a cure?" Chakotay asked.

Tom shook his head. "It's got them mystified. We sure could use the Doc right now. I feel -- I feel so damn useless." His voice shook with held-in emotions. Raising his eyes to meet the Commander's, he said, "She won't be the last, you know. We've got several others we're on the verge of losing and there'll be more after them."

Chakotay read the despair in the younger man's eyes. "Tom--" He stopped, at a loss what to say.

Tom waved away his concern as he got to his feet and slowly moved on toward another bed and another patient. "How're things going on your end?" he asked.

"Not very good," Chakotay was forced to admit. "Tolsen," he continued, referring to the local leader, "spent the day trying to convince the neighboring provinces to send help, but they're all leery of exposing their people to this plague."

"What the hell is wrong with those people?!" Tom exploded, slamming down a tray on a nearby table. His loud voice caused heads to turn and was obviously disturbing the patients. Closing his eyes as he attempted to regain control over his ragged emotions, Tom reopened them seconds later to stare indignantly at Chakotay. His voice lowered, he said, "Don't they understand? We need help here!"

Chakotay blinked. Not they but we. How quickly Paris had adopted these people and become protective of them, but then he had been caring for them and their families in a crisis situation for the past twenty-four hours. "They understand," he reassured Paris. "They're not unfeeling, Tom; they're scared. When I left, Tolsen was talking to a doctor two provinces over. It sounded promising. If the doctor agrees to help, I've offered to take the shuttle and ferry him and some supplies back here."

Tom stared at him, seeing his own helplessness echoed in Chakotay's eyes. "I'm sorry," he apologized. "I shouldn't have snapped at you."

Chakotay grinned at the apology. "It's okay. Better you blow steam off at me than one of your patients."

An elderly female Planerian approached them at that moment. "Commander Chakotay?"


"Leader Tolsen is asking that you come immediately. I think he may have good news."

"Thank you." Chakotay turned back to Tom. "Maybe he's convinced that doctor to help. I'll check in with you later." Chakotay turned to go but once he reached the exit, some instinct made him turn back and seek out Paris. The other man was sitting at a nearby bed, talking to an elderly male patient who appeared to be in the first stages of the plague. Chakotay watched, mesmerized. All Tom's tiredness had dropped away and for that moment his attention was focused solely on the old man before him. There was a tenderness in his touch that calmed the Planerian elder. Chakotay's eyes traveled to the bed beyond Paris. The bed with the sheet drawn up over Elysia. They had to help these people.

He was overcome with a desire not only to help these people because they deserved the help but to help them for Tom. That thought caught Chakotay off guard. His gaze returned to the other man, still bent over the elderly patient. His blond hair shone in the soft light of the infirmary, but Chakotay didn't miss the tired lines on his face nor the way his body hunched, as if warding off an expected blow. He had a sudden urge to take the other man in his arms and comfort him.

In the crisis of the plague he had completely put other thoughts out of mind. Thoughts of Paris. Thoughts that had been haunting him for several weeks now, ever since they had lived that year that hadn't existed where he and Tom had spent the better part of a year in a Krenim prison. It had been a year of hell and a year of discovery. Chakotay had discovered Tom Paris during that year.

Once time had been set back as it was supposed to be, they had the year to live over again. It was as if that year of hell had never been, except they all retained the memories as if they had lived them. It still seemed so real at times, but the Doctor had assured them that it hadn't happened. Time paradoxes were terribly confusing, especially in this case.

An unexpected attraction had arisen between himself and Tom during that year of hell. They had never acted upon it, but the feelings were still there, unresolved. Yet, the Doctor told them that what had occurred during that year was all in their heads. That year had not happened in their reality. Regardless, Chakotay was unable to shake the attraction he felt for Tom. He had no idea if Tom returned those feelings. There had been indications during that year that he had, but since returning to Voyager and the correct time stream, Tom had not acknowledged those feelings in any way.

Frowning, Chakotay turned and exited the infirmary, determined to see this crisis through and determined that he and Tom would have a talk once it was over.

That had been two days ago. Chakotay had gone and retrieved the Planerian doctor and supplies the next day. Shortly before he had left, Azrael had collapsed. At first they had been hopeful it was just fatigue, but then the symptoms became more clear. Azrael had the plague. It seemed that humans weren't immune after all.

Chakotay had left to retrieve the Planerian doctor, his heart heavy with an unexplainable feeling of dread. When he returned, that feeling of dread became all too clear. Tom had collapsed while he had been gone. According to the nurse, he had been aware he had the plague before Chakotay left, but had instructed that the commander not be told.

Now Chakotay stared down at the golden head, blonde hair drenched brown with sweat. He gently wiped the sweat from Tom's face, then pulled the sheet down to his waist, continuing to wipe him down. He stopped at the edge of the sheet, which he had pulled down a couple of inches below Tom's bellybutton, and let his hand rest on Tom's chest, nestled against the golden red curls there.

He could feel the steady heartbeat beneath his fingers. Still alive but for how long? Tom had already been near exhaustion from long hours in the infirmary when the plague had struck him down and now the plague was taking its toll. He stared at the brown hand that rested against the pale skin. They were so unalike, yet they fit together so well.

Why had it taken him so long to figure that out? And had he waited too long? Would he now lose Tom before he had the chance to tell him? Azrael was gone already and Tom was fading fast. The doctors were perplexed as to why Chakotay had not yet been struck down and had been drawing his blood for tests, hoping it would lead them to a cure. Chakotay couldn't imagine what Tom and Azrael had in common with the Planerians that he didn't. They were all Human. A moan brought his attention back to Tom.

Tom's head whipped back and forth, caught in some dream of his feverish delirium's making. "Nooooo," he moaned. He subsided into unintelligible mutterings, then Chakotay heard him say clearly, "Chakotay."

Leaning down close to his ear, Chakotay softly said, "I'm here, Tom. You have to fight this. Voyager will be here soon. You have to fight it until they get here and the Doctor can help you. Don't give up."

As Chakotay straightened back up and lay a soothing hand on Tom's feverish forehead, the blue eyes flickered open to gaze at him, except the eyes weren't seeing him. Tom was lost in a feverish haze. "Mama? Hurts, Mama. Make the hurt go 'way."

"Shhhhh," crooned Chakotay as he tried to gentle him back to sleep. "Go to sleep, Tom. Go to sleep."

Tom's body suddenly heaved and then went alarmingly limp. His head lolled to the side as he fell unconscious. Chakotay waved one of the Planerian doctors over as he ran the tricorder over Tom's inert form. Still alive, thank God, but his major organs were showing signs of failure. Death was close. Chakotay felt despair wash over him.

He watched as the Planerian doctor checked Tom then shook his head. "I'm sorry, Commander. There's nothing we can do. It's only a matter of time now."

Nodding, Chakotay took Tom's hand in his and held on as if he could keep him here by that hold alone. Head bowed, he didn't see the doctor they had shuttled in from a neighboring province rush into the infirmary and confer with the doctor who had just been with Chakotay. Both Planerians looked in Chakotay's direction, then the doctor who had just arrived approached the silent man keeping vigil.

"Commander, I have good news."

Chakotay's head raised. His eyes glinted with hope as they lit upon the vial in the doctor's hand. "You've found a cure?"

"Yes, we think so. It appears to have something to do with the genetics that create blue-eyed humanoids. It has worked on the two Planerians we've tested it on so far." The doctor's features clouded. "We are uncertain how a human will react to it, but Lieutenant Paris . . ."

Chakotay realized with a start that Azrael had been blue-eyed as well. Strange how they could overlook something so obvious. Staring at Paris' unconscious form, he spoke to the doctor. "He doesn't have much time, does he? It's this or nothing at all."

"I'm afraid so. May I have your permission to inject him with the serum?"

Chakotay nodded and watched as the doctor injected the serum with the Planerian version of a hypo into Tom's neck. For a long moment there was no reaction, then Tom's chest heaved as he gasped for breath. Both doctors crowded around his spasmodic form and Chakotay was forced to relinquish his spot at Tom's side. He stood back, watching as they worked over Paris.

Finally, after what seemed like hours but in reality was only a matter of minutes, Tom's body stilled and the doctor turned to Chakotay. Chakotay braced himself for the news, but the doctor's words took him by surprise.

"The worst should be over now. He's responded as hoped to the serum. Now we must wait for his fever to break."

Chakotay stared at the doctor for a long moment, sure he had misheard. The doctor lay an understanding hand on his shoulder. "I believe he will recover, given time, Commander." Then the doctor reverted to business. "His bedclothes need changing. I'll summon one of the nurses."

Chakotay knew they were short-staffed with the epidemic. "No, that's all right. I'll see to him myself."

"Very well." The doctor gave him a brief smile and then he and the other doctor moved on to the next patient.

Chakotay slowly and methodically stripped the bed of the sweat stained sheets, rolling Tom back and forth to remove them. With the bed stripped, he quickly washed down Tom's body, starting with his face and working his way down to the feet. He couldn't help noting, even in his worry for Tom, that he had a beautiful body. Frowning at himself for having such thoughts at a time like this, he quickly fitted the bed with clean sheets, tucked Tom in, then reclaimed his position at Tom's bedside.

It was hot in here. He kicked at the covers, trying to free himself of their confines. Hands on his shoulders invaded and he pushed at them, telling them, "Go 'way." The hands wouldn't leave. They moved to his face, stroking, reminding him of his mother. "Mama?" Then he heard the soft voice, only it wasn't his mother, it was--


He opened his eyes and the surrounding room slowly swam into focus. Above him, looking concerned, was Chakotay, whose hand was resting on his forehead. His nice cool hand. It felt good. Tom opened his mouth to speak and ended up in a coughing fit instead as his dry throat tickled him.

Once the coughing subsided, he found Chakotay's hand beneath his head, gently elevating it and holding a cup to his mouth. Tom took a tentative sip. Water. Cool, delicious water. He drank it all.

"More?" asked Chakotay. Tom shook his head and Chakotay gently lowered his head back to the pillow. "How do you feel?" asked the older man.

"Completely wiped out," admitted Tom. "I was sick?" Then his cloudy memory began clearing. The Planerians. The plague. Elysia and others had died. "I caught the plague," he said as realization dawned.

Chakotay nodded. "We almost lost you. Luckily, the doctors located a cure before that happened."


Chakotay shook his head.

"How many?"

Chakotay didn't even have to ask what he meant. "Including Azrael, sixteen."

Tom winced. Silence fell between the two men, the last few days weighing heavily on them. Tom's memories of the past two days were vague but he remembered a soothing presence. "You, uh, stayed here with me? When I was sick?"

Instead of answering, Chakotay sent a glare his way, but Tom saw concern behind the glare. "You should have told me you were sick before I left to pick the doctor up."

Tom shrugged. "What difference would it have made?"

Chakotay sighed. "Do you do this on purpose?"

"What?" asked a clearly confused Paris.

"Aggravate me." Then Chakotay smiled, a true smile. Even the dimples came out of hiding. Tom loved it when he smiled like that. He didn't do it nearly often enough.

Feeling a bit cocky now that he knew he was going to live, Tom replied, "I live to aggravate you, Chakotay. It's my life's ambition."

His attempt at humor didn't have the desired effect. His words, instead, seemed to sober Chakotay. "Thank god you lived," he breathed like a man waking from a nightmare. His hand reached out to clasp Tom's.

Surprised by the unexpected but not unwelcome display, Tom gave his hand a squeeze, but said nothing. He wasn't quite sure what to say at this point.

"We need to talk," Chakotay told him, eyes serious, "but it can wait until you're stronger. Think you can eat something?" Tom started to shake his head, but Chakotay interrupted, saying, "You need to eat, Tom. Maybe some broth?"

At Tom's nod, Chakotay rose and left in search of the promised broth, leaving Paris alone to think. Chakotay wanted to talk. A serious talk from the sounds of it. Tom let his eyes close as a wave of tiredness washed over him. This was about that year, the lost year. He just knew it was. Why now? It had been several months since that had occurred. What had changed?

What has changed? a voice inside shot back at him. You almost died, Tom. Vague memories of a voice and hands soothing his fevered dreams came back to him. Chakotay. It had been Chakotay. His presence had been real, not a dream. He opened his eyes when he heard Chakotay come back and watched the other man thoughtfully.

They took it slowly. Tom was too weak to sit up so Chakotay elevated his head and held the cup of broth to his lips as he slowly sipped from it. Eventually, Tom felt his eyelids drooping. It was a struggle to stay awake. Chakotay seemed to realize this.

"Get some sleep," he urged.

"You'll be here when I wake up?"

"Do you want me to be?" Chakotay's voice sounded unsure.


Eyes closed, Tom felt a hand softly caress his forehead as fingers brushed his hair back. "Then I'll be here," came Chakotay's voice and then he was asleep.

Tom awoke to a cool cloth caressing his face. Eyes fluttering open, he saw Chakotay watching him as he ran the damp cloth over Tom's face, wiping away the last vestiges of sickness and fever. "That feels good," said Tom drowsily.

Smiling, Chakotay said, "Lay back and enjoy it."

Who am I to argue? thought Tom, mouth quirking slightly as he thought of all the times he had done just that to give Chakotay a bad time.

Chakotay saw Tom's mouth turn up but didn't question it. Obviously the other man was feeling better. He moved the damp cloth over Tom's jaw and to his neck. Pulling the sheet down to his waist, he ran the cloth over Tom's chest in long strokes, moving outward to run the cloth over his shoulders and down his arms. Dipping the cloth in the bowl of water, he wrung it out and then ran it down Tom's abdomen. Casting a wary eye upward to Tom's face, Chakotay pulled the sheet the rest of the way down. Tom was nude underneath the sheet, but he didn't utter a sound of protest at Chakotay's actions. Eyes closed, he seemed content to let Chakotay continue the bath.

Chakotay moved the cloth over Tom's hips, being careful not venture too close to the groin area. Then down the long legs and as Chakotay was finishing with the feet, Tom's voice startled him.

"I have to go to the bathroom."

Chakotay wasn't surprised. Since the sickness had hit Tom, he hadn't eaten or drank enough to cause this need to arise, but the water and soup he had consumed before falling asleep had apparently done the job.


He came to with a start, realizing he had been staring at Tom in a very unprofessional manner. His eyes flew up to the pilot's and saw acknowledgment there that Paris was aware of what he had caught Chakotay doing.

"You're not strong enough to get up and use the facilities," Chakotay told him, "even with my help."

Tom opened his mouth to argue but then realized Chakotay was right. When he'd tried to sit up earlier, he had nearly passed out and the room had swung in dizzy circles about him for several minutes. "So what do you suggest?"

"Let me get a bedpan," Chakotay murmured.

Tom frowned. Oh, great, he thought. Chakotay pulled the sheet back up over him before he went in search of a bedpan.

Chakotay returned a few minutes later to find Tom dozing. "You awake?"

"Barely," he replied without opening his eyes. He felt Chakotay lowering the sheet once more, then felt the other man's hand on his penis as he directed it toward the bedpan. Tom let out in involuntary gasp at the touch then felt his face flaming. He dared peek beneath lowered eyelids but thankfully Chakotay wasn't looking at him. Instead, he was studiously looking elsewhere and looking decidedly uncomfortable. Tom almost laughed aloud as he wondered which of them was the more uncomfortable.

Then Chakotay's gaze did flick toward his. "Okay," he told Tom, "anytime you're ready."

Tom let loose, sighing in relief as his bladder emptied. Once done, he concentrated on the feel of Chakotay's hand on him. Gods, if I weren't so tired, I could enjoy this. As it was, he didn't even have the energy to get an erection.

When nothing more was forthcoming and Tom didn't speak, Chakotay thought perhaps the other man had fallen asleep. "Tom?"

"Ummmm?" Paris had a delightful little smile lurking around the corners of his mouth and suddenly Chakotay understood.

Grinning, he asked, "You done?"

Tom's eyes snapped open to find a dark, heated gaze on him and felt the heat washing up into his face. "Um, yeah, all done," he said hurriedly.

Chakotay set the bedpan aside and pulled the sheet up, tucking Tom in. Face inches from Tom's, he asked, "Anything else I can do for you before you fall asleep?"

Gazing into those eyes, Tom was struck full force with the feelings he had buried since the year of hell. Without thought and held by those eyes, he said, "Yeah, a kiss would be nice."

He didn't even realize what he had said until he saw Chakotay's face descending toward his. Lips gently touched his and Tom heard his own soft sigh of satisfaction. Then the lips were pulling back. Faces still mere inches apart, Chakotay quietly said, "Get some sleep. We still need to have that talk." He kissed Tom on the forehead but Tom was already fast asleep, a smile curving the corners of his mouth upward.

Tom awoke to find Chakotay dozing in a chair beside his bed. He looked downward and stared at their hands. His right hand clasped in Chakotay's left. Together. They belonged together. That sudden thought was so all consuming and powerful that Tom knew he finally had it right. Chakotay was his. He was Chakotay's.

It didn't even occur to him at that moment to doubt that conviction. It was fate. Destiny. Whatever word one used to describe something that was meant to be. And there was no fighting it. Tom's lips curved upward. Bringing their clasped hands to his mouth, he kissed Chakotay's knuckles, watching as first one brown eye lazily opened to be followed by the other. Chakotay gazed at him, everything he needed to say there in his eyes.

"Who needs to talk?" said Tom softly.

Chakotay leaned in close, running a finger down Tom's face in a loving caress. "Not me. I know what I want."

Tom's smile widened. "Chakotay, I'm gonna aggravate the hell out of you for the rest of your life."

"Looking forward to it, hotshot."

Their lips met in a heated kiss, sealing the bargain with a promise of more in the near future.

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