Warning: the following story contains explicit m/m sexual encounters. If you are offended by it, you are welcome to stop reading the story. If you are above 18 and is open-minded, you are free to read it.

Disclaimer: the characters in the story, though owned by Paramount, are products of my imagination and creativity. (yada yada yada)

Rating: PG to NC-17

Pairings: C/P, P/K


Summary: sequel to "On Butterfly Wings".


"phoenix" : Egyptian Myth. A beautiful, lone bird which lived in the Arabian desert for 500 or 600years and then consumed itself in fire, rising renewed from the ashes to start another long life: a symbol of immortality.

Chapter One

"I hate this."

Tom cursed the wheelchair. He gave it a furious thwap, wanting so bad to hurt it. But it was unfortunately inanimate.

"Just move it, dammit!"

The wheelchair gave a sudden metallic squeak and started moving. Tom sighed with relief and resignation. He was now slave to this …this machine which had become his key to autonomy. He hated it, loathed it but he needed it. With this thing, he could at least move to places on Voyager. But it was so damned hard, so frustratingly difficult.

As ergonomic as the Intrepid-class ship was, it ain’t built for the disabled. Getting into turbolifts (so darned easy when he could walk) was now a hassle. People had to shift to give him space. He had to move to give them space too. People had to guide him to certain decks. Even the Bridge wasn’t constructed to accommodate a wheelchair. He had tried so hard trying not to bump into people or knock into the consoles.

Dammit, I want my legs back!

Even normal life became a pain in the butt. He had to be assisted in the shower. He had to helped in order to wear his pants, once a perfectly simple task

Chakotay was so nice to him. He had rescheduled his shifts so that he could stay with him longer, get him meals and even accompany him to the sessions of physiotherapy in the Sickbay. In the mornings, Chakotay could carry him ---gently---out of bed and place him ---again, gently---on the wheelchair, as if he could break into pieces. Chakotay had even modified the shower so that he could have a shower --- sitting down.

Everyone was suddenly nice. Captain Janeway offered to help in anyway she could. Tuvok didn’t say anything but he could tell the Vulcan was concerned. Darned it, everyone was concerned. Every single one of them. Neelix. B’Elanna. Seven. Harry. Every single damned one.

They treated him as if he was made of fragile glass. As if he could shatter any moment.

As if he wasn’t broken enough.

"Hey, wait up!"

The damned turbolift door was closing on him! And this horrid machine was darned slow!

Harry’s face peered out. It also turned beetroot red.

The door slid open again and Tom’s machine trundled forward into the lift. For the millionth time of the day, the pilot felt like sinking into the floorboards in embarrassment.

Harry Kim stood, back to the wall. He still looked red. He held a handful of PADDs.

"I’m sorry, Tom. " The ensign spluttered. "I didn’t see you coming."

Tom gazed up at the younger Asian man . "It’s okay, Harry."

Harry. Harry. Their friendship remained surprisingly intact, even after the Feir’n Planet incident. Dammit, Harry liked him. Continued to do so, albeit in a low-key fashion. But Harry had suppressed it. Repressed it.

"Where do you want to go?" Harry smiled kindly and Tom hated it.

"Bridge. I’m almost late for my shift."

The turbolift started moving. Harry remained silent. Tom could feel the silence pressing against his skull.

If I can get up and walk.

The Bridge was quiet as usual, exuding a sense of calm efficiency. Tom pressed a button on the armrest and the wheelchair buzzed, cranking its way out of the lift. Everyone turned and once again, the unconscious tango began. Ensign Tai carefully moved out of his way, smiling as she did so. Lieutenant (jg) Marano shifted slightly as he bent intently at his task. Ayala grinned jauntily as he let Tom pass his station and respectfully cleared the path.

Tom was almost glad when he reached the CONN.

He winced. Even the CONN was modified to let him pilot the ship more effectively. As he relieved the officer of her duty, she smiled sweetly and walked away.

Oh, one more sweet smile and I’ll turn diabetic big time.

Of course, people wouldn’t hear his cynical thought. He grinned grimly.

He could feel the Captain’s eyes on him. She always looked at him with those concerned eyes. Kind, caring, Captain Kathryn Janeway. Always noble. He could also feel Chakotay’s gaze on him, creating a warm delicious buzz on his back.

Man, my balls itch …

Here I am, a handicapped sex-crazed maniac, piloting a high-tech ship lost in the Delta Quadrant.

Tom wanted to laugh.

But the laugh was bitter.

Chapter Two

Commander Chakotay watched Tom attempt to get out of his wheelchair unaided. His heart did a double back-flip.

"Tiger, you can’t do that!"

The blue eyes glared at him ferociously. Tom was hellbent on standing up without any help.

Tom reached for the bio-bed …and fell. His legs crumbled embarrassingly under him. Chakotay walked quickly over to help him up. He lifted the silent pilot back onto the wheelchair.

There was a frown on Tom’s beautiful face, creating lines on the pale features.

"Tiger, please …" Chakotay muttered softly.

Tom flung him a look that constricted the commander’s heart painfully. It was a look which held so bitterness, so much anger. He felt somehow that it was directed at him. All the big man wanted to do right now was to hold the pilot in his arms, to tell him that he wasn’t alone. Spirits, Tom looked so wan, drained of any blood. Haunted. There were rings under his eyes.

Chakotay squeezed Tom’s hand reassuringly.

"Look, we are doing it together," the Native American whispered.

Tom didn’t say anything, except to look even more grim.

"Good, " the familiar acerbic voice of the Doctor broke the delicate bond between the two men. "You are here, Lt Paris."

"Of course, I’m here." The sarcastic drawl was back. "If I’m not here, where do you think I am,eh? Walking to the Sandrines?"

Chakotay felt his hands clenching.

Fortunately, the facial expression of the Doc remained unperturbed. He gestured Chakotay to move Tom to the bio-bed. The commander did what the holographic physician had ordered. Tom in his arms was light, unresisting. His lips were thin. Chakotay knew that he hated the physiotherapy sessions as much as he needed them.

The Doc began to massage Tom’s thighs and legs with trained, dispassionate hands. He fished something out from the selection of medical equipment on the tray. Humming to himself, he placed the silver bracelet-like gadget on the small of Tom’s back. Chakotay could see his blonde love shudder the moment the medical device was activated.

"It’s a spinal cord and cortical regenerator," explained the Doc as he ran a tricorder along Tom’s back. "It’s supposed to send electric impulses to Lt Paris’s brain."

"Will it make me walk?"

The question shot out like a bolt from the blue. Tom’s face was alit with hope.

"This is only an experiment, " the Doc’s no-nonsense tone marred the momentary atmosphere of hope. "But there is a possibility of regeneration. But let me remind you that your nerves suffered tremendous damage."

Tom’s face fell. Chakotay could see the knuckles turning deathly white as Tom’s hands balled into tight fists.

"C’mon, " Chakotay smiled encouragingly. "Show me some of the Paris recklessness I love."

"Paris recklessness?" The blue eyes snapped fire.

Chakotay cursed himself inwardly for being a tactless fool. Dealing with Tom now was like walking on egg shells. But he was a patient man.

He prayed that he continued to stay patient.

"Lt Paris, can you lift your right leg?" The Doc rapped out, casting a quick glance at his tricorder.

Tom complied. Chakotay saw the effort, the clenched jaw. The right leg did not budge an inch.

"Oh fuck." More anger in the voice. More anguish.

"How about your left leg?" The physician lifted an eyebrow.

The same thing happened. Or, nothing happened.

"Maybe I shouldn’t have come to this stupid ‘therapy’ sesson! " Tom’s voice was edgy but Chakotay caught the flash of utter disappointment in his blue eyes.

"Tom …" The Commander said soothingly. "Please …"

"Please yourself!" There was a slight hysterical tinge in Tom’s words. He pushed himself off the bio-bed and fell hard on his right side. Chakotay gasped and almost ran over to help the fallen man. Oh spirits Tom, don’t act like a drama queen …

"Lt Paris, let me inform you that your treatment is not complete," the Doc’s right eyebrow was lifted in an expression of infinite impatience.

"Face it, Doc! " Tom ‘s grin resembled one of death. "I can’t walk …I can’t walk!"

Chakotay groaned inwardly.

He wasn’t sure if he could handle the matter for the rest of the day with his nerves on permanent edge.

Ensign Harry Kim nursed his cup of coffee alone in the Messhall.

He could still see Tom struggling on his wheelchair. Tom used to walk down the corridor with those distance-eating legs of his …now he can’t even move …

He sipped the dark liquid, grimacing at the bitter taste.

We flew together once. He lifted me into the sky with his reckless style and we made love. Now …we can’t even walk side-by-side anymore.

He knew how people had been talking behind Tom’s back. There were whispers, furtive finger-pointings.

People can be so hypocritical …

He put down the cup, a tad too forcefully. Neelix looked up from his kitchen. Kim smiled and shook his head, pretending nothing wrong had happened.

"Tom, are you okay?"

Chakotay’s gentle hand on his face. Tom opened his eyes and saw the ceiling. He sighed.


"I’m fine, Chak." Tom lied, knowing how terrible he felt inside. There was this horrible throbbing ache in his heart that simply refused to go away. He didn’t know how it started. Maybe it had been there eversince he became paralysed from the waist-down. Maybe it had been an eternal ache, prolonged by his …handicap. Maybe it became worse when Chakotay tried to make love to him.

He couldn’t feel anything there ! His fucking dick wasn’t even responding at all.

"Tom, try to relax …" Chakotay kissed the base of his throat. "C’mon, I will give you a massage."

Why is Chakotay still so patient with me?

His lover began to knead his shoulders with a circular motion, his hands pinpointing the tightly wound-up muscles. Tom leaned back, allowing himself to let go and enjoy this simple pleasure. He closed his eyes, feeling those fingers loosing the tension in his shoulderblades. There was a whiff of lavender in the air; Chakotay was using one of the massage oils stored in his special cabinet. Warmth flushed Tom’s pale skin, turning it a light pink. The oil was afterall heat-inducing. But it was a gentle peaceful sort of heat, designed to soothe taut muscles and nerves. Tom felt so deliciously warm; his arms tingled with Chakotay’s caressing hands. Sensations of pleasure and delight flowed through his body.

He suddenly felt a hand brush his nipple and he gasped sharply as it hardened immediately.

C’mon, helmboy. Enjoy it!

Chakotay’s massage was turning more intense, now centering on his nipples and the lower part of his chest. Tom could feel fingers stroking his sides.

He let out a soft sigh of bliss.

Quietly, Chakotay removed his blonde pilot’s shorts and slid a hand down to the soft organ. He began to stroke it, coaxing it. But no matter how he tried, it wasn’t turning hard.

He withdrew his hand and returned back to the massage again. He continued rubbing the shoulders, then the shoulderblades, slowly to the small of the back.

Tom sighed.


"Yes?" The younger man opened his eyes, feeling the flush in his skin.

"I love you, " Chakotay whispered.

"It’s not erect right?" Tom murmured.

"Tom …"

"Turn me onto my side," the blue eyes were dark. "I want to sleep."

Chakotay was silent. Then Tom felt the big man gently turn him onto his side. He stifled a rising sob. He couldn’t even move his knees to his chest. He couldn’t even curl up into a fetal ball.

"I am sorry, Chak. I am really sorry."

There was a chuckle. "It’s okay. I guess you should have a good rest. " Chakotay leaned over and kissed the cheek of his love lightly. "Sleep, tiger …"

As Tom slowly retreated into the comforting, non-judgmental darkness of sleep, he let the tears flow unrestrained down his face.

Chapter Three

B’Elanna Torres wasn’t well-known for her patience.

She had snapped at Vorik, snarled ferociously at an ensign and generally gave the members of Engineering Beta Shift hell. She was a restless time-bomb filled with lethal shrapnel, ready to detonate. She quite terrified a few of the officers who gave her a wide berth that day.

Now as she sat at her desk, sorting out the Engineering PADDs, she regretted having her Klingon temper not for the first time in her life.

+ + The plasma conduits are in great working condition … + +

B’Elanna snorted. Ensign Hai was obviously trying to please her. Who could blame the youngster who was blasted into pieces by a fire-breathing woman earlier in the morning?

+ + I have managed to align the malfunctioning … + +

B’Elanna slammed the PADD onto the desk. She couldn’t bear reading any Engineering report further.

With a determined look on her face, she stood up and headed for the door. She knew where she was going.

She was going to talk to one blonde-haired pilot.

He stared past the window, into the eternal blackness of space. Stars streaked past like white feathers; Voyager was still hurtling through the vastness of the Delta Quadrant, still seeking home.

He wondered how it would feel, rushing through space.

To release one’s self, one’s soul to the freedom offered by the endless starry sea.

He sighed heavily. Sighing seemed so easy for him now. If only walking could be that easy as well. Tom sat alone in the darkened quarters. He had called in sick today and missed his shift on the Bridge. He was so tired, so weary. He would rather sit on his wheelchair than face the multitude of people on the ship.

Chakotay was frowning when he left the quarters for his shift. The big man’s face bore concern and worry. He had given Tom a light kiss on the lips and then the doors closed, leaving Tom alone in the room.

The silence was eerie yet comforting. There was the barely audible white noise of the ship in motion. But Tom welcomed the silence.

He could hear his thoughts in this stillness. I was once able to walk, able to fly. I flew across the sky, without the aid of Voyager, without a shuttlecraft. Without the Delta Flyer. Now I can’ t even move. Sure, I can move my hands, my head. But I can’t walk. What’s the point? Why did Chak---

The door chime broke his reverie.

"Who’s it?" He called out, wiping the stray tears on his face with the back of his hand.

"It’s me. B’Elanna." The staccato voice replied out.

"What’s it?" Tom could imagine the half-Klingon stamping one foot impatiently as she waited outside.

"I want to talk to you, okay?"

Knowing B’Elanna’s infamous temper, he reluctantly agreed to let her in.

The doors hissed open and B’Elanna strode in briskly. She halted abruptly, bursting out in an involuntary "Kahless, it’s dark as a Cardie’s heart !" She blinked furiously, trying to adjust her eyesight. " Dammit, Tom. How can you sit in the darkness like this?!" She could pick out a faint outline of white shirt, illuminated only by the instruments in the quarters. It was, undeniably, creepy. She could feel goosepimples pinprickling her skin.

There was a sigh and a soft voice that said, "Computers, lights by 50%."

The computer complied, filtering light into the quarters gradually.

"Tom …" B’Elanna began and stopped, not knowing what to say. The man in front of her stunned her to the core. He was wan, almost bloodless. The blue eyes were haunted, grieving. The hair was unkempt.

This wasn’t the Tom Paris she knew …or thought she knew.

Kahless, he’s been crying! Gods below …

"Tom, I ---" Once again, B’Elanna was at a loss for words. Pity and frustration warred in her mind; she did not know what to do.

"B’Elanna, what did you want to tell me?" There was a hint of the old teasing-sarcastic tone in his voice.

Kahless, the verbal sparrings we used to have …

She growled to herself. "Used to …" ? Dammit, she was already thinking in past tense! With a deep breath, she gathered up her determination and spoke what had been on her mind since Tom became handicapped.

"Dammit, Tom! You have to stop acting like this! C’mon, you have to pick yourself up. Get on with life! Dammit, Tom. You can still pilot Voyager. It’s not the end of the world!"

To B’Elanna’s horror and disappointment, Tom simply turned away, sighing as he did so. It unnerved her.

She stalked up to him and with her hands, forced him to look directly at her. The sorrow she saw etched into Tom’s handsome features was even more shocking face-to-face.

"Tom, listen to me. You have to stop moping and do something. I have seen people …people with multiple disabilities …working hard, even among us Maquis. They were maimed, injured beyond description. But" ---B’Elanna soldiered on, trying to soften her stern tone---" they live for Kahless’s sake!"

There was no answer, only another frustrating sigh that irked B’Elanna’s nerves.

"You listen to me, pilot …" She snapped, not caring if her words ever sank into Tom’s head. "There are two ways: you live or you die. The universe isn’t …isn’t going to wait for you to catch up …"

Without any word, the Chief Engineer wheeled around and headed for the door. She had said her piece as a friend.

As the doors finally shut close and B’Elanna was finally gone, Tom stirred in his wheelchair. Her words hurt, like claws digging deep and hard into his soul. She sounded so much like Dad. Stern, unbending. Unyielding.



The dormant fire in him flared up, white-hot and all-consuming. He saw the glass phoenix standing regally on the bedside table. It glistened in the half-light. He activated the wheelchair and he moved towards it. Then he took it and gazed at it, feeling the cold edges press against his palm.

He flung it against the wall.

It flashed once in the air, transforming ---momentarily---into a live mystical creature …

Smashed into the hard surface, shattering into pieces.

Tom stared at the glass shards numbly, the anger drained out from his systems, leaving him feeling cold and desolate inside.

Then he started to cry.

Chapter Four

Captain Kathryn Janeway leaned back on her armchair, reading the day’s pile of PADDs. She managed to get some time to herself.

It had been a hectic week. She was running all over the place: dropping down to Engineering to check on the new dilithium crystals, taking care of Tom, meeting her senior staff, talking to the Doctor. Now at least, she could afford to sit down with a cup of strong black java and read the reports from the various department heads.

Sipping the bitter java which she had replicated for a moment of rare luxury, she checked through the list. Most of the department heads had written up their reports. Except Tom, who was main pilot. She frowned.

She had heard things from her staff about Tom’s apparent depression. He wasn’t performing up to standard. He didn’t seem to enjoy life anymore. B’Elanna told her about Tom’s condition; the half-Klingon woman sounded shocked when she met the captain in a private appointment.

"Tom was sitting in the dark, " B’Elanna had said and her voice was choked with emotion. "He is not well, Captain. His eyes looked …haunted. I think he cried."

Kathryn Janeway frowned.

Honestly, she couldn’t blame Tom. He was now made half-paralysed, dependent on a wheelchair (ancient and frankly medieval) and dependent on his friends. His handicap was a crushing blow to his psyche, even more so than his incarceration. Who in the world would want to be handicapped?

She really admired Chakotay for his willingness to stick with Tom. The quiet Native American seemed to be a pillar of strength, someone to lean on. He seemed to have acquired a layer of sensitivity after his encounter with the butterfly-winged Feir’n. There was a sense of innate calm in him.

The door bell chimed.

She sipped her coffee and put away the PADD from Astrophysics.

"Come in."

The doors opened to admit Chakotay in. Kathryn glanced at him, perplexed.

He looked haggard.

"Good God, " she said, gesturing him to sit. "You look as if you have just ran a marathon!"

Chakotay was holding something in his hands. Quietly, he placed it onto Kathryn’s desk and glass shards spilled from his palms, scattering across the smooth table top.

"Chakotay, what is going on?" Kathryn stared at the bits and pieces of glass.

There was a sadness in Chakotay’s dark-brown eyes. "He threw it against the wall and it became this …"

"He threw what?"

"The glass phoenix he gave me for my birthday …" Chakotay rubbed his face with his right hand. "He threw it …"

"Tom did this?" Kathryn’s heart sank. "Why?"

"He was angry …" The big man sighed, a deep sigh that came from his soul. "Angry. Depressed. Kathryn, what can I do?"

The look of hopelessness on Chakotay’s face startled Kathryn to the very core of her being. This was Chakotay, a man known for his stability … hopeless?

Voyager’s captain stood up and went over to Chakotay. She gazed at the broken pieces. She could see a head there, a part of a wing. She touched them with her fingers, shaking her head.

"Chakotay," Kathryn said softly. "Tom is hurting."

Brown eyes looked up at her. "I know."

"It’s not easy …" Kathryn sat down next to Chakotay, smiling gently. "He’s hurting inside, deep inside. He’s lost his ability to walk and it hurts him …"

"I can see that …" Chakotay nodded. "But it’s so hard to talk to him …"

"Because he’s in this world of hurt, Chakotay. The reason he can’t talk to you now is because he’s in great pain. "

The big man was silent.

"Pain …narrows your perspectives until you are alone with it. " Kathryn continued pouring a cup of coffee for Chakotay who gratefully took it. "Believe me, Chakotay. I understand …" She made a half-smile.

"Sometimes I feel as if he’s blaming me!" Chakotay closed his eyes. "The way he looks at me now …"

"As if he blames you, the world and the entire universe?"

"Yeah. Something like that …" The big man permitted a soft chuckle.

"I know I will probably sound callous if I say this …" Kathryn said quietly." Or even corny. But only time will heal him …"

"It’s going to be one hard long road."

"And you are not sure if you have the patience to deal with it?"

"Look, Chakotay. If you truly love him, you will find it …" The captain leaned over and clasped Chakotay’s hand with her own. Squeezed reassuringly.

They both smiled at each other.

"You know something? We have to do this more often …" Kathryn laughed as her first officer handed her back his empty cup.

Chakotay returned to his quarters and for the millionth time of the day, he stemmed the anxiety creeping up his nerves with effort. Sometimes he felt like going to a war zone, deadly with accusations and anger. On this particular time, he hoped for a truce. Even an uneasy truce would do just fine.

Tom wasn’t in. Apparently, he had gone to Sickbay for another session of physiotherapy.

Chakotay breathed a sigh of relief.

And felt guilty for feeling like that.

He walked around the room, realizing how quiet the place could get without Tom’s presence. Suddenly the big man missed Tom’s laugh, his wit and his blue eyes that would sparkle with amusement.

Spirits ! He longed to hear Tom laugh or crack a joke.

Something caught his eye. It was a book.

A book?

Chakotay went over and lifted up the book. It was leather-bound and heavy. He flipped over to check out the cover.

"Holy Bible." The gilded title read. In smaller words, Tom’s full name followed beneath the title.

He never knew Tom was religious.

The Bible was open to the Book of Psalms and Chakotay’s gaze was immediately attracted to underlined words.

"Hear my prayer, O Lord;

Let my cry come to thee!

Do not hide thy face from me

In the day of my distress!

Incline thy ear to me ;

Answer me speedily in the day

When I call!

For my days pass away like smoke,

And my bones burn like a furnace.

My heart is smitten like grass, and

Withered ;

I forgot to eat my bread.

Because of my loud groaning

My bones cleave to my flesh.

I am like a vulture of the wilderness,

Like an owl of the waste places;

I lie awake,

I am like a lonely bird on the housetop."

Tears burned in Chakotay’s eyes. Oh Tom …

Chapter Five

"Just a little bit more … There."

Chakotay carefully placed his quiet partner onto the plastic chair.

"Tom? Tiger?"

Pale-blue eyes watched him listlessly. "Yeah?"

"You are supposed to take a shower?" Chakotay said helpfully, smiling gently. He detached the shower head and adjusted the temperature of the water.

Tom took the shower head mechanically. He had woken up with a mild headache that morning. Things had gone downhill since. Now sitting on the plastic chair naked, he felt miserable. He allowed the water to wash over his body, soaped his limbs and torso without feeling any sensation of pleasure. Anything.

"Let me massage your legs for you okay?"

The pilot let Chakotay take the soap-gel bottle and closed his eyes. He didn’t want to see the big man moving his hands over legs that had the constancy of tofu. He couldn’t even feel Chak’s hands. He could hear the water running but that was all.

He didn’t say a word as the big man toweled his body dry, experiencing only intense feelings of guilt and sorrow. He knew that Chakotay had seen the broken phoenix, had heard the big man sigh. Yet Chakotay didn’t open his mouth.

"Tom, I am putting on the boots for you now."

Yeah, yeah. Wearing his boots used to be a simple task. Years, months ago, he could wake up in the morning and slide his feet into his dark Starfleet issue boots. Now he didn’t desire waking up anymore.

"There. You look beautiful, Tom."

"Don’t patronise me, Chak." Tom whispered and dreaded seeing the wheelchair, that cold sterile machine.

"I am not, " Chakotay shook his head and rubbed his neck. The strain was getting to him. "I am only trying to help you, tiger."

"I am sick and tired of people trying to help!" Tom’s voice was raised in frustration. "Everyone of you."

"Even me?" Chakotay’s reply was quiet, plaintive.


"Tom, please. You know I am always here for you!"

"Bullshit. If you really cared for me, you should have left me with the Feir’n!"

"Tom …" The big man tried to control the situation which was rapidly spiralling out of his reach.

"You know something? The Feir’n gave me a chance. I could fly. For fuck’s sake, I could stand. " Tom glared at him with those accusing eyes, flaying him alive with this outburst of anger. "Now you know what? I can hardly walk! "

The pilot trembled in obvious torment.

"I hate you, Chakotay. I hate you for what you have done to me!"

The words seared into the Native American’s mind, cutting deep into the core of his being.

"Leave me alone!"

The door slid open and Tom powered his wheelchair forward, leaving Chakotay in a state of shock.

For a moment, the big man didn’t know what to do. Then, he sank onto the floor and sobbed softly.

Tom Paris rode the wheelchair blindly. He didn’t care where the damned machine was taking him to. Maybe to the darkest part of space. Maybe to hell.

He didn’t care.

Now he felt truly alone.


"Lieutenant Paris!"

He looked up, through his tears, to see Captain Kathryn Janeway standing right in front of him, all indignation and concern rolled into one.

"What is wrong, Tom?"

"Nothing." He tried to grin nonchalantly, his best Tom-Paris cocky grin. Captain Janeway frowned, lifting one immaculate eyebrow and he knew he had failed this time.

"Look, Tom. I care for you alright?" She put a gentle hand on his shoulder but he shrugged away.

"Go away!" Tom growled and activated his wheelchair forward once more, moving past a startled Captain. "Just …just leave me alone."

"Tom! Wait!"

But he pretended not to hear.

Now he was really alone.

Kathryn Janeway watched the wheelchair move away. She breathed a sigh and shook her head, putting a hand over her stinging eyes.

She could understand pain. Had gone through it. Had lived through it. Damn it, she was going to help Tom, no matter what it took.

Bringing him out of prison was her first attempt. Now she was going to try once more to help Owen Paris’s son.

Chapter Six

It had been a horrible week for Harry Kim.

People were simply unraveling around him.

The Captain looked fierce for some strange reason, her lips pursed, her grey-blue eyes steely. She gave taut clipped commands and retreated to her ready room. Stayed there for a long time. Commander Chakotay's face was wan, tired. As if he was carrying an entire load on his shoulders. He didn't even smile or nod in his usual gentle way.

B'Elanna was unusually irritable and Harry bore the brunt of her Klingon temper. She won't tell him about her problem, stating flatly that she was simply tired. Her eyes had rings around them she seemed to be losing sleep. But the harder he tried to probe, the more angrier she grew … and more offended.

Other crewmembers indicated their distress in many other ways.

Neelix bustled around the Messhall as if he was high on something, chattering non-stop. He whipped up feast after feast like a little cyclone, introducing bizarre recipes to a puzzled crew. Harry passed by the little Talaxian once. Neelix looked cheerful as always but his eyes were sad. Dull, without a twinkle of real genuine humor.

Even the Doctor was more acerbic now, complaining about ungrateful officers and their prima donna temperaments.

Harry rubbed his face and leaned back into his sofa. He was acutely aware of weariness seeping deep into his bones. He put down the clarinet, suddenly losing the desire to practise.

Tom Paris.

His best friend, one-time lover.

Harry had heard about Tom's outburst in the corridor. News travel fast in a small ship. Tom had apparently lashed out at Captain Janeway. Harry knew about Tom's arrogance and cockiness, how his temperament often got him into arguments and confrontations with senior officers. Yet the arrogance was only a front for an injured spirit. Harry saw how Tom had flourished as the ship grew to accept and appreciate his talents. As they traveled deeper into the Delta Quad, Tom had toned down his anti-establishment ways.

Knowing Chakotay seemed to have changed Tom. The big man moulded the younger man into a better person. The man offered him a sense of stability, an anchor. Their relationship was secretive at first, almost underground. When Tom told him about it one day, during a pool game, Harry was frankly shocked to his core. Actually, 'shocked' was too mild to describe his state of mind. He was de-centered; he almost lost his sense of equilibrium.

As Chakotay and Tom slowly dropped hints of their relationship into Voyager's social scene, people were surprised, even repulsed. Acceptance was agonizingly slow and painful. Harry could still remember Tom's upset face when the pilot complained about the subtle taunts he received from the rest of Voyager's male population. The taunts were cruel. Outright insults like 'faggot' or 'poofter' sounded much more honest.

Harry sighed and replicated a glass of sake.

Now he could see the rifts in the relationship. Chakotay was clearly under severe duress. And Tom … Tom was simply too depressed, too angry to care.

We shouldn't have gone to the damned Feir'n planet!

Harry slammed the glass onto the table.

Tom valued his ability to fly, to soar into space. The Feir'n Tom was marvelous, lithe and agile. He was all fluid energy. Now he was crushed back to earth. Confined to a wheelchair.

Look, Harry, you can sit here and blame everyone in sight.

He tossed the half-finished sake back into the recycler and decided to do some productive work. He went over to his work computer and activated it.

There were several new messages for him. Harry sighed and started scanning through the list. His eyes roved to a particularly interesting message. It had for the title.

Yeah, probably one of those inane chain-letters the Delaney sisters have been creating … Boredom knows no boundaries …

Harry decided to read it.

The window came up with its typical orange frame and Starfleet fonts.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Chakotay found that Tom was already asleep.

He tiptoed into the bedroom, not wanting to disturb the sleeping man on the couch. The sight of Tom, eyes closed and on his bed, touched Chakotay profoundly. He wanted to stroke the face, feel the warmth of the cheeks.

But something stopped him, made him check himself.

The big man gazed around. Neelix had been here, having left some food on the table. There was a plate of angel hair pasta and tossed salad, covered with transparent foil. The Talaxian was one of the volunteers who helped Tom.

He turned his eyes back to the pale figure on the bed. Silently, he walked over and knelt down, next to Tom. With his fingertips, he traced the jaws, the cheeks, the eyebrows reverently.

I love you, Tom.

He leaned over and kissed the warm forehead, even though there was a heaviness in his heart. Tom's words still echoed in his head, blaming him, accusing him.

Hating him.

Then he stood up, covered Tom with the blanket and walked out of the room.

The sofa would be his bedfellow for tonight.

=== === ====

Chapter Seven

"So I can't walk?"

The man facing the Doc had a monotonous voice. Flat, without any hint of inflection.

"Please be patient, Mr Paris." The Doc said calmly, smoothly. If he could place the expression on the blonde-haired man, he could categorize it between 'resignation' and 'denial'. "I am still trying to work out a cure for your paralysis."

There was a sigh. A heartfelt sigh that came straight from the soul.

"I see."

The Doc lifted an eyebrow. It wasn't like the Mr Paris he used to see.

"Mr Paris, I know how terrible you must be feeling right now," the holographic physician gazed intently at the quiet figure on the wheelchair. "But you need to have hope."

"Hope?" A ghost of a smile.

"Yes. Hope." The Doc nodded, putting away his medical tricorder back to its original position on the tray. "I did some research on the feeling itself and I conclude that it is a positive emotion."

Another sigh.

"Mr Paris, the loss of a skill is the birth of another. Have you read any literature on the blind? There was a blind man in the twentieth century who acquired the strengthening of his other senses. "

"You don't have to lecture me --- "

It was that moment when the door hissed open and Chakotay strode in. He smiled at the Doc and walked over to Tom.

"Thank you, Doc. So how was the physio today?" The Commander spoke in his soft voice, keeping a hand on the back of the wheelchair. Tom stared resolutely ahead.

"It went ahead without any delay," the EMH replied and leaned closer. "But I am not that sure about his mental status."

Chakotay's unperturbed façade cracked a little. He breathed slowly.

"Are you alright, Commander?" The Doc asked, slightly alarmed. "You look uncommonly tired."

The big man shook his head and permitted himself a self-deprecating chuckle. "I am …alright."

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Silence in the turbolift.

A light-brown skinned man stood without a word next to a fragile-looking blonde on a wheelchair.

Then Chakotay broke the uneasy silence by clearing his throat.

"Harry has volunteered to get you dinner."

Tom didn't say anything.

Silence once again.

"Oh yes, Tom. " Chakotay continued, closing his eyes. "I'm helping B'Elanna over at Engineering tonight. "

The lift stopped, the doors slid open.

Chakotay made ready to move. He took a step forward.


The voice was softer than usual.

"You don't hate me, do you?"

The Native American found himself unable to answer. It was with supreme effort he forced his speech organs to work.

"I don't. I don't hate you." He whispered, knowing that Tom could hear him. "I don't …"

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Chapter Eight

Kathryn Janeway scanned the offered PADD critically.

"The proposal seems plausible, Ensign Kim."

The young Asian man blushed a little. "I modified the program and improvised on it."

The Captain sipped her hot java and put the PADD back onto the table. She folded her arms.

"Now the only thing we need is his co-operation."

Harry nodded, then he picked up his courage to speak. "I think Tom has to know that he has friends around him, Captain. "

Gray-blue eyes regarded him wryly.

"I hope he does …"

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Tom chewed the angel-hair pasta, thinking that it tasted exactly like ash. Opposite him, Chakotay was finishing his dinner.

It was so weird. Chakotay was still sticking with him! Even though he had railed at him. Hated him. Now he felt a little guilty for yelling at the man.

They completed their meal in silence. Then, Chakotay cleared away the dishes and left Tom sitting alone.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

In the dream, he was flying.

Soaring through the sky like an eagle with burnished feathers, he relished the power in his wings. Wings? He stared at them, as if he was seeing hands for the first time. I have wings.

He flew.

All of the sudden, fire streaked across his body, coating him in white flames. He fell towards the earth with a shriek.

Then he was burning up in a huge bonfire. He could feel the terrible rage eating away his wings. He was dying.

Inexplicably, he was back on his feet and he watched the bonfire roaring before him. He saw a bird-like creature in the middle of the white flames. Its outstretched wings were on fire.

He blinked, covering his eyes. The heat was too much. When he opened them again, the bonfire had died down to a slow smouldering. The red embers flickered.

Something moved in the pile of hot ash and still-red coals.

It was a small worm-like thing ---

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Tom cried out in terror, tossing in his sleep. Chakotay quickly gathered him into his arms, soothing him.

"Shhh, it is only a bad dream …" The big man stroked the perspiring brow with his right hand while he rocked Tom gently.

Tom's voice slowly tapered to a soft whimpering.

With a sigh, Chakotay kissed his lips lightly and placed him back onto the bed.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Chapter Nine

Tom woke up, opening his eyes slowly. He could feel the dream lingering in the air like floating cobwebs.

There were still images of fire and the strange bird-like being bursting into flames. Tom raised a hand to his throbbing head, winced softly.

Then he heard it.

A soft gasp.

His sleep-blurred eyes could see a figure standing near the bed. He blinked hard, once, twice. His vision cleared.


Tom stared. Chakotay was nude, his head thrown back in a gesture of involuntary pleasure. The sight of his lover stark naked startled Tom.

What shocked him even further was that …

Chakotay was playing with himself.

Oblivious to Tom, the big man was stroking his swelling organ, eyes squeezed tight in concentration and pleasure. His left hand was caressing his torso, sweeping across it with the fingertips. A shudder of delight shook his large frame.

Tom bit his lip. For some strange reason, he wanted to turn away.

Yet he was oddly compelled to watch.

The swollen cock pulsated in Chakotay's hand, oozing pre-cum. He continued to massage it, pump it. Tom could hear soft moans, the sighs becoming quicker and shorter. Chakotay was flushed with arousal, his dark skin turning more ruddy. His nipples were darkened with increased bloodflow.

Good Lord, he was beautiful.

Tom wanted to cry.

If my bloody dick could work ---

With a low long-drawn cry, Chakotay came. His knees buckled and he sank to the ground, sighing. His skin was coated with a sheen of perspiration.

Tom shut his own eyes, unable to take it any longer. Tears were burning unshed.

He felt uncomfortably, distinctively ugly.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

There was a small gathering in the Captain's ready room. Kathryn Janeway was seated on her armchair, facing the group of volunteers who answered her call for assistance.

Harry, B'Elanna, Seven, Neelix and the Doctor.

They were Tom's closest friends. Even the Doctor.

It would not be an easy task, Kathryn realized.

But dammit, it is going to work!

With a smile, she began her briefing with folded hands.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Tom could feel the Captain's eyes on his back but he pretended not to notice. He was too pre-occupied with the image of Chakotay masturbating.

The sight rankled.

He sighed and returned his gaze to the CONN panels, trying to seek solace in something he knew.

Behind him, Captain Janeway smiled to herself inwardly and sipped her coffee.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Chapter Ten


Harry managed to catch up with his increasingly elusive friend. Tom glanced at him with slight irritation; he was just about to go back to his quarters.

The young Korean man wasn't going to back down this time. Tom had been running away from him, his attitude almost rude. As if he didn't care.


He stifled that thought angrily. C'mon, Starfleet … you've got to help Tom!

"Tom, there you are …" Harry smiled. "I have been trying so hard to get you."

"What is it, Harry?" Tom's voice sounded tired. "Is it another holographic program?" His tone was cool. "C'mon, Harry. B'Elanna and Seven had done that before. I ain't going to buy it, Harry. "

"Well, you read my mind, Tom!" Harry soldiered ahead courageously.

"Look, Harry. I am not interested."

"Tom, please …"

"Read my lips, Harry: I am NOT interested."

With that, he powered his wheelchair and went straight into the room, leaving a disappointed Harry in his wake.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Chakotay found Tom sitting quietly next to the windows, his expression unreadable.

He longed for the day when Tom's mobile facial expressions returned. Smile, scowl, cry, grin …anything!

Tom was so frozen now. Cold.


Only a flicker of an eyelid indicated that Tom was indeed aware of his presence in the room.

"Tom, are you listening to me?"

No answer. Just the resolute stare into empty space.

Chakotay walked up to his lover, deliberately breaking his line of vision. Tom's face shifted into a slight slight frown. Pale-blue eyes looked at him.

"I want to tell you something, Tom." Chakotay spoke firmly although his heart constricted painfully. "I am not going to care if you are listening or not …"

He rubbed his face.

"I hate to see you like this and I want you to stop. Tom, there are many people out there who give a damn about you. People care, dammit …people can see what is going on. People pay attention, Tom."

Chakotay could see Tom's hands tremble.

"Damn it, Tom. I want you back. I don't care what it takes …maybe I turn into some Godforsaken martyr in the process but I want to see you recover ! I hate to see you mope around, Tom. I want to hear you laugh, make some smart-ass joke. Something …anything to show that you are alive. I want to see the old Tom back, the old Tom I love …"

The big man drew breath shakingly.

The silence became intolerable ---

Then Tom lifted a hand, grasped Chakotay's fingers tightly.

Chakotay could have fallen on his knees and give thanks to the spirits.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

He was flying once in the dream, this time covered with white fire.

White fire that streamed out like live plasma ---

Suddenly, he lost his balance and plummeted to the ground like a falling star.

He exploded, fragmenting into millions and millions of white diamonds. Yet, he watched himself shatter. Fire roared about him, consuming him …eating him alive …

He was in pain …

Yet the pain was sweet.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Chapter Eleven

Neelix scooped a generous amount of Delta Quadrant ice cream into a bowl. The ice cream was made from native kaski berries and the milk of the dudu beast, a game animal found on the plains of a desert planet.

"Well, this is the last batch of the kaski berry ice cream, Captain." The Talaxian smiled, his whiskers twitching with amusement.

Kathryn Janeway dipped her spoon into the pale blue confection. She tasted it, nodding with approval.

"Thank you, Neelix."

A Talaxian smile. Genuine, warm. "Anything, Captain. So …" --- Neelix wiped his hands on a clean dishcloth --- "How's Operation Da Vinci coming along?"

Kathryn made a rueful smile. "Not well, I think. Tom's putting up a lot of resistance …"

"You can't blame him really …" Neelix sighed and put the tub of kaski berry ice cream back into the freezer. " After what he had gone through …"

The captain of Voyager pondered on what the Talaxian had said. She had come to the Messhall to relax, to escape from the Bridge. The Messhall was a positive place, filled with pleasant conversations and human interactions. Sometimes, she would simply sit amongst her crew and soak in the positive vibrations. Neelix would always be there, offering advice and laughter. And throughout the journey, she found Neelix an untapped wealth of humor and kindness. He could be a tad irritating at times but he provided sanity to the Starfleet officers onboard the ship.

"It's hard for him, " Neelix continued. " And I know it isn't easy for Commander Chakotay either. In fact, everyone."

Kathryn nodded and ate some of the melting ice cream.

A brief moment of silence.

"You know something, Captain?"

"Pray tell." Kathryn glanced at Neelix.

"You used to complain to me about the noises next door …" Neelix snorted with amusement.

Kathryn turned pink but she attempted to look dignified. "I did before …"

For a long time, she knew that Chakotay and Tom were dating. She also knew that the walls separating her quarters from the Commander were awfully thin. Well, she lost a couple nights of decent sleep but ---

A moment of awkward silence.

Neelix was the first to say something. "I have to apologise. I didn't mean to be crude …"

"It's alright, Neelix." Kathryn smiled and patted his arm comradely. She finished her dessert and got ready to leave.

"Thanks, Neelix. This kaski ice cream is superb."

Neelix suddenly looked solemn. "Operation Da Vinci has to succeed, Captain. Tom can't really stay in that …state forever."

Captain Janeway heard the urgency in Neelix's voice.

"It will succeed," Kathryn promised fiercely. "It will work."

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Chakotay walked slowly beside Tom as they moved down the corridor. Not a single word was said.

Then they paused before the door of their shared quarters.

"Tom …"

The pilot turned to face Chakotay.

"You certain you want to go through with the Captain's plan?" The Native American said. He had heard about Operation Da Vinci and he had some doubts about it, even though Kathryn and Harry ensured him it would be fine.

"Well …" Tom chuckled mirthlessly. "I agreed because I hated people pestering me at every breathing moment…" The tone was flippant but Chakotay thought he saw a flicker in Tom's blue eyes. Nervous anticipation. Willingness?

Immediately, he engulfed Tom in a tight bear-hug, feeling the firm body relax next to him. He felt Tom's hands on his back, causing jolts of pleasure along his spine. "Tom …"

Another dry chuckle. "You have to stop hugging me like this because I think I'm running out of air …"

Chakotay quickly let go but he held Tom's hand. He leaned forward and kissed the pilot tenderly. Tom lifted up a hand and stroked his cheek gently.

I love you, Tom.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Chapter Twelve

Four people paused before the metal doors of the Holodeck. They were silent for a while, each contemplating what to say.

Kathryn Janeway felt her heart beating excitedly. Operation Da Vinci was finally going to take off. She gazed at the men beside her, looking intently at each of them. Her appraisal rested on Tom who looked nonchalant on his wheelchair. There he was, blonde and pale. An admiral's son, a brilliant talented pilot. A young man whose life was too tumultous, too unsettled. Her heart still ached to see him confined to an outdated …archaic machine. He was grounded, unable to take flight.

Next to him was the stoic Commander Chakotay. He appeared as if he had lost asleep. Yet he never seemed to show weakness on the Bridge. That was the reason why people drew strength from him. He was strong, exuding an aura of calm. Eversince the Feir'n incident, he seemed more powerful …more self-assured.

He was only human.

She watched him as he tried to handle Tom's handicap, on top of normal ship business. He had to juggle between Tom's depression and the matters of a working starship. It was a hard job. She knew that Tom's condition had affected him severely. The talk with her in the office testified to it. She could still remember the shattered glass phoenix, the grief in Chakotay's brown eyes. The big man had remarkably clung on with a tenacity she found almost miraculous.

The price he had to pay …

Harry Kim fidgeted, barely controlling his own excitement. He wanted to go over and give Tom a reassuring hug. Yet the look on Chakotay's face held him back. There was still icy tension between the two. Chakotay hovered around Tom protectively, an alpha wolf defensive and possessive. Granted that he, Harry Kim, had offered Tom help and Chakotay had grudgingly accepted it like a pack leader growling at his subordinates … but the big man obviously hadn't forgiven him.

But nevermind, Operation Da Vinci was also his pet project and he was keen to see Tom get well.

Tom Paris gazed up at the imposing Holodeck portals, realizing that he was actually nervous. Like a kid going on his first date. Like a cadet going for his flying examination. He dreaded waking up for this day but apparently he managed to get his butt off the bed and into the wheelchair. He felt a warm hand rest on his shoulder. It was Chakotay smiling encouragement at him.

So it was going to work eh?

Something in him laughed derisively. It sounded like his own voice, mocking him. It sounded eerily like Dad. Therapy? Who needs therapy? Definitely not him, the most screwed up pilot in the entire universe. He hated stuff concerning psychology and psychiatry. Wouldn't even touch them with a ten-foot pole. The penal colony psychologists would talk to him forever about social conditioning and unresolved anger. Oedipus complex. Bullshit. Aggression therapy? More psychological bullshit. Yeah, what ever …

Yet Chakotay's eyes begged him to go through with this …Operation Da Vinci. Yeah, Operation Da Vinci. The moment someone started spouting stuff on unresolved angst, he was out of here. He was gonna take the nearest shuttlecraft and go to the nearest planet … He was not ---never--- going to sit through another session with Dr Mindhealingbullcrap.

He thought back to Chakotay's talk with him last night. The big man was massaging his legs (something recommended by the Doc) and he said that he was going to stick with him. Yeah, Chak, I would like to see that … But Chakotay's hands were tender and his brown eyes were gentler, persuading, persisting.

"So this is it, " Captain Janeway said in her throaty voice. Her hands were on her hips: a sign of her determination.

"Yeah," Tom replied back in a noncommital tone. But there was a slight … barely noticeable flush on his face. And his ears were turning red.

"You game for it?" Harry Kim grinned. But the kid was also nervous as hell. Tom tried not to smile. Good old Harry. Genial as always. Warm-hearted …his hands gifted on Engineering and Ops panels …and on tired muscles … Tom quickly batted the thought away. What the hell did that come from?

Oh screw it! The Feir'n fiasco …

Why must his past creep up and bite down hard?

"Not really," he answered back even though he didn't feel like answering back. "It's not Sandrines right?"

Harry had the grace to blush and chuckle a little. The captain smiled too. Chakotay didn't say anything.

"Well," the young Asian man hid his own embarrassment and punched in the code for Operation Da Vinci. " Let's get started."

"If you find it too intimidating at first, just freeze the program." Kathryn's gray eyes gazed down at him.

Yeah, if I can freeze the psychologists too …

The doors slid open. Tom could see sunlight streaming from a window and he could smell …linseed oil?

Well, here goes …

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Chakotay watched Tom's figure disappear into the Holodeck and he turned around to find Kathryn observing him closely.

"You didn't say much, Number One."

He had to quell the butterflies in his stomach. He smiled. "I guess I am just nervous."

A wry smile quirked Kathryn's lips. "Don't worry. He will do just fine."

Harry shifted slightly, scraping his boots. Chakotay felt a small tendril of frustration curling up his throat. Well, the ensign helped design the program; he should be grateful …not angry.

Tom was his, right?

Chakotay rubbed his face. He gazed hard at the doors, as if he could see Tom in there. The big man unwillingly turned on his heels to leave.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Chapter Thirteen

It was a huge workshop.

A workshop cluttered with materials. Wooden models of birds and wings lined the large worktable. There were mechanical arms, reminding him of the robots in his Captain Proton hologram. Next to them were statues of clay and plaster-of-Paris, some finished and some half-finished. The statues were surprisingly life-like, their faces human and delicately-formed.

Oil paintings covered part of the workshop, depicting both men and women in old Earth 15th century garb. The colors were all rich, glowing. They looked breathtaking with the sunlight streaming in from the windows. From his wheelchair, he could see the terracotta tops of houses and one or two towers.

And the smells … Linseed oil was the strongest, it being one of the main components in oil painting. His nose detected other achingly familiar scents: metal and lubricant.

He looked up and gaped.

Literally gaped.

From the ceiling hung the most beautiful thing he had never seen. It was big, almost the size of the craft the Wright brothers had constructed. It had wings which reminded him strongly of bat wings, made of wood and cloth. It had a rudimentary rudder at the end.

It was simple yet complex. And it was hanging from the ceiling, looking as if it was about to take flight.

Tom's fingers itched to touch it, feel the wings under his hands, stroke the joints that held wing to body together. He shivered, realizing how much effort Harry and the Captain had put into the program.

"Ah, there you are …" A gruff voice snapped him out of his reverie and Tom spun, almost quiltily, to face a large bearded gentleman in artisan robes. "Beautiful isn't she?"

Tom nodded, still speechless.

"Ah, my Firebird. Beautiful but can she fly? Katarina told me to change the wing-shape to that of a hawk's …" The bearded man continued, smiling proudly at the flying machine. "You must be Thomas Parigi. Katarina told me all about you."

Leonardo Da Vinci. He was talking to Leonardo Da Vinci.

"Yes …" Tom said in a soft voice, starting to feel overwhelmed by the entirety of the whole situation. "I am …Thomas Parigi but my friends call me …Tom."

"Tom …Thomas …" Leonardo Da Vinci chuckled low and extended a hand warmly, shook Tom's own vigorously. "I am Leonardo Da Vinci. My students call me Master Leonardo but you may call me Leonardo since I treat Katarina almost like my daughter."

A voice laughed in Tom's head. Half-sarcastic, half-amused.

"I have heard from Katarina that you are always interested in flight," Leonardo proceeded to clear the worktable for some space. He uncovered something, removing the cloth. It was a miniature version of the beautiful flying machine. The master artist pulled something and the wings started to move slowly.

"You should help me, Tom. Build a better model, a better Firebird."

Tom closed his eyes. There was a roar in his ears and almost belatedly, he realized that he was going to cry. Master Leonardo didn't take notice of his wheelchair! He didn't even see that he, Thomas Parigi couldn't walk at all.

He couldn't go through with this …

Wholesome acceptance made him want to sink into the ground in shame. He was never accepted by people solely on his talents alone. His father did but the old man ended up hating him. He was the best pilot in Starfleet Academy but what did it get him into? Deep shit. How about the Delta Flyer and Voyager ?

"Computer, freeze program."

Everything froze, even Master Leonardo who was in the act of covering the miniature Firebird. Tom breathed shakily. This was only a hologram. Only a computer generated simulation which looked, felt awfully real …

Awfully, terribly real …

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Chakotay was surprised to see Tom back in their quarters. He was early. Yet he could see the tension in Tom's posture, the way he sat on the wheelchair. Oh damn, Tom chickened out. Maybe Operation Da Vinci wasn't that brilliant after …

"I can't go through this shit!"

"Why?" Chakotay breathed deep and spoke calmly.

Tom fixed him a glare. "I just can't, dammit!"

"Tom, what is wrong?"

"Everything. Leonardo Da Vinci. The flying machine. Everything. Every single one of them!"

Chakotay went over and gave his lover a gentle hug.

"Leonardo. He didn't take a look at my legs!" Tom said softly. "He didn't even care …"

The big man stroked Tom's face with his hand tenderly. "And you are afraid because of it?"

Tom was silent; Chakotay knew that he had hit the nail on the head.

"Tom, there are people in the world who are not superficial." The Native American said quietly, carefully lifting the blonde pilot out of his wheelchair. He carried him to the sofa where he proceeded to massage Tom's legs. " There are people who look inside you …to know you for what you are."

"Man, Chak. You talk like a psychologist!" Tom spat derisively. Yet he softened at the look on Chakotay's face. "Do you know how much I hate psychologists?"

"Yeah, very much right?" Chakotay retorted back teasingly and planted a kiss on Tom's unprotesting lips. The blonde man quickly responded, deepening the kiss until they were both gasping for air. Chakotay chuckled, nuzzling Tom's throat. He was relieved that Tom's temper tantrum was over for a while. Tom was mercurial, unpredictable. And that was why Chakotay loved him …adored him.

"Now, tell me, tiger. Will you go back to the Holodeck again?" He eyed Tom who looked decidedly flushed. The younger man turned away. "Tom?"

"I think so …"

"That's the spirit, tiger." Chakotay said cheerfully and went back to his original business of massaging Tom's legs. He was going to tell Tom how much he loved him later, with a lot of nice food and wine.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Chapter Fourteen

Harry Kim stabbed viciously at the unoffending vegetables on his plate. His action had not gone unnoticed by B'Elanna who had joined the young ensign for lunch.

"Hey, Starfleet, has the food insulted you in any way?" The Chief Engineer said jokingly, even though she knew that something was bothering Harry.

"Oh …huh …"

"Look, Starfleet, I can read you like a PADD …" B'Elanna pushed away her tray and stared intently at her friend and colleague. " You are worried about Tom?" She asked in her direct manner.

"Yeah, a little. Its just …" Harry refused to continue, still jabbing at his food with his fork.

"Just what?"

"Its just …Commander Chakotay !" He said softly and B'Elanna was surprised to see anger in his brown eyes.

"What about him?"

"I …I think he's still angry with me. Everytime I walk near him, he tenses up. I can literally feel the tension in the air …" Harry gulped down his coffee and slammed it down. Nearby crewmembers gave him curious glances. He ignored them.

B'Elanna had never seen Harry Kim that frustrated before.

"He hasn't forgiven me. He is refusing to forgive me." His hand clenched, unclenched.

There was a moment of silence.

"Look, Harry. I don't know what had happened when you were on the weird butterfly people planet. All I see is that Chakotay has been treating you a little cooler than usual, especially around Tom. " B'Elanna said quietly, seeing how agitated Harry was.

"The man is practically growling at me!"

"Harry, have you talked to him?"

"Talk to him? I might as well talk to the dilithium crystal chambers!"

"Harry, I don't know what in Kahless is bothering you but you have to learn to let go!"

"Let go?" Harry spat and stood up furiously. "How am I going to let go?"

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Chakotay sat in his personal office, sorting out the PADDs. He was feeling normal for once. Contented. Dinner with Tom had gone well. They had started talking again. It was a slow process but at least he was satisfied that Tom was beginning to change for the better.

Sex was still a no-no. Tom had resisted him again. It was going to take some time before ---

The door chime broke his line of thought.

"Come in."

It was Harry Kim. His color was up; he looked as if he was going into battle.

Chakotay straightened, feeling himself go on the defensive automatically. "Yes, ensign?"

"Commander," Harry said slowly. "I want to talk to you about Tom."

The big man lifted an eyebrow. He said in a low voice, "What about Tom?"

"I know that you are still furious with what I have done," Harry replied steadily. " I know that you haven't forgiven me. But I have come here to ask if you can kindly forgive me. The past is the past. Let us work in co-operation for Tom."

Cold dark-brown eyes gazed back at the Asian man. "The past is the past?"


Chakotay rose from his armchair and walked towards the ensign who instinctively backed away.

"I saw you with Tom …and you have the gall to tell me that the past is the past?" The Commander growled darkly. The suppressed anger was finally breaking loose.

Harry glared back at him defiantly, hands clenched. Standing his ground.

"Do you seriously think I can forgive you?" Chakotay's tone was silky, dangerous.


The ensign remained brave, unruffled. "If you have the heart for it, sir."

Rage flashed in Chakotay's eyes. He raised his hand ---

"Commander Chakotay, please report to the Bridge."

Harry heaved a sigh of relief as Chakotay lowered his hand and picked up the PADDs. The Native American turned to look at Harry coldly. With swift steps, he was out of his office, leaving Harry trembling in the office.

When the Commander had finally left, Harry forced himself to walk out of the room. He couldn't stand being in that room.

He strode briskly, all business-like, until he had at least three doors away from the Commander's office.

Then with a violent curse, he punched the wall.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Tom had that dream again.

The same flaming death, plummeting from the sky with trails of white plasma fire, screeching his death-keen.

He exploded into the fireball …

He could swear that he could see shrapnel flying everywhere, bits of ship parts flung out …even as he burned away in the roaring bonfire …

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*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Chapter Fifteen

Leonardo Da Vinci's workshop looked unchanged to Tom.

Same worktable. Same sunlight lancing through the windows. Same oil canvas, covered with drapes. The flying machine called the Firebird, hanging from the ceiling as if it was hovering in mid-air like a hunting kestrel.

Seeing the Firebird made Tom's heart ache once more.

"Ah, Thomas Parigi, you have finally appeared!" Leonardo Da Vinci walked in, carrying an armful of spools. "You rushed off like a man eager to see his lover!" He chuckled, depositing the spools onto the worktable.

"I …umm ..apologize," Tom said sheepishly and activated his wheelchair forward. The electric buzz made him cringe; it seemed to disturb the pristine quality of the workshop.

"Come, young Parigi," Da Vinci beckoned. He singled a spool and untied the string circling it. With a flourish, he unrolled the spool, spreading and smoothing out the edges with a careful hand. "Come. Look at this and tell me what you think."

Tom came close to the worktable and stared at the intricate lines and curves presented to him. It was beautiful, delicately designed. It was …a blueprint of the Firebird . There were the wing-joints, drawn with black ink. Tiny words were inscribed next to the different parts of the flying machine. The blueprint was unbelievably detailed.

"Tell me, Thomas. What kinds of changes do you think need to be added?" Leonardo looked keenly at the blonde man next to him.

"I …" Tom was awed by the Firebird's layout. It had been long since he had examined the blueprints of ancient flying vehicles. He had once read similar material at the Academy. But it had been so long …

He found that he was still deeply fascinated by flying machines, as simple as Leonardo's project. He loved the designs, the ideas put into the planning of these beautiful crafts. Wasn't his first love the dragonfly? The one that came to rest on the windowsill of his home back on Earth …with transparent wings?

"Take your time, Thomas. Go to that place near the window," Leonardo indicated a sunlit corner with his right index finger. Tom saw a smaller table, writing implements and a pile of paper. He gaped when the Master gathered up the plans and placed them gently on Tom's lap. "Go through them with pleasure …Now, if you excuse me, I have to supervise my students. Lazybones, everyone of them …"

Leonardo smiled at Tom warmly and with a rustle of his room, he headed for another door, shouting in Italian and gesticulating.

Tom was left alone in the workshop.

He gazed at the bundle of spools on his lap, at once anxious and exhilarated. He didn't believe it! Modify the Firebird …make it flight-worthy? He felt uncommon joy coursing through his body with a pleasurable tingle. It was something akin to the emotions he felt when he first suggested the Delta Flyer to Voyager.

Man, this is serious!

He hated getting ready for the Holodeck simulation at first. He tried delaying but Chakotay had fixed a don't-fight-with-me-today look at him and shooed him off to the Holodeck.

Poor Chak. He looks more haggard than usual.

Chakotay had sat through dinner the night before without saying a word. He frowned as he ate; there was a dark look on his beautiful face.

And Harry …

Harry behaved as if he had gone into a terrible war and walked out barely alive. Come to think of it, he had been avoiding Chakotay like the plague and Tom was not born yesterday to know what had actually happened.

The kid had confronted Chakotay.

Even in the warmth of Leonardo's workplace, Tom shuddered. The images that flooded into his mind weren't pretty. Chakotay was known to be gentle, the mystic warrior-leader. Yet, he could be ferocious too … when he wanted to be ferocious. I won't want to provoke him …

But you did … The voice in his head said coldly. You did …hurt his feelings, Tommy boy!

Tom buried his face into his hands, suddenly gripped by an awful sense of remorse.

You regret it now, don't you? The voice continued relentlessly. You weren't thinking about it when you slept with Harry …AND NOW YOU ARE PAYING FOR IT!

"Go away," Tom said through gritted teeth.

"You were saying?"

Tom almost jumped out of his skin. Leonardo had walked soundlessly back into the workshop.

"Sorry, I was just …thinking about something."

Leonardo smiled. "Well, I will leave you along now …" He shuffled towards the oil canvas, muttering to himself.

Tom sucked in a lungful of air.

Chakotay has to know about the truth. One day. If I have the guts …

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Kathryn Janeway frowned slightly as she sensed the thinly veiled tension on the Bridge. She had felt it the moment she walked in for her shift. She had felt it even as she sat on her command chair.



They were acting like competing wolves, minus the lupine snarls and growls. But the tension was there, the looks flicked at each other.

Captain Janeway folded her arms. What in hell is going on?

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Chapter Sixteen

It was a long day and B'Elanna Torres decided to take a night off. She planned to grab something to eat and laze on her bed. Read the novel she had abandoned due to work and more work.

Normally, she would scan diligently through all the PADDs from Engineering, sipping Neelix's version of coffee. She was a workaholic, thriving on stress.

But today, B'Elanna decided to indulge herself.

Face it, girl. You are not immortal.

She told herself mentally as she removed her uniform and her boots. Slipped into her favorite one-piece shift.

Time to unwind, relax. Step back from Engineering politics and rules for a precious second.

B'Elanna speared her banana pancake with her fork. Whatever it is, I ain't gonna walk into a crossfire. Too many times already and I'm still healing.

She chewed slowly.

I ain't gonna interfere. Chakotay and Harry have to deal with it themselves.

With an unconscious frown (which made her absolutely Klingon), B'Elanna activated her novel-PADD. She had left the novel hanging at Chapter 10. Good. This was where Mal'kah met Kaffa, a brave warrior and son of H'marh.

"Her hand automatically flew to her bat'leth the moment she saw the powerful figure stride towards her, his figure at once majestic and strong. No doubt, those huge hands had ripped into the throats of traitors and held weapons that had plunged into the stomachs of weaklings. Kaffa was tall; his muscles rippled under his armor. He was the son of H'marh, another brave warrior who had fought against the uprising …"

She scrolled down avidly.

"Kaffa looked menacingly at Mal'kah who gripped her weapon in her hand, ready to attack. But the way he scrutinized her body made her aware of the throbbing between her most sacred parts. It was a pounding heat that echoed the drum of her heart, speaking to her of the primal song. Of bonding, of hot sweating couplings in the dark!"

The door bell chimed.

B'Elanna cursed as eloquently as the Klingon heroine Mal'Kah would. She slammed the novel-PADD onto her coffee table and stalked to the door, deciding to give whoever had rang the bell a darned good yelling.

The door whipped open.

It was Harry.

B'Elanna's nose wrinkled immediately.

He was drunk.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Tom Paris sat quietly, sketching the sixth modified Firebird. Nothing inspired him.

Nope, no earth-shaking revelation.

He must have gone through Da Vinci's plans mentally like the thousandth time. It was frustrating. His head ached, his neck sore and his eyes heavy with prolonged use.

The quarters seemed deathly quiet without Chakotay around. The big man had been bogged down with work. He was buried under a ton of mini-assignments, crew re-scheduling and Bridge duty.

No, actually, Tom. Chakotay seems willing to bury himself into work.

Damn it, Tom. You are making him suffer.

Harry was surprisingly untalkative these days. He sat sullen and uncommunicative through lunch. Normally, he would be laughing away, making jokes and talking shop. But now, the kid was … morose.

Damn it, Tom. You are making Harry suffer too.

Tom suddenly wished that he could kick something. If my fucking legs could do anything in the first place.

He wished he could stand up, walk over to Harry's quarters and say something. He wished he could walk over to Chakotay and beg for forgiveness.

Chakotay would hate him now.

Tom flung the PADD in a flash of anger. It hit the floor with a loud clatter. It was a good thing it didn't break at all.

Okay, Tom. You are now the most fucked-up person on the ship and it’s all your fault!

His heart ached.

For the third time in his life, Tom felt the guilt return to him a hundred-fold.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

The bonfire roared.

He screamed as fire consumed him, ate him alive.

Suddenly, he saw a face.

This face was beautiful but it glared at him angrily, its tattooed temple wrinkled in a grimace of rage and unforgiveness.

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Chapter Seventeen

The Federation ship Voyager cruised through space, a sleek silver vessel with cool starlight reflected on its hull. It was speeding towards its destination, the Alpha Quadrant.

Its external appearance bespoke of calm, of serenity.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***


The Native American looked up from his PADD, rubbed his eyes. He saw Tom's blue eyes gazing at him.

"I …need to talk to you."

There was a hint of nervousness in Tom's voice.

"Not now, tiger. I have to reschedule the Beta shift. Seven has volunteered to help."

"Chakotay, its kinda urgent." Tom said and then turned awfully quiet.

The Commander put down the PADD, sighed and walked over to Tom. He proceeded to massage Tom's shoulders slowly. He felt Tom stiffen.

It was then he realized that Tom was a bundle of nerves.

"Tom, what’s wrong?" Chakotay asked firmly. The Da Vinci program? A failed visit to the Doc? "Tom?"

"Remember the Feir'n ?" Tom's voice was so soft that Chakotay had to strain to listen to him.

A rueful chuckle. "Yes, I do remember."

"I think you will hate me now …."


The blonde man suddenly looked vulnerable on his wheelchair.

"You know the thing between me and Harry?"

Chakotay instinctively felt his hackles rise. He saw the torment beneath Tom's eyes. Self-hatred. Self-anger.


"You can't blame Harry …"

There was a beginning of a headache in Chakotay's head. He clenched his hand.

"Blame me. I was the one who … started the entire …"

"Excuse me?"

"I slept with Harry. I slept with him to get back at you …"

The moment Tom said that, he turned ashen grey. Chakotay's headache grew exponentially more painful. His vision became a mist of red and there was pounding in his ears.

"You did what?" The big man growled.

"I …I thought that you grew cold when I turned Feir'n …I …"

Something slammed into his face. Pain exploded in his left cheek, burned like wild fire. It was Chakotay's hand who had hit him.

"Chakotay …" Tom's mouth throbbed. He must have lost a tooth or two. Dammit, he earned it. He deserved the pain. He deserved Chakotay's hatred towards him.

The big man's chest rose up and down rapidly as if he was trying to control himself. He glanced at the younger man and his eyes widened with shock.

"Shit … Tom … I am sorry …" He whispered contritely. Regret welled up immediately, followed by guilt.

"Go ahead … hate me, Chak." Tom's reply was filled with self-loathing. His eyes were squeezed tight, his hands balled into tight fists and he was trembling. His left cheek was swollen and a trickle of blood seeped from his pale lips. "I don't deserve your love …"

"Tom …" Chakotay said slowly. The rage in his belly was fading, replaced by the bitterness of disappointment. He knelt down next to Tom, lifted his hand and wiped away the blood. Gently stroked the unhurt cheek. Looking at Tom now, he was strongly reminded of a sparrow that he'd seen when he was a teenager.

The sparrow was trapped in one of those tar-pits, its tiny form sinking deeper and deeper into the mire.

Tom flinched.

Chakotay sighed. Wordlessly, he rose to his feet and headed for the door. He was going for a long walk.

As Thomas Eugene Paris saw the beautifully strong figure of his love …his only love … walk out, he started to cry.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Kathryn looked intently at the wan young man in front of her. Harry Kim gazed at his booted feet. There was silence in the ready room.

It was about time something had to be done.

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Chapter Eighteen

He didn't know how long he was walking. He only knew that he strode on blindly, ignoring the stares and whispers from passing crew people. There were unshed tears stinging in his eyes.

Still, he walked on, his inner being in turmoil. Images and words tumbled around in his mind, a painful maelstrom which threatened to escape out of his body in the form of a soundless scream. His throat constricted, his head throbbed.

He continued to walk along the corridors of Voyager, the words of Tom haunting him. Hurting him. Tom slept with Harry. Tom slept with Harry to get back at me. Why, Tom, why?He started the damned thing! Why? The image of Tom, pallid with a bleeding lip, remained to mock him. Ah, Tom. Fragile blonde with the bluest of eyes, trembling before him, his cheek swollen, blood seeping out from his lips. The epitome of hurt. The poster boy for abused souls.

Yeah right, Tom. You can do better than that!

The voice in his head was vicious.

"I …I thought that you grew cold when I turned Feir'n …I …"

Yeah sure, Tom. Blame me, will you. But I saw you with Harry!

"I slept with Harry. I slept with him to get back at you …"

The face of Tom appeared before him. The blue eyes were sad, filled with self-hatred. Tom had never appeared so vulnerable in front of him …

Playing the 'sympathy' card, Tom? You must have done that many times. Starfleet Academy? The countless people you have controlled with your little finger? The Maquis? The many men and women?

He stopped suddenly, feeling the hot flush of anger. He was also profoundly shocked to find that he could be that hurtful to Tom.

He had somehow reached the Airponics Bay.

The Airponics Bay was quiet. The cool air soothed his heated skin. He wandered silently through the rows of cultivated plants, inhaling familiar scents. For some reason, the sight of blooming flowers and clusters of fruits calmed him.

He sank onto the floor, automatically adopting the posture he normally used for his meditation. Rubbing his face, he closed his eyes.

"I …I thought that you grew cold when I turned Feir'n …I …"

Tom's words again.

Tom, Tom, Tom.

Memories of Tom started to surface. The early years on Voyager with volatile confrontations. They were always snipping at each other, trying to find a crack in their individual armor. The year when they came to recognize the differences between the two of them …and the decision to give their relationship a chance. The times they spent together in the Holodeck and in their quarters. There was laughter. There was anger. But there was also love and passion.

The image of Tom, his skin glistening with perspiration after sex and languid in his arms. The image of Tom kissing his lips until he felt as if his blood was on fire. The image of a laughing Tom teaching him about car merchanics.

Tom smiling with barely concealed love as he handed the glass phoenix carefully to him.

An unearthly Tom, faintly glowing gold with delicate wings, standing before him.

Tom seated on the wheelchair …

How could I be so cruel?

Another memory rose, unbidden. It was the one with the sparrow, trapped in the tar-pit.

He shook his head, scrubbing his face with his hands vigorously. He could still see Harry standing waist-deep in the pool, Tom massaging his back. But he, Chakotay, knew that he had to move past that somehow. Was he willing to move forward? Was he able to forgive and walk ahead?

Did he have the strength to do it? Did he have the heart to forgive Tom?

Can I forgive Harry?

Chakotay swallowed. It would be hard. But they were going to stay in the Delta Quadrant for a while. They could end up killing each other.

No, he had seen enough killings for a lifetime. He hated to see it happen on Voyager. He had made a promise to himself that he was going to watch over Tom Paris.

And he was going to do it.

Will you forgive me, Tom?

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Chapter Nineteen

Chakotay had gone out for an awfully long time.

Thomas Eugene Paris rubbed his eyes wearily. He could still sense traces, shreds of the terrible conversation he had with the big man. It lingered in the air, bitter and unpleasant. Even as he sat immobile on the wheelchair, he could still remember every word, every gesture. His swollen cheek was a painful reminder and there was soreness inside his mouth.

He cried the moment Chakotay walked out of the door. The tears flowed unrestrained. He felt partly relieved and partly horrible. Chakotay looked so distraught, so angry. It was so unsettling to see the normally calm man enraged.

Tom wouldn't blame Chakotay for leaving forever. Chakotay was his only love but he had so flagrantly discarded it away. He wasn't worthy of such love.

The memory of Chakotay's hand on his cheek, wiping away the blood, made him feel more terrible. The big man's contrite face was gentle and kind, at once apologetic and embarrassed. Then, he left. Chakotay stood up and walked away.

Their shared quarters had never felt so cold.

Tom Paris sighed softly and looked at his feet. He couldn't walk. It must be a cruel punishment from whatever god who sat on a throne and zapped errant souls. He couldn't walk. Even the Doc couldn't find a cure for him!

The supercilious hologram told him something about the loss of a skill being the birth of another. Yeah right, Doc. Try being confined to a wheelchair! Tom snorted and rubbed his eyes again. They throbbed dully.

Leonardo Da Vinci. Half-drawn plans for the Firebird sat untouched on the table. Tom couldn't be bothered.

With a soft snarl, he pushed himself off the wheelchair ---

--- And landed on his right side because his legs, his damned fucking legs, were boneless.


For a moment, he lay motionless on the floor, feeling silly. He didn't dare to shift his torso because he was afraid that he would flop like a fish out of water. A voice was laughing in his head, taunting him. It was vicious as usual.

Aren't you supposed to do Something Stupid?

Tom felt the tears return, coursing down his cheeks. Suddenly the incongruity of the whole thing struck him. He began to laugh hoarsely.

Indeed, Tom, you are going mad.

He gritted his teeth. He wasn't going mad. He wasn't going insane. Damn it, he had to stop the self-pity!

The blonde man blinked. Where did that come from?

Chakotay would be proud. Then again, Chakotay was gone. Tom missed the big man. He closed his eyes …

The door hissed open and Tom could hear the sounds of footsteps. Then strong gentle hands picked him up, pulling him back to the wheelchair. Familiar brown eyes gazed quietly at him.

"Tom?" Chakotay's voice, soothing and worried. Then, he was gathered into the big man's arms. "Tom … "

"You came back …" Surprise and relief marked Tom's reply.

"The walk made me think a lot, " Chakotay said ruefully.

Silence. Tom was shaking in his arms.

"Come, Tom. I will carry you to the bedroom." The big man said in his soft voice.

Having done that, he placed the younger man on the bed and quietly removed Tom's shoes. Then he changed his pants and handed a clean T-shirt to the blonde man wordlessly. Chakotay draped the soiled clothes on the back of a chair and got ready to leave.

"Chakotay?" Tom whispered.

The big man turned. "I will be around. Just go to bed, Tom."


"Just sleep, Tom." The big man walked over slowly, bent down and brushed Tom's cheek with a hand. He could see the bruise marring the beautiful face. The blue eyes gazed at him intently.

"Will you forgive me, Chak?" The expression on Tom's face spoke millions.

"No, I should be the one asking that question."

Tom became silent. Then with a half-sob, half-laugh, he hugged Chakotay tightly. It was the answer the two men had hoped for.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Harry Kim drank the sake glumly. The alcohol did nothing to fill the hollow feeling in his body, did nothing to cheer him up. He had never felt so drained in his life.

He poured himself another glass of the liquor.

The sake wouldn't help eradicate the hollowness in his chest but it allowed him a blessed chance to do something.

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Chapter Twenty

Naomi Wildman was bored.

Yep. She was bored with a capital B.

There was absolutely nothing to do. Sure, she had finished her homework on arithmetic and tidied up the living quarters. She even completed folding the socks.

No, sitting on your bed didn't really do much, unless you preferred to stare at your feet. No, peeking at Seven when she worked at Astrometrics wasn't that fun at all. No, you couldn't possibly disturb Uncle Neelix while he worked in his kitchen. Uncle Neelix seemed distracted lately.

Naomi sensed that Uncle Neelix and her mommy were worried for Lieutenant Paris and Commander Chakotay. Lieutenant Paris looked so sad sitting on his …wheelchair. Commander Chakotay appeared anxious, like her mommy when she was down with chicken pox.

And Uncle Harry? He looked worried too.

Naomi remembered seeing Uncle Harry walking down the corridor. He was walking funny, as if his legs weren't working properly. He didn't greet her with a cheery 'Hello' like he usually did. He simply walked on with that funny walk of his, talking to himself.

She grinned. It was the night she sneaked out of the quarters. It was also the night her mommy caught her reading one of the 'adult fiction' found tucked in a small corner.

It was only later when she was told, quietly, that Uncle Harry was drunk. Drunk with too much alcohol. But, boy was her mommy mad at her for reading the story! She was grounded for two weeks!

She sighed and pouted, placing her small chin on her fist. Two weeks for reading something titled 'Confidential Love'! She stifled a giggle. Her mommy had that look on her face when she lectured her that night. It was somewhere between embarrassment and anger. What was wrong for reading a story about two men loving each other? Were Lieutenant Tom and Commander Chakotay wrong by loving each other? Sure, she saw words like 'cock', 'penis' and 'anal sex'. But she also saw phrases like 'I love you' and 'kissing passionately'.

Naomi giggled once more, turning a delicate pink. She rubbed at her horned forehead absentmindedly.

Well, she was feeling restless. She positively needed to go out for a walk. Voyager was cruising through peaceful space this time and there was nothing dangerous around.

She leapt off from her bed and ran to the door. She slipped out and began her adventure. The passing officers and crew people paid her no attention.

Her ears picked out pieces of conversations. " I heard the captain's gonna talk to Chakotay and Tom." "Yeah, this is turning into a soap opera!" Laughter. " …We only need to add in a cruel manipulative bitch to make this more spicy!"

Naomi detected something mean behind these words. She might be young but she understood sarcasm perfectly. She frowned. Was everyone supposed to help people in need?

She strode further on, picking up more gossip. She finally decided that some adults were superficial and mean. An idea struck her and she headed straight for 'home'. She found colored paper, some string and a pair of scissors.

Pleased, she sat down and got ready to make something nice.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Tom heard the doorbell chime and powered his wheelchair. He had finished his shift early this time and had taken some time to rest. He needed to see the Doc for his weekly appointment.

The door opened to reveal Naomi Wildman. The little girl stood, holding something in her hands.

"Lieutenant Paris?" She said in a tiny voice. "I made you something."

Tom chuckled. "What is it?" He eyed the half-Ktarian girl who shifted nervously.

"I made you this …" She opened her hands and Tom saw paper cranes in different colors, joined together with string. Naomi lifted up one end of the 'chain' and the paper cranes hung from her small hand. They looked like the origami cranes he'd saw when he was in Tokyo.

"I hope you like this, Lieutenant Paris." She gave the cranes to Tom, her eyes twinkling. "I made these cranes to cheer you up."

"Naomi …thank you …" Tom smiled and was startled when Naomi came forward and hugged him tightly.

Then, the little girl smiled impishly and left, leaving Tom holding the cranes on his lap. Warmth filled his chest; the gift from Naomi had touched him immensely. It occurred to him that children were indeed more sincere than their elders were.

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Chapter Twenty-One

Tension crackled between the two men with almost tangible force. They stood stone-faced, without speaking to each other. Perhaps words were useless in this sort of confrontation. Their body language was eloquent enough. Given a chance, the younger man of the silent pair would have gladly avoided this meeting with the taller officer beside him.

Kathryn Janeway paced to and fro like a restless lioness, her hands on her hips. She glanced over to another man in her ready room. He sat quietly in a corner, his face equally expressionless.

"So what do you think, gentlemen?" Kathryn rapped out, her tone steely. It was the kind of tone ensigns would quickly scramble off to do her bidding. "Commander Chakotay?"

The man lifted an eyebrow. His face bore a slight smile. "It has to be done then."

"Ensign Kim?"

The younger man shifted away from Chakotay; his reluctance was plain to see. "Yes, captain."

"Lieutenant Paris?"

The quiet man in the corner nodded. His face bore a yellowish-purple smudge of a bruise. "Yes, captain."

"Then you three promise me to talk it out," Kathryn nodded, grimly satisfied. It was so hard getting the three men into her office. But the matter had to be resolved as soon as possible.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Harry let out a sigh of utter relief the minute they stepped out from the captain's ready room. The tension in the room made him feel claustrophobic. It was more terrible to stand next to Chakotay; he could feel the older man's silent frustration.

Tom's wheelchair made a soft metallic buzz, bringing Harry back to cold reality. They had to talk now. It would not be easy. Chakotay's grim face looked as if he had bitten into something bitter.

The three men headed for the turbolift, ignoring the subtle glances of the Alpha Bridge crew. Well, Harry thought darkly, let them watch. The little 'soap opera' probably livened up their boring lives anyway!

It was horrible, the awkward ride in the lift. No one spoke. It almost drew Harry insane. He was immensely glad when the lift door whisked open, letting more crew in.

They reached the desired level. Harry's heart began to beat painfully. He noticed Tom shifting nervously in his wheelchair.

"So where do you want to talk?" Chakotay's voice snarled.

Harry automatically bristled. He told himself fiercely to calm down.

"Airponics Bay," came Tom's firm reply.

Neutral ground, Harry mused to himself. Cool, Tom! He will probably strangle me with the trailing melon vines now …

The journey to the Airponics Bay seemed to take hours. Chakotay had retreated to his brooding silence once more. Tom's self-imposed reticence didn't help either. Harry felt sad; the figure beside him was a pale copy of the energetic man he used to know.

He knew that the confrontation would come sooner or later. It was a matter of time. He was actually surprised to find Tom at his door, stating calmly that they had to talk. Then Captain Janeway summoned the three of them. Harry Kim agreed even though he couldn't bear standing next to Chakotay.

"Here we are," Tom's voice sounded tired.

Harry nodded. The door slid open and they entered into the chilly interior.

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Chapter Twenty-Two

The minute they stepped into the Airponics Bay, Chakotay wheeled around and faced the ensign with dark-fire eyes.

"Alright, Harry. Let's cut to the chase." The tone was impatient. Harry also noted that the big man had moved over to Tom.

Staking his claim, the ensign thought exasperatedly. Good God. Tom isn't some possession!

"Look, Chakotay." Harry marshaled his courage, lifted his chin and eyed the man. "Let's settle this once and for all like civilized Starfleet officers."

He saw the hooded expression on Chakotay's face.

There was a low chuckle. It came from Tom.

"Stop fighting over me, will ya?" The joking tone was back. It was edged though.

Chakotay hesitated.

Harry saw the opportunity and grabbed it. "Look, our ultimate goal is Tom's recovery. We all want to see Tom well, right?"

The silence stretched between the three, Chakotay contemplating silently. The only sounds were the soft puffs of air circulating around the airponic racks.

Harry sighed. "Chakotay?"

"I do want Tom to become well," the big man said slowly. "I want the old Tom back. Yet there is something holding me back."

"Your ego," Tom said dryly. Yet the blue eyes shone with genuine humor.

The brief irrelevance made Harry grin. Even Chakotay had to smile a little.

"So? What do you think?" Harry asked. The smile might be a good sign.

The big man drew himself to his full height. "I suppose I have to forgive you, Harry Kim."

Another good sign.

"No, I have to ask for your forgiveness," Harry said softly. His brown eyes were sad. The hollowness in his heart became larger but he had to do it. For Tom.

Chakotay looked surprised. But he extended out a hand. Harry grasped it tightly.

"Hey, don't leave me out. " Tom sounded a little reproachful. He placed his palm on the handshake.

The big man met Tom's eyes, saw the determination in them.

"I am going to forgive you for the fact that you … slept with Tom and he slept with you …" Chakotay said slowly again, as if it was a great effort for him. "About the forgetting bit …I am not that sure yet."

Harry nodded, his youthful face solemn.

"I have one question to ask you though: do you love Tom?"

The question from Chakotay came out from the blue. Harry saw Tom's reaction too. The blonde man was equally shocked as well.

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Chapter Twenty-Three

For a moment, Harry couldn't speak. He found his throat constricted. Images tumbled in his head: first encounter with Tom on Deep Space Nine, the times they had shared together at the pool table, Tom's sarcastic wit, his sparkling blue eyes, his face.

He looked at Chakotay who gazed back at him with dark sober eyes. The Native American was silent, waiting.

Tom's eyes met Harry's. There was unspoken sorrow in those blue depths.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Kathryn Janeway paced restlessly in her ready room. She paused to touch the arum lilies in the vase, finger their silky smoothness. Then, she began to pace once more.

She knew that somewhere on her ship, three men were talking. Working out the problem. Stating their opinions.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Harry Kim swallowed hard. He had to give an answer. He couldn't lie. He had to tell the truth.

Truth. The word tasted bitter in his mouth. He was brought in an Asian household where telling the truth is tantamount to family honor and reputation. His parents valued honesty in their only son. Truth. Like not telling his mother that he was bisexual. True, he loved Libby. But he was also undeniably bi. Truth. Like not telling Libby about his sexual orientation. Truth. Like not telling Tom that he had secretly loved him.

The truth hurts, a voice told him coldly.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Seven of Nine worked efficiently in her Astrometrics lab. Yet, her smooth aristocratic face frowned. She had heard that Commander Chakotay, Lieutenant Paris and Ensign Kim were talking.

B'Lanna Torres tapped furiously at the unyielding p'tagh of a malfunctioning console. Her agitation was clear to all to see and her crew avoided her for the whole day.

Neelix drained the pasta and he stared into the distance.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Harry finally decided to tell Chakotay the truth. He drew himself to his fullest height.

"Yes, I do love Tom, Chakotay. I have loved him ever since I saw him on Deep Space Nine. I can not lie to you, Chakotay . I love Tom."

Chakotay opened his mouth to speak but Harry raised a hand.

"I love Tom and I will still love him," the young man said quietly. "But I have seen how Tom smiles at you, how he talks to you. His face lights up when he talks about you. I doubt I will get the same reaction from him … "

A self-deprecating chuckle.

"You are a lucky man, Chakotay. Tom has a good heart. You know something, Chakotay? You made Tom fly. You made him happy. It 's about time you make him smile again." Harry said, trying to smile but the ache in his chest was making it difficult.

"Harry … " Tom said, tears running down his cheeks.

"Tom," Harry said, his voice breaking a little. "Chakotay loves you a lot, I can tell. Go to him. He will provide you the center and stability. Most of all, Tom, he want to see you well … he want to see you smiling."

"Don't do this, Harry … " Tom shook his head. "I am the one to blame … "

"Tom, don't blame yourself. I think the time for blaming each other is over. Now, I want to see you recover."

There was silence. Harry stared straight ahead, holding himself with tight control. It hurt like hell but he ground his teeth and withstood it. He could see Tom wiping his eyes with the back of his hand. Chakotay was watching him with an inexplicable expression on his face.

Then, the big man stepped forward and placed a hand on Harry's right arm.

"Thank you," Chakotay said softly, gratefully.

Harry gazed back steadily at the Commander. "No, I have to thank you."

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Chapter Twenty-Four

It hurt for a while. The following weeks were agonizing for Harry. Painful. Torturous. But the ensign plunged himself into work, letting the mundane routine ease away the inner pain. His chest ached; he felt as if he had swallowed glass shards. Yet … yet he told himself that Tom was happy.

The days were hard. Meeting Chakotay on the Bridge caused Harry's pain to flare up again. The ensign steeled himself and focused his attention on the intricacies of subspace abnormalies.

The nights were relatively easier. He could, at least, close his eyes and pretend that it didn't happen. But it did. It did happen.

Harry ignored the sake bottle. Instead, he picked up his clarinet and composed a tune. He poured his inner feelings into the song, weaving into it his joy and his pain. His anger and his frustration. His sense of resignation, futility. Of loves gained and lost.

He chose Seven to be his one and only audience. The statuesque blonde assented and Harry found himself playing his clarinet in front of a former Borg.

The song filled the quarters with its clarity. For a while, it was only the song and nothing else.

When it was done, Harry sank onto the sofa, utterly exhausted. It seemed that he had emptied his soul into one single song.

Seven's face was inscrutable. Her clear blue eyes watched him intently. Then she lifted a hand, the one that was still half-Borg, and touched his face gently.

"You are … crying," her voice was quiet, imbued with a sense of wonderment.

Harry couldn't lie. "Because I hurt."

The smooth face creased ever so slightly. "I … understand."

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Tom couldn't sleep for a few days. The incident in the Airponics bay played itself over and over again in his head. It was causing him hell. Then, Chakotay told him not to worry too much. The big man said that they all needed time to recover … and it was true.

They all needed some time to recover.

Now Tom could get back to the Da Vinci program and finish re-constructing the Firebird. He looked at all the rejects and the various blueprints once more, delighting in the different lines and curves of the Firebird. At first, his mind felt so rusty that he almost gave up analyzing the measurements for the new flying machine. But as he slowly got back into Leonardo's plans, Tom re-discovered the pleasures of invention and flying.

After much coaxing from Chakotay and Harry, Tom went back to Leonardo's workshop. There, under the guidance of the master artist, he relearned and unlearned certain skills. Leonardo taught him the mechanics of flight, the art of observation and the beauty of art.

It was an enjoyable experience, sitting in the mock sunlight filtering through the window of Leonardo's workshop. As he discussed the construction of the new Firebird with the master artist, Tom's half-forgotten joy of flying returned. When he spoke about the flying machine, he felt as if he was walking on air.

Yet, in the night and resting in Chakotay's arms, Tom remembered Harry and felt sorrow for his friend.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Chakotay was both immensely relieved and thankful. He went about with a load off his shoulders. His sense of humor was back. Everyone noticed it. Even Kathryn. The storm was averted and the ship went back to a level of normalcy.

However, there were times where Chakotay felt a pang of regret for the silent Asian man working so diligently behind him.

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Chapter Twenty-Five

It was exactly one month when Voyager picked up the faint transmissions of an unknown space buoy. Captain Janeway sensed something and she ordered Harry to scan the alien buoy. The moment they saw the silver top-like contraption afloat in space, Voyager's Bridge crackled with excitement. To Kathryn, the buoy reminded her of a child's toy, spinning around rapidly and declaring its presence in this part of the Delta Quadrant.

Harry ran through his repertoire of scans, blinked at the results and redid the tests again. Janeway flung him an impatient glance but the captain knew Harry and tactfully kept quiet. The ensign seemed almost recovered now. His sense of geniality was slowly coming back. He was less morose, to Janeway's intense relief. She also noticed that he was spending a lot of time with Seven.

Well, the captain shrugged inwardly, he needs time to heal. He still loves Tom but I see his interest in Seven.

She tapped her fingers on the armrest. The tension on the Bridge was thick. Everyone was nervous. A space buoy might mean a ticket home.

Commander Chakotay smiled and nodded. He too sensed the slight change in the atmosphere. The big man looked up and saw Tom's back. His lover glanced over, tilting his head over his shoulder.

Harry cleared his throat, his eyes bright with emotion. "Captain, I have the …results."

Janeway got up to her feet and walked towards him, hands on hips. "What is it?"

"The space buoy is of unknown origin. There are traces of mysterious metal alloys in its structural combination. But … "

"But what?" The captain's blue eyes were intense.

"There is something you might want to hear …" Harry smiled slightly. He tapped a green panel on his Ops console. "I have it on audio."

There was static at first but as Harry gently coaxed the frequency into bearable range, the words could be heard.

"This is the starship USS Feng Huang, opening all frequencies to the USS Voyager. We have managed to pinpoint your location. Starfleet Headquarters has been notified about your presence in the Delta Quadrant.. The Feng Huang has been instructed to escort you at this specified location …"

Heavy static masked the rest of the message. Janeway almost tore her hair in a fit of frustration; her heart was already beating so fast she thought she might develop cardiac arrest. She could hear the crew whispering excitedly amongst each other. She also saw Tom's reaction: his back was rigid. Chakotay looked contemplative.

"Mr Kim, can you retrieve the rest of the message?" Kathryn Janeway growled. Oh God. Starfleet knows. The USS Feng Huang. Oh Lord …

Harry shook his head. "The message has deteriorated to a deplorable state. It has been stored in the buoy for almost two months. But I am sorry, captain." His young face lowered in embarrassment.

"Good God," Janeway rubbed her temples. "Two months!"

"You have to be careful, captain. This might be a trap." Chakotay's brows creased in a slight frown. Yet he too felt the exhilaration.

"Commander, the core codes are Starfleet-based." Harry said quietly.

"The starship might still be in the vicinity," there was hope in Janeway's voice. "Scan the entire region, Mr Kim."


"Do it."

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

The paper cranes moved with an unseen breeze; the birds looked as if they were flying in mid-air. Tom stared at them, smiling to himself. Naomi's gift was heart-warming and he felt grateful for the little girl's support.

The aromas of dinner drifted in the quarters. Tom could smell the mouth-watering fragrance of roast Cajun chicken and stir-fried Chinese vegetables. Chakotay had decided to splurge on his replicator rations and they decided to pool their resources together. There was also corn-on-the-cob with hot dripping butter.

It was meant to be a celebratory dinner. This morning's news, of the presence of the starship Feng Huang, invigorated everyone. Right now, Voyager was abuzz, the crew at once excited and nervous.

"Woolgathering?" Chakotay leaned over, kissing Tom's cheek.

"I was just thinking about the Feng Huang."

"Well," the big man chuckled, a deep rich sound. "Don't get your hopes too high, tiger."

"Hey, don't rain on my parade, " Tom countered, swatting Chakotay's shoulder. "It's good to hope, right?"

A smile, the tattoo creasing a little. "Yes. Come. Dinner is ready."

They ate, savouring the food. Tom finished his portion of chicken and started on the corn. He cursed as the butter ran down his arms. Chakotay leaned and began to lick off the buttery strands with his tongue.

"Getting frisky?" Tom grinned and swatted Chakotay again.

"Don't do that!" The older man rubbed his injured shoulder.

Tom laughed and put the corn down. He was about to start on another when a sober thought came into his mind. " Chak, how is Starfleet Headquarters going to deal with the combined Starfleet-Maquis crew?"

Chakotay's face, once cheerful, became serious. "I honestly don't know, tiger. Maybe, I don't want to know ."

"You know, Starfleet Headquarters isn't that pleased with the Maquis."

The ex-Maquis captain folded his arms across his chest. "I know, tiger."

"And … I am not sure how my dad is going to feel about me and you."

"Tom. Don't wear yourself out with worry!"

"I can't help it."

Chakotay walked over and hugged Tom tightly. "We are going to deal with the problems one at a time."

Tom grinned wryly.

"And the Chinese have this saying: the ship will straighten the moment it reaches the bridge."

"I thought you are Native American," Tom's grin became wider. " And, Chak, the proverb doesn't make sense!"

"It means that things will straighten out at the end."

"You think so?"

"I sincerely hope so and now, I only want you to heal. Learn more Italian and make the Firebird fly."

"High hopes, big man."

"Well, did I remember someone saying that it is good to hope?"


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Chapter Twenty-Six

The early morning sunlight streamed through the windows of Leonardo's workshop. There were the sounds of the stirring marketplace filtering through. A flock of pigeons flew past in a flurry of grey and black, half-startling Tom as he struggled to complete his design of the flying machine. He grinned, chiding himself for being so jumpy lately. It was not only Voyager finding the space buoy but his rising excitement that the Firebird was almost ready. Well, almost. Theoretically, it was.

He stared at the blueprint, leaning slightly back. The upper half of his body ached from sitting straight for a long time.

"Rest, young Thomas Parigi, for your eyes grow weary." Master Leonardo appeared, holding a pile of yellowed paper in his arms.

"I am almost done, Master Da Vinci."

The bearded man leaned over, looking at the plan on Tom's table. "Impressive, Thomas. But do you think it can fly?"

"That's what I have been thinking about lately," Tom sighed and closed his eyes. "Your original plan was to have one man as its pilot … "

"I see," Leonardo let out a low rumbling sigh as well. " What you are suggesting, young Thomas, is a flying machine without a person steering it … "

"If the wound-up springs can work in reality … "

"Do you doubt your own skills, Thomas?"

Tom looked at the Italian master, wondering if the directness might be another facet of the real man. The holographic Renaissance master valued frank opinions; he was blunt at times, almost rude but Tom grew used to it. In some ways, Leonardo reminded him of some Starfleet Academy lecturers.

He was doubtful sometimes. He never knew how the Firebird would turn out in the end. It looked so nice and organized on paper but would it work? He had ideas that were blasted into smithereens before. His Academy instructors said that he had potential. Even, his father said so, in one of his rare moments of openness.

"I am not sure," Tom said, rolling up the blueprint.

Leonardo gazed at him thoughtfully. "Always have faith in your ideas for they take wing into the sky. Think otherwise and they will grow stones instead of feathers."

Then, the master artist shuffled off to his personal studio where he could be heard instructing his apprentices. Tom sat alone, the sunlight warming his back like massaging hands. He went back to the blueprint of the Firebird, examining its structure, seeking out any loopholes.

"Always have faith in your ideas for they take wing into the sky. Think otherwise and they will grow stones instead of feathers."

Tom had the dream of the roaring bonfire last night. It was more intense this time with the fire flaring around him like a corona. In the strange double vision, he could see the worm-like creature glowing with white heat and he was the worm, feeling the ferocious heat roar into him. He cried out. He could feel that he was transforming ---

Then he would wake, in Chakotay's arms, perspiring as if he had been sitting in a sauna.

"Always have faith in your ideas for they take wing into the sky. Think otherwise and they will grow stones instead of feathers."

Tom's stomach grumbled. He had missed breakfast.

He would come back to the workshop again, once he had food in his stomach.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Kathryn Janeway took a sip at the dark bitter liquid in her mug and grimaced. Well, Neelix had tried his very best. But Rennian 'coffee beans' were simply not the best in the Delta Quadrant. She would give a limb to taste genuine Earth coffee, made of real coffee beans.


She frowned. Their search for the USS Feng Huang was getting nowhere. Sure, they found the traces of a starship's plasma emissions two hours ago. But Kathryn Janeway felt as if they were looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack .

Never give up, Kathryn.

Her crew depended on her. They were all working feverishly, motivated by the possibility of going back to the Alpha Quadrant. Back to their familes. Back to their loved ones.

The ex-Maquis were excited too. She paused for a while, thinking about Chakotay and his ragtag crew. They all had changed, blending well into the Starfleet crew. It had not been easy in the beginning but as time went by, the relations between the two crews improved.

There were relationships sprouting up everywhere now. Chakotay and Tom. Harry and Tom. Harry and Seven. Tuvok and Vorik were close for a while, the older Vulcan helping the younger man deal with his emotions. So were Ayala and young Geron. But they broke up soon after. She herself once harbored feelings for B'Elanna but she kept it low-key. Now, the half-Klingon woman was content to remain single. There was also the rumored relationship between Ensign Hai and Samantha Wildman.

Kathryn sighed. Voyager had become a cohesive unit for the past few years now. Her crew had got through thick and thin. They had been attacked and boarded. They were beaten but they never gave up. They fought off threat after threat and always they came up stronger, more determined.

It would be quite interesting if they finally found the Feng Huang. Would they tell the Alpha Quadrant about their countless encounters and experiences? Would they want to share their own personal transformations?

She stared out of the window, watching the stars stream past.

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Chapter Twenty-Seven

It was time.

It was time to put a theoretical design to the test. Tom convinced Master Da Vinci and Captain Janeway to allow him to build the new Firebird; they relented at the end. Leonardo provided him with the essential materials, from the water-proof cloth right down to the wood. Janeway offered Tom some of her own suggestions.

Chakotay helped as well, assisting Tom after his shift at the CONN. Everything was ready. Harry and Seven volunteered to help construct the Firebird. They had worked before on the Delta Flyer and in a way, they brought Tom's idea into life. The Firebird was going to be their second and the two resolved to make it a resounding engineering success. B'Elanna came into the picture at the last minute as the person in charge of Firebird's structure integrity.

While Kathryn dealt with the ongoing search for Feng Huang, the group began to start work on the Firebird. At first, Harry couldn't even speak to Tom without turning red and walking away in embarrassment. But his curiosity with the Firebird overruled his residual feelings for Tom and soon he was bantering with his old friend again. Even when their hands brushed each other in one of those accidental moments, Harry didn't show signs that he was affected by it. Tom watched silently as Harry chatted softly to Seven; the two had developed a close relationship. The subtle gestures Seven made in front of Harry were telling.

Tom smiled to himself, rubbed his face and powered his wheelchair forward. They were all working diligently in the holographic courtyard of Leonardo's residence. As he tested the skeletal frame, he looked up and saw the pale blue sky. It was a strange sight.

Here he was, dressed in a Starfleet issue and sitting on an archaic machine, working on a medieval flying machine.

Tom was determined to work within the parameters set by Leonardo. The Firebird of the master artist did not fly but his would.

Chakotay dropped in now and then to check on Tom. The big man was pleased to see his lover animated and friendly again. He looked so different now. The Native American quietly observed Tom and Harry while they discussed the structural integrity for the wings; he ended up being pleasantly surprised when he sensed only friendship between the two men. It was hard trying to eradicate the feelings of jealousy but Harry had already stepped aside, letting Chakotay win. Besides, Harry and Seven were pretty intimate lately.

By the end of the week, they managed to construct the Firebird's main frame. All they had to do was to add the water-proof cloth for the wings. Tom had started work on the 'engine' for the flying machine: a spring-operated apparatus attached to the wings.

As they stood back and gazed at the almost finished Firebird, Tom felt a rush of warmth running through his body. He could already picture the flying machine covered with a combination of wood and metal. She looked near perfection now. Sleeker, made more aerodynamic, smaller. If only she could take to the sky and fly.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

The massage was relaxing. Tom sighed with pleasure as Chakotay's hands kneaded into his taut neck muscles. There was a hint of lavender in the air as the big man worked on Tom's shoulders, slowly moving down to his back in rotating circles.

Tom closed his eyes, enjoying the massage. The lavender fragrance was soothing. He put away the thoughts of an unfinished Firebird and the Alpha Quadrant, allowing Chakotay to practise his wonderful magic.

"Tiger … "

Chakotay was looking at him with a peculiar expression on his tanned face. Tom almost smiled. He had detected something in the older man's gaze. Love and lust. For a frantic moment, Tom became worried. He couldn't have sex right? His hands touched his laps in an unconscious gesture of resignation. He couldn't do it …

Yet, looking at Chakotay, at his earnest face, Tom experienced something else. He could do it.

"Chak, I want to give you head. "

The stunned silence from the man was priceless. Tom chuckled, running a hand through his pale blonde hair, knowing that Chakotay was easily aroused with this simple gesture.

"Pull down your boxers," he continued. He was sitting on a chair, Chakotay having lifted him off his cumbersome wheelchair earlier. Facing the big man, Tom felt an uncommon rush of exhilaration in his chest. It was splendid, watching the stolid Native American at a loss for words. The slight flush on his face told Tom that he was already aroused. Lowering his gaze, he could see the telltale bulge between the legs. Good.

"C'mon," Tom coaxed softly with more urgency in his voice. Chakotay obeyed instantly, stripping off his boxers and revealing his stiffening organ. "You are a wicked man," the big man said huskily, positioning himself in front of a grinning Tom Paris.

Chakotay bit down a cry of relief and pleasure as Tom lifted his aching penis with his long supple hands. The big man could feel the warm moist mouth enveloping the sensitive tip. He gasped aloud when Tom's tongue started to lick it teasingly. He could feel his knees shaking and he half-sobbed, abandoning himself into the sensations elicited by Tom's mouth. He began to tremble and he pushed his hips forward desperately, seeking relief.

The Commander whimpered involuntarily as Tom pulled away, his blue eyes flashing playfully. To the younger man, Chakotay aroused was a sight to behold. He was already on the verge of losing control but he was trying to hang on. Tom reached out his right hand and cupped the vulnerable balls, nestled amongst thick dark hair. He gave them a tight squeeze and Chakotay rumbled, flinging his head back. Tom grinned to himself again, squeezing the balls until he heard suppressed sobs of agonized pleasure.

"Tom … please … "

Tom took the swollen organ into his mouth once more. He gently sucked on it, feeling it quiver as if it was alive. Hands crushed his shoulders as Chakotay struggled to maintain balance. He sucked harder and this time, Chakotay couldn't take it any longer. It had been so long since the big man had sex and he was almost helpless now, with a ferocious welcoming desire. The big man jerked his hips spasmodically … while Tom continued his delicious treatment of his lover's penis, amusement and desire darkening the blue eyes.

"Tom …don't you dare …stop!" Chakotay growled, half-threateningly. He began to rock back and forth, gritting his teeth while tears of ecstasy streamed down his face. Tom opened his mouth slightly wider to accommodate the erection, easing it in slowly. This time, Chakotay lost it completely, thrusting and thrusting until his vision swam and his legs wobbled unsteadily. He came, spurting hot fluid into Tom's mouth. Chakotay gasped and sank onto his knees, his body trembling. He rested his head on Tom's lap, breathing hoarsely.

For a while, the two men didn't speak. Then, Chakotay raised his head to see Tom gazing at him with a gentle smile on his face. The younger man lifted a finger and wiped away the traces of white cum on his lips. He proceeded to lick his finger while he watched for Chakotay's reaction. The Commander observed him avidly, dark eyes glistening.

"You are truly an evil man," Chakotay laughed. He felt immensely relaxed now.

"Am I?" Tom grinned wolfishly and powered his wheelchair. "I am going to bed."

Chakotay chuckled aloud and followed him in. They spent an hour pleasuring each other, tasting and kissing. Tom was content to watch Chakotay masturbate, luxuriating in the sight of the normally stoic man, arching and perspiring, his low groans of pleasure filling the room. Later, as he jerked the big man off and again, he openly admired the straining body before him.

As Chakotay drifted off to sleep, his arms wrapped around Tom's waist, the blonde-haired pilot smiled. He began to contemplate the events for the next day. He would talk to the captain about his wish to be Firebird's pilot.

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Chapter Twenty-Eight

"No. I don't want you to risk your life!"

Dark grey eyes flashed with anger and frustration. Tom Paris steeled himself and squared his shoulders, calmly looking back at the captain who stood in front of him, her hands on her hips.

"Look. It is in the Holodeck and the safety protocols will be on for sure."

Kathryn Janeway shook her head. "Tom, why don't you let Harry or B'Elanna be the pilot?"

Tom folded his arms across his chest. "I made up my mind. I will fly the Firebird."

"Do you want me to stuff you straight into the brig?" Kathryn had a wry grin on her face. "To show that I am not really keen about you being the pilot for the Firebird?"

"Captain, I am not trying to prove anything."

"Are you sure?" The captain chuckled, picking up her mug of Neelix's coffee.

The clear blue eyes looked back at her. Steady. Full of purpose.

Kathryn nodded to herself in approval. Owen's son had changed.

"Okay. You will fly the Firebird. But I will request for the Doc to stand by … just in case." Her eyes twinkled with humor.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

"You didn't tell me last night!" Chakotay pinned Tom down with accusing eyes.

They were relaxing after dinner at the Messhall. Neelix had dished up pasta mixed with native Delta Quadrant vegetables and he had also concocted another batch of kaski icecream. It was an enjoyable evening with Chakotay making suggestive comments and glancing at Tom sideways. He clearly wanted another night of lovemaking.

"I didn't want to wake you."

"Nonsense. Spirits, Tom. You are making me worried all over again!"

Chakotay's face was creased with worry lines. The big man raked a hand through his hair, pursing his lips. Tom placed his right hand on the man's lap, squeezed it.

"There is always the Doc, Chak."

"Spirits, Tom! Don't make it sound so simple!"


"Tiger, I am worried for you."

"I will be fine … "

"Damn it, Tom. I don't want to lose you."

Silence. Chakotay turned away so that Tom didn't see the tears seeping past his closed eyelids.

"Chak …"

"I almost lost you on the Feir'n planet. I almost lost you because I was so cruel to you. I am not going to lose you again."

"I am sorry," Tom whispered, brushing his hand on the older man's face, feeling its familiar texture. He let a finger trace the strong jawline, knowing that Chakotay desired his touch. He felt the cool trails of tears under his fingertip and he sighed.

A rueful laugh. "So you want to fly the Firebird eh?"

Tom nodded.

"Maybe age is getting to me, Tiger. I can't take that much stress … " Chakotay rubbed his face with his two hands. He gently removed Tom's shirt and began to nibble on the sensitive skin around the nipples. Tom gasped aloud.

"But you are still an horny old man …"

"Never laugh at us senior citizens!"

They started kissing each other passionately. Then, Tom let the big man turn him over to his front and he shuddered with pleasure when Chakotay proceeded to massage his back in a slow erotic dance of fingers. Tom could feel the hands gliding over his shoulder blades and pressing into his back muscles.

"Horny old man?" Chakotay's voice could be heard through the haze of arousal and delight. Strong hands turned Tom over to his back and he opened his eyes, looking into dark liquid orbs. The next thing Tom knew was Chakotay's hands moving down his torso like warm sunlight, rubbing his nipples until they hardened, became taut. Fingers flickered across them, making them ache painfully with arousal. Chakotay continued this beautiful torture until Tom cried out, begging him not to stop.

"Stop?" The voice was smooth, laced with amusement. Tom saw his lover's erection throbbing in front of him, Chakotay having reached the peak of arousal sooner than he expected. The big man leaned over and claimed Tom's lips with a hot kiss. "I can't stop until I have you, tiger."

The hands on Tom's chest inched closer to the groin area and the younger man gasped when he felt Chakotay grab hold of his organ already stiff with the automatic rush of blood into the veins. His heart pumped harder as Chakotay kissed it; his penis stirred, pulsating painfully until he thought it was going to burst. And it did, spraying cum all over Chakotay's hands. As Tom watched, panting slightly, Chakotay played with himself and he came finally with a low growl.

There was a moment of silence as the two men rested. Chakotay touched Tom's face lightly.

"You will fly the Firebird and no one is going to stop you right?"


*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Kathryn Janeway grinned as she settled on her bed with a PADD on her lap. The loud moans coming from the Commander's quarters had finally stopped.

Lucky man, she thought, scanning down the ship's supplies of edible foodstuff.

Then, having done the nightly PADD reading, she contemplated on life, the elusive Feng Huang and Tom's flight on the Firebird. Somewhere out there, a Federation starship might be searching for them. Somewhere out there, a lifeline to the Alpha Quadrant beckoned.

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Chapter Twenty-Nine

They assembled early in the morning, meeting in front of the Holodeck as promised. Tom arrived first with Chakotay right next to him, the big man's face creased slightly with worry. Kathryn Janeway appeared moments later and Harry brought up the rear, followed by Seven and B'Elanna. There was a minute of silence as they contemplated the daunting task ahead.

The captain took the time to look at her crew. She was reminded of another time when she faced the same people. Tom, his face once wan and unhappy, looked confident and radiant with hope. Chakotay's concerned look was almost mirror-image to that of his previous expression when he accompanied Tom to the first Da Vinci session. Harry's young face was flushed with excitement and this time, his hand brushed Seven's own in a silent gesture of intimacy. B'Elanna stood, hands clasped on her hand and she winked once at Kathryn, before turning back to Harry for the last minute PADD reading.

The doors slid open and Leonardo Da Vinci could be seen, standing on the top of a grassy knoll, his beard windswept. He waved vigorously as he saw the group.

"Katarina," the master artist greeted the captain with a warm hug. "I am glad you are here. You must be so proud of Thomas Parigi."

"I am," Kathryn nodded. Her heart beat rapidly in her chest. Despite of the advanced technology, the safety protocols programmed into the systems, she still experienced a niggling fear. The wind cooled her cheeks and she hugged her arms to herself. It was a sunny day in the Holodeck. Warm, comfortable. She could hear faint sounds coming from the Italian city nearby.

"They are carrying the Firebird," Leonardo chuckled. "Be careful, men. Don't you dare drop her!" He admonished fiercely as Chakotay and Harry, aided by Seven and B'Elanna, shifted the flying machine to the top of the knoll. Tom moved amongst them, weaving in and out on his wheelchair.

The Firebird took Kathryn's breath away. She was a beauty; she was more magnificent than her prototype sister. Tom had modified her, re-calibrated her shape into a more aerodynamic form. The sun glowed on her wings, dancing along the fine lines of the frame. A dragonfly, Kathryn mused to herself

"I am ready," Tom saluted jauntily and Chakotay lifted him out of the wheelchair, positioning his lover on the pilot's seat. The blonde-haired man clipped on the safety belts and grinned up to the Commander who only frowned.

Harry strode up, his brown eyes alit with anticipation. "Tom is ready, captain. All we need is a lot of luck."

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Tom Paris felt the wind kiss his brows, cooling the thin layer of perspiration on his face. Chakotay had given him a tiny hand squeeze before taking position next to the Firebird. Harry was standing on the other side. Their task was to give the Firebird a 'running start' as Tom had jokingly put it during the meeting they had a day earlier.

He turned slightly, seeing the captain and Leonardo. Seven and B'Elanna watched silently, their faces expressionless.

"Ready when you are," Harry said quietly.

Tom nodded.

Then, Chakotay and Harry lifted the Firebird's rickety frame. They began to run.

Thomas Parigi steeled his nerves, placed his hands on the handles and faced the sky.

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"I am not going to look," Chakotay growled as he came to a panting halt. His heart thudded maniacally in his ribcage and his lungs labored. Oh Tom, he prayed silently. The spirits go with you, tiger.

Harry began to holler, jumping up and down in a un-Starfleet fashion. He was pointing to the sky. Chakotay watched Kathryn running towards him, her russet hair whipping in the wind, closely followed by Leonardo who huffed along, his robes gathered in his hands.

Seven and B'Elanna were looking up …

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There was a vomit-inducing stomach lurch as the Firebird dipped sharply and Tom fought for the handles, clamping down the bile. Iron Jaw Paris, he mused half-grimly as the wind screamed in his ears and blasted into his nostrils.

The Firebird gave a violent shake and suddenly Tom felt himself going up! He blinked before he realized something.

He was flying. The Firebird was flying.

Tom watched the countryside spread beneath him in a patchwork of greens and browns. He could see tiny figures moving around, tiny farm animals and tiny houses. He was flying above them like some great dragon. Dimly, he felt the wings moving up and down slowly … almost in a surreal manner.

He was flying.

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Chakotay simply stared, his words half-formed. In the blue sky flew the Firebird. He must be dreaming. He must be dreaming still and he would wake up, with Tom safely back in his arms. Back on terra firma.

He bit his tongue and winced. The pain reminded him that he was unfortunately awake. He gazed up again. The flying machine was flying! It actually worked! He watched Tom's figure waving to him … and his heart soared.

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Tom laughed but the wind tore his triumph away. The crisp air was invigorating, refreshing. To his left, the city shone under the early morning sun.

Adrenaline pumped in his veins. Confidence surged into his body and he cheered. He wished his father could see this. Starfleet Academy. Everyone!

Suddenly, the Firebird gave another lurch and before Tom knew it, she was nose-diving. He struggled to bring her back to her former gliding elegance but she simply refused to move. Instead, she continued to plunge.

The ground rushed towards him. He was going to die a very unpleasant death …

The red grids of the Holodeck flared up around him and he found himself on his butt, Chakotay kneeling next to him. Harry's face loomed in front of him, his young face anxious. Seven was standing beside the Asian man, her right hand firmly clasped in his. Kathryn and B'Elanna had expressions of relief and frustration on their faces.

"Thank God for the safety protocols," Tom said, his voice surprisingly calm and collected. For a man who came that close to death, he sounded pretty cool about it.

"Don't you dare joke about it ! " Chakotay snapped but he gathered the man into his arms in a crushing embrace.

"You should have seen it, Tom. The Firebird flew like a miracle!" Harry said with a tone bordering on reverence, breaking the tension in the air and Seven nodded.

Tom rubbed his face. "It worked … "

"But thank the stars you are safe," Kathryn said in her throaty voice, hands on her hips. "Do you feel any discomfort at all?"

Tom shook his head. "No, I feel fine." He turned to Chakotay. "I flew, Chakotay. I flew!"

"Yeah," the big man grumbled even though there was a twinkle in his eyes. "You almost gave me a heart attack."

"Li amore," Tom whispered softly and placed a hand on Chakotay's shoulder.

"Tuvok to Janeway."

The cool tones of the Vulcan security chief broke the silence in the Holodeck. Kathryn Janeway lifted her eyebrow. She recognized that tone.

"Janeway here."

"Please come to the Bridge. There is something you might find it most …interesting."

Everyone picked up on the underlying sense of uncommon elation. Tom glanced at Chakotay who gently lifted him back onto the wheelchair.

"I will be right there."

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Chapter Thirty

Kathryn Janeway burst out of the turbolift, only to halt in her steps, stunned at the sight of the glimmering ship taking center stage in the view screen.

It had the same tone as Voyager. Silverish-grey. Sleek lines. It resembled an Intrepid-class ship but it was larger, much larger. White-blue nacelles gleamed.

Kathryn swallowed. The design of the ship was almost unknown to her. There were definitely changes. Ship designs evolved quickly within five years. She tried hard not to hyperventilate. She recognized the clean-cut shape of a Starfleet ship when she saw one.

"Captain, the USS Feng Huang is hailing us," Tuvok said, unruffled as usual. The Bridge crew was alive with nervous anticipation and joy. God, everyone looked bright-eyed. One or two seemed to be in tears.

"On screen," Kathryn placed shaking hands on her hips.

A short-haired Asian woman appeared, wearing an uniform that looked so different from the Voyager ones. Purplish-lavender and black. Even the fabric seemed tougher, more militaristic. But the commbadge on the front was pure Starfleet.

"I am Captain Mariko Sato, " the voice of the Asian woman was gentle but firm. "I presume you are Captain Kathryn Janeway of the USS Voyager."

"Yes, I am."

"I am relieved to finally meet you," the captain of the Feng Huang. "At first, I thought I was dreaming. But I have finally found the lost ship. I am pleased to meet you."

"So am I," Kathryn Janeway looked past her counterpart's shoulders to see another efficient Bridge working; she felt a pang of something. Relief? Joy? Another woman stood behind Captain Sato, probably the commander.

Chakotay walked up to stand next to his XO. Captain Sato lifted an eyebrow. Kathryn squared her shoulders.

"Please prepare to be boarded, Captain Janeway." The captain of the Feng Huang inclined her head slightly. "Duties. I have to apologize. The Borg technology in Voyager's computer system has to be studied."

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For the next two hours, the Feng Huang's crew beamed over, checked and made reports on their tricoders. They stayed the longest in Seven's Cargo Bay, taking down notes about the remnants of Borg technology now fused to Voyager. They also made comments on the new addition of Astrometrics . They stared, unabashed, at Seven who only gazed back at them with the same iciness she normally reserved for creatures of lower intellect.

There was a great deal of anxiety suffered by the former Maquis onboard. They were technically considered as criminals in the Alpha Quadrant.

Kathryn Janeway watched the droves of fresh-faced ensigns walking around. God, young, just graduated from the Academy. She felt ancient next to them. The Feng Huang crew was young; she had a feeling that for the majority of the crew, the journey to the Delta Quad might have been their first mission.

How is the Alpha Quadrant going to deal with a ship that had been through hell and back again? How are the people of the Federation going to deal with a combined Starfleet-Maquis crew and a half-Borg? Are they going to take away the wealth of experiences and stories?

"Captain Janeway," Mariko Sato said politely. "Your ship is to follow the Feng Huang in the next 24 hours. "

"I am told by your commander, Mr Lumley, that Starfleet has discovered a wormhole similar to the Bajoran one near DS9."

"Affirmative," the Asian captain smiled warmly.

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The two starships hung motionless in the vast tapestry of space, glimmering with reflected starlight.

Kathryn breathed deeply, stilling the exhilaration threatening to overwhelm her. They were going back …finally!

Beside her, Chakotay shifted, folding his arms across his chest. This was a new day for him and the rest of the crew. It also heralded a new beginning for him and Tom. They had talked about it the night before, cuddling under the sheets after a session of languid lovemaking. They had decided to stick with each other, even when they were back in the Alpha Quad.

Tom Paris stared at the colored panels, clenching his fists. Hell was he nervous! He was going back home. An uncertain future, perhaps. His father. How was the old man going to deal with his handicap and his relationship with Chakotay, ex-Maquis? Penal colony? Maybe if he was unlucky enough.

But he resolved to stay with Chakotay. The past year had seen their relationship being tested, growing and becoming stronger. He had given Chakotay the miniature model of the Firebird as his heart-felt thanks. Now, the tiny version of the flying machine stood proudly next to their bed. Tom felt that he was ready to meet the future. He might be confined to a wheelchair but damn it, he was ready to face anything. He had survived the Delta Quadrant, gone through a series of personal transformations and he had learned. Right now, he believed in himself. People might judge him by his external appearance. Perhaps, they might judge him because he was a paraplegic. But, he believed in the person deep inside him. No one was going to stop him. He had his friends around him, friends who cared. Harry, B'Elanna, Seven, Neelix, the Doc. Chakotay. The captain.

He was going back but he wasn't afraid anymore.

The signal was given and Kathryn gave her own orders.

There was a bright white flash as Voyager followed Feng Huang into warp. Kathryn Janeway bit her lip as she sat on her command chair, watching the white streaks dominate the view screen. She was going home.

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The bonfire roared, raging like a white sun. There was a figure in the midst of the flames. As the figure shifted, large wings grew until they burst out, filling the air with their brilliance. A beak and an incandescent tail gradually formed from the swirls of fire.

The phoenix emerged, screaming its triumphant cry. Its song rang across the heavens. Proud. Powerful.

The phoenix had risen from the ashes.

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The End