"From the ah to the ay"

 Tom was almost back to his quarters when he remembered that he’d left his PADD containing the latest medical update back in sickbay. He did an about face, then hurry back to his place, change, grab a quick bit and meet B’Elanna  and Harry at Sandrine’s for a drink. As he entered, he noticed the place was quiet, so not seeing any reason to disturb the EMH, he moved to the back room to retrieve the PADD. On his way back out, he heard voices. 

 "You wanted to see me, Doctor?" 

 "Yes, Commander. Come into my office. I want to talk to you about your…condition." 

 "Must we?" 

 "Yes, Commander, we must." 

 And that was the last thing Tom had heard. He had wanted to be nosier, but he knew he would have only gotten into trouble by spying, and he probably wouldn’t have learned anything relevant anyway. He had quietly left sickbay, and had headed back to his quarters, wondering the entire time what 'condition' was plaguing the stoic Commander. 

 Over the years, he and Chakotay had finally put aside their animosity toward each other, and recently had started to become friends. Tom had known from the very beginning that Chakotay was good people; but it had taken more time for Chakotay to realize that Tom was too. Once he did, they found that they had a lot more in common than they both would have imagined. To Tom's surprise, he had found that Chakotay had one hell of a sense of humor; he just wouldn’t loosen up unless he was off duty with a few select friends. That was part of the Commander’s problem, in Tom's opinion. Chakotay was far too controlled for his own good.

 Tom entered his cabin, and absently tossed the PADD aside. His mind was still back in sickbay, wondering what could possibly be wrong with his friend. They hadn’t been on any dangerous missions-well, none that Chakotay couldn't handle in his sleep. He hadn’t been taken off-duty. Deciding that his speculations were pointless, he decided to take his mind off of them by grabbing a quick shower. By the time he was ready to leave, he’d been successful at letting the matter go--for the moment, and headed off to the mess hall for dinner. 
 Tom was eating breakfast with Harry, when he saw the Captain enter the mess hall, alone. Even though Chakotay and the Captain didn't have breakfast together every morning, it seemed a bit odd for Chakotay not to be here today. He’d worried all last night that there was something wrong, and became even more worried when Chakotay hadn’t shown up at his usual time to harass him while he played pool. Since he hadn’t shown up last night, or this morning, Tom was now positive that what he’d overheard in Sickbay was about something serious.  

 "Morning, Captain," Tom smiled, his usual sunny self. "The Commander running late, or is he standing you up today?" he joked, trying to find out what was going on without bringing too much attention to the fact. 

 "Good morning, Tom, Harry. No, Commander Chakotay is taking the day off. I know it's a startling revelation that he actually wanted one, but I guess it proves he's only human after all," she teased as she moved on to join Tuvok and Neelix. 

 "That's it. Stop the universe; I want to get off," Harry chuckled. 

 Tom glared at Harry. "What's so funny?" 

 "Ah, come on, Tom. **Chakotay** taking a day off? When pigs have wings," Harry laughed. 

 "It's not the first time," Tom replied, suddenly feeling very protective of his friend. 

 Harry lightened up seeing that Tom wasn't finding this so funny after all. "Well, it might as well be, considering how infrequently he takes off without being ordered to. The man's a workaholic."

 "Well…" Tom understood how people perceived Chakotay. Hell, he’d looked at him the same way, until he started to get to know him. Then it hit him. Most of the crew, even though they would fight and die without hesitation for the heroic Commander, didn’t know him. This insight hit Tom right in the gut as well as his heart. //The man has a problem, and he has no one to turn to. // Tom thought, fully ignoring Harry's commentary. //Chakotay is there for everyone on this ship, night and day. He gives hundred and ten percent plus some, and when he's in trouble who's there for him? It's unfair! // Tom thought. "It's unfair, Harry," he said, and in one swoop, got up, took his tray, and left the mess hall, leaving behind a very puzzled Ensign.

 As soon as Tom’s shift was over, he went in search of Chakotay. According to the computer, the Commander was in holo suite three, and had been in there for over two hours. Tom stood before the door, debating what he should do now. There was no privacy lock on the holo suite, but there was always the possibility that he could be intruding on Chakotay’s private space if he were to go in. Should he just wait for him to come out, or com him to ask him to meet later? Tom’s gut told him neither; he needed to act. The man was in need, and he was alone. 

 His mind made up; Tom entered. He was a bit surprised to find that he wasn't in the lush, forest greenery he anticipated, but on a beach, the full moon shining down on its white sands. Sitting alone, just out of reach of the tide, was Chakotay, barefoot in a loose pair of gray sweats, staring off in the distance. Tom could see by the man's body language that he was feeling withdrawn, and again wondered if he was doing the right thing. 

 With a quiet breath for courage, Tom moved down the beach toward Chakotay. "Is this seat taken?" he asked, trying to keep his tone light, but bracing himself for any angry remarks Chakotay might possibly make about him barging in uninvited. When the Commander looked up, and seemed pleasantly surprised to see him, Tom relaxed. "Mind if I join you?" he asked. 

 "It's an open beach," Chakotay said softly, his warm, brown eyes welcoming him. "I take it that there’s something on your mind, Lieutenant, or do you just like night surfing?" 

 Tom could tell that Chakotay was trying to be playful, but there was a deep sadness in his eyes that didn't escape Tom's notice. "Well, yes there is. I have a friend who needs help, but I don't know how to get my friend to accept it. What do you recommend?" Tom asked, knowing full well that Chakotay would figure out that he was the friend. Seeing the tiny smile, Tom saw that he had. 

 "What makes you think I have a problem?" Chakotay asked, turning his face away, and staring at the holographic stars. 

 "Oh, it could be that you took a day off without being ordered to, or the fact that you’re sitting here all alone or…" Tom hesitated. He didn't want to embarrass his friend, but he deserved the truth. 


 "I'm sorry, Chakotay. I was in sickbay last night, and I overheard some of the conversation you had with the Doc and…" Seeing Chakotay's head turn with a swiftness of a viper, and the look of fear in his eyes, made Tom jump and become silent. 

 "How much did you hear?" Chakotay demanded. 

 "Only that you have some condition…that's all.  I didn't breathe a word of it to anybody. I wouldn’t do that, Cha; you have to know that. I just know there's something wrong, and well…I thought you could use a friend. I'm sorry if I offended you; I wasn't trying to butt into your business," Tom replied sincerely.  

 Seeing Chakotay's posture relax, Tom knew he was forgiven for the most part. "So, do you want to talk about it?" 

 Chakotay just looked upward, sighed, and stood up. "It's…it's not something I can talk about…really. I…I can't." he said, and started to walk away. 

 Tom jumped to his feet, and quickly moved next to Chakotay, "Cha, you'd be the first one to say that the best way to deal with a problem is talk about it, right? I mean, if you don't think you can trust me…find someone else," he pleaded. 

 Chakotay stopped, and looked at Tom intensely. The sincerity in Tom's eyes seemed to give him courage. "I trust you more than anyone on this ship, Tom. It's…" he sighed. 

 As Tom watched Chakotay withdraw again, and wrap his arms around himself, he became really worried. The man was obviously upset about something, and seeing the normally strong, Maquis warrior too insecure and frightened to talk was unnerving. "Cha? If you trust me…then 'trust me', " he stated, gently placing a hand on Chakotay's shoulder. 

 Chakotay just stared at Tom, and after a few minutes’ thought, spoke. "The only way I can explain is by showing you," he whispered.  He cleared his throat, and ordered, "Computer end program, and bring up arch." 

 Tom watched the beach fade to the black and yellow lines of the holodeck, and the computer arch reappeared. Chakotay ordered a privacy lock, gave the code for another program. "Computer activate program," he stated, and the arch vanished, and the scene that replaced it was more along the lines of what Tom had expected to see when he first came in here. 

 The scene was lush and green, full of trees that blended in beautifully with the sky, which was more reminiscent of a desert sunrise. It was so much like Earth, and yet so different. It possessed its own beauty. The sky was blue, like Earth’s, but the clouds weren’t just plain, ordinary white Terran clouds. No, this sky had pinks and light oranges that softly blended in with edges of the white clouds, and gave the place a whole new dimension.  "Oh, Cha, this place is…beautiful!" Tom exclaimed. 

 "I'm glad you like it," Chakotay stated with some pride. "It's not as accurate as I'd like it, but it's as close to home as I can make it."

 "This is Dorvan V? Wow!" Tom whistled. "So, this is where you grew up?" 

 Chakotay gave a small smile. "This is a place on my home world, but it isn't where I lived 'all' my life. I…I want to show you something," he said, the nervousness back in his voice and his actions. "This way" he said, walking through the trees to an open area just behind a large, two story wooden cabin. It looked like someone's back yard with its wooden picnic table and benches, and the clothesline. 

 Chakotay turned to Tom, a mixture of fear and hesitation in his eyes, and Tom could see that Chakotay was having second thoughts. "Trust me, please, Cha. Whatever it is, I won't judge you. I mean, I don't want to blow my on horn, or anything, but I was the first person to accept Neelix and Kes when they arrived. Plus, B'Elanna, and Seven, right? So, you know I won't do that with you…we’re friends, Cha." 

 Again, Chakotay stared at Tom, his mind obviously in a whirl, then with another breath for courage; nodded his head. "Okay. Computer activate stage two of the program," he stated. His expression softened as he looked at Tom, "I want to show you one of my favorite memories," Chak said with a small, shy smile.
 Tom thought that was odd. After the fear he’d seen in Chakotay’s eyes, and the way he’d had to promise not to judge whatever he saw, Tom had braced himself for something nightmarish. The subject of Chakotay’s 'favorite' memories never entered his mind. Before Tom could say anything, the sound of life buzzing all around him drew his attention away from the Commander. 

 He saw two young boys; the oldest was about fourteen, the other about ten. They were running toward the picnic table. Tom could tell, not only by the tribal mark on the eldest boy, but some of their features, that these were Chakotay's brothers when they were younger. Tom looked at them, and mentally compared them to Chakotay. The two brothers looked almost like twins, but their features, though handsome, were sharper and more chiseled, than Chakotay's. The smiles and laugher of the two children were contagious, and Tom smiled too as he looked behind him toward Chakotay. The smile faded when Tom saw that Chakotay was pacing back and forth, and biting his thumb, he was so nervous. "Cha?"

 "Just watch," he snapped quietly. He kept pacing, but he was watching too. 

 Tom turned around, wondering what was the big deal, but there was only one way to find out, and that was to watch. The two boys ran to the table, and sat down two small packages wrapped in cloth and string, and turned around with excitement. "Hurry up," shouted the younger one.

 "Patience," a deep voice from around the corner of the house replied. Then a strong man, who couldn't be mistaken for anyone but the boys’ father, came into view. He was exactly what these two boys were going to look like when they reached his age, and he wore his tribal tattoo as well. "Your mother has worked hard to make this day special, so we should all take our time to enjoy it," he smiled. 

 Tom smiled. He could see where the Commander got his dimples from, even if he didn't turn out to be a replica of his Father like his brothers. 

Shortly after Chakotay's father headed to the table carrying a large box with holes in it, a beautiful woman followed as well. Tom couldn't help but give a small gasp. She was truly a vision of loveliness, and Tom then knew what part of the family the First Officer took after. Chakotay had her expressive eyes, her nose, her hair, her…presence.  "Your mother is beautiful," Tom said over his shoulder. 

 "Yes, she is," Chakotay replied quietly. 

 Tom glanced over his shoulder, and saw that Chakotay had grown even more anxious, so he just turned back around, and watched. He could tell by the cake in the woman's hands that this was a birthday party, and by the number of candles, someone's seventh birthday. //Why would he be so uptight about me seeing his seventh birthday party? // Tom couldn't fathom it, so he kept watching and listening. 

 "Do we have everything?" his mother asked.

 'No, we don't have plates, napkins, forks, drink, and cups…" the oldest started to rattle off. 

 "Well, then go get the basket that I have on the kitchen table; you'll find them all in there," she smiled. "And hurry, you know she can't wait for ever," his mother laughed. 

 //She? // 

 "Okay," the oldest replied, and dashed off. 

 "May I help?" the younger boy asked. 

 "Yes," his father replied. "Go fetch Chakotah from next door; I'm sure she's more than ready for her birthday to begin," he said warmly. 

 Tom watched the boy dash off in another direction. Then he turned around to face Chakotay; "I thought all of your sisters were older than all of your brothers?" He asked, but by the expression on the older man's face, he was not going to get answers to anything at the moment, so he turned back around to watch some more. 

 He saw the oldest boy return with the picnic basket full of all the items they would need, and together they set the table, and put the cake down. It said ‘Happy Birthday, Chakotah. Then he looked up to see the other boy running back, and just behind him was the seven-year-old in question. She had long black hair, and looked so much like her mother it was scary. Then as the child got closer, Tom could see that the little girl could be Chakotay's twin, though her features were softer than the big Maquis. 

 Tom watched the eager and free spirited child come dashing into her Mother's arms, and hug her tightly. Then he watched them celebrate the child's birthday. The best present of all was the half husky-wolf pup the Father gave her. The pup was white with the most beautiful blue eyes. The little girl called the pup, Spirit. 

 Tom was so enthralled in the moment that it took him a while for a tiny fact to reach his brain. //This is one of Chakotay's favorite memories? He's not even in it, how…? // It was at this point when he turned to face Chakotay that the older man finally spoke. 

 "Computer freeze program." Then he looked at Tom, seeing if the young man had figured it out, or at least had some questions to get the ball rolling. 

 "Cha, I'm a bit confused here. How could this be one of your favorite memories, when you're not even here?"  Tom asked, puzzlement clear on his face. "And why didn't you ever mention that you had another sister?"

 Chakotay moved around Tom toward the frozen holo characters. "Computer, delete all characters except Chakotah and Spirit" he said, a hitch in his voice. After they are all gone, Chakotay sat on the table staring at the happy child, looking for the words. 

 Tom moved up next to Chakotay, "Cha, what's going on?" he asked in a soft tone, seeing that something about this picture was upsetting to the older man. 

 Chakotay looked up from the child to Tom, then with a heavy sigh, another decision made, he spoke, and “I was there, Tom.  I'm right there," he said, letting his fingers caress the long strands of the Chakotah's dark hair. 

 Tom just stared, and then blinked. "Could you run that by me again? Chakotay, this is a little girl, how can you say…?" Tom was flustered. This wasn't making sense. 

 "I know that!" he snapped, anger and frustration in his eyes as he stood facing Tom. "But nonetheless, Tom…it's me." Seeing confusion and disbelief in Tom's eyes only fueled Chakotay's anger, which fueled his words.  "That's right. Chakotah and Chakotay are the same person, surprise, surprise, surprise," he said with pain and anger, and turned away from Tom, trying to get his emotions under control. 

 Tom felt bad. He hadn’t meant to upset Chakotay, but this confession hadn’t what he was expecting, and he didn’t know what to think, much less what to say. "I'm sorry, Cha…I…I," he sighed. "You were born a girl? I mean, it's not unheard of; sex changes occur all the time…"

 "No, Tom, I wasn't born a girl," he said flatly over his shoulder. 

 "Okay, Cha, now you really have me confused," Tom replied, a slight chuckle to lighten the tension he was starting to feel. 

 Chakotay stretched his back muscles and his neck, still not looking at Tom. With another soul cleansing breath, he resolved himself to his task. "Have you ever heard of the term, hermaphrodite?"  He asked over his shoulder. 

 Tom's eyes went wide. He considered himself an open-minded person. He was familiar with the word, but with today's technology a person could easily change genders. He’d simply never met anyone who was both, until now…until Chakotay? "Ah…yes," he said, not sure how else to respond. 
 There was silence for a while, and Tom used it to let his brain process what he was being told, and how he felt about it. He soon realized it was only the confusion that was bothering him, nothing else. "Look, Cha…so you were born with two sets of genitalia, so what? I mean; you’ve made your choice, and now…"

 "No I didn't," Chakotay replied, his voice harsh, yet filled with emotion, that of holding back a sob. 

 Tom knew that he was still missing some of the picture here, "Okay, Cha," he said, moving around to face the older man. Seeing his dark eyes filled with tears tore at Tom's heart. "Cha? What's wrong?" he asked, instinctively placing his arms around the man before him, he knew he cared so much about, again wondering why someone as wonderful as the Commander was still alone.  

 Feeling the small tremble in Chakotay's body, Tom tightened his embrace, "I'm here for you, Cha," he whispered. "Tell me," he pleaded softly. 

 After another minute, Chakotay moved out of Tom's arms. "This was the last year I spent my life happily as Chakotah," he said, using all his will to speak words, Tom could tell were long over due. "Before I reach my eighth birthday, Spirit and I…" he stopped talking, and closed his eyes, seeking courage to continue. 

 Tom moved to Chakotay, and from behind, wrapped his arms around him, "It's okay," he whispered, and gave a small hug for encouragement. 

 "Spirit and I were on a walk, and I ran into some men, strangers. They…" he looked up, again seeking the words, or help to say them, before continuing. "They attacked me, raped me and left me for dead," he finally said, the tears flowing free at last.  

 "My God," Tom replied, holding Chakotay tighter, resting his head on the older man's shoulder giving as much of himself as he could to help Chakotay through this emotional moment. 

 "They thought they’d killed Spirit, but…he wasn't quite dead. He managed to make enough noise for my Father to find me, then he passed over." Chakotay turned around, and faced Tom, looking the young man in the face, no longer hiding his pain. "I was only seven years old, and those men abused and humiliated me in every possible way!" he cried out with more emotion that he himself thought possible after all these years. 

 Tom's own tears were flowing in sympathy for Chakotay's pain, and so he did the only thing he could: He hugged the man even more. "I'm sorry that people like that exist in the universe, Cha," he whispered. "No one, especially a child, deserves that." 

 After a few moments of silent tears, Chakotay started talking again, a bit calmer. "Obviously I survived," he said, trying to distance himself from that part of his life. "We moved to another part of our family’s land so I would feel safe. It took years of care from my family and the shamans before I would even step outside again.  Then when I did, I chose to do so, not as Chakotah, but as Chakotay. I wanted to be a boy. Boys weren’t raped. I could become strong, and protect myself. My parents let me change my name to help me let go of the past and start anew, but you see," Chakotay said as he looked up at Tom, “I never really did.” 

 "Cha, that happened so long ago…"

 Chakotay smiled a tiny bit, "No, that's not what I mean," he replied as he moved out of Tom's embrace. "I changed my name, and to a degree my body, which was simple enough, but I didn't…go all the way."

 Tom took this in and then the light went on, "You mean, you're…still…a…"

 " Hermaphrodite? Yes, Tom, I am. I couldn't give Chakotah up, not all of her, so I didn't chose to be solely a boy," he said, then moved past Tom and looked at his younger self. "But I've paid for that decision so many times, and now…" 

 "Why? Why have you paid for choosing to be you?" Tom asked, wanting to know. 

 Chakotay looked at him, gave a crooked smile, "I haven't had many relationships, Tom. Though I enjoy women, I'm more attracted to men, and well, let's just say, I don't fit the bill." He said, trying to use a touch of humor to lighten the mood. "I mean, a gay man wants a man, and a woman wants a man, and I'm not…well…totally a man," he said, trying to be nonchalant about it, but the tension from his confession still lingered in his eyes. It was obvious from the way he looked at Tom that he was waiting anxiously for Tom's reaction. 

 Tom smiles, "Of course, you're a man. You just have additional equipment," he said. 

 "Well, most people wouldn't think of it that way," he smiled, relieved to see that Tom was true to his word, and wouldn’t judge him. "So you can see, I've been in a catch 22 most of my life," he added. 

 Tom then understood why this wonderful person went out of his way to keep people at bay. Chakotay was like anyone else, afraid of rejection, and even in today's open-minded society, he still had reason to be. Humans were born as either male or female, not both, so who could completely understand him? But Tom's heart and soul still shouted how unfair it all was. "You're a terrific person, Cha. You…you shouldn't be alone!" Tom protested. 

 Chakotay smiled, "Thanks, but the fates have decided otherwise," he replied, his smile fading. 

 Tom didn't like seeing that smile leave the Commander's face, so he moved back to his side, and hugged him again, "Well, who cares what fate has to say anyway," he said, knowing how stupid it sounded, but it got Chakotay to laugh so it was worth it. Then it occurred to him, "The doctor knows?"

 "Of course. My records show only that I’m male, and I have clearance to keep that part of my file private," he replied. 

 Tom then knew he had to ask, "So…what did the doctor want? I mean…are you sick?" 

 Chakotay gave a sour chuckle, "No, not sick, Tom. Just getting old."  He looked up into caring blue eyes, and saw the attempt to understand, but not getting it. "Tom, the Doctor just informed me that if I ever wanted to have a child, I'd have to do it now. Soon, I'll be too old, and than Chakotah will really be gone." 

 //Oh! // Tom thought. "Can you have children…as a man?" 

 "With the help of modern technology I can, but…it wouldn't be the same," he replied, his eyes moving off Tom's face into the distance. Then he broke the embrace once more; "I just wanted time to think over my options, if I really had any, before submitting to the inevitability of aging, that's all."  Then he turned to Tom, a real smile on his face, "Thank you, Tom. It…it really does feel better having someone to talk to about this." 

 Tom returned the smile, "That’s what are friends for," he replied. "Besides, it's only fair that you can turn to others when they're always turning to you, right?" 

 "Right," Chakotay replied. "Though, aside from the Doctor, and possibly Kathryn if he’s told her, you’re the only one who knows. I…well, it's not something I go about tattooed to my forehead," he replied with a crooked smile. 

 "Ah, true. Besides, the one you have works just fine," Tom teased. Then he looked at the young girl, and could truly see Chakotay in her face. "Hormones?" he asked.

 "Yeah," Chakotay replied. After another silent moment, "Computer, delete holo characters." 

 Tom watched the girl fade, and then looked up at the older man who hid so many secrets. "So? What options do you have?"  He asked sincerely. 

 "Well, it's pretty basic. I have a child on my own, or I don't. To have a child I'd need a donor. No matter how terrific technology is, I'm not asexual," he joked. Then he got serious, "That means I'd have to explain a few things to Kathryn, and …oh, Tom. I want children, I just…Well, this isn't how I pictured my life being, you know?"

 "Tell me about it," Tom smiled. "I pictured myself flying the fleet's best flagship with a harem at my side," he laughs. Then he too got serious, "Cha, if you want to be a father, then be one. I'll be here for you," he said sincerely, placing a comforting hand on the older man's shoulder. 

 "Thank you, Tom. But you're forgetting one thing," he replied, and then turned to face Tom. "I can't do it completely alone. Thank you anyway." 


 Tom heard his head tell him to let it go, but his gut…his heart…was telling him something else. It had taken years of mistakes for Tom to learn that his gut was always right, no matter how crazy things sounded, and his gut was telling him this was right. "Who says I forgot?" he replied, a bit nervous, which he tried to cover with his smirk. 

 Chakotay looked at Tom, a mixture of surprise and awe in his eyes. "Tom? Do you have any idea of what you’re saying?" 

 Tom laughed, "Yes, Chakotay. I just offered to father a child," he smiled. "And don't ask me if I’m sure. I wouldn't have made the offer if I wasn't," he added, knowing the Commander so well. 

 Chakotay stared at Tom as if he were the most amazing and strange person in the universe, and swept him up into a bear hug of an embrace. "Thank you, Tom!" he exclaimed with joy. 

 Tom started hugging Chakotay back, realizing this was the most he'd ever hugged his First Officer, and he found he liked it; he liked it a lot. "You're welcome," he replied in a soft laugh, as he leaned back to see the joy that sprang forth from what he now believed were the most beautiful and expressive eyes he'd ever seen. Tom then grinned even more. "There is a tiny catch though." 
 "What?" Chakotay asked, a bit startled, but seeing the blond pilot’s grin, he relaxed. 

 "I want to be a part of this. I don't want to be some fly-by-night father. I want the child to know who I am…if that's okay? He asked, suddenly afraid that Chakotay might not want that. 
 "Yes, that would be great," Chakotay replied. "A child should know both their parents." He smiled the killer smile that made Tom's knees weak.  Their eyes locked, and for a moment something passed between them, but it was Chakotay that closed it off. He gently pushed back from Tom's embrace. "I would be honored for my child to know you, Tom," he said. 

 Tom could see that Chakotay had raised a barrier between them, effectively shutting out the intimacy they had just shared. For the moment, he too thought it was for the best. "I'll go see the Doctor in the morning, if you like. Or now?" Tom didn't want Chakotay to deny either of them this opportunity because of cold feet.

 Chakotay simply smiled for a moment, "That would be terrific," he said, and took Tom's hand. "Computer end program and release privacy lock, Chakotay beta two." 

 When the computer confirmed, Tom and Chakotay headed to sickbay to see the doctor to see just what fate had in store for them.  


 Tom lay back on his bed thinking about how this evening had gone. Thinking about how terribly ironic it was that the man he had thought was totally fearless was sadly afraid to live his life openly due to fear of rejection. //That is so unfair! // He thought again. //How can someone as kind, and wonderful as Cha be forced to live their lives in the shadows? I mean; if I were the one going through this, it would make sense. I’ve pissed off everyone on this ship, but not Cha. He hasn't done anything wrong, but care for his people, and everyone around him. Of course, now I understand what makes him such a good advisor to so many; he can truly relate to their point of view. // Tom grinned. 

 Then he started to reflect on his offer to help father a child for Chakotay. He felt the nervous butterflies in his stomach, but what was really strange to him was, that all his life he’d never wanted to be a father; his own being far from a shining example. Now, Tom found that not only was he going to be one, he was excited, and looking forward to having the child with Chakotay.  Tom lay in his bed, grinning from ear to ear as he thought of the expression on the Doc's face when he and Chakotay had told him about their plans. It had been priceless! Oh, it hadn’t been so much that Chakotay was going to have a child, but that Tom was going to be the donor. After the Doctor had gotten the hint that it was no joke, he had performed all the necessary tests, and had taken the required DNA and the sperm samples. 

Now all Chakotay had to do was get permission from the Captain, since Cha was First Officer, and this would affect the ship; and to decide whether to 'construct the child', or use the sperm, and let nature take its course. Tom was fairly certain Chakotay would choose the latter. Of course, until it was all said and done, they would keep a lid on things. The gossips had a tendency to blow things out of proportion. 

 As sleep continued to evade Tom, his mind drifted over and over again to the man that held his thoughts captive. He continued to think how amazing Chakotay was, and how courageous he had to have been to face all of the obstacles he’d had over his lifetime. //He…she? Chakotay…Chakotah? // Tom laughed, //Cha! // That was well suited for him, he thought.  Tom found he was not bothered by his friend’s confession in the least, and felt touched at how much Cha must trust him to be able to share this painful secret with him.  //Too bad Cha feels he has to hide it, // Tom thought again, but he did understand why. 

 Tom let his thoughts wander back to their walk on the beach, and then drifted off a sleep, unaware that his mind whirled around all the times he had held Chakotay in his arms, and how good it felt. 


 Tom headed to the morning briefing with a bounce in his step. He was looking forward to today, and especially seeing Chakotay. He entered, and took his usual seat as his friends greeted him. 

 "Hey, missed you last night," Harry said.  "You okay?"

 "Sorry, Har, " Tom said with a reassuring smile, "but something came up." 

 "Something, or someone?" B'Elanna asked, giving Tom her 'I'm on to you' look. 

 "Get real, B'El. Not every time I don't show at Sandrine's means that I've got a date," he replied, slightly annoyed that his old reputation still lingered even after he’d worked so hard to change it. Even worse, he wanted to shout his joy of what he and Chakotay were about to do, but was frustrated because he couldn't. 

 Just then, the other officers entered the room: Janeway, Tuvok, and Chakotay. Tom gave them his usual smile, but when his eyes locked with Chakotay's, his smile wavered. Chakotay looked terrible, and he could see the reason for it in his dark eyes: Cha was nervous about today. Tom did his best to let the older man know he understood where he was coming from, and that he wasn't alone—well, as much as he could convey with a smile and his eyes. 

 Seeing Chakotay return his smile with a small bashful smile of his own, Tom knew that Cha had understood, and then focused on the Captain's morning report. It was filled with the same old same old, and of course, the necessity another supply-gathering away mission. Captain Janeway assigned Tom to fly the Delta Flyer on the mission. 

 No one was more surprised than Tom himself when he heard himself say, "Are you sure you want me to go, Captain?" 

 "What's a matter, Lieutenant? Have you suddenly developed a fear of flying?" Janeway teased. 

 Tom gave a crooked smile, and did his best not to look at Chakotay. It might give away that the real reason he didn't want to go was because he wanted to be with the First Officer at the time of the conception of their child. "Ah, no, Captain. I…I just thought I should put in practice what I learned in kindergarten…you know, share the glory?" he teased. 

 Janeway smiled, but if her Chief pilot didn't want this routine mission, she wouldn't force it on him, this time anyway. She then turned to Chakotay, "Well, Commander, it seems your away team is short one pilot now. Since you’ll be in charge of this mission, I'll let the choice for Tom’s replacement be your decision." Then Janeway looked at her team. "Any questions? No? In that case, you’re dismissed." 

 //Damn it! I should have kept my mouth shut a little longer! // Tom was furious with himself. He wanted to be with Cha, but if he changed his mind now, people would get the wrong impression. Tom tried to catch Chakotay’s eye so he could let him know that he’d misunderstood the situation, but the older man’s attention was focused on the Captain. When he overheard Chakotay ask her if he could speak with her privately, Tom decided that he'd get with Chakotay later, and see if he could 'change' his mind about going on the away mission with him. 

 Tom moved to his seat, and half-heartedly listened to the con report, his attention on what Chakotay and the Captain were discussing, and what her reaction would be to their request. He wanted to be there to give the older man some support. He knew how difficult this was going to be for him, but then Tom took a deep breath and relaxed. Once Chakotay made up his mind to do something, he did it. Tom took his station, wondering just how soon it would be before he’d know…boy or girl? 

 Tom pushed his thoughts of what was going on behind those closed doors to the back of his mind for a few moments, and waited for Chakotay’s exit. When the doors opened to the briefing room, and Chakotay stormed out and off the bridge, raging fury in his eyes, Tom was stunned. He had anticipated that Chakotay's reaction would be one of nervous excitement, but what he saw was not even in the ballpark.

 Tom wanted to jump up and follow his friend, this sudden urge to look out for him starting to consume him, but he was on duty, and he couldn’t think of a good enough excuse to leave the bridge…yet. 

 After a few minutes, he was called into the Captain's ready room. Tom was not certain why he was being called in, but he stood before her looking totally professional. "You wanted to see me, Captain?" 

 "I'm afraid that I’m going to have to insist that you go on this supply run, Tom. You’ll be heading it. If you need anyone or anything, just let me know who and what," the Captain stated her eyes the mask of professionalism, which at this stage of their years together he knew meant that she was hiding her anger. 

 "I thought the Commander was heading it, may I ask…"

 "No you may not!" she snapped, then took a moment to recover her composure. "No, Lieutenant you may not ask. I want you ready to go in an hour, dismissed." 

 "Yes, Captain." 

 Tom left the bridge. "Computer, locate Commander Chakotay."

 “Commander Chakotay is in the Captain's ready room,” the computer responded. 

 This puzzled Tom, since he’d just left there. Then it occurred to him that when Chakotay had stormed off the bridge, he hadn’t been wearing his com badge. Tom's eyes went wide…"Oh shit!"  Tom headed for Chakotay's cabin as fast as his feet could carry him. 

 When he got there he hit the chime…once, twice, three times. He was just about to hit it a fourth time, when the door opened up to reveal a dark room. He moved just inside, "Cha?"  

 "Now is not a good time, Tom" Chakotay's voice replied quietly from across the room. 

 Tom couldn't see, "Computer, lights ten percent" 


 "Cha, do you want me to break my neck?" he asked as the lights adjusted. He could see Chakotay sitting on the sofa by the port view, his jacket tossed to the floor, and that he was crying. "Oh, Cha," he said as he moved quickly to his friend’s side, and without thought took the older man into his arms. "What the hell happened?" 

 Tom was surprised at how upset Chakotay was. He could feel the trembling and heaving of Chakotay’s chest as silent sobs tore through him. Tears stung Tom’s eyes, as he felt this man's pain as though it were his own. "Please, Cha, what happened?" he asked again. 

 "She…she said no. That…that as First Officer I…" he couldn’t continue. After a minute, Chakotay used his anger to push him forward. "She had the audacity to tell me that I didn't have the right to be selfish by putting myself in such a situation. That having a child at my age was risky…then she rattled on about how it put me into unnecessary danger and, on top of that, how it would be a waste of medical supplies to use them for an unnecessary procedure!" he growled.  Then Chakotay stood up and started pacing, "It was bad enough that she kept quoting the fraternization rule, but it wasn't like that was going to make a difference in my life…but…damn it! She has no right to tell me that I can't have a child! I know the risks, and I know what we've been through, but…" he sat down with a heaviness that indicated sorrow and defeat. 

 "So…you quit?" Tom asked softly. 

 "I don’t think I've been so angry in my life, Tom. I couldn’t even tell her about my…condition. I didn't think it should matter. After all these years, I thought that getting permission would simply be a formality,” he said as he looked up at Tom, hoping to find understanding. 

 "I agree. She wouldn't even think about it?" 

 "No, she said that she had thought about situations like this a long time ago…hell, she didn't bother to consult me before she made that decision, did she?" he growled. 

 Tom felt Chakotay's pain and his anger. "Cha, this is so…unfair. Don't the regulations…?"

 "They support her. She has the final say about any procedure that would affect the crew’s well being. That doesn’t give her the power to order crewmembers not to have babies, but it does give her authority to deny access to all procedures that would enable them to become pregnant." 

 Tom sat back, and looked at Chakotay, his blood boiling at how unfair fate was being to the older man. Then he had an idea, but now was not the time to bring it up. "So, what are you going to do?" he asked. 

 "I…I really don't know." 

 "Well, the Captain has put me in charge of the mission, and I can take someone with me. Why don't you come with me?"

 "Tom, I'm not a…"

 "Please, Cha. She'll let you come back in a heartbeat. Why don't you let me talk to her, say that you could use this time as a cooling off period?"

 "I don't know…"

 "Come on, Cha. Then we can talk this out…okay? Please?" Tom asked using his puppy-dog eyes. Seeing the hints of a smile on Chakotay's face, Tom knew he had hit pay dirt. "You go to the Delta Flyer, and make the final preparations, and I'll meet you there…okay…Commander?" he grinned. 

 Chakotay looked at Tom, his smile grew from small to wide, "Thank you again, Tom."

 "Hey, what are friends for, right?" Tom replied with a sunny smile, and leaned in and gave his friend a big hug and a kiss on the cheek as he stood up. "Now, since at the moment I out rank you, I suggest you get it in gear, mister," he teased as he headed out the door. 


 Tom entered the shuttle bay to see that Chakotay had everything together and was waiting for him. Tom walked up to the Commander, "I think you misplaced this," he teased as he handed over the Commander's com badge. 

 "I take it that she went for it?" 

 "In a heartbeat, just like I said," Tom said, though in fact, it had taken several hundred heartbeats, but the Captain had seen the wisdom of accepting the former Maquis Captain back at her side, and giving him time to cool off. 

 "Well, at least that's something," Chakotay replied, then noticed Tom was carrying a backpack. "What's that?"

 "Oh, just a few odd and ends that I think we may need for the trip," he grinned as he made his way inside. "Better strap in, Cha," he teased as he took his seat up front.  After a while they were on their way. 


 "For the record, I had nothing to do with this," Chakotay said, as the he and Tom stood next to the damaged Delta Flyer. 
 "Oh, I suppose it's 'my' fault?" Tom replied defensively. 

 "No, I'm just saying, this isn't 'my' fault because shuttle crashes usually are," Chakotay replied, trying to make Tom see he was only teasing. Seeing that he was failing, he continued, "Look, Tom. I'm not blaming you. Neither of us could have predicted that vortex, and I, for one, know for a fact that if you hadn’t been the one behind the helm, we'd be dead, so I am 'not' blaming you…okay?" 

 Tom relaxed. "Thanks, and…I'm sorry. It's just that we lost all signal with Voyager, and due to being on the other side of that…that thing, the navigational computer is all screwed up. Not to mention that…"

 "I know, Tom. But we're alive, and we can fix it…right?" 

 "Right," Tom replied unenthusiastically. 

 "Okay, why don't you take a breather, then make a list of what is and isn't working. I'm going to scout the area. So far, I haven’t detected any major life signs, but I’d like to take a closer look, just to be on the safe side. Plus, the tricorder detected water just on the other side of those trees," Chakotay said as he pointed to his right. 

 "Okay, okay. Just don't take too long," Tom said. 

 "Understood, Lieutenant," Chakotay deadpanned, and then grinned ear to ear when Tom turned to bluster an apology. "Relax, Tom. Since it's just you and me, I won't bust you down to ensign for that," the teased, and headed off toward the trees, tricorder and phaser in hand. 

 Tom chuckled nervously at first, but soon was laughing appreciatively. // Big change from the last time we were stuck together, // he thought. He turned to the mess known as the Delta Flyer, and sighed. He looked up to the turquoise sky, and once again was glad that the first place they had found on the other side of the vortex was an M-class planet. It had grass, trees, water, small animal life, and to Tom's distaste, a few bugs.  There were no signs of people, or large dangerous animals, but anything was possible, especially since they had just had a few minutes to scan the place before the sensors were damaged. 

 He picked up the medical kit; glad that neither of them had needed its contents, and headed into the flyer to survey the damage. He had been inside for just a few minutes, when he started chuckling, thinking about what Chakotay had said. The man probably was the sole reason for Voyager’s mostly empty shuttle bay. 

Tom was going over the shuttle warp core when he heard the phaser fire. He moved as fast as he could, stopping only a second to grab his own phaser as he dashed out of the shuttle. Tom ran in the direction of the trees where he heard a second shot, "Chakotay," he shouted as he hit his com badge. 

 "Watch it!" Came the reply, "There are a few large carnivores about. I got two, but there were…" Phaser fire interrupted the conversation. 

 Tom reached the clearing in time to see Chakotay tumble out of range as a large animal, a cross between a bear and a warthog, jumped at him. Tom leveled his phaser and fired. The stun setting only slowed it down, but it was enough to chase it off. Then he was over by Chakotay's side in seconds. "You okay?" 

 Chakotay was covered in mud, but he looked up at Tom, and chucked, "Yeah, but I don't think I want to do that again any time soon." 

 "Come on, " Tom smiled as he helped the older man up. "Did you get a reading on them?"

 "Yeah, there were four in the area, but in the wide scan there are about ten all together. Seems we'll be keeping guard," Chakotay replied as he was limping back. 

 "You’re hurt."

 "Just my pride," Chakotay smiled, "I'll be alright."

 "Better check you out, just in case."

 Chakotay nodded, and accepted the help back to the shuttle. 

 Chakotay took a seat on the ramp as Tom got the medical kit out again. "Well, the water is good and there are dozens of edible roots and berries if we need it."

 "Well, that's good. I didn't have much chance to go over the core yet," Tom replied as he scanned the Commander for any injuries. "Ah, seems like you’ll live," he smiled. 

 "I could have told you that." 

 "Fine. Then why don't you tell me what comes next, oh Great Predictor of the Future," Tom grinned as he packed up the kit. 

 Chakotay closed his eyes, a very serious look on his face. He looked so serious, that even got Tom a bit unnerved. "I predict that a certain smartass lieutenant is going to be working on making a list of repairs while I get washed up," he finally said with a smirk, and then quickly stood up, and went inside the shuttle. 

 "And they call me a smartass," Tom retorted quietly. 

 "I heard that!" 

 Tom just laughed, and went in to see what could be salvaged on the shuttle. 


 Over the next two days, Tom and Chakotay were kept very busy making repairs to the ship. They were glad that the 'pig-bears', as Tom dubbed them, left them alone. They managed to get most of the small things fixed, and even got the replicators on line; however, getting the shuttle repaired well enough to actually fly it was another matter entirely. 

 Today, Tom was going over one more last ditch effort to get the core up fully, and running enough so the shuttle would fly. After a few hours, he shut everything down, and headed out to join Chakotay who, he had discovered, had a talent for cooking. To save on power, Chakotay had gathered some of the edible fruits, vegetables, roots, and herbs. After some experimenting, he had found ways to use them that made Tom beg him to cook some more.

 "MMM, Smells good," Tom said as he wiped his hands with a towel, and sat down to the makeshift campsite. 

 "I'm warning you, if you even hint that I should replace Neelix in the kitchen when we get back, I'll bust you down to crewman," Chakotay said, as he offered a taste of his latest concoction to Tom. 

 "MMM, but you cook a million times better than he does," Tom teased. "Besides, I'm sure Neelix would be more prompt with his reports as First Officer, don't you think, Cha?" 

 "Perhaps, but I don't intend on finding out," he smiled back. "So, how's it going?" Seeing this question made him frown, Chakotay knew it couldn't be good. "Go ahead," he prompted. 

 "Perhaps, but I don't intend on finding out," he smiled back. "So, how's it going?" Seeing this question made him frown, Chakotay knew it couldn't be good. "Go ahead," he prompted. 

 "We have two choices: One, I could repair the warp corp at least well enough so that we could go back through the vortex. If we went back through, it would increase the odds of our being rescued, but after studying the readings we took of the vortex, I'm fairly certain the trip would drain the rest of our power. So…."

 "Voyager would have to be waiting for us, or we'd end up dead in space," Chakotay finished for him. 

 "Yeah. And we haven't heard from them. I double-checked the communication panels, and as far as I can tell, everything is working. They’re just not in range," Tom said, looking depressed. 

 "I'm sure they're looking for us," Chakotay replied with certainty. " Now, you did say two options?

 "Yes. The second option, is forgetting about flying back. I could rig up some solar power panels, and make enough repairs to assure us of almost unlimited power for the replicator, the phaser chargers, and what have you. So, basically, we wait here in comfort to be rescued, or we can fly back as soon as I’ve made repairs, and risk being stranded in space with no power even for life support." 
 "Ah," was all Chakotay said as he dished out the vegetable stew into a bowl, and handed it to Tom. He sat quietly for a moment, looking toward the setting sun, "Since we don't know if Voyager is in the vicinity, and the odds of us surviving on the other side of the vortex are so low, I don't think chancing it is an option. As for the solar panels…we should wait." He looks at Tom, "I mean, if they do contact us soon, you could still make the repairs for us to get us flying to meet them, right?" 

 "Right, but…"


 "We know nothing about this planet, " Tom said earnestly. "We’re okay now, but who knows how fast conditions could change, and if Voyager could rescue us when they did? We need to worry about making the repairs that will insure our survival. I don’t know if we have enough parts for me to guarantee that I can make the Flyer both safe to fly, and give us enough power to survive here until we’re rescued. "

 Chakotay didn't have to ask. He saw how serious Tom was, and he knew the pilot wouldn't pull any punches; he'd tell it like it was, and that was what he needed to make decisions. 

 "If we still haven't heard from Voyager after two days, I'll help you with the repairs, and the solar panels, okay?" 

 "Okay," Tom stated, knowing very well what they could be sentencing themselves to. "Hey," Tom suddenly smiled, "It's not all bad, I mean, we have a beautiful location, and the local cook isn't half bad," he teased. 

 Chakotay smiled, "I hear the local mechanic isn't either." 

 "Hey, then what more do you need?" He teased some more. "The local restaurant is up to par, and I hear that local mechanic is not only honest and competent, he's not bad to look at. All we need to do now, is check out the local schools, and the nearest….church” he started to say, but seeing that the mention of schools brought a distant look to Chakotay's face he didn't like, he shut up.  "Oh, Cha…I'm sorry." 

 Chakotay shook his head to snap out of himself out of his depressed mood. "It's not your fault, Tom. I…" He smiled, trying to reassure the young man, but he could see it wasn't working. "Look, again, for the record, I 'don't' blame you for this. This is just…fate…that's all. Besides, we could be back on Voyager before you know it." 

 Tom remembered that this was the subject he had wanted to discuss with Chakotay before they had left on this mission, but he’d never found the right time to bring it up. Now didn't seem like the right time either, but since they were on the topic, he decided to risk it. "You said that she had denied you permission for artificial insemination," he said softly. 

 Chakotay, who had been half-heartedly eating, stopped and looked at his bowl as if it possessed all the answers. Finally, he looked up at Tom. "Yeah, she told me I couldn’t have a child." Then with a heavy sigh, "I guess my pregnancy just wasn't meant to be." 

 Tom frowned, it wasn't like Chakotay to give up so easily, but after a moment, he realized that it was probably because the other man didn't see any other options, yet. "Well, to be more accurate, she said you couldn't use Voyager resources to have a child. She can't legally stop you if you…naturally have one," he stated as casually as he possibly could, while suddenly taking large mouthfuls of his meal. 

 The silence dragged out for long minutes, finally Tom got the courage to look up at Chakotay, and saw the man was staring at him, stunned. With a nervous smile, he said, "After all, I did offer to father a child. The offer still stands." Tom expected a shy yes, or a hell no, but the only response he got was Chakotay setting down his bowl, and walking away. Tom jumped to his feet, "Cha, please, I didn't mean to upset you. I…" the words froze in his throat when Chakotay stopped, and looked at him. His dark eyes were full of mixed emotions. 

 "What did you mean, Tom?" he asked in a hushed voice. 

 "I…I just want to see you happy," was all he could say. Then Tom saw Chakotay give a slight nod, and walk way to the other side of the shuttle. Tom didn't follow. Neither one of them really wanted to discuss this any more, and what happened next was really up to Chakotay anyway. All Tom could do was wait.  Tom made a promise to himself that if Chakotay didn't bring up the subject again, he wouldn't either, and that would be that. 


 A month and a half had passed since that night, and neither had mentioned the subject again. The solar panels had gone up, and thanks to Tom, had a steady source of power for their tools. Since Chakotay had had plenty of carpentry experience, they now even had built a tiny log cabin to live in since the shuttle was getting a bit cramped. They also had a small shack to house the shuttle that doubled as the their workshop, and had run a power line from the shack to the tiny house.  

 Tom laughed a few times at how weird it was that certain things fell into one or the other’s lap like fate. Chakotay had a knack for cooking, and building basic furniture, especially after New Earth; and Tom could decorate, something he credited his mother and sisters for, make repairs, and design things like indoor plumbing and annoying warning posts to keep the 'pig-bears' at bay. The two of them fell into a routine that seemed to please them both, but it was the evenings that they seemed to enjoy most. 

 Dinner would be served on the tiny porch, and they would eat and talk the night away. Sometimes they'd play cards for chores, or other games. Regardless of what they did, they found that they enjoyed each other's company. The fact that they were each other’s only source of company didn’t enter into it. 

 After dinner, while Tom was putting the dishes away, Chakotay asked, "Want to take a walk with me?" 

 Tom grinned over his shoulder. "Sure, just let me finish this, and I'll be with you in a second." 

 By the time Tom was done, Chakotay had gathered up their coats. The two of them strolled down to the small lake nearby, Tom holding Chakotay's hand as the walked.  When they got to what Tom had dubbed their 'favorite' spot, since they always seemed to end the walk at the same place almost every time, he gasped with delight. He saw that Chakotay had made a swing chair, and there it stood, firmly decorated with a tiny bow. 

 "Oh, Cha, it's…it's beautiful," Tom replied as he moved to the swing chair that now stood where they two of them always sat, and watched the stars together. 

 "Well, you did say you were getting a bit tired of your butt getting cold from sitting on the ground," Chakotay smiled. 

 "I did, didn't I?" Tom laughed, as he sat down to test it out. He pushed back, and let it swing back and forth, his arms up on the back and his head looking up so all he could see was the stars going back and forth. 

 "Hey, don't break it! I just made it," Chakotay teased, as he gently brought the swing to a stop, then sat next to him. "I'm glad you like it." 

 Tom looked at Chakotay, his eyes expressing so much. The two of them had become very close, but there were certain barriers they’d just never crossed, but at this moment, crossing them was all Tom wanted to do, and had wanted for some time. He hugged Chakotay, then quickly leaned back, and kissed him. He put everything he had in that kiss because he didn't know if he'd ever have another chance. Although Tom had fallen in love with Chakotay some time ago, Chakotay still continued to keep him at the 'just friends' level. 

 At first, Chakotay seemed rigid, but seconds later, Tom could feel strong arms wrapping around his waist, and firm lips pressing back. Tom opened his mouth hoping to deepen the kiss, and he wasn't disappointed. He felt Chakotay's mouth easily overpower his as he felt the warm sweetness of Chakotay's tongue exploring every inch of his mouth. He gave a soft moan of approval, and tightened his grip around the strong shoulders, and let his fingers glide though dark silky hair. 

 Tom couldn't help but smile as he felt warm moist kisses move across his face to his ear then down his neck. He had wanted this for so long, he couldn't believe it was finally happening. The feel of strong hands caressing up and down his back pulling him tighter against the firm strong chest of the man he desired, was driving Tom wild.  Then all of a sudden it stopped. 

 "I’m sorry," Chakotay started to say as he was going to move away. 

 Tom reached out and stopped him. "Sorry, for what? Why did you stop?" he asked, just a bit frustrated. Seeing the hesitation in Chakotay's eyes, Tom slid closer to the man, "Cha," he whispered, "I’ve wanted you to do that for a long time now. You don't have to pretend with me," added. 

 "Tom…I…I really care about you, It's just…it's been so long, and…" 

 Tom smiled warmly, and wrapped his arms about the older man, "Cha," he said softly, caressing the dark bronze cheek of the face he adored, "It's okay. I want to be with you, and on your terms."

 "My terms?"

 "Yes, Cha. Your terms. I want to be with 'you' any way you want me, and I mean that." 

 Chakotay looked into the sky blue eyes that captured his heart a long time ago, and read the sincerity there. Tom was willing to accept him all of him. "What if I want to take you as a man?" 

 Tom seeing the fire ignite in Chakotay's dark eyes took this as a go signal, and slid up and straddled his soon-to-be lover's lap. "Just so we can get past this, let me state for the record," he said, while rubbing his hands up and down Chakotay's chest, slowly unbuttoning the shirt so he could touch skin. "I have had male and female lovers, and though it has been the latter since prison, I find them both equally enticing. I also know how I feel about you, Cha," he stopped caressing the now exposed strong chest, his eyes locking with deep brown. 

 "Just how do you feel about me?" Chakotay whispered. 

 "I know it may be too soon to say it, but I love you, Chakotay. I'm not saying it because we're the only two people here; I’m saying it because it's true. I started falling in love with you back on the ship," he smiled. 

 "It…it doesn't bother you that I’m…" 

 "What? Special? Sexy? Wonderful, amazing, smart, beautiful…" he smiled, trying to ease Chakotay's fears. "If you can care for me even a little, how could I not love someone like you?"

 "I love you too, Tom," Chakotay blurted out. The two men laughed, finally realizing that the tension between them was gone. 

 "Cha," Tom said softly, as he leaned in, and placed a soft kiss on the man's lips. "I want to be with 'you'. Make love to me, baby, please?" 

 Tom didn't have to ask again. Chakotay kissed him deeply, and wrapped him up in his tight embrace, and pulled him close. In moments, two coats fell to the ground as the sounds of passion filled the air. Chakotay eased Tom to the ground, using the coats as a blanket, and covered his body with his own. 

 Tom arched with every touch, then moved allowing Chakotay access to his neck, which the older man took full advantage of. "Now, Cha, now!" Tom cried out as he felt the fire of desire flow through his veins. That night Tom gave himself freely to the man he loved. 


 Over the next week there was a major shift in the sleeping arrangements in the tiny cabin. There was now the bedroom, and what Tom dubbed, the 'dog' house, since it was his old room. Chakotay had remade the twin bunk beds into one large bed, and the other room was just for that: being in the doghouse. Tom only slept there if he pissed off Chakotay enough he tossed him out of their bed.

 Tom woke up to the smell of breakfast. As he got up, he was glad to see that Chakotay had laid out a robe, since it was suddenly quite cold. He put on his socks, and scurried out to the kitchen, and to get warm faster, he wrapped himself around his lover.

 "Morning, sleepyhead," Chakotay teased, setting the bowl of fruit he had in his hand down so he could hug his love. 

 "It's cold," Tom murmured. 

 "Yeah. While you were sleeping, I checked the weather readings, and I was surprised. I shouldn’t have been too surprised." 

 "At what?" 

 "We’ve just hit fall, and winter isn't far off. After breakfast, we’d better make some plans. As you said when we first got here, we don't have an idea how bad it's going to get, or how long it's going to last. The sensors aren’t working well enough to make that determination. We don’t even know how long we’ll be stranded here. We need to gather supplies in case the replicators go offline. We may need them." 

 Tom's only response was a small whine as he tried to curl into Chakotay's arms, but since the man was still standing, it wasn’t easy. Chakotay, getting the hint, and sat down, but when Tom jumped into his lap, a small gasp of pain got the young man's attention. "I’m sorry!" 

 "It's okay, Tom. " Chakotay said as he saw Tom scurry out of his lap. "I'm just a little sensitive right now," he said, trying not to meet Tom's eyes. 

 Tom looked at his love and then as if a light went on, "Oh," he said. Then he gave a sheepish grin. "Why didn't you just say so? I'd have understood." 

 "It's not something I want to go around announcing," Chakotay snapped. 

 "Ah, well, if I had any doubts before, I don't now. You rest, or do what ever you feel up to…"

 "I'm not an invalid," Chakotay growled. 

 "Cha, love, I wasn’t saying you were. I was just…"

 "Being a man." 

 Tom gave a small laugh, "Guilty as charged. What’s my punishment for being male?" he asked in a light tone as he sat down, and started eating the breakfast Chakotay had prepared for the two of them. 

 Cha realized he was being a tad overemotional. Usually, he could keep his emotions in check, or work in his office to keep away from people, but here, he couldn’t afford to hide. It was just the two of them, and for a while, this was just going to be par for the course. "I'll think about it," Chakotay replied, giving him a small smile to let Tom know that, for the moment, it was all clear. 

 "Okay. Since you've been up for a while, what other ideas have you come up with to prepare for winter?" 

 "I think building a sheltered walkway between the house and the shuttle would be a good idea. That way, when the weather is bad, we don't have to go outside to have access to the shuttle. Plus, it'll protect the power line. We can also use the additional space for storage. Winter may bring heavy clouds…"

 "Which means little sun. Got it. I'll see if I can expand the storage batteries’ capacity." 

 "That would be great. I'll go start gathering up any edible roots, nuts, and fruits I can find. Then over the next few days I'll replicate a way to preserve them, while helping you build the connection between the two buildings." 

 "Sounds good. Also, I'll see about designing a heating system. We really haven't needed one, but winter...I hate cold."

 "Better look into building a fireplace as well as relying on our power sources, just in case," Chakotay added. 

 "I will," Tom smiled, as he finished wolfing down his breakfast. "I'll get the dishes," Tom said, as he stood up and gathered them.  Though it was Tom's job to wash them, like most men, he usually did only the dinner dishes. In the morning, he’d usually dash out to start the project he had planned for the day. 

 "Kissing up, always a good sign in a mate," Chakotay teased as he got up, and gave Tom a kiss on the cheek, and headed outside.  

 The day went as planned, and after dark, the two men met in the tiny house for dinner. When Tom came in, and saw his dinner was on the table, and he knew something wasn't right. He went in search of Chakotay, which didn't take long since the place was small. He found him in the 'dog' house or spare room, sitting down in the corner near the window, a small pad of real paper in his hands. "Cha, what's wrong?" 

 Chakotay was a bit startled, but then smiled with ease at Tom, "Nothing, I'm just feeling a little queasy, and before you panic, it's perfectly normal. I had a vitamin drink and when I feel better, probably by morning I'll have a good breakfast, okay?" 

 "Okay," Tom replied as he sat down next to him. "But what else is wrong?" 

 "Nothing's wrong, it's just…I get…emotional around this time, and it makes me…think about things, that's all. I came in here to straighten it up, and just got to thinking about things, that's all." 

 "So, what's with the paper?" 

 Chakotay rolled his eyes, and smirked. "Just something I do to relax during this 'time' of the month," he said, a bit of blush filling his cheeks. Hesitantly, he handed the well-used pad to Tom. 

 Tom took the pad, and smiled. Not only did Chakotay like to sketch, to Tom’s amazement, he was really good at it. "Wow, these are great, Cha," he said, looking at some of the pictures in the pad. There were pictures of a wolf on a grassy knoll, Voyager, nebulas, and Sandrine’s, its pool table being the main attraction. 

 "They’re okay," Chakotay replied diffidently. 

 "Have you ever tried drawing people?" 

 "Yeah, but they always came out looking depressed or angry, or just not right, so I decided to stick to drawing animals, still lifes, and landscapes. They’re easier, and besides, I enjoy it." 

 "Well, I think they’re great. Why such a tiny pad, though?" 

 "I never know when the mood will strike me, so it's easier to carry this size of paper with me than a large one," he smiled. 

 "Ah, Commander Chakotay, practical as always," Tom teased. "So what else do you do to make yourself, 'feel' better during this time of the month? I mean, if there **is** anything that will keep me out of the dog house with you…?" 

 Chakotay laughed, "Well, if you haven't noticed, you’re in the dog house with me now," he joked. Then after a moment he simply smiled, and stared at Tom. "You trust me?" 

 "Of course, why?" 

 "Stay here," Chakotay said as he got up, and left the room. After fifteen minutes, he came back carrying a box the size of a small loaf of bread. He sat down in the corner with a small flashlight, which he mounted to the wall and turned on. "Okay, lie down with your head on my lap, and close your eyes. No peeking," he smiled.  

 Tom did so without hesitation, making himself comfortable. He felt Chakotay's fingers gently probing his flesh, and a cool cloth wipe his face. Then he felt something soft caressing first his left cheek, then his right, with short, gentle strokes. It tickled, and Tom smiled, "What are you doing? Putting make-up on me?" 

 The stroking stopped. "What if I am?" came Chakotay's defensive reply. 

 Tom could tell by the sound of Chakotay's voice that this was more than a simple play session; it was a test of trust and acceptance. Tom simply shifted himself to be more comfortable, "I think peach is my best color," he smiled, and relaxed into Chakotay's touch. 

 Chakotay returned Tom’s smile with one of his own. "I'll be the judge of that," he said, and once again, his warm, gentle fingers began stroking Tom’s face.

 Tom relaxed as he felt Chakotay's amazingly soft touch around his eyes and his lips. After a while, Tom realized he liked it, mostly because he had Chakotay's full attention, and that's what he wanted most of all. 

 "Okay, you can open your eyes and sit up." 

 Tom did as he as told, and then shifted to face Chakotay, who handed him a small mirror. Tom looked in it, and grinned. He thought he'd see that his face had been plastered with harsh eye shadow and thick lipstick, but that was not what he saw. Chakotay had skillfully applied soft, natural shades that only enhanced his own colors. The only real difference in his appearance that Tom could see was that his eyes looked more intense, and his lips a bit fuller. "Hey, I could get used to this," he smiled.  "How did you learn to do this?" 

 "Sisters," Chakotay replied 

 Tom lowered the mirror, "I've got sisters too, and I can't do anything like this." 

 "Okay, okay," Chakotay said, admitting defeat. "When I was sixteen, home from the academy…"

 "You were in the academy when you were just sixteen?" 

 "I went in when I was fifteen, why?" 

 "Even with my father being an admiral, I couldn't get in until I was seventeen. Damn! That’s impressive!” Tom whistled.

 "Well, I had to work really hard. But anyway, when I was sixteen, and home for a summer leave…I got curious…" 

 "About make-up?" 

 "That, and…about other things."  Chakotay looked up out the window, embarrassment filling his eyes. 

 "Cha, it's me. We've already shared our secrets. There’s nothing you can't tell me, or ask me," Tom reassured his love as he slid closer, and placed an arm around his shoulders. 

 Chakotay gave a sigh, "I started to become curious about what it would have been like to have been a girl instead of a boy. Due to beginning hormone therapy prior to puberty, even though I still had both male and female sex organs, I had developed a masculine physique. My body appeared completely masculine-at least if you didn’t look between my legs, and behind my balls. Even so, I was still curious about how it would feel to be a girl. So, one day, when I thought my family was off to the market, I got into my mother's make-up kit and…experimented." 

 Tom smiled,  "I did the same thing, but I was six at the time," he laughed. Then he got a bit more serious, "It's okay, Cha. You were trying to find yourself. Who doesn't experiment sometime in their life?" 

 "Yeah, I guess. But what made it bad was that my oldest sister, who’d come by to see me, caught me in the act," Chakotay laughed, "I was so embarrassed that I ran into the bathroom, and showered for an hour, and refused to look at her for the rest of the day. The next day, after my parents went out, my sisters kidnapped me, and dragged me to my oldest sister's place. They helped me confront my feelings. Like you, they understood, and helped me work through them that summer," Chakotay replied warmly, giving Tom a hug. 

 "Wow, sounds like you have great sisters," Tom replied. "Mine only taught me how to dress so that my clothes wouldn’t clash," he teased. 


 "I love you too," Tom retorted. 

 Chakotay relaxed, and gazed deeply in Tom's eyes, "I do love you, Tom Paris."  

 Tom could feel the energy passing between them; this was another special moment that he knew he'd always remember. Tom reached up, and traced Chakotay's tattoo, "I want to be a part of your world, Cha. All of it, if you'll have me." 

 "If I'll have you? Tom, you’re the most precious treasure a person like me could ever hope for…" 

 "Okay, enough is enough," Tom said, his tone firm, but gentle. "Let’s get this cleared up once and for all. Just what is so wrong with you that you feel you have to put yourself down all the time? If you’d done a quarter of the stupid things I've done, maybe I could understand it, but you haven't…so what’s the deal?" 

 "Okay, I'm old…"

 "You’re not even ten years older than I am. Give it up. Next?" 


 "Why are you afraid to say it? I know who you are. I love you, all of you, so why are you still afraid to accept who you are? Of the two of us, let's face facts; I’m the one who has reason to doubt I’m lovable. I've been a fuck up most of my life…"

 "That's not true. Yes, things went badly, but you’ve faced the consequences, and you've paid for your mistakes. You've more than compensated for your past, and became one hell of an officer, my friend, and the man I love!" 

 Tom couldn't help feeling loved. "Okay, point taken. Then if you think I’m all that, why don’t you think you could be all that for me? What did you do that was so wrong that you feel you have to keep doing penance for it? You were born a hermaphrodite, and you chose to remain one, so what?"

 "Tom, you just don't understand," Chakotay replied, standing up, and breaking the embrace. 

 "You're right, so make me understand, Cha. I really want you to. Please." 

 "There are times in my life I…I feel I…that I made…" Chakotay couldn't say it. His spirit guide had been on him about this for years, but he never tried to talk about it out loud with anyone before. 

 "A mistake? What kind of mistake, Cha? The Maquis, Starfleet, or becoming Chakotay?"  Tom said, as he too stood up. The sharp look from Chakotay let him know that he hit the problem straight on. "What's so bad about being Chakotay?" he asked more softly. 

 "Nothing, it's just…" he sighed. 

 "The path not taken," Tom said. 


 "The path not taken. That's what's got you all in knots. You're still wondering what your life could have been like if you’d allowed your female side to remain dominant, right?"


 "Cha, love. You’re far from the first person to wonder about the path not taken. Hell, I’ve thought about mine almost constantly. In fact, until recently, I thought about it all the time.  It was inevitable that you especially would start to wonder since you have one hell of a path not taken," Tom answered.  "But what good does it really do?  You can’t change the past, as you once told me. All we can do is accept our choices, and move on." 

 Once again, Chakotay was getting his own words thrown back in his face, and he smiled. "I seem to have a better outlook with others than myself." 

 "Who doesn't?" Tom replied, wrapping his arms around the older man. 

 "You said, until recently; what’s changed?" Chakotay said, as he relaxed into Tom’s embrace.

 "Hmm?" Tom said absently.

 "You said you used to think constantly about your path not taken until recently,” Chakotay said. "What’s changed?" 

 "Oh," Tom smiled, "That's easy. I found you. So now, every time a bit of regret about my past starts to sneak its way inside my head, I remember that if I changed the past, I probably wouldn't have you in my life. That's all it takes to make me realize that I wouldn't change a thing," he said, and kissed his love. "I love you, Chakotay, with all my heart and soul." 

 The two men held each other, enjoying the silence. Then Tom spoke, "Remind me to wire in some speakers; I really think I'd enjoy dancing with you." 

 "Consider yourself reminded," Chakotay teased, and kissed the young blond. Then he cupped his face, "I'd be honored to have you in my world and my life, for as long as you’ll have me." 

 Tom reached up, and cupped Cha's face, "Then get used to me. I want to be with you always," he said softly and sincerely. 

 "Then be mine." 

 Tom's face glowed. "If you’re asking what I think you are, the answer is yes." 

 "I would ask you to marry me, but since the Captain isn’t here to marry us, all I can do is ask you to bond with me by the laws of my tribe. But to do so, you'd have to become a member of my tribe." 

 "Yes, and what are we waiting for," was Tom's reply, as he grinned ear to ear. 

 Chakotay also grinned. " To become a member of my tribe, you have to pass three tests. Nothing too rigorous, but if we ever do face my people, I want us both to be able to stand proudly, and say with honor that all that should have been done, was. Each test takes one day, so we need to set aside three days. After the tests, I'll let you chose the date for the bonding ceremony, okay?" 

 "Does that mean I'll get a sexy tattoo like yours?" Tom leered at his love. 

 "Yes and no. When you become a member of the tribe, you’re given your own. You can design it, and chose where you wish to wear it. When we bond, you’ll also wear mine, and I’ll wear yours to show that we are one. Normally, this wouldn’t be necessary, but if we can’t marry by the laws of your people, then this is the only way my people will accept our bond as legitimate." 

 "Okay. We’ve got a few things we have to get finished in case the rains come before the snow, then you can set up the tests, while I figure out a tribal tattoo that will mesh nicely with the one you already have. Sound good?" 

 "Sounds great, Pooka" 


 "An impish spirit, and you lover are truly an imp," Chakotay grinned and hugged Tom tightly. 

 "Well, if I'm an imp, you’re my Angel," Tom smiled. 

 "Angel? "

 "Yes, Angel. You’re my saving grace, and a gift from the heavens."  The two laughed, and sealed the moment with a kiss.


 "Stupid, fucking, son-of-a-bitch!" Tom shouted as he broke from the trees. He was dressed only in shorts, his face and chest streaked with paint, but it was the scratches, bruises, and blood that made Chakotay gasp. 

 "Are you all right?" Chakotay asked, though he didn't move from his spot on the porch. As much as he wanted to help Tom, he had the role of shaman in this trial, and all he could do was watch. If Tom wanted help, he'd have to ask for it

 "I'll be all right! Just remind me again, whose stupid idea was this?"  Tom huffed, holding his sides. 

 "Yours. I gave you six options, and you chose the three you wanted," Chakotay replied. "It’s almost dark…" 

 "I know, I know, give me a minute." Tom replied, and then moved back in the woods. After a few moments, he came back dragging a dead 'pig-bear' with a makeshift spear in its heart, and a dagger sticking out of its eye. 

 "Tom, you took on a…a 'pig-bear'?" Chakotay asked, impressed as well as stupefied. 

 "You said it had to be large or cunning to prove my courage, and strength of body and mind. Well, it’s big." Tom huffed, as he dragged the thing up to the steps. There he dropped it, removed the dagger, and wiped it clean on the ground. Then as instructed, he knelt before the dead animal, and gave thanks to its spirit. When he was done, he looked up, and could tell by the older man's look that he was pleased. "Too bad you're a vegetarian; this would probably feed us for a week," Tom grinned. 

 Chakotay grinned, "Well, soon I won't be the only one. I‘m sure it’ll feed other creatures just fine. After you rest a while, take it to the outer part of the barrier. When you return, I'll have a hot bath waiting for you." 

 "Ah, do all tribal members get hot baths from the officiating Shaman?" Tom grinned, though it was clear he was exhausted and hurting. 

 "Only those whom the Shaman happens to love," Chakotay replied as he got up, and moved inside. 

 It took Tom almost forty-five minutes to return since he was truly exhausted. Chakotay met him at the door, and helped him to the bathroom and into the new tub, which was filled with hot water and herbs. "Here, let's get this off you," Chakotay said, taking off Tom’s shorts and underwear.  When Chakotay helped Tom into the tub, the battered and bruised young man yelped. 

 "Just give it a few minutes, the pain will ease. I put herbs in the water to kill any possible infections. Just relax, and let me take care of you," Chakotay said softly, taking a soft sponge, and gently wiping down Tom's body. 

 "That was the third one, right?  I fasted. I did the vision quest, and found my spirit guide. And I’ve just proved that I can hunt like the ancestors. So, that means we can get hitched, right?" 

 "Almost, love. When you are rested, and the moon is high, I will initiate you into what will soon be our tribe. Then if you wish, tomorrow…" 

 "No, I want a day to rest before we get bonded. I want to be a hundred percent there when we do, okay?"

 "Anything you want, Pooka," Chakotay replied, as he sat on the sturdy edge, letting Tom's head to rest on his thigh. After a few minutes of silence, he watched the young man fall asleep.   Chakotay continued to tend Tom's wounds as gently as he could, and contemplated the last few days. He had watched Tom leap into his world with a sense of faith that astounded him. More and more, he became convinced that he and Tom were truly soul mates. He simply wanted to find a way that he could prove his own love the way Tom was proving his.  As he watched the face of the man that held his soul, he knew his answer. 

 After Tom was clean, Chakotay regretfully woke Tom so that he could get the man dry and dressed. When that was done, he led him to their bed. "Rest. We have hours before the ceremony. I'll get everything ready, Pooka," Chakotay said, as he kissed Tom gently, then headed out. 

 "Until later tonight, Angel," Tom murmured, but then fell fast asleep again. Before Tom knew it, he was once again being wakened by a gentle touch. 

 "It's time, love." He heard the soft voice and then soft footsteps leaving. 

 Tom sat up, his body aching, but he made himself move, for this was an important night, second in importance only to the night to come when he and Chakotay would be bonded. He saw there was a small tray on the wooden nightstand, a cup of tea, and a hypo. "My Angel, once again, you’ve thought of everything," he grinned. He drank the tea, and used the hypo, which contained a mild painkiller. He then made his way outside where the ceremony would take place. He was dressed in black cotton pants and a matching tunic. His clothing was unadorned, its blackness symbolizing the Great Void, the Eternal Mystery, from which all life springs and must return. Tonight, he was to be born into the tribe. 

 Tom stepped outside, the crispness that filled the air reminding him of October back on Earth, and walked barefoot to the location that he and Chakotay had chosen for their bonding ceremony. When he arrived, he saw a large bonfire, and beside it, Chakotay dressed in the colors of Mother Earth, looking proud, noble, and thoroughly admirable in every way. 

 Tom moved just outside the ring of stones. He wasn’t allowed to enter until bidden to do so. He stood silently, and watched the man for whom he would gladly die. He didn’t want to live without him, and was grateful that now he would grow old with him. He proudly offered the ancestors thanks for their presence, and for this beautiful night. He then watched Chakotay asked the ancestors to accept Tom into the tribe as one of their children. 

 When the fire crackled, and the wind blew warm on a cold night, Tom felt a sensation he never believed possible: He was being embraced by something beyond the physical world. At first, he felt afraid; then just as quickly, he felt safe and warmed by it. 

 "Step forward to be born into the tribe,” Chakotay intoned. "The ancestors are here to welcome you." 

 Tom found his first step forward difficult, but he wanted this, so he pushed his body to obey him, and he entered the ring of stones. Again, the fire cracked, and the wind blew warm, and Tom smiled. "I really think they're here," he said in a quiet voice. 

 "They are, and they have accepted you. Kneel, and let me mark you as a member of our tribe, our family, and our ways," Chakotay said with pride. 

 Tom knelt so that the tattoo he’d designed himself for this night could be placed on over his left brow. He had designed it so that it would match well with Chakotay's.  The design consisted of five tiny stars, two just left of his nose at an angle, one on top of the other, then a large gap straight up followed by two more. Far to the left, in the middle of the gap, there was one lone tiny star. Chakotay used the traditional tattooing method, so it was slow and painful, but Tom didn't move or complain. He figured if Chakotay could do it, so could he. He was glad that when it came to the other tattoo, there was a much faster and easier method that wouldn't hurt. 

 After it was done, Chakotay said the traditional prayer, and hugged Tom to indicate he’d finished. Tom stood, his forehead sore, along with the rest of him. "What, I don't get a new Indian name?" Tom teased. 

 Chakotay grinned, "How about, 'He who is royal pain in the ass'?" 

 "I'll stick with Tom, if you don't mind." 

 "Same thing," Chakotay chuckled. "You are an amazing man, Tom Paris, and I love you," he said more seriously. 

 Tom hugged the man before him, "When it comes to amazing, you take the cake. All I want to take, though, is another hypo, and go to bed," he chuckled. 

 "Well, it’s good thing it's just you and me here. Traditionally, we'd be celebrating all night," Chakotay replied. "But under the circumstances, why don't you head in? I'll take care of this fire, and bring you a hypo. I have a feeling, though, that you’ll be fast asleep by the time I get there."

 "I have a better idea," Tom replied. "I'll get the hypo and go to bed, and you join me when you’re ready, no rush," he said with a yawn. "I love you," he said between another yawn, and headed back into the house. 

Change to idea

 Chakotay decided to take advantage of this opportunity to pay homage to the spirits who had brought him and Tom together at this moment, and asked that the spirits help him to be worthy of such a precious gift. He then offered up a prayer for Voyager, for though he was happy here, he did miss them." 

 Though Tom was very tired, after he took the hypo, and having embraced Chakotay's tribal ways, he knelt before the bed, and he too gave thanks to the spirits, for this night and for Chakotay, and for his Voyager family, and asked that they be kept safe. He also prayed that he would be worthy of such a rare treasure as Chakotay. He climbed in bed and was fast asleep. 


 All during the work of getting ready for winter, Tom and Chakotay had discussed their plans for the day of bonding. It had taken over a week to finish both the majority of the construction and the tests. Now, after sleeping an entire day away due to pure exhaustion, Tom Paris stood on his porch front, and greeted the sun with a joyous heart. Today was the day. 

 They’d finished most of the preparations for the bonding ceremony before the tests had begun. Tom and Chakotay had foreseen Tom's exhaustion from the tests, and Tom didn't want it all to fall on Cha's shoulders. Chakotay attended to the last minute details the day Tom slept. All that Tom needed was his soon to be spouse, and the sun to warm the day. They would hold the ceremony in 'their spot'; the same place where they’d shared their first kiss.  Tom was so excited he could have shouted to the heavens, and was sure they'd hear him. The only thing that he didn’t like was that he not only having to wait, but not being able to see Chakotay until the ceremony. It was a tradition that Chakotay had insisted on, and Tom could deny him nothing. 

 Tom kept busy by laying out his wedding outfit, which was decorated with tribal markings interwoven in silver, a simple, blue tunic with trousers. Tom hadn’t seen Chakotay's outfit, but he knew it would be white with gold markings, both colors chosen to enhance the other's natural beauty. Chakotay had chosen Tom's colors, and Tom had chosen Cha's. Tom also was secretly working on a wedding gift for his love. He’d made a beautiful, hand-carved wooden frame. Chakotay was still sketching, and at Tom's insistence, on larger paper. Tom discovered a beautiful colored pencil drawing of 'their spot' that Chakotay had drawn with the colored pencil set that Tom had given him as a gift. Tom had enlarged the picture, and gotten a frame design from the computer, and set to work. It wouldn't win any awards, but it was nice, and he hoped Cha would like it. He had chosen dark oak, and had carved the winding spiral on all four corners, and carved a simple pattern of peaks and valleys to cover the rest. Tom had stained it with a light cherry to give it an antique look. Today, he’d framed the picture, and hung it over the fireplace, where he knew that Chakotay would see it. As he stepped back, he felt happy and at home. 

 Time dragged its feet as far as Tom was concerned. They had agreed to meet at noon, but it felt like it was ten hours away, instead of five. Finally it was time to leave. He changed, put on the simple moccasins Chakotay had made for him, and headed down the pathway. After all this time, they had worn a trail, since they had walked it every other night. 

 Tom felt a tiny bit nervous, though he was more excited as he heard the babbling of the lake, and knew what awaited him just around the corner, or so he thought. When he came around the bend, and looked upon what was before him, he gasped. 

It wasn’t the setting that had made Tom gasp, although the site was beautiful as he and Chakotay could make it: white flowers wrapped around the swing chair, and the ceremonial blanket draped over the grass, which held down by a symbolic representative for each of the four elements. In a wooden holder, a lit candle represented fire, and a large wooden planter filled with white flowers symbolized the earth. The large wooden stand held the wind chime that represented air; and finally, they’d made a miniature waterfall to represent water. They both had worked hard to fill the ceremonial site with both beauty and meaning because the love dedication, effort, and care that they given it symbolized their union, and how much they valued it. 

 No, it was seeing Chakotay that made Tom gasp. Chakotay was kneeling, eyes down as was to be expected, and wearing white, but the rest came as a complete surprise. Chakotay had used a cell stimulator, and had grown his hair down past his shoulder blades. His raven silk hair shined brightly with tiny braids with beads and flowers in it. Chakotay wore a long white version of what a maiden of his tribe would wear, made of soft cotton. The front around the upper portion of the dress was gold fringe. The rest of the dress had the simple markings of the tribe, similar to Tom's, but in gold. Chakotay also wore white matching moccasins. 

 Tom took a moment to drink in the picture before him. Though it was unexpected, it was strangely beautiful that Chakotay would do this for him. He moved forward, and knelt before Chakotay. "Cha?" 

 When Chakotay looked up, his face was covered with small white markings. Tom had been expecting red since red was traditional for males. "In accordance with our laws and traditions, you have given of yourself freely, proving that you are a strong warrior, worthy of becoming a member of our tribe, and choosing a mate from us. For this I honor you, will be your wife” Chakotay said in a clear, hushed voice. 

 "Cha, is this…" But a finger on Tom's lips silenced him, along with the smile on Chakotay's face. 

 They crossed their own hands at the wrists, and grabbed hold of the other's hands, and together they recited the ancient vows that by tradition would bind their souls together for as long as they walked this world. 

 "By the very breath given me by the Great Spirit, I vow to merge my soul with my chosen’s, to forever walk the Good Red Road. May I provide strength and protection when it is needed, tenderness and compassion when it is desired. May we receive your blessings for our joining. From this moment on, we become one heart, one soul, and travel one road. By your blessings, I forever vow." 

 The sealed their vows with a loving kiss, and took turns applying the tribal marking that would show the world their union. The entire process took over an hour. 

 Tom then gently traced the new markings on Chakotay's forehead, and then ran his fingers through the long silky hair. "You are truly beautiful," he said, allowing a tear of joy to roll down his cheek. 

 "My beauty only comes from the love you have given me, my husband."

 Tom laughed, "That is such a typical wife's answer." 

 "Well, I am your wife, husband," Chakotay replied, with a bashful smile. 

 Tom leaned, and kissed Chakotay pulling him into his lap. "I love you," he whispered, and proceeded to kiss his mate senseless. The only reason he stopped was because Cha had pushed back. "Something wrong?"

 "No, I just thought…" he said, while looking up. Then it happened again, "there did you feel that?"

 "Feel what?"

 "It doesn't look like rain, but it felt moist and wet. We should move this inside." 

 When it came to weather, Tom never argued with Chakotay. He seemed to have an uncanny sense for it, and if he said they needed to move this inside, he didn't hesitate to do so. It took them a while to get the four elemental symbols inside, and placed in the bedroom, at Chakotay's insistence, in each of the four corners. Then they went back for the blanket, which they’d just finished folding when Tom felt not rain, but tiny snow flakes. "It's snowing!" 

 "It doesn't seem that cold, but this is an alien world. It’s probably full of surprises," Cha said as they headed back to the tiny house. 

 Tom jumped up on the porch in front of Chakotay, and watched as tiny snowflakes danced on his long hair, and landed gently on his face before melting away. "I just wanted to commit the way you look now to memory," he smiled. Then, with some effort, and in spite of Chakotay's protests, Tom picked up Chakotay, and carried him across the threshold where he immediately put him down. 

 "Are you happy now?" Chakotay scolded, seeing that Tom was grimacing and holding his lower back. "I may be dressed like a woman, but I’m not as light as one, hotshot." 

 "Well, I just wanted to do it, you know?" 

 "Yes, Pooka, I know," he said softly, and kissed him. 

 After a minute, Tom’s back felt better, and he grabbed his mate’s hand, "Here, I want to show you something," he said with enthusiasm. 

 Chakotay had no choice but to follow, or he'd hit ground. He was led the short distance to their living room, and Tom pointed to the fireplace. "My gift to you." 

 Chakotay looked, and saw his picture, enlarged and framed. "Our spot," he grinned. "And did you make the frame?" 

 "By hand, that's why it isn't perfect," Tom replied, but proud nonetheless. 

 "Oh, it's perfect, love. It's perfect." Then Chakotay turned, and faced his husband, "Everything is perfect," he smiled, and embraced his love. "I want to give you my gift now," Chakotay said softly. Chakotay then took Tom by the hand, and led him into the bedroom. The door was closed, and the only light was from the one window, and the large candle in the corner of the room. 

 Chakotay then led Tom farther into the room, and let go of his hand. Chakotay kept walking, his back to Tom as he walked closer to the bed while reaching behind and under his long hair for something. "According to tradition, the greatest gift a woman could offer her husband was herself," Chakotay said as the long white dress fell to the floor, revealing bronze flesh, caressed by long raven black hair. Still facing the bed, Chakotay climbed under the covers and slid over. "So according to tradition, I do the same. Today, you are my husband, and I am your wife. I offer myself as such," Chakotay said, and held out his hand to Tom. 

 Tom moved slowly toward the bed. He knew just how much of a gift this truly was, and not only was touched, and honored by it; he was moved to a whole new level of love and admiration for his mate. When he reached the side of the bed, he slowly removed his tunic and pants, and gently moved under the covers, which Cha had held back for him. 

 He leaned on his side, and looked into the eyes that held all his reason for living, "I just want you to be happy, and always know that you're loved," he said softly. 

 "I am happy, Pooka, and I know you love me; that's why we are now one," Chakotay replied, caressing Tom's face. "Though I must admit, I'm nervous." 

 "Why? You know I would never do anything…." 

 Chakotay cut Tom off with a small kiss, "No, I'm nervous, not afraid. As for why? Well, I’m no virgin, but in all my years that I've been with men and woman, it was always as a man, never as a woman." 

 Tom then understood big time, "You mean, I'd be…" 

 "The first, as a husband should be," Chakotay teased, to calm some of the nerves that were threatening to make his stomach churn. "And before 'you' ask, yes I'm sure that this is what I want," Chakotay added. 

 Tom smiled, and gave Chakotay a soft kiss, "We'll go slow," he said softly. Then he took Chakotay in his arms and proceeded to gently make love to his mate, his soul, and the center of his very being. Tom would make sure Chakotay didn't regret this night, but would look back on it fondly. All that mattered to him this night was Chakotay's happiness.

 Tom tenderly kissed and caressed Chakotay until he was fully aroused. Then, and only then, did Tom dare to move his hand down between Chakotay's legs, and then gently under the jutting member and swelling balls. Tom was amazed by what he felt. He could see how nervous Chakotay had suddenly became, and leaned up and kissed his lips, "Relax, Angel, I'll go slow," he said with a loving smile. Seeing that this eased his love's nerves, he returned his attention to a gentle exploration of the place where his Angel had never known a lover’s touch.

 Tom grew more and more excited by Chakotay’s responsiveness to the pleasure he could give him at this new source of pleasure for him. Tom was achingly hard, but he’d promised to go slow, and he did, delighting in making Chakotay writhe with ecstasy. When the time seemed right, he moved into position, and entered the virginal passage that welcomed him warmly. 

 "Oh, Spirits!" they cried together from the sensation of the joining. Soon their cries turned to those of heated passion and love. Then the air was filled with shouts of ecstasy, and of the other’s name, their union now full and complete. 

 Three more months passed, and though winter had arrived, it wasn’t severe. The ground was ankle-deep with snow, but the temperature didn't fall to fall below zero. The tiny cabin, long since complete, had smoke coming from its chimney. It now had a full addition that connected it to the shelter built to protect the shuttle, which was their source of power and the replicator. 

 The porch had been extended, and to a degree closed in, so they could still sit outside, but out of the weather. There was now a stone pathway that led from the house down to the lake, and 'their spot'. There was even a real looking doghouse, with sheltering an animal that looked like a cross between a large cat and a raccoon. It was all gray, with stripes of a raccoon, but otherwise its appearance was feline. There was no chain around its neck. It lay of its own volition in the padded house, resting its large head on its equally large paws.

 The cat jumped up as if it had heard something, and gave a small growl. Then when it saw what was making the noise, it moved slowly out from the large house toward the new arrival. Its rear leg was bandaged, and it limped, but it moved without pain.

 "Hey, Bandit," Tom replied as he scratched behind the large animals ears. "Everything okay?" he asked warmly. "I got you a treat," he replied and out of a small sack, one of four, he pulled out a tiny dead animal, and tossed it behind the house. "You know Cha doesn't approve of me spoiling you," he said in a playful tone. 

 "That's because when he's well, he'll expect you to feed him, and won’t hunt for himself," Chakotay's voice rang out from the porch. 

 "Uh oh, busted," Tom grinned, and then headed toward the house. Over the last few months, he’d let his hair grow, and had grown a beard, which he’d shaped into a goatee. "So, how's mommy today?"  

 "Stow it, Paris!" Chakotay growled, as he turned to move inside, his stomach showing a tiny bulge over where he carried the baby. "You're late!" 

 "Ah, don't be upset. I wanted to get Bandit a treat. After all he's done for us, it was the least I could do, Angel."

 "Don't Angel me," Chakotay growled as he moved toward the kitchen. "You were supposed to be back hours ago. I was debating about whether to go out and look for you, since you so intelligently forgot your com badge…again." 

 Tom dropped the bags on the floor, and wrapped his arms gently around Chakotay, "Someone is having a bad day," he said. 

 Chakotay pulled Tom's arms off him. "Don't patronize me either. This is the second time you’ve gone out without your com badge. Have you forgotten what happened the last time you did that?" Chakotay demanded, his hands resting on his hips. 

 Tom knew he was in for it, "I'm sorry. I didn't do it on purpose, either time. But nothing…" 

 "Happened…this time. Last time, I had to go looking for you, and got caught in a snowstorm. If it wasn't for Bandit…" he let out an exasperated breath. 

 "I'm sorry, Cha, honest I am. I'll put it on my coat so I won't forget it again," Tom replied, hoping to calm his love down. Chakotay was right. When he’d gotten caught in the storm, Chakotay had came face to face with a pack of hungry 'pig-bears', and even with a phaser, there was no way he could have taken them all on, especially since he couldn't see most of them. Then when one of the large creatures jumped him, and he was in a hand-to-hand struggle, Bandit had showed up, and killed the one on Chakotay. Between the two of them, they had managed to drive away the pig-bears, but both were hurt, Bandit the most. 

 When Tom had gotten home, and had found the note that said Chakotay had gone looking for him, he used the com badge, and was horrified to hear that his love was hurt. Chakotay had refused to leave Bandit, and both were carefully taken back to the house for treatment.  Bandit was too large for the house, so Tom made him a real dog/cat house, and a warming pad for the inside.

 After a short time, when Bandit started to heal, he had proved useful in another way. 
He was very protective of Chakotay, who had tended his wounds, and when one of the storms knocked down some of the warding posts that kept the pig-bears at bay, he proved once again a formidable foe for them. Of course, it had aggravated his injury, but Chakotay had been able to heal him, and soon Bandit was just part of the family. It also gave Tom great relief to know that Bandit was there to protect Chakotay from the beasts should some of the warding posts go down while he was out. No, Tom mentally kicked himself for almost letting something that dreadful happen yet again. 

"Don't bother," Chakotay snapped, and moved to collect an item off the table. He returned, and put what looked like a necklace around Tom's neck. "Just don't take it off, and everything should be fine," he said, and moved into the kitchen. 

 Tom looked down. "You put my com badge on a collar?" 

 "I'd say necklace, but if you prefer…collar it is. I’m just making sure you don't leave it behind again," he shouted from the kitchen. 

 Tom gave a small growl. Chakotay was in a foul mood today. He knew it was his fault, but this was a bit much. Not that long ago, Tom would have stormed into the kitchen, and engaged in an angry confrontation, but he had grown up a little during his time on this planet with Chakotay. Taking on Chakotay's spiritual beliefs had really come in handy, especially as of late. Discovering that they were going to be parents was a delight for them both, but ever since that incident where they’d gotten Bandit, Chakotay had been almost intolerable.  Tom had tried to get Chakotay to talk about it, but the man just clamed up; he didn’t even meditate, and Tom knew this was an added source of Chakotay's stress. 

 Keeping this all in mind, Tom moved into what was now going to be the baby’s room, and after a few minutes, prepared to meditate. Perhaps this time he could gain some insight on how to help his mate.  After meditating, Tom felt better. It wasn't the first time he had asked his spirit guide for help, but it was the first time he’d managed to ask his guide the right question, and he’d gotten some insight. 

 He got up, headed into the bedroom, and fixed up the bed. Then he headed into the kitchen where he knew Chakotay would be preparing the stuff for storage. They would have had enough if the 'Pig-Bears' hadn't gotten in during that same snowstorm, damaged the storage area, and destroyed half of their supplies.  When he entered, he stopped for a moment to admire his mate. To him Chakotay was the most beautiful person in the universe. He was strong, capable, loving, and deeply passionate, the bearer of their child. He gave a tiny sigh of joy, and moved in, and gently took the stuff out of his wife’s hands. 


 "It can wait," he said softly. "Come." He then led Chakotay to the bedroom, and indicated that he wanted Chakotay to rest, so he wouldn't get the wrong idea. "You've been overworking and I want you to take it easy, for me, please?" 

 Chakotay saw Tom was using the puppy eyes, a sure key to getting what he wanted, and he was tired. "Okay," he said and lay down. 

 Tom helped make him comfortable, and then spooned up behind him. "Cha, what has you so afraid that you won't talk to me about it?" he asked, knowing only the direct route would work. In the past he’d let it slide, but he knew he couldn't do that anymore. 


 "Angel, you have to talk about it. You've been upset for a while now, and you're shutting me out. Please, love. I know what I did today was irresponsible, and I can't say how sorry I am, but I know there's more to it that that. So, tell me." 

 Chakotay felt Tom's strong arms around him, and knew that Tom wouldn't let it go. "We're the only two people here, Tom," he said quietly. 

 "I know," Tom replied. 

 "Tom…what…what if something happened…I…I mean…?" Chakotay just sighed; this was harder than he thought. 

 Tom was finally starting to see the problem," Oh love, I’m so sorry. I couldn't imagine either of us being alone here," he said hugging his mate. "I'm sorry."

 Chakotay rolled over to look into Tom's eyes. "I don't want to be alone, Tom. But it's more than that. What if…are we doing the right thing?"

 This confused Tom, "Cha?" 

 Chakotay sat up, and so did Tom, but they rearranged themselves so they still were in one another's arms. "Tom, it's 'just' you and me. When our daughter is born, then there will only be three of us…three, don't you see? What kind of future can we give her? I mean we maybe able to have one more child, but I don't think so. Then…she'll be alone when we pass on. Is that right? I mean…?" 

 Tom could see now what had his love so upset. "Cha, our daughter is a blessing. We don't know what the future holds, whether we stay here or go back to Voyager. We can only take one day at a time, but yes, I think we’re doing the right thing. No matter what, our daughter will know she is loved."


 "No, buts Cha. I'm just as afraid of the future, as you are, but the only other choice we have is not have her. Can you really say you’d be able to do what make that happen?"

 "No! I…I just…"

 "It's okay, Love. I've had my moments too, but thanks to you, I have a way to deal with them. That of course, leads me to ask, why have you stopped meditating?" Tom could feel Chakotay's body go rigid at the question. "I know I'm prying, but what did your guide say that makes you not want to meditate? This isn't like you, Cha. I've seen you stare death in the eye, and laugh. Why does this have you so frightened?" 

 Chakotay sat quietly, knowing that Tom was right. He had faced many things head on, but he had a lot of trouble facing this moment. With a heavy sigh, he whispered, "She told me that Chakotah would remain behind when it was our time to move on."  

 Tom took a moment to ponder this, then it dawned on him, "You were thinking of naming her Chakotah?" he asked. Seeing Chakotay nod yes, Tom hugged his mate tightly. "No wonder you've been so upset. But that doesn't mean…"

 "But what if it does? I couldn't bear to think of her being all alone here, but…I can't give her up either," Chakotay said, as tears of weeks of frustration finally released themselves. Tom held him tightly, remaining silent to allow the moment to simply be. 

 "You need to talk with her, and find and face the truth. That's what you’ve always told me to do when I was dealing with my issues about my father. The same applies here. You…we…need to know the truth." 

 "But, Tom…? I'd rather face the Borg then lose our daughter." 

 "Me too, but that may not be what your guide meant. I also know that you usually do face things, and I really do believe that the other reason you're so confused and emotional is because of the hormones you’re taking."

 "But they're good for the baby," Chakotay started to protest. 

 "Yes, but they have you on edge, so maybe your dosage is too high, and that isn't good for the baby, or you, or me for that matter," Tom smiled. "So, compromise. Lower the dosage, meditate, and remember, I’m here for you…always, if you let me." 

 "I'm sorry, Pooka. It's just…"

 "Don't apologize, just don't do it again, okay?" Tom smiled warmly, and kissed his love gently. "Now you rest, and I'll take care of some of the preparations. And don't worry, I won't can a thing," he grinned, remembering how he made a total mess of things, and how all the food had spoiled. Seeing a smile on his love's face, he got up from the bed, tucked Cha in, and headed into the kitchen. 

 It was getting late, and the wind was picking up. Even if the cabin was tiny, Tom and Chakotay had a silent agreement about Bandit and the weather. Tom opened the door, and gave a small whistle, letting Bandit know he could come inside, but saw the animal was more interested in the shack where the shuttle was. 

 Before going to investigate, Tom checked in on Chakotay, who was sleeping peacefully for a change, and then headed to the shack, via the indoor path. Once in the shack, Tom keeping a phaser near by, not knowing what could pop up, and turned on the lights. He opened the door so Bandit could come in, and show him what it was that had captured his attention. "What is it boy?" Tom asked. 

 He watched Bandit move to the shuttle, of all things, and try to go inside. Tom opened the door to the shuttle and watched the cat like creature enter. Tom listened, and heard it. It was faint, but it was there…a voice!


 "I can't believe it," Chakotay exclaimed, stunned at the news. "So, for them it's been only five days, and for us, five months?"

 "Yeah. It took them a while to figure out the time differential, but they have it mostly figured out. The problem is, now we know they’re on the other side of the vortex, how do we get to them? We need new parts to make the shuttle flight worthy, and I don’t have a clue about how to make them."

 "Can they send them to us? In a pod?"

 Tom smiled, "I'll put that question in the next message I send. It gets to them faster then their response gets to us. It could be days, or weeks before we know anything from them."

 "Did you…did you mention…me?" 

 Tom saw the concern on his love's face. "No, but I should, don't you think?" 


 Tom wasn't surprised, Chakotay had kept this part of himself private for too long, and he sympathized. If Tom mentioned it, he'd have a lot of explaining to do. It wouldn’t have taken long for the news to spread all over Voyager, and get blown totally out of proportion, and frankly it wasn't any of their business. "All right, but when we get back, they’re going to notice either that you've gained some weight, or they’re going to have a new addition to the crew," Tom teased lovingly. 

 "One day at a time, okay?"

 "Okay. So, while I'm making the next message, what do you have planned for today?" 

 "I’m going to finish canning the food, meditate," Chakotay grinned, seeing Tom's eyes widen with approval, "Then I think I’ll go for a short walk."

 "Take Bandit with you," Tom said, and though he said it gently, it wasn't a request. Bandit was pretty unique. Not that he was the only one of his kind, he wasn't, but unlike the others of his kind, that ran free and roamed large territories, Bandit had become Chakotay's self appointed protector. It had taken Tom a while to win the cat's favor after the two men had an argument after that first incident, but finally Bandit had seemed to understand that Tom loved Chakotay with all his being, and soon they too were friends. 

 Chakotay smiled. "As if he'd let me get ten feet out the door without him." 

 "True," Tom chuckled as he gave his love a kiss, and then gave Bandit, who was curled up near the fireplace, a scratch behind the ears, before heading into the shuttle to send the message. 

 Tom sent the message to Voyager, letting them know he and Chakotay were fine, and what the time variance was, so they understood what they were dealing with, and that they really needed to work fast. Time passed slowly on his side of the vortex. He also sent current schematics for the Delta Flyer, and Chakotay's suggestion that Voyager send them the parts that they would need for repairs. Tom wanted to tell them about their daughter, but he respected Chakotay's wish. They'd get to see her for themselves soon enough. 

 After the message was sent, he sat back and let his mind wonder to what Chakotay had told him that his spirit guide had said, that Chakotah would remain here after they left. Tom felt his gut wrench at the thought, feeling a bit of what Chakotay had been feeling for weeks, and it took all his will to push it aside. "If she stays, so do I," he said with conviction to the spirits around him. He also knew Cha would stay with their daughter rather than leave as well, but Tom hoped it wouldn’t come to that.


 The wind blew the snow around Chakotay as he stood at the edge of the frozen lake near their spot. His long dark hair whipped across his face along with the white fur coat Tom made for him from the 'Pig-Bears' skins. "No sense letting it all go to waste," Tom had said, and had used the furs of the beast to make winter coats, and Chakotay had made boots. 

 Bandit sat quietly next to him. Though he stood only as tall as Chakotay's knees, the raccoon-cat still was a formidable presence, much like Chakotay himself. The two warriors' spirits remained serene as they took their environment around them within. 

 "I'd say take a picture; it'll last longer, but we don't have any recording equipment," Chakotay suddenly said, as a broad smile crossed his face. Then he turned to see Tom standing not too far away, staring at him, a slight smile on his face. 

 "I don't need a picture to remember how beautiful you are, especially at this moment," Tom replied as he moved forward to join his mate. 

 Chakotay's face gave a slight blush, as he looked away and grinned. "How long have you been standing there?" 

 "Oh, long enough to see that you've made some peace within yourself, and to admire how beautiful you are," Tom answered as he now wrapped his arms around Chakotay's waist. 

 "You’ve already said that," Chakotay chuckled as he turned to face his husband. 

 "I did, didn't I," Tom teased. "I guess it must be true," he smiled, and hugged Chakotay tightly. "So, care to share you enlightenment?" 

 "I meditated, and you were right," Chakotay replied, a nervous smile, not caring to admit that Tom was right…too often. 

 "So, it had nothing to do with our daughter, for that I'm glad. So, do you want to talk about the rest of it?" 

 Chakotay leaned back so their eyes could meet, "I finally realized that I didn't really chose to be Chakotay over Chakotah. I did it because I was too afraid to remain who I was because I saw that as being weak and vulnerable. I…I had never really given her a chance…until we came here." 

 Tom brushed some of Chakotay's hair behind his ear, "talk to me," he said in a soft voice, seeing that his love was still pained by this admission. 

 "Here, I've allowed myself to experience things…that I wouldn't have on Voyager," Chakotay said, a small smile crossing his dark face as he moved a hand to rest over the child within him. "I would have not considered being your wife, or having our daughter…naturally. I was too…too caught up in who and what I thought I should be, and never stopped to think of who and what I wanted to be…until now." 

 "I can't believe that. You've meditated and consulted with your guide for years…"

 "Yes, but as Chakotay. I never allowed myself to see through her eyes, just his. But it left me incomplete. I was denying a part of myself. Now…now I know."


 Chakotay smiled, "I know who I am, and who I want to be, and I'm no longer afraid to make that choice. Tom, here I will be your wife, but when we get back, I just want to be your husband." 


 Chakotay saw the question in his love's eyes. "I still want to give birth to our daughter whether or not that happens here or when we get back to Voyager. I just know that I 'am' Chakotay, and that is who I want to be. I'm grateful to the spirits for this opportunity to be Chakotah again, even in part. I needed to know that I made my choice, not because I was afraid, but because it was right for me. The question is, do you still want me now?" 

 Tom looked at Chakotay as if he'd just said something totally stupid. "Want you! I love you!" he said, hugging his mate with all his strength to reinforce his words. "I told you once before that I would love you on your terms.  That hasn’t changed, and it never will," Tom said seriously as he leaned back to lock his gaze with Chakotay. "You’re my mate, whether you’re my wife or my husband. I didn’t spend three days of hell to simply get into your pants…I was already there," Tom teased, receiving a smack for his comment. 

 The two lovers stood together enjoying their favorite spot, as the wind blew the newly fallen snow around them, turning the moment into one reminiscent of one captured in an old-fashioned, picturesque snow globe. The sound of Bandit's purring was all that could be heard over the wind. 


 It took Voyager six more days before they could send the needed parts through the vortex, knowing that it was six months for Tom and Chakotay. But the parts arrived, and Tom was doing his best to get them installed by himself. He flat out refused to allow Chakotay to do any work whatsoever since baby was due any day now. 

 "I brought you some tea." 

 Tom smacked his head as he jumped at the sound of Chakotay's voice. He glared at his mate. "I thought I told you to rest," he growled. 

 "Pooka, I may look ready to pop, but I'm not a balloon; it doesn't work that way," Chakotay chuckled. He knew Tom was beside himself about their daughter's arrival. It also made Tom even more irritated that Chakotay was so…calm about it.  

 "Cha, you’re a week over due, and…"

 "Tom…breathe. She'll get here when she's ready. She probably wants to be born on Voyager, the place that will be her home. So, unless you want her to make it two weeks, I suggest you get a move on, or let me help." 

 "No, I got it," Tom replied as he stood up and took his tea. "I just need to recalibrate a few more things, and then she'll be ready for a test flight."

 "Test flight?"

 "There is no way I'm letting you into this ship until I know it'll be flight worthy, and no…that isn't up for negotiation," Tom said, seeing Chakotay was about to protest. 

 "All right," he said, then gave a low whistle. Bandit came in followed by another feline about his size, pulling a small wagon, with lunch on it and the recalibration tools. 

 "Cha, I never thought you to be one for exploiting the masses," Tom teased, seeing that Chakotay had for seen Tom's needs. 

 "We both know that Bandit and Rogue are too smart to be exploited by anyone," Chakotay replied as he grabbed a sandwich for Tom. "Thanks guys," Chakotay said softly, and received two furry heads rubbing up against him in response. 

 "You know, when you said to let Bandit go and find a mate, I never thought he'd bring her back. Do you think…?"

 "That they'll be okay without us?" Chakotay said, finishing the question for Tom. They both had grown very found of the two cat-like creatures that had become a part of the family, and the thought of leaving them behind was getting more and more painful every day. 

 "Yeah. I mean, you think we've spoiled them too much?"

 "I…I don't know," Chakotay replied, scratching them both behind the ears. "For wild creatures they are very tame…. but?"

 "They're tame for you," Tom smiled. "It took me two weeks before Rogue would let me near her, but she took to you right away, just like Bandit did."

 "Must be my animal magnetism," Chakotay quipped, knowing how bad of a joke it was. 

 "Ouch, that was bad, Love."

 "Yeah, but it had to be said," Chakotay smiled. "Well, if you're going to be in here, then I’m going to finish packing…and 'that' is not up for negotiation," he stated, seeing Tom was ready to protest. "How soon do you think until you'll be ready for the test flight?"

 "Three hours on the outside, perhaps two. That is, if I don't keep getting interrupted by pesky spouses," Tom teased, and shooed Chakotay and the cats away so he could return to work. 

 Chakotay went back into the tiny cabin that had been their home for almost a year, and couldn't help but feel the sadness of leaving it behind. It was for the best to return to Voyager, mostly so their daughter wouldn’t be alone, and could have a future. Tom and Chakotay had long since admitted to each other that they would have otherwise been happy to stay if it had been just the two of them. But over the years, one of them would pass on first, and neither of them wanted the other to be alone at that time, even if the other would soon follow. 

 Most things that could be taken were already packed, and waiting for Tom to give the okay to start loading the shuttle. This left the cabin looking bare, almost like it did when it was first built. So many memories filled the walls of this place that Chakotay had to sit down, and let them flow through him. 

 The times he and Tom made love together, cried together out of frustration or pains of the past, or alone when fearing the loss of the other. Their relationship may have started on Voyager, but it was forged here, and it was strong. It was also here that Chakotay had allowed himself to become Chakotah, and had decided to return to being Chakotay after all, not out of fear, but because Chakotay was who he was, and wanted to be. It was also here, in the arms of his husband, that their daughter had been conceived in the purest act of love Chakotay had ever experienced. 

Leaving this place was going to be hard, and leaving Bandit and his mate Rogue, was going to be nearly impossible. Bandit had saved his life, and he had been a constant companion since that very day. Even when he took Bandit out to what he had hoped was far enough away for the creature to move on, and not easily find his way back, he did, and had brought a mate with him, as if he had known that he'd be leaving too. But was it possible? They were the size of large dogs, and were still wild animals, no matter how well behaved they seemed to be. Chakotay reached out, and brushed his hand on Bandit's fur, "Boy, Tom and I don't want to leave you or Rogue behind, but…it's not that easy. First, our ship is enclosed, no sky or ground. It would like being inside the cabin all the time with no breaks. That can't be good for you, or Rogue. And if you follow nature’s course, you'll want to have children, and there simply isn't room for them," he sighed, wishing that the two cat-like creatures did understand him. "As much as we love you, you're going to have to stay. I only hope you'll understand somehow, and will be able to fend for yourselves." 

 Just then, Rogue then Bandit started to growl, but as if in pain. Then they both took off out the door toward the shuttle, just as a loud explosion rang throughout. Chakotay was up and running as fast as his bulky, off balance body would let him, and saw smoke coming from the shack, "Tom!" 
 By the time he got there, Bandit and Rogue had dragged Tom out of the shuttle, where an electrical fire had erupted by one of the back panels. Chakotay moved in, coughing, and activated the shuttle’s fire extinguishers. Then when he saw the fire was under control, he moved out, being led by Bandit. "Tom?" he called out, coughing from the smoke. 

 With the help of the two cats, Chakotay was able to get Tom outside. When he could see Tom was still breathing, he moved inside to get the medical kit. Chakotay cursed himself for being so slow, his emotions on overload at the thought of Tom being hurt. He scanned Tom, and then looked at the results. He spoke to the two cats as if they could understand him, "I have to get him back to Voyager, or he'll die." 

 Chakotay did his best with the medical kit, but he was no medic. Bandit and Rogue would bring the wagon when he whistled, so he did so. Then, with much trouble, he got Tom on it, and used it to move Tom to the back of the shuttle. It was just as difficult moving him, but it needed to be done. Chakotay felt that he was about to explode; he was well over nine months pregnant, and his love was out cold and seriously injured. Chakotay moved to the console, and said a prayer to the spirits that it wasn't as bad as it first appeared. It would be difficult, but he could fix it. He would have to pilot the shuttle, if he could reach the damn controls. 

 It took Chakotay over an hour to do what would have taken Tom fifteen minutes, but then Tom would have no trouble reaching most of the wires and tools at the same time. Alas, it was done, now it was time to pack the shuttle. He considered not doing it, but he knew Tom would be furious if he left everything behind. He decided to check on Tom first. He was stable, but still seriously hurt and unconscious. The medical tricorder still called for surgery. So he had Bandit and Rogue bring the wagon, and loaded it with priorities. ''Thank the Spirits, I packed days before," he said to himself. 

 It was another hour before he had everything on board, and looked at the two cat-like creatures that had curled up protectively around Tom, sensing his hurt. Chakotay and Tom had discussed leaving them, and had agreed, but now, Chakotay couldn't do it. "You two know that you'll never be coming back," he said as he patted Bandit then Rogue on the head after securing Tom to the bed. The two cats purred under his touch, and he knew he'd rather face Janeway's wrath then leave these two members of their family behind. 

 Chakotay moved forward, and sealed the shuttle. He felt his emotions whirl at leaving their home forever, but he couldn’t allow much time for them. He had put pillows in the pilot seat so he could sit up farther to reach the controls. He did his best to secure himself in the seat, and started the engines. 

 Once again, Chakotay thanked the spirits. It had been a challenge just getting them off the ground, but he’d done it. As he drew closer to the vortex, he opened communications. Voyager would be in range soon, and he could tell them to have the doctor standing by. The sweat was beading down his face as he directed the shuttle toward the vortex, and headed right for it. He could feel his hands shaking, his nerves were getting fired up, and he jumped when he felt a soft caress on his arm. He turned to see that Bandit had joined him. //He always knows when I'm upset// Chakotay thought as he took a quick second to scratch the large cat behind the ears. 

 The trip through the vortex had been difficult enough when Tom was at the helm; this time. This time it was proving almost impossible. If it wasn't for the fact that Tom needed medical attention, Chakotay would have turned around, but it wasn't an option. Then after twenty minutes of the tiny ship rattling through the vortex, things got worse. 

 "Ahh!" Chakotay suddenly shouted! It took him a moment to control his breathing while keeping the tiny shuttle in one piece. "This can't be happening," he said to himself. "Chakotah, this isn't the time!" he cried out as another contraction hit. 

 There was nothing Chakotay could do. He couldn’t leave the pilot seat to get the medical kit. It was too dangerous, and it was growing hard to focus because the contractions were coming very fast. He started huffing, and focusing his attention on the helm, screaming when it got too bad. "Ah! This really can't be happening!" he shouted again, as he struggled to keep the shuttle stable, and on course. 

 Bandit was rubbing his head on Chakotay's arm, sensing Chakotay's stress, and hoping it would help. "That's not going to cut….Ahhh!" he screamed again. He checked the chronometer hoping against hope that he was much closer to getting through this mess, but he was only halfway, and there was no signal from Voyager. "Breathe, just breathe like Tom showed you," he said to himself, and started huffing and panting as another contraction hit, making it twice as hard to make the course corrections that constantly needed to be done. 

 Between the pain of contractions, and the shaking of the shuttle, Chakotay had no choice. He turned his head away from Bandit, and vomited. This would be a moment he would never forget. Throwing up while experiencing a contraction while making a course change…nothing would ever compare.  He wiped his mouth, wishing he had some water to rinse it out, but that was another option not available to him. He was drenched from sweat, and just to make matters worse Chakotay felt his water break. The baby was coming!  "Shit! Not now sweetheart!" he cried out with frustration. 

 All he could do was focus on keeping the shuttle going, pant to ease the pain of contractions, and pray he didn't pass out. After what seemed like an eternity of pain and exhaustion, a crackling sound came from communications…he was in contact with Voyager. 

 "Chakotay to Voyager," he gasped weakly. 

 "Voyager here. Commander, are you all right? You sound awful." Janeway asked with concern. 

 "No. Tom is hurt and I'm…I'm…AHHH!" 


 "Sickbay…" He huffed. "Beam us to sickbay, and tractor the shuttle in," he growled out, trying not to scream from another contraction. 

 Over the com link, Chakotay heard Harry say that there were also non-human life forms on board, but Chakotay was in no mood to discuss it. "Beam us the fuck to sickbay!" he snapped as another contraction hit.  The next thing he knew, he felt the tingling sensation that accompanied being transported, and heard Bandit howl. Then it was quiet, and as he started feeling nauseous and dizzy, everything went black. 

 Janeway was standing in sickbay, her arms crossed, looking very annoyed at the EMH, "What do you mean I can't see him? What's wrong with him?" 

 "Again, Captain. Commander Chakotay is resting, and when he is able to do so, he'll talk to you, and not before, doctor’s orders. I suggest that you talk to Lieutenant Paris first. His injuries are fully healed, and though he still needs to rest; he’s awake, and fully able to handle your questions, whether he wants to or not," The Doctor quipped as he led the Captain to the young pilot’s biobed. 

 When Tom regained consciousness in sickbay, he'd asked to see Chakotay, but all that the EMH kept telling him was that he was resting. Tom was seriously considering getting up to look for his love when, to his surprise, he noticed the Doctor and The Captain coming over to his bedside.  "Captain?" he smiled. 

 Even though she realized that the two men had spent almost a year away from the ship, regardless of how much time had passed on Voyager, the tattoos on Tom's brow were a surprise. "Tom?" she said, a bit stunned. Then she gathered her thoughts. "Just what's going on? The Doctor won't let me see Chakotay, but he said that I should talk to you first. Why?"

 Tom looked gravely at the Doctor, "Is everything all right?" he asked sharply upon sitting up. 

 "Yes. All, and I do mean all, is well," the Doctor smiled, and pushed Tom to lie back down on the bed, "but I think you may want to speak with the Captain before I make any official announcements about crew additions." 

 "Crew additions?" both Tom and Janeway stated together. 

 "You mean…Cha…when? How long have I been out? Is he okay? May I see Chakotah?" Tom asked, firing one question after another. 

 "Who is Chakotah?" 

 "Commander Chakotay is doing fine, and I'll go get Chakotah," the Doctor said, leaving a very anxious Tom Paris alone with a very annoyed Captain Janeway. 

 "Who is Chakotah? Lieutenant, I suggest you start talking!"

 Tom turned to face Janeway with a huge grin on his face, "Chakotah is my daughter. Or, to be precise, she's Chakotay's and my daughter," he beamed. 

 "D…d…Daughter! How?" she stuttered, as she looked up to see the Doctor bringing in a small bundle and handing it to Tom. 

 Tom sat up, unwrapped the small blanket, and looked into the most beautiful dark eyes he'd ever seen, next to Chakotay's. Her skin was lighter, but there was no mistaking that she was Chakotay's, not after having seen Chakotay as a child. "Hey, sweetie," he whispered as tears of joy fell down his checks.  

 Janeway just stared at the beautiful child totally amazed. "Tom, she's…gorgeous," she gasped. Then she looked up at Tom, "But how?" 

 "You better sit down, Captain. I have a feeling this will come as quite a shock to you," Tom grinned. Then proceeded to tell Janeway all that Chakotay said he was going to tell her about his condition, and what had happened down on the planet. By the time he was done, she was sitting on the other biobed looking at the EMH who had simply confirmed what Tom was saying. 

 "I…I never knew," she replied, still shocked. 

 "Well, I didn't either, at first," Tom smiled back. Then he frowned as the Doctor took little Chakotah away so she could rest. 

 "Do you have her full name so I can enter it into the records?" 

 Tom gave a small sigh. "He insisted that we name her Chakotah Thomasina Paris, and who am I to begrudge him?" he smiled. 

 "Torres to Captain Janeway."

 "Go ahead B'Elanna."

 "We have a problem with the shuttle. It seems those extra life signs won't let us inside."

 "Extra life…oh no," Tom moaned finally understanding. "Do they look like large cats and have the coloring of raccoons?" Tom asked. 

 "I don't know. What's a raccoon?" B'Elanna said.

 "That's it! Raccoons! I told you they looked familiar," Harry replied. 

 Tom looked guiltily at Janeway. "I’m sorry, Captain. I guess Chakotay brought them with us. B'Elanna, as soon as I can, I'll come down there. It's just Bandit and Rogue, our…pets," he grinned, feeling very embarrassed. "Just don't go inside, and you’ll be fine, really."

 "Fine. I'll let you handle it. By the way, Tom, I'm glad you got back in one piece," B'Elanna said. 

 "Me too, buddy," Harry added. 

 Tom smiled. "Thanks guys." Seeing Janeway close the channel, he said, "We weren't going to bring them, honest, Captain. Something must have happened…I…don't know what. I wasn’t conscious during the trip." 

 Janeway just took a few deep breaths. "Do you have anything else you’d like to warn me about? I don’t think I could take any more surprises.”

 "No, that pretty much covers it. Chakotay and I would like to make our union official of course, and you know about Chakotah. I really didn't know about the cats." 

 "Very well. I'll let you handle the…cats. I'll also wait until I speak with Chakotay before making any announcements."

 "That's probably a good idea, Captain," Tom conceded. 

 "You get some rest, I'll…talk with you later," she said, and headed out. 

 Tom moved off the biobed. Regardless of how tired he felt, he had to find Chakotay. He only had to cross to the next room to see his love sleeping soundly. He moved next to him, took his hand, and kissed it gently. It was enough to make Chakotay wake up. "Hey," Tom whispered as he grinned ear to ear. 

 "What…what happened?" Then it started to come back to him, and he tried to sit up, but Tom held him down. "The baby!"

 "She's fine, love. She's beautiful, just like you," Tom replied, and kissed Chakotay on the cheek. 

 "I thought I told you to stay in bed," the Doctor said when he saw Tom standing next to Chakotay. 

 "I’ll go back. I just had to see my husband first," Tom replied, never looking away from Chakotay. 

 "Husband? Did I miss something? 

 "Yeah, Doc, I'd say you did," Tom laughed, as did Chakotay. "I told the Captain everything, what with Chakotah.. I…I'm sorry. I shouldn’t have…"

 "Don't. You were hurt. Though I must admit I'll never forget this day," Chakotay laughed.  "Labor and piloting were never made to go together," he added. 

 "Oh, Angel! I'm…"

 "Tom, we made it. I’m fine," Chakotay stated, and looked at the Doctor. "May I see her?" 

 "She's resting…but I'll bring her," he said. 

 A few moments later, the doctor smiled as he handed the baby to Chakotay. "Commander, may I present to you, a very healthy Chakotah Thomasina Paris." 

 "You went with the name I chose," Chakotay smiled. He looked at his daughter for the very first time. "Oh, Tom! She looks just like you."

 "Me? No, she looks like you, especially those eyes," Tom replied as he leaned in, and kissed a tiny hand. 
 "Well that is definitely your mouth, nose…"

          "Suffice it to say gentlemen, she is 'your' daughter," the EMH replied, seeing where the conversation was going. 

 "Yes, that she is," Chakotay said softly, kissing his daughter gently on her dark hair. 

 "What do you want to tell the crew?" Tom asked. 

 "I really don't care," Chakotay replied, totally caught up in holding their child. 

 "Angel, we have to tell them something, they’re going to be a bit suspicious that two men left, and came back with a newborn baby," Tom replied. 

 Chakotay looked up and smiled, "Make something up. Say some alien thing changed me temporarily. I don't care."

 "Temporarily? Does that mean…"

 "That once was more than enough for me, "Chakotay interjected. "I love Chakotah, but I have no intentions of going through that again. No, if there are going to be any more kids in this family, you’d better talk to Tom. I've already filled my quota," he smiled, though his eyes were very serious. 

 "Do you think we can make them believe it?" Tom asked. 

 Chakotay looked back down at his daughter, "Tom, you made Harry think he could beat you at pool. Compared to that, I'm sure this will be a breeze. As for our relationship, it's none of their business." 

 Reluctantly, Chakotay gave his daughter back to the doctor so she could rest under the warming lights. He leaned back, and then his eyes snapped open, "Bandit! Rogue!" 

 Tom's face went grim, "Why did you bring them? The Captain is ready to have our heads. They won't let anyone in the shuttle."

 "I'm sorry, Tom. They helped me with you, and getting the stuff to the shuttle, and then they were all curled up around you…I…I couldn't leave them," Chakotay replied, letting his eyes go soft and childlike, the one thing he found was Tom Paris' weakness. So long as he didn't overdo it, he could get Tom to do practically anything. 

 Tom knew he was receiving the 'treatment', but from Chakotay, it almost never failed. "Okay. I'll deal with them in the shuttle, but you have to deal with Janeway…got it?"

 "Got it." 

"She’s only going to make us leave them somewhere, you know."

"Oh, I don't think so," Chakotay said with a mischievous grin of confidence. 

Before Tom could say anything more, the doctor tried to chase him back to his own bed, but Tom would only go as far as lying down on the biobed next to Chakotay. 

The EMH sighed, and giving up on Tom, checked Chakotay one last time. "You took excellent care of yourself," the Doctor said as he finished his scans. 

"Thanks. Tom helped."

"Of that I have no doubt," the Doctor smiled. "So, now that you have had your daughter, and you’re not planning to have any more children, does that mean you have decided to 

"Yes, I've decided. I've decided that to accept all of me, including my medical condition. I am who I am, and for once I couldn't be happier," Chakotay smiled. 

"I'm glad to hear that, Commander."

"Me too, Angel," Tom added. 

"I'm going to lower the lights, and I want you all to rest," The doctor said as he rolled Chakotah's sleeping chamber in between her parents. "Computer, lights ten percent," he said, deactivated himself, but not before smiling for a moment at the happy family resting in his sickbay.

"Good night, Tom."

"Good night, Chakotay. Good night, Chakotah." 

"Yes, good night, Chakotah."

"Good night, Johnboy."


"Sorry. It’s a twentieth century reference. I’ll show you the vids later…”

“Good night, Paris family!"

"Good night, Doc." 

<The end >