Janeway stood beside the EMH, watching as Tuvok laid gentle fingers on Chakotay's face, beginning the soft mantra of the mind-meld. Arms folded tightly across her chest she found herself afraid of not only what Tuvok might find inside the Commander's mind, but of the effect it would have on the Vulcan.
He had offered to attempt the meld, to accurately gauge the possible damage done during the forced meld and to aid in the healing of any such injuries. He had explained the enormity of the situation to her. It was rape: the forced entering of someone's mind and body and soul. He had told her of the devastating after-effects, both physical and mental, that left the victim crippled and unable to cope with even the simplest acts of normal life. Without help, there was a very real possibility that Chakotay would never recover. There was no trained Vulcan healer on Voyager.
And even if there had been, Tuvok had continued, this following only months after Chakotay's encounter with the Borg meant that it was highly probable the Commander would refuse to allow another stranger into his mind.
She had seen the pain and regret behind Tuvok's eyes, heard the catch in his calm, measured voice and knew that the guilt was tearing him apart. And then he had offered to attempt another meld. The EMH had agreed, sighting it as the best way to assess any damage. And Katheryn had reluctantly stood aside.
But now she was terrified.
Chakotay surfaced slowly, floating in a haze of semi-light, aware but unaware. There were sounds around him, warmth and light... And a presence, not outside, but here within his mind. Always there was his Spirit Guide, but now there was someone else here. For a moment he panicked. Then he realised that it was a single voice, not the collective voices he had experienced through the Borg mindlink. He strained to hear it, to identify the words. But the effort left him exhausted, and he started to sink back down towards darkness.
And then the voice grew stronger, the presence reaching out to him, catching him and holding him. < < T'hyla... > >
The haze faded, solidifying into a forest glade. The grass was cool beneath his feet, the sun warm on his face, the wind rustling through the trees in a gentle echo of the rush of the water across the pebbles of the stream. An eagle circled high in the sky above the trees. He could sense Badger here also, sleeping soundly, wrapped in the dark of the Earth. And beyound the line of the trees, deep within the woods he knew his spirit guide watched him. A flash of light caught his eye and he turned, smiling, holding out his hand as Dragonfly landed softly in his upturned palm, wings glistening and shining and she flexed them in the light.
Chakotay turned. Tuvok stood watching the dragonfly, one eyebrow quirked in puzzlement.
Everything that had happened; the assault; the terror; the pain; the anger; all of it crashed in on Chakotay in terrifying clarity. He stumbled under the force of it, the dragonfly leaping into the air, startled away by the sudden movement. Their minds locked together within the mindmeld, Tuvok felt Chakotay's reaction like a physical blow. In this spirit realm, his own reactions were instantaneous. He was beside the human, catching him before he fell and lowering him gently to the grass. He held the man in his arms, looking down on the frail human body that contained a soul so strong that it had saved his own... "T'hyla..."
The single word held so much assurance, so much pain and regret in a man from whom Chakotay had never before seen such an outward display of emotion. His fear evaporated. He looked up into the dark brown eyes in wonder. Had he misread this? Was it possible that somehow Tuvok's feelings towards him had changed? Could it be possible? Dare he hope?
The answer rang through his mind. "T'hyla..."
He swallowed, not trusting his voice. But almost before he had formed the thoughts Tuvok answered the question. "When I forced the meld I forged a link between us..."
Chakotay had no idea how he knew exactly what Tuvok meant, but somehow he knew, recognising the significance of what had been said. "But T'Pel..."
The force of the emotion that swept through the Vulcan astounded him. He felt the anguish deep within the Tuvok as he answered simply, "Is lost to me. She is dead."
Chakotay reached up, brushing his fingers down Tuvok's cheek. Tuvok took comfort from the touch, continuing, "Her loss almost drove me to madness, would have driven me to madness if not for you."
Smiling, Chakotay told him, "I simply listened to Dragonfly and Badger..."
The eyebrow quirked again, "Dragonfly... the insect that landed in your hand?"
"I have never seen this insect before, and yet I recognised it." He frowned, his head tilting slightly to the side, "I was unaware that a link with non-Vulcan species could be so strong."
Chakotay laughed, "We humans have a few tricks up our sleeves..."
"Indeed," Tuvok agreed. He lifted his gaze, looking round the glade, "Seeing this place through your eyes," he told Chakotay, "it is truly beautiful."
"This is where I come to talk to my Spirit Guide," Chakotay explained, looking around the glade.
Then before his eyes the scene warped and changed. Chakotay gasped in awe. They were no longer on Earth, but on the hot sands of Vulcan, the heat caressing their skin, the sun hanging low on the horizon and colouring the sky purples, blues, violets, oranges and deep rich reds. Chakotay pushed himself up, turning to look at the panorama, the sight of the huge moon clearing the mountains to their left almost robbing him of breath. Tuvok laid a gentle hand on his shoulder, "This is my home."
In this barren, beautiful landscape Chakotay saw everything he would ever need to know about Tuvok. He understood the battle the Vulcans' once had simply to stay alive; he understood the depth of the emotions that lay beneath the calm, Vulcan exterior; he saw why the Vulcan people had so enthusiastically embraced "Logic" and the teachings of Surak.
"The passion that had allowed my ancestors to survive was slowly destroying us. Violence was a way of life, our weapons becoming more and more powerful. If not for Surak we would have destroyed this world."
Chakotay leaned back, resting against Tuvok, savouring the beauty that had so nearly been ruined. "You grow tired," the Vulcan told him, "You must sleep."
Still caught by the colours of the sunset, Chakotay only nodded. Tuvok held him, sharing the human's awe of a Vulcan sunset, sharing the emotions that swept through him. He knew now that even as he had forced his way onto Chakotay's mind, he had been forgiven. That Chakotay had wanted this relationship did not lessen the crime, but the strength of love he found within this man healed the wounds.
"T'hyla, we must go. You must rest." He changed the scene again. They were back in the glade. A fire burned beside them, the night sky full of a myriad stars. Tuvok gently pushed Chakotay onto the ground, reaching for a blanket, covering the human.
Chakotay turned onto his back, looking up at him and reaching out to brush his fingers along the Vulcan's cheek, "T'hyla...? What does it mean?"
"My love, my soul mate... and much more." Tuvok answered. Chakotay smiled then his eyes drifted closed, the fatigue pulling him down into a healing sleep.
Slowly, gently, Tuvok began to withdraw from the meld. The noises of the sickbay pushed in. Reality was no longer the glade where Chakotay slept. Reality became Voyager. Tuvok lifted his fingers from Chakotay's face, opening his eyes and looking at the Doctor. Janeway stood beside the EMH, her face showing her concern.
"The Commander's mind is intact," Tuvok told them. "My actions do not appear to have caused any lasting damage."
* * * *