The sick bay was dimly lit, empty except for the solitary figure lying silent on the biobed. For a brief moment, Tuvok hesitated. Then he walked across the sickbay and looked down at the sleeping face of the man who had saved his life and his sanity. Such strength... and yet, such vulnerability.
Tuvok kept his fingers laced firmly behind his back, resisting the impulse to trace the dark tattoo on the Commander's forehead. It was illogical, a frivolously human act... And yet, was he not now linked to this human? He quirked an eyebrow, suddenly unsure of how to continue.
He had retrieved and read the available records of Ambassador Sarek's marriage to the human Amanda, a woman who had risen to become matriarch of the Ambassador's clan after the death of T'Pau. But the scant records had told him nothing, leaving him floundering in his own insecurity. He had meditated, centring himself, still unsure of his own actions after his recent mental collapse, still shocked by his attack on Chakotay.
He knew that even as he had forced his way onto Chakotay's mind, he had been forgiven. And the Captain had also pointed out that he himself had no clear recollection of the attack and her suggestion that, in his most vulnerable moment, he had recognised and acted upon Chakotay's feelings towards him, was a logical explanation of his actions. And the discovery of this human love *had* done much to heal his wounds.
That Chakotay had loved him long before the attack and had obviously embraced the relationship, did not lessen the crime, however.
Then the sleeping presence in his mind had stirred and the com unit had chimed - the Doctor informing him that Commander Chakotay was waking up and was well enough to be released.
And so he found himself here. Looking down at the man who had, however unwittingly, risked everything to save him. Looking down at the man he had so nearly lost...
Alone in the semi-darkness, he allowed himself a most illogical smile and finally gave in to impulse, however illogical. He reached out, tracing the tattoo, embracing the unconstrained, unconscious emotion that swept into his mind from the simple touch. And in the face of the human feelings he found all apprehension melting away...
Chakotay's eyes flickered then slowly opened. Panic reared briefly in the dark brown depths, shivering through the link. Tuvok reached for Chakotay's hand, holding it gently in his, opening himself up to Chakotay's tentative touch through the link and saying nothing. The fear evaporated into confused delight as Chakotay separated past nightmares from present reality.
"T'hyla..." Tuvok greeted, softly.
The grin lit up Chakotay's face. The word pulled up memories of a dreamlike reality - of a seared, barren, breathtakingly beautiful landscape and furnace-like heat - of a moon that hung huge against the far horizon - and of strong arms wrapped around him, holding him safe... He smiled, saying simply, "Hello..."
The lack of strength in Chakotay's voice dismayed Tuvok. But then the human reached up, brushing his fingers down Tuvok's cheek, "My love..."
For another long moment there was simply silence as the two men gauged one another, exploring each other's emotions and motivations through the mind link. Chakotay marvelled at such a gift. There was no need for the initial apprehension, the tentative finding-of-his-way that he had experienced in every other relationship. The Vulcan laid himself open, letting Chakotay explore his being as he himself explored the unique essence of the human. It was... fascinating...
Some areas -- like T'Pel and Tuvok's children - Chakotay found himself shying away from. And there were only two definite blocks in Tuvok's mind, almost like doors that Chakotay knew he would not be able to open. One protected the Vulcan's security work. The other...
Tuvok sensed the direction of the Commander's thoughts and had already slowly begun to withdraw from the meld. He felt the apprehension that suddenly began to flutter in Chakotay's mind... But this was not something he wanted Chakotay to see... Not yet. This was something that had to be discussed first...
He gently let go of the Commander's hand, stepping away. "The Doctor has informed me that you are well enough to be released."
Chakotay nodded, saying nothing, knowing that Tuvok was trying to hide something from him and confused by it after such initial openness. Then finally he asked, "Are you off duty?"
"I am," Tuvok confirmed.
"Then... perhaps we should go somewhere..." Chakotay attempted. "To talk...?"
Tuvok swallowed, replying, "Indeed." Illogically, he floundered for a moment, then attempted, "You must be hungry. Mister Neelix has devised a new recipe..."
"I'd rather go somewhere a little quieter..." Chakotay interrupted softly. "Maybe one of the holodecks..."
Tuvok quirked an eyebrow to hide his relief, "That would be... more conducive..."
Deep in concentration, Janeway put down the coffee cup, absently reaching for her com badge, her attention on the data pad in her hand, "Janeway. What is it Doctor..."
"Captain," the EMH told her, "I have released Commander Chakotay from sick bay."
The pad forgotten, Katheryn frowned, "So soon?"
"There is nothing more that I can do for him here, Captain. He needs rest and time to heal. I think that the best person to help there is Lieutenant Tuvok..."
Katheryn grinned, seeing the reasoning behind the Doctor's decision. Chakotay was, after all, not the only one who needed to heal. Tuvok also had his demons to wrestle. "Where is Chakotay now?"
"I believe that he and Lieutenant Tuvok were going to a holodeck to... talk..."
Katheryn nodded, "Thank you, Doctor. Advise me if there's any change in Tuvok's condition."
The EMH acknowledged and Janeway turned in the seat, hooking her arm over the back to look out at the wide expanse of stars. Of all the possible pairings she had seen for Chakotay, Tuvok had not been on the list. Was that because she had misread him? Or was it simply because Tuvok had not been his to have...?
Tuvok had certainly shown no romantic interest in Chakotay... But again, was that simply because he was already spoken for? Whatever he had felt for the Commander before, it had been abruptly and irrevocably changed. And despite his attempts to hide the emotion from her, she had seen the expression on his face and had seen the tenderness in his eyes when he had admitted that, "If I were given the choice, I would not elect to break this link."
She smiled, turning back to lift the coffee cup and the data pad. After everything that Chakotay had been through with Seska, it was time he found a little happiness. And after everything Tuvok had been through in the past few weeks, one of the few people who could have helped him heal *was* Chakotay...
Fate had simply found a unique way of sorting out their lives...
And she, for one, was going to watch this growing romance with great interest.
The path wound through giant redwoods. The distant rumble of a waterfall echoed over the whisper of wind through the leaves. Sun and shadow dappled the dark brown earth of the path. But neither of the men walking along it noticed. They had walked to the holodeck in silence. And now that they were here, Chakotay was more confused than he had been in sickbay. Tuvok had said almost nothing...
"I'm not looking for... for anything, Tuvok..." Chakotay tried, knowing that the words weren't coming out right, knowing that he was probably sounding like a complete fool. He knew exactly what he wanted to say... The words just weren't making it past his brain... "I understand that you've been through a lot... I realise that you must still be grieving for T'Pel..."
"I am not."
Chakotay turned, looking at the Vulcan.
Tuvok quirked an eyebrow, hesitating as the words of explanation failed to come to him immediately. "When our... link," he began finally, "was established... the residue of the bond between T'Pel and myself was extinguished. I am not... grieving... for her as you would... understand the term."
"Oh," was all that Chakotay could find to say.
< < But if that wasn't what Tuvok was trying to hide...? > > He turned, starting along the path again.
"We," Tuvok tried again, "are physiologically different..."
Chakotay stopped, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath. Then he turned back, "I know... That's why... I... I don't... I'm not... looking for anything... physical."
Tuvok considered the human for a long moment. Then told him simply and quietly, "We may have no choice."
"Oh," Chakotay said again.
Tuvok stepped towards him. Telling Chakotay directly, he elected, was a far more logical solution than trying at first to explain around it. Taking a deep breath, he began, "There are certain times in the Vulcan reproductive cycle..."
"The Ponn Farr...?" Chakotay had no idea how he knew that that was what Tuvok was talking about, but he could tell by the way the Vulcan reacted that he was right. It wasn't much, just a slight change in the way he carried himself. But Chakotay saw it.
"Yes." Tuvok swallowed, trying desperately to find the right words. "The breaking of the link with T'Pel... may have..." He broke off, took a deep breath, then tried again. "I was not close to my time. However, the breaking of the link may throw it out of cycle. I may not succumb for another few years..."
Chakotay suddenly understood what he was trying to say. "But you might succumb tomorrow."
Tuvok nodded, "Yes." He dropped his head, refusing to look at the human. Chakotay had already been badly injured... And a Vulcan caught in the depths of the "Blood Fever" was far more dangerous than he had been the night Chakotay had come to his quarters. They were unpredictable, feral, the animal instinct unleashing itself in a mating frenzy that was unimpeded by logical deliberation...
The human body was not built to take such demands... < < T'hyla... you may die... > >
Chakotay sensed his discomfort and took a step towards him. Tuvok looked up at the movement. "I," he tried to explain, "will lose all rational thought. The urge to... mate... will drown everything else."
"Then..." Chakotay stopped, wanting to reassure him but unsure of what to say. Finally he shrugged. "Then we'll just have to work out a way..."
"Commander..." Tuvok began. He broke off then tried again, "Chakotay... My strength will be too great. It is entirely probable that you would sustain injuries from which you would not recover..." < < And I have already caused you so much pain... > >
Chakotay acted instinctively, throwing all caution to the wind. Remembering the experience of Tuvok's touch in the sick bay, the free exchange of emotion, he took another step forward, reaching out, brushing his fingers down Tuvok's cheek.
The strength of the love and concern that flowed through Tuvok from that simple touch astounded the Vulcan. And finally he remembered that his feelings for Chakotay were only just coalescing. The Commander had loved him for so much longer... He looked at the human, who smiled at him, "Tuvok, in the EMH we have at our disposal the best medical minds in the universe. We *will* find a way."
Tuvok said nothing for a long moment. Then he lifted his hand, snagging Chakotay's fingers, gently lifting them away from his neck and guiding the human towards the traditional sign of Vulcan lovers - the simple act of four fingers touching. Looking into Chakotay's eyes, allowing himself the first glimmer of hope since T'Pel's death, he began softly, "Two minds, linked as one..."
* * * *