I commed him each day with a different question. Day one was a question about the program.
Day two, I requested the recipe for his tomato soup.
Day three, I asked about his health.
Day four, I happened to run into him in the dining hall and we had dinner together while I regaled him with my last stint with B'Elanna's crew gathering crystals. He actually chuckled out loud.
Day five, I rested, giving him a break from me.
Day six, he commed me and I barely held in my grin while answering his question about the program.
Day seven, I went to Tuvok and asked to be reassigned to first shift so I could work more closely with Lt. Paris on the security simulations. He took it under advisement. I was on pins and needles while I walked down to Sandrine's, wondering if I'd overplayed my hand with the intuitive Vulcan.
Sandrine greeted me with a synthetic whiskey and a quiet thank you for saving Tom's life. We chatted for a few minutes before the doors opened again and I saw him come through. He looked around for a moment and he didn't hesitate at all, coming over and greeting us both.
"Hi, Tom. Are you back to full duty yet?" As if I didn't know.
"Doc cleared me today. I'll be taking one of the shuttles down tomorrow. B'Elanna's crew in the mountains."
"Hey, I'll see you then. I'm assigned to her as well." I grinned and finished my drink.
"Tom. Come play pool." Harry called from the pool tables.
He waved back and asked Sandrine for a beer. I nodded and also got a refill before heading for a table of my fellow security officers. I spent an hour bullshitting with the guys while allowing myself an occasional look over at the pool table. The lights above the table shone on his fair hair, creating a halo effect that gave me a severe twinge in the heart region.
Harry's play made him laugh twice and I saw each one. His white teeth gleamed in the light and his cheeks flushed with the effort to restrain his chuckles. He looked ten years younger, about Geron's age when I next sneaked a glance. His jeans hugged his slim hips and every time he leaned over the table, I had to look away or risk disgracing myself.
It had been a long time since I'd lusted after another man and the old feeling had lost nothing in the intervening years. The need to hold and be held, the urges to taste and devour the tender flesh with lip and tongue were as strong as ever. But we had plenty of time and I was determined to go slow and woo him gently. It was enough now to watch and enjoy.
Day eight dawned clear and bright on the planet. We had sensors rigged in a giant ring around the party who were mining for crystals and the security personnel were moving constantly, checking and making sure that nothing crept up on us. Tom was working nearby on a problem with the shuttle. I remembered what Sandrine had said about him wanting to know how things worked.
He was sitting cross-legged on the ground near an open panel with something in his lap and a diagnostic tool in one hand. He had a streak of grease on one cheek and I had to fight the urge to go over and wipe it off. Oh, I had it bad. It was good to be feeling again. I had forgotten how exhilarating love could be.
The sun was glinting off his fair hair and he'd pushed his sleeves up and out of the way so his forearms were exposed to the heat. The muscles in his arms flexed when he turned the part and played the tool over it. Curious, I took a spiral path that would lead me to the shuttle as a part of my circuit.
My shadow alerted him to my presence and he looked up warily. It was good to see him relax when he saw me. "Hi, Gregor."
"Tom." I squatted by him and peered into his lap. "Something wrong?"
"Harmonics are off. Nothing life threatening but annoying when I'm bringing her down slowly. There's a vibration that bothers me." He shook his head and kept on playing what I could see now was a tuner over the computer module.
"And you could feel it while you were flying? That's amazing." And I was amazed at how 'tuned' in he was to his craft.
"Any pilot would." He blushed in the sunlight and I had to restrain myself from touching him.
"Maybe so, but I think its more like extrasensory perception on your part. Did you put sunscreen on before you came out? You're getting a little pink around the edges. Several of you fair complected ones need to watch this sun. Is there some in the medikit?" I'm dark and rarely burn but he was looking pinker than his blush would account for.
"Oh, I didn't even think of it. I wondered why my ears felt so warm." He laid the tuner down and touched one ear, leaving a streak of grease behind.
"I'll check the kit while you keep working." He nodded and I dashed into the shuttle and opened the kit, searching and finding the old fashioned tube of sun screen. Then taking a deep breath, I went back to Tom.
"Now sit still while I get your ears." Not giving him a chance to object, I delicately spread a thin layer over his ear down to his lobe. "If you do it, you'll get grease everywhere. There's one. Turn your head."
He shivered in the warm sun and looked at me with wide eyes while he turned slightly. I rubbed his nose for good measure with the disappearing cream before caressing his other ear with gentle strokes. Did my fingers linger on his lobe? I tried not to but he was so good to touch.
"There. I'd better go see to the others or the holodoc will have some choice words for us later." I grinned at him and rose, headed back to the main party.
"Thanks, Gregor." He spoke softly but I heard him. I think I'll always hear him.
The rest of the shift went normally. No alarms or emergencies. A nice boring day on the planet. Just the way security likes it. Tom flew the first crew back just before sunset. B'Elanna and a couple of her engineers kept working and I stayed behind to watch them. We'd moved the sensors closer in so I had less of a perimeter to walk.
A warble sounded at the far side of the sensor array and I headed for it with my phaser out and set to kill. I wasn't taking a chance with the local wildlife. Yelling to B'Elanna to bring everyone in, I watched for movement. But there was nothing.
"Are you picking up anything, B'El?" I called over my shoulder.
"Tricorder is clear. False alarm?" Her voice was calm but questioning.
"Ma'am, I'm picking up a geologic disturbance about 100 meters below us." One of her engineers showed her his tricorder.
"Voyager, we may have a problem. Sensors are signaling but there's nothing there. Can you pinpoint a geologic disturbance in our location?" I signaled the ship. "B'El, can you tell if the reading is organic? Some tunneling beast, maybe. Or is it really geologic?"
"Lt. Ayala. We are picking up a sizable earth tremor several kilometers west of you. Moving your way." Chakotay's voice was calm but I heard the tension behind it. "I suggest you head for the clearing so your shuttle can set down and pick you up expeditiously. Paris is on his way. ETA five minutes."
"And how far away is the quake?" B'Elanna's voice was sarcastic.
"About the same. So, I'd be ready to board if I were you. No stragglers."
"We'll be ready, Voyager. Ayala out." The sensor equipment could be picked up later. For now, it was enough to get the seven of us to the plateau on the side of the mountain and wait for Tom.
You know, in all my fantasies, I'm always the one rescuing Tom. But right now, I'd settle for him being the hero, yet again. Hey, if Chakotay can owe him his life, I can. In fact, this could work out just right. Maybe if he sees my vulnerable side, he'll relax even more around me.
"There he is." One of the engineers pointed to the south at the dot that had to be the shuttle.
"New speed record for hotshot Paris." B'Elanna said affectionately.
"The quake is getting closer too." Harper was facing the other way and reading his tricorder with a look of dread on his face.
A distant sound of thunder made me look over my shoulder just as part of the mountain disappeared. The hillside collapsed and the trees and earth began a giant landslide down into the valley below. The ground was trembling beneath our feet now and the shuttle swooped in and hovered about a foot off the ground. The hatch popped open and the others began scrambling inside.
I was last one in and just as I had one foot on the sill, the ground fell out from under me. I made a grab for the side and barely managed to hang on while I dangled over the roaring rockslide beneath me. The shuttle tilted to the right and began to lift while several hands pulled me the rest of the way in. B'Elanna slammed the hatch shut.
"Get us out of here, Paris. We're all aboard."
Sudden acceleration pinned us where we sprawled across the shuttle deck and I was glad enough to lay there and try and get my heartbeat under control. What an adrenaline rush! I had to curb the urge to head up to the pilot's seat and kiss him senseless.
"Is everybody okay?" Tom's voice sounded just the least bit worried.
"We're fine. And we owe you a drink." B'Elanna snapped back. "If you hadn't broken the speed limit on this old tub, we'd be in little pieces at the foot of that mountain."
The others were nodding and when the pressure eased up, we all got sorted out and into the empty seats. I made my way to the pilot's seat and leaned on the back for a moment, touching his shoulder briefly.
"Thanks. I owe you one, Tom." I spoke softly so the others didn't hear.
He blushed and darted a quick look up at me. "You're welcome, Gregor. I don't have so many friends, I can afford to lose any."
I just pressed his shoulder again and sat down, speechless with euphoria. He considered me a friend. Wow!
Sandrine's was abuzz with the rescue. Tom was mobbed and Harry and B'Elanna were helping run interference for him. Chakotay and the Captain made a rare appearance and stayed for almost half an hour. Tom made all the right quips and showed why his smart mouth was so admired. But the one time I caught his glance, I saw the blank look I was coming to hate.
I don't usually say much but I made sure I countered any negative dismissal of his flying. And since I was there, my words carried some weight. Using the shiny surfaces of the bar, I kept track of his movements so I was one of the few who saw him duck out. Harry cast one worried look after him then went back to playing pool.
I was right behind him and I called his name softly so I wouldn't startle him. He stopped and looked over his shoulder, the smile reaching his eyes for the first time that night. "Hi. Got kind of noisy."
"Don't blame you, Tom. How about a visit to the observation lounge? Unless you're tired?"
"Nah. That would be nice."
So we walked side by side to the empty lounge. I replicated some of the soothing tea and watched him curl up in one of the comfortable chairs by the observation port with a mug. I sat across from him and watched the stars go by. This was one of my favorite spots on the ship and it never failed to calm and soothe me.
"This is nice." Tom's voice was hesitant.
"It's my favorite blend of tea. Calms the nerves and helps me sleep when the adrenaline's been high. For a brief moment there, I felt as if I was going to fall down that hillside. When you tilted the shuttle to the right, it kept me half in the hatch so the others could pull me the rest of the way in."
He shuddered and gripped his mug. "I was afraid I'd be too late and you'd all be caught in the quake."
"Not this time, Tom. And even if we had been, it wouldn't have been your fault." I spoke the truth but I could see it wasn't getting through.
"That's not what they would have said." His voice was sad rather than bitter.
"Then they'd have been wrong. It's going to take time for them to know you, Tom. The you that you're becoming." I took another sip and watched the stars.
"Why are you being so nice to me, Gregor?" The rather plaintive note in his voice made me smile.
"Geron made me look at you, really look at you. When you created that beautiful program, I realized how very wrong I'd been about you. When I looked around with an open mind instead of my anger, I began to see the good things you were doing but never getting credit for." I paused to let him think about that.
"You weren't so very wrong when you were angry." His eyes were trained on his cup and the rising steam.
"Maybe at the time, although I think we didn't have all the facts. And to our detriment, we didn't even look for the reasons behind any of the Federation actions. Too much fear and anger to look for the truth." I regretted that so very much and he risked a look at me. "I'm sorry we were all so blind."
"Not for everything. I can be a sarcastic asshole sometimes."
"Protective coloring like that lizard you programmed into the valley. The ... the gek?" I struggled with the name.
"Gecko." He smiled softly. "I've had a lot of practice at camouflage."
"Understood. But I hope you know you don't have to with me." I kept it simple.
He just looked at me for a long moment before he smiled. Such a shy smile. Hopeful but unsure at the same time. "Okay."
"I liked what you said in the shuttle. I'd hate to lose you as a friend as well. Especially now, when all we have is each other. And a lot of time to get to know one another." I finished my tea and motioned to the replicator. He nodded and I took both of our cups back over, programming more tea.
Once we were settled in again, I brought up the security programs and we chatted about them for a while until I saw his eyes getting droopy and I suggested it was time for bed. He was covering a yawn and agreed with a laugh. I walked him back to his cabin before heading down to deck seven and my own bed. It looked like we had a solid basis now for our friendship.
And he'd agreed to go running with me if our schedules ever matched again. I was looking forward to that. I enjoy having someone to pace myself with.
Tuvok approved my move to first shift. I was elated and immediately sent Tom a message to see if he'd like to go running after our shift. He sent back his agreement and I settled in to wait for the end of the day. B'Elanna was agitating to go back to the surface and retrieve any sensors that might have survived the quake. Harry had found some interesting readings from the mountain core that had been exposed after the quake.
I love my work as a security officer but working ops fulfills a different kind of need. Weaving all the information from sensors and people together into a coherent whole that enables the Captain to make decisions, can be a real rush. And this time, it appeared there was a crystal light at the end of this tunnel.
A dilithium crystal light. The one thing that held us back from using the replicators to their full extent or utilizing the warp core to maximum capability. Everyone was too aware of the disappointments of the past to get too excited but you could feel the electricity in the air while the data was analyzed by computer and human.
I don't think I was the only one to do a little wishful thinking about having enough power to run the ship as she was meant to be run. But I know I set mine aside to correlate the steady stream of data arriving from the planet. It was fascinating to watch the tension level rise across the bridge.
Command staff left for the Captain's ready room and I took charge for the duration of their meeting. It would be interesting to see what they decided. It appeared the crystals were there, in the heart of the mountain. Right in the middle of a gigantic fault line of unstable rock. Did I have any premonition about this mission?
Nope. Hadn't a clue. So, when Tuvok relieved me and told me to join the party, I was totally unprepared for the Captain's offering me the lead of the away party. I didn't have to think about it. It's what I trained to do and I accepted at once. B'Elanna was agitating to go and the Captain sat on that idea immediately. She was too valuable to risk and she knew it but she loves the danger.
We assembled the party of engineers and science crew. Keeping it small, the final tally was seven. My lucky number. Tom hadn't looked at me since my initial acceptance of the mission. Had there been fear in his eyes? Our friendship was still too new for me to be able to read his glances.
We decided to wait 24 hours and see if the region stabilized any further. Most of us picked for this mission had mountaineering or spelunking experience and we gathered our supplies with care, testing the ropes and lights that might mean our lives once we headed into the mountain. I took a break after a few hours and headed for Sandrine's for a drink.
"Tea, Gregor?" She asked.
"Yes, please. I don't dare drink anything stronger." I smiled at her, half my mind still on the equipment.
"You will be careful, will you not, my friend?" Her accent seemed heavier to me this evening. "Tom would be very upset should something happen to you, now that you are friends. He sits and broods, that one."
"Where?" I turned, following her hand gesture, and saw him in the far corner, hidden in the shadows. Taking my cup, I threaded through the real crew and holographic characters until I reached his table. "Is this seat taken?"
He looked up and for just a moment, I saw gladness there before the blank wall came back. The one I'd tried so hard to demolish. "No."
"Sorry about our run. After this trip, we'll meet for sure. I'm taking a break from checking the equipment. I don't want anything to go wrong tomorrow."
"The mountain may take care of that for you." His voice was bitter.
"Maybe. But we have to take the chance. If we ever want to get home, we need those crystals."
For a moment, I saw fear in his eyes. "Home. Yes, I guess it is worth the risk of seven lives."
And that's when I knew that he hated the thought of going home. I could have kicked myself. Of course, he feared our return. He still had a prison sentence hanging over him. And a whole quadrant
who knew his story, condemning him as most of us had done.
"I don't think anything will happen, Tom. I think we will climb in and mine the crystals and come back. All seven of us. And you'll be there to fly us out." I put all my conviction into my voice.
His eyes came up to mine and I saw the uncertainty there. Daringly, I reached out with my free hand and laid it over his. "Truly, Tom. I'll be back. There's too much still ahead of us for me not to."
His eyes fell to my hand and I held my breath waiting for his reaction. For a long moment we just sat there while he thought about my rather brazen declaration, then he turned his hand palm up and gripped my hand with his. The sudden heat was electrifying and I know I took a deep breath to replace the air in my starving lungs.
"Promise? You'll come back." His voice shook just a little.
"I promise, if it is in my power, I will always come back." I vowed my future to him and regretted nothing.
He just looked at me, the blank look banished by a wondering glimmer of hope. "Are you sure, Gregor?"
"Very sure, Tom. The future can be a wondrous place if we let it grow slowly." I was unsure of how much to say right now. "Besides, we haven't finished those programs yet. And I'm looking forward to that."
He smiled slowly like the sun rising over the mountains. "I guess I am too."
We just sat there while we finished our drinks and he walked me back to the shuttle bay where we were assembling the equipment. He pitched in to help us test the ropes and links that would tie us together while we were in the mountain. We were quiet while the others talked nervously about the conditions below. Our silence was calm, outside of time and fear.
He was called away before we finished and we exchanged a silent goodnight amid the others who seemed totally oblivious to our new partnership. I slept easily that night. No dreams, either good or bad, disturbed my rest. I seemed to have found that clear center where I could work, free of fear and anxiety.
The Captain bid us goodbye and good luck before we lifted for the surface. Our tricorders were updated with the new readings in the area and the aftershocks that had rocked the range twice already. But they were weaker each time and they were coming about ten hours apart. Which left us a window of about six hours before the next one.
Tom got us as close as humanly possible to the new entrance that Voyager had lasered into the stone, connecting us to an existing series of tunnels that should lead us to the strongest source of readings. We only had time for one long look and a smile before the team disembarked.
It lasted me for the scramble through the barely passable tunnels, through the digging out of a collapsed section and into the cave that literally shone with crystals. The engineers practically peed their pants at the treasure trove of dilithium that we found. We used sonic cutters to loosen them from the walls before nestling them into the padded containers that we'd brought with us.
When half of them were filled, I sent them back with two of the crew. We roped the containers together and tied them between the two of them. The last box was filled when we got the signal that said they'd reached the shuttle safely. I got the rest of the crew headed back while I waited for Harper to finish taking a reading of some crystal that was growing out of the middle of the chamber. It was almost as tall as we were and he was hyperventilating with the data that streamed into his tricorder.
There was no way we could get it out without damaging it and I appeased him by leaving a homing device in one of it's outcroppings before I practically pushed him back into the tunnel. We were cutting it close to the time of the next aftershock and no crystal was worth our lives. He finally came to the same conclusion and we hurried back to the outside.
Reaching daylight, I helped him into the shuttle hovering above us before climbing aboard myself. I secured the hatch and threaded my way through the stacked containers to the co-pilot's seat. Tom had already pulled us away from the mountain side when as if on cue, the earth began to rumble and the tunnel entrance disappeared.
We exchanged a long look and began to laugh, even as he flew us away from the little death trap that we'd avoided with such a small margin. The mood aboard was euphoric and our arrival back at Voyager nothing short of triumphant. B'Elanna practically crooned over our cargo and she had plenty of volunteers to help her take them down to the engine room.
Not all of the crystals were dilithium but might still be useful elsewhere. Debriefing was short and sweet while they debated whether we should go back for the mother crystal. Finally, someone suggested that we just beam two people into the chamber with the right tools and out again. Sensors seemed to show that there was still a cave to beam into.
Without even looking at each other, Tom and I volunteered. The Captain took it under advisement and dismissed us with a 'job well done' echoing in our ears. We walked out together and I suggested the observation lounge. He just nodded and we rode the turbo lift up to the lounge. It was empty and silent and we filled it with our adrenaline rush of energy.
He was in my arms as soon as the door slid shut behind us, shaking and crying my name. I held him in a desperate hug that tried to absorb him into my own body, touching him with calming hands that soothed the muscles in his back with tender sweeps.
"I've never been so afraid. Caring hurts." His voice was muffled in my neck, his breath gusting against my skin.
"I know it does, Tom. It's why I've tried not to feel for the last few years. I had to let go of my love for my wife, knowing that she's chosen another and moved on with her life. It's hard to trust again. We're so fragile out here in the Delta Quadrant. All alone, except for each other." My lips moved gently against the soft skin at his temple.
He calmed gradually, his hands slowly losing their death grip on the fabric at my waist. "But seventy years is a long time to be alone."
"Especially when someone very special is right in front of my eyes." I pulled back just enough to look into his gaze.
And this time, he met my look with one of his own. Hesitant but all the passion he lavished on his flying and his programs was there, plain to see. And finally, I asked my question and received his answer without any words being spoken.
Will you take another chance? With me?
Our lips met with the gentlest of caresses, merely brushing together at first before we drew back to look into each other's eyes. Need was growing in both of us but we were in control at the moment. I drew him to the couch in front of the porthole and we sat down together, our arms around each other. For now, it was enough to hold and be held.
I cradled him in my arms and felt the sweet weight of his head on my shoulder and was content. He sighed and snuggled closer, murmuring something in a soft tone I had to strain to hear.
"Very nice." I traced a path down his arm, wishing that his uniform wasn't in the way so I could touch that satin skin I remembered from sickbay.
"I'm a little scared, Gregor. I usually fuck up every time I try and get close to someone." His voice was resigned and I wished I had every person who'd disappointed him here now so I could show them what they were missing.
"Me too. I married young and the best part of our marriage was our sons. We stayed together for them even after the original attraction had faded. I'd forgotten how very nice it was to be in love."
"Oh, Gregor. Don't love me. I don't know if I can." He sounded scared now and I spoke to calm him.
"You don't have to, Tom. It's not a poker game where I love you and you raise the pot by loving me more." I felt him smile a little against my throat. "Just accept it and let me have what you can. I'd like to take it slow and savor what we have. Moments like these when we can hold each other and share our warmth. You're very good to hold, Tom."
I could feel his skin flush and his lips brush against my suddenly sensitized skin. "It's been a long time since someone held me with love. Maybe the first time ever in my life."
"Good. I like being first in something." I chuckled and kissed my way across his forehead to that tender spot I'd found earlier at his temple.
He tensed. "I'm not a virgin, Gregor. Not in any way at all."
"Me either." I laced my fingers through his where his hand lay on my thigh. "At least both of us know what goes where."
"I don't ..." he faltered and I felt a tremor run down his spine. "I ... have some bad memories from prison."
"Then we'll make better ones and drive the bad ones away." I kept my voice calm and nonjudgmental with an effort. He would have been highly sought after in prison, I could see that. With his beautiful blond looks and his family background, I could just imagine what hell he'd gone through. "What happened in the past is over and done with. Everything we both did, led us here. Here, to the Delta Quadrant and each other. One decision another way and we might never have met."
He was silent for a long time and I gave him the courtesy of respecting his thought processes. We didn't have to make up thirty years of living in the next hour. Hopefully, we had years ahead to share our pasts with each other. Finally, he sighed and raised his head to look at me in the dim starlight.
"I can't regret any of it then. Except the mistakes that hurt others."
"We both made those, Tom. Someday, I'll share some of mine with you. You're not alone when it comes to mistakes. War seems to bring out the worst in all of us." I rubbed my thumb across his cheek and he turned just far enough to lick it.
Oh gods, he was tasting me to go along with his sniffing me in the sickbay a few days before.
"More." I whispered and he kissed me. This time our mouths opened and I tasted him as well. The herbal tea only partially masked the frijhas chips he'd eaten earlier. But underlying it all was just ... Tom. Tasty and addictive. Our tongues slowly rubbed against each other and when his tickled the roof of my mouth, I groaned a chuckle.
He pulled back just far enough for me to see his smile. "You like that?"
"Like isn't strong enough, Tom." I kissed the corner of his mouth and licked my way across his jaw and behind his ear. He'd turned towards me, curling his legs up onto the couch and I held him against my chest with questing hands that kneaded his back into relaxation.
"Hm-m-m, that feels good." He whispered.
"I like touching you. I dreamed of you. Of kissing you. But it wasn't as good as the real thing."
He raised his head and we kissed again. Sweetly, tenderly but with passion lying underneath. There was time to go slow and so we did. After an hour of touching and holding and speaking softly of the future, we left the lounge for our respective rooms. It was hard to say good night but he needed the space to think about us and I was afraid of going too fast. So, I just wished him sweet dreams and left him at his door.
My dreams were sweet indeed.
Chakotay called me into his office the next morning. "Gregor. Is there something you'd like to tell me?"
I blushed. I couldn't help it. His question brought back the wet dream I'd awakened from a short hour before. Tom's mouth should be declared a lethal weapon. "No. Why do you ask?"
He quirked an eyebrow at me and waited patiently. It's one of those things I really dislike about him. He can out wait any of us. And has. But this time I had someone to protect and I was prepared to beat him at his own game. So, I sat back and folded my arms.
"Let me put this another way. Is there a reason that we shouldn't send the two of you down to see if you can pry loose the crystal?"
Damn, he's good. "No, there isn't. I think we'll work well together."
"I see." And his dark eyes seemed to look deep into my soul. "Very well. Go get fitted out for a respirator and goggles. I doubt there's any air left in the cave."
I was out of my seat before he'd finished talking and headed for the door.
"And Gregor?" His voice was concerned. "You know you can come and talk to me at anytime."
I didn't turn. "I know. Thanks." And I left for the transporter room, relieved to be gone from his all-seeing eyes. Maybe someday I would go to him and try to explain myself, but not now. Not when we were still so new and fragile.
I met Tom in the transporter room and let B'Elanna fuss over our equipment. The sonic cutter we were taking with us was the largest one in the inventory and it taxed my strength to wrestle onto the platform. B'El helped Tom adjust his respirator while Harper helped me. Our eyes met over our helpers and neither of us could hide our grins.
The Captain joined us with a few last minute instructions and the statement that we would be monitored constantly, both conversation and biorhythms. If anything fluctuated, we'd be yanked out of there. Sounded good to us. She wished us luck and we switched on our helmet lights and breathers before watching the room dissolve around us.
The cave was pitch black except for our small lights. It was Tom's first look at the crystal and he drew in a sharp breath at its icy brilliance. He touched it wonderingly. While our lights played across the upthrusting shards of the triple crystal, it seemed to change color. First green, then pink followed by rapid slides into yellow, blue, purple and red. Then it was back to a cloudy white.
I lugged the cutter over to it but stopped when he stretched out his other hand. "Gregor, I don't think we should be cutting it. It's not dilithium. Just because we can doesn't mean we should. Look at the size of it. It's been growing here for millennia. This doesn't feel right."
'Lt. Paris. It would have been nice if you'd voiced this opinion before going down there.' The Captain's wry tones came over the comm link.
"Sorry, Captain. I hadn't seen it then. It's practically alive to my touch."
'Lt. Ayala. Are you of the same opinion?'
I touched the shard closest to me and was surprised at the temperature of the crystal. It was almost warm to the touch and there was that play of colors again. I met Tom's eyes and smiled.
"I think I am, Captain. The crystal is warm but the cave is ice cold. And there's an odd play of colors within when ever we touch it. Wait a moment and we'll touch it together and see what happens."
Tom nodded and our hands met on either side of the main crystal shard. The colors surged beneath our fingers and a humming sound filled the cave with vibrations so strong I could taste and touch them. Our eyes locked and suddenly, I could feel Tom inside of me, so close we were one.
Then the vibrations grew stronger yet until the whole cave was trembling with the sound and earth and stone began to dance down upon us. My last thought was ... earthquake.
I awoke in sickbay to silence. Opening my eyes, I wondered why I was there until with a start I remembered the cave. Sitting upright, I looked around, relaxing only when I saw Tom in the bed next to mine. He looked all right but I shakily got down from my bed to cross to him. His skin was warm to the touch and I held his hand in mine just because I could.
"Well, that answers one of my questions." Chakotay's voice sounded from the other side of the room.
I glanced over at him and shrugged my shoulders. "Was it another earthquake?"
"No. It appears to have been a ... crystal-quake." He crossed to the other side of Tom's bed. "When your vital signs went off scale, we transported the two of you out of the cave. The crystal came with you. When you appeared on the pad, you were both unconscious but gripping the crystal and each other. We pried you loose and brought you here. That was three hours ago."
"Where's the crystal now?" I was intrigued but the rest of my attention was on Tom, willing him to wake up.
When his eye lashes fluttered against his pale cheeks, I gripped his hand hard and brought it to my lips. His beautiful blue eyes opened and gazed up at me in bewilderment. "Gregor?"
"Right here, Tom. It seems we precipitated a little quake of our own." And I repeated what Chakotay had just told me. When he saw the Commander watching us, he blushed hard and looked at me in dismay.
"When you're ready, come to the transporter room. We still have to decide what to do with the crystal. Did I mention that when we tried to beam it back to the planet, it absorbed the transporter beam?" Chakotay said with a smile before walking out of sickbay, leaving us to the holodoc's tender mercies.
After getting a clean bill of health from the doctor, we left for Tom's quarters. Rather shyly, he invited me in and began pacing through the living room. "He saw us holding hands. Did he say anything to you before I woke up?"
"Tom," I halted him with my hands on his shoulders, "he's all right with us. No, neither of us have said anything but he's not stupid and I think he saw this coming before I did."
"Really?" He looked frightened for a moment before resignation took its place. "Hopefully, he won't say anything to the others. I don't want them giving you a hard time."
I gathered him into a hug, his arms coming around my waist. "Tom, I don't care who knows. But right now, it would be nice if we didn't have to deal with the others. Just with us."
"Us. That's really scary, Gregor."
"I know, love. But remember, we're going to take it slow and sure." I tilted his head up to mine and kissed him softly. "Right now, we need showers and fresh uniforms. I feel like I'm wearing part of that mountain inside these clothes."
His laughter pealed through the quiet rooms and I joined him in laughing away the tension. His eyes were mischievous. "Can we shower together?"
I thought about it and threw caution to the winds. "Yes. But only showering. They're expecting us in the transporter room."
"All right!" He tugged me through the bedroom and into the small bathroom. We quickly stripped and he adjusted the temperature of the water while I feasted my eyes on his slim strong body.
Turning, he caught my lustful look and his entire body flushed. He held out his hand and pulled me with him into the shower. The hot water flowed over our bodies as we moved back and forth beneath the shower head. Soaping each other, I luxuriated in the feeling of his skin beneath my fingers. Satin and silk. Long lean muscles that flexed beneath my touch.
But the touch of his hands threatened to destroy me. Such shy, hesitant slides across my shoulders and down my back. But it was the look of wonder in his eyes that helped me keep control. For some reason, this was new to him. So, I kept it playful, dabbing soap bubbles on his nose and tickling his ribs with soap slick hands. We laughed through the entire shower and finally emerged thoroughly clean.
Toweling off, I wrapped the bath sheet around me and went to replicate a clean uniform. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched Tom dress, wondering why watching him put on clothes was almost as much of a turn on as watching him take them off. When he pulled the pants up over his legs, I had to look away. I could just picture those long slim legs wrapped around my waist and I immediately began to swell.
So I thought instead of the earthquake and the cold dark cave to bring myself under control. I pulled on my uniform and finished putting on my shoes seated on his couch. When I looked up, I caught him watching me with fascinated eyes.
"What? Did I miss something?"
He blushed and shook his head. "You look so strong without your clothes on. Muscles on top of muscles."
I rose and crossed the room to him. "And I was just admiring your runner's build. All lean lines and long muscles."
"You could probably break me in half without even trying." He shook his head at my compliment.
He'd get used to them in time. "But I won't. That's not at all what I'd like to do with you."
I kissed him gently and he sighed against my lips. Then he pulled away with a smile. "I'm surprised the Captain hasn't commed us by now. We'd better get to the transporter room."
"Yes. I wonder how the crystal came with us. I could have sworn it was rooted deep in the floor of the cave." I speculated on the possible causes while we walked to the nearest turbo lift.
The Captain and Chakotay were both there, along with a full team of science crew. Every sensor or diagnostic tool I'd ever seen on board was there and the general level of frustration was high.
"Thank you for coming, gentlemen." The Captain sent us a piercing look. "Does it look the same to you?"
"It looks smaller, laying on its side like that." Tom knelt by the massive crystal.
"And it's cloudier than before, unless the helmet lights just didn't do it justice." I added, stretching out my hand at the same time that Tom touched it.
The colors were more brilliant this time. Bright arcs of light that laced through the three shards and out into the room, painting everything and everyone in it with the same fantastic hues. This time, the connection between Tom and I was instantaneous. For a long moment, I touched his soul and felt him touch mine. And he was just as beautiful inside as he was on the outside.
His blush told me he'd felt my love and admiration but I could feel such delight coming from him to me that I had to close my eyes to savor the sensations. The rough hands that dragged me away from the crystal hurt with the loss of the link between us.
"What the hell was that? Are they all right?" Janeway's voice was harsh and I felt my ears cringe from the sound. All my senses were on edge, heightened by the crystal. The lights were too bright, the hands too hard on my arms, the smell of fear acute in the room and my hands ached for the touch of the cool crystal.
I shook my head and shrugged off the helping hands. Slitting my eyes against the too bright light, I looked for Tom. He was sitting across from me with his own helpers and his gaze was on me, his eyes dilated and wide.
"That's what happened when we touched it before." Tom's voice was hoarse.
B'Elanna reached out and ran her hand down one side. Nothing. No color change or vibration. Harper was right behind her and his touch also provoked nothing. Together they touched it and a faint color washed through it but then ... nothing.
Tom and I sat to one side while they discussed a plethora of theories. Under cover of the arguments, I ran a finger over his hand. "Are you really all right?"
His voice was a whisper. "Yes. Did you feel the . . . connection between us?"
"Oh yes." I breathed out, wishing I could take his hand in mine or better yet, take him in my arms and hold him.
"Me too. I wish I could hold you as well." He wasn't even looking at me but he must have felt my start of surprise. "What?"
"Are you becoming a mind reader?"
He turned and tilted his head in question.
"I was just wishing I could hold you. And we're not touching it now." My voice held a question.
"Captain, I think Tuvok should try melding with it. What if it's a sentient being?" Tom pitched his voice to Janeway and she looked at him thoughtfully.
"An excellent idea." She tapped her comm badge and requested his presence. The next few moments passed very slowly and I spent them trying not to lean against Tom. Our little fingers were touching and that had to suffice.
The Vulcan arrived and listened to the myriad of explanations. When the Captain asked him to try a meld, his eyebrow went up and he listened gravely to the reasons why we thought it might be sentient. He nodded slowly and asked that the room be cleared except for command staff.
The others left with muttered protests but B'Elanna sped them on their way with a growl. She was good at that. He knelt by the crystal, much as we had done and placed his hands upon it. For a long moment, nothing happened. Then a deep pulsing vibration began to fill the room and the crystal changed to a brilliant yellow.
"I am the memory of my people." Tuvok's eyes were open but unseeing. His voice had a hollow sound unlike his normal warm tones. "I was left to grow when they passed on. It has been so very long since I was filled with their presence. I will store your memories now. On your journey. You are my people now."
The color died away when Tuvok pulled his hands from the surface and sat back on his heels. His eyes closed and he took several deep breaths before opening them again. "It is a sentient being. And it chose to come with Paris and Ayala when they awakened it from its long sleep."
"Why did it react to us so strongly?" Tom asked him before I could.
He looked at us gravely. "We shall have to ask it later. Right now, I think we can safely transport it to the hydroponics bay. That appears to be the best place for it. The vibrations need to be as far from the warp core as possible."
"Even now, there's a low level buzz." Tom said wonderingly.
At his words, I realized that I could feel it as well like a fizz in my blood. "I thought you said that it absorbed the transporter beams."
"It did." Chakotay reached out and touched the crystal.
Nothing. So he bent and lifted it into his arms and the Captain drew in her breath and pinned him with a steely look. "Straight to hydroponics and we post a guard to make sure it stays undisturbed."
"Agreed." He was dwarfed by the huge crystal and already breathing heavily. Tuvok wrapped his hands with what looked like a pair of oven mitts from the replicator and took part of the burden from him. B'Elanna went ahead of them to open the doors and clear their path, with Janeway close behind.
I stood up and pulled Tom with me. "I need some dinner. How about we go to my place and replicate something. Maybe that jalepeno pepper soup you told me about?"
He smiled and nodded. "Sounds good. With some of your frijhas chips."
"And pistachio ice cream for dessert." I nodded to the others who were talking excitedly around us.
The door swooshed shut behind us and we headed to my rooms for the next step of our journey. It looked like the crystal had added a new dimension to our growing relationship. But the investigation could wait for now. Slinging my arm around Tom's shoulders, I pulled him close and waited for the fizz in my blood to go away.
Hopefully, it never would.
The end of part two