Disclaimers: Characters belong to Paramount. No harm, no foul.
Series: ST Voyager, Ayala/Paris
Rating: PG
Date: 7 March 1999
Prisms 3

I woke up with a heavy weight blanketing me. Tom had rolled over in the night or I'd pulled him on top and now I had a living breathing comforter. We were both wearing pajama bottoms but nothing else and I could feel our sexes nestled together between our groins. It felt so right that I hugged him tighter to me. But not tight enough to wake or frighten him.

He'd already awakened once from a nightmare that almost sent him right out of the bed. I saw sanity return to those expressive blue eyes when he saw me. Really saw me ... Gregor Ayala, friend and perhaps someday, lover. He didn't even try to make light of his fear. Just shook his head and explained that sometimes he forgot where he was.

I nodded and got up to make us some tea. We drank it while sitting propped up in bed, side by side but not touching. Haltingly, he spoke of prison and survival and how Captain Janeway had saved him from death in more ways than one. I listened and said nothing, letting him lay himself bare for me while I ached inside for the pain he'd suffered.

He finally quieted, his eyes on the cup he clutched in his hand. All his muscles were finely tensed while he waited for me to pass judgment. But I just took his cup and set both of them aside so I could take his cold hand in mine. And then I spoke of the war and the Maquis and the pain of betrayal when the friend I trusted sold out my original cell to the Federation.

He tensed when I spoke of a traitor before he realized the timing was wrong. His eyes widened when he learned of my time on the prison ship transporting us to the planet where the Maquis were being gathered like bait in a trap for the others, the fact that Chakotay had rescued us before reaching Hell and the satisfaction of breaking the guard's neck who had so abused us.

By that point in my story, we were back in each other's arms and had slid down under the covers, our heads resting on a single pillow. I'd never spoken of those days when despair fought with anger. Not even to Chakotay.

"It's a circle, isn't it, Gregor?" Tom had whispered softly. "Chakotay saves you while Janeway is saving me. Then I save Chakotay and you save me while the Maquis and the Federation crews save each other."

I smiled and kissed him gently, savoring his strength in my arms. "Yes, Tom. A circle that never ceases to spin."

We'd fallen back asleep shortly thereafter and I wondered now, what time it was. Would Tom think we were going too fast? Intimacy is a privilege especially on a ship this size with a captive crew. It's why we love going down to a planet. That certain knowledge that for a few brief hours, it's just you with an entire world to explore.

I felt a wetness on my shoulder and realized that Tom was awake and tasting me again. My hands began a slow stroke up his back from their resting place at his waist. The skin there is silky smooth and so very, very warm beneath my hands. I could touch him forever.

"You taste good, Gregor. Even better than frijhas chips. Saltier and just as spicy." His voice is sleep roughened and I let it flow over me like a caress. He raised his head and looked down at me, the sleepy blue gaze wondering over my face with such an interesting look on his face.

"What?" I gaze fondly on his flushed and creased cheek.

"You have a serious case of bed-head. One of the worst I've ever seen." He said solemnly but with a twinkle of mischief in his eyes.

I snorted with laughter and ran a hand through his blond hair with intent to tousle but he ducked laughingly, slithering off me and out of the bed. "Shower?" He asked, holding out his hand invitingly.

Thinking of the last shower we'd taken, I swung my legs over the side and took his hand. "Absolutely. There's a spot on my back that I think we missed yesterday."

"I promise not to miss it today." He tempted me with a sultry look from under his eyelashes.

I could feel myself harden beneath the light cotton of the pajamas. "I'll hold you to that."

We stripped off in the small bathroom and Tom adjusted the heat to a good rousing steam that soon billowed through the room. We took quick turns under the head to get wet and then began to play with the soap. This time I took the learning route around his body, soaping each part with my hands. Arms first then the shoulders sloping down the long muscles of his back.

His fingers were busy rubbing bubbles into my chest hair with a whorl of spiral patterns that soon encompassed my nipples. My involuntary moan brought his eyes to mine with a questioning look. I smiled and repeated the motion on his own pectorals with a gentle touch to the pale pink nubs among the golden curls of his chest. His eyes widened and his lips made a silent 'o'.

I put aside the question as to why he didn't know his nipples were an erogenous zone and intensified the pressure to just short of a pinch. He was breathing deeply and his hands moved to my waist, holding on to my hips with an almost bruising grip before he slipped one hand to shyly stroke my rising shaft.

"Tom, you don't have to. Oh, that's nice." I tried to keep my calm but the thought that his hand was holding me so intimately, kept me on edge.

"I know I don't but you feel so soft and silky. Why did your parents have you circumcised?"

"Family tradition. Both my sons are as well." My breath was coming quicker with his slow slide up my shaft with his loose grip covered in the slick soap. Intensifying my caress to his nipples, I rolled the hardening nubs between my thumb and forefinger and pulled him to one side slightly so the water would cascade over his chest while I rinsed him clean.

He tightened his hand involuntarily around me and it felt wonderful. But when I lowered my head to his chest and began to lap at the hardened nubs, he groaned and slumped back against the shower wall. I moved closer and drew his cock into my hands. The dual stimulus seemed to overwhelm him and he panted out my name. "Gr-gr-gregor."

I wanted to drop to my knees and take him in fully but that would definitely be going too fast. I wanted him comfortable with each step of our intimacy. And I had to admit to enjoying the slow buildup to release. He was copying my every move now with his own hands and I moved back up to his mouth because we were both close.

His lips opened to me immediately and our tongues mated along with our hands. I felt my balls tighten up and increased my strokes to his shaft. When I pulsed forth, I gripped him into his own release. The evidence of our climax washed away slowly and I felt a languor roll over me when I broke our kiss and rested my head on his shoulder. His head lolled back against the wall and he took a shuddering breath.

"Oh ... my ... god." His words whispered to me and I looked up to make sure it was a good oath. The smile in his eyes told me everything was all right.

"Let's finish washing before we run Voyager out of hot water." I suggested with a grin and he laughed.

We washed each other's backs and legs and rinsed off before stepping out and grabbing a pair of towels. His stomach growled while we were drying and I realized I was starving. Redressing in our uniforms, we checked the time before deciding Sandrine's was our only bet but had too many people for our mood. So we replicated dinner and ate it at Tom's dining table just big enough for two.

"You're only the third person to eat here." He swirled his juice around gently in the glass. "Harry and B'Elanna both dined with me a couple of times. It feels a little odd to have someone else here."

"I usually eat in the dining hall. With whoever else is there." I finished my third pancake with raspberry sauce. "This is more relaxing. Not to mention better tasting."

"You missed a spot." He reached over and wiped a spot from my cheek. I turned my head fast enough to capture his finger and suck it into my mouth. His eyes widened and that twinkle came back.

The door buzzer went off, startling us both. He sat back and took a deep breath then rose and went to the door. It was Harry and he came in talking.

"... every test we can think of. Do you have any idea what that crystal can do? It ... it ... suspends several physical laws and never gives the same reading twice. Practically the entire ship has touched it and only a couple made it change colors. It hummed for Seven then shut down completely." He noticed me for the first time. "Oh, hi, Greg. You've got red stuff on your chin. When are you going to come down to hydroponics and join in the tests?"

"Slow down, Harry. Breathe. Do you want something to drink? Or eat? Did you eat today at all?" Tom smiled indulgently at his friend with one hand casually anchoring his shoulder.

"Eat?" Harry stopped vibrating long enough to ponder the question. "Um, I don't remember. What time is it?"

I got up and replicated some more pancakes and a cup of my soothing tea. Tom guided him to the table and sat him down where he'd been sitting. I placed the plate in front of him and moved his hand to the cup handle.

"Oh, thanks. That smells good. I think I ate something a few hours ago. Maybe. Hm-m-m, this is delicious." Harry sniffed and drank some of the tea before cutting into the cakes and beginning to devour them.

"No talking, Harry. Finish that and then come join us." Tom jerked his head to the couch and I nodded. He joined me but sat a few hands breath away.

This was definitely a time to be circumspect so I just sat back and smiled at him. That made him blush for some reason and he grabbed a pillow and hugged it to himself.

"It's all right, Tom. I promised we would go slow." I whispered to him quietly and watched him look at me with an absorbed expression on his face while he thought about what I'd said.

"It's so new. I'd like to see where it's going first." He sighed a little and I held myself back from touching him. "Besides, I'm wondering how long it will take them to notice."

I laughed out loud at the look of mischief on his expressive face. Harry came over still wiping his lips and looked at us quizzically. "What's up with you two? Why did the crystal react to you so strongly?"

"I don't know, Harry. Why don't we go find out? Gregor?" Tom pulled me to my feet and squeezed my hand once before letting me go.

"I'm a little curious myself, Harry. It didn't feel inimical. At least to me." I answered him. We left Tom's quarters talking about some of the tests and speculating on what kind of sentience the crystal could be. It was fascinating to listen to Harry's dozen hypotheses while Tom asked just the right questions to winnow them down to a handful.

I pondered their friendship, an unlikely pairing on the surface but solid from the beginning. Not even when some of the Maquis had taken Harry aside and told him about Paris' guilt, did the young Ensign give up on his friend. Was he just smarter than the rest of us or did he see something that we missed?

Well, of course, he saw more truly than we did, I sighed to myself. Anger and hate are blinding influences. He wasn't so much naive as open to the whole man. He saw the fear and the self hatred that none of the rest of us saw. It made me feel a fool and even more determined to accept Tom and all the parts that made him tick. Harry had given him unconditional acceptance and I could do no less.

Hydroponics was my second favorite place on the ship. The smells that were absent from the ship because of the constant recycling and scrubbing of the air couldn't be erased completely from this place where we tried to grow small luxuries. More importantly, the plants acted as a natural filter for the carbon dioxide and other pollutants humans give off.

A space had been cleared in the middle of the bay and the crystal sat tall in the clamps that anchored it to the deck. It reflected the light with little rainbows of color scattering over its surface. Tom and I looked at each other once before separating to join the two groups clustered on opposite sides. Harry and Tom joined the science side where I saw Geron listening avidly.

I joined Tuvok and the others who were eyeing the quiescent life form. "Sir. Any luck?"

"Lt. Ayala." The Vulcan acknowledged me before drawing me to one side. "I would appreciate hearing what the crystal said or felt like to you."

"Parts of it came back to me while I slept." I acknowledged his need to know. "Colors and a humming sound that was just short of music. But mostly, I saw Tom. Inside and out. His feelings, fears, thoughts, memories." My voice died away because of a sudden need to touch him again which I had to fight with all my self control.

Laughter from the other group, brought both our eyes to them and I feasted my eyes on the wickedly grinning blonde who was teasing B'Elanna unmercifully. Our gaze met for just a moment and I felt it like a kiss from across the room. Had the crystal accelerated this feeling of love and need for both of us?

"Are the two of you friends, Lt. Ayala?" Tuvok's voice was calm, while his brown eyed gaze looked deep inside of me.

"Yes. We are. It began before we found the crystal. Before the attack on the planet. I suddenly saw him differently than I ever had before." It was hard to articulate but Tuvok was nodding so I stopped in grateful relief.

"Satisfactory, Lt. Ayala. Would you mind asking him to join us?"

"Sure. I'll be right back." I started over but Tom had already broken away and begun to make his way to us. I stopped, enjoying his graceful stride and the way his eyes came to mine, sparkling with mischief. Oh, he was a beauty.

"Gregor," he whispered under his breath, a slight flush blooming high on his cheeks. "You're devouring me with your eyes."

"Not all I'd like to devour." I said with a sigh and tried to discipline my wayward thoughts before turning back to the all-seeing eyes of the head of Security. "Tuvok wants your impressions of the crystal."

"Oh." He blushed harder and I found it erotic as all hell. Thinking cold, nasty thoughts to cool myself down, I turned back with Tom to the waiting Tuvok.

"Lt. Paris, if I may have your impressions of the crystal."

"Warmth. Soft touches that felt like wings brushing my body. I saw myself through Gregor's eyes briefly. As if I were inside him, kept safe and warm." Tom struggled to say it without blushing and the need to touch him was growing stronger.

"If I may, gentlemen." Tuvok gestured towards us. "I am curious about a bond that I sense between you. Would you allow a very superficial touch of both of you at the same time?"

I looked at Tom and saw the acceptance there but then he and Tuvok had once shared a mind meld when Tom had been accused of murder. So, I nodded and Tuvok stepped closer and took my left hand in his left while Tom held out his right. I felt nothing when the circuit was complete and the disappointment surprised me. What had I expected?

But Tuvok was nodding and when he placed my hand into Tom's grip and stepped away, the connection was there. The fizzing in the blood caused the need to touch subside and I could feel Tom relax into me, even though we stayed a few inches apart.

"Very interesting. I believe that your incipient bond was what triggered the crystal to full wakefulness. When you touched it together, it was prompted to come to complete awareness. None of the others who have touched it since are bonded and so we have no reaction or at the most, a very faint one." Tuvok looked back and forth between the two of us. "I will need to tell the Captain and Commander about this hypothesis."

Tom looked faintly uncomfortable and I wondered what he was thinking. I wanted to ease his pain but we were still so new that I had no clue how to do so. "Perhaps, we should touch it again with you in the meld and see what happens."

They both looked at me, Tom with startled eyes and Tuvok with a judicious air.

"A controlled experiment, when we all know what may happen. With disciplined thoughts." He divided a measuring look between the two of us.

"Well, we can try." Tom said hesitantly and I felt a surge of affection for his bravery. "But do there have to be so many people in here when we do it?"

The rather plaintive question made me grin and Tuvok's eyebrow quivered slightly, his version of a smile. "I see your point, Lt. Paris. It is getting late and time for most of them to be asleep if we are to keep running this ship to peak efficiency."

We stayed to one side while he cleared the bay except for Harry and B'Elanna. The Captain showed up and helped shoo the others out. Chakotay appeared about ten minutes after she arrived. He has a real radar where she's concerned. I was starting to wonder how the crystal would react to the two of them touching it.

"Do you think ...?" Tom asked me sotto voce, his eyes twinkling over at me.

"Be fun to watch the crystal react to them." I confirmed his thought with a little grin while keeping my eyes on the unsuspecting couple. I could tell Tuvok was telling them his theory and the look the Captain cast over at us was appraising but not really surprised. She was probably remembering my volunteering to watch over Tom in sick bay.

Tuvok beckoned us over and we headed for our next trip into the crystal. Tom was eager, his step light and his blue eyes gleaming. I was curious but a little hesitant. It's that trait that has stood me in such good stead over the years as a freedom fighter. But there was no way that Tom was going back in without me. And since the crystal reacted to both of us separately, he could probably join with it even if I wasn't there.

Chakotay gazed at both of us with his penetrating gaze while the Captain just touched Tom's cheek lightly with a slight smile. His smile in return was completely unshadowed and I rejoiced in his bond with the woman who held all our lives so carefully. I owed her a greater debt than I had known for her rescuing of Tom.

"Well, gentlemen, ready to test the theory?" Captain Janeway looked at me appraisingly. I could see her wondering if I was good enough for her wounded pilot. Her maternal feelings were showing.

"Yes, Ma'am." Tom said enthusiastically. "It didn't speak to us as it did to Tuvok. I hope it will this time."

"Perhaps. It requires disciplined thoughts, Lt. Paris." Tuvok said dryly. That was his way of joking.

Tom just smiled at him and took his position at the crystal's side. Tuvok stayed between us so I stood on the opposite side and watched Tom's eyes reflected through the clear crystal. Our hands reached out together and the cool surface drew our touch to the largest crystal shard.

The ship vanished instantly and I stood on a high plateau with a bright yellow sun beating down on me. Towering red rocks arose on every side. Scrub brush and cactus littered the landscape and I recognized the place from the stories of my mother's ancestors. This was Earth in ancient times when a few wandering tribes of nomads roamed the Southwest of a vast landmass. Volcanoes and great oceans had shaped the land with rough hands that tumbled rocks and earth in haphazard arrays.

The rock formation just behind me, on whose lower slopes I stood, was known to my mother's people as the Spear. A giant red phallic shape thrust skyward, balanced precariously in a bed of tumbled stone just like it.

I looked around carefully and saw no other nearby. Not Tuvok or Tom. Not even the crystal. "Hello! Are you here, Crystal?"

//Yes. I am everywhere. You are inside of me and I am inside of you. I borrowed these memories so you would feel at home.//

"Thank you. I have never seen this place for myself. Only in the stories that my mother told me."

//Would you rather be somewhere else?//

"It is rather warm here." I was sweating like crazy and the dry desert air was sucking the moisture away from me as soon as it reached my skin.

Suddenly I was standing by the lake on Dorvan 5 where I'd grown up and returned to raise my family. The cool breeze flowing off the water brought tears to my eyes. "Thank you. This was home for many years. It's good to visit again."

//You have questions for me. The curious one asks many.//

"Tuvok. The curious one's name is Tuvok. Do you have a name that we should be using?" When he said 'curious', I'd received a picture of the Vulcan in my mind.

//I was never named by my creators. This is an interesting custom of yours. Can you not sense who another is without having a 'name' for them?//

"Yes and no. We name things so that we may speak of them to others and each of us then have a frame of reference that is the same." I struggled to explain while I wondered where Tom was.

//You are worried about your mate? He is within me as well. You call him Tom but his name is really Thomas. Why does he have two names that are not the same?//

I smiled and sat down on the bank of the lake. This could take some time. "Tom is a shortened form of Thomas. It's an affectionate name when spoken in love. Is he all right? Is he talking to you too?"

//All of you are talking to me. It has been very quiet over the centuries. I use your terms of reference for time. I slept after my people left. Tuvok is correct in his hypothesis. Your bond called to me and awoke me from my hibernation.//

"But why only us and Tuvok? Others have touched you and you do not acknowledge them."

//I was taught to respond only to the Elders of my people. They were all bonded pairs. Your Tuvok is bonded even though his mate is not present. It will take a little of your time for me to learn to interface with an unbonded person.//

"I see. Have you explained this to Tuvok?"

//Yes. He was very interested. Your mate is experiencing some distress.//

I leapt to my feet and tried to stay calm. "Why? Could you bring him here to me?"

//The location freshest in his mind was a very grim place and I moved him to his family home as I did you but his mind does not respond as yours did.//

"Please bring him here to me or move me to where he is. We'll try to explain the why of his reaction to you." And I was there in what had to be his boyhood room while he stood in the corner with his arms wrapped around himself and his back to the wall, trembling.

He launched himself at me and I caught him into my embrace while trying to bring every inch of him into contact with me. "Tom. It's all right. I'm here and this place is just a memory the crystal borrowed."

He shivered and locked his arms around me, burrowing his face into the hollow of my neck and shoulder. "Gods, Gregor. It's like every nightmare I ever had in living breathing color. I couldn't make my mind work to get it to send me somewhere else."

"I went first to a place my mother told me stories about when I was a child. Then it sent me to Dorvan 5. Would you like to go there instead of here?" I rested my cheek against his silky hair and breathed in his clean scent. "Was this your room when you were growing up?"

He snorted against my throat and lifted his head to look around. "Yeah. Depressing, isn't it?"

I looked around the large room at the single bed made with military precision, the dresser with just four drawers, the table and chair with a study light in one corner and the two doors on opposite walls. There was no art on the walls and everything was a rather depressing shade of beige. It was a curiously neutral room for such a vivid young man that Tom had surely been.

I said as much and he laughed sadly. "He pretty much beat anything other than neutrality out of me. My father didn't believe in individuality or self expression. This place was just where I slept and studied. Would you like to see where I day dreamed?"

His shy question almost broke my heart. I had to clear my throat before I could answer. "I'd love to."

"Okay, how are you at climbing trees?" His blue eyes sparkled into mine and I laughed out loud at the impish look.

"Lead the way." I followed him to the single window and watched while he threw it open.

He flung a leg over the sill and leaned out. "Funny. It seemed much farther away when I was a kid. Crystal, can we be hurt if we fall here?"

//No. You are safe within the memories you bring but physically you are still in the hydroponics bay where I rest. You will be safe within my matrix, always.//

"Thank you. Follow me, Gregor." And with a smile over his shoulder, he grabbed an upper tree limb and swung out over the empty space. I watched his movements carefully and as soon as he was safe against the tree bole, I followed him. My stomach did a little free fall until I could grab Tom's outstretched hand and the nearest tree limb.

We climbed up and up until we reached a small wooden platform nestled between two limbs and the tree trunk. Tom settled down and propped his feet on a branch. I sat beside him, very close, wrapping my arm around his shoulder.

"I never brought anybody here before. This was my only refuge while I was growing up. I 'borrowed' the wood from a neighbor's work shop and built it over a weekend when Dad was gone to a conference." He rested his hand on my thigh and I covered it with my free hand. "When everything got to be too much, I'd climb up here and pretend it was a starship that I was flying far away."

//You are better now? Why did you react to your home with fear?//

Tom sighed. "I wasn't very happy growing up, Crystal. My father had very high expectations for me and they didn't include my flying full time. He was very ... disappointed with me and when he was disappointed, he tended to take it out on me."

"You said he beat you." I ventured a comment.

"Yeah, sometimes. Frustration, mostly. But usually, he just blistered me with words. Hateful, horrible, never ending recitations of what I was doing wrong, why I hadn't met his expectations, how I was growing up shiftless, who I was disappointing, when was I going to realize that I had a responsibility to the family and where did I think I was going?" The blank look was back on his face and his hands were clenched in his lap.

I laid my free hand over his and let my love flow out into him. "You are the best pilot in the Delta Quadrant. You carry out your responsibilities to the very best of your ability, even to risking your own life for your shipmates. You have never let us down and you kept protecting us even when we didn't trust you. And if you'll let me, I will love you with all I am for as long as we have."

He looked at me with wide blue eyes that shimmered with unshed tears. A tentative smile quirked the corners of his mouth and he nodded slowly. "I'll try, Gregor. I really will."

Gently, I kissed him and his lips responded to mine instantly. I felt a hesitant tongue lick at my lower lip and I opened to him immediately. We kissed for a long moment before the crystal's voice interrupted us.

//This is very interesting. I did not know that some species do not care for their young. I would like to study this further when you next visit. The curious one wishes you to return to your bodies now. You may come back at any time.//

"Think of a name, why don't you? It feels odd to just call you Crystal." Tom pulled back just far enough to address the air around us.

//There is no hurry. I will winnow through the memories I've received from the three of you. Perhaps something will spark my interest.//

I felt a cold chill run up my spine. "How many of our memories do you now have, Crystal?"

//All of them.//

"Oh, my god." Tom's voice went up an octave.

//There is something wrong? When you linked with me, you gave me your memories. Why are you afraid?//

"Memories are very private things to humans. We share them rarely with each other and then we pick and choose what to share." I managed to get the words out. "What do you do with the memories?"

//I store them. That is my responsibility. I do not share them with others if that is your fear. Privacy is an interesting concept among your peoples.//

"It helps keep us sane, Crystal." Tom sagged back against me and I held him tightly. "We would really appreciate you keeping our memories apart. We are newly bonded and part of the fun of a good relationship is taking the time to share our memories with each other."

"I couldn't have said it better myself." I squeezed him and heard his breath catch. "Especially as you gain more of the crews memories, they need to know that they will be safe with you."

//I see. Most interesting. I look forward to them.//

The crystal's voice faded and I was back in the hydroponics' bay again. We all three let go of the crystal at the same time and sat back with a sigh. The other four ringed us with expectant faces and barely concealed questions.

"Most interesting." Tuvok's dry voice echoed the crystal's own comments. "A very inquisitive entity."

"Funny, Tuvok. He said the same thing about you." Tom spoke up with a glimmer of mischief in his voice.

"Gentlemen." Captain Janeway spoke in her no-nonsense command voice. "Why is it only responding to the three of you?"

Tom and I looked at Tuvok and he nodded briefly. "It appears that the Elders of his people were all bonded pairs. Even though I am alone, it sensed my bonding to T'Pel."

"But that would mean that Gregor and Tom were ..." Harry's voice wavered.

"Yep, Harry. It would." Tom's voice was quiet and controlled while his eyes locked with mine.

"Gregor? And Tom?" B'Elanna's voice growled and I steeled myself for a diatribe. But she surprised me with a slap to the shoulder that would probably leave a bruise later. "You could have told us."

"Well, it was kind of a surprise to me, too." Tom shook his head shyly and I saw Harry pat his arm. There was still a faintly worried look on his face when he looked at his friend. I could practically tell what he was thinking.

Was I going to hurt Tom the way all his other lovers had? Would I understand his hopes and fears? Could I love him the way he deserved to be loved? I could foresee a private talk with the Ensign in the very near future.

"I woke up one morning and realized that I was missing a friend. Who became a lover." I kept it as simple as I could while still preserving our privacy.

His eyes warmed and a sultry look melted me to the floor. "We'd appreciate it if you kept it among us, for now." His eyes went to the Captain. "It might be fun to see how long it takes the rest of the crew to notice?"

Her lips quirked. "Of course. You wouldn't by any chance be going to make book on when they *do* discover your new relationship?"

"Why, Captain, I'm wounded by the suggestion." His eyes sparkled at her. "I thought maybe B'El could. For a percentage."

We all broke into laughter and Tom got his own punch from the Chief Engineer. Tuvok raised an eyebrow and waited for us to quiet down.

"What then are we to tell the rest of the crew about why the crystal responds to the three of us?"

Tom replied quickly. "He said that he was working on being able to interface with unbonded humans. I wonder if it's a question of harmonics?"

Harry reached over and touched the crystal. A ripple of color raced through it and his eyes widened. I saw them glaze over while we stood there and watched him link to the crystal. It was fascinating to watch and I wondered if the three of us had looked like that.

"How long were we inside the crystal?" I asked.

"About five minutes." Chakotay volunteered.

"What?" Tom's eyes widened. "It felt like an hour or two."

"The crystal appears to be able to bend time and light." Tuvok eyed it speculatively. "Studying it will take some effort on our part. Its frame of reference is not ours so we must be careful in our dealings with it. I suggest that no one interfaces with it unless there is at least one other present. And the crew must be informed that the crystal stores *all* memories when the link is formed."

"All? As in remembered and unremembered?" The Captain's eyebrow went up. "That could be awkward."

"Tell me about it." Tom shuddered while he watched Harry closely. "He said that our memories were safe and that he wouldn't share them with others. Even with our bonded halves."

Harry shook his head and Tom was quick to pull him away while he and B'Elanna supported him. He stood there for a moment and his eyes were distant with memories. "That was incredible. There's so much to learn from him."

"Not tonight." Captain Janeway spoke up decisively. "Or rather this morning. Tuvok, post a guard with instructions for the crystal to remain untouched until we can begin a series of experiments with some safeguards in place."

"We need to continue filling the stores with supplies from the planet." Chakotay added. "This could wait until we are ready to move on from this world."

"Yes. I agree." Captain Janeway nodded. "But it may know where more of the dilithium crystals can be found. So, tomorrow, I mean today, we need to ask it. Tuvok, that can be your job. Unless B'Elanna would like to try a link?"

"May I think about it, Captain?" Her voice was less certain than I'd ever heard it.

"Certainly. No one will ever have to link if they don't wish to. I will have to think about whether I *can* initiate a link with it. My memories are full of secrets and information from Star Fleet that no one else should know." Janeway's voice was contemplative.

I hadn't even thought about the whole command structure and the problems it could cause. I could see Chakotay struggling with his desire to link with the crystal. But he was ship's counselor and the secrets he knew were not for sharing. This could really be a problem that I was glad I hadn't had to consider.

Tom was smiling at me and he nodded briefly before he asked the next question. "Too late for us, Captain. You can use us to ask your questions if you decide you shouldn't. He already knows all we are."

"And once he figures out how to speak to us without a human interface, you may be able to talk with him without linking." I hesitantly volunteered. "If he can."

"Enough for tonight. I will see all of you during second shift today." The Captain dismissed us and Harry dragged Tom off while B'El cornered me and suggested Sandrines.

We spent an hour talking about life and love and the Delta Quadrant. She was envious but resigned to Tom's and my bond. She spoke rather nostalgically about their short termed romance. B'El told me that she wasn't patient enough to fight her way through all his layers of defense and she wished me luck.

I walked her back to her quarters before heading to mine. It felt wrong to be here alone, without Tom. But I couldn't crowd him. He deserved his privacy and had fought long and hard for it all his life. But the need to touch and hold was strong and it took all my self discipline to just send him a message of love via the computer and get ready for bed.

It felt odd to be showering alone and I conjured up the warm wet body who'd played so beautifully with me earlier. My own hands just didn't make my skin feel alive anymore. The other half of my soul was absent and I felt curiously numb. Damn it. It never felt like this with Seri. I mustn't smother him or make him feel trapped. I can't cling and hold him too tightly or I'll scare him away. But, oh gods, I need him like I need oxygen to breathe.

A gust of air was all the warning I had before warm arms slid around my waist and hugged me tightly. "Hey, Gregor. That's my job from now on."

I turned into his arms and kissed him desperately. His lips parted immediately and our tongues mated with passionate fervor. He seemed to catch fire under my devouring mouth, vibrating in my arms. I caught hold of my self-control and managed to break the kiss.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to attack you like that." I couldn't meet his eyes. Where was all my fine talk about going slow and taking it easy?

"Gregor. Look at me." His voice was soft but firm and I raised my eyes slowly. "You didn't hurt me. And I'm not afraid anymore of whatever we're becoming. I've never been in love before but if this is what it feels like, then I'm ready. For anything."

He's so brave in his loving, even though he doesn't think he knows what that is. I nodded and drew him under the water with me. The moment was too fragile and my control too uncertain to allow any thing but a leisurely washing. No playing or exciting each other this time. Just a gentle loving cleansing of both our bodies. Learning the different slopes and plains of our different body types.

We dried each other tenderly and Tom stood flushed and sleepy eyed before me. "Please, can we go to bed now? I don't think I can stay awake any longer."

I suddenly felt as if I were stumbling through treacle and I managed a nod. We supported each other into my bedroom and crawled in together, pulling the cover over us with a sigh. He settled into my arms as if he'd always been there and I felt something cold melt inside me. The fear that this wouldn't work was gone, dissolved by his courage.

"I love you, Tom. Sweet dreams."

"Sweet dreams, Gregor. Thank you for not giving up on me."

"Never, love. Just don't give up on yourself. We need you too badly to lose you now." I spoke over a lump in my throat.

He hesitated and raised his head from my shoulder to gaze down at me. "I promise, Gregor. But you need to promise too. No crazy security stuff without thinking of me first. We both have someone to lose now. Okay?"

"Okay." I felt tears gather and quickly closed my eyes but one escaped.

His lips caught it before it could fall and his tongue lapped it away. Those soft lips brushed mine tenderly and I heard his voice through a thick fog. "Sleep now, Gregor. We're both safe."

The end of part three