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Title: And Not Fade Away, Part 4 of 5
Author: Morgan Stuart
Fandom: Star Trek: Voyager
Disclaimer: This universe does not belong to me; I'm just an appreciative visitor. I make no profit from this fan work.
Description: When Chakotay, Paris, and Kim are stranded on a vicious alien world, Kes risks her sanity and Janeway risks her command to see that rescue eventually arrives.
Dedication: This is for Margret.
Historian's Note: The events in this story take place directly after the events depicted in the third season Star Trek: Voyager episode "Flashback."
Warnings (Highlight to Read): Graphic injury.




The three assembled in sickbay were unlikely allies. Nonetheless, the Doctor, Neelix, and Tuvok were united by their concern for the beautiful young Ocampa who had changed each of their lives. There was a guilt, a secrecy, an underground feeling to their meeting, since they knew that Kes had made up her mind to pursue the telepathic link with the landing party and Janeway had backed her decision. It was this choice that they questioned.

"It's getting worse." Neelix began frantically. "Sometimes she does things as if she's in a trance, and loses all sense of time. And it's one of their activities, not hers. She does things she's never done before like she's done them all her life. I don't understand -"

"I fear that she will lose her sense of self. The longer she is immersed in this link, the harder it will be to reestablish her own identity. She may become lost in the sea of telepathic input, without the anchor of self-awareness." The Doctor leaned over a nearby console, stricken.

Neelix practically danced on the balls of his feet, propelled by nervous energy. "And, and what would happen then? Mister Vulcan, what would happen if what he says is true?"

"I cannot say. It is possible, however, that her sanity might be compromised."

"What does that mean? That she would lose her mind?"

Tuvok merely laced his fingers together and steepled his index fingers in thought.

"Well, what can we do then? The captain is adamant that we respect Kes's decision. If she didn't realize -"

"The captain was aware of the situation." Tuvok's voice was unemotional as only a Vulcan's could be.

"And? You let her go ahead -"

"I did not 'let' the captain do anything. Captain Janeway makes her own decisions. She is an admirable captain and I respect her abilities."

"But obviously you don't agree with this decision..." The Talaxian prompted.

"I do not."

The admission pried from Tuvok silenced them all for a time. Then Neelix tried once more. "Doctor, isn't there something you can do to override them?"

He scowled in indignation. "Mister Neelix, if there were something I could do, I would not be here listening to you. I would be doing it. But I have voiced and logged my reservations regarding this course of events. That is all I can do at present."

"So where does that leave us?"

"Waiting."

***

Paris was worse. There was blood when he coughed and an unmistakable gurgling gasp accompanying each breath. He stayed still now, desperately trying not to aggravate the sickness that tore apart his lungs. At times he could stomach little food. The pain stole his sleep. His weakness grew with each hour, even as he felt his sanity threatening to desert him. Wrapped in furs on the bed of the darkened cabin, he awoke once in panic, believing he was again in Llilegrough's solitary cube. It was all Kim could do to calm him and then brace him as he rode out the resulting fit of smothering coughs. And, again, the ensign discreetly overlooked the tears of helplessness and frustration that Paris quietly shed, pale face turned toward the log walls.

This morning Kim worked about quietly, trying not to disturb his friend. Chakotay had been hunting for two days and might not be back for several more. Although the ensign and commander did not often talk a great deal, at least he was company, staring intensely into the fire next to his officers or feeding it with great frost-kissed logs. The last few days weighed heavily on Kim. He feared for Paris. The loneliness of the monotonous hours, listening only to the painful breaths and whistling wind, wore on his nerves. Over and over again he looked at the expressive face framed in fur, twisted in misery both in sleep and in consciousness. He fought with his doubts and his fears for his friend, for their future. Luckily there were enough chores to finish and needs to anticipate to keep him occupied, physically at least, during the daylight hours.

As he brought in an armful of wood, hastily shutting the door against the chilling draft, Paris spoke. Had the fire crackled or an animal howled at that instant, Kim would not have heard the faint whisper. But he did.

"Talk to me... Harry." Paris seemed exhausted by the effort. His eyes pleaded with his friend, fixed on him like the one chance at survival that he truly was.

"Sure thing!" Adding the logs to the blaze, he brought a cup of water to Paris and slipped an arm beneath the slender shoulders to support him while he drank. Easing him back into the furs, Kim then seated himself on the stump beside the fire. Now that Paris was awake and lucid, Kim drew a blank. He asked sheepishly, "What do you want me talk about?"

Paris forced a smile, an anemic shadow of his old cavalier cockiness. "You never told me... about when you... saw Earth again... Mysterious." Rapid breaths, recovering from the exertion. Keen eyes cutting through the haze of pain.

Kim was taken off guard. He thought for a moment. Then it registered. "You mean the alternate timeline?" Paris nodded. "Okay, but you have to try a little soup. Do we have a deal?" The lieutenant shook his head uncertainly. "Tom, you've got to try to eat something. You have to keep up your strength so you can fight this. C'mon, just a little." His trump card. "For me?"

Paris rolled his eyes. "For you." He sighed the words to his crewmate, hands half-raised in defeat.

"That's more like it." Kim turned to place the iron pot on the wooden arm above the fire. "It'll take it a minute to get good and hot." He swiveled back to face Paris and sighed. "I didn't mean to keep the whole thing a mystery. It was so incredible. I'd never been on Voyager - neither had you. It was as if life had just kept on, like it would have if we hadn't gone on this mission. I was going to marry Libby." He looked away from Paris, focusing on some scene only he could see. "Just to see her again, touch her, hear her voice... in one sense it let me say good-bye but, in another... it made her even closer to me. And so strange to know what I could've had. What I was missing... " He shook himself in a chastising way. This isn't what Tom needs. He let the silence stretch for a moment and distance the two of them from his words as he grasped the pot with rag-clothed hands and set it down to cool. He chose a bowl and poured Paris's soup. Kicking the stump alongside the bed, he gently helped Paris sit up and rearranged the supporting furs around him. "You okay there?" Paris shifted slightly and appeared to relax, nodding.

"Sorry, Harry," he whispered. The ensign lifted his eyebrow questioningly. Paris swallowed and tried again. "'Bout Libby."

"Oh, I didn't mean to spill all that. I'm okay, really. " He lifted the bowl to Paris's lips. The lieutenant raised his hands to balance it and took a sip. He closed his eyes, savoring the feeling of warmth as it trailed down his ravaged throat. He made a pleased sound, a low moan of satisfaction. Kim smiled.

"Anyway, you were there. I found you. You saved my life. More than once. You were my friend in that timeline, too." Another swallow and a grateful smile.

"I was... released?"

"Yeah, you'd been out of the penal colony for a while. Playing pool mostly, it seemed like. You looked pretty... casual. Not as much of a beard as you have now, though."

Paris chuckled at the jab and fingered his ginger beard, its thickness another testament to the time that had passed on this planet. The realization sent him again into silence.

A sip of soup. Observing his mood, desperate not to let it sink any further because of his own inept comments, Kim started again. "I stuck out like such a sore thumb. I didn't quite fit in with your, um... scene." Kim shook his head at the memory. "Let's just say you weren't instantly convinced of my situation." Another swallow.

Instantly Paris's calm face, blushed with the first color to enter the sunken cheeks in days, grimaced in unexpected agony. He clutched Kim's arm with desperate strength. The bowl fell to the floor and Kim grabbed Paris, instinctively helping him as he lurched toward the side of the bed. Leaning his head over its edge Paris retched and heaved. Kim could hardly hold him as his light frame shuddered and spasmed. Then the coughing followed. Kim reached for one of the many rags, tattered remnants of the shirt Chakotay wore in the labor camp, and held it to Paris's lips. It grew wet and crimson with each cough.

"Easy, easy. I've got you. It's okay, Tom. Easy now." Quiet words, mingling with ragged sobs. The fit lasted for several minutes, a lifetime in Kim's estimation. He gently rubbed the back that ached so cruelly and rocked the body he held, trying to calm his friend. Each moment brought only the slightest relief. As the breaths slowed he turned Paris and carefully lowered him into the furs. Paris's eyes were squeezed shut. He concentrated on breathing. Finally certain that the fit had passed, Kim quietly began cleaning the spilled soup and vomit from the floor. His heart ached. Paris had weathered so many bad turns - he had even survived their flight so soon after his torture - and had seemed to be growing stronger each day. All of that progress, now lost with the season. The night in the valley watching the meteor shower appeared like the most fanciful imagination.

"S... sorry." The quiet syllables shocked Kim from his thoughts. Paris, unmoving, his features wreathed with lines that mocked his age, watched him with infinitely sad eyes. He dropped them to the floor where Kim knelt. "Mess."

Kim shook his head vehemently. "No! You didn't want to eat. I shouldn't have forced you to. I'm sorry, Tom." Paris close his eyes and nodded once, acknowledging the younger man, thanking him. Silence, save for Paris's short, shallow breaths, settled on the cabin. Minutes passed.

Staring again into his own private vision, Kim spoke. "I haven't told you this before now. It just seemed... I don't know, weird. Back when I was on Earth, you gave your life so that I could return to this timeline. Your shuttle was destroyed, and you knew it would be. I didn't mean for it to happen. But you did it anyway." He thought of the infinite relief he felt, seeing Paris at the helm when he beamed back aboard Voyager after that experience. His voice changed, growing more forceful, fueled by the frustration welling up inside him. "I won't let you do it this time, Tom. I'm gonna be there every step of the way. I know you think of me as some kid brother that always needs protection, but I'm an adult. And I'm strong. I'll help you fight this any way I know how. You've saved me before. Well, I can take care of you, too." He trembled with the force of his conviction, running his fingers through his long hair. "Just hold on. I won't let you leave me again." Pulling himself back to the situation at hand, he refocused on the cabin, the fire, the floor. He turned to Paris.

The lieutenant was sleeping.

***

Kes was in the mess hall, staring dully into nothingness as her hot tea grew tepid, when she slumped forward. The supper rush had already passed, and few crew members still remained to talk and snack. No one was near enough to catch the tiny frame as it slid forward and then sideways, inertly to the floor. Hearing his name called, Neelix emerged from his pot-scouring to find a small huddle around his unconscious companion. In moments he had scooped her into his arms and was trotting down the hall toward sickbay.

The prognosis was exhaustion. The Doctor eventually indulged her request and allowed her to return to her quarters to rest. But there were few concrete changes to make; she had already relinquished her work in the sickbay and her various tasks on board. There was nothing else, nothing physical, to do to lighten her load.

And despite the concern from Neelix, the Doctor, and Tuvok, she would not relinquish the precious pain of Tom Paris.

***

The easy autumn they had known erupted into winter with little warning. Ominous frosts and foreboding winds changed the landscape, making even the wearily familiar seem threatening. They could not escape the upcoming changes, as clearly as the cabin drafts shrieked in the night. Chakotay felt a new sense of urgency as he skinned, drew and quartered. In a short while the hunt would be impossible to continue. The more he could set aside for that lean time, the better.

Fur pulled close around his neck, hair whipping against his face, Chakotay squinted as his eyes surveyed the mountainside. He stretched occasionally and dug his knuckles into the thick, misshapen muscles along his legs that spoke to the hours he had spent riding. The water holes, the grazing grounds, he knew them all now. And he spoke words of respect and thanks to the keepers of the game, the spirits that allowed him the needed kill, each time he took a life.

This day was one like any other. He climbed to a natural overlook to scout the valley for game. But as the rider and mount turned the usual bend of the ledge, Chakotay's wallibeve faltered on a semi-frozen patch of damp rock. Reacting with the surety of experience, he held tightly with his thighs and leaned into the animal, trying to stabilize its center of gravity and calm it. The beast panicked and whirled in disorientation. He urged it away from the edge of the narrow cliff and spoke softly. With several jerky turns and awkward hops, the wallibeve finally came to a breathless standstill. Sighing heavily, Chakotay patted its thick neck. "You had me going there, friend. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea after all, huh?"

Nudging the wallibeve easily with his heels, he tugged on the reins to signal his intention of retreating from the ledge. The animal backed and turned. As it shuffled sideways it encountered another slick spot. It leaped forward, trying to regain its balance, turning in mid-air, twisting Chakotay away from the cliff wall and toward the edge. All he could do was hold onto the beast and swivel with it, loosing all sense of direction in the process.

They landed hard. Chakotay could not distinguish the pain of hitting the cold stone from the pain of the heavy wallibeve falling on top of him. A dull, distant crack echoed in his ears. The sudden agony of his leg breaking stole his breath, then dulled to a pain he had endured before. Not good, but he could manage. He could ride, even crawl if he had to, with a broken leg. Another obstacle, not insurmountable. Unfortunate. Survivable.

The real question was the wallibeve. With his free arm Chakotay stroked the heaving side and cooed soothingly. He tried to lean forward and see for himself, but he was pinned under the massive weight. Sinking back against the wet rock, he tried to relax his tense muscles as much as possible, still patting the beast sympathetically. What to do now?

The wallibeve was quiet while stunned, but its panic soon resurfaced with its awareness. Bellowing with the pain of its own injuries, it began to thrash wildly. Chakotay clawed with his free hand, digging his fingers into unyielding stone, as the animal's movements jarred the broken leg. When it had exhausted itself and Chakotay had caught his breath, he resumed his rhythmic stroking. "Please, please, don't do that again," he whispered shakily. "Rest easy now."

The respite was short-lived. The animal, calmer now, instinctively tried to rise to it is feet. It rocked slowly, rolling across the helpless commander, fighting fruitlessly to right itself. Meeting no success, it shifted its weight and tried again. And again. Beneath the wallibeve, Chakotay retched dryly as the broken bones in his leg shifted. When the beast made its last attempt, the injured man registered its changing position. There was nothing he could do. His stomach tightened and his nails left bloody trails on the surface beside him. Oh father...

Chakotay cried out as the fallen animal's sturdy frame crushed his knee and then rocked back across the damage it had inflicted. When the wallibeve grew still he carefully curled over on himself, wrapped his arm over his face, and screamed again.

***

B'Elanna Torres threw the datapadd against the wall, listening with satisfaction to the sound of various breaking objects. The padd would survive intact, of course. They always did. Torres knew. She had thrown many a datapadd in the last few months.

She was spending her offshift - more appropriately, her sleeping period - as she had ever since Tuvok and Kes had sent the data on the atmosphere. She might as well run simulations. She could not sleep more than two hours or so a night, and only then when her body demanded it and fought off the angry, helpless nightmares. The simulations were still not successful. She was yet to devise an effective means of obtaining sensor readings once a rescue shuttle landed. Trace elements would still render the portable, hand-held tricorders ineffective. To make things worse, she was missing the officer with whom she usually worked on such projects, Harry Kim. She rubbed her bloodshot eyes and moved across her quarters, experience leading her to the usual datapadd crash sight. Without looking down to confirm that it was there, she kicked out. She smiled grimly. A rewarding thump.

She jumped when her communicator whistled. Anyone would expect that she would be asleep. Leaping to her cabinet, she slapped the receiver and barked, "Torres!" Is there word? Any news?

"B'Elanna?" The tentative whisper was eerily soft.

"Kes? Is that you?" No answer. Torres was already wrapping herself in her robe and attaching the transmitter. "Kes, can you hear me? Stay there - I'm on my way." She sprinted out the door to the Ocampa's quarters.

Kes was sitting cross-legged, her palms to the floor, beside the bed from which she had evidently tumbled hurriedly. Torres dropped to her knees in front of her, and reached out to cover her hands in her own. The engineer knew that pose. She feared what it meant. In a husky voice she asked, "Kes? Is it Chakotay?"

A silent nod, eyes still closed.

What has happened? Is he alive? Can you sense him? What's happening, Kes? "What can I do?"

"I need your strength. I need you. Help me..."

Torres sensed the urgency without knowing the cause. "Can you walk?"

Blue eyes opened, blinked, focused. In one quick and graceful move she was on her feet. "Take me."

Torres led Kes to Chakotay's quarters and let the two of them inside. With deftness borne of familiarity, she gathered his collection of carved stones. She then knelt with Kes and offered the Ocampa her precious armload. The engineer held her breath, watching Kes resume Chakotay's posture and hold his personal effects.

"He is trapped and badly hurt. He thinks he may die. He's not afraid..." She swallowed and looked Torres in the eye. "He's not afraid of dying, B'Elanna. I don't know what to do. Tom was scared, so scared. He fought. Chakotay is trying to fight, but he isn't afraid." Her eyes, if possible, grew wider. "This is the closest I have ever felt to him. I want to hold on. I can't let him go. I can't let him leave me." She doubled over on herself, eyes squeezed shut, trembling with effort. "No, no, I can't let him -"

Torres knew this was a new step, pushing Kes from merely experiencing events to actually changing them. Could she communicate to them, even influence them on the planet below? Torres's voice was throaty with desperation. "You're right. Don't let him. Don't let him, Kes. He's a fighter. Make him fight."

She nodded and closed her eyes again. Her fingers clenched in fists on the floor. It was almost more than Torres could stand, sitting in Chakotay's quarters, the symbols, the art, the sandalwood musk of a Maquis Captain and a Starfleet First Officer surrounding her, mocking her with his absence. I'm a fighter, and I can't fight now. The man who means more to me than my own father is dying, slowly, in pain, and I cannot fight. She could not sit here like this. Turning her back to Kes, she moved to Chakotay's wall. Her fingers traced the paths of the medicine wheel. It was not the first time she had moved the stones across the sacred circle in Chakotay's name.

"Live, Chakotay. Live." The words sounded breathily in a constant rhythm, over and over.

***

Stinging sleet. Cold rock. Ice formed around Chakotay where he lay, pinned by the carcass of the wallibeve. How long ago had it died? Minutes? Hours? Days? Time had little meaning now to the shivering man. With his free arm he tugged at his fur cloak, trying to tuck it more tightly around himself. Then he draped his arm across his eyes to shield them from the frozen rain.

It was up to him. He had instructed Kim not to look for him, if he should fail to return from a hunting trip. If he were alive, he would find a way back. If not, there would be nothing Kim could do anyway. At least he would know that Kim and Paris were safe. Now, in retrospect, his choice pleased him. The thought was very comforting, indeed.

Images, fragments of ideas, flashed beneath his squeezed eyelids. If he could dismember the animal, he could move it piece by piece until he was free. I cannot reach my knife, and, even if I could, such a project one-armed would take... longer than I have. He could sever his own mutilated leg and, using it as leverage against the animal's weight, free his arm. Without a knife, without a fire to cauterize the wound... besides, that is macabre. His people had no taboos against suicide, if it were done honorably, and not to avoid shame. I don't want to die here, slowly, of exposure... but I have no means of taking my own life while I am still strong. Anyway, I am not ready to give up. Not just yet. His mind churned hundreds of plans, none of which seemed plausible. After some time he grew afraid that his own senses might be slipping, and with them the ability to reach any decision at all. Dying helplessly in irrational panic frightened him the most. He wanted his honor. He wanted his mind.

So he breathed slowly, cleared his thoughts, and searched for his animal spirit guide. Where, in this dismal, frozen scene, was his oasis? Yes. A sheltered glen. Thick grass. Green trees. And there, before him, the dark-eyed timber wolf, drinking from the brook.

And there, beside the familiar creature, drank a golden-haired Ocampa.

The wolf looked up, directly toward Chakotay. It radiated concern.

And Kes looked up, her face creased with worry.

She seemed as if she belonged in the scene, as if she had always been there, as pure and primal and powerful as the rest of his vision.

But she was not supposed to be there.

He opened his eyes to the sleet, flailing his arm in terrible horror. His worst fears seemed to be confirmed. I am losing my mind, I am tainting my visions with insane hallucinations, I am lost...

In anguish he twisted, kicking at the dead wallibeve with his one free leg, kicking, kicking, kicking.

Pinned as he was, Chakotay had no idea how he was positioned in relation to the cliff's edge. He could not know that the wallibeve's body, after its death throes, had perched precariously on the ledge's lip. He kicked with all of his strength, in anguish at his own perceived failure, simply lashing out in the only way he could.

His frantic blows sent the heavy carcass tumbling.

He was free.

***

Kim lumbered into the cabin, chilling drizzle following him. He carried the mud-crusted and bloody form of Chakotay over his shoulder. As he moved toward the fire he caught every blanket in arm's length and dragged it along. Paris immediately sat and kicked his feet over the edge of the bed, wrapping himself in fur and easing himself over by the fire. "Harry?" He knew his friend would understand the question.

"It's bad," was the thin reply, reflecting Kim's concern more than the strain of his burden. Paris was on his knees before the fire first, spreading the furs and making room for the injured Amerindian. Stooping forward himself, wincing at the stifled moan from Chakotay, Kim leaned the commander back onto the pallets and immediately covered him with the blankets. He trembled with cold. His eyes were squeezed shut.

"Chakotay, it's Tom Paris... You're safe in the cabin now." Despite the frailty of the lieutenant's own voice, he sounded calm and competent. Chakotay did not open his eyes, did not respond in any way. Kim gently lifted the rain and sweat-soaked head and helped him drink. Then he poured some more of the water onto a rag and wiped the burning forehead.

"Harry... have you checked him out?"

"I know his leg's hurt. I don't know what else. He's been out there a long time."

Paris nodded and lifted back the blankets, exposing Chakotay's leg. His breath caught in his throat and he almost gagged. Swallowing hard, he stretched over the limb to the other one, running his hands over it in exploration. He repeated the process along the rest of the unmoving body, opening layers of jackets in the process. When he was finished he turned to Kim. "He's cut up in a lot of places... His hands are a mess... But it looks like the leg may be the worst injury."

"It's broken... and the knee is crushed." They both jumped as Chakotay spoke with painstaking clarity, never opening his eyes. Paris could hardly believe that he was conscious, since he had been so still and unresponsive as the younger man had assessed his injuries. Kim lifted his head and slid his knees beneath it, trying to make him more comfortable. The two friends looked at each other expectantly.

"Okay, then, we need to clean you up... and get this leg into a better position -"

"I lost it."

They were both bewildered. Paris asked, "What? You lost what?"

He drew a deep breath. "The animal... the, the wallibeve." The words were excruciatingly slow, as if it took all of his strength to form words, to control his voice, to keep from screaming in pain instead of speaking. "It is dead." He opened his eyes to slivers, just enough to make out the figures at his head and feet. "I'm sorry for... for losing it." He closed his eyes again and swallowed back the cries that filled his throat.

They had no idea what to say. Kim helped him drink once more, and finally stumbled through a response. "It's okay... really." He shrugged theatrically to Paris, who returned the gesture. How can Chakotay think of wallibeves at a time like this? We almost lost him, too.

Paris thought furiously. He finally relied on his ever-present sarcastic wit. "Yeah, Chakotay... we held a popularity test and... believe it or not... you had more votes than the wallibeve... So it's best that you're the one that came back."

Something that might have been a smile twisted the tightly-pressed lips. "I... demand... a recount."

Relieved glances passed between Paris and Kim.

They washed him quickly, unwilling to let any part of his shivering body grow more chilled. They removed or cut away as much of the soiled clothes as possible and wrapped him warmly in furs and blankets. When the lacerations had been cleaned and the torn hands bandaged, they faced each other again. All that was left was the leg.

"Tom, are you doing all right?"

Slender face creased in concentration, Paris knelt on the floor beside the fire and the fallen officer, rubbing his own aching chest absently. It was more physical activity than he had known in some while, but he was moving slowly and carefully. He nodded. He did not have the luxury of resting yet.

"I'll work on his leg... I'll need you to hold him."

Kim looked to the still form and raised his eyebrow questioningly. The commander hardly seemed able to fight their ministrations.

"Trust me. Just... hold him, okay?" Kim moved to obey, placing Chakotay's head again on his lap and leaning over him, resting his hands on the broad shoulders.

Startling them once again, Chakotay spoke abruptly. "I want... to keep it." The sentence was definitely a statement, but his tone conveyed a question to his two officers.

It was then that Paris realized how utterly defenseless Chakotay felt. The commander, in his own way, was pleading with them not to amputate his wounded leg. At least not now. If possible. Stoic. Proud. Stubborn. Please, at least let me try to stay whole.

The low, raspy voice - the voice of Paris's illness, accentuated by the recent reversal from which he was still recovering - whispered agreement and warned the reclining man of his impending touch. Then Paris cut away the last shreds of the leggings, careful to move the leg as little as possible. He touched the damp rag to it, trying to remove the worst of the blood and dirt. Chakotay did not move, did not react, did not watch. His jaw was clenched tightly and his white-knuckled hands squeezed fistfuls of fur. Kim maintained a supportive silence, alternately observing Paris's work and looking away from the maimed body.

The swollen, torn, in places unrecognizable limb rested in an unnatural angle, both from the break and the lack of a functional knee joint. Paris fidgeted and cleared his throat. "I'm gonna have to... move it now, Chakotay." A short nod communicated the commander's understanding. Paris shot a quick glance to Kim and mouthed, "Hold him." The ensign kept his hands on Chakotay's shoulders.

Biting his lip, Paris lifted the leg and tried to realign it, feeling for the ends of the broken bone. Immediately Chakotay arched his back, pulling a stunned Kim off his knees. They struggled, the younger man twining his arms through the commander's, fighting the reflexive responses that made the wounded man buck and heave so violently. He was strong even after his ordeal, moreso than Kim had anticipated. His face twisted in a mask of agony, his mouth open in a scream that had no voice. He held his breath, fighting for some dignity in the midst of overwhelming pain. As they embraced and struggled, Paris adjusted the leg in his best approximation of its proper position. The unnatural feel of the knee - like small marbles beneath smooth leather - made his stomach lurch. He finally drew away, himself trembling and sweat-soaked.

"I'll have to splint this... and wrap the knee." He whispered, scooting away on his knees to locate the appropriate materials. Kim started to disentangle himself from Chakotay and help, but Paris waved at him to remain in place. "Stay there... I can handle it." Both Kim and Chakotay sank back wearily and sipped water from the bowl within Kim's reach.

When Paris was ready to begin again, Kim linked arms with Chakotay once more. The commander could not help his desperate flailings as Paris moved the mutilated limb. When Paris began with the knee, Kim could hardly hold him.

"C'mon, Chakotay," Paris hissed fiercely, himself intensely pained by the mute grimace on the flushed face. "You don't have to... prove anything to us... Scream all you like."

There was no reply. But when Paris tightened the bandages around the knee, Chakotay cried out mindlessly, deep, guttural, dry sobs. Once he began it was difficult to stop. His throat was raw before Paris finished with the knee. When the lieutenant was through, all three men sagged in exhaustion. Chakotay turned his face toward the fire, away from the officers, gasping for breath. Paris shook his head. I don't know how the man stays conscious through all this.

"Just the splint now," he sighed, coughing quietly. Kim ached to help his frail friend with this work, but he knew Paris could not hold Chakotay if they traded tasks. So he obediently tightened his grasp and, with a reassuring squeeze to Chakotay, steeled himself to weather this last storm.

It was a makeshift effort, but it was all any of them could handle. They could construct a sturdier brace later. They had set the leg. That was the important thing. Keeping Chakotay warm and giving him water, slowly strengthening him, would occupy the next few hours. Or days. Kim disentangled himself and pillowed Chakotay's head with rolled furs. As easily as Paris had stepped forward to choreograph their medical efforts, Kim now took the lead. Quietly, he slipped over to the drooping Paris and washed his blood-streaked arms and hands. Then he then guided the lieutenant, now coughing harshly, to his bed. The spent navigation officer nodded his thanks and curled himself around the covers, holding still until his breathing eased. "I'll keep an eye on him," Kim whispered, and Paris smiled gratefully before fading into shallow sleep.

Kim then leaned over the commander and added a log to the fire, poking and prodding and stirring the embers into a blaze. Chakotay still shivered as his body fought its injuries and remembered its exposure. He clearly had a fever, but he had not shown any signs of delirium. Kim arranged the coverings around him, leaving the wads of fur again squeezed in each fist undisturbed. Then he straightened, sighing softly, considering his next move. Water. Yes, we'll need more of that. He gathered the biggest bowls together. As he stepped to the door he turned, considering the sleeping lieutenant and the silently suffering commander. His two patients. His responsibilities.

From beneath flickering eyelids Chakotay watched the ensign as he worked around the cabin. They had managed well, the two of them, dividing the labor and making a life. Now he was lame, flat on his back, and their every need fell to Kim. It wasn't right that the gentle man, the youngest, least experienced of the three, should have to pull their combined weight alone. Kim turned at the doorway and glanced at each of them in turn. Then he opened the door and faced the night with determination, squaring his shoulders before dissolving into the darkness. The subtle transformation was not lost on Chakotay. Kim knew what this all meant. He understood that the very fabric of their lives here would have to be rewoven. He would take care of them. He would provide. He would hold all three of them together.

It broke Chakotay's heart.

***

In the next days, the only way Paris could tell if Chakotay were awake or unconscious was the color of his clenched knuckles. The fists that held his covers never opened, but they relaxed enough to allow circulation when he was unconscious. When he was awake, they became a bloodless white. Paris did not force him to talk. When Kim was busy, Paris saw to it that the commander had water close at hand. But he would not take food, not yet. Fever still beaded his brow with sweat, and pain still creased his features.

Finally, on the third day since Kim had found him, Chakotay woke Paris with the sound of movement. He was half-sitting on his pallet by the fire, trying to open the wrappings around his leg. His movements were clumsy and his face was twisted in concentration as he fought for energy for what seemed to be a mammoth task. Paris shifted silently so he could observe Chakotay through narrowed eyes. He knew better than to interrupt the commander's efforts. If the stubborn Amerindian wanted help, he would ask for it. Nevertheless, the lieutenant kept an eye on the older man, just to be sure.

He shook with weakness and with the fever that refused to break. But eventually he laid the maimed limb bare save for the splint. As he unwrapped the knee he failed to bite back the quiet whimpers that filled his throat. Then he turned toward the fire. The light of the glowing embers reflected on the surface of a knife blade.

Before he could think, Paris was beside him, white, slender, blue-veined hand closing over the trembling, burning almond arm. "Whaddya think you're doin'?" He whispered harshly.

Chakotay flinched, clearly startled by the lieutenant's appearance. He did not let the knife fall, but he did not wrench away or fight, as the lieutenant had expected. It dawned on Paris that Chakotay was now too weak to struggle against even him. Instead of reacting in anger, he bent his head over until it was resting against Paris's shoulder. Thus steadying himself, he spoke in jerky fragments so quietly that the blond head had to bow beside the grey-streaked one in order to understand.

"My leg... Fever... Gotta burn... Infection... Feel so strange... Gotta fix before... While I'm still... Got my senses." He sagged against the younger man, despondent over his own lack of clarity, his own inability to control himself. Then, just as quickly as he had given in to the despair, he pulled away feebly, tugging at his imprisoned arm, impatient.

"Easy, easy." Paris disarmed him, wincing at the desperate moan the move evoked, and pressed him back into the furs.

Chakotay squeezed his eyes shut and willed himself to speak. "Don't.... stop.... me," he growled through his teeth. Don't try to play hero now, Paris, you don't understand. Can't you see that I'm fighting for my life? I am not trying to hurt myself, you idiot, I am trying to save myself! Why do you even care, anyway? "Don't ... stop..."

"Shhh. I am not... trying to stop you, ya big idiot... I'm trying to help you." He coughed into his sleeve, reluctantly turned to look at the leg, then faced Chakotay again. "You're right, it looks infected... And your fever hasn't broken... You think that," he swallowed convulsively, "lancing the wound with a hot knife... will help it. That's what you were trying to tell me... Am I getting the gist here?"

Chakotay nodded slowly, relief easing the lines that seemed permanently drawn on the swarthy face. He lifted his shaking, bandaged palm, open, as if to ask for the knife's return.

"What do you think... you're gonna do in your condition?"

Chakotay's eyes narrowed angrily. Try. I think I am going to try.

Paris sighed. "I'd ask you if... if you trusted me... but I don't wanna know." He thrust the blade into the glowing embers himself. "Rest easy... It'll be okay." Chakotay's brown eyes stared at him for a moment, and grew wider when Paris placed a gentle hand on the broad shoulder. It shattered the carefully cultivated space between them. Paris froze as he was, holding his breath. Moments passed. Then Chakotay closed his eyes in compliance. In trust.

It was a gift Paris truly did not expect.

***

She stepped to the podium matter-of-factly, with little word of introduction. "Let's get this underway, shall we? I know all of you have been very concerned about Commander Chakotay, Lieutenant Paris, and Ensign Kim. You know that we have reason to believe that they are alive on the surface, where they crash-landed weeks ago. You also know that we have reason to believe that their shuttle is unable to break free of the atmosphere of the planet. Furthermore, Lieutenant Torres and her engineering team have devised a means of penetrating this atmosphere and escaping from it successfully."

"Lieutenant Torres and Kes were forced to abort their rescue attempt, however, due to an unforeseen situation. It seems that the continent side of the planet is entering a deep winter, one which will become far worse before it gets better. This would make a search almost impossible."

"After a great deal of deliberation, I have ordered Voyager to maintain a stationary orbit around the planet until we can launch a rescue team. There have been questions regarding my order, which is why I speak to you know. This was not an easy decision. This will take months away from our journey, particularly when we consider that we do not know how long a search effort will take. As we find ourselves in a relatively resource-dry system, this will also mean that we will deplete our stocks. But I will not leave those men. If we find ourselves judging such situations by convenience, well, when we will return to the Alpha Quadrant we'll be lucky to have a skeleton crew aboard. We must remain committed to each other if we are to survive. I am dedicated to returning those three officers to their posts before we leave this system."

"I appreciate the fact that this is a strain on us all. We miss our friends and crewmates. We feel helpless. But we are not. We are doing, and we will do, our best to resolve this situation as soon as possible. Until that time, I appreciate your patience and your support."

The sea of faces did not completely mirror her feigned confidence.

One crewman's voice in particular rose above the dull roar of whispers. Gesturing wildly, he turned his back on Janeway to speak to those behind him. He shook his head exaggeratedly.

"Do you have an insight to offer, Crewman?"

He whirled and swallowed, uncertain.

"Do you?" she repeated.

"We're twiddling our thumbs for months so we can send one shuttle to save the day? Without communication? While we wait again? Vulnerable to who knows what in the meantime?"

"That's what I said."

The crewman glanced around the hall and grew bolder as he registered scattered looks of support. "You're taking quite a risk!"

"So are you, Mister." Her voice was threateningly soft.

No one spoke.

"This is not a subject for debate. The decision is made. Dismissed."

She turned on her heel and left.

***

The chime sounded.

Kathryn Janeway did not move.

"Captain, it is Tuvok." The voice was muffled but the words were clear.

"Come." The door slid open and the Vulcan entered. The captain remained as she was, half curled on the sofa, one hand clamped across her eyes.

"You've come to stick pins?" Her voice drawled, slurred with fatigue. She knew without looking the cocked head and the drawn brows, lips pursed to question her obtuse query. With her other hand she waved away his response. "Forget it."

He stood silently, waiting for some sign from her. "Stand by me, Tuvok." The plea was a whisper.

"Always."

She jerked toward him, eyes suddenly narrowed suspiciously, pouncing on what she thought was a poorly-timed jest. But her reflexive retort stuck in her throat. Tuvok was not making a not-so-Vulcan attempt at humor. He was stating a fact. A fact she desperately needed to hear.

She gasped with the comprehension of what he was saying. Her eyes filled with tears. Before she melted completely she returned her eyes to the safe shield of her hand. "So... what brings you here, Tuvok?"

"You require rest."

A harsh, throaty laugh. "Thanks for the obvious. I'll wager even you need rest by now. But you can't distract me so easily, old friend. What's on your mind?"

"Certain members of the crew disagree with your actions regarding the landing party-"

"I know."

"Some are saying that the wait is too long and that Voyager should return to its primary objective of returning home. Conversely, others want to take more steps to help the Away Team. They claim that abandoning the men to the winter surface is a death sentence."

She was still nodding. "I know, Tuvok."

"From both camps, I detect a distinct unease about Kes and her abilities."

This is new. "Fear of her or fear for her?"

"Both, depending on how well each person knows her."

What are you saying to me, Tuvok? What's the subtext here? I've known you too long... I'm not so tired that I'm oblivious to your subtleties. "I sound like some continual loop, but I'll say it again. Kes has made her choice and I will defend it." She was speaking into her own arm, eyes still covered, as if reciting the words of a familiar script. "The Doctor and Neelix agree with you, don't they?" Nonchalant. Calculated.

"I was not merely discussing the three of us -"

"They agree with you, don't they? Where are they now?" Oh, I've got you.

A pause. "I would expect to find them both in the sickbay."

"Where you left them." Gotcha.

"Yes."

Uncurling legs and arms she slapped the monitor before her. "Janeway to sickbay."

"Well, hello, Captain, what can I -"

"Listen to me. All three of you." Her voice was low, far more intimidating than the harshest scream. Neelix's startled face appeared beside the Doctor's in the viewscreen. Beside Janeway, Tuvok's eyes never left hers. "I know you care about Kes a great deal. You fear for her health and her stability. But did you ever stop to think that your constant interjections, your second-guessing and disapproval, they have added more stress onto her shoulders than anything else? She admires all of you, and your combined pressure pulls her in the opposite direction of what she's experiencing. You're tearing her apart!"

Tuvok stiffened. The Doctor frowned. Neelix blustered. Janeway continued. "You are so terrified of her attention being elsewhere, that you can't see what you are doing to her. If you cared for her, you would respect her decision to pursue this link. You would encourage and support her. You would... act like adults."

She sank against the table, spent with anger. "Please, please either help her... or just let her be. Janeway out." She terminated the link before either voice from sickbay could be heard. Then, guiltily, she faced Tuvok. "Diplomatic, aren't I?"

"As I said before, you require rest."

She smiled sadly.

"I didn't mean to come across harshly. It's not my place to be so judgmental. But you of all people should appreciate what I am trying to say." Turning on her heel, she stretched and sighed. "Where is logic in all this?"

"Captain, I require... further time for thought. It appears my logic falters..." He found no more words.

"Goodnight, Tuvok." She folded back into the couch and wrapped her arms around herself, facing away from him. She was too tired for any more dramatics tonight.

He paused at the door and looked over his shoulder. She waited, unmoving, for him to speak. But he did not. He just turned and left.

***

The night was still young, but the three men snowed inside the little cabin had no means of knowing it. They were wrapped in darkness, insulated by snow that fell from a sunless sky. But they had planned for such a situation and could survive for some time. The hours fell into cycles of camaraderie and quiet.

Paris had been working on the written log by the firelight, but had almost exhausted every possibly noteworthy detail. It was hard to concentrate, anyway, since Kim was experimenting with the recorder. The tune escaped Paris. It was vaguely familiar, irritatingly so.

"What is that, Harry?" He finally blurted his question, underestimating the volume of his exasperated query. Both Kim and his audience, a quiet, thoughtful Chakotay, jumped at the loud words. The voice grew stronger every day, the speech less winded and interrupted with coughs.

"Balsunni. Why?"

"I couldn't place it and it was driving me crazy."

Kim shrugged. "It's classic. I'm sure you've heard it around. Maybe you even had it in the music appreciation course at the Academy."

Chakotay groaned eloquently.

"What?" The smile on Kim's face contrasted with the confrontational tone of his question.

He shifted in the chair Kim had made for him, which was covered in thick fur and complete with an attached half-stool for his immobile leg. "I don't want to revisit that. I made the mistake of opting out of the general course in favor of one of the elective special studies. But the one I wanted filled up and I ended up stuck in 'The Andorian Opera'." Shaking his head, he flashed a rare smile. "The only good thing about Andorian opera is that all the characters die in the finale."

"I opted out, too, but I got 'Bob Dylan as Poetry'." Paris punctuated his words with a thumbs-up sign.

"They teach a whole course on one songwriter?" Kim was amazed.

"This is back when Crawford was a prof -"

"I heard about her. Eccentric." Chakotay nodded his understanding.

"Yeah, she usually got her way. And she loved Dylan. Could she teach. Sometimes she even sang along. It was a great course." He leaned forward, folding the journal and storing it under the bed. He coughed quietly. "And I have always been partial to mid-twentieth century Western music."

"Well, don't expect me to play requests. A little Rogers and Hammerstein, a little Andrew Lloyd Webber, and that does it for me." Kim resumed his Balsunni.

"Oh, come on, we're all Humans here. At least play some Earth tunes!" Paris's voice became low and coaxing, still gravelly, yet reminiscent of his earlier self. "And an accomplished musician like you should know some of the greats of rock and roll, don't you think?"

Kim lowered his recorder and glared.

"I'm serious! The stuff's great. And addictive!"

"Since when did you study early rock music?" Chakotay asked, bemused.

"It was a natural extension of my love of early automobiles. They had radios, you know. When I started making holosuite programs with the old cars, it only seemed right to have them playing period music. Late 1950s, early '60s stuff. When rock was born."

"For example?" Kim prompted him.

"Uh, let's see. The best was Buddy Holly... " He paused, waiting for reaction.

Kim shook his head. "Nope." Chakotay shrugged.

"Oh, come on! Talk about classic! I'm sure you have heard of him. How about 'That'll Be The Day'? 'Maybe Baby'? 'It's So Easy'?" His eyes darted back and forth at the two as they stared back blankly at him. He sighed in frustration, running his fingers through his long hair.

He tried again. "'Not Fade Away'?" No response. He groaned.

And suddenly came alive.

"I'm a gonna tell you how it's gonna be,
Bop, bop, bop-bop."

Kim and Chakotay exchanged stunned looks and then stared speechlessly at the finger-snapping Lieutenant with the wavering tenor.

"You're gonna give your love to me,
Bop, bop, bop-bop."

Kim couldn't keep from snickering. Paris was not deterred.

"I'm gonna love you night and day,
Bop, bop, bop-bop.
You know my lovin' not fade away."

Chakotay was grinning now, his dimples obvious in his weathered face. Kim was laughing outright.

"You know my lovin' not fade away."*

He ended his concert breathlessly, pointing both index fingers at Kim, now lying on his side on the floor, hysterical. Chakotay clapped grudgingly.

"Nice snapping technique and thoughtful hand choreography. But don't quit your day job, Lieutenant."

Kim finally caught his breath. "You're a man of many talents, Tom. But I still say I'd never heard of this Buddy before."

"Buddy Holly, Harry. And that's a defect of your education that, thankfully, I can remedy." He smiled animatedly, coughing into his sleeve, clearly enjoying himself. "What about the Big Bopper?"

Kim dissolved into laughter again. "You gotta be kidding! Big Bopper?!?!?"

Laughing, too, Paris waved away that discussion. "Ritchie Valens?"

"What did he do?"

"A great dance song called 'La Bamba'."

"La what?"

"'La Bamba'. It was about.... uh, I'm not sure what it was about." His brow wrinkled in thought, and he scratched at his beard. "Something about a 'soy captain'."** He coughed quietly and cleared his throat.

"A soy captain? What's that?" Kim registered Paris's confusion and turned to Chakotay.

"Hmm... the twentieth century saw new breakthroughs in non-meat-based forms of protein. Wasn't soy one of those sources? Soybeans and soy oil? Maybe this captain harvested or shipped it... " Even as he spoke, his face reflected the fact that Chakotay did not buy his own theory.

"So let me see if I have this straight. This wild and crazy dance song is about a guy who harvests vegetarian protein supplements?" Paris narrowed his eyes in disapproval as Kim rolled on the floor, laughing. But soon all three of them succumbed to the humor of the moment. It struck Kim that he had not seen Paris look so happy - or so well - in months. Talking about the music he loved clearly made him feel better.

When they finally settled down, Kim agreed to learn a few early rock ballads on the recorder. Paris would hum hoarsely and Kim would copy the tune.

His "True Love Ways" was quite good.

[* From "Not Fade Away," written by Hardin-Petty and first performed by Buddy Holly.

** This refers to "La Bamba," traditional folk song. Best known as performed by Ritchie Valens.]

***

She was still in uniform. It did not matter. Fewer and fewer things did these days. Her mind remained dizzyingly preoccupied, overwhelmed by fears she seemed powerless to combat. Kes and her sanity. The crew and mutiny. She had tried to hold it all together, to show a decisive, professional, unswerving face. Now she wondered if, instead, she had not made herself into an aloof, ineffective figurehead, inspiring neither trust nor loyalty. Paralyzed. And it all paled in comparison to the aching need she had inside to find her three lost officers.

The holonovel, so long unused, now was forwarded to the end. It was raining. She shivered with cold. With a few weary gestures Janeway released her hair to fall to her shoulders. She stood there, the water soaking her. A fist closed around her communicator, seized it, and let it fall to the deck.

The unkempt, grey manor house before her hid behind an opaque, chilled dusk.

"'Quite a desolate spot'." She quoted Bronte under her breath and sighed. "Yes, old gal, I'd say so. That's exactly where I am." And I'm not thinking about Ferndean, either. A long-silent part of her mind reminded her of the next line. It was mockingly appropriate on so many levels. The irony jarred her as she spoke.

"Can there be life here?"

On cue the narrow front-door creaked open and a shadowed figure emerged. He stretched out a hand to check the weather. The bare-headed form felt the rain but stepped forwarded nonetheless. Groping, shuffling uncertainly, the proud, maimed man made his way onto the grass. His tucked his mutilated arm to his chest. His sightless eyes stared broodingly into blackness.

Rochester represented everything that was lost to Janeway. The broad, dark frame with the mane of blue-black hair. The vulnerability of a fallen soul. The promise of innocence and ability. He was dear. He was hurt. He was in need.

The program meant nothing. She disregarded the story she had loved for so long. She took him in her arms. This lost, wounded man she could save and soothe and salve. He was a Chakotay-Paris-Kim amalgam waiting for her to find him. To show him her strength and care. Things she could give. She had been waiting to give. She had to give.

"Who is it? What is it?" The brusque voice demanded.

"Computer, delete audio."

The character remained, standing in the rain. After a moment he leaned into her strong arms as would a small child. She whispered many things to him. Promises. Praise. He would be well and whole and happy. Her sound body and her full heart and her sharp mind would lead him from desolation and deliver him from danger. She was not helpless, no, not anymore. She could feel his heartbeat. This rescue was real.

No more pain for you, no more pain for you...

It was a sacred thing, there in the dark and cold and rain. She closed her eyes and rocked him.

When words failed her, she simply cried.

Across the ship, in the mess hall, tempers flared. Crew members grew restless and worried. Arguments erupted. Plans formed. And yet agitators who did not agree could still joke in anger together that Janeway was nowhere to be found. As they fought over their fate, they saw no evidence of sleeplessness from the captain. That was her problem. The woman of stone had no heart. She talked about sticking together, but where was she?

***

They had prepared well. Before the first snow fell stacks of firewood lined the interior cabin walls, and dried herbs and wild vegetables hung from the overhead beams. Dried meat also hung from above and filled woven sacks. They were stocked to weather harsh winter days.

But there was a limit to what they could do to compensate for limited resources and mobility. All three of them recognized that constant time without privacy and movement outdoors would be difficult. Chakotay was recovering, trying to regain a measure of independence, testing the limits of his crippled leg. Paris was always aware that his troubled breaths and frequent coughing punctuated the night and rattled already frayed nerves. He maintained the log book and strained to find anything to arrest his frantic attention.

And Kim cared for both of them, acting the nurse and the peacemaker and a thousand other gentle roles. He performed the necessary chores, braved the obstacles they could not physically face, and provided the buffer personality between the two powerful personas. And daily he tried to respect the walls erected by his commanding officer and by his friend. As one officer strove for soundness and the other for self-respect, he helped them most by what he did not say and did not do.

And he came to discover that people could be loneliest of all when they were not alone.

All of his good intentions could not smother the fires that occasionally blazed between them. And all of his good intentions could not change the fact that their precious stores grew increasingly, alarmingly depleted. They rationed fuel. They rationed food. And the snow remained.

Every ballad he could play, combined, could not feed them or keep them warm.


END OF CHAPTER TWO

On to Part 5