Peter Kamphuis (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Disclaimer: The characters and everything else 'Star Trek' belong to Paramount Pictures. I'm just 'borrowing' them for a short while, for non-profit purposes. Please note that this story contains scenes of a male/male relationship, though no blatant sex. If this is likely to offend you, please stop reading. That also goes if you are underage or if it is illegal for you to be reading this in your particular locale. You have been warned, so don't write to me if you become offended - that's your problem!
Notes: This story is set in an Alternate Universe (AU). In this story, Voyager is not close to getting home. They still have a long way to go. It is also set about 10 years into their future. For those of you who've read a bit of Voyager slash, you'll know what I mean when I sat that this is a C/P story.
Warning: this story contains character deaths. If this is likely to bother you, please leave now!
Feedback: I welcome all feedback - good and bad. Ugly feedback will be ignored. You can express your thoughts about this story by emailing me here: email@example.com
Remembrance - Part I
He paid no attention to the grief-stricken and concerned faces of his friends, nor those of his colleagues who were standing around the room, uncomfortably. Truth be known, he didn't even notice they were there. All he could think of, to the exclusion of everything else, was the all-consuming hurt and pain in his chest as he tried to keep his sanity and emotions in check.
Kathryn Janeway, Harry Kim and B'Elanna Torres sat silently at a nearby table, oblivious to the 'wake' happening around them in the ship's cramped Messhall. Their complete attention was riveted on the desolate figure of Chakotay, as he sat, bereft and lost, at the table next to theirs. All three had tears silently running down their faces; not only for the deep loss of their special friend, but also because of what Tom's death had meant to the man who had loved him with absolute devotion.
"I feel like we're intruding," Harry murmured softly into the silence that permeated their table, looking briefly at the two women seated with him before turning to look at the crowd gathered in the Messhall. Like them, everyone else was looking more depressed than a 'wake' demanded, and were keeping a discreet distance from Chakotay.
B'Elanna could only nod in agreement as Kathryn sighed and said, "Yes Harry, I feel the same. I know that we have as much right as Chakotay to farewell Tom, but I can't help feeling like an outsider right at the moment."
Harry looked at his exhausted wife, his eyes expressing his complete understanding, before he turned back to stare absently at Chakotay.
"Hey?" B'Elanna said suddenly, turning to them with a hint of a smile on her lips. "Do either of you remember when you first found out about them? Before they got married?"
Harry remembered and smiled in embarrassment, despite himself. Flushing slightly at his inappropriate display he nodded slowly. "Yeah, I can remember."
Kathryn also remembered the time she had discovered that her Chief Helmsman and her First Officer were an item. "So can I," she murmured. She also flushed guiltily at the smile that that memory invoked.
"I still can't believe they were an item for over a year before any of us found out," B'Elanna said in amazement, the grin coming back to her face. "How did you find out?"
Harry deferred to his wife with a gesture of his hand. Besides, she was still the captain...
"It was quite by accident," Kathryn said, getting a far-away look in her tired eyes. "I had just finished reviewing the crew rotations that Chakotay had given me, and wanted to clear up something before authorising them." She paused in her commentary, remembering that the reason she had wanted to query Chakotay was about his pairing of Tom on the same shift rotations that he himself was on. Somehow though, she didn't feel like telling the others about this little detail, not even her husband. "I asked the computer to locate him, and was informed that he was on the holodeck. I was in two minds about disturbing him during his off-time, but I really wanted to clear it up so that I could post the assignments as quickly as possible."
She was startled to notice that Tuvok had turned up at some point during her narration. She continued undeterred, pausing only long enough to indicate he was welcome to sit and join them. "Well, when I got to the holodeck in question, I had to recheck his location with the computer, as the program running was not something I would have expected him to run..."
"What was the program?" asked B'Elanna curiously, leaning forward and resting her chin in her upturned hands.
"When I stepped inside, I found myself in the most beautiful rambling garden I have ever seen. I can't recall what the place was called anymore, but I remember them telling me some time later that the garden was part of a castle in the French countryside. Anyway, I was stunned, quite literally, at the beauty and serenity of my surroundings. It felt like it was the height of summer, and the bird calls and insect noises just added to the beauty - and the realism - of the scene. There were beautifully trimmed hedges, and immaculately patterned flowerbeds everywhere I looked. It was truly the most beautiful and most breathtaking place that I've ever seen. But I couldn't see Chakotay anywhere.
"I could have called out," she continued, shrugging her shoulders in resignation, "or asked the computer to either locate him for me or to end the program, but the grandeur of my surroundings made me think twice. I just had to see Chakotay in this garden. I was going to search everywhere until I found him and had a good look at the expression on his face."
A tender smile briefly caressed her lips, warring with the tears rolling down her cheeks, before her throat closed with remembered emotion.
"When I found him, I..."
Harry's hand, which came across to gently squeeze and cover hers, gave her the courage to go on. "I don't think I've ever felt more awed, more humbled or more privileged as at that single moment in my life." She paused, remembering the feeling that had consumed her when she had finally found them. "I saw Chakotay sitting on the lawn with his back resting against a tree, and he was facing a beautiful stone-carved water fountain.
"I was quite surprised, or maybe 'stunned' might be the better word, when I saw that Tom was with him. He was sitting in front of Chakotay, leaning back against Chakotay's chest, and being held tightly in Chakotay's embrace. I couldn't do anything but stand there, staring at them in confusion. There was absolutely no doubt in my mind that they were a couple. None at all. But when had they gotten together? And why hadn't I known?" Kathryn shook her head in remembered perplexity.
"You know," she said in an aside, glancing absently through the Messhall windows to the stars streaking majestically by, "I didn't stop to think about the quality of the holoprogramming -- at least, not until I saw Tom being held in Chakotay's embrace. Then I realised that I should have recognised it as soon as I entered the holodeck - the quality was just too good to be anyone but Tom's work."
Her voice changed again, as she recalled herself.
"But, what happened next had such an affect on me, that I still find it difficult to think about it without crying." Tears started flowing more heavily down her face, proving her words. She paused, desperately trying to gain a modicum of composure so that she could continue. The others remained silent, alternately looking from Kathryn to Chakotay, eyes glistening with unshed tears. Nearby, the holographic doctor studied them all discreetly, ready to assist if necessary, and feeling the same sense of loss. His eyes never drifted far from Chakotay's bowed form.
"As I watched, Tom gently brought one of Chakotay's hands up to his lips and kissed the palm, softly..." Kathryn's voice trailed off in remembered wonder, as her mind replayed the scene. It had been more than seven years ago, but the scene was as fresh in her memory now as it had been then. Time had not dimmed the crystal clear image from her mind. After a moment of silence, she began to speak again, but in a distracted tone, almost as if talking to herself. "It was such a tender and loving kiss that I was on the verge of crying at the beauty of it. When I looked at Chakotay and saw the look of contentment, the expression of absolute wonder and love that suffused his face at that simple kiss... I... I just had to get out of there before they saw me.
"By the time I left the holodeck, I was crying so hard it hurt. I was so happy for them, so happy that they'd found each other, and yet I was also so angry and envious at the same time..." She trailed off again, tears streaming from her eyes, before a pained "Damn it!" escaped her lips.
Harry drew her into his arms, and felt her bury her face against his shoulder as she started to cry in earnest. He struggled with his own tears as he tried to comfort her. She hadn't had the chance to indulge in her grief, like the rest of them had, until this moment. She'd been required to remain calm and in control leading up to the service and whilst giving the eulogy. And to top off all that stress and bottled-up grief with a memory that had touched her so deeply... well, he wasn't surprised that she had broken down. It was almost a relief to see her finally giving in to the grief...
"My turn," B'Elanna said softly, clearing her throat self-consciously once the captain had stopped crying. "I was still getting over Tom when I first started suspecting something. Even though it had been almost two years since we'd broken up, I still felt hurt about the whole break up and the fact that I still loved him. So when I started noticing how happy he appeared to be all the time, and how everything about him seemed to have changed, I knew he had found someone else."
"What do you mean B'Ela, when you say that everything about him changed?" Harry asked quietly, still holding his trembling wife close.
"I got to know him pretty well Harry, while we were together. We ended up in a rut, which is what I think ultimately caused us to break up, but I still knew him fairly well even after our break up. He used to spend quite a lot of time on the holodeck when he wasn't with me, usually either at Sandrine's or working on that damn automobile of his." She snorted softly as she recalled the number of times she had had to pry him away from that archaic piece of transport. "He was so restless all the time, going from one activity to the next, never seeming to stay put in one place for any length of time. The longest he seemed to stay in one spot, was at the Conn." She smiled indulgently and saw it hesitantly echoed by the others at the table.
"But that all changed... He began to frequent Sandrine's less and less and hardly used the holodeck for any other purpose. Even that 'Captain Proton' holonovel he was so fond of was shelved. When I started checking where he was with the computer, he would always end up being in his quarters, or Chakotay's quarters, or somewhere else totally out of character for him - like the Observation Lounge." Once again, she snorted before continuing. "You know, not once did it cross my mind that the other person in his life was Chakotay. Not once!" Shaking her head slowly, she peered inscrutably over at the bowed figure of her old friend.
"I guess I should have put two and two together, but it just didn't cross my mind that he'd be in Chakotay's quarters for assignations. I just thought he was talking to Chakotay as part of their newfound friendship. Hah, that should have tipped us off that something was happening between the two of them!" she said with a louder snort. "But I was oblivious to what was really happening until a few days later, when I came across him, crying, in the turbolift. He looked absolutely terrible. He had puffy, red-rimmed eyes, as if he'd been crying forever and a day, and his whole body was shaking all over. I couldn't help but think to myself that he must've had a fight with his lover to end up in that condition...
"But when I tried to comfort him, he just brushed me off and eventually forced me to become angry with him. Gods, but he knew just how to push my buttons!" She leant back in her chair, crossing her arms over her chest and pursing her lips in remembered ire.
"I quickly left him before I lost my temper and did anything which might have hurt him - tempting though it was - and kept myself busy in Engineering until I'd had a chance to cool off. You don't want to know how wide a berth my staff gave me that day!" she said with a small chuckle, remembering the wide-eyed glances and the subdued reactions of her staff: even Joe, whom she had started having feelings for around that time. Her grin faded as she recalled a similar scene only the day before, after she had snapped at one of her junior officers. She had apologised to him soon after, feeling slightly guilty for using Tom's death as an excuse for her temper. He'd forgiven her, knowing how close she'd been to Tom, but the effects of her temper had clouded engineering for the remainder of her shift. She softly sighed and pulled herself back to the present, uncrossing her arms and leaning forward to rest them on the table.
"Later on that same day, I got a call from Chakotay asking me to come round and see him. When I arrived at his quarters, I was shocked to see that he was in the same state as Tom. It didn't take me long to figure everything out. But before I could say anything to him, he started telling me that he had fallen in love with someone and had had a fight with them. He wanted to know if I could think of any way to help him get his partner back...
"Now, you've got to understand that I didn't know they'd been together for over a year," B'Elanna said hurriedly, as if apologising to them for a transgression. "I just assumed they'd gotten together recently as this was the first time that Chakotay had mentioned he was with someone. So when I didn't think even once about breaking them up, even though I thought their relationship was a recent development, no one could have been more surprised than I was. I would've had all the opportunity in the world to force them apart, and maybe have gotten Tom back, but I didn't even stop to consider it. There was something about the way they looked, so lost and miserable, so... so unhappy and torn apart, that I resolved to help them out as much as I could. Besides, as much as I loved him, Tom didn't love me anymore.
"I don't know who was more shocked - Chakotay, or I - when I told him that the best thing to do was to find Tom and talk to him. Really talk to him." B'Elanna's bitter chuckle was so soft that even her table companions almost missed it. "After staring at me in panic for several seconds, he asked me how I knew, and I told him. I told him everything - how he looked like hell warmed over, and how Tom looked exactly the same. Then, before I lost my nerve, I told him what a lucky bastard he was and left before he could see my tears."
She felt a hand reach across to rest on her forearm in support. She glanced up blurrily to see the captain looking back at her with an understanding expression on her face. Of course, she recalled suddenly, Kathryn went through the same thing with Chakotay. She and Chakotay broke up only a couple of months before Tom and I did. She smiled back at Kathryn, silently acknowledging the support of the older woman.
"What about you, Harry?" Kathryn asked her husband softly, looking into his jet-black eyes and seeing, once again, the grief permanently etched there at the loss of his best friend.
"Well, my discovery was also accidental... I think."
"You think?" asked the Doctor incredulously, stepping up to the table before realising his faux pas. The startled glances of everyone at the table caused him a momentary feeling of contrition. "My apologies, everyone. Please continue, Lieutenant. I didn't mean to interrupt you." He took a few uncertain steps back, returning to his unobtrusive spot near the bulkhead, and becoming almost invisible in the subdued lighting of the (normally bright) Messhall.
The captain continued to stare at him for a moment before turning back to face her husband.
"Like I said, I think it was accidental. I can't be certain, but I think Tom would have told me if he'd planned it." He looked at the confused expressions around the table and realised he hadn't told them anything yet. "Sorry. Didn't mean to ramble on like that."
"That's quite alright, dear," Kathryn replied, gently squeezing his arm. He smiled back at her.
"Well, I got called to Tom's quarters early one morning just before my duty shift," he started saying, looking blankly down at the table and reaching across to play absently with his half-filled glass of water. "I was on Alpha shift that day and Tom was on Beta. He met me at the door to his room and handed me two PADDs. He asked me to deliver the top one to Chakotay, who was also on Alpha shift that day, and the other one was for me. I told him 'okay' and went off to the Bridge. When I reached the Bridge, I handed the top-most PADD to the commander and kept the other one with me. I'm positive I gave the commander the correct PADD - the one that Tom had said was for Chakotay..."
He shook his head gently and took a nervous sip of water as he tried to work out once more, so many years later, whether Tom had intentionally mixed up the PADDs?
"Well, Chakotay was in the middle of something important and didn't have time to read his PADD right then. Neither did I at that particular moment, so I put mine away. But soon after things settled down and I got the chance to read it." He started to nervously shake his right leg subconsciously as he gathered his courage to continue. "I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw what was written on the PADD. Needless to say, it was extremely... personal... and..." He blushed as he recalled some of the more erotic passages in the text. A sigh from nearby caused him to look up into the twinkling expressions of B'Elanna and his wife. They could easily guess what the PADD had contained.
"I was literally thunderstruck, as I tried to comprehend what I had just discovered. I was reading a love letter from Tom to the commander! But, whether it was just too much to take in at the time, or for some other unknown reason, I started to believe that it was just one of Tom's practical jokes. I dismissed the idea that Tom and Chakotay were lovers from my mind. It just couldn't be..." By now, Harry's leg shaking had become almost frantic, and Kathryn placed her hand on his leg to settle it. He stopped moving it after a short while, oblivious to both the fact that he had been doing it, and that Kathryn had stopped it with a single touch.
"I became distracted for the remainder of the shift, occasionally looking over at Chakotay in confusion and with a bit of doubt, until Tom came onto the Bridge half an hour before his scheduled duty shift." He missed the surprised look that B'Elanna and Kathryn exchanged, as he was still staring blankly at the tabletop; seeing something that only he could see. "The look he gave me, as if searching for something... different... in my expression or manner, made me rethink what I had discovered. He walked over to the commander and asked him if he had read the PADD yet. Chakotay hadn't, so he picked it up and read it, confusion showing on his face. Tom asked to see it, and then turned to look at me after glancing at it.
"'Ah, Har?' he said. 'Yes?' I replied back anxiously. He then asked me to give him the other PADD, explaining to Chakotay that he must have gotten them mixed up when he handed them to me that morning. I could tell what was going to happen next, and it was the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my life, but I turned over the other PADD to him. He turned it on, looked at it, smiled softly and handed it to Chakotay..." Harry stopped to take a much-needed gulp of air, and then took another nervous sip of water. Once again, focusing his thoughts back to the story he was telling, he started to fiddle with his glass, oblivious to the action, and oblivious to the concentrated gazes of Kathryn and B'Elanna as they watched his restless fingers.
"Chakotay's reaction would have been comical if I hadn't been feeling so nauseous at the time. He glanced at the text on the PADD and his head shot up and around to me. His eyes were wide with panic as he locked gazes with me. I couldn't help but flush as I realised that it was all true - Chakotay's reaction was the final proof. Instead of turning a confused expression on Tom, and asking him if it was some kind of sick joke - which is what I'd half-hoped he'd do - he had turned around to face me, checking to see if I had read it."
He shook his head again as he gently snorted. Then realising what he was doing with the glass, he hastily released it and moved his hands closer in to his body.
"When I looked across at Tom, he appeared to be so calm and happy... it was almost frightening. I didn't know, and I still don't know, if he had planned it all, or whether he just took my discovery in his stride..."
"Harry," B'Elanna said softly, reaching across the table to plant her hand over his still twitching hands, "it was planned." There was no doubt in her voice, and Harry let his doubts dissipate. Somehow he had always known that Tom had planned it that way. But why hadn't Tom told him that he had done it deliberately? "You're so lucky, Starfleet," B'Elanna continued softly, smiling ambivalently. "At least he told you, even if it was in a roundabout way. He cared enough about you, and your friendship, to let you know about that part of his life."
Harry nodded simply, before lowering his head and letting his tears flow. He missed his best friend so badly... It just wasn't fair! Kathryn gently cradled his head, brushing her fingers lovingly and comfortingly through his silky black hair.
"I found out in Sickbay," the Doctor's gentle voice said suddenly from behind them. He stepped up to the table and sat down in an empty chair, uninvited. He snorted before continuing. "Not surprising really."
"What happened?" asked B'Elanna softly.
"I had taken myself offline for several hours, for a self-diagnostic check. Mr. Paris - Tom - was filling in for me while I was offline. However, he wasn't aware that I had asked the computer to reactivate me at 1700 hours." A smile crept over the Doctor's face. "When I was reactivated, the first thing I saw was that Mr. Paris wasn't alone anymore."
His words seemed to have a profound effect. The faces around the table subtly brightened as they all realised how prophetic the Doctor's words were. Tom had been so alone, even on Voyager where he had been considered the most eligible 'catch' on board. Even when he had been involved with B'Elanna he still appeared to be lost and lonely.
Almost everyone had woken up to his "act" by then. They all knew it was just a front to cover up his loneliness and fear. They had all hoped that someone would come along and take the pain and hurt away, especially after the failure of his and B'Elanna's union - he desperately needed someone to love him unconditionally. They'd just never expected it to be Chakotay.
"They didn't see me, of course, as I appeared in my office and they were outside in Sickbay proper. At first I was angry that he and his lover had picked my Sickbay to have their little tryst in," - the Doctor's voice showed his remembered indignation, including a small huff for emphasis - "even if his lover was the commander. But then I really looked at them." The Doctor's voice gentled even further and took on a reverential tone. "They weren't doing anything inappropriate. In fact, I've seen worse in here," - he indicated the Messhall - "and that was only kissing.
"They were sitting next to each other on a bio-bed, holding each others' hands, and with their heads resting together - temple to temple. Their eyes were closed and the looks on their faces... I have never seen anything like it before in all my time on board Voyager. They both looked so calm, so peaceful, so happy and... harmonious." The Doctor's voice dropped almost to a whisper as he spoke to himself. "Yes... Together. They looked like they belonged together." With a regretful sigh, he spoke up again. "When the commander opened his eyes and looked at Tom, I couldn't help but see the depths of his feelings for the lieutenant. The look was so intense, so full of pride and love and tenderness... I couldn't help but feel like I was intruding on something special." He shrugged his shoulders and became silent, lost in thought.
"Tuvok?" asked Kathryn softly, some moments later.
Tuvok raised an eyebrow before starting to speak. "As you are all aware, I endeavour to not show my emotions, working rigorously to control them, as is the custom of my people. That does not mean, however, that I do not feel the same sense of tragedy and loss that you are all experiencing. I just express it in a different way.
"Like the Doctor, I find it difficult to refer to Lieutenant Paris as 'Tom', or the commander as 'Chakotay'. That does not mean, however, that I do not consider them as 'friends'. Or at least, considered Mr. Paris as a friend. Tom Paris was as close to a friend as I have ever made outside of Vulcan, even though I found his humour and attitude troublesome at times."
The captain's wry grin indicated that she knew exactly what Tuvok was talking about.
"As with the majority of you, my discovery of their relationship was accidental -- they did not tell me themselves. I had noticed the improvement in Mr. Paris's morale and attitude for over a year before I deduced what had caused it. I even noticed a subtle change in the commander. However, I did not attribute his improved attitude to his friendship with Mr. Paris, even though that was the most visible change in his circumstances. It did not cross my mind that their friendship might have been more complex than it first appeared."
"So what tipped you off?" asked Kathryn, privately pleased at the subterfuge that Tom and Chakotay had employed. Not even Tuvok, her Chief of Security, had suspected they were an item until it had almost become public knowledge.
"Numerous events contributed to my discovery," he replied. "Some dating back to many months before they would have become a couple. For instance, the commander's insistent protests at Mr. Paris's incarceration after the Monean incident." Tuvok noticed that the captain still had unresolved issues and feelings about Tom's disobeyance of her orders. As did the others, judging by the expressions on their faces... "It was... surprising, to say the least, that the commander took up Mr. Paris's defence, when he and Mr. Paris still appeared to be antagonistic toward each other. Simple events, such as that one, laid the foundation for my eventual discovery."
He paused to look over at the commander. Unlike the others, he was acutely aware that Chakotay was hardly breathing as he silently absorbed their conversation. He could also see the tenseness in Chakotay's body, and knew that the commander was wound up like a spring. The smallest thing would set him off...
"The moment I knew for certain, was when we received that communiqué from Cullah's ship, almost one year after Mr. Paris's and Mr. Kim's promotions to Lieutenant." He heard comprehending gasps from around the table, but continued to relate his story. "The commander and Lieutenant Paris were both on the Bridge when we received the relayed audio-only message from the Kazon. You were not on duty at that time Captain, so you did not see what happened next. When Mr. Kim played back the message, and we heard Cullah announce that Seska's child had been... assassinated," - Kathryn and the others soberly substituted 'murdered' for 'assassinated' - "the commander froze in shock."
Once again, Tuvok turned his attention back to Chakotay and regretted his words. The commander's breathing had become shallower, and his body was hunched even further forward.
"Everyone on the Bridge turned to look at the commander, knowing what this news would mean to him, but only one person appeared to be as devastated at the news as the commander himself. Mr. Paris's expression was both understanding and pained at the same time. I immediately realised the truth that had been in front of me for so long. Mr. Paris and the commander were 'bonded'." After another quiet moment of reflection, Tuvok continued. "The commander did not take the news well, as I expected, and left the Bridge to enter your Ready Room. Though he did not pass command over to anyone, Mr. Paris immediately followed him, advising me that I had command of the Bridge until he and the commander 'got back'.
"If I had not already determined that they were bonded, his quiet authority, in addition to the look of hurt and sympathy on his face as he followed the commander into the Ready Room, would have made me realise that they were together."
Tuvok once again turned his attention back to the commander, ignoring the tear-streaked faces of his table companions. He experienced a sudden compulsion to talk to the commander. Not understanding why, he nevertheless stood up and said, "Excuse me." He quitely walked across to Chakotay's table, and in a move that surprised everyone present, including himself, he gently placed his hand on the commander's shoulder and spoke softly. "Commander. My deepest sympathy on the loss of your bondmate. Tom Paris was loved by us all and we will miss him deeply."
Through his touch, Tuvok was able to express his sympathy and sincerity to Chakotay. In turn, through the contact, he picked up the turmoil and devastation in Chakotay's mind, and felt unbidden tears forming at the depths of anguish he could feel. As a touch-telepath, Tuvok studiously avoided coming into contact with anyone experiencing heavy emotions, but he had felt compelled, by some unknown agency, to reach out and touch the commander.
Chakotay could only nod, not even looking up at Tuvok, as he battled to keep his emotions from breaking through his self-created dam.
Tuvok removed his hand from the commander's shoulder and took several steps before halting. "Chakotay?" he said gently, as he turned around to face him.
Chakotay's head snapped up at the strange tone in Tuvok's voice, and he felt his breath escape as he noted the tears on the Vulcan's face.
"Commander, I hesitate to suggest this, but I have a feeling that Mr. Paris..." Tuvok halted before forcing himself to continue. "I have a feeling that Tom would have liked me to suggest this. You are aware that I recently had to initiate a mind-meld with the lieutenant to help him overcome the pain he endured during his illness?" He could see the renewed hurt that flared in Chakotay's eyes, and continued, although the commander hadn't given him any indication that he had heard the question. "I am willing to do the same for you. Through the meld, you will not only be able to experience all my thoughts and feelings, but those of Tom's as well..."
He trailed off, uncertain of what else to say, but knowing that some part of him, a small part that was overwhelmingly Tom Paris, wanted to offer this lifeline to Chakotay. Just as it had wanted to comfort Chakotay with a simple touch moments earlier.
"Commander, believe me when I say that Tom would have wanted you to accept this offer. I can feel that as surely as if he were standing right here next to me, telling me himself. Please also believe me when I say that he loved you - still loves you - with all of his heart."
Chakotay's eyes filled with tears as he stared up at Tuvok. Behind him, at the other table, breaths were being held as tear-filled eyes stared mutely at the tableau unfolding before them.
"Thank you, Tuvok," Chakotay whispered, barely loud enough to be heard by the Vulcan standing before him. "I'll take you up on your offer, but not right at the moment..."
"I understand." Tuvok nodded and quietly left the Messhall, feeling overcome for the first time since his childhood with emotions he had no control over.
Chakotay stood and without turning to face his friends, softly said, "Thank you all for coming. I appreciate it, and I'm sure that Tom would have appreciated it as well. And thank you for the wonderful service and eulogy, Kathryn. I'm going to turn in now. Good night."
"Chakotay?" Kathryn said softly. As she suspected he would, he paused and patiently waited for her to continue, though he remained facing away from them. "I don't want to see you on the Bridge until you're ready to come back. Really ready to come back. Understood?"
An imperceptible nod was all she got in reply before he exited the Messhall.
Kathryn stared at his retreating form before turning to bury her face in her husband's shoulder, weeping bitter tears at the loss they all felt; but moreso for her devastated First Officer - who had lost his beloved husband, and for her own husband - who had lost his closest friend. Harry's trembling body, as it clung tightly to hers, was testament enough to her that he was also overcome with inconsolable grief.
"Excuse me," B'Elanna said softly to no one in particular, as she stood up and hurriedly left the Messhall. Her right hand came up to cover her mouth as if to prevent her from crying out in pain and rage.
The Doctor absently stared after her, knowing that she was heading off to Engineering to be with her husband -- hoping to find some comfort and release from the pain she was feeling. He then turned to regard the captain and her husband and wished for the thousandth time since he'd been activated that someone had invented a serum to relieve heartache and pain... One that can also be administered to holograms... he silently sighed.
Concluded in Part II