The Long Shuttle Trip, Day 9


MESSAGES FROM HOME

By Tommyhawk1@AOL.COM
Artwork (c) 2002 by Eduardo. All Rights Reserved.
This original is for sale; make offer. Send E-mail for details/price.

Illustration of The Long Shuttle Trip, #9

DAY NINE
.
When the alarm went off, Paris was snuggled in with Chakotay like he'd been there the entire night. He'd spent the last five minutes convincing himself it had only been another bad dream. He'd spent the day before working out an agreement with the last person in the entire universe he'd wanted to speak with. His personal demon again. What did the universe have against him being happy, anyway? Of all the starships in the Federation, that one had to be the one on the other side of the wormhole.

Well, at least Captain Brennovan had agreed to keep out of things. They would wait three days for Voyager to get here, and then they would all sail right through the wormhole and back to the Alpha Quadrant. Then he and Chakotay could go into the Maquis together and Captain Brennovan could go back to wherever the Potemkin hung out all the many years Chakotay had been operating on the Cardassian frontier.

Still that chance meeting could explain the bad feeling too, couldn't it? He'd had so much credence placed in his bad feelings lately, that his subconscious, that had always craved attention, decided to give him a whopper to let him get stroked for. That was all it was. Surely!

When the alarm went off, Paris immediately shut it off by hand and reached over to hug Chakotay tight. "Morning." he said.

"Good morning." Chakotay said. "Ready to face another day?"

"You'd better believe it." Paris said. "Starting with a bit of unfinished business from last night."

"What was that?"

"In all the kisses and strokes and hugs you got from me last night, what did I not get?"

"I don't know."

"Off."

"Off? Oh!" Chakotay said. "I didn't realize. You didn't get any yesterday."

"All day yesterday." Paris clarified.

"Uh, oh." Chakotay whispered.

"I have my needs, you know."

"Oh, no!" Chakotay whispered hoarsely.

"Which means that you have to pay the penalty."

"Am I going to survive this?" Chakotay said with mock-trepidation.

"Probably." Paris said as he threw the covers off of them. "Battered, maybe, bruised definitely, even emotionally scarred. But you'll live through it."

"That's all I ask." Chakotay said, as he hugged Paris to him fiercely.

Paris reached to stroke Chakotay's back, pausing only at those bicep arcs he had discovered the night before. His kisses aimed for that spot on Chakotay's forehead. Chakotay's arms countered by finding Paris's ribs, while Chakotay, once kissed on the forehead, leaned over to nibble his neck, then kiss that spot on the top of his shoulder!

God, this was incredible! Paris thought as he made circles on Chakotay's back with his fingertips, making Chakotay pant-sob in ecstasy. He knew this man, inside and out, knew just how to make him feel loved and cared for. Just as Chakotay knew him and could respond to the animal attack that Paris needed every now and then with a surge of his own! This had actually frightened some women he had been with, the lustful grab and grind against their bodies, but Chakotay knew it, greeted it, matched it with his own!

As their cocks ground together, Chakotay threw Paris over onto his back and sidled around in the bed, and Paris found his cock grabbed, pounded aggressively until it was steel-hard in Chakotay's hand and radiating heat Paris could feel, then Chakotay gulped down that fiery organ and slaked Paris' need unstintingly with willing lips!

Paris groaned and found Chakotay's cock with half-blind eyes and half-numb fingers, he fed it to his mouth and Chakotay straddled him, a knee resting by each of Paris' ears, and Paris found the long schlong buried in him to the very base, while Chakotay dove onto him the same way, leaving them totally buried inside each other, and he held them that way!

Barely able to move, Paris hunched into Chakotay's mouth with small, rapid strokes, his legs holding the back of Chakotay's head firmly in place, trapping him equally in this mutual choke-hold.

But Chakotay didn't squirm to get away, he matched Paris' rutting movements with his own, while he fucked downwards into Paris' captured mouth. Paris worked his lips with each stroke to maximize the pleasure for Chakotay, found that in this confined position, his nostrils still pulled in enough air for him. He managed to breathe through them while Chakotay's cock left his throat briefly, not enough for survival ultimately, but enough to let him prolong this wonderful, bestial rut!

Then his passion grew inside him and Paris found that the air situation had become hopeless. He was getting fuzzy, dizzy with the lack of air, yet still he held tight to Chakotay, keeping him in the same situation, determined to outlast his Indian lover in the battle for life and lust. On and on they fucked each other's mouths, on and on they held tight, while Paris' mind fuzzed and receded into a pinpoint. Somewhere in the encroaching darkness, climax crept up on Paris and he groaned, spent his last ounce of strength to achieve orgasm, he spewed his wad upwards into Chakotay, forcing him to take every last ounce of the seed and drink it all down in lieu of air.

Paris dimly felt Chakotay's cock grow harder, felt it pulse in his lips as a sticky mass was deposited deep down his throat, but he was rapidly losing consciousness, the lack of air and the drain of ejaculation combining to snuff his life down to a tumescent spark that refused to let go.

Chakotay collapsed atop him and Paris feebly let go of him, Chakotay falling heavily to one side, his cock diminishing and coming to rest only on one side of Paris' mouth, a flaccid tube like the runnel of oxygen of centuries before with its feed of life into the weakened body. Paris felt the coolness of air on his own wet pud, which drooped down to stickily smear his balls with the leftover saliva, helpless to move, unable for a time to do anything but fight his way back to life.

Finally, he sat up and squirmed into a semi-sitting position, then around to find Chakotay's lips with his own and kiss him with all the vulnerability of spent passion and growing familiarity, giving himself completely with the kiss, just as he was, without ornament and without explanation, finding himself accepted and offered Chakotay's own soul in return.

"God, that was incredible!" Paris said after a time. "You are incredible." he quickly modified.

"You weren't so bad yourself." Chakotay said. "I wasn't planning on it working that way, but that was pretty good."

"I nearly fainted." Paris said. "I couldn't breathe, the way you had me."

"You mean the way you had me." Chakotay said feelingly. "I thought for a while we were both going to die like that, suffocated. Our friends would beam over to find our lifeless bodies lying there, our cocks in each other's mouths, and wonder what happened."

"Death by fellatio." Paris said. "I'll have to remember that if I'm ever in front of a judge being scheduled for execution and have to choose how."

"He'd never grant it. Too inhumane." Chakotay said. "Kinder just to stake you out on an ant hill."

Paris looked at the chronometer. "Jeez, 0750. If we don't move fast, we'll be giving Captain Janeway another peepshow. While I've agreed to let her look by accident, I'm damned if I'm going to set things up for her. Up and face the universe, lover!"

"My turn for first shot at the shower."

"And I'll figure out what we can eat for breakfast. Leftover squid for me!"

"I'll take the finger-fruits if there's any left."

"There are and they're all yours." Paris said. "I'll lay them atop that mashed root stuff."

"Great!"

Paris hummed while he picked out some faux bread from Neelix's supplies to round out the meal, set the squid and mashed roots in to heat and lay the rest out in an orderly array on the pull-out trays at the front console. The designers of the shuttle had certainly planned things where you could pilot the shuttle non-stop with little problem. Made for awkward moments now, though, when the shuttle was still and you wished for a proper table. And proper chairs!

Chakotay was done and Paris stepped into the shower, made it out in time to pull on his clothes and sit at the console to take a few bites, before the call from Captain Janeway came through at 0800.

"Good morning, gentlemen." Janeway said.

"Morning, Captain." Paris said while he fished one of the squid up into the air and slurped in the long dangling tentacles like so many strands of spaghetti.

"Andorrian squid? For breakfast?" Janeway asked. And she saw Chakotay's plate. "And Tilesian finger-fruits?"

"Leftovers. We felt like celebrating last night." Chakotay said.

"Ready to work again this morning?"

"Work at what?" Paris was puzzled.

"We now have a conduit of communication through to the Federation. Everyone on board Voyager is working on new messages and we are all wondering if any are coming through from the Alpha Quadrant for them. Please signal the Potemkin when you are ready and relay for us."

"Aye, aye, Captain." Paris said. When he set the communication antennae to search for the comm relays, he had a sudden horrid fright. What if the display came on, and it was Captain Brennovan in the chair?

Too late to worry about it. He would send the signal and trust that Buzz was a man of his word. Or at least still too ashamed to face Chakotay.

"Potemkin, please respond. This is Voyager." Paris said.

The screen lit with a split with Janeway, Commander T'Lin sitting in the captain's chair. "Potemkin here, Voyager."

"Commander, a lot of my people want to know if you have messages for them." Janeway spoke up.

"Affirmative, Voyager." T'Lin said. "Received over the last ten hours from various sources. Relay available upon your signal."

Paris hit the switch to send the signal right through to Voyager's communications station. "Relay when ready with a single data dump." he said. "We will sort and distribute them upon receipt."

"Aye, aye, Voyager." Commander T'Lin said. "In transit."
.
"What is the news of your immediate situation?" Janeway asked. "Any Dominion vessels near you?"

"None that we can detect, and our scouts are not reporting anything out of the ordinary." Commander T'Lin said. "But there is news of a Dominion fleet gathering at Sector 145. We may need to join Starfleet forces in an effort to fend them off from an attack on the Valerians."

"Yes, we meant to ask about that." Janeway said. "Why did the Kepler's probe contain Valerian components?"

"The added stability of the Valerian components were needed to handle the strength of the muon flow." Commander T'Lin said. "And the Valerians, though allies of ours against the Dominion, have little enough to offer the war effort besides heavy-planet technology."

"I thought the Valerians were allies of the Cardassians."

"They were until a change of government just before the Dominion alliance." Commander T'Lin said. "This all happened after Voyager became lost."

"We have a lot of catching up to do." Janeway said.

"We expected that. Part of the data dump is a summary of news over the last four years." Commander T'Lin said.

"We look forward to viewing it."

"We will end this contact with the signal dump's completion." Commander T'Lin said. "The power needed to maintain the communications relay is a significant drain on our engines. Potemkin out."

"Rather abrupt." Chakotay said. "And why wasn't their Captain on the bridge?"

"We called rather early." Paris said hastily. "As for abrupt, she was a Vulcan after all, and Vulcans aren't exactly known for their tact."

Chakotay grinned at that. "That would explain it." he agreed. "Well, Captain, let us know if any of that mail is for us. We'll be waiting for it. In the meantime, I'm going to check the status of the Kepler's probe."

"Agreed. Janeway out."

"But first, we finish eating." Chakotay said. "This stuff is hard enough to eat while it's still warm."

Paris chewed on the last of the Andorrian squid, now only tepid, nearly gagging on the lukewarm meat with its heavy sauce, and agreed with a mutter.

They finished their breakfast and scanned the probe. "Fluctuation in the starboard power cell." Chakotay said. "Do we dare try to replace it?"

"Given our luck tinkering with it the last time?" Paris said. "I don't see why not."

Chakotay grinned. "We'd better tell the Potemkin we're going to turn off their probe for a time."

"If we do that, won't the wormhole collapse completely?" Paris said. We should have had to travel another five days to reach the wormhole, remember?"

"Right. Mph! I didn't think of that. And even if we could keep up with the wormhole movements, it would throw off the time schedule for transit. We'd better leave it alone. Not too bad, it ought to last with few problems. We'll monitor it and if it gets too bad, we'll signal the Potemkin."

"Let's beam the stats over to Voyager and see if they have any ideas."

They did so and were at a loss as to what to do of a sudden. Paris looked at Chakotay, who looked at him, and Paris shrugged. "Well, until that communicator beeps, we're left twiddling our thumbs."

Hooh-hooh!

"That didn't take long!" Paris chuckled. "Paris here."

"Mail call." came Kim's voice.

"Great! Which one of us?"

"You, Tom. Also, I got the Federation news of the last four years set up for you."

"Send it on over. And thanks, Harry."

"Sure." Kim's face broke into a beam. "I got a message from Libby!"

"Great!" Paris said. "Have fun! Shuttle out."

"I can check the news while you listen to your mail, Tom." Chakotay said.

"No need." Tom said. "I got no secrets from you any more." He winced internally at that and said, "Let's see if Dad's scanned my last entry."

"If you're sure you won't mind." Chakotay dithered.

"I don't mind." Tom said. "May need you to hold my hand, frankly." Paris uploaded the data from Voyager, his letter was on top of the list, and took a deep breath, pressed the accept- and-play key.

An elderly woman, big, round and imposing, stood on the main screen display. "It's Aunt Matilda!" Paris said delightedly.

"Hello, Tom!" Aunt Matilda said. "They say they have to relay this several times so we can't do a face-to-face. I got your message to your father by delayed relay just this morning. He's on a high-security, hush-hush inspection trip and won't be back for a few days, so he never had the chance to look at it, Tom. I hacked the transporter at his office and the next time he tries to beam in there, he'll beam here instead and I'll sit him down and watch him watch it. Don't worry, Pumpkin, it's all taken care of."

"Pumpkin?" Chakotay said.

"Childhood nickname." Paris said. "Shh!"

"He lost a lot of weight when we heard Voyager was lost, and he didn't start gaining any of it back until that message came through some time ago from, what was it, the Hiroshi? So don't you think for one minute he doesn't love you, Tommy. He's just stubborn, the same as you are. He may never speak to you again, but you're always in his thoughts, the same as in mine."

"They retired me from Starfleet Intelligence nearly three years ago. So I while away my days by breaking into Starfleet security systems just to keep in practice. They catch me at it from time to time and call me up and ask me how I did it. So I'm keeping somewhat useful. And I tend your mother's grave every week. Your niece Racina has had two children since you left. The others are all doing well. I'm asking them all to write to you while they have the chance, so you should get some more mail from them. Carla was just accepted to Starfleet Academy, so be sure you tell her you're proud of her. She's just like your father in a lot of ways, so when you get back, you can leave Starfleet and probably hear nothing about it. She's a bright girl, and will command a starship before she's thirty if I'm any judge. And you know I am."

"What else am I doing? Well, believe it or not, I actually went to church when I first learned you were safe and alive in the Delta Quadrant, and I have been going ever since, every day. Don't have any faith in God, but I pray for your safety for a half hour each day, just to be on the safe side. Now that I've heard from you, I may up it to an hour. It seems to be working. You're still alive, aren't you?"

"I hope you're as loved by your fellow crewmembers as you are by me, Tommy. Give the people in your life a chance, Pumpkin. They may break your heart from time to time, but a heart that's all wrapped up in stone isn't in any better shape than a broken one. Give yourself a great big hug and know that Aunt Mattie is actually getting down on her knees and praying for you. In fact, I need to get there right now, I promised to help them set up for a luncheon. Can you imagine *me* on a church committee? Got to go, Pumpkin. All my love."

And the screen went to blue with the Starfleet logo and the words "End Transmission." Paris sat looking at the screen and didn't even try to wipe the tears from his eyes and cheeks. Chakotay, ever discreet, respected his silence with his own. Finally, Tom reached up and wiped his eyes, turned to Chakotay. "That was Aunt Matilda. She's alive, and so's Dad!"

"Yes. Quite a woman. She was with Starfleet Intelligence?"

"Yeah. Didn't I tell you?"

"No." Chakotay said. "You mentioned the trips she took with you and the way she raised you when your mother died, but you left that part out."

"Didn't know it myself until I was nearly sixteen." Paris admitted. "She was part of the Blue Section. Very top secret. Still hard to think of her as a top-notch government agent and sometimes intelligence operative. My Aunt Mattie the spy. Former spy, that is. She was always just Aunt Mattie who helped me gather bugs from under rocks by the stream for my science projects in elementary school."

"It also explains how she can order around an Admiral so easily." Chakotay said, grinning.

"She always did outrank Dad. First by rank, then by seniority. I think it galled him, somewhat, having an older sister outdoing him in Starfleet at every turn."

"Ready for the news reports?" Chakotay asked.

"Uh..." Paris hesitated.

Chakotay smiled indulgently. "Sure, Tom. Play it again."

Paris happily hit the replay button. Aunt Matilda appeared on the screen. "Hello, Tom! They say they have to relay this...."

He had mercy on Chakotay after the fifth replay, and they listened to the news reports. Chakotay immediately checked on the Maquis, and Paris could have slapped himself in the head like a slapstick comic showing stupidity. Chakotay had any number of friends on the front lines and he'd patiently waited to learn of their fates while Paris replayed his message from Aunt Matilda. Chakotay did several prolonged data checks, asking for more information on every Maquis name that came up, and seemed content enough. Paris had to admit that every name he checked seemed to be alive and doing well. They caught up on the Cardassian War and life back in the Alpha Quadrant. With links to more information at every stage and going back to find the next item, the next time Paris thought to look, it was 1400. "Whoa, we forgot about lunch." he said. "Shall we see what wonderful surprise Neelix has for us today?"

"Why not?" Chakotay said.

"I'll fix it." Paris smiled, he'd wait a day or two to pay him back with a surprise meal. It would have a bit more impact, be a bit more appreciated, if Chakotay sat down one day expecting Neelix Surprise and got a regular meal instead.

They ate a somewhat noxious plate of green stalks (not ordinary plant-green, a deep, malodorous green with a definite after-taste to it that puckered the lips--it took a lot of liquid to wash the meal down) and then Paris yawned. "I could stand a nap." he admitted.

"Couldn't sleep last night?" Chakotay asked. "I know you got up for a while."

Whoops! "I didn't know you noticed that."

"Not notice your warm body not snuggled up to mine?" Chakotay said. "It was a nightmare again, wasn't it?"

"Yeah." Paris said. "Just an ordinary, garden-variety kind with weird creatures trying to kill me. Got to me, though, woke me completely up. By the time I got sleepy again, it was nearly time to get up anyway."

"Okay." Chakotay said. "Why don't you lie down and take a nap? I can certainly man the console for a few hours. And I want to read the news a bit longer. I stopped reading the Maquis news when I was sure my friends were safe, but there was more in it."

"All right." Paris said. "Wake me in an hour if I'm still lying here."

"Make it two." Chakotay said.

Paris lay down and realized that he had received news from the wormhole, and none of it had been bad. Well, Dad hadn't gotten his message yet, but other than that, everything was fine. Little Carla Paris in Starfleet! That was no surprise, she was as gung-ho as Dad. And bright. She couldn't fly a ship with wide open space and a string of beacons to guide her along, but that wasn't the only thing a person did in Starfleet. Aunt Matilda couldn't fly worth a damn, either! They had revoked her license permanently after she had crashed the third flyer with no excuse other than pilot error.

Dear old Aunt Mattie, still alive! And praying for him, in a church, no less! That was an image he found hard to believe; Aunt Matilda had always scoffed at people who needed an emotional crutch like religion. Get up and make your own mistakes at least, she'd say, rather than re-using some musty old mistakes in a book bound up with dead cows! The priest of the town near their home had forbid her from coming on any church functions after she had made one too many ruckuses of that sort. He wondered how she had managed to slip into church on him? A disguise? Blackmail? Bribery? With Aunt Matilda, they were all likely options!

He should do another message, strictly to her. He could kick himself for not doing one to her directly to begin with. He had the excuse of never knowing the message could get delivered, and had said so in his message, but even so, she deserved a personal message from him for the years she had spent making his childhood one of mostly-happy memories. Holding down an important job like she had and him hardly knowing she *had* a job, that took some major commitment from her. It was time he acknowledged it.

He spent some time composing the message in his mind that he would leave for her. It would include all his love for her and how much he thought of her, here, on the other side of the galaxy from her. And yes, he would tell her of the love he had found, so new, so fragile, and yet so very precious now. He would have to compose the message while sitting next to Chakotay, so that she could see him with his love. Yes, that was just the way to send the message to her!
.
He got up, checked the time--1530, he must have slept for a time--surprised to see the privacy shield up. Chakotay hadn't needed that for him to nap! He ordered the shield to be lowered, puzzled when it would not. He slapped his comm badge. "Chakotay?" he said. "Chakotay, what is wrong?"

"I'm sorry, Tom." Chakotay said, in a broken voice. "You can come in."

Tom did, and Chakotay turned to him, tears streaming down his face. "Chakotay, what is it? What's wrong?" he said, finding himself on his knees by Chakotay's side somehow, though he didn't remember moving that fast.

"I was wondering why my sister or any of my family hadn't sent me a message." Chakotay said. "So I went through the news on Dorvan V. The Jem Hadar attacked Dorvan V in force five months ago. Several towns were destroyed with thousands of civilian casualties. My sisters and their families were among them. Tom, I didn't get any mail from my family because they're all dead! All of them!"

Tom held Chakotay tightly. "Oh, God, Chakotay, I'm so sorry!"

"I feel like I'm being torn apart, Tom. Like demons have hold of me and one of them has stabbed me right in the heart!"

"Baby, baby!" crooned Tom, cradling Chakotay's head against his chest. The dream last night! It hadn't been meant for him, but for Chakotay! And he hadn't said a word about it!

And the wormhole had kept its record of only bringing bad news with it.

Tom held Chakotay until he had cried himself dry, and was silent. "I want you to lie down for a time." he said. "And I'm going to use my status as substitute medical officer to order some medication for you. Are you going to take it willingly or do I need to fight you on it?"

"I'll take it." Chakotay said. "Just make it knock me out. I don't want to think right now. Not at all."

Tom took Chakotay over to the bed and lay him down. Went to the medikit and selected the hypospray, set it to Anesthezol-IV, and gave Chakotay 5mg of it. As he expected, Chakotay went out like a light. Tom then stripped Chakotay's clothes from him and covered him up. Kissed the sleeping face, placid now. He felt so damned helpless. How can you protect the one you love when the damage being done was hundreds of thousands of light-years away?

Just as in the dream, he felt bound, helpless to prevent Chakotay's pain.

He went into the front of the shuttle, thought about the privacy shield, but realized that at the moment, Chakotay wouldn't be bothered by an atomic blast. He signaled the Potemkin.

"Commander T'Lin here."

"It's Lieutenant Paris. Commander Chakotay is sleeping under the assistance of a heavy tranquilizer. Commander, may I ask that you re-analyze the news of the last four years, this time correlating with the family members of the Voyager crewmembers? Commander Chakotay just learned of the Jem Hadar attack on Dorvan V, his homeworld. He believes that all of his family died in that attack. I want to be certain that this is true or not."

"Understood." Commander T'Lin said.

Captain Brennovan stepped up beside her, and Paris confronted him for the first time in nearly twenty years. Time had not been kind to this man. He looked awful, like a man of over a hundred years old, rather than the forty-five he actually was. Paris was shocked. This wasn't the result of a dissipated lifestyle. He was only a few years older than Chakotay, why did he look so terrible. "Captain." he said carefully.

"We'll check on it right away." Captain Brennovan said. "How is Chakotay?"

"Sleeping soundly under 5mg of Anesthezol-IV." Paris said. "Is his entire family dead?"

"Checking on it now." Captain Brennovan said, looking over at his science station. "Yes, I'm afraid so. The list of dead includes the entirety of both sisters. Wait, he has a brother still living, somewhere in the outback of Dorvan V. Waconda. All the others are dead, and Waconda may be. No information on him for the last ten years."

"Yes." Paris said. "He has Waconda."

"So he didn't lose all his family." Captain Brennovan said. "I'm glad to hear that."

"Captain, what has happened to you?" Paris asked. "You look...."

"Old?" Captain Brennovan said.

"Yes."

"My own fault." Captain Brennovan admitted. "Ran into a race that promised to give me immortality and I took them up on it. Turns out the human body can't handle it. I'm aging at three times the normal rate, and have ever since a year after I left Starfleet Academy. Another reason I never looked Chakotay up to apologize to him."

"I'm sorry to hear that." Paris said.

"Doctors give me another three years to live, if I'm lucky." Captain Brennovan said. "I had retired, but when the Dominion invaded, they pulled me back into service. So here I am, aboard the Potemkin again, trying to save the human race. You know, Lieutenant, I'm not total scum. I was young and foolish once. You remember being young and foolish, doing something you wished you hadn't?"

That hit Paris hard. "Yeah, Captain, I can understand being young and doing something stupid. I'm sorry I've been so hard on you. But when...when the man you love is hurting, you'll do whatever it takes to protect him."

"I know." Captain Brennovan said. "Take care of Chakotay. He's so tough on the outside and so damned fragile inside. But I don't have to tell you that."

"No, sir." Paris said.

"Potemkin has to go join the task force at Sector 145." Captain Brennovan said. "Either the Potemkin or another Starfleet vessel will return to enhance the wormhole. The Johannes Kepler will remain here on station and keep the relays open for you. We'll need Voyager to fight when she gets here. Hope you don't mind jumping right into battle."

"Voyager has been in battles over the last four years." Paris said. "She can take care of herself against the Dominion."

"Delta Quadrant. What did you do about the Borg, or have you hit them yet?"

"We've met them. Even formed an alliance with them for a short time. You noticed the software we used on our first two probes? Borg technology. We have a former Borg as a crewmember. Seven of Nine."

Captain Brennovan whistled. "Well, that is news. Is it safe?"

"Her. Captain, I would trust her with my life. Already have, in fact, more than once. You don't have to worry about her or her technology. It's safe."

"Good to know that. We'll check it anyway. Potemkin out."

Paris sat for a while, rearranging his opinions on Robert Brennovan (somewhat, at least, the guy who had tattooed twelve men's butts with a "D" still owed the universe an explanation!) and then signaled Voyager.

Janeway came on-line. "Greetings, Captain." Paris said.

"We were wondering." Janeway said. I signaled at 1400 hours and got no response from you. If I hadn't had my read-outs showing the shuttle was fine, I'd be wondering if you were both alive." And she grinned. "Anything I can hear about?"

"Yes, but you won't like it." Paris said, and told her the news. Her grin fled her face rapidly. "I have him sleeping under a hefty dose of tranquilizer, but he's pretty devastated. I'll be on station the rest of the shift if you need relays to Johannes Kepler. Potemkin has left to join the war effort, but promises to either return or send someone at the appointed time."

"I told the crewmembers to have their messages ready by 0800 tomorrow." Janeway said. "No reason to overload the relays."

"I'll have one of my own to add to the mix." Paris said. "And I've asked the Potemkin to check on the family members of all of Voyager's crew just to be safe. Oog! They may not remember to send that to us. But I did ask."

"We'll see tomorrow at 0800. If necessary, we'll ask the Kepler. Janeway out."

Paris ate some of Neelix's rations for his supper and spent the rest of the evening working on his message to Aunt Matilda. Finished, he played it back to himself. His own face on the screen.

"Hi, Aunt Mattie!" he said to himself cheerily. "I was sure glad to get your message. I'm sorry Dad hasn't had a chance to scan my first message, but I'm counting on you to force- feed it to him if necessary. You always could take Dad two falls out of three! So I'm not going to worry about it."

"As you heard on my message sent to you, I'm doing well and being a good Starfleet officer and flying Voyager, a hell of a great ship to fly. We've been in some battles and gone through some bad times, but we're, most of us, still kicking and still heading home."

"All I really need to add to my message you've already heard is that I have fallen in love. With a man, by the way. If you're surprised by that, I'm still reeling from the image of you in a church pew, praying away every day! He's Commander Chakotay, first officer aboard ship. The Captain knew we were interested in each other, and sent us on a wild-goose chase aboard this shuttle. Except that we actually caught a goose here. It's been nine wonderful days, seven of which we have spent in bed together and falling very much in love. He was the Captain of the Maquis vessel we were chasing when we got caught by the Caretaker and brought to the Delta Quadrant. So when I get back to the Alpha Quadrant, he's going to sneak me off the ship with the rest of the Maquis and I'm going into hiding there. Can we come stay at your house for a while, me and the rest of the Maquis? Thanks, I knew we could!" Paris smiled, Aunt Matilda had expressed open admiration for the Maquis for years, he could count on her discretion.

"So don't be surprised if a brown-skinned, brown-eyed man with a tattoo on his forehead comes knocking on your door one evening and hugs you. That'll be me in disguise as Waconda, Chakotay's brother."

"Chakotay got bad news with the messages today, his entire family died in the Jem Hadar attack on Dorvan V some months ago. So he's sleeping under some heavy tranks in the back of the shuttle over there." Paris pointed to the sleeping form behind him. "I'm attaching some images of him to this message, so you can see what he looks like. None of us together yet, but it's only been nine days. When I finish this message, I'm going to hold him tight and help him get over it. He can cry on my shoulder all he wants and I'll cry with him. Yeah, I got it that bad, Aunt Mattie. You can start thinking what you'll be wearing to our wedding when we get back to the Alpha Quadrant."

"Heck, I'm talking to you, and you know about my feelings, because you always got them, too. I admitted them to Chakotay, first time in a long time I gave that secret away. Like I say, I got it bad. My feelings are that this wormhole is not going to be a way home for us. I don't see why, because it's a wide open, man-made wormhole, stable as the one the Bajorans have. I just know that it's not going to give us anything but bad news, and Chakotay's news about his family is just part of it so far. I learned of his ex-lover, the one he's still carrying a huge torch for and who he thinks is dead. Well, he's alive and in charge of the Potemkin, the starship that came to help the Johannes Kepler open the wormhole for us. If I hadn't acted fast, expecting the bad news, he might have heard about it. That would have soured our relationship, believe it or not, because I remind him of his ex-lover a lot. How's that for emotional baggage to have to deal with? But I'm dealing with it."

"I keep wanting to fire this photon torpedo we've got and close that wormhole once and for all, because it's got the potential to hurt Chakotay. It already has. And the bad news isn't over, yet! But how would I explain doing that to anyone but you? So I leave it intact, and I sit here, taking the bad news as it comes in, knowing there's going to be more and more, and leaving it open just the same. But I have to, because I would never be able to explain it to anyone, even to Chakotay."

"I love him, Aunt Mattie. God, I love him so much I keep wishing I didn't have these bad feelings. Until they go away, I'm moving like a mouse at a cat show, afraid that every word I say and every move I make is going to cause it to all come crashing down around me. And I couldn't bear that."

"I'm glad you're all right, Aunt Mattie. You're one of the most special people in my life. As long as I have you and Chakotay, I can handle anything. I can even go right back into prison when I get back and smile the entire time. But I'm not going back, am I? I'm going to stay right here in the Delta Quadrant with Voyager. You and I both know that, so keep on praying for me. Like you said, it can't hurt. I love you, Aunt Mattie. Good-bye."

Paris thought it over, and sent it to storage. It would do. He looked at the time. 1900. A bit early to turn in. He buzzed Voyager, this time a private message for Kim.

Kim answered the comm, eyes red. "Hi, Tom."

"Harry!" Paris said with a sinking feeling. Not again! "What is it?"

"Libby got married. Sent me a message, in five parts, one right after the other. One telling me she'd wait for me, the second saying she was waiting patiently like she'd promised, the third saying she was seeing this guy and needed him so much because she couldn't have me but not to worry because he didn't mean anything to her, the fourth saying she was getting married to the guy and she was sorry, but she couldn't wait for me forever and besides, she had Collin now, and the fifth, she showed their son. She actually had the gall to send me the entire message like that, saying that she hoped it would help me understand her feelings. Yeah, I understand. She said she'd wait for me and she didn't. That's what she said."

"Harry." Tom said. "I'm so sorry. You told her in your last message not to wait for you."

"I know." Kim said. "But she didn't even start the message by saying she was getting married. I listened to the whole damned thing without any warning, her saying she was waiting for me, and I thought it was recent. She didn't warn me she was breaking up, she left the first messages intact, and in front!"

"Ouch!" Paris said. "That was a big mistake on her part."

"Yeah." Kim said. "I was feeling like a heel, with my feelings for you and for Seven of Nine, feeling unfaithful to her. And she was married to this guy for the last year and a half! A year and a half!"

"She screwed up, Harry!" Paris said. "She thought she was helping you out, giving you the message like that! She didn't think about what it would be like to actually get that sort of message. She screwed up."

"Yeah." Kim said. "Tom, I'm signing off now. I don't feel like talking, okay?"

"Okay. But comm me if you need to talk. I'm setting the commlink on night status, but it'll connect you if you call me. Okay?"

"Okay." Kim snuffled.

"Paris out."

Paris looked at the stars and grumbled. "More damned bad news."

He gave up, went over to the bed, ran the tricorder over Chakotay. He was mostly over the tranquilizer, and sleeping normally. Paris shucked his clothes and got into bed with him.

Tomorrow was another day. More bad news coming from that wormhole, for sure. Better rest, Tom, he told himself, so you can keep dealing with it.

Glad that Captain Brennovan, at least, wasn't going to be around tomorrow.

Chakotay snuggled up as he climbed in. "Hold me, baby." he begged fuzzily.

Paris held him tight. Chakotay cried a little more on his shoulder and Paris cried a tear or two with him. Done, he kissed Chakotay, not aggressively, but like a father kisses his child, and held him and together, they went to sleep.

If Paris dreamed that night, he didn't remember it.

END OF DAY NINE

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Shuttle Trip, Day 10