Wild Birds


By Tommyhawk1@aol.com

*
Tom finished putting his clothing into the crate and looked around the room. "I guess that's everything." he told Chakotay.
*
"Yeah." Chakotay said. "You've checked the bathroom?"
*
"First thing I packed this morning." Tom said. "Which quarters have I been assigned?"
*
"Deck 3, Compartment 83. It's the same size as your old room, and I have had the crew in there fixing it up into a residential quarter for you since yesterday."
*
"If you'll go ahead and reset the computer access for me." Paris said, wishing there were some easier way of doing this, but it was one of Chakotay's jobs on Voyager.
*
"Computer. Authorize Deck 3, Compartment 83, residential access to Lieutenant Thomas Eugene Paris."
*
"Confirm."
*
"This is Lieutenant Thomas Eugene Paris. Authorize."
*
"Confirmed. Authorization established."
*
"Computer, remove authorization Deck 4, Compartment 3, residential access to Lieutenant Thomas Eugene Paris and Commander Chakotay. Authorize Deck 4, Compartment 3, residential access to Commander Chakotay only."
*
"Confirm."
*
"This is Lieutenant Thomas Eugene Paris." Paris paused and gulped. "Remove authorization."
*
"Confirmed. Authorization removed."
*
"Do you need help carrying that?" Chakotay said.
*
"No, I can handle it."
*
"Guess I'll see you on the bridge, then." Chakotay said. "You'll forgive me if your assignments come through the Captain or Commander Tuvok for a time. I don't think I could stand to talk to you myself right now."
*
"Chak, I just..." Tom cast his eyes around desperately.
*
"It's Commander from now on, if you please, Lieutenant."
*
"Commander." Tom felt the wall grow again and it was more than he could bear. "I just want to say I'm sorry."
*
"I know."
*
"I do still love you, you know. And I always will."
*
"I know. Just please go now."
*
"It's just that things sometimes...."
*
"Please go now, Lieutenant." Chakotay walked over and looked out at the stars.
*
Paris picked up the crate and walked out the door. He stopped, looked back, but the door closed without Chakotay turning around.
*
The broad back continued looking out at the stars. After a time, the shoulders moved in quick hunching motions, the head bowed, and the first sounds of sobbing could be heard.
*

* * * * *

*
The next time their eyes met was in the commissary at breakfast the next day. Paris walked in, saw Chakotay, who saw him. Then Paris walked past and up to Neelix. "Hello, Neelix." he said.
*
"Good morning, Lieutenant."
*
"What's on the menu today?"
*
"Boiled gasparah roots. It resembles your Earth's oatmeal."
*
Paris leaned over and sniffed the orange lumpy mash. "Doesn't smell much like it."
*
"Well, just take a quick taste." Neelix offered him a spoon.
*
Paris picked up a dab, made a face. "It's sour!" he complained.
*
"Yes, human taste buds. They continue to confound me." Neelix said. "My own race finds it quite tasty."
*
"Well, give me a ration of sugar and I'll make do with it." Paris said.
*
Neelix scooped him up a large dab of the mixture into a bowl and added sugar packets, Paris walked absent-mindedly until he nearly was at Chakotay's table. He stopped when he realized, puzzled. He had sat at that table every morning for a year, sitting with Chakotay, eating and discussing the day's events. What was he supposed to do now? He looked around and saw an empty seat at a table further into the corner. It would let him sit with his back to Chakotay, though with Chakotay facing him. It would have to do.
*
He didn't know the ensigns at this table, though he knew their names. "Mind if I join you this morning?" he asked.
*
"No, Lieutenant, go right ahead." Ensign Kiwala said. She was pretty, he supposed, to another Andorrian. The blue skin was nice, but the angular face didn't translate well into human terms. Ensigns Gregory Wallace and Kiru Mikoto were a pair of stone faces, talking to each other in monotones. He wished for a cheerier table, but this would do while he figured out what to do next.
*
He ate in silence, responding politely but lacklusterly to Kiwala's attempts, and she gave up after a time. Wallace and Mikoto both rose at the same time and walked out together. Paris watched them leave. They were like a pair of mechanical toy soldiers in their movements, the same motions at the same time. "Those two really seem to be in synch with each other."
*
"Of course, sir." Kiwala said.
*
"Why do you say that?"
*
Kiwala lowered her eyes. "They're lovers, sir."
*
"Really?" Paris smiled, trying to remember their faces. "They're an odd pair. Hardly spoke all meal."
*
"They speak to each other." Kiwala shrugged. "They have each other. It seems to be all either of them needs."
*
"That's nice." Paris said uncomfortably. "How long has this been going on?"
*
"Almost a year." Kiwala said. "Their anniversary will be next month. I understand they're going to ask the Captain to marry them as a celebration."
*
That hurt. He and Chakotay would have been together a year next month. He remembered the days when they would speak to no one but each other. Needed no one but each other. Was that how he and Chak had looked to the crew, wrapped up in themselves, a unit with two bodies, self-sufficient unto themselves?
*
"Lieutenant?"
*
"Yes, Kiwala?"
*
"If I would not be too presumptuous?"
*
"What?"
*
"What happened between you and Commander Chakotay?"
*
Paris was surprised. "You know?"
*
"I was one of those who prepared your new cabin. I saw the authorization codes. And you've sat with Commander Chakotay for the last year. I've watched from over here. Saw the smiles and the love, then the smiles ended, then the quarrels came, and now you're sitting here with me. You are very welcome here, sir, but I was wondering what happened?"
*
Paris shrugged. "It was a lot of little things. Chakotay and I are just too different. That made things fun in the beginning, but it got on my nerves after a time. I would want to talk, and he would be in deep meditation. He's so damned quiet, even at home. So I would go out looking for someone to talk to, and when I got back, he'd grill me, demanding to know where I'd been and why I was out all the time. He's very possessive. And I'm a free spirit at heart. You can't trap a wild bird in a cage, it just dies."
*
"Yes, sir." Kiwala said. "But its song is so lovely, you can't blame the man who tries. I'm off shift now, sir, but you'd better get to your station. Hope to speak with you again soon, sir."
*
"Thank you, Kiwala." Paris said.
*

* * * * *

*
Paris got to the bridge and saw Chakotay already there. He walked past without a word and relieved the helm.
*
"Lieutenant Paris." Captain Janeway said.
*
"Yes, Captain."
*
"Would you object to being reassigned to the C Shift?"
*
That was the night shift, which would make it where he and Chakotay would never be on the bridge at the same time except at the shift changeover. "It's up to you and the Commander." he said, trying to sound indifferent.
*
"What do you think, Commander?" Janeway said.
*
"I think it's a good idea." Chakotay said. "We could use more experienced crewmembers on the C Shift. At the moment, it carries mostly ensigns who were recent Academy graduates when Voyager first came to the Delta Quadrant."
*
"What do you think, Lieutenant?" Janeway said.
*

"Captain, the ship flies the same no matter which shift I'm on. You give me the shift and I'll fly her."
*
"You misunderstood, Lieutenant. I wasn't planning on putting you on the helm for that shift. I was going to put you in command."
*
"Captain?" Paris turned around.
*
"Do you feel competent to command Voyager for that shift?"
*
"Of course, Captain."
*
"Then I'll follow your recommendations, Commander." Janeway said. "Lieutenant Paris, report back here at 2300 hours and we'll introduce you to your crewmen. Take the rest of the day to shake down and get some sleep. You'll be on graveyard duty, you know."
*
"Yes, Captain. Thank you, Captain." Paris looked over at Chakotay. "And thank you, Commander. I won't let you down." Chakotay wouldn't look at him, and suddenly Paris realized the double meaning of his last words. "I didn't mean it that way." he protested.
*
"We understand, Lieutenant." Janeway said quickly. "Dismissed."
*
The turbolift was delayed. Paris looked over at Harry Kim, who was watching Chakotay. He looked over at Chakotay to see him trembling. Paris gave Kim a pained look and left on the turbolift gratefully. "Deck Four." he said, and hit his fists against the wall. "Why couldn't I have said it differently!" he agonized. "Is there anything I can say to Chakotay that won't hurt him now? Anything at all?"
*
He walked all the way back to his quarters and was balked at the door which refused to open. He tried the command three times, and it wouldn't open. He slapped his communicator. "Computer, open the door, please."
*
"Unable to comply."
*
"What? Computer, open the door for me."
*
"Unable to comply."
*
"Computer, what...." then he saw the problem. He was standing at Chakotay's door. His old quarters. Crewmen were looking at him, puzzled.
*
"Cancel that order, computer." he said. Back to the turbolift and up to Deck 3. To his new home.
*

* * * * *

*
He was pleased to see that three of his new crew that night consisted of Ensigns Wallace, Mikoto and Kiwala. Which explained their being together at breakfast each day, their last meal before retiring. All the faces of C Shift were strange to him, but at least he had a handle on the relationships. Wallace was at the helm, Mikoto was on science station, and Kiwala was at tactical. He checked their records on the computer and felt content. As expected, they were raw recruits, but they all had done well at the Academy and on their job duties to date.
*
He spent his time watching the subtle interplay between Wallace and Mikoto. They only SEEMED wooden and unresponsive. Once you knew their relationship, they were a complementary team, and an elaborate set of hand signals were constantly going on between them. He exchanged significant eyebrow raises and winks with Kiwala, who smiled and nodded. It was nice to see someone who was happy just now, even if it didn't happen to be him.
*
C Shift was quiet and dull, as expected. A few crews worked this shift, such as Stellar Cartography, who needed massive quantities of computer ability and thus had to use it when everyone who could be was asleep. He spent the time dreading shift changeover, which was from 0700 to 0800. Chakotay would appear at 0700 and take command with half of the day crew, and Janeway would be in at 0730. For that half hour, then, he would have to share duties with Commander Chakotay, sitting side-by-side.
*
Janeway appeared at 0700. Paris was surprised, it should have been Chakotay who took the first half of the shift changeover while Janeway had breakfast. "Captain." he said.
*
"Relieving you, Lieutenant." Janeway said.
*
"Shouldn't it be Commander Chakotay?" Paris said.
*
"Not this week." Janeway said. "I--asked for this arrangement. Chakotay won't be in until 0800."
*
"Yes, Captain." Paris sighed.
*
"Status, Lieutenant?"
*
"All clear. Approaching a pre-stellar nebula, changed course to Eighty-three Mark Twenty-two to avoid it."
*
"We need to send a shuttle out to survey the nebula. Whom do you recommend from your shift? It's C Shift's turn to supply the crew."
*
"We'll need a navigator to fly the shuttle and a science officer." It just fell into place. "Wallace and Mikoto."
*
"A good team." Janeway winked slightly. She did know her crew well, Paris realized. "They should be able to share a shuttle for the next week with little friction."
*
"Yes, Captain." Paris said. "They're good men you've given me for this shift."
*
"Have Ensigns Wallace and Mikoto report for shuttle duty at 0900."
*
"You heard the Captain, guys." Paris said. "Better grab a bite, pack your things and get going."
*
"Yes, sir." Wallace said.
*
"Thank you, sir." Mikoto said. And the two marched out together.
*
At 0730, Paris walked up to where Kiwala had just been relieved. "Ensign, how about we go get our breakfast now?"
*
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir." Kiwala said.
*
Andorrians on the whole weren't an exciting species to humans. They came across as polite, but bland and dull. Paris was surprised, then, at the depth Kiwala showed. She told him about the rest of the C Shift's crew and in every case had them analyzed perfectly, from flaws to abilities.
*
"You should be a ship's counselor, Kiwala." he said as they finished breakfast. "You have everyone figured right out. Now tell me about you. What are your hobbies?"
*
"Wild birds." Kiwala admitted. "I study their mating habits and actions. And how they behave when you try to trap them in a cage."
*
"They beat and flail and try to get away." Paris affirmed.
*
"Yes, sir." she said. "But if you let it go free, often it will return to its cage, where it knows it will find food and water. And if you will build your wild bird a feeder and water trough without the cage, it will stay with you and build its nest nearby. With patience, you can even coax it to land on your finger after a time. It's the bars it can't handle, the lack of choice. Give it the choice, and it will be as loyal to you as any wild creature can be. It will sing its song to you happily."
*
"You ARE a ship's counselor." Paris admitted. He didn't miss the double-meaning of her words. "Too bad that humans aren't wild birds, isn't it?"
*
"All creatures are alike, at heart." Kiwala pressed. "Only their songs are different."
*
"I wish I could believe that." Paris said. With Wallace and Mikoto gone, he was sitting on the opposite side of the table from the day before in order to face Kiwala. Only a look up and he could see Chakotay sitting at the table-for-two, all alone. Watching him.
*
"Is the cage so ugly, then?" Kiwala asked him.
*
"Golden bars are still bars." Paris said. "They trap you inside and you can't breathe. Your only thought is of escape."
*
"But humans aren't wild birds, remember?" Kiwala said.
*
Paris smiled. "I'll recommend you for the counselor's position, Kiwala, when it comes available. If you'll pardon me."
*
He walked over to Chakotay. "Chak, can we talk?" he asked.
*
"About what?"
*
"About what happened." Paris slid down.
*
"Does it have to be now?"
*
"Please. I know I've hurt you by breaking up with you. I wish I could have seen another answer, another way."
*
"You made your decision." Chakotay said bleakly. "It didn't include me."
*
"Chakotay, I do love you. But you were stifling me. I had to get out, just to remember who I was and what I wanted."
*
"Have you found it yet?"
*
"Not really." Paris admitted. "I haven't had a chance to look, yet. But Chakotay, my life can include you in it. It just can't be inside the walls you built around me."
*
"I didn't build walls around you." Chakotay said.
*
"Yes, you did."
*
"No. I built them around us." Chakotay said. "And they weren't prison walls. It was the walls of our home."
*
"They were walls, just the same." Paris said. "I couldn't spend my every moment with you. I have to get out sometimes, to have fun and talk with people and do things."
*
"I wanted those things to be with me."
*
"Yes, just you." Paris pointed out. "You and me and nobody else anywhere around us at all."
*
"Was that so terrible a thing?" Chakotay looked so sad.
*
"It wasn't what I wanted. Not all the time. I don't meditate the way you do. You have your ship duties which are more demanding than mine. You'd be busy with that and I wouldn't have anything to do. So I'd go out."
*
"I'd look for you when I was done." Chakotay said. "You wouldn't be there. I'd wait, ready to share some time with you. Or I'd look for you, and you'd be in a game I couldn't play, or in the hologram suite with the door locked. I'd go home and wait for you and wait for you and wait.... Then you'd come home and want to go right to sleep. I'm tired, you'd say. Leave me alone."
*
"It wasn't always that way."
*
"It happened often enough."
*
"I lose track of time when I'm having fun." Paris admitted. "And after four hours of holo- ball, I just want to get some sleep."
*
"So we were never there for each other." Chakotay said. "And the next day would be the very same, and I got tired of you not being around for me, always gone. So I tried to get you to spend some time with me."
*
"It was time when you chose it to be." Paris said. "Not when I'd have the time myself."
*
"I'm busy." Chakotay said. "I have this entire ship to watch out for. I can't drop it all just to go out and play holo-ball with you."
*
"And that's what happened to us." Paris said. "You tried to clip my wings and keep me home all the time, so I'd be there when you could spare the time. And so I flew away."
*

"Flew away?" Chakotay was puzzled.
*
"Bird metaphor." Paris conceded. "I've been talking birds with Ensign Kiwala. I was the wild bird in the cage you had built for me. So I thrashed my way out."
*
"And you flew away." Chakotay said. "So now what? Trying to get back into the cage? Or want me to fly with you? My spirits are earth spirits. I can't fly."
*
"So now what?"
*
"You've flown away." Chakotay said. "And I've tossed the cage into the rubbish bin. I don't have any bars for you to beat against any more."
*
"Try holding out your hand." Paris said. "I may just come and alight on your finger. And you'll have me without the cage."
*
"I'd like that." Chakotay said. "If you didn't fly away again so soon."
*
He held out his hand, like waiting for a bird to rest on it. Paris reached out with his hand and took it in his own, and Chakotay pressed the back of Paris' hand against his cheek. "I've missed you, baby." he crooned.
*
"I miss you, too, Chak." Paris said. "Let me have the time I need to figure things out. Maybe we can try again."
*
"I can't change." Chakotay warned him. "I have my duties and my responsibilities. They have to come before my personal life. I'm sorry, Tom, but that's how things are."
*
"I know." Paris said. "That's why I need the time."
*
"I'll be seeing the shuttle off at 0900." Chakotay said tentatively.
*
"I'll be there." Paris promised. "Did you know that Wallace and Mikoto are lovers? That they've been together as long as we have?"
*
And the look on Chakotay's face told him he'd done it again. Chakotay dropped his hand and walked away quickly, leaving his breakfast remnants behind.
*
"Damn!" Paris said. "Damn, damn, damn, damn, damn! Damn!"
*

* * * * *

*
Paris was back at the command chair, beginning to feel comfortable with it now after three days' time. It was getting toward 0700, and he was looking forward to seeing Chakotay again. They were talking now, at least, and it was nice. Paris still hadn't gotten used to sleeping alone again, but the C Shift crew could drink coffee and yawn and everyone understood and smiled. Kiwala was beginning to replace Kim as Paris' best friend. She had a deep understanding of human nature and Paris could talk to her about the intimate details of his life with Chakotay and she would understand and never, never say a word about it to anyone. Harry would just get uncomfortable when Paris turned the talk to sex!
*
"Shuttle reporting." Ensign Turnbull said.
*
"On screen." Paris said. He started to give a polite greeting but the look on Wallace and Mikoto's faces shut that off. "Report!"
*
"Get Voyager out of here! Solar ignition imminent!" Wallace reported.
*
"What?" Paris said. The nebula was nowhere near ready to ignite!
*
"There's some sort of alien creature feeding on the nebula." Wallace said. "Here's a look we got of it."
*
He showed an odd creature shaped like a cornucopia, which was somehow concentrating the nebular gases around it, drawing in the gases which were heating up visibly.
*
"We calculate ignition will occur in thirty-seven minutes from---Mark!" Mikoto said.
*
"T'ang Wao, set course for the shuttle. Maximum warp. Engine room, I need full power and I need it now."
*
"But sir, Stellar Cartography is...
*
"Fuck Stellar Cartography!" Tom said. "They'll get readings on the new star instead! Now boot them off the system and get me warp now!"
*
"Yes, sir!"
*
"Engines coming back on line." T'ang Wao reported.
*
"Engage." Paris said, and knew the agony of a commanding officer. He longed to grab the controls and do it himself, but it wasn't his job right now. "Kiwala, how long until we reach transporter range on the shuttle?"
*
"Twenty-six minutes." Kiwala said.
*
Paris looked at the chronometer. "Giving us four minutes to escape before ignition of the new star. Suggestions?"
*
"We use the ignition to increase our speed." Kiwala said rapidly. "Charge up the outer hull to positive ionization, raise the shields to full capacity and it should throw us away with the shock wave."
*
"Be a damned bumpy ride." Paris said. "Do it! Signal yellow alert!"
*
Captain Janeway's voice was on line in ten seconds. "Report!" she said. Paris explained the situation. "I'll be right up!"
*
Paris had to admit he was glad to surrender command at that moment. But Janeway could only follow his plans herself and that didn't take him off the hot seat, in his own eyes at least. Chakotay arrived on the bridge right after her, and the three stood side-by-side watching as they got closer to the rapidly contracting nebula.
*
"Prepare for transport, shuttle crew!" Janeway reported.
*
"Captain, the gases are interfering with transporter lock." Kiwala reported. "We may not get a clean lock on the shuttle crew."
*
"Do the best you can." Janeway said. Take us as close as you can, Helm!"
*
"Captain, I know Voyager's controls." Paris said. "Let me take over."
*
"Trust your crew, Lieutenant." Janeway said. "They're good men and will do the job just as well as you could."
*
"Yes, Captain." Paris said. "This is Ensign Kiwala's plan, by the way. She should get the credit."
*
Janeway smiled humorlessly. "You'll take the blame if it goes wrong, though. Welcome to command, Lieutenant."
*
"If it's all the same to you, Captain, I'll be glad to transfer back to the helm when this is over." Paris admitted. "Command isn't my cup of tea."
*
"Approaching transporter distance." Kiwala reported.
*
"Take us to fifteen thousand kilometers before initiating transport." Paris ordered, before remembering his position.
*
"Make it so." Janeway backed him up.
*
"I might as well take all the blame, Captain." Paris smiled wryly.
*
"Twenty-five thousand kilometers." Kiwala reported. "Twenty thousand. Stellar ignition has begun. Initiating transport."
*
"Get us out of here!" Paris ordered.
*
"Engaged." T'ang Wao said.
*
The ship swung and the explosion's shock wave caught Voyager and flung her like a child's ball.
*
Paris struggled back to his feet. "Transporter room, report!" Silence. "Transporter room, did you get the shuttle crew off safely?"
*
"Only one." came the forlorn sound of the female ensign assigned there. "Mikoto's signal was too badly scrambled. I cleaned it as well as I could before initiating resolution, but he didn't make it. I'm sorry, sir."
*
"I'm sorry, too." Paris said softly. "Permission to leave the bridge, Captain?"
*
"Go ahead." Janeway said. "It's time."
*
Paris, startled, looked at the chronometer. 0730. "Thank you, Captain."
*
Someone was with him but Paris didn't really notice who it was. His only thought was for Wallace and Mikoto. His men, HIS men, and one of them had been a casualty. He burst into Transporter Room Three and stopped cold. Wallace, the stone faced ensign, was kneeling at Mikoto's side, blubbering and wailing like a lost child.
*
Paris went over and knelt down beside him, embraced him. "I'm sorry, Wallace." he said as gently as he could. "We came as fast as we could."
*
"You should have let me die with him." Wallace said. "I told you to get Voyager away. We would have been together."
*
"Wallace, you're alive." Paris said. "I'm sorry about Mikoto, I really am. But he'd want you to go on living. He's glad you're alive, do you understand me. You can remember him this way."
*
"I want to die too." Wallace wailed. "I want to be with Mikoto."
*
Paris gave up talking, just held him until the Doctor arrived and gave Wallace a hypo, knocking him out. Crewmen took Mikoto's body away for preparation for burial. Paris just stayed still, where he was, while everything went on around him and left him alone.
*
But not quite. He felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up, to see Chakotay with him. "Come on, Tom." he said. "It's over now."
*
"We were so close. We almost had him." Paris gritted his teeth. "God, poor Wallace. Those two were like one man in two bodies, they were so close. I don't know if he'll be able to handle this."
*
"We'll give him all the care we can." Chakotay promised.
*
"Mikoto was a man under my command and I lost him." Paris said. "I've lost men on away missions and always blamed it on not having enough power, enough tools, enough support. But this time, I was in control of this entire ship and I still lost him. God, if I can't save a man with an entire Starfleet ship under my command, what the hell can I do?"
*
"It happens." Chakotay said. "You did your best. I'm sure Wallace doesn't blame you."
*
"I blame me." Paris said. "That's all that matters. God, Chakotay, how can you live with this kind of pressure? I've got to get off command status. I can't handle it!"
*
"You can handle it, Tom." Chakotay said. "Go get some breakfast and some sleep now."
*
Tom didn't try for food, but did go back to his quarters. They still didn't feel like home to him. He tossed and turned on the still-unfamiliar bed and when the signal came, it was a relief rather than an annoyance. He got up and said, "Paris here!"
*
Kiwala's face appeared on the screen. "Lieutenant, it's Ensign Wallace. He got away from the Sickbay crew and grabbed a phaser from a security guard. Turned it on himself. He's dead, sir."
*
"I see." Paris said. "Thank you, Kiwala."
*
"Sir?"
*
"He didn't want to live, Kiwala. Not without Mikoto. I can understand that, even if you can't. He's happier now. He's back with Mikoto."
*
"Yes, sir. His last words were, 'Put us in the same coffin.'"
*
"We'll do that." Paris said. He got out of bed. He managed to spend the entire day on the funeral arrangements, forcing through Wallace's last request, though that took a special coffin to manage. He insisted on reading the funeral service himself that evening, and Janeway granted him that. Done, he walked the corridors, in no particular direction, around and around. After an unknown time, he looked up. His feet had brought him to the entrance to Chakotay's quarters. He checked the time, it was nearly midnight. Thank God Tuvok had agreed at the funeral to cover C Shift for him tonight.
*
He signalled Chakotay, waited, signalled again, then pounded on the door.
*
Chakotay answered wearing only a bathrobe. "Tom!" he said, wiping the sleep from his eyes. "What is it?"
*
Paris said. "I wanted time to think."
*
"Yes?"
*
"And I've been thinking about Wallace and Mikoto. Even when you have the love, real, strong love, you don't have time. You can't count on how long you're going to have. You can't say forever, you can't say a year, you can't say a single hour."
*
"Yes." Chakotay said.
*
"So when we don't make time for each other, we're wasting what time there is. And we DON'T know how long we've got!"
*
"None of us are guaranteed a long life." Chakotay agreed. "So what do you want to do?"
*
"I want to come back to you!" Paris said, as tears ran down his cheeks. "I want to come back! Please, let me come back!"
*
And Chakotay pulled him inside and into his arms, and the sounds of the door's closing and the electronic locking mechanism were musical tones to Paris' ears, like a contented songbird in its cage.
*

THE END