How Can I Live Without You?

Tom began spending a lot of time playing pool. Within a month his game had improved to the point that Harry stopped taking bets on the outcome. His new friend had tried to make a joke out of it, tried so hard to break a smile on Tom's face. Tom had only looked at Harry, watching and hearing and feeling nothing from behind the thick pane of glass. He overheard Deli and Harry saying they'd had such hopes, he'd seemed to be coming out from under the grief that had swallowed him whole those first two weeks. He heard them reassure each other that it would take a long time to heal, and they promised each other to be patient with him.

Someday he'd try to tell them he could not. A wounded heart can heal, in time, but Tom's had been shredded. It had to have been -- there was no other explanation for the pain he felt every time he breathed. So until he could form words he played pool, letting the motions ingrain themselves on his hands and give him something small and inconsequential to focus on.

His flying reflexes sucked. Three weeks ago he'd nearly flown Voyager into a dead meteor, a huge hunk of rock that didn't register until nearly too late; a quick pilot would have flown around it without blinking. Tom had to let the Voyager's automatic shields trigger, deflecting the rock he couldn't avoid. The Captain had spoken to him afterwards, and he'd ended up with another week off duty and firm instructions that circumstances aside, Voyager needed her pilot.

Tom still regretted his words to Captain Janeway when she'd said that. She had been understanding and patient with him ever since he'd been trapped on board their ship, and his flip, "Then why don't you get him back" was unnecessary. He'd known that as soon as he'd said it and his apology had been met with a sad smile. He'd left her then, taken his week off duty locked away in his... the room. At the end of the week he'd gone back to flying his shift and playing endless games of pool.

One morning Tom was standing in the middle of the mess hall, tray in hand, staring down at the breakfast Neelix had given him. Someone stepped up beside him, took a gentle hold of his elbow, and pulled him easily towards a table. Tom wasn't even aware of how long he'd been standing there, if indeed he had been for more than a moment. He looked over as his companion guided him to a chair; Chakotay smiled back at him. For a second a grin threatened in response; then it died, sudden and painful.

Chakotay's smile disappeared. The commander sat down beside him, a worried look on his face. They hadn't spoken since the incident in the corridor -- Tom had avoided the other man completely. Now he stared, and waited. The commander finally asked, "How are you doing, Tom?"

"I wanna go home." It was soft, barely whispered and entirely unexpected. Tom listened to himself, amazed -- he'd have thought that anything resembling the truth would have been impossible to say.

Chakotay placed a hand on his arm, squeezed once. "I'm sorry."

Everything about this man made Tom want to cry. It had been so long since he'd felt his lover's arms around him, and miracles notwithstanding he never would again. Tom felt his hand hit the table, dropped from whatever position it had been in, dimly heard the clattering of fallen utensils. He found himself shaking and was unable to tear his eyes away from Chakotay's, wanting to read in it the love and welcome he needed. With a deep breath -- the ever present stab in his chest making him gasp -- Tom tried to shake his head 'no'. No, it could not be, no, he could not take it.

Then he found himself, for the second time, wrapped in this man's arms. Held tightly against the warmth of the other man's chest, Tom cried, safe, warm and, for a moment, able to let the pain free. He dug his fingers into the shirt of the commander's uniform, unwilling to allow even the slightest chance that this embrace would end too soon. He heard a voice, low in his ear, words unheard but the meaning clear. Eyes shut, he let them wash through his body, giving him another anchor to which to cling.

Finally Tom found himself only breathing, sobs died away into nothing. Strong arms still held him, and all around him the room was quiet. Tom suddenly tensed, embarrassed beyond thinking. Reluctantly he opened his eyes, wondering what he could possibly do or say to make those stares go away.

All he saw were the backs of heads. Cautiously he looked around -- everywhere people sat, their heads close for soft conversations. No one was watching, no one sitting silently to overhear him. He realised they would later pretend to know nothing; the facade of privacy made him feel better, brave enough to let go of Chakotay and sit up. The commander handed him a napkin and Tom wiped off his face. Tom opened his mouth to say he was sorry for the imposition.

"Feel better?" Chakotay spoke first.

Tears welled again, but this time they didn't spill. After a moment Tom croaked, "You know you are just like him when you do that. You make me think my well-being is all that matters to you." His lover had overwhelmed him on more than one occasion with just that feeling, and Tom had once said that he could lose anything in the universe if he could hold onto that. He shuddered inside, then focused on the man sitting beside him.

Chakotay didn't say anything. Tom took a moment to collect himself, one deep breath which didn't hurt nearly as much as it should have. He tried it again and felt the pain beating inside, a fraction more softly than before. He rubbed his face with one hand. "I guess I should do that more often."

He'd said it as much to himself, but Chakotay answered, "Anytime you'd like... if you need me, Tom, you can always ask."

Tom looked up and saw the commander almost smiling at him. He suddenly saw the difference. This man's eyes were darker, slightly more wrinkled around their edges -- he wondered if it meant this Chakotay had laughed more than his. Tom had never heard his lover laugh until three years ago. Nowadays.... Until recently his lover had laughed quite a bit. Tom looked away.


Quietly, before dragging his fallen walls back up, he replied, "Thank you. I'll keep it in mind." Then he hauled his broken walls back into some semblence of place. They wouldn't stay, but it would enable him to stand up and walk out of here without screaming. He gave himself a sardonic grin -- if he kept this up he wouldn't need them at all. Wouldn't his lover be proud to know that after so much work on both their parts he could allow himself to show his feelings so easily -- relatively speaking -- and feel the pain of their separation? Before Chakotay Tom would have allowed this to destroy him. Before Chakotay there would have been less to destroy.

Suddenly exhausted, Tom looked back to the commander. "Could you... I mean, would it be all right if I swapped shifts with Parker?" The ensign had the shift following Paris', and Tom wasn't sure he could stay awake long enough to get to the bridge, much less fly the ship around anything.

"Of course," Chakotay stood up, helping Tom to his feet. "I'll take you--"

Tom pulled his arm away. "Thanks, Commander, but I don't... that won't be necessary."

Chakotay was giving him a doubtful look, and Tom didn't blame him. Fortunately Harry stepped up at that moment. "I'll take him back, Commander."

"Thank you, Lieutenant. I'll square everything with the Captain... and I'd better have someone go wake up Parker." Chakotay was back to all business with the exception of the smile in his eyes. Tom could read the worry in them, but the smile surprised him. He decided to worry about it later, as Harry tugged at his arm.

"Come on, Tom, you're going to fall over in a minute."

Tom gave him a huge, mostly fake smile. "I am not." He took a couple of steps. "It'll be three minutes, tops."

Together they managed to get Tom back to his room. Harry had asked quietly how he was feeling, and when Tom had simply said "tired" Harry had said nothing. Tom was grateful that he hadn't pressed for more; his mind felt like lead, and his body felt as if he hadn't slept in a month. All he wanted was to curl up on a horizontal surface and sleep.

Harry got him inside and to his bed. Tom fell onto it, eyes already closing. He felt Harry pull his boots off and carefully place his legs on the mattress. Tom tried to voice his thanks, tried to reach out for the pillow to hold it close, and fell asleep before he could move an inch.

Tom woke slowly. For a moment all his brain could tell him about his situation was that wherever he was, the gravity was at least two earth standards. He blinked once, and discovered that he was thirsty -- felt like he needed a gallon of water. He pushed himself away from his pillow and saw as well that someone had removed his uniform jacket. Tom finished pushing himself upright and staggered to the replicator.

After swallowing the first glass in one gulp, he ordered a second and headed back to the bathroom. Any minute now, he told himself, the water and movement would kick in and he'd be awake. He used the walls for support as he navigated the doorway. After relieving himself of about half the amount of water he'd just inhaled, Tom picked up the second glass of water and started to drink.

Halfway through the second swallow he remembered. Choking, he set the glass down and sat on the floor. Drawing his knees up, Tom lowered his head and sat, curled in the corner of the room. Chakotay. //Oh gods, love, where are you?// Almost as bad as the missing him was the realisation that for ten minutes -- ten perfectly normal, unoccupied minutes -- he had forgotten. Hadn't realised he'd woken alone, hadn't realised how horrible it was to do so. It made the return of the pain sharper, seeming to cut ever so keen into his body.

He didn't move until the alarm went off, scaring him into banging his head on the bulkhead. Rubbing it, he told the computer to turn off the alarm and tried to figure out why it had gone off. He checked the time and discovered his shift -- Parker's, actually -- was due to begin in half an hour. He didn't remember setting it. He shook his head, realising. Harry. Jumping to his feet with energy he hadn't realised he would have, Tom made his way to the shower. The wall in his mind wobbled and he tried to pull himself together to strengthen it again.

He made it through the shower and halfway into his cleaned uniform when the comm sounded.

"Janeway to Lieutenant Paris."

"Paris here." He glanced guiltily at the time and was puzzled to find he still had ten minutes to reach the bridge.

"Mr. Paris, would you please come to the bridge?"

"I... I'm on my way, Captain." He didn't protest the order, but he didn't understand why she would bother calling if shift was almost ready to changeover anyway. Maybe Parker had to leave early? Tom shook his head and headed out the door, pulling his shirt on as he went.

The trip to the bridge was short as ever, and Tom stepped off the turbolift still confused. Parker was sitting at the helm; Tom headed over but the other pilot made no move to give up the seat.

"Tom," Janeway stopped him and he stared at the unrestrained smile on her face. He grew more confused as she looked over her shoulder and asked Tuvok, "What's their range?"

"They will be within transporter range in exactly one point three minutes." The Vulcan showed no sign of the Captain's excitement -- no surprise there. Tom glanced over and saw smiles on other members of the bridge shift; he looked over at Harry and was astonished to find his friend grinning. He saw the doctor standing off to one side, not smiling like the rest of the crew but with an odd look on his face all the same.

"What's going on, Captain?"

Janeway just kept smiling. "If you can wait a minute, I can show you."

"OK." Tom gave her a dubious look, not because he didn't trust her but simply because he could not understand what she was talking about. He waited patiently, until they heard Tuvok's announcement.

"In range, Captain."

"Thank you, Mr. Tuvok." She raised her voice slightly, as if speaking over the comm. "We're ready whenever you are."

In the middle of the bridge came a whining sound and then the shimmering of a transporter. Tom watched, and as the form took shape felt his heart give a resounding beat. Once, then twice and his heart was racing as the adrenaline surged. //Gods it almost...// The doctor moved closer, taking readings as soon as the man appeared.

"'Kotay?" Tom barely whispered it, was not sure if the man could have heard him or not.

The doctor turned to the Captain. "His readings are identical to those of Mr. Paris. 100% match -- they are from the same reality."

Tom looked at the hologram, unable to comprehend the meaning of his words. Chakotay, however, seemed to understand because he moved forward, reaching Tom in seconds, and wrapped his arms around his stunned lover. Tom couldn't make himself move until he felt Chakotay's lips on his own. In one explosive motion he grabbed his lover hard, holding him close and returning the embrace. Tom could feel his body trembling and knew if he let go he would collapse.

The man in his arms was his -- he knew without needing the doctor's scans, now that he held and tasted him. The way his tongue felt slipping gently along the other, the faint taste of the tea his lover drank every morning and again when he was nervous, the warmth and the scent of his love's body pressed up against his own all told him what his heart was screaming for anyone to hear. He inhaled slowly and deeply, not breaking the kiss, and opened his eyes briefly to see Chakotay's face before losing himself again to every other sensation until he had to close his eyes again. Tom heard a soft whimper and felt their bodies shake; they each responded by grabbing on a little more, pulling just a little closer in an already tight embrace.

Tom was beginning to feel as if the world was going to cease spinning when he heard the Captain's voice. "Do you think we ought to beam them back like this?"

"Perhaps we'd better."

Startled, Tom jerked his head back and stared -- the second voice had been the Captain's as well, amused and happy. He found two Captain Janeways watching them, nearly identical expressions of bemusement on their faces. He looked back at Chakotay who was watching him with a look of joy.

"We're here to take you home, Tom."

His voice was everything Tom had been dreaming for the last twelve weeks. He felt himself shaking again, then his legs gave out and he fell; Chakotay still had his arms wrapped around him and carried them both to the floor. Tom looked up as Chakotay landed kneeling beside him. "Home?" He could barely say it. Barely believe it -- gods, if he woke up and found himself alone in a strange man's quarters....

Chakotay kissed him again. Tom grabbed on when he would have broken it, unwilling to let it end if it were a dream. He felt his lover's hands in his hair, holding his head as they kissed. When Tom let him go Chakotay gave him a kiss on the nose, another on his forehead, then started trailing down his cheek.

"I think that's our cue to send them back," Janeway's voice interrupted, long enough for them to glance up and hold themselves back from devouring one another on the bridge. Tom got the impression none of their onlookers would mind, Harry for one looked incredibly glad to see Tom reunited with his love. Harry gave him a congratulatory grin and Tom grinned back. Suddenly he couldn't contain it, and began laughing.

He hugged Chakotay tight, and felt all the air rush out of his lungs. When he let go, Chakotay asked, "You think you can stand up now?"

"I think so," Tom answered, unable and unwilling to hold back the smile breaking his face. He stood up, not letting go of his love, and reasserted himself into Chakotay's arms when they regained their feet. Tom looked over at the Captain and for a moment could not decide which was which. Then he realised that one Captain was staying proprietarily near her Captain's chair. Tom rested his head against Chakotay's, soaking up the feel of his lover's body in as many ways as he could.

"Do we really look like that?" An amused -- and familiar -- voice said from behind him.

"Apparently so, Mr. Paris," came an equally amused voice. Tom turned his head and stared at himself. He -- the other Tom Paris, and the other Chakotay -- were standing near the turbolift, watching them. The first thing Tom noticed was the space in between them. The men were standing so far away from each other, what looked like four or five inches. It made the two look like strangers. Tom stared at them for a moment, wondering what advantage should be taken of the rare opportunity of meeting another Tom Paris.

Tom looked at Chakotay. "Can we go home now?"

"Of course, love." Chakotay turned to Tuvok, but before he could ask Tuvok informed them he would transport them to the second Voyager.

Tom looked at the Captain, the one he'd served under for the last three months. "Thanks, Captain. For everything."

"You're welcome, Tom. Take care of yourself, both of you." There was no more time for farewells, then, as the transporter took hold. They reappeared in their quarters -- someone must have given Tuvok the coordinates, Tom realised. That made him realise just how well planned this entire reunion was; Chakotay kissed him again and he found he didn't care.

Chakotay's hands seemed to have adhered to his head -- holding him tightly, closely, while Chakotay drew him in one lungful at a time. Tom stood still and let his lover take him, unwilling to move lest he open his eyes and find another dream. He supposed he should have considered those nightly dreams a nightmare, but rather than torment he had found comfort in the only contact he could get with the man he loved. He would hate it when he woke, but he could never wish the dream away.


"Hmmm?" Tom couldn't think clearly, couldn't decipher his lover's tone of inquiry. He took Chakotay's tongue in his mouth again and didn't worry about it.

Chakotay pulled back gently. "Love?"

"Yeah?" Tom found himself breathing hard.

"Open your eyes?" The tone was clearly hesitant, not quite concerned.

Tom froze; slowly he relaxed. He opened his eyes a bit and saw Chakotay watching him, worried expression cracking into a grin as Tom looked at him.

"I promise you I'm real."

"Are you sure?" Tom wasn't entirely joking, but he opened his eyes fully. His lover was standing there, he could both feel and see and hear him.

"Want me to pinch you?"

Tom heard the catch in the light tone and wrapped his lover in a fierce embrace. "I missed you. Chakotay, god, I missed you so much." He found himself beginning to shake; he pulled back and began undressing his lover. Chakotay helped him, hands moving frantically as the pain turned to urgency. Soon Tom had his hands tracing quick patterns up and down bared skin, recognising the torso as the one he'd felt a thousand times. He didn't know whether to grab the man before him or complete undressing him -- he needed his lover now and couldn't wait long enough to think.

Chakotay leaned up and began licking at Tom's neck. Tom moaned, losing control of his arms as the other man moved down to the bared collarbone, licks turning to bites as they progressed. Grabbing onto Chakotay's shoulders Tom let himself do nothing, whimpering as his lover's mouth retraced all the familiar paths. He felt hands at his waist, tugging at the remaining clothing there. Tom leaned back and pulled his pants off, catching both underwear and boots as he went. Chakotay held onto him as he tried to maintain balance.

Naked, Tom latched onto his lover and pushed them both backwards towards the opposite wall. He felt hands holding him, small of his back then down to his buttocks, pulling him close with equal frantic need. Tom groaned as the fabric of Chakotay's uniform rubbed at his cock and pushed himself again against his lover. Fingers played with his butt cheeks as he drove himself forward; one finger brushed the sphincter and Tom felt himself tense. He took Chakotay in another kiss, pulling him in as his lover continued to circle the opening of his ass. Tom threw his head back suddenly, crying out as he tried to both shove himself forward and backward, rubbing his cock and impaling himself. Chakotay grabbed him and pulled him in, moving Tom's hips with the force of his hand. Tom closed his eyes as his lover gave him what he needed and let his legs work to hold him upright as he lost control. He opened them briefly right before he came, saw his lover staring at him. "'Kotay!" Tom screamed and came.

Moments later he opened his eyes again to find himself draped against his lover, both leaning against the wall. His legs felt like gelatin, boneless and directionless. He let Chakotay push him upright, glancing up to see the hunger in Chakotay's eyes. Tom grinned and staggered towards the bed. He lay himself down onto his stomach, grabbing and placing as pillow as he went.

He heard his lover swiftly removing the rest of his uniform, boots hitting the floor a second before he felt Chakotay's weight on his body. Tom smiled, wiggled a bit. He wanted to lay like this forever, trapped beneath his lover. Perhaps after they made love again, they could. He lifted his hips slightly as Chakotay touched him again. The warm slick feel of his fingers made Tom's ass tingle in anticipation. Spreading his legs wider he let his lover prepare him. Chakotay moved quickly, taking only long enough to make sure Tom was lubricated and stretched enough then he was upon him, the brief interlude of silence broken by harsh breathing and the loud slap of skin on skin. Tom heard Chakotay cry out as he drove himself inside, Tom bit back his own moans, wanting to hear the sounds of his lover's arousal.

He heard the moans clearly, the soft whimpers less so; Tom began encouraging those whimpers by contracting his muscles with every other thrust. He felt Chakotay's hands on his back, gripping hard; one hand slipped up to his shoulder and held on tight. Chakotay groaned loudly as his thrusts became faster; Tom pushed himself to his elbows and let his lover take him harder. Chakotay moved his other hand around to Tom's stomach. Tom bit his lip harder as he listened to the panting and moaning become louder, wordless noises punctuating his lover's breathing as he pushed himself closer. The noises were driving Tom crazy and he wanted to push Chakotay's hand down onto his cock and let the other man bring them both off together. He couldn't move his own hands without crashing down onto the bed and he knew right now Chakotay wouldn't hear a thing he said.

Tom remained as he was and let Chakotay take him. He felt before he heard, the orgasm coming; the body behind him tensed, then with a strangled cry Chakotay shoved himself in as hard as he could. Tom's arms were trembling but he held them both up as Chakotay slammed against his body. He felt each tremor as Chakotay came, each spasm driving him as if deeper inside though his lover was already buried as deep as he could go. Slowly the tremors lessened and Tom felt Chakotay begin to relax along his body.

Finally Chakotay laid down on his back, as spent and boneless as Tom had felt before. Tom lowered them both to the mattress and rolled carefully over. Chakotay moved to accommodate him then laid down beside him. Tom looked down at his lover's face -- relaxed, almost asleep. Tom whimpered loudly.

Chakotay opened one eye.

"I need another one."

For several minutes Tom lay on the bed, listening to his lover laugh.

Afterwards Tom lay in his lover's embrace trying not to fall asleep. "Chakotay?"

"Mm?" The other man was obviously drowsy, moments away from a nap.

"How'd you find me?"

Chakotay's eyes opened and he looked over at Tom. He shifted slightly, raising a hand to caress Tom's face. "We recreated the stellar explosion that traded you in the first place. B'Elanna can give you all the specs if you want...." Tom shook his head. Chakotay continued in a soft, calm tone, "It took us a week just to make it work. We sent a probe in with instructions to make the trade back -- we figured the other Voyager would be in the area, trying to return you and get their own Tom Paris back."

"We couldn't." Tom whispered. "The Kalzor chased us off."

Chakotay hugged him hard. "I know... they sent the probe back with a phaser beam fired through it. I had no idea what had happened to you, if you'd been taken prisoner or... or killed." Tom looked at Chakotay, seeing in the man's eyes just what that thought had done to him. He didn't need to see it to know how it felt, knowing you would never see your love again. "We realised we had to do something else -- we couldn't simply ask them to send you to us. So we moved Voyager away from the area, in case the Kalzor figured out how to come through, and figured out a way to bring Voyager over. We traded her with a pocket of 90% empty space -- turns out you and your alter ego were in exactly the same space, if you had been even an inch off the trade might not have ever happened."

"So you came through... what about the Kalzor?"

"We surprised them, got off a few first shots. We eventually beat them, but sustained some damage. It took us a week to make repairs to the ship's propulsion and navigation systems; we started following Voyager's trail as soon as we could. Once we fixed the warp engines we were only about a week behind you." Chakotay finally smiled. "If our communications systems had been working sooner, we wouldn't have been able to surprise you."

Tom returned the smile, feeling the pain and worry slipping away, replaced by joy and exasperation. "Surprise me! Chakotay, I thought I was hallucinating! I had no idea..." Tom's voice dropped. "Chakotay, I thought I'd never see you again. Then I'm standing there wondering what the hell is going on and you materialise on the bridge like... like..." Tom smiled. "Like a knight coming to the rescue. I never was so happy to see someone..."

Chakotay interrupted with a sudden hug. They held each other tightly, scarcely able to breathe but unwilling to let each other go. "I missed you too, Tom. I don't ever want to lose you again."

"I don't want you to lose me either," Tom joked. He felt a kiss press against his shoulder and closed his eyes. "I don't ever want you to lose me again," he repeated, finally falling asleep. As he slept his dreams were silent, leaving him in the safety of his lover's arms through the night. When he woke it was to find his lover still wrapped in his embrace.

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