"How can we heal him? I mean with that level of damage, I don't see what can be done." The Doctor said to Seven, wanting to hope.
"We will begin neural regeneration to replace the neural tissue that has died. Nano-probes will be able to detect the residual electro-magnetic signatures of the previous neural pathways and reconstruct them as they were before the damage occurred. The chemical bonds will be re-established to reconstruct long-term memory storage and finally the blood vessels will be reconstructed and re-enforced to prevent a repeat of the damage from occurring." Seven said while she worked on the medical panel.
"Of course... it's so simple." the Doctor said.
Alan's eyebrows went up at that statement before he finally found his voice and asked, "How long will the procedure take?"
"It will take approximately four hours to program the nano-probes to perform the necessary tasks. The completion of all three stages of reconstruction will take approximately eight hours." Seven said calmly.
"Can we do it now Doctor?" Alan asked with excitement.
"I will need the Captain's permission before engaging in what is essentially an experimental procedure. Assuming she gives permission, yes we will proceed immediately. Seven, will you extract the necessary amount of nano-probes and begin the programming while I contact the Captain?" the Doctor asked with a smile.
"Right away Doctor." She said and walked to another part of the room to work.
"Doctor? Would you ask Tom or Chakotay to come here?" Alan asked with a tremor in his voice.
"What do you need Mr. Summers?" the Doctor asked with concern.
"I'm so excited, I feel like I want to run around the room screaming with joy, but I'm tied to this bed... I need someone to talk to... to go through this with me." Alan said with pleading in his voice.
"You *could* talk to me." the Doctor said plaintively.
"I didn't mean for it to sound like that Doctor, you have things to do to make Andrew better, I would rather sit silently for the next twelve hours than keep you from healing him one minute sooner." Alan said sheepishly.
"Understood. And I will see that someone is here to sit with you." the Doctor said with a friendly smile before walking to join Seven.
Tom came into the sickbay at a run.
"The Doctor said they found a way to cure Andrew." Tom said excitedly.
"Yeah. Isn't it great! You're going to love him Tom. I can't wait for you to get to know him." Alan said with joy.
"I know I will. Anyone who could inspire such love has to be a great person." Tom said, too nervous to sit.
"So how are things with you?" Alan asked, hoping that Chakotay had taken his advice and made some sort of a move toward friendship with Tom.
"I really don't know. Commander Chakotay asked me to meet with him in Sandrine's after our duty shift today. I don't know what he wants to talk to me about... I mean, I haven't done anything wrong in weeks." Tom said with worry.
"Maybe he just wants to talk?" Alan suggested.
"I don't think so. I can think of about a hundred and thirty-five other people on this ship he would rather talk to before me." Tom said quietly.
"That isn't exactly correct Lieutenant." Chakotay's voice said from the doorway.
Tom looked up surprised as Chakotay walked into the room.
"I would rather talk with you than Mr. Chell any day." Chakotay said with a smile.
Tom was stunned and just nodded in acceptance at Chakotay's statement.
"The Doctor gave me the good news and I thought I would come down and help you get through the wait." Chakotay said to Alan.
"Thanks Chakotay. Tom is here to do the same. Why don't you both pull up some chairs and we'll talk for a while?" Alan asked, trying to figure out how to break the ice between these two.
Silence filled the room as all three thought their own thoughts.
"What did you want to talk to me about? I mean, can we discuss it here?" Tom finally asked Chakotay.
"Nothing in particular. I wanted to have a few drinks and just talk." Chakotay said shyly, glancing at Alan.
Alan could see that these two weren't going to make any progress without his help and decided to change the subject, hoping that his problems would give them some common ground to start with.
"Did you have a chance to talk to the Captain about my request, about the baby?" Alan asked Chakotay.
"Yes, she is considering your request. Don't worry, I don't see any reason for her to deny it." Chakotay said with a small smile.
"I guess you'll get to talk to Andrew about it now, how do you think he'll react?" Tom asked.
"I think he'll love the idea. He'll probably want to carry the baby himself. Even though there is little risk, he'll want to take that risk to keep me from having to." Alan said fondly.
"Will you let him?" Tom asked, relaxing into the conversation.
"Not this time. We are equals in our relationship, he's done so much for us, it's my turn. Besides, it just feels right to me. As long as he knows that I really want this, he won't try to stop me." Alan said with a tender smile.
"Have you given any thought as to what you want to do when you are both healed?" Chakotay asked with interest.
"Not really. I don't know what kinds of jobs you have for someone four-hundred years out of date. I guess we'll have to figure something out." Alan said, surprised that he hadn't considered his future.
"I think you both should take some time learning about how things work, then after you feel comfortable on the ship, look at what you want to do. I mean, not everything is as high tech as the sickbay. Our mess hall is probably a few years behind your kitchen at home." Tom said seriously.
"That's good to know. But cooking isn't something that Andrew or I are familiar with. I'd probably blow up half the ship if I tried to boil water." Alan said with a resigned frown.
"It was just an example Alan. I just wanted you to know that not everything is so foreign to your home. You two will find a niche. I can see how it might seem overwhelming from your point of view." Tom said, trying to make Alan understand.
"Tom's right. There are several jobs that don't require technical expertise. Even though our technology has advanced over the centuries, some things never change. A community of humanoids will have certain basic needs, and not all of them will be met by technology." Chakotay said carefully.
A look of surprise fell over Tom's face when Chakotay said that he was right... he couldn't recall that happening before.
Alan noticed Tom's surprise and decided to capitalize on the opening.
"I suppose so... Andrew and I are going to need to make some friends here. I'm not sure how to do that in this century. Chakotay, if you were interested in pursuing a friendship with someone, how would you go about it?" Alan asked, hoping he wasn't being too forward.
Chakotay gave him a momentary exasperated look before saying, "I would try to spend time with that person. Find reasons to be in the same place and establish a dialogue."
"But how would they know that you were interested and not just being polite?" Alan asked, watching Tom's reaction.
"Honestly, I may not be the best person to ask. The former maquis look at me as their captain, the starfleet crew look at me as their commander, I don't really have any friends among the crew." Chakotay admitted quietly.
Alan thought about how sad that was and decided to turn to Tom. "So Tom, how would you let someone know that you were interested in being their friend?"
"I don't know. Harry and I kind of fell together at Deep Space Nine, since then I haven't really made any friends. The maquis look at me like I'm a traitor to the cause and the starfleet think of me as an ex-con maquis. I'm friendly with a few people, but it's hard to call them friends when I know I couldn't sit down and share my thoughts and feelings with them... just my bed." Tom said and turned his face away from the men.
"Mr. Summers, Mr. Paris, we are ready to begin the surgery. Nothing more can be done for Mr. Wells until Seven of Nine has completed her reprogramming of the nano-probes." The Doctor said as he entered the room.
"Thank you doctor." Alan said, thinking that the Doctor's timing was perfect. After what had just been said, the two men needed time to consider each other's situations before talking again.
"I'm going to return to the bridge. Doctor, will you comm me when Alan is out of surgery?" Chakotay asked as he got up from his chair.
"Of course. And thank you for coming Commander." the Doctor said and reclined the bed.
Chakotay nodded and left the room.
* * * * *
Tom sat by the bed, waiting for Alan to come out of the anesthetic.
Chakotay entered the room and paused, looking at the caring, worried expression on Tom's face.
After a moment he came fully into the room and pulled up a chair beside Tom.
"How did it go?" Chakotay asked quietly.
"Just fine. The new stomach is operating normally and the damaged kidney has been repaired. We were also able to replace his missing fingers and finish healing the damage to his arms. After the surgery, I stimulated hair growth to replace what had been singed off. He isn't functioning at one-hundred percent yet but he can survive without life support and shouldn't have any pain." Tom said professionally as he looked at Alan.
"He's really a good person, isn't he?" Chakotay asked as he too looked at Alan.
"Yeah. What impresses me most is his loyalty to Andrew. I've never felt what he feels and I'm a little jealous of it." Tom admitted shyly.
"Me too." Chakotay whispered.
"Really? I mean, I always got the sense that you didn't need anyone... that you liked being left alone." Tom said and turned to face Chakotay.
"Really. I do like my privacy, but I also want to share my life with someone. I've been in a few failed relationships, but I've never connected to anyone on the level that Alan and Andrew have. I mean, when it's all said and done, what is the point of the journey if you don't have someone to share it with?" Chakotay said, now looking off in the distance.
"I don't like to be alone... I guess my time at Auckland made me realize that I like to be around people. But I've been so busy running around, being the pilot, medic, holo-programmer... basically doing anything to keep me from having to stop and look at my life and what's missing." Tom said, looking back at Alan.
"What is that?" Chakotay asked quietly.
"Someone to share it with." Tom answered, using Chakotay's own words.
"What about Harry? I mean, I know that he's your best friend." Chakotay asked, focusing on Tom again.
"Harry is great. And if I needed help, I know Harry would be there to do whatever he could but... I can't talk to him about the important stuff. He's so young, he doesn't get it. He sees the surface and accepts that things are always as they seem." Tom said, frustrated because he couldn't explain it better.
"So you can share the image of the experience but not the flavor because he doesn't have the depth to understand?" Chakotay asked hesitantly.
"It makes him sound shallow, and he really isn't like that. He has feelings, deep feelings, but we aren't the kind of friends who can talk about those things comfortably." Tom said sadly.
Chakotay noticed that Tom was admitting that his friendship with Harry wasn't enough and said, "And that's okay. Not every friendship has to be on the same level. I'm sure that Harry provides you an outlet for your less emotional interests."
Tom smiled at that statement and said, "Yeah, I hadn't thought of it that way. Harry and I do share quite a few common interests, and even if we can't talk about the tough stuff, it is good to have someone who will enjoy doing things with me. Hanging around with Harry is like a vacation from the seriousness of the day-to-day."
Chakotay thought about the statement and hesitantly ventured, "What if you could have both?"
"Both what?" Tom asked, confused.
"Harry to share in your lighthearted adventures and someone else to talk to about the tough stuff?" Chakotay said carefully.
Tom considered for a moment, then answered, "I think that I would consider myself very lucky if I could have the best of both worlds."
"Alan talked with me this morning about you and made me realize a few things..." Chakotay began, then trailed off.
"Like what?" Tom prompted.
"I've been avoiding this. Sitting down with you and talking like an equal. You're a good person Tom, and I liked you from the first day I met you but I tried not to see it because I didn't want to get hurt by you." Chakotay said, bracing himself for rejection.
"You thought I would hurt you?" Tom asked, never having considered that the Commander... no, that Chakotay could feel that way.
"Yeah, I was afraid that if I approached you as a friend, you would use me... or make fun of me... I guess I didn't bother to look deeper to see that there is a good person inside who wouldn't do that." Chakotay said ashamed.
"Actually, four years ago if you looked deep inside me you would have found a hurt, frightened kid who was just as afraid of being used and made fun of as you were. And he probably would have hurt you before you had the chance to hurt him." Tom said honestly.
"Then I'm glad that we're getting to it now. We *are* finally getting around to being friends, aren't we?" Chakotay asked carefully.
"Yeah, that's what we're doing." Tom said with a smile.
* * * * *
Alan lay quietly, listening to the two men come to an understanding. These two men were good for each other, Tom had a youthful joy of life and Chakotay had a mature stability. They were a perfect compliment for each other.
"I'm awake." Alan said, when he noticed that he couldn't feel his glasses on his face.
"Your glasses are beside the bed on your right. You aren't restrained anymore." Tom said, wanting to see Alan be able to move from the position he had held for days.
Alan fumbled for the glasses and carefully put them on.
"Thanks Tom. How are you two doing?" Alan asked as if he didn't know.
"We're good. It looks like your plan to get us to become friends worked." Chakotay said with a gentle smile.
"My plan?" Alan asked with the most innocent look he could manage.
Chakotay and Tom both laughed at the innocent expression and Tom finally said, "Yeah, you tried to get us to talk and realize that we could be friends."
"Okay. You caught me. You aren't mad are you?" Alan asked them both.
"Not at all." Chakotay said with a smile.
"I'm just worried that if you can change our lives so much in two days, what's it going to be like when Andrew is awake too?" Tom said plaintively.
"Once Andrew and I are completely healed, we'll be focusing our attention on each other more than anyone else... you'll be safe." Alan said calmly and moved to the edge of the bed.
With a little effort, Alan made his way into a sitting position with his one leg hanging over the side of the bed.
"How are *you* feeling?" Tom asked, happy to see Alan able to move so freely.
"Pretty good... hungry." Alan said, just noticing the very empty feeling in his new stomach.
"I'll check with the Doctor, and if he says it's okay, we can take you to the mess hall to get something to eat." Tom said as he got up from his chair.
"Tom! Wait. Don't do that. I don't want to leave Andrew here alone." Alan said and looked at Andrew laying silently.
Tom stopped in his tracks and looked back to see Alan looking at Andrew. A feeling of pity washed over him at the sight. Even though he knew Andrew would be awake in about nine hours, the scene before him broke his heart anew.
"Yeah, you and Andrew can experience your first visit to the mess hall together... you'll need all the support you can get when you taste leola root." Tom said as he tried to discretely choke back his tears.
Chakotay nodded in agreement then added, "We may all need new stomachs before Neelix is finished with us."
Tom let out a chuckle and walked to a computer panel in the wall. "What kind of food do you like? The computer can make just about anything."
"Does it have Beanie Weenies?" Alan asked, though he had never eaten them before he met Andrew, they were now one of his favorite foods.
"I've never heard of that, but I'll see if the computer has." Tom said and turned back to the computer.
"Here it is..." Tom said with surprise and created the meal.
A moment later Tom took the plate to Alan and sat back down in his chair.
"Mmm... good." Alan said as he finished his first bite.
Tom smiled at Alan's enjoyment and caught a duplicate of his smile on Chakotay's face.
"Seven could be ready to begin at any time, so it's best that we stay here anyway." Tom said quietly.
"Thanks for staying with me guys... I'd be a wreck if I had to lay here alone and worry about Andrew by myself." Alan admitted reluctantly.
"If it was me in that bed instead of you, where would you be?" Tom asked, already knowing the answer.
"Yeah, I'd be sitting in that chair. It's just hard for me to believe that I didn't know you guys two days ago." Alan said in wonder.
Silence filled the room as the three men thought about the nature of friendship.
"We are ready to begin the procedure." Seven of Nine said as she walked over to Andrew's side.
All three men watched as she injected Andrew with a hypospray.
"What now?" Alan asked as Seven began scanning Andrew.
"Now we wait. The process will take eight hours to complete. It is fully automated and will cause no outward manifestation." Seven said and walked out of the room.
"Could you guys help me over to Andrew? I want to be beside him when he wakes up." Alan asked with pleading in his voice.
"You plan to wait by him for the whole eight hours?" Tom asked in confirmation.
"Yeah. Tom, I can't explain... I just need to." Alan said helplessly.
"No. I will help you over to him and let you talk to him for a few minutes. But then you're going back to bed. And I *will* sedate you if you refuse. I will check with Seven and the Doctor and find out when is the earliest that he could possibly wake up. I promise that you'll be awake and by his side before that time." Tom said firmly.
"I agree with Tom. You are not recovered enough to sit an eight hour vigil with Andrew." Chakotay said with worry evident in his voice.
Alan thought about what they said and finally nodded. "Okay guys, you win. After all I've tried to do for you two, and you gang up on me." He said with a teasing smile.
"Good, hop off that bed and I'll help you over to Andrew." Tom said and stood to offer Alan support.
Alan did as instructed and with both Tom and Chakotay's help, made it over to Andrew's bedside.
"Could you guys give me a few minutes alone with him? I just need to say some things." Alan said shyly.
"Of course. We'll be in the next room when you need us." Chakotay said tenderly.
"And I'll be back with a hypospray for you if you're not done within half an hour." Tom said with authority.
"This won't take long. Thanks again guys." Alan said and stood on his one leg to look down into Andrew's face.
* * * * *
"Andy, I don't know how much of what's been going on you can hear or understand, but just in case you're frightened I wanted to let you know what's going on." Alan said, then moved in and gave Andrew a gentle, tender kiss.
"We're working on healing you right now. It shouldn't be much longer, just eight hours. You know that I love you and I don't have to keep repeating it for you, but I have to say it for myself... I love you Andy, come back to me." Alan said and moved in to hug him gently.
"I've been right here with you since we arrived, but I was only just let out of my bed or I would have been here by your side the whole time. If I could stay here for the next eight hours, you know I would do it but the guys... Chakotay and Tom... they won't let me. They're worried that my being out of bed for so long will aggravate my injuries." Alan said quietly, then quickly said, "Don't worry, I'm healing up just fine, I'm not in any pain. They just want to make sure that I get enough rest so I can be at full strength when you're all better."
"I'm going to go back to my bed now Andy. And as soon as you're better, we're going to leave this sickbay and I'm going to remind you just how much I love you." Alan said and a tear fell from beneath his glasses onto Andrew's face.
"I love you" He said again and sat back in his chair.
"Okay guys. You can come in." He said louder, so Tom and Chakotay could hear.
"Say everything you needed to?" Tom asked as he went to Alan's side.
"Not even close, but the rest can wait till Andrew can talk back." Alan said as he made his way back to his bed.
"I've got some good news for you." Tom said happily.
"Let me?" Chakotay asked quietly.
Tom nodded for Chakotay to continue.
"Seven of Nine is reconfiguring some nano-probes as we speak. You should be able to look at Andrew without your glasses when he wakes up." Chakotay said excitedly.
"That's great. I hate to ask for more favors after all you two have done but, is there any way Andrew and I could have a room for some privacy after he's all healed up? We need some private time in the worst way." Alan said with a blush creeping up his face.
"Already taken care of." Chakotay said with pride.
Tom looked at Chakotay surprised.
"I'm the one who assigns crew quarters. I took the liberty of signing out a cabin for the two of you while you were in surgery." Chakotay said with a big smile.
"Thanks... it isn't going to be any problem is it? I mean us being a same-sex couple." Alan asked timidly.
"No, same-sex couples aren't unusual. There aren't many aboard Voyager, but no one will think anything of it." Tom said with reassurance.
"Good, people aren't very tolerant of such things on my world. We were just lucky enough to find ourselves at the mansion where people are very accepting." Alan said and laid back.
"You look like you could use some rest. Chakotay and I will be in the next room if you need us." Tom said with concern.
"Yeah, I could use some sleep." Alan said, giving into the tired feeling.
* * * * *
Andrew awoke to a metallic taste in his mouth. He tried to move only to find that he couldn't. He heard muffled voices in the distance and wanted to call out to them but didn't seem to be able to.
A bubble of fear rose up in him and he would have screamed if he were able. Then he caught a familiar scent... Alan.
He felt lips pressed to his and could hear the soothing tone of Alan's voice, though he couldn't understand the words.
A caress, no a hug.
Then he felt wetness on his cheek. [Alan is crying for me... I made Alan cry...] He thought with pain. He fought and pulled but his body wouldn't obey his commands. He stopped his internal struggle and calmed himself. After a few moments he thought, [Alan is here with me, watching over me... I'm safe.] Finally exhaustion claimed him and he fell into a peaceful sleep.
* * * * *
Alan awoke to find a bandage across his face.
"What?" he asked and tried to remove it.
"Don't. Alan, Seven of Nine warned us that you will need to control the ocular implant consciously. We didn't want you to make the mistake of opening your eyes before you learned how to control it." Chakotay said with concern.
"Okay. I've been conditioned for years not to open my eyes when I wake up, so it wouldn't have been a problem. It's just weird to feel something over my face as I'm coming awake." Alan said and sat up.
"Just a precaution." Tom said quietly.
"How long till Andrew is awake?" Alan asked with a note of panic.
"According to the Doctor, it should still be another hour at the least and as long as four more hours." Chakotay said calmly.
"Seven of Nine is going to be back in a few minutes to instruct you how to use the implant, then we'll remove the bandages and try it out." Tom said happily.
"What's on my leg?" Alan asked as he tried to sit on the edge of the bed.
"A prosthetic leg. It should get you by until the cloned leg is ready. You'll probably need a cane to walk around until you get used to it, but you won't need for us to help you every time you need to walk." Tom said, relieved to see the smile come across Alan's face.
"You guys are the best. I don't know how I can ever thank you for all that you've done for us." Alan said with gratitude.
"We could say the same to you." Tom said and glanced over to see Chakotay's look of agreement.
"If Mr. Summers is awake, I will begin training him to use the ocular implant device." Seven said as she walked into the room.
"Ready when you are Seven." Alan said with a smile.
* * * * *
Half an hour later all three men watched as Seven left the room.
"She expects immediate success doesn't she?" Tom asked in stunned disbelief.
"She might consider a position at Starfleet Academy when we get back to Earth... as a drill instructor." Chakotay said, equally stunned.
"I thought she was going to hit me when I couldn't figure out how to close the secondary appiture." Alan said, staring in wonder at the room.
"What is it Alan?" Chakotay asked at Alan's expression of awe.
"I haven't seen colors like this since I was eleven years old. It's almost intoxicating, how beautiful and colorful everything is." He said and his gaze fell on Andrew.
Alan went silent and inched his way off the bed. "Oh my God. He's the most beautiful... I never even imagined..." Alan said and tears started flowing.
Chakotay and Tom shared a smile, realizing that they were witness to a very special moment.
"How much longer till he's awake?" Alan asked, not taking his gaze off Andrew for an instant.
"Go ahead and take your place by his side. We'll be right here with you." Tom said and pulled his chair over by Alan's at Andrew's bedside.