by torch 1996
flambeau@strangeplaces.net

Disclaimer: I don't own these characters, Paramount does. I'm not making any money off these characters, Paramount is. This story is a sequel to the episode The chute, that I finally got to see during my recent American tour. I'm not sure how to rate it — PG-13, maybe. It's not related to any of my other stories. Do not archive this story without permission.

Catch me I'm falling

I won't give in to it.

I won't, I won't, I won't.

He clenched both hands, then made himself relax and lie back in the warmth and comfort of his own bed. Home at last, or as close as he could get to home anywhere in this quadrant. All the smells, all the sounds that he was used to after over two years. And he couldn't sleep.

I've been feeling strange ever since we got back. But that's only to be expected. I felt strange before we got back as well. What they did to me — to both of us, to us all — with those implants, it must be the same for everyone.

Maybe.

They put something in my head that wasn't there before. The implant strengthened some impulses, suppressed others. It's only natural that I'm still reacting to it. The doctor said we might feel unsettled for a while and to see him if we were uncomfortable.

I'm sure it will go away.

Rolling over, he buried his face in the pillow. It didn't help. Suddenly he was surrounded by that place again, its smells and sounds and strange heat, and the stinging needles of impulses he refused to give in to, tormenting his mind. He fought it, teeth clenched and eyes closed as though that would make a barrier strong enough to protect him.

It will go away. I'll go back to being the same person again. Wherever those feelings came from, they're going to go away. The doctor would say so if I went to see him. So I don't have to.

The things he wanted to do hovered inside his closed eyelids, taunting him.

* * *

"You're back on duty again tomorrow." Leaning against the table, Kathryn Janeway looked seriously at both of them. "The doctor assures me that you're both fully recovered. Are you comfortable with returning to your usual shifts?"

"Yes, captain," Tom Paris said briskly. He didn't smile at her the way he would have done a few days ago, but he seemed sincere enough, and Janeway held his eyes for a moment before turning to Harry Kim, who nodded.

"Yes, ma'am." That made her smile just a little. She had finally figured out that he did it to tease her. About to turn and leave, she noticed that neither of them had eaten even half the food on their plates.

"Gentlemen," she said with mild reproach. "Finish your dinner."

"It's hard for some reason to get back into the habit of eating," Tom said, although he did pick up his fork and stab not very enthusiastically at a piece of Adarian bark pudding. "I was so hungry for so long it feels almost natural."

"It was only a few days," Harry contradicted him, before sighing and adding, "Though it felt like forever." Tom nodded. The captain debated with herself for a moment and then sat down with them.

"If you're not really recovered," she said, "then tell me so. You were under a lot of stress, and although you coped admirably with it, I certainly don't expect you to just bounce back after such a short period of recovery."

Harry Kim looked down at his hands. "I'd like to get back to work, captain," he said quietly. "To get back to my normal routine again." Janeway could understand that. Ordinary routine work would soothe Harry Kim better than anything else, she thought. As to Tom Paris, she wasn't quite so sure about the benevolent effects of routine on him.

"I think we both need something to do," he said frankly. "It was good of you to give us time off, captain, but..."

She nodded, then smiled. If they needed work, she'd give them work. "I'll see you tomorrow, then," she said and got to her feet again. "After a couple of shifts on the bridge I'm sure you'll both feel that everything is back to normal again."

As Kathryn Janeway walked away she thought she heard the softest whisper behind her, "Yeah, right," but she couldn't tell who'd uttered it or if it was, indeed, just the product of her own imagination.

* * *

We got out. We were in there and we got out again. He helped me.

Saved me.

No, that wasn't the way it really happened. I know that. But to me there's no real difference this time between the way things happened and the way I felt that they happened. And I know, I know that I was saved, we saved each other.

Turning over, he stared at the ceiling. Being back and in familiar surroundings should have relaxed him, but it didn't. After the strange restlessness of the implant had finally vanished, another creeping tension had taken its place. He felt as thoroughly unsettled now as he ever had inside that place — that prison.

I never realized all this was inside of me.

And that was the problem, wasn't it. He sat up, then got out of bed and paced the room, wondering fleetingly just when he'd taken to sleeping naked.

Something has changed so profoundly that I can't even put it into words.

But his mind could certainly provide the images to go with it.

* * *

B'Elanna raised her head and smiled. Sandrine's was never so dark that you couldn't recognize your friends. She waved at Tom and he sauntered over, dodging the pool players as Henley attempted a tricky shot. If his uniform had had pockets, his hands would have been in them. Everything about him tried to proclaim casual jauntiness. But Sandrine's was also not dark enough that the black circles under his eyes wouldn't show.

He sat down across from her with something enough like a smile that she didn't challenge it. Instead she reached out and touched his hand briefly, and saw surprise and affection in his face. "Hey there."

"Hey yourself." This smile was nearly good enough for her to believe in. But she'd watched him ever since they'd gotten him and Harry back. Watched both of them. Knowing a little of what they'd been through, she wasn't surprised that they both still seemed unsettled.

"And how are you tonight?" she asked, trying to strike a balance between warmth and playfulness that wouldn't demand a serious answer, but at the same time make it clear that she'd listen if he made one. B'Elanna tried not to scowl at her own attempt. She knew she wasn't a natural at playing confide-in-me. But that restlessness and those dark circles under Tom's eyes made her feel, in an awkward and half-annoyed way, that someone should offer to listen if he wanted to talk, and she was the one who happened to be here right now.

"Fine." The casual answer. "Well, mostly fine." The look he attempted to go with the words was enough like the hotshot flyboy god's gift expression of the early days that she automatically did scowl, and to her surprise that made him turn serious. "I've been having a problem sleeping," he admitted.

"No kidding." B'Elanna reached out again, touching her finger to the smudge beneath one blue eye. "The doctor would probably give you something for it."

"Probably." He drew back a little, away from her touch. "I just don't want... it should go away by itself. It's not a physical problem. I just need to get something sorted out."

She nodded encouragingly, but Tom leaned back even more and she couldn't see his eyes. B'Elanna wondered what it had been like for them, what it was that had made this into such a traumatic experience. Well, for Tom to go to prison had more than likely been a nightmare come true, literally. She wasn't surprised that he was still disturbed by it.

"You know," B'Elanna said, striking out at a tangent, "I'm glad that you and Harry went on shore leave together. At least you had each other in that place."

"Yeah," Tom agreed but he didn't sound all that enthusiastic. "Yeah, we..." He looked down, then up, with an approximation of sparkle in his eyes. "I'm actually getting tired of steak and cherry pie. I think I overdid it when we got back."

B'Elanna leaned back too, clenched her hands together and counted to ten. Damn the man. If he didn't want to talk, he didn't. She was just trying to be helpful, after all. To comfort him. He looked as if he could do with a hug, but she wasn't entirely certain she wanted to try that.

Or rather, she did want to try that, but it would just make her want to do a lot of other things and it would all turn really complicated. B'Elanna wasn't sure how she felt about Tom, beyond the impulse she'd recently developed to tear his clothes off and jump his bones, but she did know that she wanted him to sleep with her because he wanted to sleep with her, not because he was unsettled and she was being nice to him.

Turning her head, she spotted Harry Kim entering Sandrine's, looking about as cheerful as Tom. What the hell, B'Elanna thought and waved at him. Might as well have two uncommunicative people around as one. Harry nodded at her, but stopped to get something to drink before he came over. He pulled up a chair and sat down.

B'Elanna eyed him, and sighed. Harry was completely closed in on himself. Where Tom appeared on the verge of developing a nervous tic, Harry was so controlled he seemed about to implode. He nodded at them both again, a short brisk nod, and didn't even smile as he put his drink on the table.

"Nice to see you," B'Elanna said, wincing at this idiotic statement. "What are you drinking?"

"It's just a drink," Harry said, but then actually elaborated. "It's something called a Silver Knuckleduster." B'Elanna saw Tom raise an eyebrow. So it was a serious drink. Harry, of all people. If she'd needed any further evidence of just how much the prison experience had upset him, this was it.

She looked from Tom to Harry, from Harry to Tom, and wondered if she'd taken on too much; it might not actually be possible to get a conversation going here. Tom made a few idle comments about things that had happened on the bridge. Harry didn't answer. B'Elanna just sat there wondering how an experience that should have brought them closer together had apparently managed to completely wreck their friendship.

They hadn't been like this when they got back, everything had seemed fine. Now, though... She sighed, and half desperately said, "Let's play pool."

* * *

I can't get these thoughts out of my mind. Like a parasite growing inside me, smothering its host. They take over, they turn up everywhere and I try and I try to fight them. And I can't quite...

It's worse when I see him.

And I see him every day.

Every single damn day.

The things I want to do, they can't be my desires. Not what I truly want to do. I can't believe that, can't let myself believe that. The implant left something behind, disturbed the balance of my mind.

Now where had he heard that phrase before? He shrugged. Maybe he should go see the doctor after all. He didn't have to mention all of it. Just that he had trouble sleeping.

* * *

Kes spooned up some more starfish soup and blew on it carefully before tasting. Perfect. She took the ladle, filled a bowl and handed it to Harry Kim. "Here." As he didn't move away but stayed where he was to taste the soup, she went on, "Are you feeling all right now?" Then she smiled her apology before he could do more than look at her. "I'm sorry. Everyone must be asking you that."

Harry nodded and swallowed a spoonful of soup before saying anything. "They do. Makes me wish something else would happen soon, so people will forget." Then he shrugged. "It wasn't that bad. I don't see why everyone's so concerned."

"Because of the implants, I suppose," Kes said thoughtfully. "The doctor did say that there were no traces left. Still, people are fond of you and Tom and so they worry about you."

One corner of his mouth twisted up. "Right." Then he put the bowl down. "Kes, I'm sorry, but I'm just not very hungry right now."

She looked at him, taking in the bruised look around his eyes and the slight tremors in his fingers. "Harry, you have to eat."

"Later," he said with a smile that might have been intended to be reassuring, and walked away. Kes stood where she was and frowned silently to herself. When she looked up again, Tom Paris was entering the mess hall. He stopped for a moment and looked around quickly, almost furtively, as though searching for someone. Then he visibly relaxed and walked towards her.

"Take this," she said determinedly and handed him the bowl Harry had abandoned. "It's very good soup."

He sniffed it. "Did Neelix make it, or did you?"

"What difference does it make?" Kes eyed Tom and silently wondered when he'd last washed his hair. He looked, well, perhaps the best word for it was haunted. Though messy might cover a lot of it. "Tom, are you—"

"Don't say it," he rolled his eyes. "What will it take for people to believe that everything's fine?"

Kes thought about saying that eating and sleeping would probably help, and so would acting normally. But all she said was, "Eat your soup."

* * *

It's embarrassing to have impulses like these. More than just embarrassing. There are moments when I can't quite believe it. He's my best friend!

And I want, oh how I want...

To hold him. Touch him. There, I said it. Thought it. I want him. Something about being in that place, something about the things that happened there released this and I don't know what the hell I'm supposed to do.

He's my best friend.

And I can't even talk to him any more.

The sheets were tangled, the pillow uncomfortably bunched up. He turned this way and that, determined to at least try to sleep, but images tumbled through his mind again, vivid enough to make him blush. This had never been any part of his dreams before.

Oh, hell.

I can't go on like this.

* * *

It was very quiet on the bridge. No cheerful running commentary from the conn, no thoughtful or enthusiastic remarks from Ops. The captain leaned back in her chair and threw a sideways glance at Chakotay. At least he was acting normally.

Janeway was starting to wonder if the time they had spent in an Akritirian prison had changed Tom Paris and Harry Kim permanently. Had something happened in there that they had agreed not to talk about? The doctor had said they were fully recovered. But then he specialized in physical health, not mental.

Chakotay leaned towards her, pointing at the monitor. "If we go this way around the Thyrza system, we can pick up supplies on an M-class planet right here." He smiled at her. She smiled back.

"Mr. Paris, set a new course." At least she got an acknowledgement out of him, but there was no cheerful agreement in his voice. Janeway sank back into her chair again, determined to ignore the problem for the time being. They were doing their job, that was what was important.

Then she sighed to herself, knowing she didn't really believe that. And she wasn't the only one to notice that something was wrong. Tuvok had commented on it. The level of tension when both Tom and Harry were on the bridge had made her contemplate putting them on different shifts. But they were both senior officers. She couldn't possibly talk Chakotay into doing that, could she?

The captain didn't know whether to be angry or concerned. Something was clearly wrong, and as a result, the bridge crew wasn't working as well as it should have been. She felt sorry for Tom and Harry, but damn it, they could say something, couldn't they?

Finally she sighed in resignation and nodded at Chakotay to follow her into her ready room. Once inside, she took a moment to heave a heartfelt sigh before charging into the subject she'd decided they had to discuss after all. "We may have to rework the bridge crew schedules."

He looked at her. "Why?"

"Because," she couldn't believe that she was going to have to spell it out to him, "there is a problem with having Ensign Kim and Lieutenant Paris on the bridge at the same time, and it's having a detrimental effect on everyone's work."

Chakotay's brows drew together. "Kim and Paris are grown men as well as Starfleet officers. Whatever their problem is, it should not be allowed to interfere with what is required to run Voyager smoothly."

"No," she agreed, "but the point is that it does. Both Tom and Harry have been disturbed since they came back from prison and I assume that this is a temporary problem, but in the meantime, I need a functioning bridge crew. Since I don't know how long it will take for those two to get back to normal, I want you to rework the schedules."

He hesitated, but not for so long that she could comment on it. "Very well, captain," he said. "But remember that the biggest risk of adopting a makeshift solution is that it becomes permanent."

"They probably just need a little time to work it out," she said, and wondered to herself what, exactly, 'it' was.

* * *

It's better now that I don't see him all the time. Better during work hours, I can forget about it, most of the time. I can push it away.

But then, at night, the feelings came crawling back from the darkest corners of his mind, and the images in his head just grew more and more vivid until he thought he wouldn't be able to stand it any more.

I'm not like this. I never was, this isn't me, it hasn't sprung from me. They put something in my head. Didn't they? Something was done to me, I would never, could never...

He sat up in bed, twisting a pillow between his hands, and tried consciously to push it all away. But it wouldn't go away. Oh no. He kept seeing it all, feeling it, those wicked spirals of wish and want and unstoppable will playing with him. The things he wanted to do.

No, it's not true, it's not what I want, it's not. I don't want that. I don't.

I can't go on like this.

Looking down, he discovered that he had torn the pillowcase to shreds.

* * *

B'Elanna tapped slowly at the console, altering the parameters again. Maybe this time she could get a workable result. Or something that would distract her enough that she didn't care that two of her dearest friends were apparently going out of their minds.

She was worried about them.

And being worried made her angry.

So here she was, down in Engineering with only the night shift for company, and they were keeping a safe distance. Maybe she could work this problem out, maybe she couldn't, but it would at least take her mind off Tom and Harry.

Damn it, what was wrong with them? They both acted funny, they both looked like death warmed over, they both refused to talk about it. And they never saw each other any more. After ending up in separate crew shifts, they'd gone out of their way to make sure that they didn't meet in their free time, either. B'Elanna had quickly learned that to suggest to one that they find the other was a bad idea.

She just couldn't understand it. In her experience, being in prison together and saving each other's lives was something that bonded people together. So why the hell were these two acting as though it had turned them into enemies?

The console beeped at her, and she scowled at it. No luck in finding a solution to her problem, and no luck in refraining from thinking about Tom and Harry, either. B'Elanna gritted her teeth and tried again. There had to be something she could do. About the shield modulations. About Tom and Harry, she wasn't so sure.

"This is your designated sleep time," a voice said from behind her. "You're not supposed to be in here for another seven hours."

"This is my designated free time," she corrected him, turning around and smiling. "What I do then is up to me. I couldn't sleep."

"A lot of people seem to say that lately," Chakotay said.

"It's up to you to set a good example," she pointed out. "What are you doing up at this hour?"

He shrugged. "I had a long conversation with Neelix. I think he's feeling a bit worried that we might not find him useful any more now that we're leaving the region of space he's familiar with."

B'Elanna was about to say that she'd always found him a better cook than guide anyway, not that that was saying much, but then she reconsidered. "That still makes him just as useful as any other member of the crew," she finally said.

"That's what I told him." Chakotay looked over her shoulder at the console. "Not getting anywhere, are you." It was said so calmly that she just shook her head instead of getting mad again. "Call it quits for tonight, B'Elanna. Come on, let's go to bed."

* * *

I can't stand it. I think I'm going crazy.

I want him so.

And it scares me, and it upsets me, and I've tried and tried not to think about it, but that doesn't seem to help. I don't see him any more, but I see him in my mind all the time. Oh god, how I want to touch him. Love him.

Love?

He curled up in a tight ball, with the sheet wrapped around his body for protection against the word and the thought, then exploded out of it to stalk the room again.

I can't go on like this. I have to...

I have to tell him.

Oh, hell.

At the same time, it made him feel better. This was what was in his mind. He had to do something about it. No matter how it had happened, this was what he felt.

Love.

I love him.

* * *

She hesitated for a moment outside the captain's door, then firmly pressed the door chime. It was late, but it wasn't that late. As she had hoped, Kathryn Janeway almost immediately asked her to come in.

"Kes!" Out of uniform and with her hair down, the captain looked relaxed and her smile was warm. "Is there a problem, or is this just a friendly visit?"

Kes sighed. "I wish it were just a friendly visit," she said. "But as a matter of fact, I want to mention something to you. I'm sure you've already noticed it. I just have a bad feeling about Tom and Harry and the way they're acting."

The captain nodded slowly. She gestured at a chair. "Yes. Sit down, please." Kes sat, keeping her eyes fixed on Janeway. "I was convinced that they would work things out. Separating them may not have been the wisest thing to do, but I needed a functioning bridge crew more than I could spare the time for those two to deal with their problems right there and then."

"When you say that you thought they'd work things out, do you mean that you know what the problem is?" Kes asked. She'd done a lot of thinking about that over the past few days, but no conclusion she'd reached had seemed absolutely right.

Janeway smiled a little. "I've thought about it for a while, and I may be wrong," she said, "but it seems to me that those two got very close when they were in prison, and now they want to get closer still and they don't know how to go about it."

"And that has had the opposite effect?" Kes thought about it. It did make sense. And if Tom and Harry fell in love, nobody would be more pleased than she. Yet she wasn't sure that she could completely believe it, and it didn't entirely account for how uneasy she felt. "That could be it," she said slowly.

The captain appeared to pick up on the hesitation in her voice, but right then the door chime sounded again. Moments later B'Elanna walked in, a reluctant Chakotay trailing behind her. "Captain, I'm sorry to bother you, but the computer told me you were still awake. I'm worried about Tom and Harry."

Kes smiled, she couldn't help it, and so did Kathryn Janeway. "It seems you're not the only one, B'Elanna." The captain gestured for the two newcomers to sit down, too. "I agree that things can't go on as they are, but I'm reluctant to interfere in the private lives of my crewmembers. Perhaps if we talked to them as friends..."

"Tried that," B'Elanna said shortly, and Kes nodded as well. "You just can't get through to them. They won't say anything."

"They won't even answer a question with yes or no if they can help it," Kes added.

Janeway stood up and started to walk around the room. "Perhaps if we all talked to them," she said. "A collective appeal might have more of an effect."

"Captain!" That was Chakotay, finally getting a word in. "Are you serious? Kim and Paris are sensible adults — mostly sensible," he amended as B'Elanna gave him a pointed look, "and they should be left to settle their affairs in peace."

"They couldn't find their way out of a paper bag," B'Elanna said.

"Much less admit to how they feel about each other," the captain added.

Chakotay looked as though he was about to say what? but Kes managed to get in ahead of him. "I'm not entirely sure," she said. "I know it would explain things, but I'm just not sure." She looked at the captain, then at B'Elanna, leaving Chakotay out of the argument. "Maybe there's more to it."

B'Elanna shrugged. "I'd be more than willing to believe in an alternative solution, but I can't think of one. And the question remains, should we talk to them, or give them some more time?"

"You could at least wait until tomorrow," Chakotay said plaintively. Kes wondered if he was more confused by Janeway's theory about what was wrong with Tom and Harry, or by the fact that B'Elanna and the captain seemed determined to meddle.

"Yes, we could," the captain agreed. And Kes slowly nodded; she had nothing to go on except a feeling so vague, she couldn't expect anyone to act on it. She wasn't sure she could act on it herself.

They all stood up and prepared to leave. B'Elanna grinned. "Come on, Chakotay. Let's go to bed."

* * *

I can't stop it, those feelings keep taking me over. All of me is tangled up in it now and it won't let go. I can't go on like this.

He sat on the edge of the bed, shivering, sweating. It was such a sheer torment to try to suppress it now. It almost hurt. And the thoughts, the feelings, the images kept dancing in his mind.

But I'm not like that!

I want to.

But I'm not, I'm not...

Harder and harder to fight it. He couldn't go on like this any more. He had to do something. Taking a deep breath, he let it all flow through his mind again. Touching, hands on skin and he knew just how it would feel, fingers against the neck, thumbs across the windpipe.

I'm not like that! It's not me. It is me. It's what I feel.

He's my best friend.

I want to.

He stood up, looked around for clothes, anything. This had gone too far. Had to do something. Anything. To stop these images, and those other images, oh god, is this what I want, is that what I want...

I'm not like that. In his mind, the sound of bones breaking, dull impact of flesh on flesh, last painful breaths. Hands around that throat, squeezing.

I'm not like that. I want to. I want him. I want to kill him.

Hate.

I love him.

He ran a hand through his hair, and walked out of his quarters.

* * *

Don't fall on me

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