"Quid Pro Quo--a Tuvok in Pon Farr Story"
Rated NC-17
Tu/m/f, P/T, K/7, J/C

General Disclaimer: The characters in this story all belong to the Star Trek Universe, property of Paramount, Inc., and Viacom. Many of the story elements are also borrowed, but this story is written for pleasure, not profit.

Ratings Warning: This story is SEXUALLY EXPLICIT. If you aren't prepared for MALE/MALE/FEMALE sexual practices, as well as heterosexual activities, be forewarned. Don't read any further!

Summary: When Tuvok, far from the wife to whom he is devoted, fails to control his pon farr through meditation alone, he must ask another member of the crew to become his sexual partner or die.

Author's Note: I never thought I'd ever write a story that could be described as "slash," and I'm not sure I really have this time, either. When confronted by a situation their usual behavior cannot adequately address, several characters find a creative solution, but they really don't change their attitudes towards their sexuality, although they find out that there are more important things in life than being rigidly consistent. For those who might not know, the Latin title literally means "something for something."

Additional Warning: You may wish to skip this story if you want to think that Tom was always a perfect officer and a gentleman, even during that period of his life between the Caldik Prime incident and when we met him in "The Caretaker." Personally, I think there may be things he wished he didn't do back then, and this story adheres to that view.

Thanks Are Due: to the PT Fever mail list, especially "Redstroke," "the Gentleman Pirate," "Teddy," "Fever" "Juli" and "Danger Mom," as well as to "AKite" for their comments. Thanks are also due to Julia Houston for being my sounding board during the earliest incarnation of the story.

I encourage constructive criticism and comments (beg for them, actually, as getting feedback is the only recompense I'll ever get for this story!). My e-mail address is: jamelia116@aol.com.

For those who are interested, I consider this story to be in "The Mercenary" continuum of stories. It takes place two or three months prior to "Satisfaction," in what would be early in Voyager's fifth season. The other stories in this group are, in chronological order: "Happy Holidays, Cadet Ro," "The Mercenary," "Log Entries" and "Satisfaction," which follow Tom's history. Two others overlap these: "In the Footsteps of Another" follows Ro's history after "The Mercenary," while "Pilgrimage" is a short tale about T'Pel's visit to Deep Space Nine to search for clues to what really happened to her husband Tuvok. All of these stories, with the exception of "Happy Holidays, Cadet Ro," are available at my web site: http://members.aol.com/jamelia116/meander.html

"Happy Holidays, Cadet Ro" is to be published this spring in a fanzine compiled by members of Robert Duncan McNeill's fan club, of which I am a member. Information about ordering this publication will be posted soon at the club's web site: http:members.aol.com/rdmfanclub/rdmzine.html

I'm also a member of Roxann Dawson's fan club. For information, contact: http://www.ualberta.ca/%7Etgee/rbdfc/main.html

Quid Pro Quo

J.A. Toner

March, 1998


"Hold on, everybody. The ride is going to get bumpy." Tom Paris grinned as he gave the warning. Riding through this field of intergalactic debris was no spectacular feat of navigation. Almost all of the fragments were small enough for the shields to easily deflect them away from the hull of the shuttle. With Tuvok in the co-pilot's seat, he'd have plenty of warning to avoid larger pieces. There were so many, however, that the rippling distortions in the field when the rocks hit the shields should be entertaining to watch.

"You seem to be enjoying yourself much too much up there, Mr. Paris," smiled Captain Kathryn Janeway. She was in a good mood. Their trading mission had been successfully completed, yielding more than a year's supply of platinum and irridium for use in making isolinear chips and a good supply of goranite, needed for manufacturing shuttle guidance systems. These materials were now safely stowed in the storage compartment of the shuttle. Permission to move Voyager closer to the Sylieor system's asteroid belt had also been granted, enabling them to take on some much needed supplies of metals. The belt was rich in those substances that, when refined on board Voyager, would enable them to keep building shuttles. The materials would be needed; Voyager certainly went through enough shuttles.

"It's going to be quite a show. Maybe some sound effects along with the visuals, Captain. It should be starting just about . . . now."

A prism of colors sparkled through the viewscreen as granular debris sloughed by the shields. "Told you, Captain," announced Tom. His own appreciation of the view would be short lived. His eyes needed to stay on the helm control instruments. He could use another set of eyes. Fortunately, he had his co-pilot Tuvok's available.

Tom lost his grin when three chunks above critical size lit up the shields, almost penetrating them. He was thankful that they hit in glancing blows, or they could have had a serious problem. "Tuvok, could you give me a little warning here?" asked Tom.

The normally unflappable Vulcan startled, saying "What?" in a distant tone of voice. Tom risked a quick glance at his co-pilot. Tuvok's eyes were blinking rapidly and his expression was one of puzzlement.

"You OK, Tuvok? You seem a little distracted."

"Oh. There is no cause for alarm." The lieutenant commander sat more erectly in his chair, his eyes scanning the readouts before him. "Taking a heading of 018, mark 21 will avoid the denser patches of debris."

Tom glanced at the Vulcan again. "I'm already on that heading, Tuvok. I need you to tell me if I have to adjust my course to avoid any larger pieces in our path."

After a moment's hesitation, Tuvok answered, "Affirmative." He scrutinized the console in front of him, but Tom no longer felt like he had his extra pair of eyes.

The captain came to the rescue. "I'll take over for you, Commander. It's about time I did something more exciting on this trip than negotiating for raw materials. You could use the rest, Tuvok. You've been overextending yourself again." Briskly, but with a breezy tone of voice that suggested it was a request rather than an order, the captain changed places with her security chief. "Besides, the view should be better up here."

With the captain seated alertly next to him, Tom relaxed. She called out three course corrections for him, but otherwise, the final hour of their journey back to Voyager took place without incident. Once they were through the debris field that surrounded the planet Sylieor, Tom had time to reflect on Lieutenant Commander Tuvok's unusual behavior. He realized that it was not the first time on this mission that he'd acted inattentive. It was deeply disturbing. Tom had never known anyone who could stay focused on his work better than Tuvok.

Chakotay was standing next to Chief Engineer B'Elanna Torres in the shuttle bay as the Goddard sailed through the containment field holding space away from the interior of Voyager. As the captain exited the shuttle, the first officer called out, "Was that you in the co-pilot's seat, Captain?"

"I wanted a better view of Mr. Paris' light show," she laughed in her warm, deep voice as she approached.

Tom followed closely behind her, holding a storage container of the irridium. "A gift for you, Lieutenant. Something you've been needing."

"Just what I've always wanted," she said dryly.

"No one can say I don't know what you want," he said slowly. The brightness in his eyes suggested he wasn't talking about irridium.

"I could never say that, Lieutenant." Her reply was also slow, said in a deliberately lowered, breathy tone.

After stifling a smile and giving her first officer a sidewise glance, the captain grabbed onto Chakotay's arm, firmly steering him toward the shuttle bay door. "Let me get back to my bridge, Commander," she said for all to hear. Leaning in closely towards him she added, at a much lower volume that only he could catch, "The pheromone level in this shuttle bay is getting a bit too thick for me right now."

He laughed aloud. Patting her forearm lightly, he strode with her through the exit.

As the shuttle bay's maintenance crew started to swarm over the Goddard for damage from the debris field, Lieutenant Commander Tuvok slowly walked down the ramp of the shuttle. He passed by Paris and Torres, who were at that moment far too engrossed in each other to even notice his presence. Halting at the bottom for several seconds as if he needed to get his bearings, the Vulcan officer traced the steps of his commanding officers into the corridor. Tuvok had been met by no one.

Seven of Nine stalked down the corridor that led to the shuttle bay. Commander Tuvok had given her an assignment before he left on the away mission, and she wanted to bring it to him immediately upon his return. He had not been his usual, calm self when he had left for Sylieor with the captain and Lieutenant Paris. That had made Seven determined to deliver the PADD with the data he had required as soon as he arrived.

Although she had intended to meet the shuttle when it arrived, she had been detained. Ensign Kim had requested she help him repair several malfunctioning power nodes and circuitry that linked her Astrometrics Lab with the ensign's station at Ops on the bridge. The repairs had taken an hour longer than anticipated. Ensign Kim had apologized profusely, but the delay had caused her to miss the shuttle Goddard's arrival. Seven had already encountered Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay on the turbolift; she obviously had missed Commander Tuvok's arrival.

As Seven turned left at the corridor juncture, the subject of her journey appeared unexpectedly before her. Seven, deciding that this was another time when her social skills should be exercised, stopped and uttered, "Welcome back, Commander."

Commander Tuvok kept on walking. This is most unusual, she pondered. Perhaps he did not hear me. Feeling unsettled that her attempt at meeting the social expectations of this group had been totally ignored, Seven followed Tuvok back along the way she had just come. Catching up to him, Seven said, with greater force, "Commander Tuvok?"

Whether it was the larger volume at which she had spoken the words or simply the fact that she had used his name and rank, Seven did not know. This time, at least, he stopped. He did not turn around to face her, however. Puzzled by this lack of attention to his environment, Seven circled him and greeted him face to face. "Commander, was your mission to the planet successful?"

Tuvok blinked twice, met the former Borg's eyes, and stated, "Seven of Nine."

She waited several seconds, expecting some sort of remark or answer to her question to follow this stating of her name. None was forthcoming. Finally, she stated, "I came to welcome you back from your mission and to deliver my completed assignment to you."

Distantly, he stated, "Completed assignment." It was not even a question. Seven was confused by this lack of response from Tuvok. His usual response was to give her logical, unemotional replies. This was very different. He did not even seem to be fully aware of her presence or what they were discussing.

"Yes, Commander. You requested I comment about your proposal to improve the connections between the Astrometrics Lab sensors and the tactical displays on the bridge. I have done so. The data is here." Seven held out the PADD. Tuvok looked at her. If she had to describe his attitude at the moment, she would have been forced to say, "dazed."

After an uncomfortably long pause (even for Seven, who was prone to leave fairly long gaps in a conversation herself), he nodded wordlessly and accepted the padd. Seven accompanied him back to the turbolift. Commander Tuvok afforded her no further opportunity to practice social conversational skills during the trip.

He knew what was happening, of course. Since that first time, out in the desert, it had come inexorably, over and over again.

The first time he had been alone. As logic had been ripped away, fear flowed into his being. The disciplined studies of a lifetime, six years of contemplation of the mystical doctrines of his race -- all were swept away in a rush of hormones tumbling through his veins, ripping away his reason.

Then, a woman had come. An anchor. A lifeline. He had grabbed that lifeline and found what he had never known before.

This time, he did not have his lifeline. She was an achingly long journey away. It would take decades until they would be together again, barring an unlikely alteration in the laws of probability. What his human compatriots on this vessel would refer to as a "miracle."

She would be feeling this tide as well, so closely synchronized were their metabolisms and minds. Her brain could not truly connect with his over such a distance, of course; but this time of travail would be hers to undergo, as well. He had no doubt, however, that she would survive it. Difficult as it was for him to credit, in this, she was the stronger. Nature's gift to the bearer of children, usually the primary nurturer of progeny, was the strength of the survivor.

For him, alternatives had always failed. Only her assistance had been sufficient to stem the tide for him before. Her aid had always been available, since that first time. Now, it would not be.

There were others around him, of course, but no one who would be suitable. Not one.

The memories of her, however -- perhaps they would serve. They would have to serve.

Or he would die.

Slow, yes . . . that's it . . . . Nice . . . and . . . slow . . . .

Tom's gasps for air were in perfect time with B'Elanna's as they moved together. Her buttocks came back to meet him as he thrust forward, every movement deliberately slow, so that the outer epidermal cells of his shaft rubbed exquisitely and breathtakingly against the walls of her vagina. God, this is so good, was among the few sentences he was capable of formulating as they moved.

His lips and tongue trailed down, caressing all of her back within reach. Tom Paris loved all of B'Elanna Torres, but her spine was especially intriguing to him. Visually, her spinal column was only slightly more prominent than a full-blooded human, but to his sensitive mouth the Klingon contours of bone below the skin were fully revealed. Oh, yes . . . so sweet . . . to kiss . . . so wonderful . . . to touch. Elaborate words were not necessary, fortunately, for him to worship B'Elanna's back. Words, in fact, weren't really necessary at all. As long as he kept his mouth and tongue moving over her skin, B'Elanna never complained.

B'Elanna began to move a little faster. She wanted more of him, he could tell. Pushing forward each time to thrust the tip of his penis in as deeply as it would go, Tom groaned as he tried to control himself. It wouldn't be too long now. His hands curved around to stroke the front of her body in certain favorite places that made her moan more frantically along with him. Both stepped up the pace now. Faster. More insistent.

As she pushing the side of her face further down onto the bed, B'Elanna clutched the pillow that was helping to support her in a kneeling position as he thrust in and out of her. Losing all reason as he was caught in the flood of sensation as they began to crest, Tom felt her vaginal walls spasm, milking the semen from him in a sudden, agonizingly wonderful rush. Crying out each other's names until they both were out of breath, the helmsman and chief engineer of Voyager collapsed in a heap on the bed, panting in air to replace all that had been screamed out a moment before.

As he lay sprawled on the bed, more on top of B'Elanna than beside her, Tom thought, as he regained his breath, that he'd never been happier than he was now, on Voyager, with this woman. He'd had to lose his way totally in life to find his greatest joy. Figures. I never do things the easy way.

Tom kissed the golden skin of her shoulder and coaxed B'Elanna to face a little more his way, giving him a chance to kiss her full lips as well. After being parted from each other for four, entire days, they had barely been able to contain themselves until the end of their duty shifts. The first time they'd come together had been vigorous, hard, even rough. This time, though, after a short rest and supper, they'd taken it more leisurely. Languorously. Very satisfying.

"So, B'Elanna, was it as good for you as it was for me?" he spoke the cliche aloud, his grin evident in his voice, even if his entire face wasn't visible to her.

"Do you really need to ask that question, Flyboy?" she growled good-naturedly, disengaging herself from his arms and body.

As she settled her slender form even closer to his side, her fingers caressed the mating bite she'd given him during their earlier, wilder joining. Not for the first time, Tom wondered what thoughts his half-Klingon lover had entertained while they were chewing each others faces and necks, sucking each other's flesh, or mutually appreciating how the act of coitus flushed their skin -- assuming there were any conscious thoughts at all. He always operated on the assumption that it was much the same for her as it was for him, but he was well aware that might be a dangerous assumption to make. Even presumptuous. Men and women saw life differently when both were fully human. Add Klingon blood to the mix, and predictability went out the window.

There were times he wished he could just walk around in that beautiful head of hers and look around. See what made her tick (besides her warp core and engines -- he was well aware how much they meant to her).

To live totally inside that gorgeous passageway to bliss of hers . . .

Now where did that thought come from? Tom chuckled, realizing that the part of his lover's body he was visualizing was not her brain. Although I practically live there already. At least one part of me spends a helluva lot of time there.

"What, what are you laughing about?" asked B'Elanna suspiciously.

"Just wondering what the next words are going to be out of your mouth," Tom said, covering his (figurative) ass quickly -- the physical one was still gloriously nude.

"How about, 'Do you want to use the dermal regenerator now, or do you want to wait until after dessert?' " B'Elanna asked.

"Oh, after dessert, definitely. Maybe we can replicate something sinfully rich . . . maybe some Tiramisu?"

"Mmmmm, delicious," B'Elanna breathed, closing her eyes. She wasn't one for sweet desserts as a rule, but the creamy Italian dessert, flavored with liqueurs and a generous dusting of semisweet chocolate powder, had become an obsession.

"Yes, B'Elanna, and then we can spread it all over us . . . and lick it off . . . bit . . . by . . . succulent . . . bit . . . "

"In other words, you want to fix all the bites at once."

"You got it. Why waste time we can put to better use?"

And because Tom had moved his hand down to play with a certain, very sensitive spot of her anatomy, B'Elanna agreed that fixing a bite that was only going to get chomped again very shortly would be a waste of their valuable time.

"Morning, Harry, Seven," Tom said, greeting his fellow crew members as he took a seat across from his friend, Voyager's operations officer, in the messhall. "How does it taste, Harry?" Tom didn't bother asking Seven what it tasted like. He already knew what the former Borg's answer would be: taste was irrelevant.

"Pretty good. Plain biscuits and fruit today, even though it doesn't look like it."

The biscuits were fairly straight-forward, orangey numbers. Tom knew from experience they were fairly ordinary. The heap on the plate next to the biscuits, however, was mottled in shades of purple and orange. As far as he was concerned, that particular combination of colors should never be found on any self-respecting fruit. "If you say so, Harry," the pilot responded.

"Where is Lieutenant Torres this morning, Lieutenant Paris?" inquired Seven.

"She went down to Engineering before her shift began to check on the status of a few things. She said she'd be along . . . and there she is now." The object of his conversation, very much the object of his veneration on a physical and emotional level, burst into the messhall, exuding her typical enthusiasm for the tasks of the upcoming duty shift.

Tentatively dabbing a fork at the garishly colored fruit, Tom asked, "So, did everybody miss me while I was away?"

"Not particularly," Harry replied. Tom didn't have far to look for the reason for Harry's glowing expression. The ensign must have spent a good deal of time with Seven during the last few days. Tom longed to tweak him about it, but not until B'Elanna was here. It was more fun to have her around to appreciate his bon mots.

As the chief engineer headed towards them, breakfast tray in hand, Seven queried, "Lieutenant Paris, did anything out of the ordinary happen on the planet to Commander Tuvok while you were on your away mission?"

"Not really," Tom replied, evasively. "Why?"

"He has been acting strangely since he returned from Sylieor. Commander Tuvok assigned me a project before he left, with strict orders to have it completed by the time the shuttle returned. When I gave him the PADD with the completed assignment, however, he did not appear to recognize it. He walked past me, and I had to insist he take it. I have yet to hear his response to any of the proposals I made. This is highly uncharacteristic behavior."

"That does sound strange . . . Hi, B'Elanna . . . " Tom got to his feet briefly when B'Elanna arrived to take a seat at the table. For several minutes the four talked of inconsequential things while digging into breakfast, not as bad as some of Neelix's efforts, Tom had to admit. In the lulls between comments, however, his mind returned to Seven's comments. Her observations were right on the mark, as usual. As he considered all the evidence, a suspicion came to mind. It made him very uneasy to think about it, although it was inevitable that it would come someday, he knew.



Harry chuckled. "Tom, you seem as out of it as Seven says Tuvok is! She asked about Tuvok again. Did he act unusually on the away mission?"

The pilot thought a moment. If what he was beginning to suspect was actually the problem, Tuvok would not want it advertised all over the ship. "He was a little distractible on the trip, that's all. I'm wondering if he's coming down with something."

"Tuvok? Sick? That would be a first. I can't even remember the last time he was under the weather," B'Elanna remarked.

Tom shrugged his shoulders. "Hey, it happens. It was just a thought." But it's a good thing I'm assigned to Sickbay today. I need to bring this to the Doc's attention.

Kathryn Janeway was concerned. Not only had his inattentativeness on the shuttle journey been disturbing, but on several occasions that morning, she'd been forced to give the same order twice to Tuvok. Even when he had responded with the appropriate answers about the sensor readings as they approached the asteroid belt or reported the information he had received about the status of the mining operation, he seemed to fumble a bit first. The data was forthcoming, but not as efficiently as it usually was from her tactical officer.

She was about to call him into her office when the chime to her ready room door rang. "Enter," she stated. Tuvok stepped through the door.

"Commander, I was about to summon you. Are you reading my mind again?" The casual, almost joking tone of her voice was not matched by the expression in her eyes. She understood fully what was at stake.

"It is not so much a question of reading another's mind as it is knowing the other person well enough to discern their patterns of predictable behavior. My pattern has been disrupted as of late," he replied.

"It is time, then?"

"Yes, Captain. I am prepared. Do not be alarmed. A leave of absence from my duties is required, however, until my usual state of efficiency has returned."

"Of course, Tuvok. Take all the time you need. And it goes without saying, if you need any help from me at all, just let me know."

"Thank you, Captain. I assure you, it will not be necessary. I am relieved, then?"

"Yes, Commander. You are relieved." Nevertheless, as she watched the Vulcan's retreating back, she thought she herself would not be relieved until his crisis was over.

Several patients were waiting to be seen in Sickbay when Tom arrived. The Doctor gave his assistant one of his patented "you should have been here long ago" looks, even though Tom was more than a quarter hour early for his shift. Once Sickbay had been cleared, Tom spent a few minutes checking the data base before talking to the EMH. Hopefully, there was another explanation for Tuvok's behavior. To the contrary, what he found seemed to confirm Tom's diagnosis.

"Doctor, have you had any cause to examine Tuvok during the last few weeks?" asked Tom.

"No. Is there some reason I should examine him?"

"I think so, Doctor. He's been acting very strangely. Distracted, forgetful. I noticed it on the away mission, and Seven mentioned it this morning over breakfast. I just checked the records of when Tuvok has gone home to Vulcan the last few years. The last time was just a few months before he left on the Maquis undercover assignment on the Zola. The next to the last time was almost exactly seven years ago."

"Let me see, Lieutenant. It would not do to jump the gun on this." As the Doctor wordlessly studied the entry, however, he shook his head. "I shouldn't be surprised that you made the connection that this might be the pon farr, Lieutenant. Considering your experience with Lieutenant Torres when Vorik decided to claim her for his mate, you would certainly know what to look for."

Activating his comm badge, the Doctor crisply said, "Emergency Medical Program to Commander Tuvok."

:::"Yes, Doctor.":::

"Commander, your medical records are incomplete. I'll need you in Sickbay as soon as you finish your duty shift so that I may update them."

:::"That will not be necessary.":::

"Commander . . . "

:::"I have been relieved of my duty shifts . . . for the duration." ::: There was a long pause. :::"As you undoubtedly have surmised, Doctor, I have developed a . . . chemical imbalance. There is no need for me to come in for any of your tests. Your diagnosis is correct.":::

"You're sure?"

:::"Quite sure. I will keep you apprised of my condition. I will be practicing Kolinahr mental disciplines during this difficult time. Privacy would be appreciated.":::

"Understood, Commander. I will drop in on you later to monitor your medical status and to find out if I can assist you with anything."

:::"That will not be necessary, Doctor.":::

"Necessary or not, expect to see me in about an hour's time. Mr. Paris will be happy to watch over Sickbay in my absence, won't you, Lieutenant?"

"Of course, Doctor," Tom nodded.

:::"Are we then finished with this conversation, Doctor? I must continue with my meditations.":::

"Certainly. EMH program, out." Both Tom and the Doctor sighed as the comm link was severed.

"Meditation. I assumed that's what he would try first. We'll have to prepare contingency plans if that's unsuccessful." Clearing his (holographic) throat, the Doctor added, "Mr. Paris. I have a few things of a programming nature to discuss with you . . . "

"Doc, if you're thinking about using the holodeck to make a simulation of Tuvok's wife, forget it. It won't work. No mind to meld with."

"How did you know that?" demanded the Doctor.

"Tuvok told me about the mind meld part when we were looking for B'Elanna on Sakari."

"I see," sighed the EMH. He'd hoped that Mr. Paris' acknowledged skills as a holodeck programmer would be able to succeed where he had failed. Not this time, apparently.

The pain was becoming intense, the constant hammering pounded in his temples as one chemical after another in his blood became overabundant, stimulating reactions. Sweating. Pounding pulse. Short, rapid breaths. Shaking of the limbs.

It was bad, very bad.

He tried to keep his mind on the meditations. The ritual words, engrained, meant to bring peace through repetition. He said them. He tried to say them. The chains of words, from the time of Surak, passed down from father to son, from wise one to acolyte, in places of refuge, away from where the currents of life swirled. The sanctuary. A haven of solitude. Sanity. Logic.

It was being torn away into pieces. Pieces were lost. The words were lost and he could no longer piece them together. He was falling into pieces while trying to find peace and he could not find the peace that he needed. The piece that he needed. She was not here.

A sudden roaring, and he found the lamp lying on the floor. Quickly, he extinguished it before something flammable was caught in conflagration. Burning, like his skin and his tongue and his throat. He wondered if he could even walk to the other one's quarters. The only one who might understand.

He'd gone through it himself. He knew now. The burning. The need.

No, it was not wise to try to walk to another's quarters.

Stumbling over the meditation lamp, Tuvok of Vulcan cried out for help.


The young Vulcan stepped inside his superior's quarters. Calmly, he surveyed the appointments of the rooms. Tasteful, refined. Very appropriate. As expected.

The one he had been summoned to see did not turn around to greet him in the expected manner. He had been ill, however. That was general knowledge. Curious that the Doctor was allowing him to stay in his quarters rather than Sickbay.

"Commander Tuvok, you wished to speak with me?"

"Yes, Ensign."

Before the commander had turned around, the croaking voice told Vorik what was the matter. Of course, he should have anticipated this when he had heard the commander was indisposed. This was inevitable, given the length of their voyage. Still, the younger Vulcan had to force himself not to react at the sight of Lieutenant Commander Tuvok's face when it came into view.

Vorik wondered if his own face had been distorted that way. Disturbing to contemplate.

"I have asked you to come here . . . I have a request . . . a request of grave import to me." The stuttering, croaking voice was difficult to hear.

When no response came from Vorik, Tuvok went on, "I need your assistance . . . I must ask if you would be willing to serve as my . . . temporary partner. I have been unable to find the way out of this difficult time . . . through meditations alone."

The younger Vulcan nodded in understanding before stating, "I am not a logical choice. I am male."

"I find few here who are . . . logical choices. I am not looking for a permanent mate."

Moving towards the viewport, Vorik looked upon the stars. He knew well how limited the choices were. He had attempted to compensate by finding a new mate, since the one to whom he had been bonded as a child was far away. The female he had most admired -- other than the captain, of course, who clearly was not an option -- was the one he had chosen. Vorik had been repulsed, forcefully. She had assaulted him physically (although, to be fair, he had forced the issue upon her first himself).

Even when Lieutenant Torres' need became as critical as his, she had rejected him. It had not been logical for her to do so, but she had preferred to accept the attentions of another male instead. Lieutenant Paris had been her close friend for much of their journey, that was true, but Vorik had been her colleague in Engineering. They had much in common. His rational listing of the benefits of their union to both of them could not sway her. There were abundant reasons to accept his offer, no good reason to reject it.

When Commander Tuvok had told Vorik that B'Elanna Torres was lost on the Sakari planet, in need of him, the most reasonable course of action would have been for Vorik to go down immediately, to mate with the one with whom he had bonded in Engineering. Tuvok had denied his request, telling him to redouble his efforts at meditation.

When Vorik found his way down to the planet anyway, the commander could have ordered Paris and Chakotay away, leaving Vorik alone with B'Elanna, to allow them to complete their bond. When she still resisted, despite her imminent collapse, Tuvok could have supported Vorik's claims. He should have insisted the koon-ut-kal-if-fee take place with the one whom Vorik had challenged. Lieutenant Paris could not have defeated him. It was absurd to entertain the possibility of his defeat by Paris.

He still was not sure how B'Elanna had defeated him.

The circumstances of the battle had been kept surprisingly quiet, given the regrettable tendency for gossip on board Voyager. It was well known, however, that some kind of physical altercation had occurred between Lieutenants Paris, Torres, and himself. His status on board the vessel had become a source of humor for several weeks afterwards. Occasionally, one of the crew would make a reference to Vorik's lack of fighting skill. Such comments, he knew, were considered to be "safe." Everyone knew that a Vulcan would not feel so emotional a response as humiliation.

And now, as was well known, Lieutenants Torres and Paris had formed a sexual bond. Considering the reputation of Lieutenant Paris with females, forming such a relationship demonstrated a surprising lack of judgment on B'Elanna's part. Fidelity was unlikely from Paris. Fidelity was something a Klingon required. Cherished. Vorik's fidelity towards B'Elanna Torres would have been unquestioned.

When Vorik needed the support of his superior in obtaining his own mate, a permanent mate, that support was not forthcoming.

"Ensign Vorik, you have not given me an answer."

Pivoting to face the commander, Vorik noted the effort required for Tuvok to maintain any semblance of control. "I have considered your request carefully. I regret to inform you that my answer is no, I have no desire to become your partner. Temporary, or otherwise."

Tipping his head towards his superior in a gesture of respect, Vorik turned and walked in a measured, even pace to the doorway. Other than the sound of Tuvok's ragged breathing, Vorik perceived no response to his declaration.

" . . . and the warp engines on the newest shuttle should be ready for testing in two days, Captain. Ensign Joseph has completed the preliminary tests on the impulse drive and thrusters."

"Excellent. When do you think it will be available for use, B'Elanna?"

"Assuming all goes well with the warp drive testing, within the week. And Ensign Myers wanted me to make a special request to Lieutenant Paris and Commander Chakotay about this shuttle." B'Elanna's mouth quirked a bit in the corner.

The captain stifled a grin. Having spoken to Ensign Myers herself, she had an idea what the request might be. "What is it, Lieutenant?"

"She'd like this one to last a while." Muted guffaws erupted from around the table.

"Now, I managed to bring the Goddard home safely from the last mission," Tom declared defensively. "All we had were a few dings from a stray bit of rock. It wasn't even out of commission for a day."

"Captain, have you decided on a name yet?" asked Neelix.

"I'm open to suggestions. We've gone through quite a few names already."

"I was thinking, why don't we have a contest? The 'Name that Shuttle' Contest. I'd be happy to run it for you," enthused the Talaxian.

Commander Chakotay remarked, "That's not a bad idea, Neelix. But it's customary to give out a prize to the winner. What do you have in mind?"

"The obvious prize would be replicator rations, I know; but I have another idea. Why not provide the winner with a 'Weekend on the Holodeck'? The winner and up to three others of his or her choice would be given leave from their regular duties to take a little vacation. Any scenario they wanted, for 48 hours, along with an extra supply of replicator rations while they're there. It would be something special. What do you think?"

"Sounds like an excellent plan, Mr. Neelix. Set it up," ordered Janeway. "Is there anything else?"

Neelix spoke up again. "Well, yes, there is something else. How is Mr. Tuvok doing? The Doctor hasn't been able to make any progress in curing him of that illness he picked up on Sylieor yet?"

"His condition is unchanged, but be assured that the Doctor is giving it his full attention."

"When you speak with him, give him my regards and wishes for a speedy recovery."

"Thank you for your concern, Neelix. I'll make sure your good wishes are passed on to Commander Tuvok. Is that all? Fine. Except for Commander Chakotay and Lieutenant Paris, you're dismissed."

B'Elanna shot a quizzical glance in Tom's direction. He shrugged back, although he was fairly sure he knew why the captain wanted him to stay. "Lunch, 1200?" he whispered.

"I'll try. Let me know when you're on your way," B'Elanna answered, gifting him with a flash of her sunniest smile.

When B'Elanna and everyone else had left, the warm smile left Janeway's face, to be replaced by a worried frown. "What is the situation with Tuvok, Tom? There's been no progress at all?"

"If anything, his condition seems to have deteriorated. A lot. I'm sure the Doctor told you that he doesn't believe meditation is working for him any better than it did for Vorik."

"Yes, he told me last night. I know that Tuvok doesn't like the alternative of taking a mate, but it's beginning to look like his only option. It's really unfortunate that the Doctor's holodeck therapy didn't work. It would have solved the problem permanently."

Chakotay shifted in his seat. "What about the koon-ut-kal-if-fee? It worked for Vorik and B'Elanna."

Sighing heavily, Tom admitted, "The trouble with that is they usually fight to the death, according to Tuvok. I talked about it with him yesterday when I stopped by to check up on him on my way off bridge duty. I don't know if you're going to get many volunteers who'd be willing to take a chance on that kind of outcome. We were really lucky we didn't lose either Vorik or B'Elanna last time. Or even both of them." Tom looked seriously at both of his senior officers. "He did tell me that if there hasn't been any progress by this afternoon, he'll approach someone about becoming his mate."

"Thanks, Tom. Tell the Doctor I'll drop by to talk to him about this early this afternoon, unless we get better word before then. Dismissed."

Tom left the conference room for Sickbay, where he was posted this shift. Chakotay remained behind with his captain, who looked distraught at Tom's report. "So, Kathryn, do you want to tell me what that was all about? I'm sure the Doctor already told you everything that Tom just said to us. Was this for my benefit?"

She met his eyes, a crooked half-smile on her face. "You know me pretty well by now; I don't know why I even bothered not admitting that from the beginning. Yes, that was for your benefit. Maybe mine, too, though. Perhaps I needed to hear it again."

"You're going to volunteer to help Tuvok, aren't you?"

Her hand was drawn to his forearm, patting him in comfort, although in truth she wasn't sure which of them was more in need of comforting. "He's been a good officer and friend to me for too many years to let something as ridiculous as a simple bodily function deprive us all of his presence."

"Are you sure he wants your help? I can't imagine he doesn't know you would help him if he asked. Why hasn't he already come to you about this?"

The captain got up from her seat and walked to the viewport. That question had been nagging at her for days, ever since Tuvok had come to her ready room to request his leave of absence. "I'm sure he was hoping to get through this without any outside help at all. You know how self-sufficient Vulcans like to be, Tuvok especially. And he's devoted to T'Pel, Chakotay. He doesn't want to be 'unfaithful' to her, even though that concept is really foreign to a Vulcan in straits such as these. She would understand. She's going through the same thing at home on Vulcan; you know that, don't you?"

"It's not just the male, then? I thought the female responded to the male's need and the mental bond, like B'Elanna did to Vorik."

"Not in a bonded pair. Their body systems are coordinated to respond at the same time, somehow. Don't ask me to understand it. I just knew about it from Tuvok's last pon farr. We were serving together then, too, although not on Voyager, of course. That's when I originally found out the little I knew about the pon farr, other than the fact that by Starfleet directive, Vulcans have the right to be returned to Vulcan without question every seven years. Thanks to our experience with Mr. Vorik, not to mention the Doctor's research, I know more details about it now than I ever wanted to!"

He was standing behind her now, his body almost touching hers as they faced outward, as if looking at the stars. In reality, both were watching each other's faint image reflected by the transparent aluminum alloy of the viewport. "It was quite a thing to see, I must admit. That battle between the two of them . . . I thought I was going to have to hold Tom back from joining in several times." Actually, he did have to hold back Tom once, but there was no reason to bring that up to the captain now.

"Was it very difficult for B'Elanna?" she asked, so softly he could barely hear her.

No use sugar coating it. "Yes, it was. Like Tom said, we almost lost her."

The captain inhaled and exhaled deeply before stating in a firmer voice, "Well, Commander, if Tuvok and I are both . . . indisposed . . . for a long period of time, you'll be in command. You needed to know that this was a necessary action."

"Kathryn, as your first officer, I should object to your putting yourself into danger like this."

Her quirky smile reappeared. "But you aren't going to officially object, are you, Chakotay?"

His silence was so prolonged, she looked into the reflection of his eyes in the viewport to gauge his mood. The longing she saw there was so palpable, despite the poor resolution of the reflection, that she had to steel herself to say, "Whether or not you objected officially, it would merely be noted in the record. You know that." She saw him nod his head in acquiescence. He knew it.

Turning back to face him, Janeway added, "It would only be a temporary measure, you understand. It would change nothing."

"You mean, like nothing changed with Tom and B'Elanna, afterwards?"

"Chakotay, anyone could see the attraction those two had for each other long before Vorik intervened. If anything, he did them a favor! All that sparring they were doing! The way B'Elanna kept pushing Tom away! It was clear to everyone on board what was really happening, except them."

The expression in the dark eyes looking down into her face made her realize exactly what she had just said to him. Everyone on board knew, indeed.

Assuming a briskly professional tone of voice, Janeway continued, "At any rate, Commander, we need to be prepared for any eventuality, including my being unavailable for an extended length of time. Assuming we don't have better news this afternoon, I'd like you to come to Sickbay with me when Tuvok decides what to do about this. I'd prefer to have you there in case we need to transfer command to you."

All he said to her was, "You're the Captain."

"Thank you for reminding me," she said dryly.

Just enough of a smile for a dimple to emerge graced his lips before he turned serious again. "You may not have that safety net you used to have, Kathryn, but I'll help you in any way I can. Just ask me."

She sadly smiled back then, remembering that in essence, she'd said the same thing to Tuvok only a few days before.

"Duly noted, Commander," she replied.

"You're certainly good company today."

Tom squeezed her hand apologetically. "I'm sorry, B'Elanna. I've got a lot on my mind."

"Tuvok isn't any better, is he?"

"No, he's worse."

"I just can't understand it, Tom. How could he have picked up anything so serious that the Doctor can't cure him?"

"The Doctor wasn't able to do anything about that insect virus the captain and Chakotay picked up on New Earth, either. If it weren't for the Vidiians, I'd probably be in command right now. There's a scary thought for you," he smiled weakly.

"Hi, guys, this seat taken?" interrupted Harry, helping himself to the seat next to Tom.

"What if we were going to say it was, Starfleet?" B'Elanna laughed.

"Oh, I'd move aside, if it was. Is it?" A brief shadow crossed the ensign's face as the idea hit him that perhaps they were waiting for someone else.

Tom gave him a gentle elbowing in the arm. "Nah, just pulling your leg, Harry. Is Seven going to join us?"

"Yes, Megan Delaney was on her way to relieve her in Astrometrics when I left the Bridge. Seven said she'll be along shortly."

Tom lightly rested the sole of his boot against B'Elanna's foot, reminding her to stay calm. There was no love lost between the Borg and the human/Klingon, although she did "play nice" when Tom literally "put his foot down." Harry, because of his unrequited passion for "La Borg," as B'Elanna sometimes called her, was often in the middle of subvocal Paris-Torres disagreements without ever knowing it -- thanks to signals like this that permitted them to communicate subtly. Loud fighting was all well and good in its place -- when making love Klingon-style, for example -- but too much of even a very good thing was unwelcome.

"Did I hear you talking about the Vidiians?" Harry asked. "They aren't anywhere near this sector of space."

"No, I was just asking Tom about Tuvok."

"He's in pretty bad shape, isn't he, Tom?" asked the ensign, worriedly. "What he has, it isn't catching, is it?"

"Don't worry, Harry. I promise you, you aren't in any danger from what's bothering Tuvok."

"I'm glad to hear that . . . "

B'Elanna froze. There was very little in Harry's or Tom's remarks to make her think of it, yet suddenly, she realized what Tuvok's problem was. It was all so obvious. The Doctor had never once expressed any alarm about Tuvok's illness spreading throughout the ship. All anyone had heard was that he hadn't been feeling well since Sylieor. She'd even heard a few nasty jokes in Engineering, crudely speculating about what the Vulcan might have done on that mission to make him so sick, but she'd never made the connection.

Every seven years. How could she possibly have missed it? "He's got the pon farr, doesn't he, Tom," she murmured. It was not a question.

It was Tom's turn to stiffen. "I can't talk about that, B'Elanna. You know it's confidential."

"I'll just bet it is," she agreed, staring into his face. Tom was one of the biggest gossips on board the ship -- except in regards to Sickbay matters. Then, it was almost impossible to pry what she wanted to know out of him. Except during sex. She could probably loosen him up enough then to get it out of him.

"I'd better be getting back to Sickbay. The Doctor said he needed me back early. You don't mind refereeing . . . I mean, you don't mind keeping two lovely ladies company by yourself, do you, Harry?" Tom tried to put a twinkle in his eye, but it was a feeble attempt at best. Forget being charming today; his heart really wasn't in it. How amazingly easy it is to see through him, now that I know what to look for, she thought.

B'Elanna smiled her answer. "Don't worry. I promise I'll be good."

"Oh, you usually are," he said, with a bit of a growl. "Bye, Harry. Say hello to Seven for me." Tom winked at B'Elanna. It was a sad wink.

As B'Elanna watched him leave, she sighed deeply. What was Tuvok going to do?

"What's the matter with you now, B'Elanna?" asked Harry.

"Oh, I guess, I'm worried about Tuvok, too. I know what he's going through, Harry."

"What you said before -- you think he's going through that Vulcan Blood Fever the way you did on the Sakari world?"

"Not so loud, Harry!" she whispered hoarsely. "If Tom ever finds out we've been talking about this, he'd be really upset."

"Not as upset as you were then, B'Elanna. You had to have someone to talk to about it when it happened to you, and you couldn't talk to him then. I'm sure he wouldn't care now that you told me all about it."

Despite the seriousness of her mood, B'Elanna had to smile at that. All about it? Not by half, Harry! You should only know what I didn't tell you, or anybody else, about what happened down there.

People knew that Vorik had gotten her upset and "started a fight" with her, and that Tom was somehow involved. Almost no one knew the sexual aspect -- even Neelix had kept quiet about what he knew. Harry knew that Vorik had "caused problems" for the expedition by transmitting his erotic urges to B'Elanna and insisting she satisfy him. B'Elanna had confided to Harry that she'd been so embarrassed by what happened, she could barely face Tom afterwards. Conveniently, she'd concealed the fact that she'd thrown herself at Tom in the mines. She also never told Harry the real reason she had begun to date Tom: when the true story about the mines never came out, B'Elanna realized Tom had kept his mouth shut about all of the details -- even from his best friend Harry. B'Elanna finally saw she could trust Tom.

Remembering what happened in those mines always bothered B'Elanna. Made her hot and bothered, in fact. She'd have to check the duty roster, but B'Elanna was pretty certain Tom was free this evening. If he was, she would make sure she would be, too. B'Elanna was confident that she could make him forget his worries about Tuvok for a while.

"B'Elanna, are you all right?" inquired Harry. "You have the strangest look on your face."

"Predatory, Harry?"

"Oh, that. I should have known." Harry chuckled, rolling his eyes.

When Janeway and Chakotay swept into Sickbay, the others were waiting for them. Tom and the Doctor stood next to the biobed where Tuvok lay resting. "Report," demanded the captain, more forcefully than she had intended to be in her nervousness.

"The commander's readings have deteriorated further, Captain. He can no longer manage his symptoms in his quarters. He can no longer manage his symptoms at all, I dare to say. It's clear that meditation has failed. Another mode of therapy must be found or we're going to lose him."

Approaching her old friend, Janeway said softy, "You heard the Doctor, Commander. You have to choose a different method of dealing with this."

"I have already come . . . to the same conclusion, Captain." Tuvok's voice was alarmingly husky and weak.

"There is only one close enough for me to consider."

Janeway closed her eyes and sighed. "Do you want privacy while we discuss this, Tuvok?"

"It is not necessary. Please summon Seven of Nine."

The captain opened her eyes with a start. "You want Seven to help you?"

"Yes, Captain. Last evening, after Mr. Paris left me, I realized I could no longer expect the outcome I desired. I had to consider who could best substitute for T'Pel. When all things are considered . . . the one who would cause the least disruption to the life of this vessel is Seven. Will you summon her . . . so that I may ask her to consider my request."

Janeway hesitated. Seven was still immature in so many ways. Tuvok knew her well, however, probably as well as anyone on Voyager. There was a certain logic to it, although the effect this would have on Seven would be less predictable than with anyone else Janeway could think of on board the ship. Glancing around at the three other men in the room, she could tell that Tom was sympathetic; the Doctor was resigned; and Chakotay appeared . . . relieved. Kathryn shook her head in sorry acceptance. She had to admit that she felt relieved herself.

"Any objections, gentleman?" she finally asked.

"There doesn't appear to be a better alternative, Captain," stated the Doctor.

B'Elanna had kept her promise to Tom, even though she wished she hadn't on several occasions. La Borg's attitude was galling enough, but to see how insensitive she was towards the smitten Harry really made B'Elanna's blood boil. Harry was so understanding and forgiving; Seven could be so crude. Like now, putting Harry down when he was trying to make a little social conversation by talking about playing pool in Sandrine's.

". . . beyond my comprehension what your fascination with the game of billiards is about. If the shot is lined up precisely, the ball will fall into the pocket consistently. I fail to see the challenge."

"I'm sure it's much easier for you. Your Borg implant eye is capable of taking much more precise measurements than our biological ones. But there's pleasure in gaining a skill of any kind, Seven. It's just a game, but it's fun. You'd be great at it." Harry's grin broadened. "And just think about the replicator rations we could win together!"

B'Elanna was glad her Klingon stomachs protected her from indigestion except in the most dire of circumstances. If her stomach had been totally human, she was sure she would have puked by now.

"I . . . "

:::"EMH to Seven of Nine":::

"Seven here."

:::"Please report to Sickbay.":::

"Is there a problem, Doctor? If you need me, I'd be happy to help, too" offered Harry.

:::" . . . Thank you for your offer, Ensign. There's nothing you can assist with. Only Seven's presence is required. As quickly as possible, Seven.":::

"Understood. Seven of Nine, out." Seven began to stack her dishes to be returned to the recycler.

"Don't bother about that. I'll take care of that for you, Seven. It sounded like they really need you in Sickbay," Harry said.

"Thank you for your assistance. Good afternoon, Ensign. Lieutenant." As Seven left, Harry's eyes followed her until she disappeared through the mess hall doors.

"I wonder what that was all about," Harry said, turning to B'Elanna. At the sight of her stricken face, Harry became unnerved. "B'Elanna, what's wrong?"

When she didn't answer him immediately, Harry's mind jumped. "Tuvok. You don't think Tuvok is dying, do you think . . . Wait a minute. If Tuvok has his pon farr, he needs to . . ."

Even if B'Elanna had wanted to mislead him, it would have been impossible. Her face gave her away. At that moment, B'Elanna felt nothing but sympathy for Harry -- and for Seven of Nine.

"The Doctor can't want Seven to do that with Tuvok. Could he?"

"I don't know, Harry. If it's the only way to save his life, maybe they would. I'm sorry," she said, contritely, as she reconsidered all the nasty things about Seven that had been running through her mind only minutes ago.

"B'Elanna, she's never done anything like that before!"

"There's a first time for everything, Harry. Maybe it'll work out okay for you. She might want to explore that side of life with you more afterwards." Even as B'Elanna said this, she was thinking that it sounded ridiculous, but she had to at least make an attempt at easing Harry's mind about . . .

:::"Carey to Torres.":::

Sighing at the bad timing, B'Elanna answered her hail. "Torres here. What's up, Joe?"

:::"We've got problems with a power drain in the port warp nacelle again, Lieutenant. I sent Vorik and Nicoletti down to work on it, but they've asked for help.":::

"On my way, Joe. Torres out." Turning to her friend, she smiled as encouragingly as she could, "I've got to go, Harry. Look, I'm sure she'll be fine. You know the captain and the Doctor won't let her get hurt. It'll be okay."

Numbly, Harry let B'Elanna go without a farewell. The more he thought about it, the more he knew this was wrong. Tuvok had a wife back in the Alpha Quadrant. He had children and grandchildren. Hell, he was old enough to be Seven's grandfather, for heaven's sakes.

Seven's grandfather. Or her father.

Paling at the thought, a thoroughly revolted Harry shouted silently to himself, God, no! This is completely wrong! I have to make Tuvok see that.

The most "upstanding ensign in Starfleet" and good citizen of Voyager forgot to buss his tray and Seven's in his haste to get to Sickbay. He had to stop what he knew would be a ruinous event for Seven of Nine. And for Harry Kim.

"So, you propose that I copulate with Commander Tuvok to relieve his sexual tension while he is engaging in a mental exercise to merge my mind with his?"

Tom groaned softly to himself as he heard Seven state the facts. They were absolutely accurate facts, but put that way, he felt like a pimp. Or one of a group of pimps, which included almost the entire senior staff of Voyager.

"That's right, Seven."

"He has a chemical imbalance that will kill him if he does not mate with someone?"

"Yes. He needs to do this once every seven years, or die," the captain explained patiently. It was the second time around for this particular explanation. Normally, Seven was able to absorb new information almost as fast as it was presented, but this wasn't about something like nanoprobes, circuitry, astrophysics or quantum mechanics. It was about biology. Seven had trouble with biology. Add in anything involving social interactions or a mental discipline like a mind meld, and she was downright slow on the uptake.

"This will be the only time?"

"He's not asking you to bond with him permanently, no," the captain agreed. "Seven, I'm sorry that we seem to be pushing this on you, but Tuvok doesn't have a lot of time. We need to have an answer, and quickly. I want you to understand that this is not an order, but a request. If you don't wish to do this, please don't feel obligated. We'll find another way."

Tom looked over at Chakotay. A pained expression crossed the tattooed features, making it clear to Tom that the captain and her first officer had discussed what that other way would be. Chakotay was undoubtedly offering the equivalent of fervent prayers to the Great Spirit, or whatever spirit it was he followed on his spirit quests, that Seven would accept Tuvok's proposal.

As Seven stood immobile for more than a minute, presumably analyzing all of the data she'd received, Tom took the opportunity to evaluate her objectively. He appreciated the fact that Seven was a beautiful woman, endowed spectacularly with anything a man might wish for in physical attributes. Emotionally, however, it was a very different matter. She was a child dressed up in woman's flesh.

The pilot's mind flew back to when he was small. His older sisters had loved to pull rank on him, insisting that Tom play the groom to their brides. Since both wanted to be the bride, they would take turns. Little Tommy was stuck with participating in every imaginary trip down the aisle, when all he really wanted to do was spend his time drawing starships or playing pilot. He remembered that "what am I doing here?" look he always wore on his face when one of his sisters dragged him into their parents' bedroom to preen before the full-length mirror.

He recognized that look on Seven's face now when she turned to where Tuvok was sitting on a biobed. Tom was willing to bet she was about to say "yes" to Tuvok although she was still totally unable to comprehend why she was being asked to do this. Tom himself didn't understand it very well. The captain seemed a much more logical choice, considering her long friendship with Tuvok. Captain Janeway was a mature woman, well aware of the ramifications. Seven wasn't, no matter how mature she might look.

As Seven began to speak, the door to Sickbay was thrown open by Harry Kim. While Tom saw his friend take in the scene, Seven's answer could be heard. "If you require my services, Commander, I will permit this to occur. When and where will this take . . . "

Harry's anguished eyes shifted towards Tom, who was leaning against an empty biobed. He didn't know how Harry had learned about what was going on, but clearly, he did know. The ensign's face showed plainly that his worst fears had been confirmed.

"No! Seven, you can't!" Harry shouted.

Everyone turned towards him. The usually calm ensign's face was twisted in agitation as he rushed over toward the biobed where Tuvok was sitting.

Tom intercepted Harry by the arm as tried to rush by him. "Harry, this is a private consultation. You'll have to leave."

"I'm not going anywhere. I know what's going on. Tuvok's going through the Vulcan pon farr, isn't he? I know what Tuvok must want. He wants to mate with Seven, doesn't he? Tom, we can't let this happen. There must be some other way to help him!"

The Vulcan glared at the blonde human/Borg woman as if she had betrayed a confidence, although clearly, she could not have done so. She'd had no prior knowledge of the pon farr to betray to anyone. With a sick feeling in his stomach, Tom realized there was a far more likely source for Harry's information: B'Elanna.

Somewhat taken aback by the Vulcan's unusually intense demeanor, Seven stepped back to make way for the captain, who moved forward next to Tom.

"Mr. Kim, I don't know how you found out about this, but the matter really doesn't involve you." The captain approached Harry and rested her hand on his shoulder, in a conciliatory gesture.

Harry would have none of it. "This is what happened in the Sakari mines when Vorik wanted to have sex with B'Elanna, and she didn't want to, isn't it? But B'Elanna knew what it was really all about, and Seven doesn't!"

It was the captain's turn to glare, staring pointedly at Tom, who shrugged his shoulders in denial. Harry came to Tom's rescue. "No, Captain, Tom didn't tell me anything. There's been lots of rumors going around. I heard someone say something about the Vulcan pon farr. There aren't many details in the data base, but I know it has something to do with mating. That's enough for me to know what Seven is agreeing to. This isn't right, Captain. There must be another way. Vorik got out of it okay."

Seething through gritted teeth, Tuvok informed him, "We have already been over this many times without your restating of the obvious, Mr. Kim. There are no options left me. I must resolve my condition or die. Meditations were not successful. My wife is on the other side of the galaxy. I cannot ask the captain; I will not ask the captain. The only other available Vulcan on board, Mr. Vorik, refused to be of any assistance to me. There is no one else with whom I share enough of a bond to consider asking such a thing, other than Seven."

At this, Tom and the Doctor exchanged perturbed glances. It had never occurred to either of them that Vorik could even be a possibility.

Harry shook his head. "Tuvok, are you telling me that if the only Vulcan on Voyager were your daughter, you would take her as your mate?"

"NO! This matter has nothing to do with my daughter!" The umber face of the Vulcan convulsed as he roared out the words. It pained Tom to see Tuvok lose control like that, knowing how careful the Vulcan always was to maintain his facade of utter calm.

"Doesn't it? You took Seven under your protection. You've been her teacher, her mentor. Her father-figure. How can you do this! It would be like incest! I won't let you do it. You're the one who will be the sorriest if you do this, Tuvok. You can't rape your foster daughter, Tuvok!"

"Harry, stop! It isn't the same thing, and it certainly isn't rape. Seven is doing this of her own free will." Tom grabbed his friend and tried to drag him away from the confrontation. Tuvok looked as if he were about to kill Harry, whether in ritual combat, or not.

Harry fought back, finally turning to face Tom. "It's not 'free will' the way it would be for you or me. She doesn't know what this means! She may have read about sex in the data base, but she can't know. Tom, as far as I know she's never shared any kind of closeness with anyone." Turning to the subject of the confrontation, Harry asked her, "Seven, have you ever really been hugged by someone? Kissed someone? Do you know what sex is about? Really about?"

Seven regarded Harry with a blank look. "I . . . have researched it in the data base rather than experience it, that is true. I have some memories from assimilated Borg about sexual encounters. I have not 'hugged' or 'kissed' anyone, as of yet. As I understand it, this will not be required by what Commander Tuvok has requested of me. Of course, I am capable of doing these things with him if they are demonstrated."

"Don't you see? It isn't fair to her. Please, Commander, don't allow this." Harry sought out Chakotay, to appeal to his sense of fairness.

"Harry, please." Looking around at the others, Chakotay hesitated. He didn't want to embarrass Harry, but he could see no alternative. "You don't think your objecting for, well, personal reasons, do you, Harry?"

"Hell, yes, I'm doing it for personal reasons! Maybe even selfish reasons! But that doesn‚t change the facts. Seven doesn't really understand what she'd doing by saying, 'yes.' She hasn't had any experience with a human yet. If this pon farr is kept so secret by Vulcans, what would it be like for it to be Seven's first time?"

"Are you challenging me to win away my mate?" Tuvok asked. His voice was low but rough. Tom's and Chakotay's eyes met. They remembered all too well the last time a challenge was issued because of the pon farr.

"Challenge?" Harry looked puzzled as he glanced between Tom and Chakotay.

Chakotay answered him. "Harry, the pon farr, we understand, can be resolved in three ways. Meditation, which Tuvok tried but couldn't make work; mating; or in fighting to win a mate. The fight itself will sometimes be enough to save the life of the Vulcan who fights." Chakotay paused a moment, considering whether to go on, then sighed. Better Harry truly know what was happening. "That's what happened with Vorik. He and B'Elanna fought because she didn't want to be his mate. The fight was enough to resolve the pon farr in both of them."

"Only due to the fact that my innovative holodeck treatment and the meditations had delayed Ensign Vorik for so long that he was in a weakened state and couldn't conquer a half-Klingon. You, however, do not have the physical advantage that Lieutenant Torres has," proclaimed the Doctor. "But yes, Mr. Vorik survived without mating with anyone."

"Well, if that's what it takes, I'll challenge you, Tuvok."

"Harry, it's not that simple. This challenge is usually to the death. Are you prepared for that?" asked Tom, worriedly. "Harry . . . "

"To the death?"

"Yes, Ensign Kim. When Vulcan fights Vulcan, it must end with the death of one, for neither will ever yield while life remains in the other. In those rare cases which have occurred when a non-Vulcan has been the challenger, death has not always resulted. The Vulcan has been able to crush the challenger sufficiently to take his mate before death comes. However, Mr. Kim, you would be wiser to allow the pon farr to run its natural course without your interference." Harry stared at the Vulcan, who was holding in his anger with visible difficulty as he spoke hoarsely and with a grim intensity. This was not the phlegmatic Commander Tuvok that Harry had served with for almost five years.

Harry's gaze shifted then towards Seven. For all of her Borg attitude and strength or her spectacularly-endowed human body, she was still a child in so many ways. If Harry had been able to unlock her emotional nature at all, if she had had any kind of romantic experience before this, even if it were not intercourse, perhaps he would be able to accept that she could freely give herself to Tuvok. But Harry knew that Seven was truly clueless as to what this all might mean to her. If the experience were at all violent, she might close herself off forever from being close to anyone again.

Whether Harry would ever be able to be what he wanted to be to her, he didn't know. He did know that he couldn't stand by and let that part of her humanity be lost if he had the power to prevent it. He remembered all too well that night in the messhall, when a simple offer to take a walk in the moonlight was interpreted so mistakenly by this beautiful woman. She'd lived enough of her life as a cog in a machine. She needed a chance to find out about her feelings.

And if she wasn't going to get that chance, Harry wasn't sure how badly he wanted to be around to see it. Facing Tuvok, he said, gravely, "Commander Tuvok, I challenge you for this woman. To the death, if necessary. I don't know if there's some special ritual words to say; but if there are, tell them to me and I'll say them."

"What you have said is sufficient. Commander Chakotay, will you prepare the holodeck for the koon-ut-kal-if-fee, the ritual challenge. With your concurrence, we will meet at 0800 hours tomorrow."

"I must object, Commander," interjected the Doctor. "Your hormonal imbalance is already reaching critical levels. I should be monitoring your condition in Sickbay, and a delay in meeting your challenger is unconscionable."

"Tomorrow, Doctor. Knowing this is to occur, I will be able to meditate successfully this evening to prepare myself for the battle. Likewise, I advise Mr. Kim to use his time wisely until we meet again." Tuvok looked severely at the ensign as he stood. "I will retire to my quarters until the morning."

As he swung himself off the biobed, Tuvok felt a firm hand on his arm. Supported by his captain and with as firm and steady a tread as he could manage, Tuvok walked out the door of Sickbay.

Tom turned to the Doctor. "Doc, will he be okay until morning?"

"Leaving Sickbay was inadvisable, but Commander Tuvok probably will rest better in his own quarters. I'll stop in on him frequently to monitor him and make sure his condition does not deteriorate too greatly. Did you notice how his speech patterns were already stronger? The very fact he's received this challenge seems to have had a therapeutic effect." Looking towards Harry, he continued, "Mr. Kim, I hope you realize this delay is for your benefit. He is giving you at least some chance of winning this confrontation by waiting so long for it to begin. He will be much weaker again by morning, judging from the pattern we've already seen."

Harry nodded. Now that Tuvok had left, he was beginning to realize what a serious situation he was in. One look at Seven's confused face, however, calmed him.

As if feeling his eyes upon her, Seven raised hers to look into Harry's face. Walking up to him so closely that her body touched his, Seven asked him, "Why would you endanger your life in this manner? I do not comprehend your reasoning."

A myriad of emotions swiftly flashed across the ensign's face, so nakedly vulnerable that both Tom and Chakotay had to look away. Gently, Harry said to her, "I know you don't 'comprehend me,' Seven. And that's one of the main reasons I'm doing this. Maybe someday you will understand." Raising his hands along the outside of Seven's arms, he softly took hold of her shoulders and looked deeply into her eyes for a moment. For a heartbeat he considered brushing her lips with his, but then he reconsidered. Perhaps, if he were fortunate, another time. Giving her shoulders a brief, tender squeeze, Harry separated from her and walked out of Sickbay without another glance.

Seven silently watched him go, then slowly turned to Chakotay. "If anyone requires my expertise, I will be in Astrometrics." The former Borg left Sickbay, seeking the solace of familiar technology when both humanity and Vulcans proved beyond her ken.

B'Elanna stood nervously outside Holodeck 1. The privacy lock wasn't on, not that it would matter to her. She could override any lock on the ship. Still, she didn't want to risk another confrontation with Tom this evening. The one they'd had just before he stormed out to meet with Harry had been bad enough.

Faint heart never won fair . . . well, he certainly isn't any lady. I should know better than to even try to think that flowery stuff Tom's always dishing out. Taking a deep breath, she demanded entrance.

As the door opened on the program, B'Elanna was surprised to find herself looking into a gymnasium. Why not just go to the gym? she wondered. When she entered, B'Elanna found out why they'd chosen to go to the Holodeck. The environmental controls were easier to set here than the gym to simulate a hot, arid climate. Vulcan weather. Makes sense. In case they program a Vulcan scene for this koon-ut-whatever, he'd be a little acclimatized. B'Elanna sighed. Not that it will help much against a sex-crazy Vulcan.

Harry was sitting on a mat, listening while Tom and Michael Ayala were demonstrating wrestling holds. Ayala was doing most of the talking. Tom appeared to be there mainly as "Exhibit A" for Ayala's lecture. ". . . Tuvok's longer reach. Like we were saying, the best way to knock him off his base is to knock him out at the knees. You need about 7 kilos of pressure from side to side to shatter a human knee joint, and 9 kilos or so front to back. For a Vulcan, front to back it takes a bit more -- maybe 14 kilos of pressure, because their knees joints are more stable than ours. Side to side, though, their knee joints are just as vulnerable as a human's." Ayala grabbed Tom by arms and demonstrated a swift kick, holding back to avoid making actual contact with the pilot's knee joint. Obligingly, Tom crumpled onto the mat as if he'd actually been toppled by the security man. "So, if you can, Harry, kick his knee out from the side. You've got a better chance of getting him down that way. Then you can just dance around him without needing to worry about Tuvok using his greater weight or reach to . . ."

"Look, Mike," interrupted Harry as Ayala began to circle Tom. "I remember a lot of this stuff from the Academy, but it really doesn't seem fair to me. Shattering Tuvok's knee cap? This is your boss we're talking about maiming! Do I really have to stoop to questionable measures like this?"

Tom interjected, "Harry, this isn't the Tuvok we've all come to know and love. He's a pon farr-crazed Vulcan. Don't think for a second he has any intentions of playing 'fair' with you. He's going to be fighting to win his mate, and he'll play it just as dirty. As far as he's concerned, this is a fight to the death. We'll intervene before it gets that far, but if you want to stop Seven from mating with Tuvok, you've got to win. Otherwise, you'll just get yourself beat up for nothing -- and Seven will still get fucked by him. Sorry to put it that bluntly, Harry, but that's the truth."

"You're right, I know. I just can't believe I'm doing this."

"You don't really have to, Harry. Maybe it would be better just to let this thing happen with Tuvok. You might be able to help Seven more by being there for her afterwards."

"No, Tom, I just can't let this happen. Believe me, Tuvok will be more upset by what he's done afterwards than Seven will be, and how do we know how much this might affect her? She may never be able to have a decent relationship with someone after this. It isn't right, can't you see that?"

As Harry spoke, B'Elanna recognized the exact moment Tom become aware of her presence, the moment his eyes flicked up to her face. In their blue depths she read that, as far as he was concerned, their argument was ancient history. Her heart melted with love for the man. Tom can be so sweet, even if he is so exasperating. And so right. He was there for me when I needed him, doing just what I needed him to do. I got so mad at him -- told him to "just let it happen" -- but he was right. We wouldn't be what we are now to each other if he had given in to me so easily. At this revelation, B'Elanna realized that there was only one thing she could say to Harry.

"Starfleet, I don't know if you're right or not, but if you really believe that, then you have to accept you may need to use 'questionable measures' to beat Tuvok. If you don't, it's like Tom said, don't even bother to follow up this challenge. Just let him have her."

Harry's head whipped around to face her. He really felt he had to do this, she could see. His facial expression as intense as the tone of his voice, Harry said to her, "B'Elanna, I can't let this happen."

"Fine. Then listen to Tom and Mike. You're going to need every trick in the book fighting a crazy Vulcan in plaktow. That's what it really is, you know. The Blood Fever. Trust me, Harry, when I was fighting Vorik, the only reason I didn't jam him in the balls was because I never got a clear enough shot. If you get your chance, take it!"

The belligerence puffed out of Harry when he saw that B'Elanna wasn't going to lecture him on the hopelessness of his crush on Seven. Sighing deeply, Harry turned to Ayala. "Okay, Mike. Show me all those 'dirty tricks' and 'questionable measures' again. If Maquis says I'm going to need them, I guess I do. If anybody knows, it's her."

"Knowing B'Elanna the way I do, she probably knows a few tricks I don't know," laughed Ayala. "Care to enlighten us, Lieutenant?"

"You're doing fine. I'll just hang out over here. I'll slip in my two credits if I see you skip anything."

B'Elanna moved next to Tom, who had moved away from the mat. Harry started to grapple with Ayala, avidly listening to the older man's running commentary about moves he'd used when he'd still been in Starfleet and later, as a Maquis.

The onlookers remained silent for several minutes before B'Elanna turned to Tom and whispered, "I'm sorry, Tom. I know I shouldn't have told Harry about what happened . . . "

"No," he whispered back. "I shouldn't have gotten mad at you. You needed to talk to somebody about it, and I know you weren't ready for it to be me back then."

"I didn't tell him all that much," she smiled. "Not a thing about how noble you were when I was making that pass at you."

"A pass? Is that what it was?"

"Yeah. Mind if I make another one?"

"Not at all, Lieutenant. But I'm warning you, I won't turn you down this time."

"Better not."

For several moments, while Harry Kim ducked a punch from Michael Ayala and took aim at his opponent's knees, the two bystanders became much too busy to make any comments about Harry's prowess, or the lack thereof.

The next morning all gathered at the place appointed. The representation of the Vulcan desert was appropriate, even if the life support controls were set to a level more favorable to the human ensign than the Vulcan. That would not matter. The Vulcan, his mind deranged and body ravaged by another night of failing to resolve his pon farr, gathered himself for the challenge. He would be ready.

Tuvok looked upon the determined face of the ensign standing before him -- he who had dared to challenge him in the koon-ut-kal-if-fee. As Tuvok's hands clenched together, his jaws grinding his back teeth roughly in time to every pounding pulse of his heart, rage flowed in his veins to harden every muscle. The ensign would not live to enjoy victory. To enjoy the woman.

But deep within his Vulcan mind, a shred of rationality still whispered: This opponent is Harry Kim. It is not right to kill him, for he fights out of the human emotion of love. He is fighting for the one he has chosen -- the one with whom he has already bonded -- even though she neither comprehends nor returns that emotion to Harry Kim. She cannot yet understand it, as Harry Kim does not understand Tuvok of Vulcan's reasoning. The passion unleashed by the pon farr may gain him what he desires -- the understanding of the soul which has long eluded Seven in her time on Voyager. She may learn what lust is. Her blood may burn for Kim as his does for her.

As mine does .

As mine does for she who is attainable. The beautiful mahogany-skinned woman who has been decades at my side, who has borne my children, who even now must be suffering the searing pain of our unresolved time of mating. T'Pel! Tuvok's mind screamed silently as her image arose in his mind, crowding out all other sensations and all other sights. T'Pel. He saw her again as he had seen her that first time.

The failing follower of the Kolinahr who could not meditate away the fire in his veins beheld a female who would have disturbed his reason even if he were not suffering from the plaktow, the "blood fever." This beautiful woman came to him willingly, although they had never laid eyes upon each other before -- had never even heard each other's name before this meeting.

T'Pel, unbonded since the death of the one to whom she had been bonded in early childhood, had felt the stirrings of a fever she could not satisfy in the normal way. Her intended Salik had suffered a senseless death in a shuttle accident several months before. Although her bondmate was gone, T'Pel could have kept to herself and meditated away what had come over her. A female Vulcan could put aside such urges without dying; it was the way of it. For, as it is in so many ways across the galaxy for the females of so many species, the Vulcan female bears a strength that was denied the male, who only seems to be the stronger by virtue of his greater muscle mass. T'Pel could have safely been delivered of her pon farr torment through the discipline of the mind. It had been done many times, by many multitudes of Vulcan females before her.

She did not have to come to him, but she had, offering herself to one who also had no mate, who would die if he could not satisfy his body's lust. Of her own accord, T'Pel allowed herself be used to save the life of another. This was how it had been for all time, so it was said. The unbonded female could unselfishly sacrifice herself to the plaktow, the "blood fever." T'Pel had chosen this sacred duty, for she had not yet had the time to find one who, until death again brought a parting, might be her heart's mate. The one who would call her beloved every seventh year.

For in the throes of the pon farr, even a Vulcan can acknowledge what his mate means to him. His Beloved. His Love. Two become one, in mind and in flesh. Once every seven years, not only lust and passion but also love ignites within the pairing. It is the binding together. That which is not spoken aloud, except in ritual, except during the pon farr. The touch that is ever touching. Apart, but never parted.

She had not been searching for that deep, permanent bond from Tuvok. When T'Pel had come to him, that first time, she expected only to sate the needs of his body and succor his mind sufficiently to save his life -- nothing more.

But it had been more. She had satisfied him in so many ways beyond the mere joining of their physical beings. As his fingers had smoothly glided upon the face she trustingly presented to him, her beauty had pierced through his clouded senses. Even before their minds melded, he could see through her eyes into a soul that astounded him by its purity. As the mind meld began, he realized the lie he himself had been living. He could no longer escape the undeniable truth. He was not one for whom meditation alone, however it might soothe him, could ever be enough.

As her mind flowed into Tuvok's, his eddied back into hers. Their minds had joined with a sensation that neither had ever known existed.

Sheer, unadulterated, total joy.

Their minds flooded each other's. Their exploring fingers touched each other's faces while the images in their mind were shared in perfect communion. The small room in the desert sanctuary assigned to them for their union dissolved around them. They were only touch and taste and smell and the sensations of their naked bodies as she parted her legs for him, as he sank down into her. More deeply than he expected, a joining more complete than he could have ever guessed would be possible, had come to pass.

Two people who had never met before knew each other from the mind meld more thoroughly than those of other species could contemplate after a lifetime of loving each other. The woman, who had mourned without visible signs of mourning the one she had lost, found there was no longer a need to mourn. She was not, in truth, alone any more. He who had felt failure for being unable to conquer the burning fires in his blood through chants and discipline found a different kind of discipline: his hands and lips touching her wherever her mind told him to touch her. Grappling together in wild abandon, the two thrashed in tempo, answering the ancient imperative of their kind. Every seven years, to lose the self in the other, to ensure the preservation of the Vulcan race.

Guttural sounds were ripped out of his throat. Tuvok's tall form wove back in forth in torment as his memories assailed him. The chemistry of his blood assaulted him, as it had every seven years since his Vulcan adulthood was confirmed at the time of his first joining with T'Pel. But T'Pel was not here. For the first septennial year of their marriage, T'Pel was not within the grasp of his arms to fulfill the demands of his body, to join with his mind.

Seven would have to serve instead, or death would come to Tuvok of Vulcan. Only Harry Kim stood in his way.

Tom Paris shivered, despite the warmth of the holodeck setting. The red rocks and dusty atmosphere of Vulcan surrounded them all -- the Doctor, Chakotay, Vorik, Seven, Harry, Tom. And Tuvok. Tom shivered again, thinking how terrible it would be to have those black eyes fastened upon him, ready to beat him to a pulp. He wished B'Elanna was there beside him, but Tuvok had not wanted her there. Neither Torres nor Janeway were allowed to be present. Only Seven. Only the prize.

Did it have to be this way? Did it have to be Seven? Could someone else offer . . . No, I can't, I'm not a female, thought Tom bleakly. And even if it could be a man, B'Elanna would never understand. Probably no one else would, either. After what happened on Hellion, I don't even want to think about it. A bitter memory stabbed at him, one he'd successfully suppressed in the past. I know what they'd all think, even if they wouldn't dare say it to my face. Just that goat Tom Paris, indulging himself in another sexual escapade. Hell, maybe I'd even be thinking it myself! But he's my friend! Tom tried to block out his anguished thoughts. After almost five years on this ship, how many times had everyone saved each other's life? Yes, but never with sex. Never that way before!

Will Harry survive? Tom didn't want to think about that, either. After all, Seven was willing. Why did Harry have to fight Tuvok? Because he's in love, dummy. You know how that feels. You were ready to fight a pon farr-crazed Vulcan yourself a year and a half ago. And it wasn't out of friendship, even if that's what you'd tried to tell B'Elanna in the caves. No, it was to smash that brazen Vorik in the face and kill him, if necessary, to keep him from raping B'Elanna's body the way he'd already raped her mind. To keep her for yourself, Paris, even though B'Elanna wasn't ready then to accept what you wanted to give her. And now look at us. Acting like an old married couple, even though we still cling to our separate quarters. What a joke! We are mated, and nothing will ever come between us again. Tom shifted his weight uneasily from one foot to the other. Except possibly another crazed Vulcan, whom I owe my life to, over and over again.

As his foot grazed against the medical kit resting on the floor of the holodeck that he would use to care for Harry's injuries while the Doctor saw to Tuvok's, Tom looked over at his human friend. If Harry felt frightened, he was hiding it well. Surprisingly, Seven was the one who looked discomfited by the sight of Tuvok's face contorting in the pon farr. Tom was not surprised when she stepped forward to speak.

"Ensign Kim, this is not necessary. I will go with the commander to service his needs. There is no need to defend me like this. Combat is not required."

"Stand clear, Seven," was the only reply from Harry. Tuvok was beyond words, Tom could see that.

The Doctor stepped forward. "Mr. Kim, it is not necessary to proceed with this exercise in the establishment of male supremacy. Seven has offered . . . "

"No! Let's get this over with." Harry stripped off his shirt and threw it on the ground next to Seven, looking up for a few seconds to meet her eyes. What communication may have passed between them, Tom could not say. He had no doubt that a message had been given and received, however. Seven's brow above her right, clear blue human eye twitched briefly. She bent down to the simulated ground to pick up Harry's shirt. Her shoulders moved in a small shrug of acceptance as she stepped backwards, away from the combatants.

Grimly, Chakotay moved between Harry and Tuvok. It was eerie to see stoic Tuvok, the rock of Voyager, panting in what appeared to be terrible agony, wavering in front of Harry Kim. Until now the young, conscientious operations officer's heart's desire had been simply to get home to the Alpha Quadrant, back to the parents who anxiously awaited the return of their only son. Looking at Harry's well-muscled body, Tom momentarily encouraged himself with the idea that Tuvok could be so weakened by his biochemical imbalance that Harry might actually be able to win. Forget it, Tom, he thought. That's what Tuvok was hoping, waiting so long to complete the challenge. The sight of the Vulcan's own lean, tautly muscled torso as he ripped the shirt from his back marked that as the fantasy it was. Harry would be lucky to escape merely with a terrible beating.

Chakotay looked over at Vorik, who briefly said several words in Vulcan. Tom did not know the exact translation of most of them. It hardly mattered. He caught the words kal-if-fee. The ritual combat. Those were the only words that mattered. Tom looked at Harry. The ensign, he knew, had no intention of yielding. He'd tried to talk him into it the previous night. All Harry had wanted to talk about with Tom and Ayala was fighting strategies. Sighing, Tom steeled himself for the ordeal.

Vorik said something else, and Chakotay stepped back, away from Harry and Tuvok. Harry immediately took on the fighting stance that he'd been working on with Tom. First, he'd try old fashioned boxing. Hopefully, that would be enough, and he wouldn't have to stoop to the "questionable measures" Ayala and Tom had told him about. Knees bent, arms up, Harry began to dance around Tuvok lightly, on the balls of his feet, as the Vulcan approached him implacably. Harry ducked the first blows easily and continued to move. Keep moving, bobbing, weaving. Avoid contact as much as possible with Tuvok, but draw the Vulcan out, make him move after Harry. In his weakened state from the pon farr, Tuvok couldn't take the strain of a long bout. I hope, Harry prayed.

At first it wasn't so difficult. Harry's constant, rhythmical movements pulled Tuvok in many directions. A flurry of blows from time to time kept the security chief off balance. The many hours of weight lifting in the gym, the workouts he'd learned and faithfully followed from his Academy class, "Self-Defense Methods from a Dozen Worlds," the running on the holodeck -- all had left Harry with a well-toned physique and plenty of stamina, far more than Tuvok could have by this stage of the pon farr.

Nevertheless, Harry had no illusions that Tuvok was an easy opponent. He might be over four times Harry's age and suffering from a life-threatening condition, but Tuvok was Vulcan. Twice as strong as a human, his body was adapted to much higher temperatures and, critically, far less oxygen in the atmosphere. All of his years serving in Starfleet might have made Tuvok less formidable to an opponent who had spent his life on Vulcan and thus was inured to the natural conditions there. Unfortunately, that opponent wasn't Harry.

As they continued in their martial dance, Harry gradually came to the realization that the two other major factors not in his favor were beginning to become critical. Tuvok's reach was a good dozen centimeters longer than Harry's, and the Vulcan was smart and well-versed in combat tactics. His brain might be clouded by the pon farr, but Tuvok consistently pivoted around, keeping himself in the center of the battle area, while Harry moved around the perimeter. By a simple ratio of pi to the distance between them, Harry was moving a lot more than Tuvok was in the center of the circle. The bobbing and weaving might be making Harry a more difficult target to hit, but he was also becoming an increasingly tired target.

Ayala's advice resonated in Harry's ears. "When you're fighting an opponent who is bigger than you and has a longer reach, you've got to find a way to unbalance them. Push them off their base -- even if the fight is a little dirty. It's your only chance." Reluctantly, Harry admitted he'd reached that point. Diving into close quarters and grappling with the taller man, Harry struggled to balance himself. Finally, he managed to set himself up enough to risk aiming for Tuvok's knee.

He missed. Kicking the Vulcan in the shin without making a forceful enough contact with the knee to knock Tuvok off balance, Harry felt panic stir in him.

If at once you don't succeed . . . . Harry tried again, this time, missing cleanly and opening himself further to Tuvok's counterattack.

Now Tuvok became the aggressor. Not just Vulcan physiology played a part: his training as the head of security came to the fore. Stepping forward, Tuvok's fists repeatedly smashed into Harry while the ensign's attempts to counterpunch were pushed away like the fluttering of a bothersome insect. His arms closed upon Harry as he tried to attack, throwing the young man upon his back in harsh, bone-jarring falls. Tuvok wasted only a little time on the younger man's face. The blows came, time after time, upon Harry's body or arms. Nerve endings screeched in angry complaint as the bruising of flesh increased. Muscles became deadened and heavy, reluctant to stretch as they must for Harry to reach his opponent.

Janeway had ordered a higher than normal percentage of oxygen in the air in the holodeck for the fight, to help Harry breathe. It did not matter. Soon Harry thought he knew what Tuvok must be feeling from the raging hormones in his copper-based blood stream. Harry's mind was hazy; his lungs ached; his entire body was in agony from oxygen deprivation. For what seemed like the hundredth time, as he got up and circled Tuvok, Harry stared into the dark, intense eyes burning into his.

The blows landed harder into his gut and on his shoulders as Harry's ability to respond weakened. He wavered as a rush of pain enveloped him. Although he had trouble interpreting the sounds around him, Harry could hear, as well as feel, the crunching of bones in his left side after one vicious blow to the ribs. Turning away to protect that side, Harry exposed his right shoulder to another powerful swing of Tuvok's arm. There was a snapping sound above his breastbone. One more time, he tried to kick the Vulcan's knee to bring him down. His foot caught flesh, but he did not know what part of the body he had encountered. The blow was too weak, he knew despairingly, even as he made contact.

One last time, Harry tried to duck away from the dark fist spearing up at him, but he couldn't move fast enough. Pain shot through his jaw as his head snapped to the left at the contact. Tasting the iron tang of blood in his mouth, no longer able to keep his feet beneath him, Harry felt himself falling to his knees. With a roaring in his ears, the ensign perceived distant shouting as he sank to his knees onto the floor below him. As he lay sprawled out, another form seemed to collapse next to him, moaning softly.

Or was he the one moaning? Harry could no longer be sure. Red-tinged waves of darkness and pain washed over him. He could fight no more. He had lost. Seven was lost.

"Commander Tuvok! Is it over?" hissed the EMH to the patient spread out before him.

Clutching at the left knee which had collapsed beneath him despite the feebleness of Harry's last kick, the Vulcan nodded his head. "Yes . . . ." He expelled the word as softly as a breath. "It is over . . . . The fever is purged . . . from me."

"Doc," called Tom. "We've got to get Harry to Sickbay. He's bleeding internally. At least three broken ribs, both clavicles fractured, a cracked jaw, a concussion. Harry's in bad shape, Doc."

"We'll need site-to-site transport, Lieutenant, for all four of us. The commander's injuries are also extensive, and his body chemistry is wildly erratic."

B'Elanna's voice came over the comm in response to Tom's request to beam four to Sickbay. As they shimmered away, Vorik requested a return to Engineering. Chakotay dismissed him with a nod while watching Seven. The former Borg was staring where the fight had taken place. She looked extremely perplexed.

"I do not understand, Commander Chakotay. What did Ensign Kim think to accomplish? The information about the strength of Vulcans is part of the standard database. Surely, he comprehended he could not win."

"That's the way Ensign Kim is, Seven. He saw you as being exploited, and he couldn't stand by. He got what he wanted. With Tuvok's pon farr resolved by the battle, you won't need to become his sexual partner to save his life. You are free."

"But the bodies of both Ensign Kim and the commander were badly damaged. This entire exercise seems most illogical for a Vulcan to undergo."

"Commander Tuvok has said there is nothing logical about the pon farr. That's why they dislike talking about it to others, Seven."

"I see. Commander, may I be dismissed? I wish to go to Sickbay."

"Yes, Seven. You may go." As she strode out of the holodeck, Chakotay added, "Computer, end program." He considered a moment, then said, "Do not save program."

Hopefully, they would find another way to deal with Vulcan chemical imbalances before the next time -- or better yet, be safely home in the Alpha Quadrant, well within range of Vulcan.

When she entered Sickbay, Seven saw the Doctor tending to Harry Kim. Lieutenant Paris was with the commander. Seven intended to go to see Tuvok first. She found herself standing next to Harry Kim's biobed, asking the Doctor how he was while studying the ensign's swollen and bruised face. Harry's dark eyes looked up at her. There was a light in them that was quite gratifying, in its way. He seemed to be happy to see her, although with his split lip, facial abrasions, and enlarged jaw, she was not surprised he was unable to smile at her.

"He will survive, Seven. His injuries turned out not to be as alarming as Mr. Paris suggested initially. Untreated, they would have been life-threatening, of course, especially the internal bleeding. I am well-versed in the necessary treatments, however. Hand me that bone-knitter please, Seven. This clavicle needs attention. Now, Mr. Kim, if you were romantically involved with a Klingon, this particular injury would be very good news indeed. Your friend Mr. Paris has been in here several times with a broken clavicle. Haven't you, Mr. Paris?" The Doctor's smug smile was beamed over to the young lieutenant, who favored him with a crooked grin.

"A few times. You adding all those to your study on mating practices, Doc?"

The Doctor was about to reply affirmatively when he caught a glimpse of Seven's expression, which was decidedly cold. Rather than provoke her, the EMH returned to his patient, humming "Nessum Dormi" as he worked.

After standing next to Harry's bed for several minutes, Seven moved to Tuvok's side. "How are you feeling, Commander?" she asked.

"I am much improved."

"I am pleased to hear it." Seven did not observe any improvement, although she decided this must be one of those times when the captain's lessons on tact would be appropriate. Even with her unenhanced human eye, she could see that Tuvok's breathing was uneven and that his skin, usually so dry, had a moist sheen. Glancing up at Lieutenant Paris, she noted that his brow was crinkled. After punching several commands into his medical tricorder, Mr. Paris' mouth turned downward into a frown.

"Is something wrong, Lieutenant?" asked Seven.

"Oh, it's probably nothing. I was expecting his hormone levels to stabilize a bit more quickly. Is this usual, Tuvok?"

"The return to normal levels is not always immediate. Do not be alarmed," the Vulcan replied.

For more than an hour, Seven found herself hovering near the treatment area, switching from Harry's bed to Tuvok's periodically. She knew that her time might be better spent in the Astrometrics Lab, but for some reason she could not settle down enough to bring herself there.

When the captain swept into Sickbay to check on the condition of her officers shortly after 1100 hours, Seven headed towards the door. "Don't leave, Seven," Harry croaked, and Seven hesitated.

"It's all right, Seven. Stay while I check with the Doctor," said the captain.

After getting a whispered report from the Doctor, Janeway said to her, "Don't worry about reporting to duty today, Seven. You're owed some leave time, you know. Why don't you stay here and help the Doctor with his patients. Perhaps I'll get Mr. Paris back at the helm sooner if you help out." She glanced back at the EMH. "I believe the Doctor is willing to release Mr. Kim to his quarters if he has someone there to observe him. Perhaps Seven could monitor Mr. Kim's condition there, where he would be more comfortable, am I correct, Doctor? "

The EMH became a little flustered. He had been prepared to concede to Harry's pleas for a return to his quarters, but he had expected to send Lieutenant Paris to stay with him. "Well, of course, if Seven is willing . . . "

"I would be most willing to accept this assignment, Captain."

"I was hoping you would, Seven." As the captain turned back to the Doctor, she was able to hide the twinkle in her eyes from her protogee. Lieutenant Paris, however, did not miss it, chuckling softly before turning back to his instruments. His smile was short-lived. Tuvok's hormone readings were still extremely erratic. From what he remembered from the previous experience with Vorik and B'Elanna, this didn't seem right.

When the captain came over to say a few words to Tuvok, Tom took the few steps needed to get to the EMH. "Doc, did Tuvok tell you how long it would be for his body chemistry to go back into equilibrium?"

"It can take up to several hours, I understand. I'll check the readings in a moment, after I release Ensign Kim from Sickbay."

Tom was now the one hovering. While the captain spoke in low tones of encouragement to her security chief, the EMH gave Seven a list of instructions about those symptoms that she would need to report to him immediately if she noted them in Harry. Handing her a medical tricorder, he finally stated archly, with a too-knowing look on his face, "He's all yours, Seven. Make sure he doesn't over exert himself, now." Tom felt his eyes fly up to the ceiling in one of B'Elanna's typical mannerisms. Harry was too involved getting himself out of bed to retort. Elbow supported by Seven, Harry gingerly moved towards the exit.

"Well, now, Commander, let's see those readings." The Doctor checked the instruments, humming to himself. "They aren't coming down the way Mr. Vorik's did, Commander. How long did you say it could take?"

"I assure you, Doctor, my condition is resolving itself as expected." Tom noted that Tuvok seemed somewhat agitated.

"Is there anything I can do for you, Tuvok?" asked the captain.

"No, Captain. Thank you. I merely need more time to rest."

"All right, then. Take all the time you need. I'm just glad to get through this crisis. Mr. Paris, you may as well remain here. There's no urgent need for you to come to the bridge. The Doctor can probably use your services more here. Call me if you need me for anything, Doctor." Patting her security officer gently on the chest, Janeway returned to the bridge.

"Lieutenant, your services can best be utilized by helping me straighten up around here. You aren't very good at it, you know. You could use the practice."

Laughing, "Okay, Doc," Tom began to sort the various instruments and medical supplies for recycling or replacement in the storage compartments of Sickbay.

Neither Harry nor Seven had much to say as they walked to the turbolift to travel to deck four, where Harry's quarters were located. She inquired if her grip upon his elbow was uncomfortable in any way, and Harry answered in the negative. Harry would have said that his sore jaw felt worse, had she asked. The crack was repaired, but the extensive bruising would require time more than anything else to heal properly. The Doctor's instruments could only help so much. The swelling was down, but the dark marks looked ugly; Harry really wasn't in the mood to talk much. His best medicine, however, was walking beside him as he entered his quarters.

"Ensign Kim, is there anything you require before going to your bed?" Seven said in her cool voice.

Harry shook his head.

"Let me accompany you to your sleeping area. What can I do to prepare your bed for sleeping? I am unaccustomed to this procedure. I rest standing up in my cubicle."

This time, a shake of the head would not be sufficient. "Help me pull down the covers, Seven," he mumbled.

"Ah, I see. That is logical."

The tall woman bent over, treating Harry to a view of her perfect derriere. The thought crossed his mind that she was doing it deliberately, to make him fell better. If she was, it was certainly working. Turning back towards Harry, she pushed him, far more gently than usual, to a seat upon the edge of the mattress, helping him out of his boots.

"Do you require my assistance changing into special sleeping garments?" she asked.

Harry shook his head again. He was sore enough for that not to be particularly desirable. He certainly wasn't feeling up to performing any activities that being disrobed by Seven might normally prompt him to consider instigating. Clad in the off-duty shirt and pants he'd donned in Sickbay and sighing deeply, Harry slipped himself into bed.

"Is there anything else you require, Ensign?"

This time he managed a weak, "No, thank you, Seven."

"I will be at your desk, studying the data bases, should you need me for anything."

After Seven left the room, Harry tried to relax. The recent proximity of her body as she'd helped him pull the blanket over him was not very conducive to relaxation. He tried to think of something else to distract him from his awareness that the subject of his erotic fantasies was only meters away from him. Unfortunately, the only image he could bring to mind besides Seven (which he was studiously trying to avoid), was the way Tuvok had looked during their conflict.

Harry tried to forget the battle between them, but he could not. He knew that as a general rule, Vulcans did not bear grudges. But this time? Could Harry have been mistaken about the nature of Seven's relationship with Tuvok? If they were just close friends, without any hint of a foster child/parent relationship, the Vulcan might resent being prevented from mating with her. Perhaps Tuvok had wanted to mate with her. After all, his wife was so far away. Was it possible that Tuvok had wanted to take a new mate in Seven, and Harry had gotten in the way? If he did, then I had to get in the way, thought the young officer. I want her for myself, even though Seven hasn't a clue about my feelings for her. If she does, she's never given any sign that she thinks of me the same way. She might prefer Tuvok! Maybe, in your jealousy, you've made a total fool of yourself, Harry Kim. She may not appreciate your putting yourself in the middle like . . .

"Ensign Kim?" Seven interrupted Harry's stream of consciousness musings. "Are you asleep?"

Despite the pain it brought him, Harry smiled at her and said, "If I had been, you would have awakened me."

"I . . . have a question I have been meaning to ask you. Will you answer it?"

Shifting his body so that he could see Seven's face, Harry answered, "If I can."

Seven squatted next to the bed, her eyes fastened on his intently. "When you first confronted Tuvok and challenged him, you were talking about this human need for 'closeness,' were you not? About how humans hug and kiss when they are engaging in sexual relations?"

Harry nodded.

"I could have submitted to Tuvok as he had requested. Apart from the obvious need to be touching during the joining of our genitals, closeness was not required. These other actions you mentioned -- hugging and kissing -- are not necessary, although I understand they are customary. Why was it so important to you that I had done these prior to intercourse?"

"Seven, it's a long story . . . "

"We appear to have the time for a long story. We are both off duty for many hours."

Resigning himself to working his jaw far more than he wanted, given the way it felt, Harry raised himself upon his elbow. "Seven, it's true you could have given Tuvok what he needed physically. Maybe I shouldn't have interfered; I don't know. It's just that there's so much more to sex than the act itself. You deserve a chance to learn about it in your own time, not when you feel forced in any way. Tuvok thought he was requesting, but it was really force. He means a lot to you. He's been like your father on Voyager. As soon as I realized what he was going to ask you, I knew you would feel you had to say, 'yes,' whether you wanted to or not."

"This is why you used the term 'incest' for what Commander Tuvok proposed?"

Harry nodded his head before laying it down again upon the pillow. The long speech had made his jaw ache again. "You both would have been sorry later, Seven. I'm sure of it. You need to learn all about being close to someone in human terms first, without having sex, before you're ready for more."

"And this becoming close, it requires physically touching another person?"

Despite the ache, he smiled. "Talking and just spending time with the other person are important, but yeah, just touching is nice. Not even in the sexual ways you've probably been finding out about in your studies in human sexuality, either, Seven. Just holding another person can be wonderful, even when there isn't any sex. It's a way to make two people feel close. To comfort each other when you're in pain, emotional or physical pain. Just to know you're not really alone, no matter how far away from home you really are."

Seven silently considered this without moving from her position next to his bed. Harry rolled over onto his back with a sigh. He really needed to rest, particularly his jaw. Seven would pick this time to inquire about complex human social structures.

"Harry Kim, you are in physical pain. And you are very far away from your home."

Harry looked back at Seven and nodded his head.

"Do you require some physical closeness?" As Seven asked her question, she took to her feet, walked to the foot of the bed, and began to climb in with him.

"Seven, I didn't fight so that I could get you into my bed instead of Tuvok's!" Yes, you did, Harry Kim. You just didn't want it to be now. Especially the way you feel this moment.

"You just said that holding another person can be comforting, did you not?"

"Oh, yeah. Just holding or touching. Comforting. Yes, it is."

"After your injuries, I thought you might require some . . . comforting. For me to be close to you. I would like to explore how this closeness works."

"Yes, but . . . uh," Harry gulped. He wasn't sure how comforting it would be for Seven of Nine to be in bed with him. Before he could voice any further objection, however, she had crawled into bed next to him, her body on top of the blanket while he was lying beneath its folds. Harry rolled over slightly, exposing his back to her. As she settled into position behind him, he found that his back and right side did feel very good, despite a certain degree of excitation of a part of his body facing away from her.

"Is this degree of closeness sufficient to comfort you, Ensign?"

Her voice was very soft in his ear. Her hand rested softly upon his shoulder; her forearm lay lightly along his upper arm. When she made no further moves, Harry found himself able to relax against her. "Yes, Seven," he murmured, "this feels sufficiently close."

Although extremely conscious of his companion, Harry soon found the warmth of her body radiating against him to be very comforting. As he relaxed, the rigors of the past day caught up with him. While Harry drifted off to sleep in the arms of his bed mate, she was left to ponder over the puzzling actions undertaken by males of many species. Seven had to agree, however, that this physical closeness with the ensign was strangely comforting.

Then she fell asleep, too.

When B'Elanna swirled through the door with her customary energy, she cast her eyes around Sickbay with concern. "Tom, where's Harry? He's okay, isn't he?"

Tom smiled at her as he completed the last of his custodial tasks. The treatment area now looked the way the Doctor liked it. With any luck, the EMH would allow them to slip out for a quick lunch. Breathing a satisfied sigh he informed her, "He's fine. The Doc's released him to his own quarters. Don't worry about Harry -- he's getting some TLC."

"TLC? Do I have to ask who's dishing it out?" B'Elanna's voice had an edge.

Tom sighed. "I think you know."

B'Elanna shook her head. "Tom . . . "

He interrupted her by pulling her close to him. "Leave it go, Lieutenant. He's all grown up. And I hope Seven is starting to realize just how good a man he is."

After staring at Tom in silence for a moment, B'Elanna went on neutrally, "Are you going to be able to get free for lunch any time soon?"

"Let me check with the Doc." Tom glanced over his shoulder, to where the Doctor was standing next to Tuvok's biobed. The EMH was checking the readings for the twentieth time. They were still markedly erratic, and he was becoming increasingly concerned.

"Doc, B'Elanna wanted to know if . . . wow! Look at the adrenaline reading spike."

The Doctor shook his head in frustration. "Mr. Tuvok, I realize that Vulcans do not like to discuss this condition with 'outsiders,' but as your physician, I must know how much longer we can expect this to go on. Your readings are as erratic now as they were this morning, before the altercation with Mr. Kim. This is not what happened with Ensign Vorik after his combat with Lieutenant Torres."

Closing his eyes slowly, Tuvok stated, more calmly than he had for many hours, "All is proceeding as it should be . . . under the circumstances." He grimaced suddenly as his body spasmed in pain.

Tom's eyes met B'Elanna's. A horrible suspicion was occurring to him. "Tuvok, how should it proceed 'under the circumstances'? You aren't letting yourself die, are you?"

The Vulcan's eyes opened, but they were unfocused, unseeing. The erratic blips on the instruments confirmed he was alive, but the increasingly chaotic nature of the Vulcan's biochemistry was well documented on the various screens.

"Commander, answer the lieutenant's question!" The Doctor's voice rose in volume and in pitch.

For a very long time, Tuvok did not answer. When he finally did, it was to say, in a hoarse whisper, "The needs of the many outweigh . . . the needs of the few, or the one."

B'Elanna shook her head in disbelief. "Tuvok! You can't mean that giving up your life is for the good of this ship!"

"It is when the lives of the others . . . would be disrupted by catering to my needs."

Tom exploded. "It isn't 'catering' to you, Tuvok. We need you. Where would I be if you didn't help me when I was sentenced for a murder I didn't commit? When B'Elanna was going to have her mind wiped by those Mari telepaths? You can do what no one else on this ship can do. We can't just let you die like this!"

The Doctor added, "I do not understand how this could be happening. I thought Vulcans never lied. You have been deliberately deceiving us."

On another visage, one might have thought that a hint of a smile had crossed his lips. Perhaps a better explanation was that a grimace of pain exposed Tuvok's teeth when he admitted quietly, "For the first time I have gone against . . . my own standards, Doctor. I have lied of my own volition. It was necessary."

"Let me get the captain . . . "

"No! You cannot."

"She helped you when the memory virus attacked you . . . "

"That was a totally different situation, Doctor. I cannot allow the captain . . . to assist me this time."

"Seven, then. Let me call . . . "

"No, Doctor. I have come to the same conclusion . . . as Mr. Kim. I cannot take advantage of Seven's lack of knowledge . . . about such matters. He is correct. She has been much like a daughter to me. It would be wrong."

The finality in Tuvok's hoarse voice precluded any further urging by the doctor. Tom stepped back from the biobed, caught B'Elanna's eye, and gestured for her to follow him to the Doctor's office.

When they entered the office, Tom turned to B'Elanna and grabbed hold of her hands in his. Biting his lower lip, he took a deep breath and said, "B'Elanna. Love, I can't let this happen to Tuvok."

"What can we do? He won't let anyone help him!"

"Maybe he would if I volunteered. I owe him my life, B'Elanna. He might accept me."

"Tom, you're a man. The pon farr is for reproduction."

"Any port in a storm, B'Elanna. Tuvok asked Vorik to help him, and he refused."

"He asked Vorik? And Vorik refused! That petaQ!" cried B'Elanna angrily.

"He may well be, but if Vorik could suit him, so would I." Tom held onto his lover's hands firmly as she tried to pull away, no longer meeting his eyes. "B'Elanna, it's not what I would have wanted, God knows! I wish he could have meditated this away, like he tried to. But B'Elanna . . . " Tom pulled her into his arms. "This wouldn't be the first time I'd been with a man. And before, I didn't have many choices. It was when I was in jail . . ."

"I thought that kind of thing didn't happen in Federation prisons. Oh, sorry, 'rehabilitation centers,' " B'Elanna hissed, stepping back, although one hand remained in his.

"It didn't happen in New Zealand. When I was kicking around after Caldik Prime, I ended up in jail on this backwater planet, in debt, with no credits and no one who'd give me a job to earn any. Some of the other 'guests' there took a liking to me. When I got out of jail, I was willing to do almost anything to get off Hellion. So I did." Now Tom was unable to meet her eyes for a moment. He looked down at their clasped hands before raising his eyes to gaze into hers. "I'm not proud of that. Hell, I'm not proud of a lot of things I did back then, but I did what I had to do to survive. This isn't like that, B'Elanna. This is for a good reason. Can you let Tuvok die, knowing there's something I could do to save him?"

Pushing Tom away from her and dropping his hand, B'Elanna prompted a pained look from her lover. Her own reaction shocked her. There was no reason for her to get upset about something that had happened long before they'd ever met. She knew that Tom had been through hell after Caldik Prime. What he was telling her made a terrible kind of sense, knowing what he'd been like when they'd first met. He'd changed so much since then, however. She never liked to think about anyone that Tom had been with, other than her.

Usually B'Elanna was able to keep it all out of mind, but this brought it all back in a whirling tumult of emotion. Her stomachs churned as she tried to cast off the image of her Tom, nude and in bed, grappling with an equally naked Tuvok. The thought of him being unfaithful, no matter what the reason was, even in an act of compassion like this, was abhorrent to her Klingon sensibilities.

There it was. She'd thought she'd thrown away those monogamous Klingon sexual mores long ago, but apparently, not as much as she'd thought. The very idea of Tom sacrificing himself for Tuvok was as distasteful to her as the thought of B'Elanna giving herself to him. B'Elanna herself . . . B'Elanna shook herself. Impossible! He wouldn't even want me. Or would he? Once the idea struck her, she could not shake it. Finally, she blurted out, "Tuvok's saved me, too. Maybe I should be the one."

Although her offer was sincere, her mental conflict had shown on her face. Tom wrapped his arms around her. "It's all right, B'Elanna. I know that would be difficult for you. All I ask is that you understand this has nothing to do with us -- that we still belong to each other. Only each other. This is just for now, to help a friend."

With her face buried in his shoulder as her emotions warred within her, B'Elanna held Tom close until finally, with a tiny nod of the head, she gave him his answer. His forefinger on her chin pulled her face free for his kiss. With one last squeeze of the fingers and a shared, shuddering breath, the couple exited the office hand in hand to stand before Tuvok.

Tom's free hand brushed across his mouth hesitantly as he breathed in deeply, finally saying, "We've got another option, Tuvok. Let me help you."

The Doctor punched a few commands into his medical tricorder, shaking his head at the readings he was obtaining. "And how do you propose to do that when I have been unable to come up with any alternative to help Commander Tuvok?"

"The obvious way, Doctor. That I should be his sexual partner."

The Doctor raised his head abruptly as Tom spoke, but before he could sputter out an answer, Tuvok replied, "I appreciate your offer, Mr. Paris. I cannot accept."

"Tuvok, I know what I'm doing. I'm not offering anything I haven't done before. I've talked it over with B'Elanna. It's okay. She understands."

"You only think you understand, Lieutenant Paris."

"Fine," interrupted B'Elanna. "If you need a woman, then take me. It's ridiculous to lose you for something as stupid as this, Tuvok. I've been through the pon farr before. I might as well see what it's really like. It can't be any worse for me with you than that travesty I went through because of Vorik." Seeing the shock in Tom's eyes, B'Elanna glared at him, daring Tom to refute her offer, although still aghast at herself for even making it.

Tom's brow crumpled, but he shrugged his shoulders, finally, in assent. He may not like it, but what could he say to her, after offering himself and asking that she understand his offer? Could be he less generous with her? B'Elanna's giving herself had never really entered his head, despite her comment in the Doctor's office. Perhaps Tuvok would agree to her when he'd refused Tom, but he didn't think so. Why would Tuvok agree to B'Elanna, who had never been his close friend, when he'd refused everyone else?

Involved as they were in their own subverbal communication, neither Tom nor B'Elanna noticed the Vulcan's eyes shifting from one to the other, a pensive look upon his face. When he spoke, his voice was steadier than it had been. "Lieutenant Torres, Lieutenant Paris. I thank you, but I can accept your offer . . . on only one condition."

The Doctor, as well as Tom and B'Elanna, immediately came to attention at this change of heart by the Vulcan.

"To accept one of your offers alone might be disruptive . . . to the bond I know you share with each other. I will accept, but only . . . if you both will join with me."

Even the Doctor, opening his mouth to make another comment, gaped at this suggestion.

Tom felt like the deck was lowering under his feet, but he forced his voice to stay level. "Both of us, Tuvok? I, uh . . . didn't know that Vulcans went in for groups." All that he had ever heard of Vulcan bonds screamed that this was not how it was supposed to go.

"Vulcans usually do not find themselves . . . more than fifty-five years from Vulcan when they enter the pon farr. I am far from my mate. I do not desire to take another. If both of you are willing . . . to share this difficult time with me, I may survive it . . . without the loss of my bond with T'Pel."

Tightening his grasp on B'Elanna's hand, Tom asked in a hushed tone, "About your wife, Tuvok. Won't she die if she doesn't mate with someone else?"

Panting, and in a weakening voice, Tuvok stated, "With females, it is different . . . as so much is where the biology of gender is concerned. She is strong in meditation skills. I am the one at risk. She now knows that I live. She will be able to sense my survival . . . even from very far away. We are attuned to each other. If I find a way to survive, I am confident that . . . so shall she."

Squeezing B'Elanna's hand to draw her attention to him, Tom saw the confusion and stirrings of anger on her face, but she held her tongue. Seeing her acquiescence in her eyes, Tom said, "If we both agreed separately, I guess we can take being with you together, Tuvok."

"I will explain the rationale for this request . . . more fully at a later time, when I am more able. I ask you to trust me . . . to believe you will not be displeased. But we must hurry. I am rapidly losing my self-control. If I am to resolve . . . the pon farr successfully, it needs . . . to be now." The pain was more difficult for him to contain, his words coming in quick gasps. His agony was etched on his face, marked by rivulets of sweat that streamed down from his hairline. The rich color of his skin had faded. Clearly, they did not have time for further arguments or explanations.

"Where, Tuvok?" asked Tom.

"My quarters. I regret . . . I will be unable . . . to walk there myself."

"I'll authorize a site to site transport," said B'Elanna.

With Tom and B'Elanna's help, Tuvok stood, held erect by the two lieutenants. Softly, B'Elanna called for transport to Tuvok's quarters.

As the three figures shimmered away, the Doctor was left behind. He was unsure exactly why Tuvok had finally permitted himself to be convinced to survive. Perusing the last set of readings he'd taken on the Vulcan, however, the EMH could only hope that it wasn't already too late for Tuvok.

The commander's quarters were lit briefly by the shimmering of the transporter beam as it deposited the three of them in the center of the living area. Tuvok slumped heavily onto Tom and B'Elanna as the beam released them all. A soft moan slipped out of him.

"Let us help you into bed, Tuvok," whispered Tom.

"No, it would be better here . . . on the floor . . . where there is more space . . . for the three of us," he replied, his voice huskier and softer than Tom's had been.

Careful to let him go only after Tom had Tuvok's weight supported, B'Elanna went to the sleeping area. As Tom raised the illumination in the rooms to 25% of normal, she pulled the blanket and pillows from the bed. Spreading them on the floor before Tuvok, B'Elanna helped Tom lower the Vulcan onto the bedding. His color and demeanor were alarming; his breathing was labored. They didn't have much time.

Without thinking, B'Elanna began to strip the clothes from her body. The entire situation might not meet her mother's high standards for an honorable sexual liaison for Klingons, but B'Elanna was beyond worrying about that now. The less thinking she did about this, the better. Besides, modesty was not something she'd ever spent much time worrying about. That really wasn't a 'Klingon thing.'

Glancing at Tom, she saw him stripping off the clothing from his body almost as quickly as she was. When both were naked, they helped Tuvok out of his garments. Almost every movement caused him to groan now. His eyes were wild in his face. Each breath was shallow and rapid. As the two lieutenants pulled off his briefs so that all were equally nude, the Vulcan man suddenly uttered hoarse words in his native language, untranslated because their comm badges were in the pile of clothing next to the blanket.

Startled, B'Elanna met Tom's eyes. An encouraging smile came to his lips as he nodded to her. They kneeled down together, B'Elanna to Tuvok's right and Tom to the left of where the Vulcan lay prone upon the blanket.

Tuvok lifted his long arms and, as the faces of the couple came within his reach, he firmly cupped the chins and cheekbones of the ones who had offered him their assistance. "My mind to your minds," he said softly, as his fingers contacted their faces.

The sensation that flooded over her was indescribable, but not unfamiliar. She had felt it once before, in Engineering, when one of Tuvok's race had cupped her head to initiate a mating bond without her consent. This time it was by her consent; but this time, the heat was so much greater. A burning intensity pierced into her skull and flowed through her veins in seconds to enflame her entire body.

What had been transferred to her from Vorik had been extreme discomfort. It was only when she had been trapped alone with Tom that her composure had been ripped away. Tuvok's touch brought her to flaming torment almost immediately, and B'Elanna knew she was not alone. She heard Tom cry out as he fell down next to her. He had never felt this before, she knew.

As B'Elanna collapsed against one side of Tuvok, her hand landed upon his chest, so smooth, so searingly hot from the forces warring within him. How could he have stood it so long? B'Elanna wondered, as her muscles rippled with pain. This is so much worse than I remember! / How could she have stood this! / They are brave to endure what is almost beyond enduring. B'Elanna was confused at the cacophony in her head until she realized that not only her inner voice, but also those of Tom and Tuvok, were blending in her mind. Telepathic mating bond. / Now I see. / This is the essence.

And whichever of the three of them might have formed these thoughts, they were among the last that any of them could fashion coherently for a great while. Few words came to them now. Images flowed through their minds instead, crashing against their individual psyches like thunderous waves on a ruined beach during a storm.

Placing her squalling infant into her mate's arms, unable to contain her pride in producing so perfect a new being . . .

Short legs swinging in the simulator as his small hands make it fly the way few ever can, even as the cadets hoot encouragement around him; and Daddy stands by . . .

Her small form hurtles into the arms of her smooth-browed father, the one who offers unconditional love, not anger . . .

His uniformed parents, their dark faces calm, receiving with quiet satisfaction the salutation of their newly created ensign son . . .

Turning in his uniform as he resigns from Starfleet, anticipating a lifetime of peace in the desert sanctuary . . .

Bidding farewell to her Beloved, with their children gathered around her, as he returns to the stars, his true home . . .

The board of review, casting him from Starfleet, stealing away flight, as the blood of the three dead wash over him . . .

Admitting crushing defeat as she rejects the Academy, angrily throwing her cadet's uniform in the gutter . . .

Image after image, appearing and disappearing in flashes of joy and pain, one after the other. From which mind -- each knew not -- but now something more was acquired. With every image came sensations: sound, scent, feel, taste. The memories shook through their minds, their one mind, as Vulcan and human and human/Klingon merged into one being, one flesh.

Visions of bodies and hands and mouths joining. Touching. Rubbing together. Hand stroked smooth chest, stroked red-gold furred chest, stroked firm mounds of breasts. Fingers became entangled in hair; legs rubbed together. Genitals touched by mouths touched by fingers touched by engorged flesh. Three bodies moving together in one rhythm, with movements guided by instinct, by messages from the dominant mind to the submissive ones. The two who would help the one to survival. Three bodies, moving towards a culmination that would free one of imminent death. Hormones raced through veins to stoke the fires of passion and desire. And memories, traded back and forth freely, stripping the three down to their souls more completely than the clothing they had ripped from their bodies minutes before:

Torment of hours of fruitless meditation, words torn from him because words no longer have meaning, as the robed figures bring the sacrifice to him, as she reveals her body to his hungering eyes, eyes that look into hers and see the rich, pure soul there before his fingers touch her feverish brow, before his maleness invades her femaleness with thrust after thrust of fire that relieves the burning of their bodies . . .

The girl in a room, thrashing on a bed, with a dark-eyed human boy thrusting into her open legs while . . .

The Beloved, opened for him, trusting, as his hands touch her mind and the recesses of her body until she cries out as she never has before in her controlled life . . .

The youth, hurrying to bring himself to the ultimate ecstasy before his parents return to find him disgracing them with her in their own home . . .

Dark limbs, splayed out for him, as he seeks her center and feels her shuddering beneath him . . .

Men, laughing, holding him down, as one after the other tear into him from the back, tearing into his anus as he yells fruitlessly for help and tries to fight his way free . . .

The face looking into hers, solicitous before gaining entry to her body, now laughing at her, ridiculing her for her Klingon ways even as he rides her selfishly, tearing away her virginity . . .

Two bodies, fully clothed, rolling in a grassy glade, ready to join together, when strong hands tear them away from each other as a voice hoarsely yells out a challenge . . .

Dark eyes, dark skin, looking into hers, washing into her life until there can be no one else for her, not one time but for every time, her Beloved will be with her always no matter . . .

Dark hands kneading dark breasts with deep brown nipples, lush, inviting the wide mouth of his dark face to engulf them as his hands push deep within her, deep within her gleaming brown body and into her soul, shaking her with violent thrusts of a dark penis as it enters and leaves her body over and over and over and over and . . .

Golden skin beneath his questing hands, feeling her passionate response to the tracings of his tongue from coral nipples to a triangle of tangled dark hair, where his long fingers part her and wriggle within her until he hears her screams of joy . . .

Strong fingers combing through his red-gold hair, holding him to where he is tasting her, bringing her to orgasm again and again . . .

Drinking in her beautiful rippled forehead and deep brown eyes, as his body arches down and his shaft thrusts repeatedly in and out, and oh, so, deeply, into her moist, surrounding warmth . . .

Clear blue eyes smile into her face as he thrusts exquisitely into her over and over and over and over and . . .

Dark hands on pale skin and golden skin; skin which unaccountably turns a mahogany hue because his mind wishes to remember what his hands cannot touch; because she is so far, so very far away . . .

As memory competed with memory, another shadowy presence could be felt, from unimaginably far away. Another consciousness, not here, but still a part of this melding. Her essence dwelled within the memories of the one who had shared his life with her for seven decades. It was as real a mind as the three linked together in this room, who were separated only by transparent aluminum windows from the cold reaches of deep space, hurtling by at inconceivable speeds; yet decades of travel away from the place where the body holding that shadow mind resided. The mind that was half-Klingon became aware of this Other Vulcan, this Other Female, who was with them although not with them. The parted, but never parted. The echo of her was with them in some mystical way that the practical Klingon mind wished to reject, but could not.

And this presence was why another shadowy figure, the one that all of the minds respected and honored and obeyed, could not be the one to assuage the fires of the Vulcan's soul. Because that one, with hair of auburn and authority unquestioned and a tall man that stood by her side, his face adorned with a tattoo; that one had to be obeyed, and respected, and admired from afar. Never never never physically, lest a bond be shattered: that between the dark skinned being twining his limbs with two other beings, and the shadowy figure whose memories, from ten past joinings, were intertwined with the three minds whose bodies were in physical contact. The two joining with the burning Vulcan were themselves a couple, deeply bonded to each other. The actions of this day would not disturb their bond nor that of the Vulcan couple, separated by great distances though they were.

But a joining with that other, the one with the auburn hair, could have.

B'Elanna found herself feverishly hot but able, again, to think separately, even as her mind remained linked with the others. She wanted to hold onto the melded minds even as she regained her senses. She wished she could hold onto one mind. His mind, that so tantalized her with its love and devotion, that mind she loved so much in return.

And now she was aware of skin touching skin touching flesh. His pale hands kneaded her breasts while his sculpted lips sucked first one nipple, than the other, with abandon. She stroked firm muscles covered with soft, downy hair with one hand, while the other brushed against a head capped with wiry strands. A dark hand thrust deeply within her, causing her, for a second, to want to turn away from that hand -- to tighten her muscles and eject it from her body. Then she suddenly knew what that dark hand was doing, what it harvested: with every manipulation, more and more moisture to glisten on his hand.

The blue eyes came within her sight; she looked through them into his soul. Recognizing his separate thoughts, Yes, he does this for me, to make it easier for me, for when he enters me, B'Elanna spread herself open, to make it easier for that hand to extract what was needed. To make it easier for Tom when he moved his knees between her legs, when he crouched over her, with Tuvok behind him.

It was so strange for B'Elanna to feel the hand withdraw from her. It was the hand touching her and her hand, all at the same time. And then, to feel its touch on the body crouching over her. Tom's mouth descended upon hers, tongue thrusting deep within her mouth in a kiss as the dark hands stroked across the cleft in his buttocks to ready him for entrance. It was not her body entered; but she felt it and knew it when it happened, with Tom kneeling over her, moaning at that entrance. And in her mind, she felt Tuvok's sensations, too, as he entered him.

Tom groaned. To relieve the pressure she felt in him, and in her, B'Elanna took the part of Tom that was rigid and guided it within herself. The groan became a moan became a sigh became a cry as three moved, joined together, in a tempo all knew well.

Then words again were gone. Only sensation was left. Three bodies and four minds, merging into one, rhythmically joining each to the other. The thrusting and that which is thrust into, the entering and the entered. Their minds washed away until there was only the one mind. One burning need. One passionate embrace. One searing, exploding fulfillment that lasted and lasted and lasted and lasted . . .

Until it was over.

They were three people, lying in exhaustion on the floor of the quarters of the security chief of Voyager. The Vulcan separated himself from the others who were still linked together intimately. All three gulped in air as if they had run a marathon. The Vulcan male arose to his feet, somewhat unsteadily, but now under his own power. Despite the exertion, he could feel strength return to his body as the chemicals in battle within his tissues ceded victory to the endorphins cleansing the imbalance from his blood. He might be standing naked next to two whom he called friend, two with whom he had shared the most intimate of acts, yet his equanimity was rapidly returning.

There was no way to ignore one simple fact: sex was the best way to resolve a pon farr, without question.

That was the true essence of all that had just occurred. Battles and meditations were all very helpful techniques; but in this case, all they had been able to accomplish was to enable the Vulcan to slake his thirst, to reduce his sexual requirements to one single glorious act of intercourse.

Tuvok sighed inwardly. (Now that his control was returning, he would endeavor not to sigh outwardly, no matter how provoked he might be.)

For him, the pon farr had been satisfied. For the two lying in front of him, gasping like two fish out of water, it was not. The simile was apt. They had not known the deep waters into which they were swimming when they agreed to be his partners, to satisfy his needs and to save his life. He was in their debt. It was a debt he had every intention of repaying.

As their breathing slowed, Tom and B'Elanna gazed into each other's eyes, unaware for the moment that they were not alone. They shared the same, secretive smile they always did after they had completed the act. "How are you doing?" he asked her.

"Pretty good. How about you? Are you very sore?" she returned.

"Not bad. Whew. I'm still really hot, though." He smirked at this, code words for, "I don't think I'm done yet. How about you?"

"That is not surprising, Mr. Paris."

B'Elanna and Tom both jumped, separating themselves, as the fact that they had not been left alone penetrated their still-foggy brains. Both had fresh mating bites on their cheeks, shared at some point during the three way joining. Their acquisition had barely registered with any of them at the time. Tom got up on his knees first, pulling B'Elanna to a rather inelegant seated position, corrected only when she was able to draw her left leg from around Tom to close her legs together. The adjustment in position altered the amount of flesh exposed but not the fact that both were totally, unselfconsciously nude.

The speaker was also still quite nude, although he was walking slowly toward them now with a robe in his arms. As he thrust his hands into the armholes of the garment, Tuvok continued, "The fact that you are still 'hot' is to be expected."

As Tom cleared his throat, B'Elanna asked Tuvok, "How are you now. Is it finally over?" His color was better than before, and the fact that he was walking around without needing any support suggested he was much better.

"Indeed, Lieutenant Torres, Mr. Paris, it is now over. No falsehoods are necessary. I truly am much improved."

As he rubbed his thighs slowly, Tom's lips quirked. "Tuvok, considering what we've just been through, don't you think that 'B'Elanna and Tom' might be appropriate?"

Tying the belt of his robe, the Vulcan raised one brow in a very typical expression as he agreed, "Perhaps first names would be appropriate, B'Elanna and Thomas."

B'Elanna and Tom chuckled together, although both of them were now rubbing their palms against their exposed flesh and squirming a bit. "So, are we finished here?" asked B'Elanna, stilling her right hand with her left before it fondled her breasts, as it seemed eager to do. She glanced over at Tom and saw that his hands were twitching, as if he were unsuccessfully willing them to be still.

"I am finished, but I must ask a question of the two of you. How are the two of you feeling, B'Elanna and Thomas?"

B'Elanna shrugged, tightening her vaginal muscles invisibly as a tension rose within her. "Fine. Although I'm feeling pretty warm." She paused, recognizing the nature of her sensations. This couldn't possibly be . . . "Tuvok, why I am I feeling this way? I feel like I did when the pon farr was beginning, not when it was over."

Grunting in agreement, Tom said, "Yeah, Tuvok, I'm feeling really, very . . . agitated." He did not need to look down at his groin to confirm how excited he was becoming.

"That is because the pon farr is not over for you. Just as Vorik 'infected' you with his pon farr during his attempt to institute a mating bond with you, B'Elanna, I have transferred my own condition to both of you. I anticipated this would happen. From all of the efforts I had already made to control my condition, I expected I would need but a single act of intercourse to resolve my own need. I also predicted, however, that a single act would be insufficient for my partner. Hence, I asked both of you to join with me."

Their eyes were glittering, confused, yet intense. Tuvok was satisfied that his logic, as usual, had been impeccable, despite the rigors he had been undergoing at the time of his insight. "Thomas and B'Elanna, you may, if you desire, adjourn to your own quarters and continue to mate with each other until your blood chemistry returns to normal. You would enjoy much of what is experienced by those of my race when they are mating, but not all. I propose that you remain here, to let me repay the debt I owe you for saving my life. Stay, so that both of you can fully experience the pon farr as it is meant to be: the melding of mind and body between two people in a complete and total communion."

"We're not telepaths, Tuvok," panted Tom. His fair skin was becoming ruddy, his discomfort more obvious.

"Of course. You would require my assistance. I regret that you would not have the privacy that should be your right, but I will need to make physical contact with you in order to institute the mind meld. I will separate my own personality out of the meld this time, serving only as a conduit, as it were, for your minds to merge."

B'Elanna studied Tom's face intently. While she really didn't want to make love in front of an observer, her body was demanding relief, immediately. She doubted she would be able to travel to her quarters without a site to site transport. The urge to copulate was growing stronger by the second, and the sweat she could see pouring from Tom suggested he was feeling the same way.

Tuvok could see the strained looks shared by the two before him. "I urge you to accept this offer. You have already undergone much discomfort because of Vulcans enmeshing you in the time of mating. Let me help you share in the glory of the bonding as it should be experienced. As you deserve, because of your sacrifice."

For several seconds the human and human/Klingon were silent, gazing at each other while gulping air in perfect synchronization. Tuvok noted this with a measure of satisfaction. Clearly, the mating bond had not totally left them. Reestablishing the meld for the two of them should pose few problems.

Finally, Tom answered for both, making Tuvok wonder if there were some residual telepathy between the two. No word or noticeable gesture had passed between them when Tom said huskily, "Give us a few minutes to be alone, Tuvok, and then come in for the meld. Okay?"

Nodding, Tuvok left them alone, retreating to his sanitary cubicle to take care of his personal needs.

One of the blessings of the Vulcan race could also be a curse. The elegantly pointed ears were far more efficient at scooping sound out of the air than the smaller, curvy ones of humans and Klingons. Despite the distance and the door between the pair and him, the enthusiasm with which they indulged in foreplay was impossible for him to ignore.

This was perfectly consistent with the reports that Tuvok, in his assignment as security chief, had received from various sources. When deciding whether or not to accept the offer of the two lieutenants, he had given due credence to these rumors when evaluating whether or not their participation with him might damage their bond.

As he sat enclosed in the small cubicle, providing them with as much privacy as was possible in his quarters, Tuvok revised his assessment. He had not needed to be concerned at all. Their pairing, if anything, should be stronger after the events of this day.

When the sounds changed in character to a more rhythmic nature, the Vulcan emerged from hiding. B'Elanna was straddled over Tom and, to all appearances, was totally oblivious to the eyes of anyone other than her partner. With a quick roll, the tall human pinned B'Elanna beneath him, replicating a pose they had once assumed in a quiet glade, only to be interrupted by one of Tuvok's race. Tuvok had a vague perception of this through their earlier bonding. Now seemed to be the best time to reinstitute their meld.

Kneeling before the two as they moved together, Tuvok rested his right hand on the back of Tom's head and neck while lightly touching the forehead ridges and the temple of Tom's mate. A momentarily startled look entered B'Elanna's eyes before Tuvok resolutely closed his own. His very presence was an imposition, but a necessary one. The practiced follower of the Kolinahr caught the essence of the minds of those he touched. Stepping back mentally, he allowed them to blend into one consciousness. Two minds, becoming one, as their bodies continued their union.

As soon as they were alone, Tom enveloped B'Elanna in his arms, his lips hungry for hers. Pausing to lap at the bite on her cheek so he could taste her blood, he exposed his own cheek for her teeth to make his blood flow. Tom's licking, nibbling, and sucking mouth descended down her body. Her nipples invited prolonged attention, as did her thighs and, finally, the mound between. His fingers flexed within her, coaxing out cries that excited him. His blood burned for her as hers did for him. He could feel her heat pulsing with every beat of their pounding hearts.

Nails raked against flesh as she flipped him over, exchanging places with him and using her mouth on his torso the way he had hers. Enclosing her lips around his shaft, B'Elanna sucked him into a frenzy until, unable to control the burning of her genitals any longer, she mounted him in a sudden, swift, hard descent. They rocked their bodies to the tempo of the blood that thunderously raced through their veins.

Moving together, thumping their bodies solidly on the floor, they rolled as one. Tom was again above B'Elanna, his eyes drinking in hers as they continued their mutual enjoyment of each other, their urges driving them to a foreordained, ecstatic conclusion.

The touch of another halted them momentarily. Cool fingers cupped the back of his head and brushed the nape of his neck. Another set of digits descended to graze her forehead. For several disconcerting seconds, Tom felt he had three pairs of eyes: his own blue ones, her warm brown ones, and a pair of black eyes that he could see staring down upon them. Before he could raise his own head to look at those black eyes, however, he felt them close to shut out the sight of their pleasurable writhing. The vision from the pair's own eyes, however, was not shut away.

Tom saw himself as she saw him, his sapphire eyes so beautiful to her sight, flushed face as angelic as a child's even in the midst of most un-childlike exertions. This image had a double: his view of her, her gorgeous face, strongly marked by the forehead ridges he loved to lick, the lush lips he lived to kiss. Their souls were open, nakedly visible to each other. And then their souls were inside each other, as they had been before, but this time, there were only the two of them, with two shadowy presences sensed as though far away, to facilitate, but not to intrude, upon their oneness.

No secrets could come between them, linked as they were. No masks could hide them from complete knowledge of each other. All joys were theirs, all sorrows, all together to be shared. The shame of being the user or the used; the indescribable pain of loss: of friends, status, family, honor; the delirious exhilaration of redemption; the gratifying trust of their captain and their crewmates; terror and pride as they repaid their ship mates with acts of heroism whenever the opportunity presented itself.

And beyond and above all of this, they perceived the overwhelming love they shared, so much deeper, more complete than either could ever bring themselves to express in words. If they were to be grateful for only one thing that occurred in this melding of their minds, it would be for this -- that the true, pure love they felt was communicated to each other. Without a word, their images and emotions merged. As their bodies coupled, their minds bonded. One pair. Two, melding into one love.

Sound, light, touch, taste, smell, all roared together into the mating bond that Vulcans know. A bond which two who were not born Vulcan now also knew.

The air that rolled over them was cool. That is how it had to be on Voyager, always too short on energy resources to cater to all the needs of those that dwelled within its hull. B'Elanna, sensitive to any chill, was the first to feel it. Snuggling more closely into the side and chest of the body radiating warmth that stretched out next to her, she tried to ignore the urgings of her body to emerge into consciousness. To awaken.

To empty her bladder.

Such a mundane urge, after the sublime one she had just satisfied. But there it was, a bodily function just as insistent, in its way, as the mating urge.

One brown eye opened, then the other, although the view of the second was severely compromised by the carpet of wavy down upon which her head rested. Sighing in resignation, B'Elanna lifted her head from the rising and falling chest of her lover, who grunted as he extended his muscles in a long, satisfying stretch of arms, shoulders, torso, and legs. His eyes met hers. "Hello, Gorgeous," he murmured.

A slow smile traveled from one side of her face to the other. Now that she had been inside the mind of Thomas Eugene Paris, B'Elanna Torres knew how literally and sincerely he meant those words.

"Hello," she replied. "I have to go to the bathroom."

He laughed. Unfolding himself from the floor as she left his side, they both arose from their hard bed. Gathering up the pillows and the blanket which, by this time, was wrinkled and fragrant from the erotic activities that had been performed upon it, Tom followed his lover into the sleeping area, appreciating the smooth muscles of her buttocks as she strolled across the floor to the sanitary facilities. Depositing the soiled blanket in the recycler, Tom paused to check the figure sprawled upon the bed. Tuvok was sleeping deeply, every breath strong and even. Tom was gratified to see this, although he was not about to trust his eyes alone for a diagnosis. Retracing his steps, Tom retrieved the medical tricorder that the Doctor had thrust into his hand just before the three had been beamed out of Sickbay.

When B'Elanna exited the bathroom she was treated to the sight of her beloved, stark naked, running a medical scan of a still sound-asleep Tuvok. She raised her eyebrows suggestively, getting a wink back from him in return, but she said nothing until he returned to the living area. The last thing she wanted was to wake up the peacefully sleeping Vulcan.

"Do you think the Doctor will make that your official outfit from now on when you're called to duty as a medic in Sickbay?" she whispered to him wickedly upon his return to the living area.

"Only if he wears the same uniform himself, B'Elanna," he murmured, groping the pile of clothes for his comm badge.

She arched her eyebrow. "He'd never want to reveal his anatomical shortcomings."

Tom's eyes twinkled as they met hers. "Actually, he hasn't any shortcomings. He's done a bit of adjusting to his program."

"You're kidding."

"No, I understand that his 'wife' Charlene is one satisfied hologram."

She punched his shoulder solidly, getting a muted "Ow" for her efforts. When she saw he was still smiling, she realized it wasn't a joke. "I can see I'm going to have to go over his subroutines a lot more thoroughly in the future. How long has this been going on?"

"Long time, B'Elanna. Way before his family program was started. Probably why you missed it. He slipped it in with some opera algorithms, I think." Tapping his comm badge, he added, "Paris to Sickbay."

:::"Mr. Paris. It's about time we heard from you. We were about to send in a rescue party.":::

"No need, Doc. Everything's fine. I'm uploading Tuvok's readings. His hormone levels and body chemistry are all at near normal levels for a Vulcan. No spikes that I can see. He's resting. I'd ask the captain to excuse him from duty for a couple of days to make sure, but I'm willing to bet he's cured now."

:::"Already done, Lieutenant. You and B'Elanna are also off duty for the next fifty hours. Captain's orders.":::

"Acknowledged. How did she take it when she found out what we, uh, our method of treating Tuvok's condition?"

:::"Frankly, I don't believe she was pleased that the commander neither confided in her nor requested her assistance.":::

"Understandable, but necessary, Doctor." Tom and B'Elanna shared a look. Very necessary, as they now knew.

:::"Well, now that the crisis is satisfactorily resolved, I'm sure Captain Janeway will be much more willing to overlook the commander's decision not to ask for her help. I'll be along to check on Commander Tuvok shortly, after I see Mr. Kim. Do either of you need any medical attention?":::

They could almost see the gleam that must have lit his eyes. "No, we're both fine, Doc. How's Harry?"

:::"Ensign Kim is doing well. Seven of Nine has been keeping him under observation.":::

"I'll bet he's doing well, then," B'Elanna muttered under her breath.

:::"What was that, Lieutenant Torres?":::

"Glad to hear it, Doctor," she replied, pursing her lips and daring a sniggering Tom to contradict her.

"We'll just take advantage of our leave time now, if you don't mind, Doc. Paris out."

:::"Emergency Medical Hologram, out.":::

"I'm surprised he didn't come running in here immediately to run every diagnostic he could on us," B'Elanna said quietly.

"We'd better get out of here before he checks on Tuvok, or he still might."

They dressed hurriedly. Neither had mentioned feeling chilly, even though the entire communication with the Doctor had taken place when both were unclothed. As his uniform fabric grazed his skin, Tom began to feel a need to touch and be touched again. The plaktow may not have been totally expunged from their bodies, he realized. A glance at B'Elanna confirmed his guess. Her eyes were glittering at him, hard, when she turned them up to him after putting her boots back on.

As he punched a short message into a PADD for Tuvok, thanking him for letting them share themselves in the final melding, Tom asked B'Elanna, "So, your place or mine?"

"Mine's closer."

"Agreed," he said, feeling a smirk coming on. A very satisfied smirk.


The door swished open, revealing the one she knew would be standing there. "Checking up on me?" Kathryn asked.

"You seemed a little upset in your ready room before," Chakotay answered. Taking the seat on the sofa she offered him, he added, "Do you feel like talking about it?"

She placed her coffee cup on the shelf behind the sofa and curled her feet beneath her. "I don't know, Chakotay. On the one hand, I'm relieved Tuvok is going to be fine and didn't need my help. On the other, I'm a bit put out he preferred B'Elanna and Tom to me!"

His broad grin helped assuage her disappointment. What a glorious smile he had -- when he let himself go enough to show it!

"I doubt it was because he feels closer to them than to you, Kathryn. Chain of command issues are probably why he chose them. He works with them, but they aren't under his direct command, as a rule. And you have to admit it was a creative solution."

"Well, yes. I guess it was creative. The Doctor said that Tom and B'Elanna sounded perfectly fine when they finally reported in. I don't even want to speculate about what they were doing in there for over ten hours!"


She laughed out loud then, her laughter so infectious that Chakotay joined in with her. Such a wonderful laugh he had, too seldom heard. "You're an evil man, Chakotay. But speculating about what they were doing really isn't becoming to sober-sided commanding officers like us, is it? Was this ever covered in Command School?"

"Not that I recall."

"When we get back to the Alpha Quadrant, we may prompt Starfleet Academy to write a new course outline. 'Lost in Space: Chain of Command Policies for the Marooned in Distant Quadrants.' "

"Maybe all we need to do is write our own outline, Kathryn."

She leaned back against the back of her sofa, smiling out her viewport at the stars streaking by. "You may be right, Chakotay. Maybe we do."

"Think that's it, Tom?" B'Elanna sighed, relaxing in his arms.

"I don't know. I'd better hang around to make sure." He buried his face deeply into her hair, smelling its freshness. A shared shower and another session of love making had made Tom a very contented man.

"It's amazing. Even though there wasn't any mind meld this time, it's almost like I could still feel it, you know?"

"We remembered it, I guess."

"Yes, I guess so. I hope we always do." She snuggled a little deeper into his arms, rubbing her face into the strong, smooth-skinned muscles of his shoulder. "It was so strange, Tom. I could almost feel her there with us."

"I think she was with us, in a way. They've been together for seventy years. That's almost a lifetime, and they're only middle aged, for Vulcans."

"Stand-ins," she murmured.


"We were stand-ins for her. For T'Pel. With the two of us, he knew he wouldn't get so attached to either of us that he'd even be tempted to break his life bond with her. I never knew . . . they feel so deeply. I always thought Vulcans didn't have any emotions, when really, they're as strong as human or Klingon ones. Maybe stronger."

"That's the dirty little secret that Vulcans keep hidden -- except during the pon farr. Then they can't hide anything. No wonder they want to keep outsiders from knowing about it." Tom looked at the ceiling, remembering the feeling of those minds inside his. Her precious mind inside his. He tightened his arm around B'Elanna. What an incredible experience this has been. I never want to forget it.

"I never realized he felt that way about the captain, though. Did you?" B'Elanna asked him, indulging herself with the urge to stretch her body sensuously alongside his tall frame.

"I think maybe we all feel a little bit that way about the captain. At least, I know I do. Respect, admiration, loyalty. I owe her everything. If she hadn't 'borrowed' me from prison, I might have been free by now, but I would have been a total loser. Nobody would have hired me to fly a suborbital flitter, let alone a starship. And you would have been an engineer on some backwater planet, probably."

"I probably would have been dead, along with the rest of the Maquis," she sighed. It was still a sore subject they seldom touched upon. Tonight, there were no secrets.

He gently kissed her three times, once on every V-shaped point of her forehead ridges. "I think Chakotay would have found a way to save you."

She turned her face towards him. "Do you think Tuvok's right about how the captain feels about Chakotay?"

"Do you think Tuvok is right about how Chakotay feels about the captain?" he replied.

She smiled quickly. "Touche. They hide it pretty well."

"Not lately. You ever see him looking at her? And she can't keep her hands off him."

"She doesn't keep her hands off anybody."

"Not the way she does with him, though."

"You mean like this, Hotshot?"

"Mmmm. Well, if she's touching him like that on the Bridge, they are hiding it pretty well," he murmured in her ear, enjoying the feel of her hand on him. After a minute of increasingly blissful silence, Tom leaned over just enough so that his hand could roam freely over her chest.

"Think this is still the plaktow, or just the way we usually get?" B'Elanna muttered.

"I'm not sure it matters. The outcome's going to be pretty much the same, don't you think?"

"It's really too bad Vulcans only do this once every seven years. It feels so good, Tom."

"Who says they only do it once every seven years? They need to do it every seven years. They squeeze a little extra in between sometimes. Maybe a lot, who knows."

"How do you know that? Did you pick that up from Tuvok's memories?"

"I didn't need to; I already knew it, B'Elanna. I checked on his family a while ago and noticed how old his children are. Tuvok's eldest is forty-eight and the next son is forty-one; but his youngest son is thirty-six. And his daughter is only twenty-three. Those last two don't fit into the seven year pattern any way you look at it."

"I should have figured it out from his memories," she mused.

"Maybe you were too busy with other things," he said, nuzzling her right ear.

"That must be it." She moaned softly, enjoying the sensation of his lips on her ear. Shifting onto her side to face him and cupping his face between her hands, B'Elanna said, with sincerity, "You know Tom, once every seven years, I guess I could be convinced to stand in for T'Pel to help Tuvok. What about you?"

"Actually, I'd like Tuvok to be back with her again for the next time," Tom replied, stroking her head as she nodded in agreement. "But if we don't get back, yeah. Once every seven years I could take this." His smile widened. "As long as there's lots of just us in between."

She answered him, but not in words.

From a vantage point outside the hull of Voyager, an observer would see many windows. Three, in particular, might attract attention on this evening. Through one could be seen two figures, stretched out in a bed. A dark haired male slumbered in the arms of a golden haired woman. The woman had finally awakened from a long period of sleep, yet she showed no sign that her departure from the bed was imminent. A lesson about the comfort that close physical proximity can bring to an individual had been absorbed and was being put into practice -- much to the pleasure of the sleeping male, as well as to the still-drowsy female who had been the primary recipient of the lesson.

In a nearby window, another male and female couple could be seen. Lessons about the joys of close physical proximity would not appear to be necessary for them. They were engaging in intimate contact for the fifth time during this particular time period designated as one "Stardate." This couple did not appear to require much in the way of practice, either, as they exhibited an extraordinary degree of skill performing the activities in which they were exhilaratingly engrossed. The culmination of this particular act of intercourse would be so satisfying an experience for the pair that they would make a major change in the nature of their affiliation. Deciding that continuing to maintain separate habitations was counterproductive, on the following Stardate, they would place a request with their superior officers for shared quarters.

In the third window a single figure could be seen, seated near a flickering meditation lamp, his head lowered in an attitude of contemplation. After a prolonged period of time in this position, the solitary male raised his head to peer out the viewport in the general direction towards which the space vessel was heading. The male was contemplating the vagaries of life as they applied to his race.

He was calm. A tragic fate had been averted due to the generosity of the couple who at that moment, as he rightfully suspected, were joyfully sharing their bodies and souls with each other. For the next seven years, thanks to them, the need to copulate would be optional, rather than clinically necessary, for the poised, dark-skinned male.

He was appreciative that his life had been spared, although he greatly missed the presence of the one for whom he had lit the lamp. Of course, he would never admit to "missing" anyone, even his wife, to anyone on board Voyager.

But that did not mean he did not miss her. He did.