A Problem Shared
Part One
Chakotay sat on the stool at the bar, and surveyed the sea of smiling faces around him. Neelix had resurrected the old resort program, hoping that an informal setting for his impromptu 'end of hostilities' party would boost the crew's morale even further. Judging by their reactions, it seemed to be working.
Chakotay watched the Captain as she attempted to explain the finer points of beach volley ball to Seven. She'd already coaxed the ex-Borg out of her jump suit and into a flowery dress, much to the delight of most of the male crew members, so Chakotay had no doubts that Janeway would succeed in this, her newest mission. Perhaps next time, she might even get the younger woman to take part rather than just spectate, he thought.
Nearby, Naomi Wildman was giggling at her mother's attempts at building sand castles, and doing her best to knock them down before they were barely out of the bucket. Behind them, a small group stood chatting and drinking together, and laughing at the happy girl's antics.
Chakotay's gaze roved towards where Neelix was busy handing out plates of some unknown delicacy to a small queue of brave individuals. From the pleasantly surprised looks on the faces of the recipients, the food obviously didn't taste too bad. Chakotay smiled slightly, and took a sip of his cold beer. Everybody around him seemed to be enjoying themselves, but, he thought, no matter how many times he was in a scenario like this, he always felt alone.
It wasn't a feeling he enjoyed, or wanted, but to some degree, he thought, it was probably his own fault that he felt this way. He'd taken his responsibilities as First Officer of Voyager seriously, and put all his time and energy into them. Because of that he'd never really had the opportunity to become close to anyone, and most of the crew regarded him as off-limits when it came to socialising. He was the First Officer, and was still seen as such even when he was off duty. Most people were wary of chatting to him in case they accidentally revealed something that might get them into trouble. For this reason most of his conversations were work-related, rather than pleasant social talks.
Chakotay sighed, and drained his beer. There didn't seem much point in staying at the party, after all he'd sat here on his own for the best part of an hour now. He didn't really want to head home yet though; once his cabin door closed behind him he really would be alone, at least here he could pretend that he wasn't. Should he stay, or should he go? He wasn't quite sure *what* he wanted, and snorted at his own indecisiveness. As he sat lost in his tangled thoughts, he was unaware of the scrutiny he was receiving from the figure sitting beneath the tree to his left.
Tom watched the play of emotions on the Commander's face, and nodded to himself. After observing how everyone seemed to ignore Chakotay after they'd initially greeted him, it was pretty obvious to Tom what the quiet man's problem was. Chakotay was lonely, and it showed.
Tom had experienced loneliness at various times throughout his life, and knew how overwhelming the feeling could become. He had firsthand knowledge of what it was like to be excluded from gatherings because of rank. His own status as an admiral's son had precluded his participation in many activities. A lot of people had been uncomfortable with his presence, always expecting him to 'report back to daddy', so they had either stayed away from him, or discouraged him from joining in.
Of course, there was the other side of it too; some people only wanted to know him *because* of his father. They weren't interested in knowing *him*, they just wanted to be associated with Admiral Paris' son, and that had had a profound effect on Tom.  Once he'd realised what they were doing, he'd kept his distance from everyone and loneliness had set in. He hadn't had any close friends until he met Harry Kim. But even Harry had been unable to completely eradicate Tom's loneliness; he still felt it, even now.
Tom brushed the sand from his clothes as he stood up, and decided to join his kindred spirit at the bar. He would end Chakotay's solitude for a short while, and perhaps it would help.
Tom sat himself down on the stool next to Chakotay 'Fancy another beer?' he asked.
Chakotay looked up, surprised. He'd just about decided to head home, and now here was Tom Paris offering him a drink. 'Thanks, Tom, another beer would be great' he answered with a smile.
Tom smiled back, then summoned the holographic bartender and ordered two beers. Chakotay shifted round to face Tom as the ice-cold drinks were placed in front of them.
'Enjoying the party?' he asked.
'Well, it's nice to see everyone relaxed after the week we've had, but I never really feel a part of these things; they always bring the Admiral's 'let's put my son on parade' extravaganzas to mind, so I don't ever really enjoy them. How about you? You enjoying it?'
'About as much as you are' Chakotay confessed with a grin. 'I don't feel a part of it either'
'Actually, I'd noticed; that's why I came over. I thought we could sit and keep each other company, if you don't mind, of course'
'I don't mind at all, Tom. In fact, if you hadn't come over I'd be on my way back to my quarters now. I didn't really want to go home, but it wasn't much fun sitting here on my own'
Tom swallowed a mouthful of beer, and placed the glass back on the counter. 'Yeah, I know what you mean' he agreed. 'I'd had enough of my own company too'
Chakotay looked puzzled for a moment. 'Aren't you here with Harry and B'Elanna?' he asked.
'I couldn't drag B'Elanna away from her engines, but Harry's around somewhere. Probably still chasing after Megan'
'And you're not helping him?' Chakotay asked with a frown. 'I would have thought that would hold more appeal for you than sitting here with me'
'Not really' Tom shrugged. 'I'm not really in the mood to find him at the moment. This might sound mean, but there are times when I just need a break from Harry. He always wants me to help him with everything. It's not that I actually mind helping him, but it'd be nice sometimes if he'd recruit someone else instead. And it would be great if someone could help *me* with things for a change'
'I thought Harry did that?'
'Yeah, he does, sort of. He tries anyway'
'I don't really understand what you mean, Tom. Doesn't Harry help you with your problems?'
Tom leaned his elbows on the counter, as he considered how to answer. His objective had been to try to help the Commander, but it was Chakotay that was now trying to help him. Did he really want to divulge personal details to the considerate First Officer? As he asked himself the question, Tom realised he was treating Chakotay the same way that it seemed all the others were; he was still thinking of him as the First Officer, and not as another man and a possible friend. Perhaps by answering Chakotay's question honestly, he thought, maybe he would be able to coax the other man into revealing something of himself.
'Harry's my best friend, the only one I've ever really had actually, and he always offers to help if I've got problems. It's just that, no matter whose problem it is, mine or his, *I* always end up consoling *him*; he doesn't just get upset over his own worries, he gets upset over mine too. It wears me down at times, because not only do I then have to sort out my own problems, I have to convince Harry that I'm okay, and sort him out as well. I wish someone else could do it for a change, because even when he's standing right next to me, the fact that I can't turn to him for real help makes me feel pretty lonely. I don't know if that makes any sense to you'
'Yes it does' Chakotay replied, looking closely at Tom. 'I understand how you feel completely because I'm in a similar position. Not with my best friend, because I don't have one, but with the crew. They come to me in my capacity as unofficial counsellor, and I'm happy to help, but when *I* have a problem there's no-one I can really go to'
'You don't confide in the Captain?'
'No, not any more. She doesn't really have much time for me now; when she's off duty she's usually helping Seven with *her* problems'
'And I suppose you can't talk to anyone else, because to them you're just their superior officer'  Tom remarked with a shake of his head.
'Exactly, they're colleagues. They're not friends, I don't really have any of those' Chakotay stated softly.
A beach ball came flying out of the blue, and knocked the men's drinks over, causing both Chakotay and Tom to jump back before the cold beer could hit them. As they picked up the glasses and settled back on to their stools, Tom came to a decision.
'I don't know about you, but I've had enough of this party lark. Why don't we get out of here?' he suggested. 'The other holodeck's free, we could run something a bit quieter'
'Okay, do you have anything particular in mind?' Chakotay asked.
'As long as there's no sand and no crowds of people, I'm not bothered' He snorted lightly before continuing. 'That sounds a bit daft, doesn't it?'
'Not wanting people about. I've just been talking about feeling lonely, and now I want to get away from everyone'
Chakotay smiled at the younger man. 'That's not daft, Tom, I was going to do the same thing if you remember. Loneliness isn't cured by surrounding yourself with crowds of people, you know. Come on' he said, standing up. 'Let's go to the other holodeck and continue our discussion there'
Unnoticed by everyone, the two men left, and walked in silence down the corridor. They entered the empty holodeck, and Chakotay instructed the computer to run one of his private programs.
Tom looked around as the familiar grid was replaced by wild and beautiful scenery, and he nodded in appreciation of the skill that had been required to create it.
'Did you do all this yourself?' he asked, taking in the magnificence of the mountain range in the distance, and the sparkling lake that lay in front of them. There were trees nearby that had been shaped by the wind, twisted until they'd been forced to grow almost bent in half. Flocks of brightly coloured birds screeched as they circled overhead, before darting off in the direction of the smaller hills to the left of the lake, and disappearing from view.
Chakotay smiled at Tom's obvious admiration for the program. 'Yes' he replied. 'I've spent a lot of time on this. It occupies my mind when I need a distraction'
'Well, it's wonderful, you must be very pleased with it' Tom said, sincerely. 'The attention to detail is incredible'
'Thank you, Tom. Coming from an expert programmer like you that's a great compliment. I'm not sure I deserve the praise, but I'll accept it anyway' Chakotay replied with a satisfied smile. 'There's a path that goes down past the lake, do you want to take a walk?' he asked.
'Yeah, sure' Tom replied, looking towards the glistening expanse of water. He was pleased that he'd suggested coming to the other holodeck now; Chakotay seemed keen to show off his handiwork, and Tom was happy to let him.
They followed the rough path down towards the lake, but stopped just before it reached the edge. A large tree had fallen across the track, and barred their way. It wouldn't have taken too much effort to clamber over it, but they decided that here was as good a place to stop as any. They perched side by side on one of the thick branches that jutted out from the tree's gnarled trunk, and looked out across the tranquil landscape before them.
'I can see why you'd want to create a place like this' Tom commented. 'It's really restful'
'Yes, it's peaceful here, and the solitude it offers helps me to think' Chakotay said quietly. 'When I have no-one to consult about my problems, I come here to meditate and contact my spirit guide'
'And that helps?'
'Yes, to a certain degree, although most of the time I would prefer to interact with a flesh and blood person instead; words aren't always enough, or what's needed, you see'
'How d'you mean?' Tom asked with interest. He turned to face Chakotay and noticed a faraway look on the older man's face as he gazed out across the lake.
'I long for the same kind of thing that you do, Tom; I'd like to have someone who could solve my problems for me sometimes' Chakotay explained. 'But there are occasions when I don't actually feel like talking about my worries. As I said before, having a group of people around you isn't always the cure for loneliness. What *does* go a long way to solving it is having one person that can see into your soul and who, without being told, knows that you're hurting. All I want sometimes is for someone to notice that I'm troubled and just come up and hug me, but it will never happen. People like you and I always appear strong to others; they believe that we're more than capable of taking care of ourselves. It never occurs to them that sometimes we might have fears or worries that we can't cope with on our own. And it would seem that, because I've never embarked on a relationship with any crew member, they believe that I'm happy to live without the comfort of physical contact; that I don't need it. Well, they couldn't be more wrong. It's a basic human need, and I need it as much as anyone else'
Chakotay's soft voice, tinged with sadness and longing, combined with his wistful expression, prompted Tom to act. Without really thinking about what he was doing, Tom placed his arm around the other man and pulled him close.
Chakotay felt his eyes start to fill with tears at Tom's spontaneous gesture, and he rested his head on the younger man's shoulder. 'Thank you' he whispered, and embraced Tom tightly.
They sat with their arms wound around each other, offering silent support  and understanding, until Tom finally found his voice. 'You're right, y'know, sometimes a hug *is* better than words' he said, pulling back to look into the older man's eyes. 'I haven't felt this content in ages'
Chakotay smiled. 'Neither have I, Tom' he replied quietly. 'But it isn't just the hug that's filled the emptiness within me. What's really lightened my spirit is the fact that you saw me alone at the resort's bar and wanted to help me. It's been a long time since anyone cared enough to put their own problems to one side and addressed mine instead. Thank you' he said, and leaned forward to place a quick kiss of gratitude on Tom's cheek.
Tom laughed gently at the unexpected kiss from the normally reserved man. 'You're welcome' he replied, and gave Chakotay a small kiss of his own.
Chakotay chuckled at Tom's response, and gave the younger man another warm hug before standing up. 'Come on, let's walk a little further' he suggested, and held out his hand to haul Tom up from the branch.
After climbing over the fallen tree, they were able to once again follow the path that led them around the edge of the lake. For the next hour they ambled along admiring the view, and chatted incessantly about anything and everything that came to mind. It was relaxing and friendly banter, and exactly what both men had wanted and needed.
'I've really enjoyed this, Chakotay' Tom remarked, as they finally completed their circuit of the lake and found themselves back at their starting point. 'D'you think we could do it again sometime?'
'I'd like that, Tom. Perhaps we could meet up in a few days, after the rest of the repairs are finished' Chakotay suggested. 'If it's possible, I'll arrange for us to have the same day off, then we can spend a little longer here if you'd like'
'D'you think we'd have enough time to explore in the mountains?' Tom asked, gazing out into the distance. 'I bet there's a great view from up there'
'Well, providing no-one objects, we could always add whatever time we have together and reserve the holodeck for as long as we can'
'I've only got about five hours credit, what about you?'
'I haven't used all of last month's time yet so, with this month's allowance as well, I have twenty three hours available. That should be plenty'
'You can't use all of it, Chakotay. Just match my five hours and we'll make do with that'
'It's okay, I don't mind using it, Tom. I've really enjoyed tonight, and I'd like to spend more time with you. Please allow me to book whatever we can up to our joint limit, okay?'
Tom could see this was something that Chakotay wanted to do, and he wouldn't dissuade the older man easily. 'Okay' he agreed 'But you'll have to let me buy you a beer or two to make it up to you'
'I think I can live with that' Chakotay replied, smiling. He instructed the computer to end the program, and gestured towards the door. 'Come on, we'd best get home. We've got a busy few days ahead of us'
Tom nodded, and they left the holodeck, chatting amiably about their evening.
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