A Problem Shared
Part Two
Tom groaned, and rubbed his eyes sleepily, as the door to his quarters slid open and Harry Kim walked in. 'Harry? What time d'you call this?' he grumbled, trying to focus on the Ensign's face.
'07.00hrs. We've got an early start this morning, or had you forgotten?' Harry asked, crossing the room and seating himself on Tom's couch.
Tom ran his fingers through his hair, and adjusted the robe that he'd put on hurriedly when the door chime had sounded. The insistent buzzing had disturbed the pleasant sleep that he'd been having, and he wasn't pleased. He sat down next to the other man, and rested his head on the back of the couch.
'No, I hadn't forgotten, I'm just not awake yet. My shift doesn't start for another half hour and I was gonna stay in bed a bit longer. Thanks for ruining my plans'
'That's okay, Tom. Now you know how I felt last night' Harry muttered.
Tom sat up straight, and gazed at the man next to him. 'What are you talking about, Harry?' he asked with a puzzled frown. As far as Tom knew, the only plan that Harry had had for the previous evening was to make a play for Megan.
'Last night, at the party, I wanted you to join Megan, Jenny and me for some two on two beach games' Harry stated. 'I spent ages searching the resort for you, but you weren't there; you'd left without even telling me. I only found out you'd gone when I asked the computer for your location, and it told me you were in the other holodeck with Chakotay. I mean, what were you doing with *him*, Tom, when you should have been with us? And you didn't even answer my hails' Harry added petulantly.
'That's because I never got your hails' Tom replied irritably. 'There's still some communications problems. And anyway, Harry, if I want to spend time with Chakotay I will, I don't have to be with *you* every minute of the day, I'm allowed other friends y'know' Tom said indignantly. 'Besides, you weren't worried about me while you were chasing after Miss Delaney, were you?'
'Don't give me that, Tom, I asked you to come with me and you refused.'
'Yes, I did' Tom agreed.
It was too early in the morning for this sort of conversation and because of his tiredness Tom could feel himself getting angry. Usually he would try to contain it, but this morning he didn't have the energy or the inclination to.
'Do you know *why* I refused?' he continued. 'Let me tell you, shall I? All you ever want me to do is help you with this, or help you with that. You don't give a damn about really helping *me* with anything. It gets too much for me sometimes, Harry, and I need a break from you. That's why I didn't want to be with you last night. All right?'
The anger in Tom's voice stunned Harry for a moment. 'How can you say I don't help you? I always help you!' he finally said, his own anger rising. 'But if you don't want me around, I can take a hint. I won't stay where I'm not wanted'
Harry stood up quickly, and made his way to the door before Tom had a chance to reply. 'I'll see you around, Tom' he said, and left.
Tom closed his eyes for a few moments, and tried to calm down; this wasn't the way he'd expected this morning to begin. After the time he'd spent with Chakotay the previous evening, he'd gone to bed feeling happy and content for once, but that feeling had now been shattered.
He took a few deep breaths, and when he'd managed to relax a little, he got up from the couch and headed for the bathroom. The shower beckoned, and after he'd pulled off his robe, he stood lost in his thoughts as the warm water rained down on him.
He had always chased after Harry when they'd argued previously, but this time Tom decided he wasn't going to. He'd explained to Chakotay how Harry's actions made him feel sometimes, and this time, Tom decided, Harry would have to make the first move if he wanted to fix things between them.
After drying off, Tom re-entered his bedroom. He glanced at the time and made a mad dash for his clothes; he'd stayed in the shower far longer than he'd thought, and was fifteen minutes late for his shift. He dressed hurriedly, and with a muttered curse, ran out of his quarters.
As he stepped from the turbolift on to the bridge, all eyes turned towards him and he became the unwitting focus of attention.
'Ah, Mr. Paris, I see you've finally decided to join us' Janeway remarked, as Tom went to take over at the helm. Her next statement stopped him from doing that, though. 'You're not needed on the bridge today, the Doctor requires your help in sickbay. There's still a fair amount of damage down there, so that's where you'll be stationed until further notice'
'Yes, Captain' Tom said calmly.
Clearing any trace of annoyance from his features, he turned away from the helm, and started to walk back towards the lift. As he passed Chakotay, the older man gave him an almost imperceptible nod, and whispered so that only Tom could hear.
'How about one of those beers tonight, Tom?' he asked.
'Sure' Tom whispered back. 'I'll see you later'
Tom realised the question had been Chakotay's way of showing his support for him, and he appreciated it. It was nice to know that he had someone on his side, and the fact that it was Chakotay came as a pleasant surprise. As he continued his journey to sickbay Tom felt a lot less agitated than he'd done before.
His mood deteriorated again though, as the day dragged on. By the middle of the afternoon, Tom would have happily swapped his sickbay duty for a stay in the brig, just so long as he didn't have to see the Doctor ever again. Normally he could tolerate the sometimes arrogant and bossy EMH, but although he'd ignored the Doctor's self-oppinionated nonsense as much as possible, he'd still ended up in several arguments with him.
Now, as his shift came to an end, Tom was as irritable as he'd been after the confrontation with Harry that morning. As soon as the door closed behind him, Tom raced away from the Doctor's lair and made his way to his quarters to shower and change.
As he dressed, he decided he would have to call in at the mess hall to eat. He didn't have enough rations left to treat Chakotay *and* use the replicator, so he would have to brave Neelix's cooking for the foreseeable future. As Chakotay was willing to share his holodeck time though, Tom thought that his own sacrifice of a few good meals was only fair.
Tom smoothed his shirt down, and checked his appearance in the mirror, and once satisfied, he left his quarters and walked quickly to the mess hall. B'Elanna's team had been working on the communications system, and everything was fully functional again, so Tom decided he would contact Chakotay as soon as he had eaten.
As he entered the busy mess hall, he noted that he wouldn't need to comm Chakotay after all. The older man was already there, seated by himself at a table near the viewport. He was staring out at the stars, and idly picking at the half-finished meal in front of him.
After spending a few obligatory moments chatting with Neelix about the evening's delicacies, Tom helped himself to some vegetable stew and crossed the room to the Commander's table. He was surprised to realise that just the sight of the calm man had helped to ease his tension, and as Chakotay smiled up at him as he approached, he felt himself relax even further.
'Hi, mind if I join you?' he asked.
'Please do' Chakotay responded, gesturing for Tom to sit opposite him. 'Gone vegetarian, have you?' he teased, as he took note that Tom had chosen the same thing that he had.
'For now, yeah. Have you seen what's on the menu tonight?' Tom responded.
'I try not to look. Neelix puts all the vegetarian dishes at the far end of the counter and that's the only place I choose from. Mind you, some of those concoctions look pretty frightening at times'
Tom laughed, and swallowed a mouthful of stew before answering. 'Well, I can't imagine anything worse than what's on offer tonight. There's a choice of fried Harkantan jula grubs, that Neelix insists are very nutritious, or raw Narvellian earth worms served with rice. Given that choice, I reckon most of Voyager will go vegetarian tonight. I don't know why Neelix hasn't got the message that most of us aren't that adventurous'
'Perhaps he likes a challenge' Chakotay suggested with a grin. 'Maybe it's his goal to convert us all to Delta Quadrant cuisine one by one'
'Either that or kill us off one by one' Tom pointed out.
Chakotay smiled. 'Yes, there are usually two sides to a coin, and that is a possible alternative' he conceded.
'That reminds me' Tom said, frowning at his companion. 'How come you weren't as mad with me this morning as the Captain was?' he asked. Chakotay's support had been more than welcome, but the reason for his concern had played on Tom's mind all day.
Chakotay finished the last of his stew, and placed his spoon in his bowl before answering. 'I wasn't mad, because I'm sure you never intended to be late' he replied with certainty.
'No, it wasn't intentional. But how did you know that?'
'Observation, and big ears' Chakotay grinned. He gazed sympathetically at Tom then as he explained. 'When Harry arrived on the bridge this morning I noticed he was agitated, and then, shortly afterwards, I overheard him telling someone that the two of you had had an argument. I knew that would have upset you, and I was sure that was why you were late. I'm sorry you got sent off to sickbay, but I didn't think you'd want me to mention it to the Captain' 
'Well, you're right on all counts' Tom confirmed. 'Harry and I just had a stupid row that'll blow over eventually, and it wasn't anything Janeway needed to know about. Thanks for not mentioning it, I appreciate it'
'You're welcome, Tom. Now why don't you finish your stew, because rumour has it that there's a couple of beers in Sandrine's with my name on them'
Tom grinned, and tucked into his meal as he considered the man in front of him. Chakotay seemed so different to how he'd been the night before, Tom thought. The lonely air that had surrounded him then had gone, and had been replaced with a more light-hearted one. Tom was pleased, not just because of Chakotay's change of mood, but because his own had lightened since sitting down with him. As he remembered Chakotay saying how the emptiness inside him had been filled, Tom hoped that the transformation wasn't just temporary, and that maybe it really *had* been down to him.
Chakotay watched Tom finish his meal, and smiled. Tom was good company, he thought, and he hoped Tom felt the same way about him.  He found the variation between serious and humorous conversation refreshing, and hadn't felt so relaxed with someone for a long time.  They'd learnt a lot about each other in their short time together on the holodeck, and Chakotay really hoped that his new-found friendship with Tom would grow, and that they would learn a lot more.
Tom placed his spoon down, and looked up at Chakotay. The older man seemed to be lost in his thoughts, and Tom grinned as he waved his hand in front of the other man's face.
'You in there?' he asked.
'Sorry, Tom' Chakotay apologised. 'Are you ready to go?'
'Yep, come on, let's go find those beers' Tom said, reaching across the table to squeeze Chakotay's arm.
Chakotay smiled, and patted Tom's hand. 'I won't say no to that' he commented, and stood up.
They disposed of their empty bowls, and spoons, and wandered out of the mess hall to holodeck one, where the Sandrine's program was running. There were a few groups of people, mostly junior crew members, dotted around the room, but there was a quiet spot on the far side of the bar. After procuring a couple of cold beers, Chakotay and Tom headed in that direction.
They sank down side by side on to the wooden bench and leaned back against the wall. As they enjoyed a moment of comfortable silence, Tom sipped at his beer and found himself sneaking glances at Chakotay over the top of his glass.
In all the years that they'd spent on Voyager, Tom realised that although he had obviously seen the Commander hundreds of times, he'd never really taken notice of him until the previous night. He'd been surprised by his observations.
He'd always had a vague picture in his mind of a strong, capable man that had no time for anything except work, and while some of it was true, Tom now knew that there was much more to Chakotay than that.
He *was* strong, but he was also vulnerable to loneliness. The solitude that everyone assumed Chakotay wanted was forced upon him by his position as First Officer; it wasn't what he really wanted.
Tom had also discovered that although Chakotay *was* capable, he wanted a break from responsibility at times. Like Tom, he wanted to have someone sort out his problems for him on occasion. It wasn't really too much to ask for, Tom thought.
Chakotay was also kind, considerate, and generous. He was a good man, but all in all, Tom decided, he wasn't as tough on the inside as he appeared on his handsome and controlled exterior.
He was a gentle soul that craved a friend; someone who would show him that they cared. Even though Tom had only spent one evening with him, he'd already begun to regard Chakotay as a close friend, and he was determined to prove that to the older man.
As Tom continued his silent evaluation, Chakotay glanced his way and noticed how preoccupied Tom seemed. 'Is everything okay, Tom? You look a million miles away' he commented.
'Oh, yeah, I'm fine' Tom replied, placing his glass on the table. 'I just got lost in my own thoughts there for a moment, a bit like you did in the mess hall' he said with a grin.
Chakotay studied Tom carefully. 'Is there anything I can help you with? I will if I can, you know' he offered sincerely.
'Thanks, Chakotay, I know you would, but I'm okay' Tom replied. Then a thought that he'd had earlier in the day came back to him, and he addressed the older man again. 'Now that you mention it, though, I *was* going to ask you a favour'
Chakotay's face became serious, and he gently placed his hand on Tom's shoulder  'Anything, Tom. Just ask' he stated.
'Okay, but don't take this the wrong way or anything' Tom warned.
'I won't, Tom. Just tell me what's on your mind' Chakotay said with concern. He couldn't imagine what it was that seemed to be making Tom nervous.
'Well, it's just that your name's a bit of a mouthful, and after a few drinks it's going to give me problems, so I was wondering if you'd mind if I shortened it occasionally'
'Shortened it to what?' Chakotay asked, intrigued.
'Well, it's the middle part I'll have trouble with, so I thought about leaving that out and calling you Chay. Is that all right?'
Chakotay gave a small chuckle and gazed up at the ceiling. 'Chay' he repeated. He smiled to himself, then smiled broadly at Tom. 'Chay's fine, Tom' he replied, looking pleased.  'Although I don't think I'll bother shortening *your* name further' he added.
Tom smiled. He hadn't been entirely sure that Chakotay would react favourably to his suggestion, but he was pleased that he had, and that his ploy seemed to have paid off. He'd had a hunch that no-one had ever given Chakotay any kind of friendly nickname before, and judging by the man's bright smile and sparkling eyes, it was obvious to him that he'd been right.
'So, Chay' Tom said, emphasising the new name 'When do we get to go back to that beautiful holodeck program of yours? Are we likely to get time off soon? I know there's about another half a day's worth of repairs to be done to sickbay, but what about the rest of the ship?'
'It shouldn't take much longer, Tom. The most urgent repairs have all been carried out, there's just minor things that need doing now. I'm hoping to schedule our break for two days time. I've already checked the holodeck availability, and we should be able to book around twenty hours there; providing no-one complains about it anyway'
'That's great. I'm really looking forward to exploring those mountains with you' Tom said, holding Chakotay's gaze for a moment.
'So am I, Tom' Chakotay replied softly. 'I think we'll have fun'
Tom smiled, then signalled to Sandrine to fetch two more beers. As they picked up the glasses that she brought them, Tom tipped his towards Chakotay's.
'To friendship, Chay' he said warmly, as their glasses touched.
Chakotay smiled and repeated the toast. 'To friendship, Tom'
They both took a long drink of their beer, then spent the rest of the evening enthusiastically discussing their plans for their upcoming trip to the mountains.
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