A Problem Shared
Part Three
Chakotay's door chime sounded, and he called out from his bedroom for his visitor to enter. The door slid open to admit Tom. He was dressed in comfortable walking clothes, and carried a backpack.
'Chay?' he called out. 'Where are you? Are you ready yet?'
Chakotay emerged from his bedroom, with his own backpack slung over one shoulder. 'Yes, Tom, I'm ready. Did you collect the food from Neelix?' he asked.
'Yeah, but I had to refuse some of it. He'd packed enough for a week's stay in the desert rather than twenty hours on the holodeck'
'He gets pretty enthusiastic at times, doesn't he?' Chakotay remarked with a small laugh.
'Yeah, he does' Tom agreed. 'But, despite some of the things he expects us to eat sometimes, he's a sweet guy really'
Chakotay smiled, and gestured towards the door. 'Shall we go? We don't want to be late for our reservation'
'I still don't know how you managed to book twenty hours in one block, but I don't want to miss a minute of it. So yeah, let's go' Tom answered.
They left Chakotay's quarters and made their way via corridors and the turbolift to holodeck two. As they stood outside its locked doors Chakotay called for the time.
'The time is 10.59hrs.' The computer informed him.
'One more minute' Tom commented happily. 'And then the holodeck's all ours until 07.00 tomorrow'
Chakotay smiled. He was pleased that Tom was obviously keen to spend time exploring his  program with him, because he, in turn, was looking forward to the younger man's company.
When the holodeck door opened a few moments later, the men entered. As he'd instructed, Chakotay's program had started as soon as the time reached 11.00hrs, and, after initiating a privacy lock, the men adjusted their packs in readiness for their walk to the mountains.
'You need to tighten that strap a little more, Tom' Chakotay noted. 'It's quite a long walk, and you'll soon be sore if you don't'
'I don't think I can reach it now. Could you do it for me?' Tom asked, looking over his shoulder.
'Yes, of course' Chakotay said from behind him. 'Hold still a minute, and tell me if I tighten it too much, okay?'
Tom nodded, and Chakotay reached around to carefully straighten all the straps on Tom's pack before pulling hard on the loose one.
'Is that okay?' he asked, once he'd adjusted it to his own satisfaction.
'Yeah, that's a lot more comfortable. Thanks' Tom said, turning around to face Chakotay.
He caught the older man's gaze, and they smiled warmly at each other before Chakotay patted Tom on the arm and nodded towards the mountains. 'Let's get going then, shall we?' he suggested.
Tom nodded in agreement, and they set off towards the distant peaks.
They didn't follow the path that they had done the last time, instead Chakotay pointed out a track that cut through a sea of tall grey-green grass. It led towards the small hills at the foot of the mountains, and was wide enough for them to walk side by side.
They ambled along in companionable silence with the sun warming their backs, and the breeze bending the grass in waves around their feet. The peacefulness of their surroundings was broken only by the occasional chirping of birds in the trees near the lake, and large crickets that leapt from their path as they strolled along.
It was a pleasant and enjoyable walk, but it took almost an hour to reach the hills and by that time both men were ready for a rest. As the tall grass gave way to a shorter variety, they spotted a stream ahead, and the ideal place to take a break. They shrugged off their backpacks, and sat down in the shade of a small tree that stood close to the stream's edge.
A sudden movement caught Tom's eye, and he smiled as a large brightly-coloured dragonfly darted out across the water.
'Did you see that, Chay?' he asked. 'It was beautiful'
'There's another one over there' Chakotay said, pointing to a spot a few yards away from where they sat.
Tom looked where Chakotay had indicated, and a bright smile spread across his face as he spotted the second dragonfly hovering just above the stream, its almost translucent wings shimmering in the sun.
'This is wonderful' he said, turning to look at Chakotay. 'I don't think I've ever seen a more realistic program'
'I'm glad you like it, Tom. Your opinion means a lot to me' Chakotay said sincerely. 'And if you wouldn't mind, there's some unfinished parts that I'd like your help with sometime'
'Well, I don't really think you need me, but, if that's what you want, then I'd love to help'
'Thank you, Tom, because I do need you' Chakotay said quietly.
He leaned back against the tree then, and closed his eyes, as he suddenly realised the truth of what he'd just said. He did need Tom. Not just for his help with the program, but as a part of his life.
Ever since the resort party, he'd spent every spare moment with the younger man, and they'd quickly become very close. He enjoyed Tom's company immensely, and had no desire to return to the perpetual state of loneliness that he'd felt before they became friends. He was happy now, and he didn't want that to change. If Tom ever turned away from him, he didn't think he'd be able to handle it and the thought scared him.
Tom stretched out on the grass, and stared up at the wispy clouds in the otherwise clear, blue sky above him. Chakotay's words filled his mind, and he wondered what the older man had really meant by them. Was it only his help with the program that Chakotay needed him for? Or was it something else? Tom thought he knew the answer, but, as yet he wasn't certain.
He glanced across at the older man and noticed a slight frown clouding his face. He could tell that Chakotay was deep in thought too, and wondered what he was thinking. Was he worried that one day they'd no longer be friends? Because Tom would never allow that to happen.
He'd found himself feeling very protective towards Chakotay since the night of the party, and he didn't want the gentle man to have to go things alone any more. And while he'd done his best to be a good friend to Chakotay, Tom acknowledged that the other man had helped *him* greatly too.
Tom's own sense of isolation had left him now that he had Chakotay's support. He knew that whatever problems he might encounter, Chakotay would always be willing to help.
Even though they'd only spent the last few days together, Tom now regarded Chakotay as his closest friend and he didn't want to lose him. He would be ready to listen to whatever was troubling the older man, but he sensed that Chakotay himself wasn't sure yet what it was.
Tom thought it would be best to keep quiet for now, and decided to try and distract Chakotay from his musings. With this in mind, he got up and walked across to dip his hand in the cool, clear water that trickled gently over the large stones scattered on the stream's bed.
'Are there fish in the stream, Chay?' he called across to the silent man leaning against the tree.
Chakotay opened his eyes and gazed at Tom bending down at the water's edge. 'Yes, there should be somewhere, Tom. Why? Did you want to go fishing?' he asked with a smile.
'No, I was just wondering' Tom replied, and wandered back to the tree. 'How long will it take to get across these hills? D'you think we should go yet?'
'If you're ready we can go. It will probably take about another hour to reach the base, but it's still a relatively easy walk. As for the mountains themselves, we have a choice of two routes. We can decide which to take when we get there'
'Okay, let's go then' Tom said, and held out his hand to Chakotay.  The older man accepted it with a smile, and Tom helped him up.
They grabbed their backpacks from the ground and, after putting them on, set out on the next stage of their journey across the hills.
The soft grass they walked on was springy under foot, and was sprinkled with small, dainty flowers of white and blue. The breeze was fresher here, and, despite the warm sun, the occasional gust sent small shivers through the men as their path took them higher.
They walked on, chatting about  the various insects and plants that caught their attention, and stopping now and then to take a closer look at them. As they followed the path upwards, the grass eventually grew sparse and they found themselves walking across rough ground.
They had travelled a fair distance, and as Tom turned around to check how far, his foot found a patch of loose stones and he stumbled and fell heavily to the dusty ground.
'Are you okay, Tom?' Chakotay asked worriedly. He bent down to check on Tom's condition, and frowned with concern.
'Yeah, I'm fine. I just wasn't watching where I was going' Tom replied with a snort.
After making sure he was okay, Chakotay slipped his hand under Tom's elbow and helped him to stand. The younger man's blond hair was covered in specks of dirt and tiny stones, and Chakotay reached up to gently brush it all away. Tom stood still as each tiny piece was removed, and when the last of the dirt had gone, Chakotay smiled.
'That looks much better' he remarked, and dropped his gaze to Tom's sparkling blue eyes.
'Thank you' Tom said softly, and smiled at the slightly bewildered expression that flitted across Chakotay's face.
It was obvious to Tom that Chakotay hadn't really thought about what he'd been doing; he'd just acted instinctively and his actions were only now sinking in. Tom wondered how long it would be before Chakotay admitted to himself what Tom now knew for sure; that Chakotay cared for him as more than just a friend.
'Perhaps we should have our lunch now, Chay' Tom suggested. 'It must be about time because my stomach's growling'
'Mm, we could' Chakotay answered distractedly, and he crossed to a small patch of grass on the edge of the track and sat down. He sighed as he gazed down at the ground, and ran his fingers through his dark hair.
Tom could see that Chakotay was troubled, and he decided that he would have to get the older man to talk. He walked over and sat down in front of the frowning man, and touched him gently on the shoulder.
'Chay? What's the matter?' he asked quietly. 'Do you want to tell me?'
Chakotay shook his head slowly and looked up into Tom's concerned eyes. 'I don't know, Tom......it's just' he stopped and sighed, then tried again. 'Nothings the matter really but.....I just don't know how to put this into words'
'You told me a few days ago that it isn't always words that are needed, remember?' Tom said gently.
'Yes, I remember' Chakotay replied.
'So take your own advice, Chay, and tell me without words' Tom urged.
Chakotay nodded. 'I'll try, Tom' he said 'But it won't be easy'
He took several deep, calming breaths and briefly closed his eyes. Then, nervously, he leaned forward to place a small, tentative kiss on Tom's soft lips. It felt right, but he was unsure what the younger man's reaction would be, and he pulled back to look hesitantly at Tom.
'That wasn't so difficult, now was it?' Tom said gently. 'But there is something I have to tell you, Chakotay' he stated, as he looked deep into the other man's dark eyes.
Chakotay felt as though his world was crashing down at Tom's use of his full name, it was something the younger man never did any more, and he felt tears welling up in his eyes. 'I'm so sorry, Tom, really. Don't tell me that we can't be friends any more. Please' he pleaded.
Tom reached out to gently stroke the distraught man's cheek. 'I'd never say that, Chay. But I do have to be honest with you, okay? This is something that you definitely have to know'
Chakotay gave a small nod, and Tom continued.
'It's just that...and I don't know if I'm being presumptuous here but....I've never had a male lover before' he said softly.
Chakotay sighed, and looked down at the grass. 'And you don't want one' he said in a quiet, resigned voice.
'No, Chay' Tom said quickly. 'It isn't that. I want you, it's just that.....I don't know what to do'
Chakotay looked up into Tom's face that was flushed with embarrassment. 'Then that makes two of us' he said quietly. 'Because I've never had a male lover before either'
They stared at each other for a moment as their situation sank in, then the absurdity of it hit them and they both burst out laughing.
Tom pulled Chakotay to him, and they hugged each other tightly. 'I guess we'll have to make it up as we go along' he said, smiling.
'I guess we will' Chakotay agreed, and this time he was less hesitant as he claimed Tom's lips and kissed him tenderly.
As the minutes passed, the wind picked up around them until they were covered in a cloud of dust blown from the track next to them. Chakotay pulled back, and took in the conditions.
'I think we'd better get moving, Tom, it's getting too windy here. Let's get to the other side of the hill and stop there, it isn't far and it will be more sheltered'
They clambered to their feet and retrieved their packs as the wind continued to whip up the dirt and dust. They walked quickly, and within fifteen minutes found themselves on the opposite side of the hill.
As Chakotay had said, it was more sheltered here, and the grass was thicker again. There were several large rocks that jutted up out of the ground and made a natural windbreak. They also trapped the warmth from the sun, and the men decided that this was where they would stop.
They disposed of their packs, and sank down on to the soft grass. Chakotay lay back, and pulled Tom with him. 'I've been thinking' he said, quietly. 'It's actually pretty amazing you know'
'What is?' Tom asked, propping himself up on one elbow to look into Chakotay's eyes.
'The fact that at our ages we've found something we've never done before'  Chakotay replied, caressing Tom's cheek gently.
'Yeah' Tom agreed with a smile. ' That is amazing. We must be the oldest 'virgins' on the ship'
Chakotay laughed and rolled Tom on to his back. 'Virgins' he repeated, and kissed and nipped the pale skin of Tom's neck until they were both moaning softly.
Tom ran his fingers through Chakotay's dark hair. It was still covered with a fine film of dust, and he brushed at it as Chakotay had done to him.
'Y'know, when we decided to come to the holodeck' he murmured. 'I thought it would just be the mountains that we'd be exploring, Chay'
'So did I, Tom' Chakotay replied with a small laugh. 'But I think this is more worthy of exploration than the mountains'
'Too true' Tom agreed. 'And this is something that I'd like to explore for a long time to come'
'Well, we've got a lot to find out, Tom, and plenty of time to do it' Chakotay said softly. 'In fact we've got the rest of our lives'  
As the sun shone down on the grassy patch on which they lay, the two men wrapped their arms tightly around each other, and embarked on what they would later recall as their first day of a lifetime of exploration together.
The end.