No Easy Answers by Ronda

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In the mess hall, Chakotay sat alone at a table eating lunch. He was reading a PADD.

"Mind if I join you?" asked B'Elanna.

He smiled and pointed to an empty chair. "Have a seat. How are things in engineering?"

"Fine," she said as she took a seat. "Has Tom been moved to his quarters?"

Chakotay nodded, "Yes, the Doctor released him from sickbay this morning. He seemed to be okay when we left him. He's got twenty one days left on his sentence."

"I know," replied B'Elanna.

They were interrupted by Neelix as he paused with a tray ladened with covered dishes. "I'm on my way to take Tom his tray. If anyone needs me, I'll be back soon."

"Too bad, I can't hide under one of those dishes," joked B'Elanna.

"I'll tell him that if I get a chance," said Neelix in a conspiratorial tone.

Chakotay raised an eyebrow. "I'll pretend I didn't hear that." The twinkle in his eyes belied his serious tone.

"Well, I'd better hurry, I don't want his food to get cold," said Neelix as he walked towards the door.

When he got to the door, Ensign Lang activated it and let Neelix in while remaining at her post. He walked over to the table and sat the tray down. Tom walked over to see what he had for lunch.

"Tom, B'Elanna wished she were small enough to hide under one of your dishes," whispered Neelix with a wink.

"I wouldn't mind having B'Elanna for lunch," quipped Tom.

"Well, I'd better be going. It's lunch time and I don't want to leave the mess hall unattended for too long," said Neelix as he walked to the door. It slid open and he left quietly.

Tom sat down and began removing covers from his food. He smiled as he surveyed each item. Grilled chicken breast, steamed rice, salad, fruit cocktail, and a multi-grain roll. The Doctor's dietary restrictions beat the Captain's "basic nutritutional" restrictions. He began eating his meal.

Back in the mess hall, B'Elanna was now sitting alone. Chakotay had finished his lunch and returned to duty. Neelix stopped by her table.

"I relayed your message to Tom," he whispered. "His answer was, 'I wouldn't mind having B'Elanna for lunch.'"

B'Elanna grinned, aware of the double meaning in those words. Sexual innuendo generally escaped Neelix, but not her. "Thanks, Neelix," she said. Rising to her feet, she took her empty dishes to the recycler and left for engineering

Right before Tom went to bed, the Doctor came by to check on him and administer his medications.

"You're heart rate and blood pressure appear to be remaining stable. Thus far, I have not found anything that will prevent the nightmares. I think it's something you'll have to work through," explained the Doctor. "The cardiac monitor will alert me if you should have problems during the night. Perhaps if you focus on positive memories at bedtime it will influence your dreams."

"At this point, Doc, I'm open to anything that will help," admitted Tom quite candidly.

The Doctor was pleased by this statement. Perhaps Tom would be open to trying an animal guide as Chakotay had suggested. "A medic will be by in the morning to give you the next dose of medication. Remember, happy thoughts," admonished the Doctor.

Tom got into bed and pulled B'Elanna's gown to his chest. Since he could not have her with him, her gown would have serve as a tangible link to her. He dozed off to sleep, thinking of B'Elanna and how much he loved her.

Hours later, Tom awoke.........the nightmare had come in spite of his 'happy thoughts' while going to sleep. He had been able to wake up quickly. At least he did not feel as badly as he had prior to the Doctor's treatment for his heart rate and blood pressure problems. Gathering B'Elanna's gown close once more, he went back to sleep, again trying to focus on happier thoughts.

Two days had passed, and the Doctor went to give an updated report on Tom's condition to the Captain and Chakotay. They were in her Ready Room.

"Mr. Paris has not had any more episodes with his heart rate or blood pressure. My combination of medications has accomplished that. He is still having the nightmares, though since being moved to his quarters, he is only having them once a night. His stress and anxiety levels are also significantly lower as well," stated the Doctor.

"He only has 19 days to go," said Janeway. "I'm glad he is not reacting as badly as he was."

The Doctor turned to Chakotay. "Commander, if Tom is willing, you may now work with him on contacting his animal guide. I am comfortable with him using the Akoonah now that his mental and physical health have improved."

"I'll discuss it with him today," replied Chakotay. "If he is open to it, I'll set up a time to get him started."

"I hope it helps him," remarked Captain Janeway. "He needs someone or something to help him resolve whatever trauma is causing his dreams."

"They seem to be centered on being shut up in something by his father. In sickbay, he cried out, 'Please don't put me in the chest again.'" said the Doctor.

Janeway paled as she recalled the large ornate cedar chest in the Paris house. "Owen wouldn't have," she gasped.

"Wouldn't have what?" asked Chakotay and the Doctor simultaneously.

"There was a large cedar chest in the Paris' living room. I saw it when I was a guest," she answered.

"Well, if the dreams are repressed memories from his childhood, that may well have happened," said Chakotay. "B'Elanna told me that Tom said his dad was a doting father till he was taken prisoner by the Cardassians. Once he was rescued, his dad was like a different person. Based on his studies with the Doctor, Tom thought his dad suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome."

"So, Mr. Paris has learned to apply his studies," said the Doctor.

"That could be one reason Tom doesn't discuss the nightmares. He feels his father was not entirely to blame and .........doesn't want others to judge him too harshly," reasoned Captain Janeway.

"Well, whatever the reason may be, he does need to have a way to process that pain, and if he is willing, using an animal guide may help him," replied the Doctor.

"I'll take it up with him today," said Chakotay.

"Just remember, Commander, I need to be present when he attempts to contact his animal guide so that I may monitor his vital signs," the Doctor reminded Chakotaty.

"I will, Doctor," he answered.

"Is there anything else, gentlemen?" asked Janeway.

They both shook their heads.

"Very well, dismissed," she said thoughtfully.

As they left, she sat contemplating their discussion. She knew that she had been hard on Tom, but he was far too impulsive and needed consequences that would make an impression on him. She could only hope that he and the others would eventually understand.

Chakotay stood at the door to Tom's quarters. Ensign Lang pressed the chime to let Tom know someone was about to enter. He looked at the door wondering who it was. The Doctor had already been there, it was not lunch time--so it wasn't Neelix. He wondered who it could possibly be. The door slid open, and Chakotay walked in. He rose to his feet and lay the PADD he had been studying aside.

"Commander," he said politely. He had automatically assumed an "at attention" stance. Years of training and growing up in the Paris household had instilled that in him.

"At ease, Tom," said Chakotay softly. He studied Tom for a few seconds. The young man definitely looked better than he had a few days prior. "I would like to talk with you," he continued.

Tom nodded and indicated the chair across from the one he had been sitting in. They both sat down. Tom wondered what brought Chakotay here. He was after all still under solitary confinement, even if he was now in his quarters and not in the brig.

"Tom, B'Elanna had a suggestion to help you deal with your nightmares," began Chakotay.

"She did," replied Tom, wondering if Chakotay who at times served as an ad hoc ship's counselor was going to try to get him to open it.

"Yes, she suggested that you might be willing to try the Native American custom of talking to an animal guide. I introduced her to hers......." he chuckled at the memory. "She assures me that you are not likely to try to kill yours like she did hers."

Tom laughed, that sounded like something B'Elanna would do. He also knew that Chakotay had introduced the Captain to her animal guide as well. An animal guide might be a way to deal with his childhood traumas and not have to drag his father's name through mud. "I think I would be interested, Chakotay," admitted Tom in a soft voice.

"I can come back with my medicine bundle later on. How does 1500 hours sound?" asked Chakotay.

"By some stroke of luck, I seem to be unoccupied at that time," said Tom with a twinkle in his eye.

Chakotay smiled, it was good to see that in spite of everything, Tom had not lost his sense of humor. "Well, then I'll see you at 1500, Tom. The Doctor will be with us. He merely wants to be able to monitor you while you use the Akoonah for the first time." He stood and walked to the door.

"See you then, Chakotay," said Tom.

He signaled Ensign Lang, and she opened the door for him. He was glad that Tom was willing to try. If this was successful, it be very beneficial to him. He headed to Engineering to pick up the report from B'Elanna that he would need for his working lunch with the Captain.

When B'Elanna saw him walk into engineering, she headed to her office to get the PADD with the report. He followed her inside.

"How's Tom," she asked, knowing that he had brought up her suggestion of finding his animal guide.

"He looks much better than he did a few days ago. We discussed animal guides, and he is willing to try," answered Chakotay.

"That's good," replied B'Elanna. "He needs to deal with whatever happened to him."

"Well, I have to get to my meeting with the Captain," said Chakotay. "I'll see you later."

"Yeah, later, let me know how things go with Tom," she said quietly.

Chakotay headed to the bridge. Working lunches in the Ready Room weren't altogether bad. They always replicated their lunches, which meant avoiding some of Neelix's more unappetizing dishes.

Once they were settled with their lunches, the Captain and Chakotay began reviewing reports. Suddenly, the Captain banged a PADD down.

"Something wrong?" asked Chakotay.

"I am sick and tired of the errors in the helm reports," she snapped. "You'd think these officers had never written a report in their lives."

Chakotay picked up the PADD and read over the highlighted areas. The errors were minor, not really affecting the information presented. "I'll speak to them," he said. "I'll review the 'proper format' for the reports."

"Good, because if I have to speak to them one more time, I may have to make them walk the plank," she said with a chuckle.

She put down the last PADD they had to review. "Well, that wraps up these reports. Next order of business.....How did Tom respond to the suggestion of trying an animal guide?"

"He was very receptive. I am going back at 1500 hours to get him started. The Doctor has been notified as he requested and will be present as well," said Chakotay.

"That's good. Those dreams need to be addressed. How did he seem otherwise?" she asked.

"He looks much better than he did when he was beamed into sickbay. He's still a little stressed, but not like he was in the brig," answered Chakotay.

"I would never have put him in the brig like that had I known about his claustrophobia. How could something like that not be in his records?" asked Janeway.

"He probably kept it well hidden. We both have had contact with the Admiral. He would not have tolerated any perceived weakness," answered Chakotay. Taking a deep breath, he decided to broach the subject of Tom's sentence. "I was wondering........"

"Yes," said the Captain.

"So many others on this crew have royally screwed up, myself included, but no one has ever been disciplined as severely as Tom. Why were you so hard on him?" asked Chakotay.

The Captain picked up her coffee cup and took a big sip. "Chakotay, I know everyone thinks I was hard on Tom. I had to satisfy the Moneans, things could have gotten very messy otherwise. Also, while Tom's behavior is generally exemplary, he is impulsive...very impulsive. Yes, he has saved the ship and this crew many times over, but that doesn't change facts. We barely avoided a conflict with the Moneans. They would have been well within their rights to demand we turn Tom over to them. Also, when we get back home, Starfleet can't say that Tom wasn't properly dealt with and try to lock him back up."

"I see," said Chakotay softly. He still didn't agree that the punishment fit the crime, but it was nice to know her reasoning. "Hopefully, Tom will think before acting next time."

"I hope so," answered Janeway. "It hurt me to have to discipline him. He has come such a long way from the flippant young man I first encountered in Auckland"

"He's certainly not the same man who I recruited for the Maquis," commented Chakotay as he recalled those days.

"Well, I think we've wrapped up everything we needed to do during our 'working lunch,'" said Janeway in a rather distracted tone.

Chakotay understood that the Captain needed some time alone to settle her thoughts about Tom. He rose to his feet. "I'll take the bridge now so Tuvok can have lunch."

She nodded and he left quietly. Walking over to the window, she gazed at the stars and planets as they flew by. They were alone here in the Delta Quadrant. No help or back up or back up from Starfleet. She had sole responsibility for everything and everyone. It was not an easy job. There were just no easy answers.

Chakotay and the Doctor arrived at Tom's quarters at 1500 hours. Ensign Lang pressed the chime to let Tom know that the Doctor and Commander were about to enter his quarters. Tom stood nervously as they entered. This was a major step he was undertaking.

"Tom," began Chakotay noticing his nervousness. "Are you ready?"

"As ready as I'll ever be," said Tom. "I appreciate you taking the time to help me."

Chakotay walked to the middle of the room. "Let's sit here on the floor." He sat down and Tom joined him.

"I'll sit here in the chair and monitor Mr. Paris. I'll be as unobtrusive as possible," said the Doctor.

Chakotay sat his medicine bundle down on the floor between them. "This is my medicine bundle. You'll have to eventually assemble your own as well." He unwrapped it and began pulling things out. "I have a blackbird's wing, a rock from the river, and an Akoonah. My ancestors used psychoactive herbs to aid in their vision quests. Now we use a more modern method.....the Akoonah."

"How do you decide what to put in the medicine bundle?" asked Tom.

"You choose things that have special meaning for you. I chose a blackbird's wing because one of my ancestors flew a Lockheed SR-71 Type A. It was a long-range, advanced, strategic reconnaissance aircraft. It was unofficially known as the blackbird. The blackbird's wing honors him. I bear his name."

"I've seen pictures of those," said Tom with a touch of awe in his voice.

Chakotay picked up the rock. "This rock came from a river on my home world," he said in a quiet and solemn tone.

He sat the rock back down with reverence. "You will have to select items that have meaning for you," he explained. He picked up the Akoonah. I will replicate an Akoonah for you if you find you wish to continue after today. For now, you may use mine."

"Thank you," whispered Tom.

He sat the Akoonah back down. "Place your hand on the Akoonah and concentrate on the Blackbird wing," instructed Chakotay.

Tom did as he was told with no hesitation. His nervousness had been alleviated by Chakotay's calm manner and patient explanations.

"A-koo-chee-moya, We are far from the sacred places of our grandfathers. We are far from the bones of our people. But perhaps there is one powerful being who will embrace this man and give him the answers he seeks. Close your eyes, Tom. Breathe to fuel the light in your belly, and let it expand until the light is everywhere. Now, leave these quarters and this ship, and go to a place where you were the most content and peaceful. You can see all around this place. You hear the sounds of this place."

Tom saw the wild, untamed grasslands of Africa, where his father had taken the family on a vacation when he was five. "I recognize this place," said Tom in wonder.

"Don't discuss with me what you see, Tom. It will offend your animal guide. While you look around, you will find other life that shares this place with you. Your animal guide will be the first animal that you see," instructed Chakotay in a soft voice. "That is the animal you will speak to. Have you spotted an animal?"

"Yes," answered Tom. He looked at the majestic Bengal Tiger that was standing before him. It was a beautiful, majestic creature."

"Speak to it, Tom. It will help you find your answers," prompted Chakotay.

Chakotay turned to look at the Doctor, who nodded his head to let him know that Tom was doing fine.

The Tiger looked at Tom. "Ah, my little one, I have long awaited my chance to meet you. You have walked a long and difficult path. You have friends who are concerned about you."

"They all wonder about my dreams," began Tom. "I can't tell them."

"Perhaps you can tell me," rumbled the Tiger.

"My first he was a very doting father. I was his only son. I had three older sisters, but I was the only boy......" Tom sat in the grass and the Tiger laid down on her stomach.

"Go on, little one," she said.

"He was proud when I was able to fly shuttles and handle hard simulations......but then....." Tom hesitated.

"Then," what prompted the Tiger.

"The damn Cardassians took him prisoner," said Tom angrily. "They tortured the time he was rescued, he had been hurt really bad."

"Trauma can affect people in many different ways," said the Tiger.

"He was never the same. He became very hard and demanding. He......he.........he locked me in a cedar chest whenever I was not meeting his expectations.....till I got too big for that. Then he shut me up in a closet. He was strong.......and could overpower me. Mom never knew. He only did it when she wasn't home. I hated him for the way he treated me. Then, when I admitted I had lied about Caldick Prime.......he told me I was no longer his son......that I was no longer welcome in 'his' house.........I left and ended up with the Maquis. They needed pilots and I needed someone to pay my bar tabs. I was caught on my first mission. At least I kept them from finding the others. My dad's reaction was even worse then.......He, he spit in my face and told me I was the most useless excuse for a human he ever saw........and that if he ever saw me again, it would be too soon."

Tears rolled down Tom's cheeks as he recounted his painful past. "When I started studying medicine with the Doctor here in the Delta Quadrant, I learned a lot about Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. It didn't take long to realize that was what happened to my Dad. It helped me to see that the things he did were because of that, so they weren't really his fault. The trauma the Cardassians caused him changed him totally. The others would not understand."

"They might understand more than you think they would, little one," said the Tiger softly. "Now, it is time for you to end this vision quest and return to your friends. You will see me again if you choose. I can help you, if you are willing."

"I'm willing," whispered Tom. In a few seconds the grassland disappeared. He opened his eyes and found himself in his quarters. The Doctor and Chakotay were watching him carefully.

"Are you okay, Tom?" asked Chakotay.

"Yes," whispered Tom. "Thanks, Chakotay, I think I may have started on the path to my answers."

"Your vital signs remained stable throughout the quest, Tom," said the Doctor. "Since you found it helpful, I would suggest you continue with them."

"I will," answered Tom.

"We'll go now, Tom and let you think over what happened. I'll bring you an Akoonah. You need to think of meaningful things to include in your medicine bundle," said Chakotay.

"I will," replied Tom.

The Doctor and Chakotay got up and quietly exited the quarters, leaving Tom to his thoughts.

"Commander," began the Doctor. "I would like to speak to you in my office."
Chakotay nodded, and they walked to the turbolift. Neither man spoke until they were seated in the Doctor's office.

"Mr. Paris seemed to have no physical difficulties during his vision quest," said the Doctor. "However, I would prefer that you supervise his vision quests for now, to be on the safe side."

"That's probably a good idea. Sometimes the quests can be rather intense depending on what happens," answered Chakotay. "I think if Tom sticks with it, he'll find the practice quite beneficial."

"Physically, he appears to have improved a great deal. His blood pressure is within normal limits. His heart rate is also within normal limits. I will be adjusting his evening medications if nothing changes," said the Doctor.

"Well, his quarters are much bigger than a brig cell," began Chakotay. "He has more room to move around, and he's in very familiar surroundings. That has to help."

"It does," replied the Doctor. "I think he will be able to complete the remainder of his punishment without the problems we saw in the brig."

"That's what I think too," replied Chakotay. "And, if consulting his animal guide works out for him too, I think that will help him deal with the demons from his past.”

"Which is where quite a few of Mr. Paris' problems lie,"answered the Doctor softly.

"Well, Doctor, if there is nothing else, I need to report to the bridge," Chakotay said as he rose to his feet.

When he walked onto the bridge, Tuvok looked up. "Commander Chakotay, the Captain would like to see you in her Ready Room.”

"Thanks, Tuvok,"he replied as he walked over to the Ready Room door and pressed the announcer chime.

The doors slid open and he walked in. "Chakotay," began the Captain as the door slid shut, "have a seat."

He sat down and waited to see what the Captain wanted.

"How did Tom's encounter with his animal guide go?"she asked.

"I think it went well," he replied. "Tom seemed very calm and introspective afterwards. He wants to continue with them. The Doctor said that he observed no physical problems during the quest.”

"I'm glad he's found a way to address his problems," the Captain said softly.

"The Doctor wants me to supervise Tom's vision quests for the time being. Just to make sure he has no adverse affects. I'll be replicating him an Akoonah. I also told him that he needs to assemble his own medicine bundle," explained Chakotay.

"It's probably a good idea for him to be supervised at first. That way if something were to happen, you would be there to help him,"she said quietly.

"Tom handled the first vision quest very well, but as he deals with more difficult issues, the vision quests can get more intense," admitted Chakotay.

"It might be best if you warn him ahead of time that they can become intense," advised Captain Janeway.

"I will," Chakotay assured her. "I plan on taking his Akoonah to him tomorrow. We'll talk more about vision quests then. I want Tom to get as much benefit from the vision quests as possible.”

"I appreciate you helping him, Chakotay. More than you'll ever know. Tom has so much potential. I hate to see him waste any of it.” She picked up a PADD and smiled. "I know his helm reports are almost always perfect. Too bad that has not rubbed off on the others," she said ruefully.

Chakotay laughed. "Just don't make any of our pilots walk the plank," he kidded her. "We need all of them."

She laughed and it was like music to Chakotay's ears. It had been a long time since he heard her really laugh. "Don't worry, I won't. I may give them my 'death glare,' but I won't make the walk the plank.”

"Do you need anything else, Captain?" he asked.

"Not right now, Chakotay," she said with a smile.

He smiled back, "Then I'll go back to the bridge." He walked out of the Ready Room and took his seat at the command console. The remainder of the shift passed quietly.

Chakotay sat in his quarters sipping a cup of hot tea. He planned to contact his animal guide before going to bed. He hoped the wolf would have more words of wisdom for him. He was jarred from his contemplation by his door chime. "Come," he called, and the door slid open to admit B'Elanna. He had expected she would be by to see how Tom was doing. "Come on in, B'Elanna," he said.

She walked in and sat in a chair. "Did everything go okay with Tom?" she asked.

"Things went fine, B'Elanna. I think using an animal guide will help Tom a lot. He did well for his first time," he said.

He handed her a cup of hot tea. "I know this is hard on you too. You just have to hang in there, and more importantly, be there for Tom when he is released. He's going to need you," Chakotay said softly.

"I know," she said. "It's so frustrating. I really want to see him. I'm going to ask the Captain tomorrow if I can visit him."

"I wouldn't count on it, B'Elanna. Right now the only people he has any contact with are the Doctor, Neelix, security officers and myself. I am only being allowed to see him to facilitate his vision quests," explained Chakotay.

"Ah, the Doctor must have ordered that." Understanding gleamed in her eyes. "The Doctor has it set up so that Tom gets visitors. He's grown a lot since he was activated."

"Yes, he has," replied Chakotay. "He may be irritating at times, but he really does care for this crew."

"I'm still going to ask the Captain to let me see Tom. Nothing tried, nothing gained," said B'Elanna.

"Just don't get your hopes up," said Chakotay. "She is not likely to yield an inch on this."

"I know," replied B'Elanna with a sigh. "But I have to try."

They sat in silence for a while. Finally, B'Elanna put down her empty tea cup. "Thanks for the tea and for the ear," she said with a small smile.

"Anytime, B'Elanna," he said.

She walked out of his quarters and back down to her own. It was going to be another long and lonely night.

Chakotay got out his medicine bundle and sat on the floor. He spread his bundle out and placed his hand on the Akoonah. "A-koo-chee-moya, I am far from the lands of my ancestors. I seek to commune with she who is my spirit guide to seek wisdom. As he opened his eyes, the she wolf sat along with his father by a flickering campfire.

“Hello my son,” said Kolopak.

“Hello, father, hello wolf,” said Chakotay softly.

“I have brought your father here so that we both might impart wisdom to you regarding your friend,” said the she wolf.

“I am pleased that you have introduced another friend to our ways, my son,” said his father. “Tom will benefit much from this sharing.”

“He has made an initial contact with his spirit guide. He wishes to continue. I hope he can find some measure of peace,” said Chakotay.

The she wolf nuzzled his hand. “He will, little one. His guide is wise and will lead him wisely.

“Tom has walked a lonely and difficult path, Chakotay,” began his father. “There is much pain in his spirit.”

“Father, are his dreams reflections of what was?” asked Chakotay.

“I can not tell you, my son. Only Tom may reveal that if he chooses. It is his story to tell. Those of us who walk the spirit sky may not interfere with the choices of those who walk on the plain,” his father patiently reminded him.

“Yes, father,” answered Chakotay. “He keeps much hidden. Not even his mate knows the truth of his nightmares.”

The she wolf looked up at him. “He will tell his story in his own time. Much pain must be released before he will be able to do so.”

Meanwhile, in her quarters, B'Elanna had once again wrapped herself in Tom's blue robe. It provided a small measure of comfort. Tomorrow, she would ask the Captain to permit her a brief visit with Tom. She had a feeling Chakotay was right about the Captain denying her access to him, but she had to try. Tonight, she would sleep in his robe, then perhaps tomorrow, his arms would hold her instead of his robe.