Title: Come of Age
Author: Annette Welsh-Shinya 01/99
Series: VOY
Part: 23/?
Rating: R
Codes: P/T, K/7, EMH Doc, Neelix, Vorik, Naomi Wildman
Summary: Spoilers for Night and 30 Days. After an encounter with a hostile species, most of the crew of Voyager is scattered throughout a region of space as prisoners. Tom Paris leads what's left of the crew in an attempt to recover their missing members.
Disclaimer: Paramount's property, my story, who wants to go a round with the Bat'leths?
Feedback: Encouragement/criticism gladly responded to. Flames will be consigned to the nearest airlock where proper venting procedures per Starfleet Engineering regulations will be followed.
Posting: OK to ASC, ASCEM, BLTS, & PT Fever. Please notify me if you post anywhere else...I love to see my name in lights!


Seven was silent for a long time. Harry could see that she was thinking very hard, trying to figure out where to begin. For some reason, the fact that she was confused and unsure made him feel a little better.

"I did not go to Devinar for shoreleave," she began. "I remained behind to complete my analysis of the scans of the new systems I had made in Astrometrics. I felt that taking shoreleave was an...inefficient use of time." She glanced at Harry here. "I was not aware that most of the crew had opted to use their leave privileges. I had not considered that they were tired and in need of entertainment. At that time, I did not think relaxation and entertainment relevant."

"Do you consider them relevant now?" asked Harry, interested in spite of himself.

Seven carefully explained, "I do not fully understand why, but I have come to realize that people, especially Humans, require time away from their tasks in order to perform at optimal efficiency. It heightens their enjoyment of their work and their play. The need for entertainment still puzzles me for the most part. I have not had the opportunity to partake in most of the few social occasions we have had on-board recently, but I did attend Naomi Wildman's birthday party last month. I helped her blow out the candles on her cake."

"I see," said Harry, the image of Seven and Naomi together stirring his almost frozen heart.

"I was in Cargo Bay 2 when the ship was attacked. Information was very limited and inaccurate. Most of the crew, including the Captain and Chakotay were still down on the surface. I had decided to attempt traveling to the Bridge, when I found the companionways were occupied by enemy forces. The communications system was not working correctly, and I could not contact the Bridge or Engineering and receive a clear message. I armed myself from a weapons locker and attempted to make my way to the Bridge via the Jefferies tubes and access tunnels. The fighting between decks was very intense, and it appeared that the ship's personnel were successful in taking back only some of the areas lost to the enemy. When I reached Deck 3, I found a large contingent accessing a computer panel, setting what were later found out to be the seeker programs which destroyed much of the ship's systems, including many of the main computer functions."

"You lost the main computer?" said Harry incredulously. "How did you manage?"

Seven said with an air of pride, "We calculated manually, using data padds. Ship's Systems partitioned the computer and repaired it, section by section. Up until last week, we did not have full computer function, nor full communications."

"Go on," he said, still angry with her, but damned if he wasn't utterly fascinated by the play of emotions on her face and the tale of how the remaining crew had coped.

"I attempted to eliminate the threat to the ship's systems, but there were too many of the aliens for me to overcome. Several of them split off the main group and followed me back down the corridor. I attempted to escape them by taking an access tunnel to Deck 2, but they followed me. That is when I saw you," Seven faced Harry, a look of resignation on her face.

"I'd gotten off the Bridge, just barely, when the aliens attacked. The only reason I did was because I was so near the turbolift. They beamed in and were everywhere. We didn't detect them at all," Harry said bitterly. "Tuvok just yelled for me to go, and the last I saw of him, he was being held by two aliens and they were transporting him off the Bridge."

"I saw you fighting the aliens with Crewman Hixon. Hixon was hit by phaser fire, and you helped him up against the bulkhead." Seven's eyes took on a far away look, her voice a monotone that somehow imparted more emotion than a normal voice would have, "I knew that there were aliens behind me, more than I could eliminate. There was a group approaching you from behind, at least five. I remember accessing the computer panel next to me, finding out that the transporters had not been completely damaged yet. There wasn't enough time to filter the lock-on. I made a broad sweeping signal for everyone in the corridor, with a five second delay for me to get to the access panel. I wanted to call out to you do get out of the corridor, but the aliens that had been chasing me were suddenly there. I hid myself in the access panel. When I came out, you were all transported to the alien ship." Her head hung down and Harry could see tears flowing down her cheeks to her shirt.

"I saw you," Harry said hoarsely. "I saw you at the end of the corridor, and I thought, 'Great, Seven's here, we'll kick these guys' ass'. But, you just looked at me. You saw I was in a jam, and you just walked away," his voice was angry, sorrowful. "I just couldn't believe it." Harry reached over and grabbed her by her shoulders and yelled, "How could you just walk away? Why?"

"I was afraid," Seven almost wailed. She continued in a lower, but still shattered voice. "For the first time in my existence, I felt confronted with the fact that I was mortal. If I was injured, I would not regenerate. I had seen it in One and the other crew members, but I had never *felt* it before. It was as if I could not move my body. It was frozen in place, and my mind would not function. All I could feel, all I wanted to do, was live," she looked up at Harry. "I am sorry," she added slowly, closing her eyes. "I know that it is not adequate, but I am sorry."

Harry's arms dropped. "You were afraid. You're sorry. That's your answer," he said slowly.

"Yes," she replied tremulously. She could not regain control of her voice function. Her limbs felt detached from her body. If she was not already sitting down, she knew that she would have fallen.

"I was under attack, you were the only person there who could help me," he said, his anger and voice rising. Then came the ultimate blow, "I *trusted* you. Even after all the crap I've taken from you, knowing you don't really respect me, that you think I'm an idiot or worse, I trusted you to go to bat for me. I *knew* you'd figure out some Borg trick or just come in phasers blasting and get me out of there," his voice trailed off.

"I am not Captain Proton, Harry," said Seven sadly. "I cannot 'Save the day'. I am not a Borg anymore. I was not even a Starfleet officer then, just a frightened child in an adult body at that moment." She reached out one tentative hand to touch his shoulder, unsure of her reception.

At her touch, Harry flinched. Seven made a small sound of dismay and quickly retracted her hand. Harry closed his eyes and looked pained. "I'm sorry," he got out. "It's just that I got pretty used to ducking when people tried to touch me. It usually meant that they were trying to hurt me."

"You suffered a great deal at the hands of your captors," she said sadly. "I am responsible for that. I have made a formal report detailing my actions in this matter, and I will submit it to Mr. Paris after we have finished our conversation."

"You mean you never told him what happened?" asked Harry.

"I told him that I had secured the corridor from attack, and that it was necessary to beam out all the occupants due to the limitations of the transporter at that time." Seven sat up very straight, "I did not make known that the underlying reason for taking that course of action was my inability to put my person at risk in order to rescue you. Later, I told him what happened. He has left it to me as to what I should put in my report and when to submit it. He has his own report written and filed on the matter."

"There was no one else there, no witnesses, no one to contradict your version," Harry came back. "Why tell him? Why tell me now? Especially me..."

"I did not tell anyone in the beginning because it was a confused time, and no one questioned my explanation. Mr. Paris requested I become Acting Second Officer, and I accepted. It required me to formally join Starfleet, which I did. I did not embrace its tenants or philosophies, but I was willing to comply with the rules in order to be a part of the recovery effort. I have had a lot of time in the company of Mr. Paris during the past months," Seven added. "At first, I did not think I could learn very much from him. However, as time went on, I found myself interacting with him more, and I discovered that he has much to offer in a leadership role as well as in an interpersonal relationship."

"He does," Harry said softly, watching Seven closely. This was something so very new to him.

"One of the things that we have talked about many times is being true to yourself," she said. "It was a concept that I was unfamiliar with, and truthfully, did not wish to learn about. Captain Janeway had always told me that individuality was important, and that I would learn how to me *myself* in time. What she never told me was how to deal with the consequences of it." Seven looked Harry in the eye again, "I was truly Human, myself, at that moment when I was so afraid. I was tested and found lacking. That is the concept that Tom and I have discussed many times. He is very knowledgeable about such feelings of inadequacy and guilt. Eventually, I told him the entire truth of the incident. He told me that he had deduced what had happened, but that he wanted me to tell him before he confronted me about it. It was better for me, he said."

"That sounds like Tom," Harry commented.

Seven nodded, "He has become a good friend to me, as well as an outstanding commanding officer. I resolved that I would learn as much as I could from him, and also Lt. Torres, in order to become the best Starfleet officer that I could be."

"You wanted to learn from B'Elanna?" Harry said with disbelief. "I just can't see that. And wanting to be a Starfleet officer..."

"Many things have changed on Voyager," Seven commented. "I have changed. I have had to comply with the changes in order accomplish the tasks of my position. Lt. Torres and I have formed a friendship, due to the interaction necessary between us as we repaired the ship and attempted rescue of the lost crew. Arguments and infighting between the senior staff are counter-productive to discipline in the ranks," she added seriously.

"Yes," Harry nodded with a ghost of a wry grin. "I've found that to be true myself. Just how long have you been working the Bridge?"

"Since the beginning," Seven replied. "There were only two Senior Officers left on the ship, and no other command grade officers. Mr. Paris promoted Mr. Neelix and myself, while designating other junior officers to the departments necessary to the running of the ship."

"There just weren't enough warm bodies to go around, were there?" Harry commented.

"No, there were not," Seven acknowledged.

"That's what we were," Harry said. "Warm bodies. They stuffed us in dark closets for weeks, not feeding us, only giving water when absolutely necessary. Periodically, they'd take us out and beat us, for no apparent reason, or maybe just for fun. We ended up on Barnok, in that prison you broke us out of. We were to be the entertainment," he laughed without humor. Speaking from memories forever etched in his mind, he continued, "Every day, they'd take us out of our cell into the work-out rooms. We'd have all morning to weight train, then in the afternoon, we'd go to the sparing ring. Every day...every day you had to kill or be killed in the ring. This was the *elimination of the weak* phase. If you lived through that, you were considered a good candidate for the arena. I watched as crewman after crewman was killed in the early rounds of training. I got so angry. You want to know what I was angry about most? You. I just kept thinking of what you did. I started pushing the rest of the crew in the weight training. I screamed at them, asked them if they wanted to live, and if they did, they'd have to start killing. Forget the Prime Directive, forget the rules, forget Starfleet. There was nothing but kill or be killed." Harry turned to Seven. "We became animals. I became an animal, ruthless, savage, uncaring, and unfeeling. Even watching my own crew die didn't move me after a while. I beat Joe Carey up because he wanted to rest one day, and I thought that he should continue to work out. Sam Wildman had to pull me off of him, otherwise, I could have killed him. You talk about being true to yourself. What if you don't know what your self is anymore?" Harry sat back and closed his eyes as if in pain. "Tom used to call me 'the most upstanding ensign in Starfleet'. I don't think that name fits me very well now."

"You will adapt back to your life," Seven offered, the stiff words softened by the caring of her tone. "You have much to return to."

"Much to return to," scoffed Harry opening his eyes. "I've been replaced pretty fast, Seven. And if I know you, you probably do my job better than I did."

"No!," Seven said strongly, surprising Harry with her outburst. "I have not replaced you. I am have been holding your position until such time as you returned. You have now returned. You will resume your duties as Head of Ops."

"Is that an order, Ensign?" Harry gibed.

"That is a sincere request, Ensign Kim," Seven answered softly. She got up and retreived a padd from the top of the cabinet. Returning, she handed it to him, "Here is the latest Ops status report. I prepared it for your transition back to your positiion. You will have several days leave and will wish to review it during that time," she added.

"You mean to tell me you want to give up your Bridge duties to me? A mere Human?" Harry's voice still was scoffing. "Aren't you afraid I'll interject some inappropriate humor or irrelevant feelings?"

"No. You are the best qualified person for the position." Seven thought for a moment, "You said that you felt I gave you 'crap', and that I did not respect you, thought you an idiot or worse, but that is not true. I have always considered you a very intelligent, talented, and acceptable being. I was not always comfortable with your interpersonal communication style, but you were never offensive.

"You were listening to me," observed Harry.

"I always listen to you," Seven replied. Harry looked very surprised at this. "I just never let you know that I was doing so," she added.

Harry got up and walked a few steps. He spoke with his back turned, his voice heavy with emotion, "You hurt me. You let me down, and I don't know if I can ever forgive that. I know I won't be able to forget it."

"I know," Seven answered him. She got up and walked over to him, speaking as she went, "I know that I cannot take away what you have suffered. I just wanted to know that I acknowledge your pain, and that I take responsibility for what I have done to you. The only reason I took the position at Ops was to ensure that Voyager found you. I wanted to locate the rest of the crew also, but you were always my main objective." She stopped behind him. Harry turned around and they stared at one another. "I will continue in my duties until the crisis is past, then I will tender my resignation. If you wish to prefer charges against me, that is your option."

"Charges of what? You weren't a Starfleet officer then," Harry said. "Anyway, you don't have to resign because of me."

"Dereliction of duty is applicable to this situation," Seven replied. "It should not matter that I had not sworn allegiance to Starfleet. I was acting in the capacity of crew member, with its attendant rights and responsibilities." Her voice broke, "I condemned you to death. It is only by your own immense struggle that you survived, and you suffered great personal anguish because of it."

"You seem to speak as if you know what I went through," Harry observed in an odd voice, looking at her steadily.

"I was present at the spectacle you fought in that night," Seven's voice was a pale version of its usual self. The hollowness lingered, "I saw you kill three immense animals with almost your bare hands, then defeat an alien larger than you, all for the sport of the watchers." She closed her eyes and swayed slightly, "I cannot forget the expression of blood-lust on the faces of the audience, which was cheering at each of the kills. I heard calls from those that wished you to die so they could make a profit." The last words she choked out as a stream of tears flowed from her eyes. She took her head in her hands and bent low, a keening sound coming from her. Harry sensed that she was heading for a breakdown. He took her by the shoulders and pulled her up.

"Stop it, Seven!," he barked. "You can't change what happened there. You didn't make them do that do me. You can't have responsibility for everything, no matter what you've done."

Seven continued to cry as she looked at Harry. She could not stop now that the floodgates were open. The thought of what he had been through coupled with the feel of his hands holding her up was too much. The emotion that she had carefully sealed away from herself came tumbling out. Prior to this, she had let pieces of it out, trying it, letting herself care, but this was too much. It overloaded her senses and she felt herself losing consciousness. Harry exclaimed and picked her up in his arms and took her into her bedroom and laid her on the bed. Her t-shirt was crumpled and the light cotton trousers she wore were pushed up. Harry noticed for the first time that she did not wear any shoes and her feet were bare. He examined the rest of her: her shorn hair, face splotched from crying, and one of her arms was flung above her head. She groaned slightly. Sitting next to her on the bed, he pushed her hair out of her face, and his hand lingered. She looked so vulnerable, so Human, and as beautiful to him as ever. He spoke softly to her as she came to. Eyes blinking, Seven stared up at Harry. He had an expression of caring on his face that both surprised and warmed her. He had not let her fall.

"You cut your hair," Harry observed, seemingly unaware that he was stroking her hair back from her forehead. "I always liked your hair."

"My previous method of grooming was inefficient and time-consuming. It would become disarrayed too easily, so I corrected the problem," Seven explained logically.

"So, who cut it for you?" Harry asked, a tiny smile lighting his features.

"I did it myself," she replied as if the answer were obvious.

Harry looked at her appraisingly, then said, "Not bad. How about giving me a haircut? I could sure use one."

"Despite its length, your current hairstyle is not unattractive," Seven observed. "Why do you wish to cut it?"

"Let's just say I'd like to start getting back to the way things were," Harry replied. "At least some things. Are you all right now?"

At her affirmative nod, Harry lifted his hand from her hair and offered it to her. She looked at it, then grasped it in one of hers. He pulled her up and then let go. They left her bedroom and moved back out into the living room.

"Please sit in this chair," Seven directed and crossed to a small cabinet. "I replicated a pair of shears for this task. It took me four weeks to gather enough credits to do so." She pulled a small pair of scissors out. "It is fortunate that I did not return them for reclamation."

"Why didn't you?" asked Harry.

Seven stopped and said, "I am uncertain. I believe I wished to retain a symbol of what I had been and where I wished to go in my personal development." She got a towel from the bathroom and draped it around his shoulders.

"A little off the top, please," Harry said. Seven paused. Harry turned in his chair and said, "That's a joke, Seven. Just cut my hair the way it used to be. You do remember, don't you?"

"Yes, I remember," Seven replied and began trimming the long strands of his hair.

"Good," Harry said with satisfaction. Seven cut Harry's hair with precision, placing the lengths of hair in a small bowl on the table.

A truce had been achieved, and with it a new beginning. Each would have to learn to forgive, one the other, and one herself.

End Part 23