Title: Come of Age
Author: Annette Welsh-Shinya 01/99
Series: VOY
Part: 25/?
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!


Halfway through the briefing, Tom asked, "Seven, what do we know about the Abraad system?" They'd already rehashed the mission, now he was thinking of the one ahead. He noted that she looked tired and her eyes were red, but she seemed almost content. This was interesting, and he wanted to talk to Harry more than ever.

"We do not have enough data to make a sound analysis of the system. Long-range scans and the limited information available from the databanks on Barnok IV have provided basic descriptions of the system, but no specifics of the planet or the mining operation itself," Seven replied.

"So, we're going to have to do some skulking around when we get there," Tom observed. He turned to Neelix. "Neelix, any luck on getting the shielding to work with the personal cloaking devices?"

"Not yet, sir," Neelix replied. "I've been coordinating on that project with Ensign Vorik, but we're still a ways off from success. The latest tests have been encouraging, though. I've emphasized to Mr. Vorik how useful it would be for Security personnel to have these shielding devices, not to mention how it would aid our efforts to rescue our remaining personnel." Neelix smiled here, "He's been working on it non-stop, with time out for our little sojourn on Barnok, of course."

"Regular progress reports to Lt. Torres, Mr. Neelix," Tom ordered, looking pleased.

"Yes, sir," Neelix replied.

"Ensign McNaughton," McNaughton looked up at Tom. "Ensign Baytart has been temporarily reassigned to Astrometrics. You will be head of Conn for the duration of his assignment."

"Aye, sir," McNaughton answered automatically, her non-comprehension at being called for this meeting cleared up at last. She wondered at Baytart being reassigned, but didn't mind being head of a department, even temporarily.

"Coordinate with Ensign Seven for the latest data available on the Abraad system," Tom continued. "I don't want any surprises for us; I want to save them for the Ibesians."

"Understood, sir," McNaughton replied.

"Doctor?" queried Tom.

"I am pleased to report that Lt. Carey regained consciousness this morning, and is doing just fine. Currently, he's being looked after by Ensign Wildman and Naomi," the Doctor added.

"That's just great, Doc," Tom smiled. "What's the report from Engineering, B'Elanna?"

"The warp drive is functioning as optimally as it ever has and the shielding is holding. The power plant output has been increased by 11%, and the last of the major structural repairs were completed yesterday," B'Elanna looked out at the gathered group, a pleased expression on her face. "The ship is finally whole again."

Grins broke out on everyone's face, and Tom said, "Well, I guess that calls for a celebration. Neelix, I know you're busy as Head of Security, but do you think you could work in a little job as Morale Officer?"

Neelix beamed at Tom, "Yes, sir. I think a celebration would just the thing we need around here. A party, but the mess hall, on a holodeck?"

"B'Elanna, is the power plant putting out enough energy for us to open up the holodecks yet?" asked Tom.

B'Elanna thought a moment then said, "I'd have to check the latest reports, but I think if we kept the usage down to a couple of hours, we could run a simple program. The food would have to be replicated or prepared and brought in, though." She looked over at Neelix, "I'll run a quick check of the figures and let you know, Neelix, all right?"

"Yes, sir," Neelix replied, happy to be back in the 'morale' business, even if for a little while. "I'll coordinate with Crewman Wilson for the food and work out duty schedules so that the maximum number of crew can attend."

Tom nodded at Neelix, then stood up and gazed at the assembled members for a moment. "You've all worked very hard and come through an exceptionally difficult time. I've seen each and every one of you perform your duties above and beyond what is normally expected. On many occasions, I have seen you do incredible things that made the difference between life and death for the whole crew." Tom's voice was very serious and sincere. His patrician face had that elusive quality of leadership, his bearing confident and serene. Tom knew he had to say this, that he owed it to these people. What was more, he *knew* what to do and wasn't afraid or pretending anymore. The need to function as leader had become the ability to be the leader. The pressures were still there, the worries, but the self doubt that had plagued him for years, and especially recently, was gone. He was 'the Captain', no matter if Janeway returned tomorrow, he would have been the Captain in the fullest sense. He continued, "Therefore, I am placing a commendation in each of your files for your actions. There will be specific citations as to your individual acts of courage and skill. Also, there will be a ship-wide commendation for exemplary action under extreme circumstances." He smiled slightly and said, "I'm sorry that there's no decoration for putting up with me as commanding officer," there were a few grins at this, "but I want you to know that I thank you for your efforts. I could not have done any of this without you. Let's work toward getting everyone back, then we can all head for home again. That's all, dismissed."

The group stood up and looked at each other, some had proud expressions on their faces, others were pensive as Tom walked out of the briefing room, the texts that the Doctor had managed to provide for him in one hand. They filed out, one by one, silent and thinking.

The mess hall was almost crowded at lunchtime. Tom happily made his way through a small group that had gathered for the noon meal. It had been quite some time since there'd been enough people to make a crowd anywhere on the ship. It felt so *normal*. It was great. Tom spotted Harry sitting in a corner, his back to the bulkhead. He was still in civvies, but he'd gotten a haircut.

"Looking good, Har," Tom noted as he slid into the seat across from Harry.

"Hey, Tom," replied Harry, appearing a little frayed around the edges.

"What's wrong?" Tom immediately asked.

Harry appeared uncomfortable but replied, "It's just that I'm not used to people walking around me like this anymore. It makes me...worried."

Tom knew what he was talking about. When you lived in a harsh environment, where the other occupants were as likely to try to hurt or kill you as look at you, you tended to develop defensive survival techniques. "You've been back less than a day, Harry," Tom said softly. "You can't expect to be dropped in the middle of your old life without having to make some adjustments." Tom looked around. It was too noisy in the mess hall. "You hungry?" he asked.

"Not really," Harry responded. "I had a late night snack that was pretty good, and I'm not used to eating more than once a day, anyway."

"Let's get out of here," Tom got up from the table. "And go some place where we can talk."

"OK," Harry agreed, and followed Tom out of the messhall.

The crew watched the two leave, and Tom and Harry became the main topic of conversation. Mostly, it centered on how much the two had changed recently and speculation of how Ensign Kim would react to the changes in a certain former Borg. The noise level in the hall increased even more.

"I guess you want to know about what happened," Harry said as they sat back on Tom's couch.

"If you're ready to tell me, I'll listen," Tom replied softly.

Looking very pensive and withdrawn, Harry spoke slowly, as if distancing himself from what he was saying. "When we were taken, none of us knew whether any of the other crew had survived. We were kept separate from each other in those small cells on the Masaalian ships. For weeks I didn't know if I was on my own or if there were others like me. They kept us in the dark, didn't feed us, gave us water only once a day. Sometimes, they'd make like they were going to hand you the bowl, then throw it on the floor. Just for fun, I think, or to see what you would do. It took a few days, but I was down on the floor, licking up what water I could. The guards would laugh, sometimes they'd wait until you were down on the floor, then start kicking you." Harry's voice trailed off, eyes closed, silent for a moment. "I didn't know it then," he finally continued. "But that was just a warm-up for what was to come. I'd thought I fallen into hell, but it wasn't even close."

"Ha-arry," Tom spoke involuntarily, his voice full of aching sympathy.

"It's OK, Tom," Harry opened his eyes. "There was nothing you could do for me then, and I think you were a little busy at the time."

"Still, I just wish..." Tom made a shrugging gesture, unable to continue.

"I know," Harry said warmly to his friend. "It all seemed like a bad dream, then it became the reality and Voyager the dream. You know," he said looking down at his hands. "I did things with my hands that I never in a million years would have thought possible. I killed more people than I can remember, Tom. I killed them without pity, without mercy, just because I wanted to stay alive." Harry's voice took on a harder quality. "I became exactly what they wanted, an animal that would kill, practically on command. How do I undo that? How do I become Harry Kim again? That guy seems so far away from me that I can't even remember how he felt, what he liked to do."

"I don't know how to make you feel better, Harry," Tom replied hoarsely, so moved by what Harry had said that he could barely speak. "I wish I did. I only saw a fraction of what you went through that night. All I can tell you is, I'm here. I'll help you any way I can."

"That means a lot to me, Tom," Harry looked up at Tom, his face a mixture of emotions. "I guess it's going to take some time before I feel better. I know that you want me to return to duty..."

"Only when you're ready," Tom overrode him. He'd already seen what returning to duty too soon could do to someone. His failure to notice that Mike Baytart wasn't to ready to resume his duties weighed heavily on him. "Seven's doing a good job, and Ops can wait until you're sure you want to return. I'm having all returning crew take at least a week's leave before resuming any duties."

"But, we're going to be at the mining colony in another day," Harry protested.

"You want to be part of the rescue mission, I take it," Tom looked appraisingly at him.

"You don't think I could handle it?" Harry's voice took on a slightly belligerent tone.

Tom shook his head, "No, that's not it at all. What I *do* think is that you may have trouble adjusting to command structure after such a long time as being the sole leader of a group of people in an tough, bloody struggle to stay alive."

"You're telling me that you think I might not want to play by Starfleet rules?" Harry's voice was sarcastic, the irony of the role reversal not lost on him.

"They're the rules we're playing under, Harry," Tom replied evenly, his command voice making its first appearance in the conversation. "As strange as you may find it, I'm in charge now, and I make the decisions about who goes and who stays. The Harry Kim that left this ship knew how that went, but by your own admission, you're not sure if the Harry Kim who's come back does."

Harry looked at Tom for a while, trying to control the quick flash of anger that had blossomed within him at Tom's speech. Finally he said, "Fair enough. You have responsibilities. I understand that. But," he stared intently at Tom. "You need me. I know how their guards think, how their prison system is set up. I can help you get in and get out quicker, with fewer casualties."

"You could brief the away team," Tom replied, still not convinced. "Let us know what to expect."

"You don't understand, Tom," Harry cried out, frustrated. "I have to do something to start getting myself back. As a prisoner, the only way I could win was to survive. If I help with this, I'm going in as a Starfleet officer, a force to be reckoned with, not a victim, but as someone with power. I *need* to do this." The last statement was half pleading, half demanding, and Harry's face was contorted with the effort to convey his feelings.

Tom was conflicted. He sensed that if he handled this incorrectly, a part of Harry that was hanging on by a thread would be lost. On the other hand, he couldn't endanger the success of the mission because he wanted to help his friend. It was a delicate balance.

"All right, Harry, you can go," Tom agreed. "But, I want you there as guide and advisor. I'll be leading the away team, Seven will be my second in command. You're out of the command loop this time, got it?"

"I have to take orders from Seven," Harry mused shaking his head. "It boggles the mind."

"She's turned out to be quite an asset," Tom informed rwei "You really ought to give her a chance, Harry. I think you'd be pleasantly surprised by how she's changed."

"I know," he replied. "We...talked this morning. As a matter of fact," Harry pulled his hand through his hair. "She gave me this haircut. You see, I did follow your orders." He smiled at Tom.

Tom grinned back, relieved that the mood had lightened a little. "So, you two are not going to go at each other's throats when my back's turned, then?"

"I thought that's what you and B'Elanna specialized in," Harry came back with. "And, no, I'm not going to jump down her throat." He looked thoughtful, "She told me a lot of things, about what happened to Voyager, to her, to you."

"She's gone through a lot," Tom observed, watching Harry's face carefully.

"Yes, she told me," Harry answered Tom's unspoken question. "I have to tell you, I was mad as hell. I wanted to...well, let's just say that I wanted to act a lot like an angry Klingon toward her."

"That can be a pleasant undertaking, Harry," Tom replied with a slightly amused tone. "Don't knock it 'til you've tried it. I take it that you two managed to talk about it?"

"Some," he said slowly. "We need to talk more. And, you know that Seven's not the best conversationalist in the quadrant, so it take time to get her to say anything. Still, she's different..."

"And do you think that's good or bad," Tom asked in a low voice.

"It's good, but somewhat disconcerting," Harry answered. "I just got used to thinking that she was someone, no some 'thing' that was unchanging. I really objectified her, no vilified her is more like it. I made her into the bad guy, blamed her for everything." He smiled a sad smile, "You know what's the worst thing? She's already put herself in that category without ever talking to me. She stood there and accepted that me being captured was completely her fault. I'll never forget that."

"Was it her fault, Harry?" Tom queried, probing for answers that he needed, but not wanting to upset him.

"Yes...Maybe. Oh, hell, I don't know," he replied. "I know now that she was in a situation that was almost impossible to get out of. She used the only tool available to her at the time. I used to think that if she would have just come in, guns blazing, that we could have overcome them, but now, now I don't know. It was certainly smarter for her to do what she did. She cleared the entire corridor of the invaders, and only lost two crew members doing it. When you think of it from a tactical standpoint, she made the logical choice."

"Logic usually doesn't take into account feelings," Tom said.

"Yeah, that's what it was about for me. Feelings. I felt like Seven let me down. I blamed her for me being caught, when really, I knew that I was going to either die or be captured at any moment. When she came, it actually gave me hope that I was going to make it, that the 'Borg' was going to save me." Harry rubbed his forehead, "What the reality was, was that I wasn't in a position to be saved. She would probably have died if she'd tried to."

"That's a little different from Seven's version of what happened," Tom said after a while.

"I know," Harry said sighing. "But, it's the truth or as much as I can remember of it, anyway. I was so angry with Seven, but I knew all along it was wrong of me. It was just easier for me to be angry with her, to hold onto that anger. It kept me warm, motivated. I'm not saying that I've totally forgiven her. There's a selfish part of me that wishes that she would have come to get me, regardless of the risk, and that part is still very angry with her," he whispered.

"It sounds like you two still need to talk some more about this," Tom said.

"Yes," Harry replied simply.

"I think that she's worth some time and patience, Harry," Tom offered.

"I think so, too," Harry agreed.

Tom stood up. "I've got to get back to the Bridge. I'll see you later at dinner?"

"Sure. I'm going to take advantage of those rations you authorized," Harry teased a little.

"You'd better. Wilson's a worse cook than Neelix ever was," Tom warned.

"I didn't think that was possible," he replied as they walked toward the door to Tom's quarters.

"Trust me on this one, Harry," Tom said knowingly.

"Tom," Harry stopped at the door. "Thanks."

"You're welcome, Harry," replied Tom. "It's good to have you back. I missed you."

"I missed you, too," said Harry.

"I've gotta go, wouldn't do for the Acting Captain to take too long of a lunch break," Tom said and they walked down the corridor to the turbolift.

"How the mighty have fallen," came Harry's wry reply.

Tom stepped into the lift as Harry stood in the companionway. "What can I say, Harry. What can I say..." he said as the lift doors shut.

Harry grinned and shook his head, then walked down the companionway, heading nowhere in particular, but thinking that he might like to go sit in the hydroponics bay and look at some flowers. He had a lot of thinking to do.

End Part 25 1