Title: Come of Age
Author: Annette Welsh-Shinya 01/99
Series: VOY
Part: 32/?
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!


"So, how many head injuries does this one make?" B'Elanna asked as they lounged on his couch. She was absently running her hands through his hair, stroking they very place on his forehead that had been hit by a jagged piece of rock. She'd been remarkably low-key about her grilling him regarding his not telling her he was injured in the rescue mission on Abraad. She had decided that she didn't want to waste time with it. There were other things their all to precious spare time could be spent on.

"To tell you the truth, I've lost count," Tom confessed. He was in one of his favorite positions, laying on his side, B'Elanna holding him from behind, gently caressing his head and torso. It was simultaneously soothing and erotic. He mused that most of Voyager's crew would bet their last ration credit that she didn't have it in her to be soothing, possibly erotic, but never soothing. He wasn't about the enlighten them. She was his secret and he was going to keep it that way. It sometimes surprised him how possessive he was toward B'Elanna, but most of the time he just accepted the feelings as advertised. Lately, he'd been less and less surprised and more content. He knew that, should he be called upon to explain his relationship to her, he wouldn't hesitate to state that this was his life mate, by any cultural standards or ceremony. Tom Paris had settled down, thank you very much. Not only did he like it - he reveled in it. There was a comfort to being able to count on someone. That was something that he'd had a hard time getting used to, first with Harry and the Captain, then gradually with Tuvok, Neelix, even Chakotay to some extent. Still, B'Elanna was the first woman who'd he really found he could trust implicitly with his heart and his friendship, for she would die before she betrayed either of those things. What's more, he felt exactly the same way.

"You look like you're doing some pretty heavy thinking there," B'Elanna commented.

"I was thinking about us," Tom replied, his voice soft and serious.

"Well, what's the verdict?" B'Elanna teased a little.

"That I love you," Tom said with a very steady tone, looking straight ahead.

"Excuse me?" B'Elanna pulled Tom around to face her. "Would you mind saying that again?"

"I love you," Tom said again in exactly the same manner, looking now into her eyes.

B'Elanna looked back at him for a long time. It was something that she had known. He'd alluded to it before, but it had always been in passing, some offhand remark that she had known to him had real meaning. She had learned long ago to decode Tom's speech for what he was really saying. When she had figured that out, it had been very easy to see that he really told all, you just had to know what to look for.

"Thanks," she finally said in a low, emotional voice.

"You're welcome," he smiled at her and stroked her face.

They sat there, gazing at each other like star struck teenagers on their first date. It was almost like that, really. They'd passed a point that night. It had slid by so quietly and easily that they didn't even notice it. Their relationship had entwined itself so deeply into their beings, that they didn't remember clearly not loving, needing, wanting each other with such intensity and tenderness. They were just distant, dim recollections of the 'before' time, when life had not been full of promise and light. It wasn't good to remember those times a lot. They served better as a general counterpoint to the joy of their current lives. All the torment and guilt of surviving, all the pressures of leading and being looked up to, all the horrors that they'd looked upon - they were stacked up against their bond. It wasn't easy, but it was no contest as to which was stronger either. Love was as powerful a force of nature as any that they'd encountered, in living beings or spatial phenomena.

Tom stood up and tugged B'Elanna's hand so she stood up also. "I want us to get married," he said looking at her, his eyes intense.

"Married," she stated.

"Yes," he replied simply.

B'Elanna looked very thoughtful. This was not Tom making a joke. He never would make a joke about this. She felt her world getting a bit fuzzy. Tom wanted to *marry* her. How did she feel about that? She examined her feelings and found them confused, but very happy. Looking at him, she noticed that he was waiting very patiently for her internal conversation to finish. He knew she would need a few moments to collect herself; he knew her so well. She realized that this man was the only man who would know her so well, and the only one who she wanted to know her that well. Her answer came out as simply as his question. "Yes."

"Good," he smiled shyly at her. So, he hadn't been that calm after all. They embraced for a moment. "It will have to wait a while," he said, almost with apology, stroking her cheek.

"I know," she replied smiling back. "When we get the Captain and Chakotay back, we'll have more time for ourselves. We can go back to being just the Chief Engineer and Conn officer."

Tom nodded, "Thanks for understanding, B'Elanna." He turned and walked a couple of steps, then turned back and said, "Would you like to go for a walk around the ship?"

"A walk? You know," she said slowly, "that sounds very nice."

Tom offered his arm to her and she took it with a smile. They walked out of his quarters and headed down the companionway, completely silent and in complete accord.

Neelix checked his to do list and found, for once, it was completed. He stretched and groaned a little. Reading reports, writing reports, checking to make sure reports were finished, it was not what he would have thought that being Head of Security was all about. Truth be told, once the excitement of chasing down the seeker devices had ended, he'd been reduced to a more administrative role. Not that he'd like a return of those nasty things. He'd had way too much to do then, and he was paying the price now. Hastily logged reports, bare of anything but the basic details, were not sufficient by Starfleet standards. Certainly, they would not hold up to the scrutiny of a certain Vulcan who had just recently been returned to the ship. Neelix wanted everything in perfect order when Tuvok took back his post. It was a matter of personal honor to him. Like Tom, he never believed that he would hold his post more than temporarily. The fact that Tuvok was injured just meant that he had more time to prepare. He never considered that he might not be able to return to his position as Head of Security. Getting up, he decided to go to Sickbay and see how Tuvok was doing. He shut down his computer link and gathered his padds and put them in the desk and made his way to Sickbay.

"Good evening, Doctor," Neelix called pleasantly.

The Doctor looked up from his computer link in his office. "Good evening, Mr. Neelix," he replied.

Neelix crossed over to the doorway, "I've come to see how Mr. Tuvok is getting along. I've got a lot to brief him on when he's ready to return to his duties."

The Doctor looked pensive here, "I am afraid I don't have a good estimate as to when Mr. Tuvok may be able to return to his duties. He is still in recovery from his surgery, and I will have to make any analysis of his condition after that."

Neelix looked very concerned. "He's not awake yet? What's wrong?"

"Mr. Tuvok's injuries were fairly severe, Mr. Neelix. I can't go into exactly what they are, due to the doctor patient relationship. Suffice it to say, when I am able to tell you something, I will," the Doctor said with a sigh.

"Can I see him?" Neelix asked at last.

"You may see him," the Doctor said gesturing with one hand. "He is not responsive. However, he may be able to hear you on some level."

"Thank you, Doctor," Neelix replied. "I won't stay long." The Doctor nodded and turned back to sit down at his desk and began reading again.

Neelix moved over to the bio-bed where Tuvok lay. Laying on his stomach, face that held a grayish cast to once side, the Sickbay blanket draped over a figure that had lost considerable weight since the last time that Neelix had seen him. He was shocked. Tuvok looked worse that he had on Abraad. He supposed that the trip through the mines hadn't been easy on the Vulcan, but he had hoped that with the Doctor and Tom's help, he would bounce back like he always had done before. It was like having a law of the universe controverted to see him this way. Neelix had the sneaking suspicion that the Doctor had been trying to tell him that Tuvok might not recover completely from his injuries. Looking at him now, Neelix could believe that. He made a personal vow then to aid Tuvok in any way that he could. When he regained consciousness and was ready for visitors, Neelix decided that he would present his report in full as he had hoped to, and then offer to remain on in any capacity that Tuvok would like him to. Kurt Wilson was doing a fine job in the mess hall, and he liked the challenge of Security, report writing or no. Perhaps he could be of help to the Vulcan. He would like that.

"Tuvok," he said softly. "It's Neelix. I just wanted to stop by and see how you're doing. I know you're really busy right now, so I won't stay long. I want you to know that I am thinking of you. All of us on the ship are thinking of you and want to you get better. Just concentrate on that. We're taking care of everything else. Mr. Paris has everything well in hand. We're going to go get the Captain and Cmdr. Chakotay now. I thought you'd like to know that. Well, I've got to get going now, but I'll be back to see you again soon. Good night," Neelix added softly. "Rest well." Neelix straightened the edge of the blanket, stroked it for a moment, then turned and walked out of Sickbay. He decided to get back to the Security office and get working on next week's duty shift schedule. Things were going to get busy when they reached Ibesia Prime.

Tom and B'Elanna had been wandering about the ship together for quite some time. They'd had no set plan, just going here and there as suited their fancy. Down to Engineering to see the latest projects, over to Astrometrics to look at the star charts to where they were headed. Putting their heads into the mess hall to see who was up and about. Everywhere they went, they were greeted pleasantly. Crew members made a point to notice them and make contact. It was like an evening stroll down by the river or to the town square to see what was happening. They even went up to the Bridge to check in with Ensign Powers and the night crew. It was pleasant to just watch the crew doing their jobs, thought Tom. It made him feel proud, he decided. Proud of them and the job they were doing. This, he supposed, was what made captains so loyal to their ship and crews. The bond was unmistakable. Interdependence, it tied him as closely to the crew as they were tied to him. Periodically, B'Elanna and he would look at each other, so he knew that she was feeling the same thing he was. They didn't speak much; it wasn't needed.

"Before we call it a night, let's go down to the hydroponics bay," B'Elanna suggested.

"Sounds great," Tom smiled at her. Looking at growing things, even vegetables, was a great way to end an evening. They sauntered down the companionway, arm in arm, from the turbo lift. Walking up to the door to the bay, they could hear voices coming through the panel. Opening the door, they stepped into the fresh, earthy smelling place of growing.

"You have to stake them before you water them," an exasperated atonal voice yelled.

"What was that?" came a sarcastic reply. "A little louder, I couldn't hear you!"

"You heard me just fine, Mike Baytart!," Jenny Delaney grumbled, but moderated her voice a little.

"So did you," Mike shot back. Jenny was standing by a planting bin, hands on hips, glaring at Mike. Mike stood across from her, his armed folded across his chest and glared right back. Tom and B'Elanna stood by the entrance door and looked at each other. Neither of the other two had noticed that they had entered the bay.

"What is that supposed to mean?" Jenny snarled.

"That you can hear just fine, when you want to," Mike taunted, holding up one hand and gesturing it for emphasis.

"That's not true, I just heard you because you said it near my good ear," she explained with irritation.

"So, you admit that you can hear, if it's said on your good side," he said triumphantly.

"Of course I can, you idiot!" Jenny replied, totally ticked now. "I never said I couldn't."

"So, for a week, you've been just ignoring me when I talked to you," Mike accused her.

"I never asked you to help me," she replied sullenly.

"I never asked *to* help you," he pitched right back at her. "In case you weren't listening that day, I was assigned BarAstrometrics. Not my first choice, but that's what I got."

"So, if you were assigned to Astrometrics, why have you been helping me in the hydroponics bay?" Jenny asked.

"Because you looked like you could use some help," Mike said heavily.

"Oh, yeah, help poor old Jenny Delaney," she mocked. "She's not capable of doing anything by herself...she needs a keeper."

"You know that's not true," he said angrily. "I just...oh hell, forget it." He turned to walk away.

"Wait," she said hesitantly.

"What?" Mike said, not turning around.

"Why did you want to help me?" Jenny said, her voice almost inaudible.

He turned sideways and looked at her. "Because you needed some help and I could," he said finally.

"Oh," said Jenny in that quiet voice, but she looked up at him and smiled. She got a nice smile in return.

B'Elanna looked at Tom and gestured with her head to the door. Tom nodded in return, and they left as quietly as they had come. They felt like voyeurs. This was a matter between these two. B'Elanna said, "You know, Tom. I wonder if you really do have that matchmaking touch." She grinned at him.

"I take no credit for this one," Tom put his hand on his heart. "I swear I had nothing to do with it. Mike took his own initiative."

"This crew has gotten positively love struck," chuckled B'Elanna as they entered the lift to go back to his quarters. "I supposed that after five years and our recent troubles, something had to give."

Tom swept her into his arms dramatically, bent her back, and kissed her. "Yeah, isn't it great," he leered at her, letting her up just as the lift stopped.

"Pig," she called with affection under her breath as they passed a couple of crew heading for the lift they just exited.

"That's me," he replied happily as they entered his quarters.

End Part 32 1