Title: Come of Age
Author: Annette Welsh-Shinya 02/2001
Codes: P/T, K/7, EMH Doc, Neelix, Vorik, Naomi Wildman
Summary: Spoilers for Night and 30 Days, AU after that!. 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, BLTS, & PT Fever. Please notify me if you post anywhere else...I love to see my name in lights!
The view of the stars was stunning. If he looked hard enough, he could almost see how they fit together. A faint wisp of memory from the time he surveyed the Universe from Warp 10 danced about the edges of his consciousness. It teased the feathered edges of his reason and will. He pursued it diligently. This would be the meaning; this would be the redemption.
The door chime sounded. No response or recognition of the significance of the sound crossed his face or mind. The door opened a minute later.
Silence. Tom continued to stare without response out the window.
A little softer voice pulled at him, but he couldn't quite understand, didn't want to understand. A hand on his arm, stroking gently down. He turned and faced her, without comprehension for a long moment, then his face broke. He shuddered a little, then gathered himself together yet again.
"Do you have anything to report, Lieutenant Torres?" he got out in a toneless voice.
"Status is unchanged on the planet, sir," responded Torres, with a great deal of hard won patience.
"Then why are you here? I seem to remember giving a direct order that I was not to be disturbed unless there is an emergency," he snapped.
B'Elanna felt all the rage of her inability to reach Tom wherever he had gone rise up. She controlled it with extreme difficulty. She knew why. She just didn't how to bring him back from the dark edge of despair he had descended into upon returning from Ibesia Prime.
"It's been an entire week, Tom. You can't hide in your ready room forever," she replied, holding her voice low, using a reasonable tone. "Something has to be done. Have you figured out a plan to rescue Captain Janeway and Chakotay?"
"Oh, yeah...the plan," Tom's voice dripped sarcasm. "I'm the guy with all the great plans."
"Yes, you are," B'Elanna replied firmly. She took him by both shoulders and turned him to face her. "You've kept us all together. You've made it all work."
"I think that a few other people had something to do with it," Tom smirked down at her, an echo of the smart-Alec Tom. "But I'm sure happy to take all the credit."
"It's not like that," B'Elanna dropped her hands in frustration and spun around, trying to get a handle on her emotions. She turned back. "We *need* you, Tom," she spoke fiercely. "We need you to lead us. With all that's happened, all that we've done, all the work we've accomplished, we're still a fragile crew. We need you to be strong and lead us through this."
Tom laughed without amusement, "Yeah, and then there'll just be another problem, another crisis, another plan needed." He walked over to the window and looked out.
"And you will just come up with another plan," she walked over to him. "That's what you do, Paris. You're a leader. You may not ever had wanted to admit it and you'd walk over coals before you'd acknowledge it to anyone before, but you're one now. You've come this far, Tom," she reached up and placed her hand on his cheek. "What's different now?"
Tom closed his eyes, an expression of pain crossed his face. Then, he turned his face slightly into B'Elanna's hand and rested there. After a moment, he looked up and took her hand from his face and held it in his.
"I don't think you understand, B'Elanna," he looked at her with anguish. "I don't understand myself very well."
"Please try," she replied tilting her head up and under to reach his downcast eyes.
"Oh, God," he breathed out, and drew a deep breath and reached down inside himself for some courage that he wasn't all too sure was still there. "I'm afraid."
"Afraid?" B'Elanna was totally puzzled. "I've never seen you really afraid of anything. You're one of the bravest people I have ever known."
"Shows how much you know," Tom sent back to her with a quirk of his mouth.
"Please, explain it to me."
"I'm afraid that..." he swallowed hard. "That there's nothing left." He walked back over to the window and presented her with his back. He continued, "When this whole thing started, I was just doing what I had to do. There wasn't time to think. Then, when we started having success in getting the crew back, I concentrated on doing one thing at a time. Getting the crew back was the priority. Everything else that I did was to further that. I did my best to make sure that we got everyone back."
"You succeeded, Tom," B'Elanna said, crossing over to him. She stopped when Tom held up his hand.
"I thought so. Damn, I was pretty proud of myself," he shook his head with his non-smile in place. "Old Tom Paris sure showed everyone that he had it in him. I could dish out commands and run a tight ship with the best of them. I was just fooling myself."
"What's so different now?" B'Elanna asked softly.
"When I came back from Ibesia Prime, I was in shock. I couldn't believe that Captain Janeway and Chakotay would react like that. I was mad, too. Then, after a while, I started trying to think of a way to get them out of there. It was then that I felt it."
Tom turned and looked directly at B'Elanna. The bleakness in his eyes scared her to her very core.
"I couldn't think of a single thing, not one solitary idea came to me of how to get them off the planet," Tom's voice matched his countenance. "I was empty. It took a while, but I realized why." He looked down. "I realized then that this job I'd been filling in for was mine, quite probably for good. To be frank," he looked back up at her. "It scared the hell out of me. This wasn't temporary. This was permanent. And when I looked into myself, my soul, I knew that I wasn't able to do it."
"I don't believe that for a moment," B'Elanna shot back at him.
"You think I want this to be true." He shook his head. "All my life, my family, my teachers, everyone expected Tom Paris to do great things. I've got all the 'potential' in the Universe. Skills, training, you name it, I had it. Still, I could never hold it together for any length of time. Somehow, each time I've managed to screw it up."
"Sounds like you've dived pretty deep into that well of self-pity you've been digging," B'Elanna said.
"Just the sort of thing I thought you'd say," Tom replied.
"Then you know what I'm saying is true. Cut the bullshit, Paris!" she roared at him, shaking him suddenly. "Why now? Why crack now? The hard part's over. We're ready to start back home again. We've got one more rescue. What's so different?"
He was surprised to feel a warm wetness falling down his cheeks. "They're depending on me, B'Elanna. What if I let them down? What if this time I fail? I've had so much luck in rescuing the others, the odds are against me."
B'Elanna looked at Tom. She now saw through the well-placed shell of duty and pretended indifference of the past few weeks. She saw deep down what she had been refusing to see. Tom had given up, more than that, he'd fallen into a deep depression because he had given up hope. He'd lost confidence in who he was. She wondered if it had been inevitable. He had set himself so great a task, so high a standard. He had taken so much responsibility, had taken it all so personally. All this, without the usual training, experience, and support a Starfleet captain would have received. No quarter asked and certainly none given on all fronts. All of them had leaned on him, while at the same time, they'd had their own down time, herself included. She should have forced him to take a break. This was as much her fault as his, although finding fault was pointless. They needed their Captain back, functioning optimally as Seven would say. *She* needed him back.
"Tom," she said finally, her voice husky. "You can't pretend that nothing bad hasn't happened while you've been the Captain, but there's been so much more good than bad."
"I can't get it out of my mind." Tom rose and walked to the viewport. "I was too late to save them. It's my fault that they're there."
"You did everything you could, and some things you couldn't to get this crew back together, Tom. You could not have done anything more."
"I waited too long to go after Captain Janeway and Chakotay. If I had gotten to them sooner, maybe..."
"You followed the trail of the crew as quickly as you could, and if you remember, we had a little trouble with ship's systems for a while," she countered sarcastically.
"It was my ego, my pride," Tom continued as if he didn't hear her. "I wanted to tie everything up in a nice red ribbon and say, 'Here, Captain Janeway, I, the magnificent Lt. Tom Paris have single handedly rescued your crew and Voyager and am returning them to you. Aren't I a good boy?'" his voice was bitter with self recrimination.
"On, and you're responsible for everything that has gone wrong this whole trip, since the Caretaker...right?" despite her intentions, her temper and her voice were rising, again. " I seem to remember that there were a few other people along for the ride in all this." She crossed to Tom.
"But, *I'm* the Captain," he turned and faced her, the tears that he would *not* shed welling in he eyes. "I knew better, I should have figured it out. It was an endgame by the Ibesians." He held up his left hand, palm up, " I should have seen it coming a mile away," his hand closed into a fist and fell to his side.
"Oh, yes," countered B'Elanna. "Tom Paris, Chief Psychic."
"I'm responsible," he said emphatically, taking a step toward her.
"Then take responsibility!" B'Elanna moved to put her hands on his shoulders. "Do something!"
Tom pulled her hands gently off his shoulds, turned, and walked away, saying, "I can't -- what if I'm wrong again?" He turned back to her, his whole body trembling, not missing the hurt in her eyes from his pulling away. "I could get them hurt, or the crew, and they emphatically stated that they wanted to stay and be left alone by me..." he shook his head. "What a total snafu." He sat down heavily on the couch. B'Elanna sat next to him.
"Snafu?" she inquired in a bemused voice.
Tom looked over at her a gave a short laugh, a ghost of his usual one, but a laugh nonetheless. "A term from the 20th century on Earth..." he began.
"I might have known," she said sotto voice.
He turned to her and with a slight grin finished, "It means: Situation Normal All Fucked Up!"
"Well I'd say that covers it nicely," she quirked a smile at him. Somehow he dredged up another grin to send back.
"I'm really screwed up, aren't I?" he suddenly said.
She touched his cheek. "I don't think a stack of banana pancakes is going to fix this, if that's what you mean." Her voice became even more gentle. "I want you to talk to Tuvok."
"You think he could help me?" Tom said quietly.
"I think you need to learn how to help yourself," she replied. "Speaking from personal experience, you don't want to go down that road, Tom. It only leads to self-destruction."
Tom buried his face in B'Elanna's shoulder and her arms came around him. "I know. It's just that sometimes it's like I'm looking down at another person who lives in my body. I see what's happening, and I want to change it, but I can't."
"Yes, you can," B'Elanna countered. "But you have to know how to begin."
Tom sat up and looked at her. "I suppose you've made me an appointment?"
"1530 hours, Tuvok's quarters, which is about ten minutes from now," she replied with a slightly superior smirk.
"My indispensable First Officer," Tom said wryly.
"You love me and you know it," she stood and smiled at him.
"Yes, I do," Tom replied seriously and took her into his arms and kissed her. He pulled back a little and said huskily, "You have the Conn, Lieutenant.
Tuvok answered, "Come," to the ringing of his doorchime. This would be Captain Paris, strangely on time for the appointment that Lieutenant Torres had set up for him. He had anticipated resistance on the part of Paris, in light of his past experiences with him. Tom was not known for his willingness to share personal details.
Tom walked through the door to Tuvok's quarters. "I believe I have an appointment with the ship's Counselor, Commander Tuvok," his completely even and professional tone didn't match the wry look in his eyes.
"Please come in and sit down," Tuvok gestured to the waiting chairs near his viewport. Tom took a seat in the one that faced the stars. Tuvok sent the command to his transport unit to move forward so he was situated next to Tom.
"How's the new interface working out?" Tom asked. "Did B'Elanna manage to get the kinks out of the fine motion control?"
Tuvok touched the small device that was behind his left ear. "It has proven to be a successful design modification. I have tested it extensively and believe it will perform satisfactorily," he replied.
A brief look of sorrow flashed in Tom's face before he could suppress it. It made him so uncomfortable to think that the vital, powerful, and so able Tuvok had been relegated to a life of mostly sitting down. He also knew that, despite treatment, the pain from Tuvok's injuries continue to plague him daily. Only the strength of his mind and sheer willpower kept him going.
"I...don't know how to begin," faltered Tom, his awkwardness growing.
"You may begin by telling me what prompted your recent facial expression," Tuvok countered.
"My facial...Oh," Tom looked sheepish. "I was just...remembering," he finished miserably.
"Remembering what?" asked Tuvok impassively.
Tom looked at the floor, "The way you used to be."
"And this causes you sorrow?"
Tom continued to study the floor pattern, "Yes."
"Why?" countered Tuvok.
Tom looked at him incredulously. "Because you'll never be the same again, and..." he stopped, unable to go on.
"And what, Mr. Paris?" Tuvok insisted.
Tom looked up angrily, "Because it's my fault, damn it!"
"I fail to see how you are responsible for my injuries. You did not cause me to be captured nor were you a participant when they were inflicted. It is therefore illogical for you to accept responsibility for them." Tuvok replied evenly.
"How can you just sit there calmly and accept what's happened to you?" Tom rejoined. He jumped up out of his chair and began pacing the room. He turned and looked at Tuvok again. "I was the person in charge of the rescue efforts. I made all the command decisions. I made the priorities, chose, in effect, who was to be rescued first, who was left until later, and ultimately, who lived and who died." He thumped his chest with both hands and leaned over until his face was directly in front "ThTuvok's. "I was the one who left you at the mercy of your captors while chasing all over this sector, trying to put all the pieces of this crew and ship back together again." He took a deep, sobbing breath, "Don't you see? *I* am the one responsible." Tom turned away and sat on the couch by a viewport, unable to continue. He could not face Tuvok.
A few moments passed, then Tuvok moved next to Tom, and reached over and touched his shoulder. Tom turned around and looked at him, silent tears falling down his face. Tuvok looked at him for a long time, his hand remaining on his shoulder.
"I would be telling an untruth if I said that I have not felt frustration and anger as a result of my injuries," Tuvok began. "But, I have never ascribed to the idea that you in any way were a cause of them. On the contrary, at great personal risk, you were instrumental in rescuing me from certain death." Tuvok increased the pressure of his hold on Tom's shoulder slightly. "Your duties and responsibilities since the initial loss of the crew have been tremendous, indeed, excessive. Yet, you have managed them with great skill and compassionate leadership."
Tom looked at Tuvok with surprise. "You don't blame me?" he said hoarsely.
"No, I do not blame you," Tuvok said with an intent look.
Tom closed him eyes for a moment, then looked back at Tuvok and said with a heartfelt tone, "Thank you."
"A totally unnecessary remark, but nevertheless, you are welcome," Tuvok replied, letting his arm fall down to his side again. "You take much responsibility on yourself, Mr. Paris," he added.
"Kind of strange for someone who spent most of their life trying to avoid responsibility, don't you think?" Tom countered with a false lightness in his voice.
"You do appear to have altered your views and behavior considerably," Tuvok offered.
Tom tilted his head slightly to the right and nodded in agreement. "I guess I had an attitude adjustment pounded into me by the recent circumstances," he said.
"Would you please elaborate?" Tuvok requested.
Tom looked at Tuvok, who really did want to hear all about what he had done and why he did it. Someone who hadn't been there for most of it; he would be objective. "I need you to tell me I did the right things," said Tom with a shake of his head. "But I know you can't...It's all been done and I really tried to make the right decisions at the time. I guess I'd just like to share it with someone." Tom looked down.
"I am listening, Tom," said Tuvok quietly.
End Part 37