Title: Come of Age
Author: Annette Welsh-Shinya 02/2001
Series: VOY
Part: 38/?
Rating: R
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!


Harry Kim made his way to Astrometrics, where he was sure he would find Seven. She had stood him up for lunch. In fact, she'd been making every excuse in the book to not be alone with him this past week. He'd had enough. He walked through the doorway and found her in deep discussion with Jenny Delaney, her perfectly pitched voiced raised and enunciating each word. Jenny was nodding and said, "I understand Ensign Seven, I'll get right on it. I'm sure I'll be able to find some new type 5 chips in Ship's Stores." She turned to go, saw Kim and nodded, "Mr. Kim," as she made her way out. Harry nodded back as she went by.

Seven had quickly moved over to a console and was inputting data at a rapid rate. Harry moved up behind her.

"Did you know that," he began offhandedly. "You're breathing rate has increased 47% and your facial skin shows an increase in the capillary blood supply?" Seven movements jerked, then became smooth again. Harry came around to the front of the console and continued, "I just may have to see that you go to Sickbay for a check-up...perhaps these phenomena are symptoms of an illness that prevents you from remembering that you and I had a date for lunch today?"

"I have been....busy," Seven finally replied, still looking intently at her console.

Harry reached over and put his hand under her chin and lifted her face so that her eyes met his. "Why is it that I don't believe you?" His smile was wicked and his voice poured over her nerve endings. He didn't look particularly angry, just inquisitive.

"I am unsure why I didn't come," Seven could not break eye contact with Harry.

"No, you're not," replied Harry with confidence. "You always know why you do everything. You just don't want to say."

"No," Seven shook her head, but didn't try to pull away from the gentle hold he still held her with. "I really don't know. I just felt....strange. Unsure as to what my next course of action should be. I am unused to being unable to project my plan of action."

"Ah," Harry nodded with understanding. "You chickened out."

"Poultry had nothing to do with my decision not to attend our lunch meeting," she shot back.

Harry leaned forward so their faces were millimeters apart, "You're afraid of what comes next."

"I am uncertain how to proceed with this type of relationship. I do not understand the protocols..." Harry's hand came up over her mouth, stopping her speech.

"You chickened out because the last time we were alone together we were bouncing all over the sheets," he said looking steadily into her eyes. "Just nod your head, Seven. You know I'm right."

Seven couldn't move for a moment, then slowly nodded her head once. Harry smiled and slid his hand around the back of her neck and pulled her up and kissed her hard. Pulling back he laughed a little and said, "You're beautiful when you're embarrassed."

"I am not embarrassed," replied Seven a little huffily. "Just unsure how to proceed."

Harry nuzzled the side of her face and slid over to nip an ear. "Yes, you are, and don't argue. Jenny's on duty now, and it's time for dinner. I know this great place where we can go."

Seven looked at Harry appraisingly, "And where would this be?"

"My quarters, of course," Harry replied with an air of confidence that exuded sexiness.

Seven came around the console and walked with him to the door of Astrometrics. "Is the food any good?"

"Who said anything about eating food, Ensign?" Harry's arm came around her to the small of her back as he escorted her to the nearest turbolift. Seven's face was rosy but happy, and Harry was grinning shamelessly as the doors closed on them.

Neelix was just finishing up the daily report when Tom walked into the Security office. "Hey, Neelix. How's it going?" He sat down in the chair facing the desk.

Neelix looked up from his desk and immediately noticed that Tom was more relaxed that he'd seen in a long time. "Just finishing up for the day, Captain," he replied cheerfully. "My reports are getting a lot shorter and much easier to write every day."

"Glad to hear that," Tom said with a smile. "I'll admit, I never thought I'd see that day again when we weren't defusing bombs one second and splicing parts together with chewing gum and baling wire the next."

"I'm not sure what chewing gum and baling wire are," Neelix replied with a grin. "But, I get the general idea. It sure makes for a less stressful shift, I may say."

Tom looked at Neelix and grinned back, "I get the feeling, though, that as tough as it was, you are going to miss it a little." He sighed a little and became serious again. "I know that I won't forget what you've done for this ship and its crew."

"Just doing my duty, sir," Neelix sat up straighter.

"You and I both know that you have exceeded the scope of your duties more often than you operated within them," Tom replied.

"Well, I've had your exceptional example to follow," Neelix rejoined. "And, I have been in good company on this ship. I can't think of a crew member that hasn't pulled more than his or her fair share more than once, and would be willing to do so again, if you asked them."

"Do you really think so, Neelix?" Tom queried the Talaxian in an urgent tone. "I need to know if I've asked too much of them. I can't think anyone more likely that you to know the true feelings of the crew."

"Why thank you, Captain," said Neelix, pleased at the compliment. "I can honestly tell you that this crew would do anything for you." Tom sat up at this and just looked at Neelix. "I can see that you are surprised, but I don't know why you should be. You've been out in front from day one, leading by example, never asking more of your crew than you were willing give of yourself. In fact, I watched you drive yourself almost into the ground keeping things going. If ever there was a leader that has earned the respect, confidence, and trust of their crew, it's you, Captain Paris."

Tom was speechless. He looked at Neelix, tried to speak, then cleared his throat and tried again. "You really mean that, don't you," his voice was quiet, but firm.

"From the bottom of my heart and soul, Captain," said Neelix intently.

"I'm going to ask more of this crew now than I've asked in the past," Tom stated a moment later. He got up and walked over to the rack of the newly designed weapons that had been developed for the hunter parties. He ran his hand over Nate's modified Hirogen weapon and turned back to Neelix. "I'm going to ask them to trust me more than they trust Captain Janeway and Chakotay. I'm going to ask them to follow me and not listen to them. I have to know if they are ready to do this."

Neelix stood up behind his desk. "I know that it's our duty to follow your orders as Captain of this ship," he replied.

"It's more than that, Neelix," Tom replied. "As my Chief of Security, you'll have to enforce my orders. It could get uncomfortable. I've read every damn Starfleet regulation, and the only one that I can come up with that even remotely applies to this situation is the ability for a Senior Officer to relieve a command officer and even the Captain if they are unfit for duty."

"From what your report said on the condition of Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay, I would say that your assessment of their lack of fitness for duty was correct," Neelix said.

"I believe that it is," Tom agreed. "But, we are talking about Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay. Everyone in this crew admires and would follow either or both of them to hell and back. In fact," he continued grimly. "They already have."

"Don't underestimate your own leadership in the past months, Captain," Neelix cautioned. "You've done as much for the crew as the both of them. Don't get me wrong, I respect Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay very much..."

"I know that you do, Neelix," Tom smiled a tired smile. "I just wanted to get a feel for what I was up against."

"What we're up against, sir," Neelix countered. "I take it you have a plan for rescuing them?" Neelix came around the desk and walked up to Tom.

Tom put his arm on Neelix's shoulder and replied with wry confidence, "Oh, yes, I've got a plan." Tom looked appraisingly at Neelix, "You're always sure I'll have a plan, aren't you, Neelix?"

"I've never doubted you for a second, sir," Neelix said cheerfully as they walked out of the Security office.

"I'll tell you all about it over dinner," Tom said as they made their way to the turbolift. He laughed at himself. Maybe it was pre

tty great to have someone have so much confidence in you.

Administrator Reddin scanned the latest reports from the planetary sensors. "You still have not been able to penetrate their shielding?" he demanded of a subordinate.

"No, sir," the scarlet-robed female replied. "We have been trying different methods, but have been unsuccessful in locating the signature of the ship. It is the opinion of some that Voyager has left the system."

"Oh, they're still there, all right," claimed Reddin with certainty. "Paris won't leave without an attempt to recover Janeway and Chakotay." Reddin looked up and ordered, "Keep scanning. Eventually, he'll show up, and he'll want us to know about it."

"How can you be so sure, Administrator?" asked the subordinate.

"Because, Captain Paris is just the type to never give up, Lind,' Reddin said in a superior voice. "He's got an excessive sense of *honor*. And, it will get him in trouble, very soon."

Reddin dismissed Lind and got back to his work. He hummed to himself as he checked his schedule, then made a call on his vid-phone. No one answered, but he left a message that he and his wife would be happy to attend dinner at Kathryn and Chakotay's house that evening. The next call was to Chancellor Scelesta. She confirmed that she would be attending also.

As Tom and Neelix sat down to dinner, Sam and Naomi Wildman came into the messhall. Naomi brightened and ran over yelling, "Tom!"

Tom had just enough time to turn and open his arms before 26 kilos of excited child ran full-bore into him. He caught Naomi in a hard hug which she returned full force. Then, she caught his face in her hands and planted him a kiss on his left cheek. "You've been away sooooo long!" she complained.

He smiled at her and said, "I know, but I'm back now, Naomi." She nestled into him and smiled contentedly. Tom was so glad to see her acting like a child again. She had been so serious for so long. He exchanged a look of approval with Sam Wildman. Naomi looked like she was getting ready to settle in for the long-haul in Tom's lap.

"Don't bother Captain Paris too much right now, Naomi," said Sam, having realized that Tom and Neelix were having a ship's business meeting.

"It's all right, Ensign," Tom said winking at Naomi. "I always have time for my Captain's Assistant."

"See," Naomi shook her head knowingly. "I told you so. The Captain *needs* me." She looked over at Neelix and said, "And Neelix does, too." Neelix beamed at Naomi, but uncharacteristically said nothing.

Tom looked at Naomi and said in a soft voice, "That is so true. But right now, I have a meeting with Neelix. Why don't you have dinner with your mom, and then we'll talk later."

Naomi thought about it for a minute, then she said, "You and Neelix are planning how to rescue Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay, aren't you?"

"Yes," Tom acknowledged her insight. "And when we're done, I'll tell you how you can help."

"Yes, sir," replied Naomi in a solemn voice. Then, she smiled, "I'll see you later, Tom," and gave him another hug. Tom's eyes closed and his face was suffused with emotion as he embraced the child. Sam Wildman blinked a little and Neelix suddenly found the contents of his tray very interesting.

"Thank you, Captain," Sam said softly as she took Naomi's hand.

"Carry on, Ensign," Tom answered her with a smile, and turned back to Neelix and their plans.

B'Elanna finished reading the last of the daily reports. They looked good. All systems appeared to be functioning quite well. The upgrade modifications they had been doing to the non-essential systems with were almost done. She laughed to herself. Starfleet would have a fit if they saw the ship now. It was a conglomeration of standard Starfleet, assorted Delta Quadrant species' technologies, and a healthy dose of Borg modifications thrown in for good measure. All of it strung together with good intentions and whatever came to hand when the need arose. She was proud of it though, and of the crew that had pulled it together. She had never envisioned hersegorgs the command type; now she was feeling almost at home in her position. Her sense of personal honor had grown much, and she recognized the desire to succeed at her new post, regardless of how she came by it. Tom was not the only one who had changed a lot in the past months.

She was glad he had gone to talk with Tuvok. He needed to speak to someone about what troubled him. He was not one to really share what was down deep very easily. Also, someone completely objective had been needed to evaluate him, and he had acknowledged that by his attendance at the appointment. For the record. It was in the regs; she had looked it up. Any crew member, regardless of position, should be evaluated if they show signs of severe stress and a reduction in performance of duty. Since Tom and the whole crew had been under nothing but stress for almost as long as any of them could remember, she had not bothered to enforce that regulation. But, now that things had calmed down, relatively speaking she mentally amended, she had to follow the protocol. She knew she had to follow the rules and regulations as strictly and without variance as Tom did. To fail to follow them would lead to chaos. It was just hard when you were stuck with evaluating your friend and lover. She was sure Starfleet would have something to say about that, too. Oh, well, one thing at a time.

She had received a preliminary report on Tom's status from Tuvok. He was fit for command in Tuvok's opinion, but would benefit from some regular counseling sessions to help him deal with the stresses of command. She carefully encoded the padd that held Tuvok's report and placed it on Paris' desk in his ready room. Checking the time, she made her way out to the Bridge.

"Ensign McNaughton," she called. "Status report."

"All quiet, sir," answered McNaughton. "There have been no changes in the patrol patterns of the Ibesian ships, and shields are holding."

Ensign Powers stepped out of the lift and came over to where B'Elanna was setweing. "Reporting for shift, Lieutenant Torres."

"The ship's all set for the night, Ensign," replied B'Elanna, handing her the latest status reports padd. "You have the conn."

"Very good, sir," Powers nodded. She watched as Torres left the Bridge and the other officers drifted out from their posts. She looked over to the only other remaining person - McNaughton. "You volunteer to pull another double, Sima?" she walked over to the helm.

"Well, sure," McNaughton smiled shyly. "I want to clock as much helm time as I can before things go back to normal." She looked a little sheepish. "Well, almost back to normal. I'm not usually on the Bridge, that's all."

"We've come a long way, haven't we?" Jan said almost wistfully.

"All the way to the Gamma shift," nodded McNaughton sagely.

Jan just looked at McNaughton, then said almost accusingly, "You made a joke!"

McNaughton looked a bit startled, then sat up a bit straighter and with pride said, "I did, didn't I."

Jan grinned and patted her on her shoulder as she made her way over to the command chair to start the next sensor sweep.

Deep in Jefferies tube 15, Vorik recalibrated, tested, then recalibrated again system after system. It was not strictly necessary to be doing this work now, but the systems did need fine tuning. The variances in most of them were not within tolerance specifications by any means, and the need to respond in a very fluid situation made it paramount that all systems be dependable and operating at maximum efficiency. Periodically, he consulted his padd with the specific tolerances for each system. Methodically, he finished up one system, then moved onto the next. It passed the time.

He had earlier overheard from some of the Engineering crew that Captain Paris had been seen in the messhall eating with Neelix. He had deduced from this that Tom had emerged from his self-imposed exile and was working on his latest plan to rescue Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay. Vorik was confident that it was just a matter of time before Tom contacted him with his part in the plan. The problem was that he did not have anything else to do until then. Jan had Bridge duty that night. Strange, but she had managed to become so important to him is such a short time. Then, reflecting that he had known her for the length of their journey together, he amended it to how much their relationship had changed in the recent past. Satisfied with having defined, if only partially, Jan's place in his life, he also reflected that he had been taking a rather personal interest these days in the smooth and efficient running of the Engineering section. He had always admired Lieutenant Torres' work ethic, and was doing his best to emulate it. He finished his task and climbed out of the Jefferies tube.

"Crewman Callahan," he called over as he walked to the warpcorp station. "Have you finished the analysis of the warp coils?"

Callahan looked up at Vorik, "Yes, sir." He handed the padd he had been working with to Vorik. "Coils are down to 68% efficiency, and from my latest calculations, we won't be able to compensate for them without risking a core breech." He looked over at the glowing blue of the warpcore. "Recommend we start refitting with some of the Galacite that we have, sir. Especially if we're going to need to make a really fast getaway anytime soon."

"Your recommendation is sound, Crewman," Vorik replied. "Take whatever crew members you need to collect the necessary materials from Ship's Stores. Use my authorization. We will begin refit on the coils that are damaged the worst."

"Tonight, sir?" Callahan replied incredulously.

"Tonight would be the best time to begin, Crewman," Vorik said mildly but with meaning. "And, we shall have to take care to finish what we begin by morning."

Callahan blinked, then said with dawning comprehension, "Yes, sir. I'll get right on it."

End Part 38