Title: Come of Age
Author: Annette Welsh-Shinya 01/99
Series: VOY
Part: 5/?
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!


In Sickbay, business was booming. Tom came in and slid right into his Medic duties, helping the Doctor treat the newly released prisoners. Some greeted Tom with a smile, others with tears, almost all of them were unable to walk without some help, they were so weak. However, they were so glad to be there, they seemed to find energy from somewhere. They all wanted to know what happened, how they had been found, what was being done to find the other members of the crew. Tom and the Doctor answered as many questions as they felt they could without taxing the strength and emotions of the patients, then requested that each of them rest so they could begin their recovery. After a while, they quieted down and slept the sleep of the truly exhausted.

Tom walked over to where B'Elanna was. She was still sleeping. The Doctor came up and said, "She'll be asleep for at least another four hours, and she probably won't wake until morning."

Tom looked over at the Doctor, his hand not letting go of B'Elanna's. "She's going to make a full recovery," he said firmly.

"Yes," said the Doctor, in a gentle tone that he was starting to use with Tom more and more these days.

Tom allowed himself to feel very relieved for a few moments, squeezed B'Elanna's hand, then moved on to the other patients in the room. Sue Nicoletti was looking a little better, so was Crewman Burns. They also were still asleep. It was a testament to how tired they were, that they could sleep through all the noise that had been in the Sickbay just a short while ago.

"All right, Doc," said Tom finally. "See if you can rotate some of the stronger patients to their quarters tomorrow. Except for B'Elanna, they all appear to need some TLC, rather than some serious medical attention."

"I'll be sure to get on the proper protocol for dispencing 'TLC' to crewmembers, Mr. Paris," said the Doctor acerbically.

Tom smiled tiredly at the Doc, and then yawned a little, and rolled his shoulders. "I've got to get to the Bridge, Doc. Call me if you need anything."

"How long has it been since you rested, Mr. Paris?" inquired the Doctor, looking at him closely.

"I dunno, Doc, maybe yesterday, the day before. I'm fine," he continued as he walked to the door.

"Mr. Paris, as Chief Medical Officer of this ship, I take leave to inform you that your health and well-being are one of my primary concerns. As Acting Captain of this ship, you have a responsibility to the crew to be at peak performance at all times. This includes taking appropriate rest periods and meals at least every other day." The Doctor paused and looked at how thin Tom had become. "How long has it been since you ate anything, Tom?"

Tom shook his head tiredly, it was getting harder to think clearly. "I can't remember, Doc," he said. "There's just not been much time for it lately."

"Well, you're going to now," said the Doctor firmly. "You will proceed to the Messhall and get yourself some dinner, now. Then, you will take a rest period of at least six hours. That is an order, Mr. Paris. And, as Medical Officer, you know I can do that."

Tom stood there a moment, looking at the Doctor. He laughed soundlessly, then said, "You win, Doc. But, I need to go to the Bridge to button things up for the night," here he held up his hands. "Ten minutes, tops. Then I promise I will go and get something to eat and take a nap like a good little boy, OK?"

"OK," replied the Doctor in a mockingly affectionate tone.

Tom slapped his shoulder on the way out the door, "Good night, Doc. Call me if B'Elanna's status changes."

The Doctor went back to his duties for a while, then went into his office to record the events of the day into his personal log. He took great pleasure in noting that he had ordered Mr. Paris to eat his dinner and go to bed.

Tom looked in on Astrometrics on the way to the Bridge. Jenny Delaney was there, as usual. In fact, she never seemed to leave the place. He walked up to where she was busily making entries in a padd and gently touched her shoulder and said "Jenny," in a slightly too loud voice, and she still started violently. She turned away from him and said in a flat voice, "I'm sorry, Mr. Paris, I'm still not used to it, I guess."

Tom reached around her shoulders and turned her to face him. He spoke spoke slowly and clearly, "You don't have to apologize, Jenny. I know it's very hard, but we need you, so you're going to have to make an effort to deal with it. You can't hide in Astrometrics forever."

Jenny reached up to touch the long scar that marked one entire side of her face from her temple to her chin, with another branching back to her ear. The Doctor had tried to reconstruct it, but it had healed wrong initially. The infection that had set in while she was in captivity had damaged the eardrum in her left ear so badly, that she would never hear in it again. Her right ear had experienced a 70% loss of hearing, too. She spoke, "I'm needed here." She shut her eyes as if in pain and added, "It doesn't matter if I can't hear down here. All I need is to be able to think and interpret data."

Tom was unsure what to say next. He settled for putting one hand to her shoulder, and she opened her eyes again. He met her gaze, but said nothing for a long while. Then, "All right, Jenny. You may stay in this assignment. But, I want to see you outside of this lab at least once a day, doing something else. Wilson could probably use some help in the hydroponics bay, and the plants don't care if you can't hear them or not," he finished, fishing for a smile from her. He got a very small one.

"Yes, Mr. Paris," she responded finally. She handed him her padd. "Here are the latest charts for this region, sir. I marked the systems you said you were interested in."

"Thank you," said Tom and meaning it. "Now, out of here. Go to bed, or go for a walk, but I don't want to see you in here until tomorrow alpha shift or later. Got it?"

"Aye, sir," replied Jenny with a ghost of her former vivaciousness, and she turned and filed from the room almost soundlessly. Tom gazed after her for a moment. It was almost painful to see her by herself. It had taken death to separate the infamous Delaney sisters. He slapped the padd in his hand and left the lab.

Walking onto the Bridge, he saw that Seven was still hard at work with her everpresent padds, and that the shift had changed. Now Ensign Bradley sat at the Conn, with Ensign Powers at Ops. He nodded at Powers, who had made the change from Engineering to Ops with surprising ease. She had talent, and he made a mental note to add this to his next log. Coming down to where Seven sat, he said, "You taking up permanent residence on the Bridge, Ensign? Would you like me to have your alcove moved up here from Cargo Bay 2?"

Seven looked up at him, her face impassive, but Tom had learned to read through that facade. She was overworked, tired, and not in the mood for his jokes. Harry had tried to tell him she was a passionate, expressive woman, and he'd not really believed him. He'd give a whole lot at that moment for Harry to appear and tell him 'I told you so.'

"I know," said Tom in a self-depracating voice. "Not funny. But," he sighed. "it's the best I can come up with for the moment."

"Here are the latest reports from Ensign Vorik, sir," said Seven, unbending a little bit. She could tell that Tom was tired, too. "And the current course projections, fuel consumption reports, latest Security reports from Ensign Neelix, and a list of current Messhall supplies from Crewman Wilson." She piled the padds onto his hands.

Tom perused the padds' entries cursorily, noting that Vorik had indeed met his deadline, and they were putting the finishing touches on the integration of the modulating shield facade with the warpdrive. "Excellent work, Ensign," he said to Seven. "Now, get off my Bridge. You haven't had any sleep for some time, and that half hour you spent in your alcove has the gilt worn off of it."

"Yes, sir," replied Seven tiredly. Tom raised an eyebrow at this. She quirked a small, one-sided smile at this mannerism. "I will retire to my quarters on deck six tonight. Naomi Wildman requested that I be closer to her, in order to be available should any monsters turn up in her room. She says that she dislikes bothering Neelix about them, as he has the seeker program booby-traps to worry about now."

Tom nodded with a smile of his own. "Good. I told Naomi I'd be in to check on her later tonight. Good night, Seven."

"Good night, Mr. Paris," replied Seven and walked off the Bridge.

Tom sagged back against the command chair and tried to gather his thoughts, but they just wouldn't seem to coalesce. He felt great waves of tiredness seeping through him, and he stood up and shook his head to clear it. He couldn't fall asleep on the Bridge; it would look pretty bad. He spoke, "Ensign Powers."

"Yes, sir?" responded Powers.

"I have been thinking that you need a little more time in the big chair, Ensign," said Tom with a brisk voice. "So, I'm giving you the watch for the night." Powers just gaped at this. Tom walked up to the Ops station. "Close your mouth, Ensign," he said, not unkindly. "You heard me right. Continue the current course with the outlined changes that are here," and he handed the padd Seven had recently given to him. "Call me if there are any problems, otherwise, I'll be here in the morning to relieve you."

Tom looked at Powers, who gulped and said, "Aye, Mr. Paris. I'll do my best, sir."

"I know you will, Ensign," said Tom with calm confidence. "Good night," and he turned and strode off the Bridge.

He worked his way to the Messhall, stopping and talking with crewmembers as he encountered them in the course of their duties. With such a small amount of people to work the ship, there were always people on the move in the companionways, hurrying to their next task that would keep the starship running. He talked to each one, giving them his attention to their problems or just greeting them by name. It seemed to help them on their way.

Tom wondered sometimes how long they could keep this up. He decided that the crewmembers that they had rescued today, all eight of them, would probably enough to breathe some new life into the exhausted crew. These rescued crew members had certainly fared a little better than the first two groups they had found. The whole crew had been shocked at the treatment of the Delaneys and Crewman Ed Morgan. Megan Delaney had died while in custody, and Morgan had succumbed to his injuries the day of the rescue. It was Tom's opinion that he had been holding on for just that reason, because when they had liberated the prisoners, it had be he who had been holding onto Morgan while they set up the personal pattern enhancer to transport him back to Voyager. Tom had looked down and saw that Morgan had regained consciousness. He had spoken in a hoarse whisper, "I knew you'd come to get us, sir," and he died at that moment. Tom had been unable to speak about it for days afterward, merely making a cursory log entry about the event. Later, he had found himself crying while alone in the Captain's ready room. That had been a while ago. Now, he didn't cry, not very much. There was just too much to cry about.

As he entered the Messhall, he saw Kurt Wilson in Neelix's kitchen. Wilson had taken over the lion's share of the cooking, not because, as he put it, he was any good at it, but because somebody had to. And, he had added, because he was a lousy Engineer, not good at Astrophysics, and nobody's idea of a Security crewman. When Tom had inquired as to what duties he performed while he had been assigned solely to Ship's Systems, he had replied, "As little as possible, Mr. Paris." Tom had had to laugh at that, because he knew that Wilson had been a demon helping getting the ship's systems back on line as well as cooking and taking care of the hydroponics bay. Being cross-trained was no longer a luxery of the Senior Staff, thought Tom. It was now a crew level necessity.

"What's good tonight, Kurt?" said Tom as he picked up his tray.

"I've got a nice leola root stew, sir. Or, you could have some leola root stew. It's also good this evening," replied Wilson with a straight face.

"OK," said Tom pleasantly. "I'll take the stew."

"Good choice, sir," said Wilson smiling wickedly. "It's very nutritious, and, as you know, we have a lifetime supply of it in the hold. Several lifetimes, in fact."

Tom agreed that it was rather fortunate that they had so much of a supply of it, as there was little else to eat on the ship at the moment, as the current crop in the hydroponics bay was at least two weeks away from maturity.

"You and me, we have different ideas of fortune, sir," replied Wilson wiping the counter with a cloth. "Enjoy your meal, sir," he continued pleasantly. Under his breath he added, "If you can."

Tom pretended to not hear the last comment, he'd made enough of his own is his day. He sat down at a table nearby some other crewmembers, but didn't join them. He had noticed that when he sat down with the crew, it tended to inhibit conversation, and inevitably, they would start to appear uneasy. He knew that he was their leader, so he had to act like one, even eating leola root stew. Actually, it was crazy, but the stuff was starting to grow on him. He might even venture to say that he kind of liked it in a way. It was comforting. A known quantity from another time. You could always depend on the leola root stew being bad. It had been a running joke for years. He ate every bit of the stew and then went back for more. Wilson emptied the pot into his bowl with raised eyebrows, but didn't say a word. The crew in the Messhall watched Tom with a kind of awe as he dug into his second helping with gusto. Eating had stimulated his appetite, and he felt incredibly hungry. His body was demanding more fuel, now that it had the chance. It seemed to know that this was a rare occurance, and wanted to take advantage of it. He spooned up the last of the stew and put down his spoon. He looked up, and the four crew members across the way raised their cups of coffee substitute in a salute to his fortitude. He grinned and picked up his cup and gave a wave with it in their direction. They appeared happy to have been noticed and appreciated. He drank the beverage, trying not to grimace. He did not want to know what it was. He just hoped that they would run out of it soon. Carrying his tray to the kitchen, he stopped by the group's table. "Good evening, Mr. Paris," called a young crewman. "How was your dinner, sir?"

"Pretty good," replied Tom. "For it being awful," he finished. The crew laughed at this terrible joke. They had hoped he would make one. It was a source of comfort for them. It meant Mr. Paris was in his usual form. He always could come up with some borderline smart alec remark, and then make it sound like all command officers would say it. He wasn't Captain Janeway, but in his own way, he had earned the respect and admiration of the crew. They would and were following him, if not to the death, pretty damn near close to it most of the time. He bid the crewmembers good night, and deposited his tray with Wilson.

"Good night, sir," said Wilson, setting out some dough for making bread.

"Good night, Wilson," replied Tom, who looked at the dough in the bowl on the workcounter. "French toast for breakfast tomorrow?"

"Yes, sir," said Wilson. "Minus the syrup, of course."

"Of course," echoed Tom nodding.

"But there's going to be some of that fruit compote I put up last month to put on it," said Wilson encouragingly.

"I'll be sure to stop by before I go up to the Bridge, Wilson," said Tom, turning to go.

"I'll make sure and save you some, sir," called Wilson as Tom waved at him as he left the messhall.

Wilson turned back to his breadmaking, his burly hands covered in flour as he turned out the dough to begin the first kneading. If Lou Ayala could only see him now, he'd bust a gut.

Tom's vision was getting a little hazy as he made his way down the companionway from the turbolift. He had one more stop to make, then he was going to go to his quarters and collaspe. He made his way to Ensign Wildman's quarters and used his command codes to open the door. He walked into Naomi's bedroom and gazed at the little girl as she lay sleeping. One arm was flung up over her head, and the bedclothes were pulled up in disarray, as if she had been restless in her sleep. He walked over to her bed and eased her arm down and pulled the covers up, smothing them. She stirred and he said, "Shhhh, it's just me, Naomi."

"Tom?" said Naomi, her voice achingly young and lost sounding. "I was having a bad dream. The Vandals' were breaking our Borg code and had totally diasbled the ship. They were coming to get us."

Tom sat down on the edge of Naomi's bed and she snuggled immediately up next to him, and he snaked an armed around her for a quick hug. "You know," he said. "You really did a great job today, going down to Engineering and helping with the logs. You saved Ensign Vorik a lot of time, and helped Seven with her duties, too."

"Really," said Naomi, pleased to hear praise from her hero.

Tom continued, "I think that it shows that you have the intelligence and maturity required for the job I have in mind for you."

"What job is that?" said Naomi, her bad dream all but forgotten.

"Captain's Assistant," said Tom, giving the girl her fondest wish.

"Oh, Tom!" she squealed in the way only a young girl can, and wrapped her arms around his neck and hugged him very tightly.

"Well," said Tom, trying to untangle her arms from around his neck so he could breathe. "Acting Captain's Assistant, anyway. Do you think that will do?"

Naomi sat back and looked at Tom. Her eyes shone, and she was fairly bouncing up and down with excitement. "Yes," was all she could manage to get out.

Tom smiled at her, very glad that he had decided to give her the designation. The child was already performing duties that were well beyond what she should be doing, but there was no one free to teach her, and she had to be occupied somehow. Besides, he had spoken the truth; she was very good at her job. He felt very emotional at that moment, and reached out to hug Naomi again. She had calmed down somewhat, as it was very late, and she was tired. He cuddled her to him; it felt very good, made him feel good inside. They slid down into the bed together, blond heads touching. Naomi was soon asleep, and Tom felt himself gliding down a steep path into darkness that was warm and beckoned him pleasantly. He fell asleep holding the little girl firmly to his chest, her head burrowed into his shoulder.

End Part 5 1