The Queen's Jester

By Laura Schiller

Based on Star Trek: Voyager

Copyright: Paramount

At the end of their duty shifts, Captain Janeway came to Tom's quarters and draped her Queen Arachnia costume in a garment bag across his desk.

"C'mon,Captain," he protested lightly, "Aren't you gonna keep it? Cost me a lot of replicator rations, you know."

"Thanks, I'll pass," she replied, raising a skeptical eyebrow at the black lace and fake spiderwebs. "You can alter it for B'Elanna, recycle it, whatever you think is best, but I'm not wearing it again - and I think you know why."

Tom shrugged casually. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"'Remember you're the Queen'?" she quoted back to him. "If you think I don't recognize that tone in your voice after almost five years, Ensign, you're mistaken. Any other time, I might have taken it as nothing but a friendly joke – but not now."

She eyed the single pip on his collar, making it clear what she was talking about. Tom flushed and looked away. Even after almost two months, his demotion was still a topic they avoided. It had been a strange, private joke to him, turning Janeway into a ridiculous parody of what he had thought of her during those thirty days. He hadn't expected her to pick up on this, but was not surprised she had. Too clever for her own good, he thought irritably. Just like me.

"What choice did we have, Captain?" he said, leaning back in his chair with deliberate nonchalance, all his defense mechanism blaring like red alert klaxons. "Those photonic aliens could've destroyed us. Someone had to play the Queen and make Chaotica drop his shield, our Borg lady's acting skills are nonexistent, and B'Elanna's aren't much better."

Besides, a man still making up for thirty days of solitary confinement would do well to remain in his girlfriend's good graces – not that he would say as much out loud.

"So you concluded that I was the best "evil queen" available," the Captain deadpanned, leaning on his desk with both his hands, fixing him with an unreadable blue-eyed stare which, even after all these years, never failed to unsettle him.

"Well, yeah – I mean, not that … okay, look." Clearly, she wasn't about to leave this room until he was honest with her, so honest he would be. He stood up, and it became his turn to look down at her.

"Permission to speak freely, Captain?"

"Granted."

"Maybe this is about Monea, but that's not all it's about," he continued.

Something flickered in her eyes at the mention of the waterworld he had disobeyed her to protect, but she didn't move. He did not raise his voice, but spoke calmly and steadily, even as the anger which had been bottled up inside him like compressed antimatter slowly began to melt away. It was satisfying, saying all this to Janeway's face, especially since she did not even try to interrupt. She knew, with the sixth sense of all good leaders, when it was best to listen to others.

"Right after that, you – you – broke the Prime Directive by picking up those Brenari refugees. I'm not saying you shouldn't have done it, it was the right thing to do – but … Captain, you threw me in the brig for nothing but what you'd have done yourself."

Here was the heart of the matter, the reason for veiled sarcasm and a joke that was more than a joke. Tom half expected Janeway to pull rank on him again, to assume that icy demeanor which had made her such a perfect Queen Arachnia today, perhaps threaten him with another turn in the brig.

He did not expect her to sigh, look away and pinch the bridge of her nose.

"Tom, I know … and I'm sorry."

"Captain?"

"What I did to you was right," she continued, in the soft, subdued manner he hadn't seen from her in a long time, "According to the letter of the law … but wrong in spirit. I did it for all the wrong reasons - not to teach you a lesson, or help you become a better officer, or even to appease the Monean government, which we were leaving behind anyway. I did it because … because I was angry, nothing more."

Tom had suspected something of the sort, considering the personal bitterness he'd sensed behind her commands – no nonessential conversation from Neelix, the Doctor or the guards; no holodeck breaks, games, books or diversions of any kind; no visits even from B'Elanna, a reproachful lecture from Harry being the only exception.

"That explains the leola diet," he tried to quip.

"I'm afraid so." Her answering smile was still remorseful.

"You see, Tom … " She walked around the desk to touch his arm. "I see so much of myself in you. Both admirals' children, raised with high expectations, afraid to disappoint … we could have easily ended up on opposite sides of the ready room that day."

"Somehow I doubt that," Tom remarked. It was hard to picture Janeway, even as a cadet, giving Starfleet anything less than her very best.

"Really? Hmm. Remind me to tell you about my teenage years someday." This time her lopsided, self-deprecating grin was a little more genuine, and it warmed his heart. He had missed seeing her this way, as a friend who would tell him stories over coffee.

"When I recruited you in Auckland, I took a … personal interest … in helping you to recover your career, to become the fine officer I knew you could be. The more I got to know you on Voyager, the more invested I became. I respect you, Mr. Paris – as a pilot, but also as a friend. I've held you to the same high standards of behavior I set for myself, as a mark of that respect. So when you disobeyed my order … when you acted just like I did when I destroyed the Caretaker's array, I … well, it's difficult to explain. Do you remember the Void?"

Tom nodded. A mind-numbing stretch of nothingness to fly through, an increasingly stir-crazy B'Elanna, and the Captain holed up in her quarters for weeks on end, were not easy to forget.

"I hoped you would become a better officer than I was; avoid my mistakes, or what I perceived as my mistakes. It's a fine line we draw between heroism and recklessness; between rules that should be followed and rules that should be broken. A very fine line."

Her eyes became distant, staring at the gray bulkhead behind Tom as if it were a screen projecting her memories.

"I was afraid I'd crossed it when I stranded us here. I was afraid you had crossed it when you blew up that refinery. I was angry with myself, and I used my rank to take it out on you. No wonder," returning from whatever flashback had caught her to look up at Tom again. She gestured toward the black dress still draped across the desk. "No wonder you had to cast me as the Queen of the Spider People."

Tom had to smirk at the memory of her, this most dignified of officers, strutting around in a hobble skirt and black lipstick, wielding ray guns and uncorking pheromones. The smirk was a surprise for him as much as for her; somehow, as she spoke, he had forgiven her without even trying.

"Admit it, Your Majesty. You had a good time in there."

"You know, I actually did!" She threw back her head to imitate Chaotica's cackle, which to Tom's surprise, turned into a genuine, hearty laugh – something none of the crew, except perhaps Chakotay, had heard in months. She dropped into his cushioned desk chair, wiped her eyes and shook her head.

"I can't believe that gormless look on his black-and-white face. I don't know how to say this, but … "

"The wedding's off! Kablam!" Tom chorused along with her, boyishly mimicking a gunshot with his hand.

"You know, you could always keep the dress," he offered once more. "Seriously. So whenever being the Captain gets you down, you could always go to the holodeck and ..."

"… and get it out of my system, you mean? Terrify the minions? Give my dictatorial streak a workout where no one will be harmed, then come back in a more reasonable frame of mind? Careful, Ensign. That's bordering on insubordination."

By her teasing tone of voice, he could tell she didn't mean it, and felt free to tease back. It was such a relief to be on good terms with her again; he hadn't even realized how tense he had been around her, until now, when the room felt several degrees warmer even though the environmental controls had not been touched.

"Not when you said it yourself, ma'am. Besides, you'd have fun. I consider that to be a basic right of sentient lifeforms. Doesn't seem fair that starship captains get so little of it."

"Hmm. Not bad advice, Mr. Paris. Next time you and Mr. Kim decide to fight intergalactic evil, comm me, won't you? You can defeat me spectacularly. I might even howl."

"I'd enjoy that."

She slung the garment bag over her shoulder and, on her way to the door, gave him a friendly nod and a pat on the back.

"Remember," he called through the opening doors, "You're not always the Queen."

"Thank God for that!" was her cheerful reply.