Tom is the first to recover. He wipes his eyes, takes another deep draught of that brandy, and prepares to change the subject. Kathryn watches the process play out across his face. She suspects that he hasn't forgotten their last conversation, such as it was, but she also notes that the last few days do appear to have taken the edge off his anger. This could be interesting.

He turns his clear gaze on her now, blue eyes flashing – she's still not sure with what – and drops his shields. And just like that, they are where they left off a week ago, except for the shared laugh that still rings in her ears.

"Okay, so I have that question for you now, Captain," he says. "You wanted me to ask it before, I think, but I don't think either of us was ready for a proper discussion then. I know I wasn't."

It's probably as close to an apology as he is likely to come for walking out on her, but it is with considerable relief that she fails to detect any bitterness in his tone now. She is nonetheless a little wary as she invites him to continue with a little nod.

He puts his chin in his hand, to signal that he is quite relaxed about his question. A good reader – and writer – of body language, is Tom Paris. Because now, when he asks the question he does, she is convinced that he just wants to know. Really wants to know. Not just to challenge her.

"Why the demotion and brig time, for doing what other people on this ship have done, without any punishment at all?"

His emphasis interests her; it seems almost as if he is accepting that some kind of punishment was justified for his actions. Progress?

She looks at the bottle of Saurian brandy between them, picks it up and tops off her glass, which wasn't actually empty. At least he left the underlying Prime Directive issues out of it - for now. Finally, she turns her clear grey eyes on him to give him her answer, similar to the one she tried out before, but better. Much better. She has, after all, thought about it a few times since, and sometimes how you say it is just as important as what you say.

"Because I needed you to understand that even if you are convinced you are right, you cannot ignore the basic structure of command on this ship. We can't afford that. Not out here."

"Okay, I kind of get that. And I'm fine for now ignoring the underlying reasons for your order, and mine for ignoring it. But why punish just me? Why not … oh, I don't know … Tuvok? Chakotay? Seven? Even B'Elanna and Harry. They're all superb officers, much better than me in fact, and they've all disobeyed your orders. Wouldn't they need to get that same lesson? But only I got thrown in the brig. Was it my prior record? What?"

She has thought about this for weeks now, and at times her justification almost seems as if it has been rehearsed in retrospect. But she also knows, deep down, that it is true – and that it was exactly the reasons she is about to give him that fuelled her visceral anger when Tom Paris refused a direct order.

"Because I believe that you are destined to command a starship some day, Tom. But to do that, you need to learn how to be the officer I know you can be, and what it means to honour the responsibilities of command. I felt that you needed some time to reflect on what all that means, and whether it was in fact something you want."

She doesn't really want to get into it, but the brandy is having its effect and she knows – despite what he did just a few weeks ago on Monea – that she can trust the man across from her with her confidences, including her very personal views about his fellow officers. He has proven his trustworthiness with intimate confidences more than once, and she needs him to understand.

"As for the others – take Tuvok. He should have been a Lieutenant Commander when we arrived in the Delta Quadrant. I kept that third pip in a drawer in my desk for an extra three years, so yes, he was in fact punished, if not as publicly as you. But when we get home, he will go back to teaching at the Academy. Chakotay has already told me that he is wearing the uniform only for the duration of our journey; he wants to follow his heart into anthropology. The reason you never see him here in Sandrine's is that he is already starting to catalogue all the races we've met here in the Delta Quadrant for that day."

This has been a long speech and she takes a sip of her drink, but she knows she must continue, to make him see.

"Harry, in time, will be able to go into command if he wishes. Once he's stopped looking over his own shoulder to make sure someone approves of what he's doing."

"And Seven?"

Janeway smiles at that; this one is easy. "At the time she committed her worst infraction and stole that shuttle, she was under the influence of powers beyond her control. I didn't hold you responsible for what you did when that alien took over your body, either …"

Tom has the grace to look deep into his glass at that; playing musical chairs with people's bodies, including the Captain's, is definitely up there on the list of Delta Quadrant experiences he doesn't care to be reminded of. But of course Kathryn knows that, and she glosses over the moment gracefully by continuing right away.

"Seven has the potential to be the greatest science officer in the history of Starfleet. But can you see people following her into battle?"

Kathryn pauses for effect this time, making that particular little insight stick, and watches as an appreciative smile briefly curls Tom's lips. He's had a ringside seat at far too many fights between B'Elanna and the ex-Borg drone on matters of basic communication not to see her point.

He looks thoughtful now. He knows that B'Elanna is only happy when up to her elbows in plasma, so he doesn't even bother to ask about where she fits on Janeway's scale of suitability for command. She's just not interested. But he knows there's more to the Captain's point, and so he waits.

It comes almost immediately.

"But as for you, Tom – all you need to do is decide that command is what you want, and it will be yours for the taking. Starfleet is in your blood, and not because you're Owen Paris' son. That is one anvil around your neck you better get rid of sooner rather than later, by the way, because it's been dragging you down far too long."

He looks pretty skeptical, almost as if he thinks she's trying to pull the wool over his eyes in some ways, and he never likes it when someone mentions his father, regardless of the context. But she's started this now, and she won't stop until she's said everything he needs to hear, even if he doesn't believe her. Eventually some of what she is saying may sink in; she'll take that.

"You're a brilliant pilot, Tom Paris, but you've shown time and again that you could be even more. But whether you're ready to accept the responsibilities that come with command, and the structure we have to work within, that is a choice you will have to make for yourself."

"And throwing me in the brig was supposed to make me realize that I want to go into command?" He still sounds doubtful, if not downright incredulous.

Kathryn shrugs, a rare gesture of equivocation from a woman accustomed to making firm pronouncements.

"Not necessarily. But that sentence was supposed to remind you of the responsibilities we have within Starfleet. And it was necessary to keep you in the position of a senior officer, so you can exercise the necessary choices when you're ready for them."

Tom seems to know that she won't give him any more than this, and that he'll have to think about her words for a long time. And he will, she can see that, because regardless of what has happened between them, he trusts her as much as she trusts him.

He nods, slowly, as a few of the choicer adjectives – including the one that really galled her when she heard it in the mess hall, "arbitrary" - seem to be fading from his vocabulary relating to the Monea aftermath. Not gone, but fading, or at least endowed with possibilities for pronunciation that go beyond spitting nails.

He's probably still pissed off about what he perceives as her double standard about the Prime Directive, but he seems to know better than to raise that. It cuts too close to the very essence of the prerogative of command, and he seems to sense that; it's a battle he can't win. She has lost it a few times, too, not least to her helmsman's father. Her other explanations seem to have helped though - quite a bit, actually, and she's glad they had this talk. But he has one more question.

"And that whole solitary confinement thing, and the leola root diet? What was I supposed to learn from that, exactly?"

That one is easy, especially now that she has reached the bottom of the second – or is it the third already? - glass of the second-most intoxicating substance that is legally for sale in the Federation.

"That I was seriously pissed off at you, of course. Because it was you who had disappointed me like that."

"Me, as in your … your own personal reclamation project?"

He fills their glasses as he speaks but she hears the pause anyway, and the memory flashes unbidden into her mind even as she is grateful that he does not give it voice. Trustworthy. Yes, he is that, and more. Even as between them, he will not remind her of certain things.

"Where did you hear that?" She gratefully seizes on what he did say, even managing to sound a little indignant, and gulps down half the glass.

"B'Elanna says it's what Chakotay used to call me. True, or false?" He grins at her now, and follows suit with his drink.

Kathryn shrugs, again. "Possibly. Who knows. You ignored my direct order in front of the entire bridge, an entire planet, and I was angry. Does it really matter why?"

But then a thought occurs to her, and her next admission may well be fuelled by all that Saurian brandy, or perhaps it's just because it's Tom, or because of the kind of day they've had.

"And besides, I'm the Captain, and have vested in me the right and the power to give that kind of order and make it stick when one of my minions misbehaves. What did you think?"

Luckily, Tom is almost as inebriated as she is, despite his far larger body mass, and for some reason finds this last bit hilarious.

"Just that," he chortles. "You are the Queen, after all. I just needed to hear you admit it. Thank you."

He raises his half-empty glass vaguely in her direction.

"To Queen Arachnia of Voyager, her faithful henchman Neelix, and his many inventive uses for the vilest vegetable in four Quadrants!"

Kathryn joins him in the toast, takes the obligatory swig, but then sobers a little. Well, not actually, she's too far gone for that, but figuratively speaking she does. A little. Whatever. She has done a lot of explaining in the last half hour, and now she feels that it should be her turn to get one.

"Tell me something, Tom. I tried to tell you pretty much the same things last week, and you blew me off and walked out on me in a huff. What changed? Apart from the fact that maybe you're a little better than me at starting this kind of conversation?"

"Well, I was still really pissed off, for one thing. I'm not a nice person when I'm really mad. But here's what."

He weighs his words carefully now, turning the glass around and around in his hands before draining and refilling it as well as hers. Courage in a bottle, they call it.

Finally, he raises his blue eyes to her gray ones, and says his piece. He does so very carefully – because he doesn't really want to end up in the brig again, and because he knows he's skirting pretty damn close to the line. But he also trusts that she won't hold an honest answer against him when she has asked for it in the first place.

"I still don't agree with you on that whole non-interference thing you laid on me over Monea. I think there are times where not doing something is morally wrong, no matter what the rules say. And I believe that if I'd done what I did in Monea this week, instead of four weeks before we met those telepaths, even you couldn't have claimed that those situations were all that different, and you might have agreed to let us take action. But now that thing with the telepaths makes me think you actually agree with me, and I guess this whole thing was really just about when, where, and how to do the right thing, not so much whether."

He holds out his hand to stop her when she wants to weigh in with a reflexive protest.

"No, that's alright. I guess I just have to settle for the fact that out here, it is your prerogative to make the calls, even if it means one thing one day and another another." He's losing his ability to be as articulate as he can be at times, but it doesn't seem to bother him, and she gets what he's saying anyway.

"And we – including me – will have to live with your decisions, even if they sometimes don't make immediate sense to us. Maybe some day, if you're right, I'll get to make decisions like that. And then I'll piss people off. Probably more than you are now."

Obviously, not all is well yet between them; she also realizes she would have been a little disappointed if it had been quite that easy. Or if he had pretended that it was.

Again she wants to say something, but her tongue is getting a bit slow and this brandy-sodden binge of mutual truth-telling is a little addictive. And so she just downs the rest of her glass before filling it up again, topping his up in the process, and waits for him to continue. He doesn't seem to be done, and she may as well hear him out.

"But then, just a few days ago, you admitted that you'd made a mistake, when you lobotomized the Doc after Ensign Jetal's death last year. And so …"

She sputters in indignation now, incapable of not interrupting. "I did not lobotomize the Doc. All I did was change some of his memory circuits …"

He holds out his hand to stop her, and oddly, she does. Saurian brandy is a powerful thing.

"I don't think there's a proper word for what you asked B'Elanna to do, but that's just technical stuff we don't need to sweat. Fact is, you interfered in his life, using your authority, because you thought it was the right thing to do. But then you realized you'd made a mistake. And you admitted it, and took the hit for the consequences. And so …"

Kathryn is trying to focus on what he is saying now, because it isn't very often that her officers tell her about her mistakes. Chakotay tries most often, and valiantly, but he allows himself to be overruled easily. Tuvok does it in his quiet way but he, too, never insists. Tom does it relatively rarely, but when he does, he grabs on to his convictions and refuses to let go – it's what landed him in the brig in the first place. So she is curious what he'll come up with now that he knows she's capable of putting him there.

"So I figured that, maybe, if you were able to admit that you were wrong even just once in a blue moon, that we could actually have a discussion about all of this …" he gestures vaguely, but she knows what he means, "… and have it be real. And have it mean something."

He lifts his glass in her direction.

"To imperfection."

She'll drink to that.


By now, Tom and Kathryn are the only organic patrons left in Sandrine's. They sit in silence for a while, but it's no longer an uncomfortable one. Even if they haven't perhaps agreed on all that much, and mostly just told each other things to take away, to be looked at and considered when no one else is around. But the air between them seems less heavy now, and the sips they are taking of that disappearing brandy are getting smaller, more often than not now preceded by an appreciative inhalation of its bouquet and a small smile.

Then, suddenly, Tom's face gets a bit sly and he pushes his chair back so that he can get his long legs out from under the table. He gets up with the deliberate dignity bestowed by just enough alcohol to have had a serious impact, but not so much that he wouldn't want to conceal its effects.

Janeway isn't fooled, though, and watches his slow, very straight-backed progress across the floor with amusement, until she realizes that she is slumping over the table with her chin in her hand while she is doing it. She clears her throat, although there is no one near to hear, and straightens up in her chair.

Tom has reached his goal, and there's a clattering followed by a slightly slurred French curse. He bends down to pick up whatever it was he dropped and heads back towards Janeway. She focuses, with some difficulty, on the objects in his hands.

"Pool cues?"

He gives her one of his lopsided grins.

"Yep. Ready to be taken down a notch, My Queen?"

She glares at his impudence, sets down the glass so hard that the remaining contents threaten to slosh over the side, and gets up with somewhat less dignity than he did; or at least so it seems to her. She actually has to grip the sleeve of his leather jacket to steady herself before she can take the cue from his hand.

"Rack 'em, Captain," she says.