By Dana Quell

You know the drill, they do not belong to me, but to the almighty Paramount. No infringement intended, yadda yadda yadda, please don't sue me.

Avakeka looked around the busy holodeck, watching the various crewmembers get ready for tonight's performance. She smiled, because so far, everything had gone without a hitch. She only hoped it would stay that way.

"Um, Ava?" a voice behind her asked. She turned to see Neelix standing with a plate filled with some sort of food- if you could call it that. Next to him stood Ensign Korrus, who was rubbing her temples with her forefingers.

"Yes, Jihana, Neelix? What is it?" she replied.

Neelix held out the plate. "Well, I prepared these samples of the treat I'm serving tonight, but Ensign Korrus doesn't like them and thinks that I shouldn't serve them."

Jihana snorted. "Ha. Shouldn't serve them? I believe my exact words were, 'You know, Neelix, you really should throw them in the replicator and recycle the molecules!'"

Ava sighed, glaring at Jihana. "What exactly is it that you want to serve?" she asked the cook.

Neelix smiled proudly. "Leola root tart cakes."

Ava nearly choked. "Leola root tart cakes?! No way in hell is there going to be leola root anything associated with this play. We want people to come see it, not drive them away!"

Neelix was taken aback. Nobody had ever talked that way about his leola root tart cakes; normally they were more polite about it. "Oh, well, fine! If you don't want my food, I'll just take it to someone who appreciates it."

"Who would that be?" Jihana muttered underneath her breath. Neelix heard her and grunted, then turned on his heels and left, leola root tart cakes in hand. Ava turned to Jihana, and they both broke out into hysterical laughter.

{Cordovan to Ava} a signal came over her comm badge. Ava hit it.

"Ava here. What is it, Keely?" she replied.

There was a sneeze, then Keely Cordovan came back on the system. {I seem to have contracted a rare alien disease. I'm sick, Ava. I won't be able to star in your play tonight.}

"What?! First Neelix wants to serve leola root tart cakes, and now you can't star in the play because you're sick!? Isn't there anything the Doctor can do?"

{I asked, but he said all he can do is wait and let the virus fizzle itself out. But I'm sure the understudy will be thrilled to take my place.}

"Understudy?" Ava asked, glancing over at Jihana, who hit her head with the palm of her hand.

There was a sigh from the comm system. {You mean you didn't get an understudy?}

Ava shook her head, then remembered that Keely couldn't see her, and said, "No."

{Well, you'd better find someone to do my part, because I won't be able to. By the way, did you say Neelix wanted to serve leola root tart cakes? What the hell are those?}

"Tart cakes made with leola root? I don't know myself. Get some rest, though, Keely. We'll manage to find someone. Ava out." She turned to Jihana. "So, what are we going to do? We can't cancel the show. Sam's already made the costumes, and her little girl, Naomi, was looking forward to her role."

Jihana shrugged. "Wait a minute. Weren't you talking to the captain a few weeks ago? And wasn't she saying if you needed any help, she'd be glad to do it?"

"Well, yes, but... do you really think she'd actually agree to be-"

Jihana cut her off. "Of course. With a little persuasion, anyway."

"Persuasion? What kind of persuasion?" Ava asked, not liking the sound of what was coming.

She knew she definitely did not like the devilish smile on Jihana's angelic face.
Captain Kathryn Janeway sat down at her desk, coffee in hand, and sighed. Then she placed the coffee mug on the coaster and hit her elbow hard on the table. Swearing, she jumped up and spilled her coffee. She groaned; the coffee had cost her the rest of her replicator rations for the day. Now she was going to have to go down to the Mess Hall and drink one of Neelix's coffee substitutes. Thinking about it, she shuddered with fear.

Suddenly the door chime rang, and Kathryn jumped, hitting her knee hard on the bottom of the desk. "Come in," she said, through much pain and clenched teeth. "Ava," she said upon seeing who it was. "I thought you and everybody else would have been doing a dress rehearsal of your play."

Ava glanced down at her feet, and Kathryn took the time to study the young woman. One of the former Maquis, she was quiet, but idealistic. The Terran had come from a rich, well to do family, but never really talked about them much. Long black hair framed a face that housed clear grey eyes, and her crisp red uniform fit her well. All in all, she would have made a perfect Starfleet officer, had she stayed with the Federation and not joined the Maquis resistance.

"I was, Captain, but something came up that required your immediate attention."

"What? Is it the refreshments Neelix wants to serve?" Kathryn asked.

Ava smiled. "No, we'be already made sure he doesn't serve his leola root tart cakes."

Kathryn wrinkled her nose. "Leola root tart cakes? Where the hell did he get the recipe for those?"

"I don't know," the ensign replied, shrugging. "But we have a big problem. Our female lead, Ensign Cordovan, has come down sick."

"I'm sorry to hear that. Did you want me to announce the postponement of the performance?"

"Actually, Captain, I've heard that you're quite an actress yourself, and was hoping maybe you would take Keely's role. After all, you did say you would love to help. And it would bring up ship morale."

Kathryn could feel the red rising in her cheeks. "Who'd you hear that from?" she asked, wanting to know the culprits' name so she could throw him/her out of an airlock.

"Well, Keely heard it from the Doctor, and Jihana heard it from Tom and Harry, and I heard it from Chakotay."

Oh, they were all going to be scrubbing Neelix's precious ovens with their toothbrushes for a month and not allowed to replicate new ones.

"So, will you do it?" Ava asked.

"Why me? Why not Seven of Nine, or B'Elanna Torres, or yourself?"

Ava let out an exasperated sigh. "Because Seven's already got a part, and B'Elanna refused a part the first time. And I'm directing everything, doing the lights, and running things behind the scenes."

"Well, I'm afraid the answer's still no. Find someone else," Kathryn replied, sitting back at her desk.

"I was hoping I wouldn't have to do this, Captain, but you've left me no choice."

"Do what?" Kathryn asked, thinking the ensign was going to start begging.

"Captain, I am in possession of a holoimage of you in the costume of Queen Arachnia. If you don't cooperate fully with me on my performance, I shall be forced to distribute copies of the holoimage to the entire crew."

"And I if I do cooperate?"

"Then the original holoimage and all the copies are handed to you, to destroy them or to keep them."

Kathryn started laughing, but stopped when she saw Ava was serious. "You're blackmailing me?"

"I'm afraid you've left me no choice, Captain. So, will you do it, or will I have to circulate those images."

"You wouldn't."

Ava brought her hand to her comm badge. "All I have to do is signal Jihana, and she'll start distributing it. One of the first persons to receive it will be the Doctor, and you know what he'll do with it. Straight into his little image album. Now, for the last time, will you do it?"

Kathryn thought about her options for a moment before answering. "Do I have a choice?"

Ava grinned, and Kathryn sighed.
"Jihana, Jihana, she agreed, just like you said she would!" Ava shouted breathlessly as she ran back into the holodeck.

Someone caught her arm. "Who agreed to what, and how?" Chakotay's voice rang in her ear.

She glanced up at her male lead and commander. "Um, well, the new female lead agreed to take Keely's place. That's all."

"Who's the new female lead?"

Ava muttered something incoherent underneath her breath. Persistent to the very end. "Well, um, we've decided that we're going to keep that a secret until showtime," she lied, thinking quickly of an excuse that would satisfy him. If she told him the captain was playing the part, she might be out of a male lead. And while she had no doubt that Harry Kim or Tom Paris would be fine in the role, if Chakotay was the male lead and the captain the female lead, the entire crew would be looking forward to the end of the play. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to send the script to the new lead."

She walked off to tell Jihana the good news, and to send the script to the captain. Jihana was going to freak when she heard the captain had agreed. After all, Jihana had always been a hopeless romantic.
Ava watched from her strategic place in the director's corner of the theater and sighed. So far, so good. She just hoped that it lasted that way.

It was halfway in the first act, and everyone had done well in their parts. Everyone had awed when Naomi lit up the stage with her smile, watched with rapt attention as Jihana and two other female crewmen portrayed their three characters, and laughed hysterically at Seven of Nine depicting the usually feared character she was chosen to play. So what? Ava had picked her for the part mainly because of the audience's reaction to a former Borg as the wicked witch who cast the spell over Sleeping Beauty. Just imagine, a witch with a monotone voice trying her hardest to cackle after saying, 'For your mistake, your daughter will suffer and fall into a thousand years sleep after pricking her finger on a spinning wheel on her sixteenth birthday. Resistance is futile.' It drove the audience nuts with glee. What worked, worked.

So when it came time for the sixteen year old Sleeping Beauty to prick her finger on the spinning wheel and fall into her deep slumber, Ava and the audience weren't disappointed. Ava had known that if Janeway was as good as the others said she was, the play would be a success. And Janeway was as good as the others had said she was. To be truthful, the audience had been a bit shocked to see their fearless and indestructible captain portraying a delicate and helpless female character in an ancient fairy tale. So shocked was Neelix that he dropped his tray of leola root tart cakes. It didn't matter, though, because nobody had taken any and hadn't wanted any.
Now the secret was out. The new female lead in Avakeka's play was Captain Janeway herself. Everyone knew who the male lead was, so they now looked forward to the end, when the prince would lean tenderly over Sleeping Beauty and awaken her with a kiss. Unfortunately, the only person who didn't know who was playing Sleeping Beauty was her prince. Commander Chakotay. And Kathryn Janeway didn't know that Chakotay was the male lead. The audience sat riveted in their seats, awaiting the moment which would certainly be the climax of the play.

Chakotay fidget nervously behind stage, trying to get his costume to fit right. No matter what he did, the tights kept slithering down below his waist, and the breeches he wore over them kept bunching up. It was hell. Especially since his big moment, the moment when he would awaken Sleeping Beauty, was coming up very quickly. He had to be ready. After all, he didn't want to embarrass whoever was playing the new lead. Or himself, for that matter.

Oh, wait, there was his cue. The bird sounds generated by the holodeck had begun chirping, and Seven of Nine in a black dragon costume had wandered onstage. Time to go slay the dragon.
Kathryn lay on the fluffly four poster bed, eyes closed. She was thinking about how she had gotten involved in this silly escapade, and then she remembered. Blackmail. Ava and Jihana had threatened to send that holoimage of her as Queen Arachnia if she didn't do this. They still might hang on to it, and keep it for further blackmailing, though. She'd just have to make sure that didn't happen.

Further downstage, she heard the clash and clang of swordplay. Her prince must finally be there to awaken her from her sleep. Finally. She had had just about enough of this Sleeping Beauty thing. Relishing the thought of getting out of the holodeck and her uncomfortable costume soon, she wondered idly who the male lead was. It had just occurred to her that she had never asked, and Ava hadn't offered the information before.
Finally, Chakotay managed to defeat the dragon, or rather, Seven of Nine in a dragon outfit. At least the Doctor hadn't designed it, like he had designed her regular outfit. Not that he heard any of the males complaining about her regular outfit, especially not Harry Kim.

He walked up to the raised dais that Sleeping Beauty was slumbering upon, and glanced down to see who it was. Shocked and a bit more than surprised, he barely maintained his professionalism to stay in character. It was Kathryn Janeway.

Obviously she didn't know he was the one playing Prince Charming, otherwise she never would have agreed to the part. He took a deep breath, knowing that what he decided in the next few seconds would probably alter the course of his life forever. Weighing the pros and cons of everything in his mind, he bent down and kissed her.
Hearing the wild applause from the audience and feeling Prince Charming's lips on hers, Kathryn slowly opened her eyes and saw him. She nearly jumped up, but out of courtesy to Ava (and partly because she didn't want those images forwarded), she stopped herself and slowly awoke like she was supposed to. Pretending to yawn, she sat up, and Chakotay promptly helped her off the dais.

Smiling on the outside but cringing within, they stepped towards the king's throne and played out the scene.
Avakeka watched the actors perform their curtain calls perfectly, smiling. Despite all the afternoon's little problems, the performance had gone without a hitch. Okay, maybe a slight hitch when the two commanding officers nearly stopped the whole show when they realized the other was the opposite lead, but that didn't matter. They had done what they had to do, and that was all that mattered.

Ava nearly jumped when she heard the applause behind her. "Those two did a great job," a voice said.

Ava turned wide eyes to the source. "Keely..." she muttered. "You were supposed to be sick! What are you doing here?"

Keely Cordovan smiled, naturally ruby lips turning upward to the heavens. "I got better. Neelix brought me some of his leola root tart cakes, and they fixed me up right quick." Keely was from MidWest USA, back on Earth, so her voice held a kind of accent that was unique to Voyager.

"I suppose that would do it. But if you were better, why didn't you notify me and act as the lead?" Ava asked.

Ava didn't think it was possible, but Keely's grin grew even bigger. "As much as I'd love to have a chance for a man as handsome as Chakotay kiss me, the captain deserved it much more. You know that we both think they make a cute couple." Keely grinned again. "And the audience loved it so, much more than they would have if it had been me."

"I suppose," Ava said, turning back to the curtain calls. "I suppose."

Maybe if you're nice, and you beg, I'll write a sequel. :) Mail me!