Tom Paris never had a problem when it came to women. He was a charmer way back in primary school, at Sunday brunches with his mother's friends who tittered at his antics and patted his cheeks and snuck him sweets when his mother wasn't looking. In high school, he had his pick of girlfriends, never committing to any, taking a different girl to each of his school dances. At the Academy, he settled a little, had a string of short-term monogamous relationships that nearly always ended when he wouldn't commit and she wanted him to. In Starfleet, in the Maquis, what followed were various flirtations, short-term mutually beneficial arrangements that satisfied him and also let him move on. What it came down to was, he didn't have any issues getting a woman to smile at him, flirt with him, and, if he wanted, get them into his bed.
And then he met Captain Kathryn Janeway.
He understood that she was his captain, that he wasn't even really a member of the Voyager crew at the start of the mission, but that didn't change the way he saw her. He'd never really dallied with women in positions of power over him before, unless you counted the TA in his thermodynamic sciences course at the Academy, which he didn't. (It had been one afternoon, in the lecture hall after everyone had left, a desk-clearing assignation that both of them stayed, nearly, fully clothed for.)
Captain Janeway was different. She didn't put up with his arrogant front and yet every once in a while he could spy the corner of her mouth twitching like she wanted to smile and wouldn't give herself permission. He liked changing up the way he addressed her, his various "yes ma'am"s, just trying to get a new reaction. He complimented her hair when she changed it, however slightly. He volunteered for job assignments he didn't want. He grinned at her from the conn, daring her to make eye contact.
He quickly found that he liked the challenge of Captain Kathryn Janeway. Soon after, he realized it wasn't only the challenge he found satisfying; it was the captain herself.
The problem was that Tom just didn't know what to do with this newfound introspection about himself. She was, after all, still his captain. And he knew her well enough to know that protocol was, practically, her middle name.
In the end, before he had to dedicate the time to figure out next steps himself, Captain Janeway did so for him, by asking him directly what was on his mind. As was appropriate, Tom thought, given the situation and their unique relationship.
It was late and Tom and the captain were the only ones left in Sandrine's, everyone else having wandered off for a shift or for a real meal or for a good night's sleep. Tom felt at home in the Marseilles bar, and he enjoyed his de facto role as crew morale booster after programming it into the Holodeck.
As the holodeck doors whooshed closed after Harry headed off, Tom met the captain's eyes from down the other end of the bar. Her gaze was heavy-lidded, different than he was used to seeing from her elsewhere, like on the bridge.
Tom took the invitation.
He picked up his drink and walked along the bar, sliding onto the stool beside Janeway. "Captain," he said, nodding and sipping his drink. The ice had melted but the whiskey was still sharp on his tongue.
The tip of her tongue slipped out to wet her bottom lip. Janeway nodded back at him. "Lieutenant."
"It's been a quiet few days in the Delta Quadrant," Tom said, angling himself towards her. He leaned an elbow on the bar and sat up straight, like he would at the conn. It was habit, when speaking to the captain. He didn't know any other posture.
"A welcome change," she agreed, voice more raspy than usual, a byproduct of her second glass of wine. Yes, Tom had counted. More often than not, he noticed things about her. He hoped he had never been too obvious.
"Indeed," he said.
Tom fell silent, sneaking glances at the captain as he finished off the rest of his drink. She looked tired, with bags under her eyes she tried to cover up but the makeup had faded by the end of the day. Her bun, which had been neat and polished at first shift this morning, had flyaways and a stray curled piece of hair escaping from it.
Tom drew in a breath, ready to shoot his shot. It was now or never. He could either make his offer or stay silent, but if it didn't happen right now, he felt certain he wouldn't have another opportunity like this.
"Lieutenant," Janeway said at the same time Tom said, "Captain."
He ducked his head and gestured for her to go first.
She cleared her throat, looked him right in the eye, jaw set. It reminded him of a first communication on the bridge, and he wished she would relax, especially now, with just the two of them alone in the holodeck. "What's on your mind, Paris?"
He nudged his glass, now empty, aside. "Permission to speak freely, Captain?"
She paused for a beat, then nodded. "Permission granted." When she lifted her wine glass back up to take a drink, Tom was pretty sure he caught the edges of a smile tweak at the corners of her mouth behind the glass.
Tom drew in a breath, considering the way he wanted to word this, considering the words that might convince her that he was here to, well, serve her. If she wanted. "Here we are, all the way across the galaxy, and it's, what, two hundred of us, and you put every last one of us before yourself."
"That's my job," she said in a clipped tone
Tom leaned forward, shifted his cheek to his fist, propped up on the bar top."And who's job is it to take care of you?" he asked quietly.
Immediately, Janeway looked away, showing him the pale expanse of her cheek, flushed red just under her eyes in the dim light. She had freckles along the bridge of her nose, only a light dusting, nothing that Tom had noticed before. Then again, he'd never been quite this close to her before. "It's not so simple."
He lowered his voice. "It can be."
After a long stretch of silence between them, the clinks and clanks as the holo-characters continued to close down Sandrine's around them, she looked at him again, hHer captain expression was back in place, but softer at the edges. "I'm your commanding officer. I'm everyone's commanding officer."
Tom shook his head and sat back again, squaring his shoulders. "If I can be frank, ma'am, I'm not Starfleet." Maybe a lot of people forgot that Tom wasn't a commissioned Starfleet officer. In fact, he had been discharged, and not exactly honorably. It had been glossed over everywhere, including in Voyager's official logs, when the captain had given him the rank of lieutenant. And yet - Starfleet wasn't here. She had given him a commission, given him a rank again, duties to perform, but it wasn't on the books, so to say.
She met his gaze. "A technicality."
He shrugged. "A workaround."
Janeway sighed, but he could see that he was getting through her tough exterior. Just a few more seconds, he thought, and he might succeed "Lieutenant."
"Tom," he corrected.
"Tom," she whispered, then cleared her throat. When she spoke again, it was with a kind of curious flirtation that he was well acquainted with. "What do you propose?"
This moment, his stomach turned over, butterflying, and he smiled. Not his usual cocky smile, but a sincere, promising smile. "Let me take care of you. Let me get you coffee. Brush your hair. Pull the tension out of your shoulders. Let me read you a book. Program the perfect holop-rorgam. Make sure you eat dessert once in a while, even if it's some kind of leola root concoction."
Carefully, she reached out and touched the back of his hand with her long, slender fingers. "And what if the mundane isn't enough to satisfy me?" Her arched eyebrow and the way she leaned forward, just slightly toward him, made his chest burn with hope.
The words caught in his throat. "Any additional arrangements can be readily made, Captain."
She was quiet for a moment. Then, she glanced behind her at Sandrine's door, hiding the holodeck exit. When she looked at him again, he felt it everywhere. "Lock the door, Lieutenant."