After delivering her written report of the Engineering department that night, Barry parked herself on the sofa in Number One's quarters, arms folded, and asked her point blank how things were going on the Bridge.
"Really? Because normally you kick my ass at one-on-one ball at least once a week, to blow off steam. But you've been holed up either in here or in one of the labs after your shift. And Phil says you haven't eaten in the officer's mess for weeks."
Number One frowned. "You're asking Boyce about me?"
"You came up in conversation."
"And what were the parameters of that conversation, exactly?"
"He asked me how you were doing."
Number One bristled. "I had the mandatory psych eval with the Counsellor on Starbase 12. As CMO, he could've just read the report."
"He wasn't asking me if you were fit for duty. He was asking me, as your friend, if you were alright."
"What did you tell him?"
"That I wasn't sure. Which is pretty much why I'm forcing the issue." Cait took a good long look at the XO, and wasn't sure she liked what she saw. Her bearing was just as crisp and controlled as usual, but there was a brittleness to her that hadn't been there before. And even though there were no tell-tale dark circles under her eyes or new lines around her mouth, she seemed tired and on edge.
"You would actually tell me, if things weren't alright, wouldn't you?" Cait asked. "You do know that part of my job, as your friend, is to be there for you if you need a shoulder to cry on, or advice. I mean on things besides what to wear off-duty, and which Engineering Journals have better editorial."
Number One sank down on the couch next to her, one leg tucked up beneath her, and sighed. "I know. And I am sorry... I didn't mean to cut you out. I guess I just haven't been good company lately. And I didn't want to inflict myself on you."
"You know that doesn't matter to me, right?" Cait poked her in the shoulder. "I'll take you even when you're surly."
"I'm hardly surly."
"Not to me."
Number One was taken aback. "Who am I surly with?"
Cait laughed. "Pike's yeoman is scared to death of you!"
"She is not."
"She is too! You can't tell me you haven't noticed. Poor thing quakes in her boots whenever she has to bring reports to the bridge."
"I try not to pay too much attention to Yeoman Colt," Number One admitted, staring down at her feet.
"You don't like her."
"I like her just fine."
"You're still a rotten liar."
"I'd be a lot more comfortable around her if.... Never mind." She shook her head, her dark hair falling around her shoulders, and she brushed it back impatiently.
"C'mon. Spill." Cait leaned toward her conspiratorially.
"When we were on Talos, the Keeper... read our minds."
"I gathered that from the report."
"No, I don't think you do." Number One took a deep breath, closing her eyes as if steeling herself for what was coming. "What's not in the report would be the fact that the Keeper picked me and Colt as potential mates. They wanted to start a race of human slaves, with Chris as Adam and, well... one of us as Eve. His choice."
Cait's mouth dropped open in shock. Of all the possible scenarios she had expected, that certainly had never been among them. "That's barbarous!"
"Anyway, to convince Chris that it wouldn't be that much of a chore, the Keeper helpfully informed the captain that he had a starring role in my day-dreams. So if you're wondering if Chris knows how I feel about him, he's known for weeks."
Cait's face crumpled in sympathy, and she pulled her friend into a one-armed hug. "Oh, honey. Why didn't you tell me?"
"There's nothing to tell." She shrugged. "It's one thing, having one's dirty little secrets paraded out in front of strangers. Worse, Chris hearing them and not even batting an eye. But it's hard to command the respect of a brand new yeoman who knows for a fact her First Officer has sexual fantasies about their captain. So yes, I am avoiding her."
Number One extricated herself from Cait's arm, and wiped at her eyes, and Barry mentally kicked herself for not realising sooner something was seriously wrong. Carrying that for weeks, no wonder she'd been withdrawn. If Barry had been in her place, she might have put in for a transfer. But that wasn't Number One's style. For good or ill, she would stick it out, shoulders back, chin up, and doing her best not to let it show. It might work, for a while. But it had to be difficult seeing Pike and Colt day in and day out, having been through what they'd been through.
"Well, you're in charge of the duty roster. Why don't you have the quartermaster reassign her?" she suggested, and Number One sighed again, frowning.
"Because when she's not making completely inappropriate comments on the bridge, she actually does an excellent job. And I'm not going to punish her for knowing embarrassing details about my personal life."
"Are you afraid she'd tell someone? That you'd become scuttlebutt?"
"If that was going to happen, I think it would have happened by now." She gave a short, bitter laugh. "And if it had, I would hope that as my friend, you would tell me."
"Nothing's reached my ears," Cait assured her. "Granted, my ears are not as close to the ground as they were when I was still a junior lieutenant. Who did you used to ask, when these sort of questions came up?"
"Cusack," Number One said with a tired sigh, and Cait flinched.
Dermot Cusack had been Pike's yeoman for three years on the Yorktown and had transferred with them to Enterprise. Losing Cusack on Rigel had hit the captain hard, and it had made Colt's assignment even harder than necessary, replacing so well-liked a crewman.
"Well... remember, you were lured down there to be a potential brood mare, but so was Colt. It couldn't have been any less embarrassing for her, either."
"I don't know about that," Number One said, and Cait waited for an explanation, but none was forthcoming. So instead, Barry just gave her shoulder a squeeze.
"And anyway..." Number One said with a shrug, "she's his type."
Cait raised a brow. "Our captain has a type?"
"Oh come on, Cait. Cadet Carlisle? Vina? Yeoman Colt? What do they all have in common?"
Understanding finally dawned. "You think his type is itty-bitty buxom blondes?"
"Based on empirical evidence, yes. You didn't hear him on comms, when we thought there were actually survivors from the Columbia. He practically forgot his own name when Vina talked to him."
"C'mon, give the guy a break. They were reading his mind and giving him the perfect fantasy he could fall in love with. He never even met the real Vina, not really. The Talosians showed him what he wanted to see—you told me that."
"Well what he wanted to see was a tiny buxom blonde. That's reality. And I can't avoid reality forever."
Cait shook her head, resisting the desire to take her friend by the shoulders and shake some sense into her. She had been prepared for all manner of things, but not the realisation that the smart, beautiful, capable woman in front of her was about as secure in her self-esteem as a fifteen year old girl with a crush. But it put so much in perspective. Number One had always held herself apart from her peers, and in all the time Cait had known her, had never had casual romantic relationships. She always seemed so together that it was a shock to see the walls finally come down and find her as vulnerable and irrational as anyone in love.
"That's not—" Cait began, but was cut off.
"Look, I know I'm being ridiculous," Number One protested. "I also know the basic mental tricks we play on ourselves, when it comes to physical types and attraction. It's evolution, hard-coded into our DNA. Diminutive waifs make a man feel strong, powerful, and virile."
"Whereas tall, willow-y brunettes who can out-shoot him any day of the week don't inspire the same protective instinct?"
"You said it, not me." Number One's expression was one of bleak hopelessness.
Cait could feel anger bubbling to the surface, and instead of quashing it down like she normally did, she gave it free rein. "That's bullshit, and I oughta report you to Boyce to have your head examined, if you actually believe that. Remember what I said about projecting? Right now, you've worked yourself up over what you think he wants, and what you think you can't provide. How about you give him the benefit of the doubt—and yourself too?"
At the stricken look on her friend's face, Cait forced herself to calm down, though she was still irked that someone with so much going for her could be so goddamned blind sometimes.
"You'll never know what might happen, unless you take a chance," she said, and Number One sighed.
"I know. But somebody's gotta say it. And I hate seeing you like this."
That earned her a watery smile, and Cait reached over and gave her hand a squeeze. Number One returned the gesture, and they sat there for a minute. As low as she'd been, Cait could tell it was a huge weight off the XO's shoulders just finally telling someone.
"When was the last time the two of you had dinner together?" she asked gently, and Number One flushed.
"A week or so before Rigel VII."
"That was months ago!"
She shrugged. "He hasn't asked me."
"Well, have you asked him?" Cait asked, and was met with a blank stare. "It's the 23rd century. It's not like you need to wait by the comm, or whatever they called it back in the day, for him to call."
"I haven't felt comfortable, asking him," Number One admitted.
"Because of what happened on Talos?"
"Can you blame me? We were actually getting closer, before. Not romantically—not exactly. But as friends. Ever since then, he's been all business."
"So have you," Cait pointed out. "It can be a bit like a feedback loop, you know. Until one of you breaks the circuit."
Number One's blue eyes narrowed. "So you're going to bully me into asking him out?"
"Only if it works," Cait said immediately. "Is it working?"
"You're incorrigible." This time, Number One's laughter seemed genuine. "Fine. I'll ask him. But if he says no, then I'll take it as a sign that whatever it was, it's over. And then can we drop it and get back to our lives."
"If he says no. He might not." Cait picked up a padd from the coffee table, and handed it to her. "You'll never know, unless you try."
Number One shook her head again. "You never give up, do you?"
"Nope. And you shouldn't either."
Number One had set the table in her quarters as soon as she got off shift, and considered and rejected a dozen different meals before she gave up and programmed in the same thing they always had—salad for her, a steak dinner for him. The familiarity ought to have been comforting. Instead, it felt like trying to recapture a feeling that had long since fled.
She had a glass of wine while she waited for him, trying to relax. She hadn't changed out of her uniform, despite Cait's suggestion that she treat this like a real date and actually wear some of her scant off-duty wardrobe. If he arrived and she was in mufti, he'd know in an instant something was different, and she needed the comfort of trying to pretend nothing had changed.
"Plausible deniability," she muttered beneath her breath.
She'd only sent him the text because she had been sure he'd say no. It had been simple Dinner? The reply had arrived just before she started her shift, and she'd reloaded the padd three times to make sure her eyes hadn't been playing tricks. She'd expected a polite "Not this time, Number One" or "Can't—working."
Instead, there in amber on black were the words Sounds Good. Where and when?
It had been that simple. She'd texted back My quarters—19:00, and then tried to put it out of her mind. But all through her bridge shift, as she sat in the command chair and stared at the back of Tyler and Oyama's heads, she kept reloading the message, as if the words might change.
She thought about how brazenly Colt had come out and asked Chris which of them he'd have picked, to restart civilisation. It had earned the yeoman a sharp rebuke, but she hadn't seemed particularly cowed. Neither had Tyler, when Pike had glared at him when he'd asked what she'd meant by 'Eve'. She'd snapped at Colt as much out of her own dismay at her humiliation as a desire to spare Chris the embarrassment. But she still wondered what his answer might have been. And was angry with herself for being too chicken to ask him herself.
When it came down to it, her unease and awkwardness around him the past months had been precisely because she didn't know where she stood with him any longer. She liked certainties. For someone who craved the exhilaration of exploring the unknown, she didn't like the grey area she'd found herself living in, since the Talos mission. It was worse than when she'd waited to find out something definite about Chris' relationship with Jan Carlisle. At least then she'd had the comfort of knowing he had no idea how she felt about him. Any loss she felt would still be a private one.
Staring at the table set for two, she was overwhelmed by the sudden urge to call the whole thing off. At least limbo was better than flat out rejection. Limbo at least left her with the illusion of hope. Before she could reach for her communicator, the door chimed. Her mouth went dry, and she gulped down the remaining wine in her glass before answering.
"I'm late," he said by way of a greeting. He was in his uniform, and she was simultaneously relieved and disappointed.
"You are," she agreed, stepping aside so he could come in. He'd never been inside her quarters before, and she watched as his eyes darted around the room.
Compared to most crew quarters, she kept it positively Spartan. No family portraits lined her shelves for the obvious reasons, and she had few personal effects. She preferred storing her books on data solids, and she kept few souvenirs of their missions. It struck her that her room must seem impersonal, even cold. But she hadn't felt right, inviting herself to dinner in his quarters.
"I'd say I like what you've done with the place..." he said, trying to make a joke.
"But I haven't done much," she admitted. "Believe it or not, it's better than my dorm room at the Academy. Half the time, my roommate wasn't even sure she had a roommate."
"I believe it. And I suppose when you have an eidetic memory, you don't need much in the way of mementoes."
"No. No, you don't." A smile twitched at the corner of her mouth, and some of her anxiety eased a bit. It shouldn't have surprised her that he understood her so well, but it still did. Cait's words about projecting came back to her, and she admitted maybe she had been projecting her own fears onto him.
"So, what's on the menu?"
"The old stand-bys." She removed the plates—his steaming, hers with beads of water still clinging to the lettuce leaves—from the stasis unit.
"And I see you've started without me," he said, gesturing to the wineglass where a tiny amount of red wine pooled in the bottom.
"Well, you were late," she pointed out. "And I was thirsty."
He refilled their wineglasses, and she toyed with a forkful of salad. The silence that stretched between them was broken only by the sound of cutlery scraping plates, and she pulled a padd over to her side.
"I've been going over the Duty Roster," she began, trying to find a neutral topic. His shoulders relaxed as they went over the new schedule, and she took small comfort in the ease with which they fell into the old patterns. They moved on from the crew assignments to discussing their last two missions—a survey mission, mapping Sector 47, followed by a First Contact with a promising post-warp civilisation of sentient avians.
By the time she tipped the empty plates into the 'cycler it was almost 21:00, and she was a little light-headed from the wine. She was surprised when she realised between them they'd killed the bottle.
"This is a first," he said as he dropped the bottle into the slot. "I didn't think you drank."
"It's not as if I was alone," she reminded him. "And it seemed a shame to waste a Picard '48."
"Don't tell me it was Dutch courage?"
"Maybe," she admitted.
"What makes you think you'd need it?"
"What makes you think I wouldn't?" she countered, sounding braver than she felt. "You know, this whole thing was Cait's idea. She basically double-dog-dared me to ask you to dinner."
"She's not alone. Phil's been after me all day. If I didn't know any better, I'd say they're in cahoots."
"Cahoots?" she repeated, amused.
"Boyce is bad enough on his own, but give him someone to hatch evil plots with, and I'm not sure the known universe would be safe."
"And you think Cait's his partner in crime?"
"I wouldn't put it past them." He flashed her an easy smile. "But, for what it's worth, I'm glad you did. I've missed this."
She bit her tongue to keep from asking him why, if he had missed it so much, he'd been the one to back off first. Instead she said "I've missed it, too."
The dishes taken care of, there was nothing left to do but walk him to the door. But instead of signalling for it to open, he stopped and turned to her, the expression on his face one she couldn't identify.
She watched him, not knowing what was happening until he reached up as if he was going to touch her shoulder. His hand hovered in the air for a moment, before it fell back to his side. Her breath caught with disappointment, which was immediately followed by annoyance that she'd let herself get caught up in the moment.
"I'll see you at the department heads meeting in the morning?" she said, trying to cover her lapse. But he kept studying her with those blue, blue eyes.
"I don't know how to read you," he finally said.
"Chris," he insisted.
"I don't know how to read you. On the bridge, sure. But here? When it's just us, and it's not about a captain and his exec.... You don't exactly come with a manual."
A tiny spark of anger flared. "Manuals are for machines. I'm not a machine."
"I never thought you were."
"Sometimes I'm not always so sure," she said before she could stop herself, and it would have been easy to just blame the wine and the late hour, but that would have been a lie.
"Are you being coy?" he asked, and there was no trace of either amusement or annoyance in his tone or face. Just open, genuine confusion.
"I wouldn't know how to be coy," she said, and it felt like the first honest thing she'd said all night. "I'm just trying to find out where I stand. You don't exactly come with a handy How-To Guide either, you know. After Talos IV, you knew how I felt. And when you didn't acknowledge it, I just assumed... well, that it embarrassed you. Then the dinners stopped. What was I supposed to think?"
He seemed stunned, and she felt a blush creep up her neck, her cheeks burning with it as he stared at her as if seeing her for the first time.
"The Talosians invaded your privacy. Idle fantasies are not the same as genuine feelings for someone. I wasn't going to repeat their callous treatment of your privacy, I didn't want to be... to presume."
"It wouldn't have been presumptuous," she found herself saying, calmer than she expected to be when he was this close to her, and they were actually talking about this, months after the fact. "If you'd asked, I would have told you."
"What if I hadn't asked?" he countered. "Would you have told me anyway?"
She swallowed. "If I had the nerve, yes."
"You seem to have the nerve now." He was closer to her now—close enough to see the dark shadow of stubble on his chin and neck.
"You caught me off-guard."
"My grandmother used to say everything is easy with the mouth. It's the doing that's hard."
She arched a brow. "Really? Your grandmother?"
"Yes." This time he did reach up to touch her hair, running his fingers through the dark waves that fell over the shoulder of her uniform tunic. "You're a beautiful woman. I've never not been aware of that fact, believe me. If I didn't put it to one side, remember first and foremost you're a damned fine Starfleet officer, I wouldn't get a single thing done."
There were a thousand thoughts running through her mind, and she couldn't seem to manage any response other than, "Oh."
"That's got to be a first. I don't think I've ever actually seen you flustered before."
"You sure know how to flatter a girl."
"Maybe that's part of your appeal."
He licked his lips, wrapping a curl around his finger. "Do you know how many times I've wondered exactly what it would take to ruffle that calm, cool exterior?"
"Now who's sharing fantasies?" Her voice was barely above a whisper.
"Maybe I want to take you apart, see what makes you tick." The way he looked at her as he said it made her mouth go dry, and she swallowed reflexively. "See what you'd do if I did this?"
He leaned forward and reached up to cup her cheek in his palm and brush her lips with his. Her eyes drifted shut and her skin prickled with gooseflesh at the light touch of his mouth against hers. She was intensely conscious of every point where they touched, and the heat of his hand against her skin.
She leaned into him, her hands curling into fists at her sides to keep from touching him. She had a completely irrational fear that if she broke the spell of the moment, he might disappear. She kept repeating this can't be happening inside her head even as he deepened the kiss, tilting her chin upwards just a fraction, mouth moving against hers with purpose. Finally her hands came up to slide up his shoulders, and she allowed herself to melt into his embrace.
"So tell me... " he said as they parted, and she rested her forehead against his, "do I live up to your fantasies?"
There were tiny crows feet at the corners of his blue eyes when he smiled, and she licked her lips, cocking her head to appraise him coolly.
"I'd need to collect more data, to perform an adequate comparison." Her hands were shaking, but her voice was steady.
"Far be it from me to stand in the way of science."
He bent his head to hers again, but she laid the tips of her fingers against his lips.
"Wait," she murmured, "As long as we're down to brass tacks, I need to know. How long?"
"How long...?" he asked, bringing his hand up to caress hers, and kiss her fingertips.
"You just woke up this morning and thought, 'I think I'm attracted to my exec?'"
"And if I did?"
She shrugged. "I'd want to know what had changed."
"Maybe nothing's changed," he said, running his thumb over the curve of her bottom lip. "Maybe I've felt this way for a long time, and it only just caught up with me."
"Then I'd say why the hell, sir, did you wait this long?"
He chuckled, and she felt the warmth of his breath against her lips. "Maybe I didn't have the nerve, either."
"Maybe my mouth is getting ahead of my brain. I don't even have one of Phil's martinis with a kick like a mule to fall back on as an excuse."
Her lips quirked in a half-smile. "Maybe it's not your mouth getting ahead of you, Captain."
"For pete's sake, if you can't call me 'Chris' by now—"
Then it was her turn to reach up and bury her fingers in the short hair at the nape of his neck, giving in to the long-held desire to map his mouth with her tongue.
He was taller than she was, and curved around her, one arm sliding around her lower back to pull her closer. She'd spent years imagining what it would be like to kiss him. She'd had every conceivable fantasy from gentle chaste courting over picnics on green lawns, to visions of straddling him on the Briefing Room table. But nothing she had envisioned prepared her for this.
She gasped into his mouth as he slid his thigh between hers, and the sound seemed to break whatever control he had left. The wall was suddenly at her back, and that was good because she was damned unsteady on her feet, her head buzzing as his tongue slid along hers before he sucked hard on her lower lip.
For all her fantasies, nothing prepared her for the reality of the heat of him pressed up against her, driving the breath from her lungs with the weight of his body pinning her against the wall of her quarters. All those times she's wanted to reach out and touch him, feel him solid and real beneath her palms and now she has licence to explore the way they fitted together.
She grew even more light-headed as his lips begin to travel along her jaw, and she gripped his shoulders tightly. She had a mad moment where she wondered if they had ever escaped the cage on Talos IV. It seemed unreal that this could actually be happening, after wanting it for so long. It was like she was living her most vivid fantasy, her deepest desires brought to the surface by his mouth and hands and voice.
"We should probably stop," she whispered as he found the pulsepoint in her neck and sucked a bruise over it.
"Probably." His breath was hot against her throat, his hands roaming her back, tracing the curve of her spine.
"Because if we don't stop now—"
"—then we're not going to stop." His breath was coming as fast as hers, and there was a wild look in his blue eyes.
"We're not going to be able to stop," she said in-between kisses.
He closed his eyes, and she watched his throat as he swallowed, trying to pull himself together. "We could take things slow."
"We could," she said softly. "It would be the sensible thing to do."
It gave her a thrill that brought a flush to her cheeks, to know she had brought him to this edge. Even if they didn't step off into the unknown, at least she would always have this moment.
"Sensible." His eyes snapped open again, pinning her with his gaze. "Is that really what you want?" His tone said that if she chose to end this, they would just walk away. But he didn't want to.
And neither did she.
She reached up and ran the pads of her fingers over his lips, shaking her head. "No. I want you."
She kept her eyes open, watching him as she pressed a light kiss to his mouth.
"I've always wanted you," she said against his lips.
It was like going from manoeuvring thrusters straight to warp, heat pooling in her belly as he grasped her hips and pulled her to him while they kissed as if they meant to devour one another. There was no slow, teasing exploration. There was just want and need. There would be time later for gentleness. For stripping off their uniforms a piece at a time, learning every curve and plane of each other's bodies. To discover what tickled, and what teased, and what tantalised.
For now, she wanted to see the wicked grin on his face as she arched up into him as one hand found her breast and squeezed, thumb flicking the hardened nub of her nipple through layers of her clothing. Wanted to hear how his breath caught in his throat as she took his hand and guided it to the seam of her uniform trousers, then moaned into his open mouth as he pressed hard against her through the fabric. Their joined hands fumbled with the closure, and her gasp was sharp as he slid his hand inside the waistband of her pants, gasps descending into guttural moans against his neck as he stroked her, his fingers slick with her wetness and insistent as her soft cries grew in pitch.
She wanted to watch him slide down the length of her body, pushing her uniform trousers down her legs as he knelt between them, pressing a kiss against the inside of her thigh before he dragged his tongue over her. She bit her bottom lip to stifle her moans as he hitched one leg up onto his shoulder, his nose teasing her clit while he explored her with his tongue. She began to shudder, too close to the edge for words or coherent thought. She felt his smile, fingers twisting while he sucked on her clit, and her fingers buried in his hair and the wall at her back were all that kept her upright as she shuddered on his tongue. She tugged on his tunic, pulling him back up so she could taste herself on his lips while she stroked the hard length of him through his trousers, fingers that normally danced across the helm console with ease suddenly clumsy as she fumbled with the zipper.
She wanted to nip at his chin as she freed him from his trousers and stroked him, feeling the hot dampness against her palm. He turned her jaw so he could kiss her as she guided him to her, gasping into her open mouth as she hooked her leg around his and pulled him into her tight, wet heat. She wanted the scrape of his five o'clock shadow against her neck as he thrust up into her, her mouth closing around his thumb, swirling her tongue around the digit before her head fell back and she lifted her hips to meet each thrust, punctuating each snap of his hips with a cry.
Making love for the first time still in their uniforms felt more exposed than had they been completely naked. His uniform trousers were pushed only low enough on his hips for him to move inside her. He murmured unintelligible endearments against her skin she could barely hear over the sound of her own gasping breaths. Her hands roamed his back, nails digging into the corded muscles as they rocked against one another, his movements becoming erratic as he lost more and more of himself in her body. Sweat trickled down his neck, and she bent her head to catch the drop, tasting the salt while his pulse beat beneath her tongue. He shuddered to a halt, every line of his body taut with strain, and then came apart beneath her hands and mouth, eyes squeezed tight shut, shoulders heaving while she clenched around him, riding out the spasms.
They slid down the wall until they were on their knees, Chris' arms around her waist keeping her in his lap while he buried his face in her neck. His hand slipped up inside her tunic, fingers exploring the curve of her lower back slick with sweat. She tugged on his dark hair until he looked up at her. She took his face in both hands almost gingerly, and pressed a kiss to each eyelid, then the high cheekbones, before he tipped his head back and let her nip at his lower lip lightly with her teeth. They kissed lazily, limbs trembling as the frenzy faded, leaving her pleasantly drowsy in his embrace.
"I can think of three planets were what we just did was illegal," he said when his breathing had returned to normal.
"Only three?" She laughed. "Some explorer you are."
"And at least one where we'd both be burned at the stake."
"Only if we'd done it in public. Without hats."
She pressed one last kiss to his lips and then untangled herself from his arms. In one sure motion, she pulled her tunic and undershirt over her head and dropped them to the floor next to her crumpled trousers. Her plain white cotton bra hit the deck after it, and he leaned back on his elbows, drinking in the sight of her with something like awe as she unzipped first one then the other boot, balancing gracefully on one leg.
"You coming?" she asked as she headed towards the 'fresher, not even glancing back to see if he would follow.
Pike couldn't stop marvelling at the woman curled by his side. Her dark hair was tousled, and the curve of her back was limned by the cold white light of the stars from the port above the bed.
He hadn't intended for this to happen, when he'd accepted her invitation to dinner. He'd hoped at best they'd recapture some of the easy camaraderie they'd lost since Cusack's death on Rigel IIV and the imprisonment on Talos IV. At worst, he'd at least have closure of some kind—closure he'd been putting off in the weeks and months since the Keeper had callously humiliated her by revealing the contents of her dreams in that dank cell.
He hadn't in his wildest dreams imagined he'd wake up with her hair spilling across his chest, their legs entwined, and the blankets half-falling off the bed.
The truth of it was, she hadn't been the only one entertaining fantasies for the last year. The Talosians had chosen her because the illusion of Vina hadn't been able to tempt him. Especially not after they'd chosen to have her re-enact the picnic in Mojave where he'd given Janeese the ring and asked her to wait for him.
He didn't blame Vina. Eighteen years with no humanoid company except the Keeper and the Magistrate, she was lonely and desperate in a way he couldn't begin to imagine. But they had tried to tempt him with the life he'd once wanted, and that was their mistake.
A person's strongest dreams are about what he can't do, Vina had said. She'd been closer to the truth than he'd even admitted to himself, then.
Oh, they'd got the black curls and blue eyes right. But he hadn't run from the fantasy of green dancing girls. That wasn't why Vina had come so close to breaking him. When he came out of the haze to find Number One and his yeoman, he hadn't been sure he wasn't still trapped in a fantasy. Not until he saw with his own eyes the scorched hole in transparent aluminium cage from their phasers.
Since that day, he'd tried to put distance between them. He hadn't realised until now how much that distance had hurt them both.
According to the chrono next to the narrow 'fleet-issue bunk, it was nearly "dawn". He knew he should head back to his own cabin on the opposite side of deck five, but was genuinely too exhausted to move. The pleasant weight of her body draped across him was part of it. But also, the idea of his empty cabin, with the holo of Jan still in the bottom drawer was infinitely less appealing than his current situation.
It was a long way from dinner on Starbase 13 over a year ago, he mused.
"All these years, I've heard all the rumours about how you don't sleep," he said as she stirred sleepily, thick dark lashes half-obscuring her startlingly blue eyes. "I'm beginning to think you started them yourself, to frighten the junior officers."
"I don't need as much sleep," She leaned up to trace the curve of his mouth with a fingertip, "except when I've been engaged in prolonged physical exertion."
"And there was the shower..."
"And the floor," she added.
"And finally the bed."
"I like the bed." She stretched like a cat, and then settled back down beside him, her breasts pressed up against his chest and her legs twined with his. "I think the bed's my favourite."
He laughed, and reached up to curl his fingers around the back of her neck, toying with the damp curls. "You asked me why, before... why the dinners stopped."
She hitched herself up on her elbow and rested her chin on her hand, blue eyes wide and serious as she watched him. He tucked her hair behind the shell of her ear.
"I stopped asking you to dinner because I didn't trust myself around you."
Her mouth curved in a smile. "And now?"
"And now I definitely don't trust myself around you."
Breakfast was coffee, toast, and scrambled eggs for him; tea and some kind of Vulcan cereal grain in soy milk for her.
They sat opposite one another in the Officer's Mess, and if anyone suspected there was anything more than friendship between them, word never got back to them.
Meanwhile, Yeoman Colt whispered to Tyler over his omelette that Brien in Engineering had a pool going as to when the CMO and the Chief Engineer were going to go public with their affair.
When scuttlebutt finally carried that juicy rumour back to the XO and the captain, they simply considered it suitable revenge.