Episode 3: Foxes and Henhouses
Location: Isley's Quarters, Deck 4 - USS Defiant
The officers' deck was fairly quiet, which was not all that surprising, considering shore leave had just begun. Still, it was only early evening, there should've been at least some people coming and going. The silence in the empty corridors almost felt... ominous, but maybe that was just her mind acting funny after the crazy mission they'd just returned from. The only sounds that could be heard were the soft rustling of the take-out bag Michaela clutched in front of her as she walked, and of course the clicking of her heeled boots against the glossy black deck, which had been buffed out so smooth and shiny she could no longer see the seams in the plating--another sign that the ship was returning to normal.
Michaela certainly didn't feel back to normal yet. Her job as an engineer meant that she could see all the hidden spaces, of which there were plenty where chaos still reigned. Her own state of affairs was also not great. Her sleep patterns were all out of whack, plus she was drinking way too much coffee, which made her seem even more neurotic than usual. Plus her working wardrobe was completely trashed. Most of her uniform dresses had stains, burns and/or frays, and both her pairs of regulation boots would never hold a shine again. If her care package from her dressmaker wasn't waiting for her aboard the starbase, she might actually have to visit the quartermaster for new uniforms. Michaela shuddered at the thought.
Though her casual outfits were all intact, Michaela didn't know which one she was going to wear yet during her outing with Charlotte and possibly Caroline. Yes, she was vain enough to not want to be seen wearing the exact same outfit twice in such a short span of time.
All that explained why Michaela was en route to Caroline's quarters with dinner-in-hand. She needed to plot and scheme, and figure out if Isley had plans. What did one wear during a casual outing with the captain? These things needed to be discussed.
Michaela chimed her arrival at Isley's door, and set down the take-out bag for a moment to tug at her uniform skirt. The only dress she had left was one with a short, hip-hugging skirt... more Caroline's style than hers. Maybe it was just her but the skirt felt too short. She would never wear it to work. The only pair of tights she had left were the fancy sheer black ones she wore for special outings, she had those on, and of course her heeled over-the-knee boots. She would never wear those to work either. All-in-all she felt she looked like some big-shot admiral's receptionist back in San Francisco or Paris. Some datapad pusher, not a semi-veteran fleet officer. Only her black leather jacket saved the outfit. She'd never worn the jacket over her red dress before. It looked killer! Or so she thought.
Caroline Isley took a deep breath and looked at herself in the mirror. It was very hard to detect, but the last missions had taken a toll on her appearance. There were small bags under her eyes, showing that her sleep hadn't been particularly comfortable. Her hair wasn't as perfectly glossy and straight as usual. It was everything going on, of course. The conflict with the Klingons, the bizarre encounters with the Tholians, and now these strange creatures that may or may not be influencing all of Starfleet's troubles in this region. It simply was causing too much stress.
Still, there was no excuse for not looking perfect at all times, the blonde thought to herself. She dabbed a small amount of makeup under her eyes to cover the dark circles and then ran her expensive brush through her hair a few more times than was probably needed. She looked better. But she needed to make sure she could get back to her routines in the future.
As she stepped back, she looked at herself in uniform. At least this was practically perfect. The blue minidress hugged her form and was just a touch shorter than it should be, which was how Caroline preferred them. Isley loved being in uniform, at least the more formal duty uniforms. Beyond making her feel important, the uniform showed her figure to its advantage. In fact, her off-duty clothes mirrored the skirted Starfleet tunic -- just in different colors and missing insignia. Most people would probably think Isley was vain -- and she probably was -- but she preferred to think she was just projecting self confidence.
Her reverie was interrupted by her door chime. Time had gotten away from her! Caroline didn't realize it was already time for Holland. She quickly smoothed out the uniform, made one more correction to her hair, and then opened the door.
The science officer smiled at Holland (with slightly more sincerity than her usual cold, professional smirk). She then looked Michaela up and down and grinned a little more widely. "Nice outfit. Come in." She ushered the engineer in, toward the table she had cleared of PADDS and other work.
Michaela returned the grin, then followed Caroline in and set the take-out bag down on the table before admiring Caroline in turn. The woman was like her own law of physics... Isley's Constant: always looking fabulous.
Taking off her jacket, Michaela took a couple steps and tossed it onto the corner of Caroline's bed, which seemed as good a place as any. Walking back toward her friend, she stretched out her arms, as if intending to engulf Caroline in a big hug. The engineer seemed intent on her mission, but there was probably time to come up with a delaying tactic, or maybe she could be distracted by food if the chief of science wasn't keen on hugging it out.
Isley was distracted for a moment looking at Michaela's jacket and that allowed the engineer to get close enough to hug her before she could decide to resist. She hugged back, feeling the engineer squeeze the two of them close. When it was over, Isley smiled back, perhaps a touch awkwardly, and straightened her uniform.
"Nice to see you," she said, her smile becoming a little warmer. "Are you hungry now? I have to say, I'm completely famished."
Michaela couldn't help but let out a contented sigh as she hugged Caroline close. With all the craziness going on with the parasites and everything, she'd been worried about her friend... and all the others who'd gone aboard the Tholian ship. A small part of her had been worried that Isley might not quite be the same, but she was. Her hair was brushed out perfect, and she was wearing just the right amount of perfume. She considered pecking a quick kiss on Isley's cheek just to see how she'd react, but Michaela remembered she was wearing lipstick. Plus, she didn't want to risk messing up Caroline's makeup.
Nodding, Michaela basked in Caroline's warm smile for a moment. "Good to see you too, sweetie." She motioned for her friend to take a seat somewhere on the L-shaped corner sofa partially ringing the table while she set out their meal. It was comfort food, nothing too crazy or exotic. The Jade Cafe was the best place on Starbase Arcadia to find Asian-style food. She couldn't say why, but it was her favorite kind of food to eat. Plus their portions were huge. A plate for one was definitely enough to feed the both of them. There were noodles and veggies, fried rice, and spicy chicken dumplings. There was also a bottle of warm tea with two small cups stacked on top of the bottle. She poured them cups of tea, and pushed the plate close to the edge of the table so they could both eat right from it.
It was very much in line with Michaela's dream date she'd described to Captain Reynolds during their awkward first encounter--sharing a plate of Chinese food with one pair of chopsticks--all except for one detail. Michaela held up two sets of chopsticks as she moved around the table. This wasn't really a date, that and she didn't think their friendship had reached a point to endure that level of awkwardness. Unless Caroline was hopeless with chopsticks. Then they'd find out pretty quick if it had.
"I hope this is okay?" Michaela said as she slid onto the sofa right next to Caroline and handed her a set of chopsticks. She didn't bother fussing with her short skirt as she sat. If her friend wanted to peek at her full leg on display she could go right ahead.
"I'm sure it will be great," Isley said and smiled again as she moved toward the seat. Unlike Michaela, Caroline was always careful about how her uniform looked when she was seated. She slid comfortably in and then almost imperceptibly sat up again to smooth the skirt out and make sure it didn't ride up too high. Her uniforms were short enough to show enough leg as it was, and the science officer didn't really want to flash anything else, at least not quite yet. Once she was seated, she looked over the food.
Caroline wasn't a very adventurous eater. It wasn't that she didn't like to try new or exotic foods -- she just never went out of her way to do so. So she had been worried about what Michaela might bring. In this case, though, it was nothing too out of the ordinary. It looked like pretty typical Asian food, although it smelled delicious. Isley took the scent of the dishes in and then looked at her friend.
Chopsticks? This was going to be interesting. The blonde had never mastered them. In fact, she hardly ever tried. But Isley was also a bit competitive, so she didn't admit that she wasn't experienced. If Holland thought she could use the sticks, then Isley was sure she could manage. She just took them. "This looks amazing. Thank you so much for getting it. I could really use a break." She sighed.
But as she went for some of the food, her complete lack of skill showed. At first she was unable to even pick up a dumpling, but she persisted, not looking up at Michaela (perhaps hoping her companion hadn't even noticed). When she finally got the dumpling between the two sticks, it wobbled quite a bit, until finally falling onto her plate (which was fortunately; it could easily have ended up on her lap). She tried to keep from blushing too much as she looked over at Holland to see how she was doing.
Michaela seemed quite experienced eating with chopsticks. It was clear they weren't naturally her go-to eating utensil of choice, but with focus she seemed quite adept... there were no epic fumbles on her side of the plate. She couldn't help but notice Caroline's struggles, even if she didn't appear to notice them at first. Isley looked so cute trying to make it work, and not look awkward in the process.
"I'm sorry sweetie... I should've come with backup utensils." She said as she caught a piece of broccoli and a few noodles and took a bite, letting out a satisfied murmur afterwards. The sauce was quite good.
"My dad's a Starfleet officer too, and growing up we ate out a lot... Earth, other worlds, starbases, mess halls. Mom only went all-out with her meals when it was the whole family, and well, I know how it is now always having to work late. This is one of the few kinds of food my sister and I could ever agree upon, so we had it whenever we could find it. We'd always make a game out of trying to use the chopsticks. My mom hated it... we used to make such a mess." Michaela laughed.
"Just takes practice, I guess. A lot of practice." Michaela slid over closer, their legs touching for a moment as she leaned in and slowly caught a dumpling and raised it to Caroline's lips, waiting to see if she'd take a bite.
Caroline listened to Michaela and sighed. She wished she was better at this. She was sure her friend wasn't really holding it against her, but there was just a part of the science officer that didn't like to appear out of control, even at simple things. As she put her chopsticks down and looked back toward Michaela, she saw the other officer raise a dumpling toward her.
With a small smile (and slight blush again), she leaned forward and took a bite from it. It tasted excellent, and the blonde was quite hungry. "Mmmm. Well, we might be able to make it with just one set of working chopsticks." She giggled uncharacteristically and then looked back down at the food. "This was a great choice."
Michaela couldn't help but stare for a moment, mouth agape as Caroline took a bite. She barely heard what her friend said next, as she was still processing what had happened. It may not have seemed momentous, but for her, it was like not only sighting a rare animal in the wild, but getting it to eat from her hand. When Caroline giggled, what little remaining composure went and Michaela couldn't help but giggle too... though hers probably sounded a bit more awkward and unhinged, given her level of shock and awe.
"I'm so glad you think so." Michaela said warmly, leaning against Caroline for a moment for emphasis. After that she caught a glob of rice and held that up for for her friend. It soon became apparent that the way they were seated was making it awkward, as Michaela could only use chopsticks with her right hand, and Caroline was sitting to her right. There wasn't a whole lot of room to maneuver.
"Here, let's switch, sweetie." The engineer said as she stood and tugged at her dress by instinct. She quickly rounded the table, somehow miraculously not tripping over her high heels. Either she was lucky, or becoming quite adept at moving around in them. In any event, momentum and eagerness to continue their awkward, and super-cozy dining arrangement quickly brought her back toward the other end of the sofa. Quickly enough for it to seem that if Caroline didn't scoot over fast enough, there was a possibility she might end up with Michaela sitting on her lap.
Isley took the bite of rice and noticed the awkwardness of their seating position almost as soon as Michaela proposed switching positions. It was hard to lean across and eat from the engineer's right hand. Caroline hadn't really intended to eat the entire meal from her friend's chopsticks, but now it seemed she was committed. And she didn't seem to mind. Why not? Holland seemed very into her and Isley didn't really need to always seem an ice queen, right? At least with those who weren't on her staff.
The blue-clad blonde slid over just in time to avoid Michaela from sitting on her lap. She laughed quietly again and now realized that the two were even closer together than before, pretty much in direct physical contact. Isley looked down and noticed it but didn't say anything.
"If feeding me all this is too much trouble, you could try to teach me to use the chopsticks," she said wryly, not quite sure what Michaela might respond.
Michaela probably would've stopped herself short of sitting on Caroline's lap, but with Caroline moving over she didn't bother to slow her approach. After she sat she noticed that she could feel Caroline's quiet laughter, perhaps more than she could hear it. It was her turn to blush as she realized how much closer they were. She looked down, for once at a loss for words. Thankfully Caroline had something to say.
"It's no trouble..." Michaela assured her friend in a shy tone. "But if you want to practice more we can. Food just might get cold before you get a chance to eat it."
With a pinkish tinge still on her usually pale cheeks, Caroline replied, "I wouldn't want the food to get cold." She leaned back toward Michaela expecting another bite.
Michaela reached for the chopsticks so that they could resume their meal, but her heart had other ideas. She hadn't exactly formed plans and set them in motion to get this close to Caroline, but it would've been a lie to say she had no intentions of something more than friendship. She'd just been... waiting, for the right time to come along.
Looking away from the plate and back toward Caroline, Michaela couldn't help but feel that this was the moment she'd been waiting for. She leaned in with kisses, a light, gentle one at first, followed by a more sensual kiss if Caroline seemed receptive.
Isley shouldn't have been shocked when Michaela leaned in, but there was still a look of surprise in her eyes as the kiss began. But it only lasted a moment. The science officer reached around and put a hand in Michaela's hair, pushing the other woman closer. She then began to kiss back, more passionately. This wasn't something Caroline had done in a long time, but she simply couldn't resist.
Michaela hadn't kissed anyone since her time at the academy, and this was her first time doing so with another woman, but she wasn't really thinking about any of that, or what the night meant, or where it would lead. She wasn't even worried about the food getting cold. Michaela was totally caught up in the moment. She let herself be pulled closer and was totally content letting Caroline take the lead, so to speak.
Back during their first outing together at Club Starlight she'd been hoping for some chemistry between them, but she never would've guessed that Caroline felt the way she did now... but then again, people could change dramatically depending on the setting. If Michaela had tried to kiss her out on the dance floor while dancing to Shar've, the response might have been quite different.
"Mmmhmm. Dessert before dinner. I love it." Michaela said playfully when they took a moment to catch their breath. She realized at that point she'd snaked one arm around Caroline's waist, and had her other hand resting on her leg. Predictably, Isley was now wearing some of her lipstick. Michaela giggled at that.
Isley just smiled back and leaned in for another kiss.