The run was quick and hot and all three of them were panting by the time they got into Quarantine and Dr. Phlox had sealed the door behind them.
Doug stood in front of the little bench and bent over, panting.
Lili sat down, put down her PADD and held her side. Tripp shook it off by walking around a little.
"Everyone accounted for?" Phlox asked through the intercom.
"Yeah, Doc." Tripp said, I don't think I've ever sprinted quite that quick before."
Doug and Lili looked at each other. She trembled a little. "You, you look different from what I thought, she said.
"Hopelessly ugly?" he asked.
"No. Just, just not exactly the same. Like you're taller, and I thought you'd be greyer."
"I am going grey." his eyes flashed downward.
"Oh. Me, too, she said, smiling a little.
He sat down next to her on the bench. "You're different, too."
"Hopelessly ugly, am I?"
"Of course not. A bit shorter. And definitely curvier."
"I, I'm in Food Service. Most of us are carrying around about nine kilos we can never seem to lose."
"Well, it doesn't look like it's in any bad places, he said, And even if it is, so what."
"Your voice is the same. And your eyes are, too."
"Yours, too, he said, I wonder why we didn't have perfect matching. You'd think we would."
"Maybe if I may " Tripp interjected, "maybe you kinda idealized yourselves. Or maybe you idealized each other. You know, eye of the beholder and all o' that."
"Possibly, Doug said, I, um, I gotta thank you, Tucker. But I think you'll understand why I'm not so thrilled to have a chaperone right now."
"Feels like taking my Prom Date home to meet my grandfather, Lili added.
Dr. Phlox waved from the other side of a window in the wall. He spoke into the intercom. "Stay where I can observe you."
"And then there's him." Tripp said, facing Doug and Lili, and away from Phlox.
"Gawd." she giggled nervously and touched Doug's hand.
He looked at her intently. "The best hand, he said quietly.
"Hang on. And don't say I never do anythin' for you." Tripp said. He turned to face the window and got right in front of it. He flipped on the intercom. "Doc, I was thinkin', while I got you here. I got this kinda, it's a little bit of a pain and a clicking sound on the right side of my jaw. See it, here?" he opened his mouth wide and did his best to block the window.
Lili said, "Y'know, we never actually had a proper first kiss. Where you don't know which side to put your nose on and you're afraid that the kiss won't be welcome or you'll click teeth or something."
"That's true, Doug said, Well, no time like the present." He put his hand on her back and drew her closer.
Her breathing got faster. She looked down for a second and then put her hand on his face.
It started off close-mouthed. Eyes open. A peck on the lips. Soft. Warm. Light.
They opened their mouths tentatively and she looked into his eyes, then closed hers, and he closed his. He drew her in nearer. She moved her hand from his face to the back of his neck. His free hand touched her side very lightly. Breathing was hot, breath to breath, tasting, touching, no more difference from one mouth to the other. She made a slight noise. He countered by pushing in harder, his mouth covering hers.
"And I get it mostly when I talk too much." Tripp said to Dr. Phlox.
"Commander Tucker, I can see what you are trying to do, but really. I have to observe them. It is for yours and the Ensign's own safety and well-being. Now, step aside."
Tripp cleared his throat, then cleared it louder.
Doug opened his eyes and pulled back. He blinked a few times and drew a deep breath.
Lili looked up, face flushed.
"What's that?" Phlox asked. "On the side of the Ensign's mouth."
"Are you seeing consequences of propping open the doorway?" Yimar asked.
"Yes." her father replied. "Polloria and Baden have crossed over. Perhaps you are right. Maybe they will face punishment on that side."
Doug touched Lili's mouth. "It's, it's blood, he said.
"It doesn't hurt, she said.
"Still, this may be a symptom, Dr. Phlox said, You need to stay in my line of sight throughout the remainder of Quarantine."
"Doc, I think it's just overzealous kissin'." Tripp said.
"That may very well be the case." the doctor admitted. "But I refuse to throw caution to the wind."
"It's, it's all right, Lili said, wiping the trace of blood from the side of her mouth. More later?" she said softly to Doug.
"Yes." he whispered to her and took her hand again. "I, uh, I wonder why we didn't spark that time, when I arrived and we touched."
"Well, that was the dream. This is the real part, she said.
"This part's better, he said, smiling at her.
"How long we got, Doc?" Tripp asked.
"If there are no further symptoms, I estimate about an hour for you and the Ensign, and another hour or so for the Major."
"Major?" Doug asked. "I haven't been a Major in quite a while."
"I guess we've been sayin' that, and thinking about Jay when we've been saying it." Tripp explained. "And you're not him, of course."
"No more than you are the guy on the other side with the scar on his face, Doug said, He, uh, he made this possible. And you have, too. Thank you."
"Ah, I'm a sucker for these things." Tucker admitted. "Just don't tell anyone, all right?"
Lili turned to Doug. "You, um, you said I was the second woman you ever trusted. May I ask who the first one was? Was it Jennifer?"
"No, no, Doug smiled. "It was my mother."
"Oh. Well, um, since we'll be here a while, what do you think because we don't know this at all can we talk about our childhoods? You, too, Commander, if you'd like, she said.
"Uh, that's all right. But you two go ahead if you want to." Tripp said.
"Well, I don't know if there's a lot to tell, although I get the feeling we don't have the same kind of system you've got, Doug said.
"System?" Lili asked.
"You live with your folks until you're seven years old. They home school you in things like reading and basic math. Then you get sent to a day school for seven years. Then a high school or academy for, you guessed it, another seven. I was born on Ganymede."
"That's a moon of Jupiter, right?" she asked.
"It's the biggest one." he confirmed. "I'm an only child. And then I was sent to Triton Day School. Lemme tell ya, Triton is always cold."
"When did you see your parents?" she asked.
"We have a one-week holiday every season. Everything shuts down. So I saw them during winter week break, that kinda thing. Took a series of tests at the end everyone does. Maybe five percent become, like, elites, doctors, artists and the like. Another ten percent become engineers. And then the other eighty, eighty-five percent of all of us? We become soldiers, Doug paused for a breath. "Guess where I placed?"
Lili smiled. "So you were fourteen and they had your life all planned out?"
"More or less. High school was on Terra. I had scored really well so I went to West Point."
"What's Terra?" Tripp asked. "Er, sorry to eavesdrop, but it's gonna be inevitable while we're in here."
"It's okay, Doug said, Terra is the home world. You know, third planet from the sun?"
"Ohhhh, Lili said, We call it Earth."
"Odd, Doug said, Anyway, finished West Point and went to basic in Cambodia, which I've told you about. I was there for around four years, waiting for an assignment. Then I just went wherever, did whatever. Did freighter defense to start, and then moved up to the MACOs."
Lili shuddered when he mentioned moving up. "I see, she said quietly.
Doug pressed on her hand a little. "Yeah, it was like that." he admitted. "Took off for wars whenever they intervened. Went to war on his planet, actually." he nodded in the direction of Phlox.
"What about the Xindi War? Didja have that?" Tripp asked.
"Yes. I fought in the Battle of Azati Prime."
"You don't have to talk about that. Not today, Lili said, How 'bout if I go? Seeing as you only know about the big trauma in my childhood, maybe I should fill you in on a few of the other details."
"All right, Doug smiled at her.
"Y'know, you mainly smile with your mouth closed." she observed.
"My teeth are a little crooked, he said, I guess I got self-conscious when I was a teenager and that never really went away."
"Oh." she squeezed his hand. "Anyway. My life. I was born on Titan. And our lives are very different, as you have surmised. Went to school and all. I'm also an only. And when I was nine years old, well, you know what happened."
"And?" Dr. Phlox asked. "I don't mean to pry, but this is interesting if you don't mind telling."
"It's all right. I, my parents were killed in a house fire and I was sent to live with my mother's parents, in New France on Titan."
"That have anything to do with you becoming a chef?" Tripp asked.
"Yes, she said, The way I processed it all was to become a master of fire. Went to Titan High School, didn't do so well and was probably going to be all set for a thrilling career washing dishes when I got an opportunity to cook for the head of the Mars Culinary Institute."
"What did you make?" Doug asked.
She smiled. "You knew I would know this. It was Lobster en Croute
. It's a strained bisque that's a kind of soup in puff pastry. I guess I impressed her and ended up being admitted to the MCI. Finished up when I was twenty and first worked at the Tethys Tavern. I didn't just cook there, I tended bar sometimes, too. Went through a bunch of restaurants and opened Voracious on Earth a little over five years ago. Then when the Xindi War broke out, I was drafted and here I am."
"So you can make a good martini, Ensign?" Phlox asked. "Perhaps I will ask you to show me that when I am next off-duty."
"I also know the proper way to pour a Guinness, she said.
"What's that?" asked Doug.
"It's an Irish dry stout." she explained.
"Ensign, you and Commander Tucker are free to go, Dr. Phlox said.
She got up. "Stay, Doug said.
"I have to go slave over a hot stove, she said, Something about a very special lunch for a certain weary traveler."
"Oh?" Doug asked, mouth corners turned up a little.
"Yes. And I have to supervise and change and get it all ready because it's got to be perfect."
"I, I hope you don't serve that traveler like an Emperor. I think he can make his own plate."
She smiled. "I'll be off-duty when that lunch starts. So I'll be a guest, too. See you there. Oh, and here." she handed him the PADD. "Something to do to pass the time." She and Tucker left.
Doug sighed. "All right. Uh, Doc, if you don't mind, I'll just read."
"Very well, Dr. Phlox said, I am right here if you have any difficulties."
Doug clicked on the PADD and started it up again. He read her letter to him and smiled, then started looking at Jay's service record. "December 5th, huh? Strange. I'm two days older than you." he murmured to himself.
"I understand you think you'll continue to evade punishment by being here, Baden, Treve said.
"It was all her idea." A ruddy Baden said, We did not want to kill your mother, but it was necessary. Polloria insisted."
"My mother is alive on this side, Treve said, But no matter. You're both still responsible. I'll contact my counterpart. Your free days are coming to an end.
"You look good, Roomie, Jennifer said as she and Lili stood outside the Main Conference Room.
"I feel a little like my boyfriend's meeting my grandparents for the first time."
"Well, he kind of is, Jenny said, It'll all go fine. Oh, and I wanted you to know I'm staying with Hoshi for the next few days."
"You don't know how grateful I am, Lili whispered.
"I can guess, Jenny said.
They walked in. Lili sat down with Jenny. Malcolm smiled at her and took a seat one away from her. "Where's the guest of honor?" he asked.
"They're on their way, Hoshi said, checking. "That's a pretty dress, Lili."
"Thanks. I feel like a teenager."
The door opened and Phlox and Doug walked in. She nodded her head to Doug, who came over and sat between her and Malcolm. "You look beautiful, he said softly. "I remember that blue dress."
She smiled. "Do you, do you know everyone?" Introductions were made. When she got to Jenny, Lili said, "This is Jenny Crossman. She's, uh, she's one of my very best friends."
Brian Delacroix walked in with a huge tray. Doug swallowed hard when he saw him. Brian said, "We, um, Ensign O'Day designed the menu. And she insisted that the portions be small because there are a lot of different things. And, um, a heavy lunch would make everybody nap afterwards anyway."
"I don't want to be asleep." she whispered to him. He squeezed her knee slightly and she jumped a little.
"First we have a salad. On, um .., Brian said.
"A bed of mixed greens, Lili prompted.
"Um, yes. And with Mandarin oranges and slivered almonds. Enjoy, Brian set out the plates.
Doug whispered to Lili, "Oranges?"
"Yes, she said quietly, reddening a tiny bit.
He sat there for a while. Everyone stared. "Huh?" he asked.
"They're being really polite and waiting for you to start, Lili explained.
"Oh, well, on, um, on the other side of the pond, you wait for your superior officer to eat first. So I guess I'm waiting for the Captain, Commander T'Pol and Commander Tucker. Lieutenant Reed and I are the same, so I don't have to wait for him."
"Well, we don't stand on ceremony like that, said Jonathan. "But I'll start anyway." he smiled.
"Something to drink, sir?" asked Brian.
"Uh, water, I guess, Doug said, Or show me where to get it."
"I don't mind serving, sir."
"We have other things to drink, Lili said, There's fruit juice and soft drinks. And we have coffee and tea."
"Wait, you have real coffee?"
"Yes, of course. How do you take it, sir?"
"Uh, black, I guess. I don't want too many overindulgences."
"What was the transference like?" Travis asked, between bites. "What's everybody looking at me for? Isn't anyone else curious?"
"A long transport is not fun, Hoshi said, But you were in way longer than I was that one time."
"Oh, Emp uh, Ensign. Yeah, it's, well, you're kind of alone with your thoughts, Doug said, cleaning his plate.
"Next course, Lili prompted.
"We have a filet mignon with roasted potatoes and a side of spinach with, uh, with Vidalia onions and Wisconsin cheddar and, um, sea salt from, er .., Brian said.
"Proteus, Lili said, The, uh, you have the one that's cooked rare?"
"Yes, this one, Brian produced the plate and put it in front of Doug.
"You remembered everything, he said.
"All I want to do is please you, she said softly.
He squeezed her knee again, and she put her hand on top of his, under the table.
"There's no steak knife, he said.
"You don't need one, she said.
"Hayes, do you have plans?" Captain Archer asked.
"I, um, it depends on a lot of things, I guess. A lot to think about right now. I might just retire. I don't know."
"Well, you don't have to decide everything right now, Jenny said.
"Lots of time, he said, eating the last of his steak.
"Still hungry?" she asked.
"Yes, he said quietly, looking at her intently.
"We have chocolate chunk cookies!" Brian announced with a flourish.
"I remember the last time you made those, Doug said.
"Well, I don't think it'll end the same way, Lili said.
"Better not, Doug whispered.
"Uh, Captain?" Lili asked, blood rushing to her face. "Can we, uh, get these to go?"
Captain Archer smiled broadly. "Yes, of course. We've made you sit here long enough."
"Thank you, Captain, Doug said, getting up. He looked at her. She was grabbing two cookies and putting them into a napkin.
"Thank you all, she said, straightening up.
Once they got out of the Conference Room, they ran to Lili's quarters.