Month 1 Day 20
When they walked down the corridor, Bugalu felt Mac's arm tremble around his waist. Movie night wasn't quite the hell I expected. And Mac's not nervous, she's excited. Wrong word. Happy. Yeah, happy. They entered messhall. Every person here is watching, sure she's just another of my conquests. Oh, well. I expected that.
"There's Mac," Mac said. Who? Oh, right, she's shortened the doc's name. "He looks mad," she added. "I wonder what I've done?"
"Don't be paranoid," he told her. "It's me he's glaring at."
"Oh." She sighed. "I was about to suggest we sit with him."
She doesn't need her 'relatives' mad at each other, so- "Good idea," he agreed. "You claim the pizza, and I'll settle whatever's got Doc upset."
She gave him a hesitant grin. "Okay. What flavor is it?"
"Ham and pineapple, what else?"
She squealed and threw her arms around his neck. His arms naturally encircled her, but his hands didn't roam. "Mac asked me to a movie," she whispered. What? "I didn't know what to say." She let go and stared at him uncertainly.
"Get the pizza," he instructed. The midnighters are looking for breakfast now, and it'll take her a few minutes. Bugalu headed for MacGregor's table. "Mac wants us to sit with you," he told the doctor.
"You don't want to be alone?" MacGregor growled. "Or are you done?"
Bugalu ignored the questions' meaning. "I won't send her to work without lunch." He glanced her way, saw her bouncing as she waited, from feet to toes, again and again. "What's up? She thinks you're mad at her." He sat down.
"How was the movie?"
Lots of anger in his voice. Why can't he just answer the question? Bugalu shrugged. "Funnier than most westerns. Jokes that probably meant something when it was made. Lots of racial comments I vaguely remember hearing about from my great-grandparents. Plenty of sexual references that went over Mac's head. Probably."
Doc's eyes widened. "You watched it? Or have you seen it before?"
Bugalu shook his head. "I don't usually like the old ones. But I figured it was better than being alone with Mac in my quarters for 4 hours."
Doc stared at him. "The movie's less than 2 hours."
"We saw it twice."
"Why not your quarters? You take other women there. Even during the movie. I saw you, last week, with... someone."
"Not Mac," Bugalu answered at once. Last week? "That must have been Beth. Or Stephanie. But not Mac. Never Mac."
"But you started with the movie, just like with... others."
"Not-!" Bugalu stopped, leaned forward and lowered his voice. "I held her, that's all! She and Matt did it at the Academy, spent hours watching movies, arms around each other. Before the Academy, only her mother could treat her like that. She calls them hugs, and it's the closest she ever gets to any display of affection. From anybody! No kissing, no making out, no fondling. No hand holding, no pats on the shoulder, no hand on her cheek, no stroke to her hair, nothing! Just the occasional hug."
Understanding slowly dawned in the doctor's eyes. "It must have been torture."
Bugalu sighed. "It wasn't as bad as I was afraid. The movie distracted me."
"You know what people will think," Doc pointed out.
"They already do. So what? She needs it."
Doc's gaze crossed the room to where Mac was about to claim her food. She was still bouncing, a grin on her face. "She looks like she's in love."
Bugalu glared at him. "Don't even joke about that!"
Doc turned back to him. "I wasn't."
"Well, not with me. She might think she is, but... it isn't me."
"So she does have a mystery man in her life. Who?"
Do I tell him? She hasn't. Actually, she hasn't even- "She hasn't told me."
Doc frowned. "How do I gently guide him toward her if I don't know who 'he' is?"
"You can't," Bugalu spat. "Stop and think, Doc. As un-sexed as her pa's got her, do you really think any man has a chance?"
"Crying shame," Doc stated. "Everybody should have a chance at-"
"Pizza!" Mac exclaimed as she set the large tray on the table. "Hope you like it, Mac. This is my favorite kind!"
"Pizza's not on the menu," Doc stated. "Hardly ever. And it certainly wasn't today."
"Special order," she responded. "Now, don't touch until I get back with drinks and napkins." She hurried off, paused to talk to Tall Bear, bouncing again, one finger lightly touching his arm. The AmerInd looked bemused.
"We can still have lunch, though, right?" Bear asked as she moved away.
She paused to look back, smiled. "Okay!"
"What's that about?" Doc asked.
"I think she's practicing her ballet," Bugalu suggested.
"I meant, with Tall Bear."
"Oh." Bugalu shrugged. "She likes Bear. She's just afraid to admit it. So far, he's accepted that she won't date him, and that means a lot to her. Tonight's hug has made her friendly enough to actually touch him."
"They spot each other for weight lifting."
"Yes, and if they accidentally touch each other during that, she can forgive it because of the activity. If he habitually touched her during weight lifting, she'd get very unhappy with him."
"But she is allowed to touch men. She told me so."
"When she can get past pa's dictates. Hugs let her consider the possibility that not every man is out to rape her. So I have to time them carefully. I can't send her to work with Evans when she's feeling friendly. Pa's training would snap back into place, might even be stronger."
"Picture a young Winthrop and put him on midnight helm," Bugalu instructed.
Doc was aghast. "It's a wonder she hasn't landed in the brig."
"Thanks to Bear," Bugalu revealed. "He eats supper with her, keeping Evans and Adams away."
"Thought I knew the crew, but I guess not. Who's Adams?"
Mac placed drinks and napkins on the table. "Lt Adams is midnight engineering supervisor." She sat down, helped herself to a slice of pizza. "He visits the bridge at least 3 times a night, but he doesn't pay any attention to engineering when he's on the bridge." She waved at someone with a grin. "Like I said, Bugs, he won't show up tonight."
"Why not?" Doc asked.
Bugalu answered. "Because tonight is Evans' day off, and Amana won't put up with Adams being on the bridge without reason. So, with Evans off, and Adams out of the picture, it seems relatively safe for Mac to be friendly. What do you say, Mac, do it again in 8 days?"
"I don't know if I can get pizza again. Kitchen doesn't make a habit of fulfilling personal requests."
"I'll live," she decided, taking another piece. "I could probably live through anything, as long as I get hugs."
"Hugs," Doc repeated quietly. "You know, Mac-"
"No!" Bugalu exclaimed, then lowered his voice. "It's not easy, Doc!"
"Things could get... bad... if you lost control," Mac stated quietly.
"Yeah, I didn't do so well the first time, did I?" Bugalu looked up sharply, to see that Mac had colored slightly. Doc went on. "I hardly ever see you, but I've rethought the idea of seeing a movie together. Bugalu has that under control, and if the captain thought you and I were dating, she'd have my head. But we did okay with supper, didn't we? Did some brainstorming about your problem-"
"What problem?" Bugalu broke in.
"I've had trouble calming down after work to go to sleep," Mac told him, and turned to the doctor. "The more often you see me, the more rumors there will be."
"I'm aware of that-"
"Doc, if you want to join us for supper, that's fine with me," Bugalu told him. "Any day you want."
"Thank you. I'll take you up on that, some evenings. But I thought of another thing she could do in the mornings to help her calm down. Come to Sick Bay."
"And do what?" Bugalu asked.
"Talk to me," Doc replied. "Or Beth. A friendly ear can do wonders for your mood. And I have days off, too. We could play a game of pool to help you de-stress. Or have you given up that game?"
She grinned. "I don't give up a game just because I'm stupid enough to hurt myself on the equipment."
"Good. Come in some morning and we'll make some plans."
"Here's an idea," Bugalu said. "If you want to spend time with Mac, help her study."
"It's not my field."
"Doesn't have to be, the way Abdulla's got the review files set up. You read the question and see if her answer matches the file. If not, that's an area she needs to study. There's not many areas left, though. She's boned up well."
"Good," Doc stated. "The sooner she passes, the sooner she can enjoy her evenings, instead of studying. What about tomorrow night, Mac?"
"Tomorrow's mine," Bugalu said. "All study, from breakfast until lunch, with a break for the gym. But the night after that, she's free. I've got a date."
"That makes her sound like... like..."
Bugalu grinned. "Like a pesky little sister. That's what she is."
"But not for you, Mac," she refuted.
Bugalu frowned. "No?"
"No. For him, I'm a pesky niece." She picked a last piece of pineapple off the pan, then began gathering the meal's debris. "I need to get ready for work."
"I'll walk you to your room," Bugalu offered, and they carried the items to the disposal.
After they left the messhall, Mac glanced around, then quietly asked, "Why would the captain be upset if she thought Mac and I were dating?"
Bugalu nearly stumbled. The Doc? No, I've seen them together. She's definitely 'adopted' him. "It's against regs. And because of the difference in rank. Some people use their rank to force a subordinate into a relationship."
"Oh." She seemed lost in her thoughts until they approached her quarters, where she turned and asked, "But... love... doesn't pay any attention to rank. Does it?"
Bugalu cleared his throat. There's no way to answer but with the truth. "No, it doesn't. Actually, the regs aren't very effective as a deterrent. That's why Capt Burke steps in as soon as she's aware of a mixed-rank relationship. She doesn't want anybody forced into anything. On the Fireball, the crew dates within their rank. Well, most do. They don't want to get into trouble just for a little-" He stopped, unwilling to destroy her good mood.
"Sex," she completed, and he was surprised she could say the word. "But I wasn't talking about sex, Bugsy."
"I know." He gave her a tight embrace, whispered in her ear, "Be absolutely positive, Mac, without the slightest shadow of a doubt. And for space's sake, be careful!" When he let go, her face was red, her eyes large. "Any other questions?"
"Not-" She swallowed and shook her head.
He gently turned her toward her door. "Then get ready for work."