Month 3, Day 16
As Abdulla relieved the redhead, Smitty heard Colleen exclaim, “I wish we were married!”
Bugalu stepped forward. “Mac?”
She turned to face him. “I never meant for this to happen.”
Despite being on the bridge, the helmsman slipped his arms around her. “We’ll figure something out. Right now, I need to make a proper apology.”
“Yes, let’s do that,” Colleen agreed, and the pair left.
His room was dark when Smitty opened his eyes. Is that really the way it went? I turned my back, tried not to listen, but surely they weren’t that...
How circumspect could I be, if I were the one trying to make up with her? Not that I have anything to apologize for, despite what Abdulla thinks.
I’m doing my best to treat her the same as anyone else. He sighed, rolled over, punched his pillow into a different shape, and closed his eyes again.
Month 3, Day 20
Smitty ducked into the deck 7 recroom and breathed a sigh of relief. If I have to play one more game of table tennis with MacGreg, I’ll go spacey. Anna and I played it all the time, back before Michael, so I could probably beat the pants off him, but where’s the fun in that? He’d just want a rematch.
He went to the dispenser for a cup of coffee. It’s always so noisy here. I should have gone to deck 11. Well, never mind, I didn’t. Somebody’s bound to be playing Atakke; I can watch that for a while. Coffee in hand, he started across the room.
“Cut it out, Clines.”
Smitty dropped his cup as the voice cut through his senses. Turning, he saw her at a corner table with Clines, the evening communications officer. She took the man’s hand off her knee and put it back on the table. “Keep your mind on the subject.”
“You can’t possibly understand how hard that is,” Clines told her. “If you’d just-“
“No,” she told him shortly. “I didn’t understand your explanation of the Kodalis receiver. Please go through it again.”
“No, don’t,” interrupted another voice, and Lt Harris got up from a nearby table. “Clines, I thought you knew your stuff, but you just scrambled the Kodalis receiver with 3 other types of equipment. With you as a study partner, she’ll never pass probation. Go on, it’s time for you to get ready for duty anyway. I’ll take over for now, and I’ll have Abdulla get Chun to help her study.”
“Chun?” Colleen repeated. “Well, that’s one way for me to get some sleep.”
There she goes, insinuating she can’t sleep, again. Come to think of it, why isn’t she in bed? And Harris? Not sure I’d pick her as a communications study partner.
“Della, it’s not my fault! I can’t think around her! She sets my blood on fire, and all I can think of is-“
“Not my problem,” Harris told him coldly. “Tell it to Abdulla. Go away.”
“There you are.” Smitty turned, found MacGreg at his side, looking at the floor. “Somebody spilled their coffee here. And didn’t clean it up.”
“Let’s play table tennis,” Smitty suggested, pushing the other man towards the door, and picked a face he recognized at a table they passed. “Ivanokov, do me a favor and clean up that spilled coffee, will you? Before someone slips on it?”
The technician looked surprised that Smitty knew his name. “Yes, Mr Smythe. Be glad to.”
“Thank you,” he tossed over his shoulder, and then they were in the corridor, headed for the lift.
“I’m a little surprised,” MacGregor admitted. “I had the feeling you were tired of table tennis. But if we’re going to play, don’t take it easy on me. I’m not as bad as you think I am.”
“Good. Glad to hear it.” Now I’ve done it! Yet another game of table tennis! Well, anything to get out of there. Clines is right. Just seeing her sets my blood on fire, even though I know she’s not for me. I’ve got to find a way to get over her.
Month 3, Day 30
Smitty saw her at her usual corner table as soon as he walked into the deck 7 recroom. Knew she’d be here. Always seems to be here. When does she sleep?
Who’s helping her today? Abdulla’s working. Clines is off, but I saw how well that went last week. Ivy’s off tonight, but she’s probably asleep right now. He took a deep, shuddering breath. Well, I could at least see what she’s studying today. Give her a kind word on her progress. If I can think of one. If I can think.
He glanced at the clock. So late! I’d better politely suggest she get some sleep. It’s test night. He started forward, aware of a myriad of eyes turning toward him. It took every ounce of his self-control not to glance around. Hope that blond doesn’t stop me again. Or try to stop me. I’m not interested, and she’s just going to have to learn that.
He forced himself to smile as he approached Colleen’s position. She sat facing the wall, which seemed strange, if she was worried about Winthrop. Maybe she trusts these other people to have her back, but facing the wall makes it easier to ignore the distractions.
He stopped behind her and a step to one side to look at the display screen over her shoulder and head. Kodalis receiver. Isn’t that what Clines mis-explained last week? He cleared his throat. “Would you like me to go over that with you?” He waited, but she didn’t respond. “Would only take a minute,” he went on. Still no response. She’s ignoring me? That’s no way to treat a superior.
Smitty stepped to the side of her table, determined to get her attention. “Lieutenant, do you-” He stopped in surprise. Colleen had an elbow on the tabletop, and that hand cupped her chin, but all the muscles in her face were soft and relaxed, her eyes closed. She’s asleep! Knew she had to sometime, but why here? Why pretend to be studying? A week ago, she was definitely awake at this time, when Clines was here. She’s so beautiful, sleeping. I could stand to wake up to that in the mornings. Space, I can’t be thinking like that!
Smitty reached out and gently shook her shoulder. “Colleen.” He shook her again, slightly harder.
“I’m busy,” she said softly, her eyes still shut. “Go away.” She raised her other arm to join the first, tipped her head so that this hand supported her cheek.
She’ll never get any decent sleep like that. What she will get is a crick in her neck. She needs to sleep in her own bed, or she hasn’t got a chance with tonight’s test. Shaking his head, he turned off the reader and then tried again to wake her. This attempt disrupted her balance, and she slowly leaned to one side until her shoulder bumped into his thigh.
He knew a moment of panic, wondering what everybody else would be thinking. This must look extremely personal, if they don’t realize she’s asleep! But her body kept moving, headed for the floor, and he instinctively wrapped his arms around her to prevent it.
Her lips whispered, “Safe,” and tension left her body as she retreated even further into sleep.
Smitty’s back complained, unaccustomed to holding this much weight in such an awkward, forward-bent position. She’s heavier than she looks. Or I haven’t been working out enough. It won’t be easy to get her to her room. What am I thinking? Me take her to her room and put her to bed? As if I could trust myself!
A quick glance around revealed the entire room was watching. One set of dark eyes stood out from the rest. “Tall Bear, come here,” he instructed, and then concentrated on changing his grip from the awkward position of catching her to a more traditional position for carrying. His back still complained, but he ignored it.
She feels so good. Better than I remember. I’m an idiot, turning this over to someone else. If I didn’t... climb in with her, if I could keep from doing that... I could still hold her until I got her there.
“Yes, Mr Smythe?” Tall Bear had approached silently.
Smitty turned to face him. “She’s fallen asleep,” he explained.
The AmerInd’s gaze wandered to the woman’s head where it snuggled against the officer’s shoulder. “Yeah, she’s been doing that lately,” he stated.
“She’s got a test tonight. I want her rested for it. Put her to bed.”
Tall Bear took a half-step back, although his expression never changed. “What?”
“Come on, she’s heavy,” Smitty muttered, and resolved to make time for the gym from now on. I can’t really blame him for hesitating, since I don’t trust myself to do what I’m asking him to do. “Keep in mind that I won’t be amused if you... try anything.”
“You’re not the only one,” the big man stated, then shrugged and took her.
I suppose he means Bugalu. Smitty turned to gather her study guides together.
“Hands off!” he heard, followed by a thud, and then a thump.
Whirling, Smitty found Tall Bear standing stiffly, a cut on his cheek starting to bleed, while the delectable redhead sat at his feet, wincing as she rubbed her rear. “What are you doing?” he demanded.
“Sir, I was attempting to follow your order and put her to bed.” Tall Bear lowered his head to tell her, “Alone and unmolested.”
“What?” she asked softly, sounding dazed.
All that work to keep her from landing on the floor, and he just drops her? “Then why in space did you-“
“My fault, sir,” she broke in, having apparently assessed the situation. “I... I mistook his intentions, I guess.” Still frustrated, Smitty offered a hand to help her up, which she stared at for a moment before letting him help her to feet.
“You always expect the worst of a man,” Tall Bear muttered.
“That’s what I was taught,” she returned just as softly. “And most men have proven it true.” Bear sighed, and the redhead turned to the higher officer. “Sir, I was... resting my eyes for a moment, but I’m ready to resume my studies.” She reached for the computer files.
He quickly put them behind him, out of her reach. “You were asleep. I know the difference.”
She swallowed, suddenly nervous. “It won’t happen again.”
“No, it won’t,” he agreed. Blast, that sounds like I expect her to study day and night, without any sleep at all! “You have a test tonight,” he reminded her, keeping his voice calm. “Go get some real sleep.”
Colleen blinked. “I beg your pardon?”
“I said, go get some sleep. You can have your study aids back after tonight’s test. If you still need them. Understood?”
“Yes, sir,” she answered meekly. “I’ll try.” She turned, paused to look up at the weight lifter. “Sorry about your eye, Tall.”
He shrugged. “I’ve had worse. Sorry about your... fall.”
Her hand lightly stroked one taut cheek, which Smitty tried not to watch. “Yeah, it will give me something to think about on duty tonight.”
She giggled. “But you don’t sit on your eye!”
Tall Bear glanced briefly at the officer behind her. “You’d better get going.”
She sighed. “I hope I dream about Kodalis Receivers. I won’t, of course, but I can hope.” Both men - probably the entire room - watched her leave.
“Just as well,” Tall Bear muttered.
“What?” Smitty asked.
The AmerInd turned to face him, his arms crossed, but kept his voice low. “I’m not sure I could have followed those orders, sir. So I’m glad I wasn’t actually put to the test.”
She has that kind of effect on men. That blond tries hard for it, but Colleen actually has it. I don’t know if that makes me feel better or worse. He looked up at the taller man, wondering what to say, and his attention was caught by the blood-seeping cut on Tall Bear’s cheek. The surrounding area already looked puffy and swelling. “Go to Sick Bay and get that eye tended.”
The AmerInd reached for the wound but didn’t touch it. “That I can do,” he said, and turned away. “Space, she packs a wallop!”