"First Contact Day"
// April 5, 2385 - Starfleet Academy, Earth
Cadet Michael Lancaster stopped mid-run to roll his eyes. That was not an unusual gesture for him; he frequently found himself exasperated by his fellow cadets, especially ones that weren’t as dedicated to the regulations or their studies as he was. It was unusual for him to feel that same emotion with his boyfriend of about eight months.
“I invite you to meet my parents that makes me immature? Isn’t that a normal thing that adults do when they’re dating?” Lancaster asked, checking his pulse on his wrist device and frowning at his running partner.
“Yes, actually. You have this need to categorize and put labels on everything that I think is immature, Michael. You want me to meet your parents because that’s a step on the way to something more serious. You’re rushing things,” Lieutenant Taylor Hill replied, shaking his head.
The patronizing look on the older man’s face made Lancaster’s blood boil. “You didn’t seem to mind rushing other things when we first met, Lieutenant,” he bit back. Hill worked on one of the orbital stations that Lancaster spent time on as part of his studies; they’d developed a mutual attraction. Well, more than that. They were having an affair. It wasn’t against regulations as Hill wasn’t one of his teachers, but they were being circumspect about it. Lancaster was ready to change that and had invited him to go home with him for the weekend in Seattle for his family’s annual First Contact Day celebration.
Hill smirked. “Well, we’re both enjoying ourselves, so let’s just leave it at that, and I’ll see you when you’re back from Seattle?”
“So that’s it? Just no?” Lancaster asked, nostrils flaring as he seethed.
“God, you’re pretty when you’re mad,” Hill replied, his smirk growing as he reached over to cup Lancaster’s cheek with his hand.
By this point, Lancaster was starting to see red. Part of what he found attractive about Hill was there difference in age and experience, but being condescended to was one of the surest fire ways to set him off.
“Fuck you, Taylor,” Lancaster spat., slapping Hill’s hand away.
“I think that’s ‘fuck you, sir, Lieutenant, sir.’”
Lancaster barred his teeth and started to retort, but his commbadge chirped with a tone that he had not heard before.
“Red Alert. Red Alert. All cadets report to designated muster stations. This is not a drill,” came the announcement the cadet’s commbadge and the speakers all around Starfleet Academy. Lancaster found his emotions torn from pure rage at Hill to concern, as he’d never experienced a real red alert of any kind.
“All McKinely Station personnel are recalled. Red Alert,” came a similar announcement from Hill’s badge. The lieutenant’s eyes went wide.
“I’m sorry. I took it too far. We’ll talk about this later,” Hill said, before double tapping his badge and disappearing in a column of energy.
Lancaster gritted his teeth and set off at a run towards his dormitory, where he grabbed a standard uniform and was in the process of zipping up all of the fastenings as he rushed to the muster point for Gold Squadron which was in front of the Engineering building. All the while, he was cursing Taylor Hill’s name both the insincere apology and for making him late.
Because of his detour to change, he was the last one to report in. “You’re late, Cadet Lancaster. I have literally never said those words together at the same time,” Captain LaSalle noted. The rebuke hit Lancaster at his core, because he prided himself in always being perfect, especially in front of the commander of the Academy’s elite training squadron for operations and engineering cadets.
Lancaster stiffened. “My apologies, Sir!”
“Now that we’re all here… Gold Squadron, move out to Hanger 6.”
The cadets started off at a jog towards the hanger that held the runabout they used for training missions. Alert sirens continued to sound and other shuttles and runabouts could be seen in the sky above the academy as the planetary defense shields crackled to life.
“What’s going on?” Lancaster asked.
“Mars is under attack,” one of his classmates replied.
“Cut the chatter,” LaSalle ordered. She was normally pretty laid back, so Lancaster’s pulse quickened when she barked at them to pipe down. Mars was one of the most well-defended planets in the Federation, so whatever was happening must be dire indeed to have cadets being pressed into service. Or were they being evacuated?
The forty-eight cadets of Gold Squadron boarded the runabout in near-silence, each taking their assigned seat in the aft compartment. There were four rows of seats, which had acceleration harnesses that could lock in over them and which could also charge EVA suits. Lancaster pulled the metal harness down over him, because that’s what the regulations demanded in an emergency situation.
Captain LaSalle stood at the forward end of the room as the runabout kicked up off of the hanger deck. Blue skies and white clouds quickly zipped past the windows as the pilot started to climb; it looked like a perfect mid-Spring day and whatever was happening at Mars evidently hadn’t reached them yet.
“Listen up, cadets: We are headed to the Athabasca, a New Orleans-class frigate docked at McKinley station. She’s just coming off of a refit and only has a skeleton crew aboard. We will be providing logistical support for an evacuation mission to Mars. Utopia Planitia is under attack by rogue synths and the planet is burning,” Captain LaSalle said, starting murmurs all around the compartment.
Synth labor was widely regarded as the only salvation for the Federation’s over-ambitious shipbuilding program to evacuate the Romulans for their doomed world. Utopia was full of them, so if they’d decided to rebel… the shipyard was in enormous danger. And if Starfleet was sending them in to help, they were scraping the bottom of the barrel. Lancaster felt a strange iciness in the pit of his stomach, both desperate to know more and overwhelmed with the thought of combat.
“Quiet. Most of you will be assigned to the cargo bays to get them ready for arrivals. Some of you will be assigned to the transporter rooms. Remember your training and follow the instructions of the commissioned crew. If everything goes as planned, we’ll be behind the combat ships and focus on evacuation duties.”
Lancaster couldn’t help but purse his lips at that comment; no plan survived first contact with the enemy.
LaSalle tapped a few commands into her holographic PADD, which sent a chorus of pings through the room. “I’ve just sent you your assignments, and as of this moment, you have all received field promotions to the rank of Acting Ensign,” she said, before leaving the compartment to go up to the cockpit.
Lancaster opened his PADD to see that he’d been assigned to Transporter Room 2, which made him feel a little better about both the fight he’d just had and being late. It was a job that at least would make use of his technical proficiency, rather than just finding bedding for evacuees.
“Rogue synths? They can’t just make decisions like that on their own,” one of the cadets said.
“Maybe they evolved? Enslaved creatures overthrowing their creators is a classic science fiction trope,” another said.
“They’re not enslaved. Is an EMH enslaved?” Lancaster replied, rolling his eyes again.
“An EMH doesn’t have bodily integrity. A synth does.”
“If one developed sentience, the Federation wouldn’t force them to keep building ships,” Lancaster said, shaking his head. “We can figure out the why later.”
“Assuming we survive.”
Gold Squadron’s runabout was a tight fit in the shuttle bay of the Athabasca, the New Orelans-class frigate itself looking like a shrunken Galaxy-class explorer. Once the cadets—now acting ensigns—had disembarked, the runabout picked itself back up and left the bay clear for refugees, presumably going on to participate in the evacuation itself.
When Lancaster passed with his classmates into the corridors, there was chaos. There were lots of Ensigns in blue—presumably students from Starfleet Medical Academy—and a handful of enlisted members in gold who had likely been finishing up the refit. He navigated through the crowd to find Transporter Room 2. He quickly familiarized himself with the panel—old school, compared to what he had trained on, but that technology had not changed significantly in the past century or so.
“Transporter Room 2 manned and ready,” Lancaster reported. He felt the ship power up and move out of its moorings as a crewman—an honest to goodness, fresh-from-training crewman—in gold entered the compartment. He looked like he was barely eighteen.
“Crewman Jayadeva Mukhtar, sir. They said to help you with whatever you needed,” the young man said, looking very uncomfortable. He radiated fear in a way that had Lancaster torn between snapping at him to pull himself together and his own trepidation at the mission they were both faced in.
“Michael Lancaster. I’ll handle the transporter. I’ll need you to help people down from the platform. If they’re hurt, we’ll have to get them to sickbay or one of the triage areas. If they’re not, we need to get them to the shuttle bay,” he explained, slowly.
Mukhtar nodded. “Yes, sir. This is my first time on a starship, so I don’t know…,” he started, wringing his hands.
Lancaster anticipated the question. He tapped a few controls on the transporter console, and changed the display behind the operator’s station to an internal schematic of the ship, with the appropriate places lit up.
“Familiarize yourself with this deck’s layout. The computer will guide you with lights in the corridors, Crewman,” he said, feeling his own nerves calming by focusing on getting this trembling colt of a crewman to calm down.
“T-Thank you, sir,” Mukhtar replied, as he went over to study the diagram. A few minutes later, Lancaster had two more crewmen and a yeoman on his hands. He deputized the yeoman to coordinate his helpers, so he could focus on making sure the transporter system was ready. Thankfully, it had just been serviced so everything was in working order. Operating one was one thing, but an emergency situation was not the time to have to rip the system apart and fix something.
“Bridge to all Transporter rooms. Prepare to bring evacuees aboard. We’re sending coordinates to your consoles,” came an order from Captain LaSalle over the comm. Targeting information popped up in front of Lancaster, and he was shocked that they were so close to the planet already, but the idea of going to full impulse or low warp within the Sol system never occurred to him.
“Clear the platform,” Lancaster ordered, as he locked in the first group. There were seven people in a dead end on one of Utopia’s construction platforms within their range. “Energizing.”
Lancaster ran his fingers up the three initiation controllers, which cycled the transporter system. Moments later, all seven people were aboard. They all wore the industrial uniforms of Utopia Planitia personnel.
“Are you wounded?” the yeoman asked them.
“Marissa has phaser burns. The rest of us are ok,” one of the workers said.
Phaser burns? Lancaster had assumed that the Synths had just been conducting industrial sabotage. But hand-to-hand combat? That was brutal, not the least because a synthetic body was significantly stronger than an organic one.
“Get ‘Marissa’ to sickbay and take the others to the shuttle bay,” Lancaster ordered. “Move. We’ve got to get the next group!” he snapped, when people weren’t moving quickly enough. There was a chorus of ‘yes sir’ and the platform was quickly cleared.
Lancaster brought in the next group and there were more injuries. His enlisted helpers got them to safe places, and Lancaster continued the cycle. He operated the transporter for dozens of cycles as the Athabasca was filled to the brim with evacuees. A ship of that class was never meant to do what they were doing with her, so after only half an hour they got new orders from the bridge.
“All stations, we are at capacity, so we’re returning to Earth with this group,” LaSalle ordered. After a short trip, they beamed the evacuees to Earth Spacedock, and then turned around to go back to Mars. From what Lancaster could tell from his limited access to external sensors, the battle was already over. It hadn’t lasted long when Starfleet’s larger ships like the Yamato got involved, tearing through the defense fliers commandeered by the Synths with a brutality that would never have been employed against organic targets. But the planet was still burning and the orbital components of the shipyard had been reduced to flaming husks, so there were many more people to rescue.
All in all, on April 5, 2385, the Athabasca made ten trips to and from Utopia Planitia, evacuating 9,751 people in the process, about a quarter of which Lancaster handled himself during their first sixteen hours on the ship. By the time they got the order to stand down and get some rest, he was ready to fall asleep on his feet.
“Ensign Lancaster, report to the Navigation Lab,” Lancaster’s badge chirped, before Lancaster could even look up his temporary quarters. He cursed silently and then found the navigation lab, which was only a few doors down from his transporter room. “Oh, what the fuck do you want,” he exclaimed when he saw Lieutenant Taylor Hill waiting for him.
“Tone it down. I’m acting XO while we’re on temporary duty,” Hill said, holding up a hand in an almost dismissive way. The irony of the situation was almost too much to bear. How could it be anyone else?
“Of course you are, sir,” Lancaster replied, gritting his teeth.
“I wanted to make sure you were alright. I know this was your first real mission,” Hill said, stepping closer to him. Lancaster was immediately torn with feeling mollified by concern and having his rage re-igniting at Hill once again being patronizing. He’d been operating a transporter, not fighting in a trench on AR-558.
“I’m fine—like you care.”
“Can you just grow up for one minute, Michael? Not wanting to go home to see your parents does not equate to me not caring about you,” Hill said, shaking his head. “We had a fight at a really inconvenient time.” The lieutenant was now close enough to reach out to hold Lancaster’s face in his hands. The contact felt nice, and he sort of believed his sincerity.
“Yeah. I’m still mad at you, too.”
Lancaster looked away. “I can’t deal with this right now. I just want to eat and sleep.”
“Well, I do have a nice set of quarters.”
The cadet scoffed; the older man’s transparency was so evident that it almost made Lancaster want to throw up. Was a sincere emotional connection in a time of crisis so much to ask from him? Had he invented all of the feelings he was sure Hill had for him?
“Did you ask me here to check on me or to try to sleep with me?”
“What’s wrong with it being both?” Hill asked in a tone that was somewhere between serious and teasing.
“I’ll see you later, First Officer Hill. That is… if I’m dismissed?” Lancaster said, gritting his teeth.
Hill just nodded and Lancaster didn’t wait for any elaboration before dashing out of the room. There weren’t very many important officers on board, so Lancaster found himself in a small private cabin at least. Once he was alone, the enormity of the day hit him. Nearly ten-thousand evacuees. The destruction of Starfleet’s most important shipbuilding facility. It made the fight with Hill seem tiny, but that was eating him up in equal measure. After scarfing down the computer’s suggested plat du jour, Lancaster scoured himself with a high frequency sonic shower and then was out for a solid eight hours.
That was just the first day of his service on the Athabasca, though. None of the cadets in Gold Squadron (or the majority of the other elite squadrons) returned to classes in person that semester. After two weeks, they started to balance shipboard duties and coursework on the holodeck as the ship continued to participate in search-and-rescue operations, and then eventually just recovery and salvage operations when there was no hope that anyone still alive was on Mars or in the wreckage of the shipyard.
Thankfully, Hill had been replaced with a command division lieutenant after only a few days, as he was needed even more on McKinley Station, and then Lancaster found himself with nothing else to focus on but his work. After their encounter in the navigation lab, they had a short face-to-face chat over subspace where Lancaster broke it off. He didn’t like the lack of control he’d felt when they fought, and he didn’t like at all that he was thinking about him during a crisis. Hill had taken it with a shrug, which just made Lancaster even angrier at himself for misjudging how mutual the attraction had been.
On an old ship like the Athabasca, he found himself having to do things in the transporter room that weren’t exactly according to the regulations, which for the first few days nearly gave him panic attacks, but by the end of the summer, he’d become used to it. In fact, he wrote a detailed memo to the Starfleet Corps of Engineers on how the regulations could be improved for long-duration transporter use scenarios that was eventually adopted into regulations, and that was emblematic of his career: Michael Lancaster never did anything counter to regulation, because everything he did was regulation, even if the order was a little murky.
It was August before Lancaster returned to Starfleet Academy’s campus. By that point, the SCE had managed to bring in enough of its own assets to allow the hastily-prepared salvage ships like the Athabasca to return to their normal duties. After that, though, Lancaster’s final year at the academy felt like it was taking forever. There were important courses to finish and traditions to maintain as senior cadets, but it all felt a little hollow and a little artificial when he’d already experienced real service on First Contact Day.
"Luca, Pt. 1"
// Early 2390 - Starbase 72
The Hisui Maru zoomed through space on the final few minutes of its weeks-long journey. Outside the viewport, Lieutenant Michael Lancaster could see Starbase 72 hanging like a glittering sapphire in the distance over Minos Korva. For generations, the mushroom-shaped silhouette of these colossal stations had meant “welcome home” to Starfleet officers, no matter where they found themselves in Federation space. They also represented the prosperity and ingenuity of the Federation, dwarfing installations of comparable purpose belonging to any of the neighboring powers. Even for a cynic like Lancaster, he couldn’t help but feel a sense of awe seeing one, even though he was no more excited about spending a week on Starbase 72 than he had been about spending two weeks on a passenger liner to get there.
Sydney-class ships weren’t exactly luxurious, but they did have holodecks and other ways of keeping their passengers entertained. The young lieutenant had spent most of the trip in his quarters, though, where he’d finished two papers on quantum electrodynamics for submission to scholarly journals and read up on the technical specifications of the Lancelot, his new assignment. He was essentially allergic to idle time. The fates had conspired against him this time, though. His last ship, the Sagan, was far enough away from the Lancelot that he had no choice but to take civilian transportation across the Federation. So now, he had to wait another whole week for the heavy cruiser to arrive to pick him up.
The cavernous radiation shield doors to the interior of the spacedock opened to allow the Hisui Maru inside, the small passenger liner entering a delicately calculated ballet of starships, work pods, and shuttles, all managing to maneuver within the space station without hitting one another. Things like that always captivated Lancaster’s attention; the precision of it all was what he liked about being in Starfleet. Considering that Humanity struggled to get two space capsules to rendezvous in low Earth orbit only a few centuries earlier, it was nothing short of miraculous that they were now part of a civilization capable of feats like building this massive station and dozens like her across tens of thousands of square light-years.
Lieutenant Lancaster traveled light; there were a few furniture patterns and his medals stored on a quantum archive shard, but otherwise, he just had a few items of civilian clothing with him in his duffle as he left the transport. Despite having been to dozens of worlds, he was never one to put much value in souvenirs or other sentimental attachments like that. He handed his orders on a PADD to the deck officer, a Bolian man in an operations gold uniform that matched his own.
“Welcome to Starbase 72.” His fellow lieutenant took a look at the orders and then arduously slowly tapped through his own panel to look up Lancaster’s information. As the interaction took more than zero seconds, Lancaster’s face tightened, his jaw clenching with impatience. The Bolian arched an eyebrow and then started typing again.
“Problem?” Lancaster asked tersely. As an operations officer, he was quite sensitive to bureaucratic waste and even tiny lapses of efficiency. Why was this check-in terminal not crewed by a hologram? At this rate, it would take hours to process all of the passengers disembarking from the transport.
“Minor spelling error. I’ve found it now,” the Bolian replied with an absent smile. Lancaster wanted to ask why he was inputting data manually instead of using the wireless handshake between the two devices, but he managed to bite his tongue. “I have your quarters assignment. Since you will be with us for more than 72 hours, you will need to report to the infirmary for medical clearance.”
“Of course. Thank you,” Lancaster replied, taking the PADD back and heading for the transit column at the center of the station. He nearly questioned his instructions to go to the infirmary, but he was unwilling to stretch that interaction out any further than it already had been.
Lancaster wasn’t familiar with that rule, even though he was normally a savant with regulations, but he’d never actually been aboard a starbase for more than a day. Who would want to? Despite their amazing amenities, a station never went anywhere or did anything. That’s not the life he wanted for himself. In fact, Captain Knox of the Sagan had just been promoted to Commodore and invited Lancaster to join him at his new posting in the Barzan system, but Lancaster just wasn’t willing to cut his starship career short, not even for a respected and admired mentor.
Passing through the arrival/departure lounges, he could see dozens of ships in dock, some moored at the tower and some floating on their own in the cavernous hanger. The transit station was set up, so there was always a tram car ready, and he was able to find a seat in what was essentially a massive turbolift, which took him down the nearly four kilometers to the section of the station where his temporary quarters were.
Cabin J-22 on Level 713 was larger than even the captain’s quarters on his last ship. Well-appointed with a dining area and living area leading to a separate bedroom, it had commanding views of the space beyond the station. Away from the crowds of the docking level, he realized how quiet the starbase was. On a ship, the thrum of the engines was always somewhere in the background, but here he could only hear the quiet, barely-there hum of the air recirculation system. It was simultaneously peaceful and unnerving.
Lancaster dropped off his meager possessions and headed back out on a direct route to the station’s infirmary. He wasn’t one to put things off, and so within fifteen minutes of being aboard, he was being ushered back to an exam room by a yeoman.
Despite being waved in quickly, he was left waiting for what seemed like forever. The room at least had a viewport, so he stood cross-armed, leaning back against the free-standing console watching ships come and go while he waited, but every second that ticked by his frown got deeper and deeper. It’s not like there was anything better he could be doing; he’d just be sitting in his quarters otherwise, but it was the principle of the thing.
Lancaster didn’t particularly like doctors in the first place because they always told him what he did too much of (working and exercising) and not enough of (eating, sleeping, and relaxing) when he felt like his life was perfectly balanced. However, he was a full lieutenant at age 26, so he must be doing something right, right? The door hissed opened, and he cocked his head over his shoulder to see who had entered. At that moment, his opinion about medical personnel shifted dramatically. He felt his face make a rapid transformation from a frown to a slack-jawed stare as the most beautiful man he had ever seen walked in. It was like Michelangelo’s David had walked off of his plinth and come to the border of Cardassian space to give him a physical.
The other man was close to two meters tall, with olive skin and a physique that made his blue-trimmed uniform seem painted on. His facial features were chiseled, and he wore a bright, white smile as he came over to where Lancaster was standing.
Lancaster whipped around, standing up straight to greet him. His mind was still slowly rebooting, and his linguistic faculties seemed to be the last thing to come back online. When they did, all he could offer was “Hi.”
“Ciao,” the man replied with a slight chuckle. “I am Luca Sheppard. You are Lieutenant Lancaster, yes?” he asked, glancing down at a PADD.
“Absolutely,” Lancaster replied, though he couldn’t explain to himself why he assented to that question with such enthusiasm. He also remained rooted to the spot in a way that he found very unfamiliar. Was he a Starfleet officer or a schoolboy? He made eye contact with a pair of warm, hazel eyes, and he immediately wished he hadn’t because he couldn’t look away.
“Well, would you like to get on the bed, then?”
Lancaster swallowed hard, extremely confused by that question’s subtext, until he had his brain parse it again and realized that it was not a proposition, and he was, in fact, about to have a physical. “Oh! Of course. Sorry. I guess my head is elsewhere,” he said, feeling sheepish for probably the first time in his life as he walked past Sheppard to get on the bed. For a brief second, they were within inches of one another, as the room was not large, so he got a real sense for Sheppard being a head taller than he was. He also learned that Sheppard also smelled good—a scent that reminded him abstractly of a late Spring hike in a pine forest— something he wished his brain could stop fixating on.
“You don’t have to be nervous. It’s just a few scans,” Sheppard said cautiously. The lieutenant had kind eyes, and Lancaster was sure he looked like an idiot. But, at least it was marginally preferable for the other man to think that he was just nervous about being in the presence of a doctor and not because he was just that floored by him. “You don’t like visiting sickbay, do you?”
“On a station, isn’t it an infirmary?” Lancaster instinctively corrected, which earned him a grin. “I mean… I’m not nervous. I guess it’s just been a long trip. Lots of sitting around, and that gets me on edge,” he admitted. But, as soon as those words were out of his mouth, he wondered who authorized them. This man—beautiful though he was—was a stranger, and he never spoke about things like, oh, his mental state around strangers.
Sheppard smiled kindly at him. “That’s understandable. You’re a bridge officer, right? Men like you are used to constantly working, so it’s not surprising you wouldn’t like being cooped up on a transport,” he said.
“I doubt men like you like being cooped up either,” Lancaster replied, gesturing towards him. As he said that, though, he kicked himself for not providing further specifications that would make it sound less like he was just talking about his appearance. “Doctors, I mean.”
The other man chuckled. “I’m a nurse. After I take some initial readings, I’ll pass you along to Dr. Anjar, who will finalize your physical,” he replied, seeming highly amused by the whole exchange.
Lancaster sighed. “Is there any way you can… I don’t know… blank out our memories for the last 45 seconds or so? You know, to delete all evidence of how many times I’ve managed to put my foot in my mouth in such a short time period?” he asked.
“I could replicate a bottle of tequila. That always works for me,” Sheppard replied with a chuckle. “I think you’re very endearing. If maybe a little awkward. It’s cute,” the nurse continued, grinning all the way until the last sentence when his eyes got wide as if he’d not mean to say that part aloud.
Surely he meant cute as in pitiable or adorable, not cute as in… cute, right? Lancaster blushed and looked down at his feet for a moment, and when he looked up, Sheppard was blushing, too. They made eye contact again, and then both looked away. Was Sheppard uncomfortable because he was having similar feelings, or were Lancaster’s obvious feelings making him uncomfortable? Surely, it had to be the latter, and the poor nurse was struggling to be kind about it.
The nurse cleared his throat and fiddled with a control on his console before offering him a small smile. “So, do you mind if I get started?”
“Be my guest,” Lancaster replied. Sheppard nodded and turned on the overhead sensor cluster mounted above the biobed.
“These are just some baseline scans, so we can compare to your last physical. Any deviations—radiation damage, pathogens, metabolic alterations—will show up,” Sheppard explained.
“I’d be very disappointed if my trip here is the thing that landed me with radiation poisoning. I’d hope to lose my genetic integrity doing something a little more meaningful,” Lancaster drawled.
“I’m sure you save burning orphanages and rescue stolen puppies all the time. You guys in gold get to go on all of the adventures,” Sheppard replied with a smile.
“I’m an operations officer, so I can really manage resources quite adventurously, but I’m not usually the one charging in to fend off Orion pirates,” Lancaster said with a chuckle. He’d led a few away missions, but they’d all been technical or scientific in nature. Exploration was one thing, but when the action heated up, he preferred being on the bridge to doing any actual rushing into burning buildings or combat zones.
“Well, without operations officers, where would we be at all?” Sheppard asked. “The scans are complete. Results are coming in now.”
“So? Anything of note?”
“Well, the computer hasn’t picked up anything immediately evident, so that’s probably a good sign,” Sheppard replied. “It’s not telling me to rush you down to the emergency department, anyway.”
“You’re just filling me up with confidence with that ‘probably,’ of yours.”
Sheppard laughed. “Well, at a glance, I’d say you look like you’re in perfect health, but Dr. Anjar will be able to get further into the data than I can,” he replied, seeming to make a show of giving Lancaster a once over.
Lancaster offered him a shy smile and then found himself distracted by Sheppard’s arms flexing when he reached over to the console to pick up a PADD. The nurse stood in front of him and glanced down at the information for a second before looking him in the eyes again.
“The next thing we need to go through is a basic cognitive evaluation. I’ll start with confirming some facts about you: You’re Lieutenant Michael Lancelot, and you’re awaiting assignment to the USS Lancaster as Chief Operations Officer,” Sheppard said.
“No, that’s not right. I’m Lieutenant Michael Lancaster, awaiting assignment to the USS Lancelot,” Lancaster corrected.
“My mistake. I’m sure you get that all the time, though,” Sheppard replied, with what he swore was a wink. But, of course, he also knew that it would be part of the test to provide faulty data to ask him to correct it, to prove that his brain hadn’t turned to mush on his latest interstellar journey.
“You were born in Seattle on Earth, and you graduated from Starfleet Academy in 2385. Your last assignment was on the USS Sagan.”
“I knew you looked younger than that,” Sheppard said with a smile. “Well, according to the computer, you aren’t showing any signs of cognitive distress. Your heartbeat is slightly elevated, but nothing out of possibility.”
“Can’t imagine why,” Lancaster quipped.
The nurse grinned. There was a beat. Sheppard chewed hesitantly on the corner of his lip as if debating something. It was hypnotizing. Lancaster nearly commented on it, but the moment passed.
“Well, are you ready to see Dr. Anjar?”
“Oh. That’s it? You’re not going to make me run on a treadmill or something like that?” Lancaster asked.
“I wish, but this isn’t really a full physical. Just confirming your baselines are where they should be. Your next ship’s doctor will get that pleasure,” Sheppard replied.
Okay, that was pretty clearly flirting, even to Lancaster’s socially stunted mind. Still, he was just unsure enough about it that he couldn’t bring himself to just ask this very intriguing man on a date. Nurses couldn’t even go out with patients anyway, right?
“I guess you’ve got to make sure I’m not diseased or radioactive if I’m going to be here for a week,” Lancaster said before hopping down from the biobed. “Lead the way.”
Sheppard nodded, and Lancaster had to stop himself from swooning again. A thought ran through his mind that he needed to ask the doctor if there were some sort of injection he could take to clear his mind of the swirling feelings he was having just by being in Sheppard’s presence. Forget what the computer said; obviously, there was something broken inside of him.
Lancaster followed Sheppard out of the exam room and down the corridor to a door marked ‘Patient Consultation Room #17.’ Sheppard reached to the door chime but paused.
“It was nice meeting you, Lieutenant Lancelot. I hope I’ll see you around,” he said, smiling widely, before pressing the button.
“I… Me, too, Lieutenant Sheppard,” Lancaster replied, beaming at that thought. A few seconds later, he was sitting in front of Dr. Anjar’s desk. A Bajoran commander, he was about ten years older than Lancaster was and spent the first few minutes of the visit reviewing the scans that Sheppard took.
The lieutenant was kicking himself at not either acting a little more circumspect or directly asking the nurse out, but he couldn’t decide which of those two things would have been better. Of course, no one wants to be hit on at work, right? But it seemed like a mutual flirtation. Or was it just good bedside manner? How could he possibly pass up a chance with a man like that?
“Lieutenant?” Anjar asked for what must have been the second or even third time while Lancaster had been daydreaming.
“Yes, Doctor?” Lancaster asked, shaking his head.
“Are you ok over there?”
“Isn’t that what you’re about to tell me?” he quipped before blushing at his own abruptness with a superior officer. “I’m sorry. I think I’m more tired from the trip than I realized.”
Anjar nodded, though he kept a wary pair of eyes on Lancaster as he started talking. “Yes, that would explain the elevated pulse. Neurotransmitter levels aren’t where I’d like them. And just checking back on previous physician notes… maybe don’t skip meals?”
Lancaster nodded. “But no radiation damage or pathogens or things like that?”
“Nope, but I can tell that you’re the sort of officer who’s going to end up in worse health after a short stay on a starbase than he would being worked to the bone on a ship. So, while you’re here, take advantage of the recreational amenities. Otherwise, your ship’s doctor is probably going to put you on a higher calorie diet and reduced workout regimen,” Anjar said, giving the lieutenant a pointed look.
The threat was well understood; it’s also not one that he hadn’t heard before, as he constantly hovered right at the minimum weight he needed to maintain his fitness for duty, thanks to his tendency to skip meals when he got busy and run on the holodeck when he was stressed out. In his four years past the academy, he’d used approximately a day and a half of leave time.
“When you put it like that, maybe a walk in the park or a trip to the holodeck isn’t such a bad idea,” Lancaster replied.
“Glad we can see eye to eye on that,” Anjar said, though it wasn’t clear if he really believed Lancaster’s sincerity. “Do you have any questions or concerns for me? Recent mental or physical health abnormalities?”
Lancaster chuckled but then cleared his throat. “Not that I can think of.”
Anjar’s eyes narrowed, and for a split second, Lancaster was worried he’d have to explain his errant thoughts about Lieutenant Sheppard and how they’d made him question his sanity.
“I’ll assume that’s a laugh going stir crazy on your transport. But, really, try to relax while you’re here, Lieutenant. You might even like it.”
Lancaster nodded. “I’ll try my best, Doctor.” But, of course, his best would likely be sequestering himself in his quarters and reading technical journals, but Anjar didn’t need to know that.
“That’ll be all, Lieutenant,” Anjar said, turning back to his terminal.
Lancaster hopped up from his seat, eager to put the infirmary behind him. But when the doors to the corridor opened, he was surprised to see Lieutenant Sheppard leaning against the bulkhead, one knee drawn up while he balanced on his other leg. They both smiled.
“Hi, again,” Lancaster said as the doors closed behind him.
“Ciao, again,” Sheppard replied. “My shift is over, so I thought I could walk you out?”
Lancaster glanced at the floor. There was a green line with chevrons pointing the way out every meter or so in the hallway, so it’s not like he would get lost. This had to be flirting, right?
“T-That would be great,” Lancaster replied. Great, now he had a stutter? “Dr. Anjar thinks I need to relax more.”
“Sounds like good advice. Do you have any plans while you’re here?”
“I’d honestly not given it much thought., other than catching up on technical manuals for the Lancelot,” Lancaster replied, though he immediately realized that was the wrong answer. The Rube Goldberg machine that his brain had turned into within the previous half-hour sprung into action. “Maybe you could help me find a way of occupying my time. Are you free now for dinner?”
“As in a date?”
Lancaster’s anxiety spiked. “Yes, unless that’s wildly inappropriate, and I’ve significantly misread things.”
Sheppard grinned. “No, I think you’ve read things perfectly. Five minutes ago? A little inappropriate. But you’re not my patient anymore, so I’d love to go to dinner with you,” he said, which made Lancaster’s heart do somersaults.
“That seems like a loophole, and I am not at all mad about it.”
“Come on. I know the perfect place,” Sheppard replied with a grin.
To Be Continued
"Luca, pt. 2."
Lancaster marveled at his luck as he walked with Sheppard out of the infirmary. He had never in his life been struck quite so completely by another person, nor was he the type to ask someone out so impulsively, but here he found himself on his way to dinner with Luca Sheppard. They were both beaming as they passed through the main reception area, unnoticed by the constantly moving ballet of doctors, nurses, and patients around them going to different areas of the infirmary. Sheppard led the way to the transit station at the core of the station.
“I hope you don’t mind eating al fresco,” Sheppard said when they stepped into the tram, and he selected ‘Arboretum.’
“I leave myself in your capable hands, Luca,” Lancaster replied, which made Sheppard grin.
A few minutes later, they walked out onto Starbase 72’s massive arboretum, and the site briefly left Lancaster speechless. He’d never been to one of these station’s biodomes and was fascinated by how real it looked. The only artificial thing was the sky projected on the interior of the dome; otherwise, it was a massive park with grass, trees, and even a lake.
“That’s the reaction I was going for,” Sheppard said, winking at his date.
“I’ve never been on one of these stations long enough to come down here. It’s amazing,” Lancaster admitted as they started walking. Really, the same effect could be achieved on the holodeck, but the fact that it wasn’t just a project made it all the more impressive. “I was on a science ship for my last tour—I’d almost forgotten what it was like to be in such a large open space.”
“It’s one of the perks that make up for this being one of the most boring assignments I could possibly imagine,” Sheppard replied with a chuckle. “That and the promenade. Every type of restaurant or bar you could possibly ever want.”
“Why’d you take a posting out here if it’s so boring?”
Sheppard shrugged. “I was on the Vancouver for 18 months, but to stand a chance on getting a heavy cruiser or an explorer, I need more certifications. After a few more months here, I’ll be trained to assist in surgery and as a charge nurse, so then I can try to get back out into space,” he explained. So, Sheppard was ambitious? That was another point in his favor to Lancaster. “I didn’t join Starfleet to sit on a station.”
“Me neither. My last captain got promoted and wanted me to join him on Starbase 38. I couldn’t do it,” Lancaster said. They walked down a set of steps toward the shore of the lake, where there was a pier and a small restaurant called the Sentinel Café. There was a breeze blowing in off the water, and they found seats at a table near the edge of the pier.
Unlike a lot of the restaurants on the starbase that were run by Starfleet and not civilians, the Sentinel Café didn’t have holographic waiters or cooks. Once they placed their orders with a yeoman, Lancaster sat back and studied Sheppard for a moment. His uniform fit him so well that Lancaster would have believed it was designed specifically to complement his broad shoulders.
“So, I know you’re a nurse and that you served on the Vancouver, but you got to see my medical files and then scan me, so I think you have me at a disadvantage, here,” Lancaster said, with a small smile. “I want to figure out what makes you tick. What got you into nursing?”
“Well, I have four younger brothers, so it just seemed like a natural fit after taking care of them while we were growing up. Plus, it meant getting into space a lot faster than training to be a doctor,” Sheppard replied.
“You have four brothers? There are five of you?!” Lancaster exclaimed, his mind whirling at imagining Sheppard as being one of a set of five. What would it be like to be Luca Sheppard’s brother, after all, if you were constantly compared to an Adonis like him? Beyond that, a family with more than two or three children was something that Lancaster just was not at all familiar with, at least not in his experience growing up in Seattle.
Sheppard laughed. “It’s an Italian thing. My parents are pretty old school—like, 18th-century old school. We’ve had the same plot of land in Tuscany for the past five hundred years, or so they say.” Of course he grew up in some idyllic Tuscan setting, with hills, fields, and streams to frolic in, rather than in one of Earth’s many megalopoleis. Seattle had a sprawling city center with arcologies stretching up hundreds of stories. There were parks, sure, but to get real green space involved driving far out into the countryside.
“So, you grew up on a farm?” Lancaster asked, quite liking the image of a partially-clad Sheppard piling up bales of hay or loading bushels of fruit into the back of a hover truck.
Sheppard nodded. “I did. I even know how to press olives and milk a goat. My parents were disappointed that I didn’t want to take it over myself.”
“The burden of the oldest child. They didn’t want you to go to the Academy?”
“They weren’t pleased about that, let alone that I wanted to study nursing.”
“Why would anyone object to you being a nurse?” Lancaster asked.
“It’s not a traditionally masculine job, according to my father. If I was going to off into space, I should at least be a security officer or an engineer, he said,” Sheppard said, rolling his eyes.
“That must have been tough. Have they come around?”
“More or less; they’re at the ‘quiet disappointment with my lifestyle’ phase.” Of course, Lancaster couldn’t imagine anyone being disappointed in Sheppard, but he knew a thing or two about difficult parents. “What about you? What’s your family like?”
“It’s just my parents and me. I don’t have any siblings. My parents weren’t happy that I didn’t want to go into academia, and they’re also at the ‘quiet disappointment phase,’” Lancaster replied. “They don’t really understand what I do, but since it’s not artistic or cultural, they’re also not interested.”
“Well, black sheep like us have to stick together, then,” Sheppard replied as their waiter returned with two glasses of red wine. “Salud,” he said, holding up his glass and making eye contact with his date.
“Cheers,” Lancaster replied, marveling at Sheppard’s hazel eyes as he held up his glass. The wine was dry and went down with just a slight tingle from the synthehol. His face was warm, and he felt flushed, but he knew that was just from being around Sheppard. “So, if you’re from Tuscany, I can’t imagine this is very good.”
Sheppard shrugged. “It makes that real bottle of wine for a special occasion seem even better,” he replied, taking a sip from his glass. “Are you a wine person?”
“Not really. My parents are. I like it, but I don’t know anything about it,” Lancaster replied as he toyed with the stem of his glass. “This is probably a shocker, but I don’t really go out very much.”
“You’re a driven, gorgeous, hyper-intelligent bridge officer, so that’s pretty much what I’d expect,” Sheppard replied with a wink.
Lancaster rolled his eyes but found himself smiling at the compliment. “Don’t forget massively unpopular,” he added. “I’m the guy that has to tell everyone ‘no’ when they want power or sensor time or anything else, after all.”
“If people take that personally, it’s on them,” Sheppard replied. “Do you like it?”
“Operations? I love it. It’s like putting together a puzzle where all of the pieces are constantly changing shape and position,” Lancaster enthused. “Say stellar cartography wants the lateral sensors but so does astrophysics. So I have to figure out how to get them both what they need without impacting the rest of the ship.”
“So, you’re a man who likes a challenge. Very sexy,” Sheppard said with a smirk.“Nursing is kind of the same way, especially when you’re on the ward. Paying attention to four patients at the same time for twelve hours at a time, making sure they all get what they need, and making sure the doctor is kept abreast while she’s dealing with a dozen other patients? It’s way more work than just grabbing hypos and handing out pillows.”
Lancaster cocked his head as he thought about that. “I’d honestly never thought about it like that. You must be amazing at multi-tasking,” he said.
Sheppard nodded. “Well, you wouldn’t be the first person. It’s the end of the 24th century, but people still don’t seem to respect nurses. It depends on the culture, but nurses or their equivalents are often seen as half of a doctor or a doctor’s assistant more than professionals in our own right. It can be frustrating,” he said as he swirled his wine. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to be so negative. There’s something about you that makes me feel comfortable spilling my guts.”
“I don’t mind. You’re having the same impact on me,” Lancaster replied with a chuckle. “You’ve got me stuttering and blushing like a schoolboy.”
Sheppard looked him over. “As I said before, it’s very endearing, especially since you’re clearly not like that at all in your professional life,” he said, grinning over his wine as their food arrived.
Lancaster nearly forgot to eat the more they started talking during their meal because he was enjoying Sheppard’s company so much. In addition to being drop-dead gorgeous, he was also extremely intelligent and had him laughing the entire time.
“I’m really glad I met you in the infirmary. I would never be able to approach you in a bar,” Lancaster admitted when he was about halfway through his ratatouille.
“I don’t believe you. You were the one who asked me out, after all,” Sheppard replied, shaking his head. “That’s ok, though, because I would definitely ask you out, even if you are an intimidating bridge officer.”
“Some people do say I am intimidating, but I can’t believe that applies to you.”
“Oh, definitely. It’s a turn-on,” Sheppard said. “I’ve never gone out with a superior officer before.”
“I’m only a higher-ranking one. There’s nothing inferior about you, Luca,” Lancaster said, trying his best to bat his eyelashes at him. “I’m pretty rusty at flirting, so, please, don’t hesitate to tell me to stop.”
“You’re doing just fine so far, sir,” Sheppard replied, winking at him. “So, are you excited about your new assignment? The Lancelot’s a heavy cruiser, right? She was here a few months ago.”
“Nebula-class, yes. I guess I’m excited. It’ll be different. The largest ship I’ve ever served on. Moving assignments is always hard, though. I felt like I’d finally figured out the social dynamic on the Sagan,” Lancaster replied, pushing his food around on his plate. “I don’t really need a lot of social interaction, but I’m also terrible at making friends, so that makes me a little nervous.”
“I have a hard time seeing that, Michael.”
Lancaster shook his head. “This is not indicative of my normal social skills. I’m managing to be mildly competent now purely through adrenaline and other assorted hormones. You’re just that special,” he explained, with a self-effacing chuckle.
“I think you’re special, too,” Sheppard replied, eyes locked on Lancaster’s. “Do you believe in fate?”
Sheppard scrunched up his face. “Isn’t that a yes or no question?”
“Well, I don’t believe in ‘fate,’ no. There’s no hidden force in the universe controlling our destinies. But it is known that there are an infinite number of parallel universes, so any sequence of choices and events can happen, but they can only happen in one way in each of those universes,” Lancaster explained.
“So, it’s not predestination, but this version of us can only experience a certain outcome?” Sheppard interjected.
“Exactly! So, it’s physics, not metaphysics,” Lancaster enthused. “Whatever choices we make have to be the right choices because they are the only choices that can occur in this universe.”
“Well, then if you’re meant to make friends on the Lancelot, you will. If you’re not, you won’t,” Sheppard said with a victorious look. “Just like we were destined to go on a date.”
Lancaster chewed on his lip as he thought about that. Semantically, Sheppard was, well, wrong if he was factoring in destiny, but he at least seemed to grasp what Lancaster was saying. “You can keep up with me. I like that.”
“I’m guessing that’s not something you’re used to.”
“Most people bore me. I mean, by definition, most people are average. I struggle with ‘average,’” Lancaster replied. “We’ve got one life. We should do our best to be exceptional however we can.”
“I can already tell you’re going to be the youngest Admiral in history,” Sheppard said, which made Lancaster shake his head again, even though he didn’t hate that thought. “So, as long as I’m not boring you, how would you feel about exploring the promenade when we’re done here?”
Lancaster felt his pulse race at that suggestion. Of course, he would have been more than happy with just dinner, but he definitely did not want their evening to end a second faster than it had to. “I think I’m yours all night,” he replied, though he immediately felt his cheeks get warm at unintentionally suggesting something a little more amorous than he’d intended. But he didn’t retract it, either.
After they finished dinner, Sheppard led the way towards the edge of the arboretum. As they walked, he reached over to grab Lancaster’s hand, looking pleased with himself as their fingers interlaced. The ‘ground’ was higher towards the edges of the dome to conceal the life support mechanisms that supported the atmosphere in the arboretum, as well as to give space for the station’s promenade. Next, they went down a ramp into a short tunnel which dropped them off in the center of the station’s main recreational and commercial space.
The promenade was packed with people, both Starfleet and civilians spread across several decks. Lancaster was momentarily awed and slightly anxious at being around so many people after spending a year with a crew of just 80.
“So, where are you taking me?” he asked, squeezing Sheppard’s hand.
“Somewhere I think matches your taste. And if I’m wrong, you get to pick,” Sheppard replied, which had Lancaster intrigued. Type-A to the core, he was reluctant to let anyone else set the course, but he liked the way Sheppard was taking charge. He also liked getting to hold hands with the most attractive man in several thousand light-years, even though public displays of affection normally made him squeamish.
They walked for quite a while down the kilometers-long promenade before Sheppard pulled Lancaster into a well-appointed cocktail lounge. The paneled walls were painted in a shade of cobalt blue, with several tasteful abstract paintings, and a light fixture made up of hundreds of silver globes hung in the middle of the space above a dozen or so couches of various shapes in brown suede. The bar itself sat in front of tall shelves containing every spirit known to the Federation.
“Okay, I think you’ve succeeded, Luca,” Lancaster said. He loved classic décor, especially when it wasn’t shades of Federation beige. Sheppard smirked and put his hand on Lancaster’s lower back as he led them to the corner of the bar, where they could sit and still see one another. “Yeah, I don’t see how this could be more perfect.”
A moment later, the bartender appeared. She was a Human woman in her sixties or seventies wearing a full black-tie tuxedo, with her silver hair drawn up into a tight ponytail.
“Good evening, gentlemen. Welcome to Elixir. What can I get you?” she asked with a genial smile.
“I’d love a rye Manhattan,” Lancaster replied.
“Make it two, please,” Sheppard added.
“Great choice,” the bartender said before going off to make their drinks.
“You like Manhattans?”
“I don’t know, but I’m trusting your great taste,” Sheppard said, grinning at him. In the darker lighting of the bar, his facial features looked even sharper somehow, and Lancaster was finding it increasingly difficult not to just lean over and kiss him.
“I’d be knee-deep in EPS management procedures for Block II Nebula-class starships right now if it weren’t for you,” Lancaster noted.
“Well, I hope this is a better evening than that would have been,” Sheppard replied.
“Immeasurably better,” Lancaster agreed. The bartender returned with two identical Manhattans, ruddy drinks in cocktail glasses, each with a single cherry resting in the center. Lancaster held his up to Sheppard. “To being saved from an evening home alone.”
“Salud,” Sheppard replied before they both took a drink. Lancaster was surprised to taste real alcohol, but the drink was so smooth that all he could feel was the warmth washing over him. He waited with anticipation as Sheppard tasted his own. “This is good. Sweet. Complex. My compliments,” he said, smiling at the bartender.
“We might be 75 light-years from Earth, but that’s no reason not to be able to deliver the classics,” she replied. “Are you two out celebrating something?”
“We actually just met today. This is our first date,” Lancaster replied.
The bartender arched an eyebrow. “Well, from this side of the bar, it looks like it’s going well. Felicitations,” she said, smiling, before giving them a sort of bow and then going to deal with another customer.
“That has to be a jinx, right? Bad luck?” Lancaster said, laughing.
“Oh, definitely. I think she’s right, though.”
Lancaster smiled and took another drink. He couldn’t take his eyes off of Sheppard, marveling at how lucky he was to have met him. Was it fate? No, probably not, because fate didn’t exist. But, he was at least happy to be in the particular universe that he got to meet Luca Sheppard in.
“When my transport pulled in, I was pretty disappointed to have to spend a week here, but suddenly I’m sad that I get to spend only a week here,” Lancaster noted, which earned him another smile.
“We’ll have to make the most of your time here,” Sheppard replied before taking a drink.
“Absolutely. If this place is indicative of your taste, I’ll need you as my tour guide,” Lancaster replied, trying not to reveal how much he wanted to spend every possible second with him.
“Maybe more than just a tour guide,” Sheppard replied. “Okay, I think I’ve figured out what you like. What do you hate, though? What are your pet peeves?” he asked.
“I don’t think we have enough time on my visit to go into all of them, but honestly, the one that really gets me is combadges not being put on right,” Lancaster admitted, as he glanced over at Luca’s, which was perfectly aligned.
Sheppard arched an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”
“The way they adhere to the uniform means they’ll never get knocked around. If it’s crooked, it’s because someone put it on incorrectly. It should be pointed perfectly vertically. I actually made an ensign nearly cry over that, once,” Lancaster admitted.
“Wow. That’s definitely a good tip, though: Michael likes perfect uniforms,” Luca replied, as he glanced down to make sure his own was correct.
“Yeah, yours is definitely perfect. I’ve been thinking to myself this whole night at how it looks like it was designed just for you. You wear it so well,” Lancaster said as he reached over to put a hand on one of Sheppard’s biceps. “You clearly like exercising. But what about your pet peeves?”
Sheppard smiled. “I do. It’s one of my passions. I think the thing most likely to irritate me is being talked down to. But, unfortunately, it happens way more often than I’d like, and I think it has something to do with being a nurse and being in good physical shape.”
“That’s unfortunate. I wouldn’t like that, either,” Lancaster replied, thinking back to earlier when Sheppard had complained about the way nurses were treated. It seemed to be a real sore spot with him, and Lancaster wondered how much of it was perception. Either way, Sheppard didn’t seem like someone to underestimate or talk down to. “You’re obviously very good at what you do.”
The nurse laughed aloud. “I honestly think that you experienced one of the worst exams I’ve ever given. I was stumbling all over myself because I was so attracted to you. That’s pretty much the definition of unprofessional.”
“I was too focused on my own inappropriate thoughts to notice yours,” Lancaster replied with a chuckle. “You must get awkward patients staring at you all the time, though.”
“There’s no way of answering that that doesn’t make me seem conceited, so I’ll just agree. It was different this time because I was staring back,” Sheppard replied, as pink spread across his cheeks. “I guess people must meet like this all the time. It’s not like nurses aren’t part of the crew. I’ve just honestly never been interested in anyone I’d seen professionally until I met you.”
“I will absolutely take that win, but it does make me think your taste is slightly suspect,” Lancaster quipped. “Michelangelo’s David going out with Munch’s The Scream.”
“Stop,” Sheppard replied, laughing again. “When I walked in, I thought to myself: if he’s that pretty when he’s pissed off, he’s got to be gorgeous when he’s smiling, and I was right.”
“When was I pissed off?”
“When you had to wait for ten minutes to be seen. You were absolutely pouting when I walked in.”
“Oh. Yes. But I don’t pout. I scowl,” Lancaster replied, though he felt himself pouting at that moment. His face was warm from the specificity of that compliment, and also because it mirrored so closely one of the last things that his ex, Taylor Hill, had said to them before they broke up, ‘You’re pretty when you’re mad,’ as a way of dismissing his feelings. Coming from Sheppard, though, it had an entirely different tenor.
They continued to banter as they finished their drinks, and Lancaster marveled at how easy it was to talk to this man, despite how attracted he was to him. Usually, there was some amount of being tongue-tied, but Sheppard made him feel just as comfortable around him as he was excited by him, which was a strange combination of feelings.
“I think you should pick the next place we go,” Sheppard said as they left the cocktail bar and entered the promenade hand-in-hand. Lancaster glanced around until he saw something that caught his eye as being especially appropriate for their next stop.
The Rainbow Room was a club further down on the promenade intended for gender and sexual minorities. Even in the 24th century, when non-straight folks didn’t need to have their own spaces for safety purposes, they still existed just to provide them with space where they didn’t have to be self-conscious about flirting with strangers or just as a place where they could meet like-minded individuals. Dodecahedral lanterns in colors across the spectrum hung for the ceiling, and Lancaster could see couples and throuples of all gender configurations hanging out at the bar and dancing out on the floor.
This wasn’t the place for fancy cocktails, so Lancaster surprised himself and Sheppard when he ordered two Samarian Sunsets from the bartender. Sheppard’s hand went to his lower back as they waited, and Lancaster leaned against him.
“Are you buying that I can sometimes be spontaneous and not completely stuck-up?” Lancaster asked with a grin.
“Well, I’d say you’ve been pretty spontaneous since I first met you. It’s nice to go places like this sometimes,” Sheppard said, looking around the room with a grin. “I don’t know who decided to put Starfleet Academy in San Francisco, but going to the Castro was a major change for me after growing up in Italy. I didn’t even realize I was bi until I was 17, so I never got much of a chance to explore things.”
“I knew I was 100% gay from about age 12, I think,” Lancaster replied, smiling at him as their drinks arrived. “My roommate and I went out a few times to places like this when I was at the Academy, but I always found them too intimidating to relax and have fun.”
“How does this place compare?”
“Well, my date is the hottest being in the bar, so that definitely helps,” Lancaster replied, grinning up at him as their drinks arrived.
“I just had that exact thought,” Sheppard replied as they clinked their glasses together. It turned the liquid within from clear to a swirling vortex of colors that settled into bright gold that tasted like sunshine. Their drinks didn’t last long at all as they continued to flirt by the bar.
“Dance with me?” Lancaster asked.
“I didn’t have you pegged as a dancer, Michael,” Sheppard said, which made him laugh.
“I am absolutely not, but I’m feeling adventurous being around you,” he replied before pulling Sheppard towards the dance floor.
For the first time in his life, he managed to throw himself into just moving to the rhythm and focusing on his date. The two of them circled around each other, touching much more than they had at either of the previous venues. Sheppard’s hands ended up on Lancaster’s waist, and the lieutenant’s arms went around the tall nurse’s neck as they danced. They got closer and closer until Lancaster couldn’t even hear the music as they locked eyes. Later, they would claim that they were each the ones who initiated the kiss, but after twenty minutes on the dance floor, the two of them had locked lips.
Like the whole evening with Sheppard, it felt exciting and comfortable at the same time. Pre-destined, even, to use Sheppard’s terminology. There was a lot about being with Sheppard that was unfamiliar—he was just so different from the other men that Lancaster had gone out with, though that was a tiny sample size—but he could already tell that this was the person he felt most at home with. There was no way that this could be a one-time thing. That is unless it didn’t enrapture Sheppard in the same way as it had him.
“Wow,” Sheppard said as they broke apart, which made Lancaster’s heart leap. Self-deprecating to the core when it came to his social skills, though, Lancaster needed to confirm that which should have been obvious to him.
“Good ‘wow?’” he asked.
“Absolutely,” Sheppard replied, cupping Lancaster’s cheek and pulling him in for another kiss. Sheppard felt so much taller than he was, and he enjoyed the feeling of being sheltered by his body. Nothing else in the club mattered; it was like he and Sheppard were the only people on the entire station.
“I think we should go back to your quarters,”
“I think we should, too.”