One shifted awkwardly in her chair and sawed off a bite of steak. She hated feeling awkward, and she hated not knowing what to say. It was why she had rarely dated before Chris.
Chris was watching her expectantly, and she had the uncomfortable feeling that she wasn't delivering something that he wanted.
"Look, if something's wrong with the steak, you don't have to eat it," he said. "We can replicate a pizza. God knows how long it's been since I've cooked."
"No," she said. "The food is great."
It was...toothsome. She was a terrible liar. She took a bigger bite, which she had to chew for a very, very long time.
"For god's sake, One, you don't have to lie. What kind of pizza do you want?"
"The steak is very edible," she snapped, and immediately felt guilty. He was trying so hard. How could he know what she was really thinking about? "I'm sorry. The meal is lovely. My mood has nothing to do with the food."
"Then what?" Chris asked.
One looked up at him warily. He didn't look angry, or even worried. Just open. Waiting for whatever she had to say. He wouldn't let it go, she knew, and he was right. Lying wouldn't help anything.
"I love you, Chris," she said. "But if I had to kill you to save the ship, I would."
"That is absolutely the most romantic thing any woman has ever said to me."
One clenched her fingers around her fork. He was smiling at her. The bastard was actually smiling.
"It's not funny, Chis. I mean it. I'd shoot you, or kill you, or leave you for dead to save this ship." And it would hurt.
Chis took the hand -- the one that wasn't clenched around her fork -- which One thought was very brave.
"I mean it, One. Thank you." He actually looked relieved. "Do you think I'd even have asked you out if I didn't know that was true? There is only one woman in the entire galaxy who could cold-bloodedly threaten my death over the dinner table, and it's you."
He squeezed her hand more tightly, and she squeezed back.
"Look, just promise me one thing, alright? If the ship, or even just one person, is on the line, don't hesitate. Just shoot."
"I promise," she said. They both knew she meant it.
"One more thing. Don't eat the steak."
Months passed; the rituals of their command never changed. They never walked together to their morning briefings, and if they had spent the night together, neither of them spoke of it. Phil knew about their relationship; so did Cait. To the rest of their ship, they were nothing more than a captain and an executive officer. In their professional life, they made only one concession to their relationship: a mug of freshly brewed black coffee waiting for one at the corner of Chris' desk before their morning briefings.
"The Churrhi have demanded the presence of the captain and first officer to resolve a dilithium trade dispute with the Federation," Chris said as she took her first sip of coffee. He looked apprehensive, and One waited to find out why. "You'll need to assemble a small away team to accompany us -- a communications specialist, someone from security, maybe an engineer to inspect the mines. You know the drill."
She nodded. That didn't explain the apprehension.
"Is that all, Captain?"
"I had planned to do something better for our anniversary than negotiate a dilithium treaty," he said. "I'm sorry, and I'll make it up to you."
One shook her head. They rarely discussed their relationship at their morning briefings. Chis must have been terribly worried about her feelings, though she hoped he knew her well enough to realize she wouldn't mind.
"Don't apologize," she said. "There will be time to celebrate later."
Hopefully after she'd had time to think of an appropriate gift. She put a note in her padd to ask Cait for advice. Life in Starfleet hadn't given her many opportunities to celebrate anniversaries, and sometimes she still wasn't sure if she knew what she was doing.
"Beam down at 13:00?" she asked, and Chis nodded.
"Thank you, One," he said, and she knew he meant more than simply assembling an away team.
"It's no trouble." Nothing was ever trouble with Chris, even when sharing her life with another person was difficult and confusing and made her feel like an alien in her own skin. She hoped he understood.
The Churrhi fired before the away team had finished materializing. Cotter, the engineer, fell at her feet. One seized a fistful of his tunic and rolled to the side, pulling them both behind a rocky outcropping. With one hand, she pulled her phaser from her belt; with the other, she felt for Cotter's pulse. It was still.
Phaser raised, she peered over the top of the rock.
One of the Churrhi was grappling with Chris. She could take it out, but then again, she might hit Chris instead. Behind them, Fornax lay on the ground, wounded but still alive.
"Just shoot!" Chris shouted.
One's mouth went dry; her finger froze on the trigger. She pictured the raw red phaser burn on his skin, thought of him lying defenseless on the ground. Because of her.
She shook her head. The shot had vanished, and now two of the Churrhi had seized him and begun dragging him away. There was no choice now. She twisted the phaser's dial to maximum stun, high enough to paralyze anyone touching him, and fired square at his chest. Chris and both of the Churrhi fell to the ground.
She snapped her communicator open.
"Away team to transporter room. Four to beam up. Have sickbay ready." Her voice didn't tremble, but her hand did.
"He was shot a maximum stun," she told Dr. Boyce. She couldn't tear her eyes from Chris' chest. There was a ragged hole in his tunic, and the flesh beneath it was blistered and raw. She'd seen him injured before, but it was different when she'd inflicted the damage.
"I shot him," she added. The information wasn't medically relevant, but it felt necessary to say it.
"I imagine you did that because you had to," Boyce said.
"Then what's the problem?"
Boyce's eyes were kind, and One slumped back in her chair. She hadn't wanted to talk about this, but Phil was a good listener, and maybe she could work out what to say when Chris came to.
"I hesitated," she said. "We always promised that we'd put our professional duties ahead of our feelings, but when the time came, I couldn't do it."
Would she have to break it off with Chris, she wondered, or ask Starfleet for a transfer? Both were unthinkable, though she thought she'd prepared herself for the possibility a long time ago.
Phil snorted softly. He was setting up the regen unit over the burn.
"Looks to me like you did your job just fine. How long did you hesitate? Half a second?"
One shook her head.
"That's not the issue. I can't miss shots because I have feelings for my captain."
"You're full of shit and you know it, One. Did you really think you could serve with people for a long time -- make friends with them -- and not have difficulty with the concept of hurting them? You would have done the same if it had been me, or Cait, or half a dozen other people on this ship."
"I'll consider that," she said. It sounded colder than she meant it too, and she gave him a small smile. "Thank you, Doctor. Really."
She stood and straightened her tunic. She should be on the bridge.
"Humans make better commanders than robots. Remember that," he called as she walked through the door.
Chris was awake when she finished her shift.
"You shot me," he murmured when she leaned over the bed.
"Yes -- I --"
She didn't know what to say. Chris was laughing, and she didn't understand why.
"Couldn't you have at least hesitated first?" he asked, grin tugging at the corners of his mouth.
Had she really only hesitated for a fraction of a second, she wondered, or had his memory been blurred by the phaser blast? She should tell him. It was her duty as his partner and his executive officer.
Her mouth opened and closed.
"I -- It was difficult," she said finally. "Much more difficult than I thought it would be."
He took her hand and squeezed it.
"For what?" she asked.
"For shooting me." He rubbed his thumb in a slow circle over her palm. "And for admitting that it was hard."
"You're welcome," she said, brushing a lock of hair from his forehead. She would stay, she decided, at least long enough to watch him fall asleep. Maybe even longer.