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The Foreign Exchange Officer

Chapter Text

I was a lieutenant on the bustling, mid-sized research starship EDCS Solomon, part of one of the security details. Essentially, it was my job to accompany science teams down to planets and hold a gun while they scraped alien lichen off of alien rocks. It’s actually way more interesting than I’m making it out to be, I promise. Sometimes the lichen decides to get up and walk away.

Currently, I was standing at one of the docking hatches, biting back my grin at being one of the crew members chosen to welcome our new security officer to the ship as part of an inter-species cultural exchange program the IC cooked up. But why was I trying not to grin like a madman, you ask? Simple: I had a “thing” for the security officer who had been sent our way.

It was harmless, really! My friends and bunkmates knew, and it was an easy joke to make, especially when it was me joking about myself. But I was open about it, and the ribbing was always good-natured. It didn’t get in the way of my work, and meeting him wasn’t something I ever considered would actually happen.

Except oops, it was happening.

Our newest run of ships had been designed with inter-species collaboration in mind, so when he ducked in through the 12-foot airlock leading to where his people’s shuttle was docked beside us, he was able to stand up straight once inside the receiving bay. I made a sound like a little girl in my throat and hoped that no one would notice.

The mech looked every bit as good in person as he did on the vids, and I was thankful. Freshly buffed green, black, white, yellow, and gray enamel glistened under the lights, and his left shoulder was painted in a diagonal of gold to signify his rank of office, complete with an esoteric symbol denoting his specialty. The look on his face was warm enough to melt chocolate without burning it.

Hound!

“Welcome to the Solomon, Lieutenant Commander,” the captain said, giving a nod and a grin at our new guest. The first officer extended her hand and the Autobot bent down to take it with a professional curtness.

“The pleasure is all mine,” he returned with a smile. He took the opportunity to glance about his surroundings, at the crisp whiteness of it, the Terran design, and the occasional flash of warm earth tones reminiscent, they said, of classic 1970’s style. The Autobot’s glowing blue optical sensors keenly darted my way as he took in the faces of myself and my small detail, and I stood up a little straighter at the brief attention.

“I understand that this is your first time on a Terran vessel?” Commander Willow asked, gesturing already for the door.

Hound laughed. “To be fair, it’s the first time I’ve been able to fit on one!”

The ranking officers chuckled genially, and they filed out to show him to his quarters. At which point I let out the breath I was holding to chuckle a bit myself.

One of my ensigns turned toward me and flashed a grin. “Five bucks says you make a drunken fool of yourself in the first week, Bowie.”

“How many times do I need to tell you,” I said over lunch the next day. “I think he’s cute and looks great in pictures. That’s it.

“Everybody knows you want in his proverbial pants,” Corporal Afra Nguyen giggled with a roll of her eyes. “I mean, I’d probably jump Captain Chromia’s bones if given the opportunity. And Marcus has a thing for Femaxians, so...”

To EDC types, the Autobot veterans who fought in their Great War were minor celebrities. Most of us could recognize dozens among their ranks, knew the highlights of their career, and where they settled in after signing the Treaty of Iacon almost a century ago. In fact, that centennial was the reason the exchange program existed. But Cybertronians were still an enigmatic people, and the EDC wanted to get to know what they were like in peacetime. It was the perfect opportunity for a little cultural intermingling.

I set my fork down and buried my face in my hands in a show of exhaustion. “I’m never going to live this down, am I?”

Lieutenant Marcus King snorted. “Nope.”

“Look.” I shoveled in another mouthful of cobb salad. “He’s here to work, and so am I. Hound’s got no idea who Lieutenant Bowie Orr of the EDCS Solomon is, and I’m perfectly happy with this arrangement.”

“Even the chief doc knows you like him.”

“You’re not going to let me forget about that either, are you?”

“Nope.”

“But broke my ankle! I was high on painkillers!”

“Yeah, I don’t go on and on about how my teenage crush is quote, too precious for this world, end quote, when I’m hopped up on azadrin.”

“At least I don’t get starry-eyed for the captain like every green ensign fresh out of the academy.”

A pause.

“Captain Cooper is hot, though,” Afra muttered.

I sighed and nodded. Marcus rolled his eyes.

Just then, I got a slap on the back from another corporal. “Good luck,” was all he said, with a shit-eating grin on his face.

“Fuck,” I hissed. “Does everyone on the whole damn ship know?”

“Pretty sure you told half of them yourself.”

I was beginning to see the writing on the walls and heat rose to my freckled face. It was time to change tactics. “Can we just… make sure that nobody tells him this? Please? I know it would take an unprofessional asshat to make it a topic of conversation, but for the love of god the last thing I want our chief security officer to hear through the grapevine is that some human nobody on this ship is madly in love with him.”

Nguyen howled with laughter. “Oh, you’re madly in love now!

“...I’m just going to shut up.”

Unfortunately for me, minding my own business wasn’t in the cards. The duty roster had me serving as Hound’s personal liaison the next day. I narrowed my eyes and was this close to demanding whose idea of a joke this was.

But Wednesday morning came, and at 0800 sharp, I found myself knocking on the door to his “XL” suite.

“Come in!” I heard him call from inside.

I’d rather not, I thought, but touched my foot to the baseboard sensor on the human-sized entrance and it slid open with a gentle sigh.

Hound popped out from the hallway across the room when I stepped in. “Good morning, lieutenant!” he called out to me before disappearing again. “If you’ll give me a moment, I’d like to finish washing up.”

I blinked, perplexed, and then heard water running from the head. With hands behind my back, I sidestepped around a four-foot-high coffee table littered with pads and data slugs, attempting to peer politely around the corner.

“Sir?”

A second later he emerged with a huge length of fluffy terrycloth draped around his neck and a smile across his face. “Is my washroom modeled after a standard Terran design? The sink, shower stall, waste extractor?”

I bit back a laugh. “You mean toilet, sir?”

The smile never left his face as he glanced back at the bathroom. “Toilet, right.” Then his eyes were on me. “Autobot ships aren’t fitted with water systems, you know. So this is a special treat for me.”

I smiled back at him, trying to appear both affable and bland at the same time. I swore to myself that I wasn’t going to get carried away. “I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself, lieutenant commander.”

“Please, that’s a mouthful. Just call me Hound.”

You’re a mouthful, my brain quipped of its own accord. Clearly it was trying help Ensign Vargas win that five bucks.

“So what’s your name, son?” The Autobot went on to give one last wipe-down of his face and shoulders before setting the “towel” to drape on the back of an appropriately-sized chair. Then he knelt down, which was in itself something that sent a tingle up my spine to watch from so close.

I swallowed again. “Uh, Lieutenant Orr, sir. Security officer, second class.”

He chuckled and I all but died. “Not your rank, lieutenant. I could have gotten that from the roster your Lieutenant Commander Stillwell left for me. What’s your name?”

I was blushing, I could feel it. Fuck, fuck, fuck. Looking away would have been a tell, so I met his mesmerizing blue gaze and held out a hand like the First Officer did. “Lieutenant Bowie Orr, sir.”

He took my clammy hand into his gigantic one, swallowing up my fair skin in those smooth, intricate plates of gunmetal that we called fingers. Both their underside and the palm of his hand had a kind of softer, padded layer that felt much more like skin, I noticed. Probably to assist with gripping objects, I reasoned. Or people, my brain shot back.

“That’s a nice name,” the mech said as he stood up, not taking his eyes off me. “Sounds familiar. Do I know you from somewhere?”

If I wasn’t blushing before, I definitely was now. Fuck. “No, no,” I said, almost cutting him off with my nervous laugh. “You’re probably thinking of, uh, Bowie Orson. He works at EDC headquarters, same age as me. We… we get each others’ mail sometimes.” Smooth! Real smooth. “Bowie was a popular name back in 2092.”

Hound laughed and gestured to the door, then, sensing that we should be on our way. “Well, should we get going, Lieutenant Orr?”

“After you, sir.”

That was definitely the smartest thing I said all morning, because as he showed himself out I got to get my first good look at him from behind. You both may be here to do a job, but nobody said you weren’t allowed to look at the eye candy!

The first 45 minutes of our tour involved such destinations as the mess and movie hall, game lounge, small arms lockers, and gym. Most of these facilities were designed for species of Terran size, except the game lounge, which sported 15-foot ceilings in some areas to permit larger guests. I also showed him to the separate “XL” lounge and mess for those species exceeding ten feet in height. He asked if he could “eat” in there even though his energon dispensers were kept in a storage bay.

Once we got underway it got easier to ignore my interest in him, but every once in a while he’d do something that would send my mind spiraling into the gutter. The way he rested his hand on his hip when he was thinking, or the look on his face when he was giving me his complete attention as I detailed the capabilities of this or that feature of the ship as we passed it.

“When are you due on the bridge?” I asked, strolling now at a more leisurely pace. He politely kept pace with me, taking very small, idling steps with those huge feet. I hoped that it was soon. There wasn’t much more of this I could take. I had spent all morning trying to avoid sneaking too many glances at him, making too many jokes, laughing too loud…

“1300,” he replied. I liked the way his voice seemed lighter than most others of his race, and less grim. “What else is there to see?”

I paused to think, keeping my eyes on the floor as he stopped as well, and stopped close. If I looked, his crotch would have been right on top of me.

“I, uh… I think you could fit into the arboretum? How tall are you?” I chanced to lift my gaze, as if I could guess.

It was mostly to get a look at the view.

It was a good view.

The way his thick legs tapered upwards into shapely, zinc-white thighs, on top of which was stacked a hulking set of hips, a powerful trunk, and far above my head was his own. And thrice the size of mine. I suppressed a a nervous giggle and chewed my bottom lip instead.

“Fourteen feet, eight inches?”

My eyes darted back to the hallway ahead of us, then. Because if I didn’t know better, I would have said his optics were lingering on me too. But I did. Clearly, I was projecting. “Oh-kay, you’ll fit then! Max height for it is fifteen even.”

“Great! Lead the way, Bo.”

I was about to take a step but stopped. “Bo?” I could feel my hands sweat.

“You don’t mind if I call you that, do ya?”

“No! No, no, not at all,” I stammered, laughing. “I just… didn’t think a few hours of… of casual liaisoning would, uh, mean dropping formalities.”

“If you didn’t gather already, Bowie, I’m not much of a formal kind of mech.”

I laughed awkwardly, then a thought occurred to me. What if… you just rolled with it? He wasn’t flirting, he was just being nice. That was one of the things I liked about him, after all. Lieutenant Commander Hound was notorious among the Autobot veterans for being fucking nice.

Or, apparently, “too precious for this world”.

“You know what,” I said, taking off down the hall again, “Me neither.”

I could hear him smile. “Glad we have something in common.”

The ship’s arboretum existed solely to combat “the grays”, as we colloquially called it. EDC researchers deigned it biophilia withdrawal syndrome: essentially, getting depression from being stuck on a spaceship for too long. Recently, though, it’s served a diplomatic purpose as well, by way of exposing non-Terrans to a curated variety of Earth’s flora.

“Wow!” I heard our green guest exclaim as soon as the XL doors shunted open.

Immediately we were greeted with a view of a grass lawn flanked with blooming dogwoods, delicate acers, densely pruned shrubs, and some very fragrant jasmine.

“High load detected,” the computer said, and a path unfolded itself through the grass as previously invisible panels lifted and flipped over, revealing metal so the landscaping wouldn’t be damaged by large, alien feet.

I took the first step, though kept to the grass. I preferred the way it felt under my feet. “We have a Japanese tea garden in another room, a hothouse for tropicals, and a dry room for the desert plants,” I explained. “All in all about 20,000 square feet.”

“These ceilings are a good thirty feet,” Hound noted, looking around. “Why do they limit guests to fifteen?”

“Protects the canopy from any unintentional pruning,” I chuckled. “Besides, have a listen.”

I stood quietly and held up my finger. Hound held still too, and it took a few moments, but the resident birds did start chirping again. I saw his face light up at that and it was so sweet my teeth fuckin hurt.

“Why couldn’t this have been my suite?” he laughed, then sighed. “Makes me want to go back to Earth.”

I sat down on a bench. “You miss it that much?”

“Having to go home after the war was like going back to 19th century London when you’d just spent thirty years in the English countryside.”

“Sounds like you suffer from the grays, too, sir.”

He did something with his optic that reminded me of a wink. “Nothing a little time with some flora and fauna can’t fix.”

An odd thing to say, but I continued to “roll with it”. “Unfortunately, the EDC never installed a petting zoo,” I chuckled, standing up again. “You’ll have to make do with finches.”

But Hound took one long, leisurely stride past me as he ventured into the next room. “Wasn’t talking about birds, Bowie.”

I felt the heat creep up my neck and pool in my belly. Blinking, I held my breath until the blood went back to where it was supposed to be, dammit, and with god as my witness…

Nice! He’s just being nice! In the span of about 2 seconds I convinced myself that the suggestion in his words was all in my head, that maybe I was too horny to be able to carry out this job, that maybe I could ask that I just be relieved of duty for the day.

I watched him stroll from behind, and it was gorgeous. The way his tight metal hips moved with each languid step, the way his backside, seemingly cluttered, shifted with elegant choreography like muscles and scapulae in time with the swaying of his thick, powerful arms. The way he pivoted to look down at me over his massively broad shoulders to ask if I was coming or not.

Er…

“Right behind you, sir! I mean Hound! I mean...”

With an hour to go, we briefly parted ways, agreeing to meet in the XL game room for lunch. I headed for the mess, scanned my thumb at one of the meal stations, and hit the button for a teriyaki chicken bowl. I watched as the prepared meal made its way down a conveyor and popped out a small door.

When I turned around, I realized that I was glad not to be eating in here; it was the lunch rush and there weren’t many empty seats.

As I was about to leave, though, I almost ran into Marcus, literally, and it was by nothing short of a miracle that my bowl didn’t end up on the floor.

“Jesus Christ,” I huffed. “Almost lost my damn lunch, King.”

The taller crewman just grinned, ignoring me. “Hey, so how’s the tour de hunk going?”

I cleared my throat for effect. “It’s going great, thank you very much.” Then I gestured with my free hand. “Imagine, the best of both worlds: hot bod as far as the eye can see, without any of the messiness of needing to bring it up.”

The straight man folded his arms, quite enjoying himself at my expense. But as I said, I was rolling with it. “Is he everything you could have dreamed of?”

I held up a finger. “And more, of course. It helps that he seems to have no idea what flirting is, though.”

Marcus slapped my shoulder. “The sugary ones usually don’t have a clue,” he chuckled, but his eyes were focused elsewhere in the room. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some flirting to do myself.”

I turned to watch him stroll over to a table on the far end of the mess, where a certain freshly-transferred Corporal Portia Soo sat alone. I left as soon as Marcus made his approach, not having the stomach to watch a train wreck today.

The game lounge was usually pretty sparse at this time of day, but there were a few folks in there enjoying themselves with a beer. I headed for the far end of the room, or at least the far end for me: human-sized tables arranged near a glass balustrade, beyond which the floor fell away to accommodate the larger guests. To our left, a bank of windows revealed the view: the Pleiades and the tight cluster of stars around them cast us in an unearthly bluish light as we cruised on towards the nearest nebula.

Hound was seated on the other side of the railing, taking in the stars. He was faced away from me, but sensed me approach and turned to smile. “I was thinking… how about a game of checkers?”

“Figured out the tables already?” I chuckled, sitting down.

The mech reached over the glass with one of his massive hands – no, really, it was huge! – and hit a small panel set into the table’s surface. A holographic game board fizzed to life and he proceeded to scroll through the holographic menu to select a game. The board set itself.

“Now let’s just see if I can move these pieces.”

I laughed, taking a bite of chicken. “I don’t think it’s happening, sir. Your fingers are way too thick and...” I let myself trail off before my descriptors got too colorful.

I watched as he delicately pinched a holographic checker between thumb and forefinger, then set it down again. He leveled his optics at me and gave a wink. “No such thing as ’too big’ if you’re careful, Bo.”

The squirm happened on its own, but at least the laugh came out genial enough. I fixed my eyes on the game board.

“Something wrong with your lip?”

I was chewing it. “No, no, I just… it’s just chapped. Here, let’s see who goes first.” I held up my fist. “You know, rock-paper-scissors?”

He nodded, remembering. “Right, an earth custom,” he held out his own big, gunmetal fist and I realized that he could probably punch a hole in the side of the ship.

“Well I wouldn’t quite call it a custom, but, ah…anyways. Rock, paper… scissors.” I left my fist, and he chose to splay his hand in all of its big, strong glory.

“Paper beats rock, right?” he said. He closed the remaining few inches and covered my hand in his as I looked on, eyes wide. It lingered for a second too long before he pulled away. It had been so warm.

“Y-yeah,” I said, clearing my throat. “Yeah, it does. Autobots first.”

“Your hands are cold,” he noted, moving his first piece.

I moved too. “They usually are. I’m usually cold. It’s a minor health condition, I usually have to wear an extra layer,” I went on, welcoming the distraction and opportunity to vent about this frustrating physical quirk of mine. “My body just sucks at regulating its temperature. When I’m hot, it’s just as uncomfortable. I get all pink, start wishing these uniforms were sleeveless...”

“You get all pink, huh?”

Well, I was pink now. “It’s… you know. When the blood gets all close to the, uh, skin, and… I dunno. Doc says its fine, I just need to work harder to regulate myself than most people.”

If there’d been anything there in Hound’s face before, then it wasn’t there now. He just smiled warmly at me, offered his condolences for my chronic vasospasm, and we continued our game while he sipped energon and I chowed down on rice and steamed veggies.

I think he let me win, though.

“If my chronometer is right, then I believe it’s time for me to head upstairs, and for you to head back to your post, lieutenant.”

We were gathered in the corridor outside the game room. I was both sad and relieved – sad that my time with him was over, and… relieved that it was over too. Crushes really were, in many ways, better experienced from afar. My heart had been pounding all damn day!

I checked my watch. “Just about. How about I escort you to the bridge?”

“I’d like that.”

In lieu of stairs or elevators or ladders, EDC ships were outfitted with zero-gravity transit tubes that snaked all through the ship. Once they figured out how to localize gravity within the confines of a starship, it was a no-brainer: turning off gravity in a tube saved energy, moving parts, and provided a little boost to morale since they were honestly so fun to use. And for moving larger species around, there was no better thing.

We walked for a minute or two to reach the nearest XL tube on this deck. Hound hit the panel and the door slid open, revealing a forcefield.

Hound gestured for me to go first. I leaped through the field and into weightlessness, landing expertly on the far wall to steady myself at a handhold. He followed, stepping through with a bit more caution, likely due to his size. There was enough room in here for two of his kind to pass each other and then some, but it was easy to lose control of yourself without gravity.

He had likely used one of these already since coming aboard, but he still looked around at the simple genius of it. Below us, the tube stretched away for half a dozen decks, and above us, another ten.

I led the way at a measured pace. “Hopefully I’ve done a decent enough job showing you around,” I said, looking back. He was closer than I was expecting, well within arm’s reach. I was acutely aware that he was getting the view now, of me in my white and orange uniform that had the oft-welcome tendency to show off crewmen’s rear ends nicely. (I was personally more fond of backs and shoulders, but the standard-issues sometimes did them a service too.)

“There’s a few more things I’d have liked to see, but who knows, might get another chance before I leave.”

“Oh? Like what?”

There was a pause uncharacteristic of him, then his voice changed. “Like… a little more forwardness from you.”

I gaped, then laughed as a sort of automatic defense mechanism as I stopped myself and turned down. “Forwardness? I-I don’t follow.” That heat was on the back of my neck again and it felt like a sunburn.

Hound floated further up beside me until we were a bit more eye level. He was within my arm’s reach now, and I could see every little seam of his face, every little movement of the concentric white rings in his bright blue eyes. I could even catch glimpses of the detail along his, what, teeth? And behind them, the sturdy gray mass of a tongue. A faint dimple even formed as he gave me the most handsome look of well-intentioned confusion I’d ever seen as he took me in. Really took me in. It looked like he was mapping every millimeter of my expression.

“You’re Lieutenant Bowie Orr,” he said, as though that were suddenly up for debate. “I was told you… you liked me.” He studied me for a moment more before laughing uncomfortably. I hadn’t said anything and that seemed to make him nervous. “...Or maybe I’ve just made a fourteen-foot fool of myself and broken at least three different EDC codes of conduct.”

I felt hot all over now, more of the embarrassment variety than anything else. I covered my face and laughed too, still not quite knowing what to say. “Who told you?”

“Uh… friend of mine, Bluestreak.”

I didn’t know him. “And who told Bluestreak?” I asked like an idiot.

Hound shrugged those massive shoulders.

“I’m gonna kill em,” I muttered. “I’m gonna fuckin’ kill em.”

“Just relax, would you? If you hadn’t noticed, I was actually very flattered.”

“Flattered?”

I had started drifting away from the wall and Hound used a finger to push me back. I think I yelped a little at the unexpected contact.

“I was dropping hints all morning, Bowie. Primus, and I thought I was coming on too strong!”

“I thought you were sugary and clueless!”

“You were flirting back.”

“Of course I was! I didn’t know you could see right through me!”

Hound rubbed at his chin and thought for a moment. “Would you rather move on and forget this ever happened?”

“No,” I blurted out before my brain had an opportunity to make me think about it. “I...” His optics darted back towards me, looking both surprised and expectant. “Not while I still have the world’s biggest crush on you.”

The big green Autobot got in a little closer, and I realized then that, shoulder to shoulder, he was wider than I could reach with my arms outstretched. There was a tingling in my belly. They were all like that if not bigger, I knew consciously, but this was special.

“Can I kiss you?” he asked, low and quiet. He was permitting himself, it seemed, to look me up and down now, optics lingering at my various parts.

“You can do more than that,” I said, nibbling on my lip again and reaching out with a finger to trail along one of the edges of his leafy green helm.

Hound chuckled, arms settling on either side of me to cage me in. “I hope you don’t tell that to every crush you’ve just met.”

“Just the green ones,” I winked.

He dove in then, brushing his lips against my cheek first. I felt his chest, lightly pinning me to the wall as his mouth found mine. I was going to die. Absolutely positively going to die. I placed my hands on his huge face as he pushed his smooth, metallic lips against me, then drew away.

I was almost disappointed at how short and cautious it was, but when I opened my eyes he was still inches away, surveying my face, and then I felt a hand slide behind my head and he went in again.

I focused on his lower lip, since I couldn’t really get to much more than that at a time. It was so strange! It was nothing like human skin, except when it was. He was too sleek and firm for me to bite down on, so I resorted to grazing my teeth against him. The Autobot’s tongue darted out to trace my lip, and I was surprised to find that it was wet – for some reason, it hadn’t occurred to me that the insides of their mouths would have moisture, but fuck me it did!

When he pulled away again, there was no such disappointment. Holy shit, my life was complete, I could die now, because I’d just gotten to kiss the guy. Twice.

Breathless and euphoric, I blinked one too many times while I got my bearings. “Man, you kiss every human you hear about through the grapevine?”

He winked at me. “Just the cute ones.” Then he took my hands and held them in one of his while he braced himself with a handhold. “They’re are still cold,” he said with a smile that could melt Arctic pack ice, but still not keep the blood in my hands, evidently.

“A minor perk,” I noted as I felt the pads along the inside of his palm warm up, “Is that I can touch hot things.” Not sure why I thought he’d find that impressive, or even at all endearing, but it was true. Back home, I had a tendency to forgo using utensils while cooking, preferring to do things like flip searing steaks with my bare fingers.

And the EDC wondered why I hardly had any fingerprints to speak of.

But still, I could tell by the look on his face that those words had sent his robot mind careening into the gutter. And yet still again, however, I was not, in a million years, anticipating what he was going to say next.

“If it’s not too forward of me,” he began, optics drifting down to my mouth and raking along my uniformed body before snapping back to look me in the eye, “I’m off at 2100 tonight after a dinner with the captain and first officer. Maybe you could meet me at my quarters and I can see about warming up those hands of yours?”

Incoming boner, all hands brace for impact.

I’m not sure why I was so useless. Maybe it was the nature of crushes. Maybe it’s that, when I looked down, my toes could barely reach his narrow, heavily-plated abdomen. Maybe it was his voice, which seemed to remind me of Earth’s kindest, most honest celebrities. Or maybe it didn’t really matter. While I hesitated to say yes, I sure as hell wasn’t going to say no!

“I...”

He waited for my answer with eager patience. I felt like an idiot, and I whined faintly in my throat as I attempted to calculate all possible permutations of fallout from whatever could ensue. I hadn’t thought this far ahead, in spite of all the lube I’d used up over the years imagining just this very scenario. It had the potential to be the romp of a lifetime… or, if he was bad, selfish, or had some hidden dealbreaker, it could be the worst letdown ever experienced by a member of the human race.

In the end, I decided to say fuck it. You only live once, dummy.

“Would… 2130 hours give you e-enough time to get ready?”

“More than enough,” he said, grinning with mischief. With that he snaked his fingers around my middle and maneuvered me to his broad, rugged shoulder. “Now hold on, I wanna see how fast I can launch myself up this tube...”

Well, no one could say that the lieutenant commander didn’t know how to indulge his inner child.