The dress was... Well, “tight,” was definitely one word for it, but her uniform had more than prepared Michael Burnham for that, at least. Starfleet design favored a slim, sleek silhouette, close to the body and with minimal visible fuss. Pockets and so on were designed to be functional, but not to be seen. It was a good look -- she'd learned to appreciate how the uniform looked on her, and how she looked in it, in the years since she'd left Vulcan. It felt like a second skin, by now, and while she took pride in it, she didn't spend a lot of time thinking about her uniform or its appearance.
The dress, however, was an entirely different matter.
She supposed that, in a way, the robes she had worn as a student on Vulcan had been more or less like dresses. But they were as unlike this dress as could be imagined while still retaining the same basic function and essential structure. This dress was utterly, completely Human. It cut across her chest, leaving her shoulders and back bare, and dipped low in the center of her chest. Short sleeves ruffled out below her shoulders and down just a few inches in a wave that extended across her chest and around her back, emphasizing her bust almost more than covering it. Below that, the black silk hugged her curves and then spilled down over her legs, slit up to mid-thigh as both a concession to practicality and an inducement to for others to look at her bared leg whenever she took a step.
Overall, the effect was a bit overwhelming, and entirely unlike anything she'd ever seen or imagined herself wearing before. Michael tilted her head, regarding herself in the mirror. "Does it look okay?"
"Are you kidding?" Her good friend Lieutenant Garen, who had only moments ago zipped up the back of the dress, stood back, his antennae jerking up and back. "You look gorgeous, Michael. You're going to have every pair of eyes at the gala on you."
That thought set Michael back more than a little. "That's not really the intention. I'm just supposed to be Captain Georgiou's escort for the night, not... attracting attention myself."
"Believe me, everyone at this kind of event is going to be attracting attention. People don't go to galas like this to hide in the shadows and blend into the crowd. They go to see and, more than that, to be seen. The captain will be just as dressed up as you, if not more." Garen smoothed a ruffle on Michael's arm, and then squeezed her arm. "Besides, if you're really worried about it, at least you can be sure that black is the most subdued color that anyone will be wearing at this thing."
"I thought... isn't black normal for formal events? That's why I ordered it..."
"Sure, it's kind of traditional, especially for men. But that just means that a lot of people will be competing to find the most outrageous formal dress as far away from traditional black as they can get."
"Oh. On Vulcan, everyone just wears what's traditional."
Garen laughed. "Humans aren’t like that. You know that by now.”
She had to trust him. Despite being Andorian by birth and culture, Garen had grown up around humans -- his father sat on the Federation Council and had served as a non-commissioned consultant on a Starfleet ship in the early days of the Federation. Garen and his siblings had spent a number of winters on Earth with family friends, and Garen himself had been the first Andorian to be accepted to Starfleet Academy and work his way up through the ranks. His area of science was entomology, not xenoanthropology, but since her own youth had been spent among Vulcans, Michael had long since come to the slightly embarrassing conclusion that he knew her own species better than she did.
He wasn’t primarily concerned with her acclimation to Humanity right now, however. “Besides,” he continued, “you don’t actually want to blend into the crowd, do you? I thought you wanted the captain to notice you.”
Michael groaned and started to sit down on her sofa, then remembered her fancy and extremely tight dress and thought better of that plan and just leaned forehead against the cool stability of the bulkhead.
"You do, don’t you? Or did you change your mind again?” Garen shook his head. “Honestly, Michael, you have to make up your mind. A person like the captain isn’t going to wait around forever, not even for someone like you. Trust me. I have a bit more experience than you do at this sort of thing.”
"I know, I know..." The popular rumor that Andorians could die if they didn’t have sex regularly was a lie, but those who knew Andorians well had to admit that, like a lot of rumors, it had a core of truth to it. Michael sighed and straightened. What Garen didn’t know about sexual relationships probably wasn’t worth knowing, which, in addition to their close friendship and bond as two officers who had grown up among species other than their own, was a large part of why Michael had admitted to him her crush on the captain and drafted his assistance in dealing with it. He hadn’t steered her wrong yet, but the whole situation still made her intensely nervous. "I haven’t changed my mind. At least I don’t think I have. I’m just... starting to wonder if that time limit might already have passed. I’ve waited so long, and this gala is such a high profile event. It’s too much for me. I'm just afraid I'll make the captain look bad, somehow. Maybe she should be taking someone else. Lieutenant Gonzalez always looks so stylish when she's off-duty, or Lieutenant Bahatnagar--"
"The captain didn't want to take either of them with her to this," Garen reminded Michael, his brown eyes gleaming with fond mischief. "She specifically wanted to take you as her escort, remember? Although if you’d really rather someone else escort her, I’d be happy to volunteer, myself..."
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” Michael cocked a wry eyebrow at him.
“You’re damned right I would,” Garen replied with a grin. Then he sobered. “But the captain doesn’t want me. She wants you. Besides, it’s an off-duty event, off-ship, and off the clock. How much more of an opportunity are you waiting for? This is the best shot you’re ever going to have to get around your concerns about starting up a relationship with your commanding officer!”
"If it was an on-duty event I'd be wearing my dress uniform, and I wouldn't be worried about making small-talk to a bunch of diplomats and celebrities on top of trying to make a move at my captain," Michael muttered. "Nobody expects a lieutenant commander to make small talk with dignitaries when she's there as part of an honor guard. And I wouldn't be worried about making a fool of myself, either. Embarrassing the captain, or misunderstanding something--"
"That's what this is all really about it, isn't it?" Garen picked up Michael's lipstick and very neatly tidied up her makeup for her, while Michael stood perfectly still, frozen with terror. "You're worried you've misunderstood the captain's invitation? Or her interest?"
"She... she made it clear she'd let me set the tone of our interactions. That the next move is up to me. She wants to give me the choice, so that there’s no pressure due to her being my direct superior."
"But you still feel pressured?" Garen suggested, his voice light but his eyes extremely serious and his antennae low and perfectly intent upon Michael.
"No. No, it's not that. I know she means it -- Captain Georgiou won't do anything, or even mention it again, if I don't bring up the subject first. I'll have to make the first move. She invited me along to this gala so I'd have an opportunity, off-ship, but... that's it. I could go along exactly as if I was on-duty, but in a dress instead of my uniform, and we could have dinner and chat with some boring dignitaries or whatever, and then come back to the Shenzhou and never talk about it again. Or..."
"Or, I could say something. Or do something. Or... suggest we skip the dinner and spend the night in a fancy suite with a giant tub full of bubble bath and a bed bigger than my old quarters."
Garen smiled and cupped her cheek in his warm blue palm. “I vote that last option. It sounds perfect.”
“I’m not surprised. It sounds like something you would do.”
“You could do it, too.”
Michael closed her eyes. She could imagine every part of it, except the words coming out of her own mouth. There, her imagination fell flat. "Maybe I could. I just... don't know if I should."
"Do you know if you want to?" Garen asked.
Michael opened her mouth, then paused. Did she know? She knew that personal and sexual relationships between command staff were looked on with what could be best described as benign neglect by Starfleet Command. For the most part, senior officers were trusted to make their own judgement calls. If their judgment led to lapses in duty or suggestions that someone was taking advantage or abusing their authority, they were strictly reprimanded, but so long as both parties were judicious about the way they went about their relationship, Starfleet was content to look the other way. But that was the Vulcan side of her, all rules and regulation. That wasn't about what she wanted.
She wanted Captain Georgiou -- Philippa. But did she have the nerve to actually make the first move?
The door chimed.
Michael blinked, and shook her head. There would be time to figure that out later. "Enter."
The door slid open... and Philippa Georgiou stepped in. Michael's jaw dropped.
Georgiou’s long, black hair hung in loose curls just as she usually wore for duty, but instead of being pulled back over the shoulders of her uniform, it draped over an impeccably-tailored suit the color of a good merlot. The dark red brought out the warmth in her eyes, and the elegantly masculine cut of the suit drew attention to the lithe, well-muscled curves underneath. Her eyes made a brief but appreciative pass over Michael's outfit, as well as everything left uncovered by it, before she smiled. "Ready, Commander?"
"She's ready." Garen blew a quick dusting of powder over Michael's makeup, then squeezed her shoulders. "You'll be perfect. Don't do anything I wouldn't do." Under cover of kissing Michael's cheek, he added against her ear, "and don't regret not doing anything you want to."
The captain held out her arm. Michael had seen this in crew movie nights, and she didn't miss a beat - she slipped her hand around Georgiou's arm and rested it lightly on the back of her forearm. A handsome gold antique watch peeked out from under the sleeve of her jacket and white blouse, and Michael was struck by the strangeness of seeing her captain wearing jewelry, which was -- except for religious items, wedding bands, and small, unobtrusive ear-studs -- forbidden by Starfleet dress code. For a panicked instant she wondered whether she should have requisitioned some minor piece of jewelry as well. A necklace or bracelet, or maybe both? Long earrings? Since neither Garen nor the captain had said anything, though, she determined that the lack of jewelry was at least not a huge misstep.
They roused some interesting looks on the walk to the shuttle bay, but Michael couldn’t bring herself to care - as awkward as she’d been afraid she would feel, she was too focused on her captain to care much about what Lieutenant Trichopoulos or Ensign Hitomi thought of what she was wearing. What could it possibly matter? They weren’t the ones walking next to Captain Georgiou. And if she stumbled a little bit as she bent to step into the shuttlepod, well, that just meant she got to lean a little more on Georgiou’s arm.
“All right, Commander?” Georgiou asked with a smile.
“Fine, sorry.” Michael flashed a nervous grin, reminding herself to straighten up and not keep holding into her captain’s arm like it was a life preserver on an old sea ship. “I’m not used to these shoes, I guess.”
“Old-fashioned fashions can be a little difficult.” Georgiou grinned. “I admit, that’s part of why I chose the suit.”
“Maybe I should have done the same.”
Georgiou cast another look -- this one significantly more lingering than before -- over Michael’s outfit. “I wouldn’t go that far.” Her voice was mild, but the amused and appreciative gleam in her eyes set Michael’s nerves on fire. There was nothing to do about it just then, though, as the ensign who was piloting them over to Starbase 9 was already waiting in the cockpit, and no part of the shuttlepod was invisible from where he sat. Michael sat down and watched the launch procedures she was used to running herself, and tried not to fidget. Beside her, Georgiou looked as calm as could be. Of course she did -- as the captain, she was used to sitting in the center of any manner of chaos and letting everyone else take whatever actions she ordered. She was always, always, supremely in command of both her situation and herself. Michael let out a slow breath and allowed herself a secret look at Georgiou... only to find that the captain was already watching her.
“There was one other thing,” Georgiou said, “since it will take a little while for us to get to the starbase.”
Michael’s heart jumped. “Yes?”
“A funny little old tradition.” Georgiou stood up and retrieved something from the luggage compartment where their overnight bags had been stowed earlier that afternoon. She held it out to Michael. “For you.”
A stasis box about the size of Michael’s two cupped hands held, suspended at the instant of its cutting, a palm-sized orchid, white with pale pink streaks along the inner curves of its petals. “Oh. It’s beautiful. Should I...?”
“Don’t open it just yet.” Georgiou sat down again with a smug little smirk that Michael recognized from every success of their years together. “There’s a smaller stasis unit attached to the stem, but I’m not sure quite how long it will keep once it’s on its own, and we have a long evening ahead of us. I thought you might want to wear it in your hair.”
“I... don’t have a mirror--”
Georgiou’s smile broadened. “I could put it in for you, if you like.”
Georgiou’s hands in her hair... “I’d like that.”
“Once we’ve arrived, then.”
After that a silence hung for a moment as Michael was once again acutely aware of Ensign Tohen a few meters away at the conn, pretending as hard as he could that he couldn’t hear their conversation. As good-natured and tolerant of jokes as she was, Captain Georgiou did not abide the passage of private gossip aboard her ship. The crewmen who'd seen them back in the corridors would be able to whisper through the grapevine because no one would ever be able to track their stories back to a single source. But Tohen would have to keep his mouth shut, knowing that if anything escaped to the crew at large Georgiou would know exactly who to reprimand for it. Still, there was no point in giving him more than he already had.
Georgiou lightly changed the subject to professional matters back aboard the Shenzhou -- to the duty roster for the next month, and the need to run emergency drills with the new contingent of officers who had recently joined them, and whether or not Chief Engineer Ramljak was right about the aft thrusters needing a complete overhaul that would require them to stay below warp six for at least three days, and when would be the best time to do that in their upcoming schedule. Soon enough, they arrived at the starbase, and Georgiou thanked Tohen for his flying and told him to enjoy the night off on the starbase and be ready to take them back to the Shenzhou at eleven-hundred hours the next morning.
"Eleven-hundred?" Michael asked, surprised. "That's awfully late."
"We're likely to be up quite late tonight," Georgiou said. "At the gala. I thought you might appreciate a chance to sleep in, anyway. And so might Tohen. I know I will. We can get breakfast at the hotel on the starbase before we leave. If I'm awake that early," she added with an impish grin. "Otherwise we'll have coffee and annoyingly tasteless meal rations aboard the shuttle on the way back to the ship."
They checked in at the hotel, where Michael was both disappointed and relieved to discover that separate rooms had been assigned for them. The feeling of relief went away as she watched two separate porters carry their bags up to their separate rooms. She should have said something, she realized -- she should have suggested they share. Tohen wasn't around anymore, having stayed behind to run post-flight checks on the shuttle before checking in himself. No one from the ship was around. She'd had a chance, and she'd missed it. Georgiou didn't look at all disappointed, though, so maybe she had expected this. Maybe she'd given up waiting for Michael to make the first move, after all, and taking Michael as her escort to the gala was just a matter of practicality. Perhaps it was even a consolation, or a way of showing Michael what she was missing. That didn't sound like Georgiou, but Michael had to admit she couldn't have blamed her if it was the case. She'd already waited far, far too long to take her chance, and a woman like Philippa Georgiou wouldn't wait around forever on someone like her. There were sure to be plenty of other people who were interested in her, inside and out of Starfleet, and many who wouldn't waste their time like Michael had in stepping forward to claim their chance to be with her.
One of them, Michael was horrified to see, was even attending the gala.
"Reg," Georgiou almost cooed.
"Philippa." Captain Reginald Hatteras -- a tall, hazel-eyed Human from Great Britain, known to Shenzhou scuttlebutt as 'Captain Hotness,’ and wearing a tuxedo that did nothing to obscure the reasons for that moniker -- squeezed Georgiou's proffered hand and kissed her cheek with all that was perfect in gentlemanly charm. "You're looking lovely, as always."
"You look quite handsome yourself, Reg. You know my first officer, Michael Burnham."
"Commander Burnham, of course." Hatteras bowed slightly over her hand, his hazel eyes twinkling, but his attention was back on Georgiou far too soon for Michael's taste, and he stood closer to her than she would have liked. They chatted on, cheerfully and graciously involving Michael in the conversation at every opportunity as she privately seethed with recriminations against herself. Michael herself might have missed the frisson between them the times that Hatteras had visited the Shenzhou, but Garen had nursed a rather hopeless attraction for Georgiou ever since joining her crew, and took what was to Michael a perverse delight in cataloging her few but passionate love affairs. Imagined scenes of the handsome, whiskey-voiced man with her elegant, intelligent, and wickedly wry captain had filled Michael’s frustrated nights more than once, particularly after she discovered to her surprise that her feelings for Georgiou were far more than professional.
Hatteras moved on, eventually, to go on into the ballroom and make his greetings to other friends and acquaintances throughout the room, and once he was well away and distracted Georgiou shot her first officer an amused look. “I thought you liked Captain Hatteras, Number One. You didn’t seem at all interested in chatting with him.”
“Just excited to meet all the new people we haven’t met before, Captain.”
“Of course.” Georgiou looked at her for a long moment, as if there was something serious that she wanted to say. When she finally spoke, though, Michael was surprised: “Ah. But we nearly forgot your flower.”
“Oh.” Michael blushed and looked down at the stasis box she’d completely forgotten she was holding. “It’s really too kind of you, Captain. I had been thinking... everything I read indicated there’d be a lot of fancy jewelry and things like that at an event like this, and of course I don’t have anything like that. Vulcans don’t much approve of ornamentation.”
“Not for young people, certainly,” Georgiou agreed with a fond smile. “I have met a few Vulcan dignitaries in my time, and I’ve noticed they bend that rule if it suits them. Still, even a Vulcan couldn’t say that a beautiful, natural flower isn’t the most appropriate ornament for an equally beautiful young woman, I think. At least not if they were being completely honest about the aesthetic affect it gives. Here.” Georgiou took the box and opened it, releasing an immediate air of sweet, almost dizzyingly appealing perfume that wafted from the box as she removed the flower from its floating chamber.
“You should have gotten one for yourself, as well,” Michael said.
“Oh, I think I’m a little old for flowers. Besides, I’m not sure it would look right with my suit.” Georgiou winked as she stepped in close to fuss with the placement of the flower in Michael’s hair. “I’m glad you left your hair curly today,” she said. “The straightened look is very crisp and professional, but the curls suit this dress. And the flower nestles so nicely in them. Just so.”
“It won’t fall?”
“There’s a clip attached to the stem, along with the little stasis unit. It’ll stay all night if you want it to.” Georgiou’s touch lingered just slightly, first on Michael’s hair, as if testing whether the flower would really stay or not... and then brushing lightly against Michael’s cheek on the way down. Which couldn’t possibly be a mistake. Michael’s skin seemed almost to sizzle with energy at the touch, as if brushed by a live wire instead of her captain’s cool, smooth fingers. Georgiou was so close, and her eyes were so dark, so intent on Michael’s face.
“Captain... Philippa. I know you said you wouldn’t make the first move, that you wanted to wait for me to--”
“Georgiou, there you are!”
At the sound of the bellow from across the room, Georgiou closed her eyes, a pained expression briefly flitting across her face before she recovered her control. “We will talk about this later, Number One,” she said in a low but very distinct tone. Then she turned, her professional smile already neatly in place. “Admiral Barraza. It’s good to see you. Have you met my first officer, Michael Burnham?”
And so it went, for what felt like hours. Michael met and chatted politely with admirals, captains, and the occasional commander like herself, as well as numerous diplomats, ambassadors, and other assorted dignitaries. She stayed close to Georgiou in case the captain needed her, but mostly Georgiou seemed comfortable and willing to merely introduce Michael around and draw her into conversation, occasionally supplying some interesting tidbit or conversation starter that would make the right connection at the right moment, before moving on to the next person who demanded her attention.
At last there was an announcement for the beginning of the banquet, and Michael allowed herself, alongside Georgiou, to be shepherded to that side of the dining room and along lines of food set out on seemingly endless tables. She picked through the options for what was appropriate to her vegetarian upbringing and philosophy, and then followed along with Georgiou back to their table, where placecards seated them side by side. There was more light small talk, to which Michael paid less attention than the fleet chatter earlier, but still enough to put in what she hoped was an intelligent comment or somewhat witty remark every now and then, and to make note of anything that Georgiou might need her to recall later on.
Then Georgiou’s pocket chirped. She pulled out her communicator, apologizing to the admiral she’d been chatting about the Orion trade embargo, and stood up, bending over Michael as she did. “Burnham, with me.”
Michael trotted after Georgiou as quickly as she could in the awkward dress and heels, holding her skirt up a bit so it wouldn’t impede her stride, but Georgiou didn’t stop in the lobby to take the communication as Michael had expected her to. Instead, she tucked her communicator back in her pocket as soon as they were out of sight of the banquet hall, strode purposefully to the elevator, and keyed in the floor for their rooms.
Once the elevator doors closed, the tension in Georgiou’s back and shoulders immediately evaporated.
Realization tipped, and Michael couldn’t decide whether to be amused or annoyed by her captain’s behavior. “You set off the communicator yourself.”
Georgiou smirked. “They’ll assume we had to deal with some sort of boring crisis back on the Shenzhou, and dinner was nearly over anyway. Of course, we could go back in a few minutes, if you’d prefer, but I thought this might be a good time for us to have that discussion that Barraza interrupted earlier. Everyone will get up for dessert and coffee soon, and there’s always a lot of table-switching at that point before the speeches start, so we’ll be missed in the shuffle.”
“Aren’t you afraid someone will notice you’re not there?”
“Not especially.” The doors opened, and Georgiou gestured Michael out ahead of her. “I won an award at this gala two years ago. Last year I delivered the speech for that year’s honoree. This year... I think I’ve had enough of speeches. And enough of admirals, at least for one night. I’d rather hear what you have to say on the topic we were about to discuss when Barraza interrupted us.”
Which means I’d better figure out what I was going to say, Michael thought. She knew what she meant, but the exact words kept slipping in and out of focus like a desert mirage.
Georgiou keyed in the lock code on her door and gestured Michael into a large, well-appointed suite with a sitting room, bathroom, and doors to what looked like a fairly opulent bedroom. There was a little in-room kitchen unit with a pot of coffee waiting for them, which Georgiou poured into waiting cups. “I’m sorry you’ll miss dessert.”
“Is that...” Michael stared at the wall between Georgiou’s room and the next. “There’s a door in your wall.”
“There is.” Georgiou handed Michael her coffee. “The room next door is yours. It’s a double suite.”
The feeling of helpless loss that Michael had experienced earlier when she realized that Georgiou had requested separate rooms for them burned away in an instant. Not only had Georgiou most definitely not been ruling out the possibility of their spending the night together in the hotel, she had mad sure that no one in the hall would ever know whether they had or not, and still provided Michael with the professional and private luxury of her own room. A door that could be closed, or left open, as she chose.
“I know it’s not entirely appropriate, sir. I know Starfleet regulation has some stern things to say about officers indulging in sexual relationships across the chain of command. But, sir--I don’t care about regulations anymore. I want you.”
Michael thought that would be the beginning of a conversation. She thought they would sit down, drink their coffee, and have a long, thoughtful talk about what this would mean for their professional and personal relationships and how they could arrange everything so as best to avoid causing problems for the smooth running of the Shenzhou. She did not expect Georgiou to take step into her personal space, pluck the coffee cup out of her hand, set it on the side table next to them, and kiss her, all in one smooth motion.
“I’ve been waiting all night for you to say that,” Georgiou murmured against her cheek when they parted for breath. “I didn’t want to push you, but--”
“I was a little afraid the offer might have run out,” Michael admitted, breathless with wonder.
“I told you that I would let you make the first move. I didn’t put a time limit on that." Georgiou bent to nuzzle her neck, and then nipped lightly at it. "You don't really think my patience is so short that it would give out in a few weeks, do you?"
"No, but... You do have other options."
"So do you."
"I suppose. But none that I've pursued before--"
"So you're concerned I'll get distracted by someone else precisely because I've had sexual relationships before?" Georgiou chuckled. "Logically, Number One, that doesn't quite work out."
“Reginald and I have had the occasional interlude on and off for years. I value our friendship, but he knows perfectly well that I’m here to be with you, not him. And,” Georgiou added with a smirk, “that I would never forgive him if he stole you away from me right now.”
“Stole--” Michael laughed. “I don’t think there’s any danger of that, sir.”
“Stop calling me ‘sir,’ Michael. That is rather the point of doing this off-ship, you know.” She settled her hands firmly on Michael’s shoulders, her thumbs rubbing lightly at the soft skin above her collarbone. “If we keep up with this after tonight we’ll have to find ways of doing so within Starfleet protocol. Things will get complicated from time to time. Tonight can be simple.”
Michael took a deep breath and nodded. The habit was a little tough to break, though. “Yes, s--Philippa.”
Georgiou closed the space between them for another kiss, this time a slow and lingering exploration, and after a moment Michael worked up the nerve to smooth her hands first down the sides of Georgiou’s tailored suit jacket, then under it to a crisp shirtwaist warm with Georgiou’s body heat. She tried awkwardly to shift the jacket off of her shoulders, then got stymied when she realized that was trapping Georgiou’s arms close against her body, which was the reverse of what Michael wanted when Georgiou’s hands were in the process of smoothing wonderful heat down her back and clutching at her hips.
After a moment Georgiou pulled back just enough to extricate herself from the mess of arms and fabric and toss the jacket carelessly onto the nearby side table. Underneath, Michael was astonished to find, she wore suspenders. Not having any experience with them, she wouldn’t have guessed that the contrast of the straight, slender black lines against Georgiou’s white shirt and the curve of her breasts would have made such a compelling image, but she realized that she should have known. Seemingly everything about Georgiou struck her hard.
“Not strictly necessary,” Georgiou said, apparently mistaking Michael’s attention for confusion. “But I thought they added something.”
“They definitely do.” Michael traced a hand down the line of one from Georgiou’s shoulder down to the soft peak of her breast, and watched as the heat in Georgiou’s eyes rose further. Satin rubbed against sleek linen, and a nub hardened beneath that. To her great embarrassment, Michael’s hand trembled. She’d imagined this so many times since her arrival on the Shenzhou, but the reality of being here, in a strange but elegant room with Philippa, with her captain--
“If you want to stop, forever or for now, just say so.” Georgiou rested one hand lightly over Michael’s and cupped her cheek with her other hand.
“No! No, that’s not -- but I’ve never--”
“I know.” Georgiou kissed her again and slipped her arms around Michael’s waist, lighter now, gentle, as if concerned she’d frighten her if she held too tight. “We talked about that, remember? It’s all right. But it’s also all right if you’re not ready. If you want to wait longer, or find someone else--”
“That’s not it at all. I don’t want to disappoint you.”
“Michael.” Georgiou’s smile was so bright, so close, and the faintest glimmer of tears rose up in her eyes. “You have never disappointed me. As long as you stay true to yourself, I don’t believe you ever will. Certainly not in this.”
Michael kissed her, hard, and clung to her with all her strength. She tugged the back of the linen shirt up out of the waistline of Georgiou’s trousers and grasped at velvet-warm skin, the muscles of Georgiou’s back shifting under her hands as Georgiou shoved her back against the wall, pressing close, arching against each other. Something fell off the side table. Michael thought it might have been the jacket, but neither of them cared enough to look.
“We need to get that dress off,” Georgiou muttered. Michael obligingly lifted her back from the wall so that she could find the zipper at the bottom of the vee made by the backline, then groaned as Georgiou kissed the fleshy part of her shoulder while she bent to unzip all the way down the back. The dress pooled to the ground around her feet, and Michael gladly stepped out of it and right back into Georgiou’s arms. Her hands were cool against Michael’s ribs and stomach, raising gooseflesh all over her skin.
“The rest of your clothes--”
“Later.” Georgiou pressed one last searing kiss to Michael’s mouth, then trailed kisses down her neck to the swell of her breasts beneath the black strapless bra, which she unhooked as she nuzzled the bare skin at the top of the rise. The bra joined the dress on the ground, and Michael gasped as Georgiou half-knelt in front of her and took one of her nipples in her mouth. She dug her fingers into Georgiou’s hair and arched toward her, letting her head rest back against the wall behind them. Georgiou’s arms looped around her waist, and a few curls of her hair brushed like silk lightning across Michael’s stomach.
And then Georgiou was straightening and stepping back.
“You don’t really want to have your first sexual experience up against a wall, when we have a perfectly good, big hotel bed right there, do you?”
The bed. Michael looked across the room at the king-size bed, draped in lush white sheets and blankets beneath a burgundy valance and an almost impressionistic painting of the night sky over San Francisco. “Honestly, I don’t know if I care. I’m fine here, just don’t stop--”
“You will care.” Georgiou kissed her cheek, then nuzzled her ear, a self-satisfied smile evident in her voice as she added, “I’m not planning to make this brief.”
A shiver ran down Michael’s spine and settled as a warm heaviness deep in her center. Georgiou held out her hand, and Michael took it, allowing her captain to lead her to the bed, where she turned back the covers before leaning Michael back against the mattress, her thigh between Michael’s legs. Michael groaned and arched against her as they kissed again, and finally found the presence of mind to begin unbuttoning Georgiou’s shirt. The buttons were backwards to her perspective, an added layer of frustration to fingers that no longer seemed to work right, and she muttered a few curses in Andorian and ancient Vulcan as she fumbled.
“Michael.” Georgiou caught her hands. “There’s no rush.”
“I know, but--”
“Believe me, I understand.” Changing her grip, Georgiou laced their fingers together and lifted Michael’s hands to shoulder height, then bent and pressed a row of kisses along her collarbone and down her sternum. “I’ve wanted to shove you up against a wall and have my way with you ever since I saw you in that dress. But we’re here. We have the whole night, and tomorrow morning. I think you can take a little time to breathe and enjoy this.”
“I am. I’m enjoying. It’s just--” Michael let out an exasperated rush of air through her nose. “I wanted this to be perfect. I thought, when we finally got together--I know you said you wouldn’t be disappointed, but you’ve done this before, and I haven’t, and I want to get everything right. At least the basics”
“It will be perfect because it’s us. That’s all I need.” Georgiou nudged her up onto the mattress and bent her back against the pillows to kiss her again, long and thoughtful, her hands exploring Michael’s breasts and stomach, raising gooseflesh everywhere she went and making Michael sigh and try to pull her closer. “And if you’re really concerned about my experience, I waited this long to be with you. I don’t want to waste that because you can’t be a little bit patient now that we’re finally here. All right?”
Michael swallowed hard, and nodded. “You... you really thought that much... about me?”
Georgiou pressed a kiss to the middle of her forehead. “Really.”
Everything got easier after that.
* * *
The next morning, Michael awoke to a feeling of vague disorientation. The piles of lush white pillow and thick down comforter over her were unlike her own back on the Shenzhou, and the familiar thrum of the ship’s computer and other systems, the comforting background noise of her life for the last six years, were gone, replaced by a quieter hum of a very different pitch. And then it all fell into place. The gala, the starbase, the hotel room... and Philippa Georgiou. Black hair falling like silk around her face, brushing over the bare skin of Michael’s shoulders, breasts, stomach, and thighs. Soft lips touching and hands touching everywhere, seeking all the most intimate and sensitive parts of her and exploring, as tender and curious and confident as she was in everything.
Just remembering the night before (and the early hours of the morning--she was absolutely certain they’d been awake well past one in the morning) made Michael shiver with delight.
She rolled over onto her other side, and was grateful to see a tumble of loose black curls over the pillow, and a profile she knew better than any other face in the world, relaxed and peaceful in sleep. Remembering the night before, Michael reached out to twine her fingers in the silky hair, and was surprised when Philippa murmured softly and rolled onto her side, pressing her face into the pillow.
I didn’t actually think she could get any more charming. But there it is. Philippa Georgiou--one of Starfleet’s most highly-decorated captains, and the terror of new ensigns showing up late to their shift--doesn’t want to wake up.
“Hey.” Michael scooted herself closer to her sleeping captain and insinuated her arms around her sleeping body. They’d both fallen asleep naked, and the soft warmth of Philippa’s skin against hers was almost enough to make Michael give up all thoughts of breakfast. But they were expected back at the starbase’s shuttle bay in... she checked her chronometer. Just over one hour. “It’s getting late. We should get up.”
“Don’t care.” Philippa’s arms found their way around Michael’s waist and pulled her closer as she transferred her head from her pillow to Michael’s chest.
“Ensign Tohen is expecting us back at eleven. It’s almost ten now.”
“What’s he going to do,” Georgiou murmured against Michael’s skin. “Leave without us?”
Michael couldn’t help but laugh at that. The captain was right, of course, but... “You don’t really want to leave Saru in a position where he might decide procedure required him to call us, do you?”
“Communicator’s over there. Turned off.”
“He’d contact Tohen, and send him up to check on us. And then,” Michael bent and kissed her captain’s forehead. “We really would be in trouble.”
“Tohen knows to keep his mouth shut if he sees anything private and personal. Or he does if he knows what’s good for him,” Philippa’s added in a soft growl, but then she sighed. “I suppose it wouldn’t be wise to tempt fate, though. But two hours... Surely we have time for a little more privacy before returning to the ship--”
Michael squeaked with surprise as Philippa’s hands made a detour south and squeezed purposefully at her buttocks. “You’re going to at least want a shower and something to eat before we get back to the Shenzhou,” Michael pointed out, too used to her position as first officer to give up that easily on something that impacted her captain’s appearance of professionalism.
“A shower.” Philippa’s smile turned to a wicked grin. “There’s a thought... although I think I’d prefer a bath. And not alone. The tub in there is certainly big enough for two.”
“Are you always like this when you get a day off-ship?” Michael asked, torn between laughter and astonishment.
“No, but I don’t usually have such charming company. Oh, all right. I can see you’ll be disappointed in me if I don’t get up right now, and I can’t have that.” Philippa sighed again--exaggerated this time for effect, Michael was sure--and gave her one more blistering kiss before extracting herself from Michael’s arms and slipping quickly out of the covers and onto her feet. The chill air of the hotel room, relative to the warmth beneath the blankets, pebbled her nipples and raised goosebumps across her arms. Michael, bereft of her embrace, felt suddenly as if pushing for propriety and timeliness had been a terrible mistake, and it was clear from Philippa’s grin that she could tell.
“You wanted me back on duty-mode, Number One,” Philippa continued as she retrieved a plush, burgundy robe from the en suite bathroom. “You can’t complain if that’s exactly what you got.”
Michael accepted the matching bathrobe that Philippa held out to her, and examined the logo embroidered on the breast. “I didn’t... I’m not used to this,” she admitted. “I’m supposed to be your first officer, but--”
“Don’t be downcast.” Philippa cupped Michael’s chin in her fingers and lifted her face for another kiss, this one slow and tender, making Michael ache to pull her back under the covers and revisit a few of the previous night’s explorations. “This is the easy part. Everything after we get back to the ship, that’s when the real complications start to set in. If you can’t manage the contrary impulses to tell me that I ought to get out of bed and that you want me to stay, we’re really going to be in trouble when something serious comes up. Can you manage that, Michael?”
Looking into the calm, warm eyes that watched and measured her so closely and yet harbored so much love and trust, Michael felt she could do anything. “I can.”
“Good. Now go and take the first shower, while I order us some breakfast. If I go first I’ll be tempted to linger--I haven’t had a proper water shower in months.”
Michael opened her mouth to protest that Philippa could take the first shower, but Philippa stopped her with a firm shake of her head.
“And if you order breakfast, I have a terrible feeling you’ll order something simple and practical.”
Chagrined, Michael closed her mouth. That would indeed have been her impulse.
“I don’t have any desire to be practical today,” Philippa told her with a slight toss of her head. “I want to be decadent. So off into the shower with you, and let me handle room service.”
Out of habit as much as curiosity at what her captain had planned, Michael followed her orders. The shower was nearly the size of the whole bathroom in her quarters back on the Shenzhou and would indeed have fit two people easily, as would the immense, deep bathtub set into the other side of the bathroom. The shampoo and soaps all smelled wonderful, and the hot water felt glorious on her skin, and she allowed herself to get lost in memories of the previous night.
Then she heard the sound of the shower stall door clicking open behind her, and turned to find Philippa slipping in, beautifully naked and smiling. “Don’t let me stop you from finishing,” she said as she pressed up behind Michael and twined her arms around her waist, her palms slipping over skin slick with soap and water. “Although it might be wise if one of us was out there in a fit state to answer the door in about ten minutes. I’d hate for all the food I just ordered for us to get cold before we have a chance to appreciate it.”
Michael groaned as Philippa’s hands slid lower down her body and her lips pressed against the back of her neck. “You’re not doing a good job of convincing me to get out and let you shower.”
Philippa laughed softly against her skin. “I should hope not.”
They lingered for a time, luxuriating in the hot water and sweet smells and the pleasure of kissing and touching each other at leisure, then--just when Michael’s highly-trained sense of time alerted her that she should get out and dry off or risk having to rush to the door with her hair dripping and her cheeks incriminatingly flushed--Georgiou pulled back and, with a wry smile that Michael recognized all too well from much more professional interactions, said, “You’d better get dried off, Number One. We can pick this up again later, when we have more time.”
Michael had just enough time to dry her hair and get back into her soft hotel bathrobe before a polite chime announced the presence of a member of hotel staff at the door with their breakfast. Michael closed the bathroom door behind her, for Philippa’s privacy, and let in a pair of immaculate waiters carrying two trays laden with covered plates and a large french press full of coffee accompanied by cream and a bowl of neat little sugar cubes. The rich smell of the coffee made Michael’s mouth water.
“Perfect timing,” Philippa announced as she emerged from the bathroom a moment later, tying the belt of her robe. Her long, dark hair hung loose and wet around her shoulders, and Michael was momentarily distracted first by the desire to twine her fingers into the inky locks, and then the stunning memory that she could, without, for the moment at least, the slightest impropriety or concern that Philippa might not welcome the gesture. It was a feeling not unlike the first time she took command of the Shenzhou after being made its first officer--powerful and almost dizzying in its sense of liberty. But this time there was no accompanying sense of dread at greater responsibility and latitude for error. She twined her fingers through Philippa's wet hair and pulled her close for a kiss.
"We have to go back to the ship soon," she said as explanation when they parted, since something about the way Philippa smiled at her indicated curiosity as well as amusement. Then again, curiosity about everything had always been one of the strongest traits they shared in common.
"You know that doesn't end this, Michael." Philippa laid her own hand over Michael's, and laced their fingers together. "Not if you don't want it to, at least. We'll have to be more careful aboard the Shenzhou than we've needed to be here--there will be regulations to take care of, and you'll want to protect your career's future from any impression of impropriety. But this doesn't have to end when Tohen lands the shuttle back in our bay."
"I don't want it to," Michael said.
"Then it won't. But right now, we need to eat." Philippa grinned. "I'm starving."
When uncovered, the plates proved to contain two chantrelle, fontina, and herb omelettes, parmesan-roasted potatoes, and buttermilk biscuits with jam and butter, and two bowls of fresh strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries. Everything smelled fantastic, and they sat down in the little breakfast nook at the side of the room and applied themselves to the food with the attention and vigor it deserved before taking a longer, more relaxing time over the coffee.
"I thought you usually drank tea," Michael said, watching with no little amusement as Philippa refilled her cup from the press, with plenty of both sugar and cream. "That's usually what you drink in your ready room."
"True." Philippa refilled Michael's cup (cream, no sugar), and replaced the french press on the table between them. "On normal days I drink tea. I prefer not to risk feeling jittery from coffee while I'm on-duty, and tea is what I've always had to wake up, and in the afternoon. But on special occasions I enjoy a cup of coffee. There's nothing like it--with the addition of cream and sugar--for lingering and feeling a bit decadent."
"I'm afraid we won't be able to linger too much longer," Michael pointed out with a glance at the chronometer. "We're meant to be back at the shuttle in ten minutes."
"Mr. Tohen can afford to wait a few minutes for us," Philippa said. "That's one of the perks of command, Michael. The captain is never late."
"Even if she is?"
Despite that sentiment, however, Michael noticed that Philippa finished her coffee soon after, and got up, put on her uniform, and dried out her hair and completed her toilette with simple efficiency, emerging from the bathroom looking as perfectly poised and put together as if she was appearing on the bridge for duty after nothing more unusual than an easy night's sleep in her own quarters. Michael couldn't help but shake her head in amazement. She'd put on the uniform she'd packed for herself, too--after slipping through the suite door back to where her own luggage had been stowed--and looked, according to the mirror, more or less as she usually did. But she felt entirely different, and she was astounded at her captain's ability, as always, to look utterly in place and in command of herself everywhere that she went.
"Ready to return to the real world, Number One?"
"Not really. But it's what we have to do."
Philippa laughed softly. "It's all right. We've got a nice little journey back in the shuttle for you to reacclimate during, and I'm sure Mr. Saru has sent any number of status reports, updates, and other bureaucratic ephemera for you to read to get yourself back into the spirit of Starfleet."
"I'm sure he will." Michael's usual vague annoyance at the thought of Saru and his pedantry was tempered, however, by amusement at the thought of how the prudish Kelpien would react if he knew exactly how she'd spent the last twelve hours away from the ship. Seeing the twinkle in Philippa’s eyes, she wondered if she was thinking the same thing.
They arrived in the shuttle bay only a few minutes later than they’d told Tohen to expect them, and found the ensign calm and relaxed, entirely unconcerned by their lateness and unaware of any possibility of impropriety that might have occurred. “Pleasant evening off-ship, Ensign?” Philippa asked.
“Yes, sir.” Tohen opened the shuttle door for them and gestured the captain in first.
“Always nice to see new scenery and get a bedroom to myself for a night.” He hesitated a moment, then grinned. “Actually, sir, there was an installation of Tellarite art in the base’s exhibition center, and I spent a fair amount of last night looking at that. It was really impressive.”
“I’m sorry I missed it.” Philippa seated herself and pulled the safety strap over her shoulder. “I’m afraid we were occupied all night, and couldn’t do much exploring. Maybe next time.”
“How was the gala?”
“It was certainly the most satisfying that I’ve ever attended,” Philippa said, the look she shot Michael raising an immediate blush to her cheeks and making her want to look at Tohen to see how he could possibly fail to miss such an obvious reference... but of course it wasn’t obvious. Not to anyone but the two of them. “But perhaps you should ask Commander Burnham, since it was her first time attending.”
Tohen followed the captain’s gaze to Michael, his expression entirely innocent and curious. She swallowed. “It was... informative. Impressive. And a little overwhelming. I’m hoping I’ll be able to get more out of the next time I attend, and... participate more fully in the proceedings.”
“I’m sure you’ll get the chance, sir.”
“Without a question,” Philippa agreed, settling back into her chair with a satisfied smile. “I’ll make sure of it, Number One.”