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Walking After Midnight

Posted on Sun Aug 29th, 2021 @ 7:37pm by Ensign Nandi Chakma & Calderon Jarsdel

Mission: S1E5: Symphony of Horror
Location: Deep Space 9
Timeline: MD 1

After their awkward arrival on Deep Space 9 that had an unexpected reunion, Nandi was glad for the chance to take a stroll. Her mind was a bundle of nerves due to the upcoming inquest hearing that despite her most earnest studying she still did not fully understand. And what she did not understand always haunted her, whether the captivation of curiosity or the intimidation of the unknowable. Her only company was also her charge, a man she barely knew who evidently stood as her temporary ward due to some confusing tangle of bureaucratic red tape that she suspected she did not want to unravel to its core. Put simply, Calderon Jarsdel was every bit the personification of mystery and an apropos representative of her duty station.

"So... what do I call you?" she asked as they meandered away from their quarters toward the famous DS9 Promenade. "You carry yourself like Starfleet, but your appearance is outside regulations and..." She was going to mention the glint in his eye, but chickened out at the last minute. Such things were not proper. "I am unsure of how to address you beyond your name."

The young woman's nervous energy buzzed Calderon's mind like the aftermath of a highly caffeinated drink, a bright thrill in this brave new world. The fact that they were walking freely on a station far from the cell he'd languised in and with access to all areas only heightened that sense of freedom. It was false, of course, because there were rules here too. People he needed to help, chores he needed to perform. But the mere thought that it was possible to step onto a ship and simply disappear was exciting. And Cal relished that feeling. He paused, gave those big dark brown eyes of his companion serious consideration and relaxed into that easy charm that he'd owned long before the Lethean had hijacked it.

"Cal," he said. "Just Cal is fine. My rank is something I'm sort of detached from right now, for reasons I can't really go into." He smiled, a cautious warmth in the expression that implied respect rather than assumption. "And how about you, Ensign?"

"Nandi Chakma." The words jumped out by virtue of proper etiquette and education. "Cal... what?" It seemed improper to refer to a strange and exotically featured man by his first name.

"Well, Nandi Chakma," Cal responded with a flash of a warm grin. "I'd say if you don't already know, I probably shouldn't be telling you. Here and now, 'Cal' is more than enough of a name to be using." His gaze tracked both sides of the concourse down which they walked. "Hungry?" Cal asked. "Shall we find something to eat?" While they'd fed him well enough back on Theta, DS9 was a culinary experience not to be missed, the mixture of species, scents and options an intoxicating one, sometimes quite literally.

"I suppose we could..." Nandi weighed the odds of being reprimanded for allowing her ward to wander into a crowded public square and conduct leisurely activity. But everyone had to eat, right? Even if their suite had replicators... "What cuisine did you have in mind?"

He wasn't thinking about anything dangerous, anything nefarious or outside of their current remit for guided exploration. He wasn't trying to get himself or Nandi in any trouble. Cal simply wanted to follow his nose (and his stomach) and see if the wealth of choice still existed here. Food made up before your eyes rather than forced from a replicator, scents and sounds of culinary experimentation in real time with a variety of ingredients that he could already almost taste.

"Something with noodles," Cal said, following his nose at a lazy walking pace and turned to check on his companion every so often. "And steak. And spicy sauce... Maybe some pancakes. And a real beer." That grin intensified as Cal looked into those beautiful, dark eyes. "Just one."

"Spicy meat and noodles are what my homeland is best known for," Nandi said, trying not to blush at talking about herself. I don't know if pancakes would be included with such cuisine..." As for his final request... "And perhaps we should remain sober, at least for now." She meant simply for the purposes of the hearing in a few hours, but she realized that her words could be mistaken for other sorts of impropriety. Silence seemed like a good course of action at the moment.

"Oh, so maybe you want something different?" Asked Cal, a wry smile on his face as he ignored the answers presented in his head to questions he hadn't asked his company yet. He wanted to go old school here, and simply ask directly rather than drag the information from one brain to another. "Where's your homeland?" He added, gifting Nandi an intrigued look. "And, well, the advantage of DS9 is that different options tend to be gathered in close proximity here," Cal clarified. "So I can likely get pancakes on the way out and back." He ignored the chastisement (if that was truly what it was) about beer, opting to push onwards into the busy areas of the station stoically. He had every intention of remaining sober, but one beer wasn't going to change that.

"My family is from Mumbai, a major city in the Indian subcontinent," Nandi said. "We date clear back to World War 3 and..." She stopped herself. "I'm sorry. You're probably not interested in Terran wars. We're no strangers to spicy food, though, so if you wish to try DS9's variety, then we can do so... and with one glass of beer." Why did she feel like a schoolmarm? And what hid behind that smile of his? Nandi brushed the hair away from her face and fought for her composure.

"Terra," said Cal, internally categorising the information that his Lethean skills threatened to impart from Nandi. Jumik hadn't known much about the Sol System, but this young woman did. "Never been, but I wouldn't say I was uninterested," he added with sincerity. "Be happy to hear more if you want to share," he added. "Does your family still live there?" He asked, as they walked together. Then Cal laughed. "One beer, sure," he conceded. "I know I'm kinda still tagged as the bad guy, but I promise I can handle one drink without bring the station into ruin."

Put on the spot, Nandi suddenly felt timid and reserved about what she was about to freely offer without thinking about it. "Well, I'm not sure there's much to tell," she said. "I was raised by successful parents who passed their ambitions on to me. Most children on Earth get afforded special privilege if their families petition for it." She let out a rueful chuckle. "And mine did all the way. I doubt my family will ever leave Mumbai, at least not permanently. Once I complete my illustrious career, I'll likely be expected to return as well." A waft of a delicious smelling aroma swept over Nandi's nose. It made her close her eyes to better savor it. "Oh, that smells of charoli or something similar." She opened her eyes and blushed at her own exuberance. "Let's try that place."

Those prey emotions were cool-drink-on-a-hot-day kinda refreshing in Cal's mind, detached from his own feelings yet spiking parts of his brain that he was in the process of learning to temper. He successfully ignored any potential ramifications and kept his expression interested-neutral as Nandi answered his question. "Successful parents wishing for successful children is not a bad thing," he noted, reminding himself of his own father. Where was he now? What did he think of him? Cal shoved those emotions down hard and focused on the young woman beside him.

That look on her face, eyes shut, happiness caught and bottled by a culinary scent. She was beautiful in that moment, true to herself and happy in the simplicity of home found far from it.

"Charoli," Cal noted. "Sounds good to me." He let his mouth quirk in an intrigued smile, having no idea what charoli was, and followed Nandi's lead to the particular vendor she'd chosen. "Pick us both something," he suggested, as they stood before the source of those wonderful food aromas.

Taking a seat and scanning the digital menu embedded into the tabletop, Nandi let out an anxious chuckle

"I'm afraid I don't know what any of this is," she confessed. "I'm not even certain which alien cuisine it might be." Shrugging nervously she said, "Maybe you can help me identify this language?"

Cal frowned, but didn't speak up right away. He cast his gaze over the same lit menu that Nandi could see and then let his mind wander. It wasn't exactly translating a language if you sought out a mind that could already read it and then hopped onto that through train, was it? Either way there were individuals here who knew what those words meant and Cal nudged what information he could from the surface of those.

"Meat and fish in a variety of different spice levels, mostly with rice or flatbread, but they'll cut it any which way you want. This one," he tapped the screen. "Is practically daring us to try it. Something about 'inferno' and steak."

"I'm game if you are." Nandi grinned and swept her hair back behind her ears. "You said something about a beer earlier. Does the menu feature anything of the sort?"

He allowed himself a genuinely open smile as his company began to properly relax and Cal reminded himself that, in some places at least, normal life and normal souls still did normal things. Eating out. Making friends. It might be alright, it could be and that hope was a welcome new feeling that he left to happily fend for itself as he turned his full attention outwards towards Nandi.

"It doesn't," he said, then conversed with the vendor - initially clunky but steady improving with speaking the man's native language - to order their food. "But his neighbour does." Cal added. "And they're brothers. He'll bring both over to the table just there, so we just sit and wait. Won't be long." He gestured for Nandi to lead the way that short distance and take her pick of the three seats.

"Sounds... efficient," Nandi said as she walked toward the table. After a moment of assessing, she couldn't decide which seat she wanted and simply chose the nearest. "So, do we order off the menu or is this a specials-only establishment? Many old fashioned restaurants back home still follow the old ways," she said, "serving only whatever the dish of the day is and that's that."

Cal waited until Nandi took a seat and then sat opposite her, giving them the ability to converse while having a bit of space and eye contact as desired. He offered up an apologetic expression as Nandi asked how they should order. "Um," he said. "It's the kinda place that doesn't mind if you wander up and admit you don't really know what the dishes are, how spicy hot or how delicious. So," Cal shrugged and canted his head. "I asked if we could have a few taster dishes on a tray and sample a selection of things. I can change that though," he added quickly. "If you wanted a proper mains course."

"No, the sampler is good," Nandi said. "You said just a bite and a beer. We have important business in just a few hours, remember?" Despite her best to project professionalism, she couldn't wrestle away the feeling that she wasn't really Cal's superior and that maybe he was the one chaperoning her. This was her first time at such an important space station. And, aside from her senior cadet cruise aboard the Guangzhou, she had never even been off Earth. She felt altogether off balance every single time she spoke, or looked at Cal, or listened to him speak. "So... what you ordered is fine."

"Okay," Cal agreed with an easy smile and a happy shrug. Freedom! It felt good. Just to be away from the maddening crowd and over-zealous watchers, the brig and the telepaths, to be sitting with a bright young woman in the easy-going surroundings of somewhere that led to everywhere else and beyond. She'd be easy to push out of the way if he let his instincts roam. Easy to pull towards him too. Dual temptation teased at his busy mind, but Cal ignored that inner voice. He didn't know enough yet, and there was so much to learn.

"I find the best way to deal with impending important business," Cal noted calmly. "Is to think about something else for a while beforehand. Means you go into the situation fresh, open to input and relaxed. Much better position from which to study others."

Much like I'm studying you right now. said a voice behind his conscience.

There were a number of things that Nandi could consider, some of which would make her blush. Especially the handsome man of the world sitting across from her. "I... I've never been one for small talk," she said almost apologetically. "Downside to a sheltered, privileged upbringing, I'm afraid."

"Are you afraid of me, Ensign?" Cal asked outright. Small talk, as she said, wasn't for her. So why not launch straight at the bigger topics. "I mean, there's blood on my hands, after all."

"I... I don't know anything about that," Nandi lied. "You seem fine to me. Yep..." Her eyes scanned the eatery in search of their drinks.

Cal chuckled softly, the warmth tangible as he enjoyed simply being able to feel and showcase his own emotions. He turned then, seeking the same delivery system as Nandi was, and finally, someone hove into sight.

Food, beverages and a sunny disposition. The scent of spice and heat to match.

"I'm not fine," Cal said, for the record. "But I'm no danger to you, right now. Thank you for believing that, even if it is only a temporary thing. I appreciate it. I really do. And I owe you one," he flashed a grin to the young woman, then added. "Just let me know how I can repay you. I mean that, Nandi." He clinked his beer against hers and regarded the impressive tray of little dishes that their server had placed down between them.

"Here's to good food, good company and stealing a little time to be free."

Smart, handsome, dangerous, and sensitive? It was a combination that was nigh irresistible. Nandi suppressed a full body shiver of tense delight as ideas of how he could repay her shot through her mind. Carnal caresses, warm touches, soft kisses, less soft... She shook her head to clear it. "Uh... sure, of course."

The glass mug clanked in her hand, but her grip had been so weak she nearly spilled it. A large dash of foamy head spilled on the table.

"Oh, no..." Desperately seeking for something to sop it up, Nandi began blushing. "Forgive me, I can be so clumsy at times..."

Damn, thought Cal, either this lass really is flaky or she's nervous as hell. Either way the beer spillage was far from the end of the world and he reacted accordingly, dealing with the physical problem before he handled anything else. He stood, grabbed a bunch of paper towels from the vendor's front counter and split the stack in half between him and Nandi. Silently and proactively in the background, Cal's mind sought more information from the Ensign.

"You're forgiven," he said, with an effortless and easy calm. "Nothing but a waste of a little good beer, don't worry about it." That blush answered a lot of his internal questions without prying too deep into her mind. He reached out and rested his hand on hers, beer-soaked paper beneath them both. "It's really okay," Cal told her. "My fault. I shouldn't have asked you to break the rules."

Nandi's eyes grew wide at that statement. "We're breaking the rules?!" Her words came out in a gasp that descended into shallow, anxious breaths that threatened hyperventilation. "Oh, shit, oh shit, oh shit!" Her hands began to flap near her face as she looked around for an exit, as if a door could appear and whisk her away back to their assigned quarters. "Only a month into my first assignment and I've already broken basic rules of prisoner management. Fuck me, I'm so stupid!" Her hands covered her face as she still wrestled with controlling her breathing.

"Only a little bit," Cal consoled, though he couldn't help the indulgent grin. Compared to his actions over the last two years, this wayward wandering was hundreds of levels below illegal. As Nandi started to truly look like she was about to very publicly lose it though, he leaned forward and took hold of both her wrists with a gentle strength akin to a parent restraining a tantrum-bound child. From that peaceful interior, Cal projected supportive, calm strength directly into Nandi's mind.

"It's okay," he said, voice warm and comforting. "You're okay." His eyes locked with hers as he brought her mind back under control. "I won't let anything happen to you."

After a moment of fanning her face with her fingers, Nandi got her panic under control. "You're going to protect me, huh?" A coy smile presented itself. "How would that play out?" Her face turned fierce with mock solemnity. "'Ensign Chakma, you let your ward run amok in public. How do you explain yourself?'" Shifting her weight and turning her body, she responded to her own question with her regular voice. "I'm sorry, sir. I have no excuse, sir. I had a lapse in judgment, but here is Mr. Cal to make sure nothing happens to me." Her shy smile came back as she looked directly at him. "What do you do then?"

Well, this was a remarkable improvement, Cal considered as he let go and let the young woman speak calmly. That first Nandi smile made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end, a good sign in this case.

"I don't really feel like anyone's ward, right now," he said, coolly. "But you have the perfect excuse," he pointed out with amusement, eyes bright and a smug smile taking up contented residence on his face. "Do you have any idea just how powerful my mind is? What chance could you possibly stand if I really wanted you to do something, despite your orders?" Innocence personified filled his gaze and softly coated Cal's voice.

Nandi felt her breath catch in her chest. "I thought you were just an empath." Gulping slightly, she forced her body not to tremor. The thought of sitting across from a dangerous telepath was both terrifying and exhilarating. "Are you putting suggestions into my mind?"

He shook his head, a gentle show of current innocence. "Who told you that?" Cal asked. Just an empath. That had been a long time ago now. "No," he answered her question. "But if I wanted to, I could."

"Can you... read my thoughts?" Nandi asked, her facial expression a mixture of horror and embarrassment. It took everything within her to clamp down on thoughts of everything he could do to her. "There are rules against that," she desperately added, though whether it was for Cal's benefit or her own was hard to tell.

"I can," Cal said. Was he? Not really. He didn't need to, since the outpouring of micro-signals and tiny tells was more than enough for his Lethean connections to read far easier than any written tome. "And I wouldn't say I exactly play by anyone's rules." With that, he leant forward, slowly and benevolently closing the distance between his face and hers. Then, with no other ceremony, Cal planted a warm, soft bristly kiss on Nandi's cheek.

Nandi's breath caught in her throat, which was the same place where her heart had leapt. It was just a friendly kiss, she told herself. A platonic gesture of good esteem for... for... "Do you?" she squeaked. "Are you, I mean? Reading my thoughts? I'd really rather you didn't..." She absently swept her hair back again. Why was it so unmanageable? Surely she wasn't just fidgeting.

As he sat back, then leant back in his chair, Cal smiled enigmatically. "I'm not reading your mind, no," he clarified, simply. "You just looked like you really wanted to be kissed." He held his hands up in gentle surrender. "I'd apologise, but it'd be wrong, cos I'm not sorry." Relaxed and mildly amused, he maintained a polite distance in passive study of the Ensign who was supposed to be keeping him out of trouble. It would be easy, said a quiet voice of a wayward conscience, far too easy. To take advantage.

"Friendly kisses between friends are not out of line," Nandi said with no small amount of anxiety. Friendly friends...so redundant, she thought to herself. "In some cultures they are even exchanged even among strangers in greeting or as religious rites. So... thank you..." Nandi trailed off and took a deep drink from the served glass. Her eyes lit with nervous energy as she said, "Friend."

"Wow," Cal said, with a grin. He nodded as if this all made perfect sense. He was the friendliest friend-zoned friend that ever was, apparently. "You're welcome," he added, the grin fading as he took the hint. "We should finish our meal and get back," Cal stated, simply.

A fire of burning desire lit deep within Nandi's breast. Her gut. Elsewhere. But shouldn't she at least make captain first before she ruined her career with an incautious romantic dalliance? "You're right," she whispered at first, then repeated more loudly with a clear of her throat. "You're right. This was...nice. I hope it was...nice...for you."

Cal finished his mouthful of food and took a second, elongating the quiet between Nandi's awkward verbal missive and his own choice of words as he chewed and swallowed. He watched, judgement reserved for the privacy of his own mind, as Nandi ate. It had been a long time since he, rather than Jumik, had wandered into the wonderful world of romantic entanglements. A long while. That didn't prevent desire rising up, but it did hold him back on anything beyond that impish kiss.

"First time I've had a meal out in the world in two years," he said. "I'd say 'nice' is an understatement. Still rocking the bodyguard theme though," Cal added. "Wishing for a little more freedom to really stretch. To experience. To live and love." His conscience didn't even flinch at that last statement. Lethean confidence was one of the good side-effects of recent events.

"That's why we joined Starfleet, right?" Nandi asked. "For the experiences?" It was all she could do not to tremble. First it had been fear--of failing, of breaking the rules, of the mysterious man. Now, her suppressed trembles were from something else. She took a steadying breath. "I'm glad I could be part of your journey, whatever it might be." There. Cordiality at its finest. She could definitely do this. "Perhaps we ought to get back to our guest quarters though."

It had been a long time since Cal had considered his reasons for joining Starfleet. A long time since he'd had the time, headspace and indulgence to look back that far. He didn't want to get into all of that right now, so he simply smiled and nodded. "Yes, for sure," he noted, feeling those waves of emotional energy like sweet honey in the air between him and Nandi all the while. So young, so keen, so much of her effort expended to remain polite. "Good to travel through time with you too, Nandi," Cal acknowledged with the warmth her approach deserved. He didn't want to go back, but conceded that need and indicated the way ahead. "Perhaps," he agreed. "After you."

As they traced back their steps, Nandi couldn't help but chuckle. "You know, during my entire time at the Academy, not once did I break any of the rules. I was just certain I would be caught, and then for some silly reason they would tell my parents, and then my entire family would be disappointed in me." Their steps had taken them to the threshold. The common area of their ambassadorial suite and its adjoining rooms lie just beyond the doors. Nandi paused, though, and looked at Cal with the pent-up desire she had been suppressing throughout their little outing. "But that was an irrational fear, wasn't it? I've come to see that now. There's nothing wrong with... wanting to live a little?"

Impulsively, instinctively, throwing caution to the wind, she pushed up on her tip toes to close the distance between Cal's face and hers. In the quick action that returned the kiss Cal had stolen from before, Nandi barely made contact. Her lips brushed his in a soft, sweet, but all too brief connection that felt no less electrifying. After pulling back, nearly as quickly as she had initiated, Nandi's cheeks were flushed with embarrassment.

"Good night, Cal..." she managed to squeak out before running into the suite and to the room she'd claimed earlier.

Well, now wasn't that interesting? He hadn't even been really trying and the lawful nature of this bright young thing had been tweaked sideways. No, Cal thought. Nothing wrong with living a little. Walking on the wild side. You just never knew when the road you thought you were travelling was going to be ripped out from under your feet. But he didn't say any of that out loud. He just reached up to touch light fingertips to the remnants of that chaste kiss and grinned broadly.

Hell yes. He felt a lot more like Cal tonight, and that was definitely worth celebrating.

"Good night, Nandi," he said to that closed door beyond which the little minx had retreated.

 

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