USS VINDEX - NCC-2474-A
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Cheeseburger in Paradise...Interruptus?

Posted on Sat Jul 8th, 2017 @ 3:26am by Lieutenant JG Xiulan Song & Lieutenant Commander Arturo M'Rohass

Mission: S2E1 - Secrets
Location: Starbase 24
Timeline: Prior to Arturo and Xiulan's arrival on the Vindex

Arturo guided Xiulan through the busy starbase promenade. Xiulan was on his arm, just where he liked her to be. She didn't really need him to guide her around, but it felt nice to have her there. He appreciated her even more when she took his arm because he knew how fiercely independent she was and how important her independence was to her. She hated letting people help her, so the fact that she'd let Arturo guide her through the station meant a lot to him.

"Here it is," he said, stopping in front of the restaurant they were looking for. Music could be heard coming from inside the restaurant. "I've been to one of these before. It's called the Hard Rock Cafe. They're usually in larger venues, but apparently someone thought it would do well here. Their hamburgers and cheeseburgers are very good, though I commit what I am sure you would call blasphemy and eat them without the bun. Ready to go in?"

"Are you kidding?! A burger without a bun is sacrilege, it's not fit to be called a burger," Xiulan stated firmly. Normally, she didn't like excessive amounts of noise, sometimes there was just too much to take in and it could become distracting, but this place hit the mark just right, plenty of music to give this place energy and a feel-good vibe, but it was not so overpowering that she couldn't think. And the smells! She could smell soot from flames, yummy grease from the burgers, the aeration of potatoes in a classic fryer, and... ice cream? It smelled so good! "Man, it's been a while since I've had a real burger. The replicator can whip a pretty decent burger in a pinch, but there's nothing quite like a patty fresh from the grill," she remarked as he led her to a table. She found her seat and settled in, a big grin of excitement plastered to her face.

Xiulan's grin sent a shiver up Arturo's spine. Making her happy always made him happy.

"I know, I know," he said. "It is criminal to eat a burger without a bun. But felines and grains don't mix."

He called up the menu on his personal PaDD. He tapped a few controls and...

"There," he said. "The menu should be on your braille PaDD now. I could always read it to you, but something tells me that would drive you crazy. Actually, looking at some of these, you'd probably pass out from culinary desire if I read them to you...mmmm...the Atomic Burger sounds...like it's going to light my insides on fire. Sounds perfect!"

Arturo always did his best to balance wanting to 'pamper' Xiulan, for lack of a better word, and making sure the world around them was accessible to her as much on her own terms as possible. Besides the fact that he loved her, and he did indeed love her, he didn't want her to throw her cheeseburger at him...well someone else's cheeseburger because she didn't have one right now. First of all, grease was especially difficult to get out of his fur, and secondly, being blind, Xiulan had terrible aim. She'd likely miss him and hit the largest, most ill-tempered person in the restaurant and Arturo would then have to duel this now infuriated giant in the name of Xiulan's honor. Arturo liked a good duel as much as any other adventurer, but he had hopes for the evening that did not include acquiring a whole new set of bumps and bruises.

"Ha! Jalapenos are for wussies! They're nothing compared to some of the stuff Asians will put on their food," Xiulan exclaimed when her fingers found the Atomic Burger on the menu and took notice of what was on it. "You wanna light your colon on fire, I'll make some traditional stuff that will make you regret ever knowing me," she continued with a snicker as her fingers continued to browse the menu. "Now I think... Mmmm, the local special sounds good... Yeah, mushroom swiss, that's what I'm getting!"

"I'll try anything you cook for me," Arturo said. "For I am brave and true of heart. I will warn you, however, that you might find a four-foot ten inch bipedal feline with the Shanghai Two-Step a bit unpleasant to be around."

A waitress came over, PaDD in hand. She was a tellarite, and an attractive one at that, if you were into tellarites.

"What can I get for you?" she asked. She looked at Arturo. "Come on, sweetie, don't keep it a secret. You know you want to...let the cat out of the bag! (snort) har, har, har! (snort)"

She continued to giggle and snort for a moment or two. Obviously she found herself amusing. Arturo sighed and tried to soldier on.

"The lady will have the mushroom and swiss burger..." Arturo started. "Xiulan, how did you want that done?"

"How do I want it done?" Xiulan asked, her expression stunned and confused, as though she was viewing his heat signature growing a second head. "Cooked, preferably? With mushrooms and swiss?" How else was she supposed to want it done? As long as it wasn't cooked to shoe-leather... "I'm assuming this place knows how to make a proper burger since this seems to be their theme. Oh, but I will take onion rings and a milkshake with that, vanilla please."

"Rare, medium rare, medium well, or well done, sweetie?" the tellarite waitress said. "I gotta know or else you might not like your burger and that would be a...CATastrophe! (snort) har, har, har! (snort)."

Arturo was even less amused this time around but was determined not to make a scene. He waited for Xiulan's answer. Actually, he was surprised she hadn't jumped in an made a few cat jokes at his expense herself. Maybe this would be the last one of the night, maybe Xiulan would answer the annoying waitress' question, and then maybe Arturo could order his Atomic Burger without a bun, medium. He was actually getting quite hungry.

"I don't know, just make sure it ain't tough and hard," Xiulan said. She knew that seeing people used color to determine done-ness, but unable to see color, she determined done-ness by its texture and how it appeared in infrared, and she had no means of adequately describing the done-ness she desired. "No soggy center, but don't cook it to shoe leather, is that so hard to understand?"

"Sure thing, sweetie!" the tellarite said. "Wattaboutchoo, hun?"

Arturo, now feeling like an idiot for not realizing the obvious, decided he'd order his food before their waitress decided to get clever again.

"I'd like an Atomic Burger, medium rare," he said. "And no bun."

The tellarite looked at him funny.

"No bun?" she said. "How can you eat a cheeseburger without a bun?"

Arturo sighed.

"Well," he said. "If everyone is going to make a big deal out of it, felines can't really digest grains. They...clog up the works."

The waitress began to snigger.

"Really?" she said. "Well, I'd better CATalogue that for future reference! (snort) har, har, har! (snort)"

After she recovered from her fit of snorting, snuffling, and laughing, the waitress asked if they wanted anything to drink.

"Hard cider," Arturo said.

Once the annoyance of a waitress finally left, Xiulan offered a somewhat sheepish grin to Arturo. "Sorry, I can navigate a replicator, but I don't really cook," she said. "I suppose in concept, I get that rare is on the raw side and well-done is cooked to the point it might as well not be called food anymore, but trying to describe that sweet spot in the middle is tough when you don't speak the same language as the chef."

"No," Arturo said. "It's my fault. I was distracted by our porcine server's annoying cat jokes. I wasn't really thinking about the fact that you can't tell by how your meat is cooked by its color. I'm sorry if I made you feel uncomfortable."

The waitress came back with their drinks and thankfully refrained from making another cat pun.

"She placed your drink on the table just above the place mat, almost directly in the center," Arturo said. "There's a coaster under it."

He took a long pull of his cider and sighed. He waited until Xiulan had picked up her drink and gotten some into her mouth, timing his next comment perfectly.

"So," he said, managing a straight face at great effort. "When do I get to meet your father?"

"Yes yes, my shake is colder than the ambient room temperature, so I can find it," Xiulan said dryly, though she did have to feel around for the straw. Once found, she took a nice long drink, slowly so she wouldn't get the dreaded brain freeze, but then she nearly choked when Arturo popped his question. she coughed a few times, then finally answered his question with a raspy "What?"

"I said," Arturo replied with a grin. "When do I get to meet your father? I'm sorry, I couldn't resist. I should have, though, I suppose. Introducing one's lover to one's parents is a big step and I know you and your father don't always see eye to eye. But really, if only you could have seen the look on your face!"

"Yeah, well enjoy it while it lasts..." Xiulan grumbled. Now, how to answer his question? She took another sip of her shake as she thought about it. "If you really want to meet my dad... I suppose if we ever go back to Earth, but who knows when that'll be, so... I could call him? But I'm guessing you were hoping for something more 'in person'?"

"We can wait until we have leave on Earth," Arturo said. "Or we can do it over subspace. Whatever makes you feel more comfortable. Either way, I will be honored to meet your father. By the way, my family is quite eager to meet you, but I told them that I refused to rush you, that we'd come to that only when you felt comfortable and not a moment sooner."

"Thanks," Xiulan said awkwardly. She had never done any of this 'meet the parents' crap before, and talking about it made her feel weird; partly like she just wanted to run from the room and ignore the existence of any parental figure, but there was also some interest; if he wanted to meet her father and for her to meet his family, then he must really be serious about whatever was going on between them! She took another long drink of her shake to try to hide how she felt about all this, but she forgot to pace herself and ended up with a terrible brain freeze. "Ow..." she said with a wince.

Arturo chuckled.

"You're welcome," he said. He could tell he had her thinking and that made him happy...a little worried because Xiulan could really get herself spun up into a good and proper tizzy when she put her mind to it. He didn't want her to mind fuck herself silly.

The waitress arrived with their food. Xiulan must have seen the heat coming off of the plates, because she managed to avoid getting a burger in the face when the waitress set her mushroom and swiss burger in front of her. She set Arturo's Atomic Burger, medium rare, no bun, in front of him.

"Are you sure you don't want a bun, sweetie?" she asked. "When I told the chef that you wanted an Atomic Burger without the bun he went practically CATatonic! (snort) har, har, har, (snort)..."

The tellarite amateur comedian and part time waitress walked away. Even when she was out of sight, Arturo could still hear her snorting and haring. Arturo moved a few things about on the table.

"Do you need help finding anything?" Arturo said. "There's ketchup to your eleven o'clock if you want it."

Arturo was about to dig into his meal when he stopped and looked at Xiulan. If she could see him just looking at her, she would likely complain or say that he was being weird again, but he didn't care. She was beautiful and sometimes just looking at her made everything seem right in the world. Then he decided he was hungry and started eating.

"Mmmm..." he said after taking a bite. "This is perfect."

"Ketchup? Why would I ruin perfectly good onion rings or mushroom swiss burger with ketchup?!" Xiulan said. Damn, this burger smelled so good! "And if that woman makes one more cat joke at you, I'm gonna force-feed her my fist," she added seriously, which was odd because usually she was all for making jokes, especially at her own expense, but she didn't like how these particular jabs annoyed Arturo. But the moment she picked up her burger and took a bite, the waitress and her jokes were forgotten. "Oh man, this is amazing," she said around a mouthful of half-masticated cow. "So glad you had this idea."

"Seeing you have so much fun stuffing your face with ground and grilled bovine with mushrooms and Swiss cheese is worth the price of admission," Arturo said with a grin that carried over into his voice. "This is extremely spicy, but I love it. And it's real meat! That's it! This meal has ruined replicated food for me forever."

"You say that like you've never had real meat before," Xiulan remarked with a chuckle. "Damn, this is good, though."

Arturo chuckled. Xiulan was really digging into her burger, and getting some of it on her face.

"Uhm...Xiulan, dear," he said. "You have a small slice of mushroom on tip of your nose...here, I'll get it."

Arturo reached across the table and removed the offending fungus. Then, on a whim, he reached out again and touched her face gently for a moment.

"I never would have left you behind," he said. "I hope you know that. I believe I know what it took for you to admit that you wanted me to stay, and it means a great deal to me that you did. I hope, as we move forward, you will continue to open yourself up to me, because I care for you, deeply, warts and all."

Left her behind? What was this all about? "Oh, right... well..." Xiulan started, uneasy about all this relationship talk. "I'm glad you decided to stay too..." she admitted, blushing a bit that he managed to coax that much out of her. "Hey, wait, I don't have warts!" she then blurted out.

Arturo laughed.

"It's a figure of speech," he said. "It dates back to the 1600s CE on Earth. The king of England was painted to emphasize his best features. Then he was deposed and replaced by the puritanical Oliver Cromwell, who was entitled the 'Lord Protector'. He despised vanity and a legend started by an author an playwright name Horace Walpole goes that when a painting was to be done of Cromwell, the Lord Protector insisted that the artist's work include not only his appealing features, but also his less appealing or even unappealing features. This legend began around a hundred years after the painting was supposed to have been done and there was no evidence to back it up, but the legend persisted. In 1824 CE a man named Alpheus Cary offered a retelling of Walpole's story, in which Cromwell ordered the artist to "Paint me as I am, warts and all!" Since then it has been used as I use it here, to let a person know that you love them and accept them unconditionally."

Arturo took a longish pull from his bottle of hard cider and eyed Xiulan's milkshake. It looked really good and ice cream and milk his insides could handle. Maybe he'd order one. In the mean time...Arturo knew how this kind of talk made Xiulan uncomfortable so he changed the subject.

"I can't wait to find out what sort of goodies Nerys has brought back with her from leave!" he said. "Her snacks and treats are a definite bonus to being her friend! And the coffee she finds! It rivals what I manage to acquire!"

"Where the hell do you store all this useless information?" Xiulan replied with a shake of her head. If she was capable of it, she would have rolled her eyes. "Point of fact, vanity is lost on the blind," she reminded him, then resumed her attack on her burger. Then he changed the subject to Nerys and her treats, and while Xiulan liked Nerys and her treats, she knew what Arturo was trying to do.

"Stop," Xiulan said, pushing the plate with the remains of her burger off to the side. Resting her wrists on the edge of the table, she tapped her fingers together, a gesture Arturo would by now recognize as one she often did when she was trying to formulate her thoughts, putting her views into terms that others could understand. "Look, I know I have trouble with... emotional talk; I've heard 'emotional constipation' used to describe me from almost every counselor I've talked to, and maybe that's true but you don't need to do that." She wasn't angry, but there was a subtle note of frustration in her tone. "I know you don't mean to, but the way you dance around some things, I know you're just trying to be nice but I don't need special treatment. I put up with enough of that growing up blind, I don't need it now. If there is something you want or need to talk about, just say it. Sure, I'll be uncomfortable, but I'll muscle through it, like I've always done."

Arturo looked ashamed.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I worry sometimes if I'm too affectionate or too expressive or just too open about how I feel about you, you'll retreat from me...and...I couldn't bear that. I love you, Xiulan Song as I said, warts and all. You're the first thing I think about when I wake up and you fill the last thoughts of my day. I've been...afraid to say that so directly, but it feels much better to have said it. And this, which may be another thing I should have said to you before now: You are the strongest, most capable person I have ever met, male or female, sighted or blind. I admire you and at times find you rather awe inspiring. If I haven't made that clear yet, I'm sorry."

"Arturo, I knew exactly the kind of person you were when I decided to get involved with you, and I don't waste effort on people I don't want to be with, so I may not say mushy words and shit, but I'm here with you because I want to be with you; mushy words, warts, and all," Xiulan assured him. "And if you twist my arm, I might actually admit to liking some of that 'affection' stuff when it's just the two of us in my quarters..." she admitted begrudgingly.

Arturo grinned. Realizing Xiulan couldn't of course see his grin, he raised her hand to his lips and kissed it.

"Then I promise to save as much that 'affection stuff' for when it's just the two of us in your quarters...alone..which, I am not ashamed to admit, I am hoping will include tonight," he said. He downed the last of his cider. "Are you still working on that milkshake?"

Actually, unless he really pissed Xiulan off, he stood a pretty good chance of spending the night in her quarters. He spent nearly every night in Xiulan's quarters. He was considering asking her if they could move in together. It wasn't like the fact that they were seeing each other was a big secret. Arturo wasn't exactly able to be stealthy about entering and exiting the XO's quarters on a ship as small as the Beifong. There was really only one way to and from her quarters and his or between her quarters and the bridge. He had tried both leaving for the bridge earlier and later than Xiulan to try and stagger their arrival, but according to the scuttlebutt, all that did was start a pool with the younger crew members betting on which one of them was going to get to the bridge first on a given day.

"Knock yourself out," Xiulan replied, nudging the milkshake ever so invitingly towards Arturo. "And of course you're coming to my quarters tonight. Why wouldn't you be?" she countered, grabbing an onion ring and then popping it into her mouth in an attempt to be nonchalant.

Arturo smiled, looking for all the world like the cat that ate the canary. His relationship with Xiulan still had that new flitter smell to it and as such, every time it became apparent that he was spending the night with Xiulan, he had to resist the urge to do a happy dance. Not that he had a happy dance. Manly adventurers obviously didn't have happy dances. But if he had a happy dance, he would want to do one every time he spent the night with Xiulan, his Graceful Orchid. Arturo gazed at Xiulan over the top of the milkshake cup as he sipped the cold, sweet ice cream through the straw. Gods she was so beautiful! He was so glad she'd stopped by his quarters for stress relief nookie that fateful night. He'd liked her before then, but from what he knew of her then, he hadn't been sure anything would come of his night...and morning with Xiulan. But they kept coming back to each other until something did come of their early morning coffee and one night...and morning, fling. Arturo liked her eyes. He knew they were just implants and malfunctioning implants at that, but the green suited her. Like her eyes were made of jade. Her black hair, usually messy in that special Xiulan way, was soft and glossy. She claimed not to care about her hair, but he'd been in her shower and seen what she used to clean it. He assumed she used those products because it made her hair feel nice to her. As a bonus, it felt and smelled nice to Arturo. Her skin was soft and slightly golden. Her laugh, often sarcastic, made him laugh. Her smile...melted his heart.

"Oh, no reason," he said. "I've heard that the odds are leaning heavily towards you getting to the bridge first tomorrow. The competition is getting fierce. Janie Fletcher, that mathematics whiz from engineering, has been trying to write an algorithm to predict the odds of each of us arriving first on a given day. No success yet. Should we bet on you and send you up first, or bet on me and upset the odds?"

"Oh jeez, this is getting ridiculous!" Xiulan said with a grin. "We should arrive together tomorrow, no one will know what to make of that; should make things interesting for the odds." She stole her milkshake back for a moment to take one last sip, then nibbled on another onion ring with a pensive tilt of her head. "We're really not fooling anyone, are we? Maybe we should stop worrying about how and when we report for duty; our attempts at discretion are causing a distraction. Not that I wanna take away the crew's fun, but I'd rather not be the source of that fun. We're adults and we're damn near living together with as often as you stay at my place, we told Landon and he's okay with it, so let's just... ya know..." Xiulan punctuated her point with a shrug, then shoved the last two onion rings into her mouth so she'd have an excuse not to say anymore.

For not the first time, Arturo was glad Xiulan couldn't see the expression on his face. She'd laugh her ass off at him if she could. Then again, he thought, why not let her in on the fun. If it meant hearing her laugh, seeing her smile, or even hearing her make some snarky comment about how dorky he was, any and all of which gave him a thrill, it would be worth it.

"Sorry," he said. "You'll have to give me a minute. My jaw has dropped. I am quite literally sitting here, jawless. It's a wonder I can even speak! I'm not kidding! My jaw is actually on the floor. I'll just pick it up and...there. Back in place. That's better. Alright. Now, assuming that 'ya know' was code for 'move in together', and I really hope it was, then I say yes, yes, wholeheartedly, YES!"

Move in with the girl of my dreams: achievement unlocked!

Wait, what just happened?

"Umm.... 'ya know' was code for 'forget about staggering our arrivals because we weren't fooling anyone'," Xiulan said in a slow even tone. "But.... you really want to move in with me?"

OOPS! Well, it's too late to unring that bell...

"Oops!" he said. "Well, now that I'm out of the bag, yes, I would like to move in with you. But if it's too soon for you...I understand of course. I just thought because...you know...wait, I'd better actually say what I mean. 'Ya know' has gotten me in enough hot water for one night. I thought that's where you were headed because we do spent practically every night together that maybe you might want to make that a more official arrangement. But yes, I suppose we should stop staggering our entrances. I'm having fun messing with the junior officers, but it is likely beneath the dignity of an executive officer."

"Yeah, I just meant-"Xiulan said hastily, then went quiet. Her cheeks grew noticeably pink as she shifted uncomfortably in her seat. "And it is a bit soon, but, uh, o-okay," she finally added.

Arturo reached out and took Xiulan's hands.

"Xiulan, my love," he said. "If you are sure, then I would be happy to move in with you. But, if you're not ready or think it's too soon, it's okay to say so. I promised you I'd stay on the Beifong and be with you and I meant it. If you want to wait, I will still be yours. Waiting until you're ready to have me sharing living space with me won't scare me off. "

"I said okay and I meant it," Xiulan replied. "Just hadn't really thought about it until now, but it makes sense, you do spend more time at my quarters than your own. So 'okay'."

Arturo's canary eating grin returned.

"Then I'll take yes for an answer," he said. "You won't regret this, Graceful Orchid...oops! Sorry! I couldn't help myself! You won't regret this! I'll do everything in my power to ensure that you don't! I'm already in the habit of putting everything in the same place every time in my own quarters in case you come to visit! You'll never trip over my boots, I promise!"

Arturo was already thinking back to an off the record conversation he'd had with one of the engineers about the ability to remove a wall separating two sets of quarters to make one set. He'd check as soon as possible to see if that could be done to Xiulan's quarters. Hers significantly bigger than his, but on a ship the size of the Beifong, 'significantly bigger' didn't amount to much. But he knew that the quarters next to hers were currently empty, so this might work out well.

"I've never tripped over your boots before, why would that change now?" Xiulan countered with a grin, shifting in her chair to pull out her Braille PaDD again. She'd felt it vibrate, which probably meant she had a message. As her fingers moved over the bumpy surface, her expression fell. "Oh..."

Arturo noted the change in expression on Xiulan's face and grew concerned.

"What is it, my Graceful Orchid?" Arturo said.

"Command is... They, uh.... they're transferring all of us. Apparently the Beifong has taken so much damage that she needs a complete overhaul. All of our belongings are already being offloaded and transfers being made, then she'll be taken to drydock by the Corp of Engineers," Xiulan said disbelievingly. "My field promotion has been revoked, but Command was pleased with my actions while in Command and gave me a real promotion to Lieutenant junior grade, and I'm to depart immediately for the USS Vindex." Her hands were trembling slightly as her PaDD clattered onto the table. "In my final notification as Acting Executive Officer, I've also been informed of a number of impending transfers, and you're bound for the Pathfinder..."

"The...the Pathfinder?"Arturo said, shocked. "We're to be separated?"

Arturo had not been expecting this at all. He'd found Xiulan, fallen in love with her, and now this? She'd asked him to stay with her, and he'd promised he would. His heart was breaking, not just for himself, but for Xiulan. He knew what it had taken to admit that she wanted him to stay with her, how vulnerable that admission had made her feel. And now, after all of that, Starfleet was separating them? The look on Arturo's face changed from shock to determination. He reached out and took Xiulan's braille PaDD from her and set it on the table. He took both of Xiulan's hands gently but firmly in his and then spoke.

"Graceful Orchid," he said. "Look at me."

"How can I, you have my hand..." Xiulan reminded him with a sigh.

Arturo mentally kicked himself. He was so angry that he forgot for a second that Xiulan couldn't see him.

"Blast!" he said. "How stupid of me! Alright then, listen to me. I love you Xiulan Song, and I swear on my life that I will pull every string, call in every favor, and threaten to expose whatever skeletons I can find in any and all closets at the Bureau of Personnel, I will not stop until I am assigned to Vindex with you. I, Arturo M'Rohass, do so swear on my honor!"

That managed to get a weak grin from Xiulan. "Hey, this doesn't have to be the end of the world, you know," she said, holding tight to his hand. "Look, we'll find a way to make this work, and if we can't get the same posting now, maybe next time around..." Then a thought occurred to her and she grinned wider, more genuine. "Besides, honor is overrated, I like it when you're naughty."

Arturo huffed...then smiled.

"Being naughty with you is fun for me, too," he said with a sly grin. "We could...go be naughty right now, if you'd like, if you think you could...squeeze me in...to your busy schedule, I mean."

"Wow, you're not subtle at all, are you!" Xiulan said with a laugh. "Sure, settle the tab and let's go be naughty," she said with a lopsided grin; might as well, there was no telling when they would get this chance again...

Arturo settled the check and left with Xiulan. For her, this might be farewell, but for him it was only farewell for now. He would see her again and soon.

 

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