He hadn't been this nervous since he was a teenager. Even then, he doubted he was ever this nervous. Simply put, his day had been spent with his head in the clouds. He couldn't help but replay the events of the evening before and be amazed that it didn't end in complete, utter disaster. Everything was in place for it to be just that.
Instead, he had a second date. This was his first one since high school, he knew that for sure, and he wasn't sure where they were going to go or what they were going to do ... but all day long his mind was on her.
He looked at the chronometer on the wall and took a steadying breath. Ten minutes. He had ten minutes before his shift ended and then he was going to meet Seven right outside Starfleet Medical. She'd be waiting for him there.
He picked up one of his PADDs and scanned through it. "No ... no ... no," he muttered as he went through the list of possible activities he'd written down over the course of the day. All of them were either too public -- something he was sure Seven wanted to avoid after last night's bar incident -- or just not quite right. It seemed like every idea he had was a bad one.
Or was going to end up badly.
He tossed the PADD onto his desk, knocking the pile he had over, and sighed. He shot a look at the chronometer. He only had another eight minutes now. Time was ticking away.
"She likes music and stars." He stood and began to tidy up his desk. The PADDs had gotten everywhere, all out of order. "Do I have anything left?" He picked up a stack of PADDs and then just dropped them back onto his desk.
He was blanking.
He was dead.
This was going to end before it even got off the ground. Last night had been so amazing, so good, that he doubted anything could top that. He couldn't top that. He had no way to top that.
He ran his hand through his hair and shook his head. He needed to calm down. He needed to think this through.
He tossed a glance back at the chronometer. Five minutes left.
"Hell, I'll wing it." He grabbed his coat and walked out of his office. It wasn't long before he was outside of Medical. The afternoon was turning chilly, like the night before.
And there she was waiting.
He felt his throat go dry as he approached her and his mind was still devoid of any ideas. "Hey," he managed weakly. "How was your day?"
"Agreeable. And yours?"
He shrugged. "Spent the day analyzing data and writing reports. My next surgery isn't scheduled till tomorrow." He motioned forward and the two of them began to walk. "I have to admit, I was really looking forward to seeing you."
She measured him with her eyes, but they softened. "I, too, have been anticipating meeting again."
Okay, so I'm not completely dead.
Feeling bolstered he stood a little taller, though she was still taller than him. "Uh ... well, I was giving thought as to what we should do and ... I don't have a clue."
She frowned. "I have had similar difficulties."
He smiled. "I'm glad I'm not alone." He looked out into the sky, the color beginning to fade ever so slightly as the evening approached.
Suddenly, an idea struck him.
"Breakfast," he said with laughter in his voice.
She raised an eyebrow ever so slightly as a look of confusion crossed her face. "Elaborate."
He stopped and she stopped with him. "You took me back to your place and we had breakfast. Let me return the favor ... how about we head to my place and I make some dinner?"
She narrowed her eyes as she considered it. "And after?"
He smirked. "How about a game? I know a few good card games."
"A game," she repeated. Her eyes lit up for a moment. "I have a game we can play."
He nodded, relieved. "Good, good. Well, come on ... I'll show you to my place." He held out his arm.
She looked around briefly before slightly nodding her head and taking it.
He beamed. The two proceeded away from Medical and began walking to his apartment, only ten minutes away. "I hope you don't mind you walking," he said as they went, people passing them by, and some eyes following them as they went.
He did his best to ignore them and keep the conversation moving. Part of him hated it. Not for himself, but for her. She was tense and he could feel it in her arm.
"Cardio-vascular exercise is an efficient way to keep the body in optimal condition," she stated factually.
Her voice was very ... professional. Afar.
He guessed the reason for that was because of all the people near them. "Well," he said with a smirk, "I always like to get in some exercise during the day. Nothing special, I don't hit the gym like some of my colleagues, but I do the little things ... I like taking walks. They're ... freeing."
She relaxed a little. "I find this activity to be ... freeing ... as well. It has many benefits."
"Better benefits with good company," he added.
A small smile played at her lips.
They continued walking like that for a few more minutes, the crowd around them thinning out to merely a few stragglers. Hardly anyone walked to Medical from where they lived.
A breeze blew and he shivered slightly. It then occurred to him that he had a coat and Seven didn't.
"Jeez, I'm sorry, do you want my coat?" he asked hurriedly. "It's going to be chilly later on."
"I don't require it at this time," she answered in a softer tone. "Thank you for asking."
He rubbed the back of his neck, shaking his head. "I should have asked before."
"It was not an oversight," she comforted. "I have learned to adapt to these weather patterns in my time on Earth."
He looked over her. Wearing a simple purple tunic with similar leggings, she couldn't have possibly been that warm. "You don't seem dressed for it."
"My attire is designed for a wide-variety of environments," she reassured him.
He nodded and pointed up at his apartment building. "There it is." The two of them walked inside and took the lift to his floor, the third floor. The lift was quick and they arrived up there, the carpet a soothing gray while the walls were much the same color.
"It's not very colorful, but it's inoffensive," he joked as he they walked to his door, just down the hall. He entered his security code and pressed his thumb against panel. In a moment his door opened, lighting turning on at the same time.
He grimaced as they entered the room. "God, the place is messier than I thought, sorry." He detached himself from her arm, took off his coat, and began to tidy up. PADDs were stacked and scattered everywhere, no clear cut organization to them. "I swear this place is usually cleaner." He looked over at her.
"Usually," she said dryly, her eyes flashing amusement.
He grinned embarrassingly, feeling his cheeks flush. "Yes, well ... I'm a doctor, not a maid."
"Obviously." She looked over the room. "This can be done more efficiently by both of us." She took a step forward. "May I assist?"
He laughed. "Some second date this turned out to be," he said with a shake of his head. "But, if you don't mind, I'll gladly accept the help."
"We should begin in this corner and progress in a clockwise direction," she said as she pointed at his coffee table, which he rarely used for coffee. He more used it to stack PADDs. Ever since he got back to Earth, his apartment had become a mess. Back aboard the Pearl his office in sickbay looked like this. His office at Medical looked like this.
But he couldn't be in there all hours of the night like he could be in sickbay. He inevitably brought work home. He brought the mess home, too.
He sighed and nodded. "Right." The two of them went over there and began to clean off the coffee table. He looked back over at her as she was progressing, much faster than he was, and smirked. "I'm sorry."
She continued straightening up. "You do not need to apologize."
"You're cleaning my apartment." He took a stack of PADDs and put them in a nearby empty box. "I can't help but feel it's a waste of our evening."
"It is an efficient use of our time," she countered. She finished sorting the PADDs.
He looked back at her and then to the dining room table, which was hopelessly covered in PADDs. He shook his head. "You know what, how about we skip cleaning the rest of this place and instead let me cook you dinner." He took off the top of his uniform and walked towards the kitchen. "What do you like?"
She shot him a curious expression. "What do I ‘like'?" she repeated. "I normally take nutritional supplements for my meals."
He put his uniform top over the back of a dining room chair and circled back to her. "That's efficient but certainly doesn't sound very appetizing."
"Have you ever tried one?" she asked bluntly.
He considered the question for a moment before shaking his head. "No, I haven't. I guess I should give it a shot. How do you make them?"
"You wish to have one?" She looked at him with some surprise.
He nodded again. "It's not exactly dinner in a traditional sense, but why not?"
She looked at him for a long moment before walking over to his replicator.
"One thing," he said as he placed his hand on the replicator controls. "If you make dinner, I have to make dessert. I'm really good at dessert."
She raised an eyebrow ever so slightly. "Dessert?"
He grinned. "It's a long story how I know how. I'll tell it over our nutritional supplements." He removed his hand and went into the kitchen, turning on the rarely used oven. He knew exactly what he wanted to make. It was cold and obviously something warm was going to be better suited for dessert.
He knew just the thing.
He just hoped he could pull it off. As he stared at the oven, he tried to remember the last time he cooked. As he recalled, it was just after he graduated from the Academy.
"I don't exactly get to bake often," he mentioned as casually as he could while he maneuvered back to the couch. Seven was waiting there, two glasses of nutritional supplements in her hands. She handed one to him.
He forced a grin. It looked ... thick. But that's a small price to pay for her company, he reasoned. He held up the glass. "A toast. To good company."
Another small smile tugged at her lips. "To good company." They clinked glasses and he took a cautious sip of the supplement. It tasted ... rather bland. There wasn't a whole lot of flavor to it nor was there a lot of taste.
It was just a bit sweet and somewhat frothy.
"Is it acceptable?"
He pulled the glass from his lips. "Better than I thought it would be."
She seemed pleased by that and offered a slight nod of her head. "Your story?"
He snapped his fingers and set the glass down. "Yeah, my story ... well ... um ... where to start?"
"From the beginning."
He flashed a smile and leaned back on the couch. "It's nothing extravagant, honestly. My little sister was in some sort of club, I can't remember which one, in my senior year of high school. She was only six or seven at the time and she needed some treats."
"Treats?" Seven inquired.
Paul chuckled. "Sweet food, normally. Desserts, usually." He met her eyes and held his there, happily getting lost in that deep blue. "So, she needed these and my mother, a fabulous baker, was going to make them. But then she got sick ... I don't even remember with what, but she was laid up for days and my dad was away for work. So, I was tasked with making my mother's famous chocolate chip cookies."
"A substance which has little nutritional value," she observed.
"Tell me about it," he agreed. "I was all ‘I'm a doctor' mode by that point. It was pretty much what I wanted to do since I was a child and as I got older I was always commenting on the food, the things my family and friends would do to take care of themselves. I was a bit obsessive about it, I admit that. The folly of youth, I guess." He picked up his supplement and sipped some more. This wasn't as bad as it first sounded.
"Being concerned for others well-being is an admirable trait." Her voice was kind.
He cleared his throat, feeling his cheeks flush. "Well, you couldn't tell my father that: hated to hear me go on at the dinner table." He waved his hand, dismissing that set of memories. "Anyway, I had to make my mother's cookies because they had been promised. She gave me the recipe, I did it to the best of my abilities, and the cookies were a huge hit ... after that, I took to trying baking some healthier versions of her treats. That's pretty much it."
The oven beeped and he leapt from the couch. "It's been a while since I baked anything." He stared at the kitchen and then an idea came to him. He looked back at Seven. "You wanna help? It'd be more efficient."
She stood and folded her hands behind her back. "I will assist. What is our first objective?"
He let out a relieved breath. It would have been awkward to have him in there alone while she was out here. "Well, first, we need some blueberries." He went over to the replicator and got a batch of them, then went into the kitchen.
When he turned around Seven already had replicated everything else he needed and then some. "I have knowledge of such recipes from ... past experience." Her eyes lingered on him for a moment before she handed him the flour. "We should begin preparations."
He smiled comfortingly at her. He knew what she meant.
The two prepped the cobbler within five minutes, the both of them able to work off the other rather well. Paul was amazed at Seven's skills. Once the cobbler was packed into the oven, he looked at her with admiration. "You're really good at this."
She offered a small shake of her head. "My experience is a byproduct of the Borg. That is all." She was severe in the statement. He felt like an idiot. He wanted to apologize but she stepped over to the replicator once more. "I have a game we can play. Computer, access personal data files of Seven of Nine."
"Files accessed," the computer responded dutifully.
"Replicate all necessary pieces for a kadis-kot."
Kadis-kot? Paul thought with confusion. He'd never heard of this game.
Seven apparently had, however, and the required pieces for the game materialized before her. She took the game pieces and set them on the cleared off coffee table. "Please, sit," Seven said as she sat on the floor.
Paul sat on the other side of the coffee table, back against the couch. "So, how do you play?"
Seven explained it to him and Paul, for his part, didn't exactly understand. Strategic board games were not his strength, but he nodded along as she explained. He didn't want to look stupid. Besides, it's not like he had a shot at winning anyway.
He just wanted to have some fun.
"I am green," she announced.
"I'll take ... uh ... orange." He gathered his pieces and stared at the board. "Should I go first?"
She cocked her head slightly to the side. "You may."
He chuckled. "Setting me up for a tragic loss already, are you?"
"I can go first if you are uncomfortable."
He feigned a frown. "Well, if it's like that." He took his orange piece and stuck in on the board. "Orange, grid 12-7."
Her eyebrow raised slightly but she moved her piece. "Green, grid 8-10."
He stared at the board, unsure of what she was allowing him to do. Was he being set up to lose? Or was he being allowed an early hold for something later?
He picked up his piece and slapped it on the board. "Orange, grid 15-9."
"Green, grid 12-8." She looked at him expectantly. "Your move."
He looked at her and then at the board. He was sure now that she was setting him up. She didn't hesitate that last move. He picked up a piece and licked his lips as he floated it around.
"The cobbler will be ready in less than twenty minutes," she reminded him.
She sounded a bit impatient. He smirked at that. "I'm thinking."
"Thinking will not win you the game." She sounded confident. "I would suggest a different strategy."
He held his piece over a part of the board and gave her a measuring glance. "Oh? What kind?"
"A different one," she said without elaboration. "I can't both be your opponent and your ally. We are the only two playing."
"And if there was another person playing?"
A small smirk appeared. "Then I would strongly consider allying myself with you."
He felt his face grow red once more. "Grid 19-8, orange," he managed as he cleared his throat.
She responded with one move. "Grid 4-5, Green. Kadis-kot." She folded her hands across one another on the table.
He looked at the board and shook his head. "Well, I'm an old dog and I apparently can't learn new tricks. That's likely the shortest game ever played."
"32.5 seconds longer than the shortest," she stated with a tinge of amusement.
He cleared off the board and picked orange once more. "This time I'll last longer."
"Perhaps it would be beneficial if I showed you how to play, in an example game?"
He nodded vigorously. He could use an example or nine. "What's the best first starting move?"
She pointed at a spot on the board. "Grid 13-3."
He placed his orange there and hesitated. "Why is this the best?"
She placed green pieces around his orange. "If you position here, approximately 45 percent of your opponent's moves will result in an advantage for you. In this example, if you moved your piece to these grids," she said pointing, "then you would win this game."
He looked at the board uncomprehending. "I don't understand."
She placed her hand on his and guided his piece. "Let me show you," she said softly.
He felt his pulse pick up as she moved his hand, his piece, to the spots she pointed out before. When the moves were completed her hand lingered for a moment. His eyes found hers.
They both stared at one another. One thought clouded his mind. He wouldn't move his hand. He wouldn't break the contact.
Then the timer went off.
He blinked, his trance broken. "It's done ... best get it, don't want it to burn." She removed his hand as he stood. He sighed as he entered the kitchen.
He was in over his head with her. He could feel it.
He opened the oven, took out the cobbler, and cut out two chunks for them. The steaming, delicious smelling cobbler hit him and he breathed in the scent. "This came out really well." He set a plate in front of her and a plate in front of him.
She breathed in the cobbler and closed her eyes for a moment. "The scent is pleasing."
"I thought you'd like it. Since you like strawberries, I felt blueberries would work for you." He handed her a fork and then cut off some cobbler for himself. "Ready?"
She cut off a small piece and held it up.
He smirked. "Okay, let's go." He took his bite as she took hers.
The sweet and warmth made his taste buds sing with joy.
She breathed in deeply, her face glowing as she ate hers.
After a moment the two smiled at one another.
"It's good." She cut off another piece and held it up.
He cut off another piece and held his up. "No, it's perfect."
And it was. All of it.