Author’s Note: Someone said that this story needed side quests, so here you go. #NoOneWillUnderstandMySenseOfHumor
I am currently trying to write a novel while maintaining a real life, so this will be it for awhile.
Takes place between parts 6 and 7
Alternately titled: In Which Carol and Lambert Wash Laundry, Eat Dinner, and Do Not Have Sex.
Carol returned to her room to discover that she didn’t have any more clean clothes. She had been training with Lambert, and had stripped out of her sweaty t-shirt as soon as the door had closed behind her. It was then, standing half-naked in front of her closet, that she realized she had nothing else to wear.
The smell of her shirt, now that it had been removed from her body, was too unappealing to put back on. She turned to the boxes that she had never gotten around to unpacking, and dug around until she found something that she could wear. A few months ago, perhaps out of some unconscious impulse to prove that she wasn’t actually a boring and lonely sort of person, she had purchased a red satin pushup bra that she had promptly become embarrassed of and never wore. A little more digging produced an old white tank top.
Carol dressed, stuffed her dirty laundry in a big bag, then banged on her door. “Holmes!” she yelled. “Let me out! I need to talk to the captain!”
There was a click as the door unlocked, and Holmes stepped back as she barged through, his nose wrinkling up as the bag passed by him. “Whew-ee! Are you planning on pranking him with a dead cat? Where’d you get it from? Mind if I watch?”
She gave him her best ‘I wish you death’ stare. “No. I just want to talk to him.”
Carol trotted down the hallway, and managed to remember every single turn to get to Lambert’s office without getting lost. She let herself in without knocking, and found Lambert studying over his little notebook at his desk.
He glanced at her, flipped another page, then looked up again, this time openly staring. “Commander!” he barked. “What the hell are you doing?”
“Captain, I need to wash my laundry,” she replied, uncertain over why he seemed especially irritated to see her.
“You don’t need to bother me about that! That’s what Holmes is for.” Lambert kept staring. He attempted once to return his focus to his notebook, but his eyes wouldn’t stray from Carol. It was making her uncomfortable.
“Well, you see, sir…” She shifted uneasily. “Holmes is… normal.”
“What has that got to do with anything?” Lambert was on his feet now. Still staring.
“I’m scared to wash my clothes under the watchful gaze of someone who… I don’t know.” Carol looked down, losing her train of thought as her face grew hot with shame. “I feel safer around you,” she muttered, more to herself. Clearly she had made a mistake in coming there, and even she didn’t know why she had thought that only Lambert could help her.
“Commander,” he growled, skirting around his desk to come towards her. “You don’t have any clean clothes at all?”
“No, sir,” Carol answered. She couldn’t look at him, even when he towered over her and glared down.
“And that’s all?”
His question surprised her. She couldn’t guess what he was thinking, or why he was acting so weird. Maybe she had caught him at a particularly bad time. “That’s all, sir.”
Lambert’s jaw tightened, and he looked down at her for a moment longer. Then, as if tearing himself away, he stepped over to a cabinet and pulled a navy t-shirt out of one of the drawers. “Put this on, commander,” he said gruffly. “You look like you’re working a street corner.”
“What?!” Carol looked down at herself, and blushed heavily at the realization that her bra could be seen clearly through the clingy old fabric of her tank top. She suspected that from Lambert’s perspective above her, he had gotten an eyeful of cleavage as well.
She snatched the t-shirt away from him and quickly pulled it on. It was obviously one of his spares, and she was dwarfed in it. He kept staring at her anyway.
“Give me an hour to complete my paperwork,” he said. “Then we’ll go to my house.”
“I thought there was a laundromat on base, or something,” Carol sat down in one of the chairs, feeling tiny in Lambert’s shirt. At least she didn’t look like a hooker anymore, she thought.
“My clothes need washing as well,” Lambert murmured, moving back to his desk. “And I hate those cheap-ass machines. We’re going to my house.”
“I’m not so sure I want to go to your house,” Carol protested; especially after the way he had looked at her.
“Then get Holmes to take you to the laundromat.” Lambert waved his hand. “Now shut up so I can think.”
Lambert kept glancing up at her, then back down, then up again. Finally, after ten minutes, he practically bellowed, “For fuck’s sake Carol, cut it out!”
“I’m not doing anything!” she exclaimed. She had been very careful to sit still and not fidget or make any noise, so she didn’t know what he had yelled at her for. Lambert was behaving very strangely.
He shoved papers into a folder and slammed it shut, then stood. “We’re going. Now!” He had switched into full-blown captain mode, and Carol jumped in response.
“Yes sir!” she yipped.
She had a hard time keeping up with the fast pace he set as they moved out to the parking lot to Lambert’s car. She barely had enough time to toss her bag of laundry into the backseat before climbing into the passenger side, pulling the door closed as Lambert began driving. She didn’t understand what had gotten him into such a foul mood – more so than usual, anyway.
They didn’t speak at all as they left the base. Carol stared out at the scenery as buildings gave way to trees, and she wondered how far out of town Lambert lived. She had a hard time imagining him doing anything that wasn’t centered around the military, so it was an odd glimpse into his private life to realize that his house was so far out of the way. Forty-five minutes passed before they pulled into a driveway.
Lambert’s house was old but well-kept, and surprisingly large for a bachelor who never had the time to go home. He must have paid someone to maintain the lawn and garden. Inside was organized but dusty, and held pieces of a life that he would have liked but never got around too – like Carol with her red bra. There was an expensive entertainment system and comfy chairs in the living room, and a gorgeous kitchen with an ornate shelf dedicated to fancy cookbooks. None of it looked used.
That was why Carol felt drawn to Lambert, and why she trusted him over Holmes even though he continually berated her. They were both hopelessly one-dimensional.
He pointed his thumb towards the laundry room, then went out to his car to retrieve his own dirty clothes from the trunk. His machine was a front-loader, and the only thing in the house that bore any signs of use. It had more buttons on it than Carol was familiar with.
All of her clothes were neutral tones, so she didn’t feel bad about shoving them in one load, but she couldn’t figure out what to do from there. The detergent wasn’t kept anywhere obvious, and she wasn’t technologically savvy enough to figure out how to configure the machine to simply wash without anything fancy. Carol felt herself slipping into a sense of paralyzation as she became overwhelmed.
Wordlessly, Lambert came up behind her and popped a pod into the machine, then pushed a button to turn it on. He was staring at her again, and she was growing tired of his gaze.
“Thank you, sir,” she mumbled, crossing her arms and hunching in an effort to shrink away.
“How old are you, commander?” he asked.
“I don’t see how that’s any of your business,” Carol snipped back. She could tell that he wasn’t going to say something flattering, and she didn’t want to give him any ammunition to use against her.
“You’ve obviously been an adult for long enough, so why on Earth does a laundry machine make you freeze up? How did someone like you survive alone?”
“I did just fine!” Carol was annoyed, especially because she couldn’t remember the answer herself. After using the Suit and losing all her personal freedom, she was forgetting what it was like to walk around alone, and she was becoming increasingly anxious outside of her giant mechanical body. It was unfair that Lambert judged her whole life based on the recent changes that she had undergone, and she hated him for it. His eyes narrowed, growing increasingly intense. Carol double checked herself, and couldn’t find anything provocative in the baggy t-shirt she was borrowing. Maybe he was high; it was a well known fact that soldiers used all manner of substances to cope with their jobs, and maybe she had caught him after he had taken a hit of something good.
“Wash my stuff too, and help yourself to the TV or whatever.” Lambert dismissed her, and retreated to the kitchen. A minute later she could hear beeps from the microwave, and imagined that he was preparing a frozen dinner for himself. Her stomach rumbled at the thought of food, and she wished that she could have something too, but she didn’t imagine that Lambert was the sort who would share a meal with a subordinate. The long drive back made her heart drop.
Thirty minutes later, she reluctantly went after him to ask for help with turning on the dryer, and found him cooking in the kitchen.
“Sit down, commander, it’s almost ready,” he said, motioning to the kitchen table that had been set for two. “Don’t get excited, all the ingredients were either frozen or canned.”
“What is it?” Carol asked, picking a chair. The situation was surreal.
“Spaghetti. No comments, just eat it.” He brought a pot over and scooped out a big heap of noodles and sauce mixed with ground beef, then did the same for himself. The spaghetti tasted heavily of basil and peppercorn, but was otherwise better than the food they served in the canteen.
They ate in an awkward silence.
When they were through, Lambert helped with the laundry then turned on an old movie, settling down as they waited. Carol sat in the other chair and only half looked at the screen, feeling very aware of him lounging so he could watch her at the same time. The machines couldn’t work fast enough for her liking.
Finally, once everything was washed, dried, and folded, they made the long drive back to base, and Lambert escorted her to her room. Before she closed the door behind her, Carol asked, “Would you like your shirt back?”
“Keep it,” he growled, then stormed away.
Carol was never going to figure him out.