The Party's Over By Djinn

Christine is smiling. It is an odd smile, not the gentle one she usually wears or the lopsided grin that comes out when she's had a little too much to drink on shore leave. This is a sad smile trying to be brave, an expression that, for all its brilliance, seems to contain genuine misery. She is leaving us. I thought that we'd be the ones with the sad faces, wondering what our futures would hold, missing her already. But instead she is the one who looks as if her world is ending, not beginning anew.

She's going to med school. Leaving, just like Janice did, to improve her life. Leaving with the blessings of the Captain and of her mentor-- although McCoy looks a little the worse for wear. I've always wondered what he felt for Christine. If he considered himself a big brother or, if things were different, would he want more from her? I'll never ask him, and he'll never volunteer that kind of information. Not to me, anyway.

He sees me looking at him and walks over. "She's really leaving us, Sulu." He reaches for one of the bottles on the table behind me. "I think this calls for a drink."

I look at his nearly full glass and he laughs.

"Another drink." He tops off his glass and raises his eyebrows at my empty hands. "What's your poison?"

"I'm fine." He must wonder why I'm leaning up against the drinks table if I don't plan on drinking. I don't tell him that I learned in the Academy to stake out this spot. Everyone talks to you...but not for very long. You get a reputation as a good guy, a great listener. Without a lot of commitment. It's the way to go if you're shy and trying not to be.

If I were at an Academy party, I'd have a glass of something in my hand, even if it was just water. I'd be one of them then, wouldn't have to field any questions about why I'm not drinking. But I'm not at the Academy. I'm here, on the Enterprise. Where I don't have to resort to subterfuge. If I want to drink, I do. If I don't, there's no reason I have to pretend. I'm that comfortable with these people.

But not comfortable enough to pry my backside away from this table.

I hate being shy. I look over at Christine again, see her smile that tight, twisted smile. She's shy too. And she doesn't like being the center of attention. She notices me looking at her. Her grin this time is puzzled not pained. I smile back, holding my hand up in a drink-free salute. She laughs, lifts her glass to me, then turns back to the crewman she is talking to.

I don't recognize him. He could be new, or he may have been onboard for quite some time. He's not in my section so I haven't met him. I need to be better at that, especially if I'm going to have my own command someday. I watch Captain Kirk as he moves around the room. No one is left out of his notice. He says hello, talks for a moment to everyone. He is so good at reaching out, making everyone feel included, special. I want to be like that. I want to be like him.

He's stopped to talk to Mister Spock. Seems to be urging Spock to go talk to Christine. I'm not sure it's a good idea. Spock looks like he agrees with me. Finally, he walks over, engages in what for him is probably small talk. I can't hear what he is saying to her, but he looks awkward. And she looks pained again. She nods a few times. Then Spock leaves the recreation lounge.

Kirk looks as if he wishes he hadn't sent the Vulcan over. He walks over to Christine, gives her a hug and whispers something in her ear, something that makes her smile in a bittersweet way. Then he too leaves.

Chekov starts to hover around her. He has a crush, has spent endless lunches lately telling me about the blue of Christine's eyes or the flaxen quality of her hair. He gets this way over every woman who leaves. Stalks them for a few weeks, then mourns them until the next departure is announced. I wonder how he ever got together with Irina. Did she leave and then come back before anyone else left?

Christine sees him; her expression tightens a bit. She's not being unkind. Pav's just damned annoying when he's in the full-on puppy love stage. And it's not like Christine doesn't know what he's up to. She's seen him do this every other time. I know she's not about to become the woman of the moment. Fact is, very few of Pav's obsessions ever give him the time of day. I sometimes wonder if it would spoil his fun if they did.

Uhura shoots me a knowing look from across the room. She lifts an eyebrow, glances over at Chekov then back at me. I nod, encouraging her to intervene this time, not just laugh at his antics as she usually does. She rolls her eyes, then walks over to give Christine a quick hug before dragging Chekov out of the lounge. He'll wax melancholic the whole way to his cabin. I know. I'm usually the one to drag him away.

The crowd is thinning out. I should go too. But not just yet. I'm comfortable here, against the drinks table. It's a good turnout for Christine. I'm glad to see that. Glad that others appreciate her. It's good that she'll know she's going to be missed. I know I'll miss her, especially on shore leaves. It was on shore leaves that I got to know her. Usually drunken binges where Uhura and Chekov and Christine and I would try to see who'd be left standing. I almost always won. At least in the left standing department. Uhura used to tell me I couldn't actually win if I didn't drink. That was okay with me. I'd rather be in control than win some damn drinking game.

I see Scotty come up and give Christine a sloppy, Scotch-fueled hug and kiss. She doesn't seem to mind. He's always been kind to her. She returns the favor now, holding his hand for a long moment before letting him go.

I look around, take stock of who's left. A few engineers remain in the corner of the room; they always close down a party. The rest of the crowd seems to be afflicted with the 'party's over' virus. They steal from the room like little sheep, one after each other, murmuring goodbyes and good luck to Christine as they head for their quarters or other parts of the ship.

Christine starts to head over to me, but is waylaid by McCoy. He seems to be standing closer to her than he usually does. He leans in even more to whisper something. She laughs and pushes him away. When he pouts, she kisses him on the forehead, turns him toward the door, and gives him a gentle but firm push. He weaves a bit as he heads for the exit, eventually reaches the door and makes it through without hitting the sides.

Christine turns and walks over to me. She pours herself a drink, the first real one she's had. The glass she held all night was filled with water. I saw her fill it. It's a trick you learn when you're shy. Better to stay in control, then to end up in a place you don't understand.

She leans up against the table, her arm brushing against mine as she settles in. "Everyone's a fan tonight," she says.

"It's your night."

"Not like I'm special. How many times have we watched this happen, Hikaru? How many parties have we been at where everyone was out for a piece of the guest of honor?" She laughs so softly I almost miss the sound. "It's the opposite of fresh meat. It's 'no regret' meat."

I chuckle at that. But she's right. Goodbyes are dangerous.

"Where were all these admirers when I was lonely or sad? Where were all these open arms when all I wanted was someone to hold me?"

It was a good question. And an easy one to answer. Elsewhere. They were elsewhere.

"I hate this." She swished the ice around in her glass, the soft tinkle of the cubes seemed at odds with the angry look on her face. Even now she's careful not to spill, doesn't want to make a scene. Quiet, it's how our lives are, how we like them.

"Maybe it just takes some folks a while to realize they're going to miss you?"

She shoots me a look.

"Okay, so three years is a bit more than a while. But you know the old saying, 'You don't know what you've got till it's gone'? I think it applies here."

"Can we change the subject?"

She's angry. Her voice is tight, strained almost. Fine. We'll change the subject.

"What did the Captain say to you," I ask.

She doesn't seem to like this subject much better.

I look over at her. "It was about Spock, wasn't it?"

She sighs. "He said that Spock's a fool."

Smart man. Like I said, I want to be just like him. "He's right."

She glances over at me, shakes her head. "Our last party together..." She trails off and I wonder what she was going to say. Then she throws back her drink and says, "Who's going to hold up the other end of the table?"

Normally, she doesn't stand so close to me. Normally, she's at one end of the table and I'm at the other. We let the others come to us. When they're otherwise occupied, we talk to each other. I realize parties are going to be much less comfortable without her there. And a whole lot less fun too. I always enjoyed talking to her more than mingling with the others.

She looks at me again, waiting for my answer. I shrug, the gesture seems helpless. I wonder if the smile I shoot her is as pained as the one she wore all evening.

She turns away, looks back out at the nearly empty room.

"I'm going to miss the view from back here."

I'm about to tell her that I'm going to miss her when the engineers shout goodbye to her, one of them even comes over for an impromptu dip and kiss. As he walks away, she wipes her mouth off with her hand.

"I thought it was bad when no one paid attention to me. This is worse."

The engineers wave at us then clear out. The room is empty finally. We stand for a moment in the silence, then I start to laugh. I turn to look at her.

The angry look is fading. She begins to laugh too. "We've closed down a party, Hikaru."

"Guess there's a first time for everything."

"Guess so." She pours herself a refill, only half a glass this time.

"There's a lot of things we've never done." The statement shocks me. It's not what I meant to say. It's a stupid thing to say.

She seems to agree. She turns to look at me. "Not you too."

"No, Christine, I just meant..." What the hell did I mean? I should leave. Now. Before I say something even more stupid. But I don't want to leave.

But when Christine starts to go, I realize I don't want to stay either. Not alone. Not without her. "Christine, I--"

She turns so quickly it startles me. Her expression is annoyed. "Please don't tell me that you're just one more fool looking for a night of no regrets."

"That's not fair, Christine. You know that." I reach for her hand and she pulls it away. "I didn't mean to make you mad. I...I'm not sure why I said that."

She ignores me, just concentrates on finishing her drink.

I try to think of something clever to say. Something light. "No one will hold up the other end of that table."

She looks as if she would like to stay annoyed with me, but the words make her smile. "Maybe it's time to let the table fend for itself?"

"Maybe."

She doesn't say more and I realize that she is about to walk away again.

"It's not about no regrets," I say.

She turns to me, her expression has moved past annoyance and straight into disbelief. "What? You suddenly can't live without me? I thought that was Chekov's routine?"

"I'm not saying that I'm in love with you."

Her eyebrows go up. "I'm not sure that approach is much of an improvement."

I smile. "I mean, I do love you. You're my friend. And we've been there for each other."

She doesn't smile. Her expression is so grim that I consider giving up. What am I trying to do anyway?

"I care for you. I'm going to miss you. A lot. Maybe I'm a little afraid of what it's going to be like without you here."

"I'm afraid too," she finally says.

"Of what?"

"Of my future. Of it being too much for me." She glances at me. "Of the way you're looking at me." She takes a step back. "Why, Sulu?"

I shake my head.

I can tell by the look in her eyes that she needs a lot more than that. She'll run if I don't think fast.

My brain refuses to work.

"Goodnight." She hurries away.

I wait long enough to think of a couple dozen reasons why I shouldn't follow. Then I go after her. The corridor outside her quarters is empty as I ring the chime. She answers it, does not seem surprised to see me.

"Is this a good idea?" she whispers.

"No," I say, without hesitation.

Then I wait. She studies me for the longest time before she finally takes my hand and pulls me inside.

We stare at each other.

"One of us should say something."

She's right. One of us should.

"What do you want from me," I finally ask her, wondering if she'll understand just how much territory that question covers.

She understands. "Everything. But just for the night."

It sounds just right. "Everything."

"But just for the night."

I smile. "Well, let's not rule out the morning."

She laughs.

I laugh too.

Then we kiss. It's nice. Sweet. Two friends saying goodbye. Maybe forever.

It quickly becomes more than just nice.

I wonder what life would have been like if we had done this sooner. I wonder if she's thinking the same thing.

I quit wondering about things I can't change and pay attention to her instead. She looks like she's doing the same thing. Paying attention to the present.

It's all the time we'll ever have.

And, as I kiss her again, I think that's all right. One night--and a morning--and then goodbye will be fine. That's what I tell myself. But I can already see that it's a lie, that in the morning, when I'll leave her after very little sleep, it won't seem fine at all.

I'm not exactly sure what I am feeling now, or what I'll be feeling then. But I do know it's a hell of a long way from no regrets.

FIN