Closing Time by Djinn
Kirk sipped his drink, making a face at how strong the bartender had made it. But that was why people came to this club: they were liberal with the synthehol--and the real stuff, too, if you were of a mind to indulge.
"What's your poison tonight?"
He turned; Chapel was smiling at him.
He'd seen her earlier, knew she'd come over. "Vodka. The real thing."
"Ever the thrill seeker." She bumped him, making both their drinks splash around a bit, although they averted the disaster of a spilled drop. "Sorry, Jim."
"Feeling no pain?"
"I was jostled. It's too early to be feeling no pain, and you know it."
"True." He moved them out of the traffic pattern. "I looked for you today."
"Cartwright said you'd stopped in. New ship still good?"
She studied him, blue eyes probably missing nothing. After serving together so long she was very good at knowing when he was leaving something out. "But...?"
"But nothing. It's good. Hell, it's great. It would probably be great even if it were a garbage scow, so long as I was in space and not chained to some desk."
"Now, that I believe." She grinned at him, then surveyed the crowd. "Anyone catch your eye?"
"Other than you? You're wearing the hell out of that dress, by the way."
"I better be. It cost a fortune." She frowned at him. "Get your mind on the game, Captain." Suddenly, she smiled. "Isn't that the gal you left with last time?"
He saw Felicia draping herself over someone tall, dark, and handsome. "It is."
"Was she fun?"
"Not an overwhelming endorsement." She nodded a hello to someone in the corner of the room.
Kirk tried to see who it was. "Past conquest?"
"I'm hoping my next one."
"Someone nice to wake up with?"
"What's so funny?"
"I don't let them stay. That way lies madness." She gave him a questioning look. "So, no one for you?"
The blonde he'd been watching all night suddenly made eye contact and held up her empty glass.
"As invites go, that's pretty unmistakable." Chapel winked at him. "See you at tomorrow's briefing."
"Emergency ops with a hangover? Can't wait."
She dug into the little bag that hung from her wrist. "Here."
He grinned; she was always good for the antitox. "You're a goddess."
"Let's hope the Adonis in the corner agrees." She leaned in, gave him a kiss on the cheek. "Have fun with your Aphrodite."
"Roger that, Commander." He touched her shoulder, smiling at the silky feel of her skin. He always forgot how soft she was. "You do the same." Then he turned and walked over to the blonde. "You seem to be out of liquid goodness."
Her smile was brilliant. "I do, don't I?"
"Let me help you with that." He took her arm and led her to the bar.
The look in her eyes told him that he could probably lead her anywhere he wanted.
Kirk took his drink from the bartender, and looked around the room. He didn't see Chapel anywhere.
"Hi," a slinky redhead said as she sidled up to him. She held out her hand, almond eyes flashing green messages of lusty intent. "I'm Mona."
"Jim." He gave her his best grin.
She grinned back. "I know who you are, Captain. I'm a big fan of yours."
"Oh, I bet you say that to all the--" Jim frowned as he saw Chapel come in. She had a bruise on her cheek and wasn't dressed to kill. "Excuse me," he said, realizing once he was halfway across the room that Mona had still been talking.
She looked up, gave him an odd smile. "I was hoping you'd be here. I knew the Enterprise was back."
"Just got in. Hightailed it down here." He touched her cheek. "Not the look I'm used to seeing."
"Not the look I'm used to wearing." She glanced down at her uniform. "And I'm severely underdressed."
"Please tell me someone you met here was not the source of that bruise."
She shook her head. "Big-ass bulkhead. It turns out when you fall into one hard enough, it hurts like hell."
"And you're all out of regenerators at Ops?"
"This is after the regenerator."
"Holy shit." He turned her face gently, took in the shininess of the skin on her face, going down her neck and onto her chest. They'd had to regenerate a whole lot of her. "You really got hurt."
"I really did." She reached for his drink, smiling as he pushed it into her hand. "Thanks, don't mind if I do." She downed it. "I guess it goes without saying I'm not in the mood for conquest." She glanced over to where he'd been standing. "I think I'm interfering with your hunt, though."
He looked over, saw Mona watching. He gave her a smile that he hoped was both sheepish and regretful. Then he turned back to Chapel. "Are you hungry?"
"Oh, come on. She's gorgeous, Jim."
"She is. But you're my friend, and you look like you could use a nice meal and a willing ear." He turned her toward the lift. "Did this happen on Droella? I'd heard Ops was working with the relief effort."
She nodded. "Nasty eddies in their atmosphere. Impossible to predict, apparently. Morrell and I were on our way to our seats in the shuttle to strap in for the descent. Any other planet, we'd have had plenty of time to do it."
"But not this one. Was Morrell hurt as badly as you?"
"Morrell was killed." Her eyes met his and he saw emotions raging before she looked away.
He understood. It was never easy being the survivor.
He put his arm around her shoulder. "Come on. You can tell your buddy Jim all about it over a nice steak."
"Really?" She wrapped her arms around his waist, seemed to be holding on for dear life.
"Scotch," Kirk told the waitress. "Make it expensive."
"Yes, sir," the waitress said with a smile.
Kirk didn't smile back. He'd had a lousy day being grilled by administrators who'd never logged a single star hour. He swore they put new policies in place just so they could bitch him out for breaking them.
He saw Mona walking toward him, met her eyes; she veered off sharply.
"In case you didn't get the memo, that look is not the recommended way to attract women." Chapel slid into the seat across from him. "So, Captain Scowlface, what seems to be the trouble?"
He tried his chick-deterrent look out on her. She just laughed, so he tried it out on the waitress as she set his scotch down.
Chapel gave her a sweet smile, as if attempting to make up for him. "Can I have champagne?"
The woman hurried off.
"Rough day at the office, dear?" Chapel asked.
"You celebrating something?" He stared at her, not bothering to look away from where her low-cut dress was displaying her considerable assets.
"Can't a girl just like champagne?" She cocked her head to the side as if trying to figure out what kind of life form he was. Then she slowly leaned in, letting the fabric slide away, giving him an even better view. "Like what you see?"
At his startled look, she laughed. "I have yet to meet the man these babies can't distract out of a bad mood."
He fought a grin.
"Oh, come on. Give in. You want to smile." She took the champagne from the waitress. "Now, what's your problem, Jim?"
He exhaled loudly. "I hate admin audits."
"I don't think everyone gets quite the treatment I do."
"Well, no, but we're not as good at pissing the admin staff off." She laughed. "How many demerits did you get this time?"
"Very funny." He pretended to pout.
"You're just doing that so I'll lean forward again."
"You make me sound so shallow." But he leaned in, as if intent on getting a better view of her.
"Here, I'll help you out." She leaned in, looking up at the ceiling as if bored with the whole process. "Seen enough?"
"I'm a guy. Those are breasts. The question is idiotic."
She laughed, her eyes sparkling. "True. Silly of me to ask."
"Very." He felt lighter, his foul mood finally dissipating.
"So," Chapel said, "that redhead is here again."
"Redheads are overrated."
"Well, there are blondes and brunettes, too."
"A lovely brunette found me. I think I'll stick with her." He was surprised to see a pleased smile light her face. "Unless she has other fish in mind?"
"No, she likes you, strangely enough. She could go for salmon, though. There's a new restaurant on the wharf that's getting rave reviews."
"All right, then. Drink up, Chris. I'm hungry."
Her answering smile was amazingly shy for someone who'd just flashed him. He found it a charming contradiction.
Kirk hurried into the club. He did a quick look-see, didn't see Chapel.
"Something to drink?" the bartender asked.
"Beer." His briefings had been too draining for anything stronger. Normally he'd have skipped the club, but he'd been hoping to apologize to Chapel. He hadn't meant to blow her off earlier at Starfleet Command, just hadn't expected to see her outside the conference room. His mind had been on what he was going to pitch to the brass, not on what he should say to her.
He scanned the bar again. He saw someone brunette and awfully Chris-like in the back corner. Finding a better vantage point, he saw that it was Chris and she was sitting close--very damn close--to a man he'd seen her with before.
The man leaned in, kissing her cheek, then working his way toward her ear. Kirk felt something deep in his gut, realized he was clenching his glass.
He turned, stalking back to the bar, knowing it was idiotic to be jealous--he was jealous? How the hell had that happened?
"They say the third time's a charm," a sultry voice sounded.
He turned; Mona looked wary.
"They do say that." He tried to smile, could tell it was forced.
"You know, I'm giving you my best stuff, here. Why don't you just screw her and get it out of your system." She turned and stormed off.
Kirk took a deep breath, saw that the bartender had caught everything. "Women," he said.
"Women," the bartender said, but he shook his head as if Kirk was sort of stupid.
"You have something to say?"
"No, sir. I just listen. It's much safer that way." He moved off, leaving Kirk to nurse his drink--and his wounds.
A champagne glass suddenly slammed down next to him. "I'm out. Buy me more."
He wasn't sure he'd ever heard Chris sound that bitchy. He turned to look at her. She wasn't looking at him. She was staring straight ahead.
He nodded to the bartender, waited till the man had brought her a fresh drink to say, "Nice outfit."
"Thanks. I didn't buy it for you." She downed half her drink.
"That's a waste of good champagne. The shirt looks new."
"Maybe I bought it for Tom. And this champagne isn't that good."
"Tom's your friend over there? The one you were letting grope you?"
"He's actually not my friend. I find one shouldn't get too interested in friends. They become unpredictable and--" She finished the rest of her drink in another big gulp.
"And not very friendly in the hall?"
"Something like that." She looked at him, hurt showing.
Kirk glanced over to the corner. The man she'd been sitting with was gone.
"I sent him away."
"I'm stupid." She glared at him.
She nodded grudgingly.
"Let's go to Paris." He held out his arm.
She finally took it.
"Ask me when the meal's over." But she smiled at him.
Kirk handed Chris her drink and looked around the club at the top of the Eiffel Tower. "Nice change of pace."
She didn't answer.
"You don't like it?"
"It's a club. It's only different because it has a view." Her tone was brittle, and she glanced at him, then walked to the window, not saying anything more. She'd been quiet as they'd ridden up in the lift. Maybe they should have eaten first? Maybe the ritual of dinner would have made it easier.
Why was this suddenly not easy?
He joined her; Paris was spread out before them. "It's beautiful."
"Yes, it is."
"I forget just how much until I come back."
"I know. Me, too." She was holding onto the windowsill with one hand, her fingers clenched, as if she was in danger of falling if she let go.
"No." She sipped at her champagne. The good stuff this time--he was in the mood to indulge her.
"Are you going to tell me why not?"
"You won't like it."
"Won't I?" He moved closer, so his arm was touching hers.
She leaned in, pressing tightly against him.
"Chris, what's wrong?"
"This was a game. We used to hunt together. Not each other."
"The game has changed for me."
He smiled gently at her when she turned to look at him. "For me, too. If that helps."
"It does. Sort of." She took a long breath.
"Is it so bad if it changes?" He was feeling a little off balance. He wanted this woman and she wanted him, apparently. Why was that such a terrible thing? "Is it because I'm not around?"
She laughed, a bitter little sound. "I think I proved with Roger that I can endure long separations."
Kirk decided not to point out she'd endured it by falling for Spock. It was not a comforting thought.
She frowned. "Tell me."
"You had someone else while you were looking for Roger."
"I never had Spock." She looked hurt he'd think that of her.
"But you were interested in him."
"So what if I was? How many women were you with?"
He could feel his face tighten. "Is that suddenly a problem?"
"No, I just don't think you should be throwing stones, is all."
"Ah." He threw his drink back.
She put her drink down on the windowsill, turned to face him. "Why were you so short with me today?"
"I told you. I had other things on my mind."
"Yeah, you said that, but it seems out of character. You're usually the model of multitaskers if a woman is involved."
"What the hell is your problem tonight?" When she wouldn't answer, he said, "I think our evening's done, don't you?"
"I think it's more than done." Her voice was hard, but she looked like she was going to cry. "I probably should have stuck with Tom."
"You probably should have." Their return to San Francisco was filled with an icy silence.
Kirk looked around the club as he stomped in. It had been a short walk from the transporter station. Chris had gone one direction; he'd gone another. His route back to the temporary quarters had taken him past the club, so he'd turned in.
He saw Mona. She was what he needed, wasn't she? A beautiful woman for a night. Nothing lasting. Nothing with ties. Nothing with a friend.
Mona turned away.
The bartender put a glass down in front of him. "Looks like you could use this."
Kirk took a sip, realized it was single malt scotch. "Thanks."
"No problem." The bartender left him alone.
Alone. Why did alone sound bad? He'd been enjoying himself in this place until Chris had come along. Damned woman. What the hell was wrong with her?
He sensed someone sliding onto the barstool next to him, but didn't look to see who it was. He didn't need to, could just tell who it was. "I thought you were going home."
"I thought so, too." Chris dropped her hand onto his knee, her touch warm even through the fabric of his pants.
"I don't know why you scare me so."
Kirk didn't answer.
"I'm in love with you."
He turned so he could look at her. When she seemed about to pull her hand off his knee, he said, "Leave it there."
"Because I like it." He realized she'd been crying. Her makeup was a little smeared and her eyes were red. "Because I'm in love with you, too."
She started to cry again.
"Not the reaction I was going for." He pulled her close, kissing her for the first time other than some quick goodnight pecks between friends.
She wrapped her arms around him, kissing him back for all she was worth.
When they pulled away, the bartender shook his head as if relieved they'd finally worked things out. Then he glanced significantly in the direction of one of the secluded booths. Kirk realized they were a bit conspicuous making out like two kids in the middle of the club.
"The bartender wants us to get a room. Actually, he nodded toward a booth, but I can think of better places to go."
"Me, too." She touched his cheek. "Your place is closer. But mine has food."
He realized he was very hungry. For her and for other things. "Your place it is."
They walked to the lift arm in arm, passing Mona who was hanging on Tom.
"Jealous?" Kirk asked Chris.
"Not in the least." She snuggled against him as they left the building. "I'm sorry for what I said."
"Me, too. You scare me, as well, you know?"
She stopped walking, pulled him into a shadowed alcove and kissed him. It was so sweet to kiss her, felt so much more like home than being with one of his conquests.
"I'm staying the night," he said softly.
Her smile was very tender. "I know that."