Academy Days: The Burn
The Burn was one of those places that if it went by any other name, it would not be the same kind of place.
The grade of alcohol that was served burned a path as it slid down throats and sloshed in stomachs because it was priced according to what Academy cadets and War College candidates could afford. The club was hot – smoking – great music, great vibe and great light effects. All the acts that performed were fresh and up-and-coming. It was one of the better kept secrets held by those at the Academy. Only those who knew about the place went, and even then, it was usually by invitation from someone else who frequented the club. It was a rite of passage, so to speak, to be taken there by someone else. More than one woman had enjoyed a night of blistering sex from meeting up with someone at the club and more than one guy had his ego served to him on a 'shot-down-you-are-so-denied-what-ever-made-you-think-you-ever-stood-a-chance-getting-with-me?' salver, courtesy of one of the members of the clientele. The best part was that anyone who went to The Burn inevitably walked away with a story of their own to either regale in with others or jealously horde – bragging rights be damned.
Walking up to the door, he was third in line to step up to the coat-checker. An easy smile and a charming salutation to the guy behind the counter made sure his aviator jacket was going to be going home with him and not 'inadvertently' given to someone else or added to the collection he was sure the checker had already amassed. Lee Adama might be a lot of things, but naïve was not on the list.
Sliding through the crowd, the same easy smile and charming demeanour paved an unhindered path to the stairs that led to the second floor.
He was late. It was Guy's Night Out and he was late. His advisor had summoned him to his office late in the day after hearing what went on in the Simulator Theatre that afternoon and that threw his whole schedule off. His daily visit to the gym was later than usual, getting something to eat – surviving a previous excursion with the guys where copious amounts of alcohol was consumed on an empty stomach made getting dinner paramount was pushed even further back – and then showering and getting dressed put him more than an hour behind the clock.
Crossing the threshold, the expansive dance floor was immediately inside the door and stretched back towards the first floor bar. At the top of the dance floor was a stage. Along the left and right sides of the dance floor were small tables with chairs and wall space for propping shoulders. At the back of the dance floor, were a couple of high tables with high barstools, perfect for quick consultations with friends or respite stations from someone who would not take no for an answer when certain questions were asked. Behind those tables were the downstairs bar and the access stairs to the second floor.
Coming up the stairs, the sounds of the thumping, primal drumbeats superimposed over the latest dance hit drew him to the railing. That was where he liked to perch. The second story, The Balcony, was only as wide as the tabled areas of the first floor and the second floor bar was situated directly over the first floor bar. There was a medium height railing – perfect for leaning elbows and/or forearms against and looking nonchalant while scoping out the goings on of the dance floor below or appreciating whatever acts are on stage from a perfect vantage point – that rimmed The Balcony.
The front door swung open and another group spilled into the club. Noisy and already 'two parsecs past Geminon', Lee watched as they fumbled for cubits to come up with the cover charge. He smiled as he saw a 'shoot me now' and an 'I so do not get paid enough for this' look cross the coat-checker's face.
The door opened again. A single woman stepped up to the group just as one of the spinning lights flashed at the entry alcove and Lee zeroed in on what he saw. Blonde hair, fit, medium height – she had all the attributes of 'a possibility'.
She had barely spared the raucous group a second glance when she made eye contact with the coat-checker and they both shared a disparaging eye roll at the group's expense. A quick verbal exchange took place and the coat checker relaxed considerably. Shrugging out of her coat, Lee watched as she tossed it over everyone's head only to be caught by the club employee. Then she turned her attention to the group who was bottle-necking the entryway. Whatever she said had them digging into their pockets and paying up. Reconnecting with the checker, she asked him something to which he answered with a nod of his head – his hands were full with jackets from the group who had previously given him a hard time – in the direction of the stairs. Whatever she wanted, where ever she was going, she was going to find it in The Balcony.
"Hey Lee – what do ya see?" Jaesyn Litchter asked.
"Puddles to splash in, my friend," Lee automatically answered. He was too intent on watching the blonde to look over at where his roommate stood with one hip against the railing and his arms wrapped across his chest.
Jaesyn humphed at Lee's euphemism, but gave his friend the credit he was due. Lee Adama knew how to turn a phrase, charm a lady, smooth talk The Brass and fly a plane. Coming from the same background and being of the same ilk, they were friends and contemporaries first, rivals second. They watched each other's backs and yet there was a subtle undertone of competition the underscored everything they did. Pilots were competitive by nature, Viper pilots especially. Only the best lived to tell the tales of aerial battles. Anything less than the best ended up as smears on a hanger deck, dismembered in space, or a charred mass of carbon identifiable by the dog tags hung around necks.
Following Lee's line of sight, Jaesyn picked out a curvy blonde decked out in a demurely provocative halter dress gently bobbing to the beat of the music straight down and to the middle right of the dance floor with a rather beefy looking male companion.
"She looks worthy of venturing out into a storm over, but I think her dance partner would take exception to you trying to give her 'shelter'." Jaesyn commented wryly.
Lee smiled at that. Leave it to Jae to pick up the word game where he left off. But then again, that was one of the reasons they were such good friends.
"Not her." Lee dismissed the pretty girl Jae had singled out. With a nod, he pointed out the other girl that captured his attention even though his eyes were still trained on the dance floor. "The one coming up the stairs as we speak."
Looking just beyond where Lee was leaning against the railing, Jae shot an appraising look at the woman who caught his friend's attention. Medium-heeled, laced-up-the-front black leather boots encased shapely calves all the way up to her knees. Her boots were worn over a pair of low-slung leather pants that clung to the contours of her hips and thighs belying the smooth muscles and feminine strength alluded to by the body-hugging, well-cut hide. A bare midriff showcased a tight midsection and a belly ring winked from its resting place. A short-cropped, deep green vest played up her cleavage without overdressing what was underneath her top. The black ink of a tattoo showed up starkly against the pale skin of the inner face of her forearm, just below her elbow. Resting high on each arm was an armband, black with green scrollwork, and the same colour of her top. Short blonde hair, wide, sensual lips sporting a hint of gloss and a pair of green eyes barely touched with kohl: intelligence, confidence, sensuality and – ownership? – rounded out her outfit.
"What do you think?" Lee asked, knowing Jae would tell him the truth.
Jae watched her slide through the crowd, saying hello to some, smiling at others, shooting down more with barely a passing glance. Whatever she was doing in the club tonight did not include trolling for a one-night stand.
It was a game between them – pare down a person to one word in order to describe them, get a gauge on what the other person could expect. Narrowing his eyes, he watched the girl – woman, actually – convey in one glittering glare to the guy who dared to snag her waist as she brushed by that he could enjoy a longer, pain-free life if he removed his hands immediately from her person, preferably sooner than later. On top of everything else, the woman had skills and she was not afraid to use them. He could tell by the way she shifted her balance and pooled energy in her hips and shoulders.
"One word is not going to do it, Lee." Jae stated. And that was understatement.
Standing up straight, Jae nodded to Lee who in turn pulled himself off the railing.
"Lee – I think you need a few drinks in you before you attempt to go after a woman like that." Pausing for a half a second, he added, "And I bet even then, you would not be able to seal the deal."
Turning around and facing the bar, both men made a show of reading the nights' drink specials in order to watch what she would do next.
Falling in step with Jae as they moved towards 'their' section of The Balcony, Lee looked at his friend and answered his friend's honest assessment.
"I think you are right." Clapping a hand on his friend's shoulder, Lee still did not pull his gaze from the blonde. "I'll take you up on that bet nonetheless."
The woman had made it to the bar and was chatting with the bartender who looked relieved and anxious at the same time. Hoisting herself onto the countertop, she pulled her knees towards her chest and playfully swung her legs so that she could drop neatly onto the floor behind the bar. The bartender shook his head at her and laughed at her grand entrance. Tying an apron around her hips that the bartender tossed to her, Lee watched as the bartender brought her up to speed as to what was going on, who was being served what, pointed out where all the mixers and garnishes were and shared a laugh with the blonde woman as he passed her a name tag to pin on her vest before slipping out from behind the bar and disappearing down the stairs.
Sliding his hands into his pockets, Lee lifted his chin and deliberately tried to make eye contact with the blonde. He knew that she knew he was there. He had seen her sweep The Balcony and take note of every single person and where everything was as she secured her apron. He had just as much self-confidence as she exuded, and the fact that she was not succumbing to his charm made him smile in anticipation of how this night was going to end. It wasn't that he did not appreciate girls coming up to him, the coy glances and come-hither looks given over rims of glasses. Nor was it that he was tired of the chase: picking out someone he liked and getting her, even if it was for one night. But this blonde, she was something else. Something he could not put a finger on. But he would. And, if the gods were with him, she would feel more than his finger by the time last call was announced.
Coming up on where all the other guys were, a prickly feeling between his shoulder blades had Lee twisting his neck towards the bar one more time.
Just in time to catch a sexually blatant once-over chased with a saucy wink and two words mouthed only for him from the 'not-as-impervious-as-she-made-herself-out-to-be' bartender.
Lee cocked his eyebrow at her. She wanted to play, that was what was eluding him. She was trying to throw him off-balance. Obviously she had no idea who she was tangling with and that only upped the stakes.
Deliberately matching her once-over with one equally as provocative, he mouthed back, "Thanks."
A waitress coming up to the bar placing an order commandeered her attention, for the moment. Listening to Jae tell the guys about how he nearly got his ass served to him by some just barely graduated cadet had Lee defending his reputation.
One of the other guys, Kevin, started a tab and the waitress came around at just the right times to clear out the empty beer bottles and shot glasses only to replace them with fresh rounds. The whole vibe of The Balcony became looser, electrically charged and sexy-dangerous. And it had everything to do with the new bartender. Everything she projected about herself wrapped around the second floor of The Burn. She switched up the music chips to something that matched and fuelled the clientele. There was a reason why they were not on the dance floor and she played up to that. The bar was swamped with people just wanting to be near each other and her. Every once and a while, Lee heard the cheer of appreciation over a well placed one liner go up from a group of people standing at one area of the bar. At one point, he saw her settle a dispute that had developed over a game of darts by out-shooting a pair of girls who were claiming that the other had cheated. That put both of them in their place in a good-natured way that kept their money flowing into the till and avoided a potential catfight at the bar. The best part was that after she showed the dart-girls up, she caught the look of approval he launched at her and shook her head at him before taking the next orders for drinks. That really made him smile – her look told him she did not need approval from him as to how to do her job – she was someone who did not need to be taken care of. If he wasn't careful, he was going to start thinking thoughts that had no business creeping into his head, like whether she had a significant other and what her favourite colour was.
Jae pushing him out of the way had him looking sharply up at his friend. The flat of Jae's hand was splayed across his midsection and Lee was less than two seconds away from firing off a dirty look at his friend. That is until he noticed their waitress was balancing a tray full of drinks and Lee was standing right in front of where she needed to put them down.
"This is from the bar." Carefully shifting the tray to her other hand, she started to dole out the drinks.
Passing one tall drink to Antony who was standing to Jae's left, she put the glass in his hands and explained, "One Bullshot – because you have been talking crap all night and she could hear it clear across the room and she knows that you are talking out your ass."
Lee, Jae, Kevin and Antony snorted and chuckled at her audacity. He had been talking shit all night and now he had been called on it in one of the best ways possible.
Plucking another drink from her tray, she placed it in front of Jae. If anything, she looked more embarrassed than nervous, "One Rusty Nail. Because she says that those who talk about sex the most do it the least, and based on what she has heard over the past hour and a half you need to take a 'refresher' course in Frakking 101. She thinks she could find someone for you to do your 'independent study' with until you passed the class."
Jae accepted the burn the bartender dished out with all the grace and poise she expected. Keeping his drink in one hand, he turned to the bar and bowed courteously. "M'lady – send me your maid-servant so that I might become worthy of standing in your presence!"
The waitress reached for one of the two remaining drinks and passed one to Kevin. "She said that this one was self-explanatory."
Kevin held up the concoction, not sure what he was about to drink.
Lee bit back his grin as he watched her gather her courage and close her eyes before opening them and looking at Kevin dead in the face.
"It's called The Three Pump Chump."
Lee had to wince at that one. They all did. That was cold, harsh, cutting and playful all at the same time – and it was something all of them had ribbed their friend over time and again. Spying on Kevin through one eye, Lee had to give his friend credit for genuinely laughing it off. It was impossible to not have heard the rumour that one ex-girlfriend spread around campus. And, if it held any merit, the drink was appropriate. But so was Kevin's comeback, "Hey – consider the source!"
That left one drink and only one man standing.
The waitress took a deep, steadying breath – more than when she prepared herself to give Kevin his drink. Making for the last cocktail, Lee shot out his hand and stopped her from picking it up. She was gearing herself up for this one and he needed some sort of idea of what she was about to dish out.
"Is it that bad?"
The waitress gave him a look that read that she did not want to do what she was about to do.
"She said that I had to look you in the eyes and keep my voice deep and even when I gave you your drink."
Lifting the final drink, she extended her arm. Lee reached for the glass, wrapped his fingers above where the waitress secured her grip and locked his eyes with hers. Lee pursed his lips and braced for the worst when the waitress did not immediately let go of the beverage and held his gaze.
"She wants you to enjoy a Slow Comfortable Screw Between the Sheets – on her."
The waitress barely got the words out before she made her escape and disappeared into the throng.
There was no way he could stop his friends from falling over and colliding with each other, laughing with him at her brazenness or raising their drinks in toasting her for getting the great Lee Adama good and proper. He could, however, do something about her.
Taking his drink with him, ignoring Jae's calls to come back to the table and enjoy the moment for what it was, Lee made his way to the bar and waited for a lull in her workload.
Drying her hands on a dishtowel before shooting it into a receptacle several yards away, Lee watched as she took a quick bearing on the people in front of her and along the length of the bar. Everyone who wanted a drink had one, and those who didn't weren't making anyone wait so she let them be for the moment.
Propping one foot against the bottom rung of the nearest barstool, Lee let the clunk of his glass hitting the bar top announce his presence.
If he ever thought he saw someone saunter before, the way she moved the few yards to stand in front of him redefined the word for him in the most explicit exhibition he had ever seen performed.
"Something the matter, Frat Boy?" Her voice and body was rife with teasing challenge.
"Yes, actually," Lee matched her tone for stance and he made it perfectly clear that he knew what she was doing and where he was going to go.
"Someone sent me this," he nodded to the glass that was cradled between his hands. "But this person is operating under some serious misconceptions."
"Oh yeah – in what way?" To his ears, she was all but purring her words as she leaned forward and let her arms rest on the bar just inches from where he stood. "Maybe I can pass the word along and help – clarify – things."
She was doing it again, jockeying for the upper hand. There was no way he was going to let himself be distracted by the way her lips formed her words, the way her vest gaped in just the right places, or the way her green eyes burned with a predatory fire.
"This person got ahead of herself." Lee let his voice trail off as he steeped his words in sexual promise. "Slow Comfortable Screw Between the Sheets would happen, eventually."
"But?" She prompted, carrying on the ruse that she was speaking of someone other than herself.
"You see, neither one of us would make it as far as the parking lot without a Quick Hard Frak Against the Wall, further than the living room in my apartment without having Sex on the Sofa or indulging in a long, hot, wet, mutually soapy, Slippery Shower before we even made it to my bedroom." Lee held her eyes with the same intensity as when he locked onto a target from inside his Viper: the shot was his take and there was precious little that ever stopped him from taking what was his. Deliberately playing with names of drinks to drive his point home earned him bonus points: the cleverer the mind, the cleverer the lover.
"Damn, Frat Boy – it's a good thing I left my panties at home – isn't it? If I were wearing any they would be well on their way to soggy by now." Her glib reply was more like a challenge being accepted than a biting comeback to level the playing field; it consumed every bit of air between where her elbows rested on the bar and intense look he knew took up residency in his eyes.
There was no way she could hide the way she lightly toyed with her bottom lip while he was listing off everything they would do before settling between his sheets nor the way she knew her cheeks coloured at the possibilities such an extended encounter would offer. But he appreciated that she was not ready to concede defeat, that she had one more card to play and she just laid it on the table. Now all he had to do was keep himself from reaching across the bar, throwing her over his shoulders and having his first taste for her as she was splayed across the hood of his car after frakking her hard against the wall of the building before he put down his trump.
"Hey Adama – don't forget to remind her that she is supposed to get one of her girlfriends to go out with me." Jae's voice carrying over his head broke the sexual tension between them. The memory of his mother knocking on his bedroom door just as he was getting to 'third base' with his secondary school girlfriend sprang to mind and he felt a telltale flush spread all over his face.
She pulled away first. She stood up straighter and the slightly hooded gaze she reserved just for him was traded for her bartender game-face. She was all cocky stance and Hades-be-damned attitude.
"Well, I stand corrected." She looked at Lee with a 'too bad, you were so close' expression. "Here I was thinking that you were the Frat Boy of the bunch, but it seems that your friend," flicking her eyes to where Jae stood behind and to the right of him before resettling her green gaze on him, "is Frat Boy Incarnate. That means I am going to have to come up with a new name for you, huh?"
Lee felt his back prickle again. This time it was from the backhanded burn she just handed him.
He had two choices – he could fire off a zinger of his own or let it roll off him. The fact that she was expecting him to do one or the other was not lost on him, nor was the fact that his answer would tip the scales in his favour as to whether or not he would get a second chance with this woman.
Pulling himself up to his full height, Lee leaned forward and just as he was about to open his mouth, he saw his way out – and a means to get to play Round Two with her.
Reading her nametag, he looked her square in the face and shot out his hand. "Hi. I don't think we have been properly introduced. My name is Boy. Fly Boy, to be exact. And you are?"
"You can call me… Mildred. I am pleased to meet you Flyboy." He was surprised that he was not taken back by her firm handshake. For some reason, if she only let him grasp her fingers, he knew he would be disappointed. The way she drawled out 'flyboy' was a dead give away that she was pleased that they were back to playing their word games again and that she was not buying it – not for an instant – that was his name.
"Mildred?" He said her name like he was questioning whether or not he was pronouncing it correctly. And, he would bet the newly minted nameplate on his Viper that her name was nowhere near Mildred, no matter what her nametag read.
He found himself chuckling as she tossed her head back and let loose with a full, throaty laugh that was as infectious as it was genuine.
"Okay Flyboy – you busted me. I learned long ago that having an alias was a good thing. If you are looking to condemn me, my name is Mildred. If you are looking to commend me, then my name is – "
"Hey Toots – are you working this bar or are you working on getting laid? We need some drinks down here! Unless, of course, you would rather be paid by the hour and take all three of us on at the same time!"
Interrupted in mid-sentence, 'Mildred' looked at the far of the bar as everyone hushed. No one ever called her Toots, no one wanted too. She was a one-woman party machine who knew how to keep the good times rolling, not someone who carried a 'menu' of 'hourly rates'.
"Damn, people." She swept the crowd with her eyes and started to walk towards the one person Lee was sure never graduated from Charm School. "Someone needs to call the Bio-Hazard Containment Unit."
Stopping in front of Mr. Personality, a wickedly lethal smile spread across her face, "Looks like there is another outbreak of Asshole-itis in our little corner of the world that needs quarantining."
One smooth motion had her bracing her arms against the bar, vaulting over to the other side and sticking her landing; her booted feet placed right next to the 'infected' person.
Lee heard Antony and Kevin move into flanking positions opposite Lee and Jae. She did not need any help with the guy who was being an asshole, but neither did she need any of his buddies stepping up and complicating matters by changing the odds from 'one on one' to 'three on one'.
"So here is the question, my friend."
Her tone was feral and confident. Whatever she was going to say she was going to do she was capable of following through with, consequences be damned.
"Are you going to leave on your own or are you going to make the good people who man the local Mobile Life Station Unit leave their nice, snug beds – on a perfectly lovely evening – to haul your sorry ass to the nearest medical facility, essentially bringing to an end the good time we all were having before you decided to 'grace' us with your presence? Not to mention making me fill out pages of paperwork describing – detail by embarrassing detail – how much of a glass jaw you have. Have I shared with you that I loathe paperwork? It would be right up there with you having to tell every person you see over the next few days – when they ask why you have this dazed look to you face – that a woman knocked you on your ass and loosened what ever few teeth you still have left in your head."
Lee stayed where he was. If she needed help, she knew where to look. It was also important for her to maintain control of the situation. He felt Kevin start to move forward and Lee stopped him from advancing forward by barring the way with his arm.
"Wait. Not yet."
Making eye contact with Jaesyn, he discreetly jutted out his chin towards the far side of the bar. Agreeing with Lee's strategy, Jae and Antony surreptitiously made their way across the room and took to standing behind the troublemaker's friends and clamped their hands on the other men's shoulders as a deterrent from getting involved in matters that did not overly concern them.
Growling low Mildred feinted right, like she was going to physically tackle the Dumb Ass of the Night and was rewarded when everyone saw him flinch. Looking at him like he was something she stepped in and needed to scrape off the bottoms of her boots before she went any further, she had to rub in the fact that she out-psyched him.
"That's what I thought."
Making eye contact with the crowd, she was a completely different person. Gone was the embodiment of 'just-give-me-a-reason-to-kick-your-ass', in its place was the jovial, caustic bartender everyone had fallen a little bit in love with over the course of the night.
"Okay people – I hope everyone enjoyed the show. There will NOT be an encore," she announced as she started a slow circle and reassured everyone within the sound of her voice that the there was nothing more to worry about.
Lee heard everyone let out a collective sigh and could feel the vibe in The Balcony shift back to something more upbeat.
Coming back to centre, she bracketed her hips with her hands.
"Who needs a drink? The first round is on – "
The Dumb Ass's fist connected with her cheek with the sickening thud of flesh striking bone. Lee was on his feet, Kevin beside him. Jae and Antony had the other side of the room and the guy's friends firmly detained. Watching the idiot bring up his left hand to try to get in another shot, she caught his fist in mid-flight and squeezed his fingers hard enough that Lee could hear the knuckles pop. With her right hand, she landed a solid uppercut to the vulnerable spot where his jaw hinged and Lee could hear the clatter of teeth all the way to where he was standing. She kicked his feet from underneath him and he landed on his ass – hard and winded. Watching him struggle for breath, she bent over him and her dog tags slipped out from where they were tucked inside her top and she let them sway deliberately in front of his face.
"You mother frakker. You must be really stupid if you think you could take out an officer in the Colonial Fleet with that girly-ass punch of yours. Stay down, stay still and don't frakking move if you know what is good for you."
Her disgust was plastered all over her face. Reaching into his pockets, she did not stop until she found his cubit-card.
"Now listen to me you little sucker-punching frakker. I am here doing a favour for a friend as well as on my way to connecting with a really fabulous guy tonight and you have to go and get all rowdy and break up the fabulous evening that me and everyone else up here had been enjoying because your hand called in with a 'headache' ten years ago. The way I see it, you owe all of us a favour because I am going to let you be carried out by your friends and none of us will waste a single second of our lives to file an official report on you. And so you are going to make good on my favour by buying everyone up here a round of drinks. You see – before you decided to make the biggest mistake of your lame-ass life – I was going to treat everyone, but I think everyone would appreciate your 'good will' more than they would my carte blanche. Don't you think so?"
Her question left him no quarter for negotiation. Especially after she scraped his face with his own card with last word she spared him.
Smile back on her face and a shiner blooming over her cheek, she turned back to the bar and hoisted herself back onto the wooden surface. This time, instead of hopping down and taking up her station behind the bar, she stood tall, spread her arms wide in invitation and hollered out, "Okay – let's try this again. Who wants a drink?"
Jaesyn thumped the bar top and called out, "Pony up, Barkeep. I am feeling a bit parched over here."
She looked down at Jae with a twinkle in her eye before bracing her fingertips against the wooden countertop as she hopped down and took back her station behind the bar.
Kevin clanked his glass down as well and challenged Jae, "Hey – me first, Frat Boy."
After that, requests flew at her from every direction and she had a smile and a quip for everyone.
Lee felt himself adding to the list of questions he already should not be contemplating. Like: what was a Valkeryie doing among mortals? She was fierce and sexy and beautiful and sensual and intelligent and she was in the Fleet and… Jae was right. One word was not going to come close to describing who and what she was.
"Sorry boys, but Flyboy is going to get the first drink. After all, he was the one who deployed you all into a text-book perfect formation," she said with a disarming grin.
A few quick flicks of her wrists and two fresh concoctions were set in front of him.
"It may be awhile before I can get back to you." That was all the explanation she offered with a blasé shrug of her shoulders.
Her hands flashed between the liquor counter, ice reservoir and mixer display. Just as quickly as she made his drinks, three more custom crafted beverages appeared on the counter top, one each for Antony, Jaesyn and Kevin. Holding up one of his drinks in salute, he quirked his eyebrow at her as a way of asking what she made for him.
Hauling up an armload of long necked bottles and popping off caps, she sent beer after beer out into the crowd, as the guy she laid out was half-carried-half-led away from The Balcony. Catching Antony toss a telltale nod to 'Mildred' confirmed that the loser was out of the building.
Standing down, Kevin, Antony and Jaesyn fell back to their corner, each carrying personally crafted beverages. It was not until she started setting up shot glasses for a boisterous party that just saddled up to the bar that she had a moment to answer his question.
"It's called Morning Kiss." A light flush wrapped around her neck and tinged her ears.
"I have never heard of that drink before." Lee was intrigued that a woman as brazen as herself, having done what she just did, would blush over a something as innocuous as a cocktail.
"That is because I just invented it."
For the first time all night, she was giving him a glimpse into her more personal places and he decided that he definitely liked the view from where he was sitting.
She must have picked up on his subtle shift because she added, "The only time I have ever seen a shade of blue that matched your eyes was when I was… well, it is not important what I was doing. I was on Aquaria, watching the sun set over the ocean. The water took on this electric blue kind of colour that I had never seen before. That is, until tonight. It is the colour I think your eyes would be after a night of mind breaking, soul shattering frakking. So go easy on the beverage, Flyboy. I wouldn't want you miss the trap because you were stalled in the launch tubes."
Her comment could have been considered snide if it wasn't softened by the wry smile on her face and the saucy wink she gave him over her shoulder as she went back to work.
He had two answers to two of his questions. Her favourite colour was the same as his eyes, and she would be there in the morning when he woke up.
Shifting off the barstool to rejoin his friends was the safest thing he could do for both their sakes. The image of taking that Valkyrie and making her shatter beneath him was going to test the workmanship of his pants and his resolve not to drag her into the nearest dark corner for some hot, hard, mutually beneficial manual release. Enjoyable as that sounded, he knew it would not be enough for either of them, and if he only had one shot at pleasuring a woman like her, he wanted to make it count – for both their sakes.
Optimistic and well on his way to being 'three parsecs beyond Geminon', he was not nearly as polluted as Jae, Kevin and Antony. Lee lost a game of darts to Kevin, finished one Morning Kiss and started on the second, Antony confessed that he was the one who streamed Cancerian porn into the Political Ethic professor's data pad, and considering that he made eye contact with 'Mildred' every fifth time he thought about it, commended himself on his self-control.
A sly smile reached his eyes when the man 'Mildred' took over for came back to finish out the night. He saw her hold up her hands in mock surrender when he pointed to her face and then swept the bar area with one hand and then the other – presumably to look for bodies that had been scuttled under the floorboards or into the ice reservoir. She laughed and soon he was laughing as well. She pulled at the ties on her apron and with all due pomp handed it over. This was good for Lee because that meant she was going to be getting out without having to stick around for last call and the subsequent clean up.
He was so intent in watching her that he missed Jae's question.
"Huh – what was that Jaesyn," Lee asked.
"I asked if you are ready to 'fess up and tell me that I won the bet."
Lee groaned. He had forgotten all about Jae's off-handed challenge and the fact that he took his roommate up on it in the first place.
Antony and Kevin looked at each other and then at Lee and Jae.
"What bet was that?"
The voice did not belong to either Kevin or Antony. It was 'Mildred's'.
Lee opened his mouth and he suddenly sounded a lot like Jae.
"Apollo here accepted my bet that he could not seal the deal with you without some liquid courage in his fuel tank."
Mildred's easy smile and mirthful expression didn't waiver, but it no longer reached her eyes.
Oh, frak! – Those were the two panicked words that flashed across his mind.
The look Lee shot Jae immediate had him stammering to make up for his blunder.
"No – it's not like that. Well, yes it is – but it isn't. Do you get what I am saying? It is this…" Jae started to explain but she finished his sentence for him.
"Stupid guy thing. No, I get that loud and clear." Her voice became harder with every word. "I hear it every day in the squad room as an excuse for when guys think with their jocks instead of their heads."
"Jae – why don't we sit down before we fall down?" Kevin asked in a drunken attempt at diplomacy.
Lee turned to 'Mildred'. He wasn't above wanting to make her understand but he was not going to grovel over a misunderstanding.
"Look, I can explain."
"I don't need one. I am not the one who made the second biggest frakking mistake of the night. And you get to live with it when you settle for jerking off alone in an empty apartment."
Lee figured the shell-shocked look on his face was retribution enough because she turned on her heel and walked away with only one parting comment.
Charging to the railing, he saw her plough her way across the dance floor, not caring if she bumped into people or not. Hollering at her from The Balcony was not going to do any good – the music would only drown out his voice.
Frak! How was he going to find her?
The bartender would know something.
Changing directions, he shot a murderous look at Jae as he made his way to the bar. It was a full minute before he shouldered his way up to the counter.
Reading the guy's nametag, he called out, "Derek!"
Polishing a glass as he made his way to where Lee was standing, he said, "What can I get ya?"
"I need a name."
"Male or female," Derek asked.
"Female – the woman who just left – the one who filled in for you," Lee quantified.
"You mean Katie?" Derek was amused. Every time that woman filled in for him, some poor soul fell for her. More than once he told her that he wished she would fall back for someone and that it would only be a matter of time before she did.
"Thanks!" Lee bolted from the bar.
Making his way back toward his friends, Jae stood up and nearly fell over. But his apology was sincere.
"I'm really sorry, Lee. I didn't mean to –"
"Yeah, Jae – I know. I gotta get out of here, okay?"
Heading for the stairs, Lee turned on his brain.
He had a name and an occupation and a place she frequented: Katie and she was a member of the Colonial fleet and she appeared regularly at The Burn.
No problem. He had planned successful ops with less intel in his Manoeuvres Theory class
Hitting the sidewalk and raking both sides of the street with his eyes, he half expected to catch a glimpse of her somewhere. No such luck. But then again, the gods helped those who helped themselves.
After all, it was not every night someone found his or her soul mate at The Burn. That was his allotment for luck for the night.
Re-entering the club, he gave a half-hearted wave to the coat-checker and stood on the verge of the dance floor debating whether he wanted to stay or get his jacket and go.
His jacket… her jacket – did she leave without her jacket?
Pivoting on his heels, he walked back to the coatroom.
"Katie asked me to grab her coat for her."
Lee kept his delivery even in hoping it would sound more like he was telling the truth and not pinning his hopes on a gamble.
"She did, did she?" The attendant was more than sceptical. The last time he saw his friend, she was tearing her way out of the club and she crashed the door into the side of the building on her way out.
"Yeah – she did." Lee channelled a little of his Lieutenant-ness into his voice. "She said she would flag down a transport while I grabbed our coats."
Lee stamped down the feeling that this guy was going to be more loyal to Katie than his job.
"You are lying through your teeth, but I'm going to give you Katie's jacket anyway with one condition."
"Name it," Lee insisted without braking to consider the stipulation.
"That if she doesn't come to get it from you in three days, that you find a way to give it to her personally." Bending down, the coat-checker pulled a relatively new, tan leather jacket from underneath the counter. "I know she busted her ass to get this and it means a lot to her."
"Done," Lee promised. Draping her coat across the counter, he shrugged into his own when it was tossed in his direction. "Thanks, I really appreciate it."
"Don't thank me. Thank her. I saw her haul ass out of here – she was pretty upset. If she was upset, that means you got to her – somehow, somewhere on some level. No one's been able to do that in a long time."
A handshake sealed their gentleman's agreement and Lee made his way to the sidewalk.
Opening up her jacket, he was surprised at how small it was in comparison to how he perceived her. She was a Valkyrie to him, but she was also more than that. She was a woman who thought about colours and what he would look like in the morning, she called the look he would give her when he first woke up her Morning Kiss. She was a poet and an artist and a warrior and a woman.
The glint of a gold pin caught in the street lights as he read the name embroidered across the left breast of the jacket and realized just how lucky he was and how close he came to never being able to find her.
Her name was not Katie. Derek and that coat kid referred to her by her initials: K.T. Her jacket spelled it out for him.
Lt. K. Thrace – the pin was the wings of a Viper pilot and the patch on the left arm only confirmed her flight status.
Things were pretty frakked up at the moment – he admitted as much. And, he was stupid for not making her stay and listen to him. But, they had a lot of common ground and he had her jacket.
They would be seeing each other.
Soon – very soon.
He could feel it in his soul.