Pike greeted him with an incredulous eyebrow. ‘You’re early.’
‘Don’t pretend you’re not happy to see me.’ Kirk hitched on what he knew was an irresistible smile as he swung onto the neighbouring barstool. As ever, he speculatively scanned his surroundings but the bar was thin on people and thick with a blues-drenched, smoky inscrutability that darkened the room’s edges. ‘You gonna buy me a drink or what? I’m dying of thirst here.’
An unreadable shadow crossed Pike’s face, then vanished with a resigned sigh. ‘Should make you buy it yourself, you brat.’ He gestured lazily at the bartender with a familiar shorthand of long fingers and piercing eyes.
‘Don’t need to pay when you look this good.’ As if to prove his point, a generous measure of iced whisky appeared at his hand. He drank deeply to slake the dry heat inside his mouth, letting the liquor soothe his tongue while he openly admired Pike’s lean body perched alongside him.
‘Come here often?’ His flirting grin widened as Pike rolled his eyes with a reluctant smirk.
‘Is that the best you’ve got?’ He straightened upright, drawing a more serious line along his spine. ‘Better tell me why you’re really here.’
Several playful responses burst to mind, but Pike’s waiting stare killed them all dead. He gazed into his glass, wet his lips with a burning tongue. ‘I… may have put a bit of a dent into our ship.’
‘I’ll try to repress my surprise,’ Pike sighed. ‘Why else would you be cranking up the charm like that?’
‘You think I’m charming?’ he teased eagerly.
‘I never said you weren’t.’ Another glance favoured him, slower and silkier than the first. ‘You still better have a good reason.’
‘Is my crew reason enough?’
‘Absolutely,’ Pike agreed easily. He lifted his glass, swirling the neat whisky into the cyclone of his hand. ‘But don’t you count yourself among them? Enough to keep yourself safe?’
Kirk laughed to deflect the serious tenor of Pike’s question; it was ruining his hard-earned buzz. ‘Sure,’ he shrugged. ‘I’m here, aren’t I?’
‘You are,’ he sighed. ‘That’s the problem.’
Pike sipped his drink, liquor tilting nauseous as the ocean to his lips. Swirling gold waves shot through with red as the glass angled away, fine liquids lacing towards a horrible, muddy resolution.
‘Sorry,’ Pike murmured, dabbing at his wet lips. He shot a disdainful look at the blood on his fingertips, wiped them indifferently on his thigh.
‘You knew that.’ He checked his fingers again, wrapped them around his tainted drink with a shrug.
‘I…’ I forgot. How could he have forgotten? The howling memory was frostbitten beneath the throbbing heat of his body, shivering on a vicious gust of wind shoved through shattered windows. So cold, except for the lingering heat bleeding out with warmth enough to taunt the desperation of his tear-soaked face buried against Pike’s chest, begging for a heartbeat that was long gone…
Kirk drew a shaky gasp, panicked hand flying to his heaving chest. ‘I… the ship was dead…’ Flickering impressions were boiling to the surface now, bursting through the scalding fluidity of his body. ‘She was dead and falling and the warp core was misaligned so I fixed her but then it was burning, I couldn’t breathe… it hurts, so much…’
‘You feel it now?’ Kirk nodded rapidly, biting back a whimper. ‘Good… you wouldn’t feel if it were too late…’
‘I don’t want to feel like this,’ he ground out. ‘I know I died. I felt it, I…’ He hesitated, closed his eyes. ‘I was so scared,’ he admitted in a whisper.
‘I know,’ Pike murmured, sweeping a cool hand soothingly along the wake of pain wracking his spine. ‘There’s no shame in that…’
‘Isn’t it over now? Can’t I just…’ He looked up, greedily drinking in all the calm kindness he saw in Pike’s eyes. ‘I could stay,’ he said hopefully. ‘With you…’
‘You’re so young.’ He smiled sadly, pale eyes darkening as they searched him through, as his hand stilled beneath the hem of his leather jacket. ‘It’s too soon.’
‘But I’m dead,’ he argued stubbornly. ‘Why else would I be here?’
‘Because you haven’t given me a moment’s peace since the day you showed up,’ Pike retorted dryly as his hand reluctantly drew away. ‘He’s trying to get you back, you know.’
Kirk twitched, felt the pull of it behind his heart. ‘That’s insane.’
‘Maybe,’ he allowed, ‘but he doesn’t give up that easily.’
Pike said nothing more, taking another sip of his drink instead but the dare was plainly present. ‘I’m not giving up on Bones,’ he protested. ‘I just…’
He trailed off, clasping his drink with both hands for fear of reaching for anything he could never have.
‘I miss you.’ It was all he could shove past the heavy lump in his throat; he swallowed hard, closed his eyes as gentle fingers slipped beneath his downturned jaw.
He braced for blood, but Pike’s kiss tasted mercifully of nothing but a whisky that couldn’t possibly be real. His lips moved with a tenderness that sliced through the irradiated layers of his being and set the cold bleeding out in chilling waves that flung him into the safe harbour of Pike’s body. The sticky floorboards were fading beneath his boots but those strong shoulders were firm beneath his hands, his thigh warmly secure against Kirk’s hip. He pushed into the kiss chasing all he had lost – it wasn’t enough, left him gaping greedily as Pike pulled gently away.
‘That may have been selfish of me,’ Pike confessed, lips pressed to his brow. ‘My brave boy… you know what he needs you to do.’
He nodded, fingers clenching as he inhaled a keepsake lungful of his scent. ‘You can’t push me away forever,’ he promised, one last frail tease.
‘I know,’ Pike agreed as the bar’s darkest edges closed around him, pulling him back to life, to waiting. ‘You owe me the next round.’