Not Keeping Score
Summary: Katrina knows they’re all wrong for each other, but it’s just this close to being right.
Characters: Cornwell, Lorca
Disclaimer: Paramount/CBS own the rights to the Discovery universe and its characters, which I am borrowing without permission or intent to profit.
Notes: Inspired by Vera Blue’s Mended.
“Keep your arm up. Up, I said!”
She whips around to glare. That bullying, strident drawl is all that’s filled her ears for the past two hours, and Katrina has had enough. Deliberately she drops her arm, the phaser falling to her side. A splash of harmless light impacts her body armour and the computer utters a triple-tone trill of defeat.
“Oh well done,” he offers, sarcasm thick. “You’re dead, and so is your team. Computer, end simulation.”
The alien soldiers projected through the corridors flicker and fade, and Katrina tosses her phaser to the deck, seething. “That was your fault.”
“My fault?” He folds his arms. “What’s the matter, Kat? Can’t handle taking orders from me?”
“Orders? More like harassment. Why should it matter how I hold my damn phaser if I’m hitting all my targets?”
“Because your stance is all wrong and it’s throwing you off balance, slowing down your reaction time. Anyone can shoot straight when you know what’s coming, honey.” He strides over to pick up the phaser, shoves it into her hand. “You need to learn how to anticipate and react in a split second. Otherwise you might as well hand in that shiny new pip of yours, Lieutenant, or you’re gonna get somebody killed someday.”
“Jealous, Ensign?” She points the phaser deliberately at his chest.
He grabs its muzzle, wrenching it downward with ease. “Not jealous, Kat. I’m just a better soldier than you are, and you know it.”
She won’t relinquish her hold on the weapon, yanking it toward her body. He moves smoothly closer and twists her wrist until she yelps in pain and lets the phaser drop.
“You’re a jackass, Gabriel.”
“Yeah,” he grins wolfishly, stepping right up into her personal space, “but I’m your kind of jackass.”
The most irritating thing about Gabriel Lorca, she thinks as he crowds her up against the wall and takes her mouth with his, is that he’s right on both counts.
“I still hate you,” she mutters as she traces circles on his bare flesh.
A chuckle rumbles in his chest. “You’re only saying that because I beat you. Again.”
She huffs. “Your ability to bluff is not something to brag about, Gabriel.”
He laughs, jostling her a little as he reaches for the whiskey bottle on the coffee table. “Sure it is. It’s gonna help me make captain before you do.”
“Don’t count on it.” She accepts the proffered bottle, enjoying the way his eyes follow the movement of her throat as she swallows, even more than she enjoys the burn and tang of liquor. “And by the way, that is a truly disturbing attitude, Lieutenant Lorca. You really think all it takes to captain a starship is the ability to fake it?”
“No.” He gives her a dark look. “And quit analysing me, Doc. You’re off duty,” his hand slides down her back to squeeze her behind, “and out of uniform.”
Staying mad at Gabriel is something she’s always found nearly impossible.
Later, she extricates herself carefully from his sleeping embrace, her back aching from their athletics on the cramped couch. His quarters are a mess, strewn with empty glasses and discarded clothing and the deck of cards they’d been playing with. She thinks about picking up – after all, she’s equally responsible for this mess – but it’s well after midnight and she’s on early shift at the clinic.
And she doesn’t want to wake him; he doesn’t sleep much as it is.
She tiptoes to the door with her boots in hand and turns back for one long, furtive look at him, sprawled on the sofa, his face vulnerable in sleep.as he never is when wakeful.
If things were different, she’d pull off her clothes again and crawl back into his arms. But this is who they are, and most of the time, she doesn’t mind that at all.
They’ve both been on tours of duty, both been through battles and skirmishes, but never like this. Katrina’s ears rang for three days after her console exploded on the Korolev, and she still has phantom pain where a falling strut broke her knee. In the space between awareness and her dreams, she counts the dead.
As for Gabriel; he spent six hours in an EVA suit, trapped and clinging to the side of his ship. By the time the battle was over most of the crew were dead, and he was almost out of air before rescue arrived.
It’s little wonder that the first thing they do when they’re Earth-bound again is to find the nearest bar.
He’s silent, staring into his glass, which empties and refills too rapidly. She understands. She doesn’t really want to talk, either. But it’s her job to get people to open up, and it’s times like these that she finds comfort in professional detachment.
“How are you doing?” she ventures, hand on his arm.
He sends her a sidelong glance. “Who’s asking? My friend Katrina or Dr Cornwell?”
“Depends who you’re willing to talk to.”
Gabriel tosses back his whiskey. “Talking isn’t really what I came here for, Kat.” He stands up, levelling a stare at her. “There’s more liquor at my place.”
He raises his eyebrows, but when she simply looks at him, he shrugs.
He leaves, and she turns back to the bar and the empty bottle of whiskey and the empty chair beside her. She thinks about going back to her empty bed and waking up and feeling empty, maybe for the rest of her life.
In two weeks she’ll ship out on her next mission. Maybe it’ll be peaceful, but maybe it won’t. Maybe she’ll lose friends and colleagues, and grow a little harder every day. Maybe she’ll read the casualty lists some day in the near or distant future, and she’ll see Gabriel Lorca’s name and realise that tonight was the last time she saw him.
She stumbles off the stool and pushes her way through the bar. A light rain is falling by the time she pounds on his apartment door, the mist clinging to her shoulders.
He pulls her inside without a word, wraps her in his arms, breathes heat back into her limbs. They are not strangers to this kind of connection, hasty and frantic, legs tangled in clothing as they rush toward completion. Afterwards she bursts into tears, embarrassed and shaky and oh, so grateful that they are both alive.
“Congratulations, Kat,” he drawls, just this side of mocking, as she slides into the seat beside him. “I guess you beat me, after all.”
She’s beaming – she can’t help it – and in the face of it his eyes soften. He raises his glass to her.
“To the ‘fleet’s finest, Captain Cornwell.”
Katrina laughs, clinking her glass with his. “Thanks.”
“Tell me about your ship,” he says, watching her savour the honeyed burn of whiskey.
“The Hevelius. It’s a science vessel. Our first mission is to study the Kovaalan Nebula.”
“Where no one has gone before,” he murmurs. “Meanwhile I’ll be patrolling the borders, keeping the Federation safe so people like you can keep on stargazing.”
“Don’t be sour, Gabriel. You know you’ll get a ship of your own when you’re ready for it.”
“Ready for it,” he repeats, voice flat as he turns to face her. “Yeah, my request for promotion was denied, wasn’t it, Kat? Which you know very well.”
She narrows her eyes. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Commander Gabriel Lorca exhibits narcissistic and antagonistic tendencies,” he quotes. “The Board of Admirals recommends he remain at his current rank and seek psychotherapy to assist in managing his impulse control. Request for promotion to the rank of captain will be reconsidered at a later time.”
“I failed the psych test,” he says, bluntly. “But you wouldn’t happen to know anything about that, would you, Doc?”
Katrina sets her glass down carefully. “I didn’t perform your psych analysis, Gabriel.”
“But they asked your opinion, didn’t they? Because they knew we were,” he waves a hand, and there’s barely-curbed agitation in the movement, “friends.”
She folds her arms.
“Why’d you sabotage me, Kat?” he demands. “You of all people know what this means to me. Are you really that competitive?”
“You listen to me,” she hisses, moving in close, “if anyone sabotaged you, it’s you, Gabriel. The Board didn’t ask my opinion and I didn’t volunteer it. I had nothing to do with their decision.” She leans back, eyes cold on him. “That’s not to say I disagree with it. You are antagonistic and you are self-obsessed. And at this point in your life I don’t think you’re ready to captain a starship.”
“Fuck you,” he splutters, “can you just for one minute lay off the psychobabble and talk to me like a friend?”
“Okay,” she snarls. “You want a friend’s opinion? Here it is. You’re an asshole, Gabriel. And you’re drunk. Go home.”
She watches as he wrestles his anger into check and wonders if he’s doing it for her, or because people are starting to look at them.
“Just go,” she says. “If you can’t be happy for me, please, just leave.”
Gabriel nods, sliding off the stool.
“I am proud of you, Kat,” he says, quiet. “And I’m sorry.”
She refuses to watch as he walks away.
It’s the first time in her life that she genuinely believes she is going to die.
She’s been trapped under this fallen beam for hours – six or seven, she guesses, though it’s hard to tell as she keeps drifting in and out of consciousness – and she hasn’t been able to feel her legs for most of that time. Her left hand is pinned beneath the rubble and she can see her communicator lying barely centimetres out of her reach.
She knows her first officer is dead; he’d tried to push her out of the way as the ceiling collapsed. The Ambassador lies three metres from her position, eyes turned toward her. She has watched the life fade from them over the past hours. Now they’re vacant and the blood that’s been seeping from beneath his body is congealing.
Dust sifts downward from the few remaining columns and Katrina coughs. The pain is wracking, but she’s glad of it. It means she’s not dead.
The fact that they haven’t been rescued in her greatest remaining concern. What’s happened to her ship? Why have no away teams beamed down? Who attacked them?
She feels unconsciousness stealing over her again and fights to keep her eyes open. Somewhere, very far away, she can hear voices. Somebody must be alive, she realises, and just as the understanding forms she feels a person crouch beside her.
“Kat,” says the voice she knows, the voice that can’t possibly be here.
So this is dying, she thinks, trying to care.
“I’m gonna get you out of here,” says Gabriel, his voice rough and shaky. “Just lie still. Hey, Bartlett! Give me a hand here.”
She feels the weight of the beam rising off her and screams in agony, and then all she knows is darkness.
When she wakes to white light, she assumes it’s the afterlife. But surely, she thinks, squinting, it shouldn’t hurt so much to be dead.
His voice is gentle but scratchy with fatigue.
“You’re awake,” Gabriel murmurs, and she feels pressure on her hand and turns her head toward him. Tears slip from the corners of her eyes.
“How –” her voice fails her.
“We picked up your ship’s distress signal. I’m only sorry we were too late.”
“I’m sorry,” he says again, compassion clear in his gaze. “The ship was destroyed. You were the only survivor.”
Katrina turns her head away and closes her eyes.
“You’ll get through this, Kat,” Gabriel says quietly. “You’re the strongest person I know. And I’m here. Whatever you need, I’ll be here.”
Sometimes Gabriel’s hands shake. He obscures it with flamboyant gestures, conceals it in the dim lighting that’s become his normality, but she knows. She sees.
She has sometimes wondered if their long acquaintance makes her somewhat blind to his flaws, but a few years’ distance from him, she thinks, has given her perspective. She sees him all too clearly now.
The war has changed them all, she muses as the lip of the whiskey bottle clinks nervously against his glass, but she thinks it’s changed Gabriel more than most.
“You once told me you’d be here for me whatever happened,” she says, watching his pained, glittering eyes. “I want you to know that I’m here for you too. If you need to talk –”
Like a cornered animal he lashes out. “Psychoanalysing me again, Admiral? Is this for your official report?”
“I’m not here in an official capacity. I’m here as your friend,” she says evenly. “And I understand better than most. I’ve lost a ship, too.”
“You didn’t kill your crew.” To anyone else his tone would be flat; to her, it’s anguished. “You didn’t sit in that escape pod and fire on your own ship. So don’t tell me you understand, because it’s not the same.”
“You’re right,” she agrees. “It’s not the same, and you don’t have to talk about it with me. But you should talk to somebody. You need help, Gabriel.”
He pours another finger, slugs it back. “I’m fine.”
“Yeah, I can see that.”
Katrina leans forward to pull the whiskey bottle out of his reach. He grabs for it and misses, ends up sprawled across her lap. She’s unsurprised when his arms curl around her thighs. He presses his face to her hip, his breath hot through the layers of her uniform.
“Gabriel,” she says, and rests her fingers in his hair, stroking gently.
“If you really want to help,” he mumbles, muffled against her body, “you know what I need.”
Katrina pulls at his shoulders until his weight presses her down on the couch. His lips are warm on her neck, his hands clumsy as they unzip her jacket. She lets him take what he needs and give it back to her twofold. Gabriel is many things, but a selfish lover isn’t one of them.
There was a time she thought they could make it together. Maybe that was just youthful idealism. Maybe time and ambition and war pulled them apart, or maybe they just didn’t try hard enough.
But sometimes she thinks about the way they used to be, and she has to wrap her arms around her chest to hold in the regret.
She wonders if this is what they’ll always be to each other: safe harbour, a puzzle with jagged edges, a habit neither has found the will to break.
Whatever they are, whatever they can’t be, they’re friends.
Maybe it’s enough.