Summary: It’s snowing outside, and Katrina is in a remote hut with an attractive companion and a flask of whiskey … what’s a girl to do?
Characters: Cornwell, Lorca
Disclaimer: Paramount/CBS own all rights to the Discovery universe and its characters, which I am borrowing without permission or intent to profit.
Note: I've decided I have plenty to say about these two characters, so I'm forming a series (posted on AO3 as Just Friends). This story is, chronologically, the first.
It’s not as though she’s never thought about him in that way.
The day they meet, her first impression of him is mm, tasty, quickly followed by and knows it and rounded off with he’s trouble and oh hell no.
And then they’re assigned to the same working group, and over the course of a week she discovers that Gabriel Lorca, laconic and sly and clearly aware of his own appeal, is using that façade to conceal a quicksilver mind and sharp ambition.
She likes him.
They work together with ease, clicking into place like tumblers turning in a well-oiled lock. Each evening when they’ve finished studying, they spend hours talking about anything and everything, and when they’ve turned in their work at the end of their assignment and Gabriel invites her to his apartment for a drink, Katrina doesn’t so much as hesitate.
She half expects him to try something – a kiss, at least, maybe a stronger overture – because it’s clear to her that he finds her as attractive as she does him. She’s not imagining the way his voice goes husky on her name, or the way his eyes undress her. And, truth be told, she’s not averse to the idea of going to bed with him.
But nothing happens.
Instead she stays for one drink, and then he yawns and confesses he’s tired and has a full day’s fitness training ahead, and he helps her into her coat and gives her a quick, one-armed hug. And that’s it. Not even a peck on the cheek. She goes home, and lies awake frowning at the ceiling and wondering how she could have read him so wrong.
After that Katrina backs off. But he makes a point of talking to her, of volunteering to work with her in class; he asks her to tutor him in exobiology and offers self-defence training in return; and he flirts. Subtly, but constantly, so that she’s on edge around him, never sure if this is just the way he is with women, or if, as she’s always suspected, he wants her as much as she does him.
They continue this way for months. Once or twice she accepts a date with someone else; once or twice, she sees Gabriel with another woman too. It surprises her that she never feels jealous. She comes to think of him as a friend she flirts with. Someone who’ll tease her and challenge her, and bolster her ego when she’s feeling flat.
At the end of their final year at the Academy, the cadets are split into groups of two for survival training. Katrina is never sure if it’s random chance or if Gabriel has somehow rigged the system, but they’re assigned to the same team and sent to the Sephora Alps on Axanar Prime.
“Could be worse,” Gabriel shrugs as the shuttle deposits them at the foothills and Katrina immediately wraps her arms around her body for warmth. “We could’ve been sent to Vulcan.”
“Desert heat sounds pretty good right about now,” she grumbles, slinging her pack over her shoulders.
“Don’t worry, Kat,” he smirks, “I’ll keep you warm.”
She rolls her eyes. “We have six hours to get to base camp, so let’s get moving. And don’t make promises you can’t keep.”
The climb is slow and steady, and after a couple of hours Gabriel’s wisecracks fade into silence. The wind picks up, the snow begins to drift, and they’re forced to put all their efforts into simply walking. By the time they reach the little insulated hiker’s shack where they’ll spend the night before setting out on the real test in the morning, the snow is almost half a metre deep and the temperature is well below zero.
The shack is dark and unheated, but there’s wood stacked ready in the fireplace. Katrina searches for fire-lighters while Gabriel rummages in cupboards and drawers. Eventually, the fire is lit, their outerwear discarded, their toes beginning to unfreeze, and Gabriel produces a flask of whiskey.
“You brought that?” Katrina raises an eyebrow.
“Nope. Found it in a drawer.”
“Lucky us,” she grins, taking the flask from his hand and tipping it to her lips.
When she glances back his way, he’s watching her. There’s a half-smile on his lips and a smoky light in his eyes that sends a prickle along her spine.
“What?” she demands, but it comes out husky. She blames the whiskey burn.
Gabriel pauses, then shakes his head. “Nothing.”
He reaches for the flask. Katrina snatches it out of the way.
“Uh-uh,” she teases. “Not until you tell me what you were going to say.”
Gabriel makes a grab for the bottle, but Katrina scoots backward and he overbalances, landing on his elbow beside her. He wraps an arm around her thighs to hold her in place. “Give it to me, Kat,” he says, voice low and silky.
“Come and get it,” she taunts.
They’re not talking about the whiskey anymore.
Katrina scrambles to her feet and darts away, not looking where she’s going, just going. She dashes into the short corridor. It’s dark – lit only by a crescent moon casting pale fingers through a small window – and she ricochets off the wall, stumbles, and he’s on her. Hot breath on the back of her neck, long arms reaching around her waist, spinning her to face him.
She backs away, the flask held out to one side like a red flag to a bull.
Something flashes in his eyes and she pauses, and in that instant of divided attention, he lunges for her, snatches the flask and pushes her up against the wall. His hips hold her there, pinned, and grinning, he swigs from the bottle, but Katrina grabs his wrist, nudges one knee warningly between his legs. The bottle falls from Gabriel’s hand and skitters across the floor out of reach, and Katrina’s eyes lock with his.
Her chest is tight, hot prickles under her arms and between her legs. She can see the clouds of his breath in the cold air, rapid little puffs of excitement. And there’s a moment when they both understand exactly what’s happening, and both of them debate the wisdom of it.
Then Gabriel mutters, “Oh, fuck it,” and captures her lips with his.
Katrina wraps her arms around him and kisses him back eagerly.
It’s everything she’s imagined, when she’s allowed herself to imagine it: his lips are soft, his kiss skilful and commanding, his hands already wandering, tracing the lines of her body through her standard Starfleet thermal gear. She works her hands inside his shirt at the back, palms flat on his warm smooth skin and feels him exhale a line of kisses along the exposed skin of her throat. His fingers walk up under her shirt, palms finding her breasts and cupping them. The gentle touch inflames her and she pushes herself into his hands.
“Kat,” he mumbles, tugging at the neck of her undershirt so he can press his hot mouth to her collarbone, “if this isn’t what you want, tell me now.”
She has never wanted anyone like this.
Instead of answering, she slides her hands between them to unbuckle his pants. Gabriel groans as her fingers wrap carefully around him, and she laughs in breathless triumph at the feel of him – hot, and hard, and silky, and hers.
“Stop,” he chokes out, the push of his hips in counterpoint, and reluctantly she lets him go, only to gasp as he grabs her hips and pulls her against him, his mouth finding hers urgently.
She’s grinding against him, her nails digging into his back, his tongue tracing hers deliciously, but it’s not enough. Katrina unbuttons her own pants with shaky hands, kicks them away, pushes Gabriel back far enough to yank off her undershirt. Gabriel gets the message, pulls off his own shirt and shoves his pants halfway down his hips.
He picks her up, bracing her back against the wall as she winds her arms around his shoulders.
“I can’t promise,” he mutters, guiding her legs around him, “that this is going to be slow and gentle.”
“There’s always next time,” she breathes, her ankles locking behind his back. “Right now I want you to fuck me. Hard.”
“With – pleasure,” he groans, thrusting inside her in one long stroke, and she cries out at how good it feels, how good he feels. How right the rhythm he sets, smooth and strong and making contact in all the right places inside her and out. His mouth is hot against her ear, harsh breaths interspersed with filthy words that excite her and make her moan appreciatively. She can feel it building, the tension knotting in her abdomen, her thighs trembling as the feeling swells inside her.
“Gabe,” she gasps. “Gabe, I’m –”
He thrusts at a slightly different angle and her words choke off on a scream echoed by Gabriel’s deafening bellow in her ear. The tension snaps, shockwaves of pleasure rippling throughout her body. All she can do is hang on for the ride.
When her head has stopped ringing, she has to remind her fingers to unclench from his shoulders, and as he lowers her carefully to the ground her knees almost buckle. He holds her steady, her eyes finding his.
“Wow,” he says. “Fuck. That was …”
She nods, still unable to speak. Gabriel dips his forehead to hers.
“Are we okay?” he asks.
Katrina nods again.
“Good,” he says, a slow grin transforming the face she’ll never look at the same way again. “So, about that next time…”
In the end, they made it through survival training by the skin of their teeth; Katrina suspects that the few broken hours of sleep they’d managed that night had something to do with their lack of stamina the following day. They’d had to camp in a cave that next night instead of making it to the hunter’s cabin they’d been aiming for, and it was bitterly cold. Exhausted and half-frozen, they’d zipped into the same sleeping bag and slept for eight hours straight.
And then, when they shuttled back to Earth, there were finals and parties and new assignments to be secured, and she’d barely seen Gabriel at all.
She wonders if he thought about her much, during those three weeks. She wonders why, when she thought of him, she couldn’t quite label the things she was feeling.
She wonders if they are, as she’d assured him that night, okay.
Maybe it doesn’t matter anyway; maybe he’ll be assigned to a ship and she’ll get into the medical program she’s applied for. Maybe they’ll stay in touch and their friendship will strengthen and evolve. Maybe they won’t, and she’ll come to think of that night as a fond memory belonging to a lost but unlamented time.
Maybe if they’d never had sex – toe-curling, earth-shattering, unexpected sex – she wouldn’t have all these questions taking up space in her head.
Now, three weeks later and on the verge of graduation, she sees him striding toward her across the quad, and as her steps slow, his quicken. A smile breaks over his face as he comes to a halt in front of her and the hard knot of anxiety in her stomach begins to dissolve.
“Cadet Cornwell,” he greets her.
“Cadet Lorca.” She straightens, hands clasped behind her back, and doesn’t miss the slow, appreciative once-over he gives her.
“Heard anything yet?”
She inclines her head. “I got accepted. I’ll be in medical school for the next three years.”
“So, no ship posting?” he cocks his head. “Don’t tell me you’re giving up command track for science.”
“Who says I can’t do both?” She folds her arms. “I bet I make captain before you do, even with the three extra years of school.”
“I’ll take that bet, Kat,” he drawls. “So what are we wagering?”
Katrina shrugs. “A bottle of Rigellian whiskey?”
“That’ll do for starters.” Gabriel grins at her. “Speaking of which, are you coming for a drink after the graduation ceremony?”
“Wouldn’t miss it,” she answers. “See you then, Cadet.”
“That’s Ensign to you,” he calls after her as she walks off.
“Not yet, it isn’t,” she tosses back. “And I’ll make ensign before you do.”
“How do you figure that?”
“They hand out diplomas alphabetically,” she laughs at him, and strides away.
The bar is packed with sweaty, jubilant, newly-minted Starfleet ensigns, and Katrina needs air. She pushes her way through the throng and into the little alley behind the building. It’s freezing out here, snowflakes drifting lightly from the black sky. Her breath puffs into mist.
Leaning her head back against the wall and closing her eyes, she’s blindsided by a wave of unexpected melancholy.
This will probably be the last time she sees most of these people. Her classmates, her comrades. Some of them, her friends.
One in particular.
Loud music swells out of the suddenly-open door, a pulse of heat and life pushing rudely into the quiet alley.
“Hey. I thought I saw you come out here.”
She wipes her face quickly with the heel of her hand and smiles at him. “I just needed to be alone.”
“Do you want me to go?” Gabriel’s brow is furrowed, his eyes locked on her face with that too-penetrating gaze.
“No,” Katrina says. “Actually, I’m glad you’re here.”
He leans against the wall beside her, watching her patiently.
“Everything is about to change,” she sighs. “You’re all about to head off on new adventures and I’ll be stuck here studying.”
“I thought that’s what you wanted.”
“It is.” She kicks at the settling snow, restless, and mumbles, “I’ll miss you.”
There’s a warm hand on her shoulder, turning her against a solid chest, arms settling around her. Katrina lets herself lean into his embrace, wraps her arms around his waist.
“I’m going to miss you too, Kat. But this isn’t goodbye.” Gabriel dips his forehead to hers.
“You got the Emerson,” she says. “You’re going to the Neutral Zone. I hate to be a pessimist, Gabe, but I might never see you again.”
“Don’t give me that bullshit.” Gabriel strokes a thumb over her cheekbone. “Come on, Kat, it’s cold out here. Come back inside and let me buy you a drink.”
She takes hold of his wrists, gently, and steps back, holding him away from her. “You go ahead, I’ll be there in a minute.”
“Okay.” He shrugs, leans forward to press his lips to hers, and pulls back before she can decide what to do about it. “There’s a Denobulan sunrise with your name on it at the bar.”
He pushes back through the door and Katrina tips her face up to the sky, closing her eyes to let the snowflakes settle on her eyelashes. The melancholy that had driven her out here dissolves like mist, and she smiles.
Whatever happens, they’re going to be okay.