"I hate Valentine's Day!" Gaila yelled, open coat flapping dramatically as she burst out of the kitchen's service door. It was sudden enough that Hikaru, who had just taken the first slow, sweet drag on his synth-cig, choked and coughed on the acrid smoke. "Hate it," she snarled, stomping towards him with a diva's indignant strut. "If I get one more request to hide a ring in something I am going to shove it right back down the durak's throat!" She flopped down on his crate and snatched the pack out of his hand like the synths were rolled gold instead of weak almost-tobacco.
"Amen to that," he said under his breath, and meant it. Seriously, if it weren't for the whopping tips he wouldn't have agreed to work today either— crazy shit had been happening all night, from off-planet bouquets attacking people to Scotty somehow setting the dessert fridges on fire. Fuckin' A, there was a reason their patissier had laid down that stripe of duct tape between the main kitchen and bakery and patrolled it like the Klingon Demilitarized Zone.
"—and Table Sixteen has been here forever," Gaila continued her rant, practically ripping off his fingers along with the lighter he held out. "I sat him at eight— eight!— and all he's done is ask for water and play with his PADD. For three hours! At hour three you would think a man could take a hint." She greedily sucked in smoke, blew it back out in a huge sigh of pique. "I just want to go home, watch a holovid, eat some crap replicated chocolate. Is that too much to ask?"
"No date, then?" That was nothing short of amazing, as Gaila enjoyed recreational sex with a frankness and frequency that bordered on Caligulan.
She sighed again, more rueful this time. "I could have had one. The mustache man from Thursday? He invited me to see a visiting Cardassian opera troupe perform Aelita." Her tone suggested this was a romance faux pas on par with square-dancing and flea circuses.
He raised an eyebrow. "And...?"
She rolled her eyes. "Ugh, Terrans. That's not how it works! First you fuck, and then, if the sex is good, you go to the opera. Otherwise what's the point?" She let her chin fall on her cupped hand, taking another despondent puff on her synth. "And mustache man would not have made it to the singing. I can't even remember the last time I had sex."
"I can," he responded easily. "Last week, our root vegetable vendor. Pasha caught you and his face was red for hours after."
"The new hire... Pavel?" Gaila's eyes narrowed thoughtfully. "He is a virgin, you know."
He winced for the boy's sake at her matter-of-factness. "Actually, no. I didn't."
"Oh, yes." She nodded emphatically, apparently misinterpreting his statement as invitation for explanation. "The lack of," she breathed deeply, "certain pheromones and the high concentration of others is quite... distinctive. Is your Pavel dating someone? Exclusively?" Her tone added, As you Terrans are wont to?
"Uh, no. Not that I know of," and he had honestly no idea if he was doing Pash a solid or stringing him up for the wolf.
Gaila smiled at him, that wide dazzling grin she pulled out when she thought she was winning something. Scary how close it was to Bossman's victory grin, but then again, Jim and Gaila had dated for nearly two years. She leaned close and purred, "'Karu. Lovely, lovely 'Karu."
He scowled, flicking the butt of his synth away. "Let me guess. You want me to cover for you so you can kidnap and have your wicked way with our dishboy?"
She laughed. "Only if he has the sense not to threaten me with opera."
He mock-scowled at her. "Leaving me, and Nyota— who's probably already plotting our untimely demises— alone on the floor? On Valentine's Day?"
She pouted a little. "I only have two tables left, and it is less than an hour until closing. Pretty please with sprinklers on top, 'Karu?"
"Sprinkles," he corrected absently, thinking. It was late, nearing midnight now. Only a quarter of their tables were occupied, and another half of those were ready for the check. But— "You realize I'll have to do all the clearing and mop-up, too."
She leaned across the scant space between them then, her breath wafting fleetingly over his lips. "I promise to make it up to you," she murmured throatily, and pheromone-fueled lust smacked him upside the head like a pleasantly weighty brick.
He reeled back, and managed a strangled, "Cheating!"
She just giggled.
In the end, Hikaru slunk shamefacedly back into the kitchen, scanning the wide room for possible interference before sidling up to Pasha, the poor doomed bastard. "Gaila wants to see you," he said guiltily, and pointed to the back door. Pash gave him a quizzical look, but at Hikaru's helpless shrug tugged off his apron and went happily enough.
Hikaru made it back out onto the floor without anyone commenting, although that was probably due to their own distractions than any stealthiness on his part. Scotty was busy corralling his sous-chefs and winding down the main kitchen; Spock had been sulking around his little taped-off sugar kingdom in high dudgeon since the fire, stuck improvising the night's desserts with whatever he had on hand. Vulcans hated to improvise, and the man seemed too deeply mired in personal annoyance to do more than mutter, "Intolerable," and shove a plate of suspiciously purple mille-feuille at Hikaru as he passed.
The couple at table seven were happy to get the flakey, honey-drizzled mess, and the girls at table twelve were ready for the bill and the next stop on their bar crawl. Table four decided on another round of drinks, and for the next several minutes Hikaru was too busy to remember Gaila's Mr. Table Sixteen.
He'd barely noticed the solitary man while juggling his own tables, earlier in the evening when there had been so many. As he cleared table twelve, Hikaru took a moment to study him— not young but hardly in his dotage, wearing a cheap, ill-fitting suit, sitting at the pristine and undisturbed white linen-laid table with only a tiny tealight and baby roses in a bud vase for company. It all seemed much more poignant now than it had when the man was surrounded by a buzzing crowd.
Nyota entered the main room and, silently sizing up the situation, started helping Hikaru close tabs and wipe down tables. He wasn't foolish enough to think that he was off the hook entirely, not with the dark looks she kept flashing his way, but it appeared that getting people out the door was more important than yelling at the only remaining member of her waitstaff.
By the time Hikaru approached table sixteen with a solicitous smile and a pitcher of water, the only remaining customers were the man and a very drunk pair clinging to the bar like a liferaft as Nyota tried to coax them away with foil-wrapped leftovers and a complimentary bottle of wine.
"Can I top that off for you?" he asked, and the man looked up and blinked blearily with the air of someone startled out of a doze.
"What? Oh. Uh, no, I'm fine." His voice was deep and rough, matching his weary expression and the stubble on his jaw.
Hikaru waited a moment before adding delicately, "Our kitchen has closed for the night, but if you'd still like to order a cold dessert I can get that for you."
The man blinked up at him, then looked back down at the digital clock on his PADD. "Shit. I mean, ah, sorry. I didn't realize it was so late." Looking down at the tired, resigned lines of his face, Hikaru had the feeling that on the contrary, the man was acutely aware of how late it was. "I'll just take the check then."
"We don't charge for water, sir," Hikaru said gently.
The man looked awkwardly away, and before he could think better of it Hikaru continued, "But, stay a moment? I can't let you leave hungry."
The man looked surprised, but after a moment shrugged. "Little longer won't hurt, I guess."
That crooked little half-smile of his was dangerous, unexpectedly charming and disarmingly boyish, crinkling his eyes just so at the corners. Staring, Hikaru fumbled the half-full water glass and tipped most of it out onto the table. "Sorry, sorry," he muttered, hot blush rising in his cheeks. "It'll only be a second, I promise."
Nyota was stacking chairs and sweeping out in the main room, lips set in a tight line of annoyance. She glanced up as he entered the room and promptly dropped the push-broom, striding across the Aphrodite mosaic with the sharp retort of her heels echoing in the empty room.
"I've already talked to Gaila, and you're a horrible pushover," she said without preamble. "Your last few hours are coming out of her paycheck. Also, apparently Pavel is a screamer."
He grimaced. "I really, really could have done without knowing that."
She scowled. "You think I wanted to?"
They shared a shudder, and Nyota's eyes slid past him to the man at table sixteen, now the last remaining patron in the restaurant. "Do you need someone to run Tall, Dark and Lonesome off?"
He shook his head, the blush unaccountably resurfacing. "No, I've got it. Give me his name, though?"
She tapped through her sturdy maitre d's PAD and said, "The reservation was booked under McCoy, Leonard."
"Thanks, Ny. I'll handle the main room, you get Scotty to do the kitchen?"
A smirk quirked her lips before she smoothed it into a smile. Jesus, were all his coworkers sleeping together? "Not a problem, sweetie."
They entered the kitchen together, Hikaru calling out, "Hey, Scotty, I need a scrap platter. Hit the highlights?"
"With pleasure, boyo. Ye find yeself a date?" the Scotsman asked archly, already turning to snag a pair of tongs.
The man— Leonard's smile flashed in his mind's eye. "Not exactly."
Scotty tsked, wrestling a platter out of the steaming dishwasher. "'S a crying shame, that, on St. Valentines' day. If yer wantin' dessert, th' wee mad scunner's done something clever with th' kiwis ye might want t'see." He pointed the tongs in the direction of the bakery, where some of Spock's pastry minions were scurrying to clean before their boss' nightly inspection.
While the Scotsman loaded the platter, Hikaru stepped over the duct tape demarcation and grabbed Stonn's sleeve as he trotted past. "Hey, kiwi things?"
Instead of responding, the harried-looking Vulcan simply dumped the tray he was carrying into Hikaru's surprised arms and hurried off again. About ten tiny kiwi tarts dotted the plate, violently emerald with long curling wisps of spun sugar like tentacles spiraling out of the centers. They were kind of cool-looking, if not precisely edible-looking.
Hikaru grabbed a big serving tray from the wall and a set of appetizer plates and stemware, arranging them and tarts neatly before adding napkins and silverware. He was nervously debating whether a fresh bud vase might be too much when Scotty appeared on the other side of the garnish table.
"Here ya go," he grunted, shoving Hikaru's carefully arranged dinnerware aside and heaving his hugely overloaded platter onto the tray.
"Wha— what the hell? Scotty! This could feed ten people!"
"Ah had lots o' leftovers," the Scotsman responded breezily, shucking out of his apron and wiping his red face with it. "Whew! An th' barmy Vulcan's gone an' commandeered m' fridges, so ah canna save anathing."
"How am I even supposed to carry this?" Hikaru muttered to himself, lifting an edge experimentally.
Scotty chortled and thumped him on the shoulder. "With both hands, laddy!"
It did take both hands, and Hikaru waddling forward like a pregnant woman with the tray balanced at his hips as he wove through the tables. The look on Leonard's face was worth it, though, one part shock and two parts ravenous hunger. "What is this?" he asked as Hikaru heaved it onto the table front of him with a relieved sigh.
"Gonibako," Hikaru answered, using the word his grandmother would have—literally, trash can. "No charge," he repeated, setting one of the little plates in front of the other man. "It would have been stolen by kitchen staff or thrown away, anyhow."
"I thought…" The other man stared down at the steaming mountain of food. "I thought you were just going to bring a piece of cake or something."
Hikaru laughed, and grabbed the bottle of cheap local grape he'd stuck in the back pocket of his apron. "Try the little green things. They've been described by our head chef as 'clever'," he suggested as he uncorked the bottle and poured Leonard a glass.
The man was still staring at him like a cuckoo clock had sprung out of his forehead to chime the hour. Hikaru ducked his head, feeling that blush returning full force, and mumbled, "I'll be cleaning up, so just let me know if you need anything else."
He turned to go, and Leonard said abruptly, "Why don't you eat with me?"
Hikaru turned back and found the man looking up at him earnestly. "I don't like to eat alone," Leonard elaborated, with a self-depreciating smile. "Hell, I waited around so long for— for someone to eat with, I outlasted my waitress."
"She ran off with the busboy," Hikaru's mouth blurted, seemingly of its own volition. The look in Leonard's eyes when he'd said "Someone to eat with" was horrible.
His mouth obviously knew what it was doing, though; Leonard gave a guffaw, then tried to cover it with a more normal chuckle— but Hikaru was already laughing at him.
"Anyway, she left us short-handed, so I've got to close everything myself," Hikaru explained, once the laughter had died out. "It'll be a couple minutes, so dig in."
Leonard grinned at him. "Alright, then. Mr…?"
"Uh, Hikaru. Hikaru Sulu."
"Leonard McCoy," Leonard said, and held out a hand. It was warm and rough, like his voice, like his laugh, and Hikaru lingered over it a bit for the sheer tactile pleasure. Leonard didn't seem to notice, only fixed him with a sincere gaze and said, "Thank you, Hikaru."
After that Hikaru had to let go, couldn't contain a full-body shiver. "I'll just… yeah." He backed away, and when Leonard turned to the food fled to the maintenance closet.
Closing the bistro was a long, repetitious and boring-as-all-getout process. First you washed the tables, then you stacked the chairs. The floors get swept, then mopped, and if they need it the runners get vacuumed or taken up for washing. The bar gets a wipe down because Cupcake, the fucking slob, wouldn't know bar polisher if it smacked him the goddamn face— ten precious extra minutes there— and a quick tour for vase refills and candle replacement. Someone else was running money tonight, probably Bossman because the take was always enormous on Valentine's Day, and Ny'd be locking up.
Every time he passed table sixteen, Leonard would look up and make some comment about the food—"Is this a garnish or a tinker toy?" "Is this real, honest-to-God, Earth-grown cow?" "My God, this is good." — or Hikaru's work: "Make sure you get under table six, that woman threw a full glass in her husband's face." "I don't think those spots are coming out, that's where the acid-spitting flowers were."
By the time Hikaru slid into the seat across from, Leonard had made a small but significant dent in Scrap Mountain and was holding one of the tiny tarts between a thumb and forefinger, studying it suspiciously. "How do I eat this? Does the swirly thing come off or do I just, shove it in?" he asked, gesturing with it
Hikaru picked one up, shrugged, and popped it in. "Oh," he murmured, astonished as the sweet, tangy flavor melted across his tongue and disappeared. "Mmm."
"That good?" Leonard said, amused.
Hikaru had already filched another. "Mmmmm."
A laugh. "Alright then."
They ate in companionable silence, picking through the dwindling leftovers on the platter. Hikaru noticed that Leonard almost always went for the meat, and focused his attentions on the roasted finger potatoes and pan-fried asparagus.
"I suppose you think it's stupid," Leonard said eventually, softly enough that he might have been talking to himself.
Hikaru swallowed a massive bite of gruyere and truffle enchilada and said, "What?"
Leonard made an expansive gesture that included himself and the empty restaurant. "Waiting. For so long."
Hikaru toyed with a bit of cheese. "Depends on who you were waiting for, I guess."
"My wife. We're separated," he added as Hikaru's eyes flicked down, looking for a ring. "Been separated for months, actually."
"Oh," Hikaru said, uncertain of what he could say.
"Yeah." Leonard smiled humorlessly. "It's over. I know it's over; we fight over every damned thing, can't have a civil conversation to save our lives. We might have divorced by now… but we have a daughter. Joanna." He sighed heavily. "For Jojo… I wanted to make it work, y'know? I wanted to try."
"That's… I'm sorry, Leonard."
The other man stabbed viciously at a chunk of filet. "Jo's with me right now, but I arranged a sitter, called and told Jocelyn—that's my wife—that I wanted to talk. Asked her to meet me at the little bistro where we had our last anniversary, before everything went to shit." He stared down at the chunk of meat speared on his fork. "I'm guessing this is a pretty good indication that she isn't interested."
Suddenly, Hikaru wasn't feeling very hungry. "Leonard…"
Leonard looked up, eyes steely and determined. "Call me Len, Hikaru."
"Len," he agreed hesitantly. "Okay."
Len grabbed the one third-full bottle of wine and filled Hikaru's glass, then his own. "You got a girlfriend, Hikaru?"
"Ah—" Damnit, again with the blush, this was ridiculous. "No."
"Then, Happy Singles Awareness Day," Leonard said with grim humor, raising his glass. "They can take our loneliness when they pry it from our cold, sad fingers."
Hikaru couldn't help it, he snorted, started giggling helplessly. "Sorry," he managed as he knocked Len's wineglass with his own. "Our cold, sad fingers? Really?"
"… it did sound more dramatic in my head," Len confessed, and this time Hikaru laughed outright.
"I'm sorry," he said again as Len leaned over the table. "Sorry, sorry, I just— um? Len?"
"You have two seconds to say that you're not gay and/or don't want to be a rebound fuck," Len said quietly, his hand coming to rest at the nape of Hikaru's neck.
Hikaru swallowed. "I. Ah."
"My place or yours?" he asked quickly, and Len grinned. God, what an expression. What an everything.
"Yours'll do for now," he murmured against Hikaru's lips, and kissed him.
Five minutes later:
"Jim," Len growled.
"Boss!" Hikaru yelped.
"Whoa!" Jim said, putting his hands up. "I thought you were meeting the Wicked Witch, not hooking up with my servers. Wait! Does that mean you're finally breaking it off? Holy crap, congrats!"
"Jim Kirk, once again living up to the title of Worst Wingman Ever," Leonard muttered, putting his face in his hands.
Jim looked alarmed. "What? No! Sulu, listen, you gotta sleep with this guy, he hasn't gotten laid in like a year."
"Okay, boss," Hikaru agreed cheerfully. Len glowered at both of them.