Reyes sat at the bar ignoring the curious glances the woman across from him kept throwing his way. She was pretty enough, in an unassuming way; casual wear, medium length dark blond hair, no makeup, with full lips that hinted at cleverness as they quirked up on one side when she overheard something that amused her. But, he wasn’t in the mood for some random encounter tonight. In fact, he wasn’t in the mood to socialize at all; he just wanted to sip his whiskey in peace and try to ignore how heavy his Alliance dog tags felt underneath his navy blues.
“What’s up with you, Vidal?” The bartender asked. The man, a nosy, if well-intentioned Irishman, had come to view Reyes as one of his regulars. Reyes wanted to hate it, knew he should hate how much he’d been drinking lately, but he couldn’t seem to find the feeling. Usually he knew that didn’t mean he was turning into his father, but tonight he couldn’t escape the thought that maybe he was no better than his old man after all.
He cleared his throat after a long pull on his whiskey. “I signed my discharge papers today,” he told the bartender.
The man paused, his towel-draped hand deep inside a glass mug. “Shit,” he said under his breath, and then a little louder. “Your idea, or theirs?”
Reyes scowled at him. “Please, Kian,” he admonished. “Mine.”
The bartender chuckled as he resumed his washing. It was a quiet night, late on a weekday, so the bar was nearly empty. Just Reyes, the woman with the clever mouth, and a couple stragglers in various booths.
“So, if it was your idea,” Kian continued. “Why doesn’t it seem like you’re celebrating?”
“You’re not my fucking psychologist, Dagher,” Reyes said, though his words lacked any real heat.
“I’m a bartender. I’m everyone’s psychologist. Plus,” he continued. “You sat at the bar, not a booth.” He tilted his head to the side. “Tells me you don’t really want to be alone.”
“Christ, deliver me from nosy bartenders,” Reyes grumbled, and then took another swig from his glass.
Kian was about to respond when movement across the bar caught both their attentions. The blond had leaned forward a little, trying to get the bartender to look at her. He moved off without a word to help her, and Reyes returned his focus to his whiskey. He was surprised when, a moment later, the woman downed the last of her beer, slid off her stool, and left the bar. Kian returned with a fresh whiskey for Reyes.
“What’s this?” He asked. His current glass wasn’t quite finished.
“Courtesy of the blond,” Kian said. “She said to tell you, ‘thank you for your service’.”
He eyed the drink warily. “And then she left?” He’d had plenty of drinks bought for him over the years, but the interested party usually hung around to see what their generosity might reward them with.
Kian shrugged. “She’s a regular,” he offered. “Comes in three or four times a month, sits at the bar, usually reading something on her omnitool or working on a datapad. Has a beer or two and then leaves.”
“She ever do something like this before?” He asked, finishing his first whiskey.
He shook his head. “No, but I’ve never had a military man looking so goddamn miserable in here before either.”
Reyes chuckled, shaking his head. “Fuck you, Dagher.”
Kian laughed, swept up Reyes’ now empty glass, and then spun to help a couple as they approached the bar. Reyes glanced at the whiskey the blond had paid for. Kian had poured it, he knew it was safe to drink, he just wasn’t used to such chivalrous actions in his honor. He wasn’t sure he deserved it. But, he was never one to let good whiskey go to waste, and Kian knew his stuff.
“So,” the bartender started as he fell back into his cleaning routine. “What’re you going to do now?”
And there was the problem. For once in his life, Reyes Vidal didn’t have a plan. He’d been with the Alliance since he was sixteen, since he’d ran away from the Suns on Elysium. The military had been his whole adult life, with its rules and order, and now he was suddenly aimless.
He shrugged. “I haven’t really figured it out yet,” he admitted. He took a sip of his whiskey, and hissed with surprise. This glass was higher quality than the last one; she’d paid well to thank him. “I’d consider running my own business, if I could get my hands on a shuttle.”
“You’re a pilot?”
“Yeah,” he said. He left out the bit where he was actually one of the Alliance’s best pilots, or the part where his CO had tried to convince him to stay. He wasn’t just a pilot, and that was the whole problem.
“You any good at repairing them?”
Reyes laughed and nodded. “You could say that.”
“I know someone with a junker he’s looking to sell. I could talk to him, if you’re interested.”
Something in Kian’s glance told Reyes that this transaction might not be entirely on the up-and-up, but he shrugged anyway. As long as the shuttle was scrubbed clean, and the trouble wouldn’t fall back on him, he didn’t care where the thing came from.
“Oh, I’m interested,” he said, and knocked back the last of the free whiskey feeling hopeful for the first time that day. His life was his own now, truly, for the first time in ten years. That freedom could be overwhelming, but it was full of potential in a way he’d never known before. Maybe now he could finally do something meaningful to him.
Maybe now he could finally step out from under his father’s shadow and actually be someone.