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Quench

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Quench, verb
1. to slake, satisfy, or allay
(thirst, desires, passion, etc.)

 

Twenty-five years on this planet have been enough for Katie to form a few hypotheses about her life.

The first, she thinks as her hand weaves through the jungle of glasses to grab her scotch, goes a little like this: If Hunk is tired enough and she and Lance use their best puppy-dog eyes on him, then he’ll concede and go out to the bar with them.

Sure, Hunk had made a fuss about using his “only weekend off to go to a bar instead of veg on the couch and watch Alton Brown,” and he, like all of them, has bags under his eyes from the last two weeks of overtime in the lab, but Hunk always made going out better. They were the Dream Team, the three of them, and, as Lance always insisted, “You can't knock down the Dream Team to a duo.” As they all knew, that was akin to a sin in the Book of Lance McClain.

With the first of her hypotheses confirmed for this trial, she's left with the second: If Lance drinks at least two beverages containing 35 ml or more of rum, then he will start talking about relationships. Tonight proves to be yet another tick in the “Validated” box as Lance begins chattering on about his newest crush - “No, Hunk, not the guy from the grocery store,” - on the girl who's apparently been running on the treadmill next to him at the gym all week.

Maybe it's the smoky haze of her first scotch on the rocks, or the bite of her second as she sips at it, but she's distracted and entirely unprepared for the moment when Lance turns his prying gaze on her.

“So, Pidge, what about you? What lucky guy-or-possibly-robot was your first love?”

“What?”

She doesn't like the way he's grinning at her over his sugar-and-rum monstrosity, like he's a shark and she's fresh sushi.

“Who was the first person you fell in love with?”

If she weren't drinking a $12 scotch, she might have spit it out all over the table. She does just about choke on it. Her lips pull tight as she forces herself to swallow. Takes another sip.

Normally the fun in proving this hypothesis was watching Hunk or Lance go all moony-eyed over whoever they were interested in or dating. The romance chatter was tolerable because it almost inevitably led to Lance doing something ridiculous after his third or fourth drink. It was hilarious, getting to recount all of Lance’s antics on her Overwatch server the next day. The other players ate it up.

But this? This is not funny. It feels like a violation of the scientific method, being turned into a variable in her own hypothesis.

Lance waggles his eyebrows at her like they’re on some kind of sitcom. She gulps at her scotch, then looks to Hunk for back up. Hunk suddenly seems very occupied with peeling the label off his beer bottle. Great help there.

Katie turns her head, pretending to look at something across the bar. “I haven't been in love,” she mumbles.

“What was that?” Lance asks in a tone of voice that leads Katie to believe that he heard exactly what she said.

She slumps down in her stool until her chin rests on the table. “I haven't been in love,” she says, voice a shade clearer.

As expected, Lance erupts into motion. He slams his drink down on the table. The thud is loud enough for a few of the nearer patrons to look over in curiosity - or amusement, Katie would wager.

“Absolutely unacceptable!” Lance announces. “There's no way that you, my witty, genius, beautiful - if not somewhat unfashionable - friend has never stirred feelings of deep passion in the no doubt nerdy heart of some poor sap.”

Katie squints at him from the other side of the table. “Overalls are fashionable,” she starts, relishing as Lance shudders at her words. “And as it is, it doesn't really matter how many people have fallen head over heels for me if I haven't felt the same way.”

Lance huffs. “Typical Pidge answer. You've probably left a trail of broken hearts that goes all the way back to primary school.” Hunk has the audacity to nod along.

“It's not a big deal, Lance.” Before he can protest, Pidge slides off of her barstool and grabs her empty glass. “I'm sure you'll find someone with a much more titillating love life soon.”

She gets thirty minutes and quarter a scotch of respite before Lance brings it up again. She and Hunk had been having an enjoyable argument over the merits of PowerDraft versus AutoCAD, when Lance swings in out of nowhere with a, “Do you want to fall in love, eventually? It’s totally cool if you don’t, but you've never mentioned not having any romantic interests…”

She pulls her fingers through the ends of her ponytail and glances between Hunk and Lance, hoping desperately that Hunk will intervene. He lets her down again, though, looking just as curious as Lance. It's not that she's surprised he’s asking - it was really just a matter of time, with Lance - she just really wanted to avoid this conversation for as long as possible. Loathe to admit it as she was, more than a few nights alone have been lost to this same line of questioning.

“I’m interested, I just haven't found the right person, and haven't been looking, either. So like I said, it's not a big deal, okay?”

Staring down into her glass, she watches as the ice melts and resettles. Heat fills her cheeks. She should have shut Lance and his questioning down a while ago. Why hadn't she?

“When was the last time you went on a date?” Hunk asks.

“Great, you too?” Katie rolls her eyes, but Hunk looks more concerned than apologetic.

They wait, staring at her in silence. She picks up her glass. Sets it back down. Fiddles with a piece of the label Hunk stripped from the beer bottle. Reaches for her phone, then thinks better of it. They keep waiting.

She's beginning to regret this third scotch. It's definitely that, and not the pressure, that prompts her to burst out with a “Fine! Last time I went on a date was in undergrad.”

Hunk blows a low whistle.

“Pidge, that's like two degrees and a steady job ago!” Lance exclaims. “How do you expect to find someone if you haven't been on the scene in almost six years?”

“I've had more important things to do!”

More than one person turns to look as Katie half-shouts over the din of the bar. She goes redder than ever under the questioning looks.

“I've had more important things to do,” she repeats, quieter, “than to try and find someone to do.”

Hunk snaps. “Beat me to it,” he says with a pout.

“Okay, but what if I did wanna find someone?”

That third scotch has made a cozy place in her bloodstream, and is starting to act like it owns the place. Her mouth snaps shut, but it’s too late. Lance has already heard her.

He grabs her newly poured fourth scotch, slings an arm around her shoulders, and begins steering her away from the bar.

“Well, Pidgappotomus, you've come to the right place-”

“This bar that you've got me trapped in?”

Lance looks like he wants to wave her comment away, but is exceptionally considerate of her drink.

“You've come to this reputable nighttime establishment frequented by some of the city’s brightest and most beautiful!” Lance declares.

Katie doesn't miss a beat. “Then what are you doing here?”

He must be feeling particularly invested in her love life, because he just ruffles her hair and keeps navigating her back to Hunk and their table.

“Thing is, Pidge, you don't take risks.”

“I take plenty of risks! I was the first female engineer at Voltech to apply for a research lead position, and now I'm basically your boss, which is a risk in and of itself, not to mention-”

They reach the table just as Pidge is working herself up to her next point. She catches a glimpse of Hunk, whose tight lips and raised eyebrow puts him somewhere between concerned and amused.

“Okay, okay, okay,” Lance says, setting down her drink and putting his hands up in placation. “That’s not what I meant, but you've also gotta let me finish a sentence every once in awhile, Miss Defensive. What I'm saying is that you don't take risks in social situations. Every company party or outing, you stick to me and Hunk. We always go to the same two or three bars. Hell, you've been ordering the exact same scotch for the two straight years I've known you! Right, Hunk?”

Hunk nods. “Hate to say it, but Lance has got a point.”

With a huff, Katie drops back into her chair.

“Hunk… you're really gonna take his side on this?”

He leans back a bit in his seat when he sees her eyes narrow. His eyes flick to the sides, no doubt plotting out an exit route. It wouldn't be the first time she'd sprung on him, though usually that kind of attack was reserved for when he tampered with her program while she was napping in the lab.

“At the risk of my own life, I'm going to have to say yeah, you could probably be putting yourself out there more if you want to.”

Lance and Hunk watch her with intent stares. She weighs her odds. It’s two against one - three against one, really, if she’s counting Scotch, which is already encouraging her to start scanning the bar. She knocks back a hefty swig from her glass. The thump from her glass as it hits the table seems extra loud in her ears. The room tilts as she abruptly stands up.

“All right. Fine. You guys wanna fix my love life? Let’s fix my love life.”

Lance leaps up and lets out a whoop. Despite herself, Katie smiles.

Hunk and Lance huddle up around her like they're playing on some kind of sportsball team and getting her a date is the only way to score a goal. She can't help but giggle as the two try to spit out rapid-fire advice over each other.

“So just play it cool-”

“Ask them about their job and-”

“-and try and be yourself-”

“Don't forget: it's all in the approach-”

“Spice it up a little. Be mysterious.”

“-snacks help. Do we have any of those bar peanuts?”

“I don't like peanuts,” Katie interjects, “and being myself means talking about robots. Who in this bar that isn't you is going to want to hear me nerd out? What if I start rambling and they just walk away and I don't even notice? Or they think I'm a loser but are too polite to-”

Hunk places a large hand on her shoulder. She stills, then releases the hem of her dress that she hadn't realized she'd been wringing between two sweaty palms.

“You’ll be fine,” he says. “Just go out there and-”

Lance elbows his way back in, cutting Hunk off.

“Just remember, if you get stumped, think 'W.W.L.D.’ - What Would Lance Do?”

“Oh, because that's a solid dating philosophy,” Pidge says with a snort. “Socially stunted? Bad at small talk? Follow the Lance model and just throw yourself at strangers. Hell, just kiss them first thing.” She throws her hands up. Why was she even bothering?

Pursing his lips, Lance falls quiet and strokes his chin. He stares her down long enough for her to start messing with her dress again.

“That’s… Actually a pretty good idea. Hunk?”

Hunk nods, a slow grin spreading over his features.

“Pidge, you're terrible enough at this kind of thing that it just might work,” Hunk says. “No offense or anything, but you're not the kind of person to find Mr. or Ms. Right on the first try. The best way to maximize your sample size is to interact with as many people in rapid succession as possible.”

Lance’s head bobs up and down as Hunk explains, getting more and more excited with each word. Her eyes dart around the bar, looking for hidden cameras or a production crew, because she has to be getting pranked right now. This was a laughable idea, even for Hunk and Lance. But everything in the bar seems normal for a Friday night: laughter and raucous conversation, the clink of glass and the swell of cheers, couples seated close and getting closer. So this was really happening. Katie shakes her head, but she neither seems to deter her friends nor clear the fog settling in her brain.

“You seriously I'm going to find my soulmate or something by going around and trying to kiss people?”

Hunk rolls his eyes. “Well no, obviously not. But it’s an optimal and straightforward way to meet someone who could end up being the one for you. Think about it. You hate chit chat and you can’t stand people who beat around the bush or try and act coy-”

“Yours truly excepted, of course,” Lance interjects. They both stare him down until his laughs, a little sheepish.

“So in a way,” Hunk continues, “taking a more extreme approach, like going up to someone with the offer to make out, is an effective filtering method.”

She narrows her eyes at him. Very clearly in her head, she hears herself say, No way, this is the worst and more irrational idea I’ve heard all week. But what comes out of her mouth is without a doubt the work of Scotch, and sounds a lot like, “How would I even begin?”

By now it seems as though Lance has realized Hunk has the best chance of getting Katie do actually follow through with this wild scheme. Like Vanna White, he gestures to Hunk in one sweeping motion. It’s growing more and more difficult for her to believe that they haven’t been planning this and she isn’t being set up right now.

“It's a simple enough formula: go up to someone, say “Hi, I'm Pidge. Can I kiss you?” Hunk says.

It's a ridiculous idea, and he makes it sound so easy. But there's nothing about it that will work, and just the thought of kissing strangers makes her feel a little woozy. For once and for all, she’s going to shut it down.

“Nice try, but no way, guys. No way.”

“Hi, I’m Pidge.”

The woman turns to her with a smile, white against dark skin. She’s attractive, to be sure, with her long, slender neck and heart-shaped face. Her black hair frames her features in four thick plaits.

“Nyma. What can I do for you, Pidge?”

Everything about Nyma’s voice screams ‘flirt’, from the rise and fall of her voice to the giggle as she stretches out a hand for Pidge to shake. She and Lance would be a match made in heaven. Katie glances to Lance, who, alongside Hunk, watches her not-so-surreptitiously from a few seats down. Hunk shoots her a thumbs up, while Lance whisper-shouts, “Kiss her, kiss her!”. Katie rips her eyes away from her own personal goon squad, lest she lose her resolve. She puts on what she hopes is her most charming smile.

“Well, I know this is going to seem totally out of left field, but I was wondering… can I kiss you?”

Against all odds, Nyma doesn’t throw her bright blue, sugar-rimmed drink in her face. In fact, given the way she smirks and lets her eyes run a leisurely lap around Katie’s body, it seems she's at least somewhat interested.

Katie flattens her palms at her sides to keep from fidgeting. The motion does nothing to tame her racing mind. Why had she started this wild venture with someone this blatantly sure of herself?

“An interesting offer,” Nyma says. “What's the occasion?”

“Science,” Katie blurts.

“For science, huh?” Nyma stares her down like a cat contemplating the merits of a mouse. Katie just nods.

“I’m game, then.”

Katie’s glad she left her drink in the charge of Hunk and Lance, because otherwise, she’s pretty sure it’d be on the floor. “Really?”

Laughing, Nyma leans in and wraps an arm around her neck. Katie follows. Their lips meet. Some Lance-like voice in the back of her head tells her to close her eyes.

She’s got enough experience to know that Nyma is a good kisser - probably even a great one. The press of her lips and subtle slide of her tongue are well-coordinated to the point of artful, and immediately Katie knows that she’s in over her head.

Subject One: Nyma. Results? Too forward.

Nyma ends her kiss the same way she starts it: with a breathy laugh. “So, how was the science?”

“It was gr-” she’s cut off by a chorus of shouts.

“Piiiiidge! Yeah Pidge, you got it! Pidge, Pidge, Pidge!”

“You work those magic lips!”

“Get it girl!”

Katie scrubs a hand over her face as Nyma looks past her to Lance and Hunk. They’re standing a few feet away, holding more drinks than there are mouths to handle them, bouncing up and down in excitement. Lance looks like he’s about ready to shimmy right out of his own skin.

“Those are my friends,” Katie says with a groan. “Please don’t look at them, it’ll only rile them up.”

Nyma arches an eyebrow, looking amused. “Are they part of the ‘science’ too?”

“Yeah, this whole experiment was their idea,” she confesses. “Kiss as many people at the bar as possible.

Knowing her luck, Katie’s not going to meet anyone nearly as laid-back about the whole thing as Nyma. Instead of taking advantage of her second opportunity to throw her drink in Katie’s face, she reclines in her seat and sends her a searing grin.

“Well in that case, let me know if you need any more help experimenting later,” Nyma says with a wink. “And keep up the nervous act. It’s cute on you.”

Katie spits out a “Ha ha, yeah, nervous act, thanks!” before rushing straight back to Lance and Hunk. She can already read the ecstatic look on Lance’s face.

“Pidge, that was amazing!”

“You totally worked that kiss like a champ,” Hunk adds in. “I mean, sure, you didn’t actually do much, but I’ve never seen someone receive a kiss so expertly.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m not here for a kiss critique,” she grumbles.

Rolling her eyes, she grabs her glass from Lance, downs a third of her drink, then wipes her mouth with the back of her hand. A smear of pink stains her skin, no doubt the remnants of Nyma’s lipstick. And then it hits her.

She’d done it. She’d gone up to a complete stranger and kissed them. And not just any stranger. A really hot one. Sure, there hadn’t be a light show and a choir of angels the moment their lips touched, but the fact stood that she, Katie Holt, had successfully laid one on someone she’d just met.

And it felt great. And she was going to do it again.

“All right, you guys might be on to something,” she says, squaring up. “Point me to Number Two.”

From the way Hunk immediately turns her to face a cute looking guy chatting with a group of friends a few feet away, it’s pretty obvious that they’d been scouting out her next kiss. Or, going by how Lance starts babbling about group dynamics, next kisses.

It takes another swallow of her drink to tune out whatever advice he’s trying to offer. Nyma had said to keep up what she was doing, so she would. Handing Hunk her glass, she strides over to the group, Lance’s calls fading to a buzz as she zeroes in on her next test subject.

“Hi. I’m Pidge.”

At the start of the night, Katie would have written off her interaction with Nyma as a fluke - a combination of the right timing and someone looking for a bit of bar entertainment. But each person Katie approaches is just as willing to submit to her little “experiment” as Nyma. Sometimes there’s a bit of reluctance, some uncertainty jeered away by the friends of the kiss in question; sometimes there’s more enthusiasm than Katie’s equipped to handle, and a well-placed Hunk proves useful; but regardless, after about an hour, she’s made her way through a sizeable chunk of the bar’s populace.

After being passed down a line of six grad school TAs as eager as they were amused by her strange proposal, Katie is ready for a breather. But no one she’s kissed so far has been quite right, and the list of negative test results keeps growing: too forward, too much of a bro, not enough knowledge of physics, bad case of bad breath, too much mint chapstick, annoying voice, ‘Greedo shot first’ apologist. She knows Lance and Hunk won’t stop until she’s connected with someone or kissed every single person in the bar. The way things are looking, it’s likely to be the latter, but she’s in too deep to back out now. And so, Lance points her in the direction of a man sitting at a table near the back door.

“Just go talk to him! He’s sitting all by his lonesome, and you’re just a few kisses away from owning this bar,” Lance needles. He shoves her drink - what number was this? - into her hand. “Go get ‘em, champ.”

She wants to protest, she really does - she’s getting tired now that some of the high has worn off, and her lips feel a little funny - but Scotch conveniently reminds her how well she’s been doing, all things considered. Rallying all of the nerve she’s got left, Katie weaves through the bar, taking care not to make eye contact with anyone she’s already kissed. The guy hardly looks up from his drink when she slips into the seat across from him. May as well start with her classic line. It’s worked for her so far.

“Hi.”

“Hi.”

He’s pretty, to be sure, all black hair and pout and eyes so dark they look near indigo, but his flat response and the slow-motion sip of his beer that follows the greeting gives her pause. Katie glances over her shoulder to spot Lance. From across the bar, Lance grins and waves. Damn. Still watching.

“I'm Pidge.”

“Keith.”

She picks at her cardboard coaster. The smile she affixes on her face feels tacked on. Shame, that she hadn't started on this side of the bar. The incredulous eyebrow raise Keith shoots her looks like something she's seen in the mirror. She gets the sense that Lance's charm coaching isn't going to work on this guy. May as well cut to the chase.

“So this might sound like an outrageous question, but-”

“Nope.”

Pidge blinks. “But I didn't even finish.”

Keith smirks around the mouth of his beer bottle.

“I'm not kissing you,” he says after he swallows.

She gapes at him. Had she been that obvious? Thinking about how Lance and Hunk had hooted and hollered after her first few rounds, the answer is probably yes.

“Why not?” comes out instead of, well, a reasonable reaction. “You don't even know me.”

“No shit. That'd be reason enough for most normal people to say no, which I think says a lot about the types that gather at this bar.” Keith makes a slow circle with the neck of his beer bottle, gesturing to the rest of the place - now filled with people Katie's kissed.

She cranes around to look. If her numbers are right, she's taken her lifelong kiss count from about three to thirty. Mathematically, the odds should be in her favor for finding someone, right? And they'd be even better if Mullet Man over here would agree to be thirty-one. She just had to convince him.

“Okay, while that's fair, I think you've essentially lumped yourself in with the rest of the clientele just be being here,” Katie argues, “meaning you don't have a lot to lose by kissing me.”

Keith’s eyes shift, and he scans the bar for a moment before replying in a manner that could not be more cryptic. “But you might.”

She huffs a sigh and knocks back the rest of her scotch. It still burns the whole way down. She'd like to think it helps to fan the flames of her confidence, but the look Keith shoots her suggests otherwise.

“You don't understand,” she starts. “I'm on a scientific pursuit to test the viability of finding a partner by kissing as many people as possible.”

Keith snorts. “Sounds real scientific.”

She ignores him and barrels on. “And even if that person isn't you, you can still help my cause by increasing my sample size. You may have gathered that I'm a pretty helpless case otherwise.”

“One: I just fly helicopters, but even I know that's bad science. Two: Not a chance, still not kissing you.” He crosses his arms over his chest. “Me kissing you isn't going to make you any less of a helpless case, and in fact might ruin your chances of-”

A hand grabs his shoulder. Keith locks up. He looks a bit like a teenager who’s just got caught passing a note in class.

“Keith?”

As if by magic (though perhaps her observational skills were a little lacking by this point), a man appears at Keith’s side.

And not just any man, Katie realizes. Tall, with broad shoulders, a narrow waist, and a sharp jawline, this man might have been one of the most attractive people Katie has ever seen. She can see his bicep flex as he pulls a little more at Keith’s shoulder. But he’s not looking at Keith. No, those dark eyes are fixed right on her.

“Am I interrupting something?” he asks. Damn, even his voice is hot.

There's a stern edge to his tone, and previously cool-as-a-smug-cucumber Keith seems to wilt under it. Keith flashes Katie a scowl, then glances away.

“Not at all,” Keith says, maintaining a surprisingly even tone despite how he just about jumps out of his seat a moment later. “I was just telling our new friend here that I needed another beer. Want anything?”

The man shakes his head with the sort of slowness that makes her wonder if he'd really even heard Keith. He’s still staring at her, hard.

“You can take my chair,” Keith continues. “It'll take me a few minutes to get anything from the bar.”

Keith raises a hand to one side of his lips and mouths something to her. She squints at him. Lip reading wasn't her forte, even when sober. He mouths his message again, even more slowly. Goat bless up he seems to say. Excellent. Exceptionally useful.

This is the first time Katie has seen surprise cross the new man’s face, and it's just as beautiful as she would have anticipated. He finally breaks eye contact to watch Keith skitter off. Katie notices that Keith stops at the bar only a few feet down from where Lance and Hunk sit, openly watching her. But she doesn't have enough time to be suspicious, because at that moment, evolution’s gift to humankind clears his throat and asks, “Is anyone sitting here?”

There's a pause as Katie stares at him and processes his words. Was she hearing that properly? How drunk was she? Hadn't Keith just? Bewildered, she points to Keith.

“I think your friend just said you could take his seat. That happened, right?”

He wrinkles his nose and, wonder of wonders, two patches of red, bright enough for her to see in the dim bar lighting, fill his face.

“Right, of course, absolutely,” he says. “I just wanted to make sure you didn't mind…” His sentence trails off with a little laugh. It's a soft sound, a bit uncertain, and Katie feels her stomach twist. He sits down at the small table. Their knees brush, and her stomach outright flips over itself.

Don't puke, don't puke she repeats in her head. She hadn't been feeling near drunk enough to be sick, but something about the way Mr. Tall, Dark, and Out of Her League smiles at her is starting to make her head spin.

“Hi,” she says, like a buffoon.

“Hi.”

Her mouth feels like sandpaper. She downs the last mouthful of her scotch, but it doesn't seem to help. How did Lance do this? Come to think of it, how had she been doing this all night?

“So, what brings you here?” she asks. She holds back a cringe. At least she hadn't asked if he comes here often. It's a mercy that Lance is out of earshot.

Gorgeous McGee runs his fingers up and down his own glass, then shrugs. “It's Friday. I don't normally go out, Friday or no, but Keith - my friend who just left - insisted I come out.” One side of his mouth curves up into a lopsided grin. “Something about being too young to be such an old man. What about you?”

Katie picks up her glass, then remembers it's empty. She's not sure why, but she's suddenly really parched. Responding feels like ungluing her tongue from the roof of her mouth.

“Out with my co-worker friends. We just wrapped up the tests on a drone prototype we've been designing, and figured 'What the heck? Let's drink to the robot.’”

She feels her cheeks go warm. By her estimation, she'd been doing all right up until the end. No way this guy was going to stick around after looking at her and hearing her talk about getting drunk for robots. Maybe this was why she hadn't had a date in so long. That and the fact that her solution to that problem had been to throw herself at strangers for the last hour.

But instead, he just nods and laughs. “That's pretty great. You may have noticed, but I have an appreciation for fine robotics myself.”

And that's how Katie can really tell she’s drunk, because up until now, when he lifts his right hand and smoothly wiggles five mechanical fingers, she hadn't noticed his pretty obvious and stunningly advanced prosthetic arm.

“Oh my gosh,” she breathes. “That's so cool.”

Without regard to propriety or even suavity, Katie reaches out and takes his hand in her own. She turns his hand over, examining the fine articulation of each knuckle. Her fingers slide over his as she takes in the skilled work.

And then it hits her, what she's doing. She feels the blood drain from her face and drops his hand.
“I am so, so sorry. That was so indescribably rude of me, just grabbing your hand like that without even asking.” She's speaking so quickly that her words just about trip over themselves. “I’m completely incompetent with these kinds of things, which is probably why I haven't been on a date in six years and have been going around kissing strangers just because my friends told me to, but that's no excuse for just helping myself to your arm, which is just beautifully put together, by the way-”

Scotch must be a multi-tasker, bungling up her apology while simultaneously embarrassing her even more in front of him. But he just smiles and takes one of her hands in his prosthetic one.

“It's fine,” he says. “If I'm being honest, it makes a lot of people uncomfortable. It's a nice change of pace to meet someone who thinks it's cool.”

His grip shifts, and he shakes her hand. “I'm Shiro. It's Pidge, right? I think I heard your friends shouting it earlier.”

She's not sure which she's more startled by, his continued touch or the fact that he knows her name. Her head’s swimming some, overwhelmed and full of scotch, and the only thought that surfaces is that she suddenly really, really wants to kiss him. And she wants him to want to kiss her.

But there's a good chance that if he knows her name, he’s also seen her approach a barful of strangers with the same request. Keith had mentioned seeing as much. There’s no telling what Shiro thought of that, especially not after she blabbed about it and her terrible dating record just afterwards. In an instant, she decides that she just wants Shiro to like her. Kiss or no.

“Pidge is just a nickname. You can call me Katie.”

“Katie,” he repeats, and there’s no way her name on his lips should sound like silk on skin. “It's a pleasure.”

By now his hand has lingered on hers for far longer than anyone might deem normal. She's not complaining. Still, she lets their hands fall apart and pushes Scotch to the side of her brain when it tries to suggest that she should find some way to touch him again.

Katie's about to do something normal, like ask Shiro about his job, or talk about the weather, when he leans in across the table. He lips part, like he's about to say something, and then he hesitates. His Adam's Apple bobs as he swallows hard.

“Hey, so, ah, I know we just met,” he begins, “and this really isn't like me. But is it all right if I ask you something personal?”

Later on, when the alcohol cleared out of her system and she was better able to reflect on turn her night would take, Katie would realize how nervous Shiro was. But in the moment, all she can think about is how lucky she is that this random mega hunk is nice enough to still want to talk to her.

“Absolutely. I kinda owe you at this point, for the whole arm thing.”

“It's fine, really,” he reassures.

Shiro takes a deep breath. He scoots his chair towards her, then leans in close, like he's about to tell her a secret instead of ask about one.

“This is going to sound weird, but I've been watching you most of the evening-” Shiro pauses, then shakes his head. “I mean, since the kissing started. It was pretty noticeable, what was going on.”

This is it. Her last moments. The nail in the coffin. Here lies Katie Holt, reduced to ash from being roasted by the most beautiful man in the solar system. Her cheeks must be flaming by now.

“You mentioned not having dated in a while,” he continues, “and then kissing strangers, so I'm guessing the two are connected.”

Katie nods. If he was going to humiliate her, he sure was taking his time about it. But Shiro seemed too nice to rip her apart like that. So where was this going?

“I don't want to seem rude, but I was just wondering why? You're very pretty and clearly intelligent, and-”

Whatever Shiro says next is drowned out by her own voice, or maybe that was Alcohol, screaming in her skull. He’d just called her pretty? Very pretty? Him? Katie tries to focus on the rest of his words, but it all just filters in as a happy hum.

“...why you're not, uh, with anyone.” Shiro finishes.

She's so busy staring at him in shock, it takes her a moment to pick up on the fact that it's clear he's waiting for an answer.

“I just never took the time until now,” she says in a rush. “And hadn't found the right person. That's why I’ve been kissing people.”

“To find the right person to date?”

“To increase my chances of doing so, yeah. It made sense mathematically a drink or two ago.”

At this point, she has herself half-convinced that she's passed out somewhere at this is all just a delightful, alcohol-induced dream. There's no way someone like him could be looking at her like that.

Shiro hums. He swallows again, then bites his bottom lip. His eyes flick to the table, then back up to her. The intensity of it all feels very real.

“So in theory,” he says slowly, “you're still working on narrowing down your sample pool.”

Her heart gives a funny feeling thump. “Yeah.”

Shiro’s really close. No more than a few inches between them. The urge to kiss him comes back in full force.

“You've kissed almost everyone in this bar,” he says. His voice goes low and rough around the edges. His gaze drops to her lips. She feels pinned in place.

“Except you,” she breathes.

“Except me.”

Shiro takes a deep breath, his shoulders rising and falling. He then places his hand - his flesh hand - over hers.

“I was hoping-” he starts. Pauses. Clears his throat. “I was hoping you might allow me to change that.”

In a different, less drunk world, Katie would say something clever and sexy, like 'I think I'm supposed to do the asking,’ or 'What took you so long?’. But instead, Katie just nods.

She leans in, and Shiro lifts his hand to cup her cheek. Even against the heat of her flushed skin, his hand is warm.

“You’re sure?” he asks.

For the first time all night, it feels natural for her to tip her head forward and press her lips to those of a stranger. And then, it doesn't seem like kissing a stranger at all: she's kissing Shiro, whose mouth moves with hers in slow, almost shy, circles. There's nothing forceful about it; it's not a kiss to prove a point or to get it over with, and the only thought of hers that doesn't fade away under the gentle exchange is that she never wants this to end.

The kiss is chaste, but lasts far longer than any she's had so far that night. When she finally tries to pull away to breathe, Shiro seems to lean in to follow. Their lips part, and she hopes she’s not imagining the reluctance with which Shiro settles back in his seat.

Test Subject Thirty One: Shiro. Results?

There's a lot Katie wants to say once she catches her breath. But then she takes in the high blush on Shiro’s cheeks and the way his mouth goes slack as he pants for air, and the only word she can manage is a soft, “Oh,” a moment before she grabs him by the shoulders and kisses him again.

He melts into her hold but kisses back with a new fierceness. His tongue flits across her lips a few moments later, and she lets him in without hesitation. Her hands slide up his neck and her fingers tangle in his hair as their tongues mingle, warm and slick.

She needs to be closer, needs to feel the choppy rise and fall of his chest against hers, needs to know how tightly he’d grip her hips to narrow the gap between them. They must be on the same wavelength, because they part at the same time. She knocks her knee into the table trying to stand up just as Shiro’s foot slips forward and jolts her chair back. She tips, unsteady on her feet and knee smarting, and he catches hold of her by her upper arms.

“Good catch,” she says, just as he murmurs a laughing, “Easy there.”

Shiro smiles up at her. She grins down at him. Magnetic, he can't be resisted, so she dips her head down and drops a kiss on his lips. When he sighs against her touch, Katie decides she's sated. No more kissing strangers tonight.

Only Shiro, if he’ll allow it.

She straightens once she feels like she's regained her footing. His hands slip down to her waist. For a long moment, they stay there like that, grinning at each other like fools.

“Can I buy you a drink?” Shiro asks. She shuffles back as he stands, but he keeps a hand on her waist.

Katie glances down at her empty glass, and remembers the ones that came before. She still feels a bit wobbly on her feet, though maybe that's just the aftereffects of all the kissing. Even inebriated, she knows she shouldn't have more to drink, but every bit of her balks at the thought of anything keeping her from Shiro’s presence.

“I wouldn’t say no to that,” she says.

They steer towards the bar, hips bumping as they navigate around tables and other patrons. Katie glances down the bar and catches sight of Hunk, Lance, and Keith, all grouped up and whispering as they steal glances at the two of them.

Shiro only lets go once they reach the bar.

“What would you like?” he asks.

“Surprise me.”

His smile is crooked, bordering on mischievous, as he flags the bartender down. He doesn't break eye contact with her as he orders.

“How does the finest water this bar offers sound?” Shiro asks.

At the end of the night, she's going to have to ask Lance if it's possible to fall in love with a stranger at first kiss. But for the moment, she simply takes Shiro’s hand.

“That sounds amazing.”