It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I could shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.
In the beginning, you kept yourself going with the promise, the assumption that at some point things would settle down, get less dangerous. You'd have more time to sleep, fewer hours spent working through the panic while the ship rocked with explosions and three decks down your friends could be dying and you'd never know it.
After a little while you started to realize your idea, your fantasy of a life on board the Enterprise that didn't involve a daily dose of mayhem, was exactly that-- a fantasy. So you learned to find downtime where you could, to fill your life with people who kept you sane, kept you going. Good people; the crew was full of them, and in your own way you found a family here.
You found a routine, eventually, a way of living that made sense. It wasn't perfect-- half the time you felt like climbing the walls or crawling out of your own skin, the other half you thought you were so well fortified against doubt or loss you'd just gotten numb. You were good at your job-- you were good with your friends-- but you just couldn't catch your goddamn breath long enough to figure out what was missing from the picture.
When you finally figured it out, you wondered what had taken you so long.
Alpha shift wasn't even half over when the first hail from Engineering came up. "Captain, we've got, ah, a problem down here," came Mr. Scott's voice, and you couldn't resist turning to watch Kirk's face battle between genuine concern and rolling his eyes.
"What sort of problem, Scotty?" He was trying to keep his voice light, but everyone knew how nervous Kirk got when his ship started acting up.
"The sort you'd better come down and see for yourself, sir," came the reply, and you winced. Kirk wasn't going to like this; you mentally sent Scotty good luck vibes as Kirk all but leapt into the turbolift, leaving Spock with the conn.
A second later a message flashed across your console from the one down in Engineering. Am I about to get my arse handed to me?
You couldn't help grinning as you typed back. Maybe. Just break it to him gently, and use small words.
The reply was immediate. You're going to get me in trouble, you know. If I start laughing in the middle of explaining how the secondary power coupling overloaded for the third time this month, you all might be looking for a new chief Engineer by the end of the day.
Conscious of Hannity's eyes drifting toward you, you swallowed your smile and replied. More likely he'll chain you to the bulkhead until it's fixed. Make sure you tell him you've got plans tonight.
There was a pause, and you wondered if you should've said that. Then the console flashed again with a reply. It'd take more than chains to make me forget that. Oh bugger he's coming see you tonight --the message ended and you allowed yourself another grin.
Hannity shot you a look again and you shook your head, unable to wipe the smile off your face. "Just tuned in to the feed from the daycare for a minute," you lied. "Laura's teaching the six-year-olds their ABC's." Hannity's expression melted and she made a little clucking sound with her tongue against her teeth. "Adorable," she said sympathetically, and you turned back to your console, resisting the urge to check the time again.
It was eighteen hundred hours on the dot when you stepped into your quarters, already reaching behind your neck to unclasp your uniform sweater and pull it over your head. "Computer, music. Channel seventeen, half volume."
A syncopated rhythm of bass and piano filled the room, jazz you'd grown up loving from your father's old disc collections. Good music for getting ready for a date-- and maybe, you thought as you headed toward the shower, maybe you were about ready to admit to yourself that that's what was going on tonight, though neither of you had said it outright.
You were in and out of the shower in ten minutes, and stood in contemplation in front of your closet for twenty more before deciding what to wear. Even that much was embarrassing to admit to; you're not the type of woman who dithers about what to put on.
You stood in front of your mirror, brushing your hair till it shone. Your mother had had you do a hundred strokes a night when you were little; you'd hated it then, but as you swept it back and eyed the way it fell down your back, you couldn't deny the habit has paid off.
On your way to the ship's bar you mused over the unpredictability of this, your unlikely crush-- a word you hate, but which was nevertheless the best one to describe your feelings. You don't turn into a grinning, blushing mess at messages from all your colleagues, after all. Your nerves were humming and the sensation was foreign but welcome. You weren't scared of acting on whatever this was that had started happening between you-- no, what had you so on edge was the epiphany, the realization you'd come to that hadn't stopped startling you yet. You were falling for someone so hard you couldn't have stopped if you'd wanted to, and what's more, it had taken you completely by surprise.
But even that's started to make sense after a while-- you spent two years with a man who'd rather have been put to torture by hostile aliens than talk about how you made him feel, and by the time things ended with him you were so used to holding back that you barely even thought about it anymore. This shouldn't be news; you'd become a little bit Vulcan yourself in those months, and now you're feeling like a kid at an amusement park-- excited, overwhelmed, unsure where to start.
Still lost in thought, you slipped into a seat at the bar and ordered a drink-- the Slusho, you had to admit, was pretty tasty, and had enough alcohol to take any edge off your nerves. You were early, and you thought it'd be nice not to be immersed in self-inspection when Scotty got there.
The bartender finished mixing your drink and slid it toward you. Your mind was still following its own train, backtracking to where this had all started, and as you reached absently for the glass it sloshed a little, spilling over the rim, a few drops landing on the skirt of your dress. Your breath hissed in through your teeth and you cursed halfheartedly--
* * * * *
--"Dammit," you'd muttered as you stepped down from the station's central transporter pad, realizing abruptly that you were the only one there. Well, aside from the tech who'd beamed you down, but of the Enterprise's crew there was neither hide nor hair to be seen. Frowning a little, you stepped off the pad and nodded to the tech as you went out into the hall.
The corridors outside were busy; Bespenn was one of the busiest space stations in the quadrant, with more to offer would-be sightseers than some planets. The crew had all been talking for days about what they planned to do with their luxury time; four whole days seemed a lifetime after the past three months bouncing between backwater worlds.
You had to admit you were looking forward to it more than usual yourself. This was the first shore leave you'd felt ready to enjoy since your messy breakup (as if that hadn't been bad enough by itself, you knew you were a real mess when even the spa on Terelli II couldn't lift your mood) and now it looked like you'd be enjoying it alone. You got even more frustrated with yourself as you realized you'd actually been expecting them to wait for you, and were now disappointed that they hadn't.
Well, it was hardly as if you couldn't make your way on your own, you told yourself. You hadn't quite planned to spend your first day flying solo, but you didn't doubt you'd stumble upon someone sooner or later-- at the very least, you could probably count on the Captain to check back in with the ship before he started drinking. You sent a quick message to the helm to alert you if he did so, then tucked your communicator away and glanced around, trying to decide which way to go.
"Lost something?" The accent was unmistakable and you turned with a smile, slightly relieved.
"Mr. Scott," you said, tucking your hair behind your ear. "Just when I was beginning to think you'd all vanished on me."
"No, we've both been abandoned," Scott replied with a quick grin. "Before they beamed down I heard the captain mention something about the Orion burlesque on level eight…" He paused at the look you gave him-- And you're not with them because..?-- and reddened a little, shrugging. "I work hard for my money, don't need to have it charmed out from under me by bloody pheromones. I'd rather lose it the honest way," he added with a wink, "drinking and gambling."
Your grin widened, and you decided on impulse to make a suggestion. "I hear they have Andorrian poker at the casino on level two," you said, "depending on how lucky you're feeling."
Scott's eyebrows shot up in surprise, but it only took him a second to reply. "With you around, very," he chuckled. "If you gamble, that is," he added quickly.
You don't gamble, but you found yourself inclined to join him anyway. You didn't know him very well back then, but there was no reason not to take the opportunity to change that. "You just want someone who can listen in and tell you if the Ferengi are cheating," you teased, falling easily into step beside him.
Scott shook his head blithely, grinning as you ambled off toward the turbolift. "Nah. The Ferengi are always--"
* * * * *
You turned your head at the sharp indignant voice, grinning, a little blush staining your cheeks. "What?" You'd been thinking, hadn't heard Scotty till he was sliding into the seat next to you, and now your efforts to feel less out of sorts seemed wasted. Part of you knew you'd have had butterflies in your stomach right now anyway, but you're not used to being caught off guard.
"I said, you started without me, that's cheating." His eyes took in your dress and heels, but somehow didn't ever really leave your face, and his grin broadened. "You look fantastic," he said frankly, and you felt your smile warm again.
"I think this is where I'm supposed to say something like 'Oh this old thing'," you said, smirking a little as you tossed your hair back over your shoulder.
He laughed, waving the bartender over. "It's just something you throw on, right?" He eyed your drink. "What is that?"
"And that is..." he quirked an eyebrow at you, an expression that managed to look more amused on him than it ever did on Spock, and you grinned again.
"I have no idea, honestly. But it's good, and not as wimpy as it looks." You were briefly embarrassed; you couldn't have chosen a girlier drink to be sitting here with. He was used to stronger stuff, probably, and girls who did car bombs like they were jello shots. You don't want to be drunk, you reminded yourself, though the prospect of trying to drink Scotty under the table was an entertaining one.
Imagining what might happen once you were both under the table was equally entertaining, if in a completely different way.
"I'll have the same," he told the bartender; your surprise must have shown on your face, because he shrugged nonchalantly. "Never let it be said I'm not adventurous."
You felt another smile tug up the corners of your mouth. "I'd never even think such a thing," you promised. You would not, you told yourself, spend any more time comparing him to Spock-- and yet, it was something he would never have done, your stoic ex-boyfriend, order a drink he might not even like just because you were drinking it. You started to feel like you might have this idiot smile pasted on your face all night; you didn't think Scotty would mind.
When his drink came you moved to a table near the window, and Scotty got up to order from the replicator. He returned a moment later carrying a plate of sushi, artfully arranged in a way you hadn't known the replicator capable of; your eyes widened and you grinned, wanting to ask how he knew what you liked, knowing he probably wouldn't tell you anyway.
The best part about this, you thought, was how jaded you'd started to think you'd gotten, and how wrong he keeps proving you are.
You made small talk while you dug in; halfway through the meal the ship came out of warp, settling into orbit above Rousseau V. The planet's rings sparked with energy, flaring blue and crimson and green, and you imagined you could hear the music they emit.
You leaned your chin on your hand and gazed out the window, an awestruck smile on your face. "Now that is just--"
* * * * *
"--beautiful," you murmured under your breath. The city was nothing like any place you were familiar with, which made it all the more interesting to explore. The Baldurans didn't think laterally as humans did, but in three dimensions. As a result, their city had levels, platforms housing whole neighborhoods, floating suburbs and shopping districts orbiting lazily around the central government spire.
It was, you reflected, a very good thing you understood a little of their language. The Captain had been given a high-ranking diplomat to serve as his guide (something you suspected he took for more of a burden than the honor it was) and several of the Baldurans had volunteered to show the rest of your delegation around if they wished; but you didn't need a translator, and had decided to strike out on your own.
You were grateful for it; you'd already seen more of the place than you thought you would have with a state official at your side, and reflected with a grin on how much you were looking forward to taunting the captain with that fact later on.
You turned a corner and came face to face with a small plaza filled with carts and stalls, hung with bright awnings and filled with anything a person could think to want (and some you could decidedly imagine never wanting). At the end of one row you were surprised to see Mr. Scott talking animatedly to a Balduran and a Cardassian, all three of them gesturing between each other and a cart-- the Balduran's, it seemed, and the Cardassian was-- what, translating? You moved closer, trying to hear what was being said.
"I said I don't think it's worth more than twenty credits," Scott insisted, and now you could see he was pointing to a mechanical-looking thing sitting on the back of the Balduran's cart. A part for the ship, maybe? You slipped around the back of the cart, catching the Cardassian's low voice rumbling over the Balduran language.
"He says he doesn't think it's worth more than twenty."
The Balduran's expression never flickered as he replied offhandedly, "He's right. Doesn't change the fact I'm charging him fifty."
The Cardassian turned and was about to reply when you stepped out among them, your gaze level as you addressed the Balduran in his native tongue. "Cheating offworlders dishonors the High Principles, servant." Really, the Balduran form of address translated to something more along the lines of one who follows the instructions of greater powers, a link to the religion that was so central to their way of life. Wouldn't hurt, you surmised, to remind the man that he wasn't only being an asshole but a blasphemous one.
Mr. Scott stared at you like you'd sprouted from the ground with an extra head attached to your shoulders, and you switched to Standard with a thin smile that took in the Cardassian as well. "Forgive me for intruding on your discussions, Mr. Scott, but I couldn't help noticing you were in need of a translator."
To his credit, he smoothed over his surprise and nodded curtly. "Indeed, Lieutenant, how fortuitous for me you happened to arrive. I was just telling these gentlemen I don't think that's worth more than twenty credits." He pointed at the part on the back of the cart, and the Balduran flicked his antennae in a gesture you'd learned to interpret as annoyance.
"I would advise meeting his offer, servant," you said, and before you could go on the Balduran nodded.
"Let it be as you say. I was not trying to cheat." You flicked your hand in another Balduran gesture, one which invited the man to stop bullshitting you.
You walked away a moment later, Scott with his hunk of metal tucked cheerfully under his arm. "What is that, anyway?" you asked, casting him a sidelong glance.
His grin was irrepressible and full of enjoyment. "Well that'd be telling, now, wouldn't it?"
You couldn't help but laugh, rolling your eyes good-naturedly. "Which is a nice way of saying I just helped you buy something of questionable adherence to Starfleet policies, isn't it."
Scott chuckled, mischievous and enjoying every second of it. "You've a gift for understanding, Lieutenant."
"Call me Nyota," you said impulsively.
Scott's eyebrows shot up-- you guessed he'd heard quite a bit about Kirk's ongoing quest for a similar invitation-- and he nodded. "Then you can drop the Mister bit-- I'm Scotty to my--"
* * * * *
You flushed again, shaking your head. "I'm sorry-- I zoned out there for a second. What did you say?"
Scotty grinned. "I said shrimp tails make interesting friends." He pointed to your plate, where only the tails from your shrimp tempura remained. "You looked lost in thought, I thought if I said something ridiculous you might return to the conversation."
You snickered ruefully. "Guess I was." There was a pause as you debated how honest to be, a cool flush working through you as you realized you shouldn't even be asking yourself that question. Your time with Spock had taught you always to weigh the value of an emotion before expressing it; dazzled with the headiness of your freedom, you blurted out, "I was just thinking how strange it is that this didn't happen sooner."
Scotty's eyes were curious on yours, and his smile tilted sideways as his hand, flat on the table between you, nudged toward yours. "This?"
"This," you repeated, threading your fingers through his, liking the press of his calluses against your palm as much as you'd thought you would. "Getting to know you... ending up with a crush of, of dramatic schoolgirl proportions, on you," you said, grinning, proud the admission had come out at least somewhat smoothly.
He blushed, darkening almost to the roots of his hair, and you heard your own laugh sparkling between you again, the warmth of attraction flaring low in your stomach. "You don't have a clue, do you-- how surreal it is to hear that from you," he said, low, his grin self-conscious. "You're way out of my league, Nyota."
You leaned in across the table, your fingers tight over his. "I think it's my job to decide who's in my league and who's not," you murmured. Your eyes felt locked on his; you didn't think you could've been the first to break eye contact if you'd tried, but he glanced away when you nodded sideways toward the door, and then it was simple to get to your feet and say, "Come on. Let's get out of here."
It was liberating in so many ways. You'd always been choosy about the people you dated, but it was rare that anyone was so open, not just about wanting you, but about liking you.
God knows, you thought a little sadly, you'd had enough understated and decorous expressions of affection to last you a long time. You didn't think there was anything wrong with wanting to read in someone's face the way he felt about you; you thought it was okay to enjoy not having to work so hard to find out.
It also wasn't often you found yourself so excitably giddy about liking someone in return. And giddy sure was the word; the doors to the bar hissed shut behind you and you grabbed Scotty's hand, your breath sometimes a laugh as you pulled him along the hall fast behind you.
Outside your door you stopped, half breathless. You paused with your hand on the controls, about to enter the passcode. "You do want to come in, right?" you asked, practically smirking, your heart in your mouth as you looked at him, feeling brave and vulnerable in equal measure.
Scotty parried the look right back, ironic and bemused. "Have you not been paying attention?" His hand slid up your wrist to your elbow, and while you were still registering the little thrill that sent through you, he stepped closer and kissed you, light but lingering, chapped lips pressed softly against yours.
"Well I am now," you murmured as you separated, knowing you were blushing again, unable to keep the grin off your face. Your fingers typed the passcode without looking. "Come on," you murmured, and the door slid open, your fingers curling around the open throat of his shirt as you pulled him into the room.
In the morning you woke up slowly, the feeling of someone else in the bed so unfamiliar as to be almost new. You rolled over, grinning at his arm flung over his face, and shifted closer, pressing your nose into the crook of his neck. He started, mumbling fuzzily, one arm coming around your shoulders, and you relaxed against him.
Your shift would start in a couple of hours, and you'd beam down with the landing party for a long day of translating. A day like a thousand others. You let your eyes drift shut again, the murmur of thought sifting through your mind, that today at least you'd have something to look forward to at the end of it.