Aisha Darwin looked up from her PADD to see Hikaru Sulu, who was about to enter the lift to the bridge, as his shift was starting. He waited for her to step out into the corridor.
“Hello, Lieutenant. Good shift?” he greeted her. “I’ve heard things are going kind of slow today.”
“Hello. It’s not so bad, actually. Doctor McCoy is on the bridge,” she added after a second and Sulu looked as if he was trying really hard not to giggle at that.
She definitely understood the urge. Whenever Doctor McCoy spent time on the bridge everyone seemed to focus mainly on his conversations with the Captain and Commander Spock, since most of them were just really entertaining. No one would ever tell Doctor McCoy that, though.
Aisha was about to leave, but Sulu stopped her. “Before I forget. Madeline asked me to tell you that she’s waiting for you in the mess hall. I think she really needs to talk to you about something. I bet it’s something great, because when she talked she couldn’t stop smiling,” in his voice Aisha could hear that his mood improved slightly. She nodded in gratitude.
“Thanks, I’ll talk to her. Have a good day.”
She entered the corridor leading to the mess hall. Even if entertaining, this shift was more exhausting than she expected and only now she started to feel it. It was too early to go to sleep, however, so she could use this opportunity to finish reading the latest book Madeline recommended her.
Books were their favorite topic of conversation since the Academy days. Madeline always had something interesting to say about everything she has read lately and despite the fact that their taste in novels was completely different, hearing Madeline over thinking various aspects of stories was very diverting.
This time Madeline had loaned her an adventure novel written by a Caitian author who seemed to favor strange and extraordinary comparisons when writing extensive dialogue. In return Aisha recommended to her a couple of older holonovels about detectives she had remembered when thinking of stories she liked when she was younger. Detective stories seemed to quickly be becoming one of the science officer’s favorite types of literature. At least that was what Aisha assumed, as after she gave Madeline detective holonovels for the first time, Madeline couldn’t stop talking about them for the next few days.
Her quarters were where she had been spending most of her time off lately. Aisha felt down. She knew that the comfort provided by her belongings, by the familiarity of her quarters was what she needed for the last few days. She had no problem performing her duties, she was professional after all, but after shift she headed directly to her quarters, most of the time taking food with her. Madeline was there for Aisha when she needed to talk about anything, but now there was also another person Aisha could talk to. Gaila. It had been about a week since they saw each other, besides the occasional shared meal after shifts. Aisha promised herself to talk to her soon.
Aisha and Gaila’s relationship was still new. Almost two months long. They knew each other longer than that, thanks to Madeline’s outgoing personality, but only recently the nature of their relationship has (had) changed and Aisha was still getting used to the feeling of being in a relationship. Being with Gaila was nothing like she had expected, but it wasn’t a complaint.
When Aisha found Madeline in the mess hall, she was sitting with 0718, the science officer she quickly befriended after the start of the mission in the corner. Madeline was talking about something, smiling brightly the whole time, as 0718 ate his vegetables and nodded from time to time. Aisha couldn’t help smiling at the sight. The science officer’s cheerfulness and jokes never failed to improve her mood, it didn't matter how tired she was. Aisha got a plate of chicken curry and a cup of green tea and headed to join her friends.
“Hi!” Madeline said right away when she noticed Aisha approaching their table.
“Hi, Madeline, 0718.”
0718 looked up from his plate and nodded in greeting. “Good morning, Lieutenant Darwin. Is everything well?”
“Yes, thank you,” she sat down next to Madeline. “I think I’m more tired than I thought. I don’t think I will be able to meet later. I’ll probably read a bit and go to sleep earlier,” she said, taking a spoonful of her curry and looking apologetically at Madeline.
“Don’t worry, I will be fine,” Madeline replied. “It means I might have more time for the holonovels. They’re so wonderful!” she finished excitedly. “Some of them are quite predictable and maybe a bit naive, but still so exciting! After I finish them maybe Hikaru would tell me about the ones he likes? And I still have to read “The Dictates of Poetics”…”
“And “Nightingale Woman”, if I remember correctly,” 0718 added.
“So you do listen when I talk to you!” Madeline grinned. “Even about books.”
“I find it hard not to.”
They ate in silence for a few minutes, which Aisha found it a bit suspicious, considering that Madeline kept smiling as she took a bite of her peach cobbler. 0718 seemed indifferent so Aisha assumed he knew perfectly well what Madeline found so amusing. She was usually a very cheerful person, but during the whole meal the smile seemed to not leave her face for more than five seconds. Aisha ignored it for several minutes, but finally gave up with a sigh.
“Why are you smiling like that? Hikaru mentioned you wanted to talk to me and that you’re… ecstatic today,” she said. “Did something happen? ”
Madeline bit her lip, as if deciding if she should say anything or not. “Well, yes, kind of…” she looked down on her plate. “But I promised to tell you only that you’ll definitely be surprised,” she said finally and Aisha blinked, surprised. “Something will be waiting for you.”
“Waiting for me? What? Why?” She raised her eyebrow.
“Well, it’s supposed to be a surprise, right?” still biting her lip Madeline looked at 0718 briefly, and he just shrugged.
“It will definitely be a surprise,” 0718 said, as he looked at the other science officer, his tone more smug than she had ever heard from him. He actually sounded so pleased with himself that Aisha guessed ‘the surprise’ was what they were discussing when she entered the mess hall. “Congratulations, Madeline, you managed to keep it a secret for three days. It was actually longer than I assumed.”
“You’re no help at all,” Madeline rolled her eyes and turned to Aisha. “Well, I can tell you that it’s probably not ready yet, but I’m pretty sure by the end of the Alpha shift tomorrow it will be, so you can get some sleep before then.”
“So, is this a surprise from you, then?”
“No, not from me. Well, not only at least. Mostly from Gaila. But I have to make sure you won’t have any plans, so I had to let you know,” she winked and Aisha shook her head.
“So, Gaila is planning something,” she repeated. “And what would you have done if I already had something planned?” Aisha asked, not knowing how to react at the sudden news. Of course she didn’t have any real plans for tomorrow, not counting reading and getting some sleep. Madeline knew her enough to know that, but still, she had no idea what to expect from the new information. “Should I be scared? You know I’m not really a fan of surprises.”
“I know. Of course I do, and Gaila does, too. But don’t worry, you will like this one, I promise! I helped with it so you don’t have to worry,” Madeline smiled sheepishly and Aisha sighed again. Well, since she had nothing else to do anyway and books could wait she only nodded. At least it looked like she would need to get some sleep before tomorrow. But Aisha started thinking about what Gaila could have planned that involved so much time and preparation.
“Okay. I’ll trust you. But please, tell me it’s not a party or…”
“Well, it… kind of is? But I promise it’s going to be great,“ her friend interrupted quickly, catching her hand and squeezing reassuringly. “I wouldn’t do anything to make you uncomfortable. Just come to my quarters at 1700? If you don't like it, I guess we all will just let you get back to your quarters? But I promise you will really, really like it!”
Now Aisha was confused even more than before. “So it’s not only from you and Gaila… how many people will be there exactly?” She looked at 0718 briefly, hoping he had any answers, but he stubbornly stayed silent and took a sip from his cup.
“Don’t worry, not as many as you’re probably imagining,” Madeline assured her. “But it’s still going to be fun!“
At first Aisha wanted to decline, tell Madeline that she wasn’t feeling up to it, but seeing her friend so excited about it made her change her mind. “Okay,” she said finally. “But if I don't like it …”
“Oh, you will!”
More than that, Gaila met her briefly between shifts that day and after kissing her cheek affectionately, she told Aisha that she can’t wait to see her later. Aisha nodded, and Gaila smiled cheerily. She mentioned not bothering with eating in the mess hall, since Madeline took care of the food and Aisha promised she’ll be there.
Finally deciding to just go in, she sighed and knocked on the door. When it slid open she looked around the quarters, surprised. What she saw was definitely not what she had imagined the first time Madeline mentioned ‘a party’.
The lights were dimmed. On the table next to the couch stood a plate with cupcakes, next to it were chocolate chip cookies and some sort of a colorful salad in a big bowl. There were also several cups and glasses and a bottle of scotch. Aisha didn’t recognize the quiet music playing in the room, but it was very relaxing and she was sure it was Gaila’s choice.
0718 was sitting on the couch, looking more laid-back than she usually saw him. Donna Hannity sat next to him just when Aisha entered the quarters. Sulu, who was situated on the floor in front of the couch, raised a half-full glass of juice he was holding in greeting. Gaila was occupying the chair opposite to the door and waved at Aisha, smiling broadly as she took a glass of scotch from the table. Madeline was now standing next to Aisha, holding a small package wrapped in a red wrapping paper in front of her, biting her lip. She spoke only after Aisha turned to her.
“Surprise,” she said, excitedly. “Well, here is your party. You’ve been working a lot lately, and we all just wanted to do something fun. You know, something that would be actually fun for you and not only for us.”
“Which is why we have both scotch and tea,” Sulu added just as Madeline handed Aisha the small package. Aisha stood there for a moment, but then she shook her head and wrapped her arms around Madeline in a hug, closing her eyes briefly, enjoying the closeness. When she stepped back, her friend was beaming and Aisha snickered. She stepped around Sulu and sat on the couch next to Hannity and slowly opened the package, revealing a box of Delavian chocolates.
“So, you all just waited for the moment when you’d have time off? How long did you plan it? I mean…” she shrugged, not really knowing what else to say.
Madeline smiled and Gaila snorted, as she turned to Aisha. “Well, it took some arranging. Hannity switched shifts with Nyota and Bill helped us with the scotch. It just seemed like a good idea to do something for us to spend some time together and cheer you up a bit,” she said. “Madeline kind of overreacted with calling it a party, but she was so excited about doing something that we made sure we won’t be disturbed for a few hours and…”
“And besides, every reason to meet is good,” Sulu finished and looked up at Aisha. “Also, we got you something nice to trick you into staying this time.”
Aisha shook her head at the Sulu’s explanation but laughed. Taking the cup of tea from him, she made herself more comfortable on the couch.
Soon they all were talking comfortably, discussing their shifts and it seemed like it really has been a long time since they had some time to just had some time to meet and enjoy the others’ company. At some point Gaila, who was exchanging stories and newest gossip with Sulu and Madeline, moved to the couch. She squeezed in between 0718 and Aisha and stretched one arm on the backrest of the couch, close enough to touch Aisha’s neck and shoulder. Leaning back and feeling the warmth of Gaila’s skin against hers, Aisha watched her friends enjoying themselves. She couldn’t help feeling happy.
Sometime later, after most of the cupcakes were gone and Aisha listened to 0718 commenting on one of Sulu’s stories, she felt Gaila wrap one hand around hers. “Want to cuddle?”
When Aisha moved closer, Gaila wrapped an arm around her shoulders right away to make them both more comfortable. “It’s good to see you smiling,” she said after a while. “So the surprise wasn’t such a bad idea, I take it?”
“No, it wasn’t,” Aisha admitted, finishing her second cup of tea and putting the cup on the table. “Thanks for this. I know I’ve been distant lately, but I just…” she broke off , not knowing how to explain it so it would make sense, but Gaila only squeezed her hand to show her support.
“I’m glad we could do something for you. Just tell me when you want to go back to your quarters, okay?”
Gaila smiled brightly and leaned in to press her forehead against Aisha’s gently. Aisha couldn’t help smiling back. She looked down at their interlaced fingers, feeling the warmth that appeared with this gesture spread through her body. It felt so much different from all the times Madeline had done the same thing… sometimes Aisha still couldn’t believe she had this.
She completely stopped paying attention to the others as she focused on Gaila. The other woman seemed to be waiting for her reaction, so Aisha smiled, turning her hand to intertwine her fingers with Gaila’s.
“Thank you,” she said after a few seconds of silence and Gaila moved a bit closer to her, her thumb caressing one of Aisha’s fingers.
“You’re worth it.”