challenge: cliche bingo, character: gaila, fic: star trek, genre: het, pairing: gaila/sulu
"Incoming fire, three o'clock!" Gaila shouts over the wailing of the klaxon. The helmsman -- she doesn't even know his name, though her life now depends on his skills -- veers sharply, and the shuttle rocks as the phasers graze its side.
"Relief supplies still intact," she reports, hazarding a glance at the sensor array. "But the Klingon ship is coming fast for a firing run."
They both look up at the line of asteroids spread across the view screen, and they both reach the same conclusion at the same time.
"Into the asteroid field," she says, and he doesn't even ask her if she can plot a course through it, just inputs the coordinates she gives him. For a long time after that, she's too busy keeping them alive to think about how to get out. She calls out the bearing of the thousands of pieces of floating rock, and he adjusts with the precision and grace of a ballet dancer at each of her commands. And then, when she sees it, a risky course between two of the biggest asteroids, he complies without question, trusting that she will guide them both to safety just as surely as she now trusts his ability to steer them away from death.
Then they are out of the field, and MISSION ACCOMPLISHED flashes across the simulator's screen in wide blue letters. They both whoop and high five, and for the first time, she sees his face.
"That was some nice navigation," he says, and she smiles, pleased by both the compliment and the deep set eyes framed by high cheekbones.
"Thanks." She strokes the nav console appreciatively, the same way she sometimes sees humans pat their dogs. The gesture isn't very logical, but she doesn't care. Ships talk to her. Even simulated ones.
His eyes flick down to her pink lacquered nails, and she wonders if he's checking her out -- the color does look lovely against her green skin, after all -- but instead he pats his own console and says, "Yeah, she's not bad for a simulator."
Gaila smiles at him, radiantly this time, because being understood is so nice. She'd thought escaping from slavery would be the hardest thing she'd ever have to do, and after that, life would automatically be easy and happy. She hadn't counted on how vast the cultural differences would be, how isolating to be the only one of her species at the Academy when everyone else could count on at least one other cadet who shared their own worldview. So when she smiles at the way they both pat their consoles, she means it. It's proof that no matter how different everyone is here, their deepest passions -- space and freedom and flying things -- are shared.
He extends a hand toward her, returning her grin.
"Hikaru Sulu, but everyone calls me Sulu."
She takes his hand, pressing it with what she hopes is the appropriate degree of firmness.
"Gaila. Just Gaila. My people don't use surnames."
That's not true exactly; freeborn Orion have given names and family names, but slave girls do not. No one cares where they come from. The simplified explanation of her single name is easier though, and she sticks with it.
"So what's an engineering cadet like you doing kicking ass in astro nav?" Sulu asks, and this time, he's definitely checking out her hands, so she spreads her fingers across the controls in the delicate, feminine way the Slave Mother taught her back in pleasure training.
"I want to be able to do anything," she says, and he looks at her appreciatively. She runs her fingers gracefully around the edge of the console, her years of practice making the gesture appear unconscious, but Sulu's eyes have already returned to her face. At the pleasure station, they had warned her that even freeborn Orion girls could never fit in among the monogamists of the Federation, and that slave girls like her would quickly find themselves lost and alone on a world where men wanted both a body and a mind. They were wrong though; she never tires of the way men like this one are as attracted to the spark in her spirit as much as the curve of her hips.
"And I wanted to have options," she adds because she likes how she can seduce him with her story and because it's true. Having options reminds her that she's free, but she doesn't say that out loud because she's already decided to keep things simple today.
"If I ever get tired of space, I want to design starships, so I need to know everything about them," she says instead.
She must have emphasized the if more strongly than she intended though because he looks out at the simulated starfield and says, "I know what you mean. It's hard to imagine ever getting tired of the stars."
She drops the seductive tricks then and lets companionable silence grow between them, basking in the feeling of being understood, until Pike's voice crackles over the comm.
"If you two are finished having your moment, you might consider giving the simulator to the next cadets in line."
Sulu jumps up, startled, and barks "sorry" into the speaker, but he lets her exit first, the way she's learned human males do when they want to show courtesy to a female. Not that men do that for her anymore; she's made it clear that she has no desire for their fake courtesies, and her willingness to have sex does not depend on their adherence to outdated human customs.
That's why she's so surprised when he turns to her, just outside the door of the simulator, in full view of the other waiting cadets, and asks if he can take her to dinner.
Stupid man, she thinks at first. Doesn't he know that she will give him an orgasm the same way she would lend him her dining card if he'd forgotten his own? For her, it is a gesture of both courtesy and compassion, and she is both surprised and mildly insulted that he does not know this. Still, the Slave Mother told her to accept any gift a man offers, and this time, she will adhere to the teaching.
"It's a date," she says brightly. Her smile is good; she's practiced looking happy and hiding the complexity of her thoughts for many years now. Even so, the grin doesn't fade even when he is long out of sight, and she has to admit that her excitement is larger than the prospect of a free meal.
Uhura would agonize over what to wear on the date for hours, as all the human women do, but Gaila does not. She was raised to know what men want, and she knows that she can provide it. This man wants to take her to dinner before he fucks her, and that means she will need to look both provocative and respectable, so she pulls on a gauzy shirt with a deep V in the front and a simple black skirt that covers her legs to the knees. Without asking, she seizes a pair of black strappy sandals from beneath Uhura's bed; they will flatter the muscles in her calves and complete the look.
She worries that he will arrive before the agreed upon hour when she has no madame to restrain him, but her fears are unnecessary: he arrives at 19:00 precisely, dressed in a collared shirt and sports jacket but no tie.
"You look great," he says, surveying her body briefly, but to her puzzlement, his eyes once again rest on her face.
"You do too." This is truth, not artifice. Her clients on the pleasure colony did not dress to please her, and she appreciates that he did. It reminds her that he needs her approval too, because they are equals here.
"Do you like Mexican?"
"I've never eaten it." This, again, is the truth, though she would have said it to any man; the Slave Mother taught her to make them feel that every gift they bring is unique. She smiles, suddenly, and he smiles back, thinking the gesture is for him. It isn't though; it's for her sudden realization that she need no longer say anything to a man that isn't true.
They walk to the restaurant in the same companionable silence that had enveloped them in the simulator three days ago. She does not wish to admit it, but she is flattered when he stops to show her the ocean.
"I come here often," she tells him, the words tumbling before she can stop them. "There was no sea on the pl..." she stops herself suddenly, horrified that she had nearly mentioned the pleasure station. "Where I grew up," she finishes lamely. If he does not know that she was once a whore, she does not wish to tell him.
"Did you grow up in space?" he asks, his eyes wide with curiosity and enthusiasm.
"Yeah," she says, choosing the casual idiomatic for the word yes, hoping to belie any suspicion on his part.
He smiles, still looking at her eyes.
"I envy you...all that freedom. Not that growing up on the ocean was such a bad thing."
Living among the stars and being free is not the same thing, but she does not tell him so. She is interested in his story in spite of herself, and she would like to draw it out.
"The ocean looks like freedom to me," she says. "The waves change every day, but the stars do not."
Something softens in his eyes and his smile. If he were a shy man, her conversation should have lulled him into enough comfort to admire her body now, but his eyes still never dip toward the V in her shirt.
"I don't mean to be too heavy for a first date and all, but it sure is nice to be understood," he says. He stands closer but does not touch her. She likes this too; their separation, though only a few centimeters, reminds her that being a free woman means that no one can lay a single finger on her body without her consent.
She lets the silence grow between them for a few minutes because he does not seem to mind it, another novelty. Then, because she likes him and this is not a business transaction, she asks why he grew up on the ocean.
"My dad had a business hauling freight between the Philippines and San Francisco. Didn't bring in many credits, but man, we sure were free out there on the sea. That boat was the first thing I learned to fly, and I knew I was going into space the first time she skipped over the waves."
"Ships are people," she says absently, and this time, his fingers brush against her arm with just enough pressure to turn her toward him. He tucks a lock of hair behind her ear in a gesture at once both more intimate and chaste than everyone she ever serviced on the pleasure colony and murmurs, "I like you, Gaila. We get each other."
They walk to the restaurant arm and arm, quietly again, and she keeps her face serene in spite of her inner turmoil. Since her arrival on Earth, she has told herself that her freedom depends on never having feelings for a creature as untrustworthy as a man, but the fluttering in her stomach is hard to ignore. This is only one evening, she reminds herself, and your feelings will be different tomorrow. It is the same advise she gives to Uhura, passed down from hundreds of generations of Orion whores. The wisdom reassures her, and she relaxes against his arm.
At the restaurant, she opens the old-fashioned paper menu carefully, running her fingers gently over the smooth plastic sleeves that protect it. Spanish is new to her, and she mispronounces the words, which Sulu thinks is funny, but not in a patronizing way.
"Tor-tee-yah," he says, and she submits to his teaching, mimicking the word slowly and precisely. Learning is another kind of freedom, no matter how small the knowledge. He wants to order for them both, but she prefers to do it for herself, even if she stumbles over the unfamiliar words. The day when men speak for her is past.
When the food arrives, she dunks her tor-tee-yah chips into the kay-so too enthusiastically, scattering droplets across the table. Unwilling to waste a single drop, she scoots her fingers through them and licks off her cheesy fingertips, oblivious to the sensuality of the gesture and grateful to have escaped to a planet with so many good things to eat.
"Like it?" Sulu asks, looking bemused, and more words tumble from her mouth before she can consider their implications.
"I've never been to a restaurant before." She can hear the giddiness in her voice, and it has nothing to do with her margarita.
"You mean you haven´t been out to eat since you got to the Academy?"
"No. I mean I've never been to a restaurant before." No one takes slave girls like her to restaurants, but if he doesn´t know this, perhaps he does not recognize her for what she is. She chooses not to elaborate, though he is clearly waiting for her to, and the silence grows uncomfortable.
When their dinner arrives, both of them are relieved. It might give them something to talk about, except that Sulu is shoveling his into his mouth even faster than the slobbering Tellarites she used to service.
Sulu smiles self-deprecatingly. "Sorry," he mutters around a mouthful of enchilada. "I had PT with Commander Richards this afternoon. You´d think he was training us for the Nazi army."
Gaila has no idea what Nazis are or whether being a member of their army is desirable, but she is bemused by the way he begins sawing dainty bites with the tip of his knife. Men have never cared about decorum around her before, and she wants the evening to continue this way. To make him more comfortable, she inhales the largest piece of enchilada she can fit on her fork.
"It´s more fun to eat this way," she says and means it.
"I´ll drink to that," he says, and drains his margarita. "Who do you have for PT?"
"Lieutenant Commander M´Vill. She´s working us so hard I´m afraid I´ll lose my hips."
"Now that would be a shame. You better have seconds." His gaze traces her curves from her breasts to her hips hidden beneath the table, and she flushes deeper green under his gaze. She will enjoy having him tonight.
"So, do you have a big family at home?" he asks to fill a pause in the conversation, and Gaila freezes, suddenly remembering why she keeps to herself: even the most innocuous questions threaten to expose her past. People ask her about her favorite holovids, her birthdate, where she used to go on family vacation, and each time, she must choose. She can lie, but she refuses; she'd done enough of that when she was a whore. But to tell the truth spoils conversations, invites disrespect, and worst of all, pity.
"Orion family structure differs from humans," she snaps coldly, and waits for the usual awkward silence. It doesn´t arrive.
Sulu looks stricken, but he is fast to apologize. "Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't know that was a rude question. I'm new to this whole interspecies dating thing." He looks at her imploringly. "Think you can forgive me?"
His desperation for her attention amuses her; no man has ever tried so hard to win her, and he must know that his efforts are unnecessary. By her own choice, her reputation precedes her. She allows herself a small but warm smile.
"You are forgiven." The phrase is clunky and awkward; no one has ever asked for her pardon in any language, and she does not know the words. He smiles though, and she reaches for a new, safer topic because she wants the evening to continue. Unfortunately, he speaks before she can.
"Look, I don't want to force you to talk about anything that you don't want to, but I just want you to know that I'm not going to judge you or your culture or anything. I mean, my family wasn't exactly traditional."
Gaila lifts her eyebrows inquiringly.
"Well, growing up on the ocean and stuff. Our cargo wasn't all exactly, uh, legal. And my mom ran off right after I was born. I have no idea where she is."
"I didn't know human women sometimes did not desire their children."
Sulu looks really wounded this time, and she regrets the words. It was true though; the other cadets' lives had seemed so idyllic. No matter what species, they plaster their walls with family photos and debate how best to fit their many possessions into small dormitories. Before each exam, she watches them open cardboard boxes from their parents packed with sweets and study aides. She had imagined all of their lives as happy and without hardship, but perhaps she had misjudged. She wants to save the conversation, but she doesn't know how.
"I...I apologize," she mutters, looking at her plate. "I sometimes say inappropriate things...I was frequently reprimanded for it at home." She stops herself just short of the truth: the Slave Mother had beaten her for it often, though she never left a mark a man would see before he bought her.
"Tact is just not saying things that are true," he says, some of the pain going out of his eyes. "I guess she wasn't much for motherhood, but I can't really say I missed her. My dad loved me enough for two parents, and I barely noticed my family was different."
"Normal is what you are raised with." This is why the humans feel so different from her; they are so used to having possessions instead of being possessed. She cannot relate to a world where everyone is so surrounded by love and freedom. She thinks perhaps she can understand Sulu though; he shakes off his mother's abandonment with the same matter-of-fact practicality that allows her to push past her slavery. Crying over the past accomplishes nothing.
Sulu offers her a small smile. His eyes are warm.
"See, we really do understand each other."
The conversation fades then, and she would be happy to be warmed by their companionable silence, but Sulu has other plans.
"I don´t mean to pry," he begins, and she fixes him with an incredulous stare. "Okay, I do want to pry, but only because I really want to know you."
He looks up at her then, asking permission to continue, and she nods, knowing what is coming.
"Did your mom, uh, not want you either?"
She drains her margarita in one long gulp. Human alcohol barely affects her, but she wants the moment to think. Better to tell him now; no man respects a whore, and if he is like all the others, best to find out quickly.
"My mother sold me into slavery when I was 4." Then, to be absolutely clear, she adds, "Before I came here, I was a whore."
"Oh." His voice is soft, his face flushed. He does not meet her eyes. "I didn't realize."
"Now that you do, I'll be off." Her purse is in her hand and she rises from the table. If he cannot look at her, she does not want to hear what he has to say. But Sulu is fast; he is on his feet and standing in front her, blocking her path. His eyes look angry now, and she flinches instinctively before she hardens her eyes and straightens her back. This is Earth, and you are free, she reminds herself. Here you have the right to fight back.
Sulu sees her flinch steps to the side instantly, anger vanishing from his face.
"I'm sorry...I'm sorry. I shouldn't have stood in front of you like that. But I don't want you to go."
"Why? Because now you know how experienced I am? How easy it will be to have me?"
Everyone knows these things already though; she's made sure of it. He must know them too, and she does not know why this should suddenly matter enough to make her so angry.
"That is really unfair!" he snaps, and she sits down because people are starting to look and she does not wish for the strangers to overhear her story. He sits too, but his face is still flushed and his eyes are shining.
"Look, I don't know what other men have told you, but it's not right for you to judge us all like that, okay? Have I done even one thing tonight that would justify what you just said about me?"
She looks at the table, unable to respond. She is only now processing that his interest in her is somehow more romantic than sexual, but how such a pure and innocent desire could survive the revelation of her whoredom is beyond her. She remains silent, and some of his anger dissipates.
"Gaila," he says quietly, waiting for her to look up before he continues speaking, "did you really think I wouldn't like you anymore if you told me about your past?"
She nods dumbly, suddenly feeling more naked than she had in all her years as a sex slave. What stings the most is admitting that his opinion matters; it feels like a betrayal of the independence she worked so hard to create. But she is beginning to understand that she cannot live happily if she refuses any meaningful connection with other people, and this one seems to understand her better than others, so she will start with him.
He lays his hand over hers, and she realizes that a man has never touched her in this kind and simple way. Ten minutes ago, she would have said it was because no man desired such a thing; now she wonders if it was because she never allowed it. Perhaps she could have had this small comfort a long time ago. His voice is earnest when he finally speaks.
"Listen, I liked you a lot before. You're smart, you're fucking gorgeous, you love to fly... And if you think those things don't matter to me anymore because your mom sold you and men took advantage of you, you're wrong. It makes everything about you more beautiful."
Gaila does not know what to say, so she sits in silence for a moment. Men have told her that she has perfect tits and a gorgeous ass and that she rides them better and harder than any woman in the galaxy. She loves these compliments; her body is her best tool, and to know that she uses it well brings her joy. But no one has ever complimented her before; it wasn't a distinction she had even considered until this moment. Finally, since she still cannot think of a suitable response and lying to men is a mark of slavery, she settles for the truth.
"No one has told me these things before, and I do not know how to answer."
"But you're not leaving?"
He squeezes her hand, and she feels a familiar surge of warmth between her legs. Human men are frequently deficient lovers, so over-stimulated by their proximity to a legendary Orion girl that they come far too quickly. But she can tell that Sulu will be careful and deliberate. She thinks again that she will enjoy having him tonight, and she might have ended the evening right then if the waitress hadn't appeared to light the candle on their table. She leans back in the booth instead, letting the warm golden light flicker over her face. The trick works. Sulu leans forward, staring at her appreciatively, though still more at her face than her neck line.
"You really are beautiful."
The correct response is thank you, but she chooses the truth again: "I know."
"I'll bet you do." He smiles, but his face turns serious again quickly. She knows he is still thinking about her past, and it takes all her self-control to keep her face elegant and relaxed while she worries about what he will say next.
"Can I ask how you escaped?"
The frank admiration in his voice warms her. She does not like to speak of her captivity, but the story of her freedom is one she likes to share.
Slowly, she lifts the lacy sleeve of her shirt, exposing the thick and jagged scar that runs the length of her forearm. Relief floods her body when the air hits her skin. She has hidden this for so long; to reveal it requires her to explain how she got it and why she kept it, and to tell the story of her escape requires her to share the story of her enslavement as well. She can see it now for the trap it is: if she refuses to claim her suffering, she must also hide her triumph over it.
Sulu's eyes rake across the jagged line of burnt flesh like he's trying to memorize it. "They did this to you? And you got away anyway?"
"Yes." She wants to appear strong, so she lifts her chin, making herself look as regal as possible. "There were five men between me and the ship that brought me to freedom, and I had no weapons. Their phasers were made to burn straight down to the bone. They wanted us to be marked for life if we tried to escape. So they could find us again."
"Or they wanted you hurt so badly you'd die."
His fingers brush the edge of the scar. "You wanted to keep this." It's not a question; he isn't asking why she didn't fix herself. She can hear what he isn't saying: that the mark is beautiful.
"The Federation doctors offered me a skin graft, but I turned it down. I won't forget who I am." She doesn't tell him that she'd wanted a physical mark of her freedom to accompany the mental scars of captivity, but his fingers lock around hers, and she can tell her small admission is enough.
They walk home in comfortable silence with interlinked arms. When they reach her dorm room, he turns to face her, a hand on each of her arms, and murmurs, "so I guess this is good night." He leans in and she pulls him toward her, pressing her hips against his and kissing him with all the best tricks she'd learned at the pleasure station. She feels him harden against her, but still he pulls back, letting a few fingers trail through her hair as he goes. Gaila stares at the floor, too shamed by his rejection to feel angry. She had miscalculated; he will be kind to her, but he does not want to sleep with a whore. She does not look up again until she feels the gentle pressure of his fingers beneath her chin.
"Hey, don't be mad," he says softly, then smiles. "I'm not saying I didn't like that. I mean, I think it was pretty obvious I did." His eyes dance with laughter even though he isn't laughing, and she likes it.
"I just...I'm human. I want us to save something for later. Is that okay?"
She nods mutely. How novel, she thinks. Men do not ask her if what they want is okay. Even here, they say "baby, does that feel good?" or "tell me how you want to fuck me." They cannot coerce her, of course, but somehow their questions are not the same as his: is what I want okay with you?
Then he leans in for another kiss, a slow and chaste one that feels like it's an end in itself rather than a prelude to something else. Without meaning to, she sighs when he pulls away.
"Can I see you next Friday?" he asks.
"I would like that," she says truthfully.
It won't work for long, she knows. Perhaps he is less sheltered and naive than everyone else here, but he still fights for others' liberty without knowing what it's like to have none of his own. Maybe he's been poor, but he's never lived with nothing but the clothes on his back, and she can tell by the way he speaks of his father that he has always been rich in love. And these human men are all the same: they all demand monogamy, and she will never again allow anyone to claim her body as their own. But she has altered the course of her life more than once, and she will not squander her freedom by refusing to explore everything this world has to offer. Tonight she was wrong many times, and perhaps this one man is capable of more than she thought possible. Most importantly, she cannot -- and does not want to -- escape the knowledge that he thinks she is more beautiful because of her scars, and that he likes her better because she longs to fly. Maybe somehow that will be enough.