Nyota checked the casualty reports as soon as she came off shift. She knew too many names; too many classmates had received emergency assignments in the race to save Vulcan, and too few had been posted on the Enterprise. The list was thousands of names long, but she read through them numbly until she reached PARKINS, ROBERT – CADET. SERVING ON U.S.S. FARRAGUT, PRESUMED DECEASED. Rob was her competition in the xenolinguistics and communications track. Sickeningly, she realized that as she had pridefully demanded Spock
place her on the flagship, she had sentenced Rob Parkins to his death.
Her name should have been thirty-eighth from the bottom, between UBRA, PENN and VASQUEZ, ISABELA. She put her padd down on her desk, the casualty list still open, presenting the glaring absence of her name amidst her peers.
As a senior officer, she had her own quarters. She had been glad to come to a place of her own (bare as it may be), rather than try to seek solitude in the four person bunks yeomen shared. Even one stranger sharing her room would be too many.
The only roommate she'd ever been able to stand was — Nyota snatched her padd again, scrolling up, and burst into tears when she found that GABLE, NEVAEH and GALE, TIMOTHY were uninterrupted. She sat on her bed, covering her mouth, unable to keep the strangled sound of aborted sobbing inside her throat.
It was unstoppable; a torrent of gladness and grief, terror and joy. She mourned for her classmates, for Spock's breakdown, for a world she had wanted to become her home, but what burned brightest in her chest was that, at least for today, she did not need to cry for the loss of Gaila's bright blue eyes.
Nyota sat next to Lieutenant Scott during breakfast, and the strange man should not have reminded her of Gaila. He was too human (although his brogue twisted Standard into patterns she wanted to study,) too plain (except when he smiled and his eyes caught the light,) and too absorbed with himself (except when McCoy said something about needing a drink, Scott immediately handed him a flask and told him not to bother with returning it.)
But his words, his obsession with the warp drive and transporter systems, brought an ache to her heart. She found herself noting that he had a bit of red in his hair (ginger, he called it), not much, not bright, not curls down his back, but she wanted to run her hands over it, all the same.
On the bridge, she finished decoding a Klingon transmission and turned to give the translation to Kirk. He was flashing a smile at McCoy — a real smile, not a hint of manipulation — and Nyota's stomach lurched. She'd only seen authentic on Kirk once, three weeks before on the campus lawn. Gaila and Nyota were studying when Kirk walked by, chewing on his lip. Gaila wolf-whistled, and when he turned to them, she'd pointed at Nyota. Nyota flushed and prepared to pull Kirk down to size, but he only smiled, big and unabashedly, and pointed back to Gaila.
Nyota straightened her back and gave the report, trying, but failing, to keep the bite out of her tone. Kirk thanked her, and Nyota turned back to her console with a short nod.
Gaila had been in love with Kirk, and Nyota hated him. She hated that he thought of other people as conquests, as means to an end. She hated that, while she excelled by hard work, Kirk excelled by simply existing. She hated him for beating Spock's test and for breaking Spock's control. She hated his charisma, his good looks, the way everyone fell for him.
She hated him because Gaila came dancing into their room after a date, reeking of latex, beer, and pheromones. Gaila stripped, showered, crawled into her bunk, smooth skin covered by a thin sheet, and whispered about how happy she was. She hated Kirk because he reached out and took what she was afraid to desire.
It took them eight days to fly home — eight days of forced companionship during shifts and numbing isolation after — and Nyota found herself spending her free time with a harp in hand, singing love songs in the smaller of the two rec rooms. Crew members from all ranks and shifts would come in and sit for a song, sometimes joining in, sometimes talking quietly with friends, sometimes weeping. The last night before they were due home, Spock, Kirk, and McCoy walked in together and sat shoulder to shoulder around a table. They were exhausted, even Spock slumping. McCoy made a joke and Kirk grinned; Spock answered with something that made McCoy guffaw and cover his mouth.
Spock turned his attention to Nyota, and she inclined her head in acknowledgement. He knew she was not singing for him. Songs were superfluous; when the universe fell apart and their hearts broke, his with grief and hers for joy, they had tempered each other and brought themselves to balance. There were no secrets between them; she was as free to sing love songs to Gaila as he was to place his hand on McCoy's and his leg against Kirk's.
The senior officers were the last to shuttle down, and they were met by a rush of friends and family. Nyota stood back with Kirk, McCoy, and Spock; although people came to congratulate or thank them, no one claimed them or pulled them away. Nyota stood on tiptoes, searching the crowd for red, green, and blue, but finally fell back on her heels.
Kirk put a hand on her shoulder, and Nyota didn't shrug it off. Instead, she hugged him in thanks. Ignoring his protest and McCoy's laughter, she nodded to Spock and slipped into the crowd.
She fought through the mass of people and struggled to hold herself to a walk on the way back to her dorm. She was so focused on finding Gaila that she screamed when arms encircled her waist and curls brushed against her cheek.
Nyota scrambled and turned to find Gaila, beautiful, warm, and alive. Gaila was talking, but blood was rushing so loudly in Nyota's ears she didn't know what language Gaila was speaking, much less what she meant. She stumbled forward to wrap her arms around her friend, and Gaila returned the fierce embrace.
It was easy to turn and press a kiss to her cheek, easy to turn a little more and kiss her full on the mouth. Gaila gasped, but didn't pull away; instead, she drew Nyota closer. She opened her mouth and Nyota slid inside. She closed her eyes, letting her tongue, lips, breasts, and hands feel the truth of Gaila in front of her.
Gaila was panting, and Nyota pulled back to press closed mouthed kisses to her lower lip. Someone whistled, and Nyota twisted her fingers through Gaila's to lead her to their room and tell her, with words and body,
I'm glad you're here.
I missed you.
I love you.