She's halfway across campus on her way back from her last exam when she sees Jim Kirk again.
It's the first time they've crossed paths in person since he'd stumbled out the door of her quarters with a "Gaila, see you around" and one last pass at Uhura; somehow, during all the action aboard the Enterprise, they'd never once run into each other. She'd been hip deep in repair work every time he'd passed through her section, and he'd never taken her reports directly. Luckily for him.
"Gaila! Hey," he greets her, all merry blue eyes and open grin as though nothing has changed between them. The jerk. She waits until he catches up with her, then raises a hand and slaps him squarely across his smug face.
It turns out a cadet with only novice fighting skills can surprise the IA for Advanced Hand-to-Hand Combat, if she manages to catch him sufficiently off guard. He rocks back a step, jaw dropping, and reaches up to touch his stinging cheek. "Ow!"
"Jim. Hey," she replies sweetly, baring her teeth at him.
"What was that for?" he whines, expression entirely too hurt and innocent for her peace of mind.
He's like a puppy sometimes, he really is; she almost feels bad for putting that expression on his face. Almost. But this time, he really, really deserves it.
"The Kobayashi Maru?" Gaila prompts him, crossing her arms and raising her chin a little.
"Oh, that." His eyes widen comically as the decicredit drops, but he still doesn't look nearly guilty enough to assuage her indignation.
He glances around at the cadets gathering around them-- it's not as though everyone on campus hadn't noticed Jim before, but ever since the Enterprise's return the frequent glances had turned into fascinated stares. Gaila lets him take her elbow and hustle her off the path behind a convenient tree; not that she necessarily minds everyone knowing she's angry with him, but this is a little public for even her tastes, and they are officers now with reputations to protect. Technically.
Once they're vaguely screened from general view, Jim lets go of her hastily and raises both hands, palms out, between them. "Look, I'm sorry if you caught any flak for that," he begins, not even trying to deny what he'd done, "but in my defense, getting the sim lab's access codes was not the first thing on my mind when you jumped me and dragged me in there."
Right. It might make a change from hints about Orion slave girl costumes and insulting questions about her pheromones, but Gaila's heard that tone of voice from a lot of people over the years, and she's having none of it. It isn't the sex that's bothering her; she'd come to terms with the difference between the polyamory of her native culture and the restrictions most of the Federation's member races placed upon themselves long ago. It's the condescension. She'd really thought that wouldn't be a problem with this man, whose sexual behavior had seemed much more comprehensible to her than most.
"And I'm just supposed to believe that? You know how I feel about humans treating me like the color of my skin means I joined Starfleet specifically to serve them!"
To his credit, Jim looks completely horrified at her assertion. "That wasn't it at all!" he yelps. "Okay, so maybe I should have gone back and got the codes some other way, or at least told you what I was doing. But that's not why I was dating you."
If he's not sincere, his acting abilities are pretty damn convincing. With Jim, it could go either way. Gaila hangs on to her anger by her fingernails, and stares at him, unbending.
He stares back, then wilts a little more and adds apologetically, "Not only why I was dating you."
"I knew it," she hisses viciously.
Jim opens his mouth to say something more, then pauses and shifts languages. "You know who my father was," he says, abruptly, in her native tongue.
Gaila blinks. "Everyone knows who your father was," she replies, wondering what that had to do with anything. The destruction of the Kelvin had happened four years before she was born, long before she'd been sold to a non-Orion trader and given her freedom, but George Kirk's face had cropped up in every recruitment message, every funding request for advanced military research, and every Starfleet memo about the Romulans for the better part of the last twenty-five years.
"Right," he nods, grimly. It occurs to her suddenly that she can't recall Jim ever speaking of his father before; what must facing George Kirk's killer have been like for him?
"So you know all about people who look at you and see only what they want you to be."
"It's not the same thing," Gaila protests, but her indignation is already fading.
"I know that," he says, his voice rough. "But you have no idea how many people approach me just because of my last name. Because I'm the brilliant bad boy with the famous dead father and they think that if they're just understanding enough, they can change me into their idea of a perfect hero."
"That doesn't seem to stop you from sleeping with them," she sniffs.
Jim's serious expression lifts at that. "What, are you kidding me? Does it ever stop you?" A ghost of his usual smirk flits across his face before he shakes his head and continues. "The point is, you're smart, you're fun, and teasing aside, you never expected me to be anyone but Jim, who never expected anything more of you. You have no idea how much I appreciated that."
Gaila almost laughs; no, it never stopped her, though there have definitely been sexual partners with whom one experiment was more than enough. Still. "You're not helping your case any, talking about it in the past tense," she points out. "You don't need my codes anymore, so you don't want me any more, either?"
"Uh. Is there a way to answer that question that doesn't involve you slapping me again?" he asks, raising his eyebrows in alarm.
"No, I don't think there is," she says with relish.
"Think of it this way," he hastens to add, shifting back from Orion Prime to Federation Standard. "If it hadn't been for you, I'd never have been called up for cheating-- you're the one who told them how I got in, right?"
Gaila nods firmly, still feeling no guilt about that. He might have patched things up with Commander Spock since and talked him into dropping the charges, and okay, so Jim might even have earned an official break in light of everything, but he still deserved some kind of punishment; that was why she'd been so furious in the first place.
"I don't blame you," he continues earnestly. "And I mean that. Because if they hadn't called the assembly, they'd never have put me on academic suspension; Bones would never have smuggled me aboard, because I'd have been tactical officer on the Farragut; and I wouldn't have been on the Enterprise to convince Captain Pike we were warping into a trap." He pauses then, and grins at her, smugly. "So really, it's down to you that we survived to save the world."
Gaila stares at him for a long moment, caught off guard by that assertion.
"I'm not kidding, Gaila," Jim continues. "Thank you. Oh! And by the way--" his eyes light up with an unfamiliar spark, "--great job in Engineering. Scotty said you really held things together down there before he showed up; I made sure to mention that in my debriefing."
And what can she say to that, either? A burst of exasperated affection wells up inside her.
They haven't had official word yet of what their orders will be after their formal graduation, but Gaila hopes, suddenly and fiercely, that they're both posted back aboard Enterprise.
Not that she's going to completely forgive him anytime soon. But it's a possibility, now. Gaila smiles, feeling as though a weight's been lifted from her shoulders. "Thanks, but I was just doing my job."
He grins back at her, the same expression he'd worn when he greeted her; the same expression Jim Kirk always seems to wear when he wants the universe to bask in his joy.