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Gaila sees the back of Jim's neck before she sees the rest of him because he has the seat in front of her in her mechanical engineering class. She likes him immediately, mostly for the way he smells, clean and well pressed. When he turns around to introduce himself he's all smooth Terran good looks and a sunny smile and she likes that too. She has a good feeling about him.

He looks her in the eye when he talks, like there's nothing strange about a green girl in an engineering class talking about mechanics and nothing else, and because he seems to think so the rest of the room agrees. It's all unspoken cues and the strange way that Terrans communicate with blinks and gestures and turned up noses when they don't have pheromones to guide their way, things Gaila isn't sure she would have figured her way through without Jim.

Maybe it's all those missing cues that make it take so long to realize that something is not right with him. The first time she even has an inkling is when they go drinking to celebrate the end of exams, she and he and a group of their friends, Nyota laughing with her hand on Gaila's shoulder, steady and sure, and Jim's McCoy grumbling in the way she's starting to interpret as laughter.

She doesn't even kiss him until McCoy's gone to the head and Nyota's getting their drinks refilled. It's easy -- their knees press together while he illustrates some point that's still nagging at him from one of the mechanics questions from his last final. His eyes are blue and bright and the scent of him is warmly familiar already. Gaila can't imagine why she hasn't kissed him before.

She cups his cheek and leans in easy. His mouth goes still-- warm and surprised under her tongue. He tastes of dark Terran beer, bitter and strong, like dank earth. It takes her a full moment to realize he isn't kissing her back and she pulls away quickly when she notices. His eyes are wide, excessively blue, and he's breathing fast and hard.

"Whoa," he blinks and scratches his head like he's dizzy. "I think I'm really drunk. I mean, really, because I wasn't expecting that at all." He shakes his head before she has a chance to get a word in. "I mean, I didn't think we were going there-- that you wanted to-- that. With me."

He doesn't smell like desire, not even the subtle scent of a race without true pheromone sensitivity, but he seems to catch his breath after a moment and then catches her hand where she's let it linger against his chin. He brushes his lips over her knuckles, a pretty, graceful gesture that would mean more if he were at ease.

"I'm sorry if--" she says, starts to say.

He laughs then, brittle and shallow in a way even she recognizes. "Hey," he says, and flutters his eyelashes in a gesture she's come to know is mock-flirtatious. "That's not a no. Haven't you heard the campus scuttlebutt, babe? I don't say no. Fuck, I was born ready to go, ask anyone."

Gaila shakes her head and draws back her hand. "Now you're making fun of me," she says, and he has the grace to look away which tells her it's true.

He bites his lower lip, white teeth sinking into pink skin. "Sorry," he mutters. "I'm not trying to be a dick, sometimes it just comes naturally. It's just... we're friends..."

There's a lot she wants to say, to ask, but then Nyota calls out to them, staggering under the weight of a drink tray she's probably planning to polish off herself if they're not claimed quickly enough and then McCoy slides into the seat next to Gaila a moment later and the moment's broken, out of reach. Gaila doesn't have the words to bring it back.

Jim's so smooth and easy the rest of the night after that, she'd never have guessed a thing was wrong, if she didn't know better. She just watches and tries not to wonder, not even when, not an hour later, he stumbles out the door on the arm of a trio of laughing Andorians. Jim raises his fist before he goes, laughing, and calling, "The party continues! In bed! I'll see you losers later."

McCoy rolls his eyes, Nyota mutters under her breath and Gaila just watches his retreating back, biting the end of her fingernail, an appalling habit she probably picked up from Jim. Well, if she can't ask Jim... "We're his friends, right? Did he ever fuck either of you?" she asks after a moment's pause.

McCoy spits out a mouthful of bourbon and Nyota blinks, like she's trying to figure out a punchline. "No," Nyota finally, says, after a long moment's hesitation. "Why do you ask?"

"Huh," Gaila mutters. "Have we ever met anyone he fucked, then? I mean, the morning after?"

McCoy's a funny shade of maroon, probably unhealthy for a human, but that makes him try to stop choking for a moment. Frown and finally purse his lips. "We aren't his parents. He doesn't have to introduce us to his one-nighters."

"Seriously. What are you getting at, Gaila?" Nyota leans forward. "It's not like he hasn't been trying with the three of us, right?"

Gaila shakes her head and closes her eyes. Terrans don't have sex to seal a friendship, not exactly, but this... this bears thinking about. For now, though, she polishes off another round and then sets her mind to cajoling Jim's doctor to dance. McCoy is all prickles on the outside, but when she drags him on the floor and kisses him he melts with the sweetest ease. His mouth is honey on the inside-- the opposite of Jim.

The next morning, no one says a thing, though, and she's not sure how to press or even what it is she's pressing for, not yet. She bides her time, tests out some theories and is satisfied when she lets Jim catch a glimpse of her with McCoy in the hall outside his room, kissing in the doorway, McCoy's sweet, grumbling voice soft in her ears.

Knows she's onto something when Jim gets easier around her after that, the last of the post-exam tension shifting out from under his skin like she's safe to have close to him again. All he ever says is a causal, grinning, "You and Bones, is that a thing? Maybe in the direction of a long term love?" He picks Orion Prime to ask her the question in, so the words have a resonance.

She answers him in easy Standard, because that's the language she thinks of McCoy in. "We're friends. He likes having someone to touch."

"Oh," he says and shakes his head, smiling as he does it. It seems there's nothing wrong in his mind with others being friends who touch. "That's too bad. I mean, I wouldn't mind if you and he-- you look good together."

She isn't sure, though, until a few months later when she decides it's time to see something on this world that isn't a city and Jim laughs and appoints himself tour guide. It's a relief to have him-- she's read the guidebooks backwards and forwards, but that will never change the fact she's space station born and bred and Terra is her first and only planet, even if it's not one that takes much surviving after centuries of high tech alterations to do everything from take the strain off the tectonic plates to regularize the weather. Inasmuch as a planet can be tamed, this one has.

Outside of the cities, it doesn't feel even a little bit tame. The noises-- it's never silent. There are creatures everywhere, non-sentient, but living all the same. Small enough to crawl into her hair, large enough to overturn their tent and didn't that give her a start-- she isn't sure why the universal translator isn't explaining the creature's cries to her until Jim comes laughing to shoo it away.

"If bear communication is organized enough to qualify as a language it's not one we've learned yet," he says lightly while she steadies herself, too excited to be scared, really. "I'll have to let the park rangers know there's one wandering around here, though. And then let's fix the tent and then... hey want to go fishing?"

"That's a form of trapping non-sentient animal protein for consumption, right?" She claps her hands. She's tried animal protein before-- it's popular in San Francisco restaurants, if less so in the Academy mess where many species find it mildly abhorrent. "I have read about it, and yes, I'd like to try it."

His smile is sunny-sweet. "Awesome," he says. "It's lots of hurry up and wait, but I bet you'll like it, you're the patient type. We'll go tomorrow, once we're all set up."

The day goes along brightly, but the night is... not surprising. Jim dreams badly. He knows it too, he warns her, with a wink and a nod. "I get weird ass dreams," he says, like it's nothing. "I don't really move around or anything, but if I get loud and it gets on your nerves, just whack me with a pillow until I wake up. That's what my roommate Gary does."

She nods and expects something, maybe even hopes he'll be one of the Terrans who speaks in their sleep. He doesn't-- he cries instead. Low, soft weeping that's strangely akin to the animal noises that come in through the thin tent walls. His cheeks are wet, bright in the pale moonlight, and he curls his knees against his chest.

If Gary hit Jim with a pillow when he was like this she... feels a certain violence about that. There isn't a convenient outlet for that, though, so she settles for acting on impulse. When she'd first come to Terra, newly shorn of clan-marks and slave-marks, shivering and fresh and there'd been a woman, a silver haired human who spoke to her of a granddaughter with eyes the same color as Gaila's. She'd woken Gaila from a nightmare with a kiss on her forehead, warm and soft, unscented by lust. A Terran gesture, a peaceful one.

Gaila repeats it now, careful and delicate, pressing her lips to the warm, damp skin of Jim's forehead. He twitches and whimpers underneath her, still caught up in the dream. "It's me," she whispers, first in Standard, then Orion Prime, the second seeming to settle him more. "Your friend Gaila. You're safe here." She doesn't know if he hears her, but the sounds he makes quiet and when she presses her palm against his hand, his fingers curl around hers tightly.

She doesn't remember falling asleep, but when she wakes up there's sunlight streaming in, bright and almost uncomfortably warm. It softens the lines of Jim's face and brightens his hair to gold. His eyes are open, blue and bright, and he's watching her like he's been doing it for a long time.

Their fingers are still curled together. Hers feel cramped and numb, but she doesn't so much as twitch to pull away.

"Wanna know a lame secret?" he asks. His voice is soft and hoarse, but there's something tender in it that makes her heart twist. She nods, not trusting her clumsy tongue and clumsier command of Terran etiquette. He smiles at her and she wants to touch his mouth, pink and sweet looking, with the prickles of stubble around it. "Remember when you said you and Bones-- that you were with each other because you were friends? I thought that was... I thought that was cool. I never fuck-- never was with anyone who, I mean, you know. Someone who was my friend before we fucked. Or after. Or at all."

She nods again, firmly, as if he wasn't just confirming a guess. "If you want," she says, slowly, carefully. "My... offer is open."

He bites his lower lip, sucking it in between his teeth. His eyelids flutter closed. "I liked kissing you," he says, without opening his eyes.

She feels her lips stretch, smiling. "Agreed," she murmurs. This time, when she slides her thumb along his cheek, feeling the prickles of stubble and the sweet warmth of skin, he glides up to meet her. The kiss starts slow at first, warm and unpressured. His mouth tastes sour, morning bacteria, she knows, but the softening scent of him as his nerves settle into ease more than makes up for it.

They kiss again, between bare pauses for breathe. His free hand is in her hair, stroking, slow and unsteady. She can feel it tremble. They're not naked and she doesn't move to make them so-- she's seen his body bare before, or next to it in his swim trunks, but this is closer, more intimate, even through the layers of shirt and shorts and underwear they both slept in.

She does think about what it would be like to slide her hand under his sleep shorts, cup his ass and tug him close enough to feel his cock. She can feel the heat of his hip, has been with enough Terran men to know without looking that he's hard and shaking with it. Then he moves, or she does, and his knees are bony and tight, pressing into her thighs when he curls in against her.

And even so, it's just more kisses, sweet and then rough and then sweet again, easing into something painfully slow, until finally her lips are sore and tender and his are a swollen red that she wants to slip her fingers into, but doesn't. Instead they watch each other, wide eyed and panting, shaky with teased out arousal. Their closed in space stinks of it.

"Let's go down to the creek and wash up," he suggests, words a whisper of breath into her hair. She nods tightly and watches him stumble to his feet. He's hard and there's a wet place where his cock is pressed against the gray fabric of his shorts. She licks her lips, feeling the swollen ache of them, heavy and pleasant. He smiles and offers her his hand.

She's wet herself, her thighs are slippery with it, and she hums with the steady undertone of want. They don't touch on the way to the creek, other than their hands. Even there, they separate-- Jim tosses her a bar of soap and cloth and then lets her go. "Wash up," he says, and kisses her cheek. She watches the tight curve of his ass under his shorts while he walks away, around the bend and out of sight to wash himself.

The creek water is shockingly cold when she dips her toes in, cold enough to make her shriek and wonder what in any star's name would cause anyone to bathe in untemperature controlled water voluntarily. Not cold enough to quench the ache between her legs, not when she finally quiets herself and listens. Listens to the rush of running water and the animal life and everything new and strange and beautiful.

When she listens hard enough, she can hear Jim's faint, breathy moans, the sound carried to her by wind and water. If she closes her eyes, she can imagine him taking himself in hand, the curl of his pale, graceful fingers over his cock.

She can hear him, can hear herself when she leans against the bank and slides her legs apart, her fingers pressing in like she imagines Jim's would. "Jim," she whispers, teasing her clit and licking her lips to taste the traces of his mouth on hers all over again.

"Gaila," his voice echos, but she can't tell if it's really the sound of him over the water or just a gorgeous fantasy. It doesn't matter, she comes slippery and wet, gasping for air.

They meet up again at the campsite a little while later. He's damp and pink, fresh scrubbed his teeth chattering from the chill of the water. "Thanks for putting up with my crazy shit," he says, with a rueful smile, like this is some kind of imposition. "I owe you."

She laughs at that, shaking her head, water dripping from her curls. "Your crazy shit is shit hot," she informs him cheerfully. Then she takes on of his offered hands and slides their fingers together. The skin is icy, but warms under her touch. "You don't owe me your body, Jim," she adds a moment later, the thought that he might think he does only then striking her. "It's a gift, not a barter."

They hadn't told her that in so many words, not when she first came to this strangely beautiful world. It's something she wishes they had, but maybe they just assumed she must know? Jim, though, he laughs and shakes his head. "It's not like that, you make me sound like some knee-knocking virgin or something, and I gotta tell you, my actual virgin ship sailed a long time ago," he says. "It's just... I feel like I'm the one getting the gift here."

"And you will reward me right back," she says smoothly, grinning. "By showing me fishing."

He smirks and nods and they don't speak of it again. She doesn't wish to embarrass him with declarations.

For a time, they let it rest as if they spoken about it together and agreed to do just that. If she imagines his lips, swollen and sweet and the sound of his moans when she touches herself, well, there's no one to say she can't. She likes to think he does the same.

Then there's his first time on the Kobayashi Maru, and things are upended once again. Nyota tells her about it, head shaking and tongue clucking as if that hides her worry. "I don't think Kirk took it well," she says. "Though I'm not sure what he expected-- the thing is legendary, no one gets out intact. No one is supposed to."

Gaila nods and thinks about it. "Do you know where he went?" she asks.

Nyota can only shrug. "He ran out after the evals— ducking McCoy, I think, but don't quote me on that. McCoy will take care of him if he can find him."

"Yes, that sounds right," Gaila says with a nod. If he can find him. But Jim's doctor is good at doctoring, not finding lost people that might like being lost. Gaila on the other hand...

"You really like him, don't you?" Nyota asks and her voice is gone gentle, soft. Her eyes are so understanding, Gaila could kiss her. And after barely a moment's pause, she does, warm and open mouthed, startling a smile out of her best friend.

"We're two of the same, sometimes," Gaila says lightly, like that explains it.

Nyota sighs and rubs the bridge of her nose. "He's— I'm not going to say he's a bad guy, but he isn't known for pulling off so much as a two night stand. Is that what all you want from him?"

Gaila shakes her head. "I want to be his first time," she says, knowing Nyota won't understand what that means. "Listen, I have to go, he could be anywhere. I'll see you later, okay?"

"Stay safe!" Nyota calls after her and Gaila nods and turns around just long enough to wave and blow a kiss.

She finds Jim in an off-campus bar. Not one of the usual haunts of off-duty cadets either. The place is as close as any place on Earth she remembers to having the aura of one of the stations where she was raised. Something rank in the air, desperate.

Jim's in a corner, slumped between two humans that look close to his age. One is a man, large, with a shaved head and an empty smile. The other is a woman with dyed yellow hair, dressed in badly cut synthetics. She's leaning over, like she's whispering something in Jim's ear. Her hand is resting on the crotch of his jeans, steady and possessive.

"Gaila," Jim says. "I-- I mean— hi!" He flushes like he's been caught at something and she has to shake her head.

She just smiles at him, gently, to show she is not engaging in the human ritual of possessive jealousy. Merely concern. "Hello," she says. "I will wait until you're finished here, if you like?"

"Um." He blinks. His cheeks are still a rosy pink and she's not sure if it's embarrassment or alcohol coloring them. "You don't need to, I'm good," he says.

"I'll be here, Jim," she says. "Right at that table."

And so she is, waiting patiently with a drink of something sour and strong while various humans in brightly colored clothes come to speak with her as if she is something new and wonderful in their world. She is happy enough to pass the time until Jim stumbles over. He smells of heavy sex and liquor and there are bruises on his mouth and wrists.

"I want to go home," he says and the words slur. She nods, says goodbye to her new friends and lets Jim sling a heavy arm over her shoulder, leaning on her hard as they step outside into the evening. "I'm sorry," he mumbles. "For being a pain in the ass, I mean."

Gaila shrugs and props him up against a lamp post while she comms for a cab. "You aren't," she says, once she's done. "When I came to this world, to the Academy, I hadn't... I hadn't fucked someone who I considered a friend, either. I know what it's like to feel like that." She leans over to brush a knuckle over his cheek, carefully avoiding a yellow and green bruise to make the gesture. "I didn't like it."

Jim's mouth quirks. When he speaks he's blunt, easy. "I wasn't a slave. Those people aren't... you know, forcing me. I don't have that kind of excuse." His face is as open as a freshly slapped young child's.

Gaila can only shake her head. "Facts aren't excuses. They're facts." She doesn't ask what happened to him, what put the fear into him. She doesn't like answering those questions herself, hates all the bastards who think they can guess.

The cab arrives and she bundles him inside. She could take him back to the Academy, but between roommates, dormmates and noise in the hallways, she's likely to lose him to distraction. He doesn't object when she takes him to a hotel room instead, a small but immaculately clean bed and breakfast painted in candy pastels on top of a ridiculously steep hill.

"I'm still really, really drunk," he says, like she hasn't noticed the stink and the way his feet don't seem to want to stay under him. "It's gonna suck in the morning."

She nods and eases him down on the bed. "I'll get you some water and a hangover pill," she says. She hesitates, brushing a piece of short hair off his forehead until he blinks and smiles at her.

"You're the best," he mumbles when she brings him a glass and puts it into his hand. He swallows the water easily enough, but hesitates at the pill. "This will sober me up. If you brought me here to fuck me it will be easier if we wait..."

Gaila sighs and presses it into his palm until he takes it. There are bruises on his knuckles and blood under his fingernails, like he fought someone before letting them bring him down. She doesn't ask if that was one of the same people he fucked. "You probably had enough of that for one night," she says instead and smiles to take any sting out of it.

She kneels down to help him with his boots, feeling the weight of his gaze and the scent of him, still alcohol muddled but the sweetness and confusion underneath coming through. His jeans go off afterward and she presses a kiss on the top of each of his knees while he watches her, breath loud and unsteady.

She tilts up her head to smile at him. "Sleep now?" she asks and he let out another breath, even louder, but thick with relief, and nods. She pulls the covers over him and tucks them in around him, humming an old lullaby in Orion Prime.

He catches her wrist when she starts to pull away. "Stay," he says, and his eyes are blue and clear. She nods and slides under the covers next to him. She doesn't expect to fall asleep, her flesh practically sings with tension, but somehow she does.

He wakes her just before dawn, hands pressing into her shoulder. "Gaila," he says. "Gaila. Listen."

She stifles a yawn and a glare to turn over and look at him. "Listening," she mumbles. "What?"

"The Maru," he says. "If I'd been commanding a ship for real... I'd have lost everyone. All hands. Everyone. Total failure."

A new yawn forces itself through even while she's shaking her head. "That's what the Maru is. Everyone fails," she tells him. "That's what it's for."

"No," he whispers. "I can't. I can't fail." There's something gleaming in his eyes, something she can see even in the dim light. He kisses her before she gets the chance to figure out what.

There's no clumsy in this kiss, no hesitation, it's dead stop to warp seven and go, sweet tongue and wet mouth. "I can do this," he says. "It's not supposed to be so fucking hard."

She wants to tell him it's not a test and hell yes at least one part of him is supposed to be hard, that's the point, but she can't even get the joke out when he's kissing her again. Her nerves are humming pleasantly, pheromones coming awake and online and she wants, she wants him, has for so long. She aches. There's no word in her dialect of Orion for brother, not a woman's brother, and all of the words for dear friend have a female inflection. These Terran men, they make her wish for the words. This one especially.

"Come on," she says, between kisses. She strokes his back, hands sliding under his shirt. She's seen the scars that mar the clean lines of his skin, but this is the first time she's ever touched them. He shivers in her hands.

He's not hard and a part of her, a loud part, wants to tell him to let it go, relax, there will be other times, but he won't and it feels like he can't. There's something screwed tight behind his eyes and he keeps kissing her, fingers gliding over her skin. His touch is on the borderline between too gentle and a tease, but even in that he's relentless.

He strips off her shirt and then his mouth is on her breast, moist through her bra, then on her bare skin when they manage to unstrap it and get it away between the two of them. His mouth on her nipples feels even better and he seems to know exactly where to touch, like he can smell the desire on her. The press of his mouth, indentation of his nose, warm, slow touch of his palms and fingers.

She has Jim Kirk's complete, undivided attention. It's terrifying, like standing in the path of a solar flare. He's whispering to her, all nonsense. She looks up at him, at the unending, relentless blue of his eyes and she wants... she wants it not to be like this, a fucking Maru, a challenge he won't let himself lose. She turns her cheek to press her lips against the heel of his hand the second it comes into reach.

"Don't worry," she whispers. Her mind scrambles for phrases, guidance, cultural cues, something that will help. "I'll still respect you in the morning."

"Um. Okay?" He blinks, and just like that, his mouth curls and then he's laughing. Bright and loud and breathing out of control, but the sound of it makes her smile in return. Like it's shattering the tension, and suddenly he's just Jim again, her dear friend.

She winds her arms around his neck and he comes to her, still laughing, muttering, "Respect me in the morning, that's good, I like that," under his breath, until finally she's had enough and just reaches her hand into his boxers and puts her hand on his cock.

His eyes are wide and his mouth is honey sweet to the taste while she strokes him, even and steady. "What about you, Jim? Will you respect me in the morning?" she demands, smirking just a little when his breath hitches as he finally, finally hardens under her touch.

"Yeah," he whispers. "You bet your sweet ass."

"Deal," she says, and kisses him hard enough to bruise to seal it. "I'll have you every way there is."

They don't manage every way, but she thinks they make a good try of it. She falls asleep after, snuggled under the covers that smell like him and her and the thing they are together. She can feel the curve of his smile against her skin, bright and true.

They have weeks, not months, before a Romulan black ship will send the world mad, but neither of them know it. But, she won't be surprised when she comes stumbling home, bruised and starved from a limping voyage on an escape shuttle only to find him, hero and madman, the savior of Earth who almost got his walking papers from the Academy, curled up asleep on her bed.

He'll have his face buried in her pillow, just like tonight, like he can breathe her in.