gaila: fight's losing me

Fic: Five Times Gaila and Sulu Saved Each Other - 1/2

Title: Five Times Gaila and Sulu Saved Each Other
Rating: PG-13
Characters & Pairings: Gaila/Sulu, Uhura, Kirk, Number One
Summary: Even tough, independent people need saving once in awhile. Gaila and Sulu save each other from fears and insecurities, tarantulas and Starfleet ration bars, failed simulations and lost promotions. And space pirates. Twice.
Notes: for katmarajade at where_no_woman's New Year Exchange
Word Count: 12,000 total, about 6,000 in this post


One: The Pit of Spiders
Gaila and Sulu meet because of a pit of tarantulas.

It's their first real mission simulation, and they've been told to expect complications. No one was really surprised when their shuttle crashed halfway to their proposed destination, leaving their mission leader dead in the pilot's seat. Gaila is 99% sure he's actually just sleeping – and probably taking notes about their performance when they aren't looking – but she does give him bonus points for being able to lie exceptionally still for a long time. She also gives herself several bonus points for not actually poking him with a stick, or suggesting that any of their crew do the same.

Luckily, or maybe unluckily, she has a distraction. Someone – she couldn't really see who – has just kicked their only spare stabilizer into a very dark hole. The whole team goes silent, listening to it clatter against the rocks. It falls for a really, really long time.

Gaila grabs a flashlight from the emergency kit. Given enough time, she could probably rig a replacement, but it would have to be salvaged from somewhere else on the ship, and shuttles don't have a lot of parts that weren't important. Not to mention that they don't have nearly enough water to sit around and wait for her to improvise a blowtorch and weld something.

She shines the flashlight deeper into the hole. She catches a glint of metal that has to be the stabilizer. Probably it's not even damaged; it was made to withstand the force of atmospheric re-entry. Now if she could just figure out what's crawling all over it.

“Olsen!” she shouts at the big, dense-looking engineer she thinks kicked the stabilizer into the hole. Not that she'd ever know for sure; her crew was sticking together, determined to protect the guilty party. She gestures down the hole with the flashlight.

“What are those?”

“Tarantulas, sir. We don't have them at home, but I've seen pictures.”

Tarantula. She rolls the word around in her brain, trying to summon a definition. It won't come.

“What are those? No, wait, I don't care. Are they dangerous?”

“Not to my knowledge, sir. They bite, but it's not very toxic.”

“Okay, then. Get the rope from the emergency kit.” She looks around at her crew. “One of you is going down that hole.”

Olsen is practically jumping up and down with eagerness, and Gaila is suddenly glad that humans don't seem to pick up on Orion gestures of derision.

“Don't be stupid,” she snaps. She thinks it's a pretty tall order for him. “There is no way you will fit into that hole.”

She eyes the rest of her crew. She has a spare pilot and a doctor. And herself, but she doesn't count. Her gaze drifts wistfully to the exposed engine. She'd love to get her hands on it, or to go down the hole and find out what exactly a tarantula is, but apparently captains don't do real work; they just order other people to fix things and explore places. If only she hadn't gotten the highest score on that test last week, she wouldn't be the ranking officer, and she could explore the pit of tarantulas on her own...

But no, that's not an option. Captains can't risk themselves. Or their only medical officers. That makes her choice easy.

“Sulu!” she shouts. “Come crawl into this pit of tarantulas.”

“Sir?”

He looks kind of white under his California suntan.

“The stabilizer. It's down there. I need you to get it.”

“Right.”

He steps a little closer to her, looking over his shoulder as if he doesn't want anyone to overhear whatever he's about to say.

“Sir. There's a bit of a problem.” His voice is almost a whisper. A tarantula crawls toward his boot and he jumps hastily away. “See, uh, I'm kind of afraid. Of the spiders, I mean.”

“Oh.” Gaila nods like she understands, even though she doesn't. She thought humans liked small fuzzy things, like kittens and rabbits. The tarantulas were smaller than even very small kittens, so it seems like they should be even cuter. But she can ask him about that later. Now she needs a stabilizer.

She knows what her command book would tell her to say: Well, Cadet, I don't give a shit about your problems. We need a stabilizer, and you're the only one who can get it, so suck it up and get down there. Problem is, she doesn't much agree with the command book; she's just been repeating it so she can get her grade. But their “dead” instructor is too far away to hear them, and she's decided that first place is overrated anyway. If she weren't in first place, she'd be down in a tarantula pit right now.

She steps closer so she can whisper too.

“I'll help you, okay? We'll lower you down on a rope, and I'll talk to you while you're down there. But you know you have to go, right? I'll flunk if I go because the captain is supposed to stay up here and be useless and direct things, and you'll flunk if you don't go because you're supposed to do things and be useful.”

He smiles at that, and she smiles back. She'd thought she'd like being in charge, but she's starting to think she likes equality more.

“Now, I'm going to make up something stupid for Olsen to do on the other side of the shuttle so you can have some privacy while you go down there. You get the rope and start making a harness.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Gaila. Just Gaila.”

Five minutes later, Sulu is poised at the edge of the hole, wearing a harness and a rope.

“Lower me down there on the count of three, okay?” he says. She must have looked a little too eager because he adds, “ Slowly. I want to go down slowly.”

“Okay,” she says, because she's in charge and she can do what she wants, including breaking promises to people who don't know what's in their own best interest. And then she drops him into the hole on the count of one because getting scary things over fast is better for everyone.

“Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck yoooooooooooooooooooooou!”

Sulu's voice sounds hollow and sort of ghostly as he falls in, but the message is clear Gaila leans over the hole and smiles sweetly.

“That's not a bad idea!” she shouts down the hole. She's not being funny – she'll probably need an orgasm by the end of this day – but she hears Sulu's laughter echoing around the pit before it trails off into strangled noises that sound vaguely like “Gah! Spider!”

“There are a lot of spiders,” she agrees, swinging her flashlight beam around the hole since Sulu seems to have lost fine motor control. As soon as she finds the stabilizer, she shouts, “Pick that up right now, soldier, or you'll be stuck in the tarantula pit forever.”

“Fuck you!” he shouts up at her again.

“That line is getting kind of old!” she yells back.

He lunges for the stabilizer and waves it triumphantly in the air. She hoists him up as fast as she can, and he leaps out of the pit, brushing a tarantula out of his hair disinterestedly.

“I don't think I'm afraid of spiders anymore,” he says. “But you owe me a drink anyway.”

She twirls a few of the silky black strands between her fingers. He's cute.

“Yeah, I think I do.”

Two: Peanut Butter Ration Bars and the Wrong Major
Two months, six dates and uncountable booty calls later, Gaila and Sulu are lost in the woods. It's not terrible, Gaila thinks. They had found a nice little cabin to stay in, and they have food, even if it is just ration bars. Of course, they are going to flunk the sim because they should have been back hours and hours ago because they should have another team for directions when their satellite guidance went out but how could they have possibly known that asking Jim Kirk for help would be a good idea? She shouldn't mind, except that she would lose her first place ranking, which she wasn't exactly enjoying, but if she had it, the smart thing was to keep it...

And then she gags.

“Are you alright?” Sulu leans toward her, rifling through their backpack for the med kit with one hand while he peers at her with worried eyes.

"I just...what's the expression? Threw up in my mouth a little?"

She looks around for the sources of the stench and spots a collection of ration bars neatly arrayed on the floor. She points at them accusingly.

"They're peanut butter."

She shudders involuntarily, thinking of the way the thick globs of peanut butter will cling to the roof of her mouth so that she'll taste it all night. Sulu winces sympathetically.

"I guess they don't make Orion ration packs, huh?"

"Nope. They told me I'd have to eat whatever I got unless it was toxic to me."

"Yeah, they tell the human cadets that too. But somehow we never get the dehydrated plomeek soup." Sulu looks genuinely pained. “Gaila, I'm sorry. If I hadn't taken us on that shortcut, we probably would have been home by now.”

“And if I had asked Jim for directions, we'd be home too. We both messed up tonight.”

“But you're the one who won't have anything to eat.”

“It's not so bad. I've been hungrier than this before, you know. At least we've got four walls and a roof and two potential window exits in case of emergency. And I know you won't steal my shit in the middle of the night. This is not the worst situation I've been in. Not by a long shot.”

Sulu looks at her askance at that, but he doesn't press her for more information, which she appreciates. He never asks her for more about her past than she wants to tell, which is probably why he knows more about her past than anyone else.

“Okay,” he says finally, “but if you're not eating, I'm not eating either.”

He sweeps the ration bars back into his pack, looking so determined that she doesn't even bother trying to argue with his ridiculous act of chivalry. Instead, she leans against the wall next to him and lets him wrap his arm around her shoulders. His chin settles on top of her head, and he laughs when her curls, wild with humidity, tickle his nose.

“Hikaru?” she asks, feeling very cozy and inexplicably shy.

“Yeah?”

“What does it feel like to go to sleep with someone without having sex with them first?”

He pulls his arm around her even more tightly, and she presses her forehead against his neck.

“Wanna find out?”

The last thing she remembers before she falls asleep is his fingers tracing curlicue paths through her hair.

***


Three days after they return home to failing grades and a scathing evaluation, Gaila trips over something large and square lurking just inside her bedroom door.

“What the --” she mutters when a ration bar falls out and lands on her toe.

She sniffs cautiously. Chocolate and almond. She looks at the big, square object again. It's a box. A really huge box. PROPERTY OF STARFLEET ACADEMY FOOD SERVICES say big, block letters on the top. She slices it open with a blade from the engineering tool set she wears on her belt even though command track cadets don't get to repair a lot of things. Inside are twenty small cases of ration bars, one of every flavor Starfleet offers. Except peanut butter. She doesn't even need to ask who sent it, or how she's going to thank him.

But it will have to wait for later -- after she finds out her exam scores. Raspberry ration bar in hand, she curls up in her desk chair with the warm but tattered blanket she'd taken from the donation box at the refugee center long ago. The test she'd taken that afternoon wouldn't make up for the disastrous score on the last sim, but it might help mitigate some of the damage.

“Long night tonight?” her roommate, Uhura, asks.

“Maybe. I'm waiting for test scores. You?”

“Same.”

The conversation drifts off after that, but Gaila feels a faint flutter of relief anyway. She hadn't meant to alienate her pretty, talented roommate by asking her to join a threesome. From her perspective, sharing a good sex partner was the right thing to do, especially if someone had walked in on the act. From Uhura's perspective, though, the proposition was quite rude, and their relationship had grown chilly. Maybe the brief conversation was a sign it was getting better though.

An hour passes, and she twists a corner of the blanket absently between her fingers, wishing that humans were more sensitive to her pheromones. They noticed when she wanted sex, but unlike an Orion, they never noticed if she was sad or distressed. If Uhura could tell that she was worried, she was sure that she would try to console her, but Gaila didn't like to ask for help, and she knew that she looked far more calm that she felt. She would have to wait it out alone.

When a computerized chime sounds, both of them leap for their padds simultaneously and laugh at themselves together.

“Mine,” Gaila says. “Sorry.” She has a feeling it's very hard for Uhura to wait.

The score is exactly what she expected, a one hundred percent. She always could memorize anything. The test raises her rank from number five to number four, but the feeling of relief she'd been waiting for doesn't arrive.

“Didn't you get the score you wanted?” Uhura asks.

“No...no, it was great. I just failed a simulation earlier this week, and it's going to take awhile to recover.”

Uhura nods sagely, even though Gaila is sure she's never failed anything in her life, and Gaila pastes a smile on her face. How can she explain to someone as driven as Uhura that she's felt trapped ever since she'd landed the top score on that first exam?

She stands up suddenly, and several foil-wrapped ration bars rain onto the floor. Uhura looks up, startled, but Gaila doesn't bother explaining. She wants someone she can actually talk to.

Hikaru is waiting for her in their usual place, a small alcove at the bottom of a stairwell. She has the feeling that he'd rather be outside, some place where they can see the stars, but she likes hidden places like this one, and he tolerates it for her. They've been meeting down here for a few weeks now after exam scores come in. She's too tense to wait with anyone, but she likes to compare notes when it's over. This is something else Hikaru is willing to tolerate for the sake of their friendship.

“How'd you do?” he asks as she settles on a pillow he'd brought from his dorm room. The pillowcase is emblazoned with yellow, five-pointed stars and pictures of spaceships.

“Who cares?" she says. "I got twenty flavors of Orion-compatible ration bars.”

“You like them?” he asks. “I tried to get some real Orion ones, but it turns out that Starfleet doesn't like it when you contact Orion smugglers.”

“I could have told you that. And found you a more secure comm channel.”

“Yeah, I'll remember that next time I need something smuggled from the Syndicate. Which isn't a surprise for you. Which will be never.”

“I don't think I want anything they have anyway, not anymore. But really, Hikaru, thank you.”

She wishes that humans communicated more with their bodies; the words don't seem adequate for the gratitude she feels.

But maybe he understands her anyway; he clears his throat in the gruff way some human men have when they feel uncomfortable because of an emotion.

“You don't have to thank me, Gaila. You should have things that make you comfortable here.”

She's about to tell him that she does have to thank him because he's one of the only people in her life who's given her something without wanting something in exchange, but he changes the subject before she can get the words out.

“You didn't tell me how you did on the exam.”

“I got a hundred,” she says glumly. She hadn't understood her sadness before, but she understands it now. After she had failed that sim, she had wanted to keep failing. If she was bad at command, she could leave it and revel in camaraderie and equality below decks instead of thinking about power and how to keep it, just like she had her whole life.

Of course, she can't expect Hikaru to understand that. Not right away at least.

“I'll trade you my seventy-two.”

She sighs, a gesture her refugee relocation counselor had taught her so that she could communicate her emotions without her pheromones.

“If you got it by writing what you really thought, I'll take it.”

Her voice comes out more desperate and despairing than she had meant for it to, and she realizes suddenly how trapped she has felt here.

“It's a curse, you know? I can memorize anything. I can figure out what people want from me and give it to them. It's how I survived before. But now...I just figure out what my professors want me to do, and I do it. I memorize the textbook and I write it. And there's nothing – absolutely nothing – of me.”

“Well, you could just write down what you think, even if you get a bad grade,” Hikaru says reasonably, but she shakes her head.

“It's more than that, Hikaru. I don't want to be anyone's captain.”

“So don't be.”

And this, Gaila thinks darkly, is why she hasn't discussed her problem with anyone. All these freeborn people in Starfleet see are cans: can change her concentration, can go to a party and flunk a test, can make a mistake and try again tomorrow. And she can see that too, to an extent, but she knows how easily all her freedom and choices can be snatched away. She can't let that happen to her again.

Hikaru is explaining something about academic advisors and change-of-concentration forms. It makes her feel desperately, hopelessly lost. How can she bridge the gap between someone like her and someone who thinks relinquishing power is as simple as filling out a form? Command is a resource, and if she's good at it, she can't give it up. Not if there's even the smallest chance it will protect her one day.

“Hikaru, I've lived my whole life at the bottom. People use you and hurt you. The ones who survive are the ones who have the most power.” She shrugs her shoulders. “I wish it were different, but that's the way it is.”

She doesn't know how she expects him to look. Sad, maybe, or resigned. Even pitying, though she hopes not. Anger is the last thing she expects.

“Gaila, that is bullshit, and you know it.” She has to will herself not to shrink back from the intensity of his gaze, but he doesn't seem to notice. “Look at yourself. You came from nothing, and you are at Starfleet Academy. I can't even pretend to know what you went through before, but where I'm from wasn't exactly roses and sunshine either.” He looks a little tired and a little bitter when he says it. It's the first time she's ever seen anything remotely unpleasant in his face. “But people on the bottom can get to the top, and it's not rank or a starship or a command insignia that keeps them there. If it were, you'd still be trapped on a slave ship somewhere. Nobody's going to hurt you the way they did, Gaila. Not because you're a command track cadet, but because you wouldn't let them even if you were the lowest midshipman in the fleet.”

The both stare at each other for a moment, breathing hard. He stands up to go. In the silence, the sound of his feet scraping on the concrete floor is almost unbearable. He stands awkwardly between their alcove and the stairwell, not ready to leave but not sure where their conversation can go.

“Don't forget you have friends to help you here,” he says finally.

His voice is soft now, and his eyes are even softer. She recognizes that look. It means romance, not friendship.

“You're not my friend, Hikaru. We're dating. Not even exclusively.”

“I know. But I'm your friend too. Whatever else we are, now or in the future, I'm your friend.” She's about to argue with him, but he doesn't let her.

"It's okay if you don't trust me now. But I'll prove it."

And he does, many times over. Sometimes they are dating, sometimes they are not. Once in awhile, they are exclusive, though that rarely lasts very long. Through it all, he is her friend.

She changes her concentration at the end of her first semester, and she regrets it only once: standing with the other operations cadets means she doesn't get to say goodbye to Hikaru before they depart for Vulcan.

Three: Grief
Twenty-four Terran hours after the destruction of Vulcan and the defeat of the Narada, the only survivor of the U.S.S. Farragut selects a pair of worn ballet slippers from a donation box in sickbay. Her left leg drags a little as she turns around to face Hikaru, but she smiles and waves the slippers triumphantly in the air.

That is what you came down here for?”

“Don't be silly. I didn't even know they were here until I saw them.”

She plops down into one of the empty chairs in the waiting area and presses the ballet slipper against the sole of her foot. Her smile widens. They are exactly the right size.

“I wonder who these came from,” she murmurs absently. She pictures someone in the ballet studio at the Academy gym, hastily tucking her slippers into her uniform pocket when the alert sounded. “I hope she's still alive.”

“Of course she's alive,” Sulu snaps. “What do you think we do, plunder our dead friends' quarters and throw their possessions into charity boxes?”

“I don't know. Do you?”

Suddenly it seems like an important question, with so many humans dead. She had never really thought to ask how they grieved.

“No, Gaila, we do not.”

“Oh.” She shrugs her shoulders. “Well, if I die, I'd like it if you gave away my possessions.” She remembers her cold, hungry flight from the Syndicate and adds, “As quickly as possible. I don't want someone who needs them to have to wait.”

This is important now too. She doesn't care if the humans don't perform the right rituals to the Goddess on her deathbed, but she doesn't want them keeping her stuff away from people who need it. Especially not the one human who understands her better than the others. She glances up at him, waiting for his assent – because isn't now the time they should be finding out each other's dying wishes? – but he looks confused, and underneath that is a flash of anger that would make her draw her weapon if she didn't know him so well.

She doesn't really know what to say about that, so she begins to strip off her socks and boots so she can replace them with the ballet shoes. The right one is easy, but the left is harder; she can't quite seem to bend it the right way. Hikaru kneels in front of her, grasping her injured leg with delicate fingers, watching her face for signs of pain. He pulls the boot off.

“Gaila, what are you doing?”

“Going dancing,” she says. She thinks it's obvious.

Apparently he doesn't.

Now?” She sees the flash of anger again. “You're going dancing now? With all of this?”

He flings his arm out, gesturing at crowded biobeds, the scorched walls, the soft murmurs and groans of the injured, the doctors and nurses stumbling with darkened circles beneath their eyes. Around the periphery of the room, computer screens scroll through the names of survivors. It's faster than listing the dead.

“Yes. Yes, I am.” Her voice is harder and louder than she means for it to be. She wants to challenge him. Does he really think that all his anger will bring back the dead or make the Farragut whole or put Vulcan back in its place? But meeting anger with anger never works, so she closes her eyes, counts to five, and softens her voice.

“Yeah, Hikaru,” she says again, her voice a little softer this time. “I am going dancing exactly because of all of this. What else can I do but something I love?” She runs her fingers lightly through his hair. “What can any of us do but hold onto what we love?”

“Okay,” he says. “Okay.” He eases the ballet slipper onto her other foot, squeezes her hand. She runs her thumb lightly over the inside of his wrist before she stands. It's as much intimacy as she can stand right now.

In the gym, the dance cubicles are empty and the punching bags are full. She picks the cubicle in the center of the second level – the one you can see from all over the gym – and flicks on the light. Her feet are slow at first; it takes her awhile to figure out what her injured leg will bear. When she thinks of Tonya Ramirez, her first partner in the engineering lab, she falters but forces her arms and legs into an unsteady rumba. Ariel, the tiny little ensign who'd died in the fire before all the rest, gets a bird-like flutter of her arms, and Captain Anya Valentin gets an authoritative swish of her hips. She forces herself onward through her own pain until she's danced for everyone she'd known on the Farragut's crew, and then until she's recovered a memory of their faces smiling at the Academy or beautiful in their final, fighting death.

The gym is darker when she leaves, and most of the punching bags are empty. Every step sends an arrow of pain from her heel to her thigh, and when she stops to rest, she sees Hikaru. He's standing at the far end of the gym, close to the mirrors but not looking at his reflection. His sword – the one he'd built himself, right down to forging the blade – gleams in his hand, but his movements are slow and controlled. For the first time today, he looks peaceful, and because he is not trying to fight it any more, she can see the pain and exhaustion in every line and angle of his body.

He comes to her when he is done, his right still clenched around the hilt of his sword. He wraps his other arm around her, pulling her close, splaying long fingers over the curve of her hip.

“You were right, Gaila,” he whispers into her hair. “All we can do is hold onto what we love.”

He pulls her tighter, and she thinks she's finally ready to let him hold onto her.

Onward to parts IV & V
Wow. Just...fucking wow. I'm not a crier and you had me tearing up! Her dancing was the kicker, I think.
Dude, I am crying. Hate you. *sniffle* Love this. Reccing on Delicious.

Just, such a great progression of friendship, and as Gaila puts it, romance, but not the way you'd think. *hugs them both*
This is beautiful. adding another ship to my fleet: Gaila/Survival