gaila: fight's losing me

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

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

Parts I, II, and III (in a separate post)

Four: Failed Simulations and Certain Death
They are together for one Terran year, five Terran months, and six Terran days.

That's when they dock at Starbase 11, and someone named Captain One asks to meet with her.

It's not a notice of transfer, that's for sure. Those are letters, not personal meetings. She frowns, thinking of a recent incident in engineering involving Scotty, a still, and the sort of explosion that had to be reported because there was not other way to explain the sudden need for an unusual quantity of spare parts. Jim had said he'd try to keep her out of trouble, but unauthorized alcohol production facilities, especially exploding unauthorized alcohol production facilities, were sort of a big deal and...

Well, there's nothing for it but to ring the buzzer outside Captain One's office and find out what's in store for her.

The Captain's back is to the door when Gaila comes in. In all the years since she'd escaped from the Syndicate, it has never stopped surprising her how people here take their safety for granted.

“Lieutenant Gaila, I presume,” One says without bothering to look over her shoulder. “Have a seat, please.”

She presses a button on the wall, and the glowing blue schematic disappears before Gaila gets a good look at it. She settles into the cold silver chair in front of One's desk, feeling slightly disappointed. The schematics had looked like they were very interesting.

One settles into the chair behind the desk, which is wider and more imposing than it needs to be. A small sign of power. The chair behind it is nice too, much nicer than the ones allotted for visitors. Gaila takes note of that, and then she studies One while keeping her expression carefully vacant. The captain wears red lipstick and black mascara, and her straight brown hair, shot through with strands of gray, falls neatly down to her shoulders. Absolutely nothing about her is frivolous. Each of her movements is purposeful and contained; she exudes authority, but not in a showy way. Not in a way that would suggest she values power for its own sake. Gaila decides to trust her, with a disciplinary hearing or whatever else.

“You are aware that Starfleet is rebuilding the Farragut?” One asks with no preamble.

Gaila nods cautiously, just a small bob of her head. She doesn't really know where this conversation is going.

One presses a button, and the console on her desk comes to life. Outlined in blue is a smaller version of the schematic that had been on the wall before, and Gaila can see now that it's a ship. A small ship, two or three hundred crew max, she calculates, with a long arrow-shaped saucer and streamlined nacelles.

“That's her,” One says, and Gaila can't miss the pride in her voice or the faint upward curve of her lips.

“She's beautiful, sir,” Gaila says, still not sure why she's here. Because she's the original Farragut's only survivor, maybe? And Starfleet wants her to christen her or take part in some ceremony? But no, One wasn't a frivolous woman, and there was no need for a personal meeting for something like that.

“Do you know why I've asked you here, Lieutenant?”

Gaila shakes her head.

“This is a job offer. In six Terran months, the Farragut will make her inaugural flight from Utopia Planetia shipyard. You would be the primary tactical and navigational officer. Shifts will be available in engineering if you want them, but they would be in addition to your regular bridge rotation.”

“I'm sorry, sir, but tactical is a command position, and I left command track.”

“After a semester at the top of your class, in order to pursue your passion for engineering. I know. But I am asking you to reconsider that decision. As I am sure you are aware, the border between Orion and Federation space has grown increasingly volatile since the destruction of Vulcan. The Farragut will be the lead ship of a task force created to control pirate activity and protect civilian ships along that border, with the ultimate goal of finding and eradicating growing pirate strongholds in Federation space. Do you understand why I need you for that mission?”

“But sir, you understand that I was just a --” she stops herself just before she says whore -- “prostitute. I'm not an expert, not the kind you're looking for.”

“And I suppose you, what, laid quietly on your back, listened to nothing, spoke to no one, and waited for rescue to arrive?”

“No, sir. There was no rescue. I never thought there would be.”

“Then you know how these people think, better than anyone else in Starfleet. There is no substitute for that. I need you, on my bridge, in my chain of command, not below decks in engineering. Lieutenant, I know why you left command. You wanted the power for its own sake, and you were right to make yourself leave it. This is different. You would be returning to command track because there is no one better suited to this task or this mission. There is no better reason to take on responsibility for other lives than because you can do it better than anyone else.”

Gaila can already feel the answer forming in her heart and rising to her lips. She wants this mission. She wants this captain. She wants this chance to hold power and exercise it for the right purpose. But One holds up a hand.

“I will not accept an answer tonight. This assignment entails significant personal sacrifice. In addition to the personal danger, there will be long and unpredictable periods of radio silence. Maintaining friendships, or romantic relationships outside the ship will be very difficult.” At that, a look of sadness flickers across One's face, just for a split second, before it is replaced by resolve. “You know the evil of the Syndicate first-hand. You know this job needs doing by the best possible people to do it. But I want you to be sure, because this mission cannot afford anyone who is less than certain about her participation.”

The answer is yes. She doesn't say that to One because she doesn't want her new captain to think that she's undisciplined or impulsive. But something in her heart had clicked into place as soon as she had heard One's words, something she hadn't known she was missing: a reason to be a part of Starfleet other than to save herself. She'll give up Hikaru for that. It's not even a question. But she won't tell him tonight; he's taking her out for a nice dinner, and she won't spoil that for him. And maybe, just maybe, she'd like one more carefree romantic night with him.

But Hikaru can see something's wrong as soon as she steps into the restaurant. His eyes are widening with alarm, he's getting up from his seat, and shit, she should have realized that she would have to talk about her meeting with One as soon as she arrived. He knows that she was expecting a disciplinary meeting, and now she's come to this beautiful, romantic restaurant, looking preoccupied, and she can't let him go on believing that she's in trouble.

But she can't tell the whole truth yet. Because One had said that she had to take at least a day to think over the decision, and that means the decision isn't really made. No need to alarm her boyfriend over something that isn't definite yet.

“Was your meeting alright?”

“Yeah, yeah it was,” she says, trying to feign nonchalance, but the words come out tense and unnatural.

“Gaila,” he says, drawing out her name slow and teasing, reminding her that he knows her too well for her to hide the truth from him. He thinks she's upset, she realizes sadly. It's hard for her to admit when she needs support, even now, so he teases and cajoles it it out of her. For the first time in their relationship, she wishes she could pretend he was a client so she could paste on a dazzling smile and change the topic before he asked anything that would get him hurt. But she's not like that anymore. And she is also deliriously, selfishly excited.

“It wasn't a disciplinary hearing. It was a job offer.”

“That's great!” he exclaims, beaming at her. For her. She doesn't smile back, and she watches the light fade from his eyes.

“Oh,” he says. And then again, more quietly, “oh.”

“You're taking it, aren't you?”

She nods.

“Well, that's great. I'm happy for you. I really am.”

His smile looks horribly forced, yet she knows he's trying to mean it.

“Hikaru, do you want to leave? Hang out with your friends tonight, maybe? I'd understand.”

But he shakes his head.

“I'm your friend, right? So we should celebrate.”

She would desperately prefer to leave so that they can talk about this some place more private, but there's already a bottle of champagne on the table, and Hikaru is pouring her a glass with a look of grim determination.

“I don't want you to think I made this decision lightly. I...” she falters for a minute, not sure if she should really talk about her exciting new mission when Hikaru is clearly devastated. But she wants him to know why it's worth it to leave him.

“It's the Farragut,” she says. “Did you know they were rebuilding her? And Captain One asked for me personally, because of Pike's recommendation, and because they're on a mission to eradicate piracy in Federation space.”

And then she curses herself, because she can feel the smile on her face and the excitement in her voice, and this is not the right way to tell someone that you are leaving him. But she sees some of the tension ease out of Hikaru's body, and if the smile on his face is a little sad, at least it's real now.

“I understand.” He covers her hand with his. “I really do. One is an incredible commander. It's an incredible opportunity. I don't want you to give up something like that for me.”

He shrugs his shoulders, his smile growing a bit larger.

“This is what we always said we would do, right? Enjoy things while we could, and let go when we had to. And besides, the Farragut's not even leaving for another six months, so we still have a lot of time together.”

At that, her face freezes and she watches his smile shatter. It had not even occurred to her that they would stay together, counting down the days to the end of their relationship. Clearly, he had thought differently.

“So this is it then?” His voice is bitter, and he won't look at her, but she thinks she can see tears gleaming in his eyes. “You can just, what? Take five minutes and decide you're leaving me right this instant? After everything we've been through together?”

He stands up from the table suddenly. A fork clatters to the floor. The whole restaurant stares. He's out the door before she even gets a chance to explain.

***


The next few weeks pass in a blur of exams and simulations, which Gaila is grateful for because she doesn't have much time to think. The downside is that she doesn't have time to sleep either, and she's started spend most of her off-shifts in Nyota's quarters, where she's less likely to spend hours downloading new music and much more likely to study her new command manuals. If she can stay awake, that is.

She doesn't even realize that she's fallen asleep until Nyota shakes her shoulder. She looks up, bleary-eyed, and Nyota presses a teacup into her hand.

“It's Vulcan, so it might be an acquired taste. But it'll keep you awake.”

Gaila sniffs cautiously and recoils.

“Is acquired taste a nice way to say gross?”

Nyota giggles, and Gaila glances at Spock, whose chest is still rising and falling slowly in the bed across the room.

“Do we need to be quiet for him?” she whispers.

“When co-habiting, it is logical to cultivate the ability to sleep through distractions,” she deadpans, not bothering to lower her voice. “I think he's pretty good at it.”

“So you're happy then?”

“Yeah,” Nyota says. “Yeah, we are. Are you?”

Gaila shifts, and three of her padds fall off her lap and clatter to the floor. Spock still doesn't stir.

“No,” she answers, half-joking and half really, really not. One had put a lot on faith when she selected her for the mission; now she wanted to know that faith was justified. The barrage of command and navigation tests were more than just a Starfleet formality. Captain One reviewed the results herself, and Gaila had known instinctively that passing alone wouldn't be good enough. One demanded excellence from everyone. That was why she wanted the posting badly enough to surrender all of her waking – and many of her sleeping – hours to studying and simulations.

“But you think you did the right thing?”

“I know I did the right thing. I wouldn't give up this assignment if the whole galaxy depended on it.”

“And Hikaru?”

“We tried to talk about it a couple weeks ago. But I just couldn't imagine hanging on to something that would just have to end, you know? I want to look forward to this assignment, not dread leaving the old one.”

“Then you did the right thing. But do you know that it's okay for you to miss him?”

She doesn't have an answer to that. She does miss Hikaru. Until he was gone, she'd never realized how many small things she saved up to tell him each day. Now most of those things – tiny, inconsequential things that no one else would have cared to hear – rattle around in her brain, looking for release. And, although she hated to admit that she needed it, she would have liked to hear him cheering her on through the endless simulations and exams.

“I don't have a co-pilot for tomorrow,” she says, which is as much of an answer as she feels up to. Tomorrow is her first graded navigational sim, a necessity she loathes because she knows how to fly, and One knows she can too; she never could have escaped from the Syndicate if she didn't. But her flight training had been decidedly unofficial, and Starfleet had insisted that she make it up.

“Do you want to ask him?” Uhura asks. “I'll bet he's still awake.”

“Yes. But I'm not going to.” She was the one who had ended the relationship; she couldn't ask him for the same support he would have given her if she had stayed. That felt uncomfortably like using him. “I'll get Jim to do it with me instead.”

Uhura raises her eyebrows, and Gaila knows exactly what she's thinking – that Jim's piloting skills extend just far enough not to crash a shuttle, and she'll have a hard time justifying her selection in her mission report. But she won't fly with someone she doesn't trust, and she doesn't even know any of the other pilots on the ship.

“I'll bullshit it into a command decision somehow,” she mutters. “Do you care if I sleep on your couch tonight?”

Uhura shakes her head, and Gaila even allows her to find a blanket and tuck her in.

The next morning, Gaila narrowly suppresses her panic when she sees Jim pacing outside the flight simulator, in uniform but not suited up.

“What's wrong?” she demands. Had there been an emergency, and he couldn't fly with her anymore? Or had he assigned some pilot to the mission with her, for her own good? But that wasn't fair. Her co-pilot was her decision, and she'd live with the consequences. That was what command was about.

But Jim just smiles at her enigmatically and opens the simulator door.

Hikaru is sitting in the co-pilot's seat. He doesn't look at her, but her station is powered up, the mission briefing and a proposed course glowing on her console. She doesn't ask how he knew about the test, and he doesn't tell her, but they fly together seamlessly – on this test and every other one she takes to earn her final mission clearance. When she receives it, she finds a small, hand-lettered card on the front seat of the flight simulator. It says congratulations in English, Japanese, and Orion, bordered by dozens of small, intricate flowers. She doesn't have to ask who it's from, or whether he means it.

***


Two weeks before she leaves the Enterprise for good, Hikaru almost dies.

The mission is hers, one small chance for more command experience before she joins the crew of the Farragut. It's pretty straightforward as missions go. The colony on Delta Omicron VI has suffered a crop failure. The people are about to starve. No unusual activity has been detected on the surface, so they'll travel lightly armed, just enough firepower to protect the cargo in case hungry settlers mob them when they arrive. It's just a two-shuttle mission; she'll fly the one with the medicine, and Hikaru will take the one with the food.

The first shot is so subtle they actually miss it.

Sulu's shuttle suddenly loses altitude during atmospheric entry. She watches it fall away behind her in a steep but controlled dive.

“I think my stabilizer blew,” he says, voice tinny through the comm. She smiles, remembering their first simulation together, and wonders if he is doing the same.

“Enemy fire?” she asks even though the scans are clear.

“No sign of hostiles. Must be mechanical failure. Controls are still good. I can find a place to set down.”

“I'll circle and keep an eye on you. Send me your coordinates when you land.”

She types a quick message to the Enterprise. Shuttle down, controlled crash landing, stand by for beam-up coordinates.

And then, suddenly, she is falling too, the blue sky streaking by too fast, jagged rocks below her growing closer with every second, and it's not the worst trouble she's been in, not by a long shot, but it's the first time she's been in this kind of trouble and needed to be responsible for anyone but herself. For a second, there are too many things to do – save her ship, save her life, warn Hikaru, warn the Enterprise. She turns the shuttle into the direction of the spin and pulls the throttle back slowly. She's still falling – there's no avoiding that now – but she has a little more control, just enough to point the shuttle toward a reasonably flat patch of ground and shout, “Pirate attack!” into the open comm. And then her shuttle is skidding over the tops of trees, branches flying around her, the seat shaking, metal screaming as it hits the rocky ground and finally comes to a stop. The safety harness yanks her back so hard it almost knocks the wind out of her, but it stops her just short of banging her head on the console. Her ears are ringing and her head is spinning, but she still clicks off the safety harness as fast as she can and drops flat onto the ground.

“Lieutenant Sulu, report. Lieutenant Sulu, report,” she whispers into her communicator. No response.

Overhead, the comm is squawking, and she reaches up to kill it, then jerks her hand back as fast as she can.

“Enterprise, we are under attack,” she whispers into the communicator. “Avoid shuttle comm system. Is there any sign of Lieutenant Sulu?”

“Negative.” It's Spock's voice. “Excessive magnetic polarization in the rock face is impeding sensor scans. We are working to compensate.”

“Gaila, what's happening?” It's Kirk on the line now.

“Pirate attack.” She doesn't need to see them to know what this is. “They probably kidnapped the settlers and forced them to make the distress call. I've seen it before. Don't send anyone else down till I report. I'm going to look for Sulu.”

She snaps the communicator shut before anyone can order her to stay put and crawls out of her shuttle into the tropical heat. The humidity is so thick that the air feels like soup, but she forces herself to leave her flight suit on anyway. It won't be much protection against a weapons blast, but it's better than nothing, and the dark gray jacket will blend with the terrain better than her gold command tunic.

Cautiously, she lifts her head over a rocky outcropping and glimpses Hikaru's shuttle a few hundred meters from her own. The first disruptor blast singes the upper left arm of her flight suit. She hits the ground, turning automatically to look behind her, but no, that blast had come from the front. Maybe there's someone hiding for her in the trees, but her tricorder says no, and that means they're shooting at Hikaru. She runs, but not toward his shuttle.

There's a tall spire of rock halfway between her shuttle and his, and she climbs the back of it. If they're shooting at Hikaru, then they haven't taken him yet, and if she can get to the top in time, maybe she can see who's doing the shooting and take them out. Her sweaty hands slip on the rocks. Sweat drips into her eyes. Her feet skitter on the uneven surface, and she slides down more than a meter, banging her head along the way. But she keeps going, and finally, stomach muscles aching in protest, she slithers along the top of the rocks till she can see over the edge. There's no ship out there, at least not that she can see, and that's a good sign. A bright red disruptor beam races out from a smaller tower of rocks, and she tracks it with her binoculars till she finds its origin – five pirates, well-protected from Sulu by the rocks, but easily vulnerable to someone in her higher position. She fires five times in rapid succession, not bothering to stun. They're dead before they even look up from their hiding place.

From the front, her tower of rocks is more like a gently sloping hill, and she slides down it easily and runs to Sulu's shuttle. He's lying on the ground behind it, binding a wounded leg, but he's clearly alive and breathing.

“I think I got them all,” she pants.

He pulls himself up, bracing himself against the shuttle, and wincing. She loops an arm around his shoulders to steady him.

“Thanks.” He sounds almost as winded as she does, and half from fear and half from reflex, she pulls him closer until their hips are touching and their heads are resting against each other.

“So is this what we have now?” he asks. “Not talking for weeks, then swooping in and saving each other once in awhile?”

“Yeah, I guess so.” She smiles, half-bemused and half-sad.

Hikaru turns to look at the disruptor-scarred carcass of his ship and grins.

“I'll take it.”

She tightens her arm around his waist, and they walk together toward the safety of her ship.

5. Space Pirates
Fourteen years later, they meet at an elegant restaurant on Starbase Eleven, where he is on shore leave and her ship is awaiting repairs. It's not the first time they have seen each other since she left the Enterprise; they had run into each other on shore leave when they were both still lieutenants, and in strategy meetings as they rose through the chain of command. Once or twice a year, when the Farragut's period of open communications occurred when the Excelsior was in range, they shared long video conversations. And, though she has only ever admitted it to Uhura, she has a small box beneath her narrow Starfleet bed stuffed with mementos of their old relationship and copies of the transmissions they had exchanged over the years. She didn't get it out often, but on the nights that the loneliness of command wore her down, she slipped them out and read the story of his life since their separation: his promotions, the birth of his daughter, his happiness that she had a good stepfather mingled with fear of being replaced.

And now, fourteen years later, they are meeting alone for the first time since their separation. It's a surprise to see him aged; the lines around his eyes and the gray in his hair don't show up in vid chats. Neither do the dozens of tiny scars on his hands. But underneath all that, he is familiar: the same eyes, the same mannerism, the same walk. The same feeling of comfort she'd always had when they were together.

“Captain Sulu,” she says gravely, but she can't raise her glass without smiling.

“Captain Gaila.” He clinks his glass against hers. His eyes are warm.

They look out at the sea of white tablecloths and intricately folded napkins.

“Hey,” he says. “Isn't this where we...”

“Yeah.”

“I never thought I'd forgive you for that.”

“But you did.” It's not even a question.

“I did.”

He leans back in his chair, looking meditative.

“Hey, Gaila, do you ever wonder if --”

“Yeah.”

Their eyes lock across the table. And then, predictably, his communicator beeps.

“Duty calls,” he says wryly, standing up to leave.

Starfleet gets a ransom note two days later. And she can't do anything about it till Jim Kirk strolls casually into her guest quarters two days later, never mind that she didn't know he was coming and he didn't have an access code.

“Don't tell me. You saved the Federation by picking a fight with a Romulan Bird of Prey, and now you've limped back here for repairs, accolades, and reprimands?”

“Pretty much,” Jim says, half-boastful and half-chagrined. Some things never change. “Hey! Did you hear Sulu got kidnapped by pirates?” he asks. His tone is joking, but his eyes are serious.

“Haven't stopped thinking about it since it happened.” She doesn't mention what she and Hikaru had been talking about when she had seen him last. “Is Starfleet going to rescue him?”

“Theoretically. But Excelsior's on a famine relief mission on the other side of the quadrant. The Federation Council wants diplomatic intercession first, and the admiralty can't decide whether to send a surgical strike team or a whole attack force...”

“So no, they're not going to rescue him. Not in time for it to matter anyway.”

“No,” Jim says softly, “no they're not. His XO called me last night. She's beside herself.”

“So which one of us is going to rescue him?”

“I'm closer,” Jim says.

“By which you probably mean the Enterprise is parked in Bay 2 and I'm parked in Bay 6. That's bullshit anyway, Jim, and you know it. Neither one of us is taking a whole starship.”

“Well, I'm the one who has a fleet of those cool new stealth plane things on his ship.”

“And if you're calling them 'stealth plane things,' you have absolutely no idea how to fly them. This one's mine, Jim.”

“Okay,” he says, and does that unnerving thing with his eyes where he goes from looking like an oblivious dipshit to looking like he instinctively understands all your innermost thoughts and feelings. “I'll get Bones to come by and inject you with something wacky. Then you'll come to the Enterprise, the wacky drug will take effect, he'll have to quarantine you, and then Chapel will let you out through the Jeffries tubes. And I'll have one of those cool spy planes prepped and waiting for you. Nobody will even know that you're gone.”

“Except for whoever opens the hangar door, and whoever checks the flight log, and anyone who counts the planes...”

Jim looks at her with wounded pride.

“Hey. I can hack my own flight logs. And open my own hangar doors. And I can offer to inspect the flight deck myself so Ensign Viswanathan can have more shore leave. I still do things like that, you know.”

It's a good plan. It's a really good plan. She's not having it.

“Jim, if I get caught in an Enterprise craft, they'll know you helped me, not to mention McCoy and Chapel. I'm not taking that many people down with me.”

“You don't have a better plan. And you're not the only one here who cares about him. McCoy and Chapel already volunteered. So did half my ship, as a matter of fact.”

“Okay. Let's get our man.”
***


She wakes up in quarantine unit in the Enterprise's sickbay five hours later, her head still reeling from whatever McCoy had given her. Above her, Chapel's face is blurry and indistinct, but Gaila sits up anyway, ignoring the stubborn buzzing in her head.

“Time to go?” she asks.

“Time to go. Uhura intercepted a transmission while you were out. Sulu's being held on a freighter just outside the Argos system, but they're planning to move him tomorrow if they don't get a response from Starfleet.”

Definitely time to go.

Her legs are still shaky with the after affects of the drugs, but they hold her up well enough to climb into a flight suit and up the ladder through the Jeffries tubes. Jim's waiting for her in the hangar bay with a bundle of furled paper in his hands.

“Seriously? Paper?” she asks, rubbing the thin onionskin between her fingers. Each holds a blueprint of ships currently known to be a part of the Orion fleet, and each is exactingly drawn, but she's already longing for the neatness of her data files. Of course, data transmissions are traceable, and papers are not. Starfleet will never know Jim had given these to her.

“You're brilliant,” she says softly.

“Be careful,” he replies. It's the closest either of them will come to admitting that of all her missions in the past fifteen years, this is the most dangerous. She is an escaped slave and a Starfleet captain, flying toward the ship of her former owners without a crew and without any hope of rescue if she's caught. It's not worth thinking about, so instead she puts on a cocky smirk and says, “I won't do anything you wouldn't do.”

“And if you do, take pictures,” Jim shoots back, flashing her a lascivious Jim Kirk grin that erases the past fifteen years' wrinkles and worries from his face.

The refrain is an old one, all the way from their days at the Academy, all the more precious now that the endless tumult of Starfleet life has eroded so many of her friendships. Their hug lasts just long enough for him to murmur, “Come back, okay?” into her hair, and then she is in her ship, sailing out toward the stars alone.
***


She finds the Orion ship just where Jim had said that she would, hidden in a nebula just outside Federation space. The beauty of it catches her by surprise. The pink and gold of the nebula radiates off a copper hull dented, battered, and jury-rigged into shapes that testify to the ingenuity of her crew. This ship – no matter how warped and greedy its inhabitants – is a part of her home and her people. She hates herself a little for the strange wave of longing that sweeps over her at the sight of it; she shouldn't miss any part of a civilization that had abused and exploited her. But then, she should be grateful for the part of herself that will always be Orion. If these were not her people, she would not know how to fight them, and Hikaru would be lost forever.

For the first time in her life, she offers a small prayer to her favorite Goddess that her people have not changed too much. She knows only one way to sneak onto a ship like this, and if it's not there, she doesn't know how she's going to get Hikaru back. She skims along the belly of the ship, hidden from portholes and sensors that are searching for something much, much larger than her tiny craft. And just when she's about to give up hope, she spots it: three long sanitation shafts, and a tiny outcropping behind them, just large enough to set her ship down. She had escaped through shafts like these more than twenty years ago. Now they will lead her back to the one place she had never thought to return: into the belly of a slave master's ship.

If she can set her own ship down, that is. She flies directly above her parking spot, programming her nav computer to match the slight drift of the larger ship. Holding her breath, she eases down the throttle as slowly as she can manage; if she hits too hard, or clips the edge of the ship with one of her wings, alarms will sound and she'll be caught. The tail touches down first, and she counts to five, waiting to see purple alert lights blinking through the portholes a hundred meters away. When that doesn't happen, she brings down the nose and counts to ten this time, not quite daring to believe that the first step in her plan is complete. But there are no alert lights, no guards, no attack ships swarming toward her. She is safe. For now, at least.

The problem is, the sanitation shafts are much further above her than she remembers, at least twice as high as her only tether cord will reach. That means she'll have no choice but to climb, unanchored, more than two hundred meters along the hull. One tiny slip, and she'll be spinning through space, lost forever.

“Okay, Gaila,” she whispers to herself. “You trained, for this, remember?”

She seals her gloves to the cuffs of her suit and closes her helmet with a soft click. Now she's running on her suit's air supply, which she can't afford to waste. That knowledge propels her out the exit hatch, toward the hull of the ship. She keeps her eyes pointed firmly forward, but it's no good; she can still feel the vats, open star field behind her, threatening to swallow her up.

“Step one. Check your resources,” she says into her helmet's silent's comm. She only ever talks to herself when she feels really scared, but somehow the sound of her voice makes her feel less alone.

She has one hour of air and one small advantage: the ship has been in service long enough to be pitted with the impacts of thousands of tiny pieces of debris, and the grooves between the panels are deep enough to fit her fingers in. She'll have hand holds to go along with her magnetic boots. With one last look at the looming expanse of hull above her, she begins to climb.

Terror sinks in about twenty meters up. Her ship is getting smaller and smaller every time she looks down, but the distance to the sanitation shafts seems the same every time she looks up. If she weren't so afraid of running out of air, she'd probably just stop and cling to the hull for as long as she could. To keep moving, she summons every good memory she's ever had, a trick the slave sisters had taught her when she was new to taking men into her bed. It's not long before her thoughts slip back to Hikaru. How the comfort she'd felt with him at dinner three days ago was the same as the comfort she had felt with him every day of their relationship. How he told her the truth, even when she didn't want to hear it. How he'd never tried to hold onto her when she didn't want to be held, even when letting go had hurt him. Once, in a rare moment of candor, Captain One had said that her relationship with Pike anchored her without tying her down. Now Gaila wonders if she and Hikaru could have something like that too.

Climbing is easier once she reaches the sanitation shaft. It's a long way up, but at least now she has a ladder, and the narrow walls mean that she won't drift off into space if she slips. Now she turns her attention to the rescue plan. On a ship this size, Hikaru could be almost anywhere: the brig, the captain's quarters, a secret compartment, painted green and sedated in the infirmary... But a raiding party would search for hidden compartments first, and most of the other locations would expose Hikaru to greedy crew members who might want to steal him. That leaves the captain's quarters, which will be heavily fortified, but there is one other option. Some place so disgusting that no one, Federation or pirate, would want to search it: the ship's garbage hold. That's where she's going first.

The doors at the top of the maintenance hatch open easily with the help of a small virus she carries on a data chip in her belt. She slides through the doors just as her air indicator flashes red. With one hand, she yanks off her helmet; with the other, she pulls her tricorder from her belt and scans her surroundings. There are no signs of life within a hundred meters, which gives her some time to explore. The maintenance hatch is small, but clearly not considered a security risk – if it were, there wouldn't be three envirosuits hanging on the walls or a map of all the ship's maintenance passages. It's everything she needs to find Hikaru and smuggle him off the ship. Except for a good disguise.

Hardly daring to believe her luck, she spots a small closet at the corner of the room and finds exactly what she needs: two custodial uniforms, one for herself and one for Hikaru. Changing is awkward since she refuses to take her eyes off the door or let go of her phaser, but she manages. The uniform is far too big for her, and for that she's grateful. She puffs out the extra fabric to hide her curves and tucks her hair under a cap. If she runs into someone here, she'd rather not look like a woman.

The maintenance passageway outside is dank, sour, and narrow. Voices echo through the thin walls, and every once in awhile she stops to listen. It's gossip, mostly, and simple conversations about the ship's daily business, but the sound of her own language, spoken by native speakers, fills her with longing. Especially when she hears the dialect of the slaves. If only she could talk to them for just a moment, make them realize that they have choices and hope... But she's one woman with one extra seat on her ship, and she has no way of knowing whether they'd embrace her or sell her back to her masters for their own freedom. There's no choice but to keep going. She drags herself away from the wall and starts singing English pop music in her head until she can drown the voices out. It works until she hears sobbing on the other side of the wall.

She walks past once, reminding herself that Hikaru could be barely clinging to life in a prison cell right now, and Jim and Dr. McCoy and Nurse Chapel's safety depend on her speedy return. But the walls are too thin, and the girl's sobs echo down the corridor. She walks back to the source of the crying and presses her ear to the wall. Perhaps the girl's slave sisters are there to comfort her... But her tricorder only reads one life form in the room.

There's a hole in the wall where it meets the floor, and Gaila leans down to it, recoiling at the feeling of dirt on her hands. She pushes her chip of computer viruses through the hole and flicks it with her thumb so that it shoots across the floor.

“Have hope, little sister,” she sings through the wall, using the tune of a song her slave sisters had used to comfort her when she was young. Then she runs.

The garbage hold is right where she expects it to be, and the door opens without so much as a code.

“I almost died in one of these,” she says even though there's no one there to hear it. Except her. The sight of the garbage doesn't bother her, but the stench transports her straight back to the garbage hold where she'd hidden on the ship that had unwittingly carried her to the borders of the Federation. Somehow she needs to hear the almost to remember that she had, in fact, survived.

She wouldn't have, except that while she was retching in a corner, her fingers had brushed a switch that opened a small, secret door. On the other side was a cell just tall enough to stand in. Shackles lined the walls, and bones littered the floor. It had been a place for delinquents to die where no one would ever find them. But it had kept her alive.

And she was sure that there would be just such a cell here. She just has to find it. Her tricorder won't work, of course. The cell would be fortified against the means a technologically capable searcher would use. That means there's only one way to do it: by hand. Holding her nose, she jumps into the decaying mountain of garbage. The trash rises almost to her chest; dirty water sloshes all the way up to her knees. Decaying fruit peels cling to her arms, and sharp bits of discarded metal poke through her thin uniform. Struggling against the weight of several months' worth of refuse, she makes her way to the furthest wall. The cell would be just above the line of garbage, most likely, and probably across from the small landing where she'd entered. Probably there was even a secret, extendable walkway across the garbage, but without her chip of viruses, she'd known she wouldn't be able to find it or use it.

Now she'll just have to trust that the walls will sound hollow wherever the cell is. She picks a likely place and starts pounding. It's not long before she hears an answering tap from the other side of the wall.

“In here!”

The voice is faint but unmistakably Hikaru's.

“Stand back!” she shouts. “I'm going to cut a hole in the wall with my phaser.”

The superheated metal falls into the garbage pit with a heavy thud; Gaila barely jumps back in time. She crawls through the hole without waiting for the edges to cool.

Hikaru almost stabs her in the eye with a rusty fork before he realizes it's really her. Lucky for her, he's weak from exhaustion and dehydration, and the momentum of his thrust carries him forward into her body, the fork grazing ineffectually against her right ear.

“Sorry,” he mutters into her shoulder. “I thought it was a trick.”

She answers him with the gentlest hug she can manage. His face is bruised – she doesn't imagine he was taken without a fight – and he's holding himself like his ankle is hurt. But he is still himself, right down to the playful glint that never seems to leave his eyes.

He takes a couple steps back from her – she's glad to see he can walk – so that he can look at her face.

“I missed you,” he says. It's obvious that he's talking about more than just the last three days.

She swallows a lump in her throat. It's not often that she's at a loss for words. But what does anyone say after a fourteen-year separation that culminates in being kidnapped by space pirates?

Hikaru shakes his head like he's trying to snap himself out of a reverie.

“Later,” he mutters. His stance is becoming more captainly, even though he's clearly weak. “We have to get out of here. Where's the rest of the -- ”

He studies her, taking in her disheveled hair and her garbage-covered uniform.

“Wait. Did you come here all by yourself? Just for me?”

His voice holds an equal mixture of horror, awe, and admiration.

She swallows the easy answer – that not talking for weeks and then swooping in to save each other is what they do – and threads her whole fingers carefully through his broken ones. She will give him the true reason, not the safe one.

“I did. You have to hold on to what you love.”

They wind their way out of the cell, through the garbage and the desolate corridors, out the airlock and across the hull of the ship. When he stumbles, she supports him; when he fights to cling to the slippery panels of the hull, she overcomes her fear and holds him against it with her own body. And then, when she almost falls only a few steps from the end of their journey, he's the one who catches her. They settle into her ship side by side and sail away into the safety of the stars, together at last. When the pirate freighter and the nebula have vanished from behind them, Gaila finally lets go of Hikaru's hand. What she has to say isn't easy, but she won't allow herself to be any less than honest with someone she loves this much. And the truth is, she's known what she has to do ever since she heard that girl sobbing on the other side of the wall.

“I have to go back there, you know. For the rest of them.”

Hikaru nods. He doesn't look angry or sad. Just determined.

“I know,” he says. “I'll come with you.”

***


On stardate 2274.65, Captains Gaila and Sulu simultaneously resigned their posts; Captain Gaila after recovering from a nearly fatal illness that kept her quarantined on the U.S.S. Enterprise for thirty-six hours, and Captain Sulu after his unexplained rescue from Orion pirates.

Two years later, an Orion freighter sailed into Federation space carrying 1,437 newly liberated Orion slaves. Two former Starfleet captains were at the helm.
I loved this! Gaila and Sulu seem like such a natural pairing to me, and I always love the way you write them. This was such a satisfyingly long fic, with an intense look at both of them and how they fit together.
Gaila and Sulu always seemed like the most logical pairing in the world to me too. I was so surprised when people told me they had never thought of it before. But anyway, I'm so glad that you liked the story, and that you thought it was a good rendition of the pairing :)

What a great read! I loved the playfulness of the their first encounter, as well as the progression of how their relationship grew more serious. The inevitable breakup broke my heart, just b/c we know that Sulu really suffered for it and Gala didn't -- or at least, not in the same way. Their reunion was fabulous, and oh wow, the end gave me chills of happiness :):)

But even beyond the great story, I loved how your own, unique Gaila voice came through, recognizable anywhere. There were so many great little bits that made me smile as I came across them. Jim as the oblivious dipshit was particularly well-placed, lol.

Mem-ing so that I can love on this again and again. Thank you for writing! ♥
The inevitable breakup broke my heart, just b/c we know that Sulu really suffered for it and Gala didn't -- or at least, not in the same way.

Yes, that is the perfect way of saying it. I think Gaila always knew that Starfleet would break them up eventually, so she could be more practical about it. Sulu wanted to believe they would beat the odds somehow though, and I think he expected Gaila to be more devastated than she was.

Thank you so much for your nice long comment. I'm so glad you think the story is worth saving to re-read :)
Oh, I liked this. I love the way you've written Gaila here -- she's very aware of what she's doing, and what she's capable of. I loved the scene at the academy where she and Sulu argued about her being on the command track -- it felt completely real, and I loved the way Sulu tried to support her while being respectful.

I also loved the way you worked in One being awesome. Just 'cause. :)
I rewrote that argument scene so many times. I'm so glad that you liked it!

And yes, I was happy I found a spot for One in here. It seemed more interesting and fun than a random, made-up captain no one had heard of. I'm glad you enjoyed her appearance!
OMG, I had never thought of Gaila and Sulu as a couple until now. It's so obvious that they're meant for each other, I don't know why I didn't see it before!
I loved this.
This is the very best thing I could have come home to find on my f-list bb. I love this so much.
How brilliant! Wow! Such a very, very, very good story. Sulu is exactly how I've always imagined him and Gaila? Oh, Gaila. Strong, smart and awesome.
Thank you so much! I was a little worried about how Sulu's characterization came out, so I'm really glad it struck you as realistic.
Oh, wow. I love this, all through -- how you write them, how real every person in this fic feels, and how you develop this pairing between two people who are committed not only to each other, but to their jobs and their selves. This was a great read!
Thank you so much! This story was a real labor of love, so it means a lot that you enjoyed it so much :)
Love, love, love, love, LOVE!

More coherent thoughts: The snapshot of the relationship between Nyota and Spock was really fun, especially Nyota imitating Spock. I really enjoyed the progression of the relationships: Gaila and Sulu, Gaila and Uhura, and Gaila and Kirk. Also, the ending was totally perfect!
Thank you very much! I'm so pleased that you enjoyed all the little friendships on the side :)
This is such a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing. <3
This was awesome.
You bring these characters to life so vividly.
It's very clear that you know your characters through and through and have them down pat. Awesome story!
Thank you! Good characterization is so important to me, so it means a lot that you found it here :)
I love this. I love that it's realistic and not some perfect, traditional vision of a relationship, that they have such a strong bond as they pull apart and come back together. Ugh. Just lovely.
Thank you so much! This story is pretty close to my heart, so it means a lot that you liked it so much :)