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the nights are long (but the stars are brighter)

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so this is my contribution to the Star trek Femslash big bang and im super excited to finally share it.. there is some awesome artwork to accompany this by the incredible @sciencebluefeelings that i adore and you can also find on tumblr with the post for this fic here 

 artwork for fit, with the title 'the nights are long (but the stars are brighter)' included and two figures sitting together on a starship's observation deck, watching the stars

 

Nyota’s dreamed of Starfleet since she was seven.

She’d thought the stars were pretty, an observation her brother had laughed at her for, but Nyota stands by it even now. Space is beautiful and she wants to go. (Kamau still doesn’t understand, but he’s always been happy at home, happy with Earth, happy to see the stars as something out of reach.)

Nyota, though- The stars are extraordinary in a way that makes her want to be a part of them. It’s that simple. Space is something breathtaking, Nyota wants to go up there, has always wanted to up there; Starfleet operates space.

It’s a done deal by the time she’s eleven, there’s no changing her mind. Fifteen sees her staring at a jungle and imagining a path, at twenty-two, she graduates with honours from the Institute for Advanced Mathematics, twenty-three and she’s arriving in San Francisco.

There’s only one minor bump in the road, and that’s Jim Kirk — Jim Kirk, a name that rings a bell, jokes that make her laugh despite herself, an intelligence she doesn’t expect.

“I’m impressed. For a moment there, I thought you were just a dumb hick who only has sex with farm animals.”

“Well, not only.”

Before she’s even set foot in San Francisco, there’s a note in her permanent file regarding a bar fight in Iowa’s Riverside Shipyard. It strikes her as unfair, especially as Kirk shows up the next day, bloodied and smirking, all signed up for the academy with a record that’s technically spotless.

He’s persistent, even if his advances couldn’t be more misplaced if he tried. Even if he’s covered in his own blood and seems content to stay like that, all the way through the post-shuttle welcome orientation tour. Throughout the time it takes them to walk from the quad to the dorm buildings, Kirk sends three different smiles her way and tries to wink four times, which is almost impressive given the bruises that are starting to show and the exasperated glares of his companion. Kirk’s new friend looks as thrilled with Kirk as Nyota feels.

When Nyota watches Kirk follow after his new friend towards their assigned accommodation block, she assumes that’s the last she’ll see of him.

**

Nyota’s never shared a room with anyone before. She’s never had to, not even with her sister. Makena was too much older than Nyota to ever want to, and even in the years she was at IAM she didn’t have to.

Her belongings are already waiting for her, the first time she sets foot inside. The bed furthest from the door has already been claimed by her roommate, as has a closet, but her roommate is absent and Nyota can’t decide if she’s glad about that or not.

It gives her time to unpack in private, but unpacking only really takes ten minutes as she’s travelled light. Not as light as her roommate, it seems, who’s either unpacked already and has chosen to keep nothing out or seems to have little of anything at all.

Whatever the case, there’s nothing on display that would give Nyota any clues about them. In the orientation pack she’d received, there was only her room’s location and the fact that she’d be sharing — not particularly helpful when her mystery roommate is yet to appear.

She doesn’t actually have to wait long, though. She’s halfway through rearranging the few paper books she owns when the door breezes open and her roommate arrives, a tornado of chaos and red hair and uniform jackets and green skin, of arms that hug Nyota before she can even blink or process that she’s being examined, held at arms length as the girl says, “I’m Gaila. Gaila Vro. May the sisters bless our friendship.”

Gaila says her name with a sense of pride that Nyota almost doesn’t notice, but something in her expression changes as she lets go of Nyota and she can’t help but wonder what Gaila’s doing here. She’s almost too caught up in her thoughts to remember to introduce herself, staring at Gaila wide-eyed until she realises and holds out her hand. “Uhura. Nyota Uhura. It’s nice to meet you, I guess.”

Gaila laughs, bright and loud, and she shakes Nyota’s hand after faltering for a just a second, letting go to hug Nyota again.

**

Not quite four hours later, Gaila has borrowed Nyota’s favourite skirt, is wearing the ring Nyota was given by her sister when she graduated last year from IAM and has managed to persuade Nyota to forego the Academy’s official Icebreaker in favour of exploring San Francisco’s many bars.

They’re in the 602, the fifth bar of the night, when Nyota realises she hasn’t seen Gaila in almost half an hour. It’s worrying in the sense that she knows no one else here and isn’t quite sure how she’d get back to their dorm but, also, Gaila had made it abundantly clear that she’d never really been out before, not on Earth, not anywhere.

Nyota can almost imagine the superintendent of the Academy questioning her tomorrow as to why she agreed to go bar hopping with an alien who’s barely been on planet a month — an alien, Nyota will learn three months into living with Gaila, who is a refugee, who doesn’t speak any standard, reliant on a UT, and who had never seen the outside of a ship until she was smuggled to Earth, a month before she and Nyota would meet.

Currently, Nyota knows none of that, but the answer to the question she keeps imagining being asked is surprisingly simple; she’s a sucker for pretty girls and the promise of a drink, and so she’d found herself first in a bar not dissimilar to last night’s bar back at the Riverside Shipyards, then in a bar parodying Earth’s fashion and music of the 2090s before a sports bar — a concept she’d actually explained to Gaila, when Gaila wasn’t flirting with every person she came across and encouraging Nyota to join in too.

Now, it’s the 602 and the constant Starfleet memorabilia is actually sort of sobering, or it would be, if the Archer cocktails she and Gaila had been bought by an Andorian third-year cadet didn’t contain five different spirits, served only as a double measure before being set on fire for effect.

Still, Nyota hasn’t seen Gaila for a while, which is impressive because Gaila stands out with her wild curls and bright smile and the three inches she’d taken out of the skirt in between prying it from Nyota’s hands and emerging from the bathroom. She finds her, eventually, standing in the back corner, with a table of drinks in front of her, though standing isn’t really the right term. Gaila is holding court, laughing and listening to stories from the crowd of mostly men that have assembled.

Nyota hasn’t really learnt much about the Orions, basic xenobiology courses tend to be heavy on material relating to the original species of the coalition, and she’s too drunk to really remember what little high school classes and the mandatory IAM seminars had covered, though she thinks she remembers something about pheromones.

Her train of thought gets derailed when Gaila makes a space for her and crooks a finger, waving her up, and so she stands next to her, listening to the chatter of the crowd pulled in by Gaila.

It doesn’t occur to Nyota until they get back to their dorm at four am that she’s just as much one of the crowd as everyone else but, by then, she’s tired and drunk and has a braid in her fringe that she thinks is Gaila’s handiwork and Gaila had stripped before the door had even closed and Nyota has a rule about these things, about friends and not blurring lines.

**

Nyota realises how screwed she is her first proper morning in San Francisco.

She’s horrifically hungover, trying to pry herself out of her bed and into her uniform for her eight am Astrotheory 101 class and when she finally opens her eyes enough to survey her surroundings, she sees Gaila standing in her underwear in front of a mirror, bright-eyed and unabashed.

Gaila simply grins at her and gestures to the synthesiser tucked into the corner of their room, where a mug of steaming something is already present.

Nyota stumbles to it and swallows a mouthful without checking what it is, but the hit of caffeine is enough and she cradles the mug in her hands, staring at Gaila like she might be magic. When the caffeine takes effect, she realises just how alive Gaila seems and attempts to ask the many questions brimming over inside of her, but when she opens her mouth, the only things that come out are, “Wh- How? I am so. So. Hungover. You- Are you like, an android?”

She’s better than this. She is. She’s a communications major. She knows more languages than cities she’s visited.

“I’m not, no.” Gaila’s lips quirk up and she pulls on her uniform skirt before she considers, “It would possibly be nice to be, but no.”

Nyota raises an eyebrow then, but before she can ask any follow up questions she’s roped into explaining what a hangover is and then she tries to use her PADD to research the physiological cause in different responses to alcohol — coming up empty-handed — and then Gaila’s walking her towards the door, coffee still in hand, towards her first class.

It’s when she gets halfway across the quad and realises where she is that she stops and turns to Gaila, staring again and opening her mouth to speak without being able to find the words. Gaila links their arms together and continues to steer Nyota towards the right building for Astrotheory 101 and generally acts oblivious to the stares she’s gathering and the feeling of death Nyota can’t shake.

It’s all Nyota can do to follow her lead and try to nod and keep up with the chatter Gaila starts up — “What did you say your track was? Are you a command girl, flight? Medicine?” “Would you rather have attended the campus out near Risa? I hear they sometimes allow third years to transfer and can you imagine? Being an hour away from Risa, of all planets?” “Did you hear the rumour that there’s an ambassador’s son here? Apparently, he’s a professor?” — and it’s to her own amazement that she actually manages to follow, despite her headache and the fact that she’s missing a sock beneath her right boot.

When she voices that realisation, Gaila laughs, again. “I think I’m going to like being your friend.”

**

The nice, easy friendship she and Gaila have established two months into term — helped along by frequent trips to coffee shops, nights out that seem to follow the same routine as that very first one, Nyota’s ability to pick up Orion from textbooks she downloads at three am, Gaila’s adoration of trivia nights, and the obligatory shared classes — hits a bump in the road when Gaila brings Jim Kirk home with her.

She doesn’t bring him home with her, home with her. It’s not like that, as far as Nyota can gather, or if it is, it’s a different sort of like that than it’s been with any other person Gaila has brought back with her so far, but she brings Jim Kirk back to the door one day after class and Nyota takes one look at him and walks back out again.

When she walks back in, five minutes later, Jim Kirk is still there, in uniform, all blue eyes and wide smiles and he winks at her from where he’s sat on the end of Gaila’s bed. Nyota just knows this won’t end well, whatever it is.

Gaila exits their shared bathroom then, wearing one of Nyota’s blouses from what has become a shared pool of civilian clothing and grins. “Nyota! I didn’t think you’d be back yet, I see you’ve met Jimmy-“

It’s not easy but Nyota tears her gaze away from Gaila long enough to stare at Kirk and mouth, “Jimmy?” Before turning her attention back to Gaila and nodding. “I have. Are you two-“

She stops that though then and there, because she’s honestly not sure where such a question could possibly go.

Kirk’s still grinning, looking between her and Gaila, and Nyota desperately wants to ask if his chaperone, the med student already labelled on campus as one who’s bad side you avoid on pain of death, knows where he is, and it’s like he knows what she’s thinking by the edge his smile takes on as he says, “Nyota? I knew you had to have a first name, and it’s such a charming one at that.”

Gaila holds her hand out then, summoning Kirk like she’s summoning an unruly five-year-old and the two of them make for the door in a haze of pleasantries and winks and Gaila’s hand lingering on Nyota’s forearm as she says, “Don’t wait up, Jimmy’s going to take me to bowling.”

**

Kirk, or Jimmy, is everywhere after that.

Sure, Nyota had heard rumours about him around campus, ranging from tales of his exploits to the awed whisperings that he’d tested out of most first and second-year classes to the insane gossip that she’d supposed comes with having the last name Kirk, but in the two months since arriving, she’d actually avoided seeing him at all.

Sure, it’s a little harsh that she’s so grateful for that and, sure, Kirk was mildly amusing for five minutes but he’d also seemed to be someone it was best to avoid if you wanted to make it through the Academy, through life, without crashing and burning or being arrested because you’d killed him.

Gaila seems to have decided to keep him.

Kirk shows up again the next day, this time in civilian clothing — his leather jacket still sporting noticeable blood stains — and drops onto Gaila’s bed to empty out his bag of what seems to be a holoprojector.

“Built it myself,” Kirk explains when Nyota glances over at him, and she doesn’t know what else to do but shrug.

Gaila sets her PADD down then and gives Kirk more of her attention other than letting him in the door, and he preens when she nods approvingly. When she notices Nyota staring, Gaila’s eyes widen and she’s the one to ask, “You are staying, right? Jimmy promised to introduce me to Earth culture and he reckons I’ll like films.”

“I-“ Nyota’s never liked films. Not as a kid, not now. Not even the classics hold much interest for her, and a large part of her studies on syntax and language evolution had been based on films as a historical record. Gaila asks, though, and Nyota shrugs. “What are you guys watching?”

“A classic. The second remake of The Sound of Music, the one partially set on Mars, made in the late twenty-fifties.” Kirk is fiddling with the projector and not looking her way, meaning Nyota doesn’t have to work to disguise her reaction at all. It sounds like a hideous choice, but aside from messaging Makena, Nyota doesn’t have anything planned.

She ends up staying, though before the film’s even halfway through she’s regretting it. Kirk has picked a truly awful film, and he shushes her anytime she opens her mouth.

Gaila, however, is rapt, sat next to Jim against her pillows, cross-legged and transfixed by the screen.

**

The next time Jim Kirk shows up with his holoprojector, Nyota has her PADD and is out the door before he can even finish his opening one-liner.

Instead of sticking around to watch whatever twenty-first-century nightmare Jim Kirk thinks of as a good movie, Nyota heads for the labs on the ground floor of the Onizuka building, escaping before Gaila can smile at her and ask her to stay.

As Nyota had half-expected, the building is pretty much deserted by the time she gets there, though it’s not that surprising given that it’s half past seven on a Thursday, and she has the lab to herself, pulling up the audio file she’d been working on translating in Tuesday’s class.

Despite being a first-year, Nyota had managed to test into Advanced Phonology, skipping two years worth of classes and earning herself sixty credits at once, though skipping means she’s in a class with mostly third years, under one of the most sever instructors present at the Academy- Commander Spock. She knows he’s also an ethics professor and the chief of simulation programming, but such facts are irrelevant in face of his say in whether or not she’ll ever get to become a communications officer.

(If it’s worth anything, Nyota is passing his classes with flying colours; she’ll end up on Starfleet’s flagships for the entire duration of her career, she’s rumoured to be the next Amanda Grayson, she’s listed as a worthy candidate for the Sato fellowship — it’s just that she won’t be given this external view of herself until after a homicidal Romulan has played house with a select proportion of the universe.)

**

Two months into her first year and otherwise facing another film night, Nyota is sat, blissfully unaware of what the future might think of her, in the lab with audio files bombarding her from all directions as she tries to find an algorithm that recognises the structure of the language.

She’s been at it for the better part of two hours when the door to the lab opens and Commander Spock enters, though she’s so engrossed in her task that she doesn’t notice until he mutes the file and asks, “Cadet?”

It’s not her proudest moment, but she almost slips off her stool when she sees him. She grabs frantically at the controls and deactivates the program before she remembers herself and stands, attempting a uniform at attention posture. “Sir- Sorry, the doors here are never locked so I thought it’d was okay for me to be here. I can leave, though, please don’t call security, I just need a moment-“

“There’s no need, Cadet-“

“Uhura, sir.”

“Cadet Uhura. I am merely used to having the lab to myself at this time.” Spock moves from his position in the doorway to a table at the opposite end of the room, and Nyota tries to remember not to hold her breath. She’s reaching for the controls to reactivate the program when Spock asks, “What brings you here at such an hour? Most students have left the facilities by now.”

A glance in his direction shows Spock to be working on an outside file, trying to reconcile the frequency of his file with that of the Federation standard for short-range communiqués, and Nyota feels herself relax slightly. “My roommate has company right now. They’re- They’re watching a film or something right now.”

“And you did not wish to partake?” Spock sounds curious, as though he wasn’t a professor right then but in Nyota’s shoes. She shakes her head, letting her hair form a glossy curtain between them. “Not really. And I’m not sure they really need a third wheel, so I figured I’d log more hours here, you know?”

She doesn’t get an answer but she gets no more questions, free to return to her work, unbothered by her professor despite whatever niceties convention might dictate come next. Instead, Nyota dives headfirst back into her work, trying to translate the audio into a pattern decipherable by Federation tech.

The next time she looks up, successful and in dire need of caffeine, Spock is long gone, though another file has been transmitted to her station — an audio file labelled ‘extra credit’ — and Nyota smiles when the program loads up to reveal the exact issue she’d noticed the commander attempting.

**

Spock is already there the next time Nyota turns to the lab as her escape and he nods respectfully at her when she arrives. She chooses the same station, what’s now definitely her station, pulling up the file he’d sent her last time and, having no work from class left to cover, she continues running the patterns through the program she’d written.

By the time she leaves, well after she reckons Gaila and Kirk had to have finished watching the twenty-twenty-two remake of Titanic, she’s reconciled the frequency of the Commander’s file with that of an old Andorian channel used in the twenty-second century.

**

Spock receives the altered file she sends him and transmits Nyota’s findings to Admiral Womack without disruption, though, if he meditates for thirty-three point seven minutes longer that evening, it is of no matter worth further analysis.

**

Nyota gets frequent extra assignments after that first, ranging from old lexicons to numerical sequences based on Fibonacci sequences, and she starts to welcome the nights she escapes to the lab.

Commander Spock is almost always there when she arrives and they now pass most evenings she’s there in a silence that Nyota would call companionable, even if she knows a Vulcan wouldn’t think the same. They don’t share conversation whilst she’s there, not in the human sense, but he compliments her work ethic and her skill and the solutions she finds to his challenges, and Nyota begins to look forward to hearing him say, “Whilst unorthodox and clumsy when compared to the solution employed by Sakar on 0141.9, your method is efficient and precise and yields positive results.”

**

One evening, six weeks after she deciphers the lexicon used by Hoshi Sato for her official logs, Nyota arrives at the lab to find it empty and it throws her for a moment. She still drops into her seat and opens up the file she’d been translating in class, staring resolutely at it for what’s really thirty minutes but feels like forever.

It’s when she realises she’s made no progress at all in the time that she’s been there that she shuts down the station and packs her things up. Working feels somewhat redundant to Nyota this evening, but drinking alone or drinking with her classmates seems worse, and she ends up wandering back across campus to her dorm, stopping outside in front of her door for a minute and a half just in case.

Before she can decide to turn around and leave, the door slides open for her and she walks into see Gaila and Jim Kirk laying upside down on her bed, feet where a pillow should be and heads dangling over the end of the mattress, eyes fixed on the wall where Kirk’s holoprojector seems to be displaying a cartoon of sorts.

When she realises Nyota is stood there, Gaila bolts upright and grins, shifting over to make room as she asks, “I thought you were studying? If you’re staying, Ny, I think you’ll really like this one, I do. It’s about this rat, who’s ejected from his home by another rat and ends up in this underground territory trying to find his way back, only to make friends and find he can belong, it’s incredible.”

Gaila punctuates the sentence by patting the bed next to her, one eye still seemingly trained on the projection even as she smiles at Nyota and Nyota doesn’t know what else she can do other than join the two of them, even if dorm bunks are singles and definitely not designed for three people.

She’s squished into Gaila’s side, though, and it’s honestly not an unpleasant place to be, not when Gaila brings an arm down to wrap around Nyota and pin her closer, or when Gaila’s warmth and total absorption with the film detracts from any other opinion.

It’s after she’s watched most of the entire film, tucked into Gaila’s side that Nyota realises the whole experience hasn’t been so bad, though when she voices the thought aloud and is told, ‘I knew you couldn’t hate all films’, Nyota thinks harder and comes to the conclusion, privately, that the film choice had had nothing to do with it.

**

She gets to the lab, one evening early in December, to see Spock- To see the Commander waiting outside, held back from the entrance by security personnel, and when she reaches the line created by officers in red shirts, she doesn’t even have to ask a question for Spock to turn to her. “A security alert was created this afternoon after an anonymous tip alleging an intentioned attack on all Starfleet research facilities. As such, you and I are barred from our lab due to the nature of the risk.”

At his words, Nyota selfishly thinks first of the scene waiting for her back at her dorm — Gaila and Jim Kirk yet again, though the lab has become less of an escape and more of an opportunity — before realising the wider implications of the scene.

“Was anyone left inside?” She manages to ask, clutching her PADD to her chest, though Spock has shaken his head before she’s even fully asked the question. “All relevant sectors have been evacuated; the only casualty here is my intention towards spending tonight resolving the astrological relevance of the Transamerica Pyramid and the role it played in twenty-first-century code-breaking.”

Nyota blinks but decides ultimately not to question a word that has just made it out of Spock’s mouth. Instead, she checks the time, reconciles it with the fact that Spock is still stood outside his out of limits lab at nine pm on a Tuesday evening and the knowledge that Jim Kirk and Gaila will undoubtedly be back at her dorm room before she pulls out her PADD, preparing to warn Gaila.

She deliberately keeps herself from looking directly at Spock as she asks, “You know, since the lab is out of bounds, you could come back to mine? If you have nothing better to do? My roommate should be having another film night, it’ll probably be an experience…”

**

Gaila and Jim, Nyota observes as she walks through the door, are sat on the floor, leaning against the front of the couch Gaila had shown up with one afternoon last week — shown up with is an oversimplification of things; it had materialised in their room and Gaila had materialised thirty seconds after, laughing something about having a friend working in the transporter labs — watching a film Nyota recognises for once as an old, old classic, and it takes them a moment to acknowledge her presence.

When they do bother to look up, she gets a cursory nod from Jim whilst Gaila grins and brushes her hair behind her ears before, like Jim, turning her attention back to the film. Not ten seconds later, they both look again and the relaxed expression melts off of Jim’s face as he sits bolt upright, though Gaila remains still, a look on her face that is both a grin and a silent interrogation. Neither of them actually address Spock, who happens to be still stood in the doorway, surveying the scene as though he would like to compose a scientific report later.

Once it becomes clear that neither Gaila or Jim are going to speak, Nyota rolls her eyes and motions Spock into the room with a jut of her chin.

“The lab is...closed, so I figured we could gate crash,” Nyota explains as she drops her bag onto her desk and motions again for Spock to sit, checking the data chip Jim’s slotted it on the holoprojector for any clue as to what the film is.

Jim seems to finally recover then, and he jumps up, hands spread and a smile that’s trying slightly too hard on his face. “Since I gatecrashed you guys in the first place, I got no reason to complain.”

There’s a look on Jim’s face that Nyota doesn’t trust, made worse by the way he’s exaggerated his accent, and how he continues to do so as he adds, “Nice to see you, Commander; I didn’t know you could leave the lab, let alone be shut out of it?”

“Jimmy,” Gaila looks up at Jim then, an edge to her voice that doesn’t seem to register with him, but it’s still friendlier than Nyota manages to sound as she mutters, “Kirk-“

Before either of them can finish a sentence, Spock has crossed the room and is finally sitting, as though Jim’s rejection is more motivating that Nyota’s actual invitation, with one eyebrow raised. “I believe the formalities are superfluous, Cadet Kirk, since this engagement is social in purpose. And your surprise is noted, and may be rectified if you were to attend the mandatory classes you seem to misunderstand the nature of.”

The room seems to shrink then to consist of only the couch and the square foot of carpet where Jim stands, and Nyota looks at Gaila, wondering if Gaila notices it too, if she understands whatever display of bullshit Jim is pulling, but Gaila’s expression is just as uncomprehending as Nyota’s.

Nyota is very tempted to ask outright, “What the fuck?” But decorum, the uncertainty if fuck translates very well into Vulcan learnt English, and the fact that she’s not sure if she actually wants to know what this was about stops her from doing so.

Just when it feels like the room might collapse on itself, Jim grins, letting out what might even be a laugh, and he moves to sit on the empty seat of the couch. “Well then, Spock, welcome to the party.”

“Nyota informed me the occasion was a ‘film night’, not a party-“ Spock glances at Nyota then, managing to seem both severe and confused at the same time, and then his expression relaxes as he seems to realise. “Very well, James. What film are we to watch?”

Gaila lets out a laugh then, too, a long peal of bright laughter, warmer than Jim’s and it makes Nyota smile too, dropping to sit on the floor next to Gaila.

By the time they are halfway through The Breakfast Club, Gaila has asked more than two dozen questions, braided her own hair, braided Nyota’s, and is occupying all of Nyota’s personal space. Nyota finds, only half paying attention to a film that is literally older than the Federation, that she doesn’t particularly mind any of that.

**

Spock watches Artemis with them next. Then Eleanor Oliphant. Then the twenty-second-century reboots of the Fast and Furious franchise.

They still spend a lot of time in the lab, and Nyota is fairly sure Spock spends the nights she’s not there holed up there too, but film night continues and expands to include Spock without question. First-year continues and finishes this way, except their spots in the room become set, permanent; Gaila spends every film night curled against Nyota’s side and Nyota spends most film nights watching Gaila, trying not to disturb her.

Jim educates Gaila on cinema, but Nyota learns to sit through films, to watch as an actress cries daintily without rolling her eyes, to follow the streams of fake blood and gore without getting up. When she goes home after the last semester of the year, she keeps going, opening the packages Jim sends her of drives consisting only of films.

He sends her romcoms, crappy love stories that seem laughable, action films where the women are limited to screaming, action films where a woman actually saves the day, cartoons — Nyota watches them all.

The first movie night back, after summer and moving into the apartment she and Gaila found, she learns Spock got them too, the films, and Gaila, but it’s better this way because she can say, ‘smile and wave, boys,’ at, and in reference to, the first-year cadets and Gaila will supply the punchline. They watch more of what Jim wants, but he’s brighter than before and no longer supplies vodka when he shows up, and he reminds Nyota less and less of the boy trying to hit on her in the bar, and there’s another, more noticeable difference; occasionally, he picks documentaries, ones from the twentieth century, in appalling quality, with features of Earth that just don’t exist anymore.

Spock seems to like them, as much as he likes anything. Gaila, not so much, and so they start watching films together sometimes, not always, not often, but when fantasy needs to renew the magic of the cinema, and Nyota and Gaila end up watching their way alone through the Narnia films that Gaila found for herself.

They take a brief break from the documentaries and secret film nights for Christmas — which is when Jim decides its time Gaila gets introduced to Christmas and it’s particular brand of film, starting with The Holiday and ending on Christmas on Titan: A Tale
Of Two Robots — but before they can pick up where they left off with Narnia and Lucy, Nyota finds herself off-planet.

Every cadet has the opportunity to take what was, once upon a time, a semester abroad but is now a semester in space. Nyota’s opportunity is now, and she reports to a shuttle bay at the far end of the Academy’s campus to be transported to the USS Ahriman.

She reports at 0700 on a Wednesday, the time Gaila usually can be found to be sleeping in the computer labs, so she leaves their room alone. Her mother had messaged, but it was a cursory ‘be safe’ message, and Nyota rolls her eyes at it.

To her surprise, Jim shows up, or more accurately, Jim chases her down as she walks through the quad, offering to carry her bag, though he’s followed by the med student Nyota has often seen following him around, who tries to apologise for Jim’s behaviour before Nyota talks him down.

Whilst on the shuttle, after she’d reported to a Commander Avery, who’d taken one look at Jim and rolled her eyes, Nyota’s PADD beeps with two messages.

One is from Spock and is, surprisingly, not another extra credit assignment but a film, along with a short paragraph.

The USS Ahriman is due on an important deep space assignment; your posting is truly an accomplishment.

The other is from Gaila and reads: Ny, you better come back, otherwise I’m keeping your things.

Despite that, or maybe because of it, Nyota feels better. At least, she feels better for three and a half seconds because when she arrives on the Ahriman, she’s collected by the second officer and informed that, “No one here understands why you were assigned to us; we don’t need a linguistics cadet; deep space means we’re mostly tracking unseen phenomena. Mostly, you’re to keep to the lab you’re given. Normally, Commander Gailman would brief you, but today he’s inspecting engineering, so you’ve got me.”

From then on, space starts to feel like a different world completely.

Nyota is assigned to gamma shift; reporting to a first-year ensign as a glorified phone operator (a term Nyota only knows because of Jim Kirk, and for three seconds, she hates him for it. Then she misses him.)

She’s rooming with the same girl who is technically her boss, but Calliope is somehow great at compartmentalising, and on Nyota’s first night — which actually happens to be 1100 to 1700 Earth time — she takes her to a rec room and keeps offering her shots of tequila until even Gaila would be proud.

She likes Callie less the next morning (read, 1800 hours) when she wakes Nyota less than ten minutes before her shift is due to begin.

It’s not all bad, though. She gets to explore the ship on her off time, and since she’s ignored by pretty much everyone else, she becomes well acquainted with the ignored rec rooms on the twenty-sixth floor, where Nyota ends up spending a lot of downtime. She reads her novels in there — she’s reading classic novels in their original language with the translation function of her PADD deactivated — and it’s almost nice until Gaila calls her one evening and realises that Nyota is completely alone there.

After that, Nyota makes sure she’s in a different part of the ship for every call with Gaila, starting with her lab, in a snatched five minutes whilst Callie is reporting to Gailman, and starring a rotating set such as med bay, the mess hall, the corridor outside her room, the room itself, the turbolift and the observation deck.

Once she finds the observation deck, Nyota gives up on exploring.

The wall of the entire deck is glass, or at least looks like it. It can’t be, but she doesn’t care about what the wall is made of, just what it gives way to.

It gives way to space.

It looks like she could reach out and touch the stars, as far away as they are, and when she finds it, Nyota drops to the floor and simply stares for a while. Once she finds it, she visits the observation deck almost every night, taking a blanket with her and sitting by the window.

By the window isn’t really accurate; she sits facing the wall, sometimes with her forehead pressed against it, though it’s a sensation trippier than the ancient ‘vomit comet’ she rode in for the first session of zero-gravity training.

Gaila begins calling her every day and, apart from the time spent sitting in her old, old clothes from home — corduroy trousers and a sweater knitted by her grandmother — watching the stars go by, it’s the most at home Nyota ever feels there. Even if most of their conversations go something like:

“Ny-“

“Don’t look at me. You’re the one who brought him home in the first place.”

“But-“

“But what? Kirk is a problem of your own creation.”

“But I’m stuck being the third wheel to him and Spock and I need your help.”

“Like I said, you brought Jim home with you. He’s your problem, not mine.”

Gaila, as a habit she brought with her from Orion, wears almost nothing when alone, and Nyota has gotten used to it pretty quickly — technically something of a lie, she’d walked home three weeks into their first-ever term living together and nearly had a heart attack and, ever since then, has tried to message Gaila in advance if she knows Gaila’s back before her — but, for Callie this had come as something of a shock. “I didn’t know you had a girlfriend...next time you two- You guys- You want privacy, just ask, okay?”

At the time, Nyota had fought a blush as Gaila laughed, hanging up the call and dropping her PADD before she chased Calliope down the corridor. “She’s not my girlfriend- She’s not! Callie!”

Saying the words had felt...odd then, but Nyota chalks it up to the fact that she was yelling them down the corridor and to the fact that she hasn’t really had a girlfriend since before she arrived at the Academy, not since leaving IAM.

She hasn’t really wanted a girlfriend either, she’s not wanted to date anyone, not really.

Three weeks later, after she’s accepted a second term on board the Ahriman and has been promoted from gamma shift to beta, she meets Christine.

Christine, otherwise known as Nurse Chapel, likes white wine and observation decks and she dislikes courtesy and drinking alone. She shows up one night, sits on Nyota’s blanket without asking, offers her a glass of wine, and the rest is as the saying goes.

A month after that, when Gaila’s birthday has been and gone and Nyota has missed it and their phone call and is left looking at holos of the party Jim had thrown, with his doctor friend, most of Gaila’s classmates for every subject and even Spock in attendance, Christine calls bullshit. “She’s cute.”

“Cute doesn’t cover it,” Nyota speaks without thinking and she wants to blame the wine, but she knows what it won’t wash with Christine. She winces instead, mostly at the delighted look on Christine’s face. “I mean-“

“I know what you meant.” Christine grins, and puts herself more wine. “How long have you two been together?”

Nyota keeps her gaze firmly fixed on the view outside as she says, “We’re not together.”

When Christine asks, “Why not?” Nyota has the feeling she actually means to say, “God, you’re an idiot.”

Nyota thinks she might be right.

**

June rolls around and brings Nyota and the Ahriman back to space dock with it.

The Ahriman’s mission is three years in length, so their sojourn back to the sol system is purely to return Nyota, but the atmosphere on the ship lightens at the idea of shore leave, and Nyota, three days before their return, is given shifts on the bridge. She loves it there, even if she has someone watching over her shoulder constantly and she knows it’s really a goodbye thing, but the experience makes her feel like missing the Ahriman a little bit more.

She doesn’t miss it enough not to want to leave, though. She’s in the shuttle bay twenty minutes before her requested departure time and the prospect of seeing San Francisco again has her almost as giddy with excitement as she was when she first left home for the Institute for Advanced Mathematics years ago. San Francisco isn’t really her focus, though.

Gaila offers to meet her back at the Academy, and the shuttle ride from the Ahriman to Spacedock to Earth takes far too long, at least for Nyota’s liking.

At midday, the shuttle bay is busier than it had been when Nyota had left, but she still notices Gaila instantly. Despite not being meant to be there, Gaila is crowding around a shuttle mid-maintenance inspection, her uniform jacket abandoned on the ground next to her, and Nyota waits patiently for five minutes and then not-so-patiently and then drops her bag to the ground and joins it.

Gaila finishes eventually, letting the actual engineering crews look at the shuttle, and Nyota can pinpoint the second Gaila realises she’s there; her face lights up, her hair flying behind her as she streaks across the bay. She’s pulling Nyota up from the floor and into a hug before Nyota can blink, and she’s laughing.

Not once does Gaila apologise for Nyota’s wait, but that’s what Nyota likes about her, that and the way her chin jerks up as she realises and her face then softens again at Nyota’s smile. She’s cut her hair since their last call, so it falls just to her shoulders, and Nyota wants to reach out and brush it behind her ears. She stamps down the urge to do so, though, and lets Gaila walk her away as she asks a million questions, even though most of them have been answered over the many, many calls.

They have to double back and retrieve Gaila’s jacket, and Nyota laughs, and then they have to return for Nyota to debrief with Commander Avery, and then they get coffee.

Sitting in the corner of Gaila’s favourite coffee place — they offer coffee with shots of tequila added — it hits Nyota that she’s really back and she sits there for a while, quiet. When Gaila notices, when the stream of gossip and questions and various sounds Gaila always makes when presented with a hot flat white spiked with tequila die out, and she asks, “Ny?” Nyota can only say, “I’m just glad to be home.”

Gaila smiles again then, wide and sunny, and Nyota can’t help herself.

She leans over the table, slightly reckless given the impressive amount of empty coffee mugs Gaila has managed to collect in the hour they’ve been there, and kisses Gaila, cautious and careful until Gaila kisses back.

They manage to knock over three of the mugs and smash a fourth. Gaila forgets her jacket again when they leave but, this time, they don’t go back for it.

**

Jim has apparently entered a weird phase in his film choices whilst Nyota has been away.

All of the films he picks are indie, alternative films and when they get to the fifth arty film shot by a no-name director from Denocet V in mainly black and white, Gaila puts her foot down. Nyota, for what it’s worth, doesn’t particularly care, because most she spends film nights watching Gaila, with Gaila wrapped around her or tucked under the same blanket, despite the fact that its summer, and hasn’t actually watched any of Jim’s choices.

Gaila puts her foot down, though, so Jim relents and lets someone else dictate choices for once. There is the slight problem of there being a limited audience involved so Gaila picks the films, however, this is revealed to be a less than stellar idea when she makes them sit through all the Oscar winners of the past three hundred years.

After six, Nyota puts her foot down. Unfortunately, she doesn’t really have any ideas, so Jim’s crown is returned to him and he seems to settle for romcoms.

After the last summer, Nyota had thought she’d been acquainted enough with romcoms, but Jim pulls up a list longer than the list of members of the Federation, and she and Gaila sit through Groundhog Day, Some Kind of Wonderful, Sol-ely Royal, A Christmas Prince and Ten Things I Hate About You.

The funny thing is, romcoms are suddenly more bearable. And, by that, Nyota can watch them without wanting to roll her eyes or free the actresses from plots that are completely indistinguishable from one another.

When Jim notices, she tells him not to push his luck or she’ll choose the films next, but with Gaila, it’s different.

“It’s because,” She says one night, after Jim has gone, led away at a time that is almost early for him by Spock, “The people in these films are supposed to feel about each other the way I feel about you.”

Gaila blushes then, but she’s Gaila, so she doesn’t duck her head or stammer or let the matter drop. Instead, she leans forward so she’s knelt over Nyota, her hair loose and distracting, and asks, “And how do you feel about me?”

“I think you know.” Gaila face is inches away Nyota’s and Nyota wants to kiss her, but Gaila sits back at the last second, somehow both teasing and curious, the look on her face pressing Nyota for more.

Nyota knows over eighty-three percent of all the languages in the Federation, but right now, her mind is blank. She huffs out a breath and falls back on the bed, pulling Gaila down with her so they’re tangled together. When Gaila’s hands brush through her hair, Nyota’s breath catches in her throat and she has to force the words out, “I love you.”

“I love you, too,” Gaila says, simply, like it’s somehow the easiest thing in the world. Then she laughs and kisses Nyota. “How many languages can you say that in? What is it in Vulcan?”

“Taluhk nash-veh k'dular.” Nyota answers and doesn’t bother to explain that it’s perhaps not a true equivalent, choosing instead to watch Gaila grin. She doesn’t miss the way Gaila lights up, the look of delight on her face so distracting that when she asks, “What about in Klingon?” Nyota doesn’t have an answer. Instead, she kisses Gaila, soft and slow, only to have to laugh when she asks, “Nausicaan?”

**

The last film they watch before what Nyota has taken to calling ‘the three day weekend of shit’ is The Strange Case of Mister Cigars.

Jim, of course, picks it, citing historic precedence of Starfleet officers choosing this film, and whilst Nyota failing to pay attention to the film isn’t unusual, Jim not watching it is. Especially when he’s dragged her out of the lab for it, forcing her away before she can finish her report on the Romulan transmissions she intercepted.

She doesn’t ask him about it, even though it’s been three years and they’re friends and she actually likes him. Afterwards, Nyota wishes she had, because- Well, just because. She doesn’t ask, though, and he leaves and the next morning she’s called in to be the communications officer on his third resit of the Kobyashi Maru.

Spock has refused to talk to all of them about the test. He wrote it and is there when they take it, being its administrator, but they don’t talk about it. They fail, get their official results back and, by film night, it’s forgotten.

Not with Jim, and Nyota would like to knock some sense into him for it, but instead she sits there, follows his orders and tries not to sound too insubordinate when he fails the first, second and- Not the third time.

He crunches on the stupid apple as, on-screen, the Romulan ships burn, adrift, and she wants to ask how he did it, how Spock let him, just how, but he remains smug and superior until their entire cohort is being called into a disciplinary hearing.

Crammed into the hall with everyone else, Nyota can admit that a small part of her is proud of how rapidly Spock disassembles Jim and reconstructs him to prove his point; Jim cheated. Another part of her hates him for it, because it would have been kinder if Spock had simply knocked him through a wall.

From the look on Jim’s face afterwards, when everyone is rushing around, and admirals are muttering about a crisis and Vulcan, and shuttles are visible overheard, and Leonard is by his side — Leonard McCoy, because Jim didn’t turn to her or Gaila or any of the other little crew they know after three years — Jim feels the same way. Before any of it can be discussed, Nyota is lined up in the same shuttle bay she reported to a year ago, only now Spock, Commander Spock, is assigning her to the Farragut and she can’t see Jim anyway.

The Farragut is unacceptable, unacceptable, not when she’s better, she knows she is, and she doesn’t want to let it slide, but it takes second place to finding Gaila and knowing where she is.

Gaila finds her and Nyota can’t breathe and there isn’t enough time, not nearly enough time, but Gaila squeezes her arm and says, “I’m on the Enterprise, Ny, I’ll meet you back here, after, yes?”

She rushes off before Nyota can tell her to be safe; she’s aware of the redundancy, but it’s all she can think even as she rushes after Spock, yelling after him through the crowd, and he knows what she wants before she even says it. He leads her away from the crowd before tapping at his PADD. “My mistake, Cadet, you are assigned to the Enterprise.”

Gaila’s shuttle has left but Nyota’s going to be in the same place as her, and that’s enough for her to remember to breathe, that they’re training for this, though this centre of calm she manages to find is obliterated when Jim comes crashing into her. He’s inexplicably there, though Nyota’s not really all that surprised to see him, though the allergic reaction does catch her off-guard for a moment.

Not as much, however, as what he says does, and then they’re on the bridge and Captain Pike is debating whether to listen or not.

He listens, and then Vulcan is gone, Jim is nearly dead, and Spock looks like- Well, Nyota almost wouldn’t recognise him, but he’s her friend and she’s there as he keeps staring at the place on the transporter pad where his mother isn’t.

She’s his friend, but she’s also Jim’s and she’s not blind, no matter how much they don’t talk about it, and she ends up watching a repeat of the night she met Jim, but this time, Pike isn’t there to step in. She doesn’t recognise Spock then, wouldn’t be able to recognise him, and she wants to see Gaila, see someone she knows, see someone who’s always been watching Jim and Spock like they have.

She wants Gaila to tell her it’s alright, but it’s not.

It’s not and they’re headed for the Laurentian system, and neither Nyota or Spock have ever paid enough attention to Jim’s choice in films because he shows up, with someone Nyota vaguely recognises as Gaila’s friend in the Academy’s transporter labs, and then- And then it’s okay.

It’s not really, it’s not going to be okay for a very long time, and there’s a terrifying moment when there’s a very real possibility that they’re going to have survived time-travelling Romulans only to be crushed by a black hole. Jim is yelling, the channel to engineering is still open and she can hear Gaila in the background.

There are stress fractures tearing the ship apart and the view screen cracks, with space tantalisingly out of their reach and Nyota thinks back to the Ahriman and the observation deck and the stars. She can still see the stars, even if they aren’t her focus as she tries everything to keep their SOS broadcasting on all known frequencies.

Jim had once made them watch a month of Earth’s ancient science fiction films, films that are awful, wildly inaccurate and, as Gaila and Spock have pointed out, kind of speciesist — though they’d given Star Wars a pass on that front — but there is always one prevailing theme; the last-minute plan to save the day works. The ‘last-ditch, no holds barred, this is it, we’re screwed’ plan works, and it works for them too.

They’ve no warp core, but Nyota manages to hail an old freight ship, and they’re on their way home. Jim is quiet, doesn’t once leave the bridge and, unlike in that stupid test, the test they were all taking less than forty hours ago, there’s no snark, no bullshit now.

He lets her go, when they’re four hours away from the Sol system, and she waits until the turbolift lets her out at Engineering before she’s running. Engineering is quiet, caused both by the hull fracture and the loss of the warp core sort of negating the need for engineers, but Gaila is there, directing the remaining crew on repairs though she stops dead when she sees Nyota.

It’s a breach of protocol and professionalism and Nyota doesn’t care because she has her arms wrapped around Gaila and she’s not entirely certain she’ll be able to let go. It’s when buries her face in Gaila’s hair that she notices the dried blood and the minor cuts and scrapes but Gaila stops her from dragging her away to sickbay.

Nyota wants to protest, but Gaila promises, “Later,” and Nyota so badly wants there to be a later that she nods.

**

There is a later, but it’s not the later that films promise.

They limp home, but they’re not heroes. They’re debriefed by the Admirals, but they’re told nothing, and all field promotions are revoked until the Admiralty decide what to do next.

The crew of the Enterprise are the only ones to return. The shuttle bay is quiet, but the Academy itself is quieter. Gaila meets her after debrief and they walk back together, fingers linked, heads down, but they get back to the dorms and it’s silent.

There should be hundreds of other people, but none of their neighbours are to be seen. Gaila rests her head on Nyota’s shoulder as they stand there and she’s the first one to say, “We can’t stay here.”

Nyota nods and ends up sitting on the steps outside as Gaila walks back and forth, debating what they should do.

Jim shows up after they’ve been sat there for what feels like forever and Nyota instantly feels better, because Jim seems to have answers when no one else does.

“Figured I’d find you here.”

“Jimmy.” Gaila gives him a tired smile from where she’s sat and she reaches for him. Nyota didn’t think they’d be seeing him this soon, but she’s glad to see him and she stands up, intercepting him and pulling him into a hug. He hides his surprise well and it’s almost nice until she notices his black eye and pulls away to examine him.

He cuts her off when she opens her mouth and she notices how the smile he gives doesn’t quite seem genuine. “Don’t. It’s ancient history.”

It’s not enough but she shrugs before letting him go and helping Gaila up, wrapping an arm around her waist. “Do you want to come up with us?”

Jim breaks then, looking more like the idiot Gaila had brought back with her three years ago than the man who’d stood on the Enterprise’s bridge and negotiated with Nero, and he nods, rubbing a hand over his face. “Yeah, yeah, that would be great. Bones- He’s still at Medical and I’m not sure I’d be- If- Yeah.”

The dorms are still too quiet, but with Jim sleeping on the couch it feels less empty. Gaila collapses onto what, after a year, has become their bed and it’s then, when she leaves faint traces of blood on the pillow that Nyota remembers the promise of, ‘Later.’

She gets into bed anyway and wraps her arm around Gaila, hiding her face in her neck and closing her eyes. Gaila wakes up three hours later, complaining about being smothered, but she pulls Nyota closer anyway.

**

Jim’s gone when Nyota wakes up, but by the time she’s showered, dressed and watching Gaila try to decide what to wear, he’s returned with coffee.

They sit there for five minutes, staring at the cups as they all come to the same realisation; they don’t know what to do next. After another twenty-minutes, Jim has found his holoprojector and put a mass call into everyone he can think of.

Another seventeen minutes and Nyota is sat on the floor, crowded in next to Hikaru Sulu and his boyfriend, with Gaila sitting sort of next to her and sort of on her lap. Checkov, the kid, the seventeen-year-old, is sat on the end of the bed next to Jim, whilst Jim’s friend Leonard — Bones, Jim called him as he staggered through the door — is perched against their replicator, cradling a mug of coffee and muttering something that Nyota’s not sure is a real language.

Nyota briefly considers hitting Jim when she sees the title of the film he’s chosen, but doing so requires moving and Gaila’s head is on her shoulder and Nyota doesn’t want to let go of her. Gaila shifts like she knows what Nyota is thinking and Nyota shakes her head, holding Gaila tighter. Gaila, because at this point she knows Nyota like the back of her hand, relaxes and reaches up to kiss her.

Just before the film starts, the door chimes and Jim yells, “It’s open,” though Nyota’s fairly certain that she’s the only one who notices the look of confusion that flashes across his face. He pales when Spock walks in, though he recovers well, but not well enough that Gaila doesn’t notice too.

She tugs on Nyota’s hair and Nyota nods, raising her eyebrows.

Spock stands awkwardly. Jim nods at him. Nyota wants to ask Gaila what the fuck is happening because Jim tugs at his hair once then nods again and Checkov is moving, relegated to the floor with the rest of them, and Spock is sat in his place, though he sounds uncertain as he asks, “What are we watching?”

There’s a collective groan around the room as Jim answers, “The day after tomorrow.”

**

Later, much later, sees Nyota reinstated as Lieutenant Uhura, an active Starfleet officer currently assigned to the USS Enterprise, serving under Captain James T. Kirk and Commander Spock.

Currently, the Enterprise is on a scientific mission of exploration, in orbit around an uninhabited M-Class planet with a completely different view of the stars.

It also sees her sat on the Enterprise’s newly re-commissioned observation deck. The Enterprise lacks the Ahriman’s uninterrupted view into space, but it has something Nyota is perhaps more grateful for; a door lock.

It also has Gaila, Gaila sat next to her, Gaila with her hair loose down her back and wearing the same dress she borrowed from Nyota years ago and never gave back, Gaila. It has Gaila and Nyota has fought with Spock three times this week to get him to change their shift patterns so they could have this.

He gave in after the first argument, but Nyota had speeches prepared and wasn’t about to let them go to waste.

This happens to be a bottle of white wine — after the Ahriman, observation decks make Nyota think of white wine — and the stars and Gaila braiding Nyota’s hair, her fingers slipping below the collar of her shirt every so often, and Nyota is utterly, completely, stupidly happy.

Despite Gaila’s best attempts at braiding, Nyota keeps undermining them by turning around to kiss her, not that Gaila seems to care. She lets Nyota’s hair tumble back around her ears, one hand tucking the messiest curls behind her ear, the other catching the wall when Nyota leans a little too far in.

The kiss only ends because they’re both laughing too much, but Nyota’s hand finds Gaila’s and she doesn’t let go.