The crew scatters in Discovery’s hallways in small groups, laughter and chatter echoing behind them. Keyla blinks, belatedly realizing that she’s stopped walking; but unlike the days following their arrival to the distant future, it’s not because of some disconnect between her wandering thoughts and her body.
It’s the first time since they left everything behind that Discovery doesn’t look like an empty, cavernous hunk of metal.
Joann is at her side, and that simple fact is enough to make Keyla choke up. But Joann has waited long enough for Keyla to come around.
“Not really,” Keyla whispers, looking down to the floor. Other crewmates walk past them, and she catches a glimpse of Stamets and Culber laughing together. She takes a deep breath. “Earlier, I— went talking to Dr. Culber.”
“I figured something like that had happened. You did the right thing,” Joann says. Her hand is suddenly on Keyla's left shoulders, and she freezes. Keyla forces herself to relax to the touch, which she knows is welcome, even if her body refuses to get the message.
“I’m sorry,” she murmurs again. “I just—”
“You’re going through a lot, I get.”
There’s a very mean reply on the tip of Keyla’s tongue. Another, she allows herself to think about it a bit longer. And you aren’t, Jo?
It’s always been inside of her, this odious ferocity. She tapped into it so often at the Academy. Every instructor fostered her toughness, her uncompromising nature. Her competitive streak is probably the only reason she ever got into the racing squadrons.
She hates, hates, that the jump into the future is affecting her so much while everyone else is doing better than she is. It’s why it’s taken her so long to even consider admitting it. Then she’d have to also admit that Discovery came so close to be destroyed in a crash landing, while she piloted it. That she couldn’t even help when other people corrected her mistakes. That when she feels useless, when she’s afraid of being replaced, she can’t help but see every glance and hear every word as proof that everyone is out to get her.
And Joann is still here, despite everything— despite Keyla acting like a woman possessed, driven by paranoia and cruelty.
“Thank you. I know— I’ve not been myself lately.” Keyla turns to look at Joann, compels herself to look at her in the eye. “I’ve been mean to a lot of people, and you still stuck with me. It feels like it’s way more than I deserve right now.”
Joann’s eyes widen, as if what she’s saying is surprising. “Keyla, I—” She frowns, looking away. Searching for words. “I was worried about you. I know talking isn’t really your style and, well. Not talking isn’t exactly mine,” she adds jokingly, making Keyla smile. “I just want you to know that I have your back. Always.”
Keyla is getting choked up again. She wants to laugh; today might be her worst nightmare, if it weren’t for the people who still find in themselves to forgive her despite her outbursts. If it weren’t for Joann, who is here, now, in this hallway that’s empty except for them but has never been this comforting and full as it is in this moment.
Keyla reaches out to hold Joann’s free hand. She squeezes it lightly. She steps closer, their bodies flush. Jo is grinning now, and Keyla feels like laughing again but this time only with joy. Keyla leans in until their foreheads meet in a well-worn gesture.
“There’s no one else I’d rather have. Always.”