Keyla had figured everybody sometimes just felt sad without knowing why.
Figuring out why wasn’t really a priority for her. She had more important things on her mind. School. Practicing flying. Having fun with her friends. Testing the limits of what she could do sitting at a helm. Preparing her application for Starfleet Academy. And once she got there, time for feelings was more a luxury than ever.
When those odd sad feelings seemed to get stronger, come on more often, the closer her first semester finals got, she figured it must be nerves. Being a Starfleet pilot, after all, had been her dream for years. More than half her life. She pressed on through the exams, and by the end of it, she didn’t know how they’d go, but she knew she was ready.
So what, then, was the feeling of dread that came to her late one night? The feeling like she was losing something she might never get back?
Keyla didn’t know. All through the school break, she wondered.
She knew, of course, that she must have a soulmate out there somewhere. It just wasn’t something she spent all that much time thinking about. Feelings weren’t really part of the plan with her, and feelings were what the whole soulmate thing was all about, really. Maybe she’d meet them someday. Maybe she wouldn’t. It wasn’t that big of a deal, or at least that was what she told herself.
Occasionally, the thought crossed her mind--what if her soulmate needed her?
It couldn’t be, she reasoned. If they were really soulmates, really a perfect match, whoever it was couldn’t need anything from Keyla that Keyla couldn’t give. That had to be how it worked, didn’t it?
It had never quite made sense to her.
Joann supposed she should be glad she hadn’t been on the bridge when it happened.
The sudden jolt of terror that had seized her, sent her heart racing like she’d never felt it, made her quarters spin around her. And then, just as suddenly, it was gone, leaving her breathing hard, leaning against the back of her chair. Shaking as she sat down, trying to collect herself, figure out what in the world just happened.
Some sort of anxiety attack, maybe? She’d never had one out of nowhere like that before, but such things weren’t unheard of, even though many in Starfleet preferred to pretend otherwise. Or maybe she was sick. But somehow, Joann wasn’t sure either of those things was the answer.
She’d get checked out in sickbay to make sure, but there was one other possibility. What she’d experienced might indeed have been psychological, but the psychology involved might not have been exactly her own.
All her life, she’d known she must have a soulmate somewhere in the universe. She’d watched others around her find theirs. For some, it was someone they’d known since childhood, who’d been there all along. Others met theirs later, often finding that their person had always craved the simpler life Joann’s home had to offer.
Maybe if Joann had found her other half before she’d made the decision to leave for the Academy, things would have been different. But she never had, and she’d always wondered.
If she went to sickbay, they’d be able to tell. She knew it was the smart thing to do, but somehow she felt strange about it. Even though every Starfleet medical officer knew the biology and psychology of the soulmate connection, had probably seen plenty of cases like this, if she was right, they’d still be probing into an experience that wasn’t entirely Joann’s to share.
The next day, the Federation was at war.
Everyone walked around with stunned expressions on their faces. They looked as lost as Joann felt. They’d surely known, of course, on some level that they could be called to fight to defend the Federation. They’d been trained for it. But there was still an idea among them that this wasn’t what they signed up for. It certainly wasn’t what Joann had hoped she was signing up for, when she’d left everything she’d known behind and moved into the dorms at Starfleet Academy. Everyone was saddened, afraid, confused. Joann’s feeling of unsettlement that hadn’t left her since that incident in her quarters hardly set her apart.
Amidst all that, what Joann had experienced didn’t really seem important. It wasn’t as if its nature was a mystery anymore; she’d gotten checked out in sickbay after all, and her suspicions had been confirmed. Everyone had that one person to whom they had a special connection, whose feelings they felt.
But Joann hadn’t met that person. Normally, the connection got stronger as a pair of soulmates got to know each other. Most people who hadn’t met theirs yet rarely noticed a thing. For her to have felt what she felt already--whoever Joann’s soulmate was, something awful must have happened to them.
On the day the Federation went to war. According to the reports, it might well have been the very moment. It couldn’t be a coincidence. And Joann couldn’t help but worry.
She read everything she could on what had happened when the war began. It had been a Federation starship called the Shenzhou that had been involved, at first, but several more Starfleet vessels had arrived as backup. The list of casualties was extensive. Danby Connor. Gen Troke. Melissa Reid. Brett Anderson. Philippa Georgiou. Thousands of them, on and on.
None of the names prompted any supernatural recognition in her, though she knew there was no reason to think they should. That wasn’t how it worked, not really.
Whoever it is can’t be dead, Joann thought. I’d know. I’d have to, wouldn’t I?
But as soon as she’d taken her place on the bridge of Discovery as alpha shift navigator for the first time, as soon as she’d looked to her left at the woman at the helm, then she’d known.
She’d felt it, both in herself and in the helm officer at the same moment. Lieutenant Keyla Detmer, she thought. That was who the woman was, according to the shift schedule.
Joann couldn’t help but smile. They’d found each other at last. The fear she didn’t realize she was still holding onto, that she’d walked away from something she could never get back before even knowing she had it, melted away.
For just one moment, nothing else mattered.
They hadn’t wanted to tell anyone.
It felt wrong, somehow. Every day brought more bad news, of people dead or missing. Some days, Discovery was right at the center of it. They would arrive to a fight too late, or to the wrong place entirely, and whole ships would have been lost. Everyone was experiencing it, but most of them didn’t have what Keyla and Joann had. Keyla and Joann had each other, one good thing that had come out of this whole horrific situation. One good thing Keyla wasn’t always sure she deserved.
Once, she’d traced the edges of her implant, wondering if perhaps her injury had knocked that connection out of her, if one day she’d meet her soulmate and neither of them would feel a thing. She wondered if that would really be the worst thing. If for once, her augmentation might actually be working in her favor. Then, Keyla hadn’t wanted anybody knowing what she’d been feeling the past six weeks. What she was apparently going to keep feeling for who knew how long.
And then she’d met Joann. Seen her smile, the warmth in her eyes. She’d felt, too, what was in Joann’s heart--not judgement, not pity, just curiosity and care and a tinge of relief? She’d somehow known she could trust Joann Owosekun, even though she couldn’t possibly explain why.
It took her a little longer to entirely trust that feeling of her own, but in time, she gave in. Started to admit that she wanted this. Needed this, even, and that Joann did, too.
And unbelievable as it seemed, they both could have it. In dark corners of crew parties, sneaking away from the others to steal kisses. In the privacy of one of their quarters or the other’s, curled up in bed, wrapped around each other, knowing exactly when one of them needed comfort. In the mess hall, reaching out to touch hands under the table, glad that even Airiam didn’t have X-ray vision. Or at least Keyla was pretty sure she didn’t. She would have mentioned that, wouldn’t she?
“Do you ever feel like Airiam knows?” Keyla whispered as the two of them lay in bed.
“Sometimes I feel like Airiam knows everything,” Joann said. “I don’t mean just this. I mean everything-everything.”
“I mean, yeah,” Keyla said.
“I’m sure you would too,” Joann said, “if you could watch everything you saw, everything you lived over and over.”
“Nah,” Keyla said. “I don’t know about that.” Even if she did have to remember all the worst parts of the war, even if she did constantly run every mission she’d done through her head, if she spent long hours on the training simulators some days making sure next time she’d get it perfect--she couldn't imagine literally having it all there to play on a loop in her mind. What she might have done then.
They lapsed into silence. Keyla focused on Joann’s warmth, the feeling of her arms around her. How sometimes, as they lay there together, Keyla really did feel like things would be okay.
Keyla hated the fact that she could follow Joann’s fear.
It was a good thing, in a way. She could be the one to lead Burnham and Nhan through this maze of alien tunnels, find wherever Joann and the others--Rhys and Osnullus were missing too--had been taken. Hopefully get there in time to save them.
She could set her implant to seek Joann’s heat signature. She’d once hated that, too.
She could tell Joann was trying not to panic. Mostly, she was succeeding. She was good at that. Better than Keyla, little as Keyla liked to admit it.
But Keyla could tell they were getting closer, and that it wasn’t easy for Joann, that she really was afraid for herself and for their crewmates, worried she might never see any of them again, and Keyla felt the same way, such that the closer she got, the less sure she was where one of them ended and the other began.
“Lieutenant!” Nhan called out, but Keyla was running, racing to press her cheek against the wall, fling all the love and reassurance she possibly could at the woman on the other side--
--and then a guard had her by the front of her uniform jacket, forcing her back. She kicked out at his legs, struggling to get away, to get to Joann as he reached for Keyla’s throat--
There was a loud thud, and the guard slumped over. Keyla scrambled back as he collapsed to reveal Burnham, holding a club. Where it had come from was quickly revealed--Nhan stood over another guard, who must have attacked the two of them while the first was busy with Keyla.
“You all right?” Burnham asked, but Keyla didn’t seem to have it in her to answer. For one thing, she couldn’t possibly know. Not yet.
Before she even fully realized what she was doing, Keyla crossed the hall and collapsed against the door, ear pressed against it. Joann, Joann, Joann--
There was a metallic jingling noise from above her. Nhan had taken the guard’s keys. Keyla shifted aside just enough to let her unlock the door before she was stumbling through it and falling into Joann’s arms. Pressing kisses against Joann's face, as if trying to confirm she was real.
They had to beam Keyla to sickbay along with the three they’d rescued, because she wouldn’t let go.
Keyla hadn’t been able to sleep well since the crash. Images of the darkened bridge, the overwhelmed sickbay, her dead crewmates kept leaping into her mind, invading her thoughts and, when she did sleep, her dreams.
She felt Joann’s warm, solid presence behind her. Felt her soulmate’s hand caressing her arm, trying to reassure her, to remind her she was safe. Keyla knew Joann must feel her fear and guilt and helplessness. It had been exactly what Keyla had uselessly hoped to avoid.
“I want to help you,” said Joann one evening. “I want to be here for you.”
“Why?” Keyla said. “Because you feel sorry for me? Because you think I can’t take care of myself?” Maybe Joann wouldn’t even be wrong to feel that way, Keyla thought, considering how things were going.
“Of course not,” Joann said. “You know that, Keyla.”
Keyla did know. Of course she did, how could she help but know? She knew that Joann was exactly as kind and loving and selfless as she acted, and she knew that she, Keyla, didn’t deserve one bit of it. That if whatever force of nature was behind all this hadn’t decided they were soulmates and thrown them at each other, Joann could have done so much better. What would she want with someone who can’t do her damn job, can’t keep her shipmates alive, can’t even sit at the helm without panicking? What am I even--
“Keyla?” Joann said.
“What?” Keyla snapped.
“You’re doing it again,” Joann said. “Bringing yourself down.”
Keyla flopped back against the pillows, rolling over onto her side. “I don’t need anyone to tell me what I’m feeling.”
Joann seemed to think for a moment. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe you don’t,” Joann said. “But in that case, you need to figure it out for yourself.”
Joann knew she had to keep herself calm. Keyla was stressed enough; she didn’t need Joann’s worry added to her own.
The ship was in danger. Burnham was still down on the planet. And Keyla--oh, Keyla--Keyla was out in the middle of it all with a man they barely knew in a ship she’d never flown.
You’ve got this, Keyla, Joann willed across space. I know you have. I love you. She knew Keyla couldn’t read her thoughts, as such, but she should be able to feel something. Better it be that.
All Joann could really do, though, was watch and wait. It was all any of them could do. Keyla had been anxious all day; Joann had felt her heart practically stop when Tilly had proposed her plan. But Joann knew Keyla too well to think she’d ever say no. That she’d ever admit, in front of the entire bridge crew and the captain, that she couldn’t do something even if it were true. Which it wasn’t.
They couldn’t even track the mission’s progress, Joann reminded herself as she stared down at her console at nothing. The entire point was not to leave any evidence this was planned. Not to know what Keyla was even doing out there. By this point, though, Joann had learned to separate Keyla’s emotions from her own well enough to know that Keyla was alive, and conscious, and terrified, and Joann wished more than anything that she could have been there by her side.
But then, as Joann sat there at her station, she felt the fear start to fade--and then, suddenly, it was replaced by a wave of exhilaration that drowned out even her own anxieties, bubbling up inside her and Joann was laughing uncontrollably right there on the bridge, not even caring how strange it must have looked.
“Lieutenant?” Saru asked as Joann caught her breath.
“I’m sorry, Captain,” she said. “I just--she did it, sir.” And she’s okay. More than okay--she’s enjoying herself out there. More than she has in a long time.
“Heck yes!” Tilly shouted. Then, glancing nervously at Saru, “That’s great, Owo.”
“I am glad to hear that, Lieutenant,” Saru said.
When the bridge doors opened several minutes later and Keyla stepped through, everyone broke into applause. Keyla gave a little mock bow, sweeping her hair back again as she returned to her station. Joann was beaming; Keyla couldn’t seem to help smiling herself. Joann wished she could kiss Keyla right there.
“Now will you believe me when I tell you how amazing you are?” Joann said instead.
“I’ll think about it,” Keyla said, but the full grin that broke out across her face as she said it told the real story. She leaned in to hug Joann, and as she did, she whispered in Joann’s ear, “I feel how much you love me every day. I didn’t stop trusting you, Joann. It was that I didn’t trust myself.”
They sat back down. Joann reached out and squeezed Keyla’s hand. I know, Keyla. It’s all right. We’ll be fine.
Sometimes, they didn’t need words.