Before, for the things Keyla didn’t want her shipmates to see, there was always Tazzy.
They’d met as kids, on a small ship where Tazzy’s mom was a pilot and Keyla’s dad was an engineer. Tazzy’s mom was the first person who ever showed Keyla the controls of a starship, showed both of them one day, letting them look but not touch. But Keyla wanted to touch.
She couldn’t seem to stop talking about it for days, to the point where even Tazzy seemed a little bored. But she’d still followed Keyla when Keyla snuck back into the cockpit one night, insisting she just wanted to see it one more time. She’d stood next to Keyla as Keyla stared at the helm controls, itching to touch them, to use them, to see what would happen. What she could make happen.
“You can’t,” Tazzy whispered. “We’ll get in so much trouble!”
“So?” What could possibly have gone wrong? Keyla remembered thinking.
“Remember what your dad told my mom?” Tazzy said. “About how if you act like a responsible person he might let you fly for real?”
Keyla had realized then that her friend had a point. There was no way they wouldn’t get caught. She’d stepped back from the console, finally managed to tear her eyes away.
(The fact that she could have gotten them all killed wouldn’t occur to her until years later, well into the process of earning her pilot’s license. And it wouldn’t fully sink in until long after even that, as she lay awake at night thinking of what might have happened if she had gone to the cockpit alone.)
After her injury, Keyla sometimes felt like her dad wanted to fix her like he fixed his ships. Sometimes literally, suggesting that maybe her augmentation needed to be adjusted every time she had an emotion, practically. Or at least that was what it seemed like.
But then, Tazzy would call, or she’d call Tazzy, and they’d talk, really talk. About Keyla’s feelings, if that was what she needed. About new models of starships or holo-games or whatever workplace drama was going on at Tazzy’s job, if it wasn’t.
Even after Keyla was assigned to the Discovery, she still wrote to Tazzy. Some things she couldn’t tell her, of course, but she could tell her about the slow process of getting used to her own reflection in the mirror. About seeing Burnham in the halls and having no idea how she should feel, let alone react. About never being sure if her new captain thought she was doing a good job and her annoyance with herself for thinking something like that mattered now.
Tazzy wasn’t there on Discovery, but she was always there for Keyla, always, and now she was gone. They’d never see each other again. All Keyla and the rest of the crew had was each other.
“How many died?” Keyla had asked, and the answer was all of them, every single one, everybody she’d ever known except the eighty-eight others on this one little ship who’d made it this far. Including the five who hadn’t.
Before, for the things she’d not been sure anyone else would understand, there was always Airiam.
Keyla had trouble opening up to her shipmates at first. It had been all she could do to silently hold herself together through the war, the danger, the constant need to be ready for whatever would be thrown at them next. With all that, it seemed better to minimize distraction.
Or at least, that was what she told herself. As time went on, Airiam and Joann and Tilly had taught her that was unsustainable. That she needed to be able to talk to those who were around her, those who understood what she was dealing with. That there was no shame in any of that.
And, for the first time since her injury, she’d met someone else with an augmentation. With lots of augmentations, really, and yet she was so very human.
And then Airiam had gone out the airlock and Keyla had realized just how much she’d grown to care about her, about all her friends on Discovery. How much Airiam had become a part of her life, one she didn’t know what she’d do without. Letting others in, Keyla was suddenly and brutally reminded, was not an activity without risks.
After the Battle of the Binary Stars, she’d blamed Burnham, though she’d since moved past that. For Airiam, Control had of course been to blame. For this, though--
Everyone who’d been lost in the jump, in the crash, they’d been someone’s Airiam, hadn’t they? And they all should still have been there, should have been moving forward into this future with their friends, playing their part in all this. But they weren’t, and the eighty-nine who remained would have to find a way to do it without them.
And it was all because of Keyla.
Is--is this how Burnham felt, after--
When Keyla had found herself sprawled on the floor of the bridge, had raised a hand to her cheek and felt the warm, wet blood and the sting of an open wound, she hadn’t been sure where she was at first. Everything around her had gone fuzzy, and for a moment she could have been on the Shenzhou as she tried to force herself to breathe, her heart pounding painfully hard and fast, her head shouldn't hurt this much--
Joann’s face hovered in front of her. Joann. Joann, my friend. Joann, Discovery’s navigator. I’m on Discovery.
"We made it. We're good." We made it. We're--we--we are.
We. She heard their voices. Tilly. Rhys. Bryce. Reno. Nilssen. Joann. She knew the voices, knew the people attached to the voices, but the words they were saying weren't quite reaching her ears, as if she were deep underwater. The bridge was still dark, the ship's engines silent, because this was Discovery, and something awful had happened, and Keyla was shaking.
No Klingons here. Klingons didn’t do this--because--
Because I did.
She’d thought she’d finally put what had happened on the Shenzhou behind her. That she was ready to move forward--nine hundred and thirty years forward, as it were. And maybe she had, maybe she was, but now--
Now, Keyla’s dreams were filled with blood. It could have been Stamets’s or Airiam’s or Joann’s or Captain Georgiou’s or her own. These days, it was hard to tell.
There was a knock at Keyla’s door. She opened it to see Joann standing on the other side.
“I feel like you’ve been avoiding me,” Joann said.
“What?” Keyla said. “How could I be avoiding you? We’re on the bridge together every day, I can’t exactly--”
“Keyla.” Keyla stopped talking. “I’m not mad. I’m worried about you. We all are.”
“You don’t need to do that,” Keyla said. “I’m fine.” She tried to give a reassuring smile, but suspected it looked more like a grimace.
“No, you’re not.” Joann frowned as she looked past Keyla into her quarters, at the pile of trays from the meals she’d eaten there alone.
Keyla tried to block Joann’s view. “Anyway, you can’t have come here just to talk about that--”
“Have you talked to Culber yet?”
Keyla groaned. Part of her regretted ever telling Joann about that. “Not yet.”
“You should,” Joann said. “He knows his stuff.”
Keyla knew Joann was right. That Culber wanted to help. That he probably could help, if anyone could. That he had a point about the not-wanting-to-deal-with-her-feelings thing. About that being the exact same thing that was making this so hard in the first place.
And she also really, really didn’t want Joann to be mad at her, even if she said she wasn’t. “Wanna come in?” She stepped backwards from the doorway, picking up the trays and dumping them in the recycler as she did. Joann followed her in, the door closing behind her.
“Now, what’s going on?” Joann said.
Keyla wasn’t sure where to begin with that question. She wasn’t sure she wanted to get into it. Even with Joann. Maybe especially with Joann.
“Do you ever feel… I dunno, weird about all this?” Maybe she could get the attention off just her.
“Weird?” Joann said. “Weird how? And all what, exactly?”
“Like, we left everyone else behind,” Keyla said. “Everyone we knew. And now all we have is--all you have is--”
All you have is me. And Keyla wasn’t sure she was someone to rely on.
“I mean, sort of,” Joann said. “But I’d kind of already done that before, you know? For most of them.”
“True.” She knew Joann hadn’t spoken to most of her family for years after she’d joined Starfleet. That many of them had never come back around.
“But maybe it’s not quite the same,” Joann said. “Because I had years to think about the choice I made back then. I always knew that might be the price I had to pay if I joined. This… we barely had time to say goodbye.”
“You must have been scared,” Keyla said. “Going out on your own like that.”
“Oh, absolutely,” Joann said. “Scared of being alone. Scared my parents were right all along and I’d regret everything. Scared I’d get to the Academy and I’d be the weirdo and everyone would hate me.”
“I can’t imagine anybody hating you,” Keyla said.
“And they didn’t,” said Joann. “There were a couple of awkward moments, but I learned I had plenty to bring to the table, just as I was.” Her expression turned more serious. “And back then… even then, at least the potential was still there, that things would be better with my family. I’m honestly not sure if it’s better or worse this way.” She shook her head. “What am I doing? This isn’t what I came here to talk about. What did you mean when you asked if I felt weird? Would you say you feel weird?”
Damn it. “I mean, doesn’t everybody?” Keyla said. “We’re in a pretty weird place, aren’t we? There’s no Federation, and there’s all this technology we’ve never seen before that they’re talking about adding to the ship and I don’t even know what to do with that, since apparently I don’t know how to fly anymore as it is--”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Joann said. “Yes, you do. You’re still the best damn pilot we’ve got, Keyla. You can handle anything they throw at you.”
“I’m scared, Joann,” Keyla said. “I look at the controls these days and I start shaking. Maybe I was a good pilot before, but now I’m just--I’m just a mess.”
Joann reached out to touch Keyla’s shoulder, and she felt almost a soft glow inside her that was only a little tarnished by anxiety. “It’s okay to be scared,” Joann said. “We’ll get through this together.”
Keyla knew they could. Just not whether they would.
Tilly said yes.
And Keyla was happy for her, she really was. And if a part of her felt envy, it wasn’t for the position of first officer--not something Keyla had ever wanted, not a career path she’d ever pursued. It was for everyone around her moving forward into the future, while she, Keyla, was still trapped in the past.
Before, Keyla had a solution for when she felt trapped. She would get flying. As soon as possible, she’d get behind the helm of a starship or a shuttle and forget everything except the path ahead. Piloting, if she was going to do it right, forced her to be mindful of where she was, what was happening around her outside of her own mind. There had been a time when that focus had helped her.
That wasn’t as easy when it seemed like the helm itself was what trapped her. Like the ship was shrinking around her with each passing day. When she looked at the controls and only saw the ways they could fail her--or she could.
A couple of days after her conversation with Joann, she’d finally gone and talked to Culber. It had felt a little weird--she wasn’t sure how much she was supposed to be treating him like her crewmate and how much she was supposed to look at this as a professional thing, just part of his job like the counselor Starfleet made her see after the Shenzhou. But at the end of their talk, she did think she felt a bit better, at least for a little while. And she’d made another appointment to see him again in another week, and had actually showed up, and they’d had a good conversation. Since then, it had become a regular thing.
“You’re not responsible alone,” he’d said. “And that’s a good thing. It isn’t a contest. All of us are responsible for our crewmates in one way or another. That’s what makes us a Starfleet crew. And it means we’re all here to support each other, too, when it feels like too much. When we all need each other.”
Maybe it was doing something. She hadn’t really been sure. She’d been afraid it wasn’t doing enough.
But something was, she’d realized. Whatever it was, she’d managed to fly that shuttle with Ryn. She’d been terrified, had felt her heart racing, at times had almost felt frozen to the controls with fear--but she’d focused, and she'd done it. It was something she could work with.
Keyla looked up, surprised to see Tilly standing next to her. “I thought you were on duty.”
Tilly nodded. “Yeah.” Keyla stared. “I mean, this is part of my job, isn’t it? To check in with the crew? I guess I’m--well, I’ve been starting to think maybe that’s why Saru--I mean, why Captain Saru picked me, because I’m good at that and--anyway, of course you’re also my friend and I wanted to see if you were okay. Especially after what you did earlier, which was awesome, and I hope you know I wouldn’t have asked you to do it if I didn’t trust you. If we didn’t all trust you, and believe in you.”
“I’m good,” Keyla said. She wasn’t sure how long it would last, but it wasn’t a lie. “It was nice to feel like that again.” Maybe she hadn’t lost the thing that meant so much to her after all. Or at least, she could find her way back to it in time.
“Great,” Tilly said. “And--if you’re not, let me know, okay?”
“Okay,” Keyla said.
She caught herself smiling as she headed towards the mess hall. For the first time in a while, she had a story she actually wanted to tell.
Keyla hadn’t ever told anyone what she was about to tell Culber. Before the jump to the future, she’d just felt silly about it. Now, the stakes suddenly seemed so much higher. Like the possibility of losing the friendship would absolutely ruin everything, leave Keyla with nothing. But at the same time, seeing Joann every day and saying nothing was only getting worse.
“I think I have… feelings,” she said. “For Joann.”
Culber was just a moment too late to hide his complete lack of surprise. “Really?” he said. “I had no idea! None at all, I mean, it makes sense, for sure, but--”
“All right,” Keyla said, smiling. “I get it.”
“There’s a reason you’re telling me this and not her,” Culber said. “So…?”
“I’m supposed to be this badass pilot,” Keyla said. “I’m not supposed to feel like…”
“Like if I lost her, I--I wouldn’t know what to do. Especially not now.”
“Especially not now?”
“You all on this ship are all I have,” Keyla said. “And all any of us have. I’m never going to find anything else like this again, out here, you know? And the other way around, too, what if I told her and she only says yes because she doesn’t know if there’ll ever be anyone else and I can’t--I don’t know if I can be what she needs, especially when I’m still figuring out my own stuff, I just--I don’t know.”
Culber seemed to consider that for a few moments. “First of all, other people do exist out here,” he said. “You may not have met them all yet, but they’re out there. We’re not stranded all alone.” Keyla nodded. “But that doesn’t change the fact that the people here mean a lot to you.”
“They do,” Keyla said.
“It’s okay if you’re not ready,” Culber said. “You’ve been through a lot, you know? It’s all right if you don’t feel totally sure. But don’t hold back because you feel like you’re not good enough for her, or you feel like you don’t deserve to be happy. Because you do, okay? You absolutely do.”
“Thank you,” Keyla said, not sure if that was how she was supposed to respond or not.
“And for the record, I’m pretty sure Joann doesn’t like you for who you’re supposed to be,” he said. “She likes you for who you are.”
The last thing Keyla remembered thinking before she passed out from lack of oxygen was that she wanted to grab ahold of Joann and never, ever let her go.
Unfortunately, she couldn’t get any of her body parts to do anything at that point. Couldn’t reach out for her, couldn’t tell her she loved her, couldn’t kiss her even if it had to be the last and only time.
She woke up gasping, air rushing into her lungs as if she couldn’t possibly get enough. But as soon as she could think somewhat clearly again, her thoughts returned to Joann. Where she was. Whether or not she was alive. Whether Keyla had made a horrible, unfixable mistake by not telling her everything sooner.
But there Joann was, picking herself up off the ground, a damaged DOT-23 next to her. Relief filled Keyla like never before, reviving her just as the oxygen had.
“You’re alive,” she whispered, staring at Joann, hardly daring to believe it.
“So are you,” Joann said, and Keyla knew then that she hadn’t been the only one who’d been terrified, that it wasn’t a personal failing and certainly not hers alone.
“I almost lost you,” Keyla said to Joann afterwards. She’d gone to Joann’s quarters this time, and they were sitting on Joann’s bed, Keyla’s fingers playing with Joann’s hands, as if she wanted to know every detail of them, commit it to memory just in case.
“I’m right here,” Joann whispered. “I’m not going anywhere.”
“You can’t know that,” Keyla said. “None of us can know that.”
“Keyla, I--” Joann started.
“And if that’s what we have to live with,” Keyla went on, “I don’t want to go any longer without doing this.”
She took a deep breath, feeling her heart pounding, and leaned in and kissed Joann. Felt her slightly chapped lips, her fingers still entwined with Keyla’s. Not pulling away. Not going anywhere.
And then, Joann kissed Keyla back, and a tingling feeling shot down her spine as Keyla reached for Joann's shoulder, and Keyla knew the risk she’d taken had paid off, had all been worth it, because there the two of them were. Together. Flying.