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remember when you hit the brakes too soon?

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The bar was quiet, with only a few hushed conversations barely audible over the din of the music. At this hour, most of the crew that had been at the night’s festivities had gone back to their quarters to sleep after the party wound down, except for Joann Owosekun, who remained. She nursed a glass of amber liquid, the ice slowly melting as she stared into it rather than drinking it.

Joann started it. Their fight. She hadn’t meant to. It was the wrong time, the wrong place. Who brings something so massive as her question right before a party? 

It had made the whole thing a lot more tense than it should have been. Keyla sat with Adira — her back noticeably turned away from Joann — for most of the evening. Joann tried not to let her feelings cross her face in front of the others, because realistically, how could she explain the rage building up in her chest when it was time to celebrate saving both Earth and Ni’var from the DMA? Their successful communication with the 10C should have made her ecstatic. She was. But she was also angry. 

She was angry at Keyla for being so ready, so eager, to volunteer to die for them. And she was angry at herself for said anger, because how could she hold it against her for being a hero? For the stoic look on her face as Joann’s heart shattered? For making Joann consider, for a moment, a world without her in it? 

Helpless, Joann had shaken her head, no . No. Don’t leave me. Let them find someone else. But Keyla had turned away, a steely look in her blue eyes, sat up straighter, and said she was ready. So willing to be the one to die for the greater good. 

So ready to die. 

Joann’s entire world had collapsed in on her, and for a moment, she had wanted to scream “no!” and beg Keyla to let the Earth die if only she could remain in Joann’s life longer. 

Joann took a sip of her drink. It was watered down, subduing the fire in her throat slightly. 

How dare she?

After all they had been through, after the sleepless nights where Joann confessed her experiences with loss. Joann had slowly, and carefully tore down the walls that she had built around her heart, telling herself that she would never let anyone in, not after watching her best friend die. Joann promised that she would never feel as helpless again, but with Keyla, the walls crumbled with each smile and every time brown eyes met blue. 

How dare she put Joann back into that nightmare?

Her best friend’s death had been out of her control, yet Joann still blamed herself. If she had ran for help, used the radio to try and contact the outside world or just did something, then maybe she wouldn’t have died. Keyla knew this, was actively trying to help Joann heal from her past, to reconcile the fact that it was, in fact, not her fault, and then she did this?

Keyla knew it would be Joann that would try, and most likely fail, to beam her to safety. The onus was on her. And if she lost her pattern? Joann would have Keyla’s death on her hands for the rest of her life. She would never forgive herself for losing her. 

And Keyla still stood up. Knowing all that she knew. 

She turned away without a word. Without telling someone else to take the helm, to spare Joann the responsibility. Keyla just said she was ready and let Joann prepare to retrieve her dead body with only a silent look as a goodbye.

It was her own fault, really. Joann knew that Keyla believed she was living on borrowed time; after the war, Keyla flew like she didn't believe she would see tomorrow. It was part of what made her a good pilot, what made her brave, but Joann also knew how Keyla carried the weight of Discovery on her shoulders. How she carried their deaths even if their blood wasn’t on her hands. 

All of that, and she’d still been stupid enough to believe she could open her heart. 

Joann thought she deserved more, to be honest. An apology, if such a thing was possible. Three years in the unknown of space apparently meant shit to Keyla when it came to making sure your best friend was the one responsible for your death.

And Keyla hadn’t even died, which made it much easier to be mad at her, because she had someone to yell at. Someone to avoid and someone to glare at as she left the party early and alone. But what if she had died? What would Joann have left? Would she go to Hawaii alone to mourn, watching back holos while clutching a bottle of sand just like Airiam after her husband died?

Would there even be any sand left of Keyla to hold?

I’m not drunk enough for this. Joann caught the attention of the bartender and ordered another round. 

“Hey kid, whatcha drinkin’?” the familiar voice of Jett Reno asked. Joann glanced to her right and saw the older engineer pulling up a barstool next to her. Company. One of the two things Joann really wasn’t in the mood for. 

“I’m sorry Commander,” Joann said, her voice sounding strange to her own ears. “I’m afraid I won’t be good company this evening.” She tried a smile, wincing internally when it came out more of a grimace. 

“I’ll have what she’s having,” Reno said, apparently unfazed by the warning. Joann turned back to her drink. It wasn’t in her nature to be rude, but she was not up to small talk at that moment. 

The man at the bar slid Reno’s drink over to her. She took a gulp and flinched. “Now that’s awful,” she said. “You really must be in a bad mood if you’re willing to drink that piss.”

Joann took a sip. It wasn't that bad. It tasted somewhere between the bitter teas she would be made to drink back at home and Keyla’s contraband Earth whisky, strengthened by long days stashed under the pilot’s bunk. 

Keyla. It always came back to her, didn’t it? 

“Now how could one of the saviors of the planet Earth have such a long face?” Reno continued. Her tone was classic sarcasm, but Joann could tell she was also curious. “We won! Diplomacy! Woo!” Reno raised her glass in mock cheers, clinking it against Joann’s glass clutched in her hands. 

“I am happy,” Joann said into her drink. She was. She really was. 

(If only she could really convince herself of that.)

“Why don’t I believe you?” Reno probed. 

Joann glanced over to her, catching an unexpected earnestness in Reno’s features. They had worked together a lot since the commander joined Discovery – what was it now? A millennium? –  all those years ago. Ops and engineering had a lot of overlap. But their relationship was strictly professional, neither woman speaking about much more than engineering and operation dilemmas and the latest future technological innovation that they were expected to master in too-little time. This was the first time Reno had asked Joann anything in months, beyond the occasional snarky remark. 

“I didn’t want the earth destroyed. No one did,” Joann said honestly, “I was terrified.” She knew she wasn’t answering the question that Reno was actually asking, but answering it would involve explaining that she was in love with her best friend.

Keyla had always been good at putting her emotions into boxes. If a single ounce of that skill had rubbed off onto Joann, now would be the time to use it. In the box and tucked away, she told herself. No one needs to know. 

“It’s something else besides my original theory of Joann Owosekun, earth-hater then,” Reno said. “Does it have to do with a cybernetically-augmented redhead who very auspiciously left this party without her gal pal in tow?”

Joann didn’t mean to react, but her lips parted and she could feel heat rising to her cheeks, praying that Reno couldn’t see her flush. 

She had put on a brave face during the party, laughing and celebrating the fact that they hadn’t died and everything should have been great. She couldn’t avoid Keyla, but she kept a smile on her face and tried not to let her feelings spill out into the group. 

There was no room for anger, only joy for the fact that somehow they eked out a win against all odds. Earth was safe and Discovery made it home and Tilly was there, but Joann had this rage building in her chest and she just wanted to scream because Keyla just looked at her, telling her goodbye before she volunteered to die. It was illogical and emotional but Joann didn’t care because it was what she was feeling. She had lost so much already, her time, her community, her family and Keyla was all she had left but she was ready to throw that all away. But Joann wasn’t supposed to be angry, because she knows that if she was in Keyla’s place, she’d do the same thing. Hell, she had done the same thing. They all had, that’s what Starfleet was. 

Hence, she stared into her drink instead, wondering if it was possible to transmit anger into ice cubes. 

Joann knew she was being unreasonable. She knew she shouldn’t be mad at Keyla, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that tightened in her chest and left her feeling like she was still gasping for air. She wanted to scream and she wanted to hug Keyla tightly but she also wasn’t sure if she could look her in the eyes after what she had done before the party. 

“Keyla’s quarters are on deck two while mine are on deck three,” Joann said, perhaps a moment too late. “And besides, I wanted another drink. We aren’t always together.”

The last part was a lie. Between the bridge, meals, and her social life, Joann could count on one hand the hours in a day where Keyla wasn’t at her side. But she hadn’t considered that their separation would result in a red alert for the crew. With Reno’s apparent concern, Joann knew she wasn’t getting rid of her very easily.

“And my wife is still alive somewhere,” Reno snorted, taking another sip of her drink when Joann glanced at her in alarm. “Try again, kid. What’s up with you and flygirl?” 

“I’m mad at her,” Joann said, simply. It came out as a rasp, an anger unfamiliar to her bubbling to the surface. Mad didn’t even begin to cover it. Mad was when she would slip over Keyla’s socks (back when there were Keyla’s socks to slip on) too many days in a row, or when the replicator refused to give her her green juice in the morning. 

What were you when your best friend had almost marched to her death several hours before? When she’d so easily put her life up for grabs and nearly taken Joann’s with her? Did Keyla not under stand what she meant to Joann? 

“What, did you two have a lovers quarrel?”

Joann let out a surprised laugh. “We’re not lovers,” she intoned. Far from it. After today, she wasn’t sure if they were friends. 

“Could have fooled me.”

Joann blinked at her, the words surprising her. She was used to Tilly’s way of pushing her towards Keyla or the joking way that Rhys and Nilsson called them work wives, but she hadn’t considered that kind of talk had occurred beyond the bridge crew. And from Reno, no less. 

Another group of patrons filed out of the bar, leaving only a handful of other crew milling about. If they weren’t in space where — between the lack of sun and the multiple shifts — there was no such thing as a last call, Joann thought that the bartender would be wiping down the counters and preparing to close up for the night. It was late. Joann’s body felt heavy and slow, but the anger filled her entire form and she knew she wouldn’t be able to sleep if she tried. Not alone. 

“She volunteered to die,” Joann blurted, then bit her lip to keep more from escaping. Reno said nothing and waited for her to continue. “The captain needed a pilot to take down Tarka and it was a suicide mission . And Keyla, she–”

Joann gulped, and the fear and the anger and the way her hands shook overwhelmed her for a second. She found herself shaking her head no, again, just like she had when she finally realized what the Captain was asking of Keyla. What she was asking of them. 

She didn’t blame the Captain, no. The stakes were so high and Booker was in the ship and she was in an impossible situation. No, this was par for the course. Realistically, all of them were expendable, when the fate of the galaxy was on the line. Each willing to die for a chance at peace and for Earth's future. With the DMA hurtling towards billions, Michael needed to throw whatever she had at the problem. 

She’d needed a pilot. A damned good one. 

“Was the obvious choice,” Reno finished. She was there, she knew exactly what happened. 

“She just looked at me,” Joann said. She had never left that moment, not really. She was paralyzed by Keyla’s blue eyes and the conviction that washed over her face. Joann was frozen in her seat, only able to shake her head and beg Keyla silently. No. Not you.  

Out of the hundreds of times that Keyla had looked over to Joann, it had never been to say goodbye before. Sure she had left to pilot ships or had left to go on away missions but her eyes had always said see you soon. Never goodbye.

“She said she was ready…” Joann whispered, mostly to herself. 

Reno raised an eyebrow and took another sip of her drink. Joann turned back to her own drink, staring it down with all the rage that was threatening to overwhelm her.

It had felt like an eternity, though it had only been a moment. The tension lay over the bridge like a blanket, the entire crew looking at Keyla, no, looking between Keyla and Joann. And when Keyla stood, Joann’s heart stopped. It had only been a moment, but Joann couldn’t shake the feeling. Then, before she had managed to say something, the General had stepped in to take Keyla’s place. She should have felt relieved when Keyla sat back down, taking her place at Joann’s side but she couldn’t let it go. Keyla looked at her, but Joann found herself unable to meet her eyes, turning back to her station to beam the General onto a shuttle. 

Things moved fast after that, they still had a mission to complete and the way Joann’s hands shook slightly and the panic that squeezed her chest couldn’t get in the way. As she monitored the shuttle on the intercept course she couldn’t help but to check that Keyla was still there. Still beside her. She had to transport everyone to safety. It was her responsibility.

And when she lost Booker’s pattern, the gasping cries of the Captain had echoed through the bridge and it was Joann’s fault. She had lost him; she hadn’t been quick enough. She couldn’t help but think that those cries could have been just as easily her own. Joann knew, now, that the 10C had interfered. But the guilt still swirled in her stomach that she had been responsible for the captain’s pain, while having narrowly escaped that fate herself. 

“Tarka needed to be stopped,” Reno said, her voice cutting through to Joann’s recollections. 

Joann closed her eyes as she took another gulp of her drink, letting the warm feeling of intoxication wash over her. 

She could still smell the alien planet, that unfamiliar combination of gasses and dust that didn’t seem to go away after their decontamination sonic showers. In her awe, her hand had found itself in a familiar place at the small of Keyla’s back. Was it to ground her in the only reality that she knew when faced with something so otherworldly? Was it to remind herself that Keyla was still here? Joann didn’t know. 

She could still see the flashing lights and the orb that deposited Booker into the captain's arms. She tried to hang onto the feeling of relief when she realized that she hadn’t actually failed. As she let out a disbelieving gasp, she felt a tentative hand brushing hers. Without tearing her eyes away from the massive, truly alien beings hovering above them, Keyla grabbed her hand and pulled her close. Joann’s knees had almost buckled under the magnitude of the moment and the idea that Keyla was still alive and she could feel her. 

Joann had leaned into her, not daring to look over to her. She felt so fragile, like as soon as blue eyes met brown, she might burst into tears. 

Keyla’s taller form kept her upright as the events of the last few days hit her all at once, combined with the elation as she witnessed a feat of communication beyond anything she’d seen.  At that moment, when they realized that they had succeeded, that the DMA was gone, for good, everything was okay. Joann had Keyla and they had an Earth to go back to and no one else had to die. Maybe they could be okay. 

Joann’s anger didn’t start until later. Until she was alone. 

“So you’re in love with a hero,” Reno said with a smirk. “How holonovel of you.”

“She’s my friend,” Joann said unconvincingly, even to herself. 

“Sure, Lieutenant,” Reno said. “Your dear friend that you want to canoodle with and also spend the rest of your life with. Friendship.”

Joann raised her eyebrows at Reno, startled by her verbiage. 

“Now,” the engineer continued as she swirled the remaining liquid in her glass around into a miniature vortex. “Let me get this straight: you, Lieutenant Commander Joann Owosekun, who only a few months ago, single-handedly brought a bomb into Discovery’s nacelle, despite being oxygen-starved (because you’re built different or something), and saved the ship from the maniacal Emerald Chain, all the time knowing that it would very much kill you, who only lived to tell the tale because we just happened to have some sentient Zora-possessed DOT-23s who loved you enough to drag your lifeless body to safety, are now upset at Detmer for even thinking about doing the same?”

“That’s not the same–” Joann began, but Reno cut her off with a wave of her hand. 

“Different window dressing, same gut instinct for self-sacrifice. Why are you really mad?”

The honesty in Reno’s face caught her off guard. 

“I’m mad because I wouldn’t have let her go. I would have stopped her. I’m a liability to the crew.”

Joann thought about how someone from security would have had to hold her back, restrain her, to prevent her from clinging to Keyla and begging her not to go, not to leave her. It might have lost them valuable time; it might have compromised the entire mission.

“No you wouldn’t,” Reno said. “You froze. You looked at her and you didn’t say anything, just like you always do.” Joann started to speak, but Reno continued undeterred, “You shook your head, Owo. That’s all you did.”

Joann stared Reno down, stunned by the brash engineer’s honesty. She tried to conjure a retort, but Reno continued unheeded. 

“Now, if you’re going to mope about it, that’s fine, but don’t go messing up something great because of something as silly as a what if.”

“I think I already messed it up,” Joann admitted, “we fought before the party.”

“Seems like you’re fighting because you’re too similar,” Reno observed. “You both have a martyr complex and can’t handle that in each other.”

“I’m not a martyr .” 

Reno snorts. “We’re Starfleet. It’s the first thing they teach ya.” Joann didn’t argue – couldn’t argue, really, not with a truth that was as ingrained into her soul as the ever-present need to explore. “Now, why are you really mad?”

Joann sat up straighter at the challenge in Reno’s tone, but slumped back down when no immediate answer came to mind. “I– I don’t know.”

“Yes, you do.” Reno didn’t even blink as she dismissed the excuse. “I thought we were past the bullshit.”

“I thought I was out of time,” Joann admitted. Even letting the words out of her mouth lifted a weight from her shoulders, if only infinitesimally. She’d never really been one to fear time, yet, the moment Keyla stood up, it’d become a weighted black hole determined to eradicate her existence. Time. Such an invisible enemy.

Reno nodded. “Just tell her how you feel.”

Tell her how I feel? Ha. “That didn’t go over well for me earlier.”

“Not about this.” Reno looked five seconds away from rolling her eyes. “About her. You’re lovesick, kid, everyone can tell.” She wasn’t lovesick. She wasn’t. Being lovesick implied a grotesque amount of puppy-dog eyes and a heavy-hearted yearning and…

Ah, fuck. She was lovesick, wasn’t she? She was sick and hurting and even worse, yearning for the woman across from her at the helm. Searching for Keyla’s silhouette in crowded rooms and wishing she was by her side. Normal people didn’t do that – lovesick people did that.

She was lovesick for Keyla Detmer. “How do I love someone knowing that I could lose her at any moment?”

Immediately after she said it, Reno gave her a pointed look and Joann realized exactly who she was talking to. Not your best move, Owosekun. “I’m sorry-“ she began, but Reno just waved her hand. 

Reno had loved and lost. Her wife had died before she had joined Discovery, but Joann didn’t know the details well. She felt a wave of sympathy for the older woman who had lived, and survived, Joann’s nightmare. “Would you do it again?” she asked quietly. “Go through all of the loss, all of that pain –  just to have her for a short time?”

“Oh, hell yeah,” Jett answered as she took in a single quaff of her drink. “Detmer’s hot besides. Be a hell of a time, I think.”  

Joann wasn't a creature of jealousy. She wasn’t. And she knew Jett’s wife, may she rest in peace, was the only one for her, but yet, at the thought of Jett and Keyla –  “Not what I meant, Jett.” I’m starting to get what they mean when they say jealousy is a green monster. 

“Look on your face tells me all I need to know, Owosekun.” Reno waved for another drink with the air of a woman who’s long won a battle. When it was slid over to her, she took a hearty drink before solemnly setting the glass on the table. “Look. For what it’s worth, you should tell her.” 

Tell her? Tell her? What about their conversation had suggested Joann would even think about telling Keyla her feelings? Especially after their argument – Joann’s not sure she would be able to string together two rational sentences. 

“Don’t be dumb, make the leap. Sure, Detmer could die at any time, but so could you. You could just as easily catch a case of the Andorian shingles. The best thing you two could do for each other is to get the ‘I love you’ over with.”

Joann knew that Reno was right, as much as she wasn’t ready to admit it.

“The worst thing you could do is die without the other knowing,” Reno concluded softly. “That’d be a bitch of a time. At least, now, you can afford each other a bit of peace.”

Sure, if that bit of peace was requited between them both, which was probably the most insane idea to ever exist. “How do you know that Keyla would say it back?'' Joann almost whispered. 

Reno glared at her. Her look said all that Joann needed to know. “You really want me to answer that question?” 

Joann sat for a second, looking into her empty glass. Keyla might actually love her back. In the same way that Joann did. Or at least enough that Reno considered it a dumb question for Joann to ask. 

Joann stood, placed a light hand on the commander’s shoulder and gave it a light squeeze. “Thanks, Jett.” 

Reno grunted. “Go get your girl, Owo.” Shaking her head, she watched as Joann half-stumbled in the direction of quarters, barely making it fifteen feet before seemingly realizing something and disappearing in a blink. Kids.