I have been one acquainted with the night
I have walked out in rain—and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.
I have looked down the saddest city lane.
have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.
I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,
But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
One luminary clock against the sky
Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.
~ Robert Frost, Acquainted with the Night
Gaila slid through the slightly ajar door to Jim's first year room. McCoy was out on a date, she knew, and while she was predicting a swift crash and burn, she was happy for him. They weren't good friends, but he was a great drinking buddy, and their mutual pain in the ass friend gave them endless fodder for bitching, and gossip.
Bones, Gaila sometimes found herself calling him, didn't seem like a guy who would be interested in gossip really, not on the face of it, but damn. Her roomie had expressed her own concern at their combined powers of savagery, but Gaila had laughed her off. It was all... harmless enough...
In any case, she was planning on giving her Kirk a bit of a surprise. She knew his schedule- well, she knew everyone's schedule, everyone that mattered to her- and she was looking forward to seeing him. Maybe doing a bit more than seeing him.
Their friends-with-benefits arrangement was pretty sound. They certainly weren't exclusive, and both of them could be considered to having something of a reputation, but she liked him a lot. He was far too clever for his own good, and she enjoyed the challenge. Both of them had a thick enough skin, and a cheery enough character, that pretty much nothing they said to each other stung and there was nothing Gaila liked more than practising brutal one-liners.
Yeah, he was a cad, but neither of them had particular expectations of each other- mutually beneficial, incredibly low maintenance.
And he didn't look at her as if she were a freak, a siren, an object. She knew too well what people thought of Orions in Starfleet, and while actual discrimination was virtually non existent, changing law and policy never helped the narrow-minded. She felt... detached from a lot of her classmates, even Nyota, an amazing friend, so neurotic. For the most part, their lives were full of problems that could be shared, that could be laughed about or pitied or discussed or left alone, but they all had some common ground. Relationship problems, difficult families, grades. Past slavery and a physiology she hated were not common complaints, and sometimes she couldn't help being a little aloof, when it took a lot of energy for a bad break up to register on her mental empathy scale. It wasn't that she thought she was above them, not at all. She just couldn't relate.
And they couldn't relate to her.
She was enough of an extrovert, though, to keep herself in companions whatever the occasion. She had mastered the art of not feeling alone in the world.
Jim was different, maybe. Sometimes she looked at him and thought he understood, even though they never discussed it. When no one knew more than the bare polite minimum of her history, and she had a thorough grounding in theirs, it was very noticeable (to her, at least) when she had a friend whose history was likewise, mostly a mystery.
He just seemed a bit weary, sometimes, and sometimes a bit crazy, and hell, Gaila understood both of those. It was always fun drinking with Jim, anyway. And sleeping with him.
So, she slid through his door, ready for those damn pheromones to have a use, and stopped in her tracks not far into the room.
Shutting the door carefully, she listened to the dull sounds of dry heaving from the small en suite. A toilet flush. Silence.
Gaila wasn't about to intrude on his privacy. She hated to be vulnerable herself, and she always got the sense that she and Kirk were kindred spirits, in their own way. It would feel worse to leave him to sickness or misery, though, so she padded over to the closed bathroom door.
"It's just me, Gaila. Are you okay?"
There was a pause, and Gaila leaned against the wall near the door. He could take his time.
Facing this way, she noticed a table off to the corner, covered in takeaway wrappers, packets, all empty. A knot of dread formed in her stomach.
Her concerns were probably unfounded- he was probably just feeling a bit ill and was treating himself, no reason to just assume the worst. But Jim wasn't much of an eater at the best of times, she had noticed. It had never come up as a point of concern. Maybe the packaging was all leftovers?
The door creaked open.
"Hi, Gaila." His smile was charming, but he looked awful- sweaty but pale, eyes red.
She raised her eyebrows at him. "You got a bug? You look wrecked." She lowered her voice to one of concern. "Sit down, I'll get you something to drink."
He was breathing a little too heavily, she observed, and he nodded, eyes flitting from hers to various points in the room. "Sorry." His voice was rough.
"Don't be sorry, sit down and let me find your alcohol."
He flopped onto the couch, gave her a vaguely lecherous grin. She only rolled her eyes, and wandered over to the tiny kitchen to pour him some tap water. After a moment of hesitation, she went to the fridge and grabbed a couple of beers. She sat down next to him.
After a minute, he said "I'm just not feeling too well."
She looked at him with a critical eye. "I don't think you have a fever, and you aren't coughing or sneezing. Food poisoning?"
She caught a flash of gratitude. Gratitude? That I gave him a way out?
"I think so."
When he finished his water, she took the glass back to the kitchen, picked up two clean ones and a bottle of vodka.
He grinned and raised his eyebrows when she sat down, but there was something faintly nervous, defensive, about the way he was sat. She opened her beer, motioned at him to make a start.
She talked about her day, her week, speculated about Leonard's date, and about his chances in general.
"He's cute, but the girls always expect a doctor by profession to be gentle, at least sometimes."
Jim laughed at that. "Bones' bedside manner is shit"
"In fairness, I bet you're a horrible patient."
He gave her a wounded look. "What makes you say that?"
She shook her head with a smile.
They were well on their way to actual drunkenness, although both of them were still alert. There was a brief, comfortable silence, as Gaila summoned the courage to take the plunge.
"I was always good with computers," she could feel his attention fixed on her, "and that's really the only reason I got out of the slave trade. I had a lot of... trouble, after that. But even with all the rotten apples, there are some really good people in Starfleet." She looked at him with a challenge in her expression. He nodded, slowly. She sensed that that wouldn't be enough, however.
She took a deep breath. "I was sold into it by my destitute parents when I was eleven. I was first actually sold at fourteen, and I killed the guy and ran when I was seventeen. The underground looked after me, sent me to school for a while, gave me a little bit of financial support. Now I'm here." She spoke as evenly as she could. She had no doubt Jim's imagination would easily fill in the blanks.
He blinked, nodded, took a drink. "That's awful. I'm sorry." She had never heard him so sincere.
"You want to tell me what was going on back there?" She looked him straight in the eyes, nodded to the bathroom.
He sighed and shifted uncomfortably. She had opened up to him, to some extent, and he knew he owed her the same.
"My mother worked a lot. I didn't get on with her boyfriend, and I spent some time off-world on a colony with some relatives." He shrugged, paused.
"The colony was Tarsus IV. I never knew whether I was slated to live or die, but I wasn't going to risk it. A bunch of kids ran, including me. Some of us lived."
Gaila was appalled. She moved closer to him, hugged him gently. Everyone knew Tarsus IV, it was the closest genocide to Earth for hundreds of years. Everyone at least had an idea about Kodos' plan to 'ensure the survival of the colony', put his own eugenics plan into action, the rampant disease, starvation, how when Starfleet got there, even those who were alive were hollow-eyed and afraid, crushed under a vicious military regime that used food as a weapon.
Just like she had done, Jim was letting her fill in the blanks.
He shrugged her off, a little self consciously, though she stayed close. "Dunno, I've had some issues with food since. It comes and goes, it's no big deal." He sounded terribly defensive.
"Hey, I didn't say it was." She nudged him until he was looking at her. "I'm not going to push you, I trust you. But I care about you, so if it gets serious, you'll come to me, right? Let me help, or at least let me be around. I know what I'm asking, I get it, but you could really hurt yourself like this. I need to know you know when it's time to get help."
Jim looked away and cupped his chin in his hand. "I can do that," he said at length. "Thanks." He mumbled, not meeting her gaze.
"That's all I ask." She leaned on his shoulder, and he didn't pull away.
"Do you know what set it off, this time?"
"Not really. Sometimes it just happens, I'm eating and I'm so hungry. I know it doesn't make sense, but I wonder when I'll eat again. And then I'm so full. It's horrible. I have to... get it out."
She massaged his free hand gently and hummed in sympathy. "A lot?"
"Not more than once every few months. Much better than it used to be," he assured her. She still wasn't sure that she should endorse that, but who was she to judge?
She gave him a searching glance, and she was satisfied. He was his own person, she wouldn't do him the disservice of assuming he wasn't coping. "It gets easier, doesn't it? You never feel okay, but it gets easier."
He nodded. "And I guess you have other friends, but, you know. My door's always open."
Gaila cracked a smile. "Sure. Thank you."
"You're one of a kind, you know?"
She laughed lightly. "You're not such a bad guy yourself. And you should give McCoy a chance. He'll really try, I think. He really cares about you, you have to know that, and I think he worries."
He opened his mouth, and she caught his eye before he spoke. "Knowing and worrying will bother him less than not knowing and worrying."
He sighed. "Maybe. He's just always on my ass about taking care of myself. Like he thinks he's my brother or something." Jim made a sour face at that. Briefly, Gaila wondered why.
She shrugged at him. "We all have our ways of showing we care. I think he'll be better for it than me."
He kissed her temple. "I don't know. You're pretty great."
She smiled. "Still. Remember what I said."
"Yeah." He gave a long sigh. "Okay."