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Author's Note: Written for lune_and_asters for Ladies First.
The thing Gaila noticed first about Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott was how his ears turned bright pink when he talked to her.
They weren't even necessarily talking about sex (well, except Gaila was almost always talking about sex, just a little). They could be discussing plasma generators, power couplings, or even the advanced computer programmes regulating the matter/anti-matter flow, and slowly but surely his ears would begin the burn with blood.
Living among humans for years, she'd noticed that the less pigmentation the human, the more noticeable their moods were by how the blood would rush under the skin. She was used to deciphering certain universal traits among humanoids. Including the head or antenna toward the speaker was generally considered a sign that a) one was listening and b) one was actually interested in the conversation. Touches that lingered—even to non-erogenous zones—were almost always a sign of sexual interest (except in touch-telepaths who, being touch-telepaths, generally communicated their interest much more efficiently and directly). Dancing, no matter where you were from, was a form of copulation whilst still clothed. Even those fancy Tholian dances requiring twelve legs between you.
And as far as Gaila knew, a blush generally was still a blush, whether it was a human flushing every shade from palest rose to deep plum (Nyota's cousin from Mombasa had fascinated Gaila with his skin like polished mahogany) or a Vulcan's cheeks becoming blue-green (rare, she knew, because even though they were cold all the time due to the relative differences in the tilt of Sol III's axis and its distance from their primary, compared to 40 Eridani A, coetaneous bloodflow didn't work the same in Vulcans as it did in Orions or Terrans. So it took some serious physiological responses to produce vasodilatation in a Vulcan. Gaila had only managed it twice, and it certainly wasn't for lack of trying on her part).
But especially among humans, a blush could also indicate embarrassment or humiliation, anger and frustration. When they had been roommates together at the Academy, Gaila had often observed Nyota could become frustrated and upset to the point of tears over a poor evaluation on a field test or a simulation. Nyota would blink rapidly, and beneath the smooth coffee of her skin would burn a deep flush.
Still, among humans and Orions both, a blush was a sign of arousal. Blood rushing to the skin (and other places) in her body's attempt regulate her temperature and cool itself. Gaila knew that when she achieved orgasm, her cheeks, ears and even neck would darken to almost blue. Jim Kirk's cheeks would be deliciously ruddy like the skin of a ripe apple, and she'd want to bite him sometimes, to see if he would taste as sweet (the closest fruit on Orion Prime with skin like a Terran apple was sour and dry. Terran apples had been a delight to Gaila when she'd first come to the Academy, just for their novelty).
So while normally she might assume that the Chief Engineer was physically attracted to her, he had never even so much as asked her to share a beverage containing a mild stimulant in the mess. He only ever talked to her about engines and algorithms and coolant systems. Where he went when he was off-shift was a mystery to her, although Bob Brien said Scotty's idea of a good time often involved a stack of engineering journals and a small measure of a malt and grain alcohol aged in wooden casks.
So she assumed that, when Mr Scott's ears went pink and his voice went up that half notch, that somehow he was angry with her.
She worked harder, stayed up late reading all the same engineering journals he did, did everything she could to stay on his good side. She picked up extra shifts, recalibrated the intermix equations until Enterprise's engines were running more efficiently than any other ship in the fleet. She ran cooler and faster than even the brand new Excelsior which everyone at San Francisco Yards swore was a generation ahead of even Enterprise, which itself had been a massive leap forward in warp engine technology.
However, no matter what she did, Mr Scott never seemed at ease with her. He would joke with the other engineering lieutenants, even when he was running them ragged with drills. Laugh with them, even play cards with them when he would make appearances at the junior officer's weekly poker game in Rec Room 3.
But never Gaila.
"I've tried everything," Gaila tells Keenser in the Mess over dinner one night. "But he just doesn't seem to like me."
Keenser just shrugs. "Humans," he says, as if that really explains anything. Gaila sighs.
"At first, I thought maybe he didn't find me attractive. And it's not like I really expect every guy to, you know—but then I started thinking, why is this bothering me so much? And Nyota's theory is that it's so typically me to finally fall for the one guy on the ship who apparently doesn't have a thing for Orions."
Keenser blinks at her, and makes a Hrumphing sound deep in his chest.
"Okay, one human guy."
He rolls his eyes—silver pinpricks in the dark hollows of his craggy, grey-olive face—and she would have worried she'd offended him except she knows he has two wives and sixteen children on his homeworld, and he doesn't seem to be on the lookout for a third wife. Not that Gaila thought of herself as the marrying kind, though clearly with that many offspring, Keenser's wives seemed appreciative of his talents.
"And it's not like I'm pining," she says quickly, as much to reassure Keenser as herself. "I mean, sure he's cute in a human kind of way. And I can't figure out what he's actually saying once he gets really going on a subject. I mean, what does 'dinnae fash yersel' even mean? I've been on Terra for six years, and even with my UT updated, it just comes out gibberish. And I can always understand the bits about the engineering systems themselves. But sometimes he starts going on about puddings. I thought he meant desserts, but apparently it's food he eats in the morning and it's made from bread and it is either white or black and I tried to ask Nyota about it and she made this face."
Keenser patted her hand sympathetically. He spent six months on Delta Vega with Commander Scott, so she knows he's sympathetic. But he also seems a bit tired of every conversation they have being either about work or their CO, and she just ends up sighing.
"I just wish I knew what I was doing wrong. I want him to like me. Not like me like me, but just not always look like he's about to have a heart attack every time he talks to me."
Keenser gets up and walks over to the food slot. The new interface is supposed to respond to voice commands, but in the end Keenser ends up poking Crewman Mohinder in the thigh until he repeats Keenser's order. When the transparent aluminium doors slide open, there's a steaming cup of klaav and a single slice of dark red cake on a small plate. Mohinder hands it to Keenser, who carries it back to the table.
Gaila takes the cake, and Keenser takes the mug, and she thinks about how ludicrous it is that a shiny new ship can have every weapon known to human, vulcan, tellarite and andorian, but no-one thought to make the food slots accessible to anyone under 150 centimetres.
"Pfaaa. Maybe I should just give up. There are over a thousand people on this ship—it's silly to be so obsessed with just one."
Keenser nodded his agreement, and sipped his klaav.
"That's it. I'm done. From now on, no more worrying about one weird human with his weird human food and impenetrable dialect issues."
"Good plan," says Keenser.
The plan lasts for approximately six days and nine hours. It might have lasted at least the week, if it hadn't been for a melted coupling in Jefferies Tube 561, Junction D.
The report said that the 'lift sensors had been "on the fritz" all of Gamma shift, so when she arrived in Engineering at Alpha Shift, being the most junior lieutenant on-duty, that made her the Monkey.
Gaila still didn't quite understand why humans referred to other junior officers as "Monkeys" but in this case, she was sure a simian from Terra would have been able to actually climb up into the access tube in half the time it had taken her.
Gaila had been inching her way through the tube for the last twenty minutes, her hair pulled back tightly into a braid and the sleeves of her uniform tunic rucked up to her elbows so she would have more traction. She has her tricorder clutched in one hand because once she's actually slithering on her belly through the last six metres, she wouldn't have been able to get it off her belt in the small space.
She's scanning the junction for the source of the problem when she hears sound up behind her. She cranes her neck, half turning onto her hip, and can make out a red tunic and dark head also headed her way. Whoever it is, he's keeping up a steady litany of curses that are just faint enough she can't make them out. At almost the same moment he spots her boots and slows, she recognises both the voice and the particular epithet he's hurling at someone's illegitimately conceived offspring.
"Lieutenant. I didn't realise you were—"
"I was just working on Turbolift 15."
"I'm trying to get to the plasma relays at Junction L."
There is a moment of silence as they stare at one another, Scott still crouching on his forearms and shins, Gaila uncomfortably twisted on her side, chin touching her breastbone and one arm braced above her.
"There's another access hatch ahead in eleven meters," she says, shifting her weight so she can see him more clearly. "I could get out, and then you could go past me."
He shook his head. "Don't be daft," he says and she can see from here the flush creeping up his neck where it's exposed above the charcoal grey undertunic. "You'd lose too much time backtracking. I can go back—"
"Does daft mean stupid?" she asks, and he blinks.
"Well, yes. But I dinnae mean you're actually daft—Just a turn of phrase."
"Okay, then, don't you be 'daft'. The plasma relays are a higher priority than a service lift with a power coupling that needs replacing." She pushes herself as flush with the access tube wall as she can, and motions him forward with her other hand. "If we both scrinch, then there's just enough clearance for you to get by."
He is getting redder by the second, and Gaila knows it's not just the close confines of the Jefferies Tube and their body heat.
"I don't think—"
"This way, neither of us has to trackback. And I'll replace the coupling and get out of your way before you head back down to Deck 13."
He looks like he's going to order her to keep working, his mouth compressed into a tight line. Then he sighs in defeat, and begins inching his way forward. She holds her breath as he crawls slowly forward, sweat darkening the neck of his tunic and running down his cheek from his temple.
He's got his tools clutched in one hand, and drops them a few times as he navigates the tight space between them. She grabs the spanner from his hand, and apologises as the toe of her boot digs into his thigh. He mutters something she assumes is an apology as he tries to figure out where to put his hands so he can pull himself past her and he rolls over onto his side.
She scoots back just a little, and then her sweat-slicked hand slips on the upper part of the tube and the next thigh she knows she's managed to land squarely on his chest, the heels of her hands aching from where they've scraped against the mesh grating on either side of his head.
He closes his eyes, and she assumes she knocked the wind out of him and immediately begins stammering apologies and trying to right herself again.
"Don't move, Lieutenant," he says, his voice tight.
"Commander, I'm so sorry—"
"I said don't move," he says again. "Please."
They're of a height, which means in her standard issue Starfleet boots she's just that smidgen taller than he is. But at the moment they're both lying down, albeit with her on top of him and so he's up at her and she's looking down at him and finally she blurts out "Sir, why don't you like me?"
He blinks up at her. "I'm sorry—what?"
"You don't like me."
His expression is one of abject horror. "Of course I like you."
"But you always seem so—I mean, I get you so upset. And I try and I try and nothing I do is ever—"
And just then it dawns on her exactly why he told her not to move. Because his spanner is still lying on the floor of the tube in front of them, and her tricorder is next to it, and that means what's digging into her hip isn't standard Starfleet Issue.
"Oh," she says, her warm breath puffing out with the sound, stirring his dark hair where it isn't plastered to his forehead.
He closes his eyes again, and now she can almost feel the heat radiating from his ears. On impulse, she traces the curve of one with a gold-polished fingernail, and by reflex his hands come up to grip her hips. He grinds his teeth, and she tries to be very, very still.
"This is... awkward," she finally says, and a panicked giggle begins to built in her chest. She does her best to hold it in because human male egos tend to be fragile when it comes to inappropriate laughter while she's actually on top of them. But she can't stop the corner of her mouth from twitching.
"More than awkward, aye," he says, looking terribly mournful. "What with me being your commanding officer and—"
"No, silly. I mean this is awkward because we're in a Jefferies Tube," she clarified. "It would be much less awkward in a real bed. Or, you know, a different horizontal surface. Though to be perfectly accurate, I'm good with vertical, too. I'm very flexible."
His eyes widen, and his mouth drops open, and the laugh breaks free and she can't stop herself. Her shoulders are shaking, and she reaches up with one poor bruised hand to push her sweaty fringe off her forehead, tucking loose curls behind her ears so they're no longer hanging down into his face, obscuring it.
"I'm not laughing at you," she assures him as gravely as she can, given they're crammed into an access tube and her uniform tunic is rucked up and one leg has slipped between his and his fingers keep spasming on her hips with each heartbeat. "I just—it's the situation."
"Did you really think I did nae fancy you? For God's sake, woman, you're a goddess and I spent most of the last six months on a frozen moon with naught but a Tribble and Keenser. Are you mad?"
"Mad as in angry or mad as in mentally unbalanced?" she asks sincerely.
He answers her by lifting his head, neck and shoulders coming up off the floor of the Jefferies tube as his lips meet hers. She sighs into his mouth, sucking on his upper lip and one of his hands slides under her tunic, fingers splayed across her lower back. She grips his shoulders, tongue sliding against his and thinks she ought to trust her instincts from now on.
Because now she's blushing too.
Keenser flicks the access panel at Junction L closed with a snap, and then crawls down the access ladder, the burnt out power coupling from Junction D tucked securely into his belt.
"Humans," he mutters, and then after a moment, adds, "Orions," with a shake of his head.