It was amazing, in many ways, how quickly the linguistic specialists on the Nexus and on Aya managed to develop communicators specifically for the language of the Angara. Naturally, not everything was perfect; there were still a few glitches here and there, some words in both Standard and Angaran unaccounted for in the other language.
But overall, it was an amazing feat of linguistic technology and cultural exchange efforts.
The thing that irked Matt the most wasn’t really an issue, per se; more of an oddity.
The earliest communicators were a nightmare. The playback loop was so out of synch with what was being said and how quickly it was being heard that it could cause the listener to miss entire sentences. Now the playback was almost immediate, and Matt knew there was some neural technology involved, something about predicting the words before they were spoken. Honestly, it all went a bit over his head.
But now, thankfully, people at least could understand each other, and didn’t have to wait an awkward ten seconds for the translated words to sink in.
Unfortunately, though, the communicators didn’t do much to preserve the speaker’s natural voice. Whenever someone listened to someone else talk, it was with a distinctly electronic layer to it, as though the words were being doubled by a robot.
And, of course, the listener only ever heard the words in their own first language, never the native language of the speaker.
It was a small thing to be irked by – especially when one considered that cross-species communication was now made very possible and much simpler than it once was – and an easy thing to get used to, but… still.
Sometimes Matt found himself put off by it.
The communicators were set to a specific language, and whenever they picked up someone speaking in the same language, they automatically filtered nothing through; if Matt was conversing with someone who was speaking Standard Terran, he would hear their voice, no translations necessary.
But listening to Drack or Vetra speak always gave Matt an impression of a voice heavily overlaid by a computerized translation of what they were saying. And sometimes, if Matt was particularly tired or out of it, he wouldn’t even really comprehend what was being said, he would just listen to the odd combination of an utterly inflectionless voice with an organic one.
And then there was Jaal.
With Jaal, in some ways, it was worse because the language of the Angara was the least known to everyone from the Milky Way. Sometimes Jaal would use an Angaran word that hadn’t been translated, and the communicators would zap right past it with the most annoying static noise Matt had ever heard, or even a computerized approximation of the phonetic sounds of the word.
And then there was the… relationship that was still developing between them. It was new and young, and they both were still learning about each other in this unfamiliar capacity.
But Matt had found that hearing Jaal’s voice this way – with this computerized layer over it – had grown only more frustrating since the onset of their relationship. He kept trying to focus on the undercurrent of Jaal’s voice, his real voice, beneath the sharp and nasal-sounding computer, especially when they were alone and the Tempest was docked.
On-duty, there was a level of professionalism that everyone had to adhere to, Matt knew that. It was easy enough to push aside his childish issues with communicators when they were preparing to go after a Kett ship or help Bradley with Prodromos.
But when they were alone – when it was just Matt and Jaal – Matt found himself less inclined to ignore the whole thing.
His annoyance built and built until he finally caved and decided to bring it up with Jaal. He wasn’t entirely sure what he was going to be asking, but he knew that he wanted to not hear the computerized voice of a communicator every time he and Jaal spoke during their downtime.
He brought it up one day while the Tempest was docked at the Nexus for repairs and the crew had all departed for some much deserved R&R. Jaal and Matt were the only ones aboard, with SAM ever present in the systems around them.
Matt was failing utterly to help Jaal with his recreational tinkering, and eventually gave up entirely on even pretending to try, proceeding instead to bring up the only thing that was on his mind.
“Hey, Jaal,” he began.
“Darling one?” was Jaal’s prompting response. The sound of it simultaneously caused Matt to hesitate, and firmed his resolve.
See, it… Matt knew that Jaal wasn’t saying the Standard words “darling” and “one.” He knew that. But it was what he heard, and that… bothered him.
So he shut off his omni-tool and turned to face Jaal fully. Seeming to sense his internal struggle, Jaal stopped his tinkering and turned as well, waiting patiently.
For a moment, Matt was silent, trying to figure out exactly how he could best put to words this irrational yet extremely persistent feeling of his. Thankfully, Jaal seemed content to let him work it through.
“Okay,” Matt began. Jaal’s lips twitched. Matt shot him a playfully scolding look, a preemptive ‘don’t you dare.’ Yes, he knew he was painfully awkward; no, they didn’t need to talk about it (yet again) now.
Matt rolled his eyes, allowing Jaal the small tease. “Okay,” he repeated. “So, when you say that—when you say ‘darling one’—” Here, Matt felt a familiar heat rise up the back of his neck at having to say the words, having to confront what went into them, Standard or not. He pushed onward. “What are you… actually saying? I mean, what’s the word – or words? – in your language?”
Jaal seemed taken aback, looking at Matt with mild perplexity before standing to his feet. He looked down at the tool still held in his hands, seeming to contemplate something. Matt tilted his head and held his silence.
After a moment, Jaal released a huff of gentle laughter and shook his head.
“It is odd,” he mused softly. “To hear you ask this. To my ears, when you speak this word, you are already saying it as it is in my people’s language.”
Matt smiled, “Yeah, but if I had a robotic voice.” Jaal snorted.
“True.” He paused then, eyes flicking across Matt’s face, curiosity open on his features, but mixed with fondness and affection, and god, Matt would never be able to get over that.
“You wish to hear the word as it would be spoken in my language,” Jaal spoke slowly, carefully, as though he wasn’t sure whether Matt would correct him or not. “As I would hear it?”
That, and I want to hear your voice without an electronic communicator layered over it.
The heat at the back of his neck intensified and crawled further upward. He… Normally, he would have just kept a thought like that to himself, but—
He’d been working on this with Lexi, and Jaal shouldn’t be the only one offering so much of himself. Shouldn’t be the only one letting someone read the emotion right from his expression.
Matt took in a breath and nodded, opening his mouth before he could stop himself, and trying not to look away, “Well, yeah, but I—would also like to hear what you sound like. Without the—” He gestured awkwardly at his own ear. “You know.”
Jaal’s expression softened immediately. He placed the tool on a nearby table and crossed over to Matt in one long stride. He took Matt’s hands in his and set their foreheads together.
“Darling one,” he said low, eyes bright – they were like planets, it was mesmerizing – smile gentle. And there was that damn computer voice, ruining everything.
“What are you saying?” Matt muttered back, frustration leaking into his voice, annoyed that he could only hear that stupid computer’s words and not Jaal’s.
Jaal chuckled and brought Matt’s hand to his lips, pressed a kiss onto the skin. He closed his eyes for a moment, simply feeling, and Matt was afraid to breathe.
When Jaal opened his eyes again, he lowered Matt’s hands and gave him a curious look.
“Can we turn off the communicators temporarily?” At Matt’s nod, he went on, “Then, while they are off, I will say the word to you, as it is in my language, and you will say it back, also in my language.” Here, he paused thoughtfully. “You should be able to produce the necessary sounds, alien though you are.” And Matt had to laugh at that. Jaal’s eyes danced. “Then, you will tell me what the equivalent in your Standard language is, and I shall repeat it back to you. Does this sound good?”
Matt nodded without thinking, paused, and shrugged.
“Sounds great. Just… there are a lot of different words we use for this, specifically,” he replied. Jaal inclined his head, but didn’t look put off.
“As there are for Angara,” he said easily. He opened his mouth to continue, but stopped, expression suddenly sheepish, and looked away for a moment with a rueful smile.
“Although, there has always been one in particular which has… appealed to me far more than any of the others.”
Matt smiled. Tilted his head to catch Jaal’s gaze. Bumped their foreheads together again.
Jaal smiled and leaned closer.
“I should have guessed,” he murmured. “Shall we?”
Matt pulled back – just a little – and nodded. “SAM?”
“I am here,” SAM’s voice echoed around them, soft and sure. “I am turning off your communicators now.” A pause followed. “You may continue at your leisure.”
SAM went quiet and the room was plunged into silence. Matt stared wide-eyed at Jaal.
What now? Who should…?
For several seconds, the only sound to be heard in the room was their slightly quickened breathing.
Then Jaal moved, brought one of his hands – it was shaking slightly, was he as nervous about this as Matt was? – up to Matt’s face. He opened his mouth, took in a breath, and…
The sounds that came out were so different from what Matt was used to, and they flashed him back to that first interaction he’d had with the Angara, back on Aya. Back then, all the voices had blended together in Matt’s ears, a cacophony of sound he couldn’t hope to understand, one voice piled on top of another.
Matt winced. …Yeah, okay, that was not a good way to put it. At least he could say his perceptions were the result of temporary ignorance and not bigotry, which was more than could be said for many other Initiative folk.
Jaal was speaking louder now, and Matt didn’t even try to hide the awe in his expression. Jaal’s voice was…
It was deep, for one. It rumbled in Jaal’s chest and Matt swore he could feel it even without actually touching him. It wasn’t low, exactly, it was more like… It rose and fell as Jaal spoke, changing pitch and inflection, like waves in the ocean back on Earth, and Matt… Matt could see a bit clearer what Jaal meant when he spoke of the Angara’s natural tendency toward open emotional expression. It was there, on his face and in his voice.
Jaal’s face creased and he kept speaking, bringing a second hand to frame Matt’s face. Matt blinked and—
Alright, maybe he could have come up with something a bit better to say, but… he was distracted. Sue him.
Jaal stopped speaking and stared. A smile stretched across his face and he began to ghost his thumbs over Matt’s cheeks, eyes as wide as Matt’s. He looked awed too, and was that because of Matt’s voice, oh, he couldn’t think of that too much, not just yet.
Jaal whispered something, and Matt couldn’t tell how many words there were, where one word ended and another began, but they sounded like a request, and the point of this exercise wasn’t to stay silent. Matt just… couldn’t quite do long sentences just yet.
“That’s your voice,” he breathed, mind racing to recall everything Jaal had just said, the way he’d spoken, just everything. “That’s—wow. Wow…” And then he remembered the purpose of going through all this and lightly shook himself to clear his mind.
“Okay.” He looked up at Jaal, caught his gaze and held it. “The word? The one in your language? For ‘darling one?’” And Jaal seemed to remember too because he straightened up and cleared his throat, nodding resolutely even though Matt knew he didn’t understand a single word Matt had just said.
But he held Matt’s gaze, and the look in his eyes was intense, and Matt couldn’t have looked away if he’d wanted to.
Jaal lifted Matt’s hands again, but pressed them this time to his chest, never looking away, and Matt… Matt tried to stay still, tried not to choke on his own breath, as he waited for Jaal to speak.
Jaal breathed in and opened his mouth—
The word hung between them, suspended in that moment, and Matt's heart pounded in his chest.
There it was. That weirdness, that off feeling whenever they spoke and the computer spoke for them, gone. All layers stripped, all distance erased. Unchanged now, unfiltered, just Jaal and his words, his language, him.
Why had they not thought to do this before?
Matt took the word in, turned the sounds over in his mind, opened his mouth to repeat it to Jaal. He saw the way Jaal tensed, the way his body seemed to coil in anticipation, like he was waiting for something. Like he wanted to hear his words come out of Matt’s mouth.
God, I hope I don’t fuck this up.
He took another breath, held it, and uttered back, slow and careful, “Taoshay.”
He knew he probably botched the pronunciation, knew it probably sounded clumsy and imperfect, but Jaal shuddered and his hands tightened around Matt’s as though he didn’t give a damn. He nodded and took a step closer even though there really wasn’t much space left between them to bridge.
There were tears in his eyes.
“Taoshay,” he said again, smiling wide. His hand went to Matt’s face, the other still cradling Matt’s hands. “Matt.” God, god, that was his name, that was Matt’s name in Jaal’s voice, and holy shit, this was insane, how was it possible to be so affected by another person’s voice, holy god—
“Matt.” Matt startled and blinked, pulled from his thoughts by that—by Jaal. He looked up and saw – there were still tears in Jaal’s eyes – an expression of gentle curiosity on Jaal’s face. Oh. Right.
Alright. He could do this.
Matt sucked in a deep only slightly uneven breath and pulled himself up, mimicking Jaal’s earlier posture. Gently, he extracted his hands from Jaal’s careful hold. He reached up, guided Jaal’s hand down from his cheek, brought the other over from Jaal’s chest. Held them both as though they might slip away.
He tried to smile, and could feel his own nerves coming through in the shaking of his lips. At least his hands were steady.
There was less than a foot of space between them, and he probably didn’t need to do this, but it—it felt important. The motions to go with the words.
He brought their clasped hands to his own chest and pressed, mimicking Jaal’s actions from earlier, and prepared himself.
First yours. Now mine.
Jaal’s lips parted and gasped, cracked and punched out from somewhere deep.
“Beloved,” he repeated, just as slow, as soft, in his deep rumbling voice. Matt shivered and nodded, and he couldn’t even smile, it—it wouldn’t be enough. Wouldn’t even be close. He felt close to bursting, his heart ready to jump from his chest, his stomach overturned, his limbs mismatched, everything.
“Jaal,” he whispered, and he’d heard Jaal’s name from his own lips before, but it was different now, everything was different, it felt like. “Beloved.”
A choked sound escaped Jaal’s throat. He pulled his hands free, wrapped his arms around Matt, and pulled him close. He wasn’t even trying to stop the tears. Matt reached up and brushed them away anyway, blinking when he realized, oh, he was crying too. For some reason, that made him laugh, a weak exhale pushed against Jaal’s skin as Matt pressed their cheeks together, nosed at Jaal’s neck, returned the embrace.
He hadn’t known that it would be like this. He hadn’t known that just… just hearing Jaal’s own words, his voice, would make him feel so much. He swallowed hard, and… and just let himself be, let himself sink into it, let the feelings buoy him.
Jaal whispered into his hair, reverently, barely there, and Matt clung tighter. Whispered back. Spoke Jaal’s word against his skin, as Jaal spoke his. Theirs, now.
They stood together, hearts full, bodies twined, no layers between them, and spoke each other’s words.