The universe was a fucked up place.
Sara had actually never thought so. How could it be fucked up?
Waterfalls, mountains, deserts. Summer storms and snow in May. Shooting stars, asteroids, supernovas. Mass relays, Prothean technology. Turians, quarians, asari, salarians, krogan, all of them, all of them. So many worlds to explore. So many people to meet. The Milky Way. And now Andromeda.
The universe was a marvel, if anything. She honestly believed that. Believed it with her scientist’s heart. There was so much to discover, unravel, and figure out. It was like a never ending experience of excitement. Every day brought something new, even if only in slight ways. An archeologist’s workday didn’t always culminate in groundbreaking discoveries, true. But even if they found a shard of something that might be part of a new discovery then that was better than nothing and could lead to something. Always something.
It was why she hadn’t even considered arguing with her Dad when he had basically decided for her brother and her that they would come with him to a different galaxy, though normally she would have put up a fight. Dad was almost an … outsider in their little family, however funny that was, seeing as he took up so much figurative space in it. He had always been hoarding all the w-questions. Where was Dad? Wasn’t he supposed to be home by now? When would he be? Would he be if we were better? Smarter? Braver? What could we do that he would look at us more? Like us more? See us?
Who was this Dad person anyway?
Yeah, they really weren’t close. If you had to ask yourself who your father was, even though your parents were married and said marriage was allegedly happy (the scientist in Sara thought that all the evidence pointing to that was highly circumstantial), then there was some serious shit going on.
Not that she didn’t love him. She loved him. The way you got to love a parent that didn’t beat you or mistreat you in any way, but was … absent. The way you love a parent that was somehow lacking. You love them because you have no real reason not to and because they’re your parent. They’d have to fuck up a lot worse for that to stop.
And who ever stops wanting the approval of a person that didn’t give it out easily? Overachievers like Sara, that’s who. Little puppy dogs like Scott, that’s also who. Scott wanted a pat on the head. Sara wanted one on the shoulder. Neither of them got what they wanted, but that didn’t ever stop them from trying.
Okay, so maybe that was a little fucked up, but Sara had never blamed the universe for it. The universe had a lot going on. Someone with a schedule bigger than anybody could possibly understand with their tiny brains probably didn’t have time to micromanage the hell out of one family in it. Wouldn’t have been fair, either. Why help the Ryders and not someone who actually had it bad?
Sara wasn’t blind to the shit that went on in the world. But all in all the good outweighed the bad, right? For each rainy day, there was a sunny one (and in her opinion rainy day’s weren’t all that bad, no matter what Scott said, who sometimes simply said stuff to contradict her because he was a little shit), for each death there was a birth. For each asshole, a Samaritan. To make up for the existence of licorice, someone had invented ice cream.
So, when her career had ended, and Scott’s on top of it, because her Dad had put his fingers where they didn’t belong and made something that made other people afraid, Sara had been pissed for about a day. Then, she had decided to yell at her Dad. Before she could, he had told her and Scott about Andromeda. They both had crossed their arms and stared at each other. Both thinking the same thing, more or less, because who even knew what went on in that overly gelled head of Scott’s.
Do we want to go?
We can, but does that mean we should?
Nothing left for us here anyway, right?
And then: Andromeda.
New frontiers. New worlds. New tech. New aliens. So much to dig up, so much to explore.
To use Captain Kirk’s Infinitive the way it was intended to be used – to boldly go where no man had gone before.
Scott’s cheek had twitched. Sara had bitten her lip.
Excitement. Oh, the excitement.
Sara had then graciously let her father know, that yes, Scott and her were amenable to the idea. Yes, she had actually used that word. Amenable. Showing her hand completely, because she only ever became highly formal when she tried to hide something. And absent as her father was, he knew at least that and had regally inclined his head, before asking her if Lady Sara and Master Scott would be available posthaste for a quick debrief.
Old idiot had some humor in him, after all.
Was it the last time she had laughed, before going into cryosleep? That would be poetic. That would be a great story. In the Milky Way, Sara had had stuff to be happy about. But once she had decided to go to Andromeda, thinks spiraled downward. She really should have known. Imagine the deep, booming voice saying that while stuff exploded in the background.
Reality was different. In reality, Sara laughed a lot. She was easy to amuse. Fall headfirst into a puddle? Sara would cackle at you. (Poor Scott.) Lose your balance on a boulder in the Grand Canyon and bruise your butt while narrowly avoiding certain death? Sara would almost die of asphyxiation from laughing. (Poor Scott.) Put a grape up your nose and then try, and fail, to get it out again by forcefully breathing out and imitating an elephant? Sara would make sounds like a hyena. (Poor Scott. Poor Scott in the hospital, even.)
So, yeah. Sara had fun. Even with her career all shot to hell, her Mom dead, and six hundred years in dark space, Sara still found stuff to laugh about. She had her Dad, still.
But mainly, she had Scott.
She loved her dumbass little brother half to death. No, not even half. She loved him all the way to death and back. If he ever dared to die, she’d haul his ass back to where it belonged. Right by her side and bugging the hell out of her. She imagined that minute before he was born she must have been the loneliest person in the entire world. Good that he decided to come along. She had never forgiven him that he had made her wait. Which was why she never let him forget it.
I was there when your weren’t, I’ve got wisdom you can’t even imagine.
Little Scotty, always just a little late-y.
Gotta look after you, Bro. You don’t know what life is like without me, after all.
Truth was, she was terrified. Though she couldn’t remember that minute without him, hell, couldn’t even remember anything before that time she broke her hand when she was three and Scott and her were crying over her wrist, all floppy, hanging down from her arm, and Dad telling her it was her own fault for not stopping to mess around even after he had told her to, she didn’t want to. She was glad she couldn’t remember a world without Scott in it.
And now the little bastard was in a coma.
And Dad, the huge, fucking bastard, was dead. Even after she had told him to be careful.
She was Pathfinder. In a new galaxy where nothing had turned out the way they wanted it to. Where basically everything was trying to kill them staring with the sun and ending with the water, the fucking water, what kind of shit was that?
If they found an equivalent of a cat here, she probably wouldn’t trust it. Everything was shit here.
She was all alone.
And the universe? The universe was not only fucked up, it could, in fact, go fuck itself.
Landing on Aya on fire had not been planned. Secretly, she kind of found it a teeny, tiny bit awesome, though. Talk about making and entrance, right?
Not that she was going to tell anyone that. The official narrative was that it had been unfortunate and not in any way fun for anyone involved. (That’s what she was going to tell the aliens she would find once she disembarked, and the version Kallo would get to hear. Gil and Peebee were going to hear the real story and though Gil would moan about setting his ship on fire he would get a manic gleam in his eyes and Peebee would mumble about adding flamethrowers to whatever secret project she had going on, Sara just knew it).
Anyway, disembarking was happening right now and, the way it looked, very publicly.
Like, in front of everyone and their mother.
So, Sara did the only reasonable thing. She held up her hands, tried to use her height, or lack of it, to her advantage to try and look as unintimidating as possible (if you can’t run from it, use it) and met this new race head on.
Her first thought was “loud”. Everyone was talking. Questioning. Demanding. Paaran Shie introducing herself after the translators had finally decided they had enough material to work with.
Her second thought, though, just as unprofessional as her feelings about the landing, was “pretty”. Not just the city around her. But the people. The angara. There were so many colors. Their shapes seemed fairly uniform, different from humans, but all of their skins reminded her of galaxies. The universe. Infinitely beautiful.
But before she could get into that more she was expected to talk and after that she was expected to talk some more, and fuck, she wasn’t a diplomat. She was an archeologist. She liked digging up dead people and their stuff. Whose idea had it been to make an awkward grave robber the first face of something like this?
Oh, right. Thanks, Dad.
And then, oh, and then, as if she hadn’t been struggling with this already …
He stepped into the picture.
Sara swore her heart stopped in her chest.
Her breath stuttered. Her pupils blew. Her mouth went dry.
“Aya is hidden, protected. What do you want?”
She had never had a reaction like that to anyone before. Sexual attraction was a dicey thing for her on the best days. People were pretty enough to look at, men and women, both. Hell, there had been a blue-eyed turian with equally blue clan markings she’d seen at the citadel once and found mildly interesting. But she’d never experienced this urge or need that other people described. Fuck, she’d thought people, and movies, and books where exaggerating when they talked about wanting to literally jump someone.
Wanting to crawl under someone’s skin, wanting to be close, yeah, she got that. She’d felt like that with Scott sometimes, even. But not this. Not … this thrilling and equally embarrassing want to just … drop her clothes and do things to him. With him. Kiss him. Fuck him. Anything to make it feel like she was the only thing he could concentrate on, too. Fuck, she didn’t even know if his species even kissed at all. If they were biologically compatible, if they even had sex for the pleasure of it. What if they were like salarians? What if he couldn’t …
God. A second ago, she hadn’t even known his species existed, let alone him, specifically. But still. She had never felt like this.
To think that all she had needed to do was travel for six hundred years to finally meet him. To finally feel this.
He was tall. Not as tall as a turian but definitely taller than the average human male. Very broad shoulders, but pretty slim hips, not much broader than her own, actually.
And it’s … he was … was pink the right term? It should have been strange, and it was, but fuck this, Sara found him more beautiful than strange and those eyes, she …
She had compared their skin variations to the bursts of galaxies and now she felt she had wasted that analogy because it fit his eyes, too. Little pools of starburst swirls. A walking, talking galaxy just as unknown as the one she was in right now.
Andromeda had been a disappointment so far. Brought heartache, mainly. Wet eyes, mostly.
Maybe this was where it would all turn around.
And he smelled so good, she couldn’t even describe it.
Did people really feel like that all the time? How did they get anything done? And how dare this guy to show up and … stand there and … be like … that.
“I’m sorry,” she finally said after what felt like an eon but had, in fact, only been seconds. The universe had rearranged itself around her in the blink of an eye and only she and it knew about it. Fucking universe. “Landing here, the way we did, without warning, on fire, was not the plan.”
And while, internally, she face palmed so hard it actually felt like she sprained something in the process, the angara in front of her seemed unfazed.
“That’s good to know. Because if it was, that would be a very bad plan.”
And then he smiled. Infinitesimally. So tiny was it, she may have imagined it. But she hadn’t. It had happened. It had fucking happened.
Talks commenced. She was asked to prove herself. Jaal, Jaal, was going to go with her. On the Tempest. To witness the proving (and mumbling, fumbling, and whatever else she was going to do while he was there being distracting and beautiful and, and, and) and to help, probably.
Who knew what was going to happen? For the first time since her Dad had died and Scott had started frolicking around coma dreamland, she felt excited by not knowing the answer to that.
He was one more thing to explore.
The fucked up universe and Sara weren’t on talking terms. But she decided to stop sending it hate mail for a bit.
She had never pegged herself a xenophile. And really, she wasn’t.
Talking to Evfra, talking to Paaran Shie, had proved that. Because Evfra was annoying at best, no matter his pretty blue coloring and Paaran Shie she felt nothing in particular for.
Jaal was simply different.
A puzzle to figure out. Like those remnant ones with the vaults. Except that scanning three things about him and then sitting there and rearranging glyphs while Liam yawned and PeeBee asked him if he didn’t think her bellybutton had the perfect depth for belly shots wouldn’t do the trick here. Though it seemed likely that Peebee was going to ask Jaal that too, probably followed by an explanation about what bellybuttons even where.
Because Sara seemed to not be the only one fascinated by Jaal.
The first time she had heard Peebee wondering about whether angara and asari could have kids all Sara had been able to think about was “No! Don’t do that!” She hadn’t said anything, though, but had viciously decided not to take her along the next time she was going to go explore some remnant ruins. But tell her? No. Peebee was fun, but Sara was not going to spill her guts about her newfound feelings. If she would confide in anyone, then maybe Liam, who seemed to get on, or try to get on, with Jaal famously.
Sara wasn’t bitter. Nope. Not one bit.
Just because her tries to get to know him had led to awkward pauses and him calling her pitiful for showing off her knowledge about retinas (some stupid biology knowledge she had remembered from school for god knows what reason, much like the phrase “mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell” and the word “endoplasmic reticulum” where still floating around in her head without context).
But she was not ready to give in yet.
But on her search for Jaal she stumbled upon Liam and him. Shirtless. Talking about ponchos. Or rofjinn, as they were actually called. And Sara secretly debated whether she should ask SAM to record Jaal the next time he said that word because those rolling syllables did things to her.
She didn’t know where to look. She could look at Liam. She wasn’t interested in him, so that wasn’t dangerous. But with Jaal right there …
She shouldn’t look South, but looking him in the eyes while he was naked was also not. possible. And she just knew her face was as red as anything right now.
And there was a weird sing-song in her head telling her to look down, look down, don’t look him in the eye, and why was that stupid song Scott liked to hum when he was working on his omnitool stuck in her head now?
Out of options, she focused her eyes on his chest, which, in a change of tune, she only found mildly attractive, though intensely interesting and told Liam and Jaal to sell her tickets for the next show they put on, while studying that.
The whole exchange wasn’t super successful. But it gave her an idea.
The next time they were traipsing around Havarl shooting Roekaar and whatnot she took him with her, as she always did on this planet. It made sense. Taking him with her made things easier, since they seemed less suspicious to the other angara. It wasn’t favoritism. It made sense.
“So, uh. Jaal,” she started out, once they finally seemed to reach a portion of the wild that wasn’t fraught with things that wanted to kill them.
“I want in. On that thing you and Liam are doing.”
“What thing are you referring to?” he asked, though he seemed mildly interested.
“I’m going to scout ahead,” Vetra immediately shot out, using her long legs to stride away from them. Great. That’s how unsubtle she was. Great. Had she said great?
“That cultural exchange thing. I mean, maybe with less nudity for me, but still. I want to know more. And, we must seem strange enough to you that you have questions as well. I mean, obviously. So. If there’s anything you haven’t covered with Liam already that you want to know, then. Shoot.,” she concluded and a weird wave of her hand.
“Shoot?” Jaal asked.
“… at what?”
Sara pressed her eyelids together. “Idiom. It means ‘just ask’.”
Jaal nodded and hummed. Sara was glad for the dusky light that never seemed to get much brighter on the planet. At least her humiliation wouldn’t be witnessed in prime conditions. Unless angara had better eyesight?
“Your hair,” Jaal suddenly blurted out after a long moment of silence and Sara almost flinched.
Jaal nodded. “It’s … different from Liam’s. And it has a different form?”
Sara blinked before she grinned. “Oh, yeah. Hair takes lots of different forms in humans. Some is really tight and curly, like Liam’s. Mine is pretty straight, though. Doesn’t curl much, but sometimes gets weird waves in it, if I sleep on it wrong. Here,” she said, pausing to take of her gloves and then took the band out of her hair, to let it fall around her face. “Wanna touch?”
He made a curious rumbling noise in his throat and not for the first time, Sara wondered if angara had the same kinds of subharmonics turians did. If they meant something.
“It is not a cultural taboo, then? I did not ask Liam, when he let me touch his.”
Sara shrugged. “Depends on the person. Some people like their personal space more than others. But I’d say that hair touching is something reserved for close friends or family. If you do it right it can feel really nice, so … Well, actually, there are certain places you can go where they kind of massage your head, because it can relieve headaches and stuff, but that’s different, because it’s a service you pay for … I’m making this more difficult than it has to be.” Sara frowned. “I guess the message is, you can touch it, if someone tells you, you can. Asking someone you know pretty well should also be okay.”
Jaal stepped closer, just as close as he had been that first day, when he had asked her about her intentions towards his planet. He had held back lately, she realized now. Hadn’t been in her space at all since he had boarded the Tempest. She almost felt ashamed, not noticing that he made concessions for them, just as they did for him.
He tugged off one of his own gloves and she fixed her gaze curiously on his hand. His skin was the same pink as everywhere on his body, with a bit of white here and there, which she knew travelled up his arm. Counting his fingers was harder. He seemed to have five, just like her, but the last three were sort of fused together, which meant that, effectively, he had three like most Milky Way species.
She swallowed drily as he slowly lifted his large hand towards her head and gently put it down on her hair. And made that rumbly noise again.
She couldn’t help but grin. “I put stuff in it that makes it softer besides cleaning it. Humans like soft stuff. Wait until they get around to breeding cats around Heleus. You’re going to want to pet those so much, believe me.”
Jaal’s eyes flicked down to hers and he smiled a little. “You will have to explain to me these … cats. But for now I am content petting you.”
Sara let out a breathy little laugh through her nose and pressed her head against his hands a little. It was very warm, and though Havarl was a humid planet, it wasn’t overly hot. The heat emanating from his palm made goosebumps rise on her arm. She unfastened a bit more of her armor and showed him. “See? That means I like it.”
“More hair,” he mused, taking his hand and brushing his fingertips over the much finer hair on her lower arm. “Different. But also soft. Do you have hair everywhere?”
“Uhm. Most places. At least a little of it. It kind of varies from person to person. But the most concentrated places are on our heads and, uhm, more intimate places, I guess.” Back to awkward territory so fast. Nice one, Sara.
Meanwhile Jaal had taken to tugging lightly on the strands of hair, currently dangling beside her ear. “What for?”
“On our heads, I don’t know. Maybe because humans find a full head of hair attractive so it’s a good idea keeping it, evolutionwise, so we won’t die out? As for the more intimate bits, I think that is to reduce friction a little. You know.”
He huffed out a laugh. “I know what you mean, yes.”
He bent his head a little and … “It smells nice.”
“You smell nice, too,” Sara couldn’t help but blurt out, but refused to be overly embarrassed by it (though fuck, yes she was). She could tell him, he smelled nice. He had written her in an email that he had brought lotions and perfumes with him, so obviously the scent was on purpose. Might as well let him know that someone appreciated his efforts.
“Thank you. I make the lotions myself. The extract comes from a plant native to this planet. If you could provide me with specifics as to what the …” he seemed to struggle for words. “What do you put in your hair?”
“Huh?” She blinked. “Oh! Uh it’s called shampoo. Or conditioner. Depends what you use it for. Shampoo is for cleaning, mostly. Conditioner for repairing and extra softness.”
“I could make you one. If you forwarded me more information about it. As a gift, maybe. Should you prove yourself further.”
Something inside her first warmed at his words only to freeze later. Right. It was still going to take some time for him to open up to her. To all of them. A bit of hair touching hadn’t changed that, of course it hadn’t. But it had been nice to forget about this added layer of tension over the mountain of tension already knotting up her shoulders for a bit.
“I’d like that,” she told him with a tight smile, before fastening her armor and taking a step away from him. She took the hairband she had put around her wrist and set to tie her hair back up again.
“Why do you not wear it like this, always? Open?” Jaal asked while putting his lovely fingers away in his own glove.
“Gets in the way if I don’t. Can’t snipe enemies when I can’t see through my own hair, can I?” she quipped, trying to keep it light. “I used to wear it shorter, when I was younger, but I while I was on an excavation site for some months I didn’t have the opportunity to get it cut so it grew back out again.”
Jaal made a noise that could best be described as alarming. “It grows?”
Sara couldn’t help but laugh. “Yep. If you stick with us long enough you’ll probably see some of the human crew’s hair getting longer. It doesn’t happen super-fast, but still.” She shook her head. “Come on. Vetra is going to give us disappointed looks if we’ll make her wait longer.”
So they traipsed on ahead, unfroze some angara scientists, and she solved another remnant puzzle, no big deal, not impressive at all, aw Jaal, you’re too nice, Sara wasn’t showing off at all, oh no.
Back on the Tempest when Sara was in front of her cabin and Jaal was about to climb the ladder to the tech lab, probably, he grabbed her upper arm. She instantly froze at his touch and had to fight the urge to closer her eyes at it. “Jaal?”
His eyes were scanning her features, little galaxies flicking left and right and left again. “You … how many people have you … let touch you like you let me before?”
The question threw her. “How many people have I let touch my hair?”
“You said it was … intimate. For family. I was just wondering.”
She frowned. “I don’t really know, actually. Not many. My parents. Scott used to pull it, to annoy me. Uh … some girlfriends when I was little, I think. Must have happened at one point. I don’t know, Jaal. I guess …” Sara laughed a little helplessly. “I guess I don’t let very many people touch it all that much.”
His face was inscrutable. Not because of the lack of emotion it displayed but because Sara couldn’t make heads or tails of all the emotions she did see. Surprise? Sorrow? Something tight and flickering. Seeing it made her heart clench.
“But you let me,” he said gravely.
She shrugged. “What can I say? I’d like us to be on a hair-touching basis,” she concluded lamely, but by the gods, she meant it. He could touch her dumb hair all he wanted. In fact, she would prefer it if he never stopped.
That made Jaal laugh again and for the first time she realized it was not hard to make him laugh, if one set their mind to it. It was just that she hadn’t tried very hard before. To intimidated by what she was feeling. By the mere prospect of him.
Suddenly, he took her hands and took the gloves she had tugged off already earlier from her hand. He tucked them into his belt, and guided both of her hands up to, what she had heard him call, his neck flaps. The second she touched his skin something in her brain short-circuited.
“And you were talking about my hair being soft. Look who’s talking,” she mumbled to herself, but clearly, Jaal could hear her just fine by the rumbling laugh he let out. His eyes seemed to positively dance.
“Angara like soft things, too.”
"Still not talking to the universe. Make note: Angara probably like cats."
So. She proved herself to him. On Havarl. By activating remnant sites and taking him along.
At that godawful exhaltation facility, by rescuing the Moshae. Thinking of that place still gave her nightmares. To think that that was what the kett meant by that term. Exhaltation. As if it were something to look forward to. As if they didn’t, as Liam said, steal what people were.
After the mission she hadn’t had time to think about it in depth. She’d had to go look at Aya’s vault with the Moshae, who was still mad about her not blowing up the facility. But how could she have? With Jaal basically begging her not to? With knowing herself that lives could still be saved and that cursed place blown to bits later? They’d discovered meridian, whatever that was, and then people had wanted things from her, as they always did. Demanding. Prodding. Never letting up.
Couldn’t you have been the first to do something between the two of us, Scott? Just once?
But in reality, she didn’t want her baby brother having to do all this. Scott was … not fragile, no, he was strong, but ... he cared too much. He was full to the brim with empathy and if this whole thing made Sara, who was in no way tough as nails, but still not as blindingly good as Scott was, if it already made her shoulders crumble under the weight of it all, if her optimism had already taken a heavy blow, how would Scott fare in this clusterfuck?
No, better it be her. Better he recover. At least by now she’d been able to talk with him through SAM. But hearing about Dad and all the shit that was going on had already given him … god, no idea what that had been, but it had clearly hurt something in him. She just hoped that her honesty hadn’t made everything worse. Seeing him, even struggling in his sleep, face crunching up with the pain of it all … Just no.
“Pathfinder, would you like to talk? You seem distressed,” SAM muttered in her head, and she tightened herself into a ball on her bed. She’d come back from the city to the Tempest as soon as she politely could and promptly crawled into bed.
“I am distressed,” she muttered back petulantly and squeezed her eyes shut. It was all just now beginning to sink in.
How many angara turned kett had she shot? Without knowing? And now that she knew did it even make a difference? In the end, they were still kett, right? They were still trying to kill them, or worse, exhalt them. They were still the enemy.
God, what if things were different and Jaal was one of them? What if she had killed him during one of her missions, never even knowing whom she was shooting? Whose life she was ending? Who he could have been, what he could have meant to her? What if it had been his booming laugh that had been turned into fanatic kett rumblings and his blue galaxy eyes transformed into black holes? What if all that he was had been snuffed out and they’d never met?
She couldn’t think about this, she didn’t want to. It hurt all the more knowing that there was probably some other universe out there where just that had happened. There was a Sara Ryder out there that had killed a Jaal Ama Darav and called the world better for it.
“Ryder, Jaal has just boarded the Tempest. Would it give you relief to talk to him instead of me?” SAM suggested, a note of urgency entering his voice. Her vitals were probably all over the place right now.
Sara instantly unfurled and sat up. “Where is he?” she asked wiping at her burning, but dry, eyes and struggled to get up.
“He is currently walking towards your location, Pathfinder. If you go now, you should be able to catch him.”
She fumbled to get her shoes on, before basically running for need of getting to him. She needed to make sure that he was okay. She hadn’t been able to ask him how he was, or to give him comfort, or ask him if he even needed it.
Fuck, she needed it and it wasn’t even her species, not yet.
“Jaal!” she called, the instant she was through the doors of her quarters, but she needn’t have yelled. She could see the blue of his rofjinn disappearing in a flutter towards the crew quarters. Still, he had heard her and turned around toward her, posture slumped and eyes weary. His hands clenched in fists in front of him and he seemed at a loss of what to do.
“Ryder, do you need anything? If not, I would prefer to …”
But she did not let him finish before she took off towards him.
She could only imagine what she had to look like. Hair probably standing on end, unbound across her face, because it had been uncomfortable to lie on it tied up, with her eyes shining and her face clenched into something of a grimace.
But he stood and waited and she couldn’t help herself.
His family wasn’t here and he wasn’t on the best terms with Evfra. The Moshae was likely busy and he hadn’t talked about having any friends somewhere close.
Sara would have to do.
She swallowed thickly and stepped close to him, thinking about asking for permission, but then simply doing, deciding to try and be what he needed her to be.
Sara would have liked to throw her arms around his shoulders and simply engulf him in all the comfort she could give, but his shoulders were too broad and she was too small and it wouldn’t have worked as well as she liked. Instead, she wound her arms around his waist and pressed her body against his, face buried against his chest, and squeezed him tightly. Giving him something to hold onto, if she couldn’t offer him to disappear inside of her.
For a second, Jaal stiffened and Sara pressed her eyelids together tightly, fearing she had overstepped, maybe misunderstood. Maybe she was not allowed, too much of an outsider still.
But then Jaal heaved a sigh that made his shoulders quiver and the breath in his throat catch. And before Sara could think another anxious thought, the angara had her wrapped in his strong, warm arms, and was holding onto her like a lifeline, while his body shuddered with sobs and he buried his face in her wild hair.
The universe was still fucked up, but at least Jaal was alive, whole, and exactly the way he was supposed to be.
He had given her shampoo. Shampoo. And it even worked. Apparently, he was really good at a lot of things. Dabbled in this and that. Also, it smelled of the same plant Jaal used in his own lotions, meaning, it essentially smelled like Jaal, which made Sara react in interesting ways.
Vetra got her poem etched in a knife. She’d liked both. Though she told Sara she was glad Jaal had decided against reciting it.
Liam got his rofjinn in white, blue, and black Initiative colors. Sara knew the exact moment Jaal had given it to him too, because he’d let out a resounding whoop, promptly put it on, and started running around the Tempest, fists clenched into the edges of the garment, making him look like he was gliding along, while yelling something about being the hero Heleus deserved.
In another interesting turn of events they had started flirting with each other.
On his part, at least. Whatever the hell it was she was doing could probably only be called flirting in the barest of senses.
She kept telling him he was interesting. What did that even mean? You’re interesting. Like he was some shard of pottery she had found in the dirt somewhere. Urgh. It wasn’t what he deserved or even what she wanted to say, but it was all that seemed to want to come out of her mouth.
Twenty-two years old and still she hadn’t learned how to successfully articulate herself.
Thing was, it wasn’t that she needed help or anything. She knew what she would like to say. She’d like to tell him that she liked his hands, which she could hardly take her eyes away from. She’d like to tell him that she liked his posture, all tall and strong and powerful. She wanted to tell him that she liked his smile, his laugh, his lips. His eyes, his voice, all rolling consonants and deep vowels.
It was all so damn intriguing. She’d never met anybody quite like him. He was different. New. Unexplored.
That’s why she was here, wasn’t it? To boldly go?
“You’re interesting,” she told him again, because somehow that’s the description that fit him best.
"Hey, Universe, are you there? It’s me, Sara. I have shampoo and you don’t. Loser."
Sara had gotten an e-mail. And a near aneurism from it, though it was the nicest aneurism anyone could have asked for.
He had called her “dearest”.
Dearest, dearest, dearest.
Had called her strong, and brave, and beautiful.
Told her he enjoyed her.
She’d been so, so glad she’d been alone in her room when she’d read that email, because the sound she had made … Neither Peebee nor Gil would ever have let her live it down.
Her heart was pounding beneath where she was still pressing her hand. She could feel it, it was working so hard.
Sara couldn’t describe the feeling he had given her with his words. That he made himself so vulnerable for a woman he called friend but still had barely started flirting with. That he had written words like that, words nobody had said to her before. Hell, she doubted anyone had so much as thought them about her until him.
He was … he was just such a wonderful, wonderful being. She was so grateful for his very existence she couldn’t even express how much.
But what to send him back?
It had Sara instantly fretting, the idea of not sending something equally as meaningful, equally as nice, back to him.
Because Jaal deserved this. He was such an open, lovable guy. Ignoring this mail was out of the question, but she couldn’t just write back “aww, thanks. you, too”.
She had to write something of her own. But what?
Sara wasn’t good with her words. Anyone could attest to that. Not like this. Not like him that could make her heart ache and bloom with a few simple lines and have her fall even deeper than she’d already had.
She tried to do it anyway, but anything that came out seemed unskilled, clunky, not good enough.
But she needed him to know, somehow. That she felt the same. That, though she hadn’t grown up in angara culture, “dearest” did not feel like too strong a word, though it really, really should.
This was important. This wasn’t one of the fumbles she’d had in her past. Some nice, but fleeting thing with one of her fellow students, or archeologists, where there had been barely a goodbye involved when the time came.
If it was up to her there would never even be the need for a goodbye between her and Jaal, ever.
And if there was to be one, regardless, then only with a suffixed “I’ll see you soon”.
When it hit her, it was simple.
If she could not use her own words she had to use someone else’s. Jaal liked poetry, after all.
After she had searched her mind and, when that failed, SAM’s as well, she sent words about the rain, his smile, and his eyes that ended with
a single star is
Because there rarely was a moment when she didn’t.
Yours is the light by which my spirit's born: you are my sun, my moon, and all my stars.
With her thoughts so utterly occupied, there was no time to spare even one of them to the universe that day.
They’re on Havarl and everything was going to shit faster than she could comprehend it all.
She’d known it was going to be dangerous, going after Akksul, looking for Jaal’s siblings. But everything they did was dangerous, so it was just one more thing, right?
And then Lathoul got shot. By Teviint. By his sister.
Not enough, Akksul had grazed Jaal’s cheek with his shot. Just a bit more to the right and Jaal would have been …
She wanted to kill Akksul. Maim him. Do something to make him pay for what he did.
“I was really worried,” she told Jaal in what had to be the understatement of the century.
“But you trusted my judgement. That, I thank you for. And thank you for coming with me,” he told her, eyes tired but warm. His brother would live. His siblings would go home. All in all he probably saw this as a success.
“I didn’t want to stand by,” she admited harshly, corners of her eyes tightening. “I wanted to kill him.” She clenched her fist and angled her body away from his, almost unable to admit the depth of fury she felt churning in her chest like a storm made of ice.
“But you didn’t. You did not martyr him and now some of the Roekaar have started to see him as he truly is. It is well, all in all.”
“Doesn’t feel like it,” she replied.
“You doubted me?” he asked, hesitant, his voice taking a tone that seemed almost fragile.
Sara whirled around instantly and stared into his eyes with wide eyes of her own. “God, Jaal, no. Of course not. I trust you, don’t even … Of course I didn’t doubt you.” She tightened her lips and shook her head.
“Then what?” he inquired, coming a little closer and looking at her imploringly. Trying to coax out the words that came so hard to her where he was concerned.
“Standing there? Letting you get shot, watching while it happened, not knowing how far Akksul was going to go? Jaal, you have to know how hard that was for me. What if it had been the other way around?”
She reached out and took his hand into hers, squeezing it fiercely between her fingers. “I don’t want you to be hurt. Not when I can prevent it, I … You have to know how much you mean to me. To imagine that you could be really hurt or worse … I don’t want to ever see that.” She bit her lip. “Don’t do that, Jaal.”
He cradled her close and put both her hands to the sides of his face. Lowered his head until their foreheads were touching and they were breathing the same air between them. Both shaken. But also alive.
“This will heal. As all scars do,” he told her and she swallowed drily, before she closed her eyes and tried to savor this moment.
He was alive. A little scratched, maybe. A little worse for wear. But still alive and warm.
"Nope, universe. Don’t even try. Not talking to you."
“Have you peed your pants yet?” Peebee idly asked her, as there seemed to be a bet going on whether she would and if so when.
“You are not supportive and I hate you,” Sara told her while putting on her armor. She didn’t know what else to wear. It wasn’t like she had any civvies and what if something tried to murder them while they were on their way to the house? Also, it wasn’t like angara even knew what human fashion was like so there was no need to try and impress.
“I’m very supportive. I’m helping you get ready, aren’t I?” Peebee replied with indignation and Sara shot her an unimpressed look.
“How have you been helping me, exactly? Ogling my ass while I put on my armor was not helpful. And now I need to pee because you keep talking about it, so that’s not helpful at all, either. I just went.”
Peebee grinned and cocked her hips in the way she had, when she was feeling playful. “Waterfalls. Puddles. Rain. Geysers.”
“That is no way to conduct yourself, Pelessaria,” Sara shot out venomously and Peebee gasped with fake ire, clutching her chest.
“I knew you would abuse the knowledge about my first name, fiend!” she declared with all the gravitas she seemed to be able to muster, before the both of them dissolved into giggles, though Sara felt almost hysterical with nerves.
She was going to meet Jaal’s family.
Jaal was taking her to meet his family. His true mother, whom she had heard him talking to on his device.
Who took a vaguely romantic acquaintance to meet their family? That was … unheard of. Just because she’d told him, she’d like to meet them all sometime didn’t mean …
“Hey, you’ll be okay, Sara. The people who produced Jaal aren’t going to hate you, you know? Not once they see the way he looks at you. That would be awful of them,” Peebee told her in an uncharacteristic bout of empathy, while Sara fastened the last of the clasps on her armor.
“The way he looks at me?” she asked, needing something different to think about.
Peebee rolled her eyes. “You know. All starry-eyed and warm. Like you make him melt or something. It’s annoying.” She snorted, then sighed. “Actually, it’s nice.”
“Yeah. It is,” Sara muttered and shot her a smile. “Thanks, Peebs.”
The assari crunched up her nose. “No problem.” She turned to leave the armory just as Jaal entered it and patted him on his bicep, before turning back around and telling Sara “Don’t forget the diapers.”
Once Jaal had stopped laughing they made their way down to the planet.
“We’ll need to take a shuttle. The house is a little ways away from the landing site. Too far to cover on foot.”
She nodded and Jaal shot her a knowing look. “You are nervous. You need not be.”
She scoffed. “Easy for you to say, big guy. I’m not taking you to meet my family. And if I would, it would only consist of Scott, who is as intimidating as a baby pyjak, and not hundreds upon hundreds of siblings and mothers.”
“There aren’t hundreds,” Jaal protested with a quirk of his lips.
“Compared to my family, they are hundreds. Legions of siblings, Jaal. How will I ever know them apart?” she asked him with wide, mock fearful eyes. “How, I ask you!” she demanded, lightly shaking him until he started laughing again, the sound easing her nerves a little.
“They will like you. And nobody expects you to remember all of their names after just one visit.” He paused. “Next time, however, they will not be so lenient.”
Sara groaned and promptly disembarked the shuttle once it landed.
As soon as they entered the structure of what seemed to be Jaal’s childhood home, a joyful voice started calling his name. The person the voice belonged to turned out to be his mother.
“Ryder, this is my mother. Sahuna Ama Darav.”
Sara didn’t know what the protocol was here. She’d never been introduced to the parent of anyone she’d been in love with (in her head she was allowed to say it, wasn’t she?). But then, she simply decided to throw caution into the wind and go with her gut. She was hoping to date an angara, not a human, or turian, or drell. She’d better make a good impression.
So she stepped close and hugged Sahuna tightly for a moment. The woman let out a small, happy sound and squeezed her right back. “Nice to meet you. I know angara like the hugging,” she added a little awkwardly, but awkwardness was part of her personality and Sahuna had better get used to it as early as possible, right?
As she stepped back, she wondered about how angara genetics worked. Sahuna’s and Jaal’s coloring was completely different. Did that mean Jaal took after his father? Or was it random?
“Jaal told me how much he admires you,” Sahuna told her immediately, ripping her away from her musings, and Sara couldn’t help but snap her head towards Jaal.
“Really?” she asked him and he smiled shyly, turning his head away.
A broad smile broke out on her face while Sahuna took in the exchange with something like satisfaction in her gaze. “He is my favorite. Smart, loyal, kind. A great shot, writes poetry, sews …”
“Mother,” Jaal interrupted his mother’s sales pitch with an awkward clearing of his throat and Sara huffed out a laugh.
“You don’t have to tell me. I know how wonderful he is, so I’m already sold,” Sara decided to let her know and was that a trick of the light or did Jaal’s face become a deeper shade of pink?
“I’m glad to hear it,” Sahuna told her before continuing “I’m late for a resistance meeting,” something of an apology in her voice. “Stay clear.”
Once she was gone, Jaal informed her that all her children were her favorite.
“Somehow I doubt that,” Sara told him, bumping her shoulder lightly into his upper arm while they walked companionably further into the house.
Where she meet all five hundred of his siblings and cousins.
It was overwhelming. So many people living together in such close quarters. When the curator of the angara museum had told her she’d felt lonely growing up with only fourteen siblings, she had thought it a bit of an exaggeration, but apparently it really wasn’t. They liked living like that. Sara couldn’t even imagine it.
Once they were in his room everything went quiet. The voices from outside still penetrated through the walls, but compared to the noise outside, his room was peaceful. A little sanctuary, like he had said.
Suddenly, Jaal turned to her, gaze intense, as always. To be the focus of this attention still made her heart falter in her chest, a little. She wondered if that would ever go away entirely. She hoped not.
“You make my heart sing,” he said slowly, the way he did. “I’d like us to be together.”
Something inside her burst at the question. Did he really mean it? She knew they had been working slowly and steadily towards this. But to have it here in front of her, offered up to her in all the best ways, was overwhelming. With Jaal looking at her so uncertainly, as if he didn’t already know the answer.
But maybe he didn’t. Hadn’t he told her that he wasn’t as confident as he seemed?
But he didn’t have to be nervous about this. She was a sure thing. He had her. Hook, line, and sinker.
“I’d like that,” she answered, softly smiling.
It was a marvel, watching the joy spread across Jaal’s face until he seemed to positively vibrate with it. “Yes!” he exclaimed and Sara had to laugh along, having him basically fist pumping beside her.
And then the laughter transformed seamlessly into a kiss that spoke of just as much joy.
Finally, she could stop wondering what this would feel like.
Finally, his lips were on hers, soft, and gentle, and tender.
Finally, her heart unclenched, her shoulders relaxed, her breath left her in a sigh.
To feel him so intimately touching her was bliss.
When they later lay under the star map he had made, gazing alternately between the swirls and each other’s eyes, hands clasped together between them, Sara rather felt like everything was right in the universe for once.
Maybe she would talk the universe later, without telling it to fuck off. Maybe.
He was awake.
He was awake, awake, awake.
“Out of my way,” she yelled as she skidded around a corner and ran past a couple of scientists.
Her brother had finally decided it was time to join the world of the living again. Sara didn’t want to admit it, but she’d begun to doubt, a little. It had been months. Usually, it didn’t mean anything good, people staying in a coma that long. But Scott had taken his sweet time, as always. He’d joined the world of the living once he had been good and ready. She was just glad that she’d already been on the Nexus when it had happened.
Her heart was pounding, blood veritably rushing in her ears when she finally opened the door that led to the cryo bay. When she finally stepped through, and finally saw Scott hale and awake, sitting on his bed beside Harry who seemed to be scanning his vitals.
“Little Scotty, always just a little late-y,” she said through tears that were clouding the beautiful sight before her.
Scott’s head jerked toward the sound of her voice and he sent her a small smile. “Sara Murray, always in a hurry,” he shot back.
“My name isn’t even Murray,” she choked out, as always, and strode over to him fast and hugged him as tight as she possibly could. She couldn’t believe that she could do that again. They had always been close. Getting him back was like reattaching a limb.
“I was four and liked to pretend we weren’t related, leave me alone,” Scott gave his customary answer and settled his arms around her middle and squeezing back with much less strength in his arms than she would have liked.
“How was the nap?” she whispered into his hair.
“Weird,” he muttered back.
“You’re not allowed to do that ever again.”
“I promise super hard. Hard as I can.”
She grinned. “Good.”
She stepped back from him and settled down beside him on the bed. “So much shit’s been going on, Scott. I need you out there with me. On the Tempest. I don’t like doing these things without you,” she confessed, knowing full well that it was still going to be a while before he was well enough to go anywhere. Sitting alone seemed to be a bit of an accomplishment at the moment, considering the tired lines around his eyes, and the little tremor in his hand as he settled it upon hers.
“I will be. Once I’m more awake. I shouldn’t be this tired after sleeping so long.”
“It’s normal, probably.”
“Harry thinks so.” Scott shrugged. “So, tell me what’s been going on. How’s pathfinding?”
So, they talked for a bit. She told him in rough details what she’d been up to and the bare bones about the crew and the planets they had put outposts on. About the burning water on Kadara. About those flying manta things. About her pet pyjak, the existence of which Scott refused to believe in, but no matter. He’d meet Mako soon enough.
“Ryder, there you are! Why do you always hide when you’re here? You know how hard to find you are? I need your approval on some modifications to the Tempest. Can’t do it alone, though heaven knows what good your signature even does, since you don’t even understand any of what you’re signing. Now would you … Oh.”
Gil, who had wandered into the room without looking up from the datapad he was holding came to a stop once he finally seemed to realize what was going on in front of him. “Oh. Is that your brother? He’s awake? Yay?”
She was just about to answer Gil and tell him to go away, when she realized something was going on.
She watched her brother’s eyes, which were equally blue and bright as hers, switch their focus from her to fasten themselves on Gil, who had just now stopped sputtering in the doorway.
She watched him stare at her favorite engineer and as she looked on, her baby brother turned a bright, luminous red.
She blinked. Her head jerked from her brother into Gil’s direction.
Gil, who licked his lips.
Her eyes widened. She could feel the corners of her lips tugging sideways until her cheeks hurt from smiling and there was an unholy glee, the kind of which only people with siblings could truly understand, settling in her belly.
She took a deep breath.
“Scott, baby-bro, cuddlebug. This is Gil, the light of my dark days and stealer of my money. Gil, honeybear, handsomeface, this is my little brother Scott, sleepyhead and all around slacker. Do I need to smoosh your heads together and tell you to kiss or have you got it from here?”
Scott’s facial color took on decidedly flaming characteristics and Gil whacked himself upon the forehead with the pad he’d been holding, which he had apparently forgotten about when he’d tried to face palm.
“Oh, my god, Sara, shut up,” Scott hissed past clenched teeth and Sara couldn’t help but let out a mad cackle.
“I’m so glad you’re awake,” she basically sing-songed, while her brother told her to go away and never come back.
She dropped a kiss on his head and waggled her fingers at him, before walking past Gil, whose datapad she stole to sign. She gave him a peck on the cheek. “He’s nice. You’ll like him. Converse.”
“I’ll tell him all about Jaal, see if I don’t,” Gil intoned loudly, but his eyes were dancing as he turned away from her and, apparently having found his confidence, stepped towards Scott with something that could be called swagger.
“Who’s Jaal?” Scott asked and Sara decided it was high time to flee the scene.
Universe: still fucked up. Scott and Gil: hopefully fucking in the future.
“Hey, Gil,” Sara greeted him, once he arrived for their weekly poker game that had devolved into drinking and talking some time ago, seeing as she was shit at poker and needed to save the money she had left for other things.
“Hey, yourself,” he told her, before plopping down on her couch with a heavy sigh.
She looked at him questioningly, before she took a seat beside him, drawing up one of her legs under her body and angling it towards his. “What’s going on?”
“Jill,” he simply stated and Sara rolled her eyes.
“Still? Why can’t she leave you alone about this?”
“I don’t know. Because it’s her work? Because breeding is what she came here to do? Because she wants a kid and knows no one else she’d like to have it with?” Gil mused, droning out all the reasons he’d likely gathered on his own about why Jill kept needling him about fathering a child.
“Are you even ready for a child? I mean, a few months ago you told me you didn’t know what you were doing. Making a decision like that if you aren’t sure that it’s even what you want isn’t a good idea,” Sara told him, not for the first time.
He waved her off. “Believe me, I know. It’s not that I don’t want a kid, now that I’ve thought about it. I think it might be nice. Passing something on, you know. Someone little to teach all my tricks to.” He grinned crookedly at her, making her groan.
“Oh, right. That’s what the world needs. A mini you with cherub cheeks hustling people’s money. I forbid it,” she told him, taking a sip of her drink.
Gil snorted. “Not like it’s gonna happen soon, anyway. I think I’ll tell her no.” He sighed, drawing a hand through his hair. At this hour it didn’t stand up perfectly anymore and was a little flat in places. “If I have a kid I want to do it differently.”
“Like how?” Sara asked, genuinely interested.
“Like … I want to wait, for one. I’m still too much of a child myself. I want to get the traveling bug out of my system, you know?” Gil let his gaze flicker around the room, not settling too long on anything. “I don’t want to be the kind of Dad that only sees his kid every once in a while when work allows it. I don’t want that kid to be second or third in my list of priorities. I don’t think that would be fair.”
Sara, all too familiar with that approach to parenting, could only agree. “I get that. I mean, if you go to all the trouble of having a child, you want to be there for them.”
“Exactly!” Gil enthused. “Jill doesn’t get that. Says she’d be there all the time anyway.” He shook his head, in a resigned, tired way. “Everything I say is just excuses to her. That I don’t feel ready. That I want to do it differently. Not with her, necessarily.”
Sara straightened at that. “What do you mean, not with her? You don’t want her as a surrogate?”
“I’d be fine with her as a surrogate. But sometimes I feel she wants to play house with me, you know? Without having to trouble herself with pleasing a husband, or anything, she can still have the family she wants. For her, it’s clean. I don’t want clean. If I do this family thing, I want to do it with someone I love. As in, with someone I’m in love with. I want the whole nine yards. I want to marry a guy and raise some kids with him. That’s what I want. Not some platonic contract with Jill, where I’m only a side note.”
“Wow,” Sara breathed out. “What brought this on?”
Gil snorted. “It’s been on for a bit. There was just a … development some weeks ago that … made me think a bit less in hypotheticals, is all.”
Sara drew her brows together. A few weeks ago? She hadn’t noticed anything of note happening, but if it was private, then …
“Oh, my god!” she yelled, coming up to her knees on the couch and staring at Gil, wide eyed. “You want to have my brother’s babies. Oh, my god.”
Gil grimaced and scooted away from her. “It’s all your fault anyway, you told us to smoosh our faces together and kiss! You can’t be mad about us listening to you!”
“You actually did it!” she yelled grinning at him, open-mouthed, before crunching up her nose. “Ew, Gil. He’s male me, don’t you know that?”
“Urgh,” he sounded out. “Did you have to remind me of the defective genes hiding behind that pretty face of his?”
“Oh, he’s got defective genes, alright. Don’t let him fool you. He didn’t stop sucking on his thumb until he was four,” she told him, voice bright with laughter. “You know I get to lord that over you forever and all time, right? I set you up with each other!”
“Right! That’s why you have to be happy for us. You’re not allowed to be weird about it.”
“Oh, I am happy.” She was ecstatic, actually. Scott hadn’t had much luck with men in the past. There had been one guy, but he’d been left behind in Heleus, unwilling to come along. It had ended months before launch, leaving Scott in a less than stellar mood. It was a bad feeling to start such an important journey to.
“And, for the love of all that is holy, don’t tell Scott anything about this.”
“About you being together? Doesn’t he know? Gil, is this a stalker situation? Do I need to get Lexi?”
He pointed at his face. “Do you see this? No smile, no nothing. You’re not as amusing as you think.”
“Jaal thinks I’m plenty amusing,” she shot back, still grinning wildly.
“And when can we expect little human-angara running around?” he asked her, sly smile in place.
“Not at all, probably, I mean, how likely is it that we’re compatible anyway? None of the other Milky Way species are, aside from assari.” Not that she had thought about. It all. This was not a road she was going to go down now.
Gil, for his part, shrugged and leaned back against the cushions. “You never know. Maybe ask Lexi to look into it.”
“Maybe,” she allowed. “But not now. Not yet. Like you said, there will be time for stuff like that. I’m twenty-two, it’s not like my womb is soon going to stop being baby-worthy, or anything.”
God, Jaal probably wanted to have a whole gaggle of kids. And if they couldn’t have any of their own, he’d want to adopt a dozen.
“But back to the matter at hand – you and Scott. I didn’t realize you’d already been talking about family planning and such.” Scott wrote her about every two days, talking about this and that. Gil usually featured heavily in his letters.
“We haven’t. This is just me jumping the gun and thinking a lot farther ahead than I should be right now. Which is why you aren’t allowed to tell him about it. I don’t want him to run screaming for the hills,” Gil said seriously meeting her gaze and holding it, making sure she knew he meant it.
“He wouldn’t. Run. But I’m not going to tell on you,” she promised, deciding that Gil was spooked enough for both of them already.
“And you tell Jill she can find another baby daddy for her future brat, okay?”
He snorted. “Yeah. That’ll take some convincing. But, yeah.”
“Good.” She paused. “You know, maybe you should send Scott that ‘Heleus are you healing us’ poem you sent me. He’d probably think it’s deep. That would make you prime husband material. My brother likes his guys all thoughtful like that.”
“Oh, fuck off.”
Maybe adding to an already fucked up universe wasn’t the best idea she’d ever had, but she tucked the thought away in her head, only to take it out during quiet moments or while staring at Jaal.
Her Mom, she was …
Oh, stars, she was alive.
Universe: a little less fucked up than it had been yesterday.
“Scott Ryder!” Jaal boomed, voice especially rumbly with joy and walked over to Scott with long strides that let him cover the distance in record time, before he engulfed her brother, who just had about enough time to get up from the bed, in a heartfelt hug.
Scott almost disappeared in her lover’s arms and the suddenness of the hug had left him pressed with his face against Jaal’s shoulder, blue eyes made wide by surprise staring at her over the edge of it.
“Scott, this is Jaal,” she told him with a faint laugh in her voice, coming closer at a much more moderate pace.
Jaal finally let up on his hug and stepped back, smiling broadly at her brother who slapped a pat on Jaal’s shoulder, before returning his smile with a crooked one of his own.
“I figured,” he answered while looking Jaal up and down, him likely being the first angara he had seen in the flesh. “Gil told me all about you.”
“I’m sure he told you something, alright,” Sara muttered, while Jaal pulled her close to his side, as he was wont to do when they were not running for their lives or otherwise occupied with work. She pressed an absentminded kiss to his throat and Jaal rubbed her upper arm affectionately. Scott was taking in the exchange with avid interest and a look that basically screamed that they were going to talk about his later.
“And Sara has told me much about you, Scott. But if you could answer one question to me: how is it that you are always late to everything?”
Scott groaned and slumped back on his bed, while Sara wagered that they could probably hear her ringing laughter two rooms over.
God, how she loved them both.
"Universe, you … you know what? Never mind."
When they found out that the angara did not evolve but were engineered instead, she did not know how to feel. What to say. She went to him anyway.
He wanted to know if she was here to watch him break and the accusation threw her off-kilter. Even more so did his easy acceptance, his excitement even. But she could appreciate what he is saying.
Humans had searched for the meaning of life for as long as they could think the words, hadn’t they? Why should angara be any different? Why should it not give them relief to be one step closer to finding out?
“You are a marvel, Jaal,” she echoed words he had once spoken to her. Whispered them softly, reverent.
He met her gaze steadily, enveloping her in a warm hug, staying quiet.
“You are so strong, darling one. So wonderful. I’m truly lucky to have you,” she told him in a rare burst of verbal courage, because poems were well and good but she needed him to know in a mixture of her words and his, so that he would understand and know she meant it.
“I am the one that is lucky. To have you by my side. All of this would be harder to bear, were it not for you,” he answered her in an equally hushed tone, never content not to compliment her or make her feel anything but special.
“I adore you,” she whispered so quietly, she almost couldn’t hear it herself.
“You are the light of my life,” he replied simply and she squeezed him as close as she possibly could.
"Not now, universe. Please, go away."
“What a wonderful gift,” she told him when he took her to his favorite place in the world. “You’re right. This place is special.”
To stand in the sun with the fragrance of the flowers enveloping her just as much as his arms did was truly amazing. She felt the world fall away a little and all the worries that plagued her day in and day out with it. To be granted a reprieve from it all before the crushing finale was the best thing he could have done for her and the fact that he had done it intuitively, without her needing to ask, just made him even dearer to her. She’d called him “great” before, because he just really, really was.
It was the perfect place. The perfect moment. The perfect partner.
Until he made it even better.
“Beyond all reason I have fallen in love with you,” he told her, pressing her hand against his chest, where his heart would have been, had he been human. Where is heart probably lay, regardless. And hers along with it. “And I want … do you want to …”
It took her a second to understand what he was asking her, her pulse still thundering in her veins with the word he had spoken just before. He had never outright said it until now. Had talked around it with other pretty words that meant the same. I love yous wearing cloaks of darling, dearest, strong one, light of my life. That he had shed these fabrics, laid himself bare only to take it even one step further …
“Yes,” she said as she had back in his old room. “I’d like that.”
She expected laughter, smiles of triumph. What she got was a naked angara, naked within seconds, and a hand beckoning her to do the same and join him in the water.
“Oh. Really?” she couldn’t help but ask, because this was territory so completely knew she had no clue how to navigate it.
But she wasn’t a pathfinder for nothing, was she? She could do this. If he was vulnerable it was only right that she’d be, too.
Swallowing tightly she stripped herself of her hoodie, pants, shoes, and underwear. She couldn’t imagine what he had to be thinking. She, at least, had seen him naked before, had known what would be under his suit. But she just had to look so strange to him. Despite the knowledge that he really, truly did love her, she felt some anxiety gnawing on her insides. What if he didn’t like what he saw?
His eyes never left her body even for a second, taking all of her in, even once she had put her hand in his outstretched one and couldn’t suppress a dumb “hello” once she was close to him. And like he always did he assuaged her fears by telling her that he found her more lovely than anyone before her.
“Wherever you go, take me with you.”
Me too, Jaal. Me, too, was what she thought, unable to tear her gaze away from him, looking so ethereal against the backdrop of water, sun, and flowers.
What she said was “I love you too, Jaal” because how could she not? She’d been feeling it for such a damned long time, it was only right that she put it out in the open now.
And there it finally was, that smile she had expected, craved before. That happy laugh and that exuberance that had her in his arms within seconds, spinning her around in the water until she was dizzy with it and had to laugh right along with him.
When he laid her down gently behind the waterfall, skin wetly sliding together, her heart was in her throat, her fingers jittery where she grasped at him wherever she could reach, the heat between her thighs throbbing insistently, begging for release.
He broke away from their kiss and ducked his head downwards, almost making her whimper from disappointment, had he not put his mouth on her again immediately. She was torn between wanting to kiss him forever and finding out what he was up to, wandering steadily downwards, trailing a hot blaze of wet kisses down her chest and belly until he reached the place where she wanted him most.
He huffed a warm breath against her. “You didn’t lie.”
She blinked a few times in succession trying to gather her wits about her. “Huh?”
“About the hair. In intimate parts,” he elaborated.
She choked out a startled gale of laughter that trailed off into a moan once he spread her thighs more and buried his head between them.
She canted her hips forward, writhing against him. “A bit further up, Jaal, please, just a bit, it’s almost …”
And of course he complied and found exactly the spot she needed him to. The first lick made her clench almost painfully and her moan was more a cry than anything else. She’d wanted this for so long, was so wound up, so wet already, she just knew it wouldn’t take long for him to finish her.
“Jaal, please. Don’t stop, don’t stop.”
While he wound his arms around her hips to lift her further up, he stretched one of his hands towards her for her to hold onto. Sara gratefully clasped the anchor he was offering her, fingers squeezing his harder and harder the longer he licked, sucked, nibbled gently until …
Sara arched her back and cried out once more, thighs clenching around Jaal’s head, vaguely thinking that she shouldn’t press herself quite so insistently against him, but being unable to stop.
It seemed to go on forever with him not letting up until she had to wrench her hips away from his mouth, because she needed more, even though she was so, so sensitive from the orgasm he had just given her. But she was greedy, still not done with him. Needed him closer, around all of herself, until the world was made out of nothing but Jaal and all the pleasure they could possibly give each other.
She had read up on this, a little. They could, if they wanted to. It was entirely possible.
She tugged at Jaal’s shoulders until he got the idea and clambered up her body. Once they were face to face, she wiped his chin and pressed a kiss against those wonderful, wonderful lips.
“Jaal, could we … I mean, do you want to …” she stuttered, apparently trying to do her best to imitate his own shy attempts to ask her for sex.
Sara had to roll her eyes at her own idiocy, before wrapping her legs around his hips and pressing up against the hot hardness she had barely had the change to feel before. The contact made them both shudder and he lowered himself onto one of his forearms.
“I would like nothing more than lose myself in you, sweet one,” Jaal answered breathlessly, before withdrawing his hips just so, and Sara canting her own just right, and then he slid easily home into her.
He let out a gasp against her hair, before burying his head against her temple. Sara pressed her hands against his back until their whole upper bodies where touching and the only movement was the frantic slip and slide between her thighs that only grew more and more insistent, rubbing her in the most delicious places.
This was how this was supposed to feel.
This was the person she was supposed to share this with.
It had never felt this good or right.
And while Jaal found his release within her and she reached her peak, easily, a second time, she was glad she had travelled all this way. Even if everything else had turned out awful, if there had been no vaults, no alliances, no plans, it would have all been worth it to have this.
The universe might still be fucked up. But Sara could live with that. She had Jaal to balance it out, after all.
She decided to stick with Cummings. For every love note he sent her, she sent a poem back.
She told him that she was carrying his heart with her (she was carrying it in her heart).
After Aya and the waterfall she wrote him that she liked her body when it was with his.
And after Meridian, after she had died and come back to life (again), after they kissed under Evfra’s disapproving stare, and eaten ice cream in bed, and he was asleep, arm curled towards the place she had vacated just minutes ago, she sent him this:
i love you much(most beautiful darling)
more than anyone on the earth and i
like you better than everything in the sky
-sunlight and singing welcome your coming
although winter may be everywhere
with such a silence and such a darkness
no one can quite begin to guess
(except my life)the true time of year-
and if what calls itself a world should have
the luck to hear such singing(or glimpse such
sunlight as will leap higher than high
through gayer than gayest someone's heart at your each
nearness)everyone certainly would(my
most beautiful darling)believe in nothing but love
Poems referenced are, in order of appearance: “in the rain-“, “silently if, out of not knowable”, “i carry your heart with me (i carry it in)” and “i like my body when it is with your”, all, of course, by e.e. cummings.