One would think that almost a week without a decent sleep, plus alcohol, would equal a good night’s rest. That wasn’t the case for Emma. It had been well past 2am ship time when she had passed out, too tired to get out of her clothes first, before waking back up at 6am. At some point she needed to get more than a few hours’ sleep in a night. Scott was steadily snoring beside her and she hated him for it. He was doing the one thing she wanted so desperately. Slowly she peeled the covers off and sat up. No sense in just laying here. Besides she was a little hungry. Hopefully, there were some Blast-o’s left in the kitchen. Emma moved through the dark carefully, trying not to run into anything. Thankfully, Scott’s room had minimal furnishings. It was kind of sad really. Like he hadn’t really settled into his room, or his role.
Emma slipped out of the room. Thankfully the hallway was better lit. Scott wasn’t the only one snoring, she could hear the other’s passed out in crew quarters. After last night she would be surprised if they didn’t have hangovers. Although there was someone else already up and in the showers. She just hoped it wasn’t Jaal. What Scott had said last night made all the sense in the world, but it didn’t mean Emma had any idea how to approach the situation. She veered right into the kitchen. Drack was propped up beside the table, his chin resting against his armor. Trying to be remain as quiet as possible she opened the cabinets. It was a sad state. One box of cereal, no more coffee, plenty of rations, nutrient bars, and Jaal’s nutrient paste. It made Emma long for the day when crops were sustainable. She missed breads, and cakes, fresh fruit and vegetables, and pizza. God did she miss pizza. Grabbing the box of cereal, she retreated into the hallway right as Cora was leaving the bathrooms. They both paused, staring at each other while Cora dried her hair and Emma munched on cereal.
Cora leaned on the wall beside her, “Did you sleep?”
Emma shook her head while offering her the box. They both stood in the hallway taking turns reaching into the box.
“I was going to go for a run, want to join?”
Emma raised an eyebrow, “Shouldn’t you shower after, not before?”
“I woke up sweaty.”
Emma closed the box, “Ah.”
“Sure, I’ll go. Nothing better to do this early.”
Cora nodded while flinging the towel over her shoulder, “I’ll meet you in the cargo bay. Ten minutes?”
It would be just enough time for Emma to rummage through her clothes and find something to wear. She nodded, and Cora turned and headed towards the crew quarters. Emma stared into the now empty box and quickly shoved it into the garbage chute. They couldn’t blame her if there was no evidence. Granted Cora didn’t tell on her. Hopefully, Jaal was asleep when she went up to the meeting room. It was too early for that conversation. It was what sucked about sleeping in the meeting room. Even though it provided openness, it didn’t provide privacy or storage. Maybe Scott would let her put some things in his room. Having her clothes strewn about wasn’t really a good look. The Tempest hummed quietly as she traversed the ship. Snores greeted her from the Tech lab and she breathed a small sigh of relief. It made this so much easier.
Emma pulled leggings and a tank top from her clothes pile. Looking over the banister for anyone else, she quickly shucked off her clothes and changed. Emma slipped on an arm band for her music player and shuffled through her crate to find a pair of speaker headphones. Cora might appreciate some music as well. Once her shoes were tied she headed back down to the cargo bay. The snores had quieted which made Emma speed walk past the lab. She would have to see him later when they met with the Moshae, that was enough for now.
Cora was waiting for her by the doors. Warm, humid air was already seeping into the bay and sticking to Emma’s skin. She loved it. It was shame she didn’t get to swim in the waterfall, with these conditions it would be heavenly, but she certainly wasn’t going to ask now. Wordlessly, Emma handed over the player to let Cora pick the playlist. They walked out side by side as Cora flipped through the selection. Emma was more than a little surprised when she picked the 2000’s rock playlist but shrugged it off. They started jogging the moment they cleared the port. There were a few people milling about in the gardens, but it was quiet. A stark contrast to the many angara strolling around the city the day before. The market was quiet as well. A few of the vendors were there getting ready to set up. A few of them waved.
It was strange to Emma. It felt almost normal. There was no way she could have gone for a morning run in the Citadel and given anything more than a wide berth. She always unsettled people, especially humans, no matter what. Which was so unfair the more she thought about it. They didn’t even know her. Nobody did really. Well, that wasn’t really true now. The Tempest crew was learning about her and they didn’t treat her different. Jaal didn’t treat her different. But others. They still gave her distance. Emma heaved a small sigh.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Cora asked as they rounded the corner by resistance headquarters.
“Nah. It’s nothing important.”
“If its bothering you of course it is.”
“I just…I’m thinking about the way people treat me. Like I’m going to snap and murder everyone in the vicinity. Like I’m automatically untrustworthy. Like I asked to be like this.”
“We don’t. I don’t.”
“No, I know,” Emma shrugged, “Everyone else does though.”
Cora nodded, “I understand. I didn’t ask to be a powerful biotic, but it still influenced how people saw me.”
“Does it bother you?”
“Not so much now. Every once in a while, I allow myself to linger in my feelings about it, but I always remind myself that those people don’t matter. I live my life for me, not for them.”
“What is with you and Scott giving infuriatingly good advice?” Emma’s sarcasm had no bite to it.
Cora smirked, “I guess we’re just wise.”
“Is that what the kids call winging it these days?”
Cora laughed and nudged her arm but said nothing else. It was nice and peaceful. In a way, Cora did understand how Emma felt. Biotics were still looked at with intense scrutiny and sometimes fear. Being a strong biotic meant being outcast as much as a psionic was. Not that people actually believed people like Emma existed until they saw firsthand. From the file Alec had procured from raiding Cerberus facilities, there were people who could so all kinds of strange things. Not just telekinesis and super strength, but thought manipulation, pyrokinesis, shapeshifting and so many others. Some were born special, some were made. Emma was born a psionic but made into more with the nanites. It seemed like overkill honestly. And it was just her. Why? Why suppress her natural abilities, but push healing and strength? And why was she bioelectric like the angara? Alec gave her some answers, but there were just more and more questions.
Cora left her to her thoughts as they worked their way through the market a second time. The stalls were set up and people were starting to populate the market. A few spared her a glance as she jogged by. It was still so strange. She was used to the lip-curling, barely veiled disgust, from people. Not the curious and slightly appreciative if not downright interest from the angara. They were a very open people, if Jaal was any indication, she just didn’t expect to be attractive. Maybe it was the hair and the whole from another galaxy thing. They didn’t have a preset expectation of what humans were like, so they didn’t consider her different. It was pleasant change.
Her and Cora slowed down as they started to approach the Tempest again. Vetra was already awake and milling about the port, speaking with others and procuring supplies to have carried on board. She was nothing if not efficient. It reminded Emma that they would be leaving tonight. Which sucks. Aya was beautiful and two days was not long enough to appreciate it. But there was also an undercurrent of excitement. There were other planets and angara home worlds to explore. She wasn’t stuck on dusty old Kadara anymore. She was finally able to actually explore. And be stuck on a ship with Jaal. All the time.
The thought gave her something akin to a sharp stomach cramp. She couldn’t tell if it was excitement or dread. Emma didn’t know what to do with the knowledge that she had a crush on Jaal. A massive one apparently. That Scott clearly already knew about, which meant so did everyone else. Did Jaal know? Emma also wished she was a mind reader. It would save her from the awkward conversation she would have to have if she wanted to know. It would also help if she knew whether or not he felt something for her. Less chance that she would look like an ass or cause a diplomatic incident. There was always the chance it would work in her favor. A tiny one. Infinitesimal.
Voices drifted from the open cargo bay door. Liam and Gil were awake at least. Who knew who else? They were probably all hungover from the amount they drank the night before. That tavum was no joke. Gil had the Nomad lowered and she could see his legs poking out from underneath. Liam was leaning against the side and waved when Cora and Emma entered the bay. Gil came out from underneath the vehicle long enough to glare at Emma and curse, before pulling himself back under. He was still upset about losing his credits it seemed. She’d give him a chance to win them back. Well she would try at least.
Emma headed immediately to the showers while Cora veered towards the kitchen. Unfortunately, the bathroom was not empty. Steam filled the small space and smelled like familiar tropical fruit. Jaal was stepping out of the showers, drying himself off with a towel, but unfortunately for Emma, not wearing one. He was naked. Completely naked. And she was staring. So much for avoiding awkward situations. She couldn’t turn away fast enough. Her face was uncomfortably warm, and she knew she was as red as a tomato.
“Emma?” He stood up, the towel dangling from his fingers.
Refusing to look at him she answered, “Hey Jaal,” she gestured to the door to the showers, “I just needed a shower.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, I’m in the way.”
He moved slightly to the side but did nothing to cover himself.
“No, no it’s not that…”
It’s just looking at someone I like naked might make me explode on the spot apparently.
He stared at her in confusion for a moment, before understanding dawned on him, “I forgot humans are embarrassed by nakedness.”
A small laugh escaped her, and she nodded. That wasn’t it, but she sure as hell wasn’t going to tell him that. She had seen plenty of naked people and aliens and wasn’t bothered, but they were not Jaal. The aloof woman that teased him for being flustered the first time he saw her half naked was completely gone. And at this point she had just lost her damn mind. She breathed a little easier when he tied the towel around his waist. They traded places, with her trying to avoid his gaze as much as possible, so she was standing at the entrance to the showers and he was standing near the door.
Emma paused, her back to him, “Yes Jaal?”
Emma shook her head, “It’s okay Jaal. I was drunk, and I don’t know what I was thinking.”
That was not what she wanted to say. Not the questions she wanted to ask. It was like an automatic response that just tumbled out the moment she opened her mouth. Her defense. Her wall against possible rejection. It was probably for the best. Of course, that didn’t mean that it felt good.
“Oh. Okay,” He paused between speaking, the silence stretching between them, “I will meet you in the cargo bay when you are ready to meet the Moshae.”
Emma nodded that she understood, before the door opened and he left the bathroom to her. Now the silence was deafening. It must be her imagination, but she sounded disappointed with her answer. Damn it. She should’ve followed Scott’s advice, because he was right. Now she wasn’t going to know.
The walk to the Moshae’s was quiet. Jaal had informed Emma that her office was in the government building. So, it was another walk through the gardens and market. Except today there was palpable tension between Emma and Jaal. Neither of them knew what to say or how to make it better. They just made due with the noise of the busy city. Emma was of the mind to just blurt out her feelings in the hope that it would make it better between them. However, there was always that voice in the back of her head, reminding her of the improbability of him thinking of her as more than a friend. It was beyond frustrating.
He finally led her to a building past the market. The door opened revealing an austere space. Two angara stood behind a service desk while chatting to each other. They nodded at Jaal as he and Emma walked past. Her eyes took in every little detail and his eyes were on her.
“Why am I not surprised that you are taken with the aliens?”
Emma and Jaal both looked up at the same time to find an angara sneering at them both. He was standing in front of the door to the Moshae’s office. He was blue, as opposed to Jaal’s pink and purple hues, and had intense blue eyes. Orange tattoos marked his forehead and cheeks. He stared at Emma with open hatred. It wasn’t a stretch to assume that he was Roekkar. Jaal stepped forward slightly to place himself in front of her, as if that would shield her from the vitriol.
“Akksul.” Jaal’s voice was stiff.
Akksul’s eyes roved over her regardless. It was like he could determine who she was just by glaring at her. To say it made her uncomfortable and slightly irritated was an understatement, but Jaal looked absolutely furious.
“You and your fascination with these Vesagara are going to get us killed.” Akksul spat.
Jaal couldn’t contain the growl in his voice, “Don’t call her that.” He moved to take a step forward, but Emma knew that violence wouldn’t solve a damn thing with the Roekkar. It was just going to make things worse. Stepping front of Jaal, she placed her hand on his chest. It was enough to draw his attention back to her. She felt it again. The buzz of energy and then a sharp anger in her stomach that wasn’t her own. It wasn’t worth it. She didn’t know what Vesagara meant, but she’d wager that she had been called worse in her life. Keeping her hand resting on Jaal’s chest, she turned slightly to address Akksul. He was staring in open disgust, not at her, but at Jaal.
“You resonated? With an alien?” He sneered.
And that’s where he lost her. Emma had no idea what he was talking about. Was that what happened last night? Was it why she could feel Jaal’s anger swelling in his chest? What did it mean exactly?
“Akksul please.” A woman’s voice filled the tense silence.
Emma looked over to see Scott standing beside a female angara in the doorway. Three guesses it was the Moshae. Scott’s hand was on his hip like his pistol was there and he could draw it at any moment to defend her. Not that it would do anything. Just more fuel for the fire. Emma remained in front of Jaal, her body between his and Akksul’s until he snarled slightly under his breath and backed away. It was only then that Emma could feel Jaal’s anger start to abate. There was less of a need to immediately protect her.
“This isn’t the end.” Akksul exited the building and everyone sighed in relief.
The two standing behind the desk went back to talking to each other, but not without glancing at her and Jaal once more and sharing knowing looks. Whatever the hell they were supposed to mean. Jaal’s anger was still burning in her chest. Without thinking, she moved her hand from his chest to his cheek. He stilled under her touch and she realized what she did…in front of everyone. But it worked. After a moment he relaxed, and she felt the anger start to abate. This was so weird, but also not in a way. It felt like it was something that should be normal. Reluctantly, she dropped her hand back to her side and turn to Scott and the Moshae. She instantly regretted it when the women didn’t just look at her but stared into her like she could see every single thing about Emma. No wonder she was revered. She was intense.
Scott took the opportunity to step forward and introduce them. It was going to take a while to get used to him introducing her as his sister, but there it was. Emma was unsure as to what she was supposed to do. Was she supposed to bow or shake her hand. Did they have handshakes? This was something she should have asked Jaal earlier. The Moshae inclined her head towards Emma and Emma did the same, figuring it was good enough.
The Moshae gestured to the door, “Please come in.”
Emma followed her and Scott into her office with Jaal trailing behind her. The Moshae gestured to chairs surrounding a table with an interface in the middle. Emma sat in between Scott and Jaal. The Moshae sat at the end, her eyes barely leaving Emma. She wasn’t looking in disgust or open fascination, but she was scrutinizing Emma like just looking at Emma would give her the answers she wanted.
“I am impressed by your reaction to Akksul. Most are easily angered by him.” The Moshae started to speak as she sat down.
“So am I. I thought for sure you would knock him out.” Scott chimed in.
Emma nudged him with her elbow, “I don’t think violence is much of an answer when it comes to Roekkar.”
“I agree, but not everyone feels the same. I take it you have encountered them before.”
Emma nods, “I lived on Kadara for a while. It was hard not to.”
“I see, were you an exile?”
“No, I left the Nexus voluntarily. I wasn’t happy about the way the leadership does things, but I’m not really in much a position to do anything about it. I’m trying not to draw attention to myself.”
“And yet you have. I have heard many mentions of you since you landed on Aya. The human with strong bioelectricity.” The Moshae fixes her with a stare.
“In my defense, it was a surprise to me as well.”
The Moshae took a moment to mull over her reply, “What do you know of your origins?”
“Nothing really. I don’t have any records before age 5 and I haven’t looked at those much.” Emma shrugged.
“Are you not curious?”
“Yes…but I don’t know what I’ll read.”
“So, you are afraid?” The Moshae leaned back in chair slightly and nodded.
Jaal and Scott had remained quiet while Emma answered the rapid-fire questions. It was like being interrogated, but without malice. The Moshae was genuinely curious. Emma didn’t answer her last question. It really wasn’t necessary. Of course, Emma wanted to lie, but there wouldn’t be a point. Everyone in that room knew she was afraid to learn about herself. The information she had to process in the last few weeks had been overwhelming enough. First, she found out she wasn’t made into a mutant, she was born one. A psionic who couldn’t even use her own powers at will. Facts that Alec knew the entire time and never told her. It would take a while to get that particular burr out of her side. Then Jaal telling her she was bioelectric. Now there was also the resonate thing that Akksul had just mentioned. Looking at her records from the program just seemed like asking for more trouble and she had enough.
“Knowledge can be terrifying, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pursue it.”
That sounded like something Ellen would say. Emma knew the Moshae was right, and eventually she would be brave enough to look. She would learn about herself, so she could finally take control back. But right now, she just wanted to work with what she already knew. Emma nodded.
The Moshae smiled slightly, “Now that is concluded, tell me, how are you liking Aya?”
It was late, and the Tempest hummed quietly under Emma’s feet. Music played softly from the speaker on the table beside the couch. She balanced her open journal on her knee while she held a steaming cup in the other hand. Not coffee. Suvi had given her one of her teas as a welcome to the crew gift. Some may not think it was a lot but considering Suvi was almost out and who knew when they would be able to start growing their own, it was a nice gesture. Emma would have to see if she could track anymore down.
Over the sound of her music she could hear the door to the tech lab opening and she tensed. Between the night before and the meeting with Akksul and the Moshae, she had a lot of questions. Unfortunately, she couldn’t get a damn one of them to come out of her mouth. She heard Jaal padding up the ramp to her and she braced herself for the conversation she wasn’t sure she was ready to have. Her eyes didn’t leave her journal as he got closer. Aloof, cool, collected. She needed to be all of those things. Softly, the cleared his throat like he was unsure how to get her attention. Emma closed her journal and placed it on the table.
Turning to him with a small smile, she spoke first, “Hey Jaal.”
He nodded, “I have something I’d like to give you.”
That was not what she was expecting. She was expecting the third degree and an awkward talk, but not a gift. Emma sat up straighter and nodded. Setting her journal to the side she stood up and brushed her hands over her shorts. Jaal just held out his hand for her. For once, she hesitated. What if that weird thing happened again? Another spark and a link to feelings that weren’t hers. She was having a harder and harder time telling herself that was a bad thing. What was so wrong about knowing how he was feeling? And he probably knew what she was feeling. This could be something special, and with Emma those things rarely lasted, so why not enjoy it for now? It would be nice to have someone on her wavelength for once. Even nicer that it was Jaal. Regardless of how else she might feel, and she didn’t know quite how much she felt yet, but Jaal was a good friend to her. And there wasn’t a damn thing wrong with holding a friend’s hand.
His fingers closed over hers when she placed her hand in his. Smiling gently at her, he led her down the ramp to the tech lab. Oh. This must be the surprise he had mentioned the day before. Something she wasn’t allowed to see. It had slipped her mind after everything else had happened. What could it be. He let go of her hand and gestured to her eyes.
“Uh, yeah sure,” Jaal’s hands slid over her eyes to keep her from seeing anything, “Just don’t let me trip.”
Laughter rumbled in his chest, “I would catch you.”
The door unlocked and opened, SAM was also in on this apparently, and she slowly stepped forward. Lights from the computer screens filtered through the gaps in his fingers. He walked her forward to about the middle of the room. The screens dimmed, and Emma could see nothing, but darkness and maybe a faint light. Jaal removed his hands and Emma stared in awe. String lights twinkled against the back wall, looking like tiny clusters of stars. A cot resembling Jaal’s was set up on the left and beside it was a small bin rack, like a tiny dresser. Awed was the closest word she could think of describe how she was feeling. Where would he even find those? Why?
“Scott said this was how your room was on the Citadel. We hoped if we created something familiar it might help you feel more at home,” Jaal leaned against one of the desks, “And it’s a more private space than the meeting room.”
Emma didn’t know what to say. All she knew was the lump in her throat and the tears that threatened to spill over. It was so hard to convince herself that he didn’t care when he did things like this for her. For a year she thought Alec had abandoned her and now she was on the ship that would’ve been his, with a space of her own and friends. Despite her best efforts, the tears dripped down her face and landed on her shirt. Jaal looked panicked, his hands reaching out for her, but she wasn’t sad or upset. Not in the least. He gently touched her arm.
Emma wiped the tears with the back of her hand, “Thank you. This is…incredible.”
The took it all in once more but noticed something was off.
“Where’s your cot?”
Jaal gestured to the door, where a crate along with the rolled cot was sitting on the floor. Where was he going to go? There was hardly any room in the crew quarters for someone else.
“There is space in the cargo bay.” He shrugged.
But she didn’t want him in the cargo bay. At least when she was in the meeting room he was just a few steps away. The cargo bay was far and why should he be put out, just because he was trying to give her a space. A space large enough for the two of them. Maybe he didn’t want to share a room. Or he did but thought that she wouldn’t. Which if it was Jaal, she didn’t mind sharing. Did she? She was most comfortable around him. And it was just sharing a space. Nervous energy made her stomach feel like it was full of lead. She wasn’t sure if it was her nervousness or his, and at this point it didn’t really matter.
“You should stay.” Her voice was quiet, but he heard her nonetheless.
Neither of them said anything else at first. Seconds ticked by without a response and Emma worried she had made a horrible mistake. She was wrong. He didn’t want to stay and now she made things awkward. And she didn’t even ask him. Not only was she wrong, but she was rude too. It’s fine. She could totally ‘just joking’ her way out of this situation.
“Are you sure?” He finally asked.
She breathed an audible sigh of relief. Once again, she was overthinking it.
She nodded, “Please stay.”
He smiled softly at her.