Emma walked through Prodromos, trying in earnest to wave the dust away from her face. It wasn’t as bad as Kadara, but it was still sandy as hell. They were on the way to Voeld when Scott got the call from Bradley. Something about transmissions and the threat of an impending attack. Emma didn’t pay much attention during the briefing. A fact she was trying to avoid letting Scott know. Jaal and Liam had gone with him to speak with Bradley while the rest of the crew checked in with the colonists. Emma didn’t know anyone here, so she just wandered. Who knows how long she had been sitting near the water, just staring at it. Eos was beautiful in a way. Like she imagined Mars would have been before losing its atmosphere and becoming the giant red dustbowl they all knew. Canyons and rock formations looked like they had once been cut through by water and tiny lakes that Emma was surprised hadn’t evaporated by now. Maybe with the terraforming system back online, the planet would become more and more habitable. Maybe it could even be another earth. And it was because of Scott.
The way the colonists looked at him made a warm feeling spread through her torso. It was respect and awe. All things that Scott worked for. It wasn’t unlike how she used to look at Alec. The resemblance between the two was becoming more and more uncanny as time went on. Although Scott did have an easier time communicating, something that Alec always struggled with. It also made Emma question whether she deserved to be a Ryder. Could she ever live up to that kind of legacy? What exactly did she bring to the name? Right now, nothing. But that could change. She could do the things she always wanted to do, if she could just remember what they were. Every day it felt like she was stumbling in the dark trying to find a light switch. One of these days something was going to make sense.
Emma wandered over to a building right as Scott and the others were exiting. She paused and waited for them. Scott looked worried and that wasn’t a good thing. She leaned against the railing of the stairs while Scott made his way towards her.
“You busy?” He asked.
Emma shook her head, “No why?”
“Akksul is planning an attack on the colony. I need your help.”
That made Emma stand up straighter. Was this what Akksul meant when he said they wouldn’t see the last of him. Did he really think attacking the colony would help his cause? It would just strain Nexus and Angara relations which to be honest weren’t entirely great just yet. Emma knew that the Milky Way inhabitants would do what was necessary to establish a home here, and some would stoop to any level to do so. The Angara were already spread thin trying to fight the Kett and they were split into two factions while doing so. An all-out assault needed to be avoided, but apparently Akksul didn’t think so. And of course, she doubted Akksul would actually be among the fighters. He would send others to do his dirty work. More children and people that were going to die because he couldn’t get his own fear under control.
Emma’s hands clenched into fists and she felt a burning sensation in her chest. There was nothing she wanted to do more than punch Akksul in the face. She was also slightly wished she had done it before, even if it meant garnering disapproval from the Moshae. Jaal lightly touched her arm, drawing her attention back to them and getting her out of her own head. Emma took a deep breath in. She could brood about knocking out Akksul later. Jaal left his hand to rest on her forearm to keep her anchored. Whatever was happening between them, it was getting easier to deal with. Easier as in Emma was overthinking it less and less. It was happening, and she liked it.
“So, what’s the plan?” Emma asked.
“We’re heading over to site 2. We can trick them into thinking the colony is located there and head them off.” Liam piped up.
Emma nodded, “You think it’ll work?”
“I hope so. These people have been through enough. We need this colony to thrive.” Scott sighed.
Emma didn’t hesitate. He needed her, although he had an entire group of capable people to choose from. She patted her bow that was strapped to her back. Liam had told her it was unnecessary to gear up, but Emma would rather be safe than sorry. Good thing too.
She smirked, “Good thing I’m already ready to go.”
The four of them trekked back to the Tempest to get the Nomad. Jaal and Emma waited at the foot of the ramp while the other two grabbed their gear. Like Emma, Jaal already had his rifle strapped to his back as well as his firaan. She couldn’t blame him. If she lived with the Kett her entire life she would also always be prepared for a fight. However, it was shitty way to live. Someone needed to stick to the Kett, especially the Archon.
Emma yawned, her gloved hand coming up to cover her mouth. She had a little more sleep the night before, but five hours wasn’t much. Something needed to give. She couldn’t keep functioning on so little sleep. Part of her was reasonable and knew she needed to go to Lexi, but the other half didn’t want to be a bother. She leaned slightly against Jaal to keep herself upright. She didn’t want to chance getting run over if she sat on the ramp. His fingers brushed the top of her head.
“Not really.” She stifled another yawn.
“We should do something about that.”
“If you have any ideas other than hitting me over the head with a frying pan, I’m all ears.”
Jaal chuckled thankfully taking the joke for what it was but dropped it for now. Right now, they needed to focus on the Roekkar. Something she was not looking forward to. Yes, they were going to try and kill her and the crew, but it was hard for her to hold them completely at fault. With the threat of the Kett their entire lives, it was hard to trust another group that showed up after 600+ years traveling through dark space. It would be hard to discern motive, considering people had different reasons for making the trip to Andromeda. It would be hard to trust. Emma understood more than anyone the cruelty of people and how hard it was to trust them. She wasn’t looking forward to shooting a bunch of scared angara. A lofty sigh slipped past her lips causing Jaal to look at her.
“I don’t really want to hurt them.” She said, unprompted.
Jaal nodded, “I understand, but they don’t give us much choice.”
“I know, it’s just,” She mulled over her thoughts for a moment, “Some of them are just kids and it’s so…unfair.”
“It’s what the Kett have done. And it is-“
“Unfair.” She finished.
The Nomad came down the ramp and stopped in front of them. The door opened, and Scott jumped out so Emma and Jaal could crawl into the backseat. She didn’t even bother bugging Liam for shotgun. At this point it was a given that she would just rather sit in the back with Jaal. It was better than sitting in the front knowing his eyes would be on her. Not that she hated that, it just made her slightly embarrassed, considering everyone else also noticed. Scott climbed back in once the two of them were settled into the Nomad and brought up the map. Site 2 was blinking on a map of Eos. Liam balanced a transmitter in his lap, trying to keep it from bouncing all over the place.
The car ride was mostly quiet. Emma was thankful Jaal took up so much space. She bounced so much less when sandwiched between him and the side. Of course, it wasn’t the only reason, but god forbid she ever admit it out loud. The last couple nights sleeping in the same room as him had been something. It wasn’t horrible, even with the snoring. Emma just kept trying to bring up the almost kiss but chickened out every single time. At this rate it was going to take a miracle or a disaster to get the words out of her mouth. The Nomad bounced, and she slid slightly into Jaal. As a reflex, he put an arm around her waist to keep her still. It just pressed her into his side. The close proximity was nice, it also might kill her. Emma was thankful to her helmet for hiding the blush that was creeping up her neck.
Scott parked the Nomad right inside the zone for Site 2. Emma climbed out right after Liam, hoping to give herself a moment before she had to switch into combat mode. Scott and Liam discussed the best place to put the transmitter as well as positioning while Emma surveyed the site. It was small compared to Prodromos. For Emma’s understanding, it was a last-ditch effort after the disaster of Site 1. Emma used her jump jets to climb on top of various crates to get on top of the building. There was a wide-open field, very few trees and rocks to hide behind, that the angara would probably use to drop troops. It would be easy to use the building and shields as cover and take them out as they dropped. Too easy. It would be a slaughter. It didn’t sit right with Emma.
“Hey Scott.” She spoke over the mic, while pulling her arrows out of the quiver to count them.
“I have a request.”
“Shoot to injure, not to kill.”
Scott paused, “They’re trying to kill us.”
“I know,” Emma looked at Jaal a moment, “But if we have a chance to be better, shouldn’t we take it?”
“I agree,” Liam piped up, “Maybe we can change some minds yet.”
Scott took another moment before nodding, “Alright. We will spare who we can, but no one puts themselves in danger to do so. Understand?”
They all nodded in acquiescence. It was good enough for Emma. There would probably be some instance where it would be necessary, but it was nice to know they were all on the same page. The Kett were the only ones who needed to be killed. Well, with the exception of any Cerberus operatives. Emma sorted her arrows and took her position while Scott uploaded the beacon. Unhooking her helmet from her suit, she set it down beside her. It would be easier, although not safer, to shoot without it.
“The Angara have altered course.” SAM intoned.
They were as ready as they were going to be. The site was quiet as they waited. Emma already had an arrow nocked and ready. Sparing a glance to her right, she saw Jaal looking through his scope for any signs of them. Liam would have Scott’s back on the ground and she would have Jaal’s. She would be damned if anything happened to him. All of them looked up to the sky as the dropship came into view. Taking a deep breath, Emma readied herself. If she had her way, there would be no casualties today. Now she was going to try her damndest to make sure it happened.
Akksul’s voice rang out through their coms, “Human, I told you, you’d know soon enough. The beacon is live. You couldn’t stop our scouts!”
They were ready when the angara started to disembark the dropship. Disappointment quickly filled their features when they realized this was not a colony full of humans ready to be slaughtered. It was disappointment they were just going to have to live with. Emma took aim at her first target. A sharpshooter already looking for the best position. Too bad it was already taken. Emma heard his sharp cry when her arrow pierced his shoulder. No kill shots today. Emma turned to take on her next target.
Sharpshooters were first. They were tricky and would not hesitate to get the drop on anyone one of them. Tanks were next. The team took out the angara with shots to the arms, shoulders, legs, anywhere that wouldn’t kill them. Even as more dropships came and more angara swarmed the site trying to kill them, the angara still lived. Whittling them down was taking a considerable amount of energy. Emma’s arm started to ache in protest. This needed to end soon.
“Emma! Look out!” Jaal shouted from the other rooftop.
Emma turned, but not fast enough. Someone had snuck up behind her and grabbed a fistful of her hair. Dropping her bow, she reached back to get them to let go, her gloved fingers trying to grip their arm. Before she could, the angara slammed her face into the cooling unit she had been hiding behind. Emma heard the crunch of her nose breaking just as much as she felt it. Just fucking great. Tears sprung to her eyes. The angara pulled her head back, presumably to do it again, but Emma was having none of that shit. She allowed herself to become dead weight and in their surprise, they let go. Emma fell onto the smooth surface of the roof and turned herself over. Eyes full of anger stared into hers as hands reached for her throat. One hand managed to make it. Jaal was shouting through the mic, panic filling his voice as he asked if she was okay. Scott was yelling at Jaal to take the shot. The angara’s grip on the throat tightened. Her vision started to feel fuzzy, like there was a thin layer of static. No. She could do this. Emma’s hand encircled their wrist and she squeezed. Squeezed until she heard the howl of pain as the bones in their wrist cracked and broke under the pressure.
Emma drew in a lungful of air when they pulled away, but they were still on top of her. They still had the advantage. Determined, they reached for her with their other hand. Emma reached down to where her pistol was strapped to her thigh. Her fingers searched for the straps of her holster. Everything in her didn’t want to kill them, but she was damned if she was going to allow them to kill her. There was still shouting, but it was hard to hear over the ringing in her ears. The angara leaned close, spitting curses in her face while she tried to get her pistol out of the holster. Of course, she would get butterfingers at the absolute worst time.
The butt of a rifle entered her field of vision and smashed into the angara’s head. They slumped forward, unfortunately, right on top of Emma. With the help of whoever knocked them out, Emma managed to roll them off of her. Jaal sat his rifle down and kneeled beside her. His arms slid under her shoulder to help her sit up. Fingers caressed her cheek, careful not to touch her nose. He let out a breath and leaned forward, pressing his forehead to hers. The walls between the faded and panic, fear, and relief hit her all at once making her feel dizzy. Emma leaned into him. He was whispering under his breath, too low and fast for the translator to pick it up.
The sound of jump jets made her pull back a little, but she didn’t stop leaning on Jaal for support. Liam and Scott climbed up the edge of the roof, guns holstered. She guessed that meant no more angara were coming. Scott kneeled down in front of her, looking pissed, but relieved.
“How do I look?” She smirked at Scott and quirked an eyebrow.
Scott let out an exasperated laugh and tapped his nose, “You got a little something there.”
Emma chuckled and winced when pain shot through her face, laughing was a mistake. Liam checked the medigel attached to the back of her suit to make sure it was working properly. It would help numb some of the pain, but Lexi would probably have to reset it back on the Tempest. Which if they didn’t get back soon enough the nanites would start to mend the bone and Lexi would have to break it again to fix it the right way. Not something she was looking forward to if she was totally honest. At least this fight wasn’t a total lost. The angara that were still conscious, but otherwise incapacitated, groaned in pain.
Akksul’s voice rang over the coms, destroying any chance of celebration, “This site is a decoy! Rally at these coordinates.”
Emma groaned. Of fucking course, he wasn’t going to give up that easily. Akksul was easily becoming a massive pain in the ass. He was also a coward, which pissed Emma off even more. Every bit of her just wanted to break her foot off into his ass. After getting her own nose broken, she kind of understood now why Sloane was so butthurt about it.
Scott cursed, “They’re onto us. Shit. Where are they going?”
Bradley joined in over the coms, “I’ll tell you. Site 1. We overcharged the power relay to draw them in.”
“Akksul’s not going to be happy about that.” Jaal helped Emma to her feet as he spoke.
Scott pointed to Emma, “If you’re coming, helmet on. We don’t need a repeat.”
Fair enough. Emma leaned down to pick up her helmet and pulled it onto her head, making sure it was locked in place. Quickly she gathered her bow and the few arrows she had left. She didn’t have time to take any of the ones that she had used back. And she would wager that the angara she would have to take them from wouldn’t appreciate it. She really needed to rethink backup weapons if she was going to be fighting more often. Jaal helped her climb down the building and back to the Nomad. It wasn’t necessary. With the medigel and few minutes she had, she was feeling well enough to continue. But it was sweet all the same. He climbed into the Nomad behind her and helped secure her as Scott took off towards Site 1. Jaal kept her close to his side to keep her from jostling around and injuring anything else. The barrier of Site 1 loomed closer as Scott put the pedal to the metal. Scared and desperate shouts from the angara rang over the coms.
“Akksul! The Pathfinder is coming!”
“Motherless! Everyone prepare to defend!”
Scott broke through the barrier, trying to find a decent place to exit the Nomad without being shot, “Sounds like they’re losing their support.”
Scott managed to pull the Nomad around one of the buildings in the back. Gil was going to be pissed about the number of repairs. Maybe they could send the bill to Akksul. Emma and Jaal climbed out last, scoping out the best place to provide support to Liam and Scott and finish this once and for all. They were tired at this point. Emma and Jaal chose the same building to avoid a repeat of Site 2, that and Emma’s ears were still ringing. She had limited arrows. Mostly a few EMPs, which would also take out Liam and Scott’s weapons, two incendiaries, and five regular bolts. Jaal was already set up beside her taking shots to clear the way for the other two. Emma focused on the other sharpshooters, positioned on roofs across the site. They were waiting for Scott’s shield to fall to take their shot, but thanks to Emma that wasn’t going to happen. Now she was down to two bolts. Thankfully, there were less angara at this site and there was no sign of another dropship.
A mechanical sound drew their attention. Fuck. Of course, they had a Hydra. It wasn’t Emma’s first run in with one. The outcasts on Kadara managed to get their hands on one and wreaked havoc against the Collective. Emma still remembered the nasty burn on her…well, it wasn’t pleasant. She hated these things. But it did give her an advantage.
Emma leaned over and tapped Jaal on the shoulder, “Aim for the joints,” she shouted over the din of gunfire.
Jaal nodded and reloaded, aiming for its weak spots. Emma chose an incendiary bolt this time, aiming for its head. If it worked then it would fry its targeting systems. Which left her one more to aim for its back panel. Most of its circuitry ran through it. Not the best design to be honest. Jaal shot it through its knee joint, making it stumble. Enough of a window for Emma to release her shot and pray that it wasn’t a dud. They both let out a small cheer when the small explosion left the Hydra unable to target anything. Scott flanked it to get its attention which left its back exposed to Emma. Perfect. Taking her last incendiary, she aimed for the panel. She was going to miss these bolts. Ruvea did an excellent job crafting them. The Hydra went down in a mass of sparks. This encounter definitely went better than the last one. That was it. Everyone else was down.
“Pathfinder. Akksul’s shuttle is leaving orbit.” SAM chimed through their coms.
Emma rolled her eyes, “Of course, he won’t come down and fight himself.” She grumbled, earning a grin from Jaal.
Akksul snarled over the coms in response, “I’ll remember this. We’re not finished.”
“You are today. And we’ll be ready next time,” Bradley’s voice rang out over the coms once more sounding triumphant, “Come to Prodromos Pathfinder. We owe you. Again.”
Emma pressed the ice pack to her face as she stretched out across the bed in med bay. Thankfully, they had gotten back in time and Lexi was able to set her nose with no problem. Other than the swelling and bruising that made her look like a raccoon, Emma was just fine. No one died, and they still accomplished their mission. She hoped Akksul at least had the decency to clean up his troops from the site, but who knows after he left if he bothered to come back for them.
Emma sighed and closed her eyes slightly while in the dark room. Lexi had left her alone to let the pain meds kick in and just rest for a bit. Liam and Scott had gone to speak to Bradley, and after Emma had repeatedly said she was fine, Jaal went too. It had been a few hours since then. Maybe Bradley threw them a party. Well as much as a party as they could have in a struggling colony.
The sound of the door opening caused her to look up. Jaal was standing in the doorway, still looking as worried as he did before. He was holding a protein bar and a water bottle. Raising her hand, she gave him a small wave. She also smiled a little, but it hurt like hell, and it was hard to see under the ice pack. After a small moment of hesitation, he entered and crossed the room to sit beside her bed.
“Lexi said you needed to eat something.” He spoke as he handed her the bar.
Emma sat up on the bed and set the ice pack down beside her. Her nose tingled slightly when the cool air hit it. Jaal was staring at her face as she unwrapped the bar and took a huge bite. Protein bars tasted awful, but it would do for now. One of these days she would get to shove an entire pizza in her mouth and no one would be able to stop her.
“What?” She mumbled with her mouth full.
Jaal chuckled then and reached up to brush a crumb from the corner of her mouth, “I dislike when you get hurt.”
Emma nodded as he spoke, “Me too. It sucks.”
Jaal leaned close to her, his eyes searching hers. He was close. Again. Emma swallowed what was in her mouth, trying not to choke. There was no way she was going to survive if he kept getting this close. Not when she wanted to kiss him every time. And she didn’t even know if that allowed. Did the angara even kiss? Was that even a thing? Man, she hoped so. There didn’t seem like a better time to ask him if he felt anything for her and what that meant for the two of them.
The door opened against and Scott strolled through the door. He stopped when he saw how close Emma and Jaal were. Before he could apologize and leave, Jaal was already standing up. Giving Emma soft smile, he headed for the door, nodding at Scott before he left the room.
What in the hell just happened?
Emma was just sitting there, staring at the now closed door. They were so close. She was so close to finally facing how she felt. And of course, the big dope had to ruin it. She turned her gaze to Scott who looked a little guilty. Not good enough.
“I’m going to kick your ass Scott Ryder.”