The cold bit into her stomach and thighs as she laid on her belly. The sun lamps helped keep most of the cold at bay, but they did nothing when Emma was almost fully entrenched in snow a few feet thick. Voeld was aesthetically pretty, but its climate left much to be desired. Something that would hopefully change with an active vault. SAM had informed everyone earlier that temperatures had already begun to rise. Emma tried to imagine Voeld with glittering blue oceans and lush flora and fauna instead of the thick coating of ice it had now.
“You are distracted again.” Jaal’s voice rumbled in her ear.
Emma shook her head slightly and looked back through the scope of his rifle, “Sorry.”
He hummed in reply. They had been at this for an hour. The two angara that normally stood post outside of the resistance base were relieved and bewildered when Jaal and Emma had asked to borrow their post, so she could try her hand at a sniper rifle. They looked like they needed a break. Apparently, resources and bodies were stretched thin at the moment. Emma was trying, but she was having a hard time keeping focus. Maybe it had to do with the angara that was stretched out beside her. Her mind blanked every time he moved, or his hand touched her back or shoulder or hand. He was trying to help, but he was not helping at all.
She stared through the scope trying to focus on the target below that he had reminded her of no less than five times since they started. Thankfully it was not a moving target or even an important one. It was a glimmer in the ice below. She was having trouble navigating the scope through her helmet. If she could, she would’ve chucked it off already, but she liked breathing too much.
“I was going to ask if you have trouble with helmets, then I remembered you don’t have to wear one.” Her voice crackled through the comms.
He huffed, “I can’t tell if you are being difficult on purpose.” His hand rested against her lower back again.
“I’m having a hard time concentrating.” She admitted.
“What can I do to help?”
“Well, I do not want you to lie to me.” He scoffed.
“Every time you touch me I stop thinking.” She kept her eye on the target instead of turning her head to speak so he wouldn’t see how her cheeks burned.
“I know, you shock me every time.”
She turned her head then, “You’re doing it on purpose?!”
“Yes, you have to be able to focus beyond distractions.”
Emma just stared at him willing anything to come out of her mouth. She didn’t know whether or to laugh or be outright indignant. Despite her want to chastise him, nothing came to mind, especially when he was right. Jaal’s shoulders shook against her side as he laughed. It’s a shame he was laughing too hard to see the snowball until it smacked him right in the face. It was Emma’s turn to laugh then. The rifle was laying between them, momentarily forgotten, while Jaal wiped the snow from his face. He was still chuckling.
“Shame I’m wearing a helmet, huh?” She snickered.
His hand pressed against the side of her visor, “Yes, it is.” His tone indicating that it wasn’t because he wanted to pelt her with snow.
Without thinking, she moved in close, her hand resting on his shoulder. It was so natural with him. Emma never had to think or worry about what she was doing. It was like a part of her knew what to do. It just sucked this was happening when she couldn’t even rip off her helmet in a moment of spontaneity. She would just have to be content with the minimal contact they could have. Jaal certainly seemed to be. No, she knew he was. He told her without words in a way she didn’t understand yet. But she would learn.
“What are you two doing?” Scott’s voice reached them before his feet did.
Emma and Jaal pulled apart to look up at him. There was a big grin plastered on his face.
“Trying to teach your sister how to use a sniper rifle.” Jaal grabbed the rifle in question and sat up.
“How was that going?”
Emma followed suit and sat up on her haunches. Maybe it would give a chance for her front half to thaw out some after being nestled in the snow for an hour.
Jaal chuckled, “We will have to try again later.”
Scott whistled, “That bad,” He smirked, “Usually Emma is a better student than that.”
Emma rolled her eyes as they both had a hearty chuckle at her expense. Brushing snow off of her armor, she stood up and watched as the two angara they had relieved of their post were slowly making their way back. Everyone’s break was over and now it was time to get back to it. Whatever it was. Scott had business to take care of and Jaal had swept her away to the very lovely cliff where she froze her ass off for an hour. What were they supposed to do now? Building materials and colonists were still 36 hours out and Voeld didn’t have much to do in the way of entertainment. There was the giant kett base chilling close by, but Scott was iffy about it for whatever reason. She would have to ask why later. Voeld needed to be freed from the kett presence, especially with colonists incoming.
“The commander would like to speak with us.” Scott gestured to himself and Jaal as he spoke.
The three of them moved towards the resistance base. Emma wasn’t invited but that was fine. It would give her more time to just walk around the base. The angara made her feel comfortable to just wander. While sure there were a few who were distrustful and mildly hostile, but it was because she was human and not because she was “a freak.” She was just fine with that. Moments around the angara really made Emma believe that her experience could be better in this galaxy. Especially moments with Jaal.
Jaal turned to her, “Will you be alright on your own?” He asked.
Emma nodded, “I’ll just stick to the base. Stay out of the way. Stay out of trouble.”
“If you can I’ll eat my helmet,” Scott muttered.
“I hope you’re hungry then.” She shot back.
Scott made a decidedly rude gesture which made her laugh. It was so weird to laugh this much, but she didn’t hate it. The inside of the base was warmer with a multitude of sun lamps that were scattered in each room. Emma stopped near one in the hopes that she would shake off the cold while they were in a meeting. Before the two branched off down a different hallway, Jaal touched her elbow reassuringly. She really was going to be fine. Whatever he picked up from her must have convinced him because he finally just smiled at her and turned away.
She sat down on a crate beside the sunlamp and just watched the soldiers walk through the base. Some of them seemed so young. Not that she really knew angaran ages and maturity, or cultural norms. Maybe it was just the fact that they were fighting at all. Always having to protect and defend themselves from being wiped from existence. It just seemed so unfair.
“You seem deep in thought.”
Emma looked up to see an angara looking down at her. The blue markings on his cheeks, head, and cowl nearly blended in with his skin. The armor he was wearing was similar to the armor the other angara on the base wore, except he had a small insignia on his chest piece. He seemed to be studying her as much as she was studying him, his head was tilted to the side as he did so.
“I was I suppose.” She finally answered his statement.
“You are Emma Ryder.”
Another statement. A statement that made her stiffen and her eyes narrow. It wasn’t that he said it maliciously, it was just that he even knew who she was at all. She hadn’t been on Voeld long and certainly hadn’t seen him before. But she afforded a small nod as confirmation.
“My name is Andraknor. I’m a heskaarl with the resistance, it is similar to your N7,” He sat on a crate across from her, “I wanted to meet you after reading yesterday’s report about the cave-in.”
“Yes. You created a barrier unlike one of your biotics and every angara there felt it. I didn’t believe that a human could have such strong bioelectricity, but I feel it.”
“It was a surprise to me too.” She admitted.
“You didn’t know?”
“Hmm,” Andraknor leaned forward, placing his elbows on his knees, “I would like to see you in action. I had already asked the Pathfinder to engage in Heskaarl training exercises to learn from each other. Perhaps you would as well.”
He was really close. Emma wasn’t sure if it was because he was just fascinated with her abilities or if it was something else.
“I can’t do these things on purpose. You might be disappointed.”
He leaned back, his eyes roving over her again, “I am not so sure.”
Emma narrowed her eyes. She wasn’t sure what it was, but she felt he was more than a little fascinated with her. He had started scrutinizing her the moment he approached. And he seemed to be high up in the chain of command. Was this more of an investigation? A test to see whether she was a threat? A little unfair considering anyone from the Milky Way could be a threat. Yet once again she was targeted. This could go one of two ways. She could tell him to fuck off and he would report to whoever that she was aggressive and standoffish, or she could play along. Besides, there was nothing else to do today and some war games would pass the time until the colonists arrived.
The unlikely option was he was flirting with her. Normally she wouldn’t even consider it, but some of the angara looked at her like she was attractive. It was probably the hair, but nevertheless, some seemed to be interested.
She looked up to see Jaal and Scott had returned from their meeting and were standing close by. Scott looked confused, but Jaal looked suspicious. Not of her, it seemed. His gaze was on Andraknor who was returning it with no emotion. It confirmed her suspicion. She was being tested. If she was an asshole it would look bad for Scott. And she was not going to be the reason that negotiations broke down between the Nexus and the Angara. Emma stood up from the crate and reached for Jaal’s hand. Everything was going to be fine. She was used to stuff like this. Andraknor watched her every move, he wasn’t even trying to be subtle.
“Andraknor was telling me about the Heskaarl training exercises on Voeld,” She spoke to Scott as she gently gripped Jaal’s hand, “It might not be a bad idea to pass some time.”
Scott just stared at her a moment before nodding, “Alright, if that’s what you want to do.” His words were measured as if he wasn’t quite sure what the endgame was yet.
It was better to just get this over with. Whoever had orchestrated this would see her abilities if they manifested and when they saw she wasn’t a threat they would hopefully feel like an ass. If it was a Milky Way species demanding this of her she would have told them to fuck off. But after decades of dealing with the kett, she was willing to be understanding of the Angara’s position when it came to outsiders. Not to mention she didn’t want Jaal to be forced to choose between her and his people. She could deal with this.
“It is.” She answered.
Jaal’s hand squeezed hers. He didn’t like this. She could tell from his body language and the way his electricity prickled against her suit. But it would be fine.
She turned to Andraknor, “Will you be coming with us?”
“Once you activate the beacons I’ll be able to tap into the feed and watch. I don’t interfere with the exercises.”
Of course, he wouldn’t.
Emma wanted to roll her eyes but managed to contain herself. Andraknor excused himself and walked further into the base. The three of them watched him walk away before Scott turned to her.
“What the hell was that?”
She didn’t want him to worry. They could just turn this into a training exercise and a way to kill time while whoever was behind sending Andraknor would get the information they were looking for.
“Nothing, it’s fine.”
He didn’t believe her. She could tell by the way his lips were thinned into a line and his eyes were narrowed.
“You should bring Drack too. He’ll be happy to shoot shit today.” She didn’t wait for anyone to reply before she started towards the forward station.
Jaal was hot on her heels while Scott called Drack on the com to meet them at the nomad. Drack would be happy at the chance to get out and get some action. It would hopefully also make Scott forget the weird tension between her, Jaal, and Andraknor. As the Pathfinder, he shouldn’t be worried about stuff like this. She could handle it. This would prove that.
When she reached the nomad, she leaned against the door to wait for Scott and Drack to catch up. Jaal leaned against it right next to her.
“Are you sure everything is fine? If he said anything to you-“
“It’s fine Jaal,” She gently nudged him with her elbow, “I promise.”
It didn’t take Drack long to make his way to their location. Nothing motivated the old man more than the prospect of getting to fuck something up.
The ride there was quiet. Emma was in the front seat for once and only because Drack couldn’t fit in the front. The entire time she could feel Jaal’s gaze on the back of her head. She didn’t think he was interested in doing this, but if she was going then he wasn’t going to tap out. Scott’s eyes were mostly on the navpoints SAM had given him, but every so often his eyes would stray to Emma. So far, he was going along with her. However, she knew Scott and she knew that it wouldn’t last for long. Eventually, he would ask her what was up. She would tell him then, but not now. She just wanted to get it over with. Emma was the first out of the nomad when they reached the first beacon.
“Ah, you found the first beacon. Ready for a taste of Heskaarl training?” Andraknor’s voice filled Emma’s ear.
Scott rolled his shoulder backs, “Give me your best shot.”
“There’s a gigantic fiend nearby. Let’s see if you can hunt it before it hunts you.”
Emma felt the fiend’s footsteps shake the ground before it came into her field of view. Except it wasn’t just one. It was three. Emma swore under her breath.
“Uh Andraknor, you can count right?” She asked.
Scott shot her a look through his visor.
Emma readied the shotgun she had borrowed from the locker, “There are three fiends, not one.”
“Good, then you’ll have a challenge.”
Drack threw his head back and laughed as the fiends roared at them. Emma should have just told Andraknor to go fuck himself.
Emma wiped the condensation off the mirror. A hot shower did wonders after another day on Voeld. It was also a wonder that she had managed to engage in the war games without getting injured, but she was sore to all hell. Her powers didn’t manifest again which was disappointing, to say the least. For once, she felt like she wanted to get a handle on them instead of waiting for a trigger. She didn’t know where to start. There was no one she could ask. Sighing she pulled her hair down from a bun and ran her fingers through. Of course, she left her brush in the room. Emma tossed her towel down the laundry chute and exited the showers.
It was late. Almost everyone was asleep except for Scott whom she could hear chatting with Reyes behind his closed door. She didn’t like it, but it wasn’t really her place to say anything. Especially since she knew Scott had no idea who Reyes was. If the man was smart, he would tell the truth soon.
Emma climbed the ladder. The upper deck was quiet except for Kallo talking under his breath. It was something he did when he was concentrating or trying to solve a problem. It was best to leave him alone at times like this. No one was going to be able to get his attention.
There was a faint noise coming from the tech lab. Jaal had been awake when she left to shower, but she was surprised he was still up. He was leaning against the wall, his legs stretched out across his cot. A video was playing on his omnitool. The moment Emma entered the room he shut it off and smiled sleepily at her.
“Do you need some privacy?” She teased.
He chuckled, “From you? Never.” He winked.
Emma laughed even though her ears turned pink. There were implications to his statement that she was not going to think about. She grabbed her brush from the table.
“May I?” He asked.
She shrugged, “Sure.”
It wasn’t surprising that he asked. He had been fascinated with her hair ever since he had seen it. She supposed she would be fascinated too if she met something she had never seen before she would also be intrigued by it. Like she was with all of him. He widened his legs so she could sit in between them. She sat cross-legged with his knees pressing into her hips. Tilting her head back she sectioned off some of her hair to show him how to brush it without ripping out her hair. He moved the brush smoothly through her hair while running the tendrils through his fingers. Emma closed her eyes relaxing at the slight tugging sensation at her scalp. Her shoulders dropped, and she leaned into his touch. The tech lab remained quiet. She was unsure how much time had passed.
“Did you fall asleep?” His voice was close to her ear.
“A little.” She answered, not even opening her eyes.
He moved her hair to one side before pulling her back against his chest. Despite the protrusions on his chest, she was still comfortable leaning against him. He wrapped his arms around and they just sat like that. In all honesty, she could fall asleep like this. She wanted to. But how would he feel about it? Would he be okay if she shoved their cots together and fell asleep like this all the time? She should ask these questions. Unfortunately, it wasn’t what came out of her mouth.
“What were you watching?”
“A video on Asari culture I downloaded from the cultural center.” His chest rumbled against her back.
“Oh?” She smirked, “Got a thing for Asari do you?”
His mouth pressed against her exposed neck making her draw in a breath, “I have a thing for you.” He countered, his lips moving against her skin.
It felt like her stomach had dropped right to her feet, “That’s cheating.” She cleared her throat in an effort to hide her reaction.
She didn’t have to look at him to imagine the smug look on his face. Besides she didn’t really mind the teasing. It was just something to get used to. Something she actually wanted to get used to. The jokes, the teasing, the small affections that were just for the two of them. She wanted it all. And she was going to have it with him. It wasn’t just her being selfish. It was a feeling. There was something strong between them, it felt unbreakable. Ever since the cave-in she had been feeling it. Emma didn’t know what had happened or changed in that small amount of time, but they were linked.
Emma shifted so Jaal could lean over and set up the tablet in front of them. One of his arms remained around her to keep her anchored to his chest. Once he was done he leaned back and readjusted her so she was snug against him. Saying she was comfortable was a massive understatement.
“Just so you know, I might fall asleep.” She joked.
He pressed a kiss against her hairline, “Good, you need rest. Perhaps you will be more attentive in a shooting lesson tomorrow if you do.”
“Bull!” She twisted to look up at him, “You and I both know why I couldn’t concentrate.”
He nodded, “Of course, it’s because you wanted to kiss me some more.”
“Yes…I mean no! You were doing it on pur-“
Jaal pressed a small kiss to the corner of her mouth and Emma’s words died on her tongue. He was having entirely too much fun with this, but in truth, so was she. This was good. The loneliness, the isolation, everything that led up to this was worth it if this was the end game. Someone she could be wholly comfortable with.
Jaal pressed play on the video and she settled back. The narrator droned on about the history of the Asari. At this rate, she would fall asleep in no time.
Ten minutes was all it took for her to fall asleep. Jaal watched as her eyes fluttered before closing and her head fell back against his shoulder. Another ten minutes and her breathing evened out. He knew the video would put her right to sleep. The history was fascinating, but the video was boring. Gently, he moved her so he could lay her down on his cot. Jaal could just pull her cot closer and use it to sleep. Every night she inched it closer anyways. Not that she had noticed she was doing it. He might as well move it all the way over and save her some embarrassment. Not that she should be, but she would be. He pulled his blanket over her and watched as she curled up on her side. He wanted to join her, but there was something he needed to do first.
Something about Andraknor’s fascination today bothered him. He was also assigned to the Nexus and not to Voeld. The training beacons recorded recruit’s battles and therefore he wasn’t needed on site. And yet he managed to show up the day after the cave-in. Jaal quietly exited the tech lab and headed up to the meeting area. He had a call to make. Evfra’s number was saved in the Tempest system so all he had to do was press his name on the touchscreen. It rang twice before Evfra was standing before him.
“It’s late, did something happen?” Evfra asked his brusque tone all business.
“You received the report about the cave-in on Voeld?”
“With the report on Dr. Lekaaret, yes. Her explosives caused the cave-in.”
“If you had any questions, you should have asked me.”
“About the woman.” It wasn’t a question.
“Her name is Emma.” Jaal corrected, “And yes. You could have asked me, or better yet, you could’ve asked her.”
Evfra’s expression was hard to discern, “I wasn’t sure you would be unbiased in your answers.” He responded slowly, he was picking his words carefully.
“Its hardly fair to assume that his first choice would be lying.” A voice rang out behind Jaal before he could respond.
He half-turned to the side to see Emma coming up the ramp. Evfra’s eyes remained on her as she walked over and stood beside Jaal. It was almost comical the way she had the blanket wrapped around her shoulders making it look like a cape. The expression on her face, however, was not. She looked exhausted, annoyed, and now slightly pissed.
“Or that it would be mine.” She finished.
Jaal leaned down, “You were asleep.” He murmured near her ear.
“You were upset.” She countered.
Evfra glanced between the two of them before answering, “Perhaps it was not the best choice, but I needed to be sure regardless.”
“Sure of what?” She asked.
“That you were not a threat.”
Jaal was prepared to defend her. She had protected him, saved him, she didn’t deserve that kind of scrutiny. Every defense he had died on his tongue when her hand slipped in his and squeezed. She wasn’t using her bioelectricity, but he still had the sense that it was okay.
“I understand your caution, but if you have any questions I would prefer if you asked me directly. I will answer what I know honestly,” Emma’s thumb brushed against his as she spoke, “I will be upfront with you if you are with me.”
Jaal was silent as the Emma and Evfra stared each other down, neither of them budging or saying anything for a good minute. After a moment, Evfra nodded his assent and Jaal could almost swear he looked impressed. Evfra’s gaze strayed down to their linked fingers causing Jaal to squeeze her hand just a little tighter.
“Understood” Before Evfra ended the call he turned to look at Jaal one last time, “You should tell your mother before someone else does.”
He didn’t bother giving Jaal a chance to reply and he was right. Jaal was ready to tell her, but he still hadn’t crafted that particular e-mail. It wasn’t that he was ashamed. He just knew his mother and wanted to prepare Emma to be bombarded by e-mails from his family first.
Emma was staring up at him a perplexed look on her face.
He raised their entwined hands to his mouth and pressed a kiss to the back of her hand, “What’s wrong?”
“I was asleep,” She frowned, “I was asleep, but I knew you were upset. We weren’t even touching.”
He knew he was to have to tell her sooner or later, he was just hoping to have a little more time. Resonance was sure to be an overwhelming prospect to her. Especially if she was able to feel him from a distance now. He didn’t want her to feel beholden to a bond they shared. But it was best to get it out of the way before she met his family.
“I don’t know if it’s a you thing or a me thing, but we should talk about it.”
Jaal nodded, “Yes we should.”
Emma used her free hand to cover her mouth when she yawned, “Tomorrow.”
She didn’t give him a chance to argue, not that he would, she just tugged him along back down to the ramp to the tech lab. When they entered the tech lab she let go of his hand to grab the end of her cot. Jaal just watched as she moved her cot a little to the right until it lined up with his. A small chuckle escaped his throat when she flopped down on her half and patted his. As soon as Jaal laid down on his cot, the lights dimmed. Emma reached across the small space to take his hand again. He looked over at her, the blanket pulled to her chin and a small sleepy smile on her face, and thanked the stars that he had this moment. It was perfect.