Emma woke up enclosed in warmth. Soft fabric was pressed against her cheek. There was a large angaran hand that had, at some point, snuck under her shirt and was resting against the skin of her back. His chest rose and fell underneath her cheek. Thankfully he wasn’t snoring. It was probably because he was laying on his side.
There had been plenty of space between them as they had fallen asleep the night before. She wasn’t sure which one of them had crossed the line between cots and encroached on the other’s space. Slowly she opened her eyes to look down. Jaal was still on his cot and she was laying in the middle. Damn. That meant it was her. Either he was too asleep to have noticed, or he didn’t care. And knowing Jaal, he probably didn’t care. Emma tried to untangle herself without waking him up. Not that it was working. A small huff of laughter made her pause.
“How long have you been awake?” she mumbled.
“Long enough.” It sounded like he was trying not to laugh at her expense.
She winced. “Sorry.”
“For getting in your space.”
Jaal’s bare hand moved down her back, his fingers pressing into her skin, until it came to a stop on her hip. It’s official. He was trying to kill her. Emma kept her eyes focused on his chest as her cheeks burned. The sensation of his hand on her made her stomach clench. There was no way she was going to lock eyes with him right now. She had no doubt that he could feel her stomach tying itself in knots and the way her skin burned under his touch.
“I don’t mind sharing my space” --he pressed his lips against her hair-- “with you.”
His hand finally left her hip to instead tilt her chin up and she had no choice but to look at him. Boy, she wished she hadn’t. The hunger in his gaze made her heart thud in her chest. He looked like he wanted to devour her. And she kind of wanted him to. Emma felt her face flush at the thought. This was so fast. Were all Angara this fast?
She didn’t get the chance to say anything else. The moment she uttered his name he leaned down to capture her lips in a searing kiss. She wasn’t quite sure what she was going to say anymore anyway. Emma returned the kiss, her hands reaching upward to touch his face, his cowl, the back of his head. His hand let go of her chin to hook underneath her knee and pull her flush against him. Could they even do that? When she had seen him naked, granted she hadn’t looked long, she hadn’t seen anything. Were they even physically compatible? Did she want them to be?
Jaal pulled away to press kisses to the corner of her mouth, her chin, her throat. He nuzzled her neck, his teeth grazing her pulse, and…snored?
Emma’s eyes flew open.
She was curled up on her side, close to the middle, but still on her own cot. Jaal was laying within arm’s reach. As usual, his lips were parted, and he was snoring. It meant it was all a dream. She had a hot dream about Jaal and she was a pervert. With red cheeks, she pressed her face into her pillow and let out a breath. Some of the dream still lingered in her mind. Her stomach was still in knots and there was a warmth in between her thighs. Part of her could still feel him pressed against her.
She needed to get out. They weren’t even dating, and she was fantasizing about him. And she didn’t even know if it was an accurate fantasy. What if Angara didn’t even do that? What if thoughts like that disgusted him? Thank god he was still asleep.
Slowly Emma peeled back the covers to sneak out of bed. Leave it to her to go from pushing the cots together to an almost sex dream. Jaal didn’t stir when she sat up nor when she set her feet on the floor. He was out. It meant she would be able to make a quick getaway. She winced when the tech lab doors opened, but he still snored away. Emma breathed a sigh of relief when the doors closed behind her.
Until she heard a crunching sound to her left.
“Why are you so red?” Liam asked, a protein bar in hand.
It didn’t matter what her answer would be. He was already smirking. No denial would stop him from teasing her. It was almost a requirement at this point. A part of her reminded her to be cool. But she was not cool. She was kind of freaking out. Emma had never really thought of having sex with someone before until now. Hell, in the dream she didn’t even know it was a possibility, and she was still ready to go.
“Just hot Liam,” she muttered.
“Yeah, I’m sure.” He winked.
She scoffed and shook her head. “Ass.”
His laughter followed her down the hall and then down the ladder. Just one hearty laugh at her expense. The moment her feet touched the floor, Scott's door opened. He looked like he had barely slept, and he had slept hard at that. His hair was sticking up every which direction. Yesterday’s uniform was wrinkled everywhere. They both stopped and just stared at each other.
“You okay?” His voice was gravelly from just waking up.
Scott just raised an eyebrow at her before nodding his head towards his room and shuffling back in. He flopped down on his unmade bed. With a sigh, she followed him into the room. She wasn’t quite sure what to say. A loud yawn from him broke the silence between them.
“You don’t look okay,” he finally said.
She shrugged. “It’s nothing really.”
“Hmmmmm…” --He trailed off-- “I’m not sure about that, but I did want to talk to you anyways.”
Emma perched on the edge of the bed. “About what?”
“Yesterday. I never did get in the loop on what was going on.”
“Oh” --she clasped her hands-- “apparently Evfra wanted to evaluate my threat level and instead of being forthright, decided to send Andraknor to test me and us.”
“Is that all?” He tried to sound unperturbed, but she knew better, there was an edge to his tone. “I thought Andraknor was flirting with you at first.”
“He still might have been. Probably couldn’t resist all that.” Scott gestured to her.
Emma rolled her eyes but couldn’t hold in the small laugh that escaped her mouth. Scott sat back up and nudged her with his shoulder.
“So, are you going to tell me what’s bothering you?”
“I had a dream.” Emma spoke softly as if someone was eavesdropping. “About Jaal.”
Scott just stared at her, blinking.
“And?” he prompted.
“It was…” --she shrugged-- “you know…”
He just stared at her confused, before the lightbulb finally turned on. “Ohhhh. And you’re embarrassed.”
“Of course I am,” she hissed. “All we’ve done is kiss and I’m thinking about other things. And I don’t even know if it's possible.”
Scott was just watching her talk with a small smile on his face. It wasn’t a malicious or mocking smile. When she stopped speaking he just shook his head gently.
“This is normal. You like Jaal. It isn’t a stretch that you would be sexually attracted to him too. And hormones do what hormones are going to do.”
She pressed her fingers into her cheeks. “It’s just so soon.”
“Just because you dream it, doesn’t mean you have to do it”--he clapped a hand on her shoulder-- “until you’re ready.”
“Thanks Scott, that…helps actually,” Emma snorted. “Who knew?”
Scott shrugged. “What can I say? I’m a man of many talents.”
“Don’t get too big of a head on me.”
“Never.” he crossed his heart and winked.
A pounding on his door made them both look up. It was still early and not everyone was awake yet.
“Ryder?” Jaal asked from the other side.
Already Emma could feel her face turning red again. She still wasn’t cooled down enough to face him. How did he even know she was here? But Scott held up his hand to indicate that he had it.
“What’s up Jaal?” Scott answered.
“Is Emma in there? Liam said she was looking upset. Is she alright?”
Scott pressed his hand to his mouth so Jaal wouldn’t hear his laughter. It took him a moment to compose himself enough to answer that she was fine, and they were just having a private conversation. A short silence followed before Jaal answered that he would be in the kitchen. He didn’t sound wholly convinced, but both Emma and Scott sat and waited until they heard his footsteps recede down the hall. As soon as he was out of earshot, Scott devolved into a fit of giggles. Imagine. The Pathfinder giggling like a teenager. Emma just had one question.
“How valuable is Liam to the team?”
Another bout of laughter was her answer.
Everyone was gathered in the meeting room. Emma was sitting on her usual couch, sandwiched in between the arm and Jaal. Sure, she was still a little embarrassed, but Scott had helped. Just because she dreamed about it doesn’t mean she has to run off and just do it. Jaal didn’t look entirely convinced when she had finally come out of Scott’s room and told him she was fine. She was prepared for him to push the issue, but he didn’t.
Scott was giving out their assignments for the day. The colonist’s ETA was 3 hours from now and the entire team was expected to be there to help set up the pre-fabs. So far Cora and Scott were going to help direct people where they were needed. Liam and Peebee were supposed to help with getting the living quarters set up first so everyone would have a place to sleep at night.
“Drack, Emma, and Jaal are the strongest” --Scott mused while staring down at the datapad clutched in his hand-- “so I’ll need you to help carry things from the shuttles.”
“Lucky us,” she mumbled.
“Sarcasm is unnecessary,” Scott shot back.
“How are we going to explain her strength to the colonists?” Cora asked.
Scott frowned. “Damn.”
“Steroids,” Emma deadpanned.
Scott sighed. “Be serious.”
“Maybe she should stay on the ship,” Cora murmured to Scott.
“I can hear you,” Emma said.
“I’m sorry.” Cora did look apologetic. “But you need to maintain a low profile. Displays of super strength aren’t discreet.”
“I can control my strength you know. If I couldn’t I would have hurt all of you on accident by now.”
That’s…a good point.” Scott looked down at his datapad. “I should put you somewhere else just to be safe.”
Emma opened her mouth to argue, but Jaal moved his hand onto her thigh. It made her pause. Cora and Scott were both right. Yes, she could control it, but why take the risk? Scott could get in a lot of trouble if she was found out. Dammit. Closing her mouth, she leaned back against the couch.
“You can check items as they come off the ship,” Scott finally said.
Emma sighed. Of course. It had to be the most boring of the jobs. “Okay.”
“We still have 3 hours until the colonists arrive. I suggest everyone eat and rest now because we have a long day ahead of us.” Scott looked all of them over. “Dismissed.”
Emma jumped up to go back to the tech lab. Usually, she let everyone else filter out first, but she just wanted to stew for a bit. It was bullshit. What was the point if she still had to hide all the damn time? Not only that, but without her help, the work would take twice as long. She was itching to get off Voeld. There were other places she hadn’t seen yet, and she was ready to go.
Jaal trailed right behind her, stopping beside one of the computers as she flopped back on her cot. It was silent for the first few minutes. This was something else she liked about Jaal. He gave her a few minutes to just be frustrated without pushing her to feel something else. He just waited until she was ready.
“This sucks!” She stared up at the ceiling as she spoke.
“I know.” His reply was soft.
“I don’t even know why I’m so annoyed. We’re just helping some colonists. I’m not being excluded from something super important” –she huffed mid-sentence— “but it still sucks.”
She heard him pad the rest of the way over to their cots. He laid down on his back, as close to the middle as he could get without encroaching on her side and grabbed her hand. His gloved palm pressed against hers.
“I don’t think you’ve ever held my hand with your gloves off,” she mused.
He hummed in agreement. Just laying here with him was nice. It was so quiet and peaceful.
“Why is that?” she asked, her voice muted.
Jaal cleared his throat. It sounded awkward, which was unusual for him. Maybe it was a taboo question and she wasn’t supposed to ask. This just made her more curious.
“Touching without gloves is…” –Jaal rubbed the crown of his head with his free hand— “It is very intimate. Our bioelectricity is very concentrated in the palms of our hands.”
With her curiosity sated and her cheeks reddened, Emma nodded at his explanation. The word intimate instantly made her face feel hot. It just made her think about her dream and what almost happened in it. She would describe it as intimate. Did the Angara have dreams like that too? She was too afraid to ask.
“Something else is bothering you.” Jaal’s voice interrupted her thought train.
“Why do you say that?” She could hear the edge of nervousness in her voice.
“You are blushing.” Jaal brushed a finger against her warm cheek. “And you have avoided looking at me all morning.”
His grunt told her that he didn’t believe her.
She sighed, “I just don’t know if I can talk about it.”
Emma debated not answering, but she was pretty sure he already knew the answer without her saying it. “Yes.”
Jaal withdrew the finger stroking her cheek, but kept a firm grip on her hand, “I understand, but if you change your mind, I am here.”
She nodded. Communication was so easy with him when he already knew how she was feeling most of the time. Even then he didn’t push her to be open until she wanted to be. She appreciated it. Maybe even more than he knew. Emma looked over at him. He was looking at her like she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. It was surprising that anyone would ever look at her that way. Yet the proof was right here. He smiled at her.
Emma returned the smile before she squeezed his hand. “We should talk about last night.”
Jaal dropped his gaze before he needed. She could see the tension in his shoulders. Why did it feel like he was afraid? Emma turned on her side to rest her other hand on his upper arm. Whatever it is he was going to tell her couldn’t be that bad. Could it? She waited.
“My people call it resonance…” He was hesitant.
Emma didn’t say anything. If it took a while for him to get everything out, then she would patiently. He would do the same for her.
“It happens when Angara obtain a connection to each other…” He trailed off and muttered a few words in Shelesh. “I’m sorry it’s hard to explain. Their bioelectricity responds naturally to each other.” He frowned.
“So…it’s like they sync up” –Emma tapped her finger against his arm as she thought— “and get on the same wavelength?”
He nodded, “Yes.”
“Okay. What does that mean to you?” she asked.
“It’s fairly important to us, but it can happen to anyone we feel for on a deep level like friends, family members, and lovers,” his voice dipped when he said lovers like he didn’t want to say it all.
“That would explain all the weird looks,” she mused.
“Yes, I’m sorry about that.”
Emma rested her chin on his arm, “But it doesn’t explain why you didn’t tell me.”
“I was worried that it would be overwhelming. And I didn’t want you to feel obligated in any way or that you didn’t have a choice.”
“I…” –she cleared her throat— “thank you. But I don’t. Feel obligated that is. I like you.”
Jaal rolled onto his side so he could cup her cheek with his free hand. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you.” He pressed a kiss to her forehead.
She leaned into his touch for a moment. “But I don’t think that’s it.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean I’ve felt the resonance when touching you, but last night was different” --Emma pulled herself up and propped herself up against the wall-- “I was asleep, but it felt like I wasn’t. I could tell you were upset like I was standing right next to you. Then I was awake and standing outside the tech lab. It was weird.”
He pulled himself up next to her. “What do you think it was?”
“I don’t know. But it happened after the cave-in…what exactly happened?”
“What do you remember?”
Emma frowned. “I remember the snow coming down and then…nothing, nothing until we were back in the nomad and even that is fuzzy.”
“There was the barrier and this energy. I tried to touch you, but it was too much.”
“Too much?” she asked.
“Yes, it was like you were everything at once and it was hurting you, but it also felt like it was a part of you. Like I was seeing you” –he looked over at her— “the real you for the first time.”
“I wish I could’ve seen it,” she mumbled.
“It was…I’ve never seen anything like it,” he spoke, sounding reverent.
“Does it scare you?” she asked.
Jaal shook his head. “No. It is intriguing, but I like you for you.”
“But what if I’m not really me and I’m something else? What if I can’t control myself and I hurt people?” Emma crossed her arms over her chest and sank down a little. “What if I hurt you?”
Jaal turned and reached for her, one hand encircling her waist and the other cupping her cheek. He tilted her face up to look at him, “You created that barrier to protect me, not to hurt me.”
“This time. It can always change.” She turned her face to mumble into his palm. “I know I’m dangerous. I don’t want to hurt you.”
“We will handle it if it comes up, but I refuse to agonize over something that may never happen. I also will not reject you over what ifs.”
They weren’t empty words to appease her. No. He meant it. She could feel the sincerity dripping from his statement. Emma didn’t know what she did to deserve someone that she could connect with, but she was thankful. There was no questioning how Jaal really felt. If it wasn’t in his words, it was in his eyes, his tone, and his electricity. And now there was a feeling her chest that told her he was telling the truth.
Emma closed the space between them to press a small kiss to his cheek. Jaal turned his head to capture her mouth in a kiss. It was clear he wasn’t averse to backing up his statements. Emma reached up to cup his cheek. Her thumb rested against the corner of his mouth. A thought occurred to her then. She pulled away, her hand still resting on his cheek.
Emma tapped his bottom lip with her finger. “Maybe it’s because you touched me…”
“Hm?” His eyes were still half-lidded.
“If that’s the “real me” then maybe when you touched me something happened and now we’re connected…more than before. Or maybe it’s just I feel you more now.” She sighed. “It sucks I don’t really have any knowledge about any of this.”
“It is as good a theory as any. We could test it and see if you can feel what I feel without touching me,” he suggested.
“We could try that. It’s all I can do really.”
Jaal nodded. “Good. I’m going to kiss you again.”
Emma laughed as he leaned down to do just that. The tech lab door opened.
“Ugh, you two are gross. It’s great.”
They both looked towards the door to see Scott standing in the doorway, his hip pressed against the frame. He was grinning at them.
Emma rolled her eyes. “What do you want?”
“ETA changed. Colonists will be here in 90 minutes. You two need to eat.” Scott snickered. “Something other than each other’s faces of course.”
Emma grabbed a pillow from behind her and tossed it across the room with deadly accuracy. Lucky for Scott, he caught it before it smacked him in the face. He tossed it back at her with a laugh before walking away. The doors closed once more. Emma turned to Jaal with a sigh and paused when she saw the horrified look on his face.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“Why would he think we would eat each other’s faces?”
Emma woke up with her face stuffed into her pillow. She had kicked off some of the covers so only one of her legs was covered and the other was laying on top. What had woken her up? With a yawn she stretched, her hands reaching for warmth. They stopped when all she could feel was an empty cot. Strange. He had been in bed when she fell asleep. Where could he have gone?
“You, more than anyone, know how dangerous Akksul is,” a woman’s voice cut through the silence.
“Why were they allowed to speak to him?” Jaal’s voice sounded angry, upset, and worried.
That would explain why she was awake. She shoved the rest of the covers off, shivering slightly. Despite the Tempest having its own ambient temperature, the chill of Voeld managed to sneak in. He was seated by one of the computers towards the front of the tech lab. It was probably in an effort to keep from waking her. This wasn’t a call he was expecting then. She got out of bed and crept quietly across the room until she was behind him. Emma didn’t say anything, she just rested her hand on his shoulder and listened. Anything that had to do with Akksul wasn’t good.
“They aren’t children anymore. We can’t control their every move.” Another woman joined the conversation. “You remember how you were.”
“Please, Jaal,” the first woman pleaded.
“I’ll bring them home,” Jaal promised right before ending the call.
“What happened?” Emma asked.
He reached his hand up to cover hers, “Three of my brothers and sisters have joined the Roekkar. Akksul has poisoned them with his hatred of aliens.”
Children. Emma clenched her jaw. More children dying. This time Jaal’s family. And for what? To prove a point? To hurt Jaal because he resonated with her? For a moment she could hear the cries on Kadara again. A senseless death. One that could’ve been prevented. Anger sparked in her chest. No. Akksul couldn’t have more children.
“The Roekkar have made camp at the forge—a place we consider the birthplace of our civilization—Akksul believes this bold move will create more fanatics for his cause. He has my family” –Jaal’s voice cracked— “and I cannot do this alone.”
She squeezed his shoulder. “You won’t. I’ll go wake up Scott to set a course. If he says no, I’ll steal a damn shuttle.”
Jaal was up out of the seat right as she finished speaking. In seconds his arms were wrapped around her, and his face was in the crook of her neck. Hot tears splashed against her skin. His mouth was pressed against the side of her throat.
“No hesitation, that is what I love about you.” his lips moved against her.
Emma stiffened, but Jaal didn’t seem to notice. Love? Could he really mean that so soon? Maybe she was just reading too much into it. Loving something about someone didn’t mean they actually love that person.