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Miles To Go Before I Sleep

Chapter Text

Emma dreamed. It wasn’t a full-fledged dream. More or less snippets of her life. Things she would have expected to see right before she died. The 8X8 cell she lived her childhood in, the memories from before gone. Lab suits and cold needles and pain that burned through her like fire. Her anger, loud and destructive, crushing bones and stealing life. These were the memories she wanted to forget. All the memories before kind eyes, green and blue. Hands outstretched to grasp her own and pull her from the dark.

Alec Ryder and Grace Shepard. They saved her and gave her the sun.

A sharp kick to her foot caused her to jolt upright, her hand grasping her pistol out of habit.

“Relax kid. What are you going to do shoot me?”

Emma relaxed slightly as her large Krogan friend plopped down on the bench beside her, not caring for the structural integrity of it.

“I just might you crotchety old bastard.”

Emma propped her foot up on the edge of the table and leaned back, trying her best to ignore the array of empty cups that littered the surface. A glowing testament to how drunk she had been…again. Hedrak threw his head back (if Krogan even can) and laughed, drawing a glare from the Asari dancing in the cage closest to them. Emma raised her hand in apology to only be awarded another glare.

“What did you do to piss off Jera?” She asked.

“I exist.” Hedrak took a shot after speaking.

“I suppose that would piss anyone off.” She scrubbed her hand down her face, trying to rid herself of the last traces of sleep.

“Yet you’re still here.”

“Where the hell else am I going to go?”

“True shit.”

They lapsed into comfortable silence. Their friendship was never strained despite the amount of time they spent in silence. They never had to fill the air with words and they respected each other’s privacy enough to never pry beyond reason. He was the only friend she had bothered making since she awoke on the Nexus. Alex had always pushed her to make friends and integrate into society, but it was difficult when she could measure her humanness with a percentage. Not to mention, she technically didn’t exist within the Andromeda Initiative. Alec had snuck her aboard last minute with the Nexus to wake up and wait for him. She waited. And when he didn’t come, she left with the Exiles.

A small stirring the club made Hedrak and Emma look up from the darkened corner. A small group, a human, a Turian, and one of those cat things, approached the bar. Emma shifted forward to get a better look. Green flashed into her vision and she felt as if the room was closing in on her. It had to be him. He was here. She stood up, ignoring Hedrak’s questions, her eyes not leaving the group as the turned back the way they came and left.

“Gear up.” She turned back to her friend and grabbed her bow from beside her spot on the bench.

“Dammit, you couldn’t wait until after I finished my drink.”

~

Most newcomers to the wastelands always made the mistake of using the road. The road was prime battleground for the Collective and the Outlaws, the two constantly having a pissing contest over who owned what. She and Hedrak had followed the group, sticking to the hills and sparse tall grasses that littered the landscape. Emma watched them fight, disappointment filling her every time she saw the one that reminded her of Alec. He was strong, but clumsy, less assured of his movements. She listened as the ribbed each other along the way, the cat thing constantly protesting the planet’s conditions and the Turian commenting on how delicate he was. The man with Alec’s eyes laughed and it was so familiar it made her ache.

Emma ignored Hedrak’s furtive glances as they followed the group, watching them fight with the Collective and the Outlaws and sorting through the junk in the camps. It seemed they were looking for something, or someone, but really had no idea what they were doing. She was slowly losing interest and thought of turning back from the man who was clearly not Alec Ryder until they made way for a small remnant structure.

“What the hell do they want there?” Hedrak poked her in the shoulder with the butt of his shotgun as he spoke.

“There is only one way to find out.” She answered, her voice distorted through her scavenger helmet that she had quite literally scavenged from a dead human.

Emma vaulted over the boulder they had been crouched behind and snuck across the road, her feet kicking up small clouds of dirt. She couldn’t deny her curiosity. Everyone avoided the remnant structures, solely for the “shoot on site” protocol the remnants apparently had in their code. Emma pulled her bow from her back and rested it against her leg as she crouched behind another boulder. The team tried to use the abandoned crates as cover, but the remnants were awake and they were pissed. Yet it did not deter them. She watched them move fluidly, playing to each other’s strengths and weaknesses, bullets and biotics combining to pack one hell of a punch. Until of course, the boy with deceiving eyes left himself open and an assembler took advantage. He stumbled at the impact of the blow and his shield dropped.

“Ryder!” The Turian shouted.

Emma didn’t know what spurned her into action. The panicked shout of the Turian, the grimace of pain on the boy’s face, or the sound of his name.

Ryder. Ryder! Not Alec. Which Ryder?

Emma was up, an explosive bolt nocked and then flying, beeping through the air until it landed in the assembler’s core and exploded, pieces of metal flying across the structure. She was moving, her feet filling the air with dust, another arrow ready to fly. A breacher turned to her, not as interested in the Ryder anymore and started firing. They were easily dodged and even if they weren’t, it’s not like it would matter. There was a vague sound of Hedrak’s laughter behind her and she knew he was beside himself that he would get to shoot something today. Emma ran into the thick of it, loosing an arrow into the breacher’s eye, it stumbled confused at its loss of sight and she used that to her advantage.

Her thumb pressed against a small button near the grip and heard the small click as small blades made of carbon steel extended from the top and bottom limbs. The breacher righted itself right as she swung her bow, pushing the blades through its core and severing it in half. It fell in two pieces, still sparking. She thumbed over the button again and the blades retracted.

“Wow.” Someone spoke behind her, drawing her attention.

The Turian was crouched beside the Ryder while he stared at Emma slack-jawed and appreciative. The cat thing still aiming, this time at her, but his eyes were also filled with curiosity. Hedrak lingered in the back, not too fond of engaging people he didn’t know, and to also shoot them in the back if they tried anything.

Emma stepped closer, noting the wariness of the human’s companions, hundreds of questions lingering on her tongue. Yet, the one she wanted to ask the most filled her mouth like sand and made it difficult to speak.

Where is Alec?

“You should be more careful.” Were the only words she could push forth from her mouth, and with that she stepped around them and continued back the way she came, afraid to hear the answer to the question that burned in her.

 

Chapter Text

Emma didn’t know why she was standing in Kadara Port, the last place she should be, staring at the massive ship. The Tempest was emblazoned in large letters on the side of the ship. She scoffed. Such a large name with such a tiny person in charge of it. Emma hadn’t been able to keep her curiosity at bay and she had flitted through the shadows of Sloane’s territory to learn about Scott Ryder. The name tugged at her and it bothered her. She knew Alec had children, but she never knew them personally.

She had just watched Scott and his team board the ship after a few days running around Kadara. Now or never. Before she could think better of it, Emma made for the ramp, trying to draw as little attention to herself as possible. Her footsteps were quiet as she boarded the ship, disappearing into the cargo hold. She never once noticed the man standing behind her, the bottom half of his mouth covered with a handkerchief, speaking into an omnitool.

~

Scott and the rest of the crew gathered around the table. Vetra had taken to telling the crew about the person who had saved his ass from the remnants. They had all been shocked and impressed by her speed and agility. Not to mention he hadn’t known anyone who would bother using a bow of all things in space. He said so out loud, earning a few chuckles from his crewmates.

“What’s wrong with a bow?” The same voice from the other day, the one that had warned him to be careful, sounded from behind him.

The crew turned, all of them reaching for their weapons, whether or not they were strapped was another matter entirely. Scott held his arm out to stop them as he stared at the person that had not only snuck into the ship, but managed to move through it without being noticed. The bow in question was strapped to their back and a pistol was secured to their thigh. Yet they reached for neither as the Tempest crew prepared for a fight. It was hard to discern any sort of expression through the scavenger helmet.

“Pathfinder, the Tempest has been boarded.” SAM pinged from the omnitool.

“Yeah, a little late with that SAM.” Scott retorted.

“Apologies. She is faster than even I anticipated.” SAM answered, not sounding the least bit apologetic.

“Ryder?” Vetra whispered, “What are we going to do?”

The stranger cocked their head slightly, seemingly taking them all in just as much as they were.

“How about we just talk?” Scott moved towards them slowly, his arms held out from his sides, “Names would be a good start yeah? I’m Pathfinder Scott Ryder, and you are?”

“Where is Alec Ryder?” They didn’t answer his question.

Scott leaned back and crossed his arms over his chest, “My father. He died, back on Habitat 7,” his voice was low and tinged with sadness, “did you know him?”

The stranger was silent for a moment, hands curling and uncurling into fists, “How?” Their voice faltered.

“He turned on the remnant vault and we were blown off a cliff. My helmet was broken, he gave me his so I would live.” Scott rubbed the back of his neck wishing they would talk about anything else. It was a moment he relived often, almost every night when he slept.

Another moment of silence filled the air before the person turned on their heel and walked back down to ramp to the cargo hold.

“Hey! Wait!” He called after them and followed, his team close on his heels.

~

Emma hurried down the ramp not wanting to hear anymore. Her breaths were shallow and panicked, fogging up the inside of her helmet making it difficult to see. She felt as she if she were asphyxiating to death. He couldn’t be dead. He was supposed to come for me. He had promised. He wasn’t dead. Emma tried to blink back the hot tears that filled her eyes. This was not happening. She ignored Scott as he called after her. He was just a ghost of his father.

She was so close to the loading ramp. A little further and she disappear back to the Wasteland. Disappear back into her little hovel above the club with Hedrak and sleep and drink and pretend that Alec Ryder was still there, floating around in his ship still asleep. She would rather he had forgotten her than died.

“Emma.” A name, her name, sounded from the ship’s coms, making her stop.

The many feet that followed her stopped when she did.

“Emma?” Scott echoed, his brow furrowing.

“I would advise against disembarking Emma. Your presence was noted in Kadara Port. Bounty hunters are preparing to board the Tempest.” SAM continued.

“Why would bounty hunters be after you?” A woman, blonde, stepped forward, her pistol drawn and ready.

Another question she elected not to answer earning a frustrated grunt from the woman, “I vote we hand her over.”

A cacophony of agreements and even a few “I vote we don’t” were thrown in, surprising her. After a minute Scott raised his hand to silence his crew. Maybe he had more Alec in him than she thought.

“You helped me Emma, I’d like to return the favor.” Scott stepped towards her once more, trying to make a connection she did not want to give.

Emma peeled off her gloves and tossed them on top of the nearest crate, the movement stopping Scott Ryder from coming any closer. She reached up and pulled her helmet to suck in a breath of cool air. Wisps of her hair, orange at the roots and transitioning to a sky blue. Her eyes matched, orange around the pupil, bleeding into the same blue as her hair. It unnerved others and she could never explain exactly why she had these colors. At the point, she just chalked it up as a side effect of the experiments she underwent as a child. She reached up and pulled her ponytail tight to keep it from coming loose and levelled her gaze at the Tempest crew.

“I do not need your help Scott Ryder.” Her voice was cool and level, not at all betraying the overwhelming anger and grief she felt.

“You can’t face bounty hunters by yourself Emma.” He lowered his voice trying to appeal to her.

Her lip curled slightly, “I have before.”

Neither of them moved or flinched. Scott met her gaze, not once backing down. She had to admit, she could respect that. The sound of movement behind her did not surprise her. She listened and counted. 1,2,3,4…5…Sloane went all out. I guess she really didn’t appreciate the broken nose.

“This is an Initiative ship, you are not allowed on here.” The blonde stepped in front of Scott, her gun aimed at the intruders. A few of the others had followed suit, prepared to defend the ship and their Pathfinder.

“We won’t cause you any trouble Pathfinder, if you hand her over.”

“And if we don’t?” The cat-thing spoke up, the challenge in his tone was clear.

“We have permission to tear this ship apart.”

“Jesus, Em what did you do?” Scott murmured.

Emma narrowed her eyes at the casual shortening of her name. She wasn’t sure how she felt about it.

“Nothing that concerns you, or them for that matter. They’re just paid lackeys, not too bright, don’t ask questions.” She gestured behind her.

“We’ll see how cocky you are when we put a bullet in ya.” One of them spit after he spoke and aimed at her.

Emma turned her head to look at him, the side of her mouth curling into a smirk. She hadn’t anticipated a fight today, but it seems she would get one regardless.

“Let’s see you try.”

 

 

Chapter Text

She sat in the corner shivering, her knees drawn to her chest. Blood streaked down her bare arms and legs. The alarm blared throughout the entire facility making her ears rings. She clapped her hands over her ears and squeezed her eyes shut. Anything to block out the shrill scream of the alarm, the techs that laid on the blood-soaked floor. It’s not her fault. She just wanted the pain to stop.

It’s not her fault.

The sound of the door being kicked open made her jump and her eyes opened only to stare down the barrel of a rifle.

“Jesus, it’s just a child.” A woman’s voice came from the helmet of the person pointing the weapon at her.

Her heart hammered painfully against her sternum and she felt herself going into another panic response. The woman seemed to regain herself and lowered her weapon. Another person in armor stepped up beside the woman, towering over her. Both had N7 emblazoned on their armor in large red letters. The other person kneeled down and pulled his helmet off revealing eyes that reminded her of clovers. She pulled her hands down from her ears, the alarm nothing more than background noise heard through a fog, as she stared at him. The eyes crinkled at the sides as he offered her a smile.

“We’re here to help.” He held his hand out to her.

She couldn’t help it. She slunk back trying to fold herself into a corner when it was virtually impossible. The man frowned, but he didn’t seem displeased with her. The woman pulled off her own helmet, her blue eyes were piercing and calculating, but not unkind either. A scar mottled the skin of her left cheek. She raised her arm to her mouth and spoke into a device.

“Garrus, we found it…it’s hard to explain. Pull all files you can from this facility.” She turned her head away to stare back at the doorway as she spoke.

The man glanced back at her briefly before turning his full attention back to the girl, “Do you know where you are?” He asked softly.

“My room.” Her voice was hoarse and raw as if she didn’t speak often.

He seemed to balk at her answer, but his reaction passed, “What’s your name?”

“Name?”

“What do they call you?” He tried again.

“001.”

He ran his fingers through his hair, “Would you like a name?”

“Do you have a name?”

“My name is Alec Ryder,” he gestured to the woman behind him, “This is Grace Shepard.”

A cacophony of footsteps leading to her room cut him off from saying anything. Grace Shepard was moving to keep them from coming in, keep them from scaring the girl any more than she already was. Alec stood and offered his hand to her one more time. She stared at the outstretched hand with fear, trepidation, and pure want. The techs were never allowed to touch her except to briefly administer vaccinations. So much time she couldn’t count spent in a small metal room, with a small metal bed, that she wanted nothing more than to grasp the warmth radiating from his palm.

“Why don’t you come with us Emma? We won’t let anything happen to you.”

“Emma?” The word popped forth from her mouth and she tasted it on her lips.

“Do you like it?”

She stretched out her arm, reaching for the warmth, “Yes.”

~

Scott watched Emma square up against the bounty hunters. She acted as if she didn’t know him, didn’t remember him at all. Her hair, not as vibrant as when they first met, had to be down to her waist now. Her eyes were cold and calculated. Her mouth had sneered at him when she took off her helmet. He stepped forward determined to help her.

“I would advise against getting too close.” SAM pinged from his omnitool.

“Why are you trying to help her?” Cora demanded from his left, having already declared her want to send Emma to Sloane.

Something he wouldn’t allow even if she didn’t remember him, “She is my friend.” Even though speaking the words didn’t make them true.

“She certainly doesn’t act like.” Cora snarked.

Scott grit his teeth in frustration. Cora never gave up an opportunity to question him or make him seem like an idiot. She had told him she wasn’t bothered about losing the chance to become the next Pathfinder, but her actions did not equal her words.

“Do you mind? I’m kind of in the middle of something here.” A voice broke through keeping him from replying to Cora with something equally snarky.

Emma was looking back over her shoulder, her eyes trained on him. Even the bounty hunters were looking at him, all of them looking varying degree of amused, except for one who had his eyes trained solely on Emma. That one worried Scott.

“We are not doing this on my ship.” Scott kept his voice firm, his eyes flitting between Emma and the bounty hunters.

The side of her mouth quirked upwards and her eyes seemed less cold, “I agree.”

“We aren’t leaving without you.” One of them spat at her feet.

She quirked an eyebrow, “You are.” She was matter of fact about it.

Scott felt the change in the gravity, apparently well before the bounty hunters did, and had the good sense to back away from her.

“Uh Ryder?” Liam watched him, feeling the change as well, but not quite sure what is going on.

“She is amassing gravitational force. It seems she does indeed intend to remove them from the ship.” SAM spoke up from the omnitool.

Emma pushed her arms in front of her and with that, the energy she had culminated from the surrounding area. The ship rocked and shuddered as the force knocked four of the five bounty hunters down the exit ramp to the port. The one who had been staring at her intently remained, looking down at his boots in amusement.

“DO NOT WRECK MY SHIP!” Gil shouted from the balcony, one hand gripping the rail to keep his balance, and the other waving a wrench around.

Emma smirked and shrugged before turning her attention back. The hunter looked down at his boots and back up to her.

“Magnets. I learned from last time.”

“Not that well.”

He sneered and pulled back his sleeve, an omni-blade forming from his omnitool. Emma just stood there, waiting for him to move. She had no weapons ready and scavenger armor was nice, but wouldn’t last forever against an omni-blade. Scott would like to think this is why he rationalized surging forward to attempt to jump in between her and the blade. He was doing it because it was the right thing to do, not because he still hoped she was the person he remembered. Of course, he was an idiot and she was faster. His companions shouted his name and she looked towards him, flinging her arm out stop him from getting in the way, taking the omni-blade to her stomach. The very thing that Scott was trying to stop from happening. He flinched at the shock and anger and flashed over her face and almost thanked god when she reached out to punch the bounty hunter in the chest so hard his sternum cracked, and not him.

His crew wasted no time shoving the bounty hunter down the ramp to join the others and Vetra shouted at Kallo to pull up the ramp. Scott attempted to keep Emma from falling, but she was much heavier than he remembered. They both fell backwards and he grunted as she landed on his stomach while clutching her own.

“Lexi!” He shouted when he saw the blood seeping through her fingers.

“Get her to the med bay.” Lexi ordered.

Jaal was next to them in a second, scooping her up despite her protests. He ignored her curses and threats, following Lexi to the med bay with the seething woman in his arms. Scott would have laughed if he wasn’t positive she would kill him in his sleep for it.

“SAM, tell Kallo to get us out Kadara. We can go back to the Nexus for all I care.”

~

Emma was asleep on the bed in med bay, her chest rising and falling gently. SAM had suggested giving her a sedative to calm her so Lexi could scan her and deal with her injury. Scott, and surprisingly Jaal, were still in the med bay watching as Lexi scanned her for a second time, her brow furrowing.

“Fascinating.” She murmured.

“What is it?” Scott almost shot up from his chair.

Lexi looked up at him, “She is healing herself at an exponential rate with the assistance of nanoparticles. I haven’t seen the use of these particles in quite some time. It was my understanding that this research was discontinued once humans encountered the existence of Prothean technology.”

“It was.” Scott spoke softly, “Dad found her in a facility that was supposed to have been shut down, but they continued their research under an anonymous benefactor. He never fully told us what she was, he hid her files, even from her.”

“Why wouldn’t he let her learn about herself?” Jaal piped up, his eyes focused on the small woman on the table.

Scott shrugged, “I think he wanted her to have as normal of a life as possible.”

“Did she?” Jaal looked over at Scott as he spoke.

“I don’t know. She disappeared years before we left to come here. I don’t even know how she is here.”

“Well you can find out when she wakes up, for now you have a crew you have to reassure, and she needs rest.” Lexi barely looked up from her datapad.

Scott sighed, there was no point in arguing with the doctor.

Chapter Text

Emma his behind Alec Ryder’s legs, as close to his back as she could get without running into him. He threw her a small smiled over her shoulder. It was meant as a reassurance, but that didn’t abate her fear. It had been a month since he had rescued her. A month spent with him and Shepard arguing in her defense.

She’s a weapon.

She’s a CHILD.

The others, the council, looked at her as if she was a rabid animal. A ticking time bomb. Their lips curled in her direction, but their eyes betrayed their fear. They hadn’t seen how she covered her eyes when the sun shone on her face. How her fingers curled as she tried to reach for the giant ball of warmth. They hadn’t seen the tears wet her cheeks and the way her shoulders shook when she realized she was free. The world was so much bigger than steel walls and men in lab coats.

They missed when she sat with Joker in the cockpit, as he pointed out stars and galaxies and planets, and the way her eyes shone. Or when Garrus had shown her how to take apart his rifle and clean it. And how Shepard had lectured him about how inappropriate it was to let her handle a gun. The council never saw the times she stood in front of the galaxy map, in her pajamas and bare feet, her fingers finding all the places she wanted to go.

They finally relented and left her in the care of Alec. He was to provide them reports and keep an eye on her, but she wouldn’t spend another moment of her life in a cage if he could help it. Then came the real fear. He had a family. A wife and two children her age. He was taking her home, giving her a normal childhood he had said. What if they hated her? What if they were afraid?

What if she hurt them?

He stopped and she had no choice but to stop as well. Her heart thudded in her ears as they stood in front of an apartment. The hallway stretched out on either side, beckoning her to run down the deep red carpet. Alec touched her shoulder gently before he pushed the door open and stepped into the entry way. Exclamations followed his entrance and she watched as two kids, Scott and Sara he had told her earlier, ran from a beige couch to launch themselves at him. She watched as their arms wrapped around his neck and waist when he kneeled down to greet them. A woman came around the corner, smiling and chastising her children playfully until they let go and Alec stood to receive a kiss on the cheek.

Emma was frozen, feeling like the outsider she was. She should’ve stayed at the Normandy or taken the cell the Council had offered. She didn’t belong here. The love reflected in their irises as they greeted each other was not meant for a thing like her. She should run as far as her feet could take her, but she couldn’t. Deep blue eyes slid to meet hers. Evelyn Ryder stepped away from her husband and kneeled in the hallway where Emma was rendered immobile. Her eyes were soft and kind, with an edge of hard steel that reflected her strength. The twins stared around their father, their eyes curious but not unkind.

Evelyn Ryder held out her hand and smiled, “You must be Emma.”

Emma stared at the outstretched hand as if it might bite her. She nodded, unable to form words, her mind still screaming at her to run. Evelyn didn’t draw away and her smile did not falter.

“Welcome Home Emma.” She spoke softly, reaching for the girl.

Welcome Home.

Emma covered her face and cried.

~

Emma woke up, feeling the cold bite of metal against her back. The lights weren’t as harsh as she would expect for a med bay. It must be the night cycle. She still took her time to situate herself to her surroundings. She knew she had boarded the Tempest for answers and was ambushed by Sloane’s cronies when she attempted to leave. Of course, they would notice her the one time she didn’t feel like fighting. She remembered Scott, the big bumbling idiot, attempting to save her from an attack and instead she ended up protecting him.

Why?

It had to have been because he was Alec Ryder’s son. There would have been no other reason to take a blade for him.

“I see you’re awake.”

Emma turned to the asari that eyed her with equal parts wariness and fascination. She was standing next to the monitor monitoring Emma’s vitals. Emma noted the way the woman’s hands twitched as if there was supposed to be something there. Wincing at the soreness around her middle, Emma sat up and turned, dangling her legs off the bed. The doctor was watching her movements, waiting for her be still again.

“I’m Dr. Lexi T’Perro. Do you know where you are?”

Emma opened her mouth to speak, but her mouth felt as if it was full of sand. It was the same as when she took a dive to dodge a bullet and ate a mouthful of Kadara. Dry and slightly sulfuric. Needless to say it was not pleasant. Lexi looked satisfied at her answer and looked back to the screen.

“You healing speed is remarkable. Under normal circumstances this wound could have killed you.”

Emma fought the urge to roll her eyes. It was always the same with doctors. They were so needlessly excited over her abilities and the nanotech she shared a body with. They would expect to be able to poke and prod her until they could unlock all of her secrets. Good luck. Even she didn’t know all of her secrets. Alec had promised to one day show her all the files he had pulled from the facility. She was never ready enough for him.

Not that it matters anymore. He’s gone now.

The thought left a bitter taste in her mouth and she twisted her lips in a grimace. The chatter that had filled her ears like background noise ceased causing her to look up. The doctor had been talking to her and she had no idea what was said. Emma shifted uncomfortably, dropping her gaze.

“You have an implant, similar to the Pathfinder’s, but it is not active.” Lexi proceeded.

“Yes.” Emma confirmed, her voice betraying how dry her mouth was. She did not like where this was going.

Lexi turned and grabbed a bottle of water from her station and handed it to Emma, being careful not to invade too much of her space. “SAM had requested to activate it, but you were not awake. I could-we can- turn it on, if you want.”

Emma opened the bottle and took a slow, deliberate swig. The water filled her mouth and soothed her throat before she downed the entire bottle. She was putting off answering. It was nothing personal against SAM, but after being Alec’s guinea pig for the AI, she wasn’t too keen to turn her implant on and have another voice beside her own to bother her.

“No.” She set the empty bottle down beside her before stretching her feet to the floor and standing.

“Of course, but should you change your mind-“

“I won’t.” Emma shook her head and stretched her arms above her head, feeling the satisfying pull of her muscles.

The doctor nodded as if suspecting as much. She admired Emma’s form with nothing short of appreciation, in a purely clinical standpoint of course. Lexi turned back to the monitor, her eyes once again looking over Emma’s brain scan. Her slender finger pointed to a set of clothes at the bottom of the medical bed and a bag of the few things that Emma had been carrying with her. She noticed the absence of her bow and her sidearm.

“There is a bathroom down the hall to the left, the crew is in a meeting. You shouldn’t be bothered.”

Emma muttered her thanks and grabbed her things to depart the med bay. Medical rooms were always too polished, too sterile, and too full of memories for her to ever be comfortable. Emma followed the doctor’s directions to the showers, her feet padding softly across the floor. Despite the cold appearance of the hallway, the floor was warm underneath her feet. Emma entered the bathroom and set her things down on the sink. The door closed behind her.

Emma looked into the mirror, noting how pale she looked after the amount of blood she lost and the dark circles underneath her eyes. Although the latter was due more to never getting proper sleep. She reached up and pulled the elastic from her hair and let it fall in soft waves down to her back. She combed her fingers through, making a face at how oily it was. Emma pulled her bralette over her head and dropped it on the floor, her pants were next, laying in a heap at her feet.

She stepped into the shower and turned the knob for the hottest water she could stand. A sigh escaped her lips and she turned letting the water soothe her back. It felt like eons she had last had a proper shower, with hot water. Emma eyed the products that lined the shelves in the shower and grabbed a bottle that was unlabeled. Wedging her thumb under the cap, she popped it open and brought it to her nose. The smell of gardenias and honeysuckle filled her nose and she smiled softly as if there was a memory attached to the smell. Emma poured some into her palm and rubbed it into her hair.

Perhaps she could ask where they procured this. She may not be able to walk around Kadara freely, she still knew people. She was used to the grainy soaps and shampoos, which made her feel gritty instead of clean. There was no need to walk around feeling covered in sand just because she lived on a planet covered in sand. Emma squeezed her eyes shut and tilted her head back and just stood under the water letting it sluice down her skin. Just some conditioner and soap and she would be clean and refreshed and less likely to punch Scott Ryder in the throat. Well only marginally less likely.

Emma rinsed the last of the conditioner from her hair and reached past the stall to grab a towel. She turned off the water and flipped her hair over to wrap it in the towel. Emma pulled back the curtain and stepped out of the stall to grab another towel when the sound of the door opening drew her gaze. Her hand was still reaching for the towel when she paused. The large cat-like creature filled the doorway, his eyes focused on her, the pupils swallowing the galaxies in his eyes. The skin of his face and neck, and flap thingies, turned from pink to purple.

“I didn’t realize…I didn’t know…my apologies.” He stammered out before turning around abruptly, almost slamming into the doorframe, and exiting out of the bathroom like there was a fire under his ass.

Emma covered up a snort with her hand as he left. He acted as if he had never seen a woman naked before. Maybe he hadn’t. At least not a human woman. Emma dried off and pulled on the black leggings and tank top the doctor had laid out for her. She grabbed her things and stood in front of the door. Schooling her face into a neutral expression and squaring her shoulders she stepped towards the door until it opened. She was only staying until they circled back to Kadara and then she was back to her life.

 

 

Chapter Text

Scott walked out of the med bay to see Jaal turning a dark shade of purple and Liam nearly doubled over with laughter. Scott had gone in the med bay to speak to Emma only to find out she had already woken up and was cleaning up. Lexi had barely pulled herself away from Emma’s scans in order to answer. He wasn’t surprised the Asari would be interested in Emma and her biology. There was a time where he was fascinated in her in a way that a scientist would be interested in any abnormal specimen. That allure had long since faded by the time him, and Sara, and Emma had matured into adulthood. When he saw her as Emma and not what she was created to be.

He paused on his way to find out what had made Jaal blush when Emma stepped from the bathroom. She didn’t look much different from when he last saw her. Her hair was braided and hung down over her shoulder, she had grown it out. From a distance she looked slight, one would expect her to be lithe and flexible, but would discount her strength until she punched their soul out of their body. Her arms were crossed underneath her chest, showing off the scar on her bicep and bruises that covered her arms. Apparently she kept busy while on Kadara. She was watching Jaal with small amusement as he refused to look at her.

“What did I miss?” He stepped forward cautiously, noting how her eyes narrowed at him.

“Your cat has apparently never seen anyone naked before.” Her voice was level and cold.

Her tone gave Scott pause. Did she really not remember him? Even when they had their disagreements she never acted as if she didn’t know him. Did she not remember Sara either? How did she remember their father, at least enough to seem upset about his death, but not them?

“He’s not a cat, although I will admit he looks like one. He’s an Angara. You had to have seen at least one on Kadara.” Liam stopped laughing long enough to answer.

“I didn’t get out much.” She shrugged.

“You got out enough to have bounty hunters track you down.” Scott folded his arms across his chest to mimic her stance.

She blinked at him slowly as if he was no more than a worm. A pest that was getting on her nerves. Good. He wanted to get on her nerves. Maybe then she would crack and stop acting like someone else. Liam and Jaal looked between the two of them with mixed expressions of uneasiness and curiousness.

“I don’t see how it’s your problem.”

“It’s my problem when it endangers my ship and my crew!” Scott rarely raised his voice and his two present crew members flinched when he spoke, but Emma remained unmoved. She was infuriating, looking at him as if he were two feet tall.

“If you had stayed out of the way, I would have taken care of it and been on my way. Instead, you’re harboring a fugitive.”

“I don’t mind harboring you Emma, just stop acting like you don’t remember me!” He was standing close to her, his arms down to his sides, his face flushed red with anger.

Her brows furrowed and her fingers tightened their grip on her arms. He could see the crescent moon indents her nails left on her skin.

“I don’t know you.” Her voice was quiet, as if she was unsure.

“That’s such-“

“Perhaps I could be of assistance.”

SAM’s voice interrupted Scott’s speech and pattern of thinking. All eyes were drawn to Emma’s omnitool, waiting for SAM to continue. The tension between the two was palpable and Scott knew he was close to saying something he wouldn’t be able to take back.

“The scans Dr. T’Perro took of Emma’s brain show shrinkage of grey matter which could have caused acute memory loss.”

“Is it serious?” Scott stepped closer to her, reaching out reassuringly.

Emma stepped back looking as if he might bite her, “No. The Nexus scientists just thought it was a side effect of cryo sleep.”

“We can have more tests run on the Nexus. Maybe there is a way to reverse it, or stop more damage.”

Emma shook her head, “That won’t be necessary Scott Ryder. I will be disembarking the next time we are on Kadara.”

“Emma-“ He started to speak, but she was already moving, putting as much distance between them as possible. He could have followed her, but all he could do was watch her back as she disappeared into the med bay. The door shut behind her and he covered his eyes with his hands and groaned. Liam coughed from behind him and Scott lowered his hand to glower at him.

“That went badly.” Liam shrugged.

“Yeah. Tell me about it.”

“Ryder?”

Scott looked to Jaal who had an unusually serious expression on his face. If Scott wasn’t already irritated it would have been funny.

“Yes Jaal?”

“What is a cat?”

Liam erupted in another fit of laughter while Scott rolled his eyes in exasperation. This was not what he signed up for.

~

Emma readjusted for the third time in the last five minutes, trying to get comfortable. Lexi had offered to show her where the crew quarters were, but Emma declined. There would be no getting near the crew, getting to know the crew, or becoming chummy with the crew. She was stuck here until they could cycle back to Kadara and that was it. Emma was leaving this ship if she had to jump out of the airlock.

The med bay didn’t have any windows and Emma hated it. The steel walls threatened to close in on her. Emma rolled over on her side and closed her eyes hoping it would calm her, but the room still felt like it was getting smaller. She pressed her hands to her ears hoping to stop the ringing and instead she was treated to her breathing becoming quick and shallow. There was no way she was sleeping here. Emma stood from the bed and grabbed her personal effects before nearly running out of the med bay doors. The hallway was larger, but it didn’t really help her. It still felt as if the entirety of the Tempest was going to crush her.

Emma turned to her left and spotted the ladder next to the door to the Pathfinder’s quarters. She was moving up the rungs before she could give it much thought. Just wanting to find somewhere on this ship that wouldn’t remind her of a box. A box full of people she didn’t know or trust. A place with windows would be good. Emma moved through the ship quietly, the walls blending into one another until it was just an endless panel of steel. Finally, she headed up the ramp where she had first encountered the crew and breathed a sigh of relief at the expanse of windows. Emma stopped at the end of the ramp before she sat on the ledge.

It was if she could see the entirety of the galaxy from here. Her face was nearly smushed against the glass as she looked at all the stars flickering in and out. So many stars. This is why she was here. A new galaxy. Endless possibilities. New and beautiful life. Too bad it did not live up anyone’s expectations. She sat back, her back resting against a strip of wall and she pulled her knees to her chest. Emma opened the bag of personals they had taken from her when she was injured.

It wasn’t much, she never really had anything even when she lived in the Milky Way. A small journal Alec had given her before her basic training and a music player. Most people just stored their music in their omnitool, but not Emma. There was simply too much and even an omnitool had its limits. She had found it in a pile of junk to be scrapped for cash. It was just something to tinker with and pass the time. It had taken awhile, but she finally got it work and it stored a terabyte of music. Many had commented that there was no way she could listen to that much music, but it was almost all the way full.

Emma untangled the ear buds before placing them in her ears and turning it on. She breathed a small sigh when it turned on. It was good it was not damaged in the skirmish or she would have angry. She scrolled through the songs before making her selection. Lindsey Sterling filled her ears while she opened her journal and flipped through to a blank page. She pulled the pen from its resting spot hooked to the cover and pressed the tip to the page leaving a small spot of ink.

This journal was the most important thing. It contained her memories, well what she had started to record when she learned she would progressively lose her memory as she aged. She knew Scott Ryder was nowhere in these pages, so she had no choice but to take him at his word when he said he knew her. SAM had surprisingly not shared the entirety of her condition with Ryder despite him being the Pathfinder. It seemed he was becoming sentient enough to withhold information.

Emma was thankful for that much. The last thing she needed was pity. She had long since accepted that eventually the nanites would completely take over and she would lose herself to them. Emma gripped the journal in her fingers, before shaking her head and pressing the pen to the paper once more.

Alec Ryder is gone. What do I do now?

 

Chapter Text

Emma woke up, scrunched up in a ball on the window ledge. She winced and stretched out her legs, sighing in relief as her muscles released slowly. Small noises from below let her know that other members of the crew were up and moving around. There would probably be no avoiding them all considering it was a small ship and she would need to eat at some point. Emma placed her feet on the floor and bent down at the waist to place her hands on the floor in between her feet. A tiny noise of relief sounded in her throat as she stretched out her back. She sat back up and eyed the vidcom table and its speakers before standing up and walking over.

Emma set the music player to sync to the speakers and flipped through her music. It was loud enough for her, but quiet enough that it would not disturb anyone else. She pulled her hair free from braid and combed through it with her fingers. As much as it pained her, she would have to thank whoever left the conditioner in the shower. It hair had not felt this nice in a long time. She pulled it back up into a ponytail. Emma sank into her first pose as Fleet Foxes poured from the speakers. It was relaxing, which was a feeling she hadn’t experienced since leaving for Andromeda.

Emma moved from pose to pose seamlessly, her body remembering her routine better than her mind did. Alec had taught her the importance of balancing mind and body. She was physically strong, but her mind had to be strong as well. For the longest time she was just angry and lonely and she took it out on everyone and everything. He constantly reminded her of the times he had to bail her out from trouble because of her lack of control. He pushed her into martial arts and the military. Discipline and control was important.

She remembered those things. The sullen and angry teenager, sitting in the principal’s office across from a kid nursing a bloody nose and black eye while Alec threw her disappointed glances. Pulling extra duty in boot camp because she was a smart-ass. Being tossed on her ass by her sensei because her ego was larger than her skill. She could remember all those things, but she couldn’t remember Scott Ryder. He had been so adamant that he knew her. He was Alec’s son after all, how could she not have known him?

Emma’s balance faltered as she sighed in frustration. She pressed her fingertips to her eyes and let out a deep breath.

“No Jaal, I’m not spying.” A whisper from the ramp behind her garnered her attention.

“It looks like you are spying Ryder.” The cat-squid, Angara, was not as quiet.

Emma rolled her eyes as Scott shushed him loudly. She turned and quietly walked over to the ramp and squatted down to look between the bars. Jaal had attempted to squat down, but his head was still slightly above the ramp.

“I just didn’t want to bother her.” Scott hissed between his teeth, his focus on Jaal.

“Too late.” Emma spoke up, fighting the urge to grin as Scott nearly fell back on his ass.

Jaal stood, towering over her despite being on the bottom of the ramp. Emma stood, becoming eye level with the angara. She took a moment to look him over. Purple freckles stretched across his face and cowl. It was fascinating that he was humanoid in appearance, yet still so different. His eyes reminded her of Earth, the oceans speckled with flecks of brown and white. He seemed to be studying her as much as she was studying him. His eyes lingered on her hair, looking fascinated with the colors. Scott cleared his throat and she focused her attention on him.

“Drack has breakfast in the kitchen. I wasn’t sure if you were hungry.” Scott was deliberately not making eye contact.

Emma wrinkled her nose at him before shrugging. “No reason to starve, I suppose.”

He looked at her then, looking relieved that she hadn’t out and out rejected him. She winced at his expression. She hadn’t really been too kind since she met him. In fact, he looked a bit like a kicked puppy. It wouldn’t hurt her to be nice, just until they got to Kadara. Civil, Emma, not friendly.

“Great! We will escort you!” Jaal’s enthusiasm nearly blew Emma away.

She looked at Scott who just shrugged and smirked at her. Emma walked back to the table and grabbed her music player, cutting of White Winter Hymnal mid song. Her feet carried her to the two, wondering how much she was going to regret this as Jaal smiled at her. She walked in between them, careful not to bump into them as they walked. It was a futile effort as Jaal inched closer the more they walked. Scott had the nerve to look over with a smug smile.

“Scott tells me your coloring is odd even for humans.” Jaal says after a brief respite of silence.

Emma nodded, “Yeah, you could say that.”

He stared at her hair clearly fascinated. She saw his fingers flex from the corner of her eye. Emma stared straight trying not to make eye contact. She was afraid he was going to ask to touch it. It wasn’t that she thought badly of him, she just wasn’t fond of being touched. Thankfully, he did not say anything else nor make a move to touch her without permission.

As they neared the kitchen, Emma could hear the conversations and laughter drifting down the hall. Everything in her was screaming to run away and avoid them at all cost. She wasn’t one for social situations. She struggled to keep her face neutral as they entered the kitchen, the conversation dying down. Everyone looked slightly uncomfortable as they struggled for something to say. Finally, the one who was laughing at Jaal yesterday, Liam she believed it was, stood up and offered his hand.

“Liam Kosta, we weren’t officially introduced.”

Emma looked at his hand a moment before tentatively grabbing it, “Emma.”

Liam nods and holds out a chair for her to sit, everyone else is crammed on the bench seats and Scott and Jaal take the other two available chairs.

“Emma what?” The blonde who had wanted to hand her over to the bounty hunters, crossed her arms over her chest as she asked.

“Just Emma.”

“No last name?”

“No.” Emma didn’t flinch from the blonde’s steely gaze.

“Cora.” Scott piped up, “We talked about this.”

“We didn’t talk about anything. You told us she would joining us and none of us had a say.” Cora stood up from the table.

“I thought Asari Huntresses spoke with their fists not their mouths.” Emma retorted.

Cora narrowed her eyes, “If you’d like.”

“If you’re going to fight get out of my kitchen.” The krogan, Drack, grumbled from the counter.

Cora shook her head and left the kitchen, her footsteps echoing down the hallway. Scott was frowning at Emma and she was trying very hard not to look at him. Jaal shifted uncomfortably on her other side. Suddenly, the pristine white table was very fascinating. The other crew members exchanged looks.

“I wouldn’t worry too much about Cora. She tends to be hot headed.” Liam finally spoke leaning forward with his elbows resting on the table.

“How did you know she was huntress?” The turian, Vetra, asked.

Emma looked up then, “I read everyone’s employee file. I wanted to know who I was stuck on a ship with.”

“Oh? Do we get to read yours?”

“There isn’t-“ Emma and Scott both started speaking at the same time.

They stared at each other for a few moments while the others snickered amongst themselves. Finally, Scott nodded at her to continue.

“My paperwork was forged. I don’t have a file.”

“Why did dad sneak you in with the Nexus personnel?”

Emma snorted, “I wasn’t even cleared for the Andromeda Initiative, let alone the Pathfinder team. I was too much of a risk.”

Scott frowned not needing to ask anything else.

“So Scott hasn’t really told us much beyond you two grew up together.” Liam prodded.

Emma shrugged, “I don’t really remember. My memories are spotty. There are only a few things I remember with clarity.”

“Are you related?” Peebee jumped in.

“No.”

“How did you end up growing up together?” Jaal turned his body towards her, fully invested in her answer.

Scott opened his mouth ready to admonish Jaal for asking.

“Alec Ryder saved me.” Emma answered before he could, “I didn’t have any family so he took me in.”

“Where is your family?” Jaal’s eyebrows drew together and the corner of his mouth turned down.

Emma fought the urge to laugh at how concerned an alien was over her lack of family. Or maybe she just wanted to laugh because she never wanted to think too hard about the implications of that questions.

“I’ve never had one. I was held in a facility until I was twelve.” Emma shrugged.

“What sort of facility?” Vetra leaned forward enthralled by the conversation.

“A research facility.”

“Guys.” Scott interjected looking embarrassed that they were questioning her.

“That would explain why Lexi was walking around muttering to herself about nanotech.”

Emma nodded.

“Why nanotech. I thought biotics was enough?” Liam frowned.

“With the exception of the Asari, biotics are never a sure thing. The children conceived aren’t always viable and implants degrade over a period of time and cause issues.” Emma shrugged, “I’m guessing they wanted a sure thing.”

“I am very confused.” Jaal muttered.

“Nanites are very small, so small you can’t see them. I was injected with them repeatedly as a child until they began to bond with my DNA.”

“What do they do?” Jaal leaned forward.

Emma was unnerved by how close he was. He was entirely focused on her and her answers. His eyes were wide as he took them in, never leaving her face. He was completely engaged.

“They replace cells as fast they die, so I will age relatively slowly. I also heal quickly; I am slightly faster and stronger than normal humans. I can also use more of a percentage of my brain at a time. For some reason I am able to manipulate low levels of gravity. I probably would have been able to do more had the experimentation continued. I don’t think I am complete.”

“Complete?” Liam looked confused at her wording choice.

Emma nodded, “They wanted humans that could have the same abilities as biotics. Able to control mass effect fields without the need of implants or exposure to eezo. I’m not sure if they would have succeeded, but it’s hard to know what the end game was exactly.”

“What is an end game?” Jaal asked.

“Their ultimate goal. What exactly would they have gained from creating someone like me?”

“What if they hadn’t been successful?” Vetra piped up.

Emma shrugged, “I would’ve been terminated.”

Silence followed her answer until Drack set a plate down in the middle of the table full of still steaming muffins. Everybody had jumped at the sound of the plate smacking against the table. Liam smirked and leaned forward to sniff the muffins.

“What kind did you make?” Peebee poked at one.

“Blueberry. Thank Vetra for those.” He grumbled, but didn’t look displeased.

Her favorite. She couldn’t remember the last time she had a blueberry muffin, at least a real one, not the ones that came in the plastic wrapper. There was a vague memory that poked at her. Her hands sticky and covered in the juice of fresh blueberries as a woman laughed and brushed crumbs from her chin. There was a muffin hovering under her nose as she shook it from her head. Scott was holding a muffin top in one hand and the bottom was in his other hand.

“You only like the tops.” He smiled at her.

Emma took the muffin top from his hand and held it delicately. She stared at it letting the weight of what he just said sink in. She only liked the tops. Ever since she was young, she hated the bottoms of muffins. They were always drier and crumbier than their counterparts. He did know her.

Fuck.

~

Emma paced back and forth in the med bay while Lexi leaned against the table, her eyes following Emma. Emma had no idea why she came in here, but it wasn’t really like she had anywhere else to go. Lexi had calmly observed as Emma had stormed in, sat down and pored over a journal, before tossing it aside in frustration and getting up to pace. Shoulders slumped, Emma stopped moving and plopped down in a chair. Nowhere in her journal had there been any mention of Scott or her childhood with the Ryder family. Maybe she had believed she would never forget.

“I received your scans from the Nexus doctors.” Lexi finally spoke up.

Emma looked over her, elbows on her knees and chin propped in her hands.

“It isn’t a side effect of the cryo sleep,” Lexi didn’t bother asking, “it’s getting progressively worse.”

Emma nodded.

“The nanites are replicating all cells, including brain cells, to replace old cells. Alec believed they were designed to purposefully erase the memories of their hosts over time.” SAM spoke for the first time this morning.

“You should tell-“ Lexi started speaking.

“There is no reason to tell anyone. I will not be staying. I can’t stay.” Emma couldn’t stress it enough.

“It’s my job to look after the Tempest crew. Let me help you.”

Emma stood, “With all due respect Doctor T’Perro, I’m not a crew member. I don’t belong here. Thank you for the offer, but I am doing just fine.”

“Then why are you pushing people away?”

“It’s better that way.”

“For them or for you?”

“Both.”

Chapter Text

Emma sat on the couch in the conference room, one leg tucked underneath the other, and a mug of steaming hot coffee in her hand. The Tempest still had the night lights on and most of the crew were still sleeping. Except for Emma. No matter what she had tried, the small naps she had managed to get were fraught with nightmares. It made her restless. Apparently, it did not matter if she slept in a tin box or the largest room known to man, she still had to contend with nightmares. A sigh escaped her mouth as she wrapped the blanket, courtesy of Vetra, tightly around her shoulders. Loud snores from the tech lab echoed up the ramp. There was no question why Jaal did not sleep in the crew quarters if he snored like a freight train.

“Seriously, is he chopping down redwoods in there?” She whispered between her teeth to her coffee.

Her omnitool pinged and Emma set down the coffee on the floor to open the message. Thankfully, Hedrak hadn’t taken a long time reply back to her. He was sending her coordinates to a weapons dealer on Elaaden. Emma wasn’t very fond of the hotter than the devil’s nutsack planet, but Scott had informed everyone that they would be making a stop at Drack’s request. He had requested her to join him, but she declined. He tried his best to hide his forlorn expression when he instead chose Cora and Vetra to accompany him.

For once, she wasn’t being mean, she just had actual business to attend to. She had submitted an order for more arrows weeks ago, but had been dodged every time she tried to inquire after it. With the coordinates now in hand it was the perfect time to pay a visit and get her money’s worth in either weapons or broken bones. Scott would not approve and it was why she hadn’t told him. For the last three days he had followed her around, mother henning her until she snapped at him that she could indeed eat, sleep, and take a piss without assistance. He was trying to bond, to get her to remember, but as much as his efforts frustrated her they also made her feel shitty.

She sent a quick reply back to Hedrak and picked up her coffee.

“Good morning Emma.” SAM spoke as she took a sip.

“I’ve been up for hours, I’m surprised you didn’t speak to me sooner.”

“I was waiting. I know my presence irritates you, more so when you are not well rested.”

She hummed in response, “You’ve been learning manners.”

“Being connected to Scott has taught me many things. It is an honor to learn so much.”

Emma paused as it sounded as if SAM was almost proud of Scott, it was strange for an AI to be so wholly invested in someone.

“Why him?” She blurted out.

“I don’t understand what you are asking.”

“Why did Alec make him the Pathfinder? Cora was his second and yet he transferred your protocols to his son instead. Why?”

“I do not know, but it seems Alec had intended to select Scott despite protocol. I believe the reason will be revealed when Scott finds enough memory triggers.”

“Memory triggers?”

“Yes. Alec hid away certain memories until Scott finds enough triggers to unlock them. There are secrets Alec wanted to keep from his children. All of his children.”

Emma ignored the inflection in his last statement, “Why would Alec want to hide secrets?”

“Possibly for the same reason you do. You did not tell Scott about your own memory loss. Why?”

“There’s no reason to.”

“They would want to know.” SAM persisted.

“No. I don’t need pity. I got enough of that from Alec.” She cupped her had around the mug to keep it steady as her hands started to shake.

“Alec did not pity you Emma. He did feel bad that he pushed you into the military. When you received the head injury while clearing out pirates in Amaranthine he blamed himself. He knew that the injury caused the nanites to become more aggressive when replicating your cells.”

“And yet in the end I just ended up being a guinea pig for you SAM.” She didn’t bother hiding the bitterness in her voice.

“My apologies. I have upset you. That was not my intention, but it is important that you know, I was created to benefit you as much as I was created to benefit Alec.”

Emma didn’t respond, her grip tight on the now cold mug. She let out a breath and swiped away an angry tear that dared escape, and stood. It was time for a new cup of coffee before she suited up and ventured out into Elaaden. Of course, she would have to wait till Scott left, but she was nothing if not patient. The tech lab was finally quiet as she proceeded down the ramp. Either he stopped breathing in his sleep or he was awake. Emma got her answer when the door to the tech lab opened and Jaal filled out the doorway. He rubbed his eyes, still sleepy-looking, but he cracked a smile when seeing her.

No matter when he saw her he was always smiling at her. For some reason, he genuinely like her company and she was too taken aback to be nasty. Over the past few days he had managed to find out some of her history, her favorite color (purple), and how fond she was of cats. When she told him how much she liked cats, his chest seemed to swell with some sort of pride. Liam told her later that he was flattered, because she had called him a cat. Then he had a laughed because she blushed and stammered out that she had not meant it like that.

It didn’t matter. Jaal had made it his personal mission to crack Emma.

“Good morning Emma!”

She squinted at him until her ears stopped ringing from how loud his voice was, “Morning Jaal.”

He immediately fell into step beside her as they walked towards the kitchen. The silence stretched between them, but it didn’t feel awkward, at least, not for Emma. His arm brushed against her own and she did her best not to flinch. She could feel his eyes on her, analyzing her as if staring at the right side of her face would somehow make her easier to understand. She cleared her throat awkwardly until he looked away.

“Will you be staying on the Tempest today?” He still shot her glances from the corner of his eyes.

“Uh yeah, I suppose. I’m not very fond of the heat.”

“Yet you lived on Kadara.”

“There wasn’t really any other place to go.” Emma sipped her cold coffee and made a small face.

“You could have stayed on the Nexus. You were not exiled.” Jaal hummed thoughtfully.

“I’m not partial to floating tin cans.”

The conversation carried them into the kitchen, which was still blessedly empty. Emma poured her cold coffee down the sink and rinsed the cup before setting it down on the counter. Jaal watched her movements as she grabbed sweetener and dry creamer from the cabinet.

“You do not like small spaces?” He leaned against the small counter, his hulking form nearly taking it over.

“Who would after spending half their life in a cell.”

He frowned at the nonchalance in her tone. His eyes darted between her movements and various parts of her body. If he wasn’t staring at her hands, then he was staring at her hair, fascinated at how wisps of hair fell out of her bun. Emma’s heart thudded in her chest when he reached forward to touch the strands of hair. Her hand had stopped reaching for the coffee pot as she stared at his hand from the corner of her eye.

“You’re very beautiful.” His voice was gruff as his hand moved closer to brush the hair behind her ears.

The sound of someone clearing their throat in the entrance of the kitchen made Emma pull back and refocus back on her coffee. Jaal was left with his hand hovering in midair before he pulled his arm back to his side. Emma poured the coffee into her cup and grabbed it, nearly burning her fingers. Cora was standing in the door her eyes narrowed at Emma.

“You’ll be staying on the ship.” The way Cora said it, Emma was pretty sure it was more of a statement and less of question.

“I don’t see why I’d get off here.” Emma retorted moving towards the exit.

“We don’t-“

“Look Cora, I’m not on the Pathfinder’s team and I want to be off this ship as much as you want me off. As soon as we land in Kadara I will be slinking back to my hole and pretending like none of this ever happened.”

Emma moved around Cora, only looking back to see the disheartened look on Jaal’s face. This is the exact opposite of what needed to be happening. Maybe she should get off here and find a shuttle back to Kadara. A small part of her begged her to stay, but she squashed that part down. The last thing she needed was attachments. The last thing she needed was people to lose.

~

Emma slunk through the cargo hold, trying to be as quiet as possible. Scott had left with his ground team about an hour ago. That would be enough time to meet with his contact and run off to New Tuchanka. Suvi and Kallo were on the bridge and Gil was in the engine room. It had been awhile since she had seen Jaal and Liam, but maybe they had decided to hang out in the tech lab. Quietly, she made her way down the ramp and instantly regretted her choice. Even with her armor, the heat made her bodysuit stick to her in ways she could have never fathomed. She always had a love/hate relationship with Kadara, but it was nothing compared to Elaaden. A shower was going to be required after this.

Emma ignored the stares from the scavengers as they watched her disembark from the Pathfinder’s ship. She was uncomfortable with the amount of attention. Normally, no one ever noticed her and that always worked in her favor. At least she had worn the helmet when leaving or surprising her dealer would have been a no go. Emma followed the general population to small set of buildings. If the e-mail Hedrak had sent her was accurate, then her dealer was holed up in one of the smaller buildings. Thankfully, the stares died down as she continued until she was right outside the building. She stepped inside and was met with air that wasn’t as hot as outside, but she wouldn’t call it cool.

A turian with no markings looked up as Emma walked in. She was standing near a table filled with almost every weapon imaginable. Even some that didn’t look quite familiar, Emma assumed they were kett weapons.

“Can I help you?” The turian gestured to her wares.

Emma took off her helmet and sat it on a stool by the door. She stepped closer to the turian who was looking really unnerved.

“Arrows.” Emma clasped her hands behind her back, “I ordered them quite a while ago and it’s been nothing but radio silence since.”

Understanding dawned on the turian’s face before she held her hand up and turned to a small crate beside the table.

“I had a few ideas when crafting these. You ordered a few standard arrows and some more explosive bolts. Those were quick to complete, but I made a few prototypes I wanted you to try out. How often does one get the chance to make arrows? Until you asked for them, I had never heard of anyone even using a bow.” The turian rambled while she lifted the crate onto a nearby desk and popped it open.

She laid out Emma’s original order along with a few new arrows. She stared at Emma expectantly as Emma inspected the arrows. Emma picked up one of the prototypes and stared at it before looking at the turian expectantly.

“That’s an EMP bolt, it fries any circuit within a 100 feet radius. It might need a few tweaks so I’m hoping you’ll let me know how it works.”

“What about the others?” Emma asked, hardly containing her own excitement over trying them out.

“This one contains a concentration of acid that will discharge upon impact, this one is a smoke bomb, this one releases a high-pitched noise that will confuse your enemy, and this one is a flashbang.”

Emma nodded, “I’ll take them. How much do I owe you?”

“You already paid for the original order, the prototypes are no charge, I just to know how they work and what I can do to improve them. Who knows? It’s a new galaxy, I could have a whole new market.”

Emma snorted, “You’d at least have one customer.”

“I’m Ruvea by the way.” The turian held out her hand.

Emma reached out and clasped her hand firmly but quickly, “Emma.”

Ruvea smiled at her and wrapped the arrows before placing them back in the crate. She slid the crate across the desk to Emma who picked it up and balanced it on her hip. She wasn’t quite sure how she was going to sneak back onto the Tempest with her new cargo, but who cared. Part of her was almost tempted to run around Elaaden and test out the new weapons. Emma used her other hand to pick up her helmet and place it on her head. She held up a gloved hand to Ruvea as the woman waved her out the door. Emma stepped out onto the platform and turned to head back down the ramp.

“Emma.”

The sound of her name made her stop in tracks. Jaal stood a few feet in front of her his arms crossed across his broad chest. Liam stood beside him in full Initiative armor smirking at her through the visor of his helmet. She shifted the crate on her hip and waved halfheartedly.

“Busted.” Liam grinned at her.

 

Chapter Text

Emma walked back to the Tempest, sandwiched in between Jaal and Liam. She hadn’t said much when they caught her and they hadn’t asked yet. She tried her best to ignore the wounded looks Jaal threw her way. Yes, she had lied to him and yes, she should feel bad. Sad thing is, she kind of did. Not that she would ever admit it. The scavengers on either side of them sneered as the group walked past. The Initiative wasn’t exactly popular around these parts.

“You lied.” Jaal finally spoke.

Emma cleared her throat and shifted the crate to her hip, “Uh yeah. I did.”

“Why?”

“I- I had business I had to take care of.”

“You could have just said so. There was no reason to sneak off the ship.” Liam shrugged.

“I’m not used to having to tell others where I am going.”

“Well we’re a team and it’s important to know where everyone is going-“

“I am not on your team. I’m a stowaway.” Emma interrupted him.

“Doesn’t the lone wolf act get old?” Liam rolled his eyes, exasperated.

“No-“ Emma started.

“What is a lone wolf?” Jaal asked.

Emma rolled her eyes as Liam explained the concept of a lone wolf to Jaal. She did her best to tune them out. It didn’t matter how much sweet talking any of them did. She wasn’t a part of a team. She wasn’t a potential member of the Pathfinder’s crew. That wasn’t even an option when Alec was alive. There was no way the Initiative would accept her so readily. Tann would lay an egg if he thought a freak was joining his intergalactic dream team.

“Emma.” SAM’s voice broke her out of her thoughts.

“Yes SAM.” Emma spoke over Jaal and Liam who were now discussing Milky Way movies.

“I have tuned into a local frequency. Scavengers believe Ryder is in possession of a remnant drive core. I believe they mean to ambush the ground team.”

That statement shut the other two up and they huddled around Emma asking SAM a million questions. Emma looked around and noticed a few vehicles located at the edge of the port.

“They have the nomad, how are we supposed to get to them?” Liam looked worried.

“I have an idea.” Emma handed Jaal the crate and he took it without question. She walked away from the others and towards a small group of scavengers hovering near the vehicles. Perhaps if she asked nicely they would let her borrow one. Who they hell was she kidding? She was either going to have to pay through the nose or fight them for one. She was low on credits so fighting it was. She didn’t have to turn around to know Jaal and Liam were hot on her heels. It was a good thing being from the Initiative wouldn’t work on them anyways. The scavengers perked up seeing her approach, their hands already straying to their weapons. Emma stepped out into the uncovered section of the port, the sun somehow 50 times hotter than before. God, she hated this planet.

“What the hell do you want?” One of them grunted, his finger dangerously close to the trigger.

Emma held her hands up and shook her head, “No trouble. I just need to uh…borrow your vehicle.”

A few of them laughed and jostled each other. Even the one who originally spoke chuckled before shaking his head and pointing at her.

“I like a girl with a sense of humor, but that’s not happening.” He stepped towards her.

Emma’s own chuckle was muffled by her helmet, “Yeah it’s not really humor. I’m taking your vehicle.”

“Don’t push your luck. We had a good laugh. You walk away now and I don’t shoot you and your friends.”

“Are you in charge here?” Emma gestured to him.

“So what if I am?”

“Well if you are it makes this next part really easy.”

“What par-“

The sound of him slamming into one of the posts made the other’s freeze. Emma had kicked him square in the chest and sent him backwards about ten feet. The post wobbled from the impact. The poor guy wheezed as he struggled to take in a breath. Not much of a fight. Thank goodness for that. No one else made a move on her. They looked at her with some sort of awe, but kept their distance.

“Like I said, I’m borrowing your vehicle.” Emma gestured for Liam and Jaal to get in the Nomad.

When they didn’t move she rolled her eyes and opened the door. Taking the crate from Jaal she tossed it in the back. If they wanted to stay here fine she would go help Scott. Wait. Why was she helping anyways? This went against every core instinct in her to run. Maybe it was the heat melting her brain and making her feel somewhat responsible for Alec Ryder’s son. She let out an exasperated sigh.

“Are we allowed to steal this?” Jaal touched her gently on the arm.

“We aren’t stealing Jaal, we are borrowing. I’ll bring it back.” She went to hoist herself up into vehicle before a tug on her armor brought her back down. Liam glowered at her.

“This isn’t how we do things.” He crossed his arms across his chest.

“Look, if you want to hold hands and make daisy chains with the scavengers you’re more than welcome. You can also stand here and argue with me over policy. However, neither of those things is going to save your Pathfinder.” She gestured to the inside of the vehicle.

Jaal clapped his hand down on Liam’s shoulder and nodded. He moved past Emma and climbed in the backseat. Liam grunted in disapproval, but followed him in, strapping into the passenger seat. Emma climbed in after them and shut the door. She removed her helmet and shook out her hair. Wisps stuck to her forehead from the immense amount of sweat that poured down her face.

“SAM, I need Scott’s location.” Emma turned the vehicle on and stepped on the gas, causing everyone to slam back into their seats. “Sorry, I’m a bit rusty.”

“It can’t be any worse than you kicking someone into a steel post.” Liam grit his teeth while gripping his seat belt tightly.

“You never know.” She muttered.

Liam grunted, but otherwise didn’t say anything else. Jaal was in the back throwing her small glances here and there. The silence made Emma uncomfortable, a first for her. She concentrated on getting up and over the mountains of sand. So much sand.

“You know, you kind of have an attitude problem.” Liam remarked, looking a little green.

“Like I’ve never heard that one before.”

“I bet that’s the nicest way someone has said it.” He gnashed his teeth together as they coasted down a dune.

“You’re probably right.”

They were nearing Scott’s location when Emma realized she didn’t have a weapon. She had arrows, but no bow. Hell, she didn’t even have a gun. She probably should have stolen one of those too. Leaving one hand on the wheel, she reached under the seat hoping they had stashed a gun underneath. Liam swore when the vehicle swerved a bit while she looked. Shooting him an apologetic grin she placed her other hand back on the wheel. It was short lived when she slammed on the brakes as they reached a clearing between dunes. They could see nomad and the others. Scott was on top of the nomad shooting at a group of ahdi. However, he didn’t seem to notice the fiend that was running towards him at top speed.

“We have to warn him!” Liam raised his omnitool close to his mouth.

“I have a better idea.” She turned and double checked that Jaal was strapped in tight.

“I don’t think I’m going to like this.” Jaal remarked when he caught the look on her face.

She smirked at him and he looked startled, “Probably not.”

Before either of them could say anything, Emma gunned it, heading straight for the fiend. The behemoth was too trained on Scott, who finally noticed the hulking beast gunning straight for him, to notice the vehicle racing across the sand until it struck it right in its side.  Groans filled the vehicle after the impact. Emma tightened her grip on the wheel and looked up as the fiend turned to focus on them.

“Great.” Liam muttered while giving her a healthy dose of side-eye, “I hope you have a plan now.”

“Why was this even the plan?” Jaal complained from the backseat.

Emma threw the vehicle in reverse as the fiend turned to ram them. It missed by a few feet and turned to follow the vehicle.

“You’re not going to be able to go over the dunes in reverse!” Liam gripped the seatbelt so hard his knuckles turned white.

“Right,” she muttered, “how good of a driver are you?”

“What?”

Emma unbuckled the seat belt, “I need you to drive and I need a gun.”

She turned the wheel to avoid a dune coming up on the rear, leading the fiend in a giant circle. Liam stared at her wide-eyed until she repeated the request again. He shook his head, but unbuckled his own harness and took the wheel from her. The transition was not as smooth she would have liked. Namely because he decided to go over instead of under and she had a few seconds worth of ass in her face. She reached across Liam to grab her helmet and strap it on. Jaal leaned forward and handed her a pistol.

“Thanks.” She stuck the pistol into the holster on her thigh.

“What are you going to do?”

She wasn’t used to genuine sounding concern, but she smirked at him, not that he could see it through her helmet, “Something stupid.”

She kicked opened the door and reached for the bars above the door. Using them to pull herself up onto the top of the vehicle, she kicked the door shut and shimmied until she was all the way on the roof. Now that she was outside she could hear the gunshots and now Scott’s panicked shouts. Vetra had her rifle trained on the fiend, but it would take forever to penetrate through its armor. The fiend had noticed her on the roof and it opened its mouth to spit its acid on her. She took the opportunity to sit up and grab her pistol and shoot it in the mouth, but the fiend closed its mouth causing the bullet to glance off its armor.

“Damn.” That wasn’t going to work as well as she had hoped.

Thankfully the fiend wasn’t going to wait too long before it prepared to try and shoot acid at her once more. If she shot too soon then she would have wasted another bullet for nothing. So, she waited, until she could see the acid coming for her before she shot. The acid landed on her boot and she hissed as some of it ate through her boot and sizzled against her skin, but the bullet hit its mark. The fiend snarled as the bullet went through the roof of its mouth. It stopped chasing the vehicle for a moment, but a moment was long enough. Emma pounded the top of the vehicle a couple times hoping Liam would understand what to do next. She jerked forward as he quickly switched gears and rammed the fiend again causing it to flip over. Emma slid down a fraction, her fingers gripping the bars before she completely fell off the roof. Her and Vetra both took the opportunity to shoot at its belly while it was exposed. The fiend tried its best to get back up, but one last well placed shot to its throat finally stilled it. Emma’s heart still pounded in her ears and her breath fogged up the visor of her helmet. She let out a breath and laid back on the roof. The sun could bake her on the roof for all she cared right now.

Scott was off the crates and moving towards them followed by Cora and Vetra. Liam and Jaal climbed out of the vehicle both looking like they could kiss the ground. Emma sat up and stared down at the group, not quite ready to move yet.

“Do you have any idea how reckless that was!” Scott yelled up at her.

Before she could he answer, he continued shouting.

“You could have gotten yourself killed. You endangered my team. You have destroyed someone else’s property. You could have gotten killed.”

She slid down from the roof them, landing on the sand. She hoped no one noticed her stumble or the hole in her boot.

“I think you’re overexaggerating just a bit.”

“Overexaggerating? Emma, you can’t just heal if you’re eaten by a giant fucking beast!”

“Scott-“

“You don’t want to be a part of the team? Fine, I can’t make you stay. But don’t be a fucking jerk Emma.”

She didn’t have anything to say to that. Everyone looked extremely uncomfortable by the tension simmering between the two, but they were surprised when Emma said nothing. She handed the pistol back to Jaal and held her hands up. Turning her back to the crew she climbed in the passenger seat of the vehicle and strapped herself in, waiting for Jaal and Liam.

Scott gave orders for Liam and Jaal to take the vehicle back to wherever they got it from and go back to the Tempest. He stared at Emma a moment before making a noise of disgust and shaking his head. He remarked that he would discuss it with her further back on the Tempest before heading back towards the Nomad. Jaal climbed back in the backseat and Liam took over the driver’s seat again and strapped back in. It was a quieter trip back to the settlement.

“He may have been a little harsh, but he isn’t wrong. What you did was reckless and he was worried.” Liam finally spoke up.

Emma remained tight lipped as she stared out the window.

“Perhaps if you told him why you wanted to help. Maybe he would understand.” Jaal added from the backseat.

“Forget it. I shouldn’t have even bothered.” She murmured.

Liam stared at her a moment before shaking his head. It wasn’t the first time someone was frustrated because they couldn’t reach her, and it wouldn’t be the last.

Chapter Text

Emma sat in the quiet galley. Scott and the others were still out on Elaaden doing Pathfinder shit and she was grounded. As soon as she boarded the Tempest Liam confiscated her arrows as per the Pathfinder’s order. She imagined they would be locked up wherever her bow and pistol were. Jaal had just looked at her apologetically which pissed her off even more. She should have just let Scott get eaten by the fiend and called it a day. Hell, if she had just let the remnant do its job none of this would be her problem. She would have her bow, her dignity, and wouldn’t have a throbbing burn on her foot. It would be prudent to have Lexi look at it, but it was easier to focus on the burning pain than the question that had nagged her since Scott had sent her back to the ship.

Why had she helped in the first place?

Emma shoved the rest of the protein bar in her mouth to focus on chewing instead of trying to answer the question. A loud grunt from the doorway prompted her to look up. Drack’s hulking form filled the doorway, his gaze straying to her before he entered the kitchen. Presumably to cook some more Drack surprise for dinner. Normally when people called food a surprise she stayed far away, but Drack wasn’t a terrible cook.

“I hear the kid has to do some damage control at the port.” Drack pulled a pot from the cabinet and set it down with a metallic clang.

Emma swallowed the large chunk of protein bar she had just taken and nodded, “I suppose so.”

“You don’t think ahead much, do you?” Drack hadn’t turned to look at her as he asked his question.

Emma opened her mouth to answer, but found she really couldn’t. Drack looked at her then, his gaze intense. He wasn’t just looking at her. He was seeing her. It was probably the most uncomfortable she had been in her life.

“Scott’s a good kid. He didn’t ask for any of this, but he is making the most of it. He gives a shit about everyone aboard this ship and everybody struggling out there.” Drack pointed at her.

“Nobody asked for any of this.” She scoffed.

“You treat the kid like it’s his fault Alec is gone.”

“I don’t-“

“You’re not the only one who lost him.”

Drack turned back to his cooking leaving her open-mouthed. She didn’t treat him as if it was his fault. Alec Ryder made the choice to save his son and she wasn’t angry at Scott for that. Did he really think that? She couldn’t even say she was angry at Scott she just didn’t want to set herself up for more disappointment. Alec Ryder stood by her side and helped her, but she couldn’t count on her son to do the same. She didn’t even remember him. He spoke of things they did and things they said and she didn’t remember any of it. Maybe that was for the best. Maybe it was time for her be alone and just go on with her life. Being part of the Pathfinder team was never going to happen, even when Alec was alive. Why would that change now?

Assuming their conversation was over Emma slid out from the booth and limped to the door. Liam should be done with the shower by now. She was sure she would be scrubbing sand out of every orifice for days, might as well start now. Drack grunted again as she exited the room.

“Should get that leg checked out.”

Emma nodded and held up a one finger salute as she headed to the showers. She didn’t miss Drack’s roar of laughter as the doors shut behind her. She was right. Liam had finished with the showers and they were blissfully empty. She rubbed her hand over the mirror and took in how damn tired she looked. She pulled her shirt over her head and dropped it on the floor, leaving herself in her leggings and a sports bra. Leaving a hand on the counter for leverage she leaned down to untie her boot. She winced while pulling the boot off. Standing up she held it front of her face.

“Damn.”

She was going to need a new set of boots. The acid had eaten clean through the boot, it made her hesitant to look at her foot. Taking her time, she kicked off her other boot before hopping up on the counter. She sat back and pulled her foot up to peel the fabric of her sock back from where it had stuck to her skin. Thankfully, most of her skin had been repaired and the burns weren’t as bad as she would have thought. The boot probably kept the acid from eating its way right to the bone.

The doors opened letting in a burst of cool air.

“Emma?”

She paused with the sock halfway peeled off and looked up. Jaal stared at her in a mix of horror and concern. His eyes were stuck on the burn on her leg before he looked back up at her face.

“I should get Lexi.” He spoke but he didn’t move.

“It’s fine. I just need medigel and it’ll be fine.” She spoke through her teeth, “It doesn’t hurt that bad.”

She was lying. It hurt like a bitch. In fact, she kind of wanted to cry, but not in front of the crew. She blinked back the small tears that pricked at her eyelids and forced a small smile. He didn’t look convinced.

“I’ll be right back.” He turned and left the bathroom leaving her alone again.

She breathed a small sigh of relief. Taking advantage of that fact, she closed her eyes and just pulled her sock off the rest of the way. It was like tearing off a band aid that had scabbed over. Emma made a small noise in her throat and nothing stopped the few tears that ran down her face. She looked at the mottled skin on her foot and ankle and shook her head. Stupid fiends. The door opened again and she hastily wiped her cheeks. Jaal had returned with a tube of medigel and bandage. He set the bandages down on the counter beside her and opened the tube. She reached for it, but he was already squeezing a small amount on his finger.

“What are you doing?”

“Lexi told me to apply the medigel to the affected area and then wrap it in bandages.” He answered looking up at her.

“I can do it.” She reached for the medigel, but he made no moves to give it to her.

“May I touch you Emma?” He asked, waiting for her answer.

She wanted to smack herself for the visceral reaction those words elicited from her. Heat coiled in her belly before spreading across her skin. She felt it reach her chest and cheeks causing her skin to redden. He stared at her innocently before gesturing to the burn. She stifled a small cough and turned her head to the side. He meant the burn, of course the burn, nothing else. Dammit. She nodded without looking at him as he gently applied the gel to her burn. She couldn’t feel anything, except for pain, but she imagined his touch didn’t feel all that bad. When he was finished he stood straight and grabbed the bandages. He didn’t bother asked her again before he wrapped the bandage around her ankle and foot. Time crawled by as he did so leaving her time to study him from the corner of her eye. She watched the way his eyes widened and he lips pursed into a tight line as he concentrated on wrapping it just right. The freckles that stretched across his brow reminded her of stars. He stepped back to admire his handiwork and she shook her head to dispel her line of thinking.

“Thank you.” Her voice was stiff and quiet.

“Does it hurt?”

“A little.” She slid off the counter and stood, keeping the bulk of her weight off her foot.

They stood in awkward silence both staring at each other and then not staring at each other, before staring at each other again. She cleared her throat and nodded to the showers.

“I suppose I’ll just shower now.”

He didn’t say anything for a moment before nodding, “Right. I’ll just go.”

He backed towards the doors. She nodded and held her hand up in a half-hearted wave, “Later then.”

She didn’t breathe again until he was out the doors. She sagged in relief and scrubbed a hand down her face. Oh god what was happening to her.

~

Emma had managed to avoid Scott and the others when they boarded the ship. She had opted out of dinner and instead stayed in the vidcom room. After journaling and yoga, she settled down on the couch and watched Elaaden float underneath them through the window. No matter how many times she stared at the vastness of space, it always managed to take her breath away. The loud sounds camaraderie from the kitchen had quieted down some time ago and she imagined most of the crew was sleeping by now. Emma stretched out on the couch and wrapped herself tightly in the blanket. Her music player was clutched in her hand and Dreamboat Annie played through her ear buds. She should be asleep. It was late and she was tired, but no matter what sleep just wasn’t happening.

Maybe it was what Drack said, or how Jaal made her feel when he treated her like a…friend. It was nice. To feel like she belonged for a small moment. She sighed and kicked off the blanket. Sleep was clearly not happening. She stood up and paced the length of the room. Friends weren’t something she had. She had associates. People she did business with so she could survive. She didn’t have family. She was alone and she liked it. She liked the quiet and the silence and the…loneliness. The world infiltrated her mind and she groaned. No. She wasn’t lonely. She was content. The Tempest was small and full and there was no room for her.

I wish there was room.

She closed her eyes and tried to remove that thought. She couldn’t stay. There wasn’t a place for someone like her here. Her thoughts moved as fast as her feet as she argued with herself. When she looked up she was standing in front of the Pathfinder’s quarters. While arguing with herself she had walked all around the ship until she ended up here.

That doesn’t mean anything.

She turned from the door until she heard it open.

“Emma?”

Scott’s voice, sounding has tired as she felt, stopped her in her tracks. Wincing slightly, she turned and faced him. He leaned against the door to his quarters and stared at her waiting for her to speak. She didn’t know what the hell to say. Or what he wanted her to say. He watched her for a moment before standing up straight. He gestured for her to follow him before he turned and walked back into his room. This was it. If she followed him she was opening the door to an entanglement. An anchor in the vastness of space. She took a deep breath and followed him into his room. It was huge and felt empty. It lacked the presence of a Pathfinder and Emma could tell that in the way Scott’s shoulder’s drooped as he walked through the room and sat on his bed. She stood in the middle of the room, unsure of where he wanted her to go.

“I’m sorry.” He broke the silence with those two words.

She nearly choked, “You’re sorry?”

“I know you were trying to help and I was harsh.”

She sat down gingerly beside him on the bed, “I should apologize too. I wasn’t thinking.”

Neither of them said anything for a few moments. Emma didn’t know where to go from here. Should she broach the subject of Alec? Should she just leave and let it be?

“You really don’t remember me?” Scott turned and looked at her.

She shook her head, “I don’t remember a lot before Amarinthine. The only thing I remember definitively is Alec and how he saved me from the facility. Everything else, is just like a hole. I feel memories are there, but I can’t see them.”

“It must be difficult.”

“It’s frustrating. Not just not remembering, but the pity that comes from it. I want to remember, but I just can’t.”

“I’m sorry for making you feel that way. I had just hoped that there was someone awake who I knew I could lean on.”

“What about your crew?”

“They’re a good crew, but they know me as the Pathfinder. I can trust them and they have my back. But they didn’t know me before coming here. With dad gone and Sara in a coma, I just felt so alone.” He scrubbed a hand down his face before leaning forward and resting his elbows on his knees.

“I can…understand that.”

They both lapsed into silence, however it felt a little more comfortable than usual. Emma contemplated leaving and trying to sleep once more before Scott stood and walked over to his desk.

“Drink?” He grabbed a bottle from the desk.

She nodded, “A drink would be nice.”

“Good thing Vetra managed to snag this bottle before out hasty retreat from Kadara.” He grabbed two glasses from his desk and walked back over to the bed.

“Sorry about that.” She smirked.

“You make a good entrance, that’s for sure.” He filled the glasses almost to the top before handing her one.

“And I can appreciate how you pour whiskey.” She took a small sip.

He held up his glass a wry smile on lips, “To Andromeda and new bullshit around every corner.”

She clinked her glass against his, “I can drink to that Scott Ryder.”

Chapter Text

Amaranthine, 2184

Emma kicked the door shut behind her, sealing the cold out, and took off her helmet. Another boring patrol duty. She couldn’t wait for her time to be up. One more week and she was granted two weeks of shore leave. Just in time for Scott and Sara’s birthdays. Two weeks on the Citadel with artificial sun and Alec’s horrible dad jokes. She smiled to herself as she unbuckled her armor. It had been a few months since they had all been able to get together and Alec had been alluding to a huge surprise for her for months. Emma kicked her locker shut when her omnitool beeped. She opened the communications display.

“What’s up Kennedy?”

“Good timing, your dad’s calling again.” A bored voice intoned from her wrist.

She snorted, “For the millionth time, he’s not my dad. I’m on my way.”

All she earned was a short whatever and then the line went silent. Emma power walked through the hallways to head to the com room. Alec Ryder wasn’t her dad, but she wished he was. Him and Ellen had practically raised her. It would be nice to call them family. It wasn’t that they hadn’t tried. However, the council was still not convinced that she wasn’t a threat. Every year they called on her and Alec to check up on her progress. They considered her illegal, but other than killing her outright there wasn’t really anything they could do, but watch and neutralize her if necessary.

The com room was empty except for Kennedy who stood and mock saluted her before leaving the room. She could hear him complaining about not eating in hours until he was far enough down the hall. He always acted bored and like he didn’t give a shit. Yet, he always left the room during her personal calls and left extra ration bars in her locker after long patrols. Maybe when they were both done with this duty station he wouldn’t mind getting a drink sometime.

She sat in one of the chairs and pressed a button to connect the call. She only had to wait a few seconds before Alec Ryder’s face filled the screen. His eyes softened when he saw her and she smiled in return.

“Two calls in a week, it must be a special occasion.” She leaned forward on her elbows.

“I wanted to confirm your shore leave.” His mouth twitched, but he hid his smile.

“We confirmed it two days ago. Are you sure that’s what this is about?”

“I just want to make sure everyone will be there.”

“We miss one year and you’re all over us. Have you been calling Scott and Sara this much?” She narrowed her eyes playfully.

“Yes, but you’re the only one who answers me every time.” He grumbled.

She laughed, “Their duty stations are also much more interesting. I’m stuck on the icy planet from hell.”

“Maybe, you’ll consider coming to work with me?”

“The Andromeda project?”

“Yes, I think we should all go.” He leaned forward, looking at her earnestly.

She smiled sadly and leaned back in the chair, “You know they won’t let me go. I’m too dangerous”

“Emma, if you want to go. We will make it happen. I won’t leave anyone behind.”

It was too much to hope for. She would give anything to run away and explore another galaxy, but she would be surprised if they didn’t lock her up in a cell or a lab the moment he left. If he was gone, there was no one to defend her to the council anymore. Shepard was always busy and couldn’t always be there.

“Emma.” His voice had softened.

She looked up and plastered a smile on her face, “Its fine. We can talk about it when I’m there.”

He nodded looking a little crestfallen, but he would let it go for now. He started to respond, but the monitor glitched. She leaned forward, frowning. Something must be interfering with the signal. The video was choppy and the audio glitched in and out.

“Hold on, somethings up.” She pulled open the interface and tried to isolate what was messing with the video signal.

Emma barely looked up when she heard the door open behind her. It was probably just Kennedy coming back to flirt with her after her call was over.

“Somethings wrong with the signal.” She said over her shoulder, not bothering to check behind her.

“Emma!” Alec shouted.

“No need to shout, I’m trying to fix it.” She looked up and froze when she saw Alec was pointing at her.

No, not at her. Behind her. Emma sat up straight and turned to look. She was met with cold steel pressed against her forehead. Kennedy was at the other end of the gun that was aimed at her head. His usually tired green eyes, were luminescent as he stared at her.

“What the hell are you doing?” She asked carefully, quietly.

He shrugged, “Sorry Emma. It’s just business.”

“Don’t you hurt her!” Alec shouted from behind her.

Kennedy looked over her shoulder long enough to smile, his teeth razor sharp. He hadn’t always had those. Just what the hell was he? Emma tried to concentrate, just enough to harness a field to push him away. Just enough to escape from in front of the business end of the gun. He clicked his tongue and focused back on her.

“I wouldn’t do that.”

She held her hands up, “Look we can talk about this.”

“No, we can’t”

The only thing she heard was Alec Ryder yelling her name as Kennedy pulled the trigger.

Citadel, 1 Week Later

Alec Ryder stood outside the hospital room, ending another call with Garson while the doctor was in the room doing his rounds. Jien was becoming impatient with how long he was taking to return to work. It was only a week, but with the launch date so close, every moment was critical. Unfortunately for her, he couldn’t give a damn right now. It had taken almost two days for them to get Emma to the Citadel and in a hospital room. Two days of barely enough life support until she could be seen by an actual medical doctor in a facility. He tried not to fault anyone, no one would be prepared to medivac someone who should be dead from a headshot. After that, it was days of her hooked up to monitors and breathing tubes and IVs. The wound had healed, but she still wasn’t waking up.

Every time Alec closed his eyes he could see the gun pointing at her. He could still hear the shot booming through his speakers and the sound of her body hitting the floor. He had never felt so helpless before in his life. He could only watch as the man leaned close to the monitor and flashed his teeth.

“Olympus sends its regards.” Were the only words he had spoken before killing the vid call.

The doctor walked out of the room, frowning at a datapad, before stopping in front of Alec, “Her vital signs are fine. Functions are normal-”

“Then why isn’t she waking up?” Alec interrupted, at his wits end.

The doctor sighed, “Honestly, I don’t know. I’ve never treated someone with a… “unique condition” such as hers. We won’t really know anything more until she does wake up.”

Alec scrubbed a hand down his face before nodding. The doctor shot him a sympathetic look before walking away to continue his rounds. Alec ducked back into the room and took a seat in the chair beside the bed. He reached forward to cover her hand with his own. She looked so small and vulnerable like this. If there wasn’t a tube shoved down her throat, he could almost believe she was just sleeping. The sound of the door opening caught his attention and he sat up straight. He relaxed slightly when he saw Grace standing in the doorway staring at Emma.

“Commander.” He nodded.

Grace Shepard looked at him long enough to roll her eyes, “It’s always Grace for you Alec.”

“I didn’t know you were coming.”

“I was here for a meeting. I came down as soon as I heard.” She stepped into the room and stood on the other side of the bed.

“Ellen called you.” It wasn’t a question, but a statement.

Grace nodded. They both looked down at Emma, sitting in silence. It had been awhile since he had seen Grace, but he knew occasionally, she would drop in to check on Emma. A small sigh escaped Grace’s lips and she sat down on the edge of the bed.

“Was it them?” She asked.

He didn’t have to ask to know who she was referring to. He nodded, watching as Grace tucked a stray piece of hair behind Emma’s ear.

“I don’t understand, you’ve had her for years. Why would they come after her now?”

“Ellen and I discovered their other facilities. We forced them into hiding. Maybe this is payback.” He shrugged forlornly.

“Or maybe something has changed,” Grace frowned down at her omnitool as it beeped with a message, “Either way, they can’t get their hands on her again.”

“I won’t let that happen.” It was the one damn thing he was sure of.

Grace stood up from the bed and nodded, “Then get her the hell out of here.”

~

Present Day

It was early when everyone crowded into the vid room. Emma pulled the blanket tightly around her shoulders while she blinked at the blurry shapes that surrounded the table. Her and Scott had stayed up late finishing the bottle, not really talking about much of anything. She still wasn’t sure what to say or what to ask. Part of her wanted to remember what she was like, what having a family was like, but she couldn’t bring herself to ask. Maybe it was just better that way. Why have something to miss when she leaves?

A cup of coffee hovered in the edge of her vision and she reached for it. A small chuckle from the person offering accompanied her action. She looked up into familiar galaxy eyes. Jaal waited until she took a first sip before sitting beside her gently on the couch. The couch still groaned slightly under their combined weights, but held up.

“How is your ankle?” He asked quietly, not wanting to disturb the other’s conversations.

She poked her foot from out of the blanket to show him the slightly pink skin of her ankle. It was healed and looked none the worse for wear. He reached out and gently poked her ankle as if to reassure himself that she was fine. One corner of her mouth uplifted in a slight smile before she pulled her foot back underneath the blanket. Jaal looked as if he might say something else, but Scott coming up the ramp made him shut it again. Scott looked way more hungover than she did, but he did his best to hide it. It didn’t stop Peebee snickering from across the table.

Scott cleared his throat and drew everyone’s attention, “We’ll be docking at Nexus in a half hour. We’ll be here for two days, so it is as close to a shore leave as we will get for a while. Cora is with me for the meeting with leadership. Kallo, Suvi, and Gil I need a full inspection of the Tempest to make sure she is good to go. If we need anything of importance pass it on to Vetra, she will make sure we get what we need from here. I’ll let her break up the rest of you into teams to go through supplies. After that your time is your own.”

A few people groaned, mostly Peebee, but others nodded in agreement. Emma wasn’t quite sure where she fit into the equation. She wasn’t a part of the crew, but it’s not like she had anything else to do but help. It was better than stepping foot back on the Nexus. Staying away from the general population was always a good idea.

“Alright, if everyone is good on their assignments, you’re dismissed.” Scott turned to Emma, “Can I talk to you?” He gestured to the side.

She shrugged, “Sure.”

Jaal held out his hand for her cup and she murmured her thanks as she handed it over. Dropping the blanket from her shoulders, she stood and walked over to join Scott by the windows. She didn’t miss the way the ears of the crew all turned towards her. They were not subtle as all. Scott rolled his eyes, but leaned closed and dropped his voice as he spoke.

“I know you may not want to leave the ship, but Alec left us all messages at his terminal in his room on the Hyperion. I thought you may want to hear the message for you.”

Emma crossed her arms over her chest and looked away, “I don’t know.”

“You don’t have to, I just thought you would like to know it’s there.” He reached up to pat her arm, but he only made it halfway before he dropped his arm back down to his side.

She nodded, “Thanks.”

She moved out of his way so he could head down the ramp. A part of her wanted to go read the message, but if she did then it was final. Alec Ryder was gone and never coming back. She didn’t know if she could do it. Not yet. But could she really leave without knowing what he wanted to tell her.  

Scott paused, “By the way, there is an extra hoodie in my room if you need it.” He called over his shoulder before heading towards his quarters.

It wouldn’t matter. She wouldn’t need it. She wasn’t going. Emma turned and stared out the window at the expanse of space that stretched out before her. She could hear the crew filter out from the meeting room, disappointed that they didn’t get to hear any of Emma’s conversation. Jaal lingered a moment.

“Emma?”

“I’m not going.” She didn’t even turn.

“Not going where?” He stepped up beside her.

She looked up at him and shook her head, “Sorry, it’s nothing.”

“It is clearly not nothing.”

The urge to tell him to mind his own business was strong. It was her normal response. It was the easiest response. However, for some reason, it was not the response she wanted to give. Shit, what was happening to her. She tilted her head back and sighed, aware that he was watching her every move. He didn’t press her, he just waited patiently and quietly for her to answer or not answer.

“If I go, then he’s gone. Alec Ryder won’t be coming for me.”

“Emma,” his voice was soft as he touched her shoulder gently, “He is gone.”

“I know.” She cleared her throat to cover the slight crack in her voice. She was NOT breaking down in front of people. Fuck that.

“This seems important.”

“I should go, shouldn’t I?” Her voice was muted.

“I think it will give you some peace.”

Peace. The last time she had any real peace was before coming to Andromeda. Small moments where it was just her and Alec in his tiny lab, her music playing in the background. She closed her eyes and clung to the memory for a small moment. Jaal’s hand didn’t move from her shoulder, and while she would normally pull away, she was grateful. It kept her anchored to her body. He waited patiently for her, until she nodded. She would go.

She questioned herself the entire time. From when they finally docked on the Nexus, to her taking a spare hoodie from Scott’s room, to her rushing through the docking bay to the tram. Very few people spared her a glance, despite her hood being pulled up to avoid any questions about who she was, why her eyes looked like that (a personal favorite), to why she was with the Pathfinder’s crew. Thankfully, no one approached her and the tram ride was quiet. She had almost asked Jaal to come with her. An absolutely stupid idea. She didn’t need to rely on anyone. Not to mention he probably would have said no anyways. Not that she needed him to say yes.

Her loud sigh drew an annoyed glance her way.

Emma sank down in her chair until the tram stopped to inform them that they were aboard the Hyperion. Only a few got off at this stop and she followed them, looking around as she did so. She wasn’t sure what she expected for the ark. Maybe something more impressive. It certainly was very…white. She walked down the hall only drawing a few glances and passed through a room to a more populated area.

“Alec’s room is located in the hall to your right.” SAM spoke up.

Emma veered to the right and entered the hallway. There were only two rooms down this hall. A door to the left marked SAM node and a door at the end that was unmarked. She stood outside the door to what she assumed was Alec’s room. She contemplated turning tail, but Jaal was right. This was important. She needed to do this. Emma stepped forward, a little surprised that the door just opened.

“Alec made sure you, Sara, and Scott would have access to his room.” SAM noted her surprise.

“Yeah…thanks SAM.” She stepped through the door and let it close behind her.

On the right was Alec’s ship models and even the guns he used during the First Contact War. She stepped towards the wall and reached towards a picture that was sitting beside his Normandy ship model. There she was. Sitting in between a young Scott and who she assumed was Sara. They looked to all be about 14 or 15. Emma ran her fingers over the photograph. She looked happy in this picture. Carefully, she placed it back on the shelf. She turned to face the large terminal on the other wall. This was it. Her last chance to change her mind. SAM was blissfully silent as she stared down the computer interface.

Finally, she crossed the room and sat down in the chair in front of the terminal, “SAM, show me the message.”

“Of course, Emma.”

Alec’s face filled the screen and she had to catch her breath. There he was. Alec smiled sadly at her.

“Hello Emma. If you’re seeing this, then I didn’t make it to you.” He began.

She almost told SAM to stop the video, but she couldn’t. Her eyes wouldn’t leave the screen. Her nose started to burn and she wrinkled it in hopes of stopping the tears that were starting to form. Not now. She didn’t want to cry now.

“I don’t have much time, so I’m going to try to tell you as much as I can.” He stopped speaking and looked off to the side as if he didn’t want to look at the screen, at her.

After a moment he turned back to face the screen, “I’m so sorry, Emma, but you have been lied to. And by no one more than me.”

Chapter Text

Citadel, 2184

One week and two days. That’s how long it took before Emma’s hand flinched under his. Alec shot up straight in his chair leaned forward. Her eyes fluttered, before opening slowly.

“Emma, I’m here.” He murmured, not wanting to overwhelm her.

Her eyes flitted to him and he balked. She looked scared, like she didn’t know him or know where she was. He waited with bated breath, not moving a muscle. Her eyes didn’t stray from his as she searched for something. He wasn’t sure what. Her mouth tried to move around the tube. Her free hand reached up to her face to feel the tube and her pulse and breathing accelerated. Alec could hear multiple coming down the hall to the room.

“It’s okay Emma, they’re going to take it out.”

It was if she didn’t hear him. She wrenched her hand free from underneath his and tried to claw at the tube. If he didn’t calm her down before the doctors got here she would get worse. He grasped her wrists gently and pulled them away from her face.

“You’ll hurt yourself Emma. Just try to remain calm.” He soothed, unsure of how well this would work.

The scared eyes of a child stared back at him. She looked back and forth between him and the doors that were now sliding open. The doctor walked in followed by two nurses. Emma tried to move as far away from them as possible. She was at the edge of the bed, her wrists still locked in Alec’s grip. This wasn’t her. Not anymore. She hadn’t acted like this since he found her in that locked room, covered in blood that wasn’t hers. The doctor balked, but one of the nurses approached slowly, making sure Emma could see her hands.

“It’s alright. It’s okay. You’re safe here. We won’t hurt you.” The nurse spoke gently, inching closer.

Emma watched her move closer and remained still, but her body was still poised to try and run. The nurse was close to the bed and stopped.

“That tube must be very uncomfortable.”

Emma just stared at her before nodding.

“Would you like me to take it out?”

Emma nodded once more, but she didn’t relax. The nurse inched closer, being very careful to move slowly and not startle Emma. She gave gentle instructions that Emma surprisingly followed, until the tube was out and laying on a small table beside the bed. The nurse stepped back as Emma gagged, trying to get used to taking in air. Alec finally let go of her wrists, but her fingers found the fabric of his sleeves and she gripped it tight.

“I’m going to ask you a few questions is that okay?” The nurse crouched beside the bed, trying to remain as nonthreatening as possible.

Emma looked at Alec before nodding.

“You’re on the Citadel, do you know what that is?”

Emma’s brows furrowed in confusion before she shook her head. Alec shared a look with the nurse. He tried to think positively. With her injury it would be normal for some confusion. He would just keep telling himself that.

“Do you know who you are?” The nurse continued.

“Em…Emma.” Emma rasped.

The nurse nodded, “Do you know who he is?” She pointed to Alec.

Emma looked at him, her eyes searching his again, “Alec.”

Alec breathed a small sigh of relief. She remembered her name and remembered him. That was a good sign. Maybe she would be fine when the disorientation wears off.

“What is the last thing you remember?”

Emma tensed, her knuckles turning white. She looked so very afraid and her eyes darted around the room.

“Blood, there was so much blood.” She whispered, tightening her grip on Alec, “It wasn’t my fault, I just wanted them to stop. It hurt.”

Her pulse jumped again. The nurse tried to soothe her, but Emma flinched away from her. The doctor nodded at the other nurse who pulled a syringe out and a bottle. Alec just stared at her. He stared into the eyes of the little girl he pulled from dead bodies. The little girl he hadn’t seen in years. The doctor ordered the other nurse to hold her down. They were going to sedate her.

“No, no no no no no.” She pleaded, her hands moving up to grip Alec’s shirt.

“It’s just to help you calm down. It won’t hurt.” The doctor tried to reason with her.

Emma stared at the syringe like it was a death sentence. Her face was taut and pale as she pleaded. Fat tears rolled down her face and dripped off her chin. Alec turned to the doctor and shook his head. He couldn’t allow them to get near her with that. It would only make her worse, more scared. She was scared enough. The doctor sighed, clearly exasperated.

“We have to.”

“If you just leave me alone with her for a few minutes I can calm her down.”

“I have orders to sedate her if she becomes hysterical.” The doctor shook his head.

“That isn’t necessary.” Alec argued.

As the Alec and the doctor went back and forth, with the doctor inching closer to Emma, the nurses stepped back. The chair and IV pole started to shake violently. Neither of them noticed, as Alec tried to countermand the doctor at every turn. He was not getting near Emma. The doctor was closer to Emma, but Alec wouldn’t let him touch her. He would protect her. He had promised when he pulled her from the facility to keep her safe. Something wet hit his arm and he looked down to see a drop of blood slide off his skin. Alec and the doctor both looked at Emma in time to see blood dripping from her nose. Her eyes seemed brighter than before as she stared at the doctor.

“No.” Her voice was strong.

The chair and IV pole flew across the room, missing the doctor’s head by inches, before hitting the wall behind them. The nurses fled from the room and the doctor dropped the syringe with a clatter. He turned back to stare at the IV pole that was wedged into the steel wall. A curse flew from his lips and he turned tail and ran. Alec looked back down at Emma. She stared up at him, her eyes dim again, before she reached to wipe the blood from her nose. The eyes that bored into his were not hers anymore. Not really. The memories, the shine that had grown in her eyes over the years, the birthdays, vacations on earth, all of it was gone. The last 11 years had disappeared with a well-placed bullet.

 His daughter was gone.

~

“I’m so sorry, Emma, but you have been lied to. And by no one more than me.”

There was no way she was going back now. She wouldn’t have been able to stop the video even if she really wanted to. He couldn’t have lied to her. What could he have lied to her about? Of all people, there was no way Alec Ryder would betray her. Was there? She swallowed hard and leaned forward, as if getting closer to the screen would give her the answers she wanted.

“It’s hard to know where to start,” he sighed, “I had hoped I would never have to tell you any of this. I just wanted you to have as normal of a life as possible.”

Another pause, another sigh, “You’re very special Emma, however you’ve been lead to believe that you are special because of the nanites. That is not true. You were already special…different.

The nanites were used to control you, suppress your abilities, and wipe your memories when necessary.”

“SAM, pause the video.” Her voice was quiet.

The video stopped right before Alec Ryder spoke again. What they hell was he talking about? What was so damn special about her that someone felt nanites were an acceptable recourse. What abilities did she have?

“Emma, I think it would be helpful for you to locate the lock box in Alec’s desk.” SAM broke through her thoughts.

“Why SAM?” She sighed, staring at Alec’s face.

“Alec left personal items for you as well as datapads containing the research he had taken from the facility that he had found you in.”

That was all Emma needed to hear. She was up, the chair sliding back until it hit the edge of the mattress, and moving towards the desk. There were books, binders, Alec’s old coffee pot, and two lockboxes.

“There’s two SAM.” She crouched down until she was eye level with the shelf that held them.

“Alec left one for each of you. Scott already has his. Yours is the blue one.”

Emma pulled out the blue one and stood back up. There was a 4-digit lock on the front. She frowned and pulled the chair back in front of the interface. Sitting down, she contemplated what the lock code could be.

“The lock code is the year your accident occurred.”

Emma frowned, the accident happened a year before Alec smuggled her onto the Nexus launch. She moved the dials until they displayed 2-1-8-4. The lock released and the box popped open.

“What would have happened if I didn’t remember that.” She mumbled.

“I would have been allowed to supply you with the code.” SAM answered, even though the question was rhetorical.

“That doesn’t seem safe.”

“I have already positively identified you as Emma Ryder. You are the only person I would have been able to release the code to.”

If she didn’t know better, she would say SAM sounded a little snarky.

“Just Emma SAM, I don’t have a last name, certainly not Alec’s last name.”

SAM was quiet and Emma shrugged before opening the box. A few datapads were scattered in the box along with a sealed bag containing a journal, like her own in design, and a small data chip for an omnitool. It was overwhelming. What should she look at first, the three different datapads that had God knows what on it or a journal that she was afraid to look at for some reason. Finally, she picked up a datapad and turned it on. Files upon files showed up on the interface. She frowned. There was so much to look through. Project names, facility names, so many damn file names. Her finger stopped over a file that just spelled OLYMPUS. Something nagged at her and she selected the file. More files, just numbers this time. She stared at them willing to make sense. After a moment of trepidation, she selected the first file: 001.

The air left her lungs as she stared into her own eyes. A picture of her popped up first, she couldn’t have been more than five or six. White gloved hands were on her shoulders, holding her in place as her mouth opened in a yell. She squeezed her eyes shut as if she could block it out. It had taken years for the nightmares about the facility to stop and she didn’t want them to start anymore. Emma’s fingers shook as she scrolled down past the picture. She didn’t want to look at it anymore. Opening her eyes, she stared at the lines of text underneath.

Her brows furrowed in as she spoke out loud to herself, “Class 5 psionic…strong telekinetic abilities…gravitational manipulation…extreme measures needed to contain…inhibitor collar insufficient…see attached video.”

Emma scrolled down through the rest of the information, charts and notes on her physiology, until she found the video files. She let out a breath and her fingers hovered over the first video file labelled: ABILITIES TEST. She had to watch. She had come this far and she needed to know.

The video filled the screen and it was just her in a room filled with various objects. Floor lamps, steel beams, cups, small tables. She stood in the center of everything with her shoulders hunched. A steel collar covered her neck in the neck. Emma reached up and touched her own bare neck as if she was afraid she would find it there. The Emma in the video flinched when an intercom beeped.

“Just do it like we said, it won’t hurt.”

The girl trembled and Emma trembled with her. An exasperated sigh sounded over the intercom and young Emma flinched. Emma’s knuckles were turning white as she gripped the datapad, unable to tear her eyes away from the video.

“Please.” The voice intoned, sounding exasperated.

“NO!” Young Emma shouted, looking scared of her own vehemence.

There were multiple voices over the intercom, all whispering to each other. They were uncertain how to proceed. She was just a child.

“Shock her.” One voice rose above the rest.

The other voices quieted down. Neither one of them questioned. There was just silence. The little girl cowered in the middle of them, her eyes darting around back and forth around her. A few moments passed before her scream pierced the silence and she reached for the collar. There were no other sounds other than her screams and her small body hitting the floor. Nobody said anything as she writhed around on the floor, until she finally begged for them to stop.

Emma’s stomach rolled as she continued to watch the video. These were memories she had blocked, hidden away so even she couldn’t find them. Why the hell would she want to remember this? Part of her screamed at herself to stop watching, turn the damn video off, but she didn’t. She had to see. She had to.

“It will stop when you do as I ask.” The same voice that suggested shocking her, answered her tearful pleas.

At first nothing happened. Young Emma still pleaded for it to stop, but nobody else answered her. Then coffee cups, dishes, lamps all started to hover around her in the room. Excited whispers sounded over the intercom when a table followed, and then the steel beam. Everything was suspended in air around her like time had just stopped. She looked up at the camera, her eyes wide and crackling with energy. She yelled this time, not for help or to beg for it to stop, but in rage. The cups and dishes shattered in mid-air, nothing touched them, they just exploded and showered the room with fragments. The steel beam flew across the room and out of the range of the camera. However, glass shattering and frightened shouts could be heard off-camera. The table went into the steel wall behind her and stuck there, only half of it still sticking out. The camera itself started to shake violently before flying across the room and going dark. The video ended there…obviously.

Emma dropped the datapad on the console, flinching at the noise, and leaned back in the chair. There was no way that was her. She had never done anything like that. Not even her low-level gravity fields compared to what she just saw. She pressed her fingers to her temples and closed her eyes. It was no use. The images still lingered. There was no erasing the young version of her screaming in pain and then in anger.

Alec Ryder was still paused. Staring at her, patiently waiting for her to resume the video. How could he keep this from her? The years of telling her it was just the nanites. Without the nanites she was normal. She was a child. Not a weapon. Lies. Every bit of it. If Alex Ryder was here she would have screamed. Her nose burned, and hot tears spilled down her cheeks. There was no stopping them this time. She wanted to smash every damn picture and model on his shelves. Put her fist through the computer screen so Alec Ryder would stop fucking staring at her.

She wanted to know why they did those things to her. What she was. Why she was made. She wanted the truth.

She wished she hadn’t.

Thankfully SAM was quiet for the moment. She just needed a moment. A chance to let her thoughts settle. Minutes ticked by, maybe an hour, it’s not like she was looking. Finally, she let out a breath and made eye contact with Alec. She owed it to herself to see this through.

“SAM, continue the video.”

SAM affirmed the command and after a second the video continued. Alec Ryder drew in another breath and looked away from the camera.

“The accident on Amaranthine was not an accident. You weren’t injured defending the base from pirates. You were targeted by the same people Grace and I took you from. I don’t know why they waited so long, but I knew I had to get you as far away as possible.

“Unfortunately, I don’t know if that will protect you as well as I hoped. You may never truly be safe, but maybe knowing the truth will give you an advantage.”

She scoffed. An advantage. What did knowing any of this do for her? It’s not as if she knew how to do any of that anymore. If the nanites were used to suppress her, then how in the hell would she ever be able to do something like that? What makes him think she would even want to?

“I wish I could give you more, I wish I could tell you all of this the way I should have years ago,” Alec’s voice got thick for a moment before he paused and cleared his throat, “SAM will direct you to your lockbox. Two of the datapads contain all of the information Ellen and I managed to pull from the facilities. All of the information on you…and others.”

Others? She leaned forward, her mouth slightly open. Other people like her? Could it be possible? She wasn’t alone.

“Ellen and I helped as many was we could, as many as we found. We made sure they could get to Andromeda. All you have to do is find them. If you want to. Maybe they will have more answers for you.”

He drew in another breath and waited a moment, “The journal and the data chip are yours, from before the accident. I kept them from you. I was afraid if you remembered too much, it would trigger your memories from the accident. I didn’t want you to relive it.”

“Pause.” Emma spoke up, the video freezing on the spot.

“He told me the I had fallen off a cliff and hit my head.” She said out lout.

“Yes.” SAM confirmed.

“What really happened?”

SAM paused, uncomfortably long for an AI, “I am unsure if Alec would want you to know.”

“Alec is gone and I need to know SAM. I think I’ve been lied to enough.” She had a hard time keeping the frustration out of her tone.

“You were shot at point blank range. Alec surmised the goal was to destroy as much of your medial temporal lobe as possible. The nanites are not programmed to restore memories and therefore you lose what the nanites cannot replace.”

“It wasn’t just an attack on me, it was deliberate sabotage.”

“Yes.”

They didn’t want her dead, they just wanted her vulnerable. Reverse her back to a state where she didn’t know love or family. Take away the memories of the childhood Alec Ryder had given her and just make her lost and angry. It succeeded.

She sighed, “Play the video.”

“The third datapad is your choice. It is what Ellen and I had planned on surprising you with before you lost your memory. If you are here, if you’ve been around Scott and Sara, maybe…I don’t know. Read it when you think you’re ready, but know Ellen and I loved you like you were ours. It didn’t matter what the council or anyone else thought.”

He looked off screen again and narrowed his eyes, “Sorry, I am running out of time. I know you hated testing the SAM implant I gave you. I also know you had it shut off. I built SAM for Ellen…and for you. He is capable of backing up memories and possibly restoring them. I didn’t have the time to fully test it. SAM was also working on a source code to suppress the nanites, if you wanted to. I didn’t give you much a choice before. I want you to have the choice now.

“Ellen and I did what we thought was best. We wanted you to have a normal life, but you are not normal Emma,” He looked at the camera, his eyes making contact with hers.

“You are extraordinary.”

The video cuts out and the only sounds left are Emma’s quiet breaths. Her cheeks are still wet from before, but she doesn’t bother wiping them. She stares at the screen, unsure of what to do now. Her eyes stray to the datapads that are still scattered in front of her. She reached for the one she had already opened and stuck it back in the lock box along with the journal and data chip. She didn’t think she could look at those right now. The second datapad held more files, similar to the first one. She put that one in the lock box was well. The third datapad was the only one left out. It taunted her. Another secret. A choice. He had told her what it was and yet told her nothing at all. She reached for it, her hand trembling.

There was only one file with an attachment: EMMA RYDER. She clicked on the file and sucked in a breath.

“Adoption papers.” She whispered, staring at the words wondering if they would rearrange. If she was wrong. She was scared she was wrong.

“Alec Ryder left you the choice. You could continue to use the alias he gave you, or you could upload the attached file to replace the alias. You could live your life as his child.” SAM answered her, even though she had not asked a question.

A loud keen echoed throughout the room. It took her a moment to realize it was her. She clapped her hand over her mouth, unable to form word or thought. All she could do was let the tears flow. The anger, betrayal, all of it just left her. She was so tired. The hours, days, months of not sleeping, of nightmares, hit her all at once and she sagged forward in the chair. Her elbows rested on the console to help her hands hold her head up. She didn’t know how long she stayed that way. Her mind was blank. Her eyes stared at the same keyboard until her vision went blurry.

“Should I call someone Emma?” SAM intoned from her omnitool.

She sat up and looked around. She was still in Alec’s room; the lights were dimmer this time. The datapad still sat where she left it. The life she had wanted, the life she was sure the Emma before her had wanted, was on that datapad. And they tried to take it from her. She wanted it back. She was going to take it back. She put the datapad back in the lockbox and closed it until it locked.

“Please ask Lexi to meet us in SAM node.”

There was something she needed to do first.

 

Chapter Text

Emma woke up to dim lights of the Hyperion’s night cycle. She was cocooned in the blankets on Alec’s bed. After her brief meeting with Lexi, she didn’t have the want to return to the Tempest. Instead she hid away in Alec’s room. She doubted the Tempest had left without her. She doubted Scott would leave without her. The lockbox sat on his desk, taunting her from across the room. She had tried to look at the datapads again. She had the privacy and the quiet to do so, but every time she held one in her hands, her stomach rolled and she felt sick. And so alone.

The sound of the doors opening startled her. She jumped to her feet, ignoring the lightheadedness that followed. Scott stepped inside and stopped short of approaching her. He looked concerned. They both stared at each other, unsure of themselves. His short sigh broke the tension and he sat in the chair opposite of the bed. Emma sat back on the bed, crossing her legs and pulling the blankets around her shoulders. Neither of them knew what to say. They looked everywhere but at each other.

Scott was clearly concerned because she had not returned to the ship. What was she going to tell him? That she couldn’t leave this room. That she now had an AI in her head because she wanted to remember. She wanted to reclaim herself. That she was afraid the people who created her, no tried to control her, could be in Andromeda.

She was afraid.

Emma’s fingers gripped the blanket tightly and she huddled into it. The action didn’t escape Scott’s notice. He stood from the chair, ignoring her wary gaze, and sat down beside her on the bed. Not too close, but well within reach.

“Did you find what you were looking for?” His voice was quiet.

Her eyes strayed to the data pads. She just nodded. In fact, she got more than she bargained for. More answers than she wanted.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

She shook her head. That was probably the last thing she was capable of doing. Where would she even start?

“Do you want to talk about it?”

She shook her head. She wasn’t even sure what she would say if she wanted to. Where would she even start? Funny story, I’m a natural born freak and the nanites just made me even more of one. I can move things with my mind, in theory of course.

He just stared at her, waiting to for her to finish her inner monologue. A corner of his lip moved upward into a small smile. As if he knew the kind of thoughts that flitted through her head.

“You’re doing it again.”

“Doing what?”

“Pushing people away.”

She was silent.

“It’s not something new for you. You did it in middle school. Malik called you a freak and after you punched him in the nose, you shut down. You were too afraid that it was true.”

“That doesn’t sound like me.”

“Oh? So, you just push people away because you enjoy being alone.”

“That’s right.”

“Do you remember how we used to snap you out of it?”

She just stared at him, waiting.

He smirked and leaned back on the bed, “There was this beach on the Citadel. Not a real one obviously, but it was a really good simulation. You could smell the salt in the air and feel the breeze on your face. We’d all go. For the whole day. Your self-imposed silence never lasted long.”

She scoffed.

“You should’ve seen your face when we went to Earth and we went to a real beach. And you saw a real sunset. I thought you were going to cry.”

“I don’t cry.”

It was his turn to scoff, “Please, you’re the biggest crybaby I know.”

“I doubt that.” She tried to sound mad, but she couldn’t help the small smirk that graced her lips.

“When you first came home, when people made fun of you, during movies, songs, when you were ditched at prom, every Christmas…I could go on.” He ticked off every instance on his fingers.

“I will throw you into the nearest black hole.” She threatened.

He clapped her on the shoulder, “There’s the Emma I know.”

“Except you don’t” She shrugged off his hand and the blankets.

He was quiet as she stood up from the bed and paced back and forth. The words started to spew forth from her mouth like vomit. They tasted horrible on her tongue, but she couldn’t keep them in any more. Scott just sat in silence as she ranted. About the lies, about the video she saw, about what she understood of her file. She left out the adoption papers and her meeting with Lexi earlier. She wasn’t quite ready to reveal either of those things. Especially, that SAM was alive and kicking inside of her head. She flopped back down in the chair across from Scott. The words lingered in the air between them, but she felt lighter for it.

“Wow.” Scott just kept looking at her.

“I don’t even know why I told you all that.” She mumbled.

“Because you need people Emma. You don’t do well alone.” Scott reached for her.

“I don’t need-“

Scott gripped her hand in his own, “Don’t even try to give me that shit Emma. You may not remember, but I do. I remember who you are.

“I can’t stop you from going back to Kadara, but living in a shack by yourself, shouldering all this shit. Isn’t going to help you.”

“And you can.” Her voice sounded bitter, even to her own ears.

“Maybe. Or maybe just being around others can. I happen to know a couple of the crew are fond of you.”

“Like who?”

“Jaal for one.”

She leaned forward, peering into Scott’s eyes as she spoke, “Alec believed the people that tried to control me are here. That means I’m going to find them, or they’re going to find me. You can’t tell me that you would be okay being dragged into that shit. Or dragging your crew into that shit.”

“Or you wouldn’t have to go through said shit alone.” He countered.

“It’s better for everyone if I do.”

He shook his head, “Will you stop trying to be a martyr. Sara is in a coma. Mom and dad are gone. You are all the family I have right now. I can’t stop you from leaving, but I’m damn sure not going to stop trying to convince you to stay.”

“I don’t know what kind of person I was before this. But it’s easier to do this alone. I don’t have to defer to others or worry about them. If I go back to Kadara, it’s easier than facing that Alec is never coming back. It’s easier than seeing him every single time I look at you.

If you could run, wouldn’t you?” She asked.

He swallowed audibly, “If you had asked me that weeks ago, I would have said yes. I would’ve said that there was no way I could fill dad’s shoes. But I’m not him. I’m me. Just Scott.”

She snorted, “Just Scott, the Pathfinder.”

“It has a ring to it.” He chuckled.

They lapsed back into silence. Neither of them was sure what exactly to say after all that. Emma felt there were more questions than answers once again. Did she want to stay? Would she stay even if the answer was yes? Was he right? Was she? Could she really do all this alone?

Scott stood from the bed and stretched, “We’re leaving for Kadara in the morning. I’d like to get to have some fun with my sister before she leaves.” He stared pointedly at her.

“Sister?” She whispered.

His eyes softened, “Yeah, sister. It doesn’t matter that you don’t remember. You’ll always be my sister.”

She liked it so much she hated it.

~

She didn’t know what she expected, but it wasn’t the entire Tempest crew in Scott’s room. They lounged on the couch, chairs, the floor, wherever they could fit really. Suvi and Peebee were in one corner with Kallo hovering over them. Probably because he was attempting to stay away from Gil who was on the opposite side of the room with Vetra, Jaal, and Liam. Jaal was staring at a deck of cards in his ridiculously large hands and frowning. Cora was deep in discussion with Lexi, while Drack sat beside them looking as bored as a krogan could. Everyone looked up as her and Scott entered the room. It felt a little overwhelming being under everyone’s gaze. The only thing that kept her from leaving was Scott. He was behind her and she would have to mow him down to get out.

It's like he knew.

“Looks like we’re all here.” Liam laid down his own deck of cards and stood up from his group.

Everyone shifted towards the center of the room and sat in a circle. Emma could see people grabbing cups, and bottles, and various snacks. She didn’t know what was happening right now. Scott moved past her to his bedside table and opened one of the drawers. Emma wasn’t sure who to focus on, the crew or Scott, was there something she was supposed to have been doing. Jaal looked over his shoulder and patted an open spot in between him and Gil. Her feet moved of their own accord and before she registered it, she was sitting beside Jaal. Scott turned to the circle with a box in his hands.

“Oh. No.” Emma groaned when she saw the lettering on the side of the box.

Scott sat in between Cora and Gil and placed the box in front of him. He grinned at Emma before he pulled the top off the box to reveal groups of white and black cards.

“It’s been awhile since I’ve played Cards against Humanity.” Gil reached in to place the cards in the circle.

“This is a bad idea.” Emma muttered.

“How do you play again?” Suvi asked.

Scott answered, “Everyone gets 10 white cards, those are like answer cards. The black cards are topic cards. The card czar for the round chooses a topic card and everyone else chooses the best white card or cards for the topic card. The card czar chooses the best white card and-“

“I’m sorry, what is a card czar?” Jaal interrupted.

“It just means the person who doesn’t play the round and chooses a winner amongst the others.” Emma answered as Gil placed a stack of white cards in front of her and Jaal.

“Right. The goal is to make the funniest or most offensive combinations-“

“Often they go hand in hand.” Liam chuckled.

“Whoever wins the round gets the black card as an awesome point. Since we have so many people, we’re only playing to five points.” Scott placed two piles of black cards in the middle.

“We’re also drinking. So, the card czar picks a winner and a loser. The loser has to drink.” Gil smirked.

“This is a diplomatic incident waiting to happen.” Emma grumbled.

“It’ll be fun!” Peebee drew her ten cards and smirked at Emma.

“Playing a game full of cultural references that someone,” She gestured to Jaal, “Might not understand, is not fun.”

“Trust me. Trying to explain the references is the fun part.” Peebee snickered.

“Alright, alright. Who goes first?” Scott waved his arms to get everyone’s attention.

“I’ll go.” Liam volunteered and reached to draw a black card from the pile, “Blank is my favorite way to achieve orgasm.” He read the card before he slapped it down on the floor in front of them.

The others scrambled to draw their white cards if they hadn’t already. Jaal looked at his hands and frowned. Emma sighed and drew his card for him and pressed them into his palm. He threw her a small smile over his shoulder as he read his cards. She drew her own cards and sifted through them. Giggles and out right laughter echoed through the room as everyone chose their cards. Jaal was still staring at his deck. After selecting her own card, Emma glanced over his shoulder. Not caring if anyone was looking, she pointed at a card in his deck. He shared a questioning glance with her, but she just nodded. Jaal was the last one to put down a card. Liam grabbed all of the white cards and put them in a pile. He was already chuckling at a few of the cards.

“Okay, here we go,” He was trying not to laugh, “The czar is my favorite way to achieve orgasm. Pandering to the card czar, I can appreciate it.”

Cocktimus Prime is my favorite way to achieve orgasm.”

Some of the others started to laugh as well. Based on the way Suvi blushed, Emma assumed it was her card.

Liam laughed out loud before reading the next card, “Hundreds of big black dicks, slapping across your face, in a euphoria of big black dickery.”

Even Emma laughed at that one, “Someone else pandering to the card czar.”

Liam kept reading off the cards, nothing quite as funny as the thought of being slapped by dicks. However, by the time he was done, even Jaal was laughing. Tears of mirth spilled down his cheeks and Emma wasn’t far behind him.

“The dicks have it.” Liam announced at the end of the round.

Jaal cleared his throat, “Ah, that was my card.”

“Nice going man.” Liam handed him the black card.

Jaal placed the black card beside him and looked at Emma, “Too bad we could not share the victory.”

Emma patted him on the arm, “Don’t worry big guy, I’m sure I’ll win some of my own.”

Jaal look down and stared at her hand on his arm. Emma was staring at her hand as well, surprised by her own action. Neither of them said anything. He looked at her, not questioning or annoyed that she was touching him. It was the complete opposite in fact. He looked overjoyed that she had broken a barrier of her own accord. Their eyes met and Emma couldn’t look away. She was utterly captivated by how he stared at her. Fuck. The others continued speaking, only one of them noticing the quiet moment that was being shared. Scott was sitting on the other side of Gil, smirking at the expression on Emma’s face.

There was no way she was leaving.

~

There was a lot of drinking. Maybe some dancing. At one point Scott had begged for her to play some of her music. It could’ve been her K-pop playlist for all he cared. A playlist she vehemently and drunkenly denied existed. She was sure Peebee had talked her into dancing at some point, but it was hard to remember. Bohemian Rhapsody had played at one point and of course all of the humans broke out into song, herself included.

Hey, she didn’t make the rules.

The one thing she did remember was laughing and smiling more than she had since before even coming to Andromeda. It made up for the fact that she woke up with a killer hangover more bearable. They were all still in Scott’s room, a couple sleeping in puppy piles, others had taken over the couch. She was smarter than that. She had flopped down in Scott’s bed before passing out. Hungover: yes; Sore: no. Jaal was laying on the floor near the side of the bed she had commandeered. He originally fallen asleep on his back, but his snoring was unbearable, and Emma and Scott had managed to coax him onto his side for most of the night. She remembered saying something to Scott right before they fell asleep, but she was having a hard time remembering exactly what it was.

The sound of someone stirring across the room drew her attention. Lexi was sitting up, having fallen asleep with her head on Drack’s shoulder. She made eye contact with Emma, her cheeks flushed, and pressed a finger to her lips. Emma shrugged. It’s not she was going to run screaming to the Nexus about the Tempest doctor’s behavior. It was not something she gave a shit about. Lexi gestured to the door and Emma nodded. Quietly they both maneuvered themselves from where they slept and across the room. Emma had a near miss when Liam nearly swiped her ankle as she stepped over him.

Her and Lexi both ended up inside the med bay, waiting until the doors closed to speak.

Lexi sat down on one of the chairs, “How do you feel?”

“I have the headache from hell.” Emma murmured.

“Anything else? Anything to do with your implant?”

Emma shook her head, “Everything feels fine. Pretty normal.”

“Good,” Lexi folded her hands in her lap, “Did you have a good time last night?”

Emma nodded, “Yeah it was pretty fun.”

“Do you think you’ll stay.”

Emma had her arsenal of reasons why she couldn’t, but she hesitated, “I…I don’t know.”

“You could always try and decide later that you want to go back to Kadara. At least, you wouldn’t regret it.” Lexi suggested.

Emma was quiet. Lexi wasn’t wrong, but Emma could really put them all in danger. She wouldn’t be alone, but that’s incredibly selfish. But why couldn’t she be selfish now and then. Lexi didn’t look like she really expected an answer. She seemed satisfied enough with the contemplative look on Emma’s face. They both looked towards the door as they heard the others getting up. The sound of heavy footsteps walked towards the kitchen.

“Sounds like Drack is making breakfast.” Lexi commented.

“Oh, thank god, I’m starving.” Emma stretched and headed for the door. Lexi wasn’t far behind her, also requiring food to help soak up any remaining alcohol in their systems.

Drack was grumbling over the stove. Cora, Suvi, and Vetra were already sitting at the table, still looking half-asleep. Jaal and Scott were hovering over the coffee pot, their backs to Emma as she walked into the kitchen. Liam and Gil must still be passed out in Scott’s room. Jaal turned around right as Emma walked across to the room to the table.

“Emma! I made coffee!” He proclaimed, holding out a steaming cup.

Scott hid his face behind Jaal trying his best not to snicker too loudly. Suvi giggled loudly behind her, unable to contain herself, and even Cora cracked a smile at his enthusiasm. Emma tried to fight the smile that threatened her lips, but she failed. He just looked so damn pleased with himself.

“That’s great Jaal.” She choked down a laugh.

He held out the cup to her expectantly. It seemed as if he held his breath, waiting patiently for her to take it from him. She murmured her thanks and took the cup, the aroma already helping to wake her up. Scott had one hand on the counter trying to keep himself steady as he laughed into his hands.

“That’s some coffee.” Vetra commented, earning herself a glare from Emma.

Drack grunted and shook his head, turning his attention back to the food. Emma sat down at the table, the cup of coffee in between her hands. Scott had finally composed himself enough to poor his own cup and take a seat beside Emma. His smile infuriated her to the point that she wanted to smack it off his face. Jaal sat in the only available chair to the other side of her. The conversation around the table was light, everyone hungry and still feeling last night. It seemed like it took forever until Drack set down a platter of rehydrated sausages, reconstituted eggs, and toast in front of them. It wasn’t the worst, but Emma couldn’t wait until they had real animals and read meat and eggs.

“Someone should go wake Liam.” Suvi spoke up while reaching for toast.

Everyone looked at each other before Scott sighed and stood up, “I’m the Pathfinder, I guess I’ll do it.”

Gil burst into the room right as Scott was leaving, holding up a small piece of equipment in his hand, looking triumphant. Scott paused and everyone looked to Gil.

“I fixed it. We should be able to pinpoint the Archon’s location with this.” He placed it in Scott’s hand, “Give it a shot.”

Scott stared down at the transponder in his hand, looking equally excited and like he was going to puke at the same time.

“Did you connect the-“

“Nutok sho-lun ka!” A deep guttural voice sounded from the transponder.

Scott fumbled the transponder in surprise and nearly dropped it. Was that what the kett had sounded like? She hadn’t been present when Sloane and her lackeys had cleared them from Kadara. The voice made her stomach roll unpleasantly. Jaal jumped and looked at Emma with confusion. The voice repeated the phrase, making the hair on Emma’s neck stand up.

“What are you doing?”

“Turn it off!”

A couple of them shouted at once, until Scott turned off the transponder. It fell silent in his hand and they all breathed a sigh of relief.

“Careful. That is a direct line to people that want to kill us.” Gil took the transponder back when Scott almost shoved it back at him.

Scott took a moment and drew in a deep breath before speaking, “SAM?”

“I have the coordinates. The signal points to the Tafeno system.” The AI responded.

“We sure we want to do this?” Gil asked.

Scott frowned, and ran his fingers through his hair, making it stand up on end.

“We have to,” He turned to Emma, “Sorry Em, Kadara will have to wait.”

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Everyone, minus Kallo and Suvi, was standing around the meeting table. Any trace of the lightheartedness from the night before was gone. Emma was standing between Scott and Jaal. All eyes were focused on Scott as he contemplated where they would start. Emma could tell he was afraid. From the look in his eyes to the way his hands shook until he gripped the edge of the table. Without thinking twice, she rested her hand on top of his. Kadara could wait and she could stand to return some of the comfort he had provided her. His eyes strayed to her hand before he stood up straight and squared his shoulders.

“I’ll be taking Drack and Jaal.” He announced.

Both men nodded, looking ready to fuck up the Archon’s whole day.

“Liam, Cora, and Vetra will be ready to provide any backup support if necessary. If not, then you are to hold position on the Tempest and be ready to assist with extraction.”

Cora didn’t look happy about it, but she nodded. Liam and Vetra were already putting their heads together about contingency plans and what they would need ready.

Scott turned to Emma, “I’d like you to come with us.”

She gaped at him, “You can’t be serious.”

“Of course he isn’t,” Cora intervened, “She isn’t even a part of the crew.”

“That’s a little harsh.” Peebee muttered.

“She is a part of this crew until she leaves this ship permanently.” Scott’s tone left no room for argument.

Cora’s mouth twisted and she turned from the group and went down the ramp. Everyone watched her back until she was out of sight. Emma turned back to Scott, not quite sure that she had heard him right the first time.

“Why?”

“I trust you. You’re a quick thinker and I know what you’re capable of.”

“I understand that but,” She leaned closer to murmur, “if leadership finds out what I am and that you’re letting me run missions, you will be in big trouble.”

“It’s a risk I’m willing to take.”

“Are they?” She gestured to the crew that was still gathered around the table.

“I don’t give a damn about the leadership.” Drack grunted.

Peebee and Vetra shrugged, both of them deferring to the Pathfinder. Emma felt a large hand grip her shoulder and she looked up into Jaal’s calm gaze. He smiled softly at her making her heart thump in her chest. Just one, just one thump. Or maybe not. She turned back to Scott, feeling her cheeks turn pink. Her lips twisted in a frown at his shit-eating grin. He knew exactly what he was doing. Damn it.

She sighed, “I need my bow.”

His grin grew wider, “It’s in the weapons locker. Suit up and meet me at the bridge in an hour.”

He turned to leave the meeting room, either to hype himself up or deal with Cora. He needed her on board for this. Emma leaned over the railing as he walked down the ramp towards the bio lab.

“If I die I’m going to be pissed.” She shouted after him.

“I’ll never let it happen.” He gave her a quick thumbs-up.

She rolled her eyes, but smirked all the same. Of course, she was nervous. When was the last time she actually went on a mission? That she could remember. The others slowly left the meeting table to get ready. All except for Jaal. He lingered behind, looking like he wanted to say something. Emma sat down on one of the couches and patted the empty space beside her. He looked unsure for a moment, as if he didn’t know if it was really alright, but he settled down beside her anyways. Emma pulled her music player from her back pocket and unraveled the ear phones. Putting on ear bud in her ear she handed the other to Jaal. He stared at it a moment, perplexed, before he put it in his ear.

Emma flipped through her playlists before finally settling on a song. Just one was all she needed. She turned the volume down low, unsure of how sensitive Jaal’s ears would be. He was quiet as the sound of a guitar riff and Stevie Nick’s voice came through the ear phones.

Just like the white winged dove

Sings a song

Sounds like she's singing

Who who who

Emma closed her eyes and leaned her head back on the couch. She could feel Jaal’s eyes on her as she relaxed. She mouthed the lyrics, just letting herself slip into the song entirely. It was a needed moment before she leaped into danger. She was surprised at herself. There had been minimal hesitation before she agreed to help. Even her argument about the leadership fell flat. She was starting to give a damn and that was more dangerous than any mission she agreed to. It made her want to stay. They made her want to stay. Even Cora with her sour ass attitude, but hilarious drunken jokes. Damn Scott, he was good.

And the days go by

Like a strand in the wind

In the web that is my own

I begin again

She opened her eyes to catch Jaal bobbing his head along to the music. His eyes were closed and his fingers tapped against his thigh. Freckles stretched across his skin like stars and by god she was fascinated. The song continued in her ears, but she wasn’t paying attention to the lyrics anymore. She was staring at the flatness of his nose, and the darkened marks that spread across his forehead, and the scar that cut into his cowl. The song ended during her scrutiny and his eyes opened to meet hers. He didn’t look surprised that she was staring at him. He had done his fair share of staring ever since she boarded the ship. Her face flushed an even darker pink than before and she cleared her throat.

She pulled the earbud from her ear, “We should probably get ready.”

He handed her the other earbud, but neither of them moved just yet. She was steadily staring everywhere except his face now and that pleased him more than anything. The first few days she was standoffish and refused to speak or interact with anyone. It was more than just a dislike for people. He could feel the fear emanating from her. She was afraid to be close to others. To allow herself to feel for them. It wasn’t unlike how he felt after Allia, but Emma’s hurt ran so much deeper.

Finally, he stood from the couch and offered his hand. She stared at it for a moment as if it might bite her, but she eventually took it. He helped her stand up from the couch, not that she really needed it, he just wanted an excuse to touch her hand.

“I would like to do this again.”

She nodded, still not looking at him, “Yeah, I can’t imagine the music selection at the Nexus is all that great.”

“That is not what I meant.” He chuckled.

She looked up at him then. He was still holding her hand and she had yet to remove it from his grasp. Maybe after this mission they could actually talk for more than just a few moments. Maybe she would stay.

She nodded, “Sure. We can do this again.”

He smiled at her, and she felt like she had been pushed off a cliff. Every time he smiled at her, was nice to her, stood up for her she felt caught off-guard. Why was he so damn nice to her? She wasn’t used to it and she didn’t know if she liked it or not. I like it. She was going to keep lying to herself. Jaal let go of her hand and only then did she start walking towards the weapons locker to put on her armor and get her bow. He fell into step beside her. They had once again lapsed into their usual silence.

The doors to bridge opened and they both veered to the left. Drack was already armored up, he always was, and had probably already grabbed his weapon. If he didn’t sleep with it of course. One of the lockers even had her name on it. Dammit Scott. She pulled her scavenger armor from inside and her body suit. Emma shimmied out of her pants and kicked them into the locker. Her shirt soon followed. It was difficult to not be aware of how Jaal stared at her. He was going for subtle, but it wasn’t working out for him. Emma zipped up her body suit.

They both continued to put on their armor in silence. It wasn’t until Emma pulled her hair free from its ponytail and shook it out that Jaal let out a breath. Trying to fit a ponytail in her helmet just wasn’t practical. Quickly and deftly, Emma braided her hair and tucked it into her suit. Her crate of arrows was sitting in the bottom of locker, her carnifex sitting on top, and her bow tucked into the back of the locker. At least they were careful with it. There wasn’t another one like it in any galaxy. Emma strapped her carnifex to her hip and pulled out the crate.

Thankfully, Ruvea had marked the arrow prototypes appropriately and left notes to remind Emma which was which. Emma placed them carefully in her quiver and slung it over her shoulder to buckle it across her chest. She shoved the crate back in the locker and grabbed her bow. Testing it, she clicked the button to make sure the knives at the ends were still working. The string was still the right tension. It was the same since the last time she used it.

“Why do you use such a primitive weapon.” Jaal pulled his rifle from his locker.

She smirked, “Primitive?”

“I had asked Scott about it when I first saw it. He sent me articles about archery. It hasn’t been used in the field in a long time.”

She nodded, “That’s fair. I learned archery as a hobby, a way to learn how to focus and learn precision, as Alec put it. I fell in love with it.”

“Did you have problems focusing?”

“I had…anger issues. I often took it out on others. Alec wanted me to learn how to make my anger more productive and less destructive.”

“It was that bad?”

“It could be. Sometimes it was. And any wrong moves meant the Citadel could consider me dangerous enough to lock up.”

“Why would they?”

She nodded and grabbed her helmet from her locker before shutting it, “Not only am I an illegal human experiment, I am a powerful one. Alec Ryder saw me as a child, but not everyone felt the same. I was a weapon. Something that could turn on them and destroy them.”

“They were afraid of you.” It was a statement, not a question.

“Fear makes people do shitty things.”

Jaal shut his locker, “It is true of all species.”

“It’s a shame. People could do amazing things, if they stopped being so afraid.” Emma leaned against her locker.

“Even you?” Jaal was closer to her.

Emma smiled gently and sadly, “Especially me.”

Scott interrupted them by poking his head into the room. He smirked at the two of them just casually talking. As if it was such a surprise that she could hold a civil conversation. She rolled her eyes at his expression.

“Pathfinder requests you on the bridge.” He grinned, a ploy to hide his nerves.

“Oh gee, I never would have guessed.” Emma answered sarcastically, and moved to follow him out the room.

Jaal followed her out of the room to stand beside Scott on the bridge. The others were gathered as well, waiting to catch their first glimpse at the Archon’s ship. The space radiated with nervous energy. Even Emma felt nervous as they neared the navpoint.

“We’re getting a lot of Kett comm chatter.” Suvi spoke to Scott.

Scott nodded, “Keep us stealth Kallo. No sense picking a fight yet.”

“Pathfinder, sensors confirm the presence of the Archon’s ship.” SAM’s announcement only made the tension in the room skyrocket.

Scott sighed, “I’ll be damned, it worked.”

“But there’s something else,” Kallo leaned forward staring at his console, “That’s an Initiative ship tethered to it.

They drew closer and everyone crowded close to the windows.

“That’s Ark Paarchero!” He exclaimed.

“Confirmed. It matches the Salarian Ark. Readings suggest it has been here for some time.” SAM replied.

Emma was unable to tear her eyes from the Ark, “Oh…fuck.”

~

They had hoped for a quick in and out situation, but it was a firefight the moment they walked through the doors to the Archon’s ship. The kett were terrifying, but they were tangible, and killable. They weren’t some ghosts that lurked in the background. They were here and Emma was going to fuck them up.

It was strange having people to watch her back. Jaal kept kett off her back when her and Scott got close enough to engage in close combat. Drack was right there with them like he was bowling for kett. Room after room full of them. Drack was in heaven. Emma had been prepared to fight. It was even fun. Her and Scott fought together like they had done it before. Maybe they had. Maybe he would tell her about it later. She believed in them. They could find the artifact. They could save the salarians.

Nothing prepared her for finding the missing salarians.

The kett didn’t even have the decency to hide what they had done. Salarian bodies were left on stretchers on the floor. They were just left there like yesterday’s garbage. Emma heard SAM through a fog as he told the group that they had died after being operated on. Operated on was such a nice term. They were dissected, harvested. The kett used them as their science experiments.

“They were alive while it happened? Kett butchers. They don’t know the word mercy.” Jaal spat.

Scott was quiet as he scanned all the bodies and asked SAM to update their files. They couldn’t be saved, but the salarians would still know what happened to their fallen comrades. Emma couldn’t stop staring at them. Their eyes weren’t even closed. They were just glassy and staring up at the ceiling. The cold bite of metal. Screams. So many screams. Were they hers? She couldn’t breathe. Blood. Bright red, viscose. It pooled underneath her hand. If you would just listen to me. I don’t want to hurt you. Just obey. Her hands shook. No. No more. Please. It hurts. Her chest felt like it would collapse in on itself.  More screams. Not just hers. There were others. Others. More. Help us. Someone called her name. A gun. Pointed right at her. No. Don’t shoot. Sharp teeth bared at her. Please. Please save me.

Stop.

Hands reached for her.

Stop.

They removed her helmet.

STOP!

 

 

You won’t take me.

“Emma!”

A forehead pressed against hers. Scott was inches from her face. His eyes were wide, breaths coming in ragged gasps. She focused on him. She was here. She was fine. She was safe. He pulled back from her. Not just looking concerned. There was a touch of fear and awe. He stepped back and that’s when she saw it.

Jaal and Drack were standing together in the middle of the room. Drack was looking up around the room, but Jaal was looking at her. The salarians remained where they had been left, but everything else, everything that wasn’t nailed down was not. It was hovering, or floating, or however you would want to describe a bunch of shit just chilling in the air as if it was meant to be there.

“Emma.” Scott’s voice was soft and drew her attention back to him.

“Breathe.”

He took in an exaggerated breath and let it out. Her eyes didn’t leave his as his chest rose and fell in time with the breaths. It took her a moment to realize she was breathing in time with him. Tension slowly drained from her as she focused on him and breathing.

“You’re safe.

You’re here.

I won’t let them take you.”

Her eyes closed as he spoke. He was trying to bring her back to the present and surprisingly enough, it was working. His hands didn’t leave her arms, he anchored her to the spot. The others were quiet, and patient, neither of them interrupting. Emma let out another breath and everything fell. Crates exploded open as they hit the ground, anything sharp embedded itself into the floor. Scott handed Emma’s helmet back and she held it loosely in her fingers. Just a minute. She just needed a minute and she would be ready to go.

Startled voices drew her attention. A group of kett scientists were staring at her through the glass. Fascination in their greedy little expressions. Oh no. Cowards. They dissected their people and cowered behind a thin veneer. The objects in the air wobbled unsteadily around her. They weren’t running again.

“Bastards.” She whispered.

Jaal turned to look at the scientists that gaped at her through the glass, “You! I’m going to kill you.” He shouted.

Emma shoved her helmet back on, if only to hide her still slightly panicked expression, and followed the others through the room. The scientists scattered, trying to get away. Emma managed to pin a few with arrows as they ran. It didn’t kill them, but it prevented them from escaping. The others managed to get away as more kett raced through the hallways to keep the crew from getting any further. It was just more and more to get through. The fight didn’t have the enthusiasm that was present before. It died when they found the salarians. Now they were tired, and numb, and just needed to finish the mission. Find this relic, save the salarians, stop the Archon. Stop this from happening again.

Emma pulled an acid bolt from her quiver and shot it into the leg of a chosen. He howled as he went down and Jaal finished him off with one shot. He looked to her, to share in triumph, but worry flashed across his face. Emma looked away. He could worry about her later. She could do this. Just a little longer. She would make it. Jaal reached for her, but she shrugged him off, trying not to flinch at his hurt expression. She followed Scott down the hallway until SAM gave them directions to the Archon’s chamber.

They took the new path that SAM had indicated. They walked across the floor, determined, ready for this to end.

“Ryder, caution-“

Gravity seemed to disappear and they froze in place, inches away from the floor. They all struggled uselessly against stasis field. Emma couldn’t even move a finger. It was just more bullshit.

“Oh, for fucks sake.” Emma muttered.

“Some kind of immobilizing field.” Scott grunted.

Emma opened her mouth to reply with a sarcastic retort. It was unnecessary and wouldn’t be appreciated, but dammit it might make her feel better. The words died on her tongue as two kett walked into the room. They were different. Not just mindless soldiers. One’s milky white eyes looked over each of them before they settled on Scott. It was probably the Archon.

“It’s useless to struggle.” He spoke as he neared the group.

Yep, that was the pompous asshat they were going to steal from.

“I’ve been in this forsaken cluster for decades, surrounded by amoeba. Then you arrived- a human able to do the unthinkable. You even evaded me.” He walked around the group as he spoke, pausing every so often to stare at each one like the science experiments he considered them to be.

It made Emma’s skin crawl.

He stopped in front of Scott, “Such an unlikely rival. It was almost invigorating to have one. And yet it’s a fitting end.”

Scott sneered at him, “I bested you. Die mad about it.”

The Archon wrapped his hand around Scott’s throat and squeezed. Not enough to kill, just enough to make Scott struggle to breathe.

“Get your hands off of him!” Emma shouted.

The Archon ignored her and turned Scott’s head back and forth. It was if he was looking for something. There was a moment’s hesitation, a moment where Emma thought he would let Scott go. That moment disappeared when the Archon stabbed a needle into Scott’s neck. Jaal looked horrified enough it made Emma struggle harder.

They couldn’t take Scott. Alec was enough. No more. Please, no more. None of them could have any more of her life or her…family. She had to be able to move something, anything. So much for being telekinetic. Where the hell is it when it’s needed?

“A first sample. Your testing begins now. I will learn your secret soon enough.” The Archon stepped away, looking seemingly uninterested in the others.

His gaze stopped at Emma. He stepped forward, his hands reaching to take her helmet from her head. An explosion from another part of the ship drew his attention away from her. Emma breathed out a small sigh of relief. The Archon looked to the side as if he were listening for something.

“Report.” The Archon paused, “Await my arrival.”

Scott glared as the Archon got close to him again, “Save your strength human.”

The Archon turned on his heel and left the room. He was not afraid that they would manage to escape. It made Emma angry. He expected they would just stay like sitting ducks.

“Raeka must be in trouble.” Scott spoke when the Archon was gone.

“So are we kid.” Drack grumbled.

“SAM, what can you tell me.” Scott pointedly ignored Drack.

“I’m sensing a biological transmitter in your bloodstream now. Attempting to neutralize it.”

“Okay, that’s priority two for sure. Any idea how to break out of this?”

“The containment fields only interact with living matter. If you expire, the field around you will extinguish until manually reset.

As you know, my access to your physiology allows me to enhance your vital signs when required. I can also do the opposite.”

“You have got to be kidding me.” Emma spoke up.

“I’m not really keen on dying again SAM.”

“The one holding you yes. Then I would attempt to resuscitate.”

“Are there literally, any other options.”

“None that I can determine.”

Scott paused, his eyes wandering to Emma’s, “All right, let’s do it.”

“Wait!” Emma shouted.

Scott looked at her in confusion.

“SAM, calculate the percentage of success if Scott does this.”

“There is a 45% chance that I can resuscitate the Pathfinder.”

“It’s a chance we have to take.” Scott tried to reassure her.

“Calculate the chances of success…if I do it instead.”

Scott scoffed, “You can’t, your implant isn’t-“

He stopped and stared at her as much as could. It wasn’t much considering he didn’t have the use of his body to turn fully and pin her with the disapproving dad glare.

“You activated your implant.” He accused, “That’s why you stayed on the Hyperion so long. Why wouldn’t you tell me.”

“Sorry, Pathfinder, I didn’t realize I had to clear everything with you.” She snapped.

“It isn’t even that Emma and you know it. You constantly push me away every time I try to reach you. You think you’re protecting me, but I can assure you, you’re not.”

She closed her mouth, her cheeks burning with a quiet shame. He was…right. She wasn’t protecting anyone. Not herself or anyone else. She was shoving him away. She was abandoning what they used to have and what they could have again. She could have a family again. She could be a Ryder. There could be someone to share in her grief. Instead of trying to embrace it, she was trying to shove it away.

“There is a 90% chance of success Emma.” SAM took advantage of the pause in their argument.

“No.” Scott’s voice was quiet.

Emma nodded, “Do it, SAM.”

“Nonononono, Emma!”

Emma closed her eyes. It was just dark now. It wasn’t what she expected of death. Maybe some pain, or prolonged suffering, but she was just here. She was sure she had heard them all yell her name. Even Jaal. Damn. She didn’t even say anything to him. Maybe she should have. What if it didn’t work?

Are you hiding again Emma?

A sliver of light made her raise her arm in front of her face. A face peeked around the curtain. Soft blue eyes and a soft smile. Emma just stared as the curtain opened a little further to allow a woman climb in to the darkness and sit with her. Short black hair ended at a sharp jaw. The eyes stared at her. Gentle hands pulled her into an embrace.

Did they bully you again?

Lips pressed against the top of her head. Sobs sounded in the dark, it was her and yet it wasn’t. Her cheeks felt wet, but she wasn’t crying.

You don’t have to fight them all alone.

Maybe she was crying. The woman was so comforting, so familiar. She closed her eyes and leaned into the embrace. A gentle prod made her open them again. The woman shook her head down at Emma. No sleeping. Fingers wiped the tears from her cheek, the same fingers that had wiped crumbs from her lips, and braided her hair until she learned to do it herself. A mother. Her mother. Ellen cupped her cheek, her soft eyes hardening with determination and ferocity.

You can’t run from everything.

~

Jaal watched in horror as the stasis field around Emma flickered and then finally disappeared. Her body hit the floor with a sound he doubted he would be able to forget. Scott was staring at her, his expression a mirror of Jaal’s own.

“No, not again. Please. SAM!” Scott watched as Emma just laid there.

“Stimulating the cardiovascular core.”

Emma’s body twitched as SAM tried to shock her heart back to life.

“Zero activity.”

“Dammit, dammit.” Scott spoke through gritted teeth.

“Emma!” Jaal yelled at her lifeless body.

“Stimulating the cardiovascular core.”

They watched and waited, all of them holding their breath. Even Drack looked upset and pissed off at the same time. There was nothing but their silent pleas. She had to wake up. Jaal wanted to know more about her. He had so many things to ask her, to tell her, to show her. He wanted to know everything about the woman whose smiles were seldom but blinding in their beauty.

Emma sucked in a breath and Scott looked like he was going to cry from the relief. She reached up and pulled off her helmet, resting her cheek against the cool floor. Jaal could see tears that had dried on her cheeks. Had she been crying when she agreed to this? She didn’t look at any of them.

“Let’s not do that again SAM.” She gasped.

“I agree.”

Emma stood up slowly and shakily, as if she were unsure what limbs were and how to use them. Her eyes wandered over to them, purposefully avoiding Scott’s.

“Well don’t you all look cozy.” Her tone was dripping with sarcasm.

“Get us down kid.” Drack growled.

Emma looked around the room, until she located the console. She pulled up the interface, searching for the command to disable the field. Scott was staring at her, not angry, just terrified. Like she was ghost now. Jaal could sympathize. He had lost friends and family to the kett. He wondered every time he killed a kett, was it his brother, his friends, Allia. But Emma was still here. She was alive. Brought back by SAM and the nanites that had been injected in her since childhood.

The field flickered and they all dropped to their feet. Scott wasted no time crossing the room and wrapping Emma in a hug. It was clear she wasn’t expecting it. It took her a moment to return the gesture. Her arms wrapping around Scott like an anchor.

“Don’t ever do something so stupid again.” Scott choked out.

“So, it’s brilliant if you do it, stupid if I do it.” She scoffed.

“It’s stupid no matter who does it.” Drack grumbled behind them.

Scott reluctantly let her go, “We’ll discuss this later.”

She nodded, “If we make it back to the Tempest. I’ll tell you,” she hesitated, “everything.”

Scott just gaped at her. Emma looked unsure as she said it, but nonetheless, determined to see it through. She rolled her eyes.

“Come on Pathfinder, we have a relic to find.”

~

It was just one thing after another. The Archon had been studying their species. His room filled with VI representations of each species and audio notes, made Emma sick. So did the audio logs filled with the tortured cries of the Salarians. Emma had collected the logs and the Archon’s notes to compile on a datapad. Maybe it could offer insight to others about the Archon and the Kett. For Emma, it just made her want to smash the Archon’s face in.

It got worse when they found the Salarian in the maintenance hatch. The victim of a cruel game of hide and seek with a wraith. More stasis pods that had been tossed aside. SAM managed to pull the assigned names from the pods. More to report missing and more than likely, dead. Then, of course, there were the holding tanks. Filled with salarians. Some had started to undergo the process of exaltation, but it had ultimately failed. Drack cursed as he neared the tank containing a krogan who had undergone exaltation.

“Is that a krogan?” Emma whispered.

“It was. Probably one of Drack’s missing scouts.” Jaal answered.

“The DNA is Krogan, but drastically altered. It’s clear the kett are closing in on successfully exalting the species.” SAM spoke.

“Fuckers.” Scott murmured.

They went through another door, weapons ready in case it was another trap, but the room was blessedly empty. The room was filled with remnant relics. Any one of them could be what they were looking for. Scott relayed the message to Hayjer that they were in the room. Once they had what they needed, it was time to get to get the hell off this ship. Scott starting scanning relics while everyone else walked around taking it all in. They could see the Salarian ark through the giant windows. With the guns pointed at the ark, Emma could only hope they could make a clean escape. The salarians deserved that much.

“Over here.” Scott called them over to the back the room.

They all crowded around a relic. Of course, it was the absolute last one that he had scanned. It just looked like a console.

SAM spoke up, “This is the relic the Moshae described. It does seem to be a map.”

Scott lifted his hand towards the console to interface with it. Light moved from his fingertips and the console reacted. It lifted up towards them.

“I’ll overlay the chart we uncovered in the vault on Eos.”

Light projected from the middle of the console, mapping out stars and clusters. In the middle was a tower looking object. It was not exactly what Emma was expecting to see. She expected a planet or maybe something like the Citadel floating in space. Of course, she didn’t know the scale, so maybe it was bigger than she imagined.

“Coordinates secured, Pathfinder.”

“So that’s what you’re after.” The Archon’s voice made them turn and raise their weapons, but it was only a hologram.

The hologram moved towards them, “There’s more to Meridian than you know. Changing the weather is only a fraction of its power-and I will not allow you to defile it.”

“Try and stop me.” Scott faced off to the hologram.

“You are cocky as long as you have an AI to explain everything to you.”

Scott stiffened.

“I’ve seen what transpired in the laboratory, and now I know what makes you…special.

“Meridian is mine. I’ve tolerated you long enough. Once your vessels are destroyed you will be stranded here.”

Scott raised his omnitool looking panicked, “Captain! Fire the EMP!”

“Done!” Hayjer confirmed.

It took less than a minute. All of the relics, once suspended by a field, dropped to the ground. The hologram of the Archon flickered and died out. The doors opened and alarms blared across the ship.  This was their only chance. They readied their weapons, but a loud roar and the sound of loud footsteps made them stop. It did not sound like kett footsteps.

“What the hell is that?” Emma whispered.

The answer to her question barreled into the room, grunting and looking around. It stopped as it noticed them. The krogan that had been in the tank was now standing in front of them. And he looked pissed.

“Shit.” Drack muttered, raising his gun.

The krogan roared and charged them. The group scattered, bullets and arrows flying as they tried to get space between themselves and him. Scott was having a loud and brief conversation with Captain Hayjer. Emma shot an arrow that lodged between the krogan’s plates. His beady red eyes turned to her and she cursed. She barely dodged as he charged full speed at her. A shot to the side of his head drew his attention elsewhere. Emma crawled her way to cover quickly. It just so happened Jaal using this particular place to take pot shots at the krogan. It was a coincidence, okay? Okay. Emma took the moment to count her arrows left. She had plenty of the EMPs but they were useless at the moment, acid bolts were probably also useless, as were the smoke bombs. The flashbang might be useful.

“Are you alright?” Jaal shouted over the gunfire.

She nodded, “A bit overwhelmed,” she gestured to the krogan who was going head to head with Drack, “but I’m fine.”

Jaal took another shot before leaning back down, “I don’t mean with the krogan. Are you alright?”

Kett started to filter into the room, taking position, and firing. They were determined to keep them in this room.

“Probably not the best time to ask!” She shouted back.

“Why not?”

She looked down at him, “We’re a little busy.”

Emma pulled a flashbang bolt from her quiver. Emma signaled for Jaal to duck down and cover his ears. She fired at the feet of the largest group of Kett.

“Flashbang!” She shouted so the others could hear her.

Emma ducked down beside Jaal and covered her ears. The sound was loud enough for her to hear and she looked back up. The kett looked dazed. She nodded to Jaal and started to fire off into the group, striking kett wherever she could. Jaal was beside her, taking out the kett so the others could finish off the krogan. It was a perfect system. Her and Jaal took turns until the kett were thinned out to just a handful chosen and an anointed. Just a little more to go and they could get the hell out of here.

“Look out!” Scott shouted from the other side of the room.

Emma looked up to see the krogan gunning for her once more. He was too damn close. Using her shoulder, Emma shoved Jaal to the side right as the behemoth crashed through the platform and into her. With one swipe of his claws, she flew back and into the window, striking her head on the glass. She heard her name called, once, twice, three times. There was a ringing in her ears as she struggled to sit up. Reaching up, Emma undid her helmet and pulled it off. It slipped from her fingers. The whole room moved as she tried to focus, she needed to focus. She felt sluggish like she was moving through a fog. Her breaths sounded loud in her ears. She had to get up. Had to move.

The behemoth was coming for her again. Its footsteps vibrated the floor underneath her. There was more shouting. She couldn’t make it out. Bullets hit its back, but it was wholly focused on her. It raised its arms over its head. It was going to bludgeon her to death. Emma raised her arms in front of her face, trying to protect herself.

The blow didn’t come. Nothing happened. Emma looked up to see the behemoth still towering over her, but he wasn’t moving. He grunted and tried to move, but he couldn’t. That’s when she saw it. The blue light that glimmered around her hands and glimmered around his body. It was her. She was doing this. How?

“SAM, please tell me you’re seeing this.” She whispered.

“Yes, Emma, I am recording all activity to analyze.” He spoke in her head.

She was in awe. The behemoth struggled, but he couldn’t break free. A gunshot broke her out of her reverie and she flinched. The behemoth moved his arm a fraction.

“Uh-oh” She murmured.

The kett were still firing, having found their advantage. Scott and the others were trying to get to her through the gunfire. The more she focused on what was happening, the more the behemoth was able to move. She was going to lose him. Emma licked her lips nervously and glanced at the group of kett trying to advance into the room. Maybe just a little push. Emma concentrated, pushing the behemoth away from her and…holy shit it was working. The behemoth struggled, but it was too late. Emma pushed with all she had and he flew back right into the group of kett. He landed on them hard, giving the team enough time and leverage to push through and finish them off. Emma felt something wet and warm drip from her nose. She looked down to see droplets of blood splash down onto her armor. It was…a familiar feeling.

Emma struggled to sit up, her head still hurting from her collision. Large hands hooked underneath her arms and help her stand up. Jaal was holding her up, and holding her close until she regained her balance. Scott was in front of her, pulling a medigel pack from his armor and shoving it into hers. It took a moment for it to enter her system. The pain in her head dulled enough.

“Are you okay?” Scott’s face was close again.

She nodded, “That one was not my fault.”

He let out a sigh of relief and chuckled, “I know, I’m still going to blame you though.”

Jaal’s hands didn’t leave her. He kept them on her shoulders to keep her steady. She’d like to say she didn’t like it, but she did. Besides, it was better than her falling on her face. She looked down at her helmet that was laying on the floor. The back was cracked open.

“Well my helmets fucked.” She sighed.

“We’ll get you a new one.” Jaal promised.

“We should move.” Drack reminded them.

As if on cue, SAM spoke, “Pathfinder, there is little time to waste. You need to leave this ship.”

“Alright, let’s move out.” Scott ordered.

Jaal handed Emma her bow, which was still one piece thankfully. He stayed by her side as they backtracked through the room, stepping over fallen kett. She was fine. The ringing in her ears had subsided considerably. She wasn’t good as new, but she was still able to fight. And something told her they were going to fight their way off.

“Pathfinder, a moment. I’m picking up krogan life signs onboard the ship. Several are being held captive not far from your location. They are scheduled for exaltation.” SAM interrupted their trek back.

“Could be the rest of Drack’s missing scouts.” Jaal said.

“SAM do we have the time to get there before the kett restore power?”

SAM was silent a moment, “If you act quickly.” He finally answered.

Scott turned to each of them to confirm they were onboard. They all nodded back at him.

Scott’s omnitool pinged, “Ryder, it’s Raeka. I’m pinned down. Don’t think I’m going to make it.”

“Where are you?” Scott asked.

“Near holding cells where they’re keeping several of my people. They’re still alive. I ordered Captain Hayjer back to the ark.”

“Dammit Raeka, you should be with him.”

“I couldn’t leave my people-I had to try. And now…I think it’s over. From one pathfinder to another. Farewell. Raeka out.”

“There isn’t time to save both. Once the kett restore power, you’ll be trapped.” SAM sounded almost regretful.

“Ryder, you have to save my men.” Drack stepped forward.

“If we do the salarians die too and another pathfinder.” Scott clenched and unclenched his fists.

“I know these kids Ryder! I sent them here. I have to get them out!” Drack shouted.

“Don’t act like this is an easy decision, especially when you’re not the one making it.” Scott shouted back.

Emma put her hand on Scott’s shoulder, “Let’s make it easy then.”

Scott looked at her.

She shrugged, “I’ll go get Raeka, you three go get Drack’s scouts.”

“Absolutely not.” Scott shook his head.

“Scott-“

“No, you are not in any condition to run off and fight by yourself.”

“I’m fine and I won’t be alone. Raeka and the salarians can back me up. It’s a sound decision and you know it.

“You saw what they did to the salarians down there. They’ll do it to the rest of them. I can’t let that happen.” She argued.

Scott sighed, “Fine, but hurry and get back to the Tempest in one piece.”

She nodded, “I will.”

Jaal’s hand clapped down on her shoulder, “Be careful Emma.”

She smirked, “Don’t worry big guy, I’ll see you later.”

~

The Tempest flew in to rescue them from the top deck. The krogans were in front, running full speed towards the ship, while Scott, Jaal, and Drack provided cover fire from the few kett that tried to come up after them. There was no sign or word from Emma and Scott was worried. She better make it here. She better make it. The ramp lowered and the krogan ran up and into the cargo bay. Scott and Jaal hunkered down on the ramp, firing at the kett. He had to hold them off. Just until she got here.

“Where is she?” Jaal shouted.

“I don’t know!” Scott shouted, hearing the desperation in his own voice.

“Scott!” Cora was coming down the ramp.

He ignored. He knew what she going to say and he was not having. Scott continued to shoot the never-ending kett that swarmed the top deck. Clear path. He had to clear a path.

“Scott, we have to go!” Cora shouted at him again.

“I’m not leaving without her!”

“Pathfinder-“

He saw it then. The sign he was fighting for. He could see signs of blue moving through the kett. Kett fell and slid across the deck as shots rang out. She was coming. Emma was supporting a limping Raeka, her pistol unholstered and firing through kett as she brought the salarians. Jaal let out a laugh beside him and clapped him on the back. He was just as excited to see her as Scott was. The salarians ran past Cora and into the Tempest. Cora took Raeka from Emma and brought her aboard the ship. She hunkered down in between Jaal and Scott to shoot any remaining kett while the others readied themselves for take-off. Scott noticed the tired look on her face and the fresh blood dripping from her nose. He would address it later.

The Tempest lurched as the ramp was lifted into the ship. Jaal wrapped his arm around Emma’s waist to keep her from moving. Scott noted the shared look between them and the slight blush on her cheeks. Finally, ammunition to tease her with later. The door closed shut. The three of them stood. Everyone was safe and accounted for. It was time to go.

“Alright Kallo, let’s get these people home.” Scott ordered.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

It was so loud.

Everyone crowded in the cargo bay. Drack and the Krogans were off to one side. The salarians were on the other, surrounding the injured Raeka. Lexi was moving through the groups tending to injuries based on severity. The Tempest crew was intermingled with the groups, trying to pry for information and make sure everyone was alright.

It was too much for Emma.

She needed to get out. Voices grated at her ears, every one of them shrill and piercing, even though they weren’t. It made her chest burn in anger. She pressed her lips tightly together, keeping her words inside. Thankfully, no one was paying much attention to her at the moment. Except for the angara that was standing across the room, his eyes not leaving her quite yet. She slipped through the others and made way for the exit. The lift would draw too much attention.

She was heading towards the weapons locker. She needed to get her armor off before it choked her to death. Not really thinking, she walked through the Tempest. She wondered briefly when she had become so familiar with the space. It flitted through her mind and was gone. Something she could think about later. Her armor weighed so much.

It was quiet, small, in the locker room. But there was no air. Emma tried to suck in a lungful of air, but it wasn’t enough. She fumbled, trying to pull off her chest plate, feeling clumsy. Sweat dripped down her face and wet her cheeks. Or maybe she was crying. It was hard to tell. A pain flared in the base of her skull, making her grit her teeth.

Please

She dropped her chest piece on the ground. Her body suit was sticking to her as she sweat. Another pulse. More pain.

Stop

Emma squeezed her eyes shut. She leaned against the wall, her fingers picking at the straps of her arm and leg pieces. It was so damn heavy. But there was no relief when the pieces dropped to the floor. Maybe it was her body suit. It clung to her, suffocating her. She reached for the zipper and yanked it down. The suit peeled off her. She shivered when the cool air hit the sweat on her skin.

It hurts

Emma slid down the wall until she was sitting on the floor. Her knees were pressed to her chest. If she could have curled any further inward, she would have. This was not what she had hoped for when she wanted memories back. The door opened, but she didn’t look up. She was sure she already looked like a mess just sitting here on the floor in only her underwear and sports bra, her armor pieces scattered around her. The person didn’t say anything. She just heard them move closer to her and slide down onto the floor beside her. There was a buzzing on her skin, a warmth that started at her arms and worked its way inwards. She looked up then, staring into eyes she had become familiar with over the past couple of weeks.

Jaal’s own eyes were wet, the telltale track of tears had dampened his cheeks. Without thinking, she reached out and touched his face, her thumb brushing away any more stray tears. His skin vibrated under her touch. Pink skin flushed dark beneath her fingers. The buzzing across her own skin increased, the warmth placating the panic that had gathered underneath her sternum. It was strange, but not unpleasant. She dropped her fingers to his rofjinn. It was soft and she gently curled the fabric into her hand.

What am I doing?

Emma turned to the side and laid her head on Jaal’s rofjinn. It was quiet and she just listened to the deep rumble in his chest. His chest rose and fell under her cheek. It was a foreign and yet familiar feeling. It was a needed feeling. Jaal remained quiet, his hand coming up to rest in the middle of her back. His thumb pressed soothing circles into her skin.

How could they do it?

Her eyes filled again. Tears for the salarians and for the others and for herself. Emma turned her face into Jaal’s chest trying to hide her face. His arm tightened around her. He didn’t try to stop her from crying, or placating her with meaningless sentiment. He just let her feel. For once, she felt comforted.

~

Emma wasn’t quite sure when she fell asleep. It was hard to remember anything past the crying into Jaal’s rofjinn. Which was embarrassing enough to think about as it was. Her eyes fluttered open and she groaned into a blanket. At least it was dark. And the couch was soft, softer than she remembered it being. Maybe just a little bit longer then. Emma burrowed into the covers. She hadn’t dreamed about anything, which was a nice change of pace, and she could stand for a little more sleep.

Someone cleared their throat and her eyes opened. She wasn’t on a couch. There were no windows in here. She was not in the meeting room. The only light in the room came from the computer screens. The other lights had been dimmed. When the hell had she ended up in the tech lab? And if she was in the tech lab, then she was definitely not sleeping on a couch. Emma shot up, using her arms to steady herself when she got lightheaded. She had been sleeping into a large oversize cot, Jaal’s cot.

Oh no. First the cried on him, and that was bad enough, now she had slept in his bed. Without showering, dried blood still underneath her nose, and her face red and tear-stained. He was sitting across the room, his rifle apart and in pieces in front of him, his eyes lingering on her. Emma wiped at her cheeks, feeling the dried tear tracks.

“I slept here?” Her voice was still thick with sleep.

Jaal nodded and set down his rifle components. He turned towards her fully. He looked tired, as if he hadn’t bothered sleeping. It was probably because she had taken over his bed. How had she anyway? She was in the weapons locker and then woke up here.

She cleared her throat, “How did I get here?”

“You fell asleep in the locker room. I brought you here because the Salarians had taken the couches in the meeting room…and for privacy.”

“Privacy?”

“I didn’t think you would want the others to see you in that state. Did I make the wrong choice?”

“No,” she shook her head, “Thank you. I appreciate it. This is a little embarrassing.”

He stood up from his seat and crossed the room to sit next to her, “Why is it embarrassing?”

“Crying in front of someone you don’t really know isn’t embarrassing?”

“Crying is not embarrassing; however, I have noticed humans find it a sign of weakness.”

“It means you can’t control your emotions.”

He chuckled, “It is fascinating how much you want to control something that shouldn’t be controlled. The angara are not weak because they feel deeply, in fact, we are stronger for it.”

“Emotions can make you lose focus.”

“Or remind you what you’re fighting for.”

She didn’t have much to say to that. He wasn’t wrong, but it went against everything Alec had taught her. She had to stay focused, don’t let anything get the best of her, focus on the mission and nothing else. Maybe it was their flaw. Maybe they would fight harder if they did think about what they were fighting for. Maybe she would actually remember why she was fighting. For herself? For others? To make someone proud even though they’re gone? To prove she wasn’t a monster?

“What do you fight for?” She looked up to meet his gaze.

“My family, my friends, those who were taken, and those who died fighting the kett.” His tone was unwavering.

What do you fight for Emma?”

She shrugged, “I don’t know. I don’t have family…well I suppose there’s Scott, but I don’t know how much that counts anymore,” She rubbed the back of her head absently, “it’s hard to know what I’m fighting for when I don’t remember what’s been lost, like family.”

Jaal pulled a small towel off from his desk and a water bottle. She watched as he wet the towel with some water. The room was silent as he did so. Neither of them spoke. She supposed it was hard to really say anything after that.

Jaal pressed the cloth to the skin under her nose, trying to clean the blood as best as he could, “Is that what you want Emma? A family? Or do you truly want to be alone?”

The question caught her off-guard. Did she want to be alone? It would be awfully quiet and…lonely. What did she want? Was she allowed to want?

“When I first boarded the Tempest, I was prepared to kill everyone on this ship if it was necessary. I trusted no one. Ryder tried to speak to me, but until I saw his deeds with my own eyes, I didn’t want to be too open. He confided in me that the crew was like his family, and he extended an invitation into his family.

This could be your family. What you fight for. If you let it.” Jaal drew his hand back.

She scoffed, “I don’t think anyone really wants me here. I’m trouble.”

“I do.” He didn’t hesitate.

“You don’t understand.” She sighed.

“Help me understand.”

“Everyone on this ship could get hurt if I stay. I’m going to be going against people who are like me. That’s not fair to anyone here.”

“Did you ask anyone or are you making assumptions about their feelings?” Jaal challenged.

“My assumptions regarding what people think of me are hardly wrong.”

“I think you are just afraid. You are afraid of being rejected. Of forging relationships where you must care. So, you don’t even try.”

She gaped at him, “You don’t know a damn thing about me.”

He chuckled, “You are not so mysterious Emma. You are scared and unsure and lonely. I know because I can feel it.”

That gave her pause, “You can feel it?”

His eyes lit up and he nodded.

“How can you feel it?”

“You give off electric signals. Stronger than any humans I’ve met before. I cannot feel it all the time, but when you experience strong emotions I can.”

She just stared at him as he was so matter of fact about it. She gave off bioelectric signals…? What else could she do? Glow in the damn dark? Fly? Jet through space and right into the black hole? Emma let out a breath and ran her fingers through her hair. She grimaced at how oily her hair had gotten from sweating. Oh god, she hadn’t even showered and here she was in Jaal’s bed. She didn’t want to think about how bad she smelled. Or crying on him, which put her in this position in the first place.

“You are upset.” He leaned towards her.

Her attention was on him as he reached for her hand. Should she take it? What could it hurt really? He waited patiently, allowing her to make the choice. Shaking slightly, she slipped her hand in his. It was disconcerting to say the least. To think there would be someone who could feel how she felt. It would make it a hell of a lot harder to bluff. It made her feel vulnerable. Like he could peel away the layers to the raw hurt underneath everything.

She felt the buzzing again. It started where their hands touched and worked its way up her arms. It was warm and soothing. Emma shifted and leaned closer to Jaal.

“This is you?”

He nodded, “It is my response to how you feel.”

“Your response?” She looked up at him.

“Angara share our emotions with each other this way. I was giving you comfort.”

She flushed, “It must make it difficult to lie.”

“I suppose it would, but we tend not to.”

If Jaal was a model for most of his species she could see it. His large eyes stared at her, boring into her the more he stared. She doubted he would like what he saw. Feeling uncomfortable, she withdrew her hand and settled it in her lap. He didn’t look disappointed or upset that she did so.

“I should probably shower before we reach the nexus.” She mumbled.

“Emma, we are currently docked at the Nexus.” SAM interrupted.

“Really? How long was I asleep?”

“You were asleep for ten hours.”

She winced, “I’ve never slept that long before.”

“You were exhausted. Lexi was worried about your head injury, but SAM reassured her that you were fine. It seems a good rest was needed.” 

“I’m sorry I took over your bed for so long,” She stood up from the cot, bringing the blanket with her, “I can drop this in the laundry chute. Least I can do for inconveniencing you.”

Jaal stood up beside her, his fingers gently pulling the blanket from hers, “You are not an inconvenience Emma.”

Emma flushed. What was this? How to fluster her in less than ten words? She didn’t know what to do with her hands now that the blanket was gone. He was just staring down at her, his gaze open and honest and…affectionate.

“Right. I should um go.” She pointed to the door.

She turned on her heel and practically fled the room. She veered left to head up the ramp to find a spare change of clothes. Her skin was hot and uncomfortable. The Nexus loomed in the large window, blocking any decent view of the space it existed in. Poor Scott, was probably up there dealing with Tann now. Emma rifled through a small bag next to one of the couches. Thankfully, Vetra had managed to find her some clothes, or Emma would have run out of underwear a long time ago. The rest of her clothes were in Kadara. She paused at the thought of Kadara. After this, Scott was taking her back to Kadara and she would have to make her choice. Should she stay or should she go?

You are not an inconvenience.

Emma clutched the clothes between her hands. Did he really mean it? She shook her head and headed back down the ramp. Maybe a hot shower would clear the Jaal out of her head. The ship was quiet and seemingly empty. The crew was probably at Vortex, trying the drink the last mission away. Not that she could blame them. It is certainly something she would do. Anything to rid herself of the images.

The bathroom was also empty. She set her clothes down on the edge of the sink. She hardly recognized the person staring back at her in the mirror. Dried tears, red cheeks, and mussed hair greeted her. Emma rubbed at her face, her fingers straying to where the blood would have been, if Jaal hadn’t cleaned it for her. Her eyes closed and she could almost feel his gentle fingers on her face again. Dammit Emma, focus. Shower first. She stripped down, tossing her clothes down the chute, and turned on the hot water. The heat soothed every muscle in her body and she sagged against the wall in relief.

The door opened and Emma sighed. So much for being alone. A blonde head peaked around the corner.

Cora cleared her throat, “I can come back later.”

Emma shrugged, “There’s another showerhead. I’m not opposed to sharing.”

Cora was quiet as she slipped past Emma and turned on the other shower. She sighed audibly when the water hit her. The bathroom remained quiet, albeit a bit awkwardly. Emma shampooed her hair in the silence.

“I can admit when I’m…wrong about someone.”

Emma looked up as Cora spoke.

Cora continued, “I made a snap judgement about you and I was wrong.”

“It’s fine Cora. You aren’t the first person to do so.”

“Maybe, but I should know better. As Scott’s second I should trust him more. He and Alec clearly cared for you a lot. It just reminded me how little I knew about Alec and his decisions. It made me…angry and it clouded my judgement of you.”

Emma was at a loss for words, “Thank you for your honesty.”

Cora nodded and paused before speaking again, “Scott left you out of the report. Raeka agreed to keep you a secret for now. I don’t know how he managed to convince her.”

“He did?”

“Yes. I didn’t like it at first, but I understand that he wanted to protect you. People are still skittish around biotics. I can imagine the sort of scrutiny you will be under.” Cora turned off her showerhead.

Emma was silent as Cora slipped past her again. Scott kept her from the Nexus, just like Alec had. He was afraid for her. He broke protocol for her. Cora stopped just before exiting the showers.

“I think it would be nice if you stayed.”

~

Kadara drifted below them. Scott had asked to wait to dock until the morning, allowing them to spend one more night together. Emma had agreed. Since they left the Nexus, she had been quiet and lost in thought. She avoided everyone, especially Lexi. She still wasn’t feeling up to being poked and prodded while in windowless and suffocating med bay. Thankfully, Lexi hadn’t pushed to see her.  Scott had purposefully avoided the subject of the Salarian ark. Ever since he stepped foot back on the Tempest he always looked like he wanted to say something. The twelve-hour trip to Kadara was awkward as Scott and Emma danced around each other. She was surprised he didn’t bust a proverbial door down and get his answers about her implant. Maybe he was really angry with her. Maybe he was ready to kick her ass back to Kadara and be done with it.

Everyone was in the cargo bay except for Suvi and Kallo. Gil and Liam were discussing upgrades to the nomad. Vetra was in and out of the weapons locker, taking stock of ammo and upgrades. Cora was filling out reports for the Nexus for Scott to double check later. Drack and Lexi were having a quiet conversation on the second level. Scott and Jaal were lingering around the spare room, their heads bent towards each other and whispering ominously. Their eyes strayed towards her every couple of minutes. She was trying to ignore it as she balanced her journal on her knee. She made a point to write about what happened on the Salarian ark. Any new revelations about herself went straight into the journal. Just in case. Someone loudly clearing their throat made her look up.

“Can I borrow your music player?” Scott was fidgety.

“Why?”

“It’s a surprise.”

She narrowed her eyes, but pulled it from her back pocket and handed it over, “Don’t break it.”

He snatched it from her and grinned, “I won’t”

He walked back over to Jaal and they resumed whispering. Emma could no longer ignore the two of them, plotting god knows what in the corner. With a sigh, she flipped her journal shut and set it on a crate beside her. The pen went into her bun so she didn’t lose it. After a few minutes both of them headed back over and set a small device down on the crate.

“What is this?” She asked.

“A portable stereo.” Scott gestured to it.

“We put it together.” Jaal added.

“We?”

“Well mostly Jaal.” Scott admitted.

Jaal nodded, beaming with pride. Emma looked between the two of them. They made something for her? Emma felt a strange feeling in her chest that she tried to ignore. They were clever. Emma touched her music player that sitting snugly between two speakers. She flipped through her music selection, randomly selecting a song with the touch of her finger. The sound came through the speakers clearly.

I feel so bad I got a worried mind

I’m so lonesome all the time

Since I left my baby behind

On Blue Bayou

Scott held his hand out to her. Emma raised an eyebrow as she stared at his hand. He wasn’t serious, was he? The others had stopped what they were doing to watch. Liam and Gil were grinning like idiots. Vetra had poked her head out of the weapons locker. Even Cora had a small smile on her lips. Emma shook her head, but took his hand nonetheless. Scott pulled her from the crate she had been perched on and into a small space free of crates and the nomad. His hand rested on her hip and he kept hold of her other hand in his. Emma fought a small smile.

“Mom and dad used to dance like this.” His voice was quiet, not going over the song.

She looked up at him.

He nodded, “Every time dad came back from deployments, mom would cook something special and we would celebrate. And every single time he would interrupt her cooking to dance with her in the kitchen to their song.”

Childish laughter. Emma felt a sharp pain in her head. The smell of garlic and basil. Emma closed her eyes and winced. Bring your sweet love and bring it on home to me.

“Emma?” Scott had stopped moving and was looking down at her, “Are you okay?”

She opened her eyes and met his gaze, “Bring it on home to me.”

“What?”

“That was their song. Bring it on home to me by Sam Cooke.”

“You remembered?” He was quiet.

She nodded in disbelief, “I remembered.”

Scott gripped both of her shoulders, shaking her slightly, “Is that why dad gave you an implant?”

Emma was still in a daze. She remembered. Just like that. Not everything, but just enough. It felt like she had reached into the abyss and snagged another fragment of herself. A piece that wasn’t jagged and meant to hurt, but one to make her a little more whole.

“He wasn’t sure that I could remember, but he wanted to try and prevent it from happening again.”

“But you remembered?” Scott let out an incredulous laugh.

Before she could register the movement, she was smooshed into a broad chest. Scott’s arms were wrapped around her. He was hugging her like he was going to lose her. Technically, if she walked out the door and back to her “home” then he would. But Kadara wasn’t her home. It was a place to sleep and earn money. She didn’t feel anything there. It was a place for her to run and hide. She didn’t come to Andromeda to hide. And now she had a reason to keep on. With or without Alec.

You can’t run from everything.

“I’ll need to get my stuff.” Emma’s voice was muffled into Scott’s chest.

Scott pulled back, “What was that?”

“I’ll need to get my stuff.” She repeated.

“Does this mean…?” Scott trailed off, looking scared that she would take it back.

“I’ll stay.”

 

 

Chapter Text

Emma was up early, already geared up and ready to go, minus a helmet of course. The cargo bay was quiet. It was perfect for sipping coffee before she had to step foot back on Kadara. It was nice. Having her mind made up for once. There were no second thoughts. No cold feet. She agreed to stay and she was going to. Hopefully it would be as nice as she hoped. More memories. Hell, she could take the bad, if she also got more of the good.

A hand patted her gently on the head. She jumped slightly and looked up at Scott. He was grinning at her like an idiot.

“Someone’s up early.” He sat across from her, nursing his own cup.

She shrugged, “Got shit to do today.”

His grin grew wider at her nonchalance, “You’re excited, aren’t you?”

She scoffed, “Shut up.”

Emma hid her grin in her cup. Okay, maybe she was just a little excited. Scott nudged her with his knee.

“I already have Kallo taking us down. I figure Liam and Jaal can go with us and get your stuff. Get in and get out.”

“Can the Pathfinder just get in and get out?” She leaned back against a crate.

“Why wouldn’t I?”

“I thought you would be out there shaking hands and kissing babies.”

He rolled his eyes, “Really Emma? I thought you were better than that.”

“Do you really know me then?” She teased.

“Enough to blackmail you.” He shot back.

“You wouldn’t?”

“I would.” He pointedly took a sip of coffee.

“You play dirty. Noted.”

“Hopefully, you’ll remember that about me.” He looked at her with his big, soulful eyes, and she wondered how she ever mistook him for Alec.

Her voice was quiet. “I hope so too.”

It was a nice moment. Peaceful. Honest. The most she had been in a long time. She wanted to remember. Everything. Everything she could take back, she would. They just sat there. Basking in that moment. The silence was shattered by the sound of footsteps moving through the Tempest, towards the cargo bay. Looks like it was almost time to go. Liam and Jaal came down the lift, chattering far too animatedly for first thing in the morning.

“Is he always so cheerful in the morning?” Emma looked over at the pair.

“That depends.”

“How does the depend?” She turned back to Scott.

“On how interested you are in Jaal.”

Emma felt her cheeks darken and she frowned, “I am not interested.”

“Oh please, Emma. You like him.” He leaned forward and whispered, if you could really call it that.

She shook her and stood up, leaving her empty cup on the crate, “I do not.”

“You’re a horrible liar.”

Emma shoved past him to head for the doors. If Kallo was telepathic he would shoot her out into space now.

Scott poked her in the side, “You blushed.”

“I did not.”

“You still are.” He poked her in the cheek.

Slapping his hand away, she poked him in the chest, “Knock it off Scott Ryder or I won’t stay.”

He backed off with a big smirk on his face, “I don’t think you could stay away if you tried.”

“Everything alright over here?” Liam interrupted.

Liam and Jaal were both staring at them in confusion. Jaal’s eyes slid to meet hers and she felt her chest flush. She quickly looked away. Thanks Scott, now she couldn’t even look him in the eye. He was nice sure, but she hardly doubted blushing correlated to her having a crush on him. He would be better off if she never did.

“Yeah, we’re good.” She answered Liam.

Liam raised a brow, “Riiight, nothing awkward going on over here then,” He turned to Scott, “So what’s the plan?”

“We’re just escorting Emma to wherever she’s been staying and getting her stuff.”

“No Pathfinder stuffs?”

Emma smirked at Scott.

“Not if I can help it.”

“You’re missing something.” Emma spoke up, leaning against the nomad.

“What?”

“Sloane.”

“What about Sloane?” Scott looked confused.

“You didn’t exactly take me out of here on the best of terms. She’s going to be expecting me to walk off this ship. I don’t doubt she’ll be waiting.” Emma sighed.

“We can handle Sloane.”

Liam shook his head, “I don’t think that’s such a good idea.”

“I agree.” Emma nodded at Liam, “You’ll alienate yourself from Kadara and you won’t be able to settle an outpost.”

“Then what should I do?”

“Hand me over.”

Jaal stepped forward, “We are not handing you over.”

“Agreed.” Scott narrowed his eyes at Emma.

She sighed, “I need you two to trust me. I can handle Sloane without you losing a foothold in Kadara.”

“I don’t like this.” Scott folded his arms over his chest.

“I know. But I can handle it. I’ll meet you at the entrance to the badlands afterwards.”

“What if you need help?” Jaal argued.

“I can alert you if the situation escalates.” SAM interjected.

She nodded, “Sloane will be all too happy to get me out of Kadara. Trust me.”

Scott let out a breath and rubbed his hands through his hair making it stick up, “Fine. Gear up then.”

Scott and Liam both turned to grab their gear. Jaal looked like he wanted to argue even further. He was still close to her. Only an arm’s length away. She leaned against the nomad. It was just the two of them in the cargo bay now.

“I don’t like this plan.” He finally spoke.

“I know.”

“I wish you would take one of us with you.”

“What happened with Sloane is my fault. I have to handle it. Without putting everyone else in danger.”

“Emma please.” He pleaded.

He was staring at her with those big eyes again. She was tempted to agree, but she refused to mix anyone in her problems. Especially Jaal.

That means you like him.

Shut up.

The chattering of the other two silenced any reply she might have. Jaal did not move away from her. She dropped her eyes from his gaze, but she could still feel it. It made her feel bad. Scott came up beside her and nudged her shoulder with his. He handed her bow over to her and a quiver full of arrows.

“Just in case.” He shrugged.

“Pulling into port Ryder.” Kallo’s voice echoed from the intercom.

“Thanks, Kallo.”

The four of them waited by the ramp. She was stuck in between Scott and Jaal. Their reluctance to let her go rolled off of them in waves. The ramp lowered to reveal an empty dock. It was not surprising, not to her at least. Sloane wouldn’t want to be embarrassed once again. She was first one down the ramp despite the protests behind her. Kaetus was waiting by the doors, his hands clasped behind his back. The only sound on the docks was of the groups footsteps as they approached him. Emma held her hands out to show she was unarmed. Well, she at least didn’t have a gun.

“Kaetus.” She nodded at him.

He sighed, “Emma.”

“Sloane wants to see you.”

“Well, she doesn’t send her best guard dog for nothing.”

Kaetus straightened up, “I am not her dog.”

“Relax Kaetus. I’m not here to fight with you. I’ll go.”

“Just you.” He eyed the others behind her.

She inclined her head, “Of course.”

A gentle hand wrapping around her wrist stopped her from immediately following Kaetus. She turned to meet Jaal’s eyes. His eyes pleaded with her in ways that his words did not. Her heart hammered in her throat before she placed her hand over his.

“I’ll be fine. Just wait for me. Okay?” Her voice was softer than she had ever heard it before.

He looked behind her to stare down Kaetus before nodding, “Okay.”

He relented and let go of her. She turned away and followed Kaetus into the port before she could change her mind. Before she could ask for help. Before she could drag Jaal into her questionable choices. He didn’t deserve that. The people in the port stared at her. She was used to it. A flurry of activity drew her attention to right outside Umi’s bar. One of the bounty hunters from before had pushed his way to the front of the crowd and was glaring at her. A few others held him back when she smirked and waved.

Kaetus stopped right in front of the doors and turned to her, “Behave.”

She didn’t bother with an answer. They both knew there were no guarantees. Sloane was volatile and it didn’t matter about the size of the candle Kaetus was carrying for her, he knew it better than anyone. She followed him through the halls until they reached Sloane’s “throne room.” The doors opened and the only thing she could see was Sloane’s pissed off glare. No one was else was in the room. Not even Kaetus was setting foot in the room. Emma shrugged and walked past to face Sloane head on.

“You have nerve coming back.” Sloane sat forward in her chair.

Emma shrugged, “I had to get my things.”

Sloane leaned back, “So…I’m just supposed to sit here and let you run off with the Pathfinder and forget that you stole from me. And made a mockery of my organization.”

“Organization?” Emma scoffed, “Is that what you call this? You sit on a pedestal held up by protection fees, drug addicts, and the angara. You’re not a fucking leader Sloane. Not anymore.”

Sloane stood from her chair, “Kadara Port is mine and you won’t take it from me.”

“Trust me, I don’t fucking want it.”

“You can fool everyone else, but I can tell when someone wants nothing more than power.” Sloane tried stood toe to toe with her.

Emma laughed at that, “You are delusional. Are you sure you’re fit to lead?”

“No one can do better. I have bled for these people! They will not follow anyone else.”

“That might change. Especially if the angara found out you were trying to exterminate their settlements.”

“Like I would let you.”

Emma took a step forward, forcing Sloane back, “Like you could stop me.”

Silence stretched between them like a taut rubber band. Anything could happen. Sloane could call in her guards and they could have a repeat of last time. Emma especially enjoyed when she got to break her nose. Or Sloane could concede. Emma took another step forward, pushing Sloane back to her chair. Sloane didn’t break eye contact as she sat back down. It would seem she was conceding for now.

“If you let me go into the badlands to get my things undisturbed, I will board the Tempest and you won’t have to see me again,” Emma leaned toward until she was nose to nose with Sloane, “And I’ll even keep your dirty little secret.”

Sloane clenched her jaw so hard Emma could hear her teeth grinding together, “Fine. Get. Out.”

Emma smirked and pulled away. That went better than she thought it would. She didn’t really feel like fighting her way out of outcast headquarters for a second time. She just wanted to get off this planet. She came to Andromeda to see the stars and have a new life. Dammit she was going to do just that.

“If you come back, our agreement is null and void.” Sloane spoke up just before Emma walked out.

Emma nodded and left without sparing Sloane another glance. Kaetus went in right as she walked out. Emma almost felt a little bad for him. But he knew who Sloane was and what he was getting into. No one else glanced at her as she walked back into a port. There was a small crowd outside of Umi’s bar. It wasn’t any of her damn business. Emma walked through with a singular goal in mind. She just had to meet Scott and get this over with. Yet the crowd drew her gaze. They were crowded over a dead angara that had been dumped in the middle of the walkway. She slowed down as neared the crowd.

“Another one?” Someone whispered.

“It’s the second one in a week.”

Emma frowned, but kept moving. It had nothing to do with her and she didn’t want to linger in the port any longer than necessary. If she lingered too long Sloane wouldn’t give a shit and send someone after her anyways. It wasn’t until she was hitting the button for the lift that she breathed a little. One thing done. She stepped inside.

“Wait! Hold the lift!”

Emma reached forward and stopped the doors from closing. She pushed them back in. A young man ran into the lift, breathing heavily.

“Thanks.” He managed between breaths.

“No problem.” Emma leaned against the back wall.

He turned to look at her, “I don’t usually go into the badlands.”

She smirked, “Everyone should experience it at least once.”

He chuckled, “I guess so.

I’m Kennedy by the way.”

He stuck his hand out to her. Emma just stared at it a moment before taking it. He shook her hand vigorously and she actually looked up at him and made eye contact. His vivid green eyes held her. It was like they froze her to spot. Unease brewed in her stomach. He looked so familiar to her. A smile curved his lips and she almost expected to see sharp teeth.

“What’s your name?” He prompted.

Don’t answer. Don’t answer. Don’t answer.

“Emma.” She realized he was still holding her hand, but she didn’t fight it. She didn’t think she could. She couldn’t move at all. Why couldn’t she move. What was wrong with her?

The doors to the lift opened. The sound made her jump and she pulled her hand from his. He smiled at her again.

“Nice to meet you Emma. Maybe we’ll meet again.” He stepped out of lift, leaving her staring at his back.

What the hell was that? That had never happened to her before. She couldn’t move. He was touching her and she couldn’t move. He asked a question and she answered. She couldn’t stop herself.

The doors started to close and she pressed the button to open them again. She stepped out of the lift, but he was gone. It was like he had just disappeared. Did that really even happen then? She shuddered and walked towards entrance to the badlands. She could handle a little less weird shit in her life.

Scott, Liam, and Jaal were already waiting for her at the entrance. They looked relieved when they saw her.  She was still reeling from the man in the elevator. It was like trying to walk through a fog. You knew you were moving, but you were unsure about where you were going. Jaal touched her upper arm drawing her attention. She focused on him, his fingers on her arm, his eyes staring into her.

“We’re good.” She forced a smile, still feeling a little…off.

“That’s it?” Scott tilted his head at her.

“Yeah, that’s it.”

“What the hell happened with Sloane?”

She shrugged, “I can get my stuff, but once we leave I can’t step foot back in Kadara port.”

“How did you get her to agree to that?”

“By doing what I do to get most people to agree.”

He narrowed his eyes, “You threatened her didn’t you.”

“Yes.”

Scott rubbed the back of his neck, “Damn. We should probably hurry up before she changes her mind.

We can get your things really quick and I’ll bring you back to the Tempest before heading back out.”

“Scott if you have something to do, we can do it first. I’m not going to get in the way of your pathfinding.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. Don’t worry. Sloane won’t change her mind.”

“If you’re sure. Reyes gave us some information about angara being murdered in the port. I was going to check out a body for clues.”

“Then let’s go.”

He frowned, “Just what do you have on Sloane?”

“I’ll tell you later. Okay?”

He nodded, “Alright.”

Scott turned to walk through the checkpoint and Liam followed. Jaal did not. He hung back, his hand still on Emma’s arm.

“Are you alright? I felt something strange before you got here.” He leaned close so no one else would hear them.

She shook her head, “I’m fine Jaal. We should probably go.” She patted his hand before pulling away.

It’s not like she could tell them what happened. She wasn’t even sure anything happened. Maybe she imagined it. Or maybe that guy really was there and she just gaped at him because she isn’t used to attention.

The nomad was waiting for them by the forward station. Scott handed her Carnifex over to strap to her thigh. Jaal was already climbing into the nomad. Liam waited patiently by the door. He grinned at her.

“Already called shotgun.”

She sighed, “Of course you did.”

She climbed behind the seat and sat next to Jaal. She was squished between Jaal’s thigh and the window. The nomad was definitely not made suitable for an angara crew member. She threw a glare in Scott’s direction when she heard him laughing. It was not funny. And she did not like him. Liam and Scott closed the doors and strapped in.

Emma leaned back against the seat and rested her head against the window. It was far from comfortable. They weren’t already halfway through the day and she was already tired. Tired of dealing with people. The scenery, sand and sulfur springs, passed by in a blur. She wasn’t going to miss Kadara much. It was disgusting pit of a place and the people sucked. She wasn’t going to miss wondering where her next meal would come from or if she would have to resort to dancing in Tartarus.

The nomad stopped and she leaned forward, “Where are we?”

“Charybdis point.” Scott unbuckled his seatbelt.

Her stomach flipped and she grabbed Scott by the shoulder to keep him in place, “We’re where?”

He turned and looked at her, “Charybdis point. Reyes said there’s a dead krogan that was left here.”

Emma didn’t take the time to think. She was climbing over Liam and pushing the door open. His surprise and loud ‘what the fuck’ fell on deaf ears. Emma tumbled out of the nomad. Her fingers dug into the sand as she pushed herself up on her feet. She needed to get inside. The others piled out behind her, shocked by her behavior.

Please don’t let it be him. Please. Please.

“Dammit Emma! Wait!” Scott was hot on her heels as she ran up the stairs.

She held her omnitool up to the holo-lock and it turned green. The doors opened and the smell punched her in the gut. The smell of putrefaction invaded her olfactory senses and made her gag. Emma backed away from the door. Her fingers reached for something, anything to grab, until they settled on the metal railing. She looked up at the others who looked equally sick.

They had to go in. She had to go in. She needed to know. Emma tucked her nose into the crook of her elbow and turned back to the threshold. It didn’t do nearly enough to stop the smell. Scott was in front of her trying to keep her from going in. His hand reached for her arm. He was speaking to her. Words tumbled from his mouth, but she couldn’t hear them over her thoughts. Emma pushed past him and into the villa, her house.

There was blood. It was nothing but brown smears now. It had been there for days. She followed the trail into the other room, her makeshift bedroom. Two pallets rested on either side of the room. Hedrak was laying in the middle of the room, right where the blood trail ended. They killed him and left him here to rot in the heat.

“There’s angaran blood too.” Scott was crouched behind her, scanning the blood trails.

The Roekkar. It had to be. No one else would do this. Jaal had picked up a datapad close to Hedrak. He switched it on and stared at the message. His lips moved as he read the message, his brow furrowed. After reading he looked up at Emma.  

“What does it say?” Liam nodded at him.

Jaal cleared his throat and looked back at the datapad, “It says: Sloane pinned it on us. Sorry kid, I don’t think I’ll be here when you get back.”

Emma flopped down on one of the crates nearby. He knew the Roekkar were coming. She should have been here. She should have known. She should have put Sloane out of her misery when she had the choice. Emma had been so close. Sloane had sneered in her face, knowing damn well what she had done. Jaal touched her shoulder gently, making her jump. He kneeled down beside her. Liam and Scott were behind him scanning the villa for anything else.

“Why don’t we wait in the nomad?” He murmured.

She shook her head, “I’m not going anywhere until I bury him Jaal. I’m not leaving him like this.”

Scott straightened up, “I’ll call Reyes and see if he has any shovels.”

Reyes. Reyes pointed them in this direction. Reyes had known Hedrak was here rotting and had done nothing about it. She nodded at Scott. Liam walked over to the windows and pushed them open. They weren’t made to open far, but anything would help get the smell out. Scott stepped outside to make the call. Jaal stayed beside Emma. She was grateful. He had a knack for keeping her calm. Maybe it was the bioelectricity thing. She wondered if he could feel anything from her.

Liam pulled a duffel bag out of the corner beside one of the cots. He brushed the sand and dust off. He reached into one of the opened crates and pulled her clothes out to stuff them in the duffel bag.

“You don’t have to do that.” Her voice was quiet.

Liam shrugged, “I got it. Just let me know where all your stuff is.”

Emma leaned forward and dropped her head in her hands, “Shit.”

Jaal’s hand was on her back. This was her fault. She didn’t deserve any sort of comfort. But she leaned into his touch anyways. Scott came back inside holding a knife in his hands. Wordlessly, he handed it over to Jaal.

Jaal’s eyes narrowed, “It’s a firaan. It’s definitely Roekkar.”

The sound of another vehicle pulling up made them all jump up. Scott peered out the door and let out a breath.

“It’s just Reyes. I’ll go meet him outside.” Scott exited the villa.

Liam had emptied the crate and was holding up her duffel bag, “Anything else?”

She shook her head, “No, that was everything. Thanks Liam.”

“No problem.” He shouldered the duffel bag and went outside to put it in the nomad.

Emma looked over at Hedrak again. He deserved better than someone who had skipped out on him. She hadn’t even thought of him when she agree to stay on the Tempest. And now he was dead. Burying him was the least she could do. She stood up from the crate and grabbed a blanket from one of the pallets. Jaal helped her wrap him in the blanket. The smell was still powerful, but she could handle it just a little longer. She grabbed his legs while Jaal grabbed him by the shoulders and they lifted him together. Taking careful steps, Jaal guided her outside and down the steps.  Liam and Scott were waiting with Reyes, coming over to help place Hedrak gently on the ground.

Reyes had a shovel in each hand and was staring at Emma warily. He knew her temper. Normally she would have been in his face by now, but she just didn’t have it in her. She just wanted to get this over with. Let this day be over with. Maybe have a day or two where she doesn’t feel like life is punching her in the face.

Scott took one of the shovels from Reyes. The two of them marked a spot close to the villa and started to dig. The fact that Reyes was helping surprised her. Maybe he felt a little bit bad then. The sun beat down on her, but she didn’t care. As soon as they were done, as soon as her friend was buried, she was done. There was no reason to come back to Kadara. 

~

Emma sat on the edge of the couch, her elbows on her knees and her head resting in her hands. Pain pulsated throughout her skull. It pounded behind her eyes and made her feel like her head would burst open. She dragged a breath in through her nose and let it escape from her lips. Alec was always pushing breathing exercises. Angry? Breathe. In pain? Breathe. Being attacked by a pack of wolves? That’s right. Just breathe.

A hand touched her shoulder, making her jump. Big surprise. It made her skull hurt worse. She looked up ready to cuss out the person who touched her, but every word died on her tongue. Jaal was standing beside her. Concern colored every feature of his. Without asking, he sat down beside her, his thigh touching her own.

“Are you alright?” He kept his voice low.

“I’m fine. Just a little headache.” She unclenched her teeth just enough to speak.

“Should I get Lexi?” He moved to stand, but Emma reached out and grabbed his arm.

“Please don’t. It’ll go away in a bit.”

He nodded and sat back down beside her. Everything in her body was tense. Just a little bit longer. A bit longer and it would be gone and she could sleep. Jaal covered her hand, that was still gripping his arm, with his other hand. She was still holding on to him? Strange. She flexed her fingers and let go, but he did not.

“Does this happen often?” He tilted his head at her.

She nodded slightly, not too much to make her headache even worse. He enveloped her fingers in his and moved his arm from underneath her hand. It hovered over the base of her neck. Emma stiffened, unsure of what exactly he was doing.

“May I?” He captured her gaze as he asked.

She didn’t know what it was. Maybe it was large eyes that stared into her core. Or maybe it was the open and honest expression on his face every time he looked at her. She didn’t even ask what he was going to do. She just nodded.

Jaal placed his hand on back of her neck, his thumb was pressing on the pulse point behind her ear and the others were resting on the back of her head. At first there was nothing. And then she felt it. A warm buzzing that started at the base of her skull and worked its way around. It eased the pressure behind her eyes. The pain dulled. It no longer felt like someone had shoved a blade through her head. Her shoulders dropped the tension they carried and she let out a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding.

Jaal removed his hand from her neck, but didn’t let go of the hand he was holding. She didn’t particularly mind. When Jaal touched her, it didn’t make her feel like her skin was going to detach and run away screaming. Emma leaned back on the couch. She leaned her head back and stared at the ceiling.

“Thank you.”

“Why didn’t you go to Lexi?”

She shrugged, “I didn’t want to bother her. It sort of happens a lot. It’s better to just ride it out.”

“It isn’t a bother to ask for help.”

She smiled a little when he said that, “You’re one of the few people I know that would say that.”

“Who are the others?”

“Scott.” She grinned at him.

Jaal leaned back, nearly squishing her into the side of the couch. His shoulder rested against hers.

“You never told us why Sloane had a bounty on you.”

She cleared her throat, “Yeah, I know. It’s not…something I’m entirely proud of.”

“Would you like to tell me what happened?”

“I…can.”

He was quiet and waited for her to continue.

“There are only so many ways to make a living on Kadara. You could sell Oblivion or dance in Tartarus,” she hesitated, “Or you can do mercenary work.”

“You were a mercenary?”

She nodded, “I freelanced. Took jobs for the collective or the outcasts. It didn’t matter as long as I had clothes and food and water. I was good at it. I made a good reputation for myself.

I guess it was only a matter of time that Sloane requested to meet me personally. She was probably assessing how much of a threat I was.”

“Were you?”

“Maybe if I cared about the politics. I find the politics just keeps people starving and gets others killed.”

“What did she want from you?”

“There were two Roekkar camps she wanted me to clear out. I was hesitant at first. I wasn’t one to mess with the locals too much even if they did hate us. But the money was good so I took the job.

The first camp was Roekkar. They were caught off-guard. They weren’t expecting me and a krogan.”

“Your friend?”

She nodded, “Hedrak. We did most of our jobs together and split the money.”

“I see.”

“We cleared almost all of the Roekkar.”

“Almost?”

“There was one. He just looked scared. Couldn’t keep his hands from shaking. He had multiple times to try and shoot me, but he didn’t. I knew he wouldn’t. He was just a kid. So, I told him to go home because his mother must be worried sick.

He was running away, then there was a gunshot and he was on the ground. I just stood there, shocked. I knew Hedrak didn’t shoot him.”

“Who did?”

She pursed her lips in a tight line, “Sloane sent a sniper to trail me and make sure I completed the job. He shot the kid as he ran away. He didn’t even have the decency to just kill him with one shot.” She shook her head, “He was just laying there and screaming. I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t save him. The asshole shot him in the back and was going to leave him for dead.”

Jaal reached forward and wiped a stray tear from her cheek. She hadn’t even realized that she had teared up. She hadn’t heard how her voice got thick with emotion. His hand tightened over hers.

“I did what I had to. I made it quick.”

An arm went around her shoulder and drew her closer. After a moment’s hesitation, Emma rested her head on Jaal’s shoulder. There was the buzzing again. It made her go slack against him and she let out a breath. She couldn’t find it in herself to hate the comfort he was giving her. Or hate the closeness. She couldn’t shut him out. And frankly, she wasn’t sure she wanted to.

“I am sorry.” He sounded sincere when he whispered those words into her hair.

“Sloane is a trash human being. The second camp didn’t even have any Roekkar.”

“It didn’t?”

“No, it was an Angaran settlement. She wanted the mine they were near and they wouldn’t let her have access. She wanted me to kill a group of innocent people for her own means.” She spat.

Jaal stiffened underneath her head.

“I refused. I shot her sniper and left him in the Badlands and then went to see her. I told her I wanted the payment for the first camp and then a fee for lying to me.”

“Did she?”

“Have you met Sloane?” She tilted her head to look up at him, “She said she wouldn’t pay me because I didn’t finish the job and I killed one of her best. So, I broke her nose.”

He chuckled, “She did not retaliate?”

“She tried. I fought my way out her headquarters and to her surprise I won that fight and a few bruises.” She paused and averted her eyes, “Then I hacked her network and stole enough credits to cover the job…and enough to send to the family of the kid. It’s in a hidden account until I can find his family.”

“Did you know his name?”

“There was a name scratched into his armor. I think maybe it was his last name. I have it saved on my omnitool.”

“I will help you locate them.”

“You will?”

“Of course.”

“I…thank you Jaal.”

“Is that why Sloane put the bounty on you? Because you stole the credits?”

She nodded, “I already hurt her pride when I punched her. Her nose was twice its size and her eyes were purple for days. Stealing from her just sealed how much she hated me. And clearly underestimated my threat level.”

 “I can imagine. You are a sight to behold when you fight.”

“How do you mean?”

“It’s raw and profound. You fight with everything you have and fiercely protect others.”

“I do?”

She felt a burst of static up her arms.

“I have not forgotten the way you took a hit for me while fighting the exalted Krogan.”

He was closer than before. She was already leaning on his shoulder, but somehow, he was much more of a presence than before. His cheek was pressed against her hair. The hand that wasn’t covering hers, was wrapped around her stomach. She was hyperaware of his touch and the way his voice deepened. It was starting to get warm. Her skin was flushed and starting to turn pink.

Oh no.

This can’t be happening.

“I’ve asked Ryder if we could go to Aya.” He broke the comfortable silence.

“What’s Aya?”

“It’s an Angaran home world. I would like to show it to you.”

“Are you from there?”

“I am from Havarl. I was stationed on Aya when Ryder landed his ship while it was on fire.”

She chuckled, “Yeah, that sounds like Scott.”

“Would you like to see it?” He sounded hesitant this time.

Emma leaned forward so she could turn her head and look at him. He looked so sincere in his hope that she would say yes. Even if she wanted to say no, which she didn’t, there was no way she could.

“I’d love to.”

The smile he gave her, made her feel like her stomach was stuck in her throat. She leaned back on him so he couldn’t see the way her face flamed under his gaze. His arm wrapped back around her, keeping her close to his side.

Boy was she in trouble.

 

Chapter Text

It was late or early. Emma wasn’t sure which at this point. Once again, she wasn’t sleeping. She had stopped trying to get comfortable on the couch an hour ago. Now she was sitting on the floor of the meeting room with datapads and clothes scattered around her. All of her clothes had smelled. She had teared up when they got back on the Tempest. And of course, Jaal was there. He hadn’t even asked, he had just taken the clothes and dumped them into the laundry chute. They smelled okay now, but she still felt like they would smell if she put them on.

Getting her things from the villa had reminded her how little she had. Some of her clothes were from the milky way and she considered them special. Her bow was about the only material item she had. It was sad. Most people brought trinkets, photos, etc. But not her. Emma sighed and leaned back, resting her head on the couch cushions. The datapad that she had been holding shifted in her lap.

It was the last important step. The last thing that would cement her place on the Tempest. The interface flickered at her dauntingly. It was the last gift Alec had given her. Maybe it was time to accept it. Her finger hovered over the upload button.

You can’t run from everything.

She let out a breath. It was time to be Emma Ryder. There wasn’t going back now. She pressed the upload button.

“Do you think I made the right choice SAM?” She murmured.

She wasn’t one to speak to the AI. In fact, he mostly remained quiet around her to keep her at ease. It was strange. His consideration of her was so human. Maybe it was time to embrace him and embrace that he was a part of her now.

“You were always Emma Ryder. This is just paperwork.”

His answer was so succinct, but it made her feel loads better. She huffed in quiet laughter. He was right. Emma set the datapad off to the side. It was done. There was just the matter of the other ones. The ones with videos and charts and reports on her and the others. She was still too afraid to look at them. She didn’t want to do it alone. She gathered them all and placed them back in the lockbox. They could just stay in there under the couch for now.

Her clothes were still another matter. She didn’t think Scott would appreciate her just leaving clothes everywhere. There was also the problem of what she was going to wear on Aya. She was excited to see a planet that wasn’t Kadara. According to reports it had a tropical climate. Could she wear shorts? Were the angara opposed to legs? Jaal had seen her half-naked many times and never complained. She pulled a pair of denim shorts from the clothes pile. She pressed to fabric to her nose to reassure herself that they were clean, they didn’t smell.

The day cycle lights kicked on. She looked at her omnitool. It was seven in the morning according ship time. Were they close to Aya? She tossed the shorts onto the couch behind her and grabbed a random shirt from the pile. Standing up she moved the rest of the clothes pile beside the couch with her foot.

“SAM, how long until we get to Aya?”

She hadn’t heard anybody up and moving, which was surprising at this time in the morning, so she pulled her sleep shirt off and kicked off her sweats. She glanced over the railing to make sure the coast was clear.

“We will arrive at Aya in 2 hours.”

Emma quickly switched out her undergarments before she pulled her shorts on, “Thanks SAM.”

“You are welcome Emma.”

She had grabbed a tank top. Were tank tops okay? Damn she should have asked. Oh well. If she needed to change then she needed to change. She tossed her hair up in a ponytail. It was starting to touch the middle of her back. Maybe it was time for a cut. Just a little one. Emma grabbed her dirty clothes to toss them down the chute on her way to the kitchen.

Shockingly, there were no sounds from the tech lab. Normally Jaal was awake already and if he wasn’t she would hear his god-awful snoring still. She paused as she passed the lab. There was still nothing. Maybe he was in the kitchen already. Just as she started moving the door opened and he stepped out. For once, he looked startled to see. She turned to greet him and he moved in her view so she couldn’t see into the tech lab.

Emma raised a brow, “Good morning Jaal.”

He cleared his throat, “Good morning Emma.”

He sounded nervous. Emma moved closer to him and he actually recoiled a little. He wasn’t looking her in the eye. The door shut behind him and he let out a small sigh of relief. What exactly was he hiding in there? She pointed to the door.

“What’s in there?”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re hiding something.”

“I-“

Emma moved like she was going to go for the door and he moved with her. He really wasn’t going to let her see whatever it was. The lock turned from green to red.

“Sorry Emma. Pathfinder’s orders.” SAM intoned from the speaker.

“What the hell is in there that I can’t see it?”

“It’s a surprise.”

“A surprise?”

“Yes…for you.”

“Me?”

“It’s nothing bad. It’s just not finished yet.”

She was floored, “I…um…I’m just not used to surprises, for me.”

“I was worried about that, but Scott assured me you would like it.”

“Okay, I won’t peek then. I promise.”

“Thank you.”

She ducked to hide the small blush that colored her cheeks. She wasn’t lying when she said she wasn’t used to surprises. She wasn’t used to people doing things for her period, but since being on the Tempest that had started to change. It was a welcome change. To be a part of something, was miles better than being alone.

Jaal followed her down the ladder to the kitchen. After getting rid of her dirty clothes she made a beeline for the coffee machine. She felt Jaal’s eyes on her as she measured the coffee and water. They were getting low. Maybe she could get in touch with people and procure some. Supplies were running low and it would take a while to plant and harvest crops. If they could be even be sustained. She could live without it, but she really didn’t want to. She turned the pot on to brew and took a seat next to Jaal.

Drack was the only other person in the kitchen. It was quiet except for when he grumbled at the stove. He was probably cooking more powdered eggs and mystery meat that somehow tasted like sausage. Emma wasn’t one to question it. It tasted good enough.

She leaned towards Jaal, “So what is there to do on Aya?”

“Drink.” Drack grunted.

Jaal laughed, “You can drink at the Tavetaan. There is also the market, resistance headquarters, the gardens, the museum, the waterfall...”

Emma perked up, “Waterfall?”

“Yes, it empties into a stream. I can take you there if you like. It’s a popular swimming spot.”

Emma squirmed a little in her chair. How long had it been since she went swimming? She loved the water, but Kadara wasn’t exactly optimal for swimming unless she liked getting her skin melted off. Jaal noticed her excitement and smiled gently.

“I will take you then.”

Scott shuffled into the kitchen, still yawning, his hair sticking up in all directions. She turned towards him while he stopped in front of the coffee pot. Slowly, he grabbed his coffee mug and set to work adding sweetener and creamer. Scott was a little less of a morning person than she was. He turned around and leaned on the counter.

“No coffee until you see Lexi.”

She scoffed, “Why not?”

“You’ve avoided her for days. She wanted me to remind you that you need an exam as an official unofficial crew member.”

Emma raised an eyebrow, “As a what?”

“I’m too tired to repeat it. You’re here, but we’re not telling anyone. I don’t even know how I’d explain it.”

“You could always explain that I’m Alec Ryders third child with excellent military training. Just leave out the psionic stuff.”

“There isn’t even a third child on file.” Scott flopped down into the booth next to her.

Emma stared down at the table, “There is now.”

That woke him up. Even Drack stopped grumbling long enough to look at her.

“What do you mean?” Scott spoke carefully.

“I uploaded my file which includes my adoption papers.” Her voice was quiet to match the silence of the kitchen.

Thankfully, Jaal’s quick thinking saved Emma’s chair from falling backwards as Scott launched himself at her. She scarcely had time to think before his arms were around her. Still surprised, she patted him awkwardly on the arm.

“It’s not that big of a deal.”

Scott pulled back, “For you? It is.”

He let her go and leaned back in the booth. Somehow his coffee had not been disturbed in the process. She knew he would probably be happy, she had just slightly underestimated how much.

“This is great Emma.

Now I can tell you as your Pathfinder to go see Lexi.”

She scoffed, “Really? You’re excited you can tell me what to do?”

“Absolutely. Now go. Before she comes and gets you.”

“Fine, but I want coffee when I get back.”

“We can negotiate.”

She rolled her eyes, but got up to leave anyways. She could bear the visit with Lexi. Hopefully, it wouldn’t take long. She was excited to see Aya and what it had to offer.

Lexi was waiting in the med bay patiently. She didn’t even move when Emma walked in ready to deal with whatever line of questioning she had. Lexi’s mouth was twisted in a slight frown as she stared at scans.

“How are you feeling?” She finally asked as Emma slid onto the table.

“I feel okay?”

“Any dizziness, lightheadedness, headaches?”

She shrugged, “I’ve had a few headaches, but I get those normally.”

Lexi nodded and added notes to her tablet, “SAM sent me the information from the Salarian ark. When you used your power, there was an unusual spike of gamma rays.”

“Gamma rays? Like radiation?”

 Lexi nodded, “Sort of. When humans release gamma waves it is usually in a state of deep sleep or hyper self-awareness. Even then, the amount is small.”

“I take it mine aren’t.”

“You’d be right. I’ve never heard of a human having this much gamma wave activity. When you spiked, what was happening?”

Emma fidgeted on the table, “The first time I was having a panic attack. Scott snapped me out of it and it just…was happening.”

Lexi nodded, “And the second time?”

“The second time I was attacked by the exalted krogan. I panicked.”

“So, both times you were in a stress response.” Lexi sat down on a stool across from her.

Emma wasn’t sure what it meant, but Lexi looked like she was closer to understanding.

“Doctor T’Perro, if I may?” SAM spoke up.

“Go ahead SAM.”

“Emma was experiencing a stress response both times while experiencing the gamma wave activity. Perhaps it tricked the nanites into believing she was hurt and reacted accordingly.”

Lexi’s eyes lit up, “So, they were too busy looking for an injury to properly suppress her brain activity.”

“Correct.”

“That’s incredible. I’ll need more scans and research. If I can put together a better profile I can better understand your biology and how the nanites work in tandem with your bodily functions.” Lexi sounded incredibly excited.

Emma inwardly groaned. Aya was almost right outside those doors and Lexi wanted to poke and prod at her. A whole new planet was within her grasp. It was why she came to Andromeda, hell why she even joined the damn military in the first place, and she was going to miss it. Lexi didn’t miss the way Emma’s gaze kept flitting towards the doors or the way she fidgeted on the table. Of course, Emma would not be as excited as she was about the discovery.

“We can hold off on the scans until we leave Aya,” Lexi sighed, “However, you are not cleared to participate in any missions until you have an official physical. Agreed?”

Emma grinned, “Agreed.”

With a nod of her head, Lexi dismissed Emma. Emma hopped off of the table and walked back into the hallway. It had been a long time since she felt this excited. Jaal was waiting for her in the hall, with her usual cup of coffee. Without her really noticing, it had become sort of a routine for them. It was nice and warm and made Emma’s heart thump in her chest. She would have to get that last part under control. She was definitely not ready for anything like that. Yet, it didn’t stop her arm from brushing against his and small burst of energy that followed. It was hard to tell whether it was from him or from her.

Jaal smiled down softly at her and cleared his throat, “There is also someone I would like you to meet. If you are up for it of course.”

That piqued her interest, “Oh? Who?”

“The Moshae. She is my former teacher and a revered scientist,” He hesitated, “I told her a little about you and how I can feel your bioelectricity.”

He fell silent, waiting her response. What was her response? The word scientist already made her shoulders stiffen. Was it just someone else who would treat her as an experiment instead of a person? Or was it someone who could provide answers? Could she trust them? Could she trust that Jaal clearly did? Emma felt like she was on the precipice of a leap of faith. A part of her wanted to jump, but a part of her was still so damn scared.

If you’re too scared to live, then they win.

Emma’s grip on her cup tightened, “I’ll meet her.”

Jaal let out a breath, looking relieved. Emma just hoped she wouldn’t regret it. Every part of her wanted to be able to trust the crew. She wanted to trust that they weren’t here to exploit her. They could be friends, maybe even more. Maybe they could even be a family. This was the first step.

“The other angara will be able to feel you as well,” Jaal reached out and brushed a stray piece of hair back from her face, “They will be curious.”

Oh. She hadn’t thought about that. Which was stupid, she should have expected it by now. That was panic inducing. Would they all try to talk to her? Touch her? She knew so little of his people and their culture. Jaal touched her cheek lightly. It drew her gaze upwards to meet his. His eyes were always so calming.

“I’ll be with you Emma.” He reassured her.

Leaps of faith seemed less terrifying if Jaal was there to catch her.

 

 

Chapter Text

Emma knew what she was expecting when the cargo doors opened, but the reality was so much better. Aya was beautiful. Past the port, Emma could see luscious, green trees that intertwined to form canopies. It didn’t matter that some of them where mere miles away from molten lava pools. And it was warm. Not too hot like Kadara, but perfect. Emma could even smell the thick perfume of flowers. Real flowers. She hadn’t even made it off the ramp and she already loved Aya.

Jaal was right. The other angara stared at her as the two entered the port. Their eyes, so similar to Jaal’s, took in everything from her hair, to her eyes, to her legs. Maybe she should’ve worn pants. It was strange having so much attention given to her legs. True they were vastly different than their own. Emma just wasn’t used to the attention. It made her a little nervous. Jaal’s hand pressed against the middle of her back the moment she started to feel nervous. It was so strange. Having someone so close that knew and felt what she was feeling. While it was going to take some getting used to, it was also nice. She noted a few smiles, and shared glances between a few of the angara when he touched her. However, there were also a few sour looks and whispers. Not everyone was fond of humans. Frankly, Emma couldn’t blame them.

“Where would you like to go first?” Jaal asked.

“Are there places with small amounts of people?” Emma was starting to get antsy.

He smiled, “This time of day, everywhere is going to be full of people.”

Of course.

“Oh no,” She grimaced, but she wasn’t going to let it stop her, “Why don’t you show me your favorite place first?”

Jaal wasn’t stupid and he could undoubtedly feel her hesitation. He seemed to mull it over in his head, but after a few moments he held his hand out to her. It was an offering. A choice. She could stay on the ship, or she could trust that he meant what he said and go. It was important that it was her choice. Emma wasn’t quite sure how it reached this point. When did she really start feeling like she could trust Jaal? That he was genuine. That when he offered his hand she also knew it was a promise. That he would stand between her and them, even if them were his own people. It was so strange.

She took his hand, marveling at how it managed to fit so well with her own, fused fingers and all. Hands clasped together, he started walking through the port. The whispers, the stares, none of it seemed to bother him. It always bothered Emma. Feeling like she was underneath a microscope. Her every moment scrutinized. Only here, she knew it was because she was human, not because she was more than. She also noticed the way people’s eyes would focus on their intertwined hands before whispering some more. If Jaal could ignore them, she could damn well do the same.

Emma paused near the memorial gardens. It was strange the way it…resonated. Sadness, grief, mourning. The gardens emanated such raw feelings. Jaal stood behind her, a reassuring presence.

“You’ve lost a lot since the kett showed up.”

Jaal nodded, “We are barely surviving now, but we have had several victories since the Pathfinder showed up.”

“Scott is doing a good job considering the circumstance,” Emma frowned, “Should probably tell him that.” She muttered.

Alec was a good man, but he sometimes treated Scott’s compassion like it was a bad thing. Clearly, that wasn’t true. His big heart earned him a good rapport with the native species of another galaxy. Emma had to admit, she wasn’t even sure Alec would be able to do that. Alec was stubborn and determined to win all the time, but he wasn’t always the best diplomat.

Jaal squeezed her hand gently and they started walking away. Emma could see the crowds of people in the marketplace. It was hard to stop the way her heart thudded in her chest or sweat gathered on her brow. There was also the feeling that she might throw up. She could do this. Just think about something else. Anything else.

“I should’ve knocked the Archon out when I had the chance.” She turned her head to focus on Jaal.

He chuckled in response.

Emma smirked, “What? Do you think I couldn’t?”

Jaal led her off to the side up some steps. They could see the market from the platform without being in the thick of it. Some of the other crew members were already there, bartering for goods. And by other crew members, she meant mostly Vetra. They stopped at a railing overlooking the thick forests and volcanic activity in the distance. Ignoring the few odd looks, Emma leaned against the railing, her full focus on Jaal.

“I think you could do whatever you wanted.”

The words were like a sucker punch to the gut. Not because they were wrong or bad. It was something Alec said often. Growing up under the watchful eye of the council, her options were limited. Not learning how to defend herself was also not an option. Her childhood career phases always seemed impossible. Dancing? Singing? She would never be allowed in the spotlight. Teaching? They would never allow her around kids in that capacity. Off the grid vagabond? Alec himself shot that one down. Emma chose the military to make Alec proud and the council approved. They only approved because they could send her to desolate planets like Amaranthine where they thought she would stay out of trouble. That one sort of blew up in their faces.

Now it was true. She could do whatever she wanted. She was in a new galaxy. There was no council here to rule over her life. And honestly, there was no place she’d rather be than right here. This was her chance to belong to something. Really belong. Friends and family. It was all within her grasp.

Jaal nudged her arm. Emma turned half-expecting to have to apologize for her silence, but he just smiled at her.

“Do you feel better?”

She didn’t have to answer, not really. She could tell by his large shit-eating grin that he already knew she was.

Emma scoffed, “That’s cheating you know.”

“I don’t see how.” He looked extremely pleased.

“Reading my bioelectricity is definitely cheating.”

“That is hardly my fault.”

Emma made a face that made Jaal laugh out loud, drawing even more attention. They both leaned against the railing and stared at the scenery. The sun was pleasantly warm against her skin. It had been so long since she had felt real sun. Not artificial sun from the Citadel or the Nexus. She could get used to it. Just throw in a beach and she would be set. A gentle breeze brushed against her skin. Even with the hubbub of the market not far away, it still felt peaceful. Like it was it in a world all of its own.

“I can see why this your favorite place.”

Jaal nodded, his eyes straying to her. Her face was tilted back, her eyes closed, as she basked in the sunlight that made her skin glow. She was at peace and she was beautiful. For the first time in a long time, Jaal felt nervous and tongue-tied. It was like he was a teenager again and these feelings were new and foreign. What was he supposed to do now? How should he proceed from here? He didn’t want to scare her away. His thoughts strayed to the surprise he had for her in the tech lab. He was rethinking it. What if she hated it?

“Jaal?”

He focused back on her. Her lips were pulled down in a frown and she stared at him.

“You feel…weird. Are you okay?”

He nodded and cleared his throat, “Yes. I was just…thinking.”

Emma nodded in return, her expression patient, as if she was waiting for him to continue. However, she didn’t look upset when he didn’t say anything else. She just patted his arm. He wanted to say more. Say everything. But it would undoubtedly be too much. He wanted to be friends and get to know her, and possibly let his feelings continue to grow, not chase her away with his openness. Human weren’t used to expressing their emotions like their angara, Emma even more so. It was a surprise to him when she cried after the Salarian ark. But he was glad for it. A weight had lifted from her since then.

Jaal cursed inwardly when his omnitool beeped. A quick glance let him know that Evfra was expecting him to make a report in person. And Evfra did not like to wait. So much for being Emma’s guide for the day.

“What’s wrong?”

Jaal sighed, “I have to meet with Evfra. He’s the leader of the resistance.”

“So, he’s your boss then.”

“Yes.”

Emma pulled away from the railing, “Probably shouldn’t keep him waiting then.”

Bitter disappointment would be the word’s Jaal chose to define what he felt. He was frustrated that he would not be able to fulfill their plans for the day. So much for showing her the museum, or the waterfall, especially when she seemed so excited about the prospect of swimming. It was hard to make plans beyond the one day because it was hard to tell how long they would be docked for. And yet she didn’t seem all that upset. She just placed her hand in his as he guided her through the crowded marketplace. He wasn’t completely aloof. He noticed the glances thrown their way. Some confused when they stared at her, no doubt wondering if what they were feeling from her was real. Others staring, with obvious disgust, at her arm clutching his. They didn’t bother him because they were pointed at him. It bothered him because they could negatively affect her. Emma suffered enough from her own isolation, she didn’t need to be referred to as a Vesagara.

Emma breathed a little easier once they cleared the market. There were still a lot of people walking around, but they were more spaced out. Some sat on the benches underneath the shade of trees. Others leaned against the wall while carrying on their conversations. Emma watched as lovers clasped hands or shared small affections. It drew her attention back to her own hand. It made her wonder if the Angara that had been staring at them thought they were lovers. Something that she relied on for comfort could be misconstrued and cause Jaal trouble. Yet, she didn’t want to let go. Was it selfish of her? Possibly.

Scott was lingering outside of resistance headquarters. He raised a hand in a brief greeting when he saw them. A devilish smirk crossed his face when he spied their clasped hands. It was no use trying to deflect his gaze. The only thing Emma could do was glare at him, her expression daring him to say something.

Still smirking, he called out to them, “Evfra summoned you too?”

“Yes,” Jaal nodded, “He requested a briefing regarding the Archon’s ship.”

Jaal’s gaze lingered on Emma. He couldn’t ask her to wait. Briefings with Evfra could take an hour or sometimes more, depending on how thorough he wanted to be. Considering this was about the Archon and what they learned during the mission, it would be hours. Jaal was kicking himself for not thinking of a backup plan.

As if hearing his thoughts Scott nodded to Emma, “Most of the crew is in the Tavetaan now. We can all meet up later and celebrate.”

“Celebrate?” Emma looked confused.

“We’re officially related now. We should definitely celebrate.”

Emma narrowed her eyes, “You just want an excuse to drink, don’t you?”

“Damn. How can my own sister think so little of me?” Scott clutched his chest, in mock offense.

Emma rolled her eyes causing Jaal to chuckle at the light-hearted banter. It was a welcome sight.

“I’ll probably just wait back at the ship until you’re done.” Emma pointed in the general direction of the Tempest.

“Oh no you don’t” An unexpected voice rang out behind them.

They all turned to see Peebee heading towards them, her gaze intent on Emma. When she reached them, she looped her arm through Emma’s and smiled in a way that made Emma very, very scared.

“We are going to drink and have fun tonight. You can mope around the Tempest later.”

“I don’t mope!” Emma protested.

Clearly not listening to her, Peebee started to lead her away without so much as a goodbye. The only thing she heard as she was led away was Scott’s uproarious laughter. Peebee chattered away without letting Emma get a word in edgewise. Honestly, Emma could just take her arm back and walk away. What was stopping her? She did want to drink and have fun.

The tavetaan was busier than Emma expected, but Peebee wasn’t taking no for an answer. With her arm looped firmly through Emma’s, she led her through the crowd to two tables that had been pushed together. Most of the crew was already there. Gil and Liam were shuffling a deck of cards, metal cups full of probably booze. Cora, Vetra, and Suvi were chatting animatedly, nursing their own cups. Drack was across the room at the bar. Emma guessed he often drank by himself. Peebee all but shoved her in an empty chair beside Liam.

“Heard you’re officially a Ryder now,” He clapped her on the shoulder, “Congratulations.”

“Thanks.” Emma looked around nervously. It was very crowded and quite a few were staring at her. Jaal wasn’t here, there was no buffer, nothing to protect her from all the attention.

“Don’t worry,” Cora drew her attention back to the group, “you’re one of us now. Nobody is going to mess with you.”

Gil grinned, “One of us. One of us.” He chanted under his breath.

Emma rolled her eyes and went to shush him, but it was far too late. Liam joined in first, raising his voice. The others took no time at all to jump in, Suvi and Vetra, and then Cora. Drack was shaking his head at them from the bar. Trying to escape the stares of bewildered angara, she sank down in her seat. It did nothing to stop her frie…teammates. It took one excruciatingly long minute before they dissolved into laughter. Peebee plopped down in the chair beside her and excitedly shoved a cup full of liquid in front of Emma. Some the sweet-smelling juice sloshed over the side and onto the table.

“Alright, let’s start.”

~

Jaal wasn’t quite sure how late it was when Evfra was finally done with them. It was almost as if Evfra could sense how anxious he was to leave and kept him later just to prove a point. Stars twinkled overhead as he and Scott exited the headquarters. Scott reached his hands in the air above him and bent slightly backwards until a horrifying cracking sound filled the night air. Jaal stared at him, half expecting him to be injured, but he just grinned and sank back down to his normal posture.

“I guess we’ve kept them waiting long enough.” Scott started walking towards the Tavetaan as if it hadn’t just happened.

Humans were so strange.

Nevertheless, he followed behind Scott, determined to salvage whatever he could of this trip with Emma. After tonight there was only tomorrow, and the Moshae had expressed interest in meeting her. That was another meeting that might take most of the day, leaving him with very little time to actually show her Aya. Maybe she wouldn’t mind seeing some of it by moonlight, maybe even the waterfall. This late, it was bound to be quiet. They could have a conversation without her being overwhelmed by the crowds. Incidentally, overwhelmed was not the term he would use when they walked into the Tavetaan.

As per usual, the Tavetaan was busy at this hour, and eyes were constantly straying towards the Tempest crew. More specifically, angara were staring at Emma. Some were trying to be discreet, others were more blatant in their interest. He could hardly blame them. She was a vision. Her hair was pulled free from a device she called a hair tie, and fell in soft waves, framing her face. One knee was pulled up to her chest, her foot resting on the chair. Her laughter intermingled with the others as she laid down a set of cards that made Gil cuss and throw his own down. Everything about her lit up when she smiled. He could feel her energy from across the room.

“I was worried.” Scott was still standing beside Jaal, his eyes also on Emma.

“For Emma?”

Scott nodded, “I was worried she would shut us all out…me out. I was scared she would go back to Kadara and I would lose someone else. And I was scared she would be alone.”

“She was scared too. She still is. But she is here now Ryder.”

Emma looked up, noticing the two of them standing by the entrance. Her hand shot up in the air and she waved them over to the table. Scott smirked at her response. Of course, she had seen him, but she was really looking at Jaal. It made him happy.  There was someone she was reaching out to and they were reaching out right back. He and Jaal started making their way through the crowd to join the others. Scott had wanted to celebrate the moment she showed up on his ship, even though she didn’t remember him, but this was a damn good reason to celebrate too. After countless battles back on the Citadel, plus the 600+ years in cryo, they were finally officially siblings. It was a hard-won battle. And she deserved it. Some finality, support, and a family. A family that would grow if he had anything to do with it.

Scott slowed his stride, “Jaal, can you promise me something?”

“What is it Ryder?”

“If something happens to me, please just…just don’t leave her alone.” They were close to the table now.

Jaal didn’t hesitate, “You have my word.”

“What took you guys so long!” Peebee shouted.

“Seriously,” Gil grumbled, “Your sister’s beaten me for the last four rounds.”

Emma smirked and shrugged, her eyes not leaving Jaal as he took an open seat across from her. Scott sat down in between him and Gil. Gil gathered the cards, throwing Emma small glances, and shuffled them. Her small portable speaker was on the table next to her, playing a song loud enough for them to hear, but not loud enough to disturb anyone else. Cups, already full of tavum, were pushed in front of Scott and Jaal.

Emma leaned forward to talk to Jaal, “I guess Evfra had a lot of questions.”

“Yes. He is nothing if not thorough,” Jaal paused for a moment, “I am sorry I wasn’t able to show you anything else.”

Emma tilted her head to the side and gave him a soft smile, “It’s okay. We have plenty of time.”

Yes, they did. She was staying. And he was going to make the most of it.

~

Two hours and three drinks later, Emma had asked Jaal to escort her back to the Tempest. The others were just as wasted, if not more so, and had begged her to stay. She turned them down every time and he was thankful. Now she was humming along to her music, her feet carrying her in circles and half-hearted dancing. Tavum was a strong drink. Even strong enough for Emma. A few times he had to reach for her to keep her from smacking into the rails. He didn’t actually touch her. Every time he tried she shocked him. Not on purpose. Her energy was too erratic and excited that it zapped him like lightning. It was something every Angara did as a child, they just learned how to control it. But how could you control something you never knew you had? So, he just followed at a safe distance to keep her from falling.

It was when she turned back to look at him with a small smile on her face and sway in her hips, that he knew he was in trouble.

“How far is the waterfall from here?”

He narrowed his eyes, “It isn’t.”

She stopped right in front of him, looking up at him with a glint in her eyes. He never thought he would see Emma acting coy. Yet here she was. Completely drunk and getting closer to him the longer he hesitated.

“You’re drunk Emma, I don’t think you should swim.”

She held up her thumb and forefinger and brought them close until they were barely touching, “Only a little.”

“And you said you were tired.”

“I just want to see it.”

“And we have to meet the Moshae tomorrow.”

Emma laced her fingers together and held them in front of her chest, “Please Jaal.” Her bottom lip poked out slightly.

He was going to say no. He had to say no. It was late, and she was in no state to walk down the path or swim. But the moment she said his name he knew he wasn’t going to deny her. A small sigh escaped him.

“Alright.”

She bounced up on her toes, “Yes!”

It was the most childlike he had seen her, and the thought saddened him. To know that she didn’t have a childhood she deserved. That she was raised as an experiment and not a person before she was saved by the Ryder’s. Then to still be treated like a thing because of fear when all she craved was love and family. The crew could be a family for her and Jaal wanted nothing more than to be a part of that. Maybe she would even be willing to meet his family. His mother would love her. He just knew it.

He pointed at the path just beyond the market and veered onto the grassy trail. Tree branches curved overhead creating a natural passage. Small fragrant flowers bloomed, some of them glowing in the light from the city. Emma’s eyes were glued to flowers above her head.

“It’s so beautiful here. I don’t know why you wanted to leave.”

“When Ryder claimed he could help us, it felt profound…I believed him,” He paused, “And I wanted to travel. See the stars.” His favorite by far was walking unsteadily in front of him.

Even when her boot caught on a root and she stumbled forward. Jaal reached for her, his arm going around her waist and his other hand grabbing for hers, to steady her. At first the shocks were sharp, pricking at their skin and drawing pained gasps from them both. Emma used the hand that he didn’t have ahold of and gripped his shoulder to anchor herself. Only then did the shocks begin to ebb. Five uncomfortable minutes passed in which they synced their breaths to calm down.

Jaal was pressed to describe this exact feeling. He was himself, he could feel his own emotions and feelings, but then there was her. He could feel her. Every time her chest expanded to draw breath, his did the same. His foot ached where hers had caught the root. She was fuzzy from the alcohol, nervous from being this close to him, scared from whatever was happening, and he could feel all of it. Was this resonation? It was something the mothers had talked about, but he had never experienced it before. Truth be told he had never really believed it. Fate, soulmates, meant to be. It never really made sense for him. And when it never happened with Allia, it had further cemented that it was something that just didn’t exist. But now, he wasn’t sure.

Emma fingers were digging into his shoulder, but he could barely feel it. She finally looked up at him, confusion etched deep into her features. He wished he had something reassuring to say. Every time she was exhaled he could smell the tavum and fruit juices on her breath. She was that close.

“What was that?” She finally asked.

“I...I don’t know.” It wasn’t a lie, he definitely wasn’t sure.

An e-mail to Sahuna might answer some of his question, but he was also worried she would go overboard if she believed he resonated with someone. There would be demands to immediately meet Emma. Which, of course, meant she would have to meet everyone. That would be too much for any human, even more so for Emma. Maybe it was just best to leave it alone for now.

Emma shook her head, “Just great, I didn’t need any more weird points.”

Jaal couldn’t help it. He let go of her waist to touch her cheek gently with his thumb, “You’re not weird Emma.”

She snorted, her hand dropping from his shoulder to rest on his chest. As per usual, she didn’t believe him.

“I think you’re wonderful.” His voice was low, the words were only meant for her after all.

She looked up at him then. There was still a glimmer of disbelief, but also something else. It bloomed in his chest like he could feel it bloom in hers. Hope. Her breath caught as she inhaled. She was so close. Any closer and he could kiss her. He wanted to, but did she? Was he moving closer, or was she? Emma’s face was tilted up towards him now. Her eyes were focused on his. It was like she could see right into him. He was drawn to her eyes when he first saw her. Not just because they were unique, but because they laid him bare.

She exhaled slowly, and he could once again smell the alcohol on her breath. It snapped him back to reality. He couldn’t kiss her like this. Not while she was drunk. Jaal pulled away slightly. He needed to know she wanted to and this was the wrong time to ask. The moment he pulled away he felt a strong pang of disappointment and embarrassment. Emma let go of his hand, stepping back.

Her hands covered her cheeks, attempting to cover the blush that now stained them, “Shit!”

He should explain. He reached for her, but she jumped back out of his reach.

“I’m just…I’m tired,” She shook her head, “I’m just going to go back to the ship.”

She was upset. He could fix this.

“Emma wait, I can-“

“I’m sorry Jaal. I just…its…I’m…stupid. I just need to go.”

 

Emma couldn’t get away fast enough. She was sure Jaal had called her name a few times, but she didn’t slow down. Oh god she was so stupid. She can’t believe she tried to kiss him. Sure, it felt sort of like he wanted to when that weird thing happened. What even was that? She just stumbled, but the moment he touched her she could feel…him. His warmth, his protectiveness, his heart stuttering in his chest the same as hers. And she just completely took advantage. Of course, he hadn’t wanted to kiss her. It was her. The ground could’ve opened up and swallowed her the moment he pulled away.

Thankfully, the route back to the Tempest was fairly easy to discern and it was empty. If Jaal was right, then others would be able to feel her energy and she so didn’t need that right now. It was just her and the stars right now. They were the only witness to her rejection.

The Tempest was quiet when she boarded. Either everyone was still at the Tavetaan or they had already managed to pass out. It’s what Emma should have done in the first place. Then none of this would’ve happened. She could’ve gone to sleep and woken up tomorrow without having to face Jaal after almost kissing him. Now she was going to be stuck on a small ship with him indefinitely.

Normally, she would have gone straight to her couch and tried to sleep, but it wasn’t exactly a hiding place. She didn’t want to deal with Jaal again tonight. Instead, she walked down the corridor to Scott’s room. She was not above stealing his bed for the night. At least he had a door, with a lock. Unfortunately for her he was in his room, sprawled across his bed with a datapad in his hand. He blinked at her slowly when she entered. It was fine. She could do this. Just be calm, cool, and collected. Nothing happened. She absolutely did not act like a fool tonight.

Apparently, she wasn’t doing a good job.

Scott sat up, the datapad falling to the side, “What’s wrong? Are you okay?”

Everything was fine. Nothing happened. She’s just drunk and tired.

“I tried to kiss Jaal.” She blurted instead.

She was stupid twice tonight. Dammit.

“Tried?”

Emma grimaced and just covered her face with her hands. This was so fucking embarrassing. She heard Scott patting the bed.

“Just sit down and tell me what happened.”

Begrudgingly she crossed the room and plopped down on the bed beside him. Despite the exceptional word vomit, she didn’t really know what to say. Hey, I totally just made a move on someone despite possible diplomatic ramifications, how stupid am I? No that wouldn’t work. He would just try to make her feel better. After a few moments of silence, Scott nudged her shoulder, making her jump.

Emma sighed, “I just got rejected.”

“By Jaal?”

“I think I established that.”

Scott arched a brow at her response, “What happened exactly?”

“I tripped, and he caught me, and he was so close,” She forwent mentioning the weird electric thing, “I thought he was leaning in, so I leaned in, but he just pulled away,” She flopped back on the bed, “I’m an idiot.”

Scott laid down beside her, “You’re not an idiot.”

“You’re just trying to make me feel better.”

He turned to look at her, “Do you remember high school yet?”

“No,” She shook her head, “Not much anyways. Why?”

“Senior year, we snuck out to go to a party. We were pretty excited. It was our first party.”

Emma interrupted him, “Does this have a point?”

Scott just placed his hand over her mouth as an answer, earning himself a glare, “The guy you had a crush on in high school, Tarkus, was there. I never liked him. He was good looking, but he was dumb as a rock, therefore popular. He made a big deal of kissing you at the party and asking you to be his girlfriend and you were over the moon,” He paused, “The next day we went to school and you were so happy, but the moment you approached him, everyone started laughing. It was a prank. You were devastated.”

Emma pulled his hand from her mouth, “This is not making me feel better.” She deadpanned.

“I know you don’t remember everything, but I still think you’re afraid because of what’s happened. Because you’re fundamentally afraid of rejection.”

“Well now I remember why.”

“Look, all I’m saying is, not everyone is going to be a Tarkus. Maybe Jaal did want to kiss you but thought you didn’t want kiss him.”

She sighed, “I doubt it.”

“Well you ran, so now you won’t know. You can’t run from everything.”

Emma crossed her arms over her chest, “You make sense and I hate it.”

He chuckles and pats her arm, “Why don’t you just sleep here tonight. There’s always tomorrow.”

Emma doesn’t even bother unlacing her boots or sitting up. She uses her feet to work them lose and kicks them off. Who knows where they land. Turning over, she crawls over to the other side of the bed and flops back down. The lights shut off, plunging them both in relative darkness. The only light is from SAM’s tiny interface on the desk. Emma rearranges herself until she can pull up the sheet and curl up on her side.

“Scott?”

“Hmm?”

“What did I do? After everyone laughed.”

Snickers come from his side of the bed, “You broke Tarkus’ nose and got suspended for a week.”

Emma smiled in the darkness. That made her feel better.

“Scott?”

“Hmm?”

“Thanks.”

Chapter Text

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.”

“So?”

“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.

Ugh.

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?”

Emma paused, her back to him, “Yes Jaal?”

“Last night…I-“

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.

“May I?”

“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.”

“I’ll stay.”

He smiled softly at her.

 

 

Chapter Text

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.

“Couldn’t sleep?”

“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.

“Yes.”

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.

“What’s up?”

“I have a request.”

“Yeah?”

“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.

“Jaal, I-“

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.”

 

Chapter Text

The sterile smells of the hospital made her nose twitch. Even after hours of sitting on the hard bench seat, the smell still bothered her. So much for nose blindness. Emma let out a sigh and leaned her head back onto the wall. Scott’s head slipped from her shoulder, but that didn’t wake him. He snored softly into the fabric of her hoodie. Sara was on her other side still wide awake, fidgeting with the hole in her jeans. Alec was the only one who had been allowed in the room so far. Emma wasn’t sure if that was the doctor’s orders or his orders. Some way to shield them from what was happening. They weren’t stupid. Ellen’s research was dangerous and they all noticed the shakiness, the forgetfulness, the cloths streaked with bright red blood that either found their way in the laundry or the trash. They had all ignored it. Maybe if it wasn’t acknowledged, it would just go away.

Unfortunately, they were wrong.

Gently, Emma shifted Scott until he was leaning against the other side of the bench, his head propped up on the wall. She stretched as she stood, her shoulders and back popping. The clock at the nurse’s station blinked the time at them in bright neon letters. She would have to remind Sara to call school and tell them they weren’t coming in today. Although she was pretty sure they would already know at this point. The entire block had been outside to catch a glimpse as medics wheeled Ellen out on a gurney. Whispers bit at Emma’s heels when Alec ushered them to the hospital. Speculations that she had done something to cause this. She had been the one to find Ellen after all, maybe she was had finally snapped.

No.

Nothing had prepared Emma for finding Ellen passed out on the floor, blood pooling and sticking to Ellen’s hair. The doctors and Alec knew that Ellen had hit her head on the way down. Getting everyone else to believe it would be another issue. Emma smelled another ridiculous Council meeting in their future, rife with complaints about her relative freedom. If they could really call it that.

“I’m going to get some coffee or something.” Emma whispered so she didn’t wake Scott.

Sara nodded, but her eyes still took in the ugly pattern on the floor. Shoving her hands on her pockets, Emma started to walk down the empty hallway. Most of the nurses were at the station so no one was really walking around. A few doors were open, the glow of machines illuminating patients as they slumbered. Loud beeps followed Emma down on the hallway as she passed each room on her way to the vending machine at the end of the hall. The lights flickered the further down the hallway she traveled. Funny, it didn’t seem this far away at first. She should’ve been there by now. It also wasn’t this dark. Emma turned to look over her shoulder, there was nothing but darkness behind her. Sara and Scott were nowhere to be seen. It wasn’t possible. She had just walked in a straight line they should be right behind her, but they weren’t.

Emma turned back in front of her. The vending machine and its light were gone. It was just her now. Standing in the dark. This had to be a dream. That was it. She was just having a weird dream. Emma squeezed her eyes shut as if it would will it all away, but it was still there when she opened her eyes. A gun cocked behind her. Ice formed in the pit of her stomach and pushed through her veins. This couldn’t be happening again. Again? When did it happen before? She was at the hospital. Ellen was sick. She wasn’t dreaming and there wasn’t a gun. Nobody could have a gun in the hospital.

None of these thoughts brought back the bright blue light of the vending machine. She did the only there was to do. Slowly, she turned to face whatever phantom had sprung up behind her. It was indeed just a phantom. No face, no discerning features whatsoever. Just bright green eyes and sharp teeth that glowed in the darkness. The gun was trained on her head. Her hands shook as she raised them in the air. She was nonthreatening. They didn’t have to do this. She didn’t want to die.

“Sorry Emma,” They were closer now, the gun was pressed against her forehead, “But we can’t do this without you.”

The shot rang in her ears and white-hot pain shot through her skull. Fingers dug into the sensitive skin of her scalp. Were they hers? She wasn’t sure. Was she screaming? It was so hard to tell. Her ears wouldn’t stop ringing long enough for her to find out. A large hand pressed against the nape of her neck. Oh no. If she was still alive and kicking she was not going down alone. Her elbow connected with something hard. Odd. She expected a squishier body than that.

“Emma!”

Emma opened her eyes. A mistake really.

The light only made the pain in her head worse. Where was she? Everything was blurry and distorted. Was she on the floor? What floor? Whose floor? Her head pounded so hard it felt like her eyes were going to pop out of her skull. She pressed her eyes shut, but it did nothing to stop the pressure pulsing behind her eyelids. A cool hand encircled her wrist. Not a normal hand. It felt like two normalish fingers and then a freakishly large one. Oh right. It was Jaal’s hand. He is definitely a person that exists. Shit. Then that means she elbowed the shit out of him.

“I have alerted Dr. T’Perro. She is on her way.” SAM’s voice intoned over the intercom.

Emma garbled out a response that sounded close to “no Lexi,” but in all honesty who could really tell? Jaal pressed his other hand against the back of her neck. It was a success considering she wasn’t trying to elbow him again. The pain became less sharp and the pressure in her head lowered. She could almost breathe again.

“How long has she been like this?” Lexi’s voice sounded far away, but Emma knew she wasn’t.

“A few minutes. She woke up like this.”

A third voice joined the fray, “What’s going on?”

Emma groaned. Jaal’s hand didn’t leave her neck. In fact, her started to rub slow circles into her nape with his thumb. It was helping. Now it just felt like a normal headache. Still not awesome. Once again, she tried opening her eyes. It was better this time around. The lights weren’t as bright, and she could see shapes. For example, the shape of Lexi kneeling beside her, her eyes searching Emma’s like they could give her an answer. The pain was no a dull ache. Emma struggled to lean up on her elbows. Scott was standing in the middle of the tech lab, his eyes wide with concern. He was totally going to mother hen her after this. Jaal finally pulled his hand away from her neck and wrapped his around her waist to help her sit up and lean against him.

Lexi sat back on her heels, “How often do you get severe migraines?”

Emma was going to shake her head, but figured that would be a bad idea, so she settled for shrugging, “Not often.”

“You had one after Kadara.” Jaal supplied.

Emma side-eyed him with as much of a glare as she could muster, “Traitor.” She muttered.

He didn’t look at all apologetic, he just held her as close as he could.

“Could it be from activating her implant?” Scott asked.

“It is unlikely,” SAM answered instead of Lexi, “I detected high levels of gamma waves during the migraine. I have sent the data to you Dr. T’Perro.”

“Thank you, SAM. I will analyze the data, but I still want to run tests to be sure there are no underlying neurological issues,” Lexi input the information into her omnitool, “Until then you are barred from ground missions.”

Emma sputtered, “What?”

Scott nodded, “I agree. No missions until you’re cleared.”

“Scott you can’t be serious, it’s just a headache!” She argued.

He held up a hand, “I’d rather be safe than sorry on this. Pathfinder’s orders.”

Emma looked at Jaal silently pleading with him to back her up, but even he shook his head and remained silent. Great. She was being grounded for a stupid headache. It wasn’t even anything serious. They were babying her. Lexi pressed a bottle of painkillers into her hand and then said something about only taking a couple when necessary since Jaal’s bioelectricity had worked at abating the pain. She was the first to leave. Scott lingered by the door his gaze avoiding Emma’s at all costs.

Bullshit. This was bullshit.

Emma slipped from Jaal’s grasp and laid back down on her cot. She turned over so her back was to the both of them. Ignoring the feeling of distress that speared her through the chest, even though it wasn’t her feeling, she squeezed her eyes shut. It felt like nearly an hour before Jaal moved away from her back and settled back onto his own cot. Emma ignored the quiet conversation between Scott and Jaal that ended with Scott asking Jaal to keep an eye on her. She wasn’t a child. She didn’t need a babysitter. It was just a normal occurrence triggered by a bad dream. They were doing too much over this.

“Sleep well Emma.” Jaal’s voice punctuated the tense silence.

Damn it. How was she supposed to stay mad at that? Emma pulled the blanket tighter around her shoulders and burrowed into her cot. They cared. She knew that. It was just frustrating. It was tiresome always waiting for the other shoe to drop. What if something was really wrong with her? What if she was just fucking damaged at this point? Stuck with phantoms haunting her dreams.

Just who was it? The eyes were so familiar and the voice, but she couldn’t remember. It was the one thing that just wasn’t coming back to her. One would think that she would be able to remember who shot her. But it was the one memory her mind just wasn’t ready to let go of yet.

~

Jaal walked back to the tech lab, holding a precariously full cup of coffee for Emma. She had fallen back asleep rather easily after her nightmare, but Lexi had her back up in a few hours to run tests. When she had awoken she hadn’t spoken to him. It seems she was upset that he didn’t take her side. He was worried. They all were. Hopefully, she would understand that. Maybe the last bit of coffee on the ship would help. He had managed to coax it out of Peebee. He could hear the music blasting from the closed door of the tech lab. It was always interesting listening to her music and what she listened to when she was upset, or happy, or trying to concentrate. The tech lab doors opened when he got close and released the full force of what she was listening to. He believed it was called rock music. It was angry and filled with discordant emotion. She was still upset then.

Emma was sitting on the bench closest to her cot. Two journals were open side by side, a datapad was beside them the blue light highlighting her face as she leaned over to type. A pencil was held up under her nose by the sheer will of her upper lip. Her hair was down, rare for her, and pulled to one side. The song changed to something softer, more melancholy in sounds and words. As she mouthed the words the pencil fell to the desk. Jaal tried, and failed, to hide a chuckle. She looked up at him then, surprise flitting across her face.

“How long have you been there?”

He shrugged, she wasn’t being hostile, and he took it as an invitation to cross the room and set the cup down beside her. Emma looked at the cup for a moment before looking back up to scrutinize him. Apparently satisfied with whatever she saw she reached for the cup and took a sip.

“I thought we were out of coffee.”

“We were,” Jaal sat down beside her on the bench, “Peebee had some hidden. I asked her nicely.”

Emma didn’t look convinced, “I doubt that’s all it took.”

“You’re right,” He chuckled, “I had to promise to put her in contact with the curator of the museum on Aya. She is interested in any information on possible Remtech locations.”

“That sounds more like it.” Emma took another sip before setting her cup down, “I’m not mad at you, you know.” Her voice was softer.

She ran her fingers through her hair, drawing it all back, “I’m mad at me. I’m mad that I know they’re not just headaches and I’m mad that I got angry just because all of you were trying to care for me.”

Jaal reached for her, but she swung her legs over and stood up. Clearly unable to sit still and contain herself, Emma started to pace between the two benches on either side of tech lab. Her fingers rubbed down her face and then pushed and tugged at her hair before rubbing down her face again. Agitation, her agitation, pushed and pulled in his chest and made his fingers twitch.

“I’ve been alone in Andromeda before now. I’m still struggling to remember not being alone, having a family, but everything feels so out of reach. I want to trust all of you, I want to remember what its like to trust, but I’m scared that I won’t, and I can’t.”

Jaal wasn’t sure what to say. There really wasn’t anything he could say. This was something that he couldn’t change with words. It was going to take time and patience for all of them. Emma wasn’t going to trust blindly, and he couldn’t blame her. He had no problem earning it.

Emma finally stopped, her fingers pressed gently against her eyelids, “Scott banned me from ground missions. If I can’t go on missions, I’m trapped on this ship.” She murmured.

It clicked into place. She was worried they were going to control her comings and goings. That she wouldn’t be able to experience any kind of freedom if she wasn’t of some use. If that was the case, then maybe there was something he could say. Jaal stood up from the bench to stand in front of her. Gently he pulled her hands from her face and wrapped them in his own. Her eyes looked everywhere but directly at him. The tips of her ears were a deep shade of red. It was shame. There was nothing about her feelings that were a cause for shame, but he doubted she would believe it.

“We should get off the ship for the day. There is a daar nearby. I would like to show it to you.”

She frowned, “Scott said I couldn’t go on missions.”

“He did,” Jaal nodded, “But he did not ban you from leaving the ship. I would like to show you as much of Voeld as possible before we leave.”

He watched her face as she cycled through emotions. Her eyebrows met in the middle and her lips twisted in a frown, the wrinkles in her forehead smoothed out and her lips formed a small o before finally shifting in a small smile. Jaal thought his heart might pound right out of his chest when she turned that smile up at him. Her eyes were lit up, a stark contrast to the darkness that had clouded them moments before. The thought of being trapped really terrified her. He would endeavor to make sure he never made her feel that way.

Emma hadn’t answered his question, but she really didn’t need to. Patting his arm, she darted around the corner to the locker to get her gear. The Tempest was close enough to walk to Techiix. It wasn’t the only place on Voeld he wanted to show her, but it would have to do for now. They could always come back. If she wanted to of course. He hoped she would. With him.

A lofty sigh filled the now empty room. He should tell her how he feels. He cares for her. There is something in her soul that sings to him. Would that be too much to say? Would it scare her? He wanted to believe that she felt something more for him too. That she had truly wanted to kiss him on Aya. That he hadn’t misread the look in her eyes and the words on the tip of her tongue before they were interrupted in the med bay. There was only one way to find out. He was going to find the courage to confess his feelings today.

 

Emma was quiet beside him as they walked to Techiix. It wasn’t because there was nothing to say, but she was focused on studying everything around her. Snow crunched under her feet as she spun in a slow circle. Jaal watched as her eyes darted around trying to take everything in.

“It never ends.” She finally remarked and turned back around to face the direction they were walking in.

Jaal surveyed the endless expanse of ice and snow around them. Vast oceans frozen underneath their feet. Voeld was not always like this and if Ryder activated the vault then maybe it would return to the world it once was. He hoped he would still be alive for it.

Jaal was thankful that it was not snowing yet. It gave them a clear view of the daar ahead. Heat lamps bathed the entrance in a warm glow. Emma looked visibly excited to see more of Angaran life. Her eyes darted between the entrance to daar and the scouts that patrolled not far from it. If she was this excited for Voeld, despite previous complaints that she hated the cold, then how would she react when seeing Havarl for the first time? Would she love his home as much as he did? He could see the soft smile through the tinted visor of her helmet. The white helmet did not match with her purple scavenger armor, but it worked for now. At least he could see her face with this helmet.

Blue lights danced underneath their feet causing Emma to pause. Kneeling down, she placed her hand on the ice.

“What is that?” Her words were tinged with awe, “It’s huge.”

Jaal paused beside her and crouched down, “The yevara, they are an important part of our folklore.”

“They look almost like whales,” Emma stood back up as the lights moved away, “except they’re bioluminescent.”

“Unfortunately, we don’t know much about them. They have survived living under the ice for so long, but we don’t know how,” They resumed walking as he spoke, “It is said that a yevara's song is so beautiful, it can coax the sun out of hiding, and reveal the stars."

“Maybe there is some truth in that,” She murmured, “It would be incredible if it was.”

“Yes, it would.”

The last bit of their trek to the daar was quiet. She stared at the ice underneath them as if she could summon another yevara from sheer thought alone. It was endearing. How fascinated she was with creatures he had known his whole life. Would she ever get bored? What if she did? What if there was nothing else to show her? Would she no longer find him interesting? Jaal had not experience this level of panic before. Normally, he would be honest about what he was feeling, but he was so unsure of how she would react. She didn’t even know that he cared deeply for her yet. Now he was bottling everything up to avoid scaring her away. Perhaps he should e-mail his mother. She would undoubtedly have good advice for him, after chastising him for not mentioning Emma sooner of course.

Jaal’s thoughts paused when her hand slipped into his. It was something they did all the time, but it never ceased to amaze him. It was like flipping a switch. There was no panic. Just quiet and comfort. From her as well as him. It made him never want to let go.

Emma paused by the heat lamp that illuminated the entrance. Beyond that there were Angara milling about, gearing up for missions, trading goods. There were even children playing and spending time with their families. It wasn’t unlike what they saw on Aya, but it was also different. Aya was untouched by the Kett. But on Voeld it was nice to see happiness despite such a large Kett presence on the planet.

With her hand in his, they walked into the daar. There was so much to show her, it was just a matter of where to start.

~

Jaal had shown her all around the daar for the past few hours. The science labs, medical wing, classrooms, resistance quarters, the market were all interesting. She learned that the education was informal, not at all like the regimented system back home. Families were in charge of teaching most skills, but the classrooms were for learning what little they knew of their heritage as well as the sciences. The kett had wiped out so much of their history. What little archives were left, historical artifacts, and oral stories were all they had to go on. It was a shame. They deserved better after so many years of fighting.

The adults were fascinated with her bioelectricity. Every where they went they were stopped, and she was asked about it. It was disappointing that she didn’t have better answers, but they still found her interesting. The children did as well, even more so in fact. She could hardly move a few feet without there being a child close by and asking her question after question. Not that she minded. The attention was strange, but she was getting used to it with the angara.

Jaal held her hand the entire time. It didn’t escape notice, but no one commented on it either as well. Maybe it was just normal. Something that they did all the time and didn’t need to question it like humans did. Like she did.

They had just reached the entrance of the daar to head back to the Tempest, when Emma spotted the nomad parked beside the forward station. Scott was exiting the vehicle and waved at the both of them before jogging over.

“Good thing you were here, I got a lead on the Yevara poacher’s location.” His voice was clear over the comms.

Jaal straightened up, “We should go.”

“Come on Emma, we can drop you off on the ship first.” Scott nodded at her.

“Or I could just go with you.” She offered.

“Not going to happen.”

She held up her hands, “I’ll stay in the nomad. Promise.”

Scott just stared at her suspiciously.

“And you won’t have to waste time with dropping me off,” She continued, “Please?”

Scott let out a sigh, “Fine. But you stay in the nomad. Period. Got it?”

“Yes!” Emma ran past him to the nomad.

Cora stood beside the door shaking her head, her chuckles heard over the comms, “Just couldn’t say no Ryder.”

Liam was already in the backseat. It was going to be cramped, but Emma didn’t care. She waited for Jaal to get in first because the only way she was going to fit was on his lap. He didn’t seem to mind, and she liked Jaal well enough to not be bothered. Liar. His arms automatically went around her waist to anchor her in place. Liam and Scott both did their best not to smirk. They failed miserably.

It wasn’t a long ride, but it was a bumpy one. She was thankful for Jaal keeping her held down or she would’ve hit her head against the ceiling every couple of seconds. It allowed her to look out the small window and see the terrain going by. She wasn’t fond of the cold and ice, but Voeld was still eerily beautiful. Scott pulled the nomad into a cave.

“Okay, everyone but Emma with me. The signal isn’t far.” Scott unbuckled his seatbelts and met Emma’s gaze in the mirror, “Remember, stay in the nomad.”

Emma nodded, “I know. I will.”

After Liam climbed out, Emma slid onto the seat so Jaal could get out. She tapped his arm before he left the nomad.

“Be careful.” She said.

“I will.” He reassured her.

The doors closed on both sides sealing Emma into the silence. She sat back in the middle of backseat and rested her head on the back. It sucked she couldn’t leave the nomad, but it was better than being trapped on the Tempest. Hopefully, Lexi would figure out what was going on with the headaches and approve her for active duty again. Her fingers itched when she heard shots fired down into the caves. That should be her down there with them. She stretched her feet out onto the middle console. All Emma could see through the windows was icy whiteness that just kept going. There were more caverns and caves than the one Scott and the others went into. It wouldn’t be too bad to go look in one. Right?

Emma climbed into the front seat and opened the door. It would be quick. She would just look around and then get back in the nomad before anyone got back.

“Registering temperature drop.” SAM’s voice made her jump.

“Yes SAM, I know its cold,” She looked around before walking around the cavern, “I think you did that on purpose to scare me.”

“I do not know what you mean.”

“Yeah I’m sure you don’t.” Sarcasm dripped from her voice.

“Emma!”

A voice that wasn’t SAM’s rang out behind her making her jump. Jaal was standing by the nomad, his arms crossed over his chest. Trying to look nonchalant, Emma leaned against an ice column.

“That was quick-“

“You were supposed to stay in the nomad.” He cut her off from her attempt at deflecting.

She pressed her hands together, “I know. I just wanted to see one of the caves.”

He stared at her for a few moments before sighing, “Fine. We will go in one. But quickly.”

He walked beside her as they walked into a small cave closest to the nomad. She could feel the disapproval radiating off of him. It just meant she would make this quick and not get into any more trouble. If she could manage that.

“Did you find them? The yevara poachers?” She spun around in a slow circle in the middle of the cave while she asked.

His eyes didn’t leave her, “Yes,” His voice was thick, “It was a researcher. An angara.”

Emma paused, “What?”

“They believed the yevara contained an enzyme that could neutralize the effect of kett weapons. We could let them continue research or report them to the resistance,” Jaal dabbed at his eyes, “I could not make that choice.”

“That hardly seems fair,” Emma stood in front of him and placed her hand on his arm, “The kett have already taken so much and now they get your heritage too. That’s bullshit.”

Jaal covered her hand with his own and bowed his head in her direction, “Yes, it is.”

Emma wasn’t sure how long they stood like that. Just close, their breathing synchronized and the sadness that Jaal had felt alone was now shared between them. She didn’t know if there was a name to this, but she liked it, a lot. There was always someone that she could be on the same page with. They could share their pains and happiness. And there was no one she would rather share that with than Jaal. She should tell him. They were alone. Scott was too preoccupied to walk in and interrupt. She liked him, and she didn’t want to pretend she didn’t.

“Jaal, I-“

The ground shook underneath their feet. She clutched Jaal’s arm to keep herself from falling. What the hell was that? Whatever it was they needed to get out of the cave and quick. She hoped Scott and the others were alright.

A loud crack resounded over their heads. Powder fell from the ceiling and dusted them both. Shit. It was coming down. Jaal and Emma both moved towards the entrance, but there was no outrunning it. The ceiling was cracked, and it was coming down. Panic thrummed between them. She had to save him, she had to protect him, Jaal couldn’t get hurt. Emma wrapped her arms around him. Save him.

Light exploded behind her eyes.

~

There was a weight on top of Jaal. It wasn’t as heavy as he had expected. He had expected to be crushed underneath the snow and ice, trapped. The way it had come down he was sure he and Emma were as good as dead. It was doubtful that anyone would get to them in time to dig them out. A damn shame really. The weight on top of him was warm. Warm and unmoving. Emma. He opened his eyes.

She was straddled on top of him. Her arms shaking as she tried her best to hold herself up. How long had she been like that? He could see her eyes closed and her face scrunched up in concentration. Blood splashed against her visor. Looking past her, he saw why. The snow wasn’t covering them at all. A barrier hovered over them, a swirling wall of blue and orange. She had saved them both and it was taking everything in her to keep the barrier up. Had she done this before? He had never seen her produce a barrier. There was no way she could keep this up for much longer.

His com screeched with static, making him wince, then Scott’s voice rang out clear.

“Emma! Jaal! Are you okay?”

He was fine, but he was not sure about Emma. She hadn’t moved. The barrier flickered constantly.

“We’re alright Ryder.” Jaal answered.

“Why didn’t Emma answer?” Scott demanded

“She’s here Ryder, she is…I don’t know how to explain. There is a barrier.”

“A what? A barrier? How-“

“Let’s get them out first Ryder. Then we can ask questions.” Cora interjected gently.

Jaal heaved a sigh of relief. With her biotics it shouldn’t take long to get them out. There was just the matter of dropping the barrier. Would Emma know how? She hadn’t opened her eyes or spoken. If they really had resonated he should be able to feel her even if she was unresponsive, but it was like there was nothing. She was in front of him, but she had disappeared. Jaal reached up to touch her arm. Contact had worked before.

It was a mistake.

Everything was too much. Jaal could smell the ozone that crackled in the air around them, feel the weight of the snow that was pressing against the barrier, the energy that thrummed under her skin. Her head felt like it might split open from the pressure. Cold seeped into the fingers that were digging into the snow. It didn’t matter. She had to stay anchored. Safe. Have to keep him safe. Her chest burned. Everything burned. Too hot. Too cold. Too much. I don’t know how much longer I can do this.

Jaal dropped his hand from her arm. They had to hurry. She couldn’t keep this up much longer. Muffled voices could be heard through the snow. They were here.

“Cora’s going to move the snow, hang tight in there.” Scott spoke over the comm.

“We are fine. Please hurry.” Jaal answered.

Jaal had no worries about being hurt by Cora’s biotics. The barrier would protect him, of that he had no doubts. It was erected to protect him. He wasn’t sure how. Emma wasn’t injured, not that he could see, and yet she was using her power anyway. This worried him. It was clearly hurting her.

Jaal could hear the snow above them shifting. Good. They should be out soon. Emma needed to get back on the Tempest. He shouldn’t have brought her out. They should’ve stayed at Techiix. Neither him nor Scott should have agreed to bring her along to deal with the Yevara poachers. This wouldn’t have happened if Jaal had just stayed on the ship with her. Who knew how this would hurt her. Or what kind of damage it would cause. Was this her or the nanites? Is this why they wanted to weaponize her? What else could she do? Emma stiffened and sat up her. Her knees dug into his side as she turned her face up towards the snow that covered them. The barrier stopped flickering like it was struggling to remain. It looked more solid now. Her fingers curled into a tight fist as the constantly shifted above them from Cora trying to unbury them. It was like she was readying herself to defend him more. She should have heard them over the comms. Unless nothing was getting through.

Jaal finally started to see light through the barrier. A little more and they would be free. His eyes kept darting between the small points of light and her. He reached for her again, his hand covering her fist. Everything flooded his senses again. Could he even reach her through all of it?

With another push from Cora the rest of the snow covering them feel away. Jaal could see Cora, Liam, and Scott standing around the barrier. Beyond them there were a few resistance members that had no doubt come to deal with Dr. Lekaaret. They stared in awe. Scott kneeled down to Jaal’s left and raised his hand to touch the barrier. It zapped against his fingers causing him to curse as he pulled his hand away.

“Emma?” Scott’s voice was muffled by the barrier.

His gaze moved to Emma as he spoke. Her head swiveled in his direction, but she didn’t respond.

“Emma you have to drop the barrier.” He tried to speak to her again.

Nothing.

Jaal gently pried her fingers away from her palm to interlace their fingers. She was trying to protect him, and she did. He was safe. But she wouldn’t be if she couldn’t believe it enough to drop the barrier.

“I’m okay Emma. You can drop the barrier.” Jaal murmured to her.

She looked down at him, her eyes finally opening. It was mesmerizing and terrifying at the same time. He couldn’t tell the color through her visor. Maybe it was blue or orange, or both, but he supposed it didn’t matter. They were overtaken. It was just pure energy and light, no pupils or iris, just crackling energy. It couldn’t be the nanites. This was her. The part of her they didn’t know. His fingers squeezed hers gently. It was still her.

“I’m safe. You protected me.” He tried again.

Her eyes closed again, her face scrunched up once more in concentration. The barrier weakened, flickering rapidly like she was fighting to bring it down, but it was also fighting her to remain. It was a fight she won. It shimmered for another minute before it was gone. Nothing was muffled anymore. Jaal could hear the whispers between the angara and the crunch of snow underneath Scott’s feet as he got close.

Emma’s shoulders dropped, and she slumped down. Scott was there to catch her as she tilted to the side. He maneuvered her off of Jaal so Jaal could finally stand up. Or try to at least. Liam was standing over him trying to fuss and make sure he was alright. He was. His back and torso were a little sore from when Emma had tackled him, but Jaal was not injured, she had made sure of that. They needed to get her out of here. Jaal stood up. Nobody bothered protesting when he scooped her up and cradled her against his chest. He could get her to the nomad.

“Liam and I will stay behind to clean up.” Cora nodded towards the angara, “We can catch a ride back with them.”

Scott nodded, “Let’s go then.”

Jaal didn’t need to be told twice, he was trudging through the snow back to the nomad. Scott jogged behind him to catch up. Thankfully, the nomad wasn’t buried when whatever had happened. Scott opened the door and got in first to help Jaal get her into the back seat. She was propped up against the side until Jaal climbed in and settled her into his lap. Her head rested on his shoulder. Once they were settled Scott got into the front seat and pulled the door shut. Her helmet could come off now.

Jaal reached up to unlock the helmet from her suit, but her hand stopped him. She blinked slowly from behind the visor.

“Don’t…blood,” She spoke slowly and paused to take a breath, “get it on your rofjinn.”

“I can wash it.” His own voice was gruff.

He pulled the helmet off and set it down on the seat. Blood was starting to cake underneath her nose. It was smeared on her chin and even some on her cheek. Emma picked at the clasp around her gloves trying to get them off. With a small chuckle Jaal helped her pull her gloves off. She flexed her fingers like they were stiff before she curled them into the fabric of his rofjinn. Everything had calmed down. She was no longer full of heat and ice and energy. It was just her again.

Scott reached down the middle console to reach the first aid kit, his other hand on the wheel of the nomad to keep them straight. Impressive considering how fast he was going. Jaal took the kit from his hands and opened it to find the gauze. He tried his best to clean the blood from her face, but the lack of water wasn’t helping. She was just staring at him, dazed, her eyes unfocused. Jaal rifled through the kit to find any kind of liquid to help clean up the blood. Her fingers on his cheek made him pause. He looked back at her to see an expression on her face that was tender and vulnerable. Her thumb rested on the corner of his mouth. Jaal was minutely aware of how close they were once again.

“I should have kissed you on Aya.” She murmured.

At least he hoped that is what she said. Her voice was low and garbled, but he was fairly positive that is what she had said. If not then his heart was soaring for no reason. And he hoped it was true. Not just something she felt when she was drunk or otherwise incapacitated. Or something she was unsure about. Unfortunately, now was not the time to ask no matter how much he wanted to.

Scott drove up the ramp into the Tempest and slammed on the brakes. He opened the door and pulled up the chair to help get Emma out. Jaal handed her over, despite her quiet protests, and climbed out of the back behind her. She leaned heavily against Scott.

“Come on, let’s get to the medbay.” He pitched his voice low to try and soothe her.

“I’m fine,” She tried to wave him off while swaying, “I don’t need to go.”

Scott sighed, ready to argue, but Jaal wasn’t. Once again, he placed one hand under her knees and picked her up. She was going to Lexi whether she wanted to or not. For a moment she looked like she might try an argue or push away, but eventually she shrugged and just leaned her head against him.

“I’m just tired.” She mumbled.

Jaal carried her through the hallway, “You can sleep if Lexi says it is okay.”

“Lame.” Her eyes were already closed.

Scott was hot on his heels as Jaal entered the medbay. Lexi was already in there, pointing towards a bed when they entered the room. Gently, Jaal set Emma down onto the bed. Emma groaned quietly, her eyes fluttering back open. Jaal moved to get out of the way but Emma’s hand grabbed for his arm and he stayed. However, Scott sat in a stool beside the door. He was nervous, and worried, it was plain on his face, but there was also something else that wasn’t there before. Fear. Of what, Jaal didn’t know.

“I’m tired of the medbay.” She grumbled.

“Yet you keep finding ways to end up here,” Lexi said absently, “how are you feeling?”

“Tired.”

Lexi looked down at her datapad, “Can you tell me what happened?”

“I don’t know. I just remember the quake and the snow and light.”

Lexi looked up at her, “Light?”

“Mmmm…” Emma’s eyes were closed again like she had fallen asleep.

“Emma, what do you mean by light?” Lexi asked again.

Emma’s eyes flickered open before she smiled, “Like this.” She raised her arm. Tiny lights shimmered and danced underneath her skin. They glowed in her fingertips before disappearing altogether. She dropped her arm back down to her side.

Lexi gasped and did a horrible job concealing her excitement. Jaal was just awed. It was beautiful and so strange. Lexi was rapidly taking notes on her datapad.

“There was so much of it.” Her voice was still muted.

Lexi looked back at her, “What else can you tell me?”

“Can I go to sleep now?” Emma groused, “I’m so tired.”

Lexi sighed, “Sure. We can talk later.”

Taking a deep breath Emma closed her eyes once more. It barely took minutes for her to fall right asleep. Whatever had happened had taken a lot out of her. Lexi confirmed with SAM to monitor her and notify her of any abnormalities. Although at this point, what could be considered an abnormality with her? Jaal squeezed her hand one last time before Lexi shooed both him and Scott out of the medbay. Jaal would be back. He wanted to be there when she woke. She might be confused or scared if she remembered alone. He didn’t want that to happen.

Scott’s back was stiff in front of him. When they neared the kitchen Jaal reached forward and gently touched Scott on the shoulder. They both stopped just short of the door.

“Are you afraid of Emma now?” Jaal asked.

Scott whirled around, “What?”

“You seem afraid.”

Scott shook his head, “I’m not afraid of Emma, I’m afraid for her. People have a hard-enough time accepting biotics. But accepting they know nothing about and can’t control…they could ostracize her or worse.”

“You want her to be normal?”

“I want her to be happy,” Scott corrected, “I don’t want her to run back to Kadara and hide again. And I don’t think you want that either.”

Jaal didn’t hesitate, “No I don’t.”

“If she manifests more powers it could end up worse for her in the end and she’ll try to take it on by herself.” Scott leaned against the wall.

“She has us Ryder.”

Scott nodded, “I know. I know I won’t turn my back on her, but I can’t speak for everyone else,” He turned to look at Jaal, “I can’t speak for you.”

“I’m not going anywhere.” It was the truth. This did not scare him. He cared about her regardless and he would continue doing so.

“I believe you.”

~

It was quiet when Emma woke. Her eyes opened to the Tempest’s night cycle lights and the faint blue lights of the machines in medbay. Her back ached from laying on the uncomfortable bed she had fallen asleep on. How long had she been asleep? Emma turned her head to look around the room to see Jaal sitting in a chair beside the bed. He couldn’t have been there the whole time. Could he? Quietly, Emma sat up, wincing at the ache in her arms. It felt like she had done nothing but lift weights for hours.

She didn’t remember everything, just bits and pieces. They had gotten close again, in the cave, then the ground rocking underneath their feet. Snow coming down at them-she thought for sure they would die- not Jaal, she couldn’t let him die. Light was everywhere. It filled her, burned her, it felt like it was going to kill her, but it didn’t. Emma stared down at her hand, flexing her fingers in and out of a fist. The lights were gone. What were they? Was it her? Or something else?

Emma swung her legs off the side of the bed until they touched the floor. Jaal hadn’t stirred. Her gaze traced the stars dotting his face, the ridge of his brow, and the cleft of his chin before it stopped on his mouth. What had she said again? I wish I had kissed you on Aya. Oh yeah, that. If the angara even kissed. It was stupid to say even if it was true. She leaned forward, reaching out to touch his shoulder.

“Jaal.” She whispered, her fingers brushing against his shoulder.

He started in his chair, already half way out of it, before he realized it was her. A small sigh escaped his lips when she offered him a small smile. She was fine. It didn’t matter. His hands immediately cupped her face, his thumbs smoothing over her nose and cheeks and chin. She wasn’t surprised by it anymore. The angara were touchy people she knew that, but specifically with Jaal it wasn’t surprising anymore. He was always touching her. Either holding her hand, or resting his hand on her elbow, or cupping her face. She could still remember the untranslated words that he had whispered against her skin when the Roekkar soldier had shoved her face into a cooling unit. The way his fear and anxiety had buzzed against her skin. Maybe he did feel something for her and she just hadn’t been paying attention.

“About what I said,” Her voice was hoarse from sleep, she nervously cleared her throat, “in the nomad…”

“It’s okay Emma. You were dazed. It is alright if you didn’t-“

“I meant it.” She blurted.

He just blinked slowly at her.

She appreciated that he had tried to give her an out. A way to back out or deny it until she felt more comfortable. It was considerate. He was considerate. She didn’t want to be scared anymore. Why should she be? Why should Cerberus get to own every aspect of her life? They shouldn’t. They couldn’t have this. She was brave enough to stay on the Tempest and brave enough to upload her adoption papers. What was a little more?

“I wanted to kiss you on Aya,” She reiterated, “And in the medbay, and in the cave-although I don’t know how that would’ve gone with my helmet on.” Emma rubbed the back of her neck.

He didn’t say anything.

She might as well keep going, “I…understand if I’m…a little too weird,” She laughed breathlessly while trying to find the right words, “I’m never going to be normal, but I like you. As more than just a friend,” Her brow furrowed, “If you don’t feel the same I understand. I just didn’t want you to think that I didn’t mean what I said.”

She looked up, but he was still quiet. It was hard to read his expression. Well, the surprise wasn’t hard to read, but Emma was worried she would misinterpret the look in his eyes, or the way his brow furrowed, or why his eyes kept darting to her mouth. Would it be too much to assume that he wanted to kiss her as well? Or was he just thinking of a way to let her down easy? The silence was unnerving.

“Please say something.” She whispered.

Jaal’s hand hadn’t left her face this entire time. His thumb brushed over her bottom lip before resting on the corner of her mouth. Her heart just might pound right out of her chest and down the hall if he kept it up.

“Do you want to kiss me now?” His voice was just as soft as hers had been.

Emma nodded, “Yes.”

Jaal didn’t wait for anything else. One of his hands moved to the back of her neck and his fingers pressed against her scalp. The other hand cupped her cheek gently…lovingly. To say she had butterflies in her stomach didn’t really do what she was feeling justice. Emma was worried she would vibrate out of her skin. Her fingers dug into the bed so hard she could swear she heard the metal creak. What if it’s bad? What if I’m bad? What if-

Emma stopped thinking the moment his lips pressed against hers. They were warm and dry and soft, and did she mention warm? Letting go of the bed, she reached up and curled her fingers in the fabric of his rofjinn. His mouth moved against hers, slow and sure, like he had known exactly what we wanted this whole time. It was just her that was the anxious mess. Emma’s breath hitched in her throat. Jaal pulled away, his eyes wide. A part of her wanted to whine about the absence of his mouth on hers, but dammit she was an adult.

“Are you okay?” He sounded as breathless as she felt.

Emma nodded, “Yes.” Her voice was high-pitched, with red cheeks she cleared her throat out of embarrassment, “Can we do that again?”

Jaal chuckled and pressed his forehead against hers, “I will kiss you as many times as you like.”

Emma tilted her face up invitingly, “Good.”

No. Cerberus couldn’t have this. This belonged to her.

 

 

Chapter Text

Emma sat on the bed, her legs swinging over the side, while Lexi frowned at a datapad in her hand. She had been doing this for the last few minutes. Emma just waited patiently while Lexi gathered her thoughts. After waking up in her own bed Lexi had requested her presence in the medbay ASAP. Which in Lexi speak meant Emma better hurry up or the doctor was going to hunt her down. Jaal was still asleep, snoring softly on his cot when Emma slipped quietly out of the tech lab.

Emma wasn’t sure how many times they had kissed in the medbay the day before. Everything was sort of blurred together. But she did know that she loved every bit of it. She had expected it to be awkward when they returned to their shared room, but it didn’t seem to bother Jaal at all. There were no expectations from him. That was clear when he had waited for her to decide whether or not she wanted to kiss him. They had just changed into night clothes and went right to sleep. She was still tired from whatever the hell had happened earlier. It had drained her, but that was it. She wasn’t suffering from any adverse effects.

“I apologize. I am trying to put everything together.” Lexi perched on a stool as she spoke.

Emma shrugged, “Take your time. Scott grounded me from leaving the ship today.”

She wasn’t upset about it. Well she had been at first, but she knew he was just worried and feeling guilty about what happened. Jaal had as well, but it wasn’t anyone’s fault. If she hadn’t been there maybe they would have been buried in snow. Maybe they wouldn’t have made it. Regardless of how it happened, Emma was glad it did. She protected someone she cared about. And honestly a barrier was useful. It was not as strange as the lights, which is what was currently confusing Lexi.

When Emma had first entered the medbay, Lexi had asked to see the lights again, but no matter how hard Emma concentrated they just wouldn’t show back up. A problem that had perplexed and disappointed Lexi to no end. Despite her usual calm demeanor, Emma could tell she was excited to learn something new. And Lexi knew that Emma was half of an alien that they had never seen before. Which begged the question of how she could be half if no one knew about them. Did they just disappear? How could they have? It wasn’t plausible that an entire race of Milky Way aliens was just unknown.

“Your gamma waves spiked during and after your migraine yesterday,” Lexi turned the datapad so Emma could see the graph, “All day yesterday they were mildly active, but nothing out of the ordinary for you,” She pointed at a line that went past the top of the graph, “And then right before you created the barrier, they went off the charts.”

Emma stared at the datapad, “So…what do you think?”

Lexi leaned back on the stool, “I have a theory, but unfortunately it will be hard to test and prove. Not to mention with only one person the results wouldn’t be conclusive because one person isn’t enough for a true sample, and-“

“Lexi,” Emma interrupted, “it’s fine. A theory is better than nothing.”

“Right,” Lexi nodded, “I believe it was a pressure build up in a way. Eventually, some of the pressure has to be released and I think the cave in triggered that release. The amount of gamma waves you released allowed you to create the barrier that protected you and Jaal.”

Emma nodded along, “It makes sense.”

“I could be wrong. We still know so little about you and that makes theorizing difficult.” Lexi sighed, “I know this is a lot to ask, but the records from the project might help. I understand if you want to keep them to yourself, but it could help me understand more about what you can do and how to help you.”

She made a good point, but the question still made Emma tense. While she doubted Lexi would, there was still a chance the research could get in the wrong hands. Then it was someone else who thought they could use Emma and somehow profit on what she could do. Could she really take that chance? But she wanted to know more about herself, more about what she could do, and more about how the nanites hinder her natural abilities. Maybe there would be clues to what she is-a name, a description, something. If anyone could find out it would be Lexi.

“Could I think about it a bit more first?” Emma asked.

Lexi nodded, “Take your time. I will do my best regardless.”

“I know.” Emma slid off of the bed.

“Before you go is there anything else you’d like to discuss?”  

Emma shook her head, “No. I can’t think of anything.”

Lexi raised an eyebrow at her, but didn’t say anything else about it, “You know where to find me if you change your mind.”

“Yeah, sure.” Emma spoke falteringly while inching out of the room.

Lexi nodded and turned back to the datapad in her hand. It was a dismissal. Emma was still confused by her question and her tone when she asked. Other than the explosion of energy the day before, which they had already discussed, there was nothing else going on. It was weird.

With the rumbling of her stomach echoing off the walls, Emma walked down to the kitchen. Jaal was standing in the doorway talking to someone in the kitchen, his voice still thick and slow with sleep. Emma’s pulse quickened, and her heart picked up speed in her chest. A small smile curved her lips upward. If this was how she was going to feel every time she saw him she could get used to it. His head turned in her direction and his face lit up. Too bad the kitchen was full of crew members or she would kiss him again.

Oh no.

That’s what Lexi meant. From the raised eyebrow to the smirk that Emma hadn’t noticed the first time around. Did she know they had kissed? No one had been in the medbay, or the tech lab, or any of the hallways. Did Lexi just know? Emma was definitely not having that conversation with the doctor. They had just kissed, she wasn’t thinking of anything else. Not yet at least. She didn’t even know how angaran anatomy worked and there were only two people she could ask and she sure as hell was not going to. The growing pit in her stomach meant she needed to stop thinking about this immediately.

“Good morning.” His voice washed over her.

“Morning.” She came to a stop beside him and leaned on the door jam.

Drack, Liam, Peebee, and Gil were mingling in the kitchen eating whatever culinary treat Drack managed to whip up from practically nothing. It also meant Scott must have picked a team for the day and was already gone or else he would be in here stuffing his face too. Patting Jaal gently on the arm, she moved around him and headed to the stove. She looked into the pot to note the gray, porridge-looking substance in it. It didn’t look great, but when it came to Drack’s cooking, appearances could be deceiving. Emma grabbed a bowl from the shelf and ladled some in. While she was doing that, Jaal had snuck up behind her to grab his nutrient paste from the top shelf. It meant he was standing directly behind her. He rested his hand on her back while he grabbed what he needed. Her pulse thrummed in her neck and her skin felt hot. At this point she had to wonder if he was doing it on purpose.

Cool air rushed in when he moved away to sit at the table. Letting out a breath, she turned around to join the others at the table. Gil, Liam, and Peebee were all staring at her with smirks on their faces while Drack just shook his head. The blood rushed to her cheeks and she knew she was turning red. She was sure her ears were already a bright red.

“What?” She asked.

Liam’s grin widened, “Nothing, its just-“

“Cute.” Peebee finished.

Emma just stared at them, “What are you guys talking about?”

“I wonder if they’ve kissed yet.” Liam looked at the other two.

“We have.” Jaal nonchalantly confirmed.  

“Oh my god.” Emma groaned.

Gil smirked, “That means you both owe me 50 credits.”

“No, it doesn’t,” Peebee protested, “you don’t know when they kissed.”

“I bet they would kiss on Aya.” Liam added.

Peebee nodded, “So did I.”

“But they didn’t,” Gil looked at Emma, “They didn’t kiss until yesterday.”

Emma felt her mouth drop open. How did he know? Had he been looking at the cameras? There was no way. Maybe he was just guessing. If that was the case, she wasn’t going to confirm or deny anything. She couldn’t believe they bet on whether or not her and Jaal would kiss. Actually, that wasn’t true. She could believe it. Gil would bet on just about anything. And considering Scott’s interest in her feelings regarding Jaal, it wasn’t a stretch to assume that they all had some sort of interest. Gil sat back in his seat looking smug.

“You don’t know that,” Liam turned to Jaal, “When did you first kiss?”

“Yesterday.” Jaal confirmed.

“Jaal.” Emma hissed.

Liam and Peebee both groaned in unison and opened their omnitool to transfer the credits. They were all a bunch of children. Why the Nexus allowed them to run amok was beyond her. Shaking her head, she left the room. She was going to eat in the tech lab and enjoy some peace and quiet. Their snickers followed her down the hall. Weeks ago she didn’t have any siblings, now she had a ship full.

The tech lab was blessedly quiet for now. In a moment it was going to be filled with music as per usual. Thankfully, Jaal didn’t mind the noise. He even displayed interest in listening with her. Her journals were still open from yesterday. Setting down her bowl she sat on the bench, her eyes on the schematics in her journal. She didn’t remember designing her bow, big surprise there, and yet there it was. Alec had notes jotted in the margins. His script large and looping compared to her small and somewhat nonsensical scribbles. She flipped the page to another schematic. Apparently, she was fascinated with what people would consider more primitive weapons until she flipped a page and found an absolutely ridiculous and overpowered gun. Former Emma had clearly realized the ridiculousness and wrote the various reasons in wouldn’t work on the bottom of the page. It was like seeing herself through a lens she didn’t know she had. That Emma was there, but still felt unattainable. Her words filled these pages, but they weren’t remembered.

Emma closed the journals and pushed them to the back of the desk. Maybe she would pick up some of her old interests again. Although other than guns she wasn’t sure what kind of weapons would be useful in Andromeda, and against the Kett. A thought for another day. Emma grabbed her music player and scrolled through the playlists with one hand while eating her breakfast with the other. The texture was akin to overcooked oatmeal, but it didn’t taste half bad. Thank god for Drack.

The tech lab doors opened right as she settled on 1980’s pop. She turned the music down as Jaal entered the tech lab. There was something wrong. He felt unsettled about something. Emma turned to him as he sat down on the bench beside her.

“Are you upset that I did not lie about kissing you?” He asked before she could say anything.

“No,” Emma shook her head fervently, “No, I’m not upset. I don’t care if they know.”

“I wasn’t sure. You seemed bothered.”

“I was annoyed that everyone was taking bets, but they are massive children.”

Jaal snorted, “I still should have asked first. Angara are open about their relationships, but I know humans are not always as open.”

“That is true and maybe we shouldn’t air it openly off the ship,” Emma reached for his hand, “But on this ship I don’t care. I like being with you.”

Their hands intertwined and Jaal rested his forehead against hers, “I would like to tell my mother about you, if that is alright.”

Emma was surprised. Honestly, she was shocked that he hadn’t already told her considering how close he was to his family. It also raised a whole host of questions that she hadn’t thought of before. What would his mother think of her? Would she even like Emma? Emma was an alien species to the angara, and a partially unknown one at that. Would she approve? If she didn’t, what would Jaal do? The questions gripped her heart in a vise. Scenarios raced through her head. Thoughts of being outright rejected by his mother then being rejected by Jaal thundered around her skull making her head hurt.

“Emma?” Jaal had pulled back to look at her, worry etched into his features.

“I don’t know,” Her voice was small, “What if she hates me?”

“Oh Emma,” He cupped her face between his hands, his thumbs caressing her cheeks, “She will adore you.”

“How do you know?”

He smiled, “I know my mother.”

It didn’t completely abate Emma’s fears, but it was good enough. She trusted Jaal. Something she never thought she’d say. She didn’t think she would ever trust anyone. And then Jaal came alone. He was sweet, and kind, and honest and her walls stood no chance against genuine care. Emma took a deep breath and gave him a half-hearted smile.

“Alright. I’m okay with it.” She answered.

Jaal pressed a kiss to her cheek making her heart skip a beat. It would be so easy to turn her head and capture his mouth. Should she? Would it be too much? Was there such a thing as kissing too much? At her age she would normally know these things by now, but considering romance wasn’t an option in her earlier years, she had to wing it. Jaal pulled away before she could make up her mind. She was mildly disappointed by her inaction. But there was always later. The thought made her smile. There was no rush, no time constraints, just her and Jaal.

She could get used to this.

~

The day was quiet. Emma and Jaal had both wandered around the ship earlier doing miscellaneous tasks on the chore lists. A few hours later and the linens had been changed in crew quarters, the kitchen and the bathrooms were spotless, and the lounge room free of trash. Now they were sitting in the tech lab with Emma’s music playing softly from her speaker. It was a Heart kind of day. That was evident when Emma started to sing along to Dreamboat Annie under her breath. She knew every single song by heart (pun not intended) after years of listening to it over and over.

Her bow was laying on the table in front of her. There was nothing wrong with it, but it never hurt to check it every now and again. Especially the knives. It would suck to be stuck in a hard place and have them jam on her. It was completely possible considering her bow was technically the prototype. There was never another one made. Maybe she could design it. She wondered if Ruvea would be up to the task. Emma needed to ask Scott to stop by Elaaden soon to pick up more arrows and she needed to use them more sparingly. Which meant she needed to pick up another weapon. Guns just weren’t her favorite.

Satisfied that everything was in working order Emma moved the bow from the table and stood it up. Now she just had to restring it. She could feel Jaal’s eyes on her as she worked, carefully bending the bow so she could slip the strings back on. When she was finished she moved into position and pulled the string back to check the tautness. She hoped she wouldn’t need a new string any time soon. There were only so many backup strings she had. It was something else she would have to ask Ruvea to procure. Or maybe even Vetra would have contacts. As Emma released the string she felt hands settle on her hips. Jaal rested his chin on top of her head.

“Would you show me how to use it?” He asked.

Emma smiled, “You would want to?”

“It is interesting, and I like learning new things.”

Emma didn’t really have to think about it, “I’ll show you and maybe you could teach me how to use your rifle.”

“Deal.”

Emma turned but Jaal didn’t let go of her. His hands were still firmly on her hips, his mouth pressed against her forehead. A small laugh escaped her throat.

“I can’t show you if you don’t let me go.” She teased.

“No, I suppose you can’t” He answered but didn’t move.

They just stood like that for a few minutes, or maybe it was longer, she couldn’t really tell. Neither of them really moved. Jaal just stood there holding her gently, his hands not leaving her hips. At one point she was sure his eyes were closed. Everything was just so calm and peaceful.

“Is it going to feel like this every day?” Emma murmured.

“Hmm?”

“I’m not used to feeling this happy. I just wonder if its going to be like this every day.”

Jaal pulled back enough to look at her, “I hope so.”

Emma smiled, “Me too.”

Jaal leaned down to press his mouth against hers again. His hands moved upward, roving over her shoulder blades and the back of her neck before his fingers tangled in her hair and tilted her head back. With the hand that wasn’t trying to keep a firm grip on her bow, Emma gripped his arm to keep herself steady as she stood on her tiptoes. It seemed like it was never going to end and she was fine with that.

Someone cleared their throat from the doorway. Emma pulls away, her cheeks flushed, to find Scott staring at them both with a smirk on his face. With his helmet in his hand, and his armor dented and covered in frost, Emma realized he must have come here right after getting back on the Tempest. He ran his fingers through his hair making it stand up.

“I need to talk to you,” He gestured to Emma, “My room 10 minutes?”

“Yeah, sure.” Emma simultaneously hated and didn’t hate how breathless she sounded.

Scott turned on his heel and walked out of the tech lab. They could both hear his footsteps echo down the hall before there was the telltale squeal of him sliding down the ladder. Emma leaned forward to rest his forehead on his chest. Her shoulders shook with silent laughter. There was no part of her that was ashamed at being caught. For once, she was going to enjoy and be proud of every last bit of what she shared with Jaal. It was a miracle it happened, and she wasn’t going to waste it.

~

Scott struggled to unbuckle his armor with his fingers still cold and nearly frozen stiff. Despite the armor he still felt the biting cold of Voeld. Although the steam emanating from the tech lab almost melted him. He smirked. He wasn’t surprised, he knew that something was going to happen between the two, he was just happy that it was good and not Emma clamming up and running away. She took a chance and it was working out so far. He was proud of her.

Finally getting his chest piece off, he flung it onto his couch and worked on the legs.

“That’s not taking care of your armor.” Emma leaned against the door.

Scott raised an eyebrow at her flushed face and mussed hair. Of all people, he never would have expected that Emma just wouldn’t care that people would be able to guess what she had been doing with Jaal. But here she was with a twinkle in her eye and small smile on her face. He hoped this wouldn’t end badly.

“And your hair isn’t regulation, but I don’t say anything.” He joked, his tone lacking any bite.

Either it was his imagination or Emma really did stick out her tongue before she walked over to the bed and sat down. Scott turned his back to her to shuck off his under suit and change into his sweatpants. His armor was strewn about the couch now, but he could worry about that later. She was perched on the bed when he turned back around. Absently, the twisted her hair around and pulled it to one side. Her ears were tinged pink.

Scott walked across the room and flopped down on the bed, “So…you and Jaal.”

“Is it going to be a problem?” Emma asked her knees.

“Do you think it’s going to be a problem?” He countered.

She shook her head, “No,” She clasped her hands together, “Although if certain people know I’m sure it will be.”

“Like?”

“Nexus, Roekkar, Angara. Anyone really.”

“What if they do?”

“I don’t know,” She turned to look at him, “What would you do?”

“If you both care for each other, there’s no reason to not be together.”

“I don’t know if it’ll be that simple,” She sighed, “Relations with the Angara is so new, I wouldn’t want to be the cause of it tanking.”

He bumped her shoulder with his, “Don’t do that.”

“Do what?”

“Make excuses. Take the easy way out,” He continued before she could protest, “It’s not going to be easy. And sure, some people aren’t going to be happy about it on any side, but I have your back. And the crew will too. Don’t let everyone else dictate your happiness. You let the council do that to you for too damn long.”

Emma twisted her mouth, “I hate it when you’re right.”

“No, you don’t.”

She snorted, “Is that all you wanted to lecture me about today?”

“Surprisingly no,” Scott sat back up and pulled open the interface on his omnitool, “I read over Lexi’s reports and her theories.”

“And?”

“Lexi and I both agreed that you shouldn’t be grounded from all missions and you shouldn’t be stuck on the ship all the time. So, she will approve you for missions if you don’t show any gamma spikes until we get a better idea of what’s going on.” He scrolled through his e-mails as he spoke.

“It’s better than nothing I guess.”

Scott looked up at her. She wasn’t looking at him, her gaze was on the window, looking out on Voeld. It didn’t take rocket science to guess what she was worried about. More than just Jaal she was worried about her place on the ship, in his crew. He knew it was what she was worried about because she always worried about it as a kid. Her place in their family, in school, in life. Emma never felt like she fit. But Scott never had a problem carving out a space for her and on this ship, he wouldn’t be doing it alone. It was just going to take awhile for her to be secure in that.

“I set the beacon for colonists to arrive,” He started nonchalantly, “So we’re going to be stuck here for a few days.”

Emma nodded, “Understandable.”

“They’re going to need some help getting started so I’ll need everyone.”

Emma smirked, “Even your scary, adopted sister?”

“Especially my scary, adopted sister,” He leaned against her, “There’s going to be a lot of heavy lifting involved. You’re the most qualified.”

“It’s because I’m a human experiment isn’t it?” Her eyes were narrowed, but her tone was teasing.

“Only a little.”

She scoffed, but her posture relaxed, “Thanks Scott.”

“Anytime.”

Chapter Text

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?”

“Honestly?”

“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.”

“Report?”

“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?”

“No.”

“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.

“Emma?”

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.

“Yes, why?”

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.

“I know.”

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.”

“Evfra-“  

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.

 

 

Chapter Text

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 what?”

“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?

“Jaal—"

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.

“Yup.”

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.”

“Me too.”

“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.”

“I am.”

“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.”

“It’s nothing.”

His grunt told her that he didn’t believe her.

She sighed, “I just don’t know if I can talk about it.”

“You’re embarrassed?”

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?”

~

No!

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.

Right? 

Chapter Text

Everyone was already suited up and ready to go the moment the Tempest landed on Havarl. Emma’s excitement at seeing another Angaran planet was slightly dampened by the mission. Most of all, she was worried about Jaal. She had said they would get them back, and she meant every word. Getting the chance to punch Akksul in the face would just be an enjoyable side benefit. Emma went to secure her helmet, but Scott shook his head.

“You won’t need it until we get to the Forge. And you’re going to want to see Havarl,” he grinned at her.

Jaal was right beside her. His rifle was already gripped in his hand as if the were going to get ambushed as soon as they left the ship. She had never seen him this restless. He didn’t even relax when she rested her hand on his forearm.  But he did offer her a small smile. It wasn’t real, but that was okay.

There was a shuttle waiting for them at the science outpost near the landing zone. She just had to help him hold it together until then. Her hand slid down until she was holding his hand. He had done it so many times for her. It was her turn now.

They were the first to exit the Tempest when the doors opened. Scott and Liam trailed behind them. As the Pathfinder, Scott was a given, but Liam demanded to come too. He was Jaal’s friend and he wanted to help bring his siblings home. Liam was a good guy.

Emma wasn’t sure what to expect when they landed on Havarl, but everything was so damn pretty. It was jungle filled with lush greenery and animals that could be heard in the distance. Glowing mushrooms dripping with sap nearly tempted her to touch them. The only reason she didn’t stop was because she was still holding Jaal’s hand, and he was going full speed towards the outpost. Emma had no choice but to jog to keep pace and let all the beauty pass her by. It would still be there when they got back.

They made it to the shuttle in record time. There was a woman standing, with her back to the wilds, near the shuttle. She perked up as Jaal came into view.

“Jaal! You made it!” She nodded at him before her eyes landed on Emma. They weren’t unkind, just curious.

“Any word on Teviint and the others?” he asked.

She shook her head. “No. All traffic and communications from the Forge have stopped. It’s under Akksul’s control now.” Emma could hear an underlying current of fury in her voice.

Jaal’s hand squeezed Emma’s. She was still here.

“Any advice on how to get inside?” Scott piped up.

“My shuttle can drop you nearby, but that’s all I can do. Evfra doesn’t want to make enemies of the Roekkar if we don’t have to,” she answered.

“We’ll keep a low profile,” Jaal promised.

Scott walked over to talk to the shuttle pilot, so they could leave. Liam followed him to double check weapons and supplies. They were going to walk into whatever was going on fully prepared, or they weren’t going to walk out.

The female angara looked Emma over again before she turned back to Jaal, “Could I speak to your friend for a moment?”

Jaal looked like he might object, but Emma nodded, “Sure.”

Jaal reluctantly let go of her hand to join the other two.

“My name is Avka, you must be the bioelectric human.” Avka paused to take in Emma’s expression. “Am I wrong?”

Emma shook her head. “No, that’s just the first time someone has referred to me that way. But yes I am.”

“I’ve known Jaal a long time, he is a strong fighter, but losing his siblings would hurt him greatly.” Avka tilted her head to the side. “But you intend to bring them back.”

“Yes.”

Avka nodded, “I was skeptical of the rumors about you, but I can feel your determination as strongly as I would feel an angara’s. It makes me wonder what else is true.”

Emma grimaced. “I’m not sure I want to know those rumors.”

Avka chuckled, “Maybe not. Regardless, I hope you are successful.”

“Thank you Avka.”

“We’re ready to go!” Scott called from the shuttle entrance.

Emma gave a short goodbye to Avka before jogging over to the shuttle. Scott waited for her to board before climbing in after. She took her spot right beside Jaal.

“Are you sure you want to bring us? We are outsiders.” Scott sat across from them.

“It will give the Roekkar a different perspective. Just follow my lead. We’ll get my family back,” Jaal answered.

He reached over to take her hand again as the shuttle took off. The ride was quiet. No one really felt like talking. Emma looked out the window and watched the pink sky blur past. When this was over they would get to properly look around. It wasn’t just incredibly beautiful, it was where Jaal grew up. She wanted to see all of it.

The shuttle to the Forge didn’t take long, but it felt like hours with the tension. Emma took in a deep breath when they disembarked. Scott signaled for her to put on her helmet. The environment was fine, but after the last Roekkar run in cost her a broken nose, she needed it on for the protection. Her face would heal, but it still hurt like a bitch. It was an experience she didn’t want to repeat.

“Move carefully. We don’t want to alert them,” Jaal murmured through the comms.

“Before we get close we should discuss how we plan to do this.” Scott looked pointedly at her while speaking.

While she didn’t want to kill anyone, if they stood between them and Jaal’s family there wouldn’t be much choice. And this wasn’t a group of Roekkar walking into their trap. The Forge was their turf, their home, and they would know how to use it to their advantage.

“Incapacitate if we can, kill if we can’t,” She replied.

“Agreed,” Liam spoke up.

“We’ll do what we can,” Scott said, drawing his assault rifle.

They crept through the fog and the bioluminescent trees.

Scott stared out at the sheer amount of buildings ahead of them.  “This will be easier if we know where your family is located.”

“The Moshae brings all of her students here. I know my way around. The govataan—a welcome center—is up ahead,” Jaal said.

They neared the building he had pointed to. There was no one there. Emma would have expected someone. Hell even a few Roekkar milling about.

“It’s…deserted. The govataan is usually filled with travelers.” Jaal looked around in disbelief.

“Avka did say no traffic in or out,” Emma reminded him.

Liam stopped by one of the buildings, “I really don’t like this.”

“Where are the Roekkar”? Jaal asked. It was a rhetorical question since none of them could answer it.

“Maybe we should split up and look?” Emma suggested.

Scott sighed. “I don’t like it, but we will cover more ground that way.”

They branched off from the path, each of them choosing a building. Emma turned to the right and went up the ramps. The door opened to reveal a small lab of sorts. There were a few plants in an alcove and something that resembled a microscope. A terminal was sitting in front of the window. She walked over to it. She ignored the reports and went straight for the audio file, pressing play.

“Akksul pulled us out of the lab today. Talked to us about “The Milky Way Menace.” Sheva says he’s a radical, but he’s only saying what everyone’s thinking.”

Emma grimaced when the audio file ended. This was how he made new recruits. He spread falsehoods about a group he didn’t even know and preyed on a fear that already existed in the Angara. Akksul used the distrust of others that the Kett had given them to his greatest advantage. It made Emma sick. He was using his own fear to manipulate others. They died for him. Children died for him because they were afraid. But she sure as hell didn’t remember seeing him on Eos, leading the charge against people that were supposed to be so evil. No. He let everyone else do it for him. That was no leader.

“I just found an audio file in here, what about you guys”? Emma asked over the comms.

“Akksul kicked everyone out,” Liam answered.

“Audio file and logs about recent activity confirm that,” Scott said.

“He is planning something.” Jaal was angry.

Emma went through the opposite door. “Anything on Jaal’s siblings?”

“There was an audio log, it sounded like it could be Lathoul, but I am unsure.” Jaal sighed. “We should regroup. There is another building that leads to the next area.”

Emma went down the ramp. Jaal was already waiting at the door, a frown etched into his face. As she got closer, she was going to ask why, but then she heard it. A recording on the other side of the door. It sounded like Akksul. There was no reason to ask why he was frowning. A recording also meant there could be someone on the other side playing it. When the others caught up they stood on either side of the door. Emma chose to stand near Scott. Only Jaal was left standing in view. The Roekkar wouldn’t shoot one of their own on site. The door opened.

“I thought you said you got them all!”

Emma clenched her teeth at the sound of a gun being cocked.

“I did! He must’ve-“

Scott, Liam, and Emma joined Jaal. None of them had their weapon drawn and hopefully, it wouldn’t come to that.

“An alien! Kill it!”

So much for that thought. Emma didn’t hesitate to draw her pistol. The shotgun wasn’t coming out unless it was absolutely necessary. Four against two weren’t fair odds, but the Roekkar didn’t seem to care. They still shot first, aiming primarily for the three humans, but the occasional bullet was aimed at Jaal. It didn’t take long to dispatch them.

“I hope no one heard that,” Scott’s voice crackled over the comms.

“We just killed two people and that’s what you’re worried about,” Emma hissed.

Jaal touched her shoulder, “They shot first. We had to defend ourselves.”

It was true, but she still didn’t like it. It all felt so unnecessary. She mumbled a quick apology to Scott, but he shook his head. “It’s okay. I know you don’t want to hurt anyone,” was his reply. He was right. She didn’t want to hurt people, especially people who were being taken advantage of. When she did, it felt like she was fulfilling her supposed purpose. And she hated it.

Scott picked up a datapad. “It says all civilians are accounted for? What do they mean by that?” He handed the datapad off to Jaal.

“Were they rounding them up?” Jaal asked out loud as he stared down at it.

Scott shrugged. “We should keep moving.”

They walked towards the door with their weapons drawn and ready. This was only the start. It was no longer just about Jaal’s family. Akksul had something planned. Something big. And they were going to stop it.

~

There were so many of them. When the team seemed to have most of the Roekkar down, a shuttle arrived to bring more. Emma used the shotgun more often that she would have liked. It was powerful and final. She wished she could say there were able to spare them. But the Roekkar here were not the same ones sent to Eos. These ones fought differently. It was a last stand for them. They were protecting something. Maybe it was Akksul, maybe it was the plan and the reason they were at the Forge in the first place. Emma just hoped none of them were Jaal’s siblings. It wasn’t like there was time to ask first.

Jaal checked every single body. Every time the scanner would say it wasn’t his brothers or sister, he would let out a small sigh of relief. Emma trailed behind him, just in case he needed her. But they were in the clear. His siblings weren’t here.

“Any sign of them?” Scott asked.

“No.” Jaal shook his head.

“Now the Roekkar know we’re here. Maybe that will flush them out.” Scott offered as reassurance.

It wasn’t much, but it was something.

Liam looked around. “Running us down, like we’re monsters” –he shook his head— “not even the exiles are all…like, exiles.”

Jaal sighed. “Like it or not, they were your first ambassadors.”

“And we know Sloane isn’t into making good first impressions,” Emma added, the woman’s name leaving a sour taste in her mouth.

Jaal led them to the next exit, but the door was locked. Scott jogged off to scan the electrical wiring and reconnect the power while Liam decided to duck into the nearby buildings and grab any supplies they would need. Emma and Jaal were left alone by the door. They were safe for the moment. Emma pulled her helmet off and took in a deep breath.

“How are you doing?” Jaal asked.

She chuckled. “I should be asking you that.”

“You are just as upset as I am,” Jaal said.

“He takes children,” –she looked away— “and they die for what? His hatred of us?”

“Your arrival will change the Angara.” Jaal leaned down to press his forehead against hers. “Akksul fears that change.”

Emma closed her eyes and let out a breath. “I understand being afraid. But sending people to die for you, attacking colonies that can’t defend themselves against large-scale attacks…he’s a coward. Plain and simple.”

“Unfortunately, a charismatic coward.”

“Everything okay?” Scott asked, walking back towards them.

Liam exited the building closest to them and jogged over. “Found some ammo, we’ll probably need it.”

“I got the door working. Are we ready?” Scott looked at each of them.

They all nodded, ready to get this over with. Emma secured her helmet once more. The door opened into another building. This was one was tossed, and there was nothing else of interest.

“There is a bridge to the ruins beyond the door. My family should be there.” Jaal’s voice was laced with hope.  

It was a short-lived hope. The moment they stepped out of the door, charges underneath the bridge went off. The bridge exploded and crumbled into the ravine. Jaal stared on in horror.

“Holy shit!” Scott exclaimed.

“They just destroyed it!” Emma yelled in shock.

“Shit! So much for that.” Liam looked on in disgust.

“How are we going to get to them now?” Scott asked Jaal.

Jaal groaned, “We will have to jump down.”

They walked over to where the bridge used to be. Scott neared the edge of the outlook and looked down into the ravine.

“Even you can’t jump that Ryder,” Liam warned.

The expression on Jaal’s face would have made Emma laugh if it wasn’t such a serious situation. “Use the rocks,” he spoke slowly like he was speaking to a child.

Scott jumped down first and Liam followed. Emma and Jaal were next. He signaled to her to wait for him and he jumped down onto the next rock using his jump jets to mitigate the impact of the fall. He gave her a thumbs up. That was sweet. He wanted to catch her. They were almost in dire straits and he was still being a gentleman. Emma snorted and jumped down to join them. The moment she landed, Jaal’s arm went around her waist to steady her. She flashed him a grateful smile.

The next jump was going to be harder. They would have to jump across and get another boost from the jump jets halfway through to reach the ledge. Emma was the only one unsure about whether she could do it. It wasn’t something she had been training to do well. Unfortunately, it was either make it or fall into the ravine. It wouldn’t kill her, but it would hurt. She took a running jump in an effort to prolong her initial jump. And she only stumbled a little bit when she landed. Scott helped catch her.

“We just have to climb the hill now.” Jaal gestured to the rocky path up to the ruins.

They wouldn’t get very far. Jaal saw the Roekkar first and shouted a warning. Emma took cover behind a pillar, pulling out her shotgun. It was mostly sharpshooters that were coming for them. It was just a matter of drawing them out long enough to take a shot. Jaal had picked through most of them and it was almost over. Until the shuttle arrived of course. Akksul was determined to kill them before they reached the ruins. Thank goodness Liam had the foresight to grab extra ammo before they reached this point. Otherwise, Emma would have had to take targets out by hand. She didn’t want to get that close and personal with the Roekkar.

The team pushed their way up the hill. They were going to make it to those ruins come hell or high water. But they were starting to feel it. It had been nonstop fighting after the govataan, and they were getting tired. They pushed on, working together to take out the remaining Roekkar. Emma let out a breath when the last sharpshooter went down. Another round done. They climbed to the top.

The sky stopped Emma in her tracks. Blues, pinks, purples, and reds painted the sky. It looked so much like a sunset on Earth. And it was breathtaking.

“Wow,” she breathed.

Jaal walked up behind her. “Not even the Roekkar can ruin this view.”

“No, they can’t”

“This is not how I wanted to show you Havarl, or the Forge, but I am glad you are seeing it.”

Emma turned to smile at him. “Me too. This is incredible.”

Liam was looking around at the pillars and standing structures. “This is old. Like stuff on Mars old.”

Jaal chuckled. “Just wait until we get inside.”

“Inside?” Scott asked.

Jaal nodded, “There is a cave ahead. That’s where the Forge is.” He paused. “And hopefully where my family is.”

Scott took a moment to scan a few of the structures. “Suvi is going to love this,” he muttered.

They pressed on ahead while Scott scanned. He paused when he came to a platform with markings.

“Do these markings mean something?” Scott asked.

“Some think it is an ancient version of Shelesh, our trade language. But no one’s been able to decipher it,” Jaal answered.

Scott crouched down to become more eye level with the markings. “SAM, can you make anything of it?”

“The markings appear to share more similarities with Remnant glyphs than with Shelesh. But they do not match any known syntax in my records, Pathfinder,” SAM intoned through the comms.

“That’s weird,” Emma murmured.

Scott nodded. “We should keep moving.”

Jaal pointed to a ledge. “We need to get up there.”

They moved as a unit, only stopping when Scott scanned something else and then moving again.

“What was this place before the Scourge?” Scott asked Jaal.

“Everyone has a theory. The Moshae believed it was a monument.”

“And you?” Emma asked.

He turned to look at her. “I like to think of it as a market; a gathering place of some kind.”

“That sounds nice,” she remarked.

Jaal jumped onto the next ledge and held out his hand. “I like to think so.”

He helped her up to the ledge and then quickly pulled her down as shots rang out. Great. More shooting. Jaal pulled her behind cover and she grabbed her gun.

“Intruders have reached the nest!” one of them shouted.

“I count four,” another voice rang out.

Emma moved to take aim, but Jaal’s hand on her arm made her stop.

“Wait!” he yelled out, “I know those voices!”

“Lathoul! Go for backup!” The first one shouted again.

It was them. Emma breathed a sigh of relief. They finally found his siblings. Jaal dropped his rifle and stood with his hands in the hair.

“Lathoul! Wait! Stop!” he shouted.

One of them stood up and holstered his rifle. “It’s Jaal! Jaal is that you?” He jumped over the blockade.

Emma, Liam, and Scott stayed behind cover while the siblings rushed to meet Jaal. She could feel Jaal’s relief, but also his worry. They were in for it. Emma took off her helmet. This was the first of Jaal’s family she would meet. She wanted them to see her face, not just a set of eyes looking through a visor. Considering they had joined the Roekkar, it was safe to say they probably wouldn’t like her. Didn’t mean she had to make a bad impression. The one opened his arms for a hug, but Jaal’s determined walk told her that is not what he was going to get first. She was right when he drew back to punch his sibling. She winced. Harsh, but not completely uncalled for. His brother looked like he might punch back, but instead he pulled Jaal into a hug.

Scott and Liam stood up first, making sure to take things slow. Emma was nervous, her heart hammered in her chest, but she stood too. Since he was the Pathfinder, Scott was in the middle, and she trailed behind him.

Jaal pulled back from the hug. “Baranjj, our mothers sent me.”

“All of them”? Baranjj looked nervous.

The female locked eyes with Scott and strode forward. “Did our mothers send this human too?” she sneered.

Scott didn’t break eye contact with her. “Jaal you didn’t tell me your sister was such a badass.” He smirked.

Emma rolled her eyes. Now was not the time for jokes, or flirting, if she could even call that flirting.

“Your people are a joke,” she rebutted.

Jaal sighed, “Teviint…please.”

Teviint turned her back on Scott and walked back over to the other, shoving Lathoul slightly out of her way. She was definitely the one in charge of this group. Emma wondered if it was her that joined the Roekkar and the other two just followed.

“Why’d they send you?” Baranjj asked.

“Because we’ve lost enough to the kett. They’re afraid to lose you to this insane cause,” Jaal said.

Baranjj began protesting, “But Jaal—"

“I want you to meet my friend, so you can see that Akksul is wrong.” Jaal turned, and Emma thought that he was going to grab Scott. After all, Scott is the Pathfinder, the figurehead of the entire operation. It would make sense that Jaal would grab him. But he didn’t. Jaal’s hand wrapped around hers and he pulled her up beside him. Three sets of eyes turned on her. Only one of them was filled with absolute disgust. The other two looked at her in varying shades of disbelief.

“Jaal, could it be…did you…?” Baranjj just stared at her.

“He resonated with an alien,” Teviint spat.

“I didn’t know they could do that. Can the aliens do that?” Baranjj’s voice was so low, it sounded like a whisper.

Lathoul leaned towards Baranjj. “She is a pretty alien,” he muttered.

Her cheeks turned pink at the compliment. Emma heard Scott choke with laughter behind her.

That angered Teviint even more. “How could you Jaal? You betrayed your people, your family!”

“Please Teviint” –Jaal pleaded— “they have proven that they deserve a chance to set things right. They are not all the same. Emma is important to me.”

Teviint shook her head. “Jaal, our mothers wanted us to live truthfully.”

Baranjj shook his head like she was shaking himself free of thought and crowded Jaal from the other side. “It is because I love my mother that I will die for this cause.”

“Akksul is going to blow this place up,” Lathoul interjected.

“Lathoul!” Teviint shouted.

Lathoul didn’t stop. “That’s why he sent the researchers away.”

“Stop talking,” Teviint warned.

“He has bombs. Stolen from your people,” he finished the sentence while looking at Emma.

That was it. The plan. Akksul was going to blow the Forge and make it look like an attack. He was going to start a war between the Angara and the Initiative. Nothing would stop it. Emma and Jaal shared a horrified look. They couldn’t allow this to happen. It would destroy any chance of peace between them. And it would destroy their relationship before it barely began.

“We have to disarm them,” Jaal said.

Lathoul nodded, “I’ll take you—”

A gunshot went off and Lathoul stumbled forward. Emma let go of Jaal’s hand to reach for him. Her knees struck the ground as she fell under his weight. Teviint was pointing the gun at him. Her expression went from cold and determined to…scared. She no longer looked like a soldier ready to go to war. Now she just looked like a scared kid who had made the wrong choice. Her hands shook as she lowered the gun and dropped it. She grabbed her head, looking like she might crumble at any moment. And then she ran. Baranjj took off after her.

“Teviint!” Jaal shouted.

“No, no, no—the bombs in the Forge. I’m okay Jaal. I’ll be fine,” Lathoul leaned on Emma, his breathing a little ragged.

Jaal helped her lay him down so she wasn’t bearing the brunt of his weight. Lathoul winced. Liam nudged her aside, so he could check Lathoul’s injury. Thank goodness for the crisis specialist.

“Are you okay?” Scott asked.

Lathoul nodded. “Yes, but you must hurry.”

“I’ll stay with him until we can get him out of here,” Liam said.

Scott straightened up. “Alright. Emma and Jaal are with me. Let’s stop this.”

Jaal touched Lathoul’s shoulder before standing. Emma moved to follow him, but Lathoul grasped her wrist to stop her.

“I hate Akksul…Don’t let him win,” Lathoul said to her.

“I won’t,” She promised.

“And I would hate to not see you again pretty alien.” He smiled at her.

“He’s fine,” she said to Jaal after rolling her eyes.

Lathoul let her go so she could get up. Jaal looked like he was trying not to laugh at her. If she had known his brother would be such a flatterer she probably wouldn’t have been so nervous. Emma shoved her helmet back on.

“Should I expect more of your family members to flirt with me?” she asked as they ran towards the Forge.

He shrugged and smirked, “Probably.”

The mood soured as they entered the mouth of the cave. None of them knew Akksul’s timeline and they needed to hurry if they wanted to stop them. Bioluminescent plants helped light their way.

“I had underestimated Akksul before” –Jaal shook his head— “but if he is willing to blow up the Forge, there’s nothing he won’t do. If he shows up…”

Scott nodded. “I know, I’ll follow your lead.” Scott turned his head to look at Emma.

“What?”

“You need to promise too. You are the person most likely to fuck up Akksul.” He pointed out.

“I can make no such promise,” she said.

“Emma…”

She sighed. “Fine. As long as no one is in imminent danger, I will let Jaal handle it.”

Scott looked over at Jaal. “That’s as good as we’re going to get.”

“Yes, I suspect so” –Jaal touched her elbow— “but I expect nothing less. I am glad you’re both here.”

“I wouldn’t be anywhere else,” she reassured him.

They reached the ledge and looked down into a cavern. There were Roekkar, and there were bombs. All of them primed and ready. The Roekkar began shooting the moment they saw the team. There was no cover on the ledge. Emma had no choice, but to jump down and hope she wasn’t shot. Scott was beside her rushing for cover.

“The bombs have been activated!” Jaal shouted.

“How much time do we have?” Scott asked while shooting.

“A few minutes at most.” SAM was the one to answer.

“You two cover me! I’m going to disable the bombs!” Scott yelled before jumping out from behind cover.

The Roekkar were relentless, trying to kill Scott before he even made it to the first bomb. Thanks to Emma’s shotgun and Jaal’s rifle, they wouldn’t get the chance. She didn’t hesitate, she couldn’t. If they didn’t stop this then everything was for nothing. There would be no new beginnings. No colonies. Just a station and arks full of soon to be dead colonists. And the Kett would swoop in to take advantage of the division.

Emma wasn’t sure how much time had passed. It almost seemed like the waves of Roekkar were endless. She just picked them off to keep them off Scott. A monotonous routine of fire a few rounds, reload, fire a few rounds, and reload again. Over and over. There had to be an end. Her arms were sore, and her legs screamed from following Scott all around the cavern to keep him safe. But she kept going.

The last Roekkar dropped right as Scott finished disarming the bomb. It was just the three of them left standing. Their ragged breaths echoed throughout the cavern.

“Jaal! Jaal!” Teviint shouted from one of the passages. She ran out to meet him. “I killed Lathoul. I killed him. I’m so sorry.” She gripped Jaal’s rofjinn in her hands, tears rolling down her face.

“He’s not dead. You’re lucky.” Jaal patted her back.

Teviint looked relieved, but she also shook her head. “I lost my mind, Jaal. I want to go home.”

“But the cause! I joined because of you!” Baranjj piped up.

“I shot our brother!” she argued.

“Don’t leave me—”

“Let her go. I only want soldiers committed to our cause—not weaklings who stand by and watch the destruction of our people—at the hands of aliens!”

Akksul walked into the cavern. Emma stiffened. Her fingers curled into fists. She wanted to, but she had promised. Jaal pulled Teviint behind him. Baranjj was the only one in between them and Akksul. And Emma was closest. She reached for Baranjj and grabbed him before he could protest. Emma, Jaal, and Scott separated Akksul from the children. He couldn’t have them too. They were leaving with Jaal’s siblings.

The Roekkar stepped out onto the ledge above them, their weapons drawn and pointed right at Emma and Scott. One motion from Akksul and they would shoot. Emma knew how this worked. Now they had to diffuse it before it got to that point. Her shoulder was pressed up against Jaal’s arm.

“Blowing up your sacred birthplace seems pretty drastic. Your cause is falling apart, like you,” Scott said.

Emma grimaced. That probably wasn’t the best thing to say, but it wasn’t wrong.

“I speak for our people and I say you’re done in Heleus.” He gestured quickly towards Scott like he had a gun, but it was empty. It was a trick to get Scott to raise his weapon. It worked.

“Ryder, don’t,” Jaal warned.

Akksul laughed. “Martyr me. Please. I dare you.”

Scott lowered his weapon. “I don’t kill unarmed crazy people.”

Akksul turned his back to Scott to address to Roekkar. “They move onto our planets. They take our resources. Make us weak!”

“I’ve watched Ryder make planets habitable!” Jaal spoke over him.

“Exactly!” Akksul sneered. “And they’ll never let us forget it.”

 “He rescued your beloved Moshae!” Jaal continued.

Akksul paused to hide the emotion that flitted across his face. “I know…”

“Saved her life!” Jaal shouted.

“I know!” Akksul sounded desperate. “Stop defending them!”

“The Moshae trusts Ryder and—”

“Stop!” Akksul pulls an actual gun this time. Only he isn’t pointing at Scott. And he isn’t pointing at Emma. It’s pointed right at Jaal. Emma’s heart began pounding in her ears.

“We’ve been fighting the wrong enemy. Maybe the enemy is this traitor!” Akksul’s face contorted with rage.

“Easy,” Jaal murmured, his eyes not leaving Akksul now.

Scott trained his own gun on Akksul. “Jaal?” He looked panicked.

Jaal held his hand up to Scott. “Don’t!” He turned back to Akksul. “The Moshae trusts Ryder. You’ve become a danger to your own people. Walk away.”

Akksul looks like he might hesitate, but his hand tightens around his gun. “Or…I kill you. And reveal the Resistance for the traitors they are.”

No, no, no. This couldn’t happen. She had to do something that wouldn’t make this worse. If she didn’t she could lose two people. That couldn’t happen. But it was likely that someone was going to be shot today. Why shouldn’t it be the one person who could walk away? Slowly, Emma walked over until she was in front of Jaal. Akksul drew back slightly. Reaching up, Emma undid her helmet and pulled it off.

“What the fuck are you doing?” Scott hissed at her.

She ignored him, and instead addressed Akksul. “If you’re so determined to shoot someone today. Then shoot me.”

“Emma!” Jaal shouted from behind her.  

She wasn’t moving. Akksul would shoot her or he wouldn’t.

“Do you think I won’t?” Akksul snarled.

“You can. I just hope you’re prepared for when I get back up. And I will.”

“Now is not the time to play chicken, Emma.” Scott kept his gun trained on Akksul.

Akksul just stared at her, the gun aimed right at her head, but he didn’t pull the trigger. Good. If he was silent then she had a chance.

“Aajid De Ev…does that name ring any bells for you?” she asked.

“I—”

“You stationed him on Kadara, in the badlands. How old was he?” She interrupted him before he could answer.

Akksul didn’t say anything. There were murmurs from the ledge up top.

“17,” someone muttered loud enough for her to hear.

She nodded. “You sent a child into the badlands to attack people who wouldn’t hesitate to defend themselves.”

“And he was killed by one of your people!”

“He was killed by ME!” she corrected.

“Then I should shoot you,” he said but made no move to do so.

“He was shot in the back by a sniper and left for dead. Sometimes when I close my eyes, I still hear him screaming” –she stepped forward and Akksul stepped back— “so I did the only thing I could do. I killed somebody’s child because you sent them there to die.”

“Your people cannot be trusted! I’ve seen what their capable of—”

“I know what my people are capable of!” she shouted over him. “Better than anyone.”

“I defend my people!”

“You hide behind them!”

Akksul grew quiet. The gun was still trained on her, but Akksul’s hand was starting to shake. She was telling the truth and he knew it.

“You’re a coward,” she said.

Akksul staggered back like she had delivered a physical blow. “I love my people,” he whispered.

 “Then stop this. If you start a war with the Initiative it will divide everyone, and that’s how the kett wins against us all.”

She reached forward and took the gun from him. He didn’t move as she kneeled down to place the gun on the ground and stand back up. She heard Scott lower his weapon behind her. In all honesty, she was surprised. She didn’t think an attempt to diffuse the situation would go so well. There was a moment that she actually considered she might be shot. Akksul had looked like he wanted to.

“You feel like us, but you’re not us.” He shook his head.

“We don’t have to be the same to fight for the same thing.” She shrugged.

Akksul frowned and didn’t say anything else.

“We are taking Jaal’s siblings and the bombs, and we are leaving. Whether not someone else dies today, is your choice,” she said, turning her back to him.

Emma didn’t expect the angry look on Jaal’s face. Or the way it buzzed unpleasantly against her skin. That’s not fair. He was just as willing to stand in front of Akksul’s gun to diffuse the situation. Why does he get to be mad at her? Either way, they would deal with it later. It was time to go.

Emma heard a gun cock behind her. Huh, I guess I am getting shot today. But the bullet missed her completely. The one time she needed her power it didn’t come. She could only watch in horror as it hit the one person she wanted to protect the most.

“Jaal!”

~

Emma sat opposite of Liam on the shuttle back to the science station. Scott was sitting right beside her. Jaal was sitting on the other side of the shuttle with his siblings crowded around him. There was plenty of room for her to sit with them, but she chose not to. In fact, she was having a hard time even looking at Jaal. Or the new scar burned onto his cheek from the bullet.

Scott nudged her gently. “Stop brooding. It’s not your fault.”

“It feels like it,” she murmured.

“Just because you’re some kind of mutant doesn’t mean you’re psychic,” Liam chimed in.

She shook her head. “Gee thanks Liam.”

He lifted up his hands to shoot her with finger guns. “Anytime.”

Scott leaned his head on her shoulder. “Liam’s right. You didn’t know someone else would shoot.”

She knew he was trying to comfort her, but it wasn’t working all that well. On Voeld, the barrier came up like instinct. Jaal was in danger and it just happened. Someone shoots at him and her powers are all new number who’s this? What was the fucking point of them then?

Emma tapped one of the bombs with her boot. She needed a change of conversation.

“I wonder where Akksul even got the bombs?” she asked Scott.

He shrugged, “Who knows? Maybe Vetra can track that down.”

The three of them dropped off into silence. The only sounds in the shuttle were Jaal’s siblings talking to him. She should be over there too. But she could still feel Jaal’s lingering anger on her skin. Emma sighed and leaned back against Scott a little bit. Her first day on Havarl sucked.

 

Watching Emma walk in between him and Akksul filled Jaal with a fear he hadn’t experienced before. He had watched Emma make bad decisions. He had seen her hurt because of those decisions. But watching her walk in front of a loaded gun and trying to goad Akksul into shooting her made his blood run cold. If Akksul had shot her, diplomacy be damned, Jaal would have killed him. What had she been thinking?

Jaal looked over at her from his side of the shuttle. She was leaning against Scott, her eyes closed. He wanted to feel her, but for the first time since they resonated, she felt closed off. He doubted she was doing it on purpose, but it hurt all the same. Yes, he was angry, but that didn’t mean he didn’t want her close. He could remember the look of horror on her face as the bullet came right for him. Since then she hadn’t spared him a glance. She walked as far away from his as possible on the way back to the shuttle, and then sat on the other end when they boarded. It was like they had backtracked to the beginning. She was keeping everything to herself.

“It was awesome! Wasn’t it Jaal?” Baranjj elbowed Jaal to get his attention.

“What was?” he asked.

“The way your woman stood up to Akksul!” Baranjj crowed.

“I’m sorry I missed it,” Lathoul lamented.

Jaal couldn’t deny that she was incredible. She talked Akksul down with nothing more than words and it worked. Akksul wasn’t prepared for someone to be able to out talk him. But she was. Jaal was proud of her for that, but not for trying to get herself killed.

Teviint rolled her eyes at her brothers. “Oh, shut up already.” She leaned close to Jaal’s face. “You should have that looked at.”

Jaal nodded. “I’ll have the Tempest doctor look at it.”

Teviint made a small sound of disgust but said nothing else.

Jaal bounced a little in his seat when the shuttle landed on the platform. A minute passed before the doors opened. Lathoul and Teviint were out first, with Baranjj following close behind. The mothers were already there waiting with their arms wide open. Emma was staring through the door at them with a strange expression on her face. A mix of relief and…longing. It made his heart ache. He knew Scott’s mother had adopted her, but what of her true mother? Did Emma even know?

Liam and Scott exited the shuttle next with Scott muttering about calling Vetra to help safely move the bombs to the Tempest. There was the matter of where they came from, but Jaal didn’t give a damn about that right now. The only two left on the shuttle were Emma and Jaal, and she still wasn’t looking at him. It didn’t deter him from walking over to her.

“We should talk,” he said.

She looked at him then, her eyes wandering over his face until they stopped on his scar. Her gaze dropped down to her feet. It felt like hours before she nodded.

Jaal struggled to keep his voice even. “What were you thinking?” He flinched at his accusatory tone.

He felt something then. A sting of anger. Her eyes flashed, and she leaned forward. “I was thinking I was trying to not get us killed.”

“Emma you tried to talk him into shooting you!”

“I knew he wouldn’t!” she argued.

“No! You didn’t Emma! You could’ve gotten yourself killed!”

Emma crossed her arms. “That’s rich coming from you! You were just going to let Akksul shoot you!”

“He’s a bad shot,” Jaal countered.

“It was point blank range Jaal, he didn’t have to be a good shot!”

This was getting them nowhere. They were just yelling at each other. Shifting the blame back and forth. This isn’t how Jaal wanted this to do. He didn’t want to spend this time arguing with her. What she did scared him. And he was worried she would do it again. And again. It only took her being wrong once and she would be gone. The thought made him choke.  He didn’t want to lose her. That’s what this was about.

It seemed Emma wasn’t happy about where this was going either. She leaned back and took a deep breath. Her gaze shifted again. She was back to staring at her feet.

“I took a calculated risk. If Akksul shot me I knew I would the only one who could walk away and if it meant you didn’t get hurt, it was worth it” –Emma shifted so her elbows were resting on her knees and her head was in her hands— “not that it even fucking mattered. You still got hurt,” she muttered.

Jaal moved down to his knees in front of her. He reached around to press his hand against her back. “And what if you had gotten hurt?” His voice was soft. “How do you think I would’ve felt.”

She sniffed, “I…didn’t think about that. I never…”

Jaal moved his arm to coax her out. His hands trailed up her arms and wrapped around her wrists to pull them away from her face. Her eyes were bright with tears. A few had already escaped, leaving a wet trail down her cheeks. Jaal cupped her face.

“You are not disposable Emma. Please stop acting like you are,” he whispered.

It all hit him at once. Her anger and fear intertwined with his own. But unlike him, her anger was directed at herself.

“I just wanted to protect you.” She shook her head. “And I failed. What good am I if I can’t even do that?”

His breath caught in his throat. She couldn’t really think that. Could she? He wiped a few of her tears away with his thumbs. It seemed she could.

“Emma.” He breathed her name. “I am not with you because I think you should protect me. Nor am I with you because of your abilities. I am with you because you are fierce, and passionate, and beautiful. I am with you because your soul sings to mine.”

She looked up, her gaze finally meeting his and staying. Jaal’s thumb strayed to the corner of her mouth. He heard her undoing the straps to her gloves. Her shaking hand entered his vision. With a gentle hand, she brushed her fingers against the wound on his cheek. It looked worse than it was.

He turned his head to place a small kiss to the tips of her fingers. “It’s just a scar. It will heal.”

Emma slid from her seat and kneeled in front of him so they were eye level. “I’m sorry I scared you.”

“And I’m sorry I scared you.” He leaned forward to press his forehead against hers.

“They’re probably in there making out!” Scott shouted from outside. “They do it all the time!”

Emma pursed her lips and pulled away. Jaal couldn’t help but chuckle. “I believe he just said that to the mothers.”

Emma just nodded and closed her eyes for a brief second. “I’m going to pitch Scott over the railing. Want to watch?”

Jaal grasped her hands and stood, pulling her up with him. “After you, darling one.”

Chapter Text

“So how this is going to work exactly?” Emma asked from her cot. She was sitting up against the wall with her legs tucked under her.

Scott had a duffel bag open on the cot and was frowning as he looked over her clothes before tossing them into the bag. Peebee was sprawled out on Jaal’s cot right beside her and was nodding and shaking her head to various articles of Emma’s clothing.

“It’s three days. I’ll be busy on Havarl, but I don’t need you or Jaal. And you need to meet his family,” Scott answered while throwing a tank top into her duffel.

“Meet his family, yes, but three days? I don’t even know if they’re going to like me.”

“Jaal is convinced. And the mothers thought you were hysterical when you pitched me over the railing while I screamed like a baby,” Scott rebutted.

“You’re trying to punish me aren’t you.” Emma narrowed her eyes at him.

Scott rolled his eyes. “No Emma. I think you need to meet his family and really get to know them. It’s important to Jaal, and it’s important to your relationship. And Sahuna e-mailed me.”

“She e-mailed you?” Emma leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees.

“She was adamant that I give you and Jaal free time to stay at the compound. Apparently, the mothers spilled the tea on the nature of your relationship.” Scott wagged his eyebrows at her.

“Gee, I wonder how they got that idea.” Sarcasm dripped from her words.

“They knew I was joking. You’re the one who confirmed it for them. That, and apparently when the two of you touch, your bioelectricity goes wonky.”

“Just mine?” Emma asked.

“Yup. Jaal says its because you have no idea how to control it. Which sums up your life actually.” Scott folded another shirt and shoved it into the bag.

Emma grabbed one of the pillows behind her and smacked him in the back of the head with it. His laugh was swallowed up by another smack with the pillow. He was enjoying this way too much.

“It won’t be so bad,” Peebee piped up. “We’ll be there on the last day.”

Scott nodded. “That’s right. You won’t be alone on the third day. Sahuna wants to meet all of us to make sure Jaal is treated well by the crew. I’m looking forward to it actually.”

“I’m looking forward to partying with Jaal’s siblings,” Peebee insinuated. She narrowed her eyes and held up her hand as Scott was putting something else in the bag. “What are those?”

“Pajamas.” Scott held up her usual shorts and tank top.

“Isn’t there anything cuter in there?” She leaned forward to rifle through the bag.

“Why does that matter?” Emma asked, baffled.

“You’ll be sleeping with Jaal, you should have something cute,” Peebee answered like it was obvious.

“I sleep with him now. My pajamas are fine.” She was trying so hard to act oblivious to what Peebee was starting to imply.

Peebee raised an eyebrow and leaned really close to Emma. Close enough to make Emma lean back against the wall. “Right, but you’ll be in a room, with an actual bed” --Peebee crawled forward until she was practically in Emma’s lap— “with privacy. You may want to…you know.” Peebee’s face was inches from hers. “Don’t tell me you haven’t even thought of it.”

“No,” Emma answered hastily, her chest and neck turning pink.

Liar.

“Your face says yes,” Peebee retorted. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of. And you don’t have to if you really don’t want to.” Peebee pulled back and sat back down, her knees touching Emma’s.

“I don’t even know if it's possible,” Emma murmured, not even sure why she was saying it out loud.

“Oh, it’s possible,” Peebee chuckled.

Emma just looked at Peebee. “How? I mean…” –she pitched her voice low— “I saw him getting out of the shower, but I didn’t see anything.”

“You haven’t read any of Lexi’s reports on Angaran biology, have you?” Scott asked.

Emma shook her head.

“It’s internal,” Peebee answered.

Emma raised her eyebrows in surprise. “Really?”

Scott frowned at her. “Maybe you should talk to Lexi before you go.”

Emma shook her head. “I don’t need to.” The look on Scott’s face made her elaborate. “I’m curious, but I’m so not ready for that. I don’t need the talk.”

“Fine. But you will have to talk to Lexi at some point. You can’t avoid it forever,” Scott warned.

The three of them fell silent as the door to the tech lab opened. Emma wasn’t sure if she was more scared that it would be Jaal or that it would be Lexi. It was neither of them. Cora walked into the room with a small bundle in her arms. It looked like more clothing. What on earth did she need all of the clothes for? Sure, her wardrobe wasn’t varied, but it did the job. Cora dumped the pile on her bed. Before Emma could take a good look, Scott plucked something out of the pile and shoved into the duffel before she could see it. That wasn’t suspicious at all.

Peebee reached for something else in the pile. She pulled out a small, pink nightdress. “Yes!” She tossed it in the bag. Emma just rolled her eyes but didn’t try to protest. With Peebee, there wasn’t a point. Emma leaned forward and reached into the bag to see exactly what they had shoved in there. Scott smacked her hand away.

“Why can’t I see my own clothes?” she asked.

“Because Jaal wanted to surprise you and if you look in there, you’ll ruin it.” He closed the duffel bag and zippered it shut.

Cora picked up the last thing she had brought in and held it up. It was a dress. The bodice was a deep blue lace with a lining inside to keep it from being see-through. The skirt was a creamy white with tiny blue flowers. It was pretty. She liked it.

Scott gestured to her. “The shuttle leaves in 20 minutes, you should change.”

Oh. She was supposed to wear it.

“Why?” She gestured to the jean shorts and t-shirt she was wearing. They were clean and nice looking.

Scott sighed. “Because you’re meeting his family and first impressions are important.”

“I don’t see why that’s necessary but okay.” Emma stood and pulled off her t-shirt. Cora handed over the dress, and Emma pulled it on over her shorts. Once the dress was on she undid her shorts and kicked them off. She was probably going to regret that. Havarl was humid and she was bound to get some serious thigh chafing. The bodice ended right underneath her chest and the skirt brushed the tops of her knees. It really was pretty. Peebee patted the spot on the bed right in front of her and Emma sat down. Her hair was pulled free from its ponytail. Peebee pulled back the top half of her hair and clipped it together. Emma couldn’t see the clip, but knowing the three of them, it matched the dress.

Emma looked up at Scott. “Well?”

“You look great.” He smiled. “Now get your shoes on.”

“Yes mom.” She rolled her eyes and took the sandals that were handed to her by Cora. “I hope I don’t have to wear these the entire time.”

“Your boots and sneakers are in the bag. I thought of everything.” He grabbed the duffel and slung it over his shoulder. “Jaal’s waiting at the shuttle.”

Peebee and Cora trailed behind them as they walked through the ship to the cargo bay doors. They were going to stay behind while Scott accompanied her to the shuttle dock.

Peebee leaned against doors and waved. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!”

“That’s a really short list of things I can’t do,” Emma retorted.

Their laughter followed her and Scott down the path to the station. It wasn’t even dusk and yet the wilds of Havarl were still dark enough for the mushrooms to glow. Emma was tempted to touch the sap. Yes, she knew she wasn’t supposed to, but it just looked so fun to touch.

“Don’t be nervous,” Scott reminded her as the station loomed in front of them.

How could she not be? She was going to be stuck for three days hoping his family liked her. Jaal may be sure, but she still had reservations. They were bound to have questions. Questions she doesn’t have answers to. And then there was Sahuna. If his true mother didn’t like her, then she was fucked. Emma paused on the steps leading up the shuttle. Jaal was there and he would just smile at her and look at her like everything was okay even if she didn’t feel like it was. She took a deep breath. If there was ever a moment to have faith in him, it was now. He knew his family. If he believed it then she could too. Scott waited patiently beside her for the two minutes it took her to decide to walk up the steps.

Avka was there again, talking to Jaal and the shuttle pilot. His bag must already be on the shuttle. Scott handed hers over and she gripped it tightly in her hands. Last chance for her to run. But she wasn’t going to. She could do this. This was important.

Jaal turned to her, his eyes lighting up the moment he looked her. How could she run after that? Emma felt herself smiling in response. Three days with him. Not on the ship. No Liam or Scott the poke fun at her. No worrying about people busting into the tech lab. Shit. Maybe she should’ve talked to Lexi. Jaal reached for her and she slid her hand into his. His thumb pressed into her palm.

“You look beautiful.” He leaned forward to press a kiss to her temple.

“Thank you.”

Scott wrapped one arm around her shoulders to give her a partial hug. “Have fun. I’ll see you in two days.”

“Don’t get into too much trouble,” she said.

“I promise nothing.” He smirked and raised his hand in a wave to Jaal, “Later.”

Emma watched him walk away, leaving her alone with Jaal. His hand squeezed hers and gently and she turned back to him. He was looking at her with a tenderness that still took her breath away. Three days. She could do this.

~

Emma didn’t expect the traditional brick and mortar houses she had seen on Earth. Nor had she expected the austere homes on the Citadel. But she hadn’t expected Jaal’s home to be so big. It sprawled in front of her, fitting cozily into the lush jungle around it.

“Wow,” she whispered, just looking at the enormity of it.

Jaal chuckled. “It is home.” With their hands linked, they walked off of the shuttle dock. A house having its own dock was pretty impressive. “We will be staying in my room in the main house.”

“There’s more than one house?” she asked, not quite believing it. This wasn’t really a house then, it was a compound. Jaal had said his family was large. But just how large was large?

“Are you okay? You tensed up.” He stopped short of the front door to give her a moment.

“Yeah, it’s just… sinking in.” Emma shook her head. Confidence was waning.

“They will like you Emma,” he reassured her. “You are an incredible person. They will feel that.”

Emma looked up at the confident and loving look on his gaze. He raised their hands and pressed a kiss to the back of hers. “If you’re scared, we can do this some other time.”

She shook her head. “I do want to meet them. And I want to learn more about you. I can do this.”

With renewed vigor, she followed him through the front door. The entrance way was a long hallway filled with windows and bioluminescent plants. The outside foliage pressed up against the glass of the windows. It was gorgeous.

“Jaal!”

Jaal dropped his bag and Emma’s hand, to embrace the woman running towards him. It had to be Sahuna. From the way Jaal had talked about her, Emma has expected someone larger than life. Sahuna was smaller and shorter than Jaal, but Emma could tell she still had presence. Large eyes, so similar to Jaal’s in size and color, appraised Emma quickly. Emma didn’t know what to do with her hand that wasn’t holding her bag while under such scrutiny. Should she just let it hang there or rest it on her hip…no that would seem too defensive. It was such a ridiculous thing to worry about. God, she was so fucking nervous. Jaal reached back for her and grasped her hand. Sahuna watched the movement with little expression as he pulled Emma closer.

“Emma this is my true mother, Sahuna Ama Darav.” His fingers entwined with hers. “Mother, this is Emma.” He sounded so proud as he said her name.

Emma felt her heart bloom in her chest. She was so afraid that his family, and his mother, wouldn’t like her. Jaal was clearly not worried. He was showing her off. But Sahuna’s expression didn’t change and Emma’s heart sank as fast as it had risen.

“Jaal Ama Darav! You are in a lot of trouble!” Sahuna chastised him.

Jaal’s mouth dropped open and it took him a moment to regain himself. “But mother I—”

This was it. They were going to throw her ass out and she was going to have back to the Tempest dejected. Emma knew this had to be too good to be true.

“How could you not tell me you had resonated with such a beautiful young woman?” Sahuna gestured to Emma with her hands and didn’t wait for Jaal to respond. “I was worried that they weren’t treating you well, but I had to learn from the other mothers that wasn’t true. How long were you planning to keep her from me Jaal?”

That was not what she had expected. And the look on Jaal’s face—he was just flabbergasted at her reaction. Emma felt a small laugh escape before she could stop it. Sahuna smiled at her.

“It is nice to meet you, Emma. The mothers told me Jaal is very fond of you.”

Emma’s cheeks turned pink. “Y-yes. I’m fond of him too.”

“He’s my favorite. Smart. Loyal. Kind. A great shot. Writes poetry…sews.” Sahuna listed off his qualities.

Now Jaal’s face was turning purple. Emma had to stifle her laughter.

“Mother…” he muttered, his eyes begging her to stop.

Sahuna sighed and patted them both on the shoulder. “I’m late for a resistance meeting. Please make yourself at home Emma. Stay clear!”

She walked in between them to leave. Everything felt so much lighter when she walked out the door. Emma was a little less tense. Sahuna was just so much. There was no denying how much she loved her son. Emma liked her. And so far, it seemed that Sahuna liked her as well.

“Your mothers in the resistance?” Emma asked.

“Yes. And every child is her favorite,” Jaal said.

Emma laughed out loud then. Maybe so. But Sahuna thought very highly of Jaal. And so did Emma.

“I told you she would like you.” He sounded smug.

Emma rolled her eyes. “Yeah, yeah. I should have never doubted you. You’re always—”

Jaal cut her off with a small kiss.

“So smug,” she finished when he pulled back.

“Let’s meet everyone else.” His face was still close to hers.

Emma nodded. “Ready when you are.”

Jaal grabbed his bag and they walked through the next set of doors. Once again, she was taken back by the sheer size of the place, but she understood why. They walked into a common room. Angara milled about on couches and in front of screens. There were angara of multiple ages hanging around as if they had been waiting. They probably had been. Emma spotted a few familiar faces in the crowd. Teviint still looked at her as if she wasn’t sure what to make of her, but Baranjj and Lathoul both raised their hand in a greeting. So many eyes were on her and the room was so quiet.

“Everyone! This is Emma.” Jaal let go of her hand to encircle his arm around her waist.

“Hello.” Damn, she sounded so lame.

It wasn’t quiet anymore.

“Look who the kaerkyn dragged in!”

“Welcome back!”

“Did you bring someone special to meet us?”

“She is so pretty!”

“Where are you from Emma?”

It was so much at once. Too much. None of them had really moved, but it felt like they were crowding around her. And the questions. The questions never stopped. They just kept coming and she couldn’t answer them. Jaal’s arm tightened around her waist and he navigated her through them. Instead of her answering, he fielded the majority of the questions and told them they would have plenty of time to get to know her. Emma didn’t let out a breath until they stepped out of the main room.

“I’m sorry. They can be…a lot.” Jaal pressed his forehead to the side of her head while they stood in a hallway for a few minutes.

“That’s an understatement,” she chuckled.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

Emma nodded. Now that they were out of there she was fine. Maybe it would be better once the newness of her arrival wore off. Or she could meet them in smaller groups.

Jaal squeezed her side and then they were moving again. They walked past what Emma assumed was the kitchen and the dining room. Possibly another common room, and then what looked to be bedrooms.

“How many people live here?” she asked.

“I’m not sure. Most of the families live in the main house. The children and the mothers are kept close. There are smaller homes on the grounds that belong to those who don’t want to live in the main house, and some of the newly married couples,” Jaal answered as they passed by room after room.

“Why the newly married couples?”

Jaal coughed, purple darkening his face again. “Most of them require privacy.”

Why would they…oh. Emma just nodded. “Right. Got it.”

Jaal stopped in front of a door. “This is my room. My tiny sanctuary.” The door opened.

There were a few crates on the floor and one on the bed. The bed was just big enough to fit both of them. Good thing since there was only one. There was a workbench littered with pieces of tech and various parts that looked like they didn’t really fit with anything. Emma smiled. Not much has changed then. He looked at her expectantly.

She set her bag down on the floor. “It’s you.”

“Do you like it?” Jaal sat on the bed and deposited his own bag by his feet.

Emma walked over and sat on the bed beside him. “You’re in it, so yes.” She leaned her head on his shoulder.

Jaal looked down at her and cleared his throat nervously. That made Emma straighten up.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

“We never spoke about what we are” –he flexed his fingers like he wasn’t sure what he was supposed to be doing with them— “and I want to be with you. I want us to be together. Do you?”

Emma reached up to cradle his face in her hands. “Yes, Jaal.”

He sighed in relief before chuckling. “Scott said I was worried for nothing.”

“Don’t tell him I said this, but he was right.” She smiled up at him.

Jaal turned his head to kiss her palm. “Oh!” He stood up from the bed and held out his hands for her. She grabbed them, and he pulled her up. “There is something I wanted to show you. Lie down.”

Emma raised an eyebrow but did as he said. The floor was cool underneath her. She just hoped her bare legs wouldn’t stick. Her hair clip stabbed into the back of her head and she removed it with a wince. It was cute, but not practical for whatever Jaal was planning. Jaal walked over to a small black box and fiddled with it. The room exploded with light. Not just random lights, but swirls of purple and blue and tiny pinpricks of light. They were stars. None that she recognized, but it was beautiful. Jaal crossed the room towards her and laid down beside her.

“Did you make this?” Her voice was tinged with awe.

“Yes. It isn’t accurate. It was more like a dream.” His hand searched out hers.

Emma could imagine. A small Jaal dreaming about the stars. They were out of reach, but he could bring them to him. It wasn’t unlike Emma, standing on the Normandy. Her fingers searching on the galaxy map. Always a place to explore, but also a place to belong. Emma squeezed his hand. There was all of Heleus to explore. And they could do it together. She belonged here. The lights blurred resembling watercolor paints as she teared up.

Jaal rolled onto his side and wiped tears from her cheeks. He pressed small, butterfly kisses to her eyebrow, her cheek, her mouth. “600 years and we found each other. I am lucky,” he murmured against her lips before capturing them in another kiss. His hand moved to cradle the back of her head. Fingers pressed into her scalp.

Emma was always so aware of him like this. The sub vocals in his chest almost purring. His bioelectricity crackled her against her skin making the hairs on her arm stand on end. He was keeping himself up with one arm, so he didn’t press his full weight against her. Not that she wouldn’t have been able to handle it. One of his legs covered her own. She wasn’t even sure he was aware that it was slowly wedging her legs apart at the knees. Regardless of intent, it made heat coil in her belly.

Emma made a small noise in her throat and it spurred him on. The tip of his tongue ran across her bottom lip. It was new, but not unwelcome. She wasn’t sure if all Angara kissed like this, or if he had been doing research. Either way, she was grateful. Emma opened her mouth to him.

His hand left the back of her head and trailed down her neck and side. Emma couldn’t help the small moan when it trailed down her outer thigh before hooking under her knee. Her dress fell back to her hip. His knee slid up and pressed against her inner thigh. Emma no longer had doubts. He knew what he was doing. The heat in her belly began to spread. Her skin flushed everywhere he was pressed against her. She was on fire, but a shiver ran down her spine. I should’ve talked to Lexi.

The door opened. “Jaal? Oh—”

They pulled apart to see a shocked Lathoul looking down at them for the doorway. He just pointed behind him. “Dinner.” It was the only word he managed to get out before he took off.

Emma knew her face was bright red. She clapped her hands over her face. Jaal pulled away from her and her body protested. Part of her wanted to say fuck dinner and well…

“I think your brother just saw my underwear,” she murmured into her hands. This was so embarrassing. She had been making out earnestly, in Jaal’s childhood room, in his family’s home. What were they going to think of her now?

“No one is going to be surprised,” he reassured. “But he is going to tell everyone.”

“That is not reassuring Jaal.” She tried to sound more forceful in her protest, but she was still a little breathless.

He sat up, his shoulders shaking from laughter. Well at least someone found it funny. This was stuff you were supposed to do when you were a teenager, not almost 25. At least, that’s what she always believed. But she was wrong about so many things. She wouldn’t be surprised if she was wrong about that too. Jaal held out his hand for her to grab, and he pulled her up. The first thing she did was pull her dress back down, just in case, anyone else decided to barge in. Jaal grabbed her hair clip from the floor. With deft fingers, he pulled her hair back and clipped it the same way Peebee had.

“We should go before they send someone else,” he said, amusement still in his voice.

We should go before I kiss you again.

~

Emma expected dinner to be an awkward affair. There were some glances and smiles, and even chuckles. Lathoul was the worst. He was constantly looking between the two of them and smirking. But otherwise, no one said anything to them about it. Emma was sitting in between Sahuna and Jaal. Sahuna looked extremely pleased throughout the entire dinner. Almost like she was happy her son had been making out with an alien. There were more questions during dinner, but Sahuna directed most of them to keep Emma from being barraged a second time. And none of the questions were too invasive. Which was shocking considering the Angara were usually curious and had no filter. Jaal must have said something, and Sahuna had acted.

By the time they were done, they knew Emma only had a small family and she was adopted into it. No, she didn’t know where she was born. Yes, she was an exile. It was a personal choice because she doesn’t trust Tann. No, she wasn’t part of the outcasts or the collective—she freelanced. In truth, she hated Kadara. Aya was cool, but Havarl is her favorite so far. No, she wasn’t just saying that. There were no questions about her childhood, her powers, or anything about her past that might upset her. She had a feeling Jaal had a hand in that. Dinner ended with Baranjj telling an exaggerated version of how she disarmed Akksul, with Teviint correcting him and rolling her eyes.

“I can’t believe I missed it,” Lathoul whined.

“It wasn’t that epic,” Emma chuckled, embarrassed by all of the attention.

“She chastised him like he was a child,” Baranjj added. “I thought she was channeling our mothers for a moment.”

“It was impressive.” Jaal nodded.

“Do you plan on having children Emma?” Sahuna asked.

Emma just gaped at her a moment. This question felt like a minefield. Emma could tell the truth, which she wasn’t sure she wanted to. Or she could omit the absolute truth and just state that she hadn’t thought about it all. Which was kind of a lie. It had just been some time since she thought of having a family of her own. There was also the point that her relationship with Jaal was so new, and the question was unexpected. They weren’t biologically compatible. Would that ruin everything? Was having children an absolute must for the Angara? One wrong step and this could blow up in her face. And it did not help that they could possibly tell when she was lying.

“Mother!” Jaal’s voice was sharp.

“Oh! I’m sorry. Do humans find that question offensive?” Sahuna asked her.

“Some.” Emma nodded. “It can be a hurtful topic for those you want children but can’t have them.”

“I understand. I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable Emma.” Sahuna patted her hand.

“It’s okay. I was just…surprised…that’s all,” Emma said. It wasn’t quite the truth, but it would do.

Jaal stood up from the table. “Emma and I are going for a walk,” he declared.

Emma took his outstretched hand and stood up from the chair. She thanked Sahuna for the meal before following him out of the dining room. They walked past the rooms again, going further into the house. He was upset. It pricked against her skin, almost shocking her. There was a door at the end of the hall. Jaal made a beeline for it. It opened and light from the hall spilled out into a courtyard. Beyond the courtyard was the jungle, but there were small paths cut through the foliage. Those must lead to the other houses. There were a few lanterns in the courtyard, but nothing that obstructed the light of the plants or of the stars. They twinkled overhead. Jaal sat on a bench near the door and she followed. The door closed, leaving them in near darkness.

“I’m sorry. She is just curious about humans and about you,” he apologized.

Emma sat down beside her him, her thigh pressing against his. “She didn’t mean anything by it. I know that.”

“But it still upset you.”

Emma let out a breath. “It caught me off guard. I didn’t think I’d get the hard-hitting questions so early,” she chuckled, trying to make the situation lighter. It didn’t work.

His arm wrapped around her waist to pull her into his side. “Are you okay?”

“I’m okay Jaal. I just—this is so new to me—is it going to be a problem that we wouldn’t be able…” she trailed off.

“No.” The force of his answer surprised her. “Nothing is required of you, Emma. I care about you. That is all I need.”

“Can I tell you something?” she asked.

“Of course.”

“And you can’t tell anyone else,” she pressed.

“I wouldn’t.”

Emma took in a deep breath. “I haven’t told anyone…ever. Alec was the only other person who knew because he was there. I blamed him for a long time. He didn’t stop it, but now I realize there wasn’t really a choice.” She was rambling, but Jaal was quiet like he knew she just needed to build up the confidence to say it. “I can’t…have children. At all. The council decided I shouldn’t be allowed to.”

Jaal was eerily quiet for a minute before he spoke. “They decided?”

“They voted to have me medically sterilized. Someone like me shouldn’t be allowed to procreate,” she spat, remembering the cold way they had delivered that line to her and Alec. She was only 13. Children weren’t even a thought to her, but the council throttled any choice she would have had in her future. They were good at that.

“Alec did not stop them?” Fury simmered in his words.

“He tried, but when it came to the council’s directives, he had to follow them, or they would put me back in the box so to speak.” An old fear spiked at the thought.

“Such a council shouldn’t be allowed to make decisions,” he hissed.

“Tell me about it.” She leaned into his side and rested her head on his shoulder.

Jaal tightened his grip on her waist. Not enough to hurt, but enough to remind her that he was there, and she was safe. “No one will do that here. Your life is your own Emma.”

It was him saying it, and she believed him. “Thank you Jaal.”

 

Eventually, they had gone back inside to join everyone else. Those that hadn’t turned in for the night were lounging around in the main room. It wasn’t as crowded as when they first arrived. Emma was more relaxed, and that was important to Jaal. She next to him on the couch, one leg resting underneath her while the other was stretched out over his lap. She was tucked comfortably into his side. What she had told him earlier had angered him. But it had also lifted a weight from her. Another secret she didn’t have to carry alone. He would caution his family against asking certain questions. Emma would tell people what she wanted them to know. And that would have to be good enough. It was for him. He didn’t expect to be privy to all of her secrets, but he hoped she would continue opening up to him. Watching her bloom like a flower was a privilege for him.

She spoke with ease and her warm laughter filled the room. Jaal was glad he had brought her. They both needed this. It had been ages since he had seen his family all together. And Emma needed to be around a family. His mother would often glance at the two of them, her lips curving into a smile. Jaal had known his mother would adore her and he was thankful to be right. It was a shame that Emma was hardly given the chance amongst her own people. But Jaal could give her a chance with his own family. He wanted nothing more than the share her with them, and them with her. He wanted her to know she always had a place to go. When Scott asked him to care for her if something ever happened to him, Jaal took him seriously.

Others began to leave and turn in for the night. It was time for them to sleep as well. He wanted Emma to actually sleep well tonight. She had been getting more and more sleep during the night after the cave in, but she could do with more. Sensing his intent, Emma sat up and swung both her legs to the floor. The moment she moved away, his body craved her warmth again. He just had to wait. A little bit of wait would be nothing compared to sleeping with her right next to him in the same bed, not just two cots shoved together. He stood from the couch and helped her up. Sahuna bid them both goodnight, and Jaal could feel her eyes on them all the way down the hall.

He just couldn’t stop looking at Emma. She looked so content and peaceful. It was a moment he wished he could capture. There was something about it. She was radiant when she was happy.

When she entered his bedroom, she made a beeline for her duffel bag and began searching through it. Jaal did the same. He didn’t often change his nightwear on the Tempest. Not because he didn’t want to, but because he always wanted to be ready to go if need be. At home, he didn’t have to be so prepared. Jaal began unbuckling his suit. He felt a penetrating gaze on him the moment he peeled the fabric from his chest. Emma was staring at him, the tips of her ears turning red and her cheeks soon to follow. Acute arousal sparked in his stomach. It wasn’t just his, but hers. Just a few hours ago they had been stretched out on his floor, pressed against each other like they were trying to become one. He’d like to do it again. But it was too soon. Not that it had stopped him earlier. Sometimes it was hard to think clearly around her. Especially, when they were so attuned to each other.

“Sorry,” she murmured, tearing her gaze away. “I won’t look.”

He huffed with laughter. “You can look if you like. Nudity is normal for Angara.”

Emma shook her head. “That’s okay.” Her voice was higher than normal.

True to her word. Emma kept her back to him. It didn’t take long for Jaal to change into looser pants, something Emma would call sweatpants, and a “tank top.” For a brief moment, he thought about removing his gloves but decided against it. While he wanted nothing more than to touch her with his bare hands, it would be too much for the both of them.

Jaal turned the covers down on the bed while she changed in the corner. Her back was still to him. He was fine relishing the sight of her back muscles rippling as she pulled the dress over her head. There were a few spots on her backs, similar to the ones he had, but they were brown. She had called them freckles before. Jaal wanted to trace them. He wondered if she had freckles everywhere. She pulled a tank top on, with smaller straps than his.

Jaal climbed into his side of the bed while averting his gaze so she could finish changing. Minutes later she was sliding in between the cool sheets to lay beside him. She settled down into the pillows and turned on her side. Jaal reached behind him to turn off the lights. The darkness settled over them. She was quiet. More so than usual. He could just hear her breathing beside him. The sheets shifted, and he felt her leg press against his. Her skin was so warm. Jaal turned on his side to face her. Their faces were inches apart. Her breath washed over him, he could smell the fruit from dinner.

“Thank you for bringing me here,” she whispered.

“I’m glad you came.” He reached up to brush his thumb across her cheek.

There was a moment of silence before she quietly laughed. “I know we’re supposed to sleep, but I can’t yet.”

“Do you want to watch some more of that Asari vid?” he asked.

He felt her head press against his shoulder. “Sure.”

Jaal raised his arm to bring it up on his omnitool. Once again, the monotone narrator began discussing more of the Asari’s vast history in the Milky Way. It worked like a charm. Emma was asleep in less than 20 minutes. Jaal pressed a gentle kiss to her head and shut the video off. One day down, two to go.

 

 

Chapter Text

The bed was empty when she woke. Her hands reached for him, patting a still warm mattress to seek him out. Emma cracked one eye open. His side of the bed was still rumpled, but he wasn’t there. Rolling over, Emma’s eyes wandered around the room looking for him. That was weird. Jaal had never woken up before her on the Tempest. And she had never woken up feeling so rested before. Emma stretched, reaching her arms above her head until she heard a satisfying pop. Morning sunlight filtered into the room through his small window. It was warm and inviting. It was so strange to wake up and want to get up instead of burrowing back under the covers and sleeping more.

A door off to the side opened. Steam wafted from the other room. It must be a bathroom. Jaal walked through wearing his usual armor. His skin still looked damp. He showered. And she had missed it. Damn.

Pervert.

Emma sat up, using her arms to pull her up into a sitting position, and leaned against the wall. He offered her a smile.

“Good morning Emma,” he greeted her while walking back to the bed. He perched on the edge right by her feet.

“Morning,” she slurred, still walking up.

They lapsed into silence as Jaal reached for his bottle of lotion. She watched him rub it into his cowl and “flaps” as Peebee had called them. It always smelled so nice. He always smelled nice. And now that she was on Havarl, she could recognize some of the scents from the flowers that bloomed all over the place. It wasn’t just something to make him smell nice or to keep him from drying out. It was a comfort. He could always have the smell of home on his skin. It took her a moment to notice that his gloves were off. She tried to recall if she had seen his hands at all before, but she didn’t think she had. The back of his hands matched the rest of him, but his palm was a paler pink. She half-expected to see little pads on his fingers like a cat’s. It would be fitting. But his fingers were smooth. He had her complete attention as his fingers moved to work the lotion into his arms.

Jesus, she was getting worked up over his hands. And based on the small smirk on his face, he noticed that she had just been staring for the last five minutes. When she looked up she met his gaze head-on. That all too familiar heat blazed across her face.

She huffed. “You’re doing that on purpose,” she accused.

“Perhaps,” he teased.

Emma slumped backward and pulled the blanket over her face. He was just trying to kill her. After 27 years it was finally going to happen. Her thirst was going to be the end of her. The bed shook with Jaal’s silent laughter. He got way too much enjoyment out of flustering her. But she did make it easy for him. Emma kicked the covers off and swung her legs to the floor. There was that heat again when his eyes roamed over her bare legs. Emma got up from the bed. She needed to put a bit of distance between her and Jaal before there was a repeat of yesterday.

Emma kneeled down to go through her duffel bag. The dress she had worn was cute, but she was feeling her usual wear today. Her fingers brushed against an unfamiliar fabric. Maybe it was that surprise thing Scott had shoved into the bag. Brimming with curiosity, she pulled it out. It was…

“A bathing suit,” she said, startled.

“What is that?” Jaal asked.

She held it up. Well, she held the top up. The bottoms were still in her bag. “You swim in it.” She looked up at him. “This was the surprise?”

He nodded. “There is a place not far from here. I was going to take everyone tomorrow.”

Excitement thrummed through her. “Really?”

“Yes.”

Emma was giddy. Tomorrow couldn’t come fast enough. She couldn’t remember the last time she had gone swimming. They didn’t get the chance on Aya. No thanks to her. But something good had come of that trip. She had learned that she did indeed like Jaal. And it was okay that she did.

“I can’t wait.” Emma tossed the top back into her back and grabbed shorts and another tank top to change into. Emma looked between her boots and her sneakers.

“I would pick the boots.”

“Oh?”

“I’m taking you somewhere. There is some climbing involved,” he answered.

“Boots it is.” She pulled them out and set them aside while she searched for her toothbrush and toothpaste tabs.

Emma stood with everything she needed clutched to her chest. “I’ll be back.” She walked through the bathroom door and waited until it closed behind her. It was still warm from Jaal’s shower. The mirror in front of her was steamed. Emma swiped her hand over the middle to see herself. She didn’t look so tired this morning. Her hair however, was a mess. Most of it had come out of her ponytail and was hanging around her face. Her baby hairs were sticking straight up. She looked ridiculous. Emma pulled out the hair tie and just let it all loose.

She let out a breath before shucking off her pajamas. If she was going to go out and work up a sweat, there was no reason to shower now. Emma changed into her clothes for the day. Right as she finished changing the door opened, but not the door she came through. Apparently, Jaal shared the bathroom with someone else. Teviint was standing in the doorway, just staring at Emma.

“Sorry.” Emma pulled the brush through her hair, so she could put it back up. “I’ll be done in just a few minutes.

Teviint watched her brush her hair, her hands twitching. Emma tried to hurry, but she also didn’t want to rip her hair out.

“Can I touch it?”

Emma stopped. Of all people to ask she didn’t expect that Teviint would be the one. But her eyes were focused on Emma’s hair.

“Uh, sure.”

Teviint crossed the room. Emma stayed perfectly still while Teviint gently touched a strand of hair. She rubbed it in between her gloved fingers. It was kind of adorable the way her pupils dilated while she studied a piece of hair.

“How do you get it in this shape?” she demanded.

“Oh. Some people are born with curly hair and some are born with straight hair” –Emma reached for a toothpaste tab and her toothbrush as she spoke— “some people use styling products or braid their hair before bed to get the shape when they wake up. It really just depends,” she was rambling a bit, but Teviint didn’t seem to mind.

Emma crushed the tab between her teeth and began brushing. Teviint watched her with interest. For once, Teviint was really looking at her. Her eyes lingering on Emma’s hair, then her toothbrush, and back up to Emma’s eyes. She leaned close.

“Why are your eyes that color?” she asked.

“I…don't know,” Emma spoke around her toothbrush.

Teviint pulled away enough for Emma to lean over the sink and rinse out her mouth. When Emma finished she set down her toothbrush. Eyes stayed on her as she pulled her hair back into a ponytail and secured it. Leaning down, she gathered her dirty clothes.

“All yours,” she said, turning her back to Teviint.

“This doesn’t mean anything. You may be pretty alien, but I still don’t trust you,” Teviint warned.

It reminded Emma of a child that constantly said they didn’t like something, but in reality, they did. Emma nodded. “Fair enough.” She exited the bathroom, letting the door close behind her.

Jaal was waiting for her exactly where she had left him. Emma tossed her dirty clothes in her duffel and nudged it to the side. “Ready when you are.”

~

Emma made the right call about the shower. Sweat dripped down her brow and rolled down her face. It was supposed to be their days off. Instead of leisure and relaxation, they were hiking. At least the path was pretty. It was behind the family compound, which was even bigger in the daylight. The trees bowed inwards to create a natural hallway. Emma didn’t know how they did it, but it was incredible. The humidity clung to her arms and legs and she wished they were swimming today. 

Jaal walked slow to keep at her pace since his legs were longer and he could’ve overtaken her. When things got a little steep he was there to help her. Just goes to show, being a mutant does not equal being in tip-top shape. Wherever they were going, she hoped they were close. Her legs were starting to feel like jelly. They had eaten before they left, but it had worn off roughly ten minutes ago. Thank god going down was going to be easier than going up.

She nearly cheered when he came to a stop. There was a break in the trees just ahead. Jaal gestured for her to go first. Emma stepped through the trees and gasped. He had led her to the top of a cliff. The sun beamed overhead, but the canopy of trees offered some shade. Looking over the edge, Emma could see his home as well as other homes in the distance and what looked like a market. It was beautiful. It was worth sweating out all of the water she had consumed in the last ten years.

Jaal was behind her, his hand resting at the small of her back. “What do you think?”

“Every time I think it can’t get more beautiful, you surprise me,” she murmured.

He wrapped his arms around her waist and rested his head on the tops of hers. “I think the same of you.”

“Flatterer,” she chuckled.

“It is true.” He pressed a kiss to the top of her head.

They stood there for a few minutes while a light breeze cooled them. It was so comfortable, just being here. Emma almost didn’t want to go back to the Tempest when this was over. It wouldn’t be like this again. Not for a while. Not until the Archon was gone. Who knew how long that would take? But she was thankful for this moment. Being here with Jaal…there was nothing else like it.

He hummed behind her. “You are happy.”

“Yes.”

“I am glad.” He cleared his throat awkwardly. “I grabbed your music player, I was hoping…”

Emma turned slightly so she could look up at him. “What?”

“You said there was a song, your parents would always listen to and dance…I was wondering if we could listen to it.”

“And dance to it?” she asked.

“Maybe. I am not sure how humans dance.”

Jaal turned and opened the bag he had slung over his body before they left. He searched through the tubes of nutrient paste and protein bars to find her music player and portable speaker and hand it to her. It didn’t take long to find the song he was talking about. Emma plugged in the speaker and set it down on a flat rock. This time it was Emma offering her hand to Jaal. She led him slightly away from the trees, so they wouldn’t trip.

“Human dance in different ways, but Alec and Evelyn always just sort…swayed.” She placed one of his hands on her hip and kept ahold of his other one.

“This is easier than I thought it would be,” he chuckled.

“I think it was just about being together again. We were always there, but it was their moment to reconnect and be close.”

Jaal squeezed the hand he was holding and pulled it to his chest. Her fingers rested on his armor. Jaal leaned down to press his cheek against hers. It was so quiet here. Emma closed her eyes and leaned into him. So peaceful. If she could bottle this feeling, she would. The song ended, but they didn’t stop. There was another song and they kept swaying together. Neither of them wanted this to end. If Emma squeezed her eyes shut hard enough, she could pretend it wouldn’t. Jaal pulled away first. His lips ghosted over her forehead and her eyes fluttered open.

Never in a million years did Emma think that someone would ever look at her the way Jaal was. Like she was the single best thing he had ever seen in the universe. There was just openness, affection, raw vulnerability staring her in the face right now. Emma let go of his hand to reach up. Her fingers traced the freckles on his cheek. The piercings in his mantle caught her eye. Her hand moved with her gaze to gently touch them.

“Are these common?” she asked.

“Piercings?”

She nodded.

“Do your people get piercings?” he asked, not answering her question.

“Yes. When I was 16 I wanted my belly button pierced. Alec said no.” She frowned.

He looked amused. “Your belly button?”

Emma leaned back and pulled her shirt up to point it out. His eyes lingered way longer than necessary before they moved back up to her face. There was a hungry glint in his eyes now. Emma dropped her shirt, blushing furiously for the second time today.

“You could always get it done now,” he suggested.

She smirked. “True. Why did you get yours?”

“For the people I’ve lost. My father, my brother…Allia,” he whispered the last name.

“You haven’t told me about her.”

Jaal was quiet for a moment before nodding. “I met her during my first Vesaal on Aya. I thought she was beautiful and funny and when she kissed me I was…hers.” Jaal dropped his gaze and her hand. “Then my brother came to visit. The moment she saw him I knew they were meant to be together. And they were. She was accepted as one of the mothers and gave my brother several children.”

“That must’ve been hard.” Emma couldn’t imagine.

“It was harder when they were taken by the kett. I should have treasured my time with them more. But I spent so much time feeling rejected. Like I just wasn’t good enough. And then they were gone.”

Emma cupped his cheeks, her thumbs brushing away tears. This is something she loved about Jaal. He felt so deeply, and he was never ashamed of it.

“I’ve never met anyone like you,” she murmured, staring into his eyes. “You are kind and smart and compassionate.” A smile crossed her face. “You can sew and write poetry—”

“Emma…” he groaned.

“And you’re amazing,” she finished.

He brushed a stray piece of hair behind her ear. “So are you.”

 

They stayed there for another hour. Just the two of them, listening to music and talking. Emma ate a few protein bars and polished off a bottle of water in that hour. It was necessary for the trip back. They walked back down the trail, their entwined hands swinging back and forth. Every moment felt perfect. It worried Emma. When things were going well it meant there was always something shitty around the corner. She hoped it wasn’t true this time.

It didn’t take long to make it back to the compound. Most of his family was outside now. She could see his sister, Koana, bent over a garden. Some of the elders were sitting on the benches watching the younger Angara bask in the sun. And then there were the children. Some of the mothers, including Sahuna, were sitting clustered together while tiny baby Angara ran around them playing. They were adorable. And they looked so…carefree and happy. This is what childhood should be like. Full of love and fun, not growing up in a cell, isolated from everyone. Or being shocked unconscious. Or trying to live through your body rejecting the first round of nanites and then the second. Them trying and trying until it took, not caring about the pain it caused her. Living with the gaps in her memory. Never knowing why? Why did they take her?

Emma hadn’t realized she had stopped in her tracks until Jaal touched her arm. She blinked up at him. “What?” But he wasn’t the only one looking at her with mild concern. There were many eyes on her. She must have been broadcasting. Oops. Emma opened her mouth to stammer out an apology or an explanation, she wasn’t sure which yet.

“Emma!” Sahuna called her from where she as sitting. “Come sit with me.”

Emma’s mouth closed, and she ambled over to the bench Sahuna was sitting on. Sahuna patted a space beside her. Emma sat down without much thought. Jaal still looked concerned, but if Sahuna was, she was great at hiding it. With a wave of her hand, the other Angara returned to what they were doing. It must be confusing to them. To meet someone like her that could capture their attention with her bioelectricity while also having no damn control over it. She should probably ask Jaal to help her with that.

Sahuna gestured to the other mothers. “You’ve met Vaasana and Feladyr.” The two nodded at her. “And this is Arril and Sihvi.” She introduced the other two.

“Hello,” Emma spoke, thankful there was slightly less attention on her now.

They returned her greeting cheerfully. Well, it was good she hadn’t put them off. Her past was one of the last things she wanted to dwell on during this trip. Jaal sat on the ground next to her since there wasn’t enough room on the bench for the three of them. He rested his shoulder against her knee. A simple touch just reminding her that he was there. He was so good at knowing what she needed.

The children just kept playing. It didn’t seem to bother them. Emma didn’t think any of them had noticed her yet. The six of them just watched them play in silence. A silence that wasn’t broken until one of the children turned, her blue eyes landing on Emma. They grew wide. But there was no fear. Just blatant curiosity. She stood, her legs wobbly, she was so small. Emma couldn’t describe her walk as anything other than a waddle. For such a little thing, she came at Emma with such determination. Nobody moved as her tiny little hands gripped Emma’s knees. Tiny, ungloved hands that sparked with frustration as she tried to climb onto Emma’s lap. Jaal’s silent laughter made her legs shake, making it more difficult.

She turned her big blue eyes up at Emma. “Up!” she hollered.

“Ahvfi!” Sahuna scolded, barely containing her own laughter.

Emma leaned down, offering her hands to Ahvfi who took them without hesitation. Tiny legs dug into her calves as Ahvfi used the leverage to climb into Emma’s lap. Little fingers pressed into Emma’s cheeks. Ahvfi was a little rough as she pinched Emma’s face, but Emma didn’t complain. Staying perfectly still she let Ahvfi get close enough for their noses to touch. Ahvfi grunted as she tried to stay upright, her fingers grabbing for Emma’s hair now. It made Emma wince slightly. For such a small thing she had a good grip. It almost distracted Emma from the feeling of other hands using her knees to climb up into her lap and crowd her. Sahuna had to slide back to accommodate the children that were piling onto the bench.

This had never happened before. So many little hands touching her face and her hair. Tiny coos and giggles as they overtook her. She didn’t mind. There was a feeling she couldn’t describe. It made her feel light. Loved. Ahvfi settled in her lap, her head leaned back onto Emma’s stomach. It didn’t take long for the other children to follow suit. They pressed against her wherever they could. She was snuggled from all sides. Emma looked up at Sahuna who was already looking at her with a small smile on her face. It was a rather smug smile. Almost like she had planned this. But there was no way to plan the children’s reaction to her. Was there?

Either way, Emma relaxed against the tiny bodies. They were so cute. It was another moment she would treasure.

~

Emma stood in the empty bathroom, piling her hair on her head in a messy bun and securing it with a hair tie. The toothbrush rested in between her lips until she finished. Despite the early start and early exercise, the rest of the day had been relaxing, yet she was still exhausted. Maybe it was the overabundance of people she had been around. Or that a group of children had taken a nap on her and then begged her to play with them. And she did of course. How could she say no? Ahvfi was glued to her until bedtime. Even then she wanted Emma to go with her. Emma hadn’t done anything special to earn having a small child like her, but she appreciated it all the same.

She leaned down to rinse the toothpaste out of her mouth. There was only one more day. She thought for sure when this was over she would be overwhelmed and ready to go back to the Tempest. But now she wasn’t so sure. Being surrounded by Jaal’s family and their warmth and comfort…she didn’t want to leave. She didn’t understand how Jaal could. It must be hard for him.

Emma pulled at the pink cotton nightdress she was wearing. It skimmed the tops of her thighs. Not particularly scandalous, but Emma wondered if it was too much. It was just for sleeping after all. And Jaal had seen her in less clothes than this. It was stupid to agonize over this. They were just clothes. Nothing special. Emma turned and left the bathroom.

Jaal was sitting on the bed where she had left him. He was leaning against the wall; his eyes were closed and he breathed deeply. Her lips twitched into a smile. Today must have worn him out as well. Quietly, Emma crossed the room and sat on the bed facing him with one of her legs still on the floor. He looked so peaceful as he slept. The scar on his cheek had twisted the skin around it, but otherwise, it had healed well. She was still so mad at herself for that. Careful not to wake him, she reached up and brushed her fingers against it. Jaal didn’t stir.

Emma laughed under her breath. “I can’t believe you fell asleep before I did.”

“Who said I did,” he grumbled.

Emma started, leaning back as quickly as she could. “That’s not funny Jaal!” she hissed, trying not to wake his family.

“It was a little funny,” he chuckled.

Shaking her head, Emma sat back up and climbed on his lip. With a knee on either side of him, she leaned forward and poked him in the chest. Well right in between his chest protrusions to be exact. The soft fabric of his nightshirt allowed her to. His eyes opened, and his gaze locked her in place. Maybe she had crossed a line now. She was awfully close. But that wasn’t what his eyes said. He drew his gaze down, excruciatingly slow like he was drinking in every inch of her. If he kept it up she was going to match the color of this dress. Emma shifted to move off of his lap, but his hands pressed into her hips to keep her still. His thumb pressed into the crease of her hip.

She should move. Get off of him, but she couldn’t make herself move. She didn’t want to. Her eyes moved between his eyes and his mouth and he noticed. But the way he was looking at her made her shiver. He was looking at her like he wanted to devour her. It was a look that made her wish she could clench her thighs together, but she couldn’t.

Jaal’s hands moved from her hips to her thighs and then to her knees. Emma shuddered at the feeling of his gloves brushing against her skin. Using his strength, he pulled her forward until her stomach was flush against his. Emma’s heart pounded in her chest and in her ears.

Jaal looked at her mouth, her parted lips. “May I kiss you, Emma?”

Yes.

She didn’t answer out loud. Surging forward she cupped his face and pressed her lips against his. It wasn’t a surprise. He was ready for her. It wasn’t the soft kisses she had been used to. They kissed with ferocity. Fire surged through her as his mouth moved against hers. Every time his fingers dug into her to keep her in place it sent a bolt of electricity straight to her core. More. Emma tilted her head, her tongue pressing against his mouth. He allowed her to deepen the kiss. The mint on her breath mingled with the fruit on his. Jaal moved his hands upward, underneath the fabric of the dress. He pushed the material out of the way while his hands explored her hips and then the planes of her stomach. His thumb ran over her belly button. More. Emma moved her hands from his face to explore. They traced his frill, moving up to his mantle. She noted the way he groaned low in his chest. Her fingers darted over his piercings before moving to the back of his head. He had the dress underneath her breasts now, his hands rubbing up her spine. More. Every touch, every groan, made moisture pool in between her legs. Would he even know what to do beyond this? Did she care? She could show him. It didn’t matter. She just wanted…. she wanted….

Their lips met again, and a sharp shock of electricity made them both recoil. Emma reached up to press her fingers to her mouth. Fuck! They just stared at each other, both of them breathing heavily, their eyes locked together. Jaal started laughing first. But Emma was mortified. Of course, it was her. She wasn’t sure if she was blushing because she was absolutely willing to have sex with Jaal with no preamble, or because she couldn’t control her bioelectricity and she shocked the fuck out of them both.

“I am so sorry,” she mumbled against her fingers.

Jaal reached up to pull her hand from her mouth. He pressed a kiss to her fingers. “It happens. I am alright.”

She sighed. “It would be nice if I could control at least one thing about myself.”

“I can show you how to better control it.” He pulled her dress back down and smoothed his hands over her waist again. “Don’t be embarrassed.”

Emma pulled herself off of his lap and flopped down beside him. “Too late.”

He laid down beside her and kissed her cheek. Despite her embarrassment, she leaned into the kiss. Rolling over she looked him in the eyes. “You’ll teach me?”

He nodded. “Of course.”

That would have to do. And maybe one day she could heavily make out with him without shocking him. She supposed it was a good thing. Was she even really ready to have sex with Jaal? Probably not. She should have that dreaded talk with Lexi beforehand. Something she was really not looking forward to.

Jaal reached down to pull the covers over them both. He pulled them to her chin, just the way she liked. Before turning off the lights he kissed her on the forehead. It was so incredibly sweet. He was always so sweet with her. She was lucky. Under the cover of darkness, she snuggled close to him. So damn lucky.

 

Day two: success.

 

Chapter Text

Jaal’s knees touched hers. She was trying not to be aware of that. It defeated the purpose of meditation if she couldn’t. They breathed in and out together. That part was easy. The hard part was pretending Jaal wasn’t really there. Maybe one day she would be less thirsty about his presence. But today was not that day.

“You are bad at this,” he commented.

Her eyes opened. He was still sitting still, his hands resting on his knees with his palms facing up, his eyes still closed. It didn’t even look like he was trying hard to concentrate. He just was. It was kind of infuriating. Normally she wasn’t bad at maintaining focus. Alec always drilled into her how important it was to be focused and aware. But everything about Jaal made Emma feel scattered all over the damn place. After a few weeks, she would’ve thought that feeling would’ve abated. Clearly, she needed more time.

He chuckled. “You are hopeless.”

“Yet here we are,” she retorted.

His eyes opened. “Here we are.”

Emma just smiled up at him. It was ridiculous that she couldn’t concentrate at all.

“What’s blocking you?” he asked.

She sighed. “You.”

“How?”

“It’s just…all I think about. Maybe it’s because all of this” –she gestured to all of him— “is so new, and I’ve never been with someone before.” Emma leaned back, the bench digging into her back.

After breakfast Jaal had encouraged to come outside and meditate with him. It was what the children were taught first in order to control their electrical responses. It should’ve been easy. Emma had meditated before many times. That wasn’t going to be the case with this. Maybe it wasn’t just Jaal messing her up. Maybe it was just everything that had happened since she boarded the Tempest. There was this undercurrent of fear that still had its hooks in her. Maybe it was that. But who wanted to admit they were always scared.

Emma stretched her feet out to place them in his lap. It wasn’t the most comfortable position. The bench in her back being the uncomfortable bit in the equation. His thumbs pressed into the arches of her foot. Emma sighed. They were kind of sore after the jaunt up the path yesterday. She had gotten used to riding in the nomad around Voeld. Maybe she should’ve run around the Tempest on those days like Cora did.

“Would it help if someone else tried?” he asked.

“Like who?”

The doors opened and Baranjj, Lathoul, and Teviint walked out. Which was impeccable timing considering the circumstances. Lathoul was the first to walk over when he spotted them. Baranjj started to walk over as well, but he waited for Teviint to move first. Emma was right when she figured Teviint was the leader of them. Usually, they deferred to her first--with the exception of Lathoul, but only where Emma was involved.

“Morning Jaal! Morning pretty alien!” He sat down on the grass next to them.

“Emma is fine Lathoul,” she reminded him, shaking her head.

“Your cheeks don’t turn pink when I call you Emma,” he teased.

Emma leaned her head back and laughed. He was a bigger flirt than Jaal. Well, he was actively flirting at least. Jaal just sort of complimented everyone and it sounded like flirting.

“Maybe if you tried it with Lathoul,” Jaal mused out loud.

Lathoul looked up, startled. “What am I trying?”

Jaal let go of her feet so she could sit back up. He slid off to the slid so Lathoul could sit in front of Emma. “We are trying to get Emma to meditate so I can show her how to control her bioelectricity. She cannot concentrate with me.”

“I wonder why,” Teviint muttered, standing off to the side.

Emma ignored the comment, but it sparked irritation in her chest. Yes, Teviint didn’t trust her and that was fine. Emma understood that. The digs here and there still annoyed her. Mostly because they were also aimed at Jaal. Lathoul also ignored Teviint and moved to sit in front of Emma. He assumed Jaal’s former position and closed his eyes. Emma tucked one leg under the other and rested her hands in her lap. Closing her eyes, she drew in a deep breath and let it out in time with Lathoul. It kind of worked. She could still feel Jaal even though he wasn’t touching her.

“Focus.” It was Lathoul’s voice this time.

Jaal remained silent as she just tried to breathe. In and out. In and out. But there was something. Something she was forgetting. It was so close. She tried to reach it. It was enough. She couldn’t get close. It was important. So important.

Someone pressed against her other side, making her jump, but it wasn’t Jaal. Opening her eyes for a brief moment she could see Teviint and Baranjj sitting on either side of her. Their legs touched Lathoul’s and touched hers, connecting them all. Jaal stayed off the side, but he nodded at her. It was okay. He was right there.

“Concentrate,” Teviint hissed.

Emma snapped her eyes shut again. They breathed in tandem. She could feel them all. Their bioelectricity was trying to sync up with hers, but it wasn’t working. It was her that wasn’t working. She was the link that was keeping them out of sync.

“What is blocking you?” Jaal asked.

She grit her teeth in frustration. “I don’t know.”

“When did you become clouded?” Lathoul asked.

She was going to say I don’t know again and again. It was so frustrating. She couldn’t pinpoint it. When did it start? When, when, when…

Kadara.

Right after she had seen Sloane. Something had happened. But what? She had walked out of Sloane’s, past the bar. The dead angara had captured her attention for a moment. She went back to the dock and then…

There it was. A gap from the moment she entered the docks to when she met them at the entrance to the badlands. What had happened? She would have had to get on the elevator. Emma screwed up her face in concentration. Had she been alone? Yes?

No.

Someone had been there. Who? She could remember. She could. If she just thought hard enough. There it was again. That feeling of it just being in reach and something else. Raw fear. It made her chest tighten and her breath quicken.

“Emma?”

She didn’t know who said her name. It was so close now. She couldn’t break away from it. She needed to see. Needed to know. She reached towards the gap. And reached…

~

Scott was finally ready for a break. Two days of tagging debris of Ark Natanus, finding necessary data, going through the space wreckage for Avela, resetting the vault, and taking out everything in the wilds that wanted to kill them. And there were a lot of things that wanted to kill them. He was envious of Emma having those two days with Jaal’s family, but he was happy she had them. The e-mails Jaal had sent told Scott it was the right choice to make. Cora, Peebee, Gil, Liam, and Vetra followed him off of the shuttle. Suvi was at the science station to collect research data, Kallo wanted to run some tests to make sure the Tempest was in adequate shape, and Lexi and Drack said there were fine. Scott wondered how much of their free time would be spent with each other. No one was blind to the doctor’s soft spot for Drack.

Jaal was there to meet them, but Emma wasn’t. Where was she? There was a smaller angaran woman standing next to Jaal. It must be Sahuna.

“Ryder!” Jaal called to him, raising his hand to wave.

Jaal looked happy enough to see him, but there was also another look on his face. Concern?

“It’s nice to meet you, Pathfinder Ryder,” Sahuna greeted him when he got close.

“Thank you, ma’am.” Scott hoped she liked hugs as much as Jaal said because he gave her one. “You can just call me Scott.”

Scott stepped away to introduce the rest of the crew. Sahuna seemed genuinely excited to meet all of them. She gestured them to follow her through the house. Scott didn’t know family homes could be so huge. But considering they all lived together, it didn’t surprise him all that much. It seemed like it could be overwhelming, but also extremely comforting. Anytime you needed someone they could be there. Maybe when they established a true golden world, Scott could pitch the idea of communal homes for families and friends. He wouldn’t mind living with everyone. It beat being alone.

Jaal and Sahuna led the crew into a huge backyard. There were sitting spaces, gardens, something that looked suspiciously close to a fire pit, and multiple paths that disappeared into the jungle. It was cool, but none of it was surprising. What surprised him was Emma surrounded by little Angara. One was sitting in her lap like she owned it. Others were laying on her legs or pressed to her side. There were also the siblings they had tracked down in the Forge sitting around her with same looks of concern he had seen on Jaal’s face earlier. Despite those looks, Emma was smiling at the children and laughing. Something had happened.

Scott lingered with Jaal as the others went to meet her. “So, what happened?” he asked.

Jaal sighed. “We were trying to meditate and get her to focus enough to control her bioelectricity.”

“And?”

“Something is blocking her. When she tried to search it out, I felt a spike of fear.” Jaal crossed his arms over his chest and stared at her. “We tried to pull her out, but she didn’t respond and then she fainted.”

“She fainted?” Scott fought to keep his voice low.

Jaal nodded. “But when she woke up it was like nothing had happened. She had no recollection of trying to find the block.”

“But she’s okay?” Scott asked.

“As far as I can tell. I am hesitant to bring it up. I don’t want her hurt.”

“That’s probably for the best. SAM should have collected any data and sent it to Lexi. I’ll talk to her back on the Tempest.” Scott didn’t want to wait, but Jaal was right. Asking her could cause the same reaction and this wasn’t a controlled enough environment to do that. All they could do was make the most out of the rest of this visit. Let her have some fun before she’s back to hiding who she is from everyone else.

Jaal and Scott joined the others who were fawning over the children. Liam and Peebee were on the ground letting the children touch their faces and hair, Liam’s hair. The one that was on Emma’s lap did not leave her at all. She looked cross that anyone else was even trying to talk to her. Her little fingers dug into the fabric of Emma’s shirt. But it didn’t look like Emma minded.

Jaal chuckled, “Ahvfi has taken a liking to her.”

“Emma doesn’t like upset by that.” Scott smiled.

“This has been good for her. And me. Thank you…Scott.”

Scott looked up. That was the first time Jaal had called him something other than Pathfinder, or Ryder. Maybe Jaal dating his sister sort of made them family now. Either way, he liked it. He liked Jaal. It was always good to have someone so open and compassionate on a team. And he considered them friends. Now it seemed Jaal did as well. It was great. Even after losing mom before coming to Andromeda, and then losing dad on Habitat-7, Scott had curated his own family. Getting Emma back, well partially at least, made it better. Sara waking up would make it complete.

Emma looked up when Scott made it to her. Despite her having fainted earlier, she looked just fine. Like nothing had even happened. Maybe for her, nothing had. It begged the question of what the hell happened? But that would just have to wait.

Teviint didn’t move from the bench beside Emma. In fact, she glared at Scott when it looked like he might try and sit down. Of all of Jaal’s siblings, he didn’t think Teviint would be the one to connect with any of them. But she had this look on her face. It was akin to the one she had when she had accidentally shot Lathoul with a touch more protectiveness.

“And you were worried they wouldn’t like you,” he teased Emma.

Emma rolled her eyes. “Hello to you too.”

“Good visit?” he asked.

She looked down to Ahvfi just chilling in her lap and nodded. “You could say that.” The Angara turned her big blue eyes up at Emma before smiling at her. It made Emma laugh. Scott loved hearing her laugh. She had never laughed enough, even as a child. She was always busy trying to make herself small, muted, ignorable. It never worked. She deserved this freedom. It almost made him want to leave her here. But she wouldn’t want that. At least, not now. There was more to explore first.

“What is that?” Lathoul’s question rang out, pointing to the soccer ball Liam was carrying.

“A soccer ball. I thought it would be fun to teach you how to play.” He held it up so Lathoul could touch it.

Gil and Liam took turns explaining the rules for everyone. Scott still wasn’t sure if the Angara would even be able to kick the ball, but it would be a learning experience for all. Emma wasn’t playing given the fact that her lap was occupied by someone that would throw a fit if they tried to get her off. And Teviint kept sitting next to Emma, staying close. He had underestimated how much of an impression she would make on his family. But this was Jaal’s family he was thinking about. Jaal had taken a liking to Emma the moment she had showed up on the Tempest. Sharp edges and all. 

Scott patted her on the head before he got up to join the others. Soccer wasn’t exactly the most relaxing thing he had in mind. But he was looking forward to the fun. They all needed a little bit of fun.

 

An hour, and a years’ worth of sweat later, it was a draw. The rules went flying out of the window roughly ten minutes into the game. After that, it was just a matter of everyone trying to steal the ball from someone else. There were no clear goals. It was a game chock full of personal triumphs, but no group wins. Scott still enjoyed every minute of it. All of them had earned the next activity.

Emma stood up with Ahvfi wrapped in her arms. With some murmured reassurance and a kiss to the cheek, Ahvfi finally allowed herself to be handed off to one of the mothers. Scott could tell leaving was going to be hard for both of them. But he was proud of the connections she had made. It was a reassurance that she would have a place to go if something happened to him.

Emma and Teviint joined the group as Jaal led them down one of the paths. She moved to the front of the group to clasp Jaal’s hand in her own. It earned her a small smile. They were together in a way that seemed like they didn’t care that others would notice. Not everyone would approve. But that didn’t matter. Scott would fight for them anyway.

They could all hear the waterfall before they saw it. Scott sighed in relief when they approached the water. This heat was baking him. Jaal and his siblings were the first to undress. Scott had briefly forgotten that the Angara swam nude. He was sort of grateful they did. It was a great view. Liam wasn’t far behind, taking off everything except his trunks and running into the water. Emma was the only one lagging behind. She had taken off her shirt but was just standing on the shore in a bikini top and shorts. She was laughing at something Peebee was saying to her. It was the perfect opportunity to catch her off guard. Scott quickly stripped down and crept up behind her. Her shriek rang in his ears as he scooped her up. Water splashed everywhere when he tossed her into chest high water. She came up sputtering. Everyone was laughing. Emma pulled her shorts off underneath the water and threw them to the shore. Nobody helped him when she dunked him. He deserved it.

~

The fire crackled, sending small embers flying. Emma was tucked up against Jaal’s side, her hair still slightly damp from swimming. His arm was around her waist to keep her snug. Every so often his fingers would travel underneath the fabric of her tank top to press into the bare skin of her stomach. Emma couldn’t deny the embers is sparked within her. But after the night before, she didn’t want to risk shocking him again. The rest of the crew, well the ones that had come, were sitting around the fire. They were intermingled with Jaal’s siblings and some of his cousins as well. Someone had brought tavum, but Emma knew better than to overindulge. No matter how good they could make it taste, it would drop her on her ass if she drank too much. Besides she didn’t want to cloud her memories of tonight. She had a feeling it was going to keep them all going through the inevitable dark times of war. But for now, it was perfect.

It was a sweet end to a trip that was ending far too soon. She was going to miss Sahuna, and the siblings, and little Ahvfi. But tomorrow it was back to finding a home for the colonists and finding the Archon and Meridian. She felt Jaal’s cheek on her head and she leaned into him. Scott had been right. This would be important to their relationship. He had seen so much of Emma, even more after this trip, and she had seen him. How much he values his family and his home. And how much he values her. Emma moved her hand to his thigh and left it palm side up, so he could hold it. He did. But not before he dragged this thumb over her wrist and her palm. A small gesture that made her breath catch in her throat. It embarrassed her how much she loved it when he touched her.

They all stayed like this for hours. Emma wasn’t quite sure what time it was when people started to leave and go to bed. She just knew it was late. Soon it was just the Tempest crew left. None of them wanted the night to end just yet. They all knew when it was over, this trip was over. Looking at them all, illuminated by the fire, it was the first time she noticed how tired all of them were. They all tried so hard to be positive and to keep going. She just hoped when this over people would remember the work put in to make a happy ending possible. But she doubted it. She had seen how people treated Scott sometimes. They acted like he owed them. He had to do what they wanted because he owed them a home. It made her angry. Especially considering what was sacrificed for him to become Pathfinder.

Then there was the Angara. So many of them only knew war. What would happen when the war was over? How would they be able to cope? What would life be like for Jaal when all of this was over? Would she be included in that picture?

Emma sighed and rested her head on Jaal’s arm. She was so tired now, but she didn’t want to go to bed. A feeling that was soon to be overruled. Jaal pressed a kiss to her forehead before he adjusted her so he could get up. Her body immediately protested his absence. The fire had burned down to a few smoldering embers. Everyone sat in silence as Jaal put out the fire. When he was finished he reached for Emma. She took his hand and let him pull her up beside him. The other followed suit.

“Thank you Jaal,” Scott said, trying to stifle a yawn.

“You are welcome, Scott. I’m glad you could all meet my family.” He squeezed Emma’s hand as he said the last part.

She walked beside him as they made their way back inside the home. Apparently, the crew was sleeping in the common room. Sahuna had made them a place to crash with blankets and a few sleeping blankets Scott had snagged from the Tempest. Emma was really going to miss her. It had been nice to have someone motherly close by. It was shame resistance meetings had kept Emma from spending more time with her.

Emma and Jaal waited for the others to get comfortable before bidding them goodnight. As much as she wouldn’t mind a sleepover, she really just wanted to curl up with Jaal and sleep. Waking up to him in the morning was one of her favorite things. Even though his snoring did sometimes wake her up in the middle of the night. As soon as the door closed behind them, Emma kicked off her shorts and climbed right in the bed. She honestly didn’t care about putting on pajamas tonight. Underwear would be just fine for sleeping. She could hear Jaal moving around and changing out of his armor. It didn’t take too long, but long enough for her to be half asleep by the time he slid in beside her. Wrapping an arm around her waist, he pulled her back against her chest.

“Good night Emma,” he murmured against her ear.

“G’night,” she slurred.

His chuckle was the last thing she remembered.

 

Emma was walking down the hallway. Everything felt…weird. It was dark and muted and grey. Everything was grey. She passed the children’s room, the siblings, before standing in front of Jaal’s door. She didn’t even remember getting out of bed. Had she gone somewhere? The bathroom was attached to the room. Why would she need to go anywhere else? The door slid open.

The room was dark, but she could see everything. Her duffel laying on the floor by Jaal’s desk. The nightstand beside the bed. The crates that Jaal had stacked in the corner and out of the way. The bed that she and Jaal were sleeping. Wait. That’s not right. She was laying on her side. Jaal had his arms around her. It was the same position she fell asleep in. But if she was in the bed then how was she standing here? Was it a dream.

Her hand moved to her hip. It didn’t feel like her hand, but she was moving it. It wrapped around something cold and familiar. She hadn’t brought her gun. It wasn’t that kind of trip. The metal glinted in the darkness. It felt heavier than she remembered. This couldn’t be hers.

It aimed at her. No. The gun moved closer. It was focused on her. No. The barrel pressed against her forehead. No. She was holding it, but she could feel the cold metal pressed against her skin. She had to wake up. This couldn’t happen again. She didn’t want to lose everything. But she couldn’t stop. She squeezed the trigger.

NO!

Emma's eyes opened, and she sat up. It was just a dream. Thank god. She scrubbed a hand down her face. It felt so real. The sheets moved beside her before she felt Jaal wrapping his arms around her.

“What happened?” His voice was soothing.

“It was just a bad dream,” she grumbled, still groggy.

“Do you want to talk about it?” he asked, pressing a kiss to her cheek.

Emma leaned into him, twisting her body to wrap her arms around his neck. Her face was pressed against his. “I don’t know.”

He just held her, his hands rubbing up and down her back. They stayed like that for a few minutes. He just held her and let her know that he was right there for her. A whimpering sound outside the door made them pull apart. What could that be? Jaal was out of bed first. Emma was behind him, her feet searching the floor for her shorts. The moment she found them she slipped them on. Jaal opened the door, his gaze going down. Ahvfi was standing outside the door, fat tears sliding down her face, whimpering in fear. She waddled past Jaal and went straight for Emma.

Emma knelt on the floor. Ahvfi’s arms reached out for her. Emma scooped her up as soon as she was close. Ahvfi cried into her neck.

“What’s wrong Ahvfi?” Jaal asked, kneeling beside Emma.

Ahvfi sniffed. “Scary man.”

“Scary man?” Emma rubbed her back.

Ahvfi nodded, wrapping her arms around Emma’s neck. Emma and Jaal shared a look. Who was the scary man? Did she have a nightmare too? Emma stood up, keeping her arms around Ahvfi. The door opened again and this time it was Sahuna.

“I’m sorry she woke you,” Sahuna reached to take Ahvfi, but Ahvfi refused.

“Does this happen a lot?” Jaal asked.

Sahuna sighed. “She started having nightmares a few weeks ago. I think she may have seen a vid she wasn’t supposed to. I tell the older kids to be careful.”

“I can get her back to bed,” Emma volunteered.

At least, she thought she could. Emma went down the hall to the children’s room. Ahvfi shared the room with her brothers, Ija and Safaal, and her sister Ishe. They blinked sleepily as Emma walked into the room, but otherwise, they didn’t stir. It seemed they were used to this. Emma leaned over the bed and gently pried Ahvfi’s hold on her neck. Ahvfi protested, but Emma sat on the bed beside her. She pulled the blankets up to Ahvfi’s chin.

“I get scared too,” she murmured to Ahvfi. “My…mom used to check my room for monsters after I had a nightmare. Would you like me to do that?”

Ahvfi nodded, her eyes not leaving Emma’s. Quietly, Emma slid off of the bed and bent down to check under the bed. “No monsters here.” She stood up and checked under the other kids' beds before shaking her head to Ahvfi. Next was a wardrobe. But there was nothing in there either. Ahvfi raised a shaking hand to the window.

“Is this where you see the scary man?” Emma asked.

Ahvfi nodded, so Emma stood up on her tiptoes to open the window. She hoisted herself up, so she could look out the window. If she did this she could tell Ahvfi everything was fine. But there wasn’t nothing. Emma didn’t know what to do. If she looked scared or perturbed, then the child would notice and panic. She had to pretend there was nothing. Nonchalantly she slid back into the room and shut the window. Emma made sure to lock the window before she offered Ahvfi a smile.

“No scary man,” she reassured Ahvfi, patting her over the blanket.

Ahvfi protested the moment Emma tried to leave so Emma sat with her and waited. It took twenty minutes for Ahvfi to stop fighting sleep. Finally, her eyes closed. Jaal and Sahuna had waited in the hallway for Emma to finish putting Ahvfi back to sleep. They were probably ready to go back to bed. But not yet. Emma needed to see something first. Instead of heading back for Jaal’s room she walked to the common room. Everyone was sprawled out on the makeshift cots, in various stages of sleep.

“Emma?” Jaal questioned.

Emma leaned down and shook Scott awake. He woke up with a snort. “What’s wrong?” he asked, still half asleep.

“Did you bring a flashlight?”

“What do you need one for?” He sounded irritated.

“Jesus did you bring one or not?” she hissed.

“There’s one in my bag,” Liam grunted from where he was sleeping.

“Emma, what’s going on?” Sahuna asked this time.

“I…I don’t know. I need to check something.” Emma rifled through Liam’s bag until her hand closed around a flashlight. She clicked it on to make sure it worked.

Even Scott ambled out of the sleeping bag to follow her through the entryway. She knew they were confused, but she so was she. This was the only way to check. Emma trudged through their yard in her bare feet. But she didn’t care right now. Moving quickly, she counted the windows until she made it to Ahvfi’s window. Emma shined the flashlight on the ground and drew in a sharp breath.

“What the fuck?” Scott sounded more awake now.

Boot prints were in the stamped into the ground outside of Ahvfi’s window. They led to her window and then away. Emma shined the flashlight onto the prints, all the way up until they disappeared into the tree line. The Angara didn’t wear boots. But no humans, other than those on the Pathfinder team, were supposed to be on Havarl. So, who did they belong to? And why were they outside Jaal’s home?

 

Chapter Text

Nobody got much sleep after finding the boot prints outside of Ahvfi’s window. Sahuna went back to the children’s room to keep watch for the night. Emma, Jaal, and Scott stayed in the common room with the others. A few dozed off here and there, but everyone was mostly restless. Emma definitely couldn’t do more than doze off. There were too many coincidences for her to relax. First the dream, then Ahvfi’s nightmare, and prints disappearing into the jungle right by Jaal’s home. She had a really bad feeling about it all.

She had wanted to go into the jungle right then and find out what it was. Jaal stopped her. It was late, they had no gear and no weapons, and she wasn’t even wearing any shoes. He promised they could check it out first thing in the morning. Now it seemed like morning couldn’t come fast enough. Even Jaal’s arm around her shoulders did nothing to make her feel okay. The other shoe was going to drop. She just knew it.

Emma didn’t feel marginally better until she could see the suns rays coming through the windows. Despite Scotts protests that she didn’t have any gear, she still insisted that she was going. Emma and Jaal quietly changed in his room before throwing their things into their bags. As soon as they scoped out what was going on they had to be back on the Tempest. All Emma had left to wear were shorts and a t-shirt. She chose her boots. They made her feel like she could kick ass if necessary. Linking hands, the two of them walked through the house to the entryway.

Sahuna was waiting with the Tempest crew. Teviint, Baranjj, and Lathoul were also there. The four of them were all armed. It seemed everyone was going. Not that Emma blamed them. This was their home. They had to protect it. Emma and Jaal left their bags in the entryway for later. Only Emma, Jaal, and Scott were going. Adding the Tempest crew into the mix would be too many people. It would more attention than they needed. They would stay at the compound, ready in case they were needed. This was not how Emma pictured ending their trip. Everything had been perfect up until now.

The boot prints were still there. Slightly faded, but Emma could tell where they led. Since Sahuna was armed, she insisted she would take point. Emma and Jaal were right behind her. The siblings were interspersed with the crew. This wasn’t like the paths they had taken before. It was a thick jungle, branches threatening to smack them in the fact and twisted roots threatening to trip them. They stepped carefully and as quietly as possible. Sahuna stopped just before a break in the trees. Emma could see what looked like a structure, but they weren’t close enough to tell for sure. There was a voice. Someone muttering to either themselves or someone else. It put everyone on high alert. Sahuna exited the foliage with her gun primed and ready.

“Who are you—”

Emma and Jaal exited after her, seeing the last person they would have expected to see.

“Akksul?” Jaal asked, looking confused.

Akksul was kneeling by what looked like an Initiative pre-fab. What the fuck was he doing there? What was that building doing there? There were so many things that didn’t add up. Akksul looked just as surprised to see them. All of them. He backed up slightly as everyone walked into the clearing. Emma heard Teviint’s sharp intake of breath as seeing him.   

“Is it you, Akksul? Terrorizing my family?” Jaal asked. “I knew you were low, but this low?”

“What are you talking about?” Akksul’s voice was gruff, but it lacked the usual charismatic air he usually possessed.

Jaal opened his mouth the accuse him again, but Emma rested her hand on his forearm. It didn’t feel right. If it was Akksul they would’ve seen Angaran footprints, not boots. And that didn’t explain the dream. And Ahvfi would’ve recognized another Angara.

“Why are you here?” Emma asked.

He appraised her a moment, his eyes flicking up and down her form before he answered. “This is where I got the Initiative bombs.”

“And what?” Scott sneered. “You were trying to find more?”

“No—”

“Bullshit,” Scott cut him off.

Akksul’s hands tightened into fists. “I don’t have to answer to you!”

Emma sighed. If they were going to do this, they could be awhile. She squeezed Jaal’s arm before wandering over to the pre-fab. There shouldn’t be one here. No one was cleared to be on Havarl, that much she knew. And it didn’t look brand new. It looked like had been there a month, maybe two, at the very least. It wasn’t very big. Not like the kind for the colonies. The door didn’t budge as Emma drew near. There wasn’t a typical holo-lock or even keypad. She kneeled down to look it over. It looked like a biometric lock. It was big enough for a handprint. There was something under the lock. Something hidden under some smudges of dirt. Emma reached up to wipe it away. It was a logo of sorts. It…oh no.

Emma felt her heart stutter in her chest. It couldn’t be. There was no way.

They were still arguing behind her. Emma didn’t care about any of that. It was so stupid all of it. They were stupid. Her fingers traced the angles of the logo that was etched into the wall.

“Scott,” she whispered, despite feeling like she was screaming his name.

She was scared. She was so scared. This couldn’t be real. Maybe it was all a dream. She was still sleeping and safe. This was just another nightmare.

She wished it was true.

“Scott!” she yelled, tired of the arguing.

“What Emma?” he shouted back.

She stood up and faced him. “Do you think you can stop arguing long enough to figure out why the fuck this is here?”

While grumbling under his breath, he walked over and leaned down to look at the logo. He stood back up and shrugged. “I’ve never seen it before.” He held up his omnitool to scan the logo.

“Records indicate…” SAM hesitated, making Scott frown.

“What is it SAM?” he asked.

“It is a Cerberus logo Ryder.”

She had correctly identified it then. Fuck. She had hoped she was wrong. She had begged to be wrong. It confirmed everything she was afraid of. Cerberus was in Andromeda. There was no more speculation. They were here, and they were going to take her.

“What does that mean?” Akksul asked.

Scott started to answer. “I…I don’t—”

“Call Lexi,” Emma interrupted him.

“Why?”

“It’s a lab Scott. There could be people.” She hated how hard her voice shook.

He stared between her and the door to the pre-fab before nodding and telling SAM to get Lexi here ASAP. Emma was trying not to panic. It wasn’t working. Jaal, no longer worried about Akksul’s presence, made his way over to her. Any other time it would’ve been comforting, but not now. There was a Cerberus lab not even a mile from his home. It was not a coincidence. She slumped against the outer wall of the pre-fab. Were they going to target him? His family? How could she allow that? Jaal took her hands in between his.

“What is Cerberus?” Akksul asked.

The clearing grew silent. Emma could tell that Sahuna and Jaal’s siblings were also interested in knowing. But it didn’t seem like anyone else was going to answer. So, she did.

“Cerberus is a survivalist group with a core belief that humans should come first. They are always searching for an edge to make humans more durable, especially in combat, and make it easier for them to take what they want from anyone. They had several projects under their purview. They experiment on people and don’t care about the harm it causes.”

Scott sighed. “We don’t know—"

“If this is a lab for the Olympus project? I have no doubt.” Emma couldn’t help the vehemence in her voice. “Even Alec warned me they might be here.”

Jaal was trying so hard to be a calming presence, but it wasn’t working. She was too worked up. Too scared. All she wanted to do was kicked the door until it gave way. She needed to get into that lab. Whatever was in there, no matter how bad it could be, she needed to see it.

“You are scared,” Akksul stated.

“You would be too,” she retorted.

“When you said you knew what your people were capable of, this is what you meant? They experimented on you?” he asked.

“Akksul!” Jaal snarled at him.

“Yes.” Emma didn’t care. Let him know.

Akksul looked perturbed. “I see.” He didn’t say anything else.

“We need to get that door open.” Emma turned back to Scott.

“It’s a biometric lock. SAM is working on it.” He sighed. “Maybe we should wait for Lexi. And maybe…”

She narrowed her eyes at him. “What?”

“Maybe you should go back to the house and wait for us.”

“Like hell!”

Scott held up his hand’s in defense. “We don’t know what’s in here. I don’t want you…this could hurt you.”

“I need to go in there, Scott. I need to know what they’re doing.”

“I can’t talk you out of it, can I?”

She shook her head, making him swear under his breath. He wasn’t going to win this battle. Ellen was right. She couldn’t run from everything. And she wasn’t going to run from this. Knowing what they were willing to do would help her make choices. She just hoped…

No. She wouldn’t think about that. Not now. Not unless it was necessary.

The door opened, and Emma pushed herself off the wall. She let go of Jaal’s hands. For once, she didn’t want him to touch her. Didn’t want him to feel everything she was. He didn’t press her. He could probably already feel most of it. So could his family for that matter. This was a mess.

She stood beside Scott, staring into the darkness. The lab must have been powered down. It took a few seconds for the smell to hit them. Emma gagged, clapping a hand over her nose and mouth. It’s exactly how the villa had smelled when they had found Hedrak. There was someone, or something in there, and it was very much dead. It made her eyes water.

Scott ordered the others back. It was just him and Emma and Jaal entering. She didn’t want him to, but she didn’t think for a moment that he would leave her side. Lathoul stepped forward like he wanted to go, but Emma and Jaal both shook their heads. Instead, she gestured to Akksul. She didn’t want Jaal’s family to see any of this. But she believed that Akksul did want to protect his people, and he should see it. The four of them stepped through the door. They didn’t make it very far in with it being very dark. The door remained open, allowing them to see shapes, but nothing definitive.

“SAM can you restore power?” Scott sounded like he was trying not to throw up.

“One moment,” SAM answered.

The lights flickered on, and Emma backed up into Jaal’s chest. She really felt like she might vomit now. Maybe she should have listened to Scott. Jaal felt just as shocked as she did. Akksul swore beside her. She had been right again. It was a lab, just not a very big one. Just enough room for a computer, terminal, what looked like three cryo-pods, and a bed that was occupied. Emma couldn’t tear her eyes away from the woman lying face down on the bed. A machine that Emma had been acquainted with multiple times was still hooked into her.

“What the fuck?” Scott whispered.

The woman’s eyes were partially open. Dried spit coated her mouth and chin. She didn’t look like she had been dead for long. Maybe a week at the most. Emma moved closer, shaking off Scott’s hand as he tried to stop her, to look at the contraption. It was a long metal arm containing six syringes. They were designed to go into different points in the spine. For her, it had been full of nanites. But she didn’t recognize the black sludge that was still in some of the syringes. Maybe Lexi could run tests on it.  Whatever they had been trying to do, it didn’t work.

Scott scanned the body.

“Who is she SAM?” he asked.

“Starr, Mieke. Records indicate she was killed when the Nexus encountered the Scourge. She was 4th in succession to Jien Garson.”

“What?” Scott walked over to scan the other two pods, but Emma had a bad feeling. It couldn’t be a coincidence.

“Varso, Sibus, and Soden, Zuri—6th and 5th in succession—both reported dead after entering Andromeda,” he murmured. “This can’t be right.” He shook his head. “We should update the records.”

“No,” Emma replied, her voice firm.

“People have a right to know—”

“There are obviously people awake that are working with Cerberus—they wouldn’t be able to do this alone—and we have no idea who they are. You update records you give them time to hide.”

“She has a point, Ryder,” SAM defended her. “It would be better to use gathered information to lay a trap.”

Scott sighed. “Fine. We don’t do anything officially then.” He walked over to the terminal. “SAM pull anything you can from this facility.”

“Yes, Ryder.”

Emma reached up to run her hands over the mechanism. There was a manual release, she just had to find it. Scott just watched her while he waited for SAM to finish downloading the records. Emma did her best to ignore them all. This was her past, staring her in the face and she didn’t want any of it. She didn’t want the looks of pity that were probably being leveled at her already. Emma finally found the button and pressed it. The syringes detracted, letting the woman go. It looked botched. Like they were in a hurry and she struggled. She would have been in a lot of pain. Emma wondered if she had brought anyone with her. Would they want to know the truth? Or would it be better to believe that she had died in cryo-sleep instead of being butchered?

“Ryder, there is a video file…it is addressed to Emma,” SAM sounded hesitant to even speak.

Scott made eye contact with her and she nodded. They knew she would find this place. She knew it. They might as well play it. Emma walked over to the terminal, expecting it to play on that, but a projector lowered itself from the ceiling. Scott touched her elbow. She didn’t know if he was trying to be reassuring or what. Honestly, she felt like she might vibrate right out of her skin at this point.

Her face flickered on a screen. Emma watched herself smile.

“Two calls in a week, it must be a special occasion.”

Was she speaking to someone? Who?

“I wanted to confirm your shore leave.”

It was Alec’s voice. It was a call, but she didn’t remember this call.

“We confirmed it two days ago. Are you sure that’s what this is about?”

“I just want to make sure everyone will be there.”

“We miss one year and you’re all over us. Have you been calling Scott and Sara this much?” Emma teased.

“Yes, but you’re the only one who answers me every time.” She heard him grumble.

She laughed, “Their duty stations are also much more interesting. I’m stuck on the icy planet from hell.”

What the hell was this supposed to be? She could hear Alec’s voice, but she couldn’t see him. Did they only record her screen? Why would they do that? What was so important about this?

“You know they won’t let me go. I’m too dangerous.”

“Emma, if you want to go. We will make it happen. I won’t leave anyone behind.”

She watched herself lean back in the chair looking dejected. Is this where he had first pitched Andromeda to her? Is this how they knew she was going?

“It's fine. We can talk about it when I’m there.”

The video began to glitch out. There was something moving behind her. No, not something, someone. Alec yelled her name. Oh. That’s what this was. Emma couldn’t see the person clearly, but she could see the gun pressed against her forehead. She had pleaded. She definitely didn’t remember that. Did she want to see this? She couldn’t look away.

A hand interrupted her field of view. Scott had pressed his hand over her eyes. Did he know she didn’t want to see this? Another hand took hers. It was Jaal’s. She felt his own fear and anger thrum through her. Emma jumped when she heard the gunshot. Yes, that’s what this was. The scar underneath her hair itched. It hadn’t done that in a while.

Scott didn’t remove his hand until the video was over. What was this supposed to prove? That they had done it. She already knew that. Maybe they thought she didn’t. Was it to flaunt it in her face? Make her afraid. She was. But she was also angry. They stole so much from her. Her memories. Her life. And they were gloating. Emma was ready to leave. Scott could finish up in here. She had enough. She turned her back to the screen.

There was a light buzzing sound. “It’s been a long time.” A familiar voice stopped her in her tracks. It was familiar, but she couldn’t place it. Emma turned back to the screen. Intense green eyes stared at her. Was this another video? Emma’s ears began to ring.

“You don’t remember me. Not yet at least. But you will.” The man spoke. It felt like he was looking straight at her. Like he knew exactly where she would be in the room. It was unnerving.

“Another video?” Scott asked, coming to stand beside her.

The man’s eyes followed Scott. Fuck. Emma shook her head. “It’s a live feed.”

The man smiled at her. “You always were such a clever girl.” He reached for something off screen making Emma tense. She didn’t know what he was planning, but she should leave.

“I’m sure Alec left the project files to you. And I’m sure the AI in your head is studying you well.” He fiddled with whatever he had grabbed. Alec leaving her information was a good guess, but how did he know about SAM? “You must know that you produce gamma waves by now. Do you?”

“Yes.” Why did she answer him? The ringing in her ears grew louder.

“Did you know that certain frequencies can increase gamma wave production?” he asked.

Why did that matter? The ringing just kept getting louder. It was making her head hurt. Emma grit her teeth.

“Your friend” –he gestured to Akksul with his chin— “took the bombs I intended to use to blow this place. No evidence, you know. But now I’ll have to improvise. Thank you for coming Emma.”

Oh no. Her head felt like it was splitting apart. Jaal’s hand was on her shoulder. He might’ve asked her if she was alright. Or maybe it was ‘what’s wrong’ but she wasn’t sure. They needed to get out. Not her. She would have to stay. She didn’t know what was going to happen. But they intended to use her to destroy the building. The ringing was so jarring she felt like her eyes were going to bug right out of her head.

“Get out,” she said over the ringing and the pain.

“I’m not leaving without you!” Scott was the first to argue with Jaal seconding that argument. Both of them grabbed an arm, determined to carry her out. But she couldn’t let that happen. All the while that smug bastard was smirking at her on screen. She was going to lose control. There was no stopping it. Emma resisted their attempts to move her. She turned to Akksul, hoping he would understand. That he would know.

“Get them out of here!” she shouted at him.

She was burning alive. Fire coursed through her, burning her from the inside out. Maybe they were trying to kill her too. There was a high-pitched keening. It was coming from her throat, but she didn’t recognize it. They weren’t leaving. Why weren’t they leaving? Did they want to die?

“Get out now!” There was a new voice. Was that Lexi? Maybe she could talk some sense into them.

Scott tried to argue, but he was cut off. Emma was going to implode. There was no stopping it. Scott was shouting, but it was getting faint. Good. It meant he wasn’t in the building. Emma turned, her eyes searching for Jaal. Akksul had him. He was doing what she needed. Jaal was trying to fight him. She was sorry. She was so sorry. But they would be safe.

It was so hot. Screeching metal made her wince. Emma was afraid to look. Her eyes shut. She didn’t have to look. She wouldn’t. At some point she had fallen to her knees. She didn’t remember when.

What was happening?

Everything was dark.

Where was she?

Who was she?

The darkness was everything. It encompassed her. It was her.

 

 

Then there was light. Hot, bright, burning light exploding behind her eyes.

And she remembered.

~

Drack had been the one to drag him out. He wouldn’t have left her otherwise. Apparently, Lexi had decided to bring muscle with her for whatever reason. Akksul had Jaal, and Jaal looked ready to swing. They couldn’t leave her in there. He shouldn’t have let her in there. He should’ve been firmer. He should have commanded her to go back to the house. He was the Pathfinder dammit. If there was ever a time to channel his father, it should’ve been right then. Maybe she would’ve listened for once. But she was in there alone. And scared. And now she was screaming. He needed to get to her, but Drack wouldn’t let him go. Scott snarled and turned to cuss him out. It was Lexi that stopped him.

“You cannot go back in there!”

“Why?” he yelled.

“She’s spiking Ryder, it isn’t safe!” Lexi pleaded.

“I don’t care.” He pulled against Drack’s grip.

The walls of the pre-fab vibrated intensely. The metal began to twist and fold in on itself. The frame of the door grew smaller as the metal bent inwards. Scott watched in horror as pieces began shearing off and collapsing. It was going to collapse on her. But this was her. She was doing it. This is what she was capable of. This is what their father hid from them? Was this all she could do? Was there more? Maybe she was dangerous. No. This was Emma he was thinking about. She was in there alone and afraid. He could still hear her crying. Whatever this was, whatever they were doing—it was hurting her. But he couldn’t get to her. Not with the lab coming down. And not with Drack’s painful grip on his shoulder.

There was a light coming from the inside. A bright blue light illuminated the cracks in the metal and what little bit of the doorway was left. What was it? It didn’t last for long. The walls no longer had any integrity left. There was nothing else to do but fall. And they did. Pieces, small and large, crashed inside the lab demolishing whatever was left in there. The evidence: the bodies, the shit in the syringes, the terminals destroyed. They would be buried. And so would Emma.

The lab collapsed, stirring the dirt beneath it. It was nothing more than a heap of scrap metal now. The light he had seen was now extinguished. He heard nothing coming from underneath. He would have given everything to even hear her still crying. It would’ve meant she was alive. But he didn’t know, and that was worse.

They were all quiet. All of them in various stages of shock. This couldn’t really be it, could it? He couldn’t have found her again just to lose her. This would’ve never happened with dad here. Alec would have never allowed her to step foot in that lab.

Dad would have wanted him to protect her.

He had failed.

 

Chapter Text

Emma.

Wake up.

Emma opened her eyes. It was dark. She was warm.

She blinked the sleep from her eyes, staring up at the top bunk. It was quiet. Sara must still be asleep. What time was it? They weren’t late, were they? Or was it the weekend? A yawn cut off her thoughts. She should probably get up anyways. Morning light filtered through a gap in their darkening curtains. Normally she would smell breakfast by now. Mo…Ellen must not be feeling well this morning. She was getting worse. They could all tell.

Emma kicked off her blanket and stretched. Another yawn escaped her mouth before she swung her legs over the side to climb out from the bottom bunk. Her and Sara were too big for bunk beds. But they both enjoyed it, and there wasn’t enough space in their shared room for two separate beds anyway. Emma turned and stood on the balls of her feet to wake up Sara.

The bed was empty. It didn’t even look slept in. Had she gone somewhere? She wouldn’t have been able to get up and make the bed without waking Emma. Weird. Emma tried to remember anything from the night before, but she couldn’t. It was a giant blank. Almost like the night before didn’t even exist. She shook her head. What a strange thing to think.

It was just as quiet when she stepped into the hallway. Were any of them here? Was she by herself? Did they leave her? No. They wouldn’t do that. They wouldn’t pick up and just leave. Would they?

The subtle smell of coffee wafting from the kitchen made her exhale in relief. Someone was here. Whoever they were, they were incredibly quiet. Her shoulder’s relaxed. It was Alec. He was the only one that quiet at any time of the day. And he was the only one who drank coffee religiously. Every morning he was home he would drink a cup before breakfast, a cup with, another cup midday, and the last right after dinner. It was a wonder he ever slept. Sometimes she didn’t think he did. Even more so now that Ellen was sick.

He was sitting at the kitchen table. His hands were cupping a steaming mug. There was a datapad beside him, but he was just staring down at his cup. He didn’t move. It didn’t even look like he was breathing.

“Alec?” she called out his name. Her voice didn’t sound right. Like it was muted, or she was hearing it through a speaker. He didn’t move. This was officially eerie.

Emma leaned down and reached to tap his shoulder. Finally, he looked up at her touch. What was that look in his eyes? Regret? Alec reached up to pat her hand. Something was wrong. But what? Emma perched on the chair beside him. Neither of them said anything. She wasn’t sure how long they just sat like that. Maybe it was five minutes. Maybe it was an hour. Time felt…nonexistent.

“I’m sorry Emma.” His voice sounded like hers, so far away and crackly.

“For what?”

“I was supposed to come for you.” His hand slid off hers.

She was confused. He did come for her. He rescued her from that facility, and he didn’t even know she was there. So, what did he mean? Was she missing something? What was she missing? Emma leaned back in the chair trying to remember. Where were Ellen, and Sara, and Scott? Why did everything feel so weird?

Maybe she should just go back to bed and try again. Or maybe this was just a dream. Yeah. That had to be it. She was having a strange dream. Now she just needed to wake herself up. Emma closed her eyes. She could do it. Her brow furrowed in concentration. Nothing was happening. Why was nothing happening? Was she trapped? Or…was she dead?

Her eyes flew open. How did she die?

“You’re not dead,” Alec answered the question she hadn’t spoken out loud.

“Then what is this? Why am I here?” she pleaded.

She was supposed to be somewhere else. With someone else. No. More than one person. There were people waiting for her. Which people? Why couldn’t she remember? But she had to get back. She had to get out of here. She needed them. Emma stood from up from the chair, knocking it back. It didn’t make a sound as it hit the floor. Alec looked up at her.

“I need to get out of here,” she whispered. “Please.”

“You need the truth first.”

“The truth?”

Alec stood up from the table. The coffee was still steaming even though it had been several minutes. Emma wasn’t sure if that was real either. Was she doing this to herself? Regardless, she followed him as he walked through the kitchen and to the entryway. He was taking her out the front door? Was this right? Emma paused and so did he. The door seemed so much further away than usual. Did she really want to go through it?

It opened.

Normally, she would see the hallway. And the door to the apartment across the way. But there was nothing. It was just ominous darkness. It beckoned to her. There wasn’t really anywhere else to go. It seemed the only way to go, was forward. That didn’t make her move. She was scared. She didn’t know what was lurking in the darkness. It could be the truth like he said. But maybe it wasn’t. Maybe it was actual death. She would walk into it and it would swallow her whole. She would never make it back out.

Alec held out his hand to her. Whatever it was, he was offering to walk with her. Alec had promised to keep her safe. She trusted him. His fingers enclosed over her hand. Tugging gently, he pulled her into the hallway. The door closed behind them enshrouding them in darkness. Nothing happened. Why had he led her here? She turned to ask, but he was gone. No. He couldn’t have left her alone. Where had he gone?

Emma turned to pound on the door. There was no sound. She didn’t stop.

“Alec! Alec let me in!” Something moved behind her. Fear clawed at her. It turned her blood into ice. It twisted her stomach into knots. “Dad! Dad please! Don’t leave me!”

There was a voice. No. More than one voice. They were quiet at first. She didn’t know what they were saying. They whispered while she banged on the door. She needed to get out of here. The voices grew louder.

Freak!

She is a weapon!

We can’t trust her!

She should be locked away!

“No!” she shouted, still banging away on the door. Why wasn’t he letting her in? Why was he leaving her again? Fat tears welled in her eyes and spilled onto her cheeks. This wasn’t fair. He promised. He promised! But he had left her on Kadara. He had died on that bullshit “golden” world and left her alone again.

Emma pushed away from the door, trying to scream or shout or anything, but nothing came out. Something smacked against the back of her ankles and she stumbled backward. There was nothing there. No floor. Nothing. She was going to fall and fall and fall.

She slammed back into a chair. The cold metal bit into her legs. Emma tried to move, but she couldn’t. A bright light clicked on, shining in her face. She blinked. Four shadows towered over her. They didn’t have faces, but she knew who they were. It was finally going to happen. They were going to find a reason to put her in a cage. She didn’t want to go. Her breath caught in her throat. It felt like her chest was being constricted. She wasn’t a weapon. She wasn’t a monster. I want to go home. Emma hiccupped.

You cannot control her Alec.

It was an accident.

She hurt someone.

She punched a kid who quite frankly deserved it. I don’t see how any other teenager wouldn’t have done the same thing.

But she isn’t just another teenager.

That’s right. She had punched Tarkus. When he had kissed her at the party she had foolishly believed he like her. He humiliated her in front of everyone. They all laughed. His hot breath had made her gag as he laughed in her face. She hadn’t thought. She just acted. He stopped laughing. It was a little hard to with blood pouring out of his nose. All she had done was break it. Were they really going to lock her up for that? Of course, they would. They were always looking for excuses to put her away. One day, Alec wouldn’t be able to stop them.

There is also the matter of—

No!

It isn’t a matter open to negotiation. We cannot allow her to reproduce.

That’s bullshit! You can’t do this!

We’ve already scheduled the procedure. I would advise not missing it.

She knew all these things already. Why did she have to see them again? Live them again? She just wanted to get back. She didn’t know where, but it was important. There were people. People she lo…

The room was engulfed in darkness once more. She was alone again. But she didn’t want to be. Not ever again. She had been alone for so long now. A broken sob cut through the silence. Nothing moved or stirred at the noise. There were no more lights shining in her face. Or shadows to remind her of the pendulum swinging over her head. It never truly went away. It came with her to Andromeda too. If that’s where she still was. She didn’t know anymore.

How long have I been here now? Where is here?

She stood from the chair. It didn’t matter. She had to get out of here. There had to be a way out. It was so dark. She couldn’t see. Emma took a step forward anyway. There had to be something, anything. It was better than sitting there and waiting for something to happen. So, she walked. And walked. She kept going forward, searching for the end. It had to exist. Unless she really was dead. And this was hell. She smacked into something hard. Raising her hands, she felt for what was in front of her. It felt like a door. But it hadn’t opened. Was she back where she had started? She leaned forward to rest her head on the cool surface.

“Please,” she begged to the darkness. “I need to get out.”

Why?

“I have to be somewhere. There are people waiting for me,” she murmured to the door.

You don’t even know who. Pathetic.

“I’m not,” she tried to argue, but her tone lacked conviction.

Right. You’re just a freak. A monster. No one is waiting for you.

“That’s not true!”

You don’t even know what’s true anymore. You don’t know anything anymore. Why do you even exist?

“I don’t—”

What’s your purpose? Who are you?”

“I—”

WHO ARE YOU?

“I don’t know!” she shouted back. The voice quieted. Emma slumped against the door and slid down. Who was she? She didn’t know anymore. Honestly, she wasn’t sure she ever did. She couldn’t even remember who she needed to get back. Maybe the voice was right. Why try to leave if she didn’t even know? She pulled her knees to her chest. Closing her eyes, she curled up into a ball. Maybe if she went back to sleep this would all go away.

What are you trying to remember?

“Everything,” she whispered into her knees.

Finally.

“What—” Emma looked up.

There was a mirror in front of her now. Somehow in all the darkness, she could see it. But there was no reflection. How could she not see herself? Emma stood up slowly. She didn’t take her eyes off the mirror. What was it doing here? How was it supposed to help? She raised her hand to touch it. It was warm. How was it so warm? A hand pressed against hers. It wasn’t her own. There was someone in the mirror. But it wasn’t her.

The woman looked so much like her. Emma felt like she should know who she was, but she couldn’t remember. She had blue eyes and hair like Emma, just minus the orange. Her fingers were slender and elongated. Her skin had a light pink hue. The freckles on her skin were white instead of brown. She looked so close to being human, but she wasn’t. Why was she in the mirror? And why was she smiling so sadly?

Wake up.

“I am awake,” Emma answered reflexively.

Wake up…Merja.

The mirror cracked. Bright light seeped through the crack nearly blinding her.

Please wake up.

The mirror shattered. Light encompassed the darkness.

Wake up.

 

 

 

There was a hand on her hair. Fingers stroked stray tendrils away from her face. There was a voice. Low and urgent. What did it want?

“Wake up,” they whispered. “Please baby I need you to wake up. We have to go.”

Her eyes opened. It was the woman in the mirror peering down at her, eyes wide and filled with fear. She pulled the blanket away. Emma grumbled at the cold air that hit her skin. The woman ignored her complaints. She reached and scooped Emma out of bed. How was Emma so small? What was this? But her arms wrapped around the woman’s neck and her legs around the woman’s waist. She was a child. How old was she? Was this a memory?

The woman reached under the bed and grabbed a bag. It had already been packed. This had been planned. Where were they going? Emma rubbed her eyes. Her hands were so tiny. Something on the bed caught her attention. She reached for it, but the woman was holding her tightly.

“Mr. Snuffle,” she whimpered, trying to reach for the tiny pink cat stuffed animal that was laying in the spot she had been.

The woman turned briefly to snatch it. Emma’s fingers curled into the fabric and she pressed it to her face. She didn’t know where they were going, but she felt safer now. The house they were in was dark. That didn’t stop the woman from moving through it without making a noise. Had she practiced? Emma rested her head on the woman’s shoulder. The smell of her skin was so familiar, like honeysuckle and gardenias. It was soothing. The woman padded by a living room, and then a kitchen, and walked right to the front door. It opened. The woman’s shoulders relaxed a little.

The sound of cicadas filled the night. Stars twinkled overhead. Emma always loved the stars. One day she would get to see them up close. Momma had promised. Emma leaned back to look at the woman. Is that who this was? Was this her mother? Emma reached to touch a hand to her soft cheek. Was she finally remembering her mother?

The woman walked down a gravel path to a driveway, and to the car sitting in it. Quietly, the woman opened the door to place Emma in a car seat and buckle her in. There was another car seat on the opposite side. A child younger than her was sleeping in it. Did she have a sibling? Did she know them? Emma hugged Mr. Snuffle tight to her chest.

“Where are we going?” she asked.

The woman leaned down and pressed a kiss to Emma’s chubby cheek. “Don’t worry Merja. We’re going home. I’m going to keep you and your brother safe, okay?” Her eyes were watery, and her voice was shaking.

Emma nodded. The woman…her mother…smiled at her before shutting the door. Her brother stayed asleep beside her. Emma looked out the window while the car turned over. She couldn’t wait to go. She loved watching the stars streak across the sky. But it felt like something was missing. Emma looked towards the front of the car. Oh. Dad wasn’t there. Where was he? Were they going to meet him? He had tucked her in before bed, so why wasn’t he home? And what did mom mean that she would keep them safe? Keep them safe from who?

Emma turned back to the window and watched the trees fly past. She didn’t know where they were going. Emma had already thought they were home, but her mother didn’t feel the same. There was another home out there. Would it be just as cool as this one? Would it have a beach too? The beach was her favorite. The salty air and the waves lapping at her toes. They went every weekend. She hoped there was one just like it where they were going. Emma pressed her face into Mr. Snuffles.

Is Merja my real name?

Her eyes felt heavy. She was still so tired. But she didn’t want to sleep. She didn’t want to miss anything. It didn’t seem to matter. She dozed off, lulled to sleep by the moving car.

 

“Give me my child Imari.”

Emma blinked against the skin of her mother’s neck. Where had they gone? She raised her head. The sky was still dark. Her mother held her tighter. She was trembling. She was scared. But Emma couldn’t understand why. It was just dad. Why was her mother so afraid of him?

“No,” her mother answered, her voice shaky.

He just sighed. “This doesn’t have to be difficult Imari. Just give her to me.”

“No! I know what you’re trying to do. I won’t let you.” Her mother clutched her so tight that Emma couldn’t move or look around. “She is a child. Not a weapon.”

“She is our future! She will save the human race—”

“By destroying others,” her mother snapped. “That line may work for your colleagues. But it will not work on me. I am taking them both home. To my people.”

“I don’t care where you take the boy Imari,” he sneered. “But you aren’t leaving with her. She is my daughter too.”

Emma couldn’t move. She couldn’t see. But she whimpered, her mother’s skin muffling the sounds. She was still heard. Her mother moved.

“We are leaving,” she repeated.

There was movement. Emma didn’t know where they were going. Why had they gotten out of the car in the first place? She was afraid. Not of where they were going. But that they wouldn’t get there. Her small hands were fisted into her mother’s shirt. She didn’t remember this, but considering her life, it didn’t end well. Did she want to know this?

Yes.

Ignorance wouldn’t save her. And it wouldn’t help her stop Cerberus. Something she was going to do now that she knew they were in Andromeda. She was just going to end up doing it alone if she couldn’t remember who was waiting for her. If she couldn’t find a way out of here.

“Call off your dogs, Waylon,” her mother warned.

“Just give her to me Imari!” he shouted.

Her mother set her down on the ground. Emma was finally able to see. The barrier that crackled to life around them, keeping them safe. They were on a road. Thick trees lined each side. Their car was gone. She didn’t know what happened to it. Had her mother abandoned it? But there were other cars with bright headlights illuminating the road. It made Emma’s eyes hurt. She could see shapes, people surrounding the barrier. The dogs her mother had told her father to call off. What made her so special that he would do this? Emma crouched down by her brother who was still secure and sleeping in his car seat.

“Close your eyes Merja,” her mother whispered to her.

Emma looked up. She didn’t want to close her eyes.

“It’ll be okay.” Her mother smiled at her.

No, it won’t.

But she couldn’t change what already happened. Emma’s eyes closed, and she hovered over the car seat, using her body to shield her little brother. What was going to happen to him? No matter what she heard she didn’t open her eyes. The screams, the sounds of bodies hitting pavements, trees, glass—she tried to ignore it all and kept her eyes squeezed shut. How could her mother have lost?

She hadn’t counted on the gun. Had taken her eyes of the one person she should’ve kept in her sight. Emma opened her eyes at the sound of the gun. Her mother’s eyes were still open. They were staring right at her. Blood pooled underneath her head. Her hand was outstretched. Like she was trying to reach Emma.

Emma crawled over to her. The road scraped skin from her knees. She didn’t care. Fat tears rolled down her cheeks. The salt seeped into her open mouth as she wailed. Her tiny hands patted her mothers face. They smoothed over her cheeks and eyes. There was a hole where there shouldn’t be one. It wept blood. Emma twisted her fingers in her mother’s wet hair. Maybe if Emma cried hard enough she would get back up.

A hand wrapped around her waist to pull her back, but she held on. No. They couldn’t take her away. Her mother would get back up. She would. She had to. A scream erupted from Emma’s mouth. And then a shout. No. No. No!

There was that sound of twisting metal again. She knew it well by now. But she didn’t care. They weren’t taking her away. Not again. She could change this. She just had to try. Her skin blazed with energy. It didn’t hurt. The ground underneath her shook. An earsplitting crack made her ears hurt. The road split underneath her. She couldn’t stop. A little more. Just a little more and she could wake her up.

There was a sharp prick in her neck. Emma wasn’t sure when she started to feel tired. Her energy was fizzling out. No. She had to keep going. She needed her mother. But she was so tired now. Everything felt so slow. The hand around her waist tugged again. Emma felt the fabric slip from her fingers. No. She didn’t want to let go. Her cries filled the night. Why? Why did she remember this?

Darkness began to bleed into the edges of her vision.

No more. Please.

She couldn’t see who was holding her against their chest, but she was growing slack in their arms. There was no fight left in her. She was so tired.

“You are so much more than I imagined,” a voice tinged with awe was the last thing she heard before darkness swallowed her again.

 

The mirror was in pieces around her. She was sitting in the middle. How long have I been here? Time didn’t seem to exist. Her eyes were squeezed shut. The light was still there—bright and blinding—it hurt even with her eyes closed. And she was afraid if she opened her eyes she would see more. Yes, she had wanted to remember, but she had never really stopped to consider what it would mean to know everything now. Years of forgetting and being unable to process her life meant it was all going to hurt. She was going to have process years and years of memories and gaps and the truth. And while in here, she was going to have to grapple with it alone. Could she even make it stop?

A finger tapped against her forehead. “I know it hurts Merja.” Her mother’s voice nearly made her cry again.

“I don’t know if I can do this,” Emma whimpered.

A hand stroked her cheek. “You can. You’re ready.”

“I don’t want to do it alone.”

“You are not alone anymore. You just have to remember,” her mother soothed her with her voice. It made Emma wonder if she had ever been sung to sleep.

“Yes,” her mother answered. She tucked a piece of Emma’s hair behind her ear. “Open your eyes.” She pressed a kiss to Emma’s forehead. “It’s time,” she murmured, her lips moving against Emma’s skin.

Emma opened her eyes. The dam broke.

Everything hit her at once. All the memories she had lost compressed into a single moment. It was so much. Too much. It hurt. There was the facility with its cold steel walls. The collar that shocked her when she tried to use her power. Then the nanites. The pain as her body rejected them. And then they tried again and again. It didn’t matter how much she begged and pleaded. She had promised she would be good over and over. Nothing stopped them.

There was Kennedy. His luminescent green eyes. His hand clutching hers. He always made her forget. The doctor, her own father, made him touch her and take the memories of their mother and their father. They didn’t want her to remember anything. If she couldn’t remember, then she had no reason to fight. And she didn’t. She didn’t fight when they drew her blood. She didn’t fight when they tested her regeneration abilities. Nor when they began injecting her with different serums. She never knew what they were for.

She didn’t fight until the day she realized when they hurt her, she could move things. Every time she was in pain she would practice. Nothing big, she would just move small things and inch or two. If they noticed, they never said anything. But for her it was hope. A hope that she could master it. She could get better. And she could escape. It didn’t happen the way she imagined. The one nurse she liked sliced her too deep and she screamed. She didn’t mean for it to happen. So many died that day. It was an accident. That’s the day Alec found her, huddled in the corner to keep away from the blood. There had been so much of it.

Alec had taken her from the facility. Some of the other soldiers were taken aback that she was a child, but they were all too willing to carry out their mission regardless. Alec and Grace were there to stop them. But that didn’t make it over. There were council meetings. The heated arguments about her existence. The fear that she would trade one cage for another. Feeling smaller and smaller as each day went by. It took three weeks before Alec was cleared to take her home. Home. Such a foreign concept. It brought on a different kind of fear. An unfounded fear. Ellen welcomed her immediately. Even Sara and Scott…

Scott.

Oh yes. That’s who was waiting for her. Scott and…I don’t know.

Not yet.

She wasn’t allowed to go to school at first. The council was too afraid she would lose control. Ellen homeschooled her as much as possible. It didn’t take long for her to catch up. She was still envious every time Sara and Scott came home. It took a few years for her to feel integrated into their home. Those years Sara and Scott tried so hard to include. They treated her like a sibling, but she was still so scared. She was afraid to trust.

But they weren’t all bad memories. No. There was her first time on Earth. Real trees and sky and air. The beach. Now she knew why she liked it so much. Earth was her first home, and she had unknowingly returned then. It had been one of the best few weeks of her life. Alec didn’t have missions. Ellen didn’t have work. It was the first time she felt like they were her family.

A week later the council ruled she could attend school. Finally. It was a chance to be normal. To do what every teenager does. Of course, it was never that easy where she was concerned, and kids were cruel. But they only repeated their parent’s conversations. Rumors got worse when Ellen got sick. And the first time she was hospitalized. Alec threw himself into work. Emma and the twins finished high school. Ellen seemed to be getting better. They all entered the military. All for different reasons. Emma entered because she didn’t have many options and it was the only thing the council would approve. And she wanted to make Alec proud. Amaranthine was her first post. A post meant to be boring and safe, so she wouldn’t cause any trouble.

She hadn’t remembered Kennedy. Not even when he leveled the gun at her head. She definitely didn’t remember after she woke up in that hospital bed. The only thing she could remember was Alec. The old anger burned in her chest now that she remembered how much she had lost. How little she had when she agreed to come to Andromeda. How lost she felt when Alec never came for her. The frustration when Scott was looking at her with that expectant look in his eyes. And then the disappointment when she couldn’t remember him. Or she couldn’t remember enough.

How was he going to feel now that she remembered everything?

The last pieces clicked into place. The Tempest. The crew. Jaal. Jaal! He was waiting for her. She knew it. There was no way he would leave without her. She had to get out. But how? Maybe if she thought hard enough about him. She thought about the way he made her laugh. How he always knew what she needed. He always knew how she felt, and he let her just feel without telling her it was wrong. How he looked at her. How he held her hand. How he kissed her.

The light was burning her eyes now. It was everywhere. She raised her hands to her face. They danced under her skin. It was beautiful. It was her. But what was she supposed to do now? What was her purpose?

Her mother was still there, kneeling in front of her. There was sympathy in her eyes. Like she knew how much it hurt to be full of light. She cupped Emma’s face.

Emma, can you hear me?

“What do I do now?” she asked.

Her mother smiled. “Wake the others.”

Emma!

“Send the signal.”

Emma please!

“Fight back.”

Emma felt like she was being pulled into a million pieces. She screamed.

Her mother was gone. There were shapes. They surrounded her. She couldn’t count how many. They looked like phantoms. Most of them were grey. Some of them were color. What were they?

They felt important. They felt connected to her in some way. The grey ones began to bloom with color. What was happening to them?

Come back to me Emma!

“It hurts,” she whimpered.

Her face felt warm. Like someone was touching her.

It’s too much energy. You must let it go, Emma.

“I don’t know how.”

There was a pressure on her left arm and then her right. Something pressed against both of her shoulders. And then her back. But there was nothing here. Whatever it was, it was soothing.

We have you. Let it go.

~

The clearing was silent after the last bit of wall crumpled to the ground. It had been demolished. And they had left her in there. Nobody knew what to do. They just stared at the twisted mess of metal like it was going to provide them answers.

Jaal felt his eyes well up with tears. How could she? She had sent him away, screamed for Akksul to take him out. Was she even still alive? He couldn’t feel her.

“SAM?” Scott choked out. “Can you…is she…” he couldn’t seem to make himself say it out loud.

“Emma is still alive Ryder,” SAM answered the unasked question.

Jaal cried with relief. She was alive. They needed to get her out. But why couldn’t he feel her? Had she been cut off?

“I would proceed with caution Ryder. Her gamma wave activity is high.”

“What does that mean?” Akksul asked.

“It means she’s unstable. We don’t know what she will do,” Lexi was the one who answered, eyeing Akksul critically. “SAM please give Cora and Peebee our coordinates. We need help moving the debris.”

Scott scoffed, “I hope you don’t think I’m going to wait for them.”

“No,” Lexi answered. “But we have to be careful. We don’t know if she is hurt.”

Jaal wiped the tears from his face. His mother’s comforting hand came down on his shoulder. He felt her worry, but also her determination to help. Teviint came up to his other side and did the same. They would get to her. He was glad he had brought her home. And he couldn’t wait to tell her how much his family really did like her. But first, he needed to hold her in his arms again.

“Tell us what you need us to do.” Sahuna squeezed Jaal’s shoulder as she spoke.

Lexi took charge because Scott was in no shape too. He wasn’t crying or cursing. He just looked…haunted. It was like he considered it his fault. It wasn’t true. The fault was with the people who did this to her in the first place. A crime that would not happen again if he had anything to say about it.

“What can I do?” Akksul asked Lexi, looking uncomfortable.

“We don’t need your help,” Scott snarled.

“I’m not helping you,” Akksul shot back.

“That’s enough,” Sahuna interjected. “Akksul is here, and Emma needs all the help we can provide.”

Scott didn’t look happy, but he didn’t say anything else. On one hand, Jaal was still incredibly angry at Akksul. On the other hand, his mother was right.

They began to pick up smaller pieces of debris to move them off to the side. Once Cora and Peebee arrived they would be able to use their biotics to move some of the larger pieces. Emma had been in the middle of the lab. There was quite a bit to move before they could get to her. Nobody spoke. Everyone was too worried. Lexi would pause every few minutes to look down at the data SAM was sending to her omnitool and frown. Jaal didn’t like it one bit.

It took fifteen minutes for Cora and Peebee to arrive. Lexi briefed them quickly after they stopped gaping at the wreckage. They were able to move the larger pieces. Jaal wasn’t sure how long they had been working. All he knew was that it was too long. He wanted to find her now.

“I see her!” Teviint shouted after twenty more minutes.

Cora and Peebee targeted one more piece, a slab of wall, to move it out of the way. They all stared down in the wreckage.

“Smart girl,” Lexi murmured.

Emma was laying on the floor, curled up in a ball. A barrier shimmered over her body. She had erected a barrier right before it collapsed. She had kept herself safe. But it didn’t explain why Jaal couldn’t feel her. Jaal and Scott were both beside Lexi as she crouched down to Emma’s level. She reached to touch the barrier, recoiling when it shocked her. Then she called Emma’s name, but Emma didn’t respond. It scared him. Lexi turned to look at him and nodded. Jaal crouched down beside her.

“Emma, can you hear me?” she asked.

There was nothing.

“Emma?” he called her name this time.

Still nothing.

A sob forced its way from his throat, “Emma, please!” He just wanted to know that she was all right. He just wanted to hear her voice. Leaning forward, he covered his eyes with his hand. Sahuna was behind him. Her hand was pressed against his back. She was trying to soothe him. It wasn’t working. Jaal placed his other hand on the barrier. It shocked him, but he didn’t care. Maybe she would feel him.

“She’s moving,” Lexi whispered.

He pulled the hand away from his face. She let out a small moan before she began to push herself up with her arms. Emma pushed herself up onto her knees. It seemed to be all she could do. Something was wrong. The barrier moved with her. She didn’t look at them. Didn’t even open her eyes. At least, not until Jaal pushed against the barrier to get to her. When she did, there was that light again. It was like on Voeld. Pure, pulsating light. Lexi gasped when the light began to shine underneath her skin. She was staring at them, but he wasn’t sure that she was actually seeing them.

“What is that?” Akksul asked, sounding panicked.

Lexi shot up from beside him to take a step back. Jaal looked towards Akksul to see, well he wasn’t sure what he was seeing. There were many of them in the clearing. The one beside Akksul was orange and bright, it resembled fire. Akksul moved back as it reached out to him. Most of them were grey and didn’t move.

“SAM are you recording this?” Lexi asked.

“Yes, Doctor T’Perro,” he intoned.

Jaal turned back to Emma. Her face was pinched in concentration or pain, he couldn’t tell which. Maybe it was both. He had no doubt this was hurting her. But he couldn’t a damn thing from here. Jaal pushed against the barrier again. Ignoring the burning sensation against his hand, he kept pushing. All he could think about was getting to her. He didn’t care about how much it hurt. He was going to get through the barrier.

“Come back to me Emma!” he shouted, pushing his way through.

The air inside the barrier was still. He could see dust particulates suspended in the air. Everyone else was muffled outside. His family was gathered close by in case he needed them.

As he moved closer to her, he could see the tear tracks on her cheeks. And the fresh ones that were threatening to mingle with the dried ones. Her gaze focused on him. He hoped she could see him.

“It hurts,” she sniffled.

He cupped her face in his hands. The current running over her skin shocked him. Her electricity was all over the place. But he could feel her. It was so good to be able to touch her. His thumbs brushed over the tear stains. Just like on Voeld he could feel the heat, the energy, all of it. It was hurting her like before. But there was something else. Raw grief.

“It’s too much energy. You must let it go, Emma,” he said.

“I don’t know how.” The tears began to spill over onto his fingers.

He pressed his forehead against her. Someone brushed past him and he looked to see Sahuna, with a look of pain on her face, grab Emma’s hand. Teviint was close to follow and grabbed Emma’s other hand. His other siblings joined and gripped her shoulders. They were all here. Almost. He was surprised to see Akksul push through the barrier as well. He placed his hand against Emma’s back. What she had said to him at the Forge seemed to have left an impression. Jaal was proud of her. He was right when he told her she would change things for the Angara. And most of all, for him. They all projected to her. Mostly feelings of comfort and safety, and in Jaal’s case, love. They were calling her back, together.

“We have you, Emma. Let it go.” He pressed his lips to her forehead.

He wasn’t sure how long it took. But he felt when the barrier dropped. And when the heat in her subsided. He was there to wrap his arms around her waist as she slumped forward. His family kept their hands on her as she sobbed into his rofjinn. The only thing he could do was murmur that he was there, he had her. He didn’t know what exactly had happened, but he could feel the grief that was consuming her. They all could.

Scott came up behind him and Sahuna moved so he could get close. “Emma?” He sounded relieved and scared at the same time.

Emma turned her face to look at him but seeing him only made her cry harder. “I forgot, Scotty. I’m so…sorry.” She hiccupped.

Scott froze. “What did you call me?”

Emma didn’t answer. But it didn’t seem like she needed to. Scott’s face crumbled, and he reached for her. She didn’t let go of Jaal when she pulled him into a hug. It didn’t matter. Scott just wrapped his other arm around Jaal. Scott couldn’t feel her emotions the way Jaal and his family could, but it seemed that way by how tightly he held her. Almost like he was not going to let her go. Not that Emma seemed keen on letting anyone go either.

“Please take me home,” she mumbled into Jaal’s rofjinn.

Scott nodded. “Let’s go home.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Subject: Emma

To: Jaal

From: Sahuna

How is she? I have been worried. I wanted to e-mail her, but I didn’t want to make her uncomfortable.

Akksul stayed behind and we finished clearing the debris from the lab. Any biomedical samples were sent to your doctor. I am awaiting a response from the Pathfinder on what to do with the bodies. We would be more than happy to give them a proper burial. The family and Akksul have agreed to keep this a secret for now. But I would consider telling Evfra. It is alarming, and quite unprecedented, that a facility was placed on an Angaran planet.

Your siblings keep asking about her. Teviint wanted to e-mail her. I told her to be patient. She has as much patience as you do. Ahvfi asks for her as well. I would send a video, but I don’t want to overwhelm Emma.

How are you?

Stay strong and Clear

Sahuna

 

Jaal stared at the e-mail. What was he supposed to say? That the moment they got back to the ship, Emma locked herself in the med bay and hasn’t come out in two days. That he could feel how much she was hurting and grieving and there was nothing he could do about but wait for her to be ready to come out. He wanted to be there for her. But he didn’t want to push her. She hadn’t told any of them what had happened. Lexi was with her, but she wasn’t saying anything either. Then there was Scott. Who was happy that she had remembered him and Sara, and then stricken that she had remembered everything. How was it possible? And then did everything really mean everything or just her life with the Ryder family. Jaal wanted to talk to her. To know and comfort. He couldn’t do anything of those things right now. Not until she was ready for them. He typed a quick response to his mother, leaving out most of the details, but telling her that Lexi was looking over her and the moment he knew something more he would let her know. His mother wouldn’t be satisfied by that answer. It was all he had right now. He agreed that they should tell Evfra, but his primary concern was Emma.

He wasn’t sure how he felt about Akksul being around his family. Or the fact that he had even been at the lab in the first place. He had taken the bombs from there. It meant he had known about it. Was the existence of the lab the reason why he decided to attack the Forge? He would ask, but he really didn’t want to speak to him. It was too soon. He could still see Akksul aiming his gun at Emma and it angered him all over again. Maybe he wasn’t really angry at him, but Jaal didn’t have the emotional outlets he was used to having. It was the downside of being on a ship full of aliens. They weren’t as open as his people. He wanted to talk to them. He wanted to talk to Emma.

His omnitool beeped with another e-mail. It was probably his mother again. He wasn’t sure he wanted to look at it right now. It was probably full of more questions he couldn’t really answer right now.

There was a knock at the tech lab door. He looked up to see Liam standing in the doorway.

“Ryder wants us geared up and ready in twenty.”

Jaal didn’t understand why Ryder insisted on taking him to hot, shitty planets that he hated. First, it was Kadara. Now it was Elaaden. Drack would probably be better suited for this type of environment. Jaal hated cleaning all the sand out his armor. He grumbled an acknowledgment. But Liam didn’t leave.

“You doing okay?” he asked.

“No, not really,” Jaal admitted.

Liam nodded. “She’ll come out. If she remembered everything then she has a lot to process.”

“I know.” Jaal sighed. “I just want to be there for her.”

Liam chuckled. “You are. We all are. But I bet you’ll the first person she goes to.”

He knew Liam was trying to make him feel better, and it was working. Emma would come out and he would be for there for when she did.

 

Emma stretched out on the med bay bed. Lexi was sitting at the console a few feet from her. It had been a few hours since either had said anything. And that was because Lexi had checked her levels again. Emma’s gamma wave production had bottomed out after the incident. She had tried to replicate the lights, the barrier, anything really. But the nanites were back to doing their job of suppressing her. The potential was inside of her, but she couldn’t reach any of it. Lexi was researching nanotech and how to remove it. Of course, with it technically being illegal there was nothing more than theories and limited journals had been added to the cloud for the journey to Andromeda. In short, Lexi didn’t have much to go on.

Emma was lying half-asleep on the bed, listening to her music. Lexi had told her it had been two days and she really should go back to the tech lab. But she hadn’t. In fact, she hadn’t left the med bay at all. She didn’t want to face any of them right now. So, she had snuck out in the late hours to shower and use the bathroom, and then slipped right back into the med bay. Nobody was bothering her. Either they understood, or they were now all afraid of her and she was going to be shoved off the ship when they reached the next planet. She didn’t want to go.

It hadn’t felt like two days. Especially when she had spent most of the time after leaving Havarl in a fog. Sure, she had remembered, but that didn’t mean she knew what to do with all of her memories. There could be no justice for her mother. The years had long since passed for that. The scientist that implemented the Olympus project was her own father. A man that had remained faceless for so long. Now she regretted knowing who he was. Then there was Kennedy, which was not his real name. Her own brother who routinely messed with her memories in the program, shot her on Amaranthine and manipulated her memories again on Kadara so she wouldn’t remember running into him. It was ridiculous. It was too much.

Then there were her memories of Scott and Sara. Now she felt twice as bad that she had forgotten them. She didn’t want to face Scott now. It was doubtful that he would be angry. But why risk it? Especially with the way she had treated him in the first couple weeks of being on the Tempest. She wouldn’t blame him if he was angry. They had been close as kids. It would also explain why she would always wander to his quarters when she was upset. Or when she would blurt out her problems despite not wanting too. A part of her had remembered their relationship.

Emma rolled over so she was facing away from Lexi and sighed. The last couple of days weren’t just hard on her. She could feel Jaal across the ship. He was hurting too. Mostly because she was. Part of her wanted to go to him. Well most of her was more accurate. He wasn’t scared of her. She knew that without a doubt. She would be able to feel if he was. But what about his family? Maybe they were now. Maybe they didn’t want him to have anything to do with her. It would break her heart if that was true.

“We’ve landed on Elaaden,” Lexi spoke loud enough to be heard over Emma’s music. “Scott took Jaal and Liam with him. I won’t throw you out today, but you do need to stretch your legs.”

“I can’t do that here?” Emma grumbled her question.

Lexi sighed. “You need to go get fresh clothes and shower and eat. I’m not doing it for you.”

Emma pulled her earbuds out of her ears and rolled over to glare balefully at Lexi. She said she wasn’t throwing Emma out of the medbay, but she wasn’t allowing Emma much room for arguing. If they were on Elaaden then the others were probably doing other things than lingering on the ship. She could probably avoid the few that would be. And Lexi was right. Emma still needed to care for herself. Even though she really didn’t want to. Leaving her music player on the bed, she stood up and stretched. Lexi turned back to the console as Emma left the medbay.

The hallway was quiet and empty. She didn’t hear anyone in the crew quarters or in the kitchen. Drack would probably be with the krogan colony today anyways. Emma climbed the ladder to get to the next level. Kallo was probably in the pilot’s seat, but he didn’t talk to her much anyways. No one interrupted her on the way to the tech lab.

She didn’t know why, but when the door opened she half-expected Jaal to be there. Lexi had told her had gone with Scott, yet she still expected his smiling face to greet her as she walked in. It was stupid. She was the one who had locked herself away, the one who had cut herself off from him. Why was that her default? She fought so hard against the council, so she wouldn’t be locked away, but every time things became hard or she was scared, it was what she did to herself.

Emma walked into the lab to get a change of clothes. Her duffel bag from Havarl was sitting on the floor by her side of the bed. It hadn’t been opened or unpacked. She should probably do that. There was a lot of laundry in it. Emma quickly picked up her dirty clothes to throw down the chute. Something in the corner of her eyes made her pause. The lockbox was sitting on the desk.

Wake the others.

Did her mother mean the other experiments? Why? Would Emma even know who they were? Emma dropped her clothes to the floor and put in the code to open the box. She hadn’t looked at the datapads in a while. Before now she hadn’t really wanted to. There wasn’t much of a choice now was there? Cerberus was here. She couldn’t run from them again. There was nowhere to go. She grabbed the datapads and her clothes and made her way back to the medbay. Emma stopped only to throw her clothes down the chute.

Lexi was still sitting at the console. She sighed in exasperation when Emma reentered the med bay. “I know you didn’t shower and eat.” She turned to chastise Emma but stopped when she saw what Emma was holding. “Is that the research?” she asked.

Emma nodded. If there was anyone she could trust with this, it was Lexi. She set the datapads down on the desk. Lexi just stared down at them. There was no doubting the excitement in her eyes. Lexi did care about Emma, but she was a scientist at heart. This was a chance for her start cracking the code.

“Right. You shower and grab something to eat first. Then we’ll start going through it.” Lexi sounded like she was having trouble displaying that kind of restraint.

Emma raised an eyebrow. “Are you sure?”

“Shower. Now.” Lexi ordered.

Emma sighed and backtracked to the showers. For once, she really wanted to look through the files. She wanted to know what and who she could possibly be dealing with. And she needed to know the kind of danger she could be putting the crew in. They had seen first hand in the lab what lengths Cerberus would go to continue their research. The dead woman was a big indicator. And it was no coincidence that the bodies were all people that had been in line for leadership. Cerberus found someone with an agenda and used them to further their own means. It would also explain why Emma never really trusted Tann, number 8. But she couldn’t do anything without any proof. Proof would be hard to obtain while on the Tempest. Maybe she should leave. It wouldn’t certainly keep the crew out of danger. Especially Scott and Jaal. It was a hard decision to make.

But she needed to make one soon.

 

Emma hadn’t really slept in the past few days. Honestly, she was scared to. She was afraid she would go back to that place. And then going through the research with data with Lexi didn’t give her much time to sleep. They had spent eight hours getting through everything. Cerberus was nothing if not thorough with their research. Not to mention the other programs they had opened under Project Olympus that had been hidden under different names. There had been several different facilities on Earth. Her and Lexi had gone through the other’s files several times. They had to mark down the deceased. Then try to narrow down who Alec had helped get to Andromeda. That included aliases and some of them had fake backgrounds. It was like a matching game from hell. She was exhausted. But she couldn’t stop. Was she obsessing? Probably.

“Doctor T’Perro, Ryder has called a meeting.” SAM broke the silence in the lab.

“Be right there SAM,” Lexi responded automatically. They had gone through everything, so they weren’t interrupted.

SAM didn’t say anything to her. It meant Scott had told him not to call her too. It was either because they were voting to oust her, or because he was giving her space. She knew him. She knew it was the second one. Her fear of being thrown off the ship by Scott was irrational. Knowing that didn’t stop the quickening of her breath or the tears that filled her eyes. She turned her back to Lexi, so Lexi wouldn’t see. It was so stupid to be upset over something that wouldn’t happen. She just couldn’t help it right now. Everything still felt so raw.

The door closed behind Lexi leaving her alone once again. Is this how she wanted to spend her time now? Did she really want to lock herself away? Yes, the memories hurt, but she had them now. Now she knew exactly who she was going up against. But did she want to do it alone?

Emma leaned back in the chair, crossing her arms over her chest. She stared at all of the data in front of her. There were the others, but there was no guarantee they would want to help. Emma pulled the datapads from the interface and tucked them under her arm. This was too big of a decision to make on her own. She just hoped the others wanted her around as much as she wanted to stay.

Emma climbed the ladder after exiting the med bay and booked it to the meeting room. It would be easier to do this with everyone gathered together in one spot. She heard them discussing something. It sounded like it had to do with the Turian ark. Hopefully, that ark was in better shape than the Salarian ark. Emma wasn’t sure if she had to stomach to do all that again.

“How is she?” She heard Scott ask as she began walking up the ramp.

Lexi sighed. “She is—”

“It’s not nice to talk about people when they’re not in the room,” Emma answered, trying and failing a bit at being humorous about her reemergence.

Jaal perked up instantly at the sound of her voice. She was already making her way over to the table. Two datapads were clutched in her hands. She looked determined, but she also wasn’t looking anyone in the face. Especially not Jaal. She couldn’t. If she did, she might fall apart, and she had already done so much of that. Emma set the datapads down on the table and looked up.

“How are you doing?” Scott asked.

Emma pursed her lips. “Not great,” she admitted. “Did Lexi tell you anything about what happened on Havarl?”

Scott nodded. “They used sound waves to make you uncontrollably produce gamma waves. I don’t know how that made you remember though.”

“Yeah. I don’t know either.” She frowned. “But that’s not important right now.”

Scott scoffed. “I beg to differ—”

Emma reached out to clap her hand over his mouth. “As I was saying” –Scott pulled her hand off his mouth but didn’t interrupt her— “I can’t let Cerberus continue in any capacity. They aren’t allowed to get away with the things they’ve done to me, and the others. I know the Archon is the greater priority now, but I am going to stop Cerberus.” She finally looked at all of them, her gaze lingering on Jaal a few seconds longer. “Me doing this puts everyone here in danger. I’m willing to leave if you don’t want to deal with this too.”

It was quiet for a few seconds before the room exploded in noise. Nobody was happy with that idea. She was surprised and relieved at their response. Did she really think that they were going to ask her to leave? Of course, they were willing to help her stop Cerberus. How could she have doubted them?

Emma used a USB to plug the datapads into the table’s interface. “Then let’s talk about what I’m getting you into.” She scrolled through the files on the datapad until she found what she was looking for. When she selected it, the table projected it so everyone could see. Her…the project’s head scientist stared at them. She rattled off his name, trying not to allow her voice to crack as she did, and his credentials. Emma didn’t want to linger on him too long. It almost felt like he was staring right at her. Emma went to swipe to another file.

“Now what aren’t you telling us, kid?” Drack asked, not missing the way her voice shook or the way her hands had gripped the table too tightly.

Damn that old man for playing way too close attention to her. Emma’s gaze stayed on datapads near her hands. “He’s…” He’s my father. My own fucking father did this to me. I’m already fucking pathetic, let’s make it worse.

“Emma?” Jaal asked, looking like he wanted to reach out to her, but he was stopping himself.

She made him feel like that. Fuck.

“I was projecting again?” she asked, not really needing him to answer. She was projecting her shitty feelings and he was the only one who could feel them and know what they were.

He nodded.

Emma sighed and wrapped her arms around herself. She might as well just rip this band-aid off now. “He’s my…” Emma’s nose began to burn and itch. No. Fuck that. She was not crying again. “He’smyrealfather.”

The room grew quiet again and she hated it.

 “What the fuck?” Peebee was the first to break it.

No one else looked like they knew what to say. And Scott…Scott just looked devastated by the revelation. Like grappling with Alec being her dad was hard enough, but she had forgotten to question who her real father was. Now she wished she had never found out. It was one thing to believe that a total stranger had done this. Now she had to process that someone who was supposed to protect her, killed her mother just so he could have her. So he could use her and twist her to fit his own agenda.

Emma didn’t say anything about it. There really wasn’t anything to say and she honestly didn’t want to dwell right now. She tapped another file and Kennedy’s face was on the screen now. A flash of anger burned in her chest at his face. But she didn’t have time for it. She would just have to squash it for now.

“That’s the man from the vid,” Scott said, looking as angry as she felt.

Just wait. It gets worse.

“This is Kennedy. And this isn’t the first time I’ve dealt with him,” Emma continued on like the revelation about her father had never happened.

“What do you mean?” Scott asked.

“He was on Amaranthine, and before that, he was at the facility when I was.”

“So he…?” he trailed off.

She nodded. “He shot me.” He’s also my brother. But she didn’t say that. That could stay her secret for right now.

In the corner of her eye, she could see Jaal clenching his hand into a fist. His anger brushed against her own.

“So what do we do if we see him?” Cora asked.

Emma shook her head. “Nothing.”

“What!”

“Like hell!”

“I’ll shoot him!”

Almost everyone spoke up at once. She was happy they would want to help her, but she had to make them understand why they couldn’t. No. Kennedy was her burden to handle. And honestly, she wasn’t sure what she was going to do yet. Yes. He had done those things. But he had grown up with only their father. He had been too young to remember their mother. Maybe she could convince him to leave. Maybe there was something salvageable in him. But maybe it was stupid to hope for such a thing. Emma held up her hand to stop them from saying anything more.

“If you see Kennedy, it is imperative that you don’t let him touch you,” she pleaded. “He can manipulate and control your thoughts through touch. If you see him, you let me know.” She took a breath. “In fact, if you see anyone you think might be an experiment you tell me.”

“How many are we talking?” Cora asked, her voice hushed.

Emma shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe twenty. Maybe more. I can’t know for sure who Alec helped come to Andromeda. And if there were people who figured it out on their own. I have their real identities, but not any of their aliases.” Emma ran her fingers through her hair to pull it away from her face. “These people are dangerous, and their powers can be very different than mine.”

“Like?” It was Liam asking this time.

“Super strength, invisibility, pyrokinesis are a few examples. I don’t know who will be on our side and who won’t. It’s better to let me handle it. Even though I’m not at full strength,” she murmured the last bit. She hoped Lexi found a way to deactivate the nanites soon. As long as she was powerless, she was vulnerable.

Emma unplugged the datapads and handed them back over to Lexi. That was really all she had to say for now. If she stayed much longer then she would be bombarded with more questions. Most of them she definitely would not want to answer right now. So before anyone could say anything she turned on her heel and left. It was awkward to say the least. She was happy they said she could stay, but now she had to push to be steps ahead of the project to keep them safe.

Emma veered into the tech lab to grab her boots. The sound of footsteps wasn’t the only indicator that she had been followed. It was the feeling of concerned energy at her back as well. Jaal was right behind her as she stepped into the tech lab. But she didn’t look back at him. She couldn’t. If she saw the concerned look on his face she would lose it…again.

“Emma,” he just said her name. He was several feet behind her to give her space. Part of her hated it. She wanted to be in his space right now. Honestly, she really wanted a fucking hug right now.

“Are you…” he trailed off.

“Okay?” she finished. She paused after grabbing her boots from beside her cot before shaking her head. “No. But I will be.” She sighed. “Eventually.”

She sat down on the bed to pull her boots on. The cot dipped beside her to indicate that he had sat down. He was close now. All she had to do was lean back. He would hold her. She knew that. But Emma kept herself stiff and focused on lacing up her boots. Maybe this is what she should do now. Keep him at arm’s length. That way if she had to leave it would be easier. Bullshit. It wouldn’t be, and she knew it. Realistically there was no way to keep him safe from this. Not unless he sent her away. And she didn’t want to think about how much that would hurt. What she had with Jaal was special. Sometimes it was beyond words.

“Do you—”

“Are you sure?” She cut him off.

“About?” he answered, sounding baffled at her question.

“Me staying here…with you.”

“Why wouldn’t I be?”

She turned to look at him then. “My…these people will do whatever they can to get to me. That means your family is in danger. They’ve already been on Havarl undetected for nobody knows how long? And even if you’re okay with it, what if they’re not? What if your family wants nothing to do with me because of this? Would you be okay then?” She was aware she was ranting, but she couldn’t seem to stop.

“Do you want me to say no?”

That question shut her up. Did she? Is that what she was going for? He didn’t look like he was going to tell her she wanted to hear. Not that she even knew what she wanted to hear. All she knew was she wanted to keep Jaal safe. And she might not be able to do that.

“I know you’re scared, Emma. And I know you think being on your own will keep us all safe.” He reached up to tuck a piece of hair behind her ear. “But I will not push you away. I also won’t tell you that my family wants nothing to do with you because it isn’t true.”

Her nose burned. “How do you know?”

Jaal chuckled, “Because my mother hasn’t stopped e-mailing about you, and she is keeping the others from hassling you.”

She sniffed. “A part of me had hoped that they weren’t here. That I could just have a life.” Her voice wavered, and her eyes filled with tears again. “I just wanted them to leave me alone. Pretty stupid hope. They’ll never let me go.” She choked back a sob.

Jaal reached for her, but she stood up and wiped her eyes. It was hurting him that she wasn’t relying on him. There were pangs of it every time she pulled away or turned her back to him. It made her feel even worse. But she was trying to process 24 years of lost memories and moments she was never allowed to dwell or grieve. It was so much.

“We’re on Elaaden?” she asked but didn’t wait for an answer. “I need to pick up supplies from Ruvea while we’re here.”

“Emma.” His voice stopped her in her tracks. “When is the last time you slept?”

She shrugged. She hadn’t really.

“You need to sleep.”

“I don’t want to sleep,” she answered, quickly.

“Emma—”

“I don’t want to get stuck again,” she cut him off.

He touched her hand, his fingers tentatively interlinking with her own. “You have to sleep. I can ask Vetra if she can pick up the supplies.”

Emma was stiff but allowed him gloved palm to press against hers. Everything was raw, but he didn’t seem to mind one bit. Why? Why was he so accepting of everything? What did she do to ever deserve that? He gently tugged her towards him. Emma could’ve fought it, but she didn’t want to. There was one person she had wanted constantly the past three days. Part of her had thought he would for sure push her away. But he hadn’t. He was always surprising her. Emma sat back down beside him.

His thumb brushed against hers. “I’ll stay right here as you sleep.”

Emma just watched as he pulled one of her legs into her lap to unlace her boots. Once he got one boot off, he reached for the other leg to take off her other boot. She didn’t stop him. She just stared at the side of his face, and the gentle expression on it.

“Why?” she blurted out. “I’ve given you every reason why you should be afraid of me, of being with me. Why aren’t you?”

He touched her cheek, his thumb pressing into her soft skin. “Fear is not even close to what I feel for you Emma.” He pulled away as fast as he had touched her. “But that’s not important right now. You need sleep.” Jaal moved her legs out of her lap so he could stand up.

Without even asking, he shifted her so he could pull the blanket out from underneath her. Emma should’ve argued. She didn’t want to sleep. It didn’t matter that she was exhausted. But she laid down and allowed him to pull the blanket over her. The tech lab was silent as he moved around the room before laying down beside her. Normally, this is where he would reach for her and tuck her into his side. Or she would reach for him. But he was allowing her to decide how close they slept. However, Emma was too preoccupied with what he had said.

What had he meant?

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Emma woke up feeling like her mouth was full of sand. Even swallowing hurt. How long had she been asleep? She opened her eyes and tried to blink the grit from them. The lights in the tech lab were still dim. Had she slept for an entire day cycle? It wouldn’t be surprising after staying awake for three-ish days. The fact that she didn’t have any nightmares surprised her the most. She didn’t remember dreaming at all.

Emma stretched and winced as her back cracked. She must have slept in one position for too long. Looking to the side, she noticed Jaal’s side of the bed was empty. It would be stupid to wonder where he had gone if she had slept all day. He had things to do too. If he wasn’t here, then he couldn’t judge her for not wanting to get up yet. She rolled over to her other side and pulled the covers back up to her chin. There was a water bottle and a protein bar sitting on the tiny makeshift dresser beside the bed. She propped herself up enough to grab the water. She may be tired, but not enough to try drinking while laying down.

With her head tipped back to guzzle the water, hoping it would clear the figurative sand from her mouth, is when she noticed Jaal sitting at one of the tables. Not just sitting there though. His face was turned in her direction. There was a small smile on his face as he watched her with mild amusement. Not that she could blame him. She probably looked like a troll—the doll not a mythical one. Emma still finished the entire water bottle with his eyes on her.

“How long?” Her voice was gravelly.

“Thirteen hours.” He kept his voice low since she was still waking up. She appreciated it.

Unsurprising. Honestly, she was shocked it wasn’t longer. She probably could have full-on hibernated at this point. At least she felt marginally better. Except for the whole trying to push Jaal away and arguing against her own existence on the ship. She kind of felt like an ass about that.

She used her legs to push herself up the bed, so she could lean against the wall. “What did I miss?”

Jaal turned on the bench to face her fully. “Elaaden’s vault is activated. Ryder found pods from the Turian ark and SAM was able to give him a location.”

“So, he found the ark?” Emma leaned forward, interested. For so long everyone had given up on the arks. It was incredible that Scott managed to find another one. Now there was just two to go. But the look on Jaal’s face wasn’t promising.

“It was…wrecked. The Turian Pathfinder didn’t make it.”

Her shoulders dropped. So, it wasn’t great news then. “Oh,” she murmured.

Jaal stood from the bench and walked over to sit on the edge of the bed by her legs. It was entirely too far away as far as she was concerned. But he was still trying to give her some space. Even though he looked like he wanted to touch her. He settled for patting her knee through the blanket.

“I’m sorry,” she muttered.

“What for?”

“For trying to push you away. I was…kind of being an asshole.”

Jaal shook his head. “You don’t have to apologize for how you’ve been feeling. You have had a lot of memories and feelings to process. Considering everything, you’re handling it pretty well.”

She snorted. “Only you would find a way to compliment me for acting like a jerk.”

He squeezed her knee. It wasn’t enough. She wanted to touch him. Emma tossed back the covers. She didn’t know if Jaal was expecting it, or if he was just that good at reading her, but he opened his arms to catch her as she damn near launched herself at him. Her face was tucked into his neck and her legs were across his thighs. One of his arms was wrapped around her lower back to keep her from falling onto the floor. His hand immediately went into her hair to rub the back of her head.

She breathed deep. He smelled like his soaps and lotions. Like honeysuckle and gardenias. He smelled like…her mother. Had she noticed the smell before, but couldn’t remember why it was important? Is that why she had been so drawn to him? No. That wasn’t it. Jaal’s scent was not the only reason she liked him. She liked him because of this. Because he was kind and patient and open. That was why she liked him. Emma burrowed into him.

“If you want to talk about it, I am here.” He pressed a kiss to her temple.

She did want to talk about it. But where to start? There was so much bad that she had dwelled on for the last few days. It had filled her mind constantly. She didn’t want to keep thinking about it all the time. And it wasn’t what she wanted to tell Jaal. So where did she go from there?

“I remembered my mother.” Her voice was muffled because she didn’t move her face.

Jaal didn’t say anything as she began describing her. The eyes that were so similar to Emma’s and her freckles and her pink skin. Emma still didn’t know the name of their species, but right now she didn’t care. At this moment, she was just trying to not get choked up as she described what she could remember. Her efforts were futile as she segued into how she died. Emma told him about how she lost control. Some people probably got hurt, but she didn’t know. In that moment she didn’t care. And she told him about how she cracked an entire street.

Perhaps that was the scariest part about everything. Emma was strong. In the years she had been suppressed she had never learned or been taught how to control her powers. She didn’t even know if telekinesis was the extent of those powers. And she wouldn’t know until it happened. What if Cerberus wasn’t their main concern, but her? There was no one here to really help her with all this. It was just her. And she certainly wasn’t going to seek her “father” out for his help. That was asinine. She was on her own on this.

She fell into silence as she thought about everything. Jaal didn’t push for anything else. More would come out in time. This was something she didn’t want to force on herself. She was content to just sit like this, with Jaal’s fingers rubbing her scalp, and be with him. It was better than being alone again. But there was something else she wanted to tell him.

“My real name” –she pulled back to look up at him— “is Merja.”

“Would you like me to call you that?” he asked.

Emma shook her head. “I’ve been Emma for so long. It would feel like trying to be someone else.”

“Emma it is,” he rumbled and leaned down to press his forehead to hers.

She felt much better than the days before.

The day cycle lights turned on, making her squint. They were so damn bright.

“Emma, you have new e-mail,” SAM informed her, speaking up for the first time in days. Well at least speaking to her specifically. He spoke to Lexi plenty during Emma’s self-imposed exile. She didn’t take it personally. Not when she knew he did it to make her more comfortable with his presence. Although, now that she remembered his purpose, remembered him fully, she was glad to have him with her.

Jaal chuckled. “You might want to wait to check your e-mail.”

“Why?” she asked.

“My mother could no longer hold everyone back. I have no doubt most of those e-mails are from them.”

Well now she was curious and also unsure. Would they really care that much about someone they barely knew? Emma slid from his grasp to plop down at the desk beside their bed. It didn’t take long for Emma to sign in and bring up her e-mail and wow…he wasn’t kidding. So many people had sent her an e-mail. She scrolled all the way down first. Jaal, Scott, Liam, Drack, Peebee, Vetra, Suvi, Jaal, Gil, Cora, Scott, Vetra, Ruvea, Sahuna, Teviint, Lathoul, Sahuna, Baranjj, Sahuna, Lathoul, Akksul (she was shocked at that one), and Sahuna. Emma sat back. He wasn’t kidding. Where would she even start with all of these? She read through a few of them but didn’t answer them. She could do that later. When she was more awake. They were mostly asking if she was alright and how she was feeling. The last e-mail from Sahuna made her eyes water. It was an affirmation that his family still believed she was a good match for Jaal and how they couldn’t wait for her to visit again.

“I don’t understand,” she murmured before turning back to Jaal. “Your family isn’t scared either.”

“Of you? No, they’re not.”

She huffed in disbelief. “I don’t know what I did to deserve all of you,” she said under her breath.

“It isn’t about deserve Emma. You let them know you.” He reached to clasp her hands between his. “I didn’t bring you back alone. They all helped. They care for you.”

She leaned forward to rest her forehead on top of his hand. It was so nice to know that he meant every single word. Emma didn’t have to question his sincerity. “Thank you.” She breathed the words into his skin. Not only did he give her the freedom to be and to feel, but he also gave her the courage to let people in. She would never be able to repay him for that.

But she would damn well try.

~

Emma rubbed her hair furiously with the towel. Another step to feeling normal, well as normal as she could get, after sleeping for twelve hours. The first step was brushing her teeth because jesus her breath was gross. Jaal was waiting for her back in the tech lab. Since the Tempest was heading back to the Nexus, and it was still some time before they got there, the two agreed to just hang out in their room for the day. She wasn’t quite ready to be around everyone at once.

Emma tossed her towel down the laundry chute before leaving the bathroom. She could hear the others in the crew quarters and kitchen. She could even hear Drack’s booming voice in the med bay. It seemed Lexi had come up with another excuse to give him a physical. Emma wondered how long it would take for the doctor to admit she had feelings for the old man. The only person she didn’t hear was Scott. The door to his quarters were shut and it felt like he had a proverbial KEEP OUT sign tacked on the front. Another pathfinder gone, and an ark destroyed must be hitting him hard. He was a lot like Alec in that respect. They were constantly carrying the world on their shoulders.

Emma walked to his closed door. “SAM, is he awake?”

“Yes, Emma. Should I tell him you would like to talk to him?” SAM asked.

Maybe she shouldn’t bother him. Maybe he didn’t want to talk to her. But she wanted to talk to him. Especially considering she hadn’t spoken to him much since Havarl. A few words here and there hardly counted. Besides, that was her brother in there. She remembered every bit of him now. He was family.

“Yes.”

The door to his quarters opened in less than a minute. Emma poked her head in to seem him sitting at his desk. He was staring at his e-mail terminal with a frown etched into his face. It seemed to be something important, so Emma remained quiet as she crossed the room. She sat on the couch and tucked her legs underneath her. After a few minutes of intense deliberation, Scott typed a reply and then sat back in his chair. A heartfelt sigh escaped his mouth. He ran his fingers through his hair, mussing it. His shoulders were entirely too tense. She was sure she was contributing to his stress.

He turned the chair around to face. God, he looked so tired. “Morning.” He tried and failed to stifle a yawn. “What’s up?”

She shrugged. “I just…wanted to see you.”

“Oh.” He nodded. “I see.”

They devolved into silence again. Neither of them really knew what to say. There were so many things they could talk about, but which to go for first?

“That e-mail looked important,” she offered, trying for something light.

“Oh, yeah. It was from Addison. Something about a malfunction and a bunch of colonists randomly coming out of cryo. I think it was just another excuse to bitch at me about needing more colonies.” He chuckled, but it sounded flat.

“That’s kind of weird though. How many people?” she asked.

“Roughly 25-30. She didn’t give me exact information. So, I’ll have to go talk to her as soon we get to the Nexus.” He sighed again. “I’m not looking forward to it.”

“I don’t think anybody looks forward to talking to Addison,” she retorted.

That drew a small, real laugh from him. But it didn’t last long.

“So…you remember your actual family now?”

Emma nodded. “Yeah. It’s…weird.”

Scott sat back in his chair and frowned. His mouth opened and closed a few times like he wanted to say something but kept deciding against it. In the end, his need to know won. “Where does that leave us?”

Her brow furrowed. “What do you mean?”

“I mean you remember your actual family and I…” He grunted in frustration and ran his fingers through his hair again, tugging gently at the roots. “I don’t know what I mean. Fuck.”

“It’s good that I remembered, but that doesn’t change anything between us.” She scooted across the couch to get closer to him.

“How doesn’t it?” he asked.

“No.” She shook her head. “You treated me like a sister way before I even treated you like a brother. You’ve always done your best to be there for me. You brought me on to your ship when I didn’t even remember you, which is probably the dumbest decision you could’ve made, but you did it because we’re family!”

He just stared at her, so she continued. “Cerberus, my piece of shit biological father, they’ve all taken enough! If you want it, we are still family Scott. Getting my memories back just reaffirmed that.”

Scott stood up and held out his hand. When Emma took it, he pulled her into a bone-crushing hug. She was pretty sure she felt tears fall onto her shoulder. But she didn’t say anything. She meant every word. Alec and Ellen were parents to her. Scott and Sara were her siblings. She was a Ryder dammit. It was what she had fought so hard for before coming to Andromeda.

She wasn’t sure how long they stood like this. All she knew was her back was getting stiff. Emma patted his arm and finally pulled away first. He looked better. A little less stressed. Of course, he would stress himself over something like this. Not that she could blame him. It couldn’t have been easy watching someone you love struggling to remember who was important.

Her stomach rumbled making her frown.

Scott chuckled. “Guess we need to eat.”

Emma nodded and stepped back. “Oh! I remembered my real name. Do you want to know it?”

“Uh yeah, I do,” he answered like it was the dumbest question he had ever heard.

“Too bad,” she teased. “I’m never telling you.” Emma turned towards the door to exit the room. Scott followed her out of the room laughing and telling her how unfair she was. Maybe they would make a betting pool out of it.

Emma was glad that was cleared up, but now there was something else bugging her. A weird malfunction that caused almost 30 colonists to just wake up. The system was supposed to be able to prevent such malfunctions. SAM should’ve been able to. Scott was incredibly nonchalant about it despite the possible implications of other malfunctions. Maybe he just wasn’t thinking about that. It just didn’t make sense.

Wake the others.

Emma stopped right outside his door. A frown tugged the corners of her lips downward. It couldn’t be…could it? Scott noticed she had stopped and turned towards her.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“When did the malfunction occur?”

He looked taken aback that she had even asked. “Um, 4ish days ago I guess. Why?”

That’s when they were on Havarl. The day they found the lab. Emma veered off towards the medbay. It had to be a coincidence. Scott was hot on her heels. Lexi was sitting at the desk going through some of the lab reports again. She stood as Emma entered the room.

“Did you record the incident on Havarl?” Emma asked before Lexi could get a word in.

Lexi nodded. “Yes. Is there something wrong?”

“I don’t know. Can you play it?”

Lexi sat back down and clicked through files to bring up the footage. Thank god for Lexi and her inquisitiveness. Otherwise, Emma wouldn’t be able to hopefully prove her current theory wrong. Lexi fast-forwarded through the footage while Emma stared. She saw when Jaal entered the barrier and was trying to talk to her. Then she saw what she was looking for.

“Pause.” She pointed at the screen.

The video paused, and Emma stared at the blobs surrounding her and the others. There was one, it was orange and red—like fire—and it was trying to touch Akksul. Most of them were grey. They looked like shapes made of pure energy. What were they? She saw them in that place too. It was so weird that they manifested in physical space as well.

“SAM can you count how many of the grey ones there are?” she asked.

Boxes around the energy signatures appeared on the screen. “There are 27, Emma.”

She wasn’t liking this, but she asked Lexi to continue playing the video frame by frame. A different light started in the middle of the signatures and it spread through the entire figure. Each of them started lighting up like a Christmas tree. It made Emma’s stomach sink. What she was thinking was pure speculation of course, but it was too coincidental to ignore.

“Why are we looking at this Emma?” Scott asked.

She shook her head not quite believing it. But somehow it felt like the truth. She had to tell him. “I think I woke up the colonists,” she whispered.

“What?” He sounded baffled.

“How?” Lexi asked, looking more concerned than confused. Maybe she thought Emma was losing it.

Emma pointed at the energy signatures changing colors. “When I was in…that place…my mother was there—”

“Your mother?” Scott interrupted her.

“Yes, but that’s not important right now—”

“I’d beg to differ,” he muttered.

“Scott!” She was exasperated at this point.

He held up his hands but remained quiet, so she could speak.

“The point is when I asked her what I was supposed to do now, she told me to wake the others. Then this” –she gestured to the screen with her hand— “happened. I think these are the others.”

“Do you really think that?” he asked.

“Yes.”

He nodded. “Okay. Then we’ll check it out when we board.”

She didn’t think he would agree to something she hadn’t even asked yet. “Really?”

“You’re clearly freaked out about. We should check whether or not you’re right…and what it would mean if you are.” He frowned at that last part.

“If you did somehow wake them, it means you’re somehow linked to all of them,” Lexi mused out loud.

“You sound way too fascinated by that,” Scott joked.

Lexi sighed. “It would help me understand things all of this” –she gestured to Emma— “a little better.”

“You just pointed to all of me,” Emma deadpanned.

“Yes, I did.” Lexi smirked letting Emma know that she was being teased. “Try not to worry about it too much. Even if it is the truth, it doesn’t go further than this ship.”

“Agreed.” Scott touched her arm.

“You guys are being really calm about this,” she remarked.

Scott shrugged. “When it comes to you Emma, I have to be prepared for weird shit.”

~

Emma and Scott walked back from the meeting with Addison. Technically, Scott had met Addison while Emma had hung back so it wouldn’t seem suspicious that she was there. All of the colonists had woken up at the exact same time. SAM would probably match it to the time that she was on Havarl. More specifically it would match to the time of those energy blobs going from gray to a rainbow of colors. Emma just knew it. Even Scott was coming around to her theory. He had the names of the colonists. But now Emma didn’t know where to start. Should she just walk up to them like: “Hey, I’m Emma, also a human experiment, are you one too?” These people were just as desperate for a new start as she was. It wasn’t right to try and out them just because she wanted to know who they were. So, her and Scott decided to just keep it under wraps for now until they could come to a solid decision. They should at least get to wake up a bit before they get bombarded.

The tram ride back to the docking bay was quiet. He had convinced her to visit the science lab with him. The other pathfinders had wanted to speak to him, and Raeka had asked Scott if she could speak to Emma. It was a question that made Emma tense since she probably had a good idea on what it would be about. Regardless, she agreed to accompany Scott. She had shown Raeka some of her power and now she needed to deal with it. She couldn’t run from everything, after all.

Raeka and Avitus were sitting off to the side waiting for Scott to show up. Without drawing much attention to himself, Scott slid into a chair across from them. Emma sat in the only other chair there was right beside Raeka. The three pathfinders leaned their heads together to discuss Meridian. Something neither of them were supposed to be considering since Tann had banned Scott from pursuing the possible fix to all their problems, due to unnecessary risk. She was proud of Scott for discretely saying fuck that. It was good the other pathfinders were on board.

Emma was only halfway paying attention to their conversation. It really was just pathfinder business after all. But they did all agree that the Asari pathfinder was needed for their plan to work. Emma just looked around the room as they hammered out the details between them. Her eyes slid to the opposite corner of the room where a bespectacled young woman was hunched over a small group of plants. Must be one of the botanists. The woman looked up and made eye contact with Emma. Maybe Emma was wrong, but she could’ve sworn something flashed in the woman’s eyes when she made contact. It was probably just the lighting. However, the woman kept staring at her, a frown twisting her mouth. She didn’t look familiar, so Emma was positive she didn’t know her. After a minute of staring, the woman dropped her gaze and pulled up her omnitool. Emma didn’t know what to think about the prolonged eye contact. Maybe the woman was just weird.

Scott sat back looking satisfied by whatever they had decided. Guess that made it her turn. Might as well get this very uncomfortable conversation over with.

Raeka turned to address her. “I never thanked you for helping me escape the Archon’s ship. I am grateful.”

Emma just stared at her moment expecting something else, anything else really. But Raeka didn’t say or ask anything else. She hadn’t realized she had just been staring at the Salarian until Scott nudged her in the side, making her jump.

“Oh! You’re welcome,” she answered.

Scott stood indicating the meeting was over. Wow. Guess people could still surprise her now and then. She followed him into the hallway. They were apparently staying at the Nexus until the next afternoon. But Emma had no idea what she was going to with her time. She knew Jaal was in the Cultural Center. Maybe she would go see him. Not that she could drag him away from the Asari VI if she tried. And she wouldn’t.

Emma heard the doors to the science lab open again.

“Excuse me!”

Her and Scott both turned to see who was addressing them. It was the woman, the botanist in the corner that had stared Emma down for some weird reason. She had followed them out and was standing there, looking incredibly awkward with her hands tucked into her lab coat.

“Hi,” Scott greeted her. “Can I help you?”

But the woman didn’t even look at Scott. Her eyes were focused on Emma. It was intense, and unnerving, the way she was just staring. She looked like she wanted to ask something, but she just didn’t know what the right question was. Another set of doors opened, and she peered around Emma, looking relieved.

“So Hee!”

Emma turned towards the doors leading to the docking bay to see a furious looking woman with chin-length purple hair, stomping her way over. Emma wasn’t quite sure what she did, but judging from the look she was getting, it wasn’t great. Scott looked like he wanted to intervene. Somehow, Emma knew that was a bad idea. There was a suspicion blooming in her mind. She was sure it would take root once she knew who she was dealing with. It was confirmed when the women that had walked in grabbed Emma by the shirt and walked her back to the wall. The muscles in her arms flexed as she lifted Emma like she weighed nothing.

“So Hee, wait!” The botanist looked panicked, she shoved her glasses back up her nose. “I didn’t even confirm if it was her.”

“It’s her.” The woman in Emma’s face clenched her teeth. “I felt her the moment I walked in.”

“You know who I am, but I don’t know you,” Emma snarked.

“You called us, and you don’t even know who we are?” the botanist asked, looking confused.

Emma grabbed So Hee’s hand and uncurled her fingers. So Hee just looked shocked as Emma pushed her hand away and slid back down the wall. Well she found one person with super strength. Although technically they found her. Now she wondered what the botanist could do.

“I didn’t mean to call you,” Emma responded.

The botanist tugged at the braid that held her red hair together. She picked at the strands. “But you did. So, who are you exactly?”

“I think I should be asking that,” Emma muttered.

“You first,” So Hee sneered.

Emma shrugged. “I’m Emma Ryder…001.”

So Hee stiffened. “Ryder? Like Pathfinder Ryder?”

Scott took that opportunity to clear his throat. He had wisely chosen to stand off to the side and not get caught. Both So Hee and the botanist turned to look at him.

“Fuck,” So Hee swore.

He gestured to So Hee. “I know you, don’t I? Lieutenant Park, right? You’re part of the APEX team.”

So Hee nodded. “Yeah, and I’d appreciate it if this didn’t make it back to Kandros.”

“She has enough disciplinary slips,” the botanist chimed in.

“Quiet Maggie,” So Hee hissed.

“Now that you know who I am, who are you?” Emma redirected the conversation back in the direction she needed it to go.

“I’m Maggie…Smith,” she stumbled a bit over her name like she was still trying to get used to it. “I didn’t have a number--my project name was Chimera.” Her voice dropped low as she said the last part.

“I’m Park So Hee. That’s my real name. Everything else is none of your damn business because whatever reason you called us for, I’m not interested.” So Hee rolled her eyes. “I just came to tell you I don’t fucking appreciate it and don’t do it again.”

Maggie nodded along with her. “I just want to live my life here.”

Emma understood where they were coming from. She wanted to just live her life here too. Of course, she couldn’t force them to help her. But they should at least know. That way they could watch their backs. They were safer if Cerberus couldn’t take them by surprise.

“Cerberus is in Andromeda. I think they’re going to restart the project,” Emma warned.

Maggie looked stricken and So Hee looked pissed. But beneath the veneer of anger, Emma could see the fear that reflected in her eyes. She didn’t know what they had been through. Cerberus had more than one facility. Each one had been run differently and by different head scientists. But she had a feeling they were going to be reliving a lot of their experiences now.

“I’m going to stop them. It would be easier with help” –she paused— “but I understand if that’s asking too much.”

“Yeah, you fucking think?” So Hee lashed out.

Maggie sighed. “So Hee—”

“Fuck this.” So Hee stormed back out the way she came.

That was enough of an answer for Emma.

Maggie pushed her glasses up again. “Just…give us time to think about it,” she sounded so small and scared.

Emma nodded. “Of course. You can e-mail me anytime. And not just for…that,” she dropped off, feeling lame for offering. These people didn’t really know her. She doubted they would e-mail her just to talk. But it would be nice to talk to people with similar experiences.

Maggie offered a small smile and ran after So Hee Honestly, that was not how Emma had expected that to go at all. It wasn’t some cool moment where they pledged to defeat Cerberus together. It was just a reminder about what Cerberus had done to all of them. She wasn’t alone in being afraid of them. They all were. Maybe she would have to do this alone.

Scott touched her shoulder. “That was kind…of interesting.”

She chuckled, humorlessly. “Yeah. That’s one way to put it.”

“I’m sure they’ll come around.” He was trying so hard to reassure her.

She looped her arm through his. “Maybe. Until then you could buy me a drink.”

“That’s my girl.”

 

Maggie didn’t have to search for So Hee. When So Hee was upset or angry, she always went to the same place. The one place she could feel comfortable. Right now, that was her apartment. It was the only place she could lock everyone else out if she wanted. But she never locked it for Maggie. Even when So Hee was mad at her, she never locked the door.

So Hee was inside, kneeling on the countertop to reach into one of the cabinets. A half-empty bottle of Jack was clutched in her hand.

Maggie sighed. “I thought you were going to stop drinking in Andromeda.”

“We’ll run out eventually I’m sure,” So Hee retorted. “It would just be the cherry on the shit Andromeda sundae. I’ll stop drinking then.” She shut the cabinet and turned over, so she was sitting on the counter.

“You didn’t have to be a jerk,” Maggie reprimanded gently.

So Hee opened the bottle and flicked the top and Maggie. It didn’t hit her. So Hee was always careful not to hurt Maggie. Not just because they were friends, but because it wasn’t advisable to piss Maggie off. She couldn’t control herself. So Hee took a giant swig before saying anything.

“This Emma chick woke me up from a dead sleep with an unintentional call, and I’m a jerk because I don’t want to join her destroy Cerberus mission?” So Hee sneered.

“You’re a jerk because you’re a jerk So Hee. It’s not like she meant to. She clearly doesn’t know what she is doing either.”

So Hee snorted. “That somehow makes it worse. And she’s the Pathfinder’s sister! I don’t think she’s touchable. She has it easy.”

“You and I both know that isn’t true.” Maggie pulled out one of the dining chairs and sat down. “We know what Cerberus can and will do. None of us are safe.”

So Hee leaned her head back against the cabinets. “What was the point of coming here then?”

“I thought it was because you wanted to bang any new aliens,” Maggie snickered until a protein bar sailed past her head.

“You’re not funny Magnolia,” So Hee drawled out Maggie’s real name, something she knew Maggie hated.

“So Hee, I swear to god I will set you on fire,” Maggie warned. She wouldn’t. And So Hee knew it, but god she hated her real name. She never used it.

“What are we going to do?” So Hee groaned.

“Maybe we should fight back,” Maggie suggested.

“I don’t know. Where would we start?”

Maggie shrugged. “Might want to start with an apology, and then we can go from there.”