Could somebody fucking dial down the fucking lights?
Sara’s eyes were swimming with tears because apparently they had decided that light was the most evil thing in the world and they needed to cry about it. They burned.
But then again everything did.
Her lungs burned as if she hadn’t been gently breathing all this time. As if all this was much too exhausting, suddenly.
Her arms burned with the effort of holding her body up where she had propped them on the bed, but Sara would rather have died than lain down so soon after she had managed the unthinkable and somehow woken herself up. If she had it her way she would sleep sitting or standing for the foreseeable future.
Her cheeks burned because she was smiling. Through the great gulps of air she drew in between her lips, through the tears, the heartache, and the hurt, she smiled.
She was up. She was awake. Harry kept asking her questions but she couldn’t answer, because this was more important.
Sara rubbed the moisture from her eyes and stared at her hands as she hunched further over so that her legs could support her weight. This was real. These shaking digits, all ten of them, belonged to her. She brought one hand up to let it rest on her chest where her heart was hammering and her lungs were heaving. She could feel it. She could do it. This was her lifting her arm and putting it wherever the hell she wanted to. She raised two fingers and touched them to her throat, to feel the blood pulsing fast, fast, fast against it. She was alive. She had known that, of course.
But she hadn’t known.
There had been no physical evidence of it. No matter how much she raged, cried, or panicked in her mind her body had not responded. No matter how much she screamed nobody could hear her. Were you even alive when you could neither convince your body nor anyone else that you were? Sara had felt like an unvoiced concept. Unreal.
But now here she was. Sitting, no longer smiling but doubling over, and crying, making sounds that even to her own ears didn’t sound human. She’d been wrong in assuming her throat would be unable to form the wails she had produced in her head.
It sounded terrifying. It made her heart squeeze, an automatic response, sending her into another loop and then another, crying because it hurt and crying because it hurt to hear.
The chattering around her had steadily increased and still seemed to keep doubling in volume. What she was doing was probably worrying them. She understood that. Fuck, she was starting to get worried herself. But somehow, now fully awake, limbs, and head, and all, the relief she felt was just as big as the hurt, the frustration, the anger, the bitterness. Like a dam had been broken it all poured out of her. All the months she had spent unable to purge herself of all the fucking things she'd felt, they now took their chance, lest she’d be locked in her body again and they wouldn’t be able to.
It all had to go. Now. She had to flush all these feelings out. Her body had reached its limit.
“Sara? Sara, can you hear me?” Harry asked.
Yeah, I can fucking hear you, but …
No, wait. She didn’t have to think it anymore. She could say it. She could use her lips, and tongue, and larynx and whatnot to talk – but how, when these horrible noises kept pouring out of her? She couldn’t stop them, even though she actually started wanting to. But it was as if the basest part of her, where the little clawed monster and all her dreams and nightmares lived, had taken over and decided that all the feelings stored there needed to be heard first. Whatever else Sara wanted to communicate could wait. And it wasn’t as if it didn’t work. Harry and all the people around definitely knew something was wrong with her, so communication hadn’t actually broken down but still continued. They just had to listen some more before it was their turn.
“Damn, where is Scott? You told me you notified him?” Harry barked, so unlike the man she knew. Seemed like she was really starting to get to him.
“Yes, we did it immediately. He was in a meeting with Director Tann and the others. Maybe he couldn’t get away” a female voice answered nearby. She sounded a lot less shaken than Harry. The woman had to have nerves of steel.
“I wouldn’t care if he had been meeting with royalty. This is more important. Contact him again, tell him she’s in a bad way.”
How funny would that be? With Sara finally awake now, one would think that Scott would find her interesting enough to come see her. Especially, since she was keening like a banshee and probably seemed insane to everyone here. Maybe she had cracked. Maybe the process of waking up, the strain behind it, had made the hair fractures in her mind deepen and she had finally lost it. How funny would that be? Funny in the most unfunny way.
Just as she felt some new sort of hysteria rising in her chest, a hush fell over the blabbing people around her after the swish of a door opening could be heard.
“Sara? Are you hurt? Sara?”
She shouldn’t have missed hearing his voice. She should have told him to go the fuck away, that it was him that hurt her most of all, that he had no right being here.
Instead, weak, she stretched out an arm towards him. Towards her brother whom she loved like the suns and stars combined and whom she needed more than anything right now.
Within a second, her unvoiced wish was granted and there he was. Scott, her wayward brother, who still knew just how to hug her. He wasn’t the tallest or broadest of humans, but Sara was tiny and it was enough. He hugged her tight, breathed warmly, wetly into her hair and slightly rocked her, while she dug her nails into his shirt and hid her face in his bicep.
“Shh, it’s alright. It’s alright, Sara. I’ve got you. Calm down, calm down.” On and on he went whispering to her, words sounding different but all holding the same meaning.
The glaring point of Harry’s flashlight was tiny but just as blinding as the first glimpse of light she’d gotten when she had woken up.
She blinked rapidly after having followed it with her eyes for what seemed to her an obnoxious amount of times and then batted it away.
“Put it down, Harry. I can see. I’m not damaged. You’ve checked three times now,” Sara croaked irritably, throat still raw from disuse and crying.
After Scott had somehow managed to get her to shut up (and what had that even been?) the folks around them, mostly made up of freshly woken cryo people, had dispersed and Harry had started checking her over, clearly afraid that something had gone terribly awry without him knowing.
Not that he was wrong about that but Sara wasn’t sure she wanted to tell him just how wrong he had been about her coma situation. At least, she wouldn’t tell him while Scott was present. Or was it Scott she didn’t want to tell with an audience? Sara was pretty damn sure she wouldn’t be able to keep her emotions in check while doing it.
She felt fragile all over.
“Well, you’ll forgive me if I want to be absolutely sure. Your wake up was …”
“Traumatizing?” Sara supplied wryly. “I didn’t like it much, either.”
Harry shared a look with Scott and Scott’s shoulders fell a little but at the same time, his whole body seemed to tense. Sara could feel it, because she had her leg pressed firmly against his thigh, unable to live without human contact right now. She hadn’t even known how fucking touch-starved she was, but she could see now that it was definitely going to be a problem from here on out.
“What?” she asked them. “Don’t keep secrets, I want to know.”
Harry hesitated until Scott nodded, which made a spike of irritation shoot through her. Since when did Harry need her brother’s permission for anything? She wasn’t his kid or anything. He should have no authority over what details about her body she would get to hear.
“I’m worried that maybe the conversation the two of you had through the SAM implant may have done more damage than we previously thought.”
“With your permission, Sara Ryder, I would like to run diagnostics,” SAM’s voice popped up and Sara stiffened a little, before settling down again.
“You don’t need to do that, SAM. It wasn’t that. The conversation or the connection or whatever. I was upset, yeah. But that’s not why I …” she trailed off, unsure what to call the episode she’d experienced.
“Broke down?” Harry finished for her. “Sara, you screamed and cried for over ten minutes.” He rubbed a hand over his face, which looked tired and worn, as if her fit had cost him years of his life.
Sara felt her face heat and averted her gaze from him to look at her brother, whose eyes had bugged out. His previously crossed arms fell limply to his sides. “Over ten minutes? I came as soon as I heard, but … ten minutes?” he repeated weakly.
Sara pressed her eyelids together hard for a second before slightly shaking her head. “I’m ... It was nothing. I mean, it wasn’t nothing, it was obviously something, but …”
“Nothing?” Scott asked incredulously, interrupting her. “It wasn’t nothing. Have you got any idea how you sounded? I only heard the end of it but it was horrible. It hurt me and I wasn’t the one doing it,” he told her, face turning into something of a grimace.
“Yeah, you weren’t the one doing it, so you don’t know why, either. You have no idea what I went through, with you never coming by, so kindly shut up about what you don’t understand,” Sara snapped, having had enough already and yanking her leg away from his, suddenly unable to stand the touch she had craved only seconds before.
“Mood swings could indicate some sort of trauma,” Harry mused out loud and Sara rolled her eyes.
Yeah, he got that right.
Scott, for his part, looked dumbfounded. “How do you know I never came by?”
Sara felt some sort of dark satisfaction settling in her queasy belly and had to press her lips together to keep them from smiling. “Didn’t think you’d be caught out on that, did you?”
Before he could answer her, a bit of a vacant look washed over Scott’s face and he fixed his eyes on the wall above Sara’s head. After a moment he nodded and said “Will do.”
Sara lifted a brow. He sighed.
“It’s the salarian Pathfinder, Hayjer. He wants to talk strategy. But it can wait for a bit. You’re probably wondering how things have been going. Want me to catch you up?” He grinned a small, crooked smile at her. He probably liked having the opportunity to brag about his exploits and adventures, apparently hoping that she would let the matter of his visits, or the lack of them, drop.
Well, you’re shit out of luck, Scotty.
Sara snorted, which made him frown and drop his smile instantly. With a pang in her gut she almost felt bad, but she couldn’t quite muster the strength necessary to spare his feelings.
“Not really. You go to that meeting and be important. We’ll talk later. I’ll see about convincing Harry to let me stay in Dad’s quarters. I have enough of the medbay.”
Scott frowned and hesitated.
“Go already. We’ll talk later. Come to Dad’s place once you’re done. I’ll be there.”
Her vehement tone made him take a tentative step backwards, before he waved a weird little wave at her (was he nervous?) and haltingly made his way out of the medbay. She watched him go and the farther he went the more he straightened up and the more decisive his gait became. It was impressive to see but also made bile rise in her throat. She was taking away his confidence with her presence or her words. The bigger the distance between them became, the more self-assured he seemed. Perhaps he had been right to stay away if a few snide words from her could change the way he held himself that much.
“I hope you know that there is no way I’ll let you out of here just yet,” Harry said beside her, watching Scott go as well.
“You need rest,” he told her vehemently, crossing his arms and shooting her a determined look.
Sara sighed. “Look, I don’t know how to tell you this. But I’m sick of this place. Of these people. I’ve been here for months listening to their boring chatter and I can’t take it anymore. I need a break.”
Harry instantly turned his body towards her, aghast expression on his face. “What do you mean 'listening'?”
She swallowed drily. “I was awake. Most of the time, anyway.”
Harry slowly opened his mouth but no sound came out.
“Just a few hours, Harry. That’s all I ask. Then I’ll come back.” She was so, so tired of it all. These walls around her felt so restrictive still. Waking up hadn’t made that feeling go away. She wished it had, because she knew she was still weak, probably needed physio, and would have to stay here for a while yet. But she needed to get away for a bit. Just a bit. That would be enough.
Harry’s mouth set into a grim line and he dragged his hand slowly over his face, sighing. “First, tell me everything. Then, we’ll see.”
So, Sara did.
It had taken an inordinate amount of time for Harry to be done questioning her, but now it was over. She’d poured all of it out, had done her best to describe what she went through and Harry, in the end, had taken pity on her.
Now, she had been waiting for about half an hour for Scott and she didn’t anticipate that her waiting would end very soon. Scott was talking strategy, though about what she had no idea, and she didn’t actually begrudge him the time he spent doing that. It was good that he and the others invested some time in this and didn’t jump the gun. A well thought out plan could be the thing that stood between them all and Exaltation.
The way Jaal had described it, it seemed like a fate worse than death, but she hesitated calling it worse than what she’d lived through. Although, thinking about it, once a person was exalted, they could still move and talk, but they weren’t themselves anymore. Sara hadn’t been able to commandeer her body but she had still been Sara Ryder. Was there freedom in not being yourself? Was there confinement in moving? Sara didn’t know but also felt unqualified to judge.
She’d been busying herself with feeling exhausted, which was something that had turned out to be quite time consuming. With Harry’s help she had been able to make it the distance to her Dad’s quarters. He had insisted on driving her there in a wheelchair and she only hadn’t protested because the contraption had been the thing giving her a bit of freedom away from the medbay. He had wrangled out the repeated promise from her to call him if something happened and had tasked SAM with watching over her and pulling rank if she turned out to be too stubborn to ask for help.
Once in her Dad’s quarters she had almost immediately spotted the coffee maker and had felt joyful tears prick at her eyes. God, but she hoped she would stop feeling so weepy. If this was permanent she would be nothing but an embarrassment to the Ryder name. She’d never been ashamed of crying exactly, but … it was coffee. Sure, she loved the stuff, but to actually start crying at the prospect of drinking some was taking things a bit far.
“Sara Ryder,” SAM said like it was a statement but she could hear some hesitation in his voice.
She sighed, taking a gulp of coffee and slowly settling down on one of the leather chairs.
“Better get this over with, SAM.”
“I was not aware of your status. After our connection was severed, both Harry and I thought it best not to try and establish another. Your mind needed time to heal and we were trying to give you that time.”
“But the connection woke me up somehow. Halfway. In my mind, at least. I can’t really remember anything about my coma before Scott and I talked through you, so that must have played some role,” Sara said, a little mollified by the fact that SAM had honestly had no idea. “I suppose checking without risking causing further damage wasn’t possible?”
“Negative. We decided you should be left alone.”
She snorted. “Apt.”
SAM paused. “I did not anticipate the double meaning of my statement. I would like to retract it.”
“Doesn’t work that way,” Sara whispered, but then shook herself and decided to get a grip. The day she made an AI feel bad was a day where she’d obviously overshot the mark.
“It’s o…, I mean, I understand, SAM. It wasn’t done with malintent on your part.” She’d almost said that it was okay, but ultimately couldn’t bring herself to. She lied sometimes about her feelings, as all humans did. She wouldn’t, couldn’t, lie about this.
“It is a fact that I did not act with the intent of hurting you. It has been brought to my understanding, however, that this does not make what happened easier.”
“That’s true. But it still helps to know. It would all hurt worse if you had actually gone rogue or something and decided that hurting me would benefit you somehow.” Though she’d tried for levity with her comment it rang a bit too close to the fears a lot of people in the Milky Way had had about AIs. SAM could do a lot of damage if he wanted to.
There was a bit of silence and Sara almost thought she had scared SAM away. Or perhaps he was occupied with Scott? But it didn’t work that way, did it? SAM could easily concentrate on more than one thing at a time.
“I find myself wishing that I could have helped you. As this is a pointless wish, since the past cannot be altered, I would like to inquire if I can be of help to you now.”
Sara blinked. That sounded a lot like the AI was trying to make amends. A small smile tugged at her mouth and she thought a bit about it. Her mind finally settled on the one topic it had tried to steer clear of since she had woken up. But now she was alone and yearning for some kind of distraction. Now that she had nothing else to kill time with, except running mental circles around what exactly she wanted to say to Scott, her thoughts all congregated, as if drawn by a magnet, around one topic.
“SAM, are there pictures of angara I can pull up on my omni-tool somehow?” She wasn’t sure if something like an extranet had already been established here. Back home she had been able to look up whatever she wanted, but here it would make sense if they hadn’t gotten around to setting something up yet.
“Indeed. I have forwarded several candid shots to your e-mail account,” SAM responded almost immediately. Was it Sara’s imagination or did he sound eager?
She lifted her arm, but hesitated. “Are there any pictures of Jaal on there?”
“If you are referring to crewmate Jaal Ama Darav, then yes. There are several pictures of him currently in your inbox.”
Her heart was starting to hammer. Should she?
“Sara Ryder, your heart rate has increased. Are you in need of medical assistance?”
She shook her head and hastily replied to SAM, before the fire brigade in form of Harry Carlyle could arrive. “No, no. It’s nothing.” She paused, considering. “Jaal visited me often. I like him. The prospect of being able to find out what he looks like was a bit too exciting to me, I guess,” she laughed self-deprecatingly and rubbed her slightly sweaty neck. She was so, so tired.
“The files containing pictures of Jaal Ama Darav are all named accordingly, should you wish to view them first,” SAM retorted helpfully, but Sara had made up her mind.
“No, I’m going to skip those. I want it to be in person, the first time I see him.” She wanted it to be an all-around experience. Until now she’d only known his voice, without any kind of visual. She didn’t want to look at a picture without being able to hear, feel, hell, even smell him. She needed the whole package. Sara wouldn’t be satisfied without Jaal filling all of her senses.
She raised her arm again and opened the newest mail waiting in her inbox. She had countless unread ones, likely from well-wishers. She’d read them later. Taking a deep breath she opened the first picture in the queue named Angaran Male_Aya Market.
Okay, so Sara had no idea what she had been imagining. Actually, she had tried not to imagine much of anything, because the one time she’d done it, she’d come up with a turian, asari, drell kind of monstrosity that she instantly deleted from her memory, because it had looked horrifying. She had no idea how writers or other creative artist people like that came up with the anatomy of new races. She sure as hell couldn’t do it.
But now that she saw what an angara looked like, all she could seem to think was of course that’s what they look like. It simply made sense in a weird, inexplicable way.
Also, they had nothing in common with slugs, which was a relief. Actually, it seemed that Peebee was a trustworthy source concerning things like that.
The angara she was looking at was bright blue with lighter hues of the color sprinkled about his head and down the … ridges? Flaps? … on the side of his neck. His eyes were equally blue and really, really pretty. They looked like stars. Even the slit pupils seemed alluring to Sara.
Less hesitant than before she opened the other files as well, carefully avoiding any pictures containing Jaal’s name in the title. She was not disappointed at all. They came in so many colors, it was really marvelous. There was so much variety. Humans had to use clothing to get some color into their lives but these angara could have run around naked with all the color they displayed. Sara found it simply beautiful and thought that if only some of them were a bit like Jaal it had totally been worth it, them coming to Andromeda. Never knowing a whole people as marvelously vibrant as that would have been a shame.
She looked at other males and females (privately agreeing with Peebee that the males were more attractive), seeing many people but, interestingly, no children. Maybe they didn’t let them leave home? It would make sense if the angara were cautiously guarding their children with a threat like the kett around.
She saw a picture of Scott standing beside another blue male specimen that made her appreciate just how tall and big angara could be. No wonder Jaal had constantly grumbled about the chair. He must have felt like he was sitting on something that was just a little bit wrong for him. Stars, what would she, Sara, look like, standing beside Jaal? How far back would she have to stretch her neck to look him in the eyes? Would she feel small and vulnerable? Or safe? Protected? Maybe both?
It was then that the door swished open and Scott entered with great strides.
“Hey, Sara! I’m all done for the day. I made sure of it. I told the crew that I wasn’t going to join them for poker this evening, even though Gil will probably bitch a bit about it. But I need time with my sister, so they’ll understand that. They all say hi, by the way,” He grinned broadly, apparently having left behind the unsureness he displayed when he had left the medbay.
“Gil, your boyfriend,” Sara stated, shutting away her omni-tool and picking up her coffee again, swallowing the dregs still left in the cup. Her stomach cramped a little and she started to wonder if maybe the coffee hadn’t been the brightest idea she’d ever had.
The corners of Scott’s mouth pulled down. “Oh. Who told you? I wanted to tell you myself. He’s really great, you know. You’ll like him.”
“I’m sure, I will,” Sara answered, evading the question of the who.
Scott frowned. “What’s wrong? Are you okay? Maybe you should still be in the medbay,” he worried while taking the office chair and rolling it to her side, before sitting down on it.
“Harry and SAM are monitoring my vitals. And I’ll go back to my prison after we’re done talking, don’t worry.” Wow, she really was doing a bad job pushing down the bitterness she felt, wasn’t she? Calling it a prison went a bit far, didn’t it?
Her brother laughed, apparently having found his nervousness again. “I wouldn’t call it a prison. Harry isn’t that bad.”
“I’m not talking about Harry. But you’re right. I would think that if I ever went to prison you would deign to show up once or twice. For family day at least or to tell me that my case has made the papers or something.” She’d brought up the prison analogy already, so damn if she wasn’t going to run with it now.
“Why are you so mad? I mean, I get that you’re upset that you couldn’t go out there with me and the others. That must be seriously hard to take, but …”
Sara shot up from her seat only to have to steady herself on the backrest of the chair as a wave of dizziness washed over her. Scott instantly sprung up and took her arm, helping her to settle down again.
“Okay?” he asked, worry evident in his tone.
“Just stood up too quickly,” she muttered putting her palm to her forehead and propping her elbows on her knees.
“Maybe we should get Harry. SAM?”
“The thing is this,” Sara interrupted him loudly before he could contact the doctor. “I was laying there for months. And yeah, it sucks having been out of commission. You know me, I don’t like being idle. I don’t like being useless.”
“I wouldn’t call it –,“ Scott started but she held up a hand to make him quiet.
“That’s what it feels like so I’ll call it what I want. So yeah, that pretty much sucked. But to think … the Tempest docked how often at the Nexus during that time? And not just for one day or so. Whenever you came you stayed for a few of them. And not once, not even once after we talked, did you come visit me. Have you got any idea how that feels?” Sara finally asked him, needing answers once and for all.
Scott sighed, deciding to sit down again. He mirrored her position, putting his elbows on his knees and letting his lower arms dangle between them. “I’m really sorry about that, it was just … You know what I’m like.”
“No, Scott. Right now I really don’t. Please enlighten me. Because I really don’t get what was going through your head,” Sara bit out, trying to meet her brother’s gaze.
He licked his lips and slightly shook his head. “After I talked to you about Dad and Heleus you were so upset. Your face was … twitching, like you were in pain. Like I’d hurt you. The last thing I wanted to do was hurt you!”
Sara stared at him but did not answer. Once Scott understood that she would not respond he grimaced and looked away from her.
“I thought … I thought what if I do something else to you? What if you wake up and you’re angry at me? What if I get the chance to talk to you again and screw up again? I didn’t want to take that chance. I didn’t want to hurt you. If it hadn’t been for me and SAM and that implant you would have been asleep. You wouldn’t have been upset, no. You could have healed and I could have told you all of the bad stuff in person. That would have been so much better. You wouldn’t have screwed up like that, Sara, if you had been in my place. I didn’t want to let you down again, so I stayed away for a bit. And then a bit turned into weeks and after I didn’t go to you during our first visit to the Nexus after our conversation, I told myself I’d go next time.”
“And after that you told yourself you’d come the time after that,” Sara said with a low voice, almost unable to believe that her hunch had been partly right. Scott hadn’t wanted to deal with her, so he hadn’t. Until the problem had been solved by somebody else or faded into obscurity.
She snorted and pressed the heels of her hands against her forehead, which felt slightly clammy. “God, Scott.”
“I’m sorry, Sara. I’m so, so sorry. But this way you could heal. And now you’re awake. I’ll make it up to you, once you’re back on your feet. I’ll show you around. You’ll love it out there,” Scott said, seemingly trying to get some enthusiasm going between the both of them.
That’s what he wanted to do. Show his older sister what all he had been able to achieve without her. She was proud of him, of course. But fuck did it make the situation even worse to know that he low-key wanted to rub her face in what had been achieved without her help.
“So, that’s all it’s supposed to take from you, then? You apologize and then tell me to get over it already so we can go on adventures together?” Sara mumbled, hit where it hurt the most.
Scott looked at her, wide eyed. “I didn’t tell you to – “
“You’re all like ‘hurray, hurray, all is well, why are you behaving like this, Sara?’. Don’t you get how much you hurt me? Don’t you understand? You can’t just make me swallow all my hurt like, like it’s some bitter medicine I have to drink! It doesn’t work like that. I can’t jug down three glasses of misery and be like ‘well, now that’s done’! Letting it sound like nothing doesn’t make it nothing!”
Sara could feel her vision starting to swim, but damn if she would start crying again, now. In a galaxy far, far away, six hundred years ago, she wouldn’t have cared. Scott had seen her snot nosed and crying on the day she’d gotten her period the first time and had actually fucking put away her bloodied pants in the hamper without so much as a word of disgust. Where was that Scott now? She wanted him back. Why didn’t he understand?
Scott abruptly stood up and took a few steps away from the couch, turning his back on her, before angling his body halfway towards hers. “I don’t get why you’re so upset! You weren’t even awake, you didn’t know I wasn’t visiting. Why are you so angry over a technicality? Yeah, I should have visited and didn’t because I felt guilty and decided to take the coward’s way out. So what? You weren’t up, you weren’t –“
“But I was!” she yelled, cutting his self-righteous little speech short and pressing the flat of her hand over her heart where it felt like a thousand splinters were cutting into her with points as sharp as needles. “I was! I was awake almost all the time. I could hear it all. I could hear the machines beeping, and Harry muttering, and the silence all the time, Scott! You don’t know how fucking, fucking silent a room can be when people are talking but none of them are talking to you!” She put her arms around herself, hunching over, unable to stand it all anymore.
There was a pause and then a shaky “What? What do you mean, you –“ from Scott.
“I wasn’t really asleep. Agrypnocoma, Harry calls it.” Sara raised her gaze to look into Scott’s eyes which had gone wide and fearful. He was finally starting to get it. To understand what exactly he had done. “I was there. I couldn’t move a muscle. I was … shut in my body. And you know what that’s like? To be like that for months with nobody visiting you most of the time? I really could have used you there, Scott. I really could have used my brother.” She swallowed and it hurt.
For a moment everything was silent and Sara almost feared that Scott didn’t care after all. That he would say something callous now. That wouldn’t be anything like the brother she knew but maybe he had changed in all these months. Maybe he was someone she didn’t recognize now.
But then Scott made a mourning noise that seemed to come from somewhere deep in his chest and he took some hurried steps toward her until he fell down beside her knees, gripping her hands. Frantically, he looked into her eyes, his irises rapidly flickering from left to right and back again. “I didn’t know that! If I’d known … God, Sara you have to believe me. I wouldn’t knowingly let you alone with something like this.”
She grimaced from the way his words and her pain were pulling at her heartstrings. From the way her body still wanted to dissolve into a crying heap in his arms. “I don’t know what to do. I want my brother, but I also want to be nowhere near you. We’ve never hurt each other like this, I don’t know how to be like that,” she answered, whimper rising in her throat.
His hands on hers started squeezing so hard it hurt. But the hurt was good in a way. It let her know he was really, really there. And then Scott, who had never been very macho, started crying and that was it for her resolve and they sat there, huddled together, crying about all that had happened and the thing between them that hadn’t been shattered by Scott’s stupidity and fear, but definitely displayed some signs of rough use. The bond between them was strong. Had it been fragile, it would have been annihilated. The fact that she still loved him so much, even if this love was suffused with pain and some measure of hatred, even, was a testament to the importance and endurance of it.
Scott had abandoned his earlier position and buried his face in Sara’s belly, somehow wedging himself between the chair and the table, with his arms wound around her middle, where he cried. Sara bent over him, cheek on his back and was staring unseeingly at the walls while her tears fell and both their bodies shook. She could hear Scott intone a litany of Sorries into her hoodie that, despite his callousness, meant something to her.
He really hadn’t known. She was finally certain of that. SAM hadn’t found out and told him. If they had been aware that she was awake inside her mind they would have kept her company. This hadn’t been done out of nastiness. He hadn’t meant to hurt her. He didn’t hate her or wanted to get rid of her.
The last bit she thought with a measure of doubt. It may not have been the prime reason behind Scott not coming to visit, but maybe he really felt smothered by her. It could still be true that, in the back of his head, that feeling had fed into the reasons he had had for not wanting to come to where she lay.
She should ask. She should clear the room once and for all so that actual healing could begin.
But she didn’t want to know.
So, she let it be and hugged her little brother some more as he cried for her.
If her grip felt frantic, then Scott could believe it was because she needed him.
He didn’t have to know it was because she was afraid he didn’t need her anymore.
Afterwards Scott had helped her back to the medbay and under Harry’s disapproving stare, she had settled back into her bed.
Scott had looked worn, hunched over. She’d put another burden on his shoulders with her revelation. The older sister in her was sorry. The twin, who knew they were actually the same age, was not.
Her brother had awkwardly waved, apparently unsure how he should tell her goodbye and promised he would come by tomorrow as soon as his duties would let him.
Now she was lying in bed, lights dimmed to simulate nighttime, and she was staring at the ceiling. Every time she closed her eyes they involuntarily shot open again as fear gripped her. What if she fell asleep only to lose the ability to move her body again? What if this had been a dream? The darkness that surrounded her when she closed her eyes was just too much.
I’ll just never sleep again. Sounds like a solid plan. Well done, Ryder.
Her lids grew heavier and heavier nevertheless. While she was afraid, she was also tired from all the emotional turmoil she had gone through today.
And as she lost her battle against sleep she remembered that she had completely forgotten to ask Scott about Jaal.
Her dreams were made of spidery webs that clung to her skin. No matter how much she tried she could not shake them off. Instead, her flailing and warring made them stick only harder to her skin, hair, and face until she could not move, could not breathe, did not live.
This was not disconcerting at all.
Okay, so nightmares were going to be a thing.
She should have anticipated that. When you went through some kind of trauma, your body tried to somehow work through it. She knew that. Still, she could already see that this was going to be a tough one to shake. Sara physically couldn’t avoid sleeping. She needed sleep to live like any other species. But this also meant that dealing with this situation could not be postponed. She had to immediately get on it, to be functional again asap, and to leave all of this crap far behind in the dust.
The next day brought food, which was when she realized how fucking hungry she actually was. Yesterday she hadn’t been up long enough to eat and she probably wouldn’t have been able to keep much of anything down in any case. But today had her sitting here, shoveling down some kind of nutrient paste, because her stomach wasn’t used to food anymore and she needed to go easy on it. She studiously avoided telling Harry about the coffee she's drunk yesterday.
At least, there had been a flavor packet she had been allowed to put in it. It may still have been some weird, beige gruel, but at least it was weird, beige gruel that tasted like peaches.
Harry had declared her vitals good in the morning after he had woken her up from her dreams at an ungodly time that Sara would maybe have complained about had she been dreaming about something a little more pleasant, and hadn’t felt so grateful for being forced away from them. She sincerely hoped there weren’t any spiders in Heleus.
She had only been awake for about an hour when Scott walked in.
“You’re up early,” she mumbled around a spoonful of peachy stuff.
“Couldn’t sleep,” he answered, getting on the bed beside her and leaning his upper arm against hers. She pressed back a bit, before resuming her meal.
“I couldn’t either.”
“I kept waking Gil up with my turning around and in the end I stayed up and worked on some reports,” he admitted. Sara wasn’t sure if she should be annoyed that he so casually mentioned the boyfriend he had neglected to inform her about or if she should be glad. Hadn’t she been afraid that nobody would want to keep her in the loop once she’d woken up? That people would pussyfoot around her or ignore her entirely? It was good, actually, that Scott was willing to bridge any kind of awkwardness between them by acting as normally as he could. He’d apologized. Now they needed to find a way to move on together and that was something that could not be achieved without talking honestly to each other.
“Aw, you sleep in the same bed,” she gently teased and he shot her a small smile.
“We’re old and married, what can I say,” he responded to her ribbing.
Sara sent him a dark look. “You didn’t actually marry, though, did you? I may not forgive you for that. I’ve had my best man speech planned since we were sixteen.”
“And I mine,” Scott answered shaking his head. “No, we’re not married and I don’t think we’ve been together long enough to even think about that, yet.”
But Sara could see through his rational act and plopped another hearty spoonful into her mouth, lips gently curling around the utensil. “When you’ve found the right person that doesn’t matter, or so I hear. I mean, I’m all for waiting a bit. Making sure. But I think you’re allowed to think about marrying the guy you’re with if marrying is something you’re not generally opposed to. And I know you aren’t.”
Scott didn’t seem to be able to stop the smile that was trying to take over his face. His lips kept twitching and he kept biting them until he finally gave up and bashfully grinned at her.
“It’s nice. Seeing you happy,” Sara told him. She liked that he had found someone, even if it had happened when she had been out of commission. She would have really liked to witness him falling in love, though. Maybe she could ask his crew about it? They likely had some embarrassing stories to share if the ones Jaal had told her were anything to go by.
Speaking of which …
“I have a bone to pick with you,” she told him, which had him instantly alert. She almost felt bad for putting it that way, but she figured he could endure some more teasing.
“Yeah. What is this I hear about this exhibitionist streak of yours? I never knew you were like that. Danger does it for you, huh?” She looked at him innocently but of course he wasn’t fooled.
“What are you even talking about?” he asked, totally confused.
“Boxer shorts on the Nomad? That’s a public vehicle. It’s where people sit when traveling on the job. Your friends had to see that. They may be scarred for years to come.”
A touch of red lit up Scott’s face. Incredulously he threw up his arms. “It was one time. One! We never did it in there again.”
In there. Poor Jaal. He actually might have sat in something.
“Who even told you?” he demanded, making Sara snort and finally putting away her bowl. She hadn’t managed to eat it all, but baby steps, right?
“Why do you want to know? You gonna make them walk the plank?”
“Would serve them right. The insubordination I have to deal with on a daily basis …” He lifted his eyebrows in a what can you do expression and waited for her answer.
“Well, who do you think? Who was it that visited me regularly?” It wasn’t a hard riddle to solve.
“Jaal? Jaal betrayed me?” He seemed genuinely surprised but then huffed a small laugh. “I should have known. He likes to get his fun wherever he can.” Scott let his gaze travel over her, soft expression on his face. “He really came by that often?”
Sara nodded, drawing her legs up to sit cross-legged on the bed. “He did. Told me all kinds of stuff.”
“He read you fairy tales,” Scott added, though it sounded a bit like a question.
Sara smiled fondly at the memory. “He did. He wasn’t too impressed by some of them.” She wondered if that was something the two of them could continue. Reading fairy tales together. Or would that be strange, now that this wasn’t a hurt/comfort situation anymore? “Thanks for telling him that I like them, I guess.”
“You’re welcome, I guess,” Scott answered, making Sara roll her eyes. “I should probably thank him again for doing it. Now that I know what an impact his visits actually had. He’s a really good guy.” And Scott really seemed to like him. Not that Scott had ever had much problems opening up to people. That was more up Sara’s alley with the awkwardness and all.
“He considers you family, you know,” she told him, voice low.
Scott smiled softly. “I know. I got to meet his mothers and siblings and cousins. His home is like a madhouse. There are so many people in his family, I don’t think I remember half their names.”
A pang of jealousy hit Sara in the chest like a lightning bolt. Fuck, but she couldn’t help but feel that it should have been her. She should have been the one meeting Jaal’s family first. It couldn’t mean half as much to Scott as it would have to her. Scott didn’t have these … feelings for Jaal, whatever they were, and he had Gil anyway.
“It was actually sort of nice seeing such a big family. With both Mom and Dad gone and you here. It felt good being around a family again, even if it wasn’t mine.” He put a tentative arm around her shoulders and slightly tugged her towards him until she listed sideways against his form.
Okay, so she was being unfair.
Scott needed comfort, too. And he and Jaal had to have developed a really epic friendship for them to be on such familiar terms. She was being weird, wasn’t she? She shouldn’t be jealous of her brother, who was in a committed and, from the sounds of it, pretty serious relationship. He wasn’t going to steal Jaal away from her. Jaal wasn’t even hers in the first place. And Scott deserved to have all the support he could get. Platonic love was just as important to have as romantic love was, and it seemed that Scott and Jaal had something nice going on between them in that regard.
She couldn’t keep her mouth shut any longer, though.
“Speaking of … uhm. Maybe I should do that. Too. Thank him for being nice and reading to me and all.”
Scott drew his eyebrows together. “Yeah. He would appreciate that, I think,” he said slowly, studying her face.
He was onto her. Oh, god, he was so onto her.
“Great!” she said far too loudly. “Uh ... I mean great,” she repeated in a far more moderate volume. “Do you think you could, uhm, ask him to maybe come by? When he has time? If he has time.”
“Sure,” he replied, licking his lips and tilting his head to the side.
“He doesn’t have to, though. If he doesn’t want to. Make sure he knows that,” she hastily added. Jaal shouldn’t feel obligated. He had already done much more for her than her own family had.
“Okay. I’ll tell him to come if or when he has time and that you were really weird about asking me to tell him.” He grinned.
“You will not. I will murder you.” Fratricide seemed like a viable solution right about now.
“Since this is your second day up I’ll play nice. But don’t think we won’t talk about this later. And also don’t think I don’t know what’s going on here. Lexi will have a field day.”
Oh, yeah, she’d probably given herself away big time, here. What had he said again? That she hadn’t ever had a real boyfriend or girlfriend because she was too awkward and weird to manage acquiring one? That was some great marketing right there.
“Don’t you have stuff to do? I think all the talk about your general importance was highly exaggerated,” she grumbled mulishly.
Scott snorted. “Sick of me already?” His tone was full of humor but she could tell from his expression that he was actually a bit afraid that there might me some kernel of truth in his query. Like he was the one who should rightly worry about that.
“No, but I’m tired again and my stomach is doing this strange thing where it’s trying to tell me that it has forgotten what food is and does not appreciate me putting such things in it. I’ll have to negotiate with it and I need all my concentration for that.”
Before Scott could express the clear skepticism he felt about that, SAM interrupted them. “Pathfinder. Tiran Kandros is interested in your whereabouts. He would like to speak with you.”
Sara lifted an eyebrow. “Duty calls.”
Her brother sighed and reluctantly got up, giving her arm a last squeeze. “Okay, then. I’ll be by tomorrow at the latest. Try not to lose that argument with your belly.” He pressed his lips together in the approximation of a smile.
While she watched his retreating figure she couldn’t help it. She simply couldn’t. “You won’t forget to ask, will you?” she called after him.
“Ask what?” he yelled over his shoulder, making her scramble up onto her knees.
“Scott!” she yelled with a definite warning in her tone.
He simply laughed and wiggled his fingers at her in what could have been a wave or part of an elaborate sign language he had picked up around Heleus.
It could have meant anything.
And then he was gone and Sara let herself fall on her bed, staring up at the ceiling once more.
Her stomach rumbled in agreement.
The thing about wanting to get over something fast is this: whatever trauma you have, whatever ghosts haunt you, they don’t care for shit what you want.
Two days later saw Sara standing in the hallway between the medbay and her Dad’s quarters, clutching the walls and pressing her forehead against the cool material of it. She was breathing hard; all she could hear was the blood pulsing in her ears far too rapidly to still be considered healthy. Air only found its way into her lungs in the form of great gulps that she sucked in irregularly, shakily. The way she drew it in, it should have been enough oxygen, but instead she felt her vision starting to swim.
She wanted to calm the fuck down, breathe normally, but she could not control the hectic way her lungs and throat seemed to spasm. Her body was desperate for air, but in its haste, was scrambling, snatching at the elusive gas with slippery hands and splayed fingers.
On the edge of her awareness she noticed how numb her actual fingers felt where she had curled them into fists against the wall. As slowly as she could, she let herself sink down onto the floor, kneeling, forehead still touching the walls as her hands had been, trying to get some feeling back into them by opening and closing her fingers.
The lights had gone out for a second. Maybe two. That was all it had taken to transform her into this heaving mess on the floor. This had not been the plan, this had not been what she had wanted. Terror was only supposed to come at night when she was trying to sleep. There, she would have been prepared. There, the fear would not have surprised her.
But this? This little blip in the generator of the Hyperion had been enough to take her out.
Panicked tears slowly filled her eyes. She couldn’t stop gasping, even though she knew she had to, knew her brain wasn’t getting enough oxygen like this if the dark spots that had started to dance around her vision were anything to go by. But what she knew rationally and what her body thought it knew, were two different pairs of shoes and her body had decided to not listen to her.
She heard a thin whine escape her throat around her gasps and the sound alone was enough to make her panic even more.
It was then that she felt the warmth of a body at her back, heard somebody talking to her. But it sounded like her head was underwater. She could not make out any sounds, didn’t know who it was. But right now, she didn’t care. She instantly turned around, clutching at the figure, somehow, as if driven by some instinct that still worked even throughout this mess. She found gloved hands and pressed them hard between her fingers, needing something – something warm, alive, to ground her. To show her body that breathing worked differently from what it was doing right now.
The person, whoever it was, drew her closer, seemed to huddle on the floor with her, and gently kept talking to her. They freed one of their hands from her frantic grasp and put it on her sternum, after taking Sara's right hand an putting it on their chest which rose and fell at an almost exaggerated and hypnotic pace. At first, it didn’t seem to work, which almost sent her down another spiral. But then, ever so slowly, so slowly in fact that she almost missed it, she was able to draw her breath in a bit slower, a bit more shallow. Her fingers stopped tingling, needing blood to flow normally through their veins again because of all the firm clutching and pressing they had to do. The fog around her brain lifted and she was able to close her mouth and take deep breaths through her nose. Her head emerged through the waterline and she could hear once more.
Pathetically relieved she let herself fall forward and pressed her face against the hard chest in front of her. Strong arms encircled her a little hesitantly, but for all their hesitance their grip was strong and sure. “Thank you,” she whispered, once again exhausted. It felt like this was the only emotion she managed to return to on any frequent basis since she had woken up. Exhaustion permeated every action she took, be it talking, walking, eating, or trying to sleep.
“You are welcome.”
Sara’s eyes, which she had closed at one point, shot open again and she stiffened. Of all the fucking people …
“Jaal?” she asked, it apparently being her turn to be hesitant.
“Yes?” He sounded confused. Oh, god, oh, god, oh, god …
Of all the fucking people and all the fucking moments and all the fucking situations – this was the first impression she had to make on him? Someone in the universe really had it out for Sara, didn’t they?
She let out a sound that was something between a sob and a laugh and Jaal instantly strengthened his hold on her.
“Is it not over yet? Do you need more time?” He sounded so damn worried.
“No, no. I’m okay now, I’m … The lights went out and I freaked out a little. I didn’t anticipate it and … Shit, I’m sorry.”
She strained a bit against his hold and he took the hint and lowered his arms from around her. Drawing in a shuddery breath she tilted her head back and looked him in the eye for the first time.
In books the moment where two lovers met was always described as something world changing. A heroine met her hero and once she laid eyes upon him the stars realigned themselves, the earth shook, and the planet tilted on its axis. In some especially dramatic versions the sun broke through the clouds of a rainy day and angels sang in cherubic choirs.
Sara didn’t experience any of that. The stars stayed firmly where they had been for eons and the Hyperion did not tilt or shake in any form or measure, which was good because Sara couldn’t have taken another shock today. No. The entire universe did not change.
But after everything that had happened to her, after all the heartache, anger, and helplessness that lay in her past and seemed to lurk around every corner of her future, Sara felt, for the first time since she had woken up, like everything would be alright.
And to a woman that had been through so much worry and uncertainty as she? To a woman that had laid internally quivering in the dark, afraid of all the monsters she could not see, afraid that this state of perpetual motionlessness and darkness was forever?
To a woman like that, this was everything.
“Hello,” she greeted him, small smile curling her lips as she looked into the face of the man who had made it all a little more bearable.
Blinking, he smiled just as slowly back at her and Sara swore she could feel her heart skip a beat.
“Hello, Sara Ryder,” he answered amicably, voice just as rich and rumbling as she remembered.
He was on his knees before her, actively shielding her from looks of any passersby. How nice, she thought. But she shouldn’t have expected anything different.
“I- I bet that’s not how you thought your first meeting with me would go,” she said nervously, wiping away the moisture that clung to the skin under her eyes, made up of equal parts tears and cold sweat.
Jaal let out an overly loud laugh that almost made her flinch and then grin in spite of herself. “No, it was really not.”
“At least you got your hug, right? That’s got to count for something.” Her knees were starting to protest and so she stood up with a bit of a wince and a groan. Jaal wasn’t far behind her and as he stood before her it hit Sara just how big and broad he was. If he stood like this she could hide the whole of her body behind him and nobody would ever know.
“This was not how I envisioned the hug. For one thing, there was a lot less panic involved on your side,” Jaal joked, straightening a bit as she stared at him.
“Don’t like your hugging partners scared out of their minds? Good to know,” she joked back, just so keeping from rolling her eyes at her own lameness. Before he could answer, she quickly added “I was on my way to my Dad’s cabin, before I so elegantly swooned. Do you want to come with? We could talk more there. If you have time.”
He made a thoughtful sound. “I was on my way to the medbay, actually. I have nothing else planned.”
“Okay, then I’ll … lead the way,” she said hastily starting the trek up the hallway and ignoring the few people that had stopped whatever they had been doing to stare at her.
Their walk was silent and all kinds of awkward.
Tension started to creep up into Sara’s shoulders until her muscles low-key started to ache with it. This wasn’t awesome. This wasn’t good. She had to come up with something to tell him. But what? Her brain was so empty, there were actual dust bunnies floating around. When she hadn’t been able to answer him, her mind was figuratively overflowing with words and now that she finally could open her mouth and make words come out of it, something inside of her didn’t let her? What the hell?
After what seemed like forever, they arrived at her Dad’s cabin and she let them in.
“Make yourself comfortable,” she tried to say, looking back at him over her shoulder. But she only made it halfway through the sentence before she ran into the chair Scott had left standing around near the leather chair from the last time they had talked here together.
“Shit,” she cursed quietly, but Jaal’s arm shot out to steady her and she huffed out a laugh that was made up half of annoyance, half of gratefulness. With exaggerated care, she managed to walk around the chair and made her way to the leather one.
“Scott told me you were awake and wanted to see me?” he asked her slowly backing away, one arm still outstretched as if worried that she might do some harm to her clumsy ass again.
Fuck, she wished she weren’t this stupidly fragile right now. This was not the impression she wanted to leave on him. While she settled down on the cushions, Jaal took Scott’s stupid chair.
“Yeah, totally. Uhm. I wanted to thank you. For visiting me,” she managed to get out and blew the hair that had fallen into her eyes away from her face, irritated. The hair stuck to her forehead, which was sweaty, probably both from her panic attack and the way to these quarters. She should have taken the wheelchair again, like Harry had wanted, but in the end, pride had won out.
Her thanks seemed to surprise Jaal by the slight jerk that ran through his body and the way he drew his head back a fraction. “Oh. Scott told you I visited?”
She let out a nervous laugh. “No.” She hesitated.
Sara really hoped this would be the last time she had to tell this story. It was fast starting to become tiresome and, contrary to what she had expected, it did not actually get any easier.
“Remember how you told me that you wished that I couldn’t actually hear you when you came by, because that would mean I was awake and that would be pretty horrifying? Well, it was horrifying.” She drew in a hasty breath through her nose that sounded like a hiss and her eyes widened. “Not listening to you. I mean, listening to you wasn’t horrifying, that was actually the best thing that happened to me all these months, but lying there and not being able to move was. Horrifying.”
For a second, Jaal did not move even an inch. But then he averted his gaze from her and drew a shuddery breath. The muscles in his face contracted a little and he closed his eyes.
“No, don’t cry. Please don’t,” she blurted, instantly scooting towards the edge of her seat and extending a hand, unsure how to handle this. Did angara like to be comforted? Did they like being touched? Maybe there was some taboo about this? But he had hugged her, hadn’t he, so this should be okay? Fuck, she really should have done some research, why the hell hadn’t she?
In the end, Jaal took the decision away from her by taking her hand and squeezing it gently between both of his, just as he had done when she was still lying prone on her bed some weeks ago, and almost as they had done minutes before in a too bright hallway.
“What you went through ... I do not know what to say,” he rumbled out, voice a bit lower than it usually was.
“You don’t have to say anything, Jaal,” she quickly tried to reassure him. She ducked her chin, trying to catch his gaze and he easily let it be caught. “Do you have any idea how much you helped me? I was there all alone. You were the only one visiting me, aside from that one time Peebee came by. It was the one thing I was looking forward to. It was such a nice thing to do. You’re really great, Jaal.”
A small smile graced his face, but his eyes seemed sad, still. “I’m blushing.”
“I can’t tell,” Sara told him honestly and they shared an awkward laugh.
He shook his head slightly and she slowly let go of his hand, feeling that the worst of his shock may have worn off already.
“I just realized that I did not question how you knew that I wanted to hug you. It seems silly now. How else could you have known? But maybe in talking to you I forgot for a moment that it was a one sided conversation we were having.”
Sara bit her lip and leaned back into the cushions, letting the couch take her weight. “It’s nice, in a way. That you were able to forget. I couldn’t.” She tried to sound jovial about it, but she missed her mark by the way the corners of Jaal’s mouth started to pull down.
“I cannot imagine what it must have been like. Darkness is something that can be lethal to angara. We require sunlight to survive. And even though the darkness you experienced was not about the lack of sunshine, too me it seems like the worst kind of nightmare.”
Well, wasn’t that a light note to add to the conversation?
“Yeah, it wasn’t the greatest thing ever,” she mumbled.
“You are downplaying your pain. Why?” he asked her, seeming more affected by what had happened to her than she herself did in the moment. His question stumped her, though.
“I don’t know,” she let out a nervous laugh, but he simply looked at her, sorrow still plainly written on his face. “Making light of it kind of helps deal with it? Constantly thinking about how awful it was would probably make it worse.” She shrugged. “Also, I’m sure you don’t want to hear about it.”
“It is important not to lose yourself in sadness,” he said, nodding. “But talking honestly about it can also help. And I’m not averse to listening. I’m a very good listener.”
Sara opened her mouth, drawing in breath, while slightly shaking her head. Liking her lips she moved her gaze away from him.
“I’m sorry. If you do not want to tell me, I understand. We don’t know each other.” He seemed so earnest, but it looked like her reaction made him retreat further into himself, as if her not wanting to tell him hurt him somehow.
“No, that’s not …” She sighed, a little frustrated with her inability to articulate herself. “It’s not that I don’t want to tell you specifically. It’s that, since I’ve woken up, it feels like I’ve done nothing but talk about it and honestly, I need a break.”
“It hurts you. And it’s a sensitive topic,” he stated, looking at her questioningly. His continued worry lit a candle of appreciation in her chest that was gently starting to warm places inside of her that had felt desolate and frozen of late.
They were silent again and the silence made Sara feel agitated. She had never been a person that needed constant chatter around her. But since her coma, not talking to people, when she finally was capable of it again, felt like a waste. Jaal was here. The man she had been thinking about for weeks and weeks. Why was it so hard to come up with a topic? Was she trying too hard? It all made her antsy and she felt herself stiffening, because of how uncomfortable and oppressive the silence between them felt. In the end, she just blurted out the one thing that came to her mind.
“I talked back. In my head, I mean.” Sara briefly closed her eyes but then decided to just go with it.
“You did? I hope you did not find what I was saying boring.”
Nothing could have been further from the truth.
“No! Not at all Jaal, you’re so … interesting. I mean it. I liked every second of it.”
Maybe someone could shoot her now? Any takers? No?
Jaal chuckled, sadness seeming to slowly leave his shoulders. He looked less weighed down, if that made sense. “You enjoyed the fairy tales?”
She nodded, eager to move on. “Very much. Though, I have to say I liked your reactions to them even more.”
He smiled at her, leaning forward in his seat, putting one of his lower arms on a powerful thigh. Sara hastily averted her gaze, before she started staring at it. “Some of them are quite intriguing. I will be reading more of them, I think.”
“You should definitely read some of the more popular ones, as well. Hansel and Gretel is extremely weird, if you want more of that,” she suggested.
“Two kids get trapped by an old woman in the woods who wants to eat them.” Sara grinned. “I don’t know why, but when I was small I loved that one. I really liked the ending. I don’t know what that says about me.”
If Jaal had had eyebrows they probably would have been pretty far up on his forehead right now. As such, his eyes seemed a little bigger than usual and his mouth was quirked in a funny way. “I see. What moral is this supposed to teach?”
“Stranger danger,” Sara answered wisely and Jaal nodded along with her just as sagely.
“Do you … uhm. Do you have any angaran stories like that I could read? I mean, it’s only fair and I’m interested.”
Jaal perked up immediately and lifted his hand to start up something that looked like a blue, round, incomprehensible version of her omni-tool. “I will search for some, immediately. Liam was not interested in reading them, but I have some stories on here. I keep them on hand to read to the little ones when I’m home.”
Sara tried to imagine Jaal sitting on the floor, surrounded by a gaggle of angaran children, listening to is every word. She had to snap herself out of it, before she made any of the sounds that were trying to claw their way up her throat. She didn’t want to frighten him with the way everything he seemed to do adored him to her even more. Her heart was all gooey now.
“There. Sent.” He expectantly looked up at her.
“Uhm.” She lifted her own arm, looking at her mails, trying to suppress the thrill she felt at seeing his name light up her inbox. “Yeah, got them. I’ll read some in the evening. Thanks.”
“You’re very welcome.” As he shifted in his seat his … poncho, fluttered forwards a little and for the first time, Sara paid attention to the garment. The fabric seemed very thin and it glimmered in the light of the lamp. Though it was blue, there was a slightly silver sheen to where the light hit it.
“I like your … uh …” Sara gesticulated towards it, not sure what exactly to call it.
“My rofjinn? You species seems to be rather fascinated with it. I sewed one for Liam as a gift, because he kept asking if he could wear one, and he couldn’t stop thanking me.”
Sara’s eyebrows shot up. “You sewed him one? Simply because he liked it?”
He seemed rather proud with himself. His chest puffed out a little and he held himself straighter. “I’m very good at sewing. I made the one I’m wearing as well.”
“That’s really impressive. And nice of you, to think of Liam like that.” She would not be fucking jealous of Hang-In-There. She refused.
“I made gifts for all of the crew of the Andromeda. They are my friends. I love them.”
Had Sara been drinking anything she probably would have spit it out right then. Something in her expression made Jaal laugh a booming laugh, shaking his head. The skin around his eyes crinkled a little. Sara felt herself flush.
“Your people always look so shocked whenever this sentiment is offered for someone that is not a romantic partner or family. I’ll never understand it. If you really like someone why not call it love?”
Sara was scrambling for words. “I- I don’t know. I guess it’s ingrained in all of our cultures somehow to express love only on rare occasions or with rare people. I never really questioned why.”
Jaal made a considering noise in his throat that was still colored by amusement. “When I told Scott that I loved Moshae Sjefa, he asked me if we had a teacher student thing going on.”
Sara barked out a laugh. “Oh, my god. Scott, no.”
“The woman could be one of my grandmothers. I love her, yes. But not like that.”
“I don’t know. She could probably show you a few tricks,” Sara told him with waggling eyebrows, which made Jaal laugh again.
“I’ve always valued any wisdom she had to give. But if she ever wants to tell me about any conquests of hers, I will run away.”
“Using your youthful strength against her? For shame, Jaal.”
This was when the ice finally broke and both of them seemed to relax. Talking to someone while they were unconscious or listening to someone while in this state, and developing some sort of attachment to the person one was talking or listening to was one thing. But Sara had felt the pressure to confirm that they would still like each other once they could properly communicate. Only now that they had found out that they could talk without reservation, she noticed how worried she had been about the prospect of him not liking her. But the idea that she would like him less once they could have a conversation had also made her afraid. He had been such a glimmering light in the darkness. To snuff out that light had been almost unthinkable to her. Now, her heart was light, everything was good in the world, and nothing hurt.
They went on like this for a bit. Talking about the Moshae and the intricacies of her rescue, which he had only glossed over when he had told Sara about her before. But in the end, her weariness caught up with her and she kept yawning, until neither of them could ignore it anymore.
“I think I should lie down for a bit,” she told Jaal, slowly getting up from her seat.
“Do you need help walking back to the medbay?” Jaal asked her, likely after having noticed that she was a bit shaky on her feet.
She didn’t want to say yes. She didn’t want him to think that she was a fucking damsel in distress. “Nah. I’ll just have to take it slowly. Very slowly,” she joked, winking at him, but he did not smile.
“There is no shame in requiring assistance. I have noticed that humans often hide their pain, because they do not want to be a burden. I would like it if you would let me help.”
“Well, you’re not tiptoeing around the issue, are you?” she muttered, sighing. But she knew he was right. “Yeah, okay. Please.”
He stepped closer. “Would it would be … easier if you would let me carry you?” He said, sounding highly uncomfortable and averting his eyes.
Sara’s own eyes widened and she actually took a step back. “Fuck, no. I’ll take help if I must, but I want nobody to see me getting carried through the halls.”
Jaal didn’t push the issue further. Instead, he offered her his arm to lean on and she gladly took that.
Slowly, they made their way through the Hyperion, earning a few curious, but not malicious glances from people passing them. They probably were an unusual sight. While the Angara had been a presence on the Nexus for some time, this Angara was probably the only one who had ventured aboard the ark until now.
God, but he smelled nice. What was that? It smelled kind of flowery and fresh. She wanted to bury her face in his chest again. Or at his throat. Maybe she should have let him carry her, after all. That would probably have felt really nice. And smelled even nicer. Damn her pride. But he hadn’t looked comfortable with the suggestion anyway so maybe it was good that she had said no. She didn’t want him to do anything out of some sense of obligation even though he didn’t actually want to do it. Why had he even offered?
“I’m sorry if I appear uncomfortable. Speaking about illness is a … taboo for the angara. But I’m trying to be better about it. For my crew mates, just as they try being more open about their feelings for me.”
Oh. That explained that then.
“It’s okay. I’m not really comfortable about the way I am right now, either. So, you’re in good company,” she panted, already out of breath.
They made it back to the medbay, where Harry was looking at them, with a vaguely disapproving expression. “I’m already regretting it that I told you could walk around for a bit.”
“I know when to quit, mother hen. I’m here, aren’t I?” Sara snarked back, while Jaal helped her to her bed. How sad that it was happening under such unsexy circumstances.
“You’re pushing it and you know it,” Harry told her, turning back to his console.
Jaal only let her go once she had sat down on the sheets and then hovered for a bit, seemingly unsure what to do.
“I will let you rest, now,” Jaal told her eventually.
Sara nodded, reluctant about letting him leave, but knowing that she would be out like a light soon. However, there was something to settle first.
“Would you write to me? When you’re out there again?” she asked, sucking in her lips and nervously eyeing him.
He blinked in surprise. “You would want me to?”
“Yeah, I mean … I’d like that a lot.” She smiled at him, trying at the same time to convey that she’d really like it without giving away how much exactly. It was a hard thing to do and Sara probably failed, but she’d certainly get a gold star for trying her best.
He inclined his head, returning her expression and fuck, it was unnatural how cute she found that close-lipped little smile of his. He looked downright adorable in a sheepish, even kind of boyish way. Sara was so fucked, honestly.
“Then, I’ll gladly do so.” He stepped forward, again, taking her hand in both of his and gave it a strong squeeze between them. When she had been asleep Jaal had been so gentle about it and even in her Dad’s room the pressure was there but still kind of soft. She was glad, that he didn’t think her so breakable that he was worried he might crush her hand between his. That was not the impression she wanted him to have of her. Aside from that, she liked the way it felt. His hands were bigger than hers and the way he held it, her hand disappeared between his. It felt safe. It almost felt as if a slight tingle, a little buzz, was coming from his fingers, but Sara thought she must be imagining that.
“Until next time, Sara Ryder.”
She grinned. “Stay strong and clear,” she echoed the words he had told her all those weeks ago.
The smile he gave her then was much more blinding than the first.
Maybe their first actual meeting hadn’t gone down with any hiccups.
But now she had reaffirmed what she had known in her heart all along.
He was the most beautiful being in two galaxies.
And it definitely wasn’t just gratefulness.