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Only On Palaven

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It starts, like many bad decisions, with a dare.

Sara Ryder has a particular weakness for dares, both as someone to whom caution doesn't come naturally, and as one half of a twin-set of mischievous one-uppery. Scott only has to get that look in his eye and she just knows it's on the tip of his tongue, the 'I dare you’ barely out his mouth before she's already all in and ready to go. It's a funny word, 'dare’. Turns something stupid like dive bombing into a Presidium lake outside a fancy cafe into a serious matter of honor.

Liam has that look in his eye right now, more similar to Scott than he knows, and with just the right amount of challenge to his smirk. He slides the shot glass across the bar towards her, holding aloft something small and round with his other hand. “Weird looking, right?” he says, and flicks one across the table at her with his finger. She catches it with a grin.

“Weird,” she agrees, and rolls the small lump of dextro food between her fingers. She's used to weird alien food - she grew up eating a lot of the levo stuff - but this is a particular curiosity. It's small and dense but puzzlingly springy, and it smells like burnt sugar crossed with cat food. “So I just drop it in?”

“Yeah, and then you drink it while it's still fizzing.” Liam tosses his in the air and catches it again, and rolls her eyes. He's cocky now. “Turian delicacy.”

“Really?” Sara squints at her drink, ominous in its own way as it flickers between dark and luminous green, and back down at the small ball of… whatever it is, which is ominous just by virtue of being weird. “Are you sure this is a good idea?”

“Course it is,” Liam says cheerfully, at the same time that Cora lets out a flat “no” and Suvi offers a tentative “maybe you shouldn't -”

“Vortex Lounge takes no responsibility for any personal injury or illness resulting from ingestion of a different chirality drink,” Dutch recites dully from behind the bar, as if bored.

“Liam, I don't know -”

“Ignore him, Ryder, it doesn't work like that. Unless you're allergic to turians or something.” His expression turns sly as he looks at her. “In which case, good to know, right?”

She doesn't rise to the obvious bait, though she also doesn't appreciate the reminder of her probably totally futile crush on their resident turian. She should never had admitted anything of the sort to him, but this isn't the first time he's been sliding shots across the bar and encouraging her to make decisions she'll regret.

“Trust me,” she says airily, instead of dwelling on that too long, “I'm not allergic to turians.”

“Nice,” Gil says, and she leans back to reach over Cora and high five him.

She probably wouldn't have said that if Vetra was there. Probably. It’s hard to know what’ll come out her mouth at the best of times, and around Vetra, it’s anyone’s guess. Subtlety isn’t a skill of hers, she picked that characteristic up from her dad, but where he was forthright in a reliable if blunt sort of way, Sara’s seems to manifest in pissing off people she shouldn’t, and letting someone know she’s interested in them with all the grace of a piano falling out a window onto their head. Cartoonishly bad, in other words. Vetra must have noticed, but luckily, she seems to find it funny more than anything.

Ingesting dextro food is not inherently dangerous, SAM says, the first time its offered anything since she started drinking. SAM tends to stay pretty quiet when she’s socialising. There is no more risk of an allergic reaction than with any other foodstuff, though as you process flavors very differently across chiralities, it may be an unusual experience. She pulls a face.

Liam isn't deterred. “Put your money where your mouth is, Ryder.”

“Hey, no one said anything about money.” Sara pushes the glass away. “Turian delicacy or not -”

Liam grins, leans closer. “Dare you,” he says, and that's all it takes to reawaken that fierce competitive streak she thought only her brother could really provoke. Liam isn't much like Scott in a lot of ways, but in this, they're uncannily similar.

She glares at him. “You're on, Kosta.”

“That's more like it.”

With another glare, she drops the little ball of whatever-it-is into the green drink, the quiet plink of it hitting the liquid only punctuated by Cora's sigh. Liam follows suit and their drinks start to fizz far more aggressively than she'd imagined, frothy and threatening to spill over the edge of the glass. It’s loud as well, hissing alarmingly like an Earth cockroach.

“Er, Liam?”

“Better drink it fast,” he says, and holds his up in a hurried toast. Suvi is peering over with interest as Gil laughs at the look on Sara's face.

“I wonder what kind of reaction that is,” Suvi muses, “it's such a bright yellow. Does anyone else smell sulfur?”

“God, it stinks.”

Gil rubs his hands together with what can only be described as glee. “Fifty credits says Ryder won't drink it.”

Sara opens her mouth indignantly but is interrupted before she can defend herself.

“Fifty says she does,” says Cora wryly in a somewhat unexpected interjection, and Sara shoots her a delighted grin as Gil shakes her hand.

“You can thank me later,” she tells Cora airily, and knocks the drink back determinedly, Liam following quickly behind. It's just bubbles at this point, all the liquid replaced by thick, soapy foam. It takes longer than she expects to clear the glass, and they're both left with a yellow, frothy moustache stuck to their upper lip.

They look at each other in amusement, and then Liam makes an almost retching noise of disgust as Sara shudders and pulls a face. Dutch, behind the bar, wordlessly passes them each a paper napkin to wipe their faces.

“Well?” Gil demands, as Cora holds out her hand in his direction. It's always nice collecting money from Gil instead of handing over your life savings.

Sara scrubs at her lip determinedly with the napkin, but the foam sticks stubbornly. “It's just… soapy.”

“Like shampoo crossed with grass cuttings,” Liam adds.

“How do you know what grass cuttings tastes like?”

“It's the same smell!”

“Ugh, I think it's stuck in my throat,” Sara says, coughing pitifully more for show than anything. She can't resist a little melodrama when she has such an avid audience.

“When will this come off?” Liam demands of Dutch, pointing at his lip.

Dutch smiles placidly. ““Vortex Lounge takes no responsibility for any personal injury -”

“Very funny. How long?”

“I don’t know. With turians, it falls off straight away. I guess it doesn’t stick to their plates the same way.”

“Great,” Sara mutters, prodding at it with a finger as everyone except Liam sniggers into their drinks. Gil looks especially delighted, way too cheerful for someone who just lost fifty credits. Maybe he had another wager with Suvi, it’d be like him to keep his options open. “I guess it’ll keep tingling for a bit, too.”

Dutch frowns. “Tingling? It shouldn’t tingle.”

“Right.” She looks at Liam slowly. “I mean, it’s not really tingling. Is it?”

“Probably all in our heads.”

“Yeah, yeah. In our heads. Probably.” She’s probably imagining all of it, but she feels suddenly a bit woozy. That’s normal, though. She’s been drinking alcohol. It’s probably quite a strong drink. “Do your lips feel a bit, er -”

“Bit weird,” Liam says, and as she looks at him, she can see that his face looks kind of… wrong. Kind of puffy. Like he’s been out in the cold. “I’m sure it’s nothing.”

“Right,” she agrees, and the word comes out a bit muffled. She licks her lips and tries again. “Right. Definitely.” Still muffled, like her lips aren’t the right shape anymore.

God. When did the lights turn so purple in here? It’s like they’re underwater. Something twinkles to the left of Liam’s head, so she reaches out to grab it and her fingers swipe through the empty air. Weird.

Pathfinder, SAM says, I believe you may be experiencing a nonstandard reaction, and I recommend that you seek medical attention -

“Oh dear,” Suvi says, very quietly. ”Do you think -”

Sara swipes again somewhere above Liam’s head. “Hey,” she says, ”come back. Let me get a look.”

“This is fine,” Liam says, “we’re definitely fine.“

“I am one hundred percent fine,” Sara declares loudly, and slams her fist on the bar. “I’ve literally never been better.” She feels like she’s made out of marshmallows. Her face is at least five thousand times its normal size, but that’s okay. She’s the Pathfinder. She can handle it.

“Yeah! We should have another.”

“We should have two anothers,” she says, and reaches out to high five him. They completely miss each other’s hands, and Liam falls out his chair onto the ground where he starts to giggle, Sara joining in as she sways on her stool. “Whoops.”

She barely registers SAM’s: I would not recommend ingesting this substance further, and whatever else it is it says after that. Something something reaction something, blah blah dopamine blah, whatever. She smiles blissfully up at the sparkling ceiling. 

“So while this is honestly the best thing I’ve ever seen and I hate to cut it short,” Gil says with a regretful sigh, “I’m going to call it in now before they do themselves some damage. Cora, can you grab Ryder?”

Sara slithers gracefully from her stool to the floor, wondering when her bones turned to jelly, only to find someone heaving her up by her armpits. The floor is very slippery, and she can’t seem to stand up straight even with their support. It’s very undignified, not to mention completely uncalled for, because she wanted to be on the floor. It had been completely deliberate, thank you very much.

“Unhand me,” she says imperiously to the room at large, “I’m the Pathfinder.”

“The best thing I’ve ever seen,” Gil says fervently. “In my entire life.”

“I’m going to call Vetra,” Suvi says distantly, “I know Lexi’s in theater, I don’t want to disturb her unless we have to.”

“No,” Sara says firmly, “don’t do that.” Her order, like the last, is rudely ignored.

“Good idea,” she hears Cora say, “maybe Vetra will know something about this drink.”

“Don’t,” Sara tries again, and sees that Liam has an arm slung around Gil’s shoulder and is hanging limply but happily off him. She waggles her fingers at him. “Hey, Liam?”

“Yeah?”

“You’ve got something on your lip, right there. Kinda… yellow.”

This sets them both off into fresh giggles as Suvi opens up her omnitool, suppressing a grin. “Hey, Vetra? We’ve got a little bit of situation here, actually, Liam and Ryder tried this weird turian drink and -”

This simply won’t do, Sara thinks crossly, and grabs for Suvi’s wrist, pulling her omnitool towards her mouth.

“Vetra Nyx, good evening,” she says stiffly, trying to be as professional as possible. That's the key to heading off stuff like this. “This is Sara Ryder, human Pathfinder, of the Ark Hyperion. I can confirm everything is fine. Completely fine. Please remain at your post until instructed further, over and out.” Yeah, she thinks smugly, she nailed it. That’ll throw her right off the scent.

“I’m in Sid’s apartment,” Vetra says, somewhere between confused and amused. “Are you… okay?”

Time to change tack. “Vetra,” Sara says confidently, trying to lean casually onto Suvi's shoulder and failing completely, Cora catching her before she pitches back onto the floor. “I'm great. I'm one hundred per cent a-okay. I've never been better, and I'm definitely not allergic to turians. There is absolutely nothing to worry about.”

“... Right. I see.”

Sara’s brain catches up with her mouth just a little bit too late. “No reason!” she says loudly, “no reason to tell you that! It’s not that I’m trying to - it’s just - you’re really tall! I like that! Tall and spiky, but not an intimidating way. Well, yeah, in an intimidating way but a good intimidating way, you know? Wait. I’m not saying -”

Suvi pulls her arm gently from Ryder’s now feverish grasp. “I think what Ryder’s trying to say,” she says, with an apologetic look at Sara, “is that we’d really appreciate you meeting us back on the Tempest.”

“No,” Sara says, “that’s not what I -”

“I’ll be there in five,” Vetra says, definitely amused this time, and Suvi takes another step back at Sara lunges for her omnitool again.

“How about we get you back to the ship?”

“But I wanted another,” Sara says mournfully, and then blinks up as the purple turns even darker, more things twinking at the edge of her vision. “Wait, who turned off the lights?”

"No one's turned off anything, Ryder."

“Oh dear,” Suvi says again, and then the room spirals enticingly as Sara blacks out despite her indignation.

 

-

 

Sara wakes up feeling like she’s had a piano dropped on her face from a high window, so in other words, cartoonishly bad. She groans out loud, long and despairing. Did she - did Liam - they’d been heading to the Vortex to try some new drinks, and she -

“Oh, shit,” she mumbles, and opens her eyes when she hears a chuckle beside her.

“Sara Ryder, human Pathfinder of the Ark Hyperion,” her bedside companion says dryly, “this is Vetra Nyx, requisitions officer to the Tempest , Andromeda Initiative. How’re you feeling?”

“Oh no.”

“Oh yes,” Vetra says with a grin, and then reaches over to winch up the top half of the gurney so Sara can sit up properly. “So, you discovered a Palaven punch, huh?”

“I definitely feel like Palaven has punched me, yes.” Sara groans again. “God, who names a drink that? And what is it?”

“A bad idea, generally.”

“Right.” Sara blinks blearily, gingerly identifying her surroundings as medical bay, and spots Liam on a gurney next to her. “Hey, is he okay?”

“He’ll be fine. He just doesn’t have a SAM to knock him out and slow his metabolism, so he won’t be up and about as soon as you.” Vetra hands her a glass of water with glimmer of amusement in her eyes, and Sara takes it weakly.

“Thanks, SAM,” she says meekly, “appreciated as always.”

You’re very welcome, Sara.

“So the thing about a Palaven punch,” Vetra says, seemingly satisfied once Sara takes a sip of the water, “is that the whole point is to poison yourself.”

What?”

“The green stuff’s supposed to be like the water from a lake near Cipritine, it’s pretty lethal to start with, it was used a chemical dumping ground for centuries before we realised the damage we were doing, and the bomb’s supposed to represent the surrounding rock, and they react the same way this lake eroded a valley through the mountains -”

“You know, humans just pick stuff that tastes nice together. Bam, cocktail done.”

Vetra grins. “It’s actually a pretty popular tourist attraction.”

“A giant, horribly acidic lake?” Sara snorts with amusement. “Only on Palaven.”

“Anyway, the products from the chemical reaction are basically extremely poisonous, but also very intoxicating for turians - and humans too, apparently.” Vetra gestures for her to drink some more water. “What Dutch didn’t know is there’s a second shot to neutralize the first, and that’s where your problems started.”

“Let me get this straight,” Sara says incredulously, “you poison yourself, and then you take the antidote straight away, and for a turian, this is a good night?”

“Well, not right away. You leave it a bit and get good and drunk, and then you take it. It’s a matter of pride to see if you can last the longest before taking the second shot.” Vetra’s mandibles flick outwards as her nose wrinkles. “I never lasted very long, it’s nasty stuff.”

“You’re all nuts,” Sara mutters, reaching up to rub at her temples. “You’re a nuts species. How am I still standing, then? Did Dutch have a second bottle somewhere?”

“No,” Vetra says, “but I did, lucky for you. I’m not a big fan, but I was holding onto a couple of bottles... just in case.” Her grin widens, and Sara can't figure out if she means just in case there's a profit to be made, or just in case Vetra fancies a wild night, turian style.

“Did I say nuts? I mean magical and wonderful.”

“Uhuh,” Vetra says, amused again. “And tall.”

“And -” Sara pauses with the drink halfway to her mouth, trying and failing to come up with an appropriate explanation. She clears her throat. “Yeah. You’re, er. A tall, magical species. Er.” It’s not working, Vetra grinning even wider than before, so she gives up as gracefully she really can, given the circumstances. “Thanks for the save, anyway. I like not being poisoned.”

“Anytime,” Vetra says, eyes still twinkling. “Do you remember taking the second shot?”

Her heart sinks. “No?”

“Didn’t think so.”

“Oh, god.” Sara covers her face with her hands. “What did I do?”

“Nothing, nothing.” Vetra’s grin is still just as wide. “You were just pretty out of it, that’s all.”

She drags her hands down her face. “God.”

“Brodie has it all on his omnitool.”

“I’ll get it off him,” Sara mutters from behind her fingers. “I don’t know how, but I’ll figure it out. I’ll - “ She tries to sit up and winces as her head spins.

“Maybe let the hangover wear off,” Vetra suggests, placing a hand gently but firmly on Sara’s shoulder.

“A poison hangover,” Sara says weakly, and lets Vetra push her back down into a mostly lying position. “At least it wasn’t a sudden allergic reaction, I guess.”

Vetra chuckles. “You were pretty adamant about that.”

“Liam said it’d be fine if I wasn’t allergic to turians, so I thought it wouldn’t be a problem because I hadn’t been allergic to them before.”

“Before?” Vetra’s nose furrows. “You mean - oh.” There’s an small, almost awkward pause as the penny drops and Sara takes a big gulp of water to avoid looking directly at her. When she does change a look, Vetra looks a little flustered, insomuch as she ever does. Interesting. “There’s actually not many people who are allergic to the other chirality,” she says eventually, “Not in my experience, anyway. It’s mostly just an issue when it comes to food and medical care, stuff like that.”

“In your experience - “ Sara starts, and then shuts her mouth abruptly before she embarrasses herself further. “That’s, er, useful to - “ She stops again. “Science is neat, huh?” she blurts out finally, and Vetra grins.

“You should pitch that as the new Initiative motto.”

“That would’ve made a way better poster that the ones they had. ‘Come to Andromeda; science is neat.’ I like it, do you think Tann would - “ She notices Vetra frowning at her. “What’s wrong?”

“You’ve still got some of the foam on your face,” Vetra says, “on your left.”

Sara rubs at her mouth. “This stuff’s like glue.”

“Doesn’t really stick to turians,” Vetra says with a shrug. “No, your other left -”

“There?”

Vetra shakes her head with a grin, then leans over and uses a thumb to wipe something carefully off Sara’s cheek. Maybe it’s because she’s still a bit groggy, or maybe even still a bit drunk, or maybe it’s all six foot six of Vetra Nyx leaning over her when she was only just wondering a minute ago if they’d be allergic to each other, but Sara swoons a little bit. Just a little. She is fervently thankful that Liam is still unconscious.

“There you go.”

“Thanks,” Sara says, her voice way too high and far too close to a squeak for comfort. “And, you know, for un-poisoning me too.”

“My pleasure,” Vetra says with a flutter of her mandibles. “Anyway, I’ll let you rest. Just keep drinking, you had a long time to get good and dehydrated. I know that's more of a problem for humans than turians, so...”

“Noted,” Sara groans, rubbing her eyes. “Something tells me I’ll never live this down.”

“Never,” Vetra agrees, and stands up after glancing over at Liam, who is is still soundly unconscious, but breathing steadily.

“I’m never drinking anything turian every again.”

“Now that would be a shame.” Vetra grins again as she opens the airlock. “Most of them aren’t poisonous, I promise. Some of them are even pretty good.”

“Yeah?” Sara grins. “You got a bigger stash than you're letting on, Vetra Nyx?”

“Maybe,” Vetra says coyly, “if you're asking for a guided tour…”

Sara has a dizzying moment of realization that they might actually be flirting with each other. She wishes she didn't have literally the worst hangover of her entire life, or she'd bask in the moment a bit more. “I guess I am.”

“I’ll drink you under the table though, just a warning.”

Sara puts a hand on her heart, wearing a wounded expression. “Um, excuse me, who has two thumbs and just broke the turian record for longest between deadly poison shots?”

“I'm pretty sure ending up in a medically induced coma isn't breaking any records.”

“Whatever, Nyx. I can handle my drink.”

“Sure, sure,” Vetra says with a gently mocking lilt to her words, pausing by the airlock with a grin. “But you have to think about body mass and blood alcohol content and all that stuff, and thing is... I'm really tall.”

With that, and with an honest to God wink before she disappears through the airlock, Vetra is gone leaving Sara speechless.