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Like Grains of Sand

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It was almost eerie just how silent the Tempest was in the middle of the night.

Ryder stared down at her mug, the coffee in it that she'd barely even sipped at slowly turning tepid. It had been scalding hot when she'd first made it. She wasn't even sure why she'd gotten it in the first place. Coffee had never been her drink of choice, it was her brother who always—

She flinched, cutting off that line of thought. Her brother was in a coma back on the Hyperion, and nothing she did was going to change that. The last thing she needed just then was to let herself actually think about just how screwed they were. All that would do would be to invite another silent panic attack. The crew already thought she was in over her head, and the last thing she wanted to do was give them yet another reason not to trust her.

She'd done that enough already.

The last few days still didn't seem quite real. It felt like less than a week since she'd closed her eyes back in the Milky Way, not six hundred and some odd years. Add in everything that had happened since they'd arrived in Andromeda just a few days earlier – her brother injured, her father dead, the entire dream that Jien Garson had promised crashing and burning around her – and a part of her couldn't help but wonder if maybe she was still dreaming. Maybe she was still asleep in her cryopod, her mind awake while her body slept.

It said a lot that she would almost prefer being stuck in a neverending nightmare than facing the fact that this could be reality. She'd been so excited to see what kind of future Andromeda held for her. This wasn't what she'd expected, not by a long shot.

The door to the kitchen opened with a soft whoosh.

Ryder's head jerked up, and she found herself staring into a pair of wide eyes. Kallo Jath – the ship's pilot, a voice in her head supplied helpfully, and it took her longer than it should have to realize that it was her own thoughts and not SAM talking on their private channel. She either needed sleep or caffeine. Possibly both.

For his part, Kallo seemed almost as taken aback to see her as she was to see him. She supposed it wasn't that surprising. She hadn't had time to really do much talking with anyone on the crew in the two days since they'd set out, including the pilot. They'd gone straight to Eos, and she hadn't had the time to do anything other than frantically try to fix months' worth of problems down on the planet.

Actually get to know the crew. Yet another item to add to her list. Something else she needed to work on. Another thing where she needed to do better.

"Ryder," Kallo said, the startled look on his face quickly smoothing away. "I thought you would be asleep."

That was all he said, but she could read between the lines and hear the unspoken "it's the middle of the night, why in the galaxy are you awake?" at the end of it. It was fair question, unasked or not. She'd been asking herself that not so long ago.

She managed a weak grin that she knew didn't come close to meeting her eyes. Then she took a sip of her coffee. It took everything she had to swallow the drink and not spit it out. It was much colder than she'd expected it to be, tasting more like slightly sweet tar in her mouth than anything she should be drinking.

It has been almost two hours since you brewed your drink, SAM said. Ryder would have sworn that his voice sounded almost reproachful.

Even her father's AI was judging her. That said everything there was to say about her life just then.

Kallo was still staring at her, his head tilted just a tiny bit to the side as if he was trying to figure something out. Then, without warning, he turned his gaze away from her and instead made a beeline for one of the cabinets.

Ryder watched somewhat bemusedly as he opened the cabinet door and rummaged inside for a long moment before pulling out a mug of his own. With a quiet "ah-ha!" he turned towards the multipurpose device that was being used as a coffeemaker or its non-human equivalent by the crew.

"Isn't it a little late for a drink?" Ryder asked lightly, trying to put some cheer in her voice that she didn't remotely feel.

Kallo's eyes darted rather pointedly at the mug in her own hands.

Ryder felt her face grow warm. Not for the first time, she couldn't help but feel a bit relieved that her skin tone didn't easily show blushing. Or that most aliens weren't that gifted at picking up on human expressions.

Something flickered across his face that she was fairly certain was amusement, there and gone before she had a chance to really focus in on it. "Salarians don't need as much sleep as humans," he said as he reached out to start brewing himself a mug of... whatever it was that he drank.

If anything, Ryder felt her face grow a bit warmer. It wasn't as if this was the first time she'd worked alongside salarians. She knew that they needed less sleep than most other races. Wonderful. Thirty seconds of conversation, and she was already making herself look incompetent.

For his part, Kallo didn't seem to mind. He shot her another inscrutable look that she had no idea how to read before grabbing his now steaming mug and heading back out of the kitchen.

Ryder forced herself to take another sip of her cold coffee. She'd had worse, and she suspected that she would need the caffeine before it was all said and done.


She glanced up. Kallo was still hovering in the doorway, a hint of awkwardness to his posture that she hadn't noticed before. "Yes?" she asked.

"Gil Brodie usually wakes up around now, at least when he bothers to go to sleep at all," he said, his words almost tumbling over each other as they came out in a rush. "If you want to be alone, you might not want to stay in the kitchen."

Then he turned away from her and hurried away. The last thing she saw before the door closed again was him starting to climb the ladder on the nearby wall, carefully balancing his drink in his hand as he did so.

Ryder stared at the closed door for a long moment.

You have had less than six hours of sleep over the past three days, SAM pointed out. While I can augment your abilities, there are limits to my capabilities. Perhaps you should attempt to get more rest tonight?

Yeah," she said, her mind already flashing back to the nightmares that had sent her fleeing from her bed in the first place. "You're probably right, SAM."

She glanced down at the mostly full mug in her hand, the coffee in it long cold. The smart thing to do would be to dump it down the sink and go to bed. She had no idea what fun surprises – and by fun, she mainly meant terrifying and amazing at the same time – that Eos would have to offer in the morning. It was going to be their third day on the planet, and she swore that each day was worse than the one before it.

Going back to bed would definitely be the smart decision.

Then again, her father had always been the first one to tell her that she wasn't the smart one. Why change that now?

Before she could change her mind, she brought the mug up to her mouth and chugged it. She gagged a bit but kept it down, making a face despite her best intentions. "That was foul," she muttered under her breath before standing up and heading over to make herself another cup.

Ryder would have almost sworn that she heard SAM sigh in her head.

"If I can't sleep tomorrow night, I'll let Lexi knock me out," she said reluctantly. It wasn't exactly what she wanted to do, but SAM was right that she hadn't gotten nearly enough sleep since she'd woken up in Andromeda. "Happy?"

That is an acceptable compromise, SAM said with something that sounded suspiciously like dry humor. Either he wasn't nearly as lifeless as she'd thought the last few days, or the sleep deprivation was kicking in and she was starting to hallucinate. It was a fairly even toss which it might be.

Ryder let out a dry chuckle as her coffee finished brewing. She scooped it up and headed out of the kitchen, picking her pace when she heard the sound of the doors down the corridor opening. It sounded like Kallo hadn't been wrong about Gil showing up in the kitchen around that, and she really didn't feel like trying to keep up with him conversation-wise just then. He did a fairly decent job at talking in circles around her as it was.

She didn't even realize she was climbing the ladder to the upper level until she was awkwardly clamoring up to the top. She froze at the top for a moment, a confused frown on her face as she realized what she'd done, before it occurred to her that she’d be clearly visible if Gil glanced up.

Ryder quickly stepped away from the edge, making certain she was out of Gil's line of sight. She even held her breath, despite knowing it wouldn't make any difference, until she heard the kitchen door below her open and close. She relaxed a bit then.

The door behind her opened with a whoosh.

For a long moment, there was silence. She'd almost managed to convince herself that Kallo had headed somewhere other than the bridge to finish his drink in peace before she heard the distinctive sound of someone trying to turn a laugh into a cough.

Carefully schooling her face, Ryder turned around. Kallo was sitting in his usual chair, although he'd turned it around to face her. He was trying – and failing, she couldn't help but notice – to hide his amusement.

Ryder sighed. "Mind some company?" she asked, walking in so that the poor door could close.

She didn't particularly want to talk to anyone, but if she had to choose between Kallo and Gil... well, she'd go with the person she wasn't entirely certain about rather than the one she knew would drive her up the wall just then.

The amusement on Kallo's face immediately faded, replaced by something akin to puzzlement. "Are you sure?" he asked curiously.

"Would I have asked if I wasn't?" Ryder asked, making her way over to Suvi's empty chair. She almost dropped down into it, but the way that Kallo was very obviously trying not to flinch made her pause for a moment.

Ryder looked at him. Then she looked at the chair, tilting her head before glancing back towards Kallo.

"She doesn't like people in her chair?" she guessed.

He nodded.

There was a part of her that was tempted to sit down in it anyway. She was the Pathfinder, after all. Wasn't she supposed to be in charge? But she and the crew were just starting to get to know each other, and the last thing she wanted to do was completely alienate anyone. Not over anything so petty as sitting in a chair.

With a sigh, Ryder changed course and walked towards Kallo instead.

He stared blankly at her. "Where are you—?"

His question stopped abruptly when she sat down on the floor in front of him, her legs cross-legged under her like a child's. He stared at her.

"What?" she asked innocently, taking a sip of her coffee.

There was a long pause.

"You're not what I was expecting," Kallo said finally, still eyeing her a bit warily. Almost like she was something dangerous that he wasn't quite sure whether or not to avoid.

He wasn't the first one to look at her that way. She suspected he wouldn't be the last.

She raised her eyebrows and took another sip of her coffee. It wasn't really her drink of choice, but caffeine was caffeine. And it was a lot easier to get her hands on than any artificial stimulants.

"You were expecting my dad," Ryder pointed out. "We're about as similar as night and day." She grimaced as she realized what she'd just said. "Were. We were."

A flash of sympathy flickered across Kallo's face, and she braced herself for yet another well-meaning platitude. She'd almost gotten used to it over the last few days. It felt like everyone had something to say about her father's death, even people who'd never met the man.

Especially people who'd never met him. They were the ones who seemed to think that he was some larger than life hero who never did anything wrong. The ones who'd met him at least understood why she was so torn about how to feel over his death.

"What do you think of the stars?"

Ryder had actually opened her mouth to give him her standard "thank you for your sympathies but really, they're not needed" reply before she realized what he'd said. She blinked at him in surprise a few times, mouth still hanging open, before she awkwardly cleared her throat and took another sip of coffee. "The stars?"

Kallo took another drink from his own mug before turning his chair a little to the side so that he could look at the scene in front of them more clearly.

She followed his gaze from a slightly lower angle. The galaxy spread out in front of them, the stars in unfamiliar patterns as Eos hung just in front of them. They hadn't thought it would be safe to stay on the ground overnight, not with the kett presence there. But she hadn't really considered what that meant when it came to the view.

Her breath caught in her throat.

"They're alien," Kallo said quietly. "Even after a year here. But—"

"But they're beautiful," Ryder said, just as softly.

Kallo didn't even look over at her, but she saw his mouth turn upwards into a small smile nonetheless. "Yes," he agreed. "They are."

The two of them sank into silence, but Ryder couldn't find it in herself to feel particularly bad about it. Not just then. She'd arrived in Andromeda and immediately been thrown into action. She hadn't even had a chance to look at the stars, to really look at them.

She hadn't even realized how much she missed it until just then.

Ryder had never been a soldier. She'd come to Andromeda for the adventure, yes, but not in the same way that her father and brother had. She had wanted to explore. To see stars that no one else back in the Milky Way had ever seen. To learn. That's why she had left everything and everyone she knew behind her.

And it had taken less than five days in a new galaxy to forget that part of herself.

You appear to be crying, SAM said in her head, a tiny lilt at the end that almost but not quite turned his statement into a query. As if he wasn't entirely certain why it was happening.

Startled, Ryder brought her hand up to her face and gingerly touched her cheek. Her fingers came away wet.

Kallo wasn't looking at her. His gaze was very pointedly focused on the stars, his face somewhat in shadow due to the angle.

In fact, she quickly realized that his gaze was somewhat too pointedly focused elsewhere, at least now that she'd snapped back to the present. But Ryder wasn't going to call him out on it. If he was willing to pretend that the human Pathfinder wasn't having a small breakdown a few feet away from him, she wasn't going to say a word.

She could use all the allies she could get. And if he was willing to turn a blind eye, that definitely made him an ally in her mind.

Still, she wasn't foolhardy. Ryder turned away from him for a few seconds as she quickly scrubbed at her eyes.

"Thanks, Kallo," she said quietly, not quite trusting herself to look at him. "I'd almost forgotten why I came here in the first place."

She heard the sound of shifting behind her, as if he was moving in his chair to glance at her. "You're welcome, Ryder." There was something in his voice that she couldn't quite read, but she very much got the impression that he was saying more than his words seemed to imply.

Maybe she'd get to know him well enough to figure out what he wasn’t saying one of these days.

He didn't say anything else. There were no probing questions, no wary glances, no pointed comments. Just the sound of him taking another sip of his drink and leaning back in his chair to presumably continue watching the unfamiliar sky that surrounded them.

Ryder turned back towards him once she thought she'd gotten rid of the most obvious tearstains on her face. Kallo was still looking away from her, giving her some privacy, and it surprised her just how thankful she was for it. She hadn't realized how much she hated being the focus of everyone's attention until she'd found herself thrust into her father's role.

She let the corners of her mouth turn upward. It wasn't a smile, not a real one, but it was the closest she'd come since the clusterfuck that had been Habitat 7.

Ryder slid a little closer to his chair, leaning against it ever so slightly. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw his gaze flicker in her direction for just a moment, but he didn't say anything.

If anything, her tiny not-quite-a-smile grew a little more genuine.

The two of them sat there in silence, simply enjoying the view. It was nice. Normal. For the first time in what felt like a lifetime, she actually felt like... like... well, like herself.


Ryder didn't realize she had fallen asleep until Liam shook her awake. She let out a yelp and would have tumbled out of the chair she was apparently curled up in if it hadn't been for him grabbing her.

"Careful there, Ryder," Liam said, grinning at her. "You don't want to give yourself a concussion before we even make it off the ship, do you?"

She blinked at him in befuddlement, still half-asleep. "What?" she asked. "I mean, what? Where?"

Before she had a chance to even really look around her in an attempt to figure out what was going on, Liam had picked up a mug of coffee that he must have sat down somewhere and was waving it in front of her nose. Ryder didn't hesitate. She reached out and grabbed it, downing half of it before she even had a chance to register how hot it was.

She then focused on not letting Liam see just how much she instantly regretted that decision.

Liam stared at her wide-eyed. "I guess you needed the caffeine, huh?"

I can repair the minor burns in your throat, SAM said helpfully.

Ryder forced herself to grin and give Liam a thumbs up. "Yeah," she agreed, her voice just a tiny bit too hoarse. "I guess that I did."

He shook his head, a somewhat impressed look on his face. "You should probably get up," he said. "I don't think Kallo's been on the bridge yet this morning, but I don't want to see what he does to people who steal his seat."

She froze for an instant before forcing herself to actually look around. She was apparently curled up in Kallo's chair, a thin blanket that she suspected was from one of the emergency kits in the escape pod loosely draped over her. There was a tiny crick in her back, but she felt surprisingly well considering she'd apparently spent the night slumped in a chair.

A chair that she was almost one hundred percent certain she hadn't been sitting in when she fell asleep.

You fell asleep while sitting on the floor, SAM chimed in, almost as if he could read her mind. She was fairly certain he couldn't. Most likely. Kallo Jath considered taking you to your quarters, but he believed the chances of waking you were too high. He did not think it would be appropriate for the rest of the crew to find you sleeping on the floor of the bridge, however, so he instead moved you to his chair.

That was all SAM said, but Ryder could fill in the rest. Kallo must have left the bridge at some point to make sure that nobody would know that he'd been there when she fell asleep. None of them really knew each other all that well. Who knew what people would make of it? He'd been trying to protect her reputation, the little bit of one she still had at least.

"Coming, Ryder?" Liam asked. He frowned at her. "Do you need more coffee? Are you one of those people who needs lots of coffee in the mornings?"

"Yeah," Ryder said a little distantly as she pushed herself to her feet, barely even listening to what Liam was saying just then, "you're right. I don't want Kallo thinking that I'm trying to replace him as pilot or anything."

Liam snorted but didn't argue.

"Come on," he said, throwing an arm over her shoulder. "Let's get some breakfast." He side-eyed her a bit. "And maybe some more caffeine. You look like you could use it."

This time the day before, Ryder would have immediately shrugged away from his touch. As it was, she stiffened for a second before giving into it and letting him lead her towards the door.

For some reason, the galaxy seemed a tiny bit brighter.