Sara forced down a grimace. Evfra's greetings were getting - marginally - more polite. At least he hadn't addressed her as "human" this time. She wondered if the Moshae had had a word with him since arriving back on Aya. "Commander," she replied. "I wanted to thank you for passing on that information about the kett camp on Voeld." Behind her, a few angara were quietly filing out of the room as the sun sank lower in the sky.
"Thanks aren't necessary." Evfra replied shortly, his eyes already back on the array of datapads on his desk. There was a notch between his eyes that signaled what Jaal called "a head splitter." He glanced back up at her after a moment when she hadn't moved away. "Was there something else?"
"Kandros wanted me to ask you about cross-training APEX and Resistance teams. Our teams have been seeing an uptick in kett ambushes and we could benefit from your experience." When Evfra's expression didn't change, she added. "Our teams would be sharing their own training and tactics as well. A lot of them worked in peacekeeping or security back in the Milky Way."
"And now they fight outlaws in Heleus as well?" Evfra asked.
Sara bit the inside of her cheek and took a breath. He is not taking cheap shots at you. That's just how he is. When she looked at him again, Evfra's eyes were narrowed, taking in her reaction. "They fight to protect our people. My point is that training together would allow them to learn from each other. Your Resistance won't be thrown for a loop if they run into outlaws, and our APEX teams will have a better chance of coming back in one piece."
He cocked his head and Sara bit her lip. "Ok. Idioms. Sorry. We learn from each other. Your guys are safer. My guys are safer. We're stronger together."
His voice was dry as sand. "I understood what you said." He pinned her with another one of those inscrutable stares and Sara fought the urge to fidget like a student in detention. "I'll put Kandros in touch with Commander Do Xeel."
"I appreciate it." Sara said. She lingered a moment, frowning at the tension in Evfra's posture. His jaw was clenched and his hands clamped down on the table like a vise. "Can I, um, get you something from the med center?"
He glared at her and Sara tensed. Ok, note to self, that was probably an invasive question. She forced a neutral smile. "Guess not. Thanks for your time, Evfra." Turning, she left his office and headed toward the market. Lexi was on her case about caloric intake again. If she missed dinner three nights in a row, the doctor might tie her to a chair and spoon-feed her.
The angaran woman at the fruit stall was happy to sell her elmohk and something that looked like a Milky Way smoothie and smelled like citrus and cinnamon. "Tajaare," the angara told her. "Half a cup of that will bring you back from the dead."
"After a day like today, I need that." Sara grinned. She tucked the container of elmohk under her arm and caught Vetra's eyes. "Ready to head back to the Tempest?"
Vetra brought up her omni-tool. "Almost. Can you swing by the med center and pick up that antibiotic Lexi ordered?"
Vetra sighed and asked with the long-suffering patience of an elder sibling. "Will you?"
"One of these days you're going to make a smartass remark to someone who doesn't find it endearing, Ryder."
Sara grinned. "Scott mouthed off to Dad one time when we were kids. He had to be about eleven. Dad made him run laps around the lake on the Presidium. Think I've still got the vid somewhere."
Vetra chuckled. "There's an idea. Guess next time you run your mouth we'll have you run around the Tempest until it stops being funny."
"Ouch, Vetra. That was hurtful."
"Yeah, yeah. See you back on the ship."
The tavetaan buzzed with conversation. Sara recognized a few angara from Resistance headquarters, leaning back in their chairs and trading gossip. Drack and Liam bickered amicably by the bar. Sara waved at Roaan as she passed.
Wandering into Resistance headquarters, she paused. The building seemed emptier, quieter. There couldn't have been more than a dozen angara on duty. Sara would bet every last credit and her favorite scarf that Evfra was still in his office, nose to the grindstone. Sara looked down at the container of elmohk under her arm, groaned, and went up the steps.
Evfra didn't look up from his desk as she came in. "Raske, were you able to get confirmation from your team?"
It occurred to Sara that this might be a terrible idea. "It's Ryder, actually." She sauntered toward his desk with a breeziness that was pure illusion.
His eyes flicked from the food to her face. The scars on his face tightened as he asked with biting calm. "Did you need something else?"
Sara set the elmohk and tajaare on his desk and gave him her sunniest smile. It was a habit she'd never been able to break, faking positivity the more stress she felt, filling tense silences. Whenever her father had fumbled for conversation with his children or brooded quietly at the table, whenever her mother was withdrawn and tired, whenever Scott bit his tongue on words that would have started a fight, Sara would keep up a steady stream of bright chatter to contain the oppressive swell of silence.
Most people never saw it for the nervous reflex it was, and instead chalked it up to excessive friendliness. Sara had the sinking feeling that Evfra wasn't most people. "No, I just noticed everyone else down at the tavetaan and it occurred to me that you probably were just going to keep working into the next shift." A knot formed between her shoulders as Evfra met her words with more silence. "It's not a big deal, really. I just thought it was the polite thing to do." She bit the inside of her cheek as the urge to keep babbling rose.
His eyes, star-flecked, cat-like, regarded her with uncomfortable intensity. "You're being - "
"Presumptuous, I know. Again." Sara's smile was beginning to hurt. The words kept tumbling out of her. "I need to work on that. I'll get out of your hair now - goddamn idioms." She flushed and pressed her hands to her painfully hot face. Her fingers tangled in the short locks that fell over her cheek. "Sorry. I'll let you get back to it."
Evfra exhaled in a quiet huff. Great, she'd managed to annoy him again. She started to turn before his voice pulled her back like a hand on her shoulder. "I was going to say 'kind.'"
She looked back at him. Sara had never seen him anything but wary and alert, coldly assessing everything around him. She was still getting the hang of angaran expressions, but he looked almost disquieted.
For once her babbling was restricted to one word. "Oh."
He shifted, stepping back from the desk, and Sara blinked. Evfra was one of the more contained angara she had met. He rarely moved without purpose. "It's not necessary," he said. His words were clipped, brittle.
She clasped her hands behind her back to hide their fidgeting. "I know." She bit her lip before asking, "In angaran culture, am I overstepping?" She'd seen Jaal drop by with food for Gil on occasion when the engineer was preoccupied with the Tempest drive core and lost track of time, so it probably wasn't crossing a line.
Then again, Evfra seemed to have more lines than most angara. Sara forced herself to meet his eyes. The cool scrutiny there made her hands tighten. It was like trying to have a conversation with a glacier sometimes.
"Cultural norms aside, I don't want your kindness, Pathfinder." he said bluntly. Sara's hands clenched tight until her knuckles popped with the force of her grip. Well, I don't know what else I was expecting.
She needed to leave before she started chattering again. "Ok, sure. Like I said, it's not a big deal. I need to get back to the Tempest. I'll let you get back to it."
Instead of the curt "Good." that she was used to, he merely nodded. Sara gave him one last smile, wide and bright and brimming with nervous energy, and beat a hasty retreat to the med bay to pick up Lexi's antibiotic.
SAM's voice filtered into her head through their private channel as she jogged down the steps. "Pathfinder, I am sensing elevated stress levels. Do you require assistance?"
Sara shook her head. "No SAM." She almost tripped on the last stair. Thankfully the guard outside the med center was checking the sights on his pistol when she did. "But I think I might need a psych eval."
"I can contact Dr. T'Perro."
Sara sighed and shoved her hands into her pockets. "It was a joke, SAM. Please don't actually do that."
"You are distressed, Ryder. Why?"
She activated the decontamination station and gave the angaran guard a crooked smile. "Honestly, SAM? Your guess is as good as mine." I should be used to making an idiot of myself by now.