“SAM, how long until we arrive at Eos?”
“Approximately a full day.” SAM paused for a moment. “You do require rest before making planetfall, Sanaa.”
Sanaa didn’t say anything for a moment as the bridge door closed. Her… quarters were just below. It was still hard to shake the thought that it actually hers, not her father's. “I’ll just walk around the cargo bay for a bit. Thanks though SAM.”
“Perhaps you should speak to Dr T’Perro about your sleeplessness?”
“I’ll try the walk first. Slept more than enough on the way to Andromeda.” She muttered dryly as she started down the ladder.
“As you wish.”
It would be the logical choice, Sanaa mused as she reached the bottom and started for the cargo bay. Go see the doc and get something prescribed. But honestly, so many things were running through her mind, she didn’t know where to start.
She was the Pathfinder now and the Nexus had been a simmering hotbed of expectation once word got around. And it got around quick. So hey no pressure, they were running out of food, water and power and needed to get six worlds habitable for at least 100,000 people. Not to mention, hey, while you’re at it, find the turian, salarian and asari arks.
No. Fucking. Pressure.
Sanaa sagged against a storage crate, eyes feeling weary and gritty as she rubbed the heels of her hand against them. She was so close to being a fucking mess and honestly it felt like it was choking her already. The one person she could really talk about this with was in a coma back on the Hyperion and everything rested on her shoulders.
… This was too damned much, seriously why did her dad think she was the best choice. It should have been Cora, who mentored and worked side by side with him. Cora was always ready, got shit done and could handle anything thrown her way. Sanaa honestly felt like she was twisting in the wind, trying to fill shoes she had no hope of ever filling.
And her dad… holy shit, her dad...
She leaned against a storage crate, just trying to keep her breathing steady. In and out, in and out.
“Fuck!” the expletive closely followed the clang of a fallen wrench .
It felt like a hasty struggle to pull herself together. But she followed the sounds to find Liam tucked around the stack of storage crate, shaking his hand as he glared at his jetpack. Judging from the scattered tools, he’d been working on it.
“Oh hey, you’re up late.” Liam flashed her a grin.
“Could say the same.” Sanaa hoped she sounded steadier than she felt, leaning against the crates.
Liam shrugged. “Want this baby up and running for when we reach Eos. It took a hit when I smashed into a boulder.”
Habitat 7. Sanaa nodded, quiet for a few minutes as she looked at it. Liam was peering at her when she finally met his gaze. “You were there when I woke up in SAM node.”
“Yeah. Wanted to make sure you were okay.”
“Thanks for checking on Scott,” silence fell and Sanaa felt like the words were burning, she just had to get them out. “Please tell me how my dad died.”
Suddenly, Liam was rubbing at the back of his head and looking very unsure. The one thing everyone skated around and didn’t tell her about. They'd talk about anything else but that. He was drumming his fingers on the top of the storage crate and Sanaa suddenly felt sick and angry. Couldn’t get a honest answer from Cora for all she had tried and Liam looked like he was trying to think of a suitable excuse. Fucking great.
“Forget I asked.” Sanaa bit the words out as she pushed off from the crates to leave.
“No, it’s just—” Liam followed after her, looking certain now. “Lexi asked us to not tell you. Said it would be undue stress and—”
“Undue stress?!” Sanaa sputtered. “Nobody will tell me shit and all Harry told me is that he died a hero’s death. But that’s a fucking lie because I nearly died and…” she could still recall the bitter thin air that burned as she choked in lungfuls, hoping for oxygen that wasn’t there. Her father couldn’t have died a hero if—
“You’re sure you want to know?” Liam was watching her carefully now.
Sanaa nodded, meeting his gaze straight on. “Please tell me.”
Liam let loose an explosive breath, as if steeling himself. “It wasn’t pretty. When we got to the pick-up site, Alec was already dead. Asphyxiation due to lack of oxygen. You were convulsing and Harry says that if it wasn’t for SAM you’d be dead. Hell, you legit died on Habitat 7. Longest twenty-two seconds of my life, let me tell you,” he paused, rubbing at the back of his neck with a pensive expression. “They managed to revive you, but it was touch and go especially with your SAM implant. It was like, super juiced up, we had to hardline connect you to SAM to handle it properly. That’s why I was there when you woke up; figured you shouldn’t wake up alone and nothing else was gonna happen to you on my watch, not if I could help it.”
Sanaa nodded. “Okay… and… um… his body?”
“We brought him back with us. It’s in the morgue on the Hyperion.”
“Okay. Okay. That’s…” Sanaa found her voice caught in her throat.
“Hey, your dad died,” Liam offered her a handkerchief from somewhere. “You don’t have to be the Pathfinder right now, you know.”
Sanaa opened her mouth to say something but all that came out was a little choked sound and oh God, her eyes were watering and she needed that handkerchief. Right this second. She took it from him as the tears spilled and she couldn’t mop them up fast enough. There were little hiccuping sounds and seriously was that her right now? Shit, she was crying her damn face off in front of her crisis specialist.
Which, in a weird sort of way, maybe wasn’t the worst thing? Warm arms wrapped around her, a solid bulk in front of her and she realised Liam was hugging her.
“Yeah, I know. Been a really rough first few days in Andromeda.”
And wasn’t that the fucking truth of it. She gave a shaky laugh, wiping at her eyes and nose before sniffling out, “Understatement.”
“But hey, we kinda fixed one world. We can do it again on the next one, but not get blasted by a blue cloud. And your brother will bounce back in no time, yeah?”
“That’s what Harry said,” Sanaa sniffed again, blinking away the fresh tears as she slowly inhaled.
“Okay, you hang tight here for a moment.” Liam pulled away, heading up the ramp towards crew quarters.
Sanaa watched as he left. Once the door closed after him, she took in all the tools and such scattered on top of the storage crate.
“SAM, does Kosta have an assigned workspace.”
“Negative. However, the auxiliary lower storage room is available. Do you wish to assign it to him?”
“Yes, thank you SAM.”
“You’re welcome Sanaa.”
Sanaa sniffled as she gathered up the tools and such, taking them into the room. It was pretty bare and empty, with only a screen on the wall by the door and a decent sized workbench through the middle of the room. The muted blue glow of the ODSY drive came through the window and even Sanaa had to admit it was cozy. She brought in the jetpack and tools, resting them on the work bench before dragging in a storage crate to sit on.
The handkerchief was crumpled in her fidgeting fingers when Liam finally came back with a small bottle of something and two cups.
“SAM said you assigned me this room?” Liam sounded confused as he entered.
“You don’t want a room all to yourself?” Sanaa wished her laugh didn't sound so pitchy.
“No no, not complaining.” Liam came over the the storage crate and perched on the edge. “Hey SAM, if Ryder gets absolutely pissed, how quick can you get her fighting ready again?”
“In approximately two minutes.”
“And we reach Eos in…”
“Approximately 23 hours and 30 minutes.”
“Sounds like a plan.” Liam handed her a cup before holding his between his knees and cracking open the bottle. “Now, they told me this was booze. Wanna find out?”
“Wait, wait, wait, what is happening?” Sanaa looked at the cup in confusion and then Liam.
“We’re having a wake.” Liam said it like it was the most obvious thing in the world.
Sanaa laughed but she ended it by biting her lip and inhaling slowly. “A wake, seriously?”
“Yeah, seriously. One where you don’t have to be all, you know, professional for appearance sake.”
“Oh,” well, when he put it like that… “There’s no casseroles.”
"What?" Liam laughed, shaking his head in mock outrage. “I manage to get bottle of this fine, questionable alcohol from somewhere, share it with you in this trying time and you’re complaining about a lack of casserole?”
Sanaa snorted as Liam filled her cup. “Wakes always have way too much casserole. There were so many at Mom’s. We ate casserole for nearly a month and a half 'cause Dad wasn't the best at cooking. Scott can’t see one with getting a pissy look.”
That made Liam laugh. “How pissy are we talking?”
“Like he wants to set it on fire. Hell, once he Threw one across the room. Splatted on the wall, Dad was not impressed.”
“Two biotic kids?” Liam shook his head. “Man, I don’t know how your parents did it. I mean, I was a little shit disturber as a kid. If I had biotics, I think my mum would have pulled her hair out in frustration. I’d’ve done shit like try to fly.”
Sanaa laughed, picturing a small Liam causing biotic mayhem. “Bet your mom was a saint.”
“You know it.” Liam grinned. “So what exactly was your dad like? Cause when I interviewed for this position, he half scared the shit out of me.”
“Yeah, he could be like that.” Sanaa smiled sadly. "But he knew so much."
She couldn’t even say how much time passed. They just slowly sipped at their cups, periodically refilling them and talking about any and everything. How Alec would take her and Scott out camping in the Sierra Nevada, for family time and also to impart some of his impressive knowledge. The trips had dropped off when he reached N7 - so many classified missions - but increased a bit when he became a military attache on the Citadel and she and Scott could manage to schedule time off together. As the years passed, the camping trip became replaced with visits to Ellen whenever they had leave, since Alec was always busy with something. Then the devastating news of Ellen’s terminal disease, that seemed to push Alec away as it drew her, Scott and Ellen closer.
There was something cathartic to just spilling her guts with Liam like this. Hell, he said it: she wasn’t the Pathfinder now. She was just Sanaa Ryder, grieveing her deceased father and letting go of some of her worries and burdens too. Liam listened, talked and kept their cups full. The booze wasn’t quite terrible, but it was adequate enough. It left her feeling warm and pleasantly… floaty. And her tongue was feeling looser than she usually let it be.
“I don’t know. Me being Pathfinder feels like a really big mistake.”
Liam shook his head. “No, no, nope,” he slowly reached for her hand and pressed it to her chest. “Feel that? So long as that beats in my chest, I know you’re gonna do your damnedest to get the job done.”
Sanaa looked down, his hand pressing her own hand to her chest. She let loose a ‘pfft’ that shifted into laughter as she put down her cup and pressed her hand to his chest. It took a moment before she felt the sure, steady thump-thump of his heart.
“Oh, that heart.” She hiccuped.
“Hm?” Liam looked down at his chest, then at her. “Shit, how’d I get that backwards? No wait, did I? Damn, whatever booze this is, it's good.”
Sanaa toppled over, giggling helplessly. After the fit of laughter subsided and she sat up again, she sighed, “This was an excellent idea, Liam. I enjoyed this. The last part and drinking.” Though, speaking of… she sat back up, drained her cup and held it out. “Fill ‘er up.”
“Last one for the road,” Liam sloshed the bottle before pouring it out to the last few drops. “Want a walk home?”
“My quarters are literally straight down the hall.” Sanaa watched as he got to his feet, swaying a bit. “Do you need a walk home?”
“Mmm, yes please.” Liam snickered. “If-If Cora tries to yell at me, maybe you can do some Pathfinder thing?”
“Nuh-uh. She’ll... oh,she'll probably yell at me too.” Sanaa got to her feet and shit, everything was moving alright. “Jesus Kosta, what the hell did you get us to drink?”
“Booze, it fit the bill.” Liam weaved over, looping their arms together. “Catch me if I fall.”
“I’ll probably join you on the floor.” Sanaa laughed, pulling herself up.
They slowly made their way from the storage room, up the ramp to the crew quarter doors and thankfully Cora was nowhere to be seen. The room was dim and quiet. There was just the soft sounds of Vetra fast asleep in her bunk. Sanaa managed to yank the covers back before she tumbled Liam into his bed, thought she half fell in herself. She managed to get his legs under the blankets and half pulled them up.
“That was nice…” Liam mumbled into his pillow. “Next week?”
Before Sanaa could even say anything, he was out cold and face slack with sleep. Sanaa stifled a giggle, carefully making her way through the crew bathroom. When the door opened, she could see right into the galley, where Cora was leaning against the wall, with a cup of something warm in hand.
“Ryder, good.” She approached her, nose wrinkling as she caught a whiff of the fumes. “Why do you smell like… vodka?”
Sanaa blinked, trying to recall. Most she remembered Liam and talking, the booze was just... “Didn’t taste like vodka. Just tasted like booze.”
“You’ve been drinking?” Cora’s disapproval was thick.
“Mmm-hm,” Sanaa nodded as she opened her door. “And since I’m going to bed, I’ll make this perfectly clear: whatever you’re about to yell at me about, do it tomorrow.”
All she heard was Cora’s inhale to say something before her quarter doors closed. Sanaa stripped off as headed for the bed, a trail of clothes left in her wake. She was out like a light as soon as she hit the sheets.