Havarl’s charm was not for everyone. It was a lush, tropical world with a sky that seemed to remain a perpetual deep, dusky purple. Time would drift by with dreamlike inconsequence, marked only by the slight changes in the rhythm of the rain. There was always a relentless downpour, thick sheets of water slicking any available surface with the same ethereal sheen that hovered over all the towering vegetation. It was though Kiasa had stepped into one of Scott’s childhood far-too-enthusiastic coloring books, with imagined vibrancy exploding off of the page and voracious life eating its way out from between the lines.
She tried to push away the thick ropes of hair that plastered to her cheeks as she watched Taavos through the scope of her rifle from a nearby ridge a few thousand feet ahead. Liam and Vetra were jogging to keep up as their Angaran escort pushed forward at a punishing pace, taken over by a trance-like fervor that left him glassy in the eyes and single-minded. She guessed it helped them get to the vault, but when she spoke to him he unnervingly reminded her of the dementia patient that shared her mother’s room in the hospital. Taking a lookout suited her better. Vetra seemed unaffected, her loping step matched Taavos’ with ease, her manibles clicking in interest as she studied him. Their comms were open and she could hear the turian’s relentless questions.
“… I mean it isn’t really Zorai that you’re remembering right? Maybe something subliminal you picked up when arguing with the sages?”
Kiasa smirked to herself and pressed her fingers to her comm button, “Vetra leave the poor guy alone, I think he’s having enough of a crisis as a non-believer already.”
“Ryder, this guy’s been another person before,” Vetra’s voice crackled back, rain shushing them both in the background, “Suvi’s going to have a field day.”
She snorted and brushed a few strands of hair out of her mouth, “I feel like you’re trying to prove him wrong.”
“I’m not. What if this Zorai buried treasure somewhere? Or relics? A priceless cache?” she could almost see the sparkle in her friend’s eye.
“That you can sell? I should have known.” she tried tucking her side fringe behind her ears only to have it fall right back into place, “Avela’s getting any priceless relics before you get to pawn anything off, Vetra.”
“We’re trying to make friends with them.” Liam’s voice came low and frustrated through the line, “We can’t go steal the native people’s sacred stuff. Human history has a lot to say about that.”
“Nothing will be ‘stolen’ that has any cultural significance,” the turian’s mandibles clicked back through the static, “But if there’s a bunch of old weaponry or ‘I heart Havarl’ sweatshirts lying around we could have something better than nutrient paste every night if we trade with the right people.”
“Can someone ask Jaal if Havarl was the kind of place you ‘hearted’?” Liam sounded smug. She had to stifle a giggle.
Vetra ignored the comment, “I can hear your hair in the receiver, Ryder, do you need an elastic?”
“You’re kidding, you found the one I lost in the crew bathroom yesterday?” Kiasa laughed.
“No.” Vetra’s eye roll crept into her tone, “I bought a bunch the last time we were on the Nexus because I know you always forget to bring them out with you. I’ll send one up with Liam.”
Liam’s voice chimed in with false annoyance, “I’m not the errand boy here.”
“Our Pathfinder’s depending on you.” she could hear Vetra rustling through her hip belt.
Liam’s soft “Tch” and his affectionate head shake tugged her lips up slightly.
“Mom!” she exclaimed playfully, “I don’t need you to keep looking out for me.”
“We need to take a break anyways, Taavos needs to think about which direction to head.” she heard some further disgruntled mumbling about her ungratefulness and how hard it was to find basic necessities before the line went silent.
She wiped her hands on her thighs for whatever good that did to help her grip on her rifle. She wanted to like the rain. When she was young it was something she only saw in vids, as the Citadel environmental screens on the Presidium always seemed dead set on being a picturesque walk in the park. It was why she liked climbing in the vents with the children from the wards, slingshotting washers at the mercs below. She was the best shot. Scott was better at warping cups and watching the drunk patrons stumble around confusedly. There was less— constancy amongst the hissing steam, away from her father’s caffeine fueled pencil scratching, equations and code scattered in crinkled paper around him. Her family hadn’t been broken, just— needed some greasing at the joints. Some water in between the cracks to make it all less…
She noticed an Adhi creeping up behind Liam, as he neared the base of her little cliff pocket, its head bent low to the dirt. The droplets reflected light in a way that camouflaged its soft blue scales. She had only seen it because its orb-like eyes had set off a movement sensor on the digital interface of her scope.
“Kosta, your six.” she said, hearing the comm crackle back to life “I’ve got it”.
She watched him turn around, a soft spray of water flying from his shoulders. White light flashed into her field of vision as she felt something hot and sharp in the back of her head.
The way droplets arced off of the white face of his arm guards triggered a memory of tent flaps snapping wildly in the stormy gusts when she went backpacking with her father in the Sierra Nevadas. It was one of the few circumstances before when she saw her father unreserved and laughing, water pelting them both as they tried their best to tie down their tents. His hands would cover hers as she tied the knots so her fingers wouldn’t slip. The whole of the Ansel Adams Wilderness could hear as she and Scott sprinted along the banks of Chittenden Lake in the dark, shins muddy and hands full of edible fungi. They were eighteen years old at the time, and the rain turned them back into children.
She felt her finger tug the trigger, with only a vague sense of where the Adhi actually was and heard Liam shout “Oi!” into the comm.
She shook her head and sat back away from the gun, loosening the straps on her breastplate so she could breathe, “SAM? Was that what I thought it was? This trigger hurt more.”
“Pathfinder,” SAM’s voice rang out in her mind, “It appears you have unlocked the second of your father’s blocked memories. You can access it in SAM node on the Hyperion.”
“Noted.” she heard the sizzle and pop of a jump jet nearing, “Um, SAM, did I hit our crisis specialist?”
“May as well have.” Liam rose into view and hovered for a few moments before her and she reached a hand out to pull him onto the ledge.
“Would you like to have a targeting training module loaded and waiting for you upon your return to the Tempest?” SAM’s monotone almost sounded dry. It was also broadcast to the open channel and Liam snickered.
“Hilarious, SAM.” she sighed, “Keep it up.”
Liam squeezed in beside her on the tiny rock shelf, his side pressed flush against hers as he rested his elbows on his knees, “You’re the best shot I’ve ever met and you missed me by a hair. You okay?”
She huffed, “You sound less mad than you should be.”
He shrugged, “Figured if you wanted to off me for saying something too annoying you would’ve already. Plus, I’m in a good mood. I like the rain.”
“Jury’s still out on the rain for me.” she began pulling back the sodden locks of hair into a high ponytail and found Liam’s open palm in front of her with two elastics, one black and one a familiar light blue, “I thought Vetra only had one?”
“Yeah” he smiled proudly, flashing teeth, “But I found the one you lost in the bathroom yesterday, by the shower drain.”
“No way!” she picked up the light blue one and wound it around her hair, “I was wearing it when I went into cryo. It made it all the way from the Milky Way with me.”
“So you’re sentimental?” his smile softened but also grew. He wore his heart so plainly and unafraid, it was strange to her.
“As much as you can be without ending up in a dark place knowing you can’t go back,” she said, flinching at the inadvertent disappointment in her tone.
“We’re working on it, Pathfinder.” he said warmly, somehow ever the optimist, “You’re trying to save a dying planet right now! That’s hero stuff.”
“That’s the basic job description.” she said, waving his compliment off, “I’m pretty sure Dad expected it to be working out better than this.”
“So you didn’t answer my question,” he raised his eyebrows, “But it sounds like you’re definitely not okay. I recognized the ‘memory trigger face’ when I got up here.”
She nudged him with her shoulder, “It was a good flashback this time, but sometimes the aftermath is just weird— nostalgia.”
“I get the nostalgia, but I won’t try to pretend I know the splitting headache.” he leaned his head back against the rough face of the rock behind them , “What’s got you about the rain, then? Alec’s monumental expectations?”
“Camping.” she replied more quietly than she intended, “Dad, Scott and I got caught in a thunderstorm in the Sierras and for some reason we all just decided we were going to stick it out.”
“Damn, the Ryder spirit is really something.” he looked at her with an embarrassing sort of softness, “Always chasing something reckless.”
“Yeah it’s probably a bloodline thing” she felt the nostalgia become less heavy in her chest, “Pathfinder doesn’t fit right with me though.”
“You’re doing a massively good job wearing it so far, Eos was a big win.” he leaned forward and retrieved her sniper rifle from its stand, popping the heat sinks, “But if it makes you feel better, something less title-y then?”
“I guess?” she met his eyes, “You have something in mind?”
“Starchaser.” he said without hesitation.
She choked on a laugh, “What?”
“Look the whole ‘Initiative needs you, you’re our only hope’ thing gets you down, I’ve seen it.” he said, seriousness firm in his tone, “But you are something special. I’ve seen your whole face light up when you found some new plant samples to send back to Suvi and Lexi because you care. You weren’t on the original team with me cause you wanted to be your Dad.”
“It could be a nepotism thing, you know.” she scrunched up her nose.
He ruffled her ponytail which earned him a glare, “You’ve earned your team’s respect. We call you by your title to show you that. I think you need something that can fit how incredibly brave and determined you are.”
“I—“ she found herself staring at him, unable to quite figure out what she wanted to say, “Thanks, Kosta.”
He beamed, “But if it’s too much, Starchaser is also good because you ask Kallo to speed up when we get close to a new system.” He raised his hands and placed his palms parallel, gesturing out the two parts to the word, “Chasing. Stars.”
She was suddenly aware of how close he had gotten, her rifle resting across both their laps. He had kind brown eyes that betrayed all sorts of his thoughts. But he was still confusing. It was confusing how easy it was to fall into a comfortable vulnerability with him. She wasn’t closed off by any means, but he was almost too easy to trust. They had only barely begun to know each other and here he was, understanding the root of her insecurities. A fat drop of water wicked off the tip of his hair and dropped onto his nose and she lifted a hand instinctually to brush it off, fingertips grazing his knuckles as he went to do the same. She felt her cheeks get hot and she flinched back, pressing her back to the ridge and feeling the rock ledge suddenly become too small.
The silence that followed was not uncomfortable for Kiasa, but she felt the need to say something to pull back from the edge of… whatever she had just grazed. She turned and saw him lifting her rifle to his eye, fiddling with the scope.
“You should let me take this apart when we get back to the Angaran R&D base.” he finally said, “I have a few ideas for stability.”
“I almost hit you just this once!” she groaned.
“Hey, no disrespect.” he replied, feigning nervousness, “I’ve seen you pick off Kett midair that were dropping out of their shuttles.”
“That rifle is my baby.” she said, taking it back from him, “Scott customized it for me for my 21st last year, right before we joined the Initiative. Or I guess six hundred years ago, damn. He also knows nothing about heavy guns, I just haven’t had the heart to upgrade it or change it in any way.”
“Has it got a name?” he asked, “All the good ones do.”
“Aphelion.” she smiled inadvertently, “The point farthest from the sun. Super appropriate for the journey and disgustingly thoughtful. If you ever get to meet Scott he’s got romantic literally emanating off of him.”
“Next time we’re on the Nexus maybe?” Liam sounded strangely hopeful.
“Yeah, I’d like that. He’s probably tired of just hearing my voice all the time.” she felt something hard settle in her stomach.
“Definitely not.” he replied gently.
She turned to see him studying her, kneading his thumb into one of his palms. He looked troubled, like he wanted to say something else, but looked away and leaned into her shoulder with a little more weight. She lifted her hand to her comm button, “Vetra, where are we at?”
“He’s just kind of staring into space, Ryder.” she could hear the frustration simmering in the other woman’s voice, “It looks like it’s hard on him but I have no idea how to help him. Reconnecting with past lives is way out of my job description.”
“Awesome, if he needs anything let us know.” she punched Liam in the arm who turned his loud laugh into a deep cough.
“Alright, I’ve been soul-baring”, she crossed her arms, “It’s your turn to tell me something about you.”
He looked thoughtful, “Okay… I have less complicated feelings about the rain.”
“Oh?” she shifted so that she was cross-legged and facing him.
He lifted his hands behind his head and let his legs dangle off the edge, “The neighborhood kids and I would set up dodgeball games in the alley behind my flat complex in London when it rained. Peckham wasn’t the best place to run around at night, but for some reason the rain made it feel safer. It made all the colored lights from the liquor store down the street look fuzzy— painting like.”
“Do you miss it?” she considered it for a second and then ever so slightly leaned her temple against his shoulder. It was at the perfect height.
“We’d get soaked and I’d always lose and end up with a bloody nose because some of the bigger kids wanted to cheat.” he hadn’t shifted away.
“I’m not surprised. Trying to get everyone to cooperate.” she felt fondness bubble into her chest.
“Yeah, scrawny kids like me are protected by the rules.” he had turned so his chin was resting on top of her head, “Made me a good cop even if I was always out to bend them a little.”
“Bloody nose, though?” she stared at his hands, resting loosely in his lap.
“I punched a guy in the stomach for saying he wasn’t ‘hit’ when he was and it just— jiggled. I guess my nose was less ready to absorb impact.” a laugh rumbled across his shoulders, “Okay but that wasn’t my favorite part about it. Afterwards, I would come home and my Mum just knew. She would have a clean towel and hot chocolate waiting. And she’d let me wipe up the blood and add two giant marshmallows.”
“You were always causing her trouble, huh?” Kiasa closed her eyes and focused on the sound of the rain and how warm he was.
“She never made me feel like it”, she could hear the tiniest wobble in his voice, “She used to sing this ancient, 1980s soul song.”
They were quiet for a moment, and then she felt the notes hum pleasantly in his chest before he started to sing. He had a breathy tenor voice, with a liquor-like sweetness in the timbre, “Oh baby you, you got what I need. You’re like everything I need. You’re like medicine to me.”
She almost didn’t say anything, but then sat up and brushed her fingertips at the corner of his jaw, no hesitation this time, “You sound sad.”
He forced a smile, “I liked marshmallows. We don’t get marshmallows out here.”
Vetra’s voice suddenly crackled, almost too loud, through the comm “We’re ready to go. Taavos thinks we’re ten meters from the entrance, actually.”
Liam seemed to break out of his gloom and stood, offering a hand to help her to her feet, “After you, Pathfinder.”
She took his hand and felt the pleasant moment of lightness as he pulled her up, then stepped off their tiny ledge, “Let’s see what this vault has got for us.”
Liam’s hollering bounced throughout the vault chamber and rattled uncomfortably across the comm along with pops of gunfire, “Solve the Puzzle! Solve the Puzzle! Solve the Puzzle!”
He was sprinting towards an assembler with his double omni-blades bared like jaws, landing on top of it and stabbing it through the head while throwing a grenade at an observer behind it. The Remnant had crawled out from the cracks in the walls, like giants, angry, red robotic spiders with death beams. Kiasa was running with nullifiers trailing behind, rockets exploding to her left and right as she felt her feet lift from the ground from the force.
“Shit.” she growled as she was flung forward and her rifle went skittering to her right. She yanked her pistol from her hip and flipped onto her back, aiming bullets right through the particle barriers between the — eyes? lights? of the remnant bots. She fired two precise shots and the machines exploded in a crackle of electricity before her.
“Liam.” Vetra hissed, “Yelling it more doesn’t make it go faster!”
She scrambled to her feet and slammed her hand down on the console with three pylons in front of it, feeling it warm to her touch and emit a beam of light that hit and weakened the barrier between the inner vault and their current, unfortunate position. She leapt over a barrier and unsheathed the Asari sword that Cora had gifted her with, cleaving a breacher in half on her way to retrieve her rifle. As she swooped down and picked it up, Kiasa shoved the scope up to her eye and knocked out two observers that were advancing on Liam’s six.
He whipped around and threw her a thumbs-up, voice filling her helmet through the comm, “Killer shot!”
She laughed and bolted for the final console, watching as Vetra blew two more assemblers to smithereens, their clicking and sparking deaths accented by a “Woohoo!” from Liam. He aimed an overload at an advancing observer behind her and it screeched as it became engulfed in electricity.
She heard him victorious in her ear, “Got your back, Vetra!”
The Turian scoffed back, “Don’t expect any profuse thank yous.”
The chuckle in his voice was slightly breathless, “Wouldn’t dream of it.”
She had to shove herself into the console to slow down and pressed her hand to its cool, hexagon etched surface. The beam of light this time slowly began dissolving the the silver barrier as she heard two more sizzling explosions to her right.
“Get ready!” she ordered, reloading and snapping an ammo clip into place.
“Always am.” Vetra jogged over and set up to cover her flank as they jogged forward.
Kiasa pat her friend’s forearm with a nod and gestured for Liam to watch their back.
Just as the Observers appeared to bar their access to the final reset button, Liam’s voice drowned out the first shot she fired, “You know, you didn’t seem to know the song we discussed earlier. You can tell a lot about a person by what they listen to. What did you jam to?” This was accented by a roar of jump jets as he propelled himself into two newly alerted assemblers.
She slung a bolt of biotic energy over her cover and it collided with Vetra’s concussive shot, creating a shockwave that knocked back an advancing nullifier, “I don’t know I was never a music person. I liked— podcasts.”
“Breacher!” Vetra growled as she wrapped her hands around its arms and shoved it towards Kiasa who cleaved it half with her sword, “Isn’t there a better time for you two to flirt?!”
Kiasa cleared her throat, inhaling slowly as she lined up a shot across a line of breachers that drifted into view several meters away, “Who’s flirting?”. She exhaled sharply as she pulled the trigger and all three shuddered and fell to the ground.
Liam ignored that, “You’re a sixty-year-old trapped in a twenty-something body, yeah? Podcasts. Incredible.”
“Show your elders some respect. Toss me an Overload!” she sent an incinerate at Liam’s perfectly timed attack and they burned the remaining cluster of bots, “Quarians had some pretty cool stuff to say about dextro-conscious baking.”
“Nerd. I’m also two years older than you,” He made his way to her and tugged off his helmet, a thin sheen of sweat on his forehead that he wiped off with the back of his hand, “I’m gonna make you a playlist when we get back to the ship. I promise you’ll have some actual good stuff stuck in your head.”
She rolled her eyes as they walked to the console together, “If you include Krogan heavy metal in it I won’t miss my shot next time.”
“Oh you know I will now.” he said, his eyebrows pulling together as he stared at the interface, “Don’t know how you comprehend any of this gibberish, though.”
“I don’t.” she placed her hand down, “SAM?”
“I am beginning to interface now, Pathfinder.” the AI’s voice shifted into her implant as she pulled off her helmet, “Stand by. Reset in one minute.”
“Killer smoke, more like.” she glanced over to the door and waved at Vetra, “Reset in one, you got that?”
Vetra raised her assault rifle in acknowledgement, “Prepped to run.”
“Hey, Ryder?” Liam leaned in. She noticed how much taller he was for the first time, realizing he had to bend down to catch her gaze, “Thanks. For listening earlier. I didn’t mean to unload.”
“I think we both needed to get some things out in the open.” she smiled up at him, “You have a good voice.”
He was infuriatingly sincere. She didn’t have to know he meant it, or that he would respect her boundaries. He was just solid. Somehow comforting in a whole onslaught of desperation. He was as excited about the uncertainty as she was and it felt natural when punched her shoulder lightly in acknowledgement. The greenish glow of the console danced over his features and she couldn’t help but admire them, but stopped that train of thought as quickly as she could. She didn’t know what to make of him. Just that she liked him being around.
A low hum vibrated under their feet and the moment broke as she heard Vetra yell, “We need to go, Now!”
She vaulted over the console and felt her muscles straining against the sprint. She felt her omni tool ignite as she slammed her fist into a Breacher that flew into her path, watching it burn to ash and dissipate as she barreled through. Glancing over her shoulder she saw Liam hurdle over a low-lying pylon, a rare exhilaration spreading across his face. He was having fun. And in a way so was she.
Kiasa had almost reached the deactivating console when she felt her rifle come loose from her back and clatter to the ground behind her. She turned and saw the smoke begin to engulf it, her heart skipping a beat as she lurched forward. She stopped short when felt her shields sizzle angrily. Biting her lip, she whipped around and pushed hard for the interface, breath coming in pained gasps. Her comm suddenly lit up with angry hissing noises and she heard Vetra yelp in surprise at the overload of stimulus.
“What the…?” she planted her hand on the console just as she saw Liam come charging out of the blackened, swirling mess. The field retreated as she felt SAM lock onto the interface. Liam’s shields were fried and he was breathing hard, his jump jet pack intermittently flaring and looked mangled. He smacked it and it sputtered off. But he was holding Aphelion, the barrel smoking and slightly skewed from nearly being melted by the vault reset. She felt her heart leap to her throat and squeeze tight there, furious and frantic sentences buzzing in her head.
She stalked forward and placed an angry hand on his chest, almost choking when she reassured herself that he was solid and in one piece, “Who the hell do you think you are, Kosta?” She was surprised by how hot and sudden the anger was. It made her legs weak.
“Not fair. I knew you’d be devastated if it was gone, so I went back.” he seemed earnestly taken aback by her reaction.
“Does this look like I’m not upset?” she had to take every ounce of self-control to keep herself from punching him.
“No?” he ventured.
She turned around stalked towards the gravity well, too incensed to trust herself to say anything. She could hear him calling “Pathfinder” and running behind her. The weightlessness overtook her as the disembodied lights snaked between her fingers and around her torso. She felt the anger slowly seep away as she ascended, letting it leave behind a lot of questions she didn’t want to answer. He was her team, the closest thing she had to family right now. But that wasn’t just normal fear when she saw the smoke shrink away from him. It was knowing that if she hadn’t reached the button he would be dead and she would have been the reason. Why would he even try a stunt like that for something so trivial?
She heard Vetra’s amusement in the open comm line, “Go ahead, I’m going to look around for some salvage that Peebee asked for, first. You’re going to get a pistol pointed in your face when you get up there.”
“I know it.” Liam replied.
The rush of air from the surface smelled clean. She took a moment to orient herself as she felt her feet regain solid ground, and then walked outside. Her breath caught as she looked up into a cloudless night, the stars of the universe scattered like spilt marbles. The flora seemed to glow more intensely now, colors sweeping out before her in arcs. They had been under the oppressive rain for so long she had almost forgotten what clear skies looked like. Havarl would heal. She couldn’t help but feel giddy at the thought of that.
She felt her lips tug downwards the instant she felt a gentle hand tousle her ponytail.
She looked up to find Liam holding her rifle in one hand with his other nervously scratching the back of his neck, “Look—“
“Thank you.” she said, “For getting it back.” She took it from him and felt cool relief at the weight of it in her palms.
“That— was more civil than I expected.” he said, crossing his arms over his chest.
“It means a lot, but I’m still pissed.” she snapped, “That you would even think to risk your life for something I could have replaced.”
“It was important to you…” he began.
“You would have died if I didn’t press that button on time.” she cut him off, “You think for a second I would rather have a sniper rifle over your safety? What kind of leader do you think I am?”
He raised his hands and sighed, “Okay. You have a valid point.”
“You are important to me, Kosta.” she relented, finally laying it out plain since he seemed to be too dense to get it otherwise, “You getting yourself killed would be devastating.”
He clamped his mouth shut and his eyes widened in surprise. She wondered if she had overstepped. There had been so little time to understand him— to feel this connected was more than disconcerting.
“I’m sorry.” he replied simply.
“Just. Be more careful.” she huffed and sat down, pulling her knees into her chest. He joined her, mirroring her posture and sitting just close enough so they were nearly touching.
She decided to forgive him for now, mostly for his sincerity, and changed the subject “You know, I never noticed that when you looked up before the vault was active, you couldn’t see the stars.”
He nodded, “I had started to take the overcast as just part of the planet’s environment.”
“Do you think that the terraforming is deliberate? That there was somebody from whoever built the Remnant that was charge of deciding what planets would look like?” she tried to trace out constellations but lost them in the density of pinprick light.
He shrugged, “I mean the amount of bioluminescence here, somebody must’ve been glow stick happy.”
She had to smile at that, he made everything sound so wonderfully inane, “But I mean to decide what the place would look like from scratch… you could make it uniquely yours. A home perfect for you. The vaults could do that for us, maybe..”
“You’ve got a sure as hell romantic way of looking at it. Guess that’s what makes you the Pathfinder.” he teased then looked up, starlight reflecting in dots in his irises, “It’s easy to get lost trying to find a new home… we would kinda settle for anything. But I hope we don’t lose the idea of what we want our place to be. I have no idea what kind of planet I’d come up with.”
“I think you’d want to place with sunset colors in the sky more often than once a day.” she remembered how excited he’d been, sitting on the roof of the armory in Podromos on their first night at the outpost. He’d called her up to join him and rambled senselessly about bad movies until the last oranges were no longer visible in the sky. She’d decided she could be good friends with him then.
“You wouldn’t be wrong. I’ve got a thing for sunsets.” he beamed, “And you’d want more sunrises.”
“I didn’t even mention—“ she turned to find him looking at her.
“You are not as quiet when you get up as you think you are.” he chuckled, “Shared bunkhouses mean some private things fall through the cracks. You’d disappear every morning at 0400 when were were crashing at Podromos.”
“I could have been up to nefarious things.” she pouted.
“Nah, too straightedge.” He mused, “Plus I went running around then, got into early morning endorphins with one of my HUS-T1 team members. Anyways, always catch your silhouette, kind of perched on the wing of the Tempest, facing east.”
She felt herself blush, “Didn’t know you paid attention.”
“You don’t hide who you are, Ryder.” he reached over and brushed his knuckles lightly over her jaw, pushing her face away playfully, “And I appreciate that. It’s refreshing to have someone to be open with.”
“Mm,” she scrunched her nose up at him, “Well can’t have sunrises without sunsets.”
Something dangerously close to affection settled in his eyes as he reached over and tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear.
“Liam’s, not dead!” Vetra called out as emerged from the vault tucking a few bits of Remnant tech in her pockets, “Too bad.”
“Ay.” he glared, quickly dropping his hand to his side.
“Well if the squad’s all in one piece we should go. Let the scientists know they have a planet that won’t die on them.” their turian companion gifted them with a rare smile, “Nice work, Pathfinder.”
She grinned at Vetra and then shoved to her feet, turning to offer a hand to Liam, “You’re soft, Kosta.”
He accepted it, his grip was firm but gentle ,”I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“It was.” she said, letting go and feeling strangely buoyant.
“You know you can call me by my first name?” he said.
She thought for a moment, then replied, “Only if you’ll stop calling me Pathfinder.”
He nodded, “Sure. Okay.”
“Then… Let’s, go, Liam.” his name felt natural to say. As if she had been holding it back.
He grinned, “On your six, Starchaser.”
The song that Liam sings is "You Got What I Need" by Freddie Scott
Chapter 2: Two
It turns out the rain was bound to return regardless of their efforts in the vault, jungle planets were lush for a reason. The clouds moved back in as the week progressed and swelled into a full-blown storm. The ceaseless downpour was enough to drive restlessness into the heads of anyone and the entire Tempest crew had taken to helping the Havarl research team from the Nexus establish outposts along the river leading away from the vault. She hadn’t even had a moment to return to the ship, feeling exhaustion beginning to settle in as much as the unpleasant constant soaking had.
With a considerable amount of arguing, and by that it really came down to a lost game of poker, Kiasa had been convinced to let Gil join them to install particle barrier generators at each of the sites. It was new tech, bits and pieces that she had found scattered all around his workbench in the engine room. While she trusted her headstrong engineer, she was wary to allow anything that had a chance of malfunctioning potentially explode on their newly befriended Angaran scientists and cause a diplomatic incident. Cora had reassured her that it would reduce the need to station a heavy amount of security to protect the stations from Kett or leftover Remnant.
She stood on the roof and squinted past the water that caught in her eyelashes at Gil climbing the thin metal rungs towards the apex of the antenna where he could attach his generator.
He flashed her a winning smile when he caught her gaze and waved the pistol she gave him, “You can stop hovering, Ryder. This is the last one. All’s gonna go smoothly.”
“I’ve seen you try to join Cora in target practice.” she said, “You holding a gun does nothing to make me feel better.”
“Well, installing these is going to make it that much less necessary for the people here to even have to partake in things like target practice.” he winked, “Security is a thing we need more of in Heleus.”
She shook her head, “You sound like Liam.”
“He’s got a good head on his shoulders, but his eyebrows betray what he’s got in his hand every time we play cards. Poor guy couldn’t hide what he was feeling if he tried.” Gil began shaving down a wire.
She looked over the researchers moving boxes and rifling through samples below, waving at Kiiran who disappeared back into the shuttle to retrieve more equipment.
“Speaking of Liam,” Gil wiggled his eyebrows, “Scuttlebutt has it something’s going on?”
She crossed her arms, “Since when did you care about gossip?”
He shrugged and began twisting two clipped wires together, “Since you decided you wanted to be friends, kiddo. I like it when you come down with coffee and casual talk. But I’m wounded. Seems Vetra’s got something on you I don’t know.”
“Vetra likes to get a rise out of Liam when she can.” she let out a relieved breath when saw him close the panel and begin making his way down, “And if there was anything ‘going on’ you’d be the first to know, Gil.”
“That’s my girl.” he grinned as he hopped down and stood by her side, “Want to do the honors?” He activated his omni-tool and offered his forearm towards her.
She reached over to press the remote activation key when a steaming red beam erupted through the curtain of rain and hit the antenna square where the generator was installed. A powerful explosion blasted both of them back in a shower of bright orange sparks and black smoke. She felt a moment of panic as her back was met with empty air, then slammed her hand on her omnitool, feeling her jump jets activate centimeters from the ground as she shot back into the air.
She ripped her rifle from her back as she hovered, seeing smoke rising and scientists running as Remnant observers converged on the outpost.
“SAM! Open a line to the Tempest camp receiver!” she pushed her scope to her eye and hit an observer advancing on a Salarian, “Guys I need backup! Remnant ambush at the closest outpost! Anyone read me?!”
Cora’s voice sailed out over the pops of gunfire from a pistol, “I’ve got you, Pathfinder. On my way with Liam, Drack, and Peebee! Five tops.”
She saw Gil’s outline out of the corner of her eye climbing back up the roof as she shut off her jets and pointed her asari sword downwards and slammed into the head of a nullifier, creating a biotic blast that caused two unseen explosions to her right.
Kiasa began sprinting after him, “Gil what the hell do you think you’re doing?!”
He peeked his head over the edge of the roof when she reached the base of the maintenance ladder, “We have to get the barrier activated so that the Remnant can’t get in! No one has to leave!”
“That should be the last thing on your mind! We need to get the scientists and ourselves out of here!” she growled as she began climbing after him.
“No, Kia, this will work! I can fix it!” he fired at an assembler that had jetted up onto the roof and it tumbled backwards.
“Gil it’s not worth your life!” she leaned out from the ladder rungs and fired two imprecise shots at a Breacher attempting to chase down a mechanic making their way to the shuttle.
A roar erupted from the compound entrance and Drack came charging full speed into the courtyard kicking up a spray of muddy water, wrapping his arms around an Assembler and crushing it with ease. Peebee came running out behind him as Cora’s blue biotic aura pulsed through the smoke near the shuttle where she was trying to help load up and get off the ground. Where was Liam?
The next few moments seemed to slow into a crawl as she saw two simultaneous things occur. She whipped her head around and behind her a Breacher had its arms wide open and ready to clamp down on Gil’s head. But by the shuttle, an Observer had broken through Drack’s shields and was pummeling his front head plate with a beam of energy, leaving black singe marks on the natural armor.
“GIL!” she shrieked, breathing was like raking glass up her throat as she hoped she had given him enough of a warning to draw his pistol. She snapped a disruptor ammo clip in and took three precise shots at the back of the Observer, watching it shudder and erupt into a ball of electricity before Drack.
She turned, expecting to have to launch herself at Gil to pull the Breacher off of him when she saw Liam leap from the neighboring building’s roof. A frenzied yell erupted from his lips as he threw himself onto the bot and they went spiraling, missing the edge of the roof and hitting the ground with an explosion of flames and smoke. She didn’t realize the wordless scream had ripped from her chest before it was ringing in her ears.
A light blue sheen erupted from the antenna and enveloped the compound and the shuttle, destroying any Remnant that it came into contact with. The field was suddenly too quiet, the hum of the particle barrier replacing the sounds of gunfire and the deep thrum of active biotics.
She leapt off of the ladder, boots hitting the dirt as she took off towards the smoldering mess that marked where Liam fell. As she neared she found him on his back, dropping to her knees and tearing off sparking pieces of the Breacher from his torso. He was unconscious, raindrops pooling at the corners of his lips and beading on his forehead, but as she ripped off her gloves and hastily pressed two fingers to the crook where his jaw met his neck, she felt a choked sound escape from her mouth as she felt a steady beat beneath her fingertips.
She felt her hands reach for the deep tear in the front of his jacket, then find the zipper at his neck, trying to yank it down so she could assess the damage.
“You never can keep a shirt on and now I can’t get it off you?” she hissed.
She finally managed to open up his jacket and quickly tore through his underarmor to reveal angry burns across his chest. She yanked several medigel packs out of her hip belt and tore them open with her teeth, letting the soft-green substance ooze over the injuries. She exhaled slowly as she watched as the skin turned into the soft pink of early scar tissue and willed her hands to stop shaking. This would leave a thick, veinous marks on his chest. She cupped both sides of his face with her palms and dropped her forehead to his, wet hair forming a curtain between themselves and the compound, feeling herself dangerously close to uttering a prayer.
His eyelids fluttered and his warm brown eyes focused on her as his lips pulled into a small smile, “Oi, if you wanted to undress me this badly you could have just asked.”
She sucked in a breath, feeling her vision blur with stinging, relieved tears and crushed her lips to his. He tasted like rust and smoke, like blood and salt from her cheeks. She felt his hand tangle in her hair as he leaned into the kiss, hard. It was electricity and heat and aching everywhere. Tearing herself away, he looked shocked, her own fingertips lifting to touch her lips. She hadn’t even thought to lean in, she had just been glad to feel his breath across his cheeks. His eyes were scanning her face, as if looking for some sort of confirmation for what just happened.
She smacked his shoulder as she came to her senses and he yowled, “Liam, I’m going to fucking kill you.”
He winced, “Ryder, relax, I’m fine.”
Her eyes traveled to his limp left arm in the grass, deep purple bruising blooming across the exposed skin by his wrist, “I can almost bet you that’s broken.”
He looked sheepish, “Yeah probably.”
She felt anger flare, her ears getting hot, “I swear to God, twice in one week is absolutely unacceptable—“
His index finger brushed away a remaining tear that had settled in the corner of her eye, “Hey, hey look at me.”
She grit her teeth and met his eyes, “I’m not saying you shouldn’t have—“
His palm cupped her face and he stilled her, “Look, it’s just a bloody nose.”
She felt her lips quirk up as she wiped away the small trickle of blood that had trailed onto his upper lip with the sleeve of her underarm that was poking out beneath her armguard.
“Now that doesn’t look like nothing going on.” Gil had sauntered over with a devious expression.
“You.” Kiasa jumped to her feet and began stalking towards him, “You should be a smear on the roof. You are going to be cleaning the fucking bathrooms for the rest of your life.”
He staggered several steps back as her accusing finger came to prod him square in the chest. She saw Peebee, Cora and Drack walk up out of the corner of her eye. Peebee’s voice came from beside Liam as she began bracing his arm on a slab of Remnant metal, “Shit. Ryder’s mad.”
“That’s Pathfinder to all of you because as the idiot that ended up in change of this circus I’m responsible for all of your deaths!” she turned around and gave them all the most poisonous glare she could muster.
Gil rolled his eyes, “Can you imagine having so much faith in us that you expect us all to die?”
Cora put her hands on her hips, “It’s a lot of paperwork, I can understand wanting to avoid that.”
“At least Cora is making sense.” Kiasa backed up to address all of them, “Look I’m serious. We’re dealing with a lot but we have to be a team here. And we really haven’t been acting like one. Trust me I’m the first one to run headfirst at things—“
Liam grunted as he stood, leaning on Peebee’s shoulder with his bad arm in a makeshift sling, “Ain’t that the truth.”
“Please, Liam. Tell me more as you wave your broken arm around” she shot back.
He glared at her. Gil burst out laughing.
“I’ve made the mistake about caring about all of you because we’re the most unlikely people to come together and yet we keep trying to make it work.” she pushed her face into her hands and dragged her cheeks downward, “Because we all have the same vision and this dream that we can make this place our home. So please. Just stop trying to die.”
“Okay, okay.” Peebee walked over and put a hand on her shoulder, “Just don’t start crying or anything?”
Drack scratched his jaw with his shotgun, “I might.”
Kiasa couldn’t stop the short laugh that melted the frown on her lips as she gave in and Peebee gave her a short pat on the back, “Since we saved the day and Gil got the thingy he wanted installed, I think I’ll head back and try to get dry.”
“Yeah, I’ll get Drack to Lexi to have this scorch mark looked at.” Cora called as she placed a little bit of medigel on the charred scales near Drack’s eye.
“Take Liam with you.” Kiasa sighed.
“Wait, shouldn’t we—“ he protested.
“Liam, please go with Cora.” she tried not to notice the flash of hurt that crossed his expression, “We can talk once Lexi has you sorted out.”
He hesitated, then nodded and turned around and caught up with Drack who place a large hand on the top of his head and that effortless smile reappeared on his face.
“So were you serious about bathroom duty?” Gil stepped up to her side.
She looped her arm through his and leaned her head on his shoulder, “I don’t know Gil. I won’t force anyone to do anything. I’m not here to run a military vessel. I just want this to work.”
“I’ll do it.” he chuckled, “I earned it all on my own.”
“I’m glad you’re fine, Gil.” she said quietly, “I really thought it was you or Drack for a second.”
“I’ll take you saving Drack as trusting me to save my own ass. Appreciate the confidence.” he offered her, her pistol back and she replaced it in his holster by her hip, “But it’s a good thing Liam stepped in.”
She didn’t say anything. Just stewed in silence. She wasn’t sure what Liam was to her at this point. All the harmless flirting had spilled over into territory she wasn’t sure she was ready to embrace.
“You know he’s a good man.” Gil nudged, “And everyone’s been taking bets to see how long it would take you to notice his obvious crush. I’m going to win of course.”
“Obvious?” she looked up at him.
“You’re so dense, Kia. He adores you.” he shook his head in disbelief, “But it seems there’s something definitely more than nothing going on, on your end as well.”
“You’re just starstruck cause he saved your life.” she teased.
He smirked, “Maybe. But you kissed him first from what I saw.”
“What would I do without you pointing out the obvious, my dear engineer?” she groaned, “Why are you hell-bent on matchmaking? What about finding yourself a handsome soldier on the Nexus?”
“I get it from Jill. But do you like him?” he insisted.
“More than I think I should.” she sighed.
“Good.” he began walking towards the shell-shocked scientists that were finally beginning to disembark from the shuttle, “Let the poor man know.”
“Right.” she unhooked their arms and kissed him on the cheek, “I’ll see you back at camp.”
She sat at the bank of the river that night after dinner, glad that the rain had finally taken pause and left behind only a thick cottony layer of clouds. The moon would peek out every so often, leeching the purples and blues of the plant luminescence from their color. She was a meter or so away from a bonfire that the crew had started, Gil making a boisterous show of winning hand after hand of poker over bitter tasting tea from some native species that Suvi had deemed edible. She was wearing a ratty old T-shirt, Citadel Ramen logo faded. It didn’t smell like Scott anymore, but the little holes by the droopy collar marked every bit of his ownership on the item of clothing.
A loud growl of Jaal’s name from Drack suggested a particularly grievous loss and she saw Peebee throw some illegally acquired popcorn from her foil holder at Lexi. They were dysfunctional, undoubtedly. But they were her kind of dysfunctional.
She felt a hand in her hair and a warmth rose within her as she looked up and saw Liam smiling gently at her. The Initiative crewneck he donned looked brand new, almost too white in the dark. She noted with affection that his lack of upper body clothing was serial enough that she doubted he had any shirts that were as well-loved as Scott’s. He was holding two steaming metal cups and he passed one to her. She was pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn’t the strange, purple tea that Jaal had offered her earlier but something rich, dark, and sweet-smelling.
“How much did you have to pay Vetra for this?” she breathed in the comforting scent of chocolate.
“I’m taking her kitchen cleaning shifts for the next month.” he took a sip and sighed contentedly, “Worth it. Hot cocoa makes everything hurt less.”
She enjoyed how the warmth seeped into her icy hands, “Not body-slamming enemies would also reduce the amount of pain.”
“I even brought you a peace offering!” he replied, feigning offense, “Mum’s magic doesn’t even work on you.”
She smirked and looked up at him as she took a sip, “I’m stubborn. You might have to sing too.”
“I’m still putting together your playlist.” he said, “Tell you what, you pick a song you like the best off it and I’ll give it my best shot.”
“This playlist is getting a lot of hype.” she gave him a sidelong glance, “I’m looking forward to it.”
“Starchaser…” he slowly sat down on the bank beside her, “Be real, are you still mad at me?”
She shook her head and he seemed to relax, “How’s the arm?”
“Dr. T’Perro thinks it’ll heal within two weeks if I make sure to not overuse it and show up for my injections like I should.” he looked down at the sling, “I hate needles.”
She giggled, “Somehow I’m not surprised.”
He offered his cup forward and she clinked the rim of hers against it, the pleasant metallic sound lingering in the air. They lapsed into comfortable silence as they drained their cups. She noticed he was rubbing his thumb and index finger together at his side as he stared out towards the gently flowing water.
“Do you always play with your hands when you’re thinking?” she asked.
“More like when I’m nervous.” he flushed and dropped his eyes to his lap.
She scooted closer, knocking her knee against his, “I’m sorry for yelling at you earlier.”
He turned and their eyes locked, “But not for kissing me?”
She felt her cheeks get hot, “Um, no? Should I be? I mean I don’t know what this even—”
He let out a relieved laugh and what seemed to be a held breath, laying down on his back in the riverweed as he rested his cup on his stomach, “Don’t get me wrong, I know stuff like this happens. Close quarters mean closer encounters. But I’d be a little sad if you thought it was a mistake.”
“Maybe it was.” she looked over at him, his hand behind his head, elbow sticking out, seeming effortlessly carefree, “Not because it was bad or that I didn’t want to— but because there’s so much going on. There’s so much stuff we still have to accomplish and I don’t know if this is a good idea.”
“Whoa, slow down.” he motioned with a tilt of his head for her to lean back and join him, “I don’t need you to hold my hand and tell me you want to go steady. I just like knowing where I stand.”
She set her empty cup down laid down on her side almost tucked in against him, “No bullshit. I like you. But I barely know you?” He was looking at the sky and she noticed it had been a little while since he shaved, stubble darker over the straight line of his jaw than it usually was.
“Sometimes when two people meet it fits. I don’t believe in fate or anything. Odds are there’s so few of us we were bound to cross paths at some point.” he turned his head and his gaze was soft, “With you, it fits.”
“Your romantic is showing, Liam.” their noses were almost touching.
His silent laugh brushed in a warm exhale over her lips, “Theres no one I’d rather have been thrown out a shuttle with.”
She wanted to kiss him, there was something so magnetic about being this close. He would taste sweet. Like chocolate and easy praises. But she was also content to lay there beside him, “Hah. I could have done without the life-threatening encounters.”
“You’d be bored otherwise.” his eyes settled on her lips and she almost let him lean in.
She quickly sat up and she heard him exhale in a little disappointed sigh, “I’m going to be hard to convince on this whole more-than-casual-flirting thing.”
He shook his head and chuckled as he sat up and tossed his cup aside as well, “I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Kiasa motioned for him to look as she inched closer to the water, “Look what I discovered earlier, though.”
She dipped her fingertips into the water and it pulsed with a white-blue light in the wake of her touch. The bioluminescent bacteria in the water grew more intense with disturbance and left light trails that held a hidden kind of beauty that she had been delighted to discover. She traced out her name, water cool on her skin and let it fade back into a muted pulsing ebb of the current.
“Oh wow.” Liam sounded excited as he crouched beside her
She laughed as he drew a happy face and then a poorly defined star on the surface, “I just noticed it when I was wading in the shallows trying to pick up one of the glowing river stones.”
He tiled his head quizzically, “That’s why you disappeared after dinner?”
She shrugged, “I collect little things on the planets we visit to bring back to Scott.”
He was doing it again— that intense, depthless look he gave her that she couldn’t understand. She blinked and it was gone, but for a moment there was an intimacy she couldn’t ignore.
“Does it get stronger the more you fuss with the water?” a mischievous glint had settled in his eye.
“I have no idea.” she said.
He grinned, “One way to find out!”
He charged into the river as she let out a surprised laugh. She heard the bickering of the crew around the bonfire had stop as Liam cupped his hands into the water and threw it into the air, blight, glowing droplets raining like white-hot embers around him. She felt her chest almost ache at the unbridled joy in his face as he called for her to join him, scattering beads of light in arcs away from him. Kiasa snorted and splashed into the river, almost tripping on the soft bottom but feeling him reach out an arm for her to grab and steady herself. There were little glowing droplets in his hair and on his cheeks, looking like liquid moonlight. She slapped the surface and sent a spray of water at him which he shouted at, retaliating until they were soaking wet and in a splash war.
“I could go for a swim!” a deep rumbling voice cut through their laughter and she froze as she felt the ground shake as she turned to her right to see Drack also charging into the river with Peebee swinging off one of his back plates.
“Shit.” she heard Liam say before a massive wave came barreling at them. She barely had time to dive into it before she felt herself tossed around. She surfaced gasping and found Liam making his way back to her, winding his arm around her waist below the surface. They looked at each other and then started laughing, deep full bodied sounds filled the air as the rest of the crew onshore waded in as well. It felt freeing to be able to just let go, letting the lightheartedness erase all the responsibility and anxiety that had followed them since first docking on the Nexus. Peebee was now sitting on Drack’s shoulders as she used her biotics to drench Cora and Gil. Vetra was only standing ankle deep but was smiling as she kicked her legs around and watched the trails of light that she created.
“Why won’t you call me, Kiasa?” she mused, resting her chin on his chest and looking up expectantly.
He paused, looking unsure, “I dunno. I guess I’m used to call-signs? My squad in HUS-T1 just fell into nicknames, it was easier to recognize over the noise of firefights. Unique. Ours.”
“What was yours?” she asked.
“Only the coolest” he looked embarrassed, “My turian mate came up with it.”
“That bad huh?” she teased.
He closed his eyes and mumbled, “Sharky.”
She almost choked trying to hold back a laugh, “Oh, that’s perfect.”
“It’s cause I prefer double omni blades!” he groaned, “They’re like jaws!”
“Very intimidating, Sharky.” she laughed when he placed both hands on the side of her face and he squeezed her cheeks in frustration.
She saw Jaal still standing by the bonfire from behind him, the deep orange flames casting soft shadows on his face. But she could see the wide smile that he wore and she quickly tapped Liam on the chest, “Look over at Jaal.”
Liam’s face lit up and he beamed, “See this is what I came out here for. That expression is what makes all this struggling and diplomacy worth it.”
She yelped as he tightened his hold on her waist and lifted her partially out of the water, whooping as he spun her around. She perched her hands on his shoulders and really took in the way the glowing made the moment feel surreal but more grounded than anything she had yet experienced in Andromeda. All she really could see was him, the familiar freckles on the bridge of his nose, the slightly lopsided way he showed his teeth when he grinned.
“It’s the little victories, Starchaser.” he set her down and pressed a light kiss to her temple, “We’re on his homeworld and he doesn’t see us quite so much like outsiders.”
They both hadn’t notice Jaal approach and Liam jumped a little when he spoke from next to them, “No, in fact you look like my good friends.” He then charged upstream with ease and tackled an unsuspecting Cora who shrieked as she crashed under the surface.
Peebee’s voice sailed out, “Hey Kosta, Ryder! Get a dang room already!”
She stuck her tongue out at Peebee who graciously flipped them both off as she slipped off Drack’s back and into the water with a glowing splash.
“We’ll shape up to be a crew worthy of you” he chuckled as he rested his chin on the top of her head, “I know it.”
She wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled herself closer to him, “You guys already are. Just a little dangerously reckless.”
He leaned back and made eye contact, “We’ll take this a day at a time, yeah?”
She nodded, “Yeah. Okay.”
“Now if you’ll excuse me, Vetra needs a soaking.” he winked and started shoving towards the others.
She chased after him, just happy to finally be cutting loose with her band of misfits “It’s your head, Kosta!”