2 and/or 19 for Gemma/Jaal, please!
19. kisses meant to distract the other person from whatever they were intently doing
In which Gemma Ryder and Jaal have their first fight, and Cora does not want to deal with it.
Ryder’s ongoing quest to climb every mountain on every planet vertically had finally broken the Nomad in ways even the combined efforts of Gil, Jaal, and Vetra couldn’t repair.
“Are you still on fire?” Cora asked, both horrified and impressed. “My God. You’re still on fire.”
Ryder, halfway out of her armor, and looking as close to murderous as Cora had ever seen her, crouched down to peer at the Nomad’s undercarriage. “Shit, we are. Liam — we’re in crisis, respond!”
“On it, boss!” A fire extinguisher arced through the air, barely missing Gil’s head, and landed in Ryder’s hand with a solid thwack. Five seconds later, the fire was out, but the cargo bay was covered in foam, and the Nomad wheezed and groaned as its axles cooled.
“Shit,” Ryder said again, scrubbing at her hair. “Good eye, Cora, thanks.”
“I take it your field trip with Reyes went well?” Cora asked.
Ryder bared her teeth — Cora thought of a mongoose, and took a step back — but before she could change the subject or Ryder could start swearing, Jaal spoke up from the other side of the Nomad.
“Kadara is a cesspool on the best of days,” he said, his mouth curled in a sneer as he wiped a few droplets of foam off his eyepiece. He muttered something under his breath, and Ryder’s shoulder went iron-hard. “And today,” he added, once all the foam was gone, “was not its best day.”
Ryder glared at Jaal — the planetkiller stare, her father had called it; Cora heard his voice, felt the accompanying pang of loss and nostalgia — and the cargo bay went silent. The lovebirds hadn’t so much as exchanged tense words since they paired off months ago, but watching Ryder, whose teeth were still very much bared, and whose Sidewinder was still very much in reach, Cora readied a barrier.
No harm in being prepared, lots of harm in letting the Pathfinder spatter her angaran boyfriend across the Tempest’s cargo bay.
Five seconds of absolute silence passed, then Ryder gave herself a shake and exhaled hard through her mouth. “It sure as hell wasn’t,” she said, tight and furious, then turned on her heel and stalked away, without a backwards look.
Cora chanced a look in Jaal’s direction — hell, just like everyone else in the cargo bay — and found him watching Ryder’s departure with a mix of dismay and annoyance. Dismay ended up winning by the time the door hissed closed behind Ryder.
Sure glad I wasn’t tapped for this run, Cora thought, then felt a surge of guilt as Jaal made his way — deliberately calm — toward the makeshift showers in the back of the bay.
Another ten seconds of silence went by before Drack’s head popped out of the Nomad.
“Next time,” he said to the room at large, “someone else can go to Kadara. I’m done.”
Between Jaal’s first and second emotional openness seminars, someone — Cora’s money was on Liam — had taken the guy aside and explained that sometimes it was totally okay, even preferred, to let humans stew for a while before trying to work things out. And Jaal, being pretty quick on the uptake, had taken that advice very much to heart — not that Jaal had any other setting, Cora mused — and let Ryder stew, and stew, and stew, all the way back to the Nexus, where the Nomad could get some TLC and the crew could stock up on rations that were older than everyone except Drack.
Ryder spent most of the trip in her quarters, and for the first time, Cora realized just how much of the crew’s strange cohesion came from the Pathfinder’s relentless, dogged optimism. Everyone stayed as efficient as ever, but without Ryder breezing through the ship, no one seemed inclined to talk, or joke, or even give each other shit.
“I hate this,” Peebee said, two hours out from the Nexus. “They need to get over it. Jaal had the right idea. Kadara sucks, even that time Drack drank the water.”
Lexi’s eyes flew wide, and Cora leapt in before the good doctor could turn herself inside-out over that one. “I’m pretty sure it’s more than Jaal’s feelings about Kadara getting on Ryder’s last nerve,” she said, as diplomatically as she could. Privately, she mostly agreed with Peebee, but a part of her kept whispering that Ryder had held herself together through her father’s death, two of her own deaths, and facing the kett time and again. This wasn’t just being pissed off with Jaal; this was everything on Ryder’s back coming out at once.
She wanted to say so, but Peebee had already checked out of the conversation and was talking to Lexi about the new upgrades to Poc, and Cora didn’t want to ruin the moment. She finished her breakfast in silence, and headed back to her plants. As de facto XO, maybe she should have stepped in, and nudged them toward a reconciliation, but that advice about stewing went for her, too.
If Ryder and Jaal weren’t back to their usual adoring selves by the time the Nomad was repaired, she’d say something. But not before.
Halfway through their first day docked at the Nexus, a swell of whoops and laughter interrupted Cora’s reading. She shoved her datapad away and followed the sound down to the cargo bay.
Gil and Peebee turned around as she walked in, each offering her a quick nod before going back to cheering on Liam and Ryder, who were both balancing on gymnastics rings, five feet above the floor.
Oh, good, Cora thought. We’re back to Tempest Olympics. She’d been roped into enough of Ryder’s challenges for a lifetime, but Liam could always be relied on to take one of Ryder’s dares, whether it was do you think I can throw you over that ravine with my biotics or how many cartwheels can we do in full armor?
At least this particular challenge wouldn’t leave Lexi crying in her sleep. The good doctor was cheering next to Drack, though Cora wasn’t exactly sure for whom.
“How long have they been at it?” she asked, taking up a spot on Peebee’s other side.
“About fifteen minutes,” Gil replied, Peebee being too busy throwing half a cookie at Liam’s head. “Nowhere near the record, but we’re allowed to distract them this time.”
“Bullseye!” Peebee yelled, nearly deafening them both, as the cookie bounced off Liam’s forehead. He wobbled, cursing under his breath, but regained his balance a second later.
Cora grinned, relief rising through her chest. If Ryder was cheerful enough to start demanding athletic competitions, the worst was behind them, without her having to lift a finger. A reconciliation with Jaal couldn’t be far behind — except for the fact that Jaal was nowhere to be seen.
A little of her relief faded away, but then Vetra flicked a bottle cap at Ryder, and she nearly lost her grip as she tried to shift away.
“Oh, you’re going down!” Liam said, grinning as a fine sheen of sweat broke out on his forehead.
“No way, Kosta.” Ryder pulled herself upright, and gave him a wicked grin. “I’m in the zone. Can’t knock me out, can’t bring me down, can’t —”
“Hey, Jaal!” Liam yelled toward the far corner of the cargo bay. “Give a friend a hand, yeah? Distract your girl!”
Ryder’s head twitched toward Jaal as he walked into view, but she clearly didn’t make eye contact. “Pretty low, Liam,” she said. “Must be getting desperate. No wonder I’m winning.”
“Desperate your word for creative, huh?” Liam jerked his chin at Jaal, who hovered at the edge of the bay, just in Cora’s line of sight. “C'mon, I know you’ve got moves.”
Cora watched Jaal’s emotions cross his face: reluctance, amusement, and the strange blend of wistfulness and intensity that had marked how he looked at Ryder, almost from the beginning.
I don’t know if I should roll my eyes or applaud, she thought, as Jaal made his way toward Ryder. It’s like something out of Ryder’s vids.
Why she’d expected anything less, she’d never know.
“Hoo boy,” whispered Vetra, and leaned back with her arms folded. Drack groaned, despite Lexi nudging him. And Ryder watched Jaal, her grip on the rings not faltering, her legs pointed straight and true at the ground.
Jaal wrapped his hand around her bare ankle. He didn’t squeeze, or stroke, just held on as he looked up at Ryder’s face.
“Come on,” Liam hissed, smirking. “You’ve got this.”
Ryder tossed her hair out of her eyes, the first trace of a smile curving her lips.
Jaal’s hand tightened on Ryder’s ankle. He lifted her leg — slowly, and Ryder’s smile widened — and kissed the inside of her calf.
Good lord, Cora thought, shaking her head.
“Ah!” Ryder dropped, laughing, into Jaal’s waiting arms. Cora saw his answering smile as he turned, not letting Ryder go.
Liam whooped and let go of the rings, darting forward to slap Jaal and Ryder on the shoulder. “And the champion is…the Kosta!”
Oh, Liam might have been the champion, but Ryder certainly didn’t look like a woman who had lost anything as Jaal lowered her gently to the floor. She kept smiling as she said something to Jaal, too quietly for anyone to hear over Liam’s crowing, and then they both laughed.
“Quite a show,” Gil said, pushing away from the railing. “Guess the kids are back to normal now.”
Cora hummed in agreement as she watched Ryder and Jaal slip toward the exit, hand in hand. “Guess so.”