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.
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.”
Oh man oh man, you guys. I am OVERJOYED to talk about this! <3
Jaal’s first “oh, damn” moment came during the initial excursions on Havarl. He, Vetra, and Gemma had been slogging through some dense plant growth for hours when he spotted a shortcut from his childhood. It involved a lot of climbing, and Vetra gave him a (gentle) hard time about it, but what Jaal remembers is Gemma staring up the incline, a little frown on her still-strange face. When he asked her what she was doing, she said “I’m trying to figure out if I can do it in four boosts, or three”. Then she grinned at him, and said “I bet three,” and took off. He watched her jet to the first outcropping of rock, catch it, and leverage herself up, and then keep going.
She made it in three, and laughed when she reached the top.
He lost his handhold just before he reached her, the rock crumbling under his hand, but Gemma was already there, so fast he never even knew she had moved, and she had her hand locked around his wrist before he could yell for help. And to this day, he remembers the jolt that went through him at the contact, and how her grip did not falter – and how bright her eyes were as she pulled him up. Oh, he thought. This feels familiar.
No, he added, only to himself, when Gemma – this alien woman – grinned up at him, this feels good.
Gemma’s moment came later; it was seeing him on Aya, after they rescued the Moshae. She found him on a balcony, looking out over a forest so green it hurt her eyes. For the first time since she woke up, she had a moment to pause, and breathe, and not worry about getting attacked, and she was happy to just bask in the sunlight and the rustle of wind through the leaves with a friend.
She would have been content to stay quiet – Jaal didn’t owe her conversation after all her prodding back on the Tempest and in the Nomad – but he started pointing out the farms where he had worked as a teenager, his favorite place to watch the sunset, the races he and his siblings used to run near that river to the west – and she felt every knot in her spine coming undone.
He spoke with so much love for everything around him, and Gemma was so tired and lonely and hating being either of those things that she started crying. She’d always been one for a good stress-relief cry, but this was exhaustion, and longing for home, and grief, and the pressure of knowing everything depended on her.
She tried to keep quiet about it – not really good diplomacy to start bawling in public, especially if you were the damn Pathfinder – but when Jaal noticed, he just put his arm around her shoulders and told her no one would shame her for this, of all things.
Gemma tried to make a joke – cover my back for a few minutes till I stop looking like a boiled tomato, okay? – but he was looking at her so sincerely, so gently, that she just nodded and maybe – maybe – leaned into him a little. Jaal was alien, half his people wanted to kill her, and she didn’t really blame them – but he was warm, and solid, and he didn’t let go till her tears were done.
Author’s Note: This is a Happy Lowman imagine requested by a lovely Nonny from the Quote Prompt Meme #’s 48 and 50 (as always quotes are in Italics.) This imagine is rated M for adult language and violence. (Side note: I realized about three quarters through that this had a similar ring to it as the imagine I wrote yesterday, so apologies ahead of time. This is is just where my imagination took me.)
“I made a
mistake Happy! A mistake, what more do you want me to say?” she screams as
she slams the kitchen cabinet shut.
“You can explain to
me how you ended up in bed with Juice,” Happy growls from the kitchen table,
and with a groan of exasperation she throws her hands in the air.
“It’s not at all
what you are convinced it is,” she says hands busy with preparing dinner.
“What I know it is!
My Old Lady sneaking around with one of my brothers,” he spits, the venom in
his voice enough to sting.
“I swear to God
Happy, it isn’t what you think,” she says turning to look at him gasping when
she finds him standing right behind her. He towers over her, and because the
anger all but rolls off of him she takes a step back, her back pressing into
“What I think is
you’re a whore who needs to get her shit out of my house…”
fills her as she reaches for him but he pulls away and storms out of the house
leaving her in stunned silence.
His blood is
boiling and he’s out for blood when he pulls into TM.
Chibs says getting between him and the clubhouse door, “you don’t want to do
“Stay out of this,”
Happy says shoving past him and when he steps through the doors his eyes
narrow, searching for the brother who betrayed him.
“Oh shit,” Juice’s
voice carries over the space and with a snarl Happy goes after him. The guys
try to stop him, but he shrugs them off easily, adrenaline and sheer rage
affording him leverage, and when he gets his hands on Juice and lands the first
bone rattling blow he feels a sick sort of satisfaction.
“Think you can fuck
my Old Lady,” he bellows landing blow after blow, “lost your fucking mind.” He
exhausts himself, leaving Juice in a bloody heap on the floor, and wiping his
hands down his shirt his eyes scan the group surrounding them.
“I didn’t fuck her,”
Juice’s voice fills the air and turning Happy’s surprised to find him on his
feet, and that just angers him further. He grabs him by his shirt, fist cocked
and ready to do further damage, “I’d never do that to you brother.”
“Then why the fuck
was she in your bed?” he demands, but Juice just shakes his head.
“I can’t tell you
that,” Juice says earning himself an ear ringing blow that would have knocked
him back on his ass if Happy didn’t have a firm hold on him.
“I swear to God I’ll
kill you,” his voice is cold as he speaks, and before one of the guys can
intervene a soft voice breaks through the air.
“Happy, stop! I
made him promise okay! I made him promise not to tell,” his hold loosens when
he hears her, and turning he finds her, eyes flooded as tears roll down her
“Why the fuck would
you do that if you weren’t hiding something?” he asks unconvinced of their
claims to innocence.
“I’m pregnant!” she
screams chest heaving, “I got sick while you were on the run to Tacoma. I came
here to talk to Gemma about my schedule and started throwing up. Juice was
here, he took care of me, even bought the pregnancy tests, and we got to
talking. That’s it. He kept me company while I ate saltines and sipped Sprite,
and we must have fallen asleep waiting for you guys to get back. That’s it.”
She lays in the bed
they share, tears rolling to soak into her pillow.
This wasn’t exactly
the way she planned on telling him the big news; but life doesn’t always go the
way you expect it to, especially life in SAMCRO and when she hears the front door
open the breath hitches in her chest. She doesn’t have to lift her head and
look to know he stands in the door to their room.
“Is Juice okay?”
her voice shakes when she asks.
“The doc patched
him up,” his voice is rough but she lets out a breath she didn’t realize she
held at the news that Juice would be all right.
“Gemma said I can
stay with her for a while, she has that extra room and all,” her voice breaks,
shoulders shaking as she realizes that there’s a good chance he’ll send her
“You aren’t going
anywhere,” the words should bring comfort but she finds none.
“Happy,” she can’t
help the way her body tightens when he wraps an arm around her from behind,
drawing her close to him. His hand covers her stomach possessively; his breath
warm on her ear. “I need you to know I would never, I could never do what you
think I did…I-“
“I need you to forgive me,” his words surprise her. He’s never been one to ask for forgiveness;
then again he’s never really done anything, to her at least, where forgiveness
would need to be sought. He’s never said or done anything he hasn’t fully meant
to do or say, so this, this is brand new territory. She rolls over coming face
to face with him.
Her hand comes up,
fingers brushing over his cheek, and a small smile tugs at her lips.
“What are you
smiling about?” he asks and lifting her eyes to his she snuggles a little
“You were jealous,”
she says and in response he shuts his eyes.
“Shut up and go to
“Happy it’s only
six,” she says laughing.
need their rest,” he says and putting an end to the discussion he pulls the blankets
up, drops a kiss to her head, and before she can tell him all is forgiven, he’s
another one of a kind zine made for a beautiful pal! i made this collage zine for Jonnine for their birthday. their actual present is the stick & poke tattoo design of ‘mulder it’s me’ that i’m going to give them… i just got a bit carried away presenting the designs i’d done lol.
copies of this aren’t for sale, but you can shop my other zines in my etsy store!
I’ve done so many bad things in my life. Caused so much pain. I didn’t want that. But after a while, it was…it was just what I did. Then who I was. I loved my family. My boys. But I know that wasn’t enough.
ya lit meme : ten books or series [1/10] The Gemma Doyle Trilogy by Libba Bray
Shall I tell you a story? A new and terrible one? A ghost story? Are you ready? Shall I began? Once upon a time there were four girls. One was pretty. One was clever. One charming, and one…one was mysterious. But they were all damaged.