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Second Star to the Right

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A newly appointed Pathfinder should be downright impossible to miss, even in the middle of the lingering chaos that makes up the recently docked Ark Hyperion. God knows that the Ryder name seems to be on everyone's lips these days, so Suvi's only real excuse is that she's a little busy focusing on other things.

It's not like she's unaware of who Alec, Sara and Scott Ryder are - or were - anyway; in fact, she doubts there's a single soul awake who hasn't heard at least the gist of what happened on Habitat 7. But for the moment, the majority of Suvi's time is spent on preparing for her new assignment, helping prepare the ship she's been assigned to, and right now on tracking down Harry Carlyle, whose scans and notes regarding the planet in question will at the very least be useful as a baseline to measure other worlds against.

She'll have time later to worry about things like Alec Ryder's death or the fact that their new Pathfinder is as green as they come; not to mention how she'll be the Tempest's youngest human crew member by at least three years.

So that's probably why it's only after Harry walks off to hunt down a data pad that it hits her; who the unconscious young man in the bed not four feet away is, and who the young woman crouched on the floor beside him has to be. There's only so many sets of human twins running around Andromeda, and even at no more than a glance from the corner of her eye, there's little chance of mistaking these two for anything else.

The same glance tells her that their young Pathfinder is speaking to her brother, and while Suvi immediately pulls up the first possible task on her omni-tool in an effort to distract herself, the low voice is just loud enough to be audible.

“... giving me a ship, believe it or not,” is what she's saying; sounding somewhere between wryly amused and utterly terrified. “And a full crew of people that I'll somehow have to lead like I have a clue what the hell I'm doing.” There's a soft snort, followed by a sigh and the low sound of the mattress shifting like someone is leaning on it. “You'd laugh yourself to tears if you were awake to see it.”

She really, really shouldn't be listening to this, Suvi knows, and tries to focus her hearing on literally anything else. She really shouldn't be glancing over, either, but she does; just in time to see the gentle brush of long fingers through Scott's hair and the press of a kiss to his forehead.

“Sweet dreams, baby brother,” Sara tells him, and takes a moment to catch his hand and give it a squeeze. “Don't worry about missing out,” she then adds, and - though Suvi can't see her face from this angle - sounds like she's smiling. “By the time you wake up, you'll have enough emails from me to last you another 600 years.”

There's an old saying – one so old that she probably wouldn't know it at all if it hadn't been one of her father's favorites - about how you never get a second chance to make a first impression. And Sara Ryder, Suvi thinks as she watches the woman in question disappear around the edge of a door, just made an absolutely fantastic one without even trying.

xXxXx

The first time Suvi saw her was at a moment so inopportune that she didn't dare afford herself more than the odd, passing glance, and she guesses that's how she managed to miss something that’s not only painfully obvious, but also more than a little impractical.

Sara Ryder is attractive - very much so, in fact - and while Suvi has now taken the time to look up her personnel file, the dry, standardized photo doesn't stand a chance at capturing their new Pathfinder as she comes across live and in color. A flat, 2D image can't reproduce the vibrancy of her eyes or the spark of intelligence lurking behind them, and there's no way the stiffness of an at-attention posture could give even a hint of the smooth, almost-glide of her gait as she enters the research room at Vetra Nyx’s side.

Suvi at least manages to not trip over her own feet while greeting her in passing, and then makes a sharp turn into the empty tech lab so she can get her head on straight.

So to speak.

This, she tells herself in no uncertain terms as she pulls up one of her more intricate data models and takes a long, slow breath, is not going to become a thing, because she is nipping it in the bud right this very second. It's hardly the first time she has worked around a beautiful woman, and there is no reason she can't cut the development of this ill-timed, little crush off at the knees.

Except that when she enters the bridge for launch a few hours later, Sara Ryder is standing next to Kallo in a hooded shirt and a pair of simple pants; both well-worn to the point of being soft and loose, but still managing to drape around her body and display the shifting of subtle muscularity. She's glancing over her shoulder at the sound of the door and smiling; not only at the undoubtedly familiar faces of Cora Harper and Liam Kosta, but at Vetra and Suvi, too. She's quizzing Kallo on the Tempest controls and how to use them, and - at Lt. Harper's prompting - sends a pensive glance out of the massive windows before folding her arms.

“Things seem bad,” she decides; cocking her head at the view outside and - from what Suvi can tell - lifting the corner of her mouth in a crooked little smirk. “But we've already beaten the odds, and we'll beat them again. You know it; I know it.” She turns in place - faces them rather than the rest of the galaxy - and the smirk becomes a grin. “So let's show them what we've got.”

The whole thing is charmingly informal for how momentous the occasion is, and while Suvi doesn't turn her head once the Tempest is airborne, she does keep a very close eye on her own fingers to keep from accidentally touching the wrong keys.

Sara Ryder, meanwhile, stands loose and relaxed in her peripheral vision; leaning forward with her hands on the railing, and smiling at the stars ahead like she'll never get tired of the view.

xXxXx

It gets easier as time passes; if from nothing else, then from desensitization through sheer exposure. And since their new Pathfinder does have to spend a good amount of her time actually pathfinding, there's plenty of hours in Suvi’s day - on duty and off - where she gets a break from how thoroughly and effortlessly distracting the other woman is.

When they're in the same room, though, it's… a little more difficult. Ryder seems dead set on getting to know everyone aboard, and while Suvi can focus on something else when one of the others is being curiously quizzed, she still finds it challenging to even think - let alone speak - when those eyes and that smile are aimed at her.

Reminding herself that she should have left stuttering and butterflies behind in her teenage years doesn't help, and neither does the fact that Ryder is a flirt. An absolutely awful one, in both senses of the term.

She flirts with everyone. Even with Gil, who just finds the whole thing amusing.

“Told her I wasn't interested, of course, and why,” he tells Suvi one evening when they're both off duty and lounging in the galley; the Tempest peacefully orbiting Eos while the away team gets into God knows what planetside. “She nodded, said that was cool and kept it up; only now she's being so over-the-top terrible that she can't be doing anything but having a laugh.”

“How's that going?” Suvi asks, and wonders if maybe that's what Ryder is doing with her, too; playing around in an effort to put her at ease and relieve a little stress of her own. Hardly her fault, then, that it tends to have the opposite effect in Suvi's case.

Gil, as if demonstrating, chuckles. “Cracking. Might be a little nuts, our Pathfinder, but she's bloody hilarious when she wants to be.”

On that, Suvi has to agree. If Ryder spends any significant amount of time on the bridge – which so far is the case as long as she's on the Tempest for anything more than sleeping or showering – she becomes an instant third party to the banter Suvi and Kallo have developed; not by forcibly inserting herself, but by filling any lingering gaps as naturally and easily as a flow of water finding a crack in a rock face.

Poetry, she then thinks, and has to roll her eyes at herself.

xXxXx

Little by little, it keeps getting easier; especially when Ryder leaves the awful flirting by the wayside and the two of them can simply talk. By the time the Tempest’s crew count has been upped by the additions of Peebee, Drack and Jaal, that's something they've done enough that when Suvi ambles up the walkway to Deck 3 in the early morning hours and realizes that someone else is already there, the only reason she turns on her heel is to secure a second mug of tea from the galley.

“Nightmares, Ryder?” she offers by way of greeting as she sets the extra serving down, and takes a moment to hide a smile at the positioning she's chosen; sprawled on her back across one of the metal platforms below a massive window, rather than, say, on one of the available sofas.

“... not exactly,” is the answer; Ryder meeting her eyes as she sets aside the data pad she's working on; instead curling her fingers around the mug and lifting it in impromptu salute. “And please - again - Sara. With the amount of Ryder’s and Pathfinder’s that fly around my head half the time, it's like you've all forgotten that I'm only here because I fell into it. Literally.”

Suvi leans back against the massive table in the center of the room, and hides a smile behind the rim of her own mug. “Not one for ceremony?”

“Was that a pun? Sara-mony?” Ryder - Sara - half-accuses and half-asks; eyes narrowed in a squint as she lifts herself onto one elbow. “Because I'll have you know, Dr. Anwar, that after midnight, punning is strictly regulated.”

Uh-huh. She takes a moment to let the tea linger on her tongue before quirking an eyebrow. “Unless it's coming from you?”

Sara grins. “Unless it's coming from me,” she agrees, and gives a what-can-you-do sort of shrug. “Pathfinder perks, y'know?”

Since Suvi doesn't know, she simply eyes her and decides that maybe a change of subject is in order. “Why spend your time laying there?” she wonders, and gestures to the no-doubt uncomfortable metal. “Surely the sofa would be softer.”

“The view is better.” Sara rolls to a smooth seat and tucks her feet under herself; her hands cradling the as-yet untouched tea in her lap while her head turns until she's looking out of the window. “We're in space; in new space,” she immediately corrects, and then those eyes are facing Suvi again. “Waste not, want not, right?”

That, Suvi certainly isn't going to argue with. “You do spend an inordinate amount of your time on the bridge watching the stars.”

“Probably,” comes the easy agreement; alongside a twitch at the corner of Sara's mouth. “I do the same thing planetside according to Cora, at least when it's dark enough for it.”

“Am I allowed to ask why?”

“Sure,” Sara says, and then doesn't make another sound until Suvi narrows her eyes and reaches for a stylus that's sitting abandoned near the center of the table. At that, she chuckles and finally raises the mug to her lips. “Someone's grouchy.”

“Someone's aware that it's nearly 3 in the morning,” Suvi returns, but leaves the stylus where it is and instead curls her free hand around the table's edge. “Which is no time for wise-cracking; Pathfinder or not.”

“Hm. Pretty sure I could say otherwise.” She doesn't, though; merely watches Suvi with a tiny twinkle in her eyes, and then looks away in order to spend a moment tapping at the data pad before picking it up and holding it out. “You know this one?”

Obliging - and more than a little curious, to boot - Suvi sets down her tea and takes the few steps across the floor; claiming the data pad and turning it in her hands until she's able to properly see the display.

And smiles. “Didn't take you for a J. M. Barrie fan.”

The answer is a semi-sheepish grin and likewise shrug, as well as – unless the lowered lighting of late night is playing tricks on Suvi's vision – a faint blush. “Blame my mother for that one,” is the wry answer. “That was our go-to bedtime story when we were little. It stuck; at least with me.”

“Second star to the right?” she wonders; handing the data pad back and feeling a peaceful kind of fondness settle in her chest when the smile aimed her way becomes almost impossibly small and gentle.

“And straight on 'til morning,” Sara agrees; voice low. “I just--” She pauses there, and chuckles. “Well, this is gonna sound like a childhood fantasy because that's basically what it is, but I never managed to let go of the idea that Neverland might be out there. Or something like it, anyway; even if I know it's impossible.”

“No more impossible than a higher power,” Suvi offers, and then – when those eyes soften and warm all at once – decides that returning to her forgotten mug might be a wise course of action. Easier isn't quite the same as easy, after all. “Isn't that basically what we're looking for? Neverland?”

“Yeah.” Sara lets her move away, and watches her with an expression she can't quite read. “I guess it is.”

xXxXx

It becomes something of a habit; the two of them trading idle, usually lighthearted conversation in the wee hours of the morning while SAM monitors the Tempest and the others sleep. It doesn't happen every night or even on any kind of regular basis, but whenever Suvi wakes at some ungodly hour, Sara can usually be found on Deck 3; directly beside one of the massive windows, and either tapping away at a data pad or peering off into the vastness of their new galaxy.

Suvi, then, grabs a few packs of tea from the galley, and makes two cups while she tries not to dwell on old sayings about moths and flames. When she brings them upstairs, Sara invariably smiles, accepts one, and lets herself be drawn both into conversation and – after a few instances – even onto one of the sofas.

“Exactly what are you doing on that thing all night?” Suvi asks at one point, and nods towards the data pad that rests peacefully on the sofa's back; near Sara's shoulder, since she seems to prefer sitting both cross-legged and sideways when on actual furniture.

Sara's crooked grin is only barely hidden by the rim of her mug. “I'm not gonna be able to get away with 'work', am I?”

“No.” For one, she's always smiling when Suvi sees her use it, and while the prospect of planetfall seems to be forever exhilarating, she has yet to meet a single person who enjoys their work that much.

“Didn't think so.” Sara nestles the remaining tea in her lap before picking up the data pad; bringing it to life with a few flicks of her fingers and letting the screen light her face in a soft, blue glow. “I'm adding to the ongoing backlog of emails that Scott will either curse or hug me for when he wakes up,” she then explains; glancing up briefly and lifting one shoulder in a half-shrug. “Jury's still out on which.”

Her expression is peacefully placid, but there's something about the line of her shoulders and the tone of her voice that makes her seem more vulnerable than Suvi thinks she's ever seen her. Just... soft, a little sad, a little cautious and--

And oh, hell, Suvi thinks, and swallows a groan. Moths and flames.

“Do you write to him often?”

Sara's laugh is barely more than a harder-than-average breath through her nose. “I write to him pretty much every time I think of something I want to tell him,” she admits. “Or ask him about, or just...” There's a sigh, and then a long moment where she seems to stare through the data pad before her eyes lift. “I don't think we've ever gone longer than maybe three days without speaking. Well--” A brief chuckle. “-- cryosleep not included. So it's-- it's hard, to suddenly not have that. You know?”

“I have-- had, four siblings,” Suvi tells her. Quietly, though; not hard or reprimanding. “So yes. I know.” She finds a smile, then – with a surprising lack of effort, really – and shakes her head while holding up a calming hand, because Sara's eyes always apologize a thousand times before her lips can even move. “It's alright,” she promises. “Coming here was my choice.”

For several seconds, those eyes simply watch her; narrowed by the tiniest margin like Sara is trying to decide if she's being honest. Then her chin gives a barely noticeable, little dip, and she relaxes. “You're the middle child, aren't you?”

The question pulls a startled chuckle from Suvi's throat. “That obvious?”

“Mediator, empathetic, trail-blazer,” Sara lists; settling deeper into the sofa's back as her crooked grin returns. “Kinda, yeah.” She falls silent, then, and spends a second or two sucking at the inside of her lip. “Can-- would it help if I read you some of my messages to Scott? Or would that just make things worse?”

Moths and flames. Suvi takes a slow, deliberate breath and swallows. “I'd like that. If you're willing to.”

“Right. Well...” Sara straightens in her seat, and gives the data pad a few pokes before clearing her throat. “Dear Poopyhead,” she starts - perfectly serious - and only cracks a smile when Suvi has to spit the mouthful she just took back into her mug to keep from choking on it. “What? Too formal?”

“Ryder!” Suvi hides her face in one hand, but can't resist the laugh that's bubbling up in her chest. “Don't tell me you're actually starting a message to your brother like that.”

Sara,” is the firm correction; complete with an all-too engaging scowl that swiftly gives way to an equally engaging smirk. “And I start every message to him like that. Only fair, since his all begin with 'dear chunky-butt'.”

Chunky is the absolute last thing it is, Suvi's brain helpfully supplies, but she thankfully has enough of a filter to not let that one slip out. “Dare I ask who started it?”

“Not a clue,” is the cheerful reply. “At this point, it's just tradition. Like Christmas--” One hand lifts the mug and gives it a little waggle. “-- or Initiative-issue chamomile tea. Not a complaint,” she hastens to add when Suvi's eyebrows hike up. “Just an observation. Rumor has it that this isn't your preferred fare, is all.”

If nothing else, it's probably good that the rumor mill can get things right, too. Maybe. “I suppose I'm somewhat... protective of my personal collection,” Suvi admits; feeling a touch shamefaced even though Sara's smile is gentle, like she gets it. “And it'd be a little rude to bring you one thing and drink something better, myself. Besides, chamomile is supposed to be relaxing.”

“Ah.” There's a slow, sage nod, and then Sara is shifting; leaning just a fraction closer with her elbows on her thighs, her fingers curled around the gently misting mug and a definite twinkle in her eyes. “So tell me, Doc; what's a girl gotta do to get her hands on your stash?”

And sometimes Suvi actually prefers the awful flirting. At least with that, it's easy to remember that she's joking.

xXxXx

Usually, the reason that Suvi is up and about in the middle of the night is dreams. Not bad ones, but definitely impractical ones. And those dreams - while still mostly innocent - are getting better, which of course means that in another sense, they're getting worse.

Nine times out of ten, there's nothing inappropriate about them at all. They limit themselves to things like a set of hands coming to rest on her shoulders, a second body dropping to perch on the arm of whatever she's sitting on, a set of fingers twining warmly with her own, or a long, lingering hug that smells of planetside air and sunlight. The remaining ones, though, are… interesting.

Those are the ones that always make her snap awake - usually with her heart racing and her breathing stuttering - and Suvi isn't sure which kind she prefers because both leave her aching in different ways. The innocent dreams alone have her losing her train of thought every time Sara places a light touch to her arm; make her forget what she's saying or doing or reading the second there's even a hint of the other woman's presence.

The not so innocent ones, though - the ones that are all knowing touches, breathless kisses and the heated press of bodies meeting - those just drive her to distraction overall, and a single night is enough for her to be restless and flustered for at least two days.

On top of that is how Sara keeps drawing her in; how she not only listens to any explanation or theory Suvi offers when their conversations touch on her duties, but matches her. Sara questions and even counters her ideas or processes, and shows without an ounce of so-called 'polite' shame or restraint that while her own responsibilities are heavily combat-focused and her scientific background centered chiefly on exoarchaeology, she's anything but limited in her knowledge or capabilities.

All in all, it makes for a very special kind of torture.

Ideally, Suvi thinks, she'd like this irritatingly persistent crush to wander off somewhere and not come back, because the genuine friendship forming between them is one that she dearly wants to keep. It's definitely one that she doesn't want to ruin – or have to outright abandon – simply because some unrealistic part of her keeps wishing for flying fishes and seeing signals where there are none.

Sara, however – gentle, stubborn, brilliant, exasperating Sara – would be so very easy to fall in love with.

The fact that she's even thinking in those terms should probably be a clue that she's already teetering on the edge.

xXxXx

Aboard the Archon's flagship, Sara dies. Only due to SAM, only in order to escape, and only to then immediately be resuscitated and fine, but… something changes.

Sara herself doesn't change; at least not overtly. She doesn't become anxious or angry or withdrawn, but she does become a little quieter; a little less likely to seek others out and a little less prone to smiling, and while Suvi now finds herself waking from actual, bad dreams, Sara doesn't show on Deck 3 at all.

It's subtle, but everyone notices. Enough that there's an email from Lexi sitting in her inbox a few days after the fact; asking her to stop by the medbay in an invitation that Suvi knows is really more of a summons.

“Has she spoken to you at all?” is what Lexi asks once she's there and the doors have shut; watching Suvi with the tiniest of frowns on her face.

Asking who she's talking about would be insulting Lexi's intelligence, so Suvi shakes her head. “No,” she admits. “Not in the manner you're referring to. All she's said on the subject is that she's had hangovers that were worse.”

“But you've noticed enough to not have to wonder why I'm asking.” Their resident, medical doctor smiles faintly, and then blows out a slow breath. “I won't deny that she's unusually resilient for a human her age, but this is the sort of thing I wish she'd talk to someone else about.”

The hint isn't up to Lexi's usual standards for subtlety, but then again, neither was the message that called Suvi to the medbay in the first place. “Could she be talking to SAM?”

She is not, Dr. Anwar,” is SAM's response, and Suvi has to smile - just a little - when she and Lexi immediately look upwards; something Sara has previously theorized is an instinctive, cross-species reaction to the sound of a disembodied voice. “Unfortunately, the only information I can offer is that the Pathfinder's readings continue to show elevated levels of cortisol and adrenaline, as well as a marked decrease in progesterone.”

Signs of stress and depression, she translates, and meets Lexi's eyes for a long moment. “Alright,” she agrees, and nods once. “I'll try.”

Unsurprisingly, that turns out to be more easily said than done. Not because Sara avoids her – at least not other than staying away from Deck 3, and she isn't sure if that counts - but barely an hour passes after Suvi's visit with Lexi before the away team is prepping for departure yet again. Since Suvi isn't willing to rush through the talk she promised to attempt, that means it'll have to wait.

She finds some reassurance in the laugh traveling down the hall from the cargo bay, since that means an upcoming trip planetside at least still has the same effect. With that in mind, Suvi focuses on planning; on figuring out what type of approach will draw the best response, and – while Sara is distracted due to being halfway buried under the Nomad's bonnet - on quietly pulling both Peebee and Jaal aside and asking them to keep an eye on her while the three of them are gone.

The Tempest orbits Voeld for almost a full week, and Suvi's time is fairly evenly split between her own duties, sleep, and taking psychology pointers from Lexi.

“I am sorry that I asked you to do this,” Lexi tells her at the end of one such meeting. “I know it isn't your job or even your area, and I wouldn't have asked except she seems to respond more favorably to you than anyone else.” She swipes at the data pad in her hand with two fingers, and looks up when it chirps softly and the one resting by Suvi's elbow does the same. “Just promise you'll keep coming to me with any questions or concerns, and that you'll speak up the second you need to back out. There's no shame in that.”

“I will,” Suvi promises - though at least right now, she sees to reason to do anything of the sort – and scans her own display before claiming the data pad and standing. “Thanks for the transfer.”

“Remember to sleep!” Lexi calls after her as she leaves, and Suvi gives an idle little wave over one shoulder; already distracted by not only the handful of text files she just received, but by the gentle tingle at her wrist that comes from her omni-tool receiving a new message from SAM.

At rest, social
Cortisol down
Adrenaline down
Progesterone up

It's as bare-bones as SAM can make it, because the last thing she wants is for Sara to feel that she's being spied on. As such, she receives no more than four of these messages a day, with each centered on one possible combination of two scenarios; whether Sara is active or resting, and whether she's social or solitary. Exactly what's happening when the scan is performed, she doesn't know. Nor does she need to.

The night the away team returns, Suvi goes to bed as usual. Unusually, however, she sets her omni-tool to silently wake her at two in the morning, and only comes to a somewhat sleepy stop by the door to the Pathfinder’s quarters after finding Deck 3 abandoned yet again.

She doesn't knock, but the door hisses open anyway; parting in front of her and letting light spill into the night-darkened hallway.

“Can't say I'm surprised you're the one Lexi decided to sic on me,” comes the greeting when she enters; Sara glancing up and offering a wry smile from where she sits on the sofa; fully dressed and half-hunched over an unfinished spaceship model that has its remaining parts scattered across the coffee table. “Thought it would happen sooner, though.”

Straightforward, then, Suvi decides; not that she expected any different. “There was an away mission to take into account.” She trots down the single step into the quarters proper and bites back a yawn. “And she's worried.”

“Yeah, I figured.” Sara doesn't abandon her project, but she does scoot over enough to make room on the sofa. “SAM’s been scanning me pretty regularly.”

That makes her pause mid-step. “You can tell when SAM scans you?”

“Yup.” Another small piece is picked up, and Suvi carefully lowers herself to a seat while it's fused into place. “So we had a little talk about privacy, consent and confidentiality. Right, SAM?”

Yes, Pathfinder.”

Suvi considers that as she settles back into the sofa, because if Sara knew about the scans from the very start, it follows that she knew about the messages as well. “But you still let him continue?”

That earns her a curious glance, followed by the sharp quirk of a single eyebrow. “Do I need to have the same talk with Lexi, of all people?”

“Ah.” The realization that they're having two slightly different conversations finally hits, and Suvi clears her throat. “No. The results... were sent to me.”

The second eyebrow hikes up to join the first, and there's a long moment where Sara simply watches her. Then she blinks. Twice. “To you?” she repeats, and puts down the half-finished model before straightening. “Okay.”

Now it's Suvi’s turn to quirk an eyebrow. “'Okay'? When it's me, but not when it's our medical officer? Who, I should add, would actually be doing her job rather than prying?”

Sara shrugs. “In a lot of ways, Lexi would just be doing her job,” she says, and twists in her seat until they're facing each other a little better. “But ‘worry about the Pathfinder’ isn't on your list of duties, right?”

“Not officially,” she agrees, and finds a small smile that only grows stronger when Sara returns it almost shyly.

“Right.” There's a soft cough, and Sara spins the small tool she's been using between two fingers and ducks her head to watch; a motion that makes a lock of hair fall in front of her face while Suvi’s fingers itch to brush it back. “So it's different.” Her head lifts again, and she takes a second to blow at the stray hairs. “You don't do it out of obligation.” Pause. “I hope, anyway.”

“I don't,” Suvi confirms quietly. “I do worry, though. But for what it's worth, the messages were very simple. I wanted to know how you were doing; not what.”

“I believe you.” The corner of Sara's mouth quirks up again, and she stops spinning the tool to instead start tapping the end of it against her knee. “I made SAM read the second one to me before he sent it. Didn't think to ask who he was sending it to, of course.”

“Because you were sure it was Lexi?”

“Mm.”

The silence that settles between them isn't exactly uncomfortable, but she wouldn't call it comfortable, either. More than anything, it feels awkward; almost painfully so, in fact, when Suvi watches the tiny tool get spun and tapped and flipped and remembers the easy flow of previous conversations.

“Sara.” Gently, she curls her fingers around the other woman's wrist, and waits until those eyes are meeting hers. “I'm sorry.”

Surprisingly, the response is a soft chuckle. “Don't be.” The wrist under her hand twitches but doesn't move, and there's a wryly warm glint appearing in the gaze facing her. “Like I said, I don't mind when it's you. I'd have liked you to have asked instead, yeah, but on the flip side, I'm not sure I would've been able to tell you anything.” A brief smile. “It takes me a while to process stuff enough to talk about it.”

“And if I ask now?” She watches the lean shoulders tense in response, as well as the way those eyes drop back down. “I meant what I told you on the bridge.”

“I know.” Sara takes a long breath that turns into a sigh and tucks one foot up under herself, and when she settles back, she's close enough that Suvi can feel the warmth radiating from her body. “I'm just not used to talking about these things. At least not with anyone other than Scott.”

Her hand isn't being shrugged off, so Suvi leaves it where it is; giving the smooth skin under her thumb a gentle, hesitant stroke and feeling the steady pulse jump in response. “The Alliance didn't require psychological evaluation?”

That nets her a snort. “Oh no, they did. Definitely after any really exciting missions.” Those being ones that include injuries or worse, Suvi assumes. “But browbeating your actives into treatment doesn't help, so they try to find a happy medium. For me that was talking to my brother.”

Understandable, Suvi supposes, since she knows from no greater source than Sara herself that the Ryder twins share the military background, even if they chose diverging paths. “What would you tell him in this case?”

She gets a laugh this time; surprised and short, but no less genuine. “For one, that my science officer has apparently been reading psychology texts,” Sara teases, with a definite twinkle in her eyes. “You get an A for effort, by the way. Even if that was basically page one of Psych 101.”

Ah. Well, it probably shouldn't surprise her that Sara would recognize the basic tactics. There's also no mistaking the feeling of heat crawling up her neck, but at least the smile facing her is affectionate. “This isn't exactly my area of expertise.”

“I'm aware.” There's the soft sound of shifting fabric as Sara leans over to give her shoulder a little nudge; something that brings those eyes entirely too close for comfort where her heart rate is concerned. “That's where the A for effort comes from.”

“I'll have to take that, I suppose,” Suvi muses. She never truly expected to be able to pull one over on their illustrious leader - Sara is many things; stupid isn't one of them - but while she has been summarily found out, she isn't quite ready to give up yet. “Can we at least agree that you do need to talk to someone?”

Sara chuckles, and the wrist under Suvi’s palm flexes when her fingers do the same. “We can even agree that you're the most likely candidate,” is the somewhat surprising reply. “But where do I begin?”

That's a fair question, and one that Suvi takes the time to ponder while Sara cants her head and sends a glance first upwards, and then to the workstation across the room.

“There's no need to use the private channel in front of Suvi, SAM.”

My apologies,” comes the now-audible reply, and there's a tiny pulse of blue light from the router in the corner. “Dr. Anwar, I asked if it would be acceptable of me to provide some background music. As I understand, it can be relaxing, and also help to fill any potentially discomfiting silences.”

While SAM's voice forever uses the same, peaceful tone, something about the timing of this question strikes Suvi as odd. A glance at Sara, however, earns no more than an unconcerned shrug. “Sure?” she therefore ends up saying, and sends a curious glance over her shoulder to rightmost end of the room when a slow, soothing tune obediently starts playing.

Something definitely still feels a little weird, but since the music not only makes Sara's shoulders loosen a little further but also puts a small smile on her face, it's something Suvi is willing to overlook; at least for the time being.

So. “I think I have a starting point for you,” she says, and waits for Sara to turn her head. “Tell me about the first night you spent back on the Tempest.”

And Sara does; halting at first like she still needs to warm up to the idea of talking at all, but she tries. She keeps trying, and slowly, the words seem to come more easily.

“I spent a lot of time with the Alliance, you know?” she says some time later; leaning forward with her elbows on her knees and her gaze fixed at some indeterminate point ahead. “I've taken shots of all kinds to more parts of my body than I care to count. Saying that I've been injured before would be an understatement, but it just kind of comes with the job. Same goes for the idea of dying.”

Suvi – who retracted her hand when Sara first adjusted her position – now lets it settle on the younger woman's shoulder. “But the actuality of it?”

“Yeah.” There's a short, wry laugh – more a puff of air then anything else – and Sara's fingers fold between her knees and clench until Suvi can feel the resulting twitch of muscle under her own hand. “That was... different. With how long I've been active duty, I thought I'd made my peace with it.” Her head drops, and her hands tighten their hold on themselves again. “I guess not.”

Mostly, Suvi wants to wrap an arm around her. She isn't sure if that'll be welcome, however, and so settles for giving the shoulder under her hand a gentle squeeze. “It scared you,” she then offers; not as a question, though Sara nods at her own knees all the same. “Was it the dying itself that scared you more?”

Several seconds tick by before she gets an answer. “No.” Sara's voice is hoarse, and while she does clear her throat a few times, it doesn't seem to do much good. “If it had been permanent, it's not like I'd have had a chance to worry about it.” Her fingers are curled so tightly around themselves now that her knuckles are turning white, and when her breathing starts to go shallow, Suvi sits up straighter. “And it wasn't, anyway, so it's pointless, but I keep thinking that-- that Scott would've woken up alone, and--”

Her voice breaks, and Suvi stops worrying about what's welcome and proper instead of what's needed; reaching out and tugging until Sara's face is hidden in the crook of her neck and she can wrap both arms around those strong, shaking shoulders.

“He wont,” she promises quietly, and feels her heart about break at the hot, hitching breaths warming her chest while Sara's fingers curl into fists against her stomach. “He's safe. You both are.”

They stay like that for a long time. Long enough that Suvi gently adjusts them both until they can lean on the sofa's back without her having to break her hold. It seems to be what Sara needs, anyway; somewhere to just rest and relax and let go, and Suvi is only happy to be the one to provide it.

Honored, really.

Sara falls asleep like that; resting against Suvi's shoulder and with one hand curled loosely around the elbow that she was at one point gripping hard enough to probably bruise.

Suvi doesn't mind. She just stays where she is and – now – gives in to the temptation to very, very gently brush back a lock of hair that is almost painfully soft under her touch. She even lets the backs of her fingers linger against warm skin for a second or two, and studies the peaceful set of those features while Sara breathes easily against her.

The soft tingle at her wrist reminds her that she forgot to turn off her omni-tool's silent alert, and since that alert was set specifically for messages from SAM, the feeling makes her curious enough to – without jostling Sara's head – gently call her QEC inbox open.

Asleep, social
Cortisol levels normal
Adrenaline levels normal
Progesterone levels normal
Oxytocin levels elevated

She reads the last line in particular several times, and then sends the router in the corner of the room a long look. “Are you trying to tell me something, SAM?” she wonders – softly, in deference to the woman asleep on her shoulder – and the tingle reappears almost immediately.

I am uncertain what you mean, Dr. Anwar.

… right. Suvi sighs and gives her head a little shake while the orange glow around her forearm fades. Because what they really need is for their resident AI to develop a taste for playing matchmaker.

xXxXx

It doesn't exactly get easier after that - the whole process of keeping her heart's wanderlust under control - but she supposes there's at least a small mercy to be found in the fact that it keeps wanting to wander off in the same direction. Sara improves, too; she isn't back to normal – not quite – but she's noticeably better, and only gets more so as their irregular, nightly talks resume.

Even the awful flirting resumes, and that more than anything else, Suvi thinks as she prods at the pad by the door leading to the escape pod, is what reassures her.

“Peebee?” She pokes her head in when the door opens, and then enters fully when she spots her query. “You had some samples for me?”

“Hey, Suvi.” She gets a bright smile while the door closes behind her, and then Peebee returns to tinkering with... whatever it is she's working on. “Sorry, no samples; just a question. Are you ever gonna wise up to the fact that everyone's favorite pathfinder is absolutely gaga for you?”

Oh, for... “That's what you called me in here for?” Suvi rubs a hand over her face and somehow resists the urge to groan out loud. “Peebee, for goodness' sake. We're talking about a woman who literally flirts at the drop of a hat.”

Peebee snickers. “Oh, I know. And believe me, I'd take her up on it in a heartbeat if I thought for a second she was serious.”

“My point exactly.” Suvi sighs and pinches the bridge of her nose. “It's obvious that she doesn't mean anything by it; she's so laughably awful at it. Not to mention that she's a flirt with everyone.”

“Yeah; duh.” Peebee rolls her eyes like Suvi is somehow the one trying her patience. “But she's only a nervous, awful flirt with you.”

That... is an irritatingly valid point, and one that keeps buzzing around Suvi's head like a particularly persistent insect. It sticks to her no matter how many times she swats it away, and only buzzes louder with every smile, every joke, and every easy hug she and Sara share.

It's maddening. She can't concentrate; not on her work, not on her research, not on anything that isn't this ever-present, god-awful hope that maybe all those signals she's spent so much time discounting were actually signals after all.

“I need a break,” she finally blurts when Sara walks up to her station on the bridge one day, and probably jumps from her seat with a little too much force if the startled look meeting her is any indication. “Do you need a break? Let's go for a break.”

“Oh... kay?” Sara steps back to let her pass, but follows her amiably, if not a little cautiously. “I don't know how many actual 'break' activities we can find around here outside of me and the others whaling on each other in the cargo bay, but I'll change if you want.”

That, at last, relaxes her enough to chuckle. “No need.” She waits for Sara to slide down the ladder to the lower deck before following her at a more sedate pace. “Just... meet me in your quarters?”

“Sure.” There's a light touch to her back as she reaches the floor; warm, steadying and protective. “Everything okay?”

“I'm fine.” Suvi lets the touch slip from her back and returns it with a brush of her palm against Sara's shoulder. “I'll be right back.”

It's a promise she makes easily enough, and one she keeps, too, since taking the small detour to the crew quarters and grabbing what she needs doesn't take more than a minute, at most. There's the distinct feeling of butterflies in her stomach, too – moths, maybe, to go with Sara's flame – and they only flap all the harder when she enters the pathfinder's quarters to find the woman in question leaning patiently on the railing that circles the room; chin set on one loosely curled fist and peering off into the endless field of stars outside like she's still searching for Neverland.

“Tea, Sara?” Suvi asks, and has to swallow against a tight throat at the low, fond chuckle she gets in response.

“Afraid we're all out,” Sara tells her; folding her arms on the railing and sending her a crooked smile via the window's reflection. “I checked this morning.”

Suvi sighs. “Tea, Sara?” she tries again, and waits; for Sara's head to turn, for her brow to furrow in confusion, and for her face to clear when she catches on.

So tell me, Doc; what's a girl gotta do to get her hands on your stash?

And Sara turns; bodily, this time. She leans on the railing on a single elbow; she faces Suvi and loosens her shoulders, and overall adjusts her posture until there isn't a single part of her that isn't radiating openness and welcome.

Better yet, she smiles. “I'd love a cup.”