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“Don't even think about shortchanging me,” Vetra says lightly, shooting Merz a toothy grin to remind him that hey, we're all friends here, but also that she's got two foot and a mouthful of sharp teeth on him. Humans always seem to get a bit weird about that.

His laugh is a little nervous, but probably only because he was thinking about it. He’s definitely not the worst person she does business with, but she has to watch him like a hawk. “Sure thing, Nyx,” he says, and gestures over his shoulder. “You want both boxes?”

“That's what I paid for.”

“Course it is. I'll, er - ”

Course it is. He probably wasn't even going to bring the second one if she hadn't reminded him, the slippery bastard. She just smiles placidly at him as he trips over his words.

“- I'll bring it in,” he amends, and Vetra leans against the airlock to the hold as he scurries back down the ramp, opening her omnitool with a chuckle.

“Hey Sid,” she says, “I'm nearly done getting supplies for the Tempest, you free?”

There's a loud thud down the commline. “Wow, um. That was quick.”

Vetra grins. “You mean you haven't finished tidying the apartment.”

“No!” A defiant pause. “Well, maybe. Just let me get my room cleared - ”

"Don't worry about it,” Vetra says, with a weird lurch in her stomach that's maybe a little bit sad. “I can crash on the couch.”

It had been her and Sid’s apartment for so long, it’s hard to think of it as just Sid’s. It’s not that she hasn’t had to spend time away from her before, but now it’s - it's different. Sid’s older. Not as old as she thinks she is, but she's older and she needs Vetra less in all the small ways, if not the big ones. She has her own life here, back on the Nexus, and Vetra has her own on the Tempest and out in Heleus. She doesn’t want to spend her shoreleave cramping her little-but-not-so-little-sister’s style, and it's only just occurred to her that this might be exactly what she's doing.

“Don’t be stupid,” Sid says sternly - she has no idea how much like their dad she sounds, sometimes - and there's some more hurried rummaging sounds down the line. “There's plenty room for two, I thought we could stay up late watching vids like we used to.”

“What vids?”

“That's a surprise. You're not the only one who can get hold of things, you know.”

“I'm listening,” Vetra says, and Sid laughs. It's nice, feeling more like her sister and less like her mom, which happens more and more these days, to Vetra’s relief. Their relationship has always veered somewhat unpredictably between the two, and if she's honest with herself, she makes a way better sister. She's never had the luxury of thinking that before, it would've been singularly unhelpful when there was no one else to pick up the slack.

“Do you remember that asari drama about the Unification War?”

“With the topless death scene?” Vetra squints into the distance; Merz had better be coming back, or it's the last time he gets her credits, or her word of mouth recommendation, which is probably worth more.

“Yep.”

Nope - he's back, with a crate that at least looks like the right size, and she relaxes a little as Sid giggles infectiously.

“Sid, that's the worst vid I've ever seen in my life.” She pauses. “I'll be there in thirty.”

“I knew it. Bring snacks!”

“Sure thing, kiddo,” Vetra says, and ends the call before Merz makes it back up the ramp with the second crate, schooling her expression back into something lazily intimidating. Like she'd pull a gun on you if you mess her about without a second’s hesitation, but she’d really rather just make the trade and not have to bother cleaning up the mess. He gives her a sheepish grin.

“You can leave it there,” she tells him, making no move to help him. “I don't need to check this, right?” She fold her arms with another one of those grins. It's overkill, but she knows people like Merz. Give an inch and they'll take a mile.

“Checked it myself,” he says, as if that isn't exactly what she's afraid of, “all present and correct.”

“Hm,” she says, and makes a show of checking her omnitool as he pushes it into the hold. There's a very satisfying sheen to his forehead. “Nice doing business with you, Merz.”

“Pleasure’s all mine,” he says, but beats far too hasty a retreat for her to believe it.

“Asshole,” she mutters, pushing the lid off the crate and taking a quick inventory. There's a laugh behind her, and she looks up to see Ryder sitting cross legged on the upper platform, resting her arms on the railing and grinning down at her.

“Don't mind me,” Ryder says, “just enjoying the show.”

Vetra rolls her eyes. “The show?”

“You, scaring the locals. He sure looked shifty.”

“He is,” Vetra says dryly, and then looks back up at Ryder warily, half expecting disapproval. She finds none. “He delivers, though, if you keep an eye on him.”

“Probably doesn't hurt that you're seven foot tall with a gun.”

“It never does,” Vetra says, and finds herself grinning back. “I guess some people find that intimidating. Weird, huh?”

“Weird,” Ryder agrees, and then rests her chin on her hands with a playful grin. “Not me. I like tall women.”

That's just Ryder, Vetra is coming to realize. There are worse things than having a cute human flirt with you - and she is cute, cute and obnoxious in a weirdly likeable way - so Vetra will take the harmless ego boost, however insincere her intentions are. It's not like most people are lining up to flirt with her, and Ryder’s never shitty about it and takes all of Vetra’s playful deflections with good humor. Honestly, she enjoys it, but no one has to know that, least of all Ryder.

“Then you're in luck,” Vetra says, clicking the lid of the crate back into place, “there's a lot of tall women on the Nexus who'd love to meet the Pathfinder who made Podromos possible.”

Ryder isn't fazed. “But you're not impressed?”

“I've seen you fall ass backwards out the Nomad because you got your ankle stuck in the safety harness.”

“Yeah, well -”

“Twice.”

“Alright, alright,” Ryder says, but she's still grinning as she pulls herself up by the railing. “You headed out?”

“Now we're restocked, yeah.”

“Say hi to Sid from me.”

“Don't encourage her,” Vetra mutters, locking the crate with her omnitool as Ryder drops down the ladder onto the lower platform.

“I like her,” Ryder says, and leans against the crate onto her elbows. “Must be the big sister in me.”

Vetra looks up from her omnitool, curious but hesitant to overstep. “You're older than Scott?”

“Only by two minutes, but it counts.” Ryder shrugs. “Cesarean section though, gotta wonder if they picked the wrong twin first.”

“Cesarean?”

“Don't turians get those? Like, if there's a complication with the birth they can just operate and go in through the stomach -”

Vetra just stares at her with a fascinated sort of horror.

“ - oh, right, the plates. I guess not. Well, they yanked me out two minutes before him, so I guess that makes me qualified to be the one who worries.”

Vetra chuckles. “Sounds about right. At least you never had to change his diapers.”

“We snuck a bottle of dad's whisky when we were sixteen and he threw up on my bed, that was bad enough.”

“Somehow I'm having trouble imagining you being the sensible one.”

“Didn't say sensible,” Ryder says with a smirk, “maybe I just hold my liquor better.”

Vetra flares her mandibles wide in a mocking grin. “Yeah, I don't buy that either.”

Ryder grimaces. “You don't want to know where I threw up.”

“You're right, I don't.” Vetra shakes her head with a laugh. “You two must've been trouble. It must be different, having a brother the same age as you. Sid's always been the baby to me.”

“Even now?’

Vetra is taken aback. “What?”

Ryder shoots her a curious look. “Even now that she's older, I mean. She has a job on the Nexus, she looks after herself when you're not there -”

“She's still my kid sister,” Vetra says firmly.

Ryder laughs. “I hope I get to see your reaction when she starts dating. Scott had his first girlfriend in fourth grade and I put a worm in her hair.”

“Real mature, Ryder.”

“I got it out my system early, I'm much better now.”

“And is he?” It's out before Vetra can censor herself, and Ryder looks like her birthday just came early.

“It wouldn't hurt if she was, say, seven foot tall, kinda dangerous…”

Vetra folds her arms in amusement. “Like I said, there's plenty out there. I think you need to find a path to a bar.”

Ryder half groans, half laughs. ”You know what, you and Scott would get on.”

“Then I look forward to meeting him,” Vetra says, after a moment's hesitation. She doesn't want to bring attention back to his situation, but Ryder sighs and she feels herself soften. If it was Sid - “Is he doing okay?”

“Stable and in good hands.”

“Are you going to visit him?”

“I was just heading out.” She drums her fingers on the crate. “Not that's he's great conversation at the moment, but I guess it just means I'm definitely the wittiest.”

And that's Ryder, always looking for the funny thing to say, however tight her voice is. Vetra isn't fooled.

“He'll be okay,” she says gently, and instead of a joke Ryder exhales loudly with her cheeks kind of puffed out. Even by human standards, her face sure does a lot of weird things. Luckily, they're easy enough to read.

“Yeah,” she says eventually, and her reticence in talking about it couldn't be clearer, so Vetra backs off.

“He will,” she says again, and then following Ryder’s lead, adds brightly, “He's missing all the fun.”

Ryder’s grin is back. “You snooze, you lose. Or, well - you snooze, we uncover the secrets of a lost civilization and terraform an entire planet in the process. No big deal.”

“Exactly.”  

Ryder straightens up from where she's leaning on the crate. “I shouldn't keep you, Sid's probably waiting.”

There's a weird, intense moment where Vetra wants to invite her along. Sid probably wouldn't mind - who's she kidding, Sid would be delighted - and she could pick up some human appropriate snacks at the markets -

- but that's stupid, Ryder has a million things she'd rather do than be cooped up with Vetra and her excitable little sister in her mess of an apartment, and if Sid was in a coma she's not sure she'd want someone else to parade their sibling in front of her, even in a well meant gesture. Besides, there's never really been anyone besides her and Sid, she's not even sure how she feels about bringing someone else into that.

It's a stupid idea, but for a second, she almost asks.

“Sure,” Vetra says, shaking the thought off, “see you around, Ryder.”

 

-

 

It's Aya that does it, funnily enough. There's a stall in the market that sells lamps that mimic Aya’s natural sunlight, smaller and more decorative versions of the military grade heaters that are dotted around Voeld. There are some that seem to be made for children, one shaped kind of like a small critter back on Palaven that's popular with turian kids. Sid had a plush version that their dad gave her when she was tiny - she still has it, actually, as part of her personal items allowance to Andromeda, but Vetra clearly isn't supposed to know that - so she buys her one of the lamps and arranges to have to sent back to the Nexus.

She almost picks one for herself but it's that lamp that she ends up thinking about.

The worst thing about it is - who steals a lamp ? Who takes advantage of the chaos of an uprising to steal an ugly, outdated lamp? It's not even a collectable or anything; she checked. It's just mass produced, inexpensive, bad taste crap.

Someone turned her and Sid’s apartment upside down, but they hardly even took anything valuable. Kesh and Kandros had more on their plates than looking for the culprit of a lamp heist, so she never asked for security footage or anything like that. What's a lost lamp in a hostile galaxy that's slowly going to hell?

Besides, she's embarrassed. It's tacky as hell, even with her own personal reasons for wanting it back. It lowers the tone of any room it's in instantly. The thief was probably doing her a favor, really, but it's just the nerve of it that sets her teeth on edge. It was her ugly lamp. It meant something.

She's still thinking about it when they get back to the ship. It's put her in a sour mood.

“Hey, Vetra?” Suvi asks, and she does her best to look less annoyed, because Suvi’s always so sweet and doesn't deserve her misdirected ire. She's got that nervous look people have when they're about to ask for something and they don't know how it works. Presumably Suvi’s used to putting in a requisition and filling in a form instead of hovering anxiously in Vetra’s doorway.

She smiles to put her at ease. “What can I do for you?”

Suvi chews her lip, which really isn't helping with the inappropriate crush Vetra is trying - and failing - to keep a lid on. “I've just been wondering - can you really get anything?”

With most humans, the next thing out their mouths is ‘whipped cream’ or ‘pop rocks’ - both of which sound awful, if you ask her - but with Suvi she expects a real challenge, something that'll take a little ingenuity and a delicate touch. Those are always the best jobs.

“That's me,” she says with a grin, bad mood dispelled, “what do you need?”

She's going to get Suvi whatever she's looking for, and she's going to get that damn lamp back. They've got a thriving settlement on Eos, a Pathfinder with a plan, and she's Vetra Nyx and she can get anything.

 

-

 

Getting herself assigned to the Tempest - and in turn, the Pathfinder - hadn’t been easy, but Vetra’s very good at making herself indispensable. There’d been so many things she wanted: a chance to get off the Nexus, to see Heleus, to shoot some kett and maybe do some good while she was at it, but the reality is so much more than she ever imagined.

“Just look at it,” she says, the awe clear in her voice.

“Trying not to,” Cora says stiffly, and Vetra gives her a sidelong look, careful not to look her footing on the dangerously thin ledge they’re all shuffling along sideways, backs pressed against the smooth Rem-Tech wall that towers behind them.

“You afraid of heights, Harper?”

“No,” Cora says, “I’m afraid I won’t cast the barrier in time when Ryder falls, and I’ll have to tell Scott I dropped his sister into a ravine.”

“Relax,” Ryder says from ahead of Vetra, shuffling along the ledge with a little too much enthusiasm. “My technique is solid.”

“Your technique is too fast.”

Ryder scoffs. “I’ve got jump jets.”

“Strangely, that doesn’t comfort me.”

“Ehh, it’s not that high.”

“It really is, Sara.”

“It’s beautiful,” Vetra says, and that gets her a delighted grin from Ryder. “Havarl really is something else.”

“Right?” She gestures out towards the horizon. “Deadly, but beautiful.”

“Deadly’s relative,” Vetra says, ”I was born on a planet that’s actively trying to kill everything on it.”

“I thought you were born on Palaven.”

“I was. It’s as radioactive as they come.”

“That’s the thing about Heleus,” Ryder says, “it’s really made me reevaluate the definition of ‘uninhabitable’. Take Voeld, for instance -”

The sweeping gesture she makes knocks her off her balance, one foot slipping off the smooth, narrow ledge as her fingers scrabble for purchase. Vetra throws an arm across her as Cora groans with weary relief.

“What did I tell you?”

“Whoops,” Ryder says breathlessly, holding herself steady on Vetra’s arm. “Thanks.”

“Well, I couldn’t show my face back at the Nexus if I dropped the Pathfinder.” Vetra retracts her arm carefully with a grin as Ryder gets her footing.

She bats her eyelashes. “My hero.”

“Uhuh. Just watch your feet, Ryder.”

They reach the end of the ledge and step out with relief onto a large platform, pieces of familiar Rem-Tech jutting out at regular intervals round a blind corner. Vetra’s fingers twitch towards her rifle.

Ryder walk up to the console. “SAM? You getting anything for this one?”

Vetra can't hear the reply, presumably SAM keeps it on their private channel, but Ryder grins and the console whirs into life, the pieces rising and falling in a mesmerizing but incomprehensible pattern.

“Never gets old,” Cora murmurs, and Vetra has to agree.

A small formation of Rem-Tech pillars rise up to their left.

“Onwards and upwards,” Ryder says brightly, and they start to climb, Vetra bringing up the rear.

Of course, that's when the Observer tucked away behind the towering shapes decides to spring into action.

Ryder and Cora are at the top so duck behind the last pillar for cover, but Vetra is woefully exposed halfway up the haphazard structure, which is also - helpfully - starting to rearrange itself, presumably at the Observer’s request. She draws her weapon but then presses herself against the pillar rather than activate her armor, hoping that Ryder will draw its attention while she focuses on just getting to the top of the damn thing.

It works; she sees the beam shoot over her head and focus on Ryder’s cover and takes the opportunity to haul herself up to the same level. The next few pillars are smooth enough, but the final vertical gap is just too far to make a clean landing, and her frantic scrabbling sends the Observer's beam curving back round to make her life difficult. Great.

The beams glances off her armor but sends her skidding across the slippery surface, which she makes a valiant effort to cling onto but feels herself slide, slide, slide -

Ryder’s hands close around her upper arms as she throws herself onto her stomach to catch her, and Vetra grabs her elbows as she dangles off the edge. They slide a little way further but then skid to a stop before Ryder’s in danger of getting pulled over too.

“Thanks,” she says, and then feels herself flail a little as her grip loosens. Ryder grins and tightens her own grip, pulling them both backwards so only her head and shoulders are over the ledge.

“Hey, I got you,” she says, “hang on while I -”

Then, of course, the platform starts to move. They look at each other. Ryder’s eyes go wide.

“Uh, SAM? Reckon you could -”

It throws them both sideways with a sharp yank, leaving Ryder hanging by her fingertips and Vetra hanging on desperately from her waist. Ryder groans she tries fruitlessly to get a better grip, but they only swing more precariously.

“No offence,” Ryder says, “but you're really heavy.”

“You need to work on your bedside manner,” Vetra yells, digging her fingers into the grooves of Ryder’s hardsuit as best she can.

“I think my fingers are going to drop off.”

“Not helping!” Vetra feels herself slip another inch. “Cora?” The only response she gets is gunfire.

“Jumpjets,” Ryder gasps.

What ? Are you trying to set me on fire?”

“Not mine, yours. Grab me and give us a boost to the top.”

“You know these things are individually calibrated to our unique weight distributions, right?”

“So overclock it,” Ryder says through gritted teeth. One of her hands slips from the edge. “Sometime soon would be great. Not that we're in a hurry -”

It's not like Vetra has a better plan. Here's hoping Initiative tech holds up in a pinch.

She manages to grab Ryder, even if it is just hauling her up by the armpits, and they gain a surprising amount of altitude before Vetra’s jets decide, nope, this isn't what they signed up for, and they're pitched forward in an undignified heap.

They lie groaning on the platform, somehow having managed to land both underneath and on top of each other. There's an discouraging smell coming from Vetra’s jumpjets, and Ryder starts to laugh. It's infectious, and by the time Cora has made it over to them, Observer taken care of, they're both just lying on the ground chuckling.

“That was fun,” Vetra says, once she's caught her breath, and the intended sarcasm is lost somewhere between her brain and mouth. “Thanks for the save.”

“Yeah, well,” Ryder says, propping herself up on her elbows with a grin. “I couldn't face Sid if I dropped you. Or the crew if I lost their requisitions officer.”

“Don't try to flatter me with your fancy titles,” Vetra says, “next time you're hanging off a ledge, remind me to stop and gripe about how heavy you are.”

Ryder wiggles her fingers mournfully at her. “They're sore.”

Cora folds her arms and nudges Ryder with her toe. “Are you two going to lie there all day?” She tilts her head and adds wryly, “Pathfinder."

That gets Ryder’s attention, pulling herself up to her feet with another melodramatic groan. “Paths. Finding. I'm on it.” She holds a hand out to Vetra, who is oddly charmed by the gesture, and lets herself be pulled to her feet. Ryder smirks. “Careful you don't fall off the edge again.”

“It was moving.”

“Whatever. I thought you were supposed to be graceful.”

“I'm a lot of things, Ryder, but I never claimed to be that.”

“I got ears, Nyx,” she says, her grin wide. “I heard you telling Cora about your dancing career.”

Vetra rolls her eyes. “Then you also heard it was an extremely short and unsuccessful one.”

“Uhuh.” Ryder starts to walk away backwards toward the next Rem-Tech console, facing Vetra and still grinning. “Vids or it didn't happen.”

“Nope.”

“I can dream!”

“Never gonna happen,” Vetra calls after her, opening up her omnitool to run diagnostics on her jets.

To her left, Cora is covering up her own grin with her hand.

“What?”

“Nothing, nothing. She just really likes pulling your pigtails, huh?”

Vetra looks up from her omnitool. “Pigtails?”

“It's just this stupid thing we say about little kids, when they're teasing each other because they like each other.”

“Ryder’s like that with everyone,” Vetra says dismissively, and then when Cora looks politely disbelieving, adds, “Besides, it pays to stay on the good side of the ‘requisitions officer’ if you want your creature comforts.”

Cora laughs. “So you're keeping the title?”

“Only when I want to sound fancy.”

“I have to ask,” Cora says, “what are Ryder’s creature comforts?”

Vetra flares her mandibles. “That'd be telling.”

It's an automatic response and it gets a laugh, but the truth is: Ryder hasn't made any requests of her, not a single toiletry or gun mod. Everyone wants something.

Vetra figures she's just saving up the favors for something big. That's how it usually goes, and it's what she would do. Butter up the person who can get you what you want and don't get greedy in the meantime, that's how you get a good deal.

Until then, if Ryder wants to pull her pigtails, then Vetra figures it's all in good fun.






Chapter Text

Kesh calls her when they're docked on Voeld, and Vetra knows, intellectually, that the Tempest has an independent thermostat that keeps it the same temperature wherever they are, but her aching plates insist that, no, it's colder here. Maybe turians are just sensitive, but Voeld’s inhospitable weather seems to seep through the hull and make her cranky, thermostat be damned.

The cold gets under her skin. It's not the only thing, but - she's determinedly not thinking about Kosta or his unwanted opinions; she shut those out when she locked the door and started dismantling her rifle aggressively. Because she’s diligent about weapon maintenance, or at least she is when she’s pissed, anyway.

She nearly doesn't take the call, but it’s Kesh. Vetra has a small list of people who she’ll allow interruptions from even in times like these, and Kesh is definitely on it. She owes her that much.

“I hope you've got good news,” Vetra says irritably, and then sighs and drops her tools onto her desk. And breathe. “Everything okay on the Nexus?”

“As much as it ever is. What's rattled you?”

“Nothing.” Vetra’s fingers itch for something to do. “What can I do for you?”

“I've got something for you, actually,” Kesh says, “I've been looking into that robbery like you asked.”

“There's no rush, Kesh. I know how busy you are.”

“I've got time to do a friend a favor.” Vetra’s omnitool flashes, indicating an incoming data package. “Sent you the security footage, but don't get your hopes up.”

Vetra opens it, hopeful despite the warning. “No?”

“It narrows down your suspect list to maybe twenty, but they don't exactly smile for the camera.”

“Hey, it's a start. How many can I run facial recognition on?”

“One step ahead of you, I’ve got seven matches. Sending those details through too.”

“Thanks, Kesh. You didn’t have to go to all this trouble.” Vetra accepts the incoming data and makes a mental note to send something personal through to the Nexus; she’ll have to ask Drack what would make a good thank you gift. “Maybe SAM can get a little more from it, I’ll ask Ryder.”

“Sure,” Kesh says, “but listen, I've been thinking about that lamp. I know you said it was ugly, but I don't think you had krogan interior decoration in mind.”

Vetra grins. “Hope you're not thinking of stealing it for yourself.”

“Not my style, Nyx. I'm not into all those asari vids.”

“Neither am I,” Vetra says, unconvincingly. “I told you, it belonged to my old boss -”

“Whatever you say. Just take a look at the file on Sardek, call it a gut feeling.”

Vetra pulls the file up on her omnitool. “A friend of yours?”

“Not the word I’d use, but I know him, and the timing on the footage fits. He just seems like the type to steal a lamp like that.”

“And what type is that, exactly?”

Kesh laughs quietly down the line, low and amused. “Maybe you can tell me. How did you end up with it in the first place -”

“Thanks for the footage, Kesh,” Vetra says loudly, “I appreciate it.”

“Anytime, Vetra.”

Kesh drops the call with another low chuckle, and Vetra loads the footage and facial recognition overlay, scrolling through to find Sardek. The security array nearest her apartment wasn’t working, so there’s a mere five seconds where you can see him rounding the corner, presumably with lamp in tow. There’s nothing to indicate he’s got it, but Kesh’s hunch is a damn sight better than anything she’s got, and it’s as good a place to start as any. She rewinds, watches him stride round the corner again, a certain arrogance to the way he’s walking. Rewinds again.

“I got you, you bastard,” she mutters, and is about to rewind and watch it from the beginning when there’s a knock at her door, a sharp tap with just an edge of hesitation to it. Vetra feels a renewed wave of irritation at the prospect of being interrupted, until she hears their voice.

“You got a minute?”

It's Ryder, and so Vetra closes the security vid without hesitation and unlocks the door. The lamp is a compelling side project, but like Kesh, Ryder is on her priority list. Because she’s the Pathfinder, obviously, and because they’re friends.

If she hasn't well and truly fucked up their working relationship, that is. She'd snapped at Kosta - more than snapped, really - and then kept a deathly, furious silence until they made it back to the ship, where she stalked off without a backwards glance. Ryder had called after her, but she'd pretended not to hear. She makes no apologies for what she said, but that she regrets. She could hear the frustration in Ryder’s voice too, and the snort Liam made in the background as she proved his point.

All she can do now is give Ryder her best professional attention, calm and polite though her insides are still a gnarled, agitated mess, and hope that she hasn't ruined everything. Their easy teasing, camaraderie, even trust.

“Something you need?”

“I'm just checking in,” Ryder says, leaning in the doorway and chewing on her thumbnail. It's a nervous habit she's seen in a lot of humans, but not Ryder. “You okay?”

“Why wouldn't I be?” There's no aggression in the question, but maybe there is a little defensiveness, and Ryder reacts to it with a raised eyebrow. Vetra sighs, and beckons her into the room proper, the door sliding shut behind her.

“You seemed....” Ryder takes a seat on a crate and rubs at her neck as she searches for the rest of her sentence. “... angry.”

“I was,” Vetra says carefully, forcing herself to stand still and fight her instinct to pace.

“And upset.”

Vetra can’t meet her eyes, finding something instead to look at on her terminal. “Right.”

“I’ve spoken to Liam,” Ryder says, seemingly choosing her words just as carefully. “He didn't -”

“Ryder, if you’re here to make excuses for him, don’t bother.” Vetra’s voice is flat. “He pissed me off, that’s all there is to it. It doesn’t need to be a big deal.”

“It is a big deal, Vetra.”

“Maybe in the Alliance where you all have to play nice and get along. I don’t have to like Kosta, and he doesn’t have to like me. We can still work together just fine.” Vetra clenches her fists where they hang stiffly at her side. “I’ve worked with people I like a lot less, trust me. Liam just doesn’t know when to shut up.”

“He just misses his family,” Ryder says gently, “but he still shouldn't have said that.”

“Like I said,” Vetra says wryly, “maybe in the Alliance.”

“What?”

“The Initiative isn’t military, Ryder. You’re not our CO, and you don’t have to make us get along. It’s not your job to smooth things over.”

“It kind of is,” Ryder says, and then grins wearily at her. “Pathfinder, remember? Gotta smooth out this entire cluster.”

The grin is what finally gets Vetra to relax a little, unclenching her fists. “Please say you’re not going to make us hug it out.”

“Hey, good idea. That could work!”

No. It wouldn’t.”

“Not with that attitude,” Ryder says, and then she pats the space on the crate next to her. “Listen, maybe I’m not your CO - I was never any good at that crap anyway - but you’re my crew, and this will go a lot smoother if we all get along. I’m not asking you to start wearing matching friendship bracelets or anything, but I need to know we're good, okay?”

Vetra hesitates, but Ryder pats the crate more insistently. She takes the seat. “I... could have handled it better.”

“You’re not the only one. Look, I’m not here to blame either of you, I’ve talked it through with him, and now I’m talking it through with you.” Ryder bumps her shoulder softly against Vetra’s side, and she can’t help but feel a flurry of relief. “Just checking in.”

“Are you sure you’re not trying to be my CO?”

“I told you, I’m no good at that crap.” Ryder pulls a face. “But I can make you scrub the toilet if you really want.”

“I’m good,” Vetra says, and Ryder nudges her with her shoulder again.

“Really?”

“Really,” Vetra says, but something about the uncertainty in her voice gives her away, and Ryder watches her expectantly. It's not her problem. She's just here to make sure there won't be more trouble down the line and keep things running smoothly, she's not here to soothe Vetra’s conscience or listen to her second guess the things she can't change. And yet -

Ryder tips her head to one side curiously. “Vetra?”

“What if Sid didn't really have a choice?”

“She chose to come with you.”

“And the alternative? Lose her only family and make her own way when she's only a kid? In a galaxy filled with more than a few assholes that'd want her dead on account of her being my sister?” Vetra sighs and rubs at the back of her neck. “Some choice.”

There's a brief silence while Vetra stews in self reproach. It feels even worse to say it out loud.

“I'll tell you what I told Liam,” Ryder says after a moment, back to picking at her thumbnail in a nervous sort of way. “Do you think I'd be here if it wasn't for Scott? Or my dad?”

Vetra watches her carefully. “Wouldn't you?”

“Don't get me wrong, I'd want to be here anyway, but I don't think I could've left them behind. I don't think I could've let them leave without me, either. So did I not have a choice?”

“You wouldn't have had to stay behind with a bunch of criminals who wanted your sister dead.”

“I'm not saying it's the same,” Ryder says,”but my dad didn't exactly leave behind a nice, shiny family legacy. He got kicked out the Alliance for what he did with SAM, pretty much screwed my career over before I was even out the gate. I had some compelling reasons to start fresh.”

“You're a born adventurer, Ryder.”

“I think you're underestimating your sister,” she says, and shoots Vetra a half-smile. “Listen, even with the way everything's gone down, with dad… with Scott - I don't regret coming here. It's okay for stuff to influence your choices, and I think family is a pretty good reason.”

Vetra stays quiet for a moment as she chews that over, thoughts lingering on the two Ryders she hasn't met, one of which she never will. She'd wrangled Sid into being in the first wave of cryo wake up calls, called in a few favors with Kesh to keep it that way even after their disastrous arrival and Sid being officially unqualified to help the survival effort. Even so, there'd been almost a month when it was just her, and she'll never forget the relief of finally waking her up.

She's pulled strings for others since then too; she has a soft spot for people trying to get a spouse or sibling or child out of cryo, and none more than salarians desperate not to outlive their family as time dragged on and their lives ran out a little faster than everyone else's. It made good business sense a lot of the time - you ended up with two people feeling indebted to you instead of just one - but that wasn't why she did it. Resources and survival matter, but if you can't let people be with the ones they care about, it's all meaningless.

“I know you've had it pretty rough,” Ryder says, “but I'm sure Sid doesn't regret it either.”

“Thanks, Sara,” Vetra says quietly, a little lost for words. “I - well. She's a good kid.”

“She is, and she thinks the world of you.”

Vetra snorts. “Are you sure you talked to the right turian? I mean, I know we all look the same to you…”

“Well, if she wasn’t your sister, I guess she was wrong about you wanting that copy of Honorbound 3 …” Ryder sighs dramatically. “I’ll just have to keep it for myself.”

“You have a copy of that?” Vetra feels her voice rise a few octaves with delight, and clears her throat to stall the thrilled grin spreading across Ryder’s face. “Nope, you got the wrong turian.”

“Oh my god, she was so right,” Ryder says, “you know like half the actors are just asari with really bad fringe prosthetics?”

“It was all shot on location,” Vetra gushes before she can quite stop herself, and Ryder loses it, bent over double with laughter.  She pulls herself up with all the dignity she can muster. “You ever tried smuggling, Ryder? There’s a lot of waiting about. So maybe I watched a lot of vids -”

“This is my new favorite fact about you.”

“What was the old one?”

“That you’re six foot five.” Ryder gives her a sidelong look as she props her chin up on one hand, and yep, there it is. She’s not sure when she started enjoying this so much.

“Six foot six, actually,” Vetra says, and maybe Ryder has noticed that she’s looked up her archaic human measuring system just to correct her, as she raises an eyebrow. “I’d hate for you to have the facts wrong.”

“Well, I stand corrected,” Ryder says, “and you stand, like, a whole foot above me, holy crap.

“It’s probably why the asari in prosthetics are so unconvincing. I think they stood on boxes for some of the romance scenes.”

“I love that you know that,” Ryder says with a fervent sort of delight, and then gives Vetra another grin. “So, you want the vid?”

“What’s your price?”

“What? No! It’s a gift.”

“Come on,” Vetra says, “there must be something you’d like. Some human food, or something, just don’t say whipped cream.”

“Whipped cream?”

“It’s what everyone keeps asking for, and it’s the one damn thing I can’t get hold of.” Vetra shrugs. “I’m guessing it’s a delicacy.”

Ryder’s face is doing something funny, like she’s trying both to laugh and not to laugh at the same time. “Not really, but it’s, er. I mean, it’s not a sex thing, but it’s not not a sex thing -”

“What?”

“Don’t turians eat food off each other?” Ryder says, and there’s a brief moment where Vetra just blinks at her, imagining things she really, really shouldn’t be imagining. She hope it isn’t obvious. “Or maybe not, it always looks kind of… raw. And chewy.”

“I think,” she says carefully, as Ryder’s face turns ever so slightly pink, “turian food might be different to human food.”

“The more you know,” Ryder says brightly, still kind of pink, and pats Vetra on the knee. “The next time someone asks you for whipped cream you’ll just have to wonder if they like it with pie, or with -”

“Thanks for the insight, Ryder.”

“Intercultural understanding, that’s what the Initiative is all about.” Ryder scoots down from the crate. “I’ll drop by with the vid later.”

“Sure I can’t get you anything?”

“It’s a gift, Vetra. For my tallest, favoritest turian.”

“Uhuh,” Vetra says, suspicious to flattery that comes attached to presents and no ulterior motive. She’s kind of dreading whatever favor it is Ryder’s going to ask at the end of this, but she’s never shied away from a challenge. “Well, thanks, Ryder.”

“Thank Sid,” Ryder says with a grin, “and - listen, I know she’s your little sister and it’s your job to worry about her, but she’s smart and she knows what she’s doing. Try to remember that, okay?”

It’s those words that Vetra thinks of when she gets the encrypted message from Sid about the missing colonists, and she thinks, well. Maybe Ryder has a point.

 

-

 

Sardek’s a difficult bastard to pin down, and she’s asked enough questions of her contacts on Kadara she’s getting wary of sounding suspicious. She deals in supplies and contraband not rogue krogan whereabouts, and given that he’s neither a known supplier nor even particularly trustworthy she’s starting to raise a few eyebrows. Luckily, a bottle of Elaaden moonshine seems to have bought her a few favors from someone better placed to make enquiries, and she’s waiting on a message. She’s probably checked her omnitool ten times in the past twenty minutes.

“Would you put that thing away?” Sid says irritably, and Vetra shuts the display down with a start, feeling guilty. They're supposed to be having a family night, just the two of them. It's a rare occurrence these days.

“Sorry,” she says, “what'd I miss?”

“Bellicus just told his dad he didn't need his approval,” Sid says, reaching over to grab another handful of Blast-Ohs. Vetra feels like she might have been teaching her sister her own bad habits. “You'd know if you'd been watching even a little.”

“I hate when musicals use all their good songs up at the beginning.”

“Are you kidding? The best song's still to come.”

“I told you, Bellicus can't sing. He sounds like a pyjack falling off a cliff, way too slowly. I just want to put him out his misery.”

“I think he has a nice voice.”

“I can't believe we're related,” Vetra tells her, and they grin at each other, antagonism forgotten. It's been rocky with Sid the past few weeks, the push and pull of H-047c dragging on and on, even now Sid's safety back on the Nexus. Vetra’s trying to let her spread her wings a little, but she's just so damn naive Vetra can't stop herself intervening. Needless to say, it isn't going down well with Sid. They'll work it out. It'll take time, but they'll get there.

“I think I like this better than the original,” Sid says.

“That's it, I'm disowning you. Get out my apartment.”

“Bellicus is way less uptight, it makes it more realistic.”

“Listen, kiddo,” Vetra says, “if you'd grown up on Palaven you'd know that being uptight is a national pastime -”

Her omnitool beeps with an oncoming message.

“Vetra! We said no work.”

“Sorry, sorry,” she says, frantically silencing it. “It's just Ryder.”

“Oh,” Sid says, her expression softening. She likes Ryder enough that Vetra is something approaching jealous, or possessive, or maybe both. It's ridiculous, and she pushes the emotion back down where it belongs. “Say hi from me.”

“Give me a second,” Vetra says, and types a reply out rapidly. “I'll just let her know I won't be back on the ship tonight.”

“Oh,” Sid says again, with a surprised inflection to her voice. “Is she, um, expecting you?”

“What?” Vetra is too distracted to parse her meaning.

“Are you two -”

Vetra gets it this time. “It's not like that,” she says, vaguely horrified that her kid sister had to ask the question. “She's just asking if I got the new supplies, that's all.”

“Of course,” Sid says, and there's an awkward silence. “I mean, can you blame me? You two are really -”

Vetra gives her a look, but Sid falters only for a moment.

“ - flirty.”

“We're not.”

“You definitely are,” Sid says slyly, warming to the topic. “All that stuff about how tall you are -”

Vetra waves her hand dismissively. “She's like that with everyone.”

“Maybe,” Sid says, “but, well…”

“Well?” Vetra fixes her with a sharp glare.

“You're not.”

“I'm not what?”

You're not like that with everyone,” Sid says, and as Vetra looks away with a groan, adds, “It could happen!”

“Sid,” she says pleadingly, spreading her hands. “Could we not?”

“I think you like her.”

“I don't -” Vetra says, and then can't quite bring herself to finish the sentence. She grits her teeth. ”It's not going to happen. She's just - Ryder’s just like that, okay?”

“If you say so,” Sid says, and they don't talk for the next few minutes to the backdrop of a rousing number about honor and family versus the pull of romantic love, ironically enough. Vetra watches Ryder’s cheerful reply appear in her inbox and lets herself consider it, honestly, for the first time.

It would be hard not to like Ryder. It would be harder not to have thought about it, not when Ryder’s pulling her pigtails or whatever it is that Cora calls it, and especially not when Ryder has been nothing but a good friend to her and Sid. It's understandable, but inadvisable, and Vetra wishes she didn't, because she's pretty sure she's going to end up disappointed.

“I think you should go on a date,” Sid says eventually, through a mouthful of cereal.

“I told you, it’s not going to happen.”

“I didn't mean with Ryder,” Sid says, “there's this guy at work, he's old like you -”

“Wow, thanks.”

“- and he's got a nice voice and he likes rocks. He collects different samples.”

“Rocks.”

“It's kind of cute,” Sid says, “he gets really excited when he gets a new one in the mail.”

Vetra reaches for the Blast-Oh packet. “ Rocks, Sid.”

“You're being awfully picky, V. When's the last time you even went on a date?”

“Six hundred and eighty years ago, probably,” Vetra says glumly, “and he left me with the check.”

“Come on, you work so hard. Don't you think you've earned some downtime?”

This is downtime.”

“Tannis is really nice, I promise. He doesn't even talk about rocks that much.”

Vetra makes a disgruntled noise.

“I've told him all about you.”

“I hope not.”

“I think you'd really get along -”

“Drop it, Sid,” Vetra says sharply, and rubs her hands wearily across her face. This is why she didn't want to talk about it. Talking about it just reminds her of all the reasons holding a candle for Ryder is a bad idea.

Sid, meanwhile, lets out an offended little sigh and folds her arms as she slumps down in her seat. Great. They suffer through another of Bellicus’ hoarse show tunes in tense silence.

“You still monitoring comm traffic from Kadara?” Vetra says eventually, trying to sound conciliatory.

Sid sniffs. “Why do you care?”

“I've got something I need your help with,” Vetra says, watching Sid's expression turn cautiously interested. “You remember that ugly old lamp I used to have…”

Partners in crime works a lot better than Sid playing matchmaker.

 

-

 

Truth is, Vetra’s never had a lot of spare time for dating, and not a lot of inclination, either. For a start, her priority has always been Sid and keeping them both afloat and alive, which isn't exactly conducive to romance. Secondly, she tended to hang around with people skirting the finer points of the law, ranging from straight up hardened criminals to merely kind of untrustworthy.

She had better luck with relationships when she was younger - not that she's old now, thanks Sid - but mostly because she was naive enough not to see when someone was just using her. She'd learned not to let herself get hurt like that again, but also how to get what she wanted from that kind of arrangement. There's no particular harm in working out a trade as pillowtalk as long as you know it's coming and you let them think they're getting the better deal. Call her callous but, well. Scratches an itch and all that.

She stopped bothering with that kind of thing a while ago. It was almost never worth the effort, and the real trouble? She's a romantic at heart. Family's important to her and if she's going to be with someone she wants them to be family too. It's embarrassingly cheesy, but there it is.

Smugglers are a funny bunch, they trust little and infrequently by necessity while keeping their address book full to the brim, and Vetra’s no different.

She hadn't joined the Initiative for dating opportunities, either. The pamphlets never really said it outright but she'd always privately thought that once things really got going, they'd start with the reproductive peer pressure, probably offer incentives for doing your bit to populate Andromeda. She'd always intended to dodge that as best she could. She felt like she'd done enough childrearing already for a good few decades, and it would take more than a fancy prefab in a new colony to change her mind. Never say never, but she thinks she'll stick with a ‘probably not’ for a while yet.

When things went south with the Nexus, she'd been almost relieved. No cryo release schedule meant no babies, and no babies meant no need for dates with nice turians with rock collections in a half-hearted bid to find someone she wouldn't mind doing it with. Thanks but no thanks, Tannis.

Now that there's a cryo release schedule in the not so distant future and a growing list of outposts, it's only a matter of time, but Vetra’s safe. She's made herself indispensable to the human Pathfinder and to the Initiative as a whole, and she can date who she wants, when she wants, and shirk her reproductive duty entirely if it comes to it.

Maybe Sid’s right. Maybe she should try dating now things have settled down and Vetra has a little space to breathe and a little-not-so-little-sister who can manage fine without her most of the time. If nothing else, maybe Sid will stop trying to set her up with her coworkers, or worse, setting up online dating profiles.

But then again, she’s finding it hard to muster any real enthusiasm about it. She could spend the next few hours of downtime crafting an awkward email to the “super nice” asari who works in Pathfinder HQ, or she could just stick a stupid vid on, eat her feelings, and read through the messages Sid sent her about getting hold of Sardek. Her kid sister has delivered, to her vague surprise, and that ugly lamp is nearly in her grasp. The trick is going to be figuring out what he wants in return, but that's Vetra’s speciality.

On reflection, that sounds like a much better side project than trying to repair her love life.



Chapter Text

Vetra never gets a moment’s downtime on Kadara, which is just how she likes it. It's an ugly, mean place, but it's ugly, mean, and familiar, and she knows just how it works. Funny to think you travel two and a half million light-years and somehow end up in the exact same place.

Except Vetra’s on the outside looking in, this time. At the end of the day she brushes the dust off her clothes and steps back onto the Tempest, which never fails to feel incredible. The Andromeda dream fell flat in a lot of ways, but in this it holds up.

She's starting to make a habit of picking up supplies for the Tempest on Kadara instead of the Initiative sanctioned sources she used to rely on; they're cheaper if less reliably standard, and they feel like home.

She also makes a point of seeing the crates personally to where the Tempest is docked, something she wouldn't necessarily do on the Nexus despite her incredible capacity for micromanaging, because Jinys can throw as many complimentary packets of caerin in as she likes, she still doesn't trust her not to reclaim the whole crate en route and chalk it down to thieves. Jinys is one her best contacts; reliable, easy to talk to, and the most useful sort of gossip, but thinking of her as a ‘friend’ would be a misguided - if very easy - mistake to make.

Cora is keeping her customary watch at the docking bay, and as Vetra gets nearer she sees that she’s engaged in some kind of stand off with a salarian, fists clenched at her side and glowing an agitated sort of blue. Vetra knows the difference; she’s spent long enough around volatile asari mercs to know good blue and less-good blue, though she’d never make the comparison to Cora’s face. It’s a little part of why she likes her, though, that she has this unpolished edge to the way her biotics react to her emotions that asari almost never hide and humans almost always do.

“You can’t make me leave,” the salarian is saying, “I haven’t done anything wrong.”

“Not yet, you haven’t.”

“I don’t appreciate these unfounded judgements on my intentions, Initiative.”

Vetra takes a deep breath and raises her eyes to Kadara’s unforgivingly bright sky. This is the thing about Kadara; it throws all the ways that she’s different from the rest of the crew into sharp relief. They’re all a damn liability, except maybe Drack, although he’s a completely different type of liability, just not one Vetra has to worry about. She feels like the responsible parent slapping their kid’s sticky fingers away from the power outlet.

It amuses her, sure, but it also stirs up a whole mixture of less pleasant feelings she's not all that keen to examine. She knows the rules of places like Kadara, and she knows the loopholes, too, and she learned every last one of them the hard way, with no one to slap her fingers away from the power outlet. She doesn't begrudge helping them, and she doesn't begrudge them their ignorance, either, it's probably a good thing that their lives never required that they have this knowledge.

It just makes her feel tired, that's all. Tired and old and envious of a life that was never really on the table.

“You’ve been waiting here for hours,” Cora is saying, “don’t think I don’t know what you’re up to -”

“Up to!” The salarian - who is definitely on Jinys’ payroll now Vetra gets a better look at her - throws her arms up in outrage. “I have as much right as anyone else to enjoy the sunshine -”

“Enjoy our supplies, you mean.”

Vetra waits until the crates are behind the security doors before crossing to put a hand on Cora’s shoulder.

“Let’s take a walk, Harper,” she says, not unkindly, and shoots the salarian a steely look. “Tell Jinys better luck next time.”

The salarian looks utterly unabashed. “Just making sure you play by the rules, Nyx. This is Kadara Port.”

“It sure is,” Vetra says, and lets her hand drop from Cora’s shoulder when she feels her tense. “Give me a hand with these, would you?”

Cora sighs, and her fists unclench slowly. Disaster averted. “Sure.”

“It’s not worth starting a fight over,” Vetra says quietly as they open the security doors. “You can’t blame her for trying.”

“For trying to steal what you just bought from them? Are you kidding?”

Vetra shrugs. “You heard her; this is Kadara Port. It’s how it works.”

“Then I don’t think I like how it works.”

Vetra grins. “Really? I couldn’t tell.”

Cora doesn’t crack a smile in return, just picking up a crate with a dubious expression. “Is it what you would’ve done?”

Vetra hesitates just a moment too long as she picks up the other. “No,” she says, glad that she needn’t meet Cora’s eyes as she follows her up the gangway. It sounds an awful lot like a lie. “Not anymore,” she amends, which rings a little truer. She doesn’t make a habit of it, but sometimes you have to be seen to be willing to do this kind of thing if you want to be taken seriously. Maybe in tougher times she would’ve seen it through, too.

When they finally dump the boxes and Cora turns to face her, her expression is every bit as shocked as Vetra had feared, but she seems to be working hard to hide it, which is something.

“Well,” Cora says finally, and it’s Vetra’s turn to be surprised, “I’m glad someone on board knows how things work out here.”

“That’s me,” she says brightly, grateful for the tentative acceptance but stung by the distance between them. Sometimes she wonders if she’ll ever feel like she should be here, or if she’ll always just be the one who invited herself along for the ride.

It makes her feel even worse for what she’s about to do, as well; dragging Ryder down to her level, their endearingly naive Pathfinder, the biggest liability of them all.

“Thanks for the help, Cora,” she says, “you seen Ryder?”

Cora just snorts, jerking a thumb over her shoulder towards Liam’s little hideout, and they share an amused look. She’s a glutton for punishment where Brodie’s concerned.

Vetra crosses the cargo bay, and sure enough, Ryder, Gil and Liam are crowded round a crate, each with a hand of cards, and a pile of improvised poker chips in the middle. She leans against the doorway and regards them all with her best pitying expression.

“Hey Vetra,” Gil says, with that glint in his eyes that means he just got a bit richer, “want me to deal you in?”

“No thanks,” she says dryly, and meets Ryder’s eye as she looks up at Vetra with a pained expression. “You ready, Ryder?”

“Yep.” Ryder drops her cards onto the table with an overblown sigh. “Sorry to disappoint, fellas -”

“Nice try,” Gil says, “cough up, Ryder. I know you're sitting on a pair of sevens.”

Liam sniggers as she places her cards on the table with a groan, which strikes Vetra as tempting fate particularly dangerously given he's about to be left alone with Gil Brodie and a pack of cards. Ryder reveals her pair of sevens, as promised, and flips Gil off for good measure. The one thing the whole crew has in common is that they’re all sore losers when it comes right down to it.

“Happy?”

“Oh, very.”

Ryder opens her omnitool with another sigh, the telltale sign of a poorly spent afternoon with their chief engineer. “Don’t spend it all at once,” she says, and then turns to gives Vetra a grin over her shoulder. She’d asked Ryder to wear something that isn’t plastered in Initiative logos for once, which apparently is a tall ask from Ryder’s blue and white wardrobe. Her offering is a ratty gray shirt with Blasto on the front, ragged at the edges and looking distinctly like Ryder hacked the sleeves off herself, because of course it is. She doesn’t know what she expected.

It also leaves a lot more skin on display than Ryder's usual lineup of Initiative hoodies, which is, of course, an observation made purely based on practicality and the high likelihood of physical violence on Kadara. They're not exactly going somewhere reputable, and you never know what sort of protection an extra layer could offer against a, er - a gun, or -

Ryder reaches up to tuck some hair behind her ear and Vetra follows the way her hand trails absently back down her neck with an intensity that has nothing to do with bar fights, and everything to do with the soft hairs at the base of her ponytail and the smooth curve of her shoulders. Cut it out, Nyx, she thinks, and drags herself forcefully back to reality with an embarrassed jolt. It's an uncharacteristic moment of weakness. Not one she's planning on making a habit of.

Such is her luck, Kosta catches the look and a slow, shit-eating grin spreads across his face. She gives him an icy stare until he raises his hands in surrender and looks away, Ryder thankfully oblivious as she pushes herself off the couch with another sigh.

“Let’s do this,” she says, and Vetra grins again, eyes exactly where they should be, and the rest of her more or less falling in line.

Gil looks up from shuffling the cards with a curious expression. “What are you two up to, anyway?”

“Oh,” Vetra says, momentarily taken aback. She hadn’t thought how to explain it to anyone else. “It’s -  we’re -”

“Crime,” Ryder says cheerfully, punching Vetra lightly on the arm as she passes. “Let’s go, boss. Lead the way.”

She thinks about protesting her innocence but she's also kind of enjoying the way Gil and Liam’s mouths hang half open, so she just follows with a smirk. Let them puzzle it out in their own time.

“Nice shirt,” she tells Ryder as they make their way down the Tempest’s ramp, and back out into Kadara Port proper.

“Sun's out, guns out,” Ryder says, and flexes her arm out in front of her. Vetra watches her from the corner of her eye, but doesn’t quite trust herself to look directly at her until she’s feeling a little less flustered after her lapse in judgement.

“I have no idea what that means.”

“The guns, Vetra,” Ryder says, pointing at her bicep with a hurt expression. “I thought we were intimidating big scary criminals into giving us their lamps.”

“This is Kadara, Ryder. They have real guns here.”

“Yeah, and they'll drop ‘em with fright when they see these ones.” Ryder flexes again, and if flexing can be done with a mournful sort of underappreciation, that's exact how she does it. Vetra still doesn’t look, and so she drops her arms back to her side, much to her relief. “You just tell me who to punch.”

“Noted,” Vetra says, fighting a grin, “but let’s try and avoid it where possible.”

“Where are we going, anyway? You were very mysterious.”

“I’ve been trying to set up a meeting with Sardek, but he isn’t biting.” Vetra shrugs. “So we’re paying him a personal visit.”

“How do we find him?”

“Already found, Ryder. He’s running some kind of unauthorized betting place, which is why it took me so long to track him down.” She catches Ryder’s raised eyebrow. “Unauthorized as in ‘Sloane doesn’t get a cut’, that is.”

“So, as a casino?” Ryder tugs at the front of her shirt. “Should I have worn something fancier?”

“As in a gambling den,” Vetra says, finally chancing an amused glance at Ryder, “so don’t worry about it. But - Blasto? Really?”

“You really want to play the ‘who has worse taste in vids’ game?”

“Point taken,” Vetra says, and nods her head over her shoulder into an alleyway. “It’s down this way.”

Fluorescent lighting guides them down through the maze of Kadara Port’s haphazard architecture, piles of trash heaped up at the sides. Well, she wasn’t expecting it to be classy.

The door to the place itself is guarded by two humans, one of whom raises a gun as they approach. Vetra just keeps walking, and after a moment of hesitation, Ryder follows her lead.

“Hey, Wilson,” she says, “how’s Kadara treating you?”

“Nyx? Is that you?” He lowers his gun with a shake of the head. “Aren’t you still with the Initiative?”

“You know me, I follow the work.” Not as true as it once was, maybe. “I heard this was a good place to spend some money.”

“Didn’t think you were one for gambling.” Wilson shrugs before Vetra has to come up with a convincing excuse. “Sure, why not?”

The other human glares at him. “We’re not supposed to -”

“It’s fine, I can vouch for her.” Wilson waves them in and they duck through the low door, Ryder biting back a grin.

“One day, we’ll go somewhere where you don’t know anyone.”

“Oh, I doubt that,” Vetra says airily, and opens the second door to enter the den proper, Ryder shaking her head with a laugh.

It’s dark and loud, lit with a gaudy selection of fluorescent tubing and floor-level uplights that highlight every contour and imperfection of the corrugated walls. Vetra spots a bar in the corner and starts to make her way over there to get her bearings, scanning the rest of the room with a sharp eye. Best to settle in and get a feel for the place before she goes looking for trouble.

Ryder joins her at the bar and leans against it on her elbows, looking far more like she belongs here than Vetra could have hoped, given her record.

“Don’t go flashing your credits,” Vetra says under her breath, earning a snort.

“What credits? You saw Gil cleaning me out.”

“So that’s a no to buying me a drink, then.”

Ryder takes it as the challenge it is, holding up two fingers to the bartender and gesturing towards the bottles behind the bar. The bartender slides two bottles and small shot glasses of something vibrantly orange across to them and - to her credit - Ryder pays. She reaches for one of the orange shots first, and Vetra catches her wrist before she manages to drink any.

“That stuff’ll knock you dead,” she says, “literally.”

“You’re no fun,” Ryder grumbles, but reaches for the bottle instead. It’s a cheap Kadara special brew, tasteless by virtue of being suitable for levo and dextro, but relatively harmless. Ryder pulls a face at the first sip, and then shrugs and takes another, longer gulp. Vetra absolutely doesn’t notice the way her lips curve around the mouth, or the lines of her neck as she tips her head back, or the way the neon lights dance on her collar bones -

Lexi sent them all an email the other day about an asari stress management technique aiming to achieve a ‘tranquil acceptance’ of frustrating scenarios. The first step is to allow yourself to acknowledge what you’re feeling, then to embrace and accept it, finally making way for a calm understanding that allows you to move past it. She thinks Lexi was making a point about the bickering in the mess about eating each others’ food, but it’s worth a shot.

So, the acknowledgement: she’s interested in Ryder, romantically, sexually, whatever. The whole hopeless package. She likes her. She’s always thought Ryder was good looking, but she thinks a lot of people are good looking and it never really moves past that. She can’t really pinpoint when it progressed to the sort of endlessly frustrating want she’s feeling now, but it’s all tangled up in the way she’s come to trust and respect her, and the trust and respect she’s received in return. Ryder cares about her. Probably not exactly in the way she’d like, but in all the ways that count. She’s smart and she’s brave and she’s fun to be around: it’s a pretty simple recipe.

The problem with embracing it is that it clashes with the technique she's been employing thus far: hardline denial. Vetra’s been fighting it every step of the way in a desperate bid to avoid disappointment at best and complete heartbreak and humiliation at worst. She’s pretty good at boxing up her feelings and just trying to appreciate Ryder’s friendship, which maybe doesn’t fit with Lexi’s philosophy, but it works, or at least, it's worked so far. More or less. What she’s struggling with is when Ryder drops those little flirty comments, or when she gives Vetra that look from beneath her eyelashes, and it’s easy to tell herself that she doesn’t mean anything by it, but it’s possible she still means something by it, even if that something isn’t quite what Vetra wants.

She’s not going to start something casual with Ryder because that is a terrible fucking idea, but damn if it isn’t tempting. Not that it’s even on the table, necessarily, but her mind keeps going there. And again. And again. And -

It’s a problem. If she wasn’t so disgruntled with all of her options, she’d say she needed to get laid.

Embrace and accept, she tells herself, get over it and move on. Easy for asari to say, when they've got centuries to practice patience and decades to waste like spare change, but she's trying. She's ready to get the hell over this.

Ryder runs her thumb over her lips thoughtfully and just like that, Vetra’s back to square one.

“Vetra?”

She clears her throat. “Yeah?”

“Why am I here?” Ryder shoots her a half smile. “Not that I’m complaining, but you seem to have this pretty much under control.”

“You're my backup, remember?”

“Right, right. It’s just - you should've brought Drack, he's probably better at this stuff.”

“Maybe,” Vetra says, and then flares her mandibles, “but you're better looking.” She doesn't know why she says it, but it gets a grin out of Ryder.

“I'm gonna tell him you said that,” she says gleefully, and when she takes a drink this time, Vetra just stares firmly down at her own. “What’s our plan?”

“For now, we sit, keep our heads down. Get a feel for the place, then we see if Sardek shows his face.”

“Casual recon, got it.” Ryder nods sagely before settling back down on her elbows and giving Vetra a grin. “So… What's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?”

“It been that long since you had a date, huh?’”

“No! Well,” Ryder says, still grinning, and then shoots Vetra a look that is an endearing combination of good natured embarrassment and dry amusement. “I'm having a bit of a dry spell. A few centuries or so.”

“Same,” Vetra says glumly, and Ryder reaches out with her bottle to tap Vetra’s in a self deprecating toast. “Sid keeps trying to set me up with someone she works with.”

“Uh oh.”

“He collects rocks.”

Ryder bites back a grin. “So that's only cute when Suvi does it, huh?”

Vetra is startled into embarrassment, mortified to be caught nursing a crush on her crewmate, and doubly mortified to be caught by the only crewmate she's nursing an even worse crush on, all of people. She takes a determined swig of her drink as Ryder laughs quietly, and has an absurd, absurd urge to vehemently deny it, if only so that Ryder knows she likes her best, which is - ridiculous, frankly. She fights the urge to indulge herself.

“That's a yes, then,” Ryder says slyly, and seems to enjoy watching Vetra squirm for a bit, because why wouldn't she? Ryder has no vested interest in Vetra’s preferences, and she'd do well to remember that instead of - of - well, whatever it is she's doing.

“Maybe I should lower my standards,” she mutters, embarrassed.

“Nah,” Ryder says, reaching out to pat her on the arm, which is touchingly awkward. “Listen, if you really - I mean, Suvi’s super nice. You could just ask.”

Vetra groans. “ No. I mean, Suvi’s lovely, but that's not what I -” She catches Ryder resting her chin in one hand and grinning at her, and tries to look withering. “You're right, I should've brought Drack.”

“But then you'd have nothing nice to look at,” Ryder says, and Vetra supposes she walked right into that one. “Hey, you want to talk dating woes? At least you don't have an AI in your brain.”

“What?” Vetra frowns. “I didn't think you had a problem with -”

“I don't,” Ryder says, “but you know how it works, right? SAM sees and experiences everything through me, it's why they're so unique. But it also means they're always… there.

“I don't follow.”

“Kind of a dating turn off, don't you think?”

Vetra takes a moment to mull this over, eventually letting out a thoughtful, “huh. You mean -”

“Privacy is forever just a convincing illusion for me,” Ryder says with a sigh, “I guess I don't mind, but it's kind of a big ask for someone else, isn't it?”

“You find this out the hard way?” Vetra tries valiantly not to feel jealous, but fails thoroughly. “I thought you hadn't had a date.”

“I haven't,” she says, and Vetra’s mood takes an instant hike upwards into relieved and smug, “but it's not the only time you want some privacy, is it?” Ryder gives her a pointed look.

It takes a second before Vetra makes the mental leap, and then she manages one more second of silent amusement before she's having to bite back her grin. “Oh,” she says, and starts to laugh. “Oh, Ryder -”

“A little sympathy here?”

“I’m sympathetic,” Vetra says unconvincingly, “but you have to admit it’s kind of funny.”

Ryder presses the cool bottle to her forehead, obscuring her increasingly embarrassed expression, and groans loudly. “I unburden my soul, and this is what I get.”

“Can't you just ask SAM to go away?”

“There's nowhere for it to go! We're in the same brain.”

“But it's not like SAM’s -” Vetra pauses to try and keep a straight face. “ - involved. In, er.”

Ryder’s voice is muffled from where she’s hiding behind her bottle. “I know it’s there, though. ‘Learning from my experiences’ or whatever, and I know I'm supposed to be the figurehead of synthetic-organic understanding and I should be spending my downtime reading philosophy or something, but I fart and sleep and pick my nose just like everyone else.”

“Inspirational, Ryder.”

“I just don't know what SAM’s going to learn from, you know. My personal business.”

“So, what,” Vetra says before she can stop herself, “do you just… not?”

Ryder turns her head slightly to look Vetra in the eye with a raised eyebrow. “No,” she says, and it’s a stupid, silly conversation, but Vetra feels like she can’t quite catch her breath. This is where she gets lost, inbetween the parts where Ryder says she should just ask Suvi, and the parts where she looks at her like this. There's just something about the way she says no that's a bit like she's saying yes to something else, but who knows what to?

Vetra leans in. “So are you saying -”

It's just as well that Sardek makes an appearance, all things considered, before Vetra says something she'll regret.

“Door at the back,” Ryder says quietly, and Vetra leans against the bar to get a better look. “That him?”

“It's him.”

“Should we introduce ourselves?”

“Nope. I figure we should make sure he's actually got the lamp before we start throwing accusations about.” She grins at Ryder’s stunned expression. “Why’d you think I brought the recon specialist?”

“So we're going to sneak around the back rooms of an illicit gambling den?”

“You got it.”

“You are my favorite person in the entire galaxy,” Ryder says fervently, pushing her empty bottle across the bar.

“Maybe I'm just using you for your SAM.”

“Hey, I'll take it. He's sitting down in the corner.”

“Any ideas, recon specialist?”

Ryder grins and gestures for Vetra to stand up. “You know what, I think the advantages of the AI-in-your-brain thing definitely outweigh the disadvantages.” She tugs Vetra by the arm, leading them away from the bar and in the direction of the back door.

“What are you -”

“Okay, SAM,” she says, and the neon lights up and down the walls splutter and die with an indignant crackle. That much Vetra could've done with her omnitool, but the smoke is a nice touch, and she has that inexplicable feeling she gets sometimes that SAM is enjoying itself. If it learns from seeing the world through Ryder's eyes, it's hardly surprising it's developed a taste for mischief.

“Ostentatious,” she mutters, but there's no dampening Ryder's spirits as they duck in through the door while all eyes are fixed warily on the ceiling.

“They’ll be back on in a minute, SAM says they get power fluctuations all the time. I guess that’s what you get for leeching off Sloane’s grid without permission. Also?” Ryder gestures back at the door. “No alarm. You’re welcome.”

“Alright,” Vetra says, amused, “lead the way, criminal mastermind.”

“I know you’re making fun of me, but I love that you called me that.” The corridor is dark without the lights so Ryder fumbles along the way with one hand, and grabs Vetra’s with the other. “Uh, this way?”

After a few more steps the light flicker back on, but she doesn't let go of Vetra’s hand.

“No guards? This guy is cheap.”

“He's an amateur,” Vetra says scornfully, “or stupid, if he thinks he can steal from Sloane.”

“Hopefully both.”

“Hopefully neither. They're the most dangerous.”

“Noted,” Ryder says, turning to look over her shoulder at Vetra with a curious expression, but whatever questions she has, she keeps quiet. Another one of those ways Vetra shows she's not like the rest of them. She doesn't sigh aloud but she feels herself deflate a little, even with Ryder's fingers between hers and the promise of shared adventure.

“Ahah,” Ryder mutters, dropping her hand as they round a corner onto a locked door. “There's a window, give me a leg up?”

Vetra offers an obedient hand to hold Ryder's leg as she cranes over the top of the door, but it's a predictably ungainly manoeuvre which ends up with Vetra having a vice grip round Ryder's waist as she wriggles her legs unhelpfully.

“You know, I probably could have looked through without any help.”

“Recon specialist, Vetra,” Ryder reminds her, then grins and squints through the murky glass window. Judging by the rest of the place it wasn't a deliberate feature, and just a structural requirement of building this entire complex from leftover bits of scrap and Initiative module wreckage. “I think it's his office. Do you even need an office to run a gambling den? What's he going to do, paperwork -”

“Can you see a lamp?”

“I can see… I dunno -” Ryder's fingers slip from the ledge and Vetra tightens her grip. “I can't tell.” She sighs and lowers herself to the floor. “It's not an electronic lock, but lucky for you my dad was a traditionalist. You got a hair grip?”

“Do I look like I even know what that is?”

Ryder grins sheepishly and starts patting her head. “Right, give me a second.”

“Recon specialist, I strongly advise against breaking into the dangerous krogan’s office,” Vetra says lazily, but it isn't until Ryder jams something metal into the keyhole that she realizes it might actually happen. “Wait, Sara -”

The door swings open and there's Sardek, sitting behind a desk, cool as anything.

“Vetra Nyx,” he says. That he knows her name is not a good sign.

“Okay,” Ryder says, hair grip still in her hand and wearing a stunned expression. “There definitely wasn't anyone in when I looked.”

“It's so good of you to pay me a visit.”

“So, were you, like, hiding under the desk?” Ryder can't seem to let this go. “Is there even enough room under there?”

“Hey,” Vetra says calmly, firmly in damage control mode, scanning the small room for exit strategies as she holds her hands up placidly. “An honest mistake. Didn't realize this was yours.”

“Weren't you just in the other room? How did you even get -” Vetra elbows Ryder sharply. “Er, nope, had no idea. Just popped in the first door we saw for a quickie.”

“Really,” Sardek says, before Vetra even has a chance to glare at Ryder, “so you weren't looking for this?” He reaches below his desk and pulls up the lamp - her lamp - and shows all his teeth.

There's a brief silence.

“Busted,” Ryder breathes.

Vetra keeps her gaze on Sardek impassive. “And if we were?”

He spins it around slowly, giving her a good look at it - it really is unbelievably ugly - and she hears Ryder snort. “I didn't expect my tip to come to anything, but here you are. This a favorite of yours?”

“It's just a lamp,” Vetra says coolly, though it isn't.

“But you're here.” He lets that dangle in the silence for a few moments. “Vetra Nyx can't resist a challenge, that's what they tell me. Even if it's ‘just' a lamp- “

“Name your price or stop wasting my time,” she cuts across him, as haughty and bored as she can muster.

“What's so special about it, anyway?” Sardek prods at the asari’s face with a careless finger, like he knows how much it irritates her. “My sources were good but I never expected you'd actually show up.”

“What source?”

“I have my contacts,” he says, and grins. “Your sister’s real chatty.”

Vetra’s composure breaks like glass, sharp and clean and dangerous. “ Stay away from Sid.” Ryder’s hand on her arm is the only thing stopping her from finding out if she really can rip a krogan apart with her bare hands.

“Relax, I just wanted some insurance when we left the Nexus, thought I'd send it back as a gesture of goodwill if we ever needed to open up trade channels again. But… things change, huh?” Sardek smirks. “Who's your friend?”

Oh, shit.

“Me?” Ryder's voice is oddly high. “Just your regular, average citizen -”

“She looks kind of like someone worth a bunch of credits, don't you think?”

There's a stunned silence as they both digest this.

“You were right, Vetra,” Ryder says, “he’s stupid and an amateur.”

“You can't be serious.”

“Success around here is taking opportunities when you see ‘em. I'm seeing one now.”

“So, what, you're holding us to ransom?” Vetra snorts derisively. “Yeah, good luck with that -”

Which is when she feels her hands being yanked behind her back, Sardek chuckling. The turian behind her has a tight grip on her wrists, but no restraints. It really is amateur hour, but she's not about to push her luck just yet, and gives Ryder a little shake of the head. She's also being held by her wrists and looking politely bemused.

“Pleasure doing business with you,” Sardek calls after them as their captors turn them round briskly and march them down the corridor. “I like a challenge too, you know.”

Ryder just opens and closes her mouth as they're pushed along in single file, which is much how Vetra feels. For once, she stays quiet.

They're suitably far away from Sardek’s office when Vetra says loudly, “Shame we’re going to be stuck inside in this nice weather.”

“What?” Her turian escort falters for a moment, just enough to let her know his grip won't hold.

“Nice weather,” she repeats, and Ryder turns to give her a wicked grin over her shoulder. “Sun’s out-”

The tragedy is that she misses Ryder punching the guy holding her, but there’s no small satisfaction in spinning round and slamming her own captor against the wall - sometimes with turians it’s best to hit them against something and save breaking a bone in your hand - and knocking him out. Ryder’s still grinning when she looks back at her, cracking her knuckles.

“Just say the word.”

“How does ‘run’ work for you?”

“Yeah, that works,” Ryder says, and grabs her hand again as they start their manic dash towards the exit. It’s probably more of a hindrance than a help, but it’s weirdly comforting to feel Ryder’s firm grip as they run breathlessly through dingy hallways and then across the slippery floor of the casino.

They don’t stop running until they’re way past the marketplace, almost back to the Tempest, and then Ryder starts to laugh, her hands on her knees as she bends over and gasps. “That,” she wheezes, “was awesome.”

“That was not how it was supposed to go.”

“We nearly got kidnapped!”

“He still has my lamp, the bastard,” Vetra says, and Ryder dissolves into fresh peals of breathy laughter as Vetra sits down heavily on an empty crate.

“It’s a really ugly lamp.”

“It’s my ugly lamp.” Vetra sets her jaw. “This isn’t over.”

“You really do like a challenge, huh.” Ryder sounds fond, which sets her nerves on edge, for some reason.

“I just hate assholes like him,” she says, and heaves a long sigh. “Listen, I’m sorry it all went down like that -”

“Are you kidding? That was incredible.” Ryder takes a seat next to her with a wince as she clutches at her ribs. “I’m sorry you didn’t get your lamp back, though.”

“It’s just a lamp.”

“It’s your lamp,” Ryder says firmly, more perceptive than Vetra gives her credit for, and then takes her hand again and squeezes her fingers. It seems to be becoming a habitual gesture. “We’ll get it back. Have you got someone who can check on Sid, make sure no one’s trying to contact her?”

Vetra’s throat tightens, touched by Ryder’s concern. “Only the whole station, pretty much.”

“Good.” Ryder gives another little squeeze, then lets go. “What’s next, boss? Are we going all Ocean’s Eleven on them? I’ve always wanted a suit.”

“Tempting as that sounds, I think we have bigger things to worry about.”

“We can squeeze in a little heist. A teeny tiny heist.”

“I could just tell Sloane he’s stealing her power. She wouldn’t be too happy.”

“But where’s the fun in that?” Ryder says, and she’s warm and giddy by Vetra’s side, enough to be infectious.

“A tiny heist.”

“The smallest,” Ryder promises, her grin mischievous. “C’mon, Vetra, I’ve got a taste for crime now.”

“We’ll see,” Vetra says, fighting her own grin. “I need to make some calls. There’s got to be an easier way.”

“Have you ever done anything like that before?”

Vetra groans. “If this is about Menae -”

“Well, now it is.” Ryder’s eyes light up. “You’re an enigma wrapped in a very tall and beautiful turian. Can you blame me for being curious?”

The sun’s starting to set, and Kadara Port is glowing a gentle orange. “You’ll have to buy me a lot more drinks before you’re getting that one out of me.”

“You don't have to,” Ryder says carefully, at odds with the burning curiosity of a few seconds ago. Another moment of almost embarrassing perceptiveness. “If you don't want to.”

Vetra breathes deeply. “I know. Like I said, a few more drinks.” She grins to take the edge off the defensiveness she can never quite seem to shift. “You'd better start winning at poker.”

“You mean I'd better stop playing.” Ryder touches the back of her hand lightly. “Hey,” she says softly, “thanks for letting me do crime with you.”

“Anytime, Sara,” Vetra says quietly, and finds that she means it.

As they walk back to the ship laughing helplessly at the idea of Sardek jammed under a tiny desk, the one thing she keeps replaying in her mind is Ryder's little half smile as she says, you could just ask. Suvi’s super nice -

If only it was that easy.

Chapter Text

Tannis, as it turns out, is just as nice as Sid says he is. He's also, apparently, nervous enough around Vetra that she's immensely relieved she never did agree to that date. Maybe he would've been less nervous meeting her over a romantically lit table of food than having her glower at him in his workplace, but what’s done is done. He's a little younger than she expected and so effortlessly chatty with Sid that her older sibling instincts kick in with a vengeance. Maybe they’re less instincts than just well practiced responses that she’s never bothered to examine too closely, but they feel just as inevitable and overwhelming.

“V,” Sid is saying firmly, and Vetra reluctantly retracts her stink eye before her sister catches it, “can we talk about this later? When I'm not at work?” She gives her a pointed look, and if Vetra wasn’t thrumming with agitation she’d be abashed.

She remembers when Sid was born, when she was still tiny and soft in the weeks before her plates hardened. Vetra had never seen a baby up close before; even off-world turians still stick to the age old tradition of keeping them indoors and cocooned as best they can from atmospheric radiation, whether it exists or not. Even on the less hospitable Palaven they’re reasonably well protected by the gummy, translucent plates they’re born with, but instinct is instinct. Vetra knew to hold her carefully with one hand on the back of her head, where her skin was most delicate, to make her feel safe. That’s all she ever wanted for her.

“Sid, they're not going to wait until you're not at work if they want to target you -”

Sid sends Tannis a sideways look that raises Vetra’s hackles and shames her, all at once. “He sent me one message. One.”

“I need to know you're taking this seriously,” Vetra says, “he is dangerous, Sid, are you listening to me?”

“You're not my real mom,” Sid quips, and Tannis starts to laugh, though it quickly turns into a strangled sound as Vetra directs an icy stare his way. He returns to frantically tapping at his console, suitably remorseful. Jury’s still out on him, though.

Sid.”

“I promise you I'm taking it seriously,” Sid says, a little wearily, and she sighs as she places a hand on Vetra’s arm. “I appreciate that you're looking out for me, I really do. But I'm fine. Everything is fine.”

If they’d been back home and things had gone the way they were supposed to, Sid would’ve started boot camp already. She’d probably already have a posting in space, nothing serious or even remotely constructive, but it was protocol to get new recruits out there in some kind of convoluted fashion as soon as possible. She’d be spending all day with her peers running drills and jammed into cramped living quarters, bickering, making friends, losing friends, stumbling over the line between friends and fellow soldiers and maybe even something else, being alternately dutiful under the watchful eyes of their supervisors and running riot as they all stretch their newfound freedom from constant parental surveillance.

Vetra never went to boot camp, but she can extrapolate well enough. The same thing happened to her, but without the safety net where she could make mistakes and get nothing more than a dressing down. She still made them, of course. She just paid a little more dearly. What had she been doing when she was Sid’s age? Making a lot of mistakes, probably. Trying to figure out how to look after them both and navigate the world as best she could, falling in with the wrong people and doing the wrong things for the wrong reasons, and here she is fretting about Sid getting too cozy with a friendly coworker. Vetra had been way past cozy with people far more inclined to discard her the minute it was convenient, but - Sid deserves better, is all.

“The fact that he messaged you is proof that you're in his line of fire.”

“It's just proof he knows how to get under your skin,” Sid says, which is far too insightful a thing to hear coming from your kid sister's mouth. “Are you okay? I mean, you're not usually so…” Sid lets the sentence trail off meaningfully.

“Overbearing?” Vetra mutters, embarrassed. Tannis has the good grace to at least pretend he isn't listening.

“On edge,” Sid says brightly, and pats Vetra’s arm again. “Is it because of the Arch- “

Sid.”

“- er, the, er - top secret Pathfinder business I'm not supposed to talk about?”

“Nice save.”

“You've got a lot going on. Maybe you should take a break.”

Another thing that feels weird coming from Sid. “I'm taking a break.”

“You're loitering,” Sid says, “go do something fun. And stop worrying.”

“I'll look out for her,” Tannis says, and this time he only shrivels a little under her gaze. He's getting better.

“Uhuh,” Vetra says flatly.

“We all look out for her,” he says, standing his ground. “Sidera’s safe on the Nexus.”

Vetra grinds her teeth together to stop herself from being even more difficult, and glares at his workstation to avoid glaring at him. There’s a small stone balanced on top of his console, a weird looking gray-blue thing she sent back to Sid from Havarl, and it’s the rock that calms her, in the end. That Sid thought evidently he was worth being thoughtful over, and that he’s left it there at all. “Thanks,” she says eventually, and Sid shoots her a self-satisfied look.

“We’ll talk later,” Sid promises, and Vetra finds herself being shooed away, Sid even giving her a gentle shove. Vetra takes the hint and strides purposefully off in the direction of the shuttle, lest it become apparent she really doesn't have anything more pressing to do than check up on her little sister.

She knows Tannis isn't Sardek’s contact; she'd requisitioned some of SAM’s time and resources to perform an invasive and almost certainly illegal series of background checks on all of her coworkers, which Ryder had known about but chosen not to veto. When it comes to Sid, Sara gets it.

Sardek contacting Sid threw her more than it should have, and probably just as much as he hoped it would. It's just a reminder of all the vectors she can't control.

But Sid's right too: the ‘top secret Pathfinder business’ has her on edge. More vectors, more uncertainty. The Archon’s base, what they'd been doing there, the things she'd seen there, the task they now have ahead of them.

Oh, yeah - and Ryder dying, technically speaking. SAM can do a lot of things a lot less mundane than trawling through someone's movements and messages, like reaching into Ryder's rapidly beating human heart and setting it still. She'd laughed about SAM interfering with her dating plans, but she hadn't felt particularly inclined to laugh about this. She'd felt - a lot of things. None of which she wants to tell Sid.

Ryder is, as ever, more inclined to grin and shrug it off than admit it rattled her, which Vetra knows it did. It rattled her. She’s used to feeling that sort of acute heartache when it comes to Sid, the constant awareness-bordering-worry and the occasional hot white anger that follows when something happens, like a dangerous krogan outlaw sending her a threatening message. She’s not used to feeling it when it comes to Ryder.

There was a brief moment, frozen in the Archon’s trap, where she would’ve torn the entire ship apart if Ryder hadn’t woken up, and SAM too, for good measure. With Sid, it’s how it’s supposed to be. It’s her job to protect her and worry about her, but Sara - she’s - well, she’s the Pathfinder. Vetra’s just one of her crew. It’s not her place.

When Sara sought her out on the Tempest afterwards and took a seat nervously next to Vetra on a crate of Blast-Ohs, she’d thought that was what it was about for a few absurd seconds. That Vetra has crossed a line, that Sara was concerned about her strange behavior after the incident, but then as Ryder sat chewing on her nails this big, goofy grin spread across her face. Scott woke up, she told her, and somehow that was just the cherry on top of Vetra’s emotional maelstrom. Sardek threatening Sid, Ryder almost dying, and now her brother alive and well after everything they’ve been through. It just - got her. She can’t say how. She sees Sid in everyone’s siblings these days, and none more than Scott.

But Vetra Nyx doesn’t get rattled, so she tamped it all down fiercely and called Sid just to hear her voice. She’s forced herself to back off a little bit since then, to try and give Ryder space to be with her family before Pathfinder business inevitably calls them away again.

Peebee isn’t answering her calls, but she takes the shuttle to the Hyperion anyway, in the hope that she’s still ready and willing to help Vetra ‘take a proper break’, whatever that means. The human ark remains very much a human haunt despite being docked permanently at the Nexus, and so from the minute Vetra steps off the shuttle she generates interested looks. Not unwelcome, exactly, but enough that when she doesn’t spot Peebee in the first few minutes of aimless wandering, she’s thinking about leaving.

That’s when she sees Ryder, walking slowly along the corridor with someone propped up against her, arm slung around her shoulder and taking very small, gingerly steps. It only takes a moment for Vetra to piece together the facial resemblance and realize that it’s Scott, still very much struggling with the after effects of a few centuries of cryo and then the long months of being in a coma, without regular VI intervention from a pod to keep his muscle functions strong. She's seen once him before while he was still unconscious, though she couldn't bring herself to look at him directly, eyes drawn instead to Ryder's expression as she watched his shallow breathing. Given their past circumstances it was only too easy to see herself and Sid reflected back at her, sharply enough that it caught her breath and made her heart ache, even before she knew Sara as well as she does now.

They come to a standstill, Scott wheezing as Sara holds him up, not quite managing not to snicker at her brother's suffering.

“I’m dying,” he says, with precisely the sort of sarcastic melodrama she’s so used to seeing in Sara. “I’ll only slow you down, go on without me.”

“Harry said all the way to the end and back, you big baby -” Sara says, and then looks up before Vetra has the chance to slip away unnoticed, mesmerized by the sight of the twins reunited and the fondness in Ryder’s voice. “- oh, hey Vetra,” she says, and then her ears turn inexplicably pink.

“I was just looking for Peebee,” Vetra blurts out, feeling like an enormous creep. Ryder shoots her a smile and she relaxes a little, and takes a moment to let herself look curiously at Scott, who she’s heard so much about and yet knows so little. “I guess she didn’t hang around. This must be your brother?”

“Right!” Sara stands a little straighter and readjusts Scott’s grip on her as he groans and holds his other hand out to brace himself against the bulkhead. “Scott - Vetra, Vetra - Scott. Just helping my tiny baby brother learn how to walk for the first time. They grow up so fast, don’t they?”

“Thanks, Sara.”

“So I see,” Vetra says, and finds Scott looking at her just as curiously she’s looking at him, even as he winces and his arm shakes where it holds him up. “Nice to meet you, Scott. How’re you feeling?”

“Like a baby giraffe,” Scott says, and then he grins as Vetra just looks politely puzzled. “I’m good, thanks. Steady regimen of the muscle regrowth stims and I’ll be up and about in no time.”

“Glad to hear it.”

“So you’ve been working with Sara?”

“Sure,” Vetra says, and then catches Sara looking between them with the bewildered air of someone watching two worlds colliding. She grins. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”

“All good, I hope.”

“Of course,” Vetra says, starting to enjoy herself as Ryder squirms, and starts leading Scott towards a nearby row of chairs.

“Well,” Scott says, seeming to have much the same idea, “I’ve heard a lot about you.”

“All good, I hope,” Vetra says dryly, this time looking at Sara.

Well -”

“Sit,” Sara orders, and unceremoniously dumps Scott into the seat, taking the chair next to him. “If you’re going to whine, take a rest.”

“Who’s whining?” Scott says, and then grins at Vetra. “So, Vetra -”

“No problems with the supplies?” Sara says loudly, and Vetra bites back a laugh.

“All good.”

Scott isn’t to be deterred. “Sara tells me you’re in charge of requisitions?”

“Requisitions, huh?” Vetra says, and flicks her mandibles out in lazy amusement. “That’s one way of putting it.”

“What’s the other?”

“I can get you stuff,” Vetra says, “you name it, I can find it.”

Scott is taken aback. “Me?”

“Sure, why not? Friends of the Pathfinder get a discount. Moonshine, cotton candy, whipped cream -”

Ryder presses her lips together like she’s trying not to laugh.

“ - whatever you want,” Vetra finishes.

“Like I said,” Ryder says, “our esteemed and innovative requisitions officer.” She can’t resist batting her eyelashes a little.

“Always with the fancy titles. You know flattery doesn’t pay, right? I only accept cold hard credits.”

“Hey, it’s a freebie,” Sara says, and rests her chin on her hand to give Vetra what she must imagine is a winning smile.

Scott looks slowly at them each into turn. “A freebie,” he says, starting to grin.

“I'm a generous soul!” Sara says, even louder than before. “Which explains why I'm being your human walking stick, if you recall.”

“Yeah, and you’re doing a terrible job.” He gestures at where he's seated. “Does this look like muscle stimulation to you?”

“So get up!” Sara tugs his arm around her shoulders again, and Scott heaves himself to his feet with a long, drawn out groan.

“I've changed my mind, I don't want to stimulate my muscles ever again.”

“You always were the worst kind of invalid,” Sara says, but far from being a grumble it comes out warm and soft. “Hey, remember when you puked on my bed?”

“Remember when you puked in my shoes? And didn’t bother telling me before I put them on?”

“The cryo fried his brain,” Sara says mournfully, “doesn't know what he's talking about -”

“Or the time you got stuck on the window frame trying to sneak out and mom had to cut you out your pants -”

“I think it's time we got you back,” Sara squawks, wheeling Scott back around frantically. “Harry must be worried.”

Scott winks at Vetra. “She had a hot date after curfew. Sara’s always been a hit with the ladies, probably because she's so generous with her freebies -”

“I'm stuffing you back in the pod, you know that?” Sara's cheeks are flushed. “You get this crap from Sid?”

“You have no idea.”

“Nice meeting you, Vetra,” Scott calls over his shoulder. “Drop by anytime you need more stories from our childhood!”

“Absolutely,” Vetra says, grinning widely. “See you on the ship, Sara. Pity we haven't got any windows you can demonstrate that trick with.”

Sara shoots her one last fondly exasperated look - whether it's at her or Scott, Vetra can't tell, but she’d be lying if she said she didn’t hope it was the former - before leading Scott back along the corridor, and she can't help but watch them go, a strangely fierce feeling in her stomach. A softer, warmer version of the way she'd felt bargaining for Sid's pod to get to the top of the queue, or the kind of relief that washed over her when Ryder took her first breath after a too long silence.

It's one of those rare moments where the things that matter stand so clearly apart from the things that don't.

 

-

 

Vetra finds Gil in the galley staring bleakly at his empty cup, Liam leaning against the counter and watching him with a grin. It's well into the third shift now, and she knows Gil was on the first.

“Everything okay, Brodie?”

“Do you think,” he says bleakly, “if I dissolved caffeine tablets in hot water it might taste a bit like coffee?”

“I think,” Vetra says carefully, “that's a pretty terrible idea.”

“Would I definitely get ill if I drank your dextro stuff?”

“Nah,” Liam says breezily, and then after a glare from Vetra, “well, probably.”

“Gil, when did you last sleep?”

“Couple of days ago,” he says, and then leans forward until his head is resting on one of the cupboard doors. “Vetra, I need coffee.”

“You need sleep.”

“Same difference.”

“Not really.” She reaches over and takes his mug, feeling once again distinctly parental. She rolls with it, putting on her best bossy big sister voice. “Go to bed.”

Not everyone is handling it quite like Gil, but the crew is each feeling the mounting pressure in their own way. Brodie’s brand of workaholic seems to be about going top speed until you burn and crash spectacularly.

“I’m in the middle of something,” he mumbles, “I just need to finish realigning… er, something or other. It'll come to me, I just need a little pick-me-up -”

“Back me up here, Kosta.”

“Go to bed,” he says dutifully, and steers Gil by the shoulder towards the door. “It'll keep.”

Gil keeps muttering darkly as he leaves, but he does leave, and before the airlock closes Vetra sees him stumble into the crew quarters. She sighs at length.

“How long is he usually out when he's like this?”

“A good twelve hours.”

“Great,” she mutters, rifling through the cupboards for a pick-me-up of her own. Third shift is officially hers, but she was was busy most of second too. Unlike Gil, however, she’s good at taking naps. It’s partially down to turian predisposition and partially long years of working small, understaffed jobs. Humans seems to be particularly useless without sleep: salarians are the best, krogan come a close second. Turians make up for it with pure stubbornness.

“You need him for something?” Liam reaches for the half eaten and discarded packet Gil left on the counter, pulling a disappointed face when he looks inside.

“Just a... personal project. Nothing urgent.”

“Like what?”

“Like nothing. It doesn't matter.”

“Fine,” Liam says with an irritated shrug. “Be mysterious.”

“It's not like that, it's just -” Vetra gives him a critical look, cageyness giving way to thoughtfulness. She'll still need Gil, but that's not to say Liam wouldn't have his own unique perspective that could prove useful. “Liam, you were a cop -”

Ugh, don't start.”

“No need to jump down my throat,” she snaps, and then they both shoot each other a filthy look. She takes a breath. Backing down from her reactionary defensiveness never comes easily, and until recently she's never really tried. She presses her thumb against the bridge of her nose and exhales. “That came out wrong. Can we start over?”

Liam eyes her suspiciously. “What?”

“Liam,” she says, “I'm working on a personal project I would appreciate your input on, given your past experience. Have you got a minute?”

“If we're starting over, we need to go back further.”

She bristles. “Is that a no?”

Liam just shushes her, and walks out the airlock. She's about half a second away from apoplexy when he sticks his head back in and holds out his hand.

“Hi,” he says, “name's Liam, nice to meet you.”

“Quit screwing around,” Vetra says, but her twitching mandibles betray her amusement. She stares flatly at his outstretched hand. “What're we shaking on? I haven't told you what I need yet.”

Liam rolls his eyes. “Human thing. It's called ‘being friendly’.”

“Funny. Listen, long story short: someone stole something of mine, and I want it back. I’ve got a plan, it’s not entirely above board, Ryder’s already in. Think you can help?”

“Like, a heist?’

“Why does everyone keep calling it that?” Vetra folds her arms. “But… yeah. More or less.”

“If it's not a heist, it's just a robbery, and a heist sounds way cooler.” Liam grins at her. “Okay. I'm in.”

“Really?”

“It's a heist, Vetra. Everyone loves heists.” He gives her a defiant look. “Even uptight ex-cops, right?”

She tries to concede the point with good humor. “Apparently so.”

“Good,” he says, and holds out his hand again. “I'm in.”

“Do humans shake hands for everything?”

Liam glares at her. “Haven't you seen a heist movie? You convince me to join the team, we shake on it, then it cuts to a montage. Classic.”

“You watch too many vids, Kosta,” she says, but takes his hand before he has a chance to call her on her hypocrisy.

The airlock hisses open and Ryder peers in distractedly. “Hey Liam, can I borrow you for a -  what are you two up to?”

“Crime,” says Liam slyly, and that gets a laugh out of Vetra.

“Ook-aay,” Ryder says, sounding dubious. “Hope you kids are playing nice.”

“We always play nice,” Vetra says dryly, earning a grin from Ryder that crinkles the corners of her eyes. She looks tired. “Wasn't yours last shift?”

“Yeah, but I've got some stuff I need to finish off.”

“Don't make me send you to bed too,” Vetra warns, “I've already dealt with Gil.”

“Only if you read me a story and tuck me in.”

Vetra snorts. “Your bed’s so big I don’t think I could tuck you in.”

Ryder does that thing where she both grins and also bites down on the corner of her lip as if to contain her grin, which honestly just kills her, especially when she’s running on empty and her defenses are low. “Jealous? There’s room for two.”

“Just get some sleep, Pathfinder,” Vetra says, because she’s far too tired to navigate this sort of banter with any grace or subtlety.

“Yes ma’am,” Ryder says, and salutes her with a wink. “One last thing, I promise. Meet me in the lab, would you Liam?”

“Give me a minute,” he says, and as the airlock closes behind her he leans against the counter and smirks.

“What?”

“There's this other thing humans do,” he says, “I don't know about turians, but when they like someone, they tell them. You know, instead of just… not.”

Because she doesn't know what else to do, she feigns indignant ignorance. “Excuse me?”

“It's kind of obvious, no offence.” He hits the airlock controls with a smug look. “You should take her somewhere cool, do something fun.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“It's got to be better than just hoping something might happen but doing nothing about it, right?”

"I don't just - get out of here, Kosta,” she mutters, turning back to her half-made drink, neck burning.

She hears him sniggering all the way down the passageway.

 

-

 

This was the plan: take Ryder somewhere with a good view and make an awkward romantic declaration with the untapped beauty and promise of Andromeda as her witness. She’d settled on the idea before she could get too jittery about it, or before she could march into Liam’s room and demand an itemized list of all the ways he definitely isn’t just yanking her chain. Even in her more optimistic moments, she hadn't been sure quite what was supposed to happen after said romantic declaration, but just hopefully not a crushing rejection. That was as far as she'd got.

The romantic declaration doesn't come out how she'd planned it, and she ends up couching it in get-out clauses and the quiet disbelief she'd resolved to avoid.

Sara kisses her before she can tie herself in knots over the absurdity of the rejection that never comes. Just like that, Vetra’s racing mind and churning stomach settle into something that's almost calm, and her hand settles at the back of Sara's neck like she's done it a thousand times before. It’s that funny sort of feeling when your entire world pitches sideways but somehow still makes perfect sense.

After a few long, blissful moments, Sara pulls back an inch or so, hands still planted on the rock either side of Vetra’s waist.

“Wait,” she says, “did you seriously think I wasn't interested?”

“I don't know,” Vetra says, both faintly embarrassed and suddenly, profoundly uninterested in the time before she knew that kissing Ryder was an option. “Why would I?”

“Seriously?”

“Seriously.”

“Oh my God,” Ryder says, half laughing as she swings one of her legs over Vetra’s to lean over her properly. “Should I have put it in writing? Had a confession signed and notarized? Showed up naked at your door?”

Vetra rests her other hand lightly on Sara's back, feeling the heat of Kadara’s sun on her armor. “That sounds like a recipe for embarrassment, the cargo hold’s a high traffic area.”

“Right, but it would've worked.” Sara leans back in with a grin.

“Is that your usual seduction technique?”

“Well, no.” Sara sits up suddenly as Vetra’s hands chase thin air mournfully, and hits the pressure seal on the shoulder of her hardsuit with a fist. “But if there's any confusion -”

“Sara.”

“- I'll martyr myself for the cause,” she says, and there's a pop as her chestpiece detaches from the back.

“Nuh uh, no way. This isn't ending with you giving yourself radiation poisoning on a rock in Kadara trying to prove a point.” Vetra racks her brains; she can never quite remember what levels are acceptable for humans, even with Lexi’s shots. “Or heat… stroke,” she says, hoping she got the right word. Ryder went a horrible sort of pink last time, complete with fever and nausea. How humans get by in the world with that sort of reaction to basic sunlight is one of the universe’s great mysteries.

“No, no, I don't want to there be any further misunderstanding between us -”

Sara.”

“What?”

“I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but please keep your clothes on.”

Ryder shoots her a lopsided grin but hits the seals again obediently. “Just so long as we're clear.”

“Oh, we’re clear,” Vetra says, and props herself up with one elbow so she can reach for Ryder again and tug her back into place. “No need for public nudity.”

Sara shuffles forward on her knees, legs still straddling Vetra as she wraps her arms around her shoulders. Vetra curls an arm around her waist and gets a soft kiss on the nose in return. “What about you?”

“Wasn't planning on it myself, either.”

“I meant,” Sara says pointedly, “how do I know you're interested in me?”

“Because I asked you. And I brought you up here.”

“To a rock.”

“It's romantic,” Vetra says, increasing uncertain, but Ryder's grin is wide and bright in front of her. Her uncertainty fades away and she grins back. “It worked, didn't it?”

“You think?” she says playfully, and then her voice shifts as she turns earnest, hardsuit palms framing Vetra’s face.

“Listen, Vetra, I wasn't joking about SAM, so I - well. It's sort of a package deal, and I just need to know you're okay with that.”

Ryder isn't nervous; her voice is steady and she meets Vetra’s gaze readily. She's wary, though. Like she really thinks it might matter.

“Sara, everyone is a package deal,” she says softly, “I am too. You get me, you get Sid. It's not that different.”

“Except everything we do isn't going to get streamed straight back to Sid's console.”

“I really hope not. If that's what SAM’s up to then we’re going to have a problem.”

“Vetra, I'm serious.” Ryder bumps their foreheads together gently. “It's kind of permanent.”

“I'm serious, too. As long as SAM shows a bit of discretion, I don't see a problem.” She hesitates for a brief moment, then reaches out to push some of Ryder’s escaped hair back behind her ear. “Just maybe go easy on the heart-stopping stunts, okay?”

Ryder exhales loudly with her cheeks puffed out, the closest she’s come to looking bothered by the whole ‘almost dying’ incident. “Trust me, I don’t need convincing.”

“Good.” Vetra holds her a little tighter. “Then SAM and I are going to get along just fine.”

“And Sid?”

“What about her?”

“What do you mean you’re a package deal?”

“It’s my job to look out for her, and if I’m with someone they need to know that she comes first. So if you - I mean, if we’re - “ Vetra breaks off mid-sentence, suddenly sheepish. “Tell me if I’ve got the wrong end of the stick here, Ryder.”

“This is an awfully serious conversation for two people who only just kissed a few minutes ago, Vetra Nyx,” Ryder says, but she’s smiling at her fondly.

“You started it,” Vetra says, and then turns her head to the side with a nervous laugh. She can’t even hook up with someone she’s been pining after for months without making it weird. “Just tell me if I’m being too… intense.”

“I told you,” Sara says firmly, guiding Vetra’s face gently back so they’re facing each other again. “I like that. And I like you. See? This is what I meant about clearing up any confusion.”

“Ryder, your solution was to get naked.”

“That’s just the dry, hollow husk of my sex life for the past six centuries speaking. I know the cryo shouldn’t count, but somehow, it really does. I swear to God I woke up ready to - er, anyway, here’s my point,” she says, and clears her throat. “I really like you, Vetra Nyx.”

“And I really like you, Sara Ryder.”

“Consider me off the market, and at your disposal.”

Vetra raises her browplates with an incredulous expression. “Excuse me? At my disposal?”

“Dry, hollow husk, remember?” Sara grins. “Look, I’m trying to say I’m serious about this. I don’t suppose you’re in the market for a girlfriend?”

“You know,” Vetra says, “I just might be. What’s your price?”

“This one’s a freebie,” she says, and as Vetra snickers she groans and lets her head fall forward. “Could you do me a favor and never, ever tell Scott that I said that?”

“Sure,” Vetra says, pulling their faces close again, one hand at the back of Sara's neck. “But see, I do have a price -”

 

-

 

The drive back to the Tempest is made far longer and slower by their inability to stop reaching across to each other in the cockpit; just quick, brushing touches, but Vetra gets a little pleased flutter in her stomach every time. Ryder points out a beautiful view, her fingers resting on Vetra’s arm as she leans over. Vetra reaches over to adjust the cabin temperature and her other hand rests on Sara's knee.

It's ridiculous. It's lovely. It's downright impractical.

It's driving her crazy.

The vehicle lift they use to transport the Nomad back to its usual resting place delivers them to the Tempest’s cargo hold, SAM pulling the door up behind them and locking it securely. It's still Kadara, after all. Ryder sets the usual diagnostics running on the Nomad’s console, distractedly popping the seals on her suit as she does so, her usual multitasking routine. Except, of course, that her usual routine has taken on an entirely different cadence now that things have shifted between them.

She catches Vetra’s gaze on her at precisely the moment Vetra realizes just how intensely she's looking at her.

“Might want to check that left tire,” she says, trying to tone it down a little, “after that rock.”

“That rock,” Ryder echoes, “yeah, we should -”

“Check it?”

“Yeah,” Ryder breathes, and then in the space of a second has dropped the top half of her suit in the footwell and is in Vetra’s lap and struggling with the bottom half. Vetra manages, somehow, to help, greaves falling away in hastily detached pieces and kicked to the side as Ryder grins and kisses her, all frantic energy as she straddles her in the far-too-small space of the Nomad.

Vetra’s armor doesn't detach half as easily despite Ryder's most enthusiastic efforts, but she manages to get her gloves off at least, all the better to run through Ryder's hair and tease the elastic from it. She's wanted to do that for longer than she'd care to admit; she trails her fingers through it from scalp to ends, immensely gratified by Ryder's quiet little sigh as her talons graze her neck gently.

The soft top and leggings Ryder was wearing beneath her suit are too well fitted to have much give, but Vetra gets her fingers between the two anyway, not planning further than just needing to touch the soft skin at her waist. At that, Ryder works her hands precisely to the back of Vetra’s head behind her fringe, answering two pressing questions that’ve been popping up distractingly throughout the drive: firstly, that she has more than a passing knowledge of turian physiology, and secondly, that it's just as good in practise as in Vetra’s furtive imaginings.

The latter is excellent news, and the former isn't exactly unwelcome. It wouldn't matter if she didn't, but it saves Vetra the trouble of talking her through it, and right now, she's all about efficiency.

She finds the zipper at the back of Ryder's neck. Even better.

Ryder scrabbles at her armor with irritation, trying to make the sort of progress it was designed not to allow, and so Vetra guides her to the seals at her waist as she traces her spine carefully with her other hand. She hears the hiss of the clasp and Ryder's warm fingers on her skin.

They bump against the dashboard as Vetra reacts to her touch with more enthusiasm than the space available allows, Ryder laughing breathlessly as she hits a series of buttons with the hands she stretches out to steady herself.

“Probably nothing important,” she says, and peels her top over her head before settling back down in Vetra’s lap and working a hand between them. “Your belt -”

“I know,” Vetra says, fumbling to unclip it as Ryder kisses a hot, urgent line down her neck, hand following Vetra’s as they peel back her layers, and then she slides it down inside her pants and Vetra’s head hits the seat behind her abruptly.

Ryder laughs softly into her neck. “You good, Nyx?”

Vetra is fully and completely incapable of answering intelligently, one hand on the soft curve of Ryder's waist above her, and one pressed against the side of the Nomad, as if to steady her. She is a different sort of dizzy than can be remedied by getting a firm hold on something.

"I'm good," she manages, the usual flanging of her voice careering wildly off into registers she didn't know she could reach. "I, ah -"

“Let me really prove it.” Sara's voice is low by her ear, fingers teasing and pushing, softly, softly, and Vetra is losing her mind. “See if I can't set the record straight once and for all.”

Of course she's still talking. Of course she is. She has one hand braced on the back of the seat, knees either side of Vetra’s thighs, her other single handedly having Vetra see stars as she works against the awkward angle and cramped set up, encouraging Vetra to arch away from the seat as she pushes in deeper.

She's faintly aware of the gasps she's making, more often than not against Sara's lips as she tries to persuade a preoccupied Vetra to kiss her. She wonders if she's leaving marks where she's gripping the Nomad’s door, and drags her hand away to place it as gently as she can in Sara's hair.

She's still talking, and it's that as much as the slow slide of her fingers that does it, Vetra rising up even further off the seat with a sort of wild desperation she can't bring herself to feel embarrassed about.

There’s something to be said for the advantages of a dry, hollow husk of a sex life when it comes to how very sweet it is to finally breathe some life back into it. This could very well be the easiest climax of her life - not to disregard Ryder’s part in it, of course, the soft warmth of her skin and the beautiful drag of her fingers - but it’s just a wonderful kind of overkill as far as Vetra’s concerned.

“That's it,” Sara purrs, and then Vetra really does see stars, his grip growing tight in her hair and on her waist. Sara follows her through it with soft, affectionate murmuring in her ear and still moving gently inside her despite Vetra involuntary and erratically arching upwards, holding her waist firmly with her other hand and kissing her lightly as her eyes flutter open again, breathing hard.

Vetra finally relaxes, bit by bit, heart racing and full. She cradles the back of Ryder's head as she catches her breath.

“Sara,” she starts hoarsely, but then they both freeze as loud chatter breaks out from beyond the Nomad’s doors.

They both watch the handle move as someone tries to open it with a unresponsive horror.

“Oh, shit,” Sara breathes, but the mortifying reveal never comes as they both duck and hear Cora let out an exasperated groan.

“Ryder's jammed the damn doors shut again, how did you get it open last time?”

“Brute force, mostly.”

“Great. Where'd I put that wrench?”

There's more chatter as Ryder twists in Vetra’s arms to gather up her discarded armor, Vetra trying to return hers to rights a little too.

“Leave it,” she mouths, and Ryder gestures helplessly at her half unclothed self.

“I can't just run out in a bra,” she hisses, and then they take another look at each other and start heaving with silent laughter. Sara stuffs the heel of her palm against her mouth as her laughter threatens to get too loud.

The chatter fades away as Ryder pats at her pockets looking for another hair tie, Vetra reaching out to smooth her hair down with careful movements, without much success. She's made quite a mess of it, and so ends up letting her fingers tangle absently at the nape of her neck again. She pulls Sara back towards her, suddenly and blissfully unconcerned with the threat of imminent discovery.

“Probably didn’t pick the best place,” Sara says, “but in my defense -”

“A dry, hollow husk?”

“Six hundred years, Vetra. Six hundred.”

“That's quite a dry spell,” Vetra says, running a thumb lazily around the hem of her leggings as Sara sighs. “You must be -”

“Pathfinder,” SAM says firmly, startling them both into action. “I suggest leaving before the others return and override my lock on the doors.” A pause. “I also felt it prudent to activate the blackout windows.”

They blink at each other for a long moment.

“See?” Vetra says, as Sara continues to just look stunned. “Me and SAM are going to get along just fine.”

“Pathfinder, I suggest leaving promptly -”

Sara jolts into action again, scrambling off Vetra’s lap. “Go!”

They tumble out the door, Sara leaving her armor but hastily grabbing her top, and make a run for the far doors, laughing all the while.

They reach the airlock to the Pathfinder’s quarters, Sara pausing with her back against the metal, hands reaching for Vetra’s, and the urgency of disappearing from sight of the crew suddenly forgotten (again).

“Hey,” she says, “that was - I mean, great, but also kind of -”

“Incredible?”

“Right,” she says slyly, and weaves their fingers together. “But seriously, I know I can move pretty fast, and it's okay if you'd rather take it slow from here, I don't want you to feel like you have to -”

Vetra reaches behind her to push the airlock controls with one hand, planting the other squarely on Sara's chest and guiding her backwards into the room.

“- but fast is fine by me,” Sara says reverently, and SAM locks the door behind them.

 

Chapter Text

After almost a lifetime of shift working and a natural disposition to shorter periods of sleep, Vetra has a very insistent and reliable internal clock, so after almost exactly four and a half hours she wakes up with a characteristic decisiveness. It’s dark, so she doesn’t reach for her visor immediately, and resists the urge to open her omnitool and check the time. Humans don’t like sudden flashes of bright light in the dark: Kallo turned the light on in his bunk in the middle of a nightcycle and Gil nearly strangled him. Thinner eyelids, that’s what Liam said, but she doesn’t know if that’s an actual anatomical fact or just his way of teasing Brodie. Either way, she plays it cautious now.

Of course, it’s not Gil she’s worried about disturbing, but Ryder. Because that’s where she is. In Ryder’s cabin.

Which is new.

Beside her, Ryder is fast asleep with both hands tucked beneath the pillow under her head, making a noise that is way too loud to just be breathing, but way too endearing for Vetra to really label it snoring, either. Based on when she normally notices Sara stumble out in the morning muttering about coffee, Vetra guesses she’ll stay asleep for another few hours. There’s no chance of Vetra getting back to sleep, so it’s either watch Sara sleeping like a creep or get up and make herself useful.

It’s probably a good thing, because this way Vetra can sneak out between shift changes and not have to put Ryder in the awkward position of having to confirm or deny anything between them. She'd felt so certain yesterday when they were throwing words like ‘girlfriend' around, because Sara has this way of making you feel like the center of the universe when she's focused on you, but Vetra can take a step back now and be a little more considered. It's early days. It's earlier than early days, it's the morning after an impromptu night before, and just because her feelings are running away from her doesn't mean she ought to listen to them.

And then there's the matter of them being crewmates, because that can get complicated fast. It's a small ship and a tight knit crew, where you can't take a shower thirty seconds longer than usual without someone noticing. Ryder gets more privacy than the rest of them - SAM aside, that is - but they'll still have to be careful if they don't want their private lives to be public property, at least as far as the Tempest is concerned. Not that Vetra’s all that worried about regulations and impropriety of their positions and all that crap, but a shift in dynamics like this does change the way everyone fits together. They'll worry about favoritism, about Vetra’s voice being louder than the rest when Ryder's making a decision, impaired judgment in the field. They'll have to talk about this, she'll have to ask Ryder how she wants to play it, and -

- and she's in serious danger of overthinking this all over again, when she should probably just stick to feeling pleased with the fact she's waking up in Ryder's bed with a lot of very pleasant aches and pains. She tries to focus on that.

Vetra pushes the sheets away very carefully and proceeds to get ready as quietly as she can, but Ryder is so sound asleep she hardly needs to bother. She resists the urge to lean in and kiss her forehead, or push her mess of hair back from her face, or to just touch her at all. It's not worth waking her just to satisfy Vetra’s little flutters of fondness as she takes one last look at her girlfriend - maybe it's not quite the right word yet, but she's going to use it privately anyway - before quietly opening the airlock and slipping into the hallway. It's both dark and empty, and the bathroom is blissfully unoccupied with everyone else asleep or at their stations mid shift. She'll take a shower and find Brodie, and no one else needs to know how she spent her downtime.

It is at least, she muses, a very short walk of shame.

 

-

 

The longest they ever stayed in one place was when Sid was ten and Vetra had managed to make the right kind of name for herself as a reliable smuggler: a criminal, sure, but the kind of criminal respectable folk came to when being respectable didn't get them what they wanted. What that meant: good tips and a good get-out clause with local law enforcement, not that some backwater station right on the edge of the Terminus had much in the way of uncorrupted police.

It was boring. Sid had been approaching the same age all turians back on the colonies were when they did a round of standardized tests, the first ones that stayed on their records forever, and they weren't in turian space but Vetra had managed to find a tutor out in the ass end of nowhere who'd coach her through and even certify the results, more or less legally. It'd count for something, anyway, if Sid ever needed to prove she'd done them. She'd thrown all her savings into it and bunkered down for a good two years of boring work and mediocre pay, because she figured her job satisfaction could take the hit for Sid's education.

Sid had thrown a fit, of course. Insisted that she wouldn't need the scores, been a surly pupil and loud, incessant critic of their temporary home. As it turns out, she didn't need them, and as she pointed out repeatedly Vetra never got them either and was doing just fine, although ‘just fine’ involved smuggling, thievery, violence, and a lifelong inability to ever really be respectable, so what did Sid know? Vetra caught her recently grousing to Tannis about the marking method, both of them mournfully despairing of their perfectly decent military history scores, in a sort of faux modesty that is so very turian, you'd think she'd been raised in the Cipritine suburbs. Sid will never understand what it's like not to have that, which is what Vetra had hoped for, anyway. That Sid can never appreciate quite what Vetra is missing is just proof that she did the right thing, but it hurts a little bit, sometimes. She can be fiercely proud and pleased for Sid and still spare some weary anger she's been carrying around for years at her own lack of opportunities. She's never quite managed to shake that off.

So while Sid was taking her first, unofficial steps up the meritocracy, Vetra was running errands for the rich and lazy during business hours, and feeling inadequate and sorry for herself in her downtime. Not the way Sid remembers it, thankfully, because she was trying out adolescence and finding that surliness and self absorption delighted her. Lucky Vetra.

That was when she met Korilimus Vitalis, though she knew him just as Kori then, and didn't hear the prestigious family name until after everything had blown over. Makes a lot of sense, looking back, the rebellious rich kid playing at being a criminal and slumming it with the likes of Vetra. The meritocracy doesn't allow for nepotism, or so they say, but when life is handed to you on a platter you have to really fuck it up not to reap the benefits anyway. No doubt after his failed criminal career he was welcomed right back into the fold. He’d never make it in a true military post but he's probably an important bureaucrat now, he always was very persuasive.

(Right now, in fact, he's probably six hundred years dead, and here Vetra is in a new galaxy with new friends and a new respectability she likes much better than any he ever had. The thought cheers her up immensely.)

Back then he'd seemed so smart and worldly and knowledgeable, always had an answer for everything, and he'd helped Sid so effortlessly with all her homework where Vetra stumbled through cluelessly, tripping over all the historical facts she'd never had to commit to memory. Even through her newfound determination not to be impressed by anything, Sid had loved Kori.

So did Vetra, more’s the pity. He was charming in an exciting sort of way and good looking in a dangerous sort of way, but most of all he was interested in Vetra and her life and she was defenseless against that especially. She was, as the cliché goes, young and stupid. And he was so good at it, he'd show up at her door with trinkets for Sid and maybe a bottle of something fancy for Vetra, because he'd been away to Omega or somewhere exciting and not at all like the bleak station they were mostly stuck on. She can't imagine finding Omega glamorous now, but she's raised her standards a little since then.

Then after he'd helped Sid with her latest assignment and she was fast asleep in the bedroom he'd get what he really wanted by getting Vetra what she really wanted: his undivided attention. They'd stretch out languidly on her creaky piece of shit couch and he'd say whatever it was he thought she wanted to hear - he was usually right - and they'd have quiet, careful, I-don’t-care-your-sister-is-asleep-in-the-next-room sex, which doesn't sound like much, but it was more than Vetra had come to expect. She was younger, then. It felt like domestic bliss.

He did a pretty good job of it, too, credit where it's due. The domestic bliss, that is, but the sex too. Whatever else he wasn't, he did actually like her in his own way, and she's certain it can't have been a dreadful hardship for him. She thinks he even liked Sid too. He wasn't all bad, which just made it harder. Maybe if she'd just been a bit more savvy, a bit more wary, they could've had something truly mutually beneficial.

After that would come the ‘hey babe, could you just get hold of -’ or the ‘any chance your favorite turian could get a discount on -’ or even the ‘I‘ve got a favor to ask -’

Well. She'd learned that one the hard way.

Point is, Kori was a thief. Not a great thief in practice but a well researched and well resourced thief in theory, and he'd taught her a thing or two about getting what she wanted amidst all the embarrassing swooning and heartbreak.

Casinos were his thing. He'd probably seen a vid from the comfort of his fancy apartment on Palaven and thought, why not? It's easy to believe you can do anything when no one's ever told you that you can't. He'd cheat and lie and swindle and - if he was feeling particularly bold - he'd even try robbing them outright. Vetra was involved in his schemes insomuch as he found her talents useful, so not that often, because Kori always underestimated her. It's a pity, because if she'd realized how fucking terrible he was at it, she might’ve cut the starry-eyed crap out a lot sooner.

She didn't know it at the time, but she knows it now: Kori might have had all the aptitude scores and the commendations and memorized dates of the Unification War, but Vetra’s smart.

Which is why her little heist is going to be a damn sight better than anything he ever did, and she's not about to let a single detail slip through the cracks, no matter how nonchalant her volunteers are about it.

“Relax,” Gil says lazily, “I've played against krogan before, I know what they're like.”

“Not these ones, you don't,” Vetra says, following him out from engineering onto the shuttle bay, “you need to be careful, Brodie, if they catch you counting cards -”

Gill stops dead with a horrified expression. “Counting cards? Counting cards -”

“They'll be looking for any excuse to catch you out -”

“You don't - surely you don't think poker -” Gil splutters, waving his hands inarticulately. “You can't - that's blackjack, you godless heathen, you can't just count in poker - ”

“Well, whatever,” Vetra says, and she's not usually one to enjoy winding someone up but she watches his continued disbelief with quiet amusement. “My point is -”

“I'm offended,” Gil continues loudly, “I'm offended that all this time you've thought I've been winning because of a little mental arithmetic. I'm hurt, too, actually. Wounded.”

“You haven't won every time,” Vetra reminds him smugly, but the placid little grin he gives in return hits her with a sudden realization that perhaps his losses were more carefully orchestrated than she'd thought. “You sly bastard,” she mutters,but half-heartedly, given that she's asking him to do much the same to a much more volatile crowd. It is, at least, encouraging.

“I got this, Vetra,” he says, and hands her a datapad as he pats her reassuringly on the arm. ”Just say the word.”

“Drack tells me there a few krogan variants. What's this?”

“I know them, they're all horrifying, mind you. No nuance.” Gil nods at the datapad. “The shopping list you asked for. Check with Kallo about the dampeners, though.”

“I thought you were going to check with Kallo,” Vetra says, just to see Gil pull a face. “All the variants?”

“I told you, I got this. Can't you ask Kallo?

“If you've argued again -”

“We haven't argued, he just - asks all these questions, and -” Gil catches her deadpan and unimpressed expression, and scowls. “It was a minor disagreement. Just ask him if he thinks the inertia -”

Vetra hands the datapad back. “Not your messenger, Brodie. I'll get the parts but I need a finalized list signed off by the pilot and chief engineer, I'm not about to start filling in the gaps when I don't know a damn thing about dampeners.” That isn't strictly true, but it's part of her new policy of not being everyone's babysitter. She'd been afraid the ship would fall apart, or she'd find she'd outlived her own usefulness, but neither has happened yet. It's something.

“Fine,” Gil says irritably, taking the datapad from her with a grimace, “fine. I'll ask him now, how's that?”

Vetra grins at him but he just mutters under his breath. “That's all I'm asking. Now, about these krogan variants…”

She follows Gil through to the crew quarters as he gives her an exasperated run-through of Tuchanka two card pick up, which she doesn't really follow but that wasn't the point: she's checking Gil really does know what he's talking about and isn't relying on grandstanding. She knows enough about Sardek to know that kind of thing won't fly.

The mess is already pretty full when they squeeze in; Drack is taking up most of the counter space effortlessly and Cora and Suvi are sitting at the table. They're both drinking something hot and peering down at the same datapad, Cora seemingly explaining something to an attentive Suvi. They look up at her and smile in greeting as Gil heads straight for the coffee, his complaints about krogan lack of nuance tailing off as he catches Drack’s eye.

Not that Drack gives a crap about poker either way, but he gets a kick out of being an ornery bastard. Vetra leans against the counter next to him and folds her arms. Whatever he's making looks basically inedible, to levo or dextro. As the only dextro onboard she spends most of her time in the mess avoiding cross contamination and eyeing everyone else's food dubiously, but krogan food is another level of bewildering. They only seem to have heard of one texture: tooth-breakingly crunchy. Drack has already blunted most the knives.

He slams something hard and grey onto a chopping board, making a sound that reminds her the way the docking clamps thud gently off the side of the Tempest . Not a bad sound, but definitely not a food sound. She's kind of curious to see what he's going to do with it.

Drack catches her gaze. “Still planning that thing with Sardek, huh?”

“Thinking about it,” she says, though she's way past ‘thinking’ and far enough into ‘doing’ that she's not sure she could back out now even if she wanted to. “Got a few ideas.”

“Looks like you've got a few recruits, too.”

“A few,” she says, and then grins at him. “You've been talking to Kesh.”

“He's a piece of work,” Drack grunts, which intrigues her because she's not sure she's really heard him pass such sharp judgement on other krogan all that much. “What'd Kesh tell you?”

“Not a lot.”

“Not much more to it.” Drack flips the rock he appears to be seasoning and cuts it in half with more effort than Vetra would consider encouraging for something you're about to eat. “I know you'll go in smart. Don't let him get the upper hand.”

“Will do,” she says, folding her arms as next to her Gil swears under his breath as he knocks coffee out the packet and across the counter. She wrinkles her nose at the smell. “I can always use one more, if you're up for it.”

“Thought that went without saying, Vetra,” Drack says, and transfers his food to a plate with a clatter. He grins at her.

“Thanks, Drack,” she says, and the smile hasn't quite faded from her face when the airlock slides open and there's Ryder, bleary eyed and very clearly just awake. She yawns widely as she shuffles into the galley, pulling her shoulders and elbows back as she rolls her neck, something which isn't necessarily all that suggestive in an ordinary context, but Vetra can feel her neck growing warm and her heart thudding a little faster.

Just her luck that actually hooking up with Sara hasn't helped with this crap in the slightest.

“Someone's up late,” Cora says, and Ryder lets out this little hum of contentment that Vetra is immensely, devastatingly disappointed wasn't reserved just for her ears. She closes her eyes for a brief moment, willing herself to just - not . Just don't be weird. Just don't be intense and possessive for just a second, just let Ryder do whatever she'd do normally and stop wanting things she hasn't any right to ask for.

She opens her eyes and leans a little more determinedly against the counter. “Morning,” she says, in the name of acting normal. It comes out stiff and flat, so she clears her throat and tries again. “Sleep well?” This comes out lower, maybe somewhat huskier, probably way too suggestive given the implications of the question. Crap. She resolves not to speak again.

Sara starts slightly as she notices her, and then smiles warmly as she makes her way over to the cupboards. “You know what,” she says, but for some inexplicable reason she's standing in front of Vetra and not the coffee machine, “I did.” Then, Sara rises up onto her toes and kisses her, right in front of everyone. It's just a quick kiss, one hand on Vetra’s shoulder and Vetra somehow having the wherewithal to lean down into it a little through her surprise, but somehow a very significant one. Vetra's mandibles flutter nervously despite her best efforts to play it cool.

There's a stunned moment of quiet as Gil elbows Suvi furiously in the ribs and Cora places a hand delicately over her grin, but then Drack snorts as Sara rocks back down onto the flat of her feet and sighs. “Still wouldn't say no to some coffee, though,” she says, and Vetra’s laugh is light as air, almost giddy with the relief of tension she didn't know she'd been holding. Drack is trying very hard to catch her eye but she's keeping her gaze determinedly on Sara. “You know they’ve been growing some on Podromos?”

And just like that, the conversation starts up again and Sara drinks her coffee with her hip touching Vetra’s, laughing at Gil’s groan of longing at the thought of real, fresh coffee. No drama, no secrecy, nothing remotely complicated about it. It doesn't make sense. It never works out that way, there's never not a condition, it's never that simple, but there it is -

Just like that.

 

-

 

“Just tell me what you need.”

“It's not just regular surveillance stuff, Sid, I need access to his encrypted channels -”

“Done and done,” Sid says, smugness clear even though Vetra can't see her face. “You're welcome.”

Vetra scrubs her hand across her face wearily. “Should I be worried about where you learned to do that?”

“You could just thank me.”

“You're the best, Sid,” Vetra says dutifully, but gratefully all the same. “Thank you. But seriously -”

“Relax, it's not that hard. Kind of a logical next step when you spend all day looking at comms and you get to know the systems.” There's a pause down the line. “Also, Tannis showed me a few tricks.”

Did he. I knew there was something off about him.”

“I thought you said he seemed nice!”

“That was before he was teaching my little sister illegal surveillance techniques,” Vetra says, opening the data from Sid on her console as they talk. “When I thought he was just an innocent, rock collecting nerd.”

“You're the one who wants the illegal surveillance data, Vetra. What's this all for, anyway?”

Vetra doesn't answer the question. “Maybe he's a bad influence.”

“Doesn't that make him right up your street?”

“Wow, Sid.”  

“Am I wrong though? He's still single, just saying.”

“About that,” Vetra says, and then finds herself tongue tied and spinning round sheepishly on her chair instead of finishing the thought. Unfortunately it gives Sid a chance to get started.

“Are you actually considering it? Are you actually thinking about dating someone nice?

“Sid -”

“I'm so excited, please tell me you'll do it. I can call him right now -”

“Sid!” Vetra says loudly, holding placating hands up to thin air. “Don't do that, okay? I'm sort of…”

“You're sort of what?” Sid sounds suspicious.

“I'm seeing someone,” Vetra says decisively, and then exhales loudly and figures she may as well get it over with. “As in… Ryder. So, um, that's a thing -”

Sid's voice rises a few octaves and decibels at the same time. “Ryder? Are you serious?”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Vetra says dryly.

“Ryder?” Sid says again, even louder than before. “Are you being actually serious right now? Ryder as in Ryder Ryder?”

“Doing wonders for my ego here, Sid. But yes. Ryder.”

“Vetra!” Sid's voice is so loud Vetra reaches for the volume with a wince. “You didn't tell me! This is great news, I can't wait to tell everyone -”

“Sid,” Vetra says loudly, “it's new, please don't -”

“-  and she's so tiny,” Sid gushes, way past listening to a thing she says, so carried away in her delight. “It's so cute, I can't believe how cute it is -”

“Sid. Can you please -”

“Did you go on a date? Was it romantic? Where did you go? Is it serious? Are you in love with her? Are you going to -”

“Oops,” Vetra says, “super top secret urgent mission just came up, guess I'd better go.”

“Vetra, don't you dare -”

“Call you later!” she says breezily, and drops the call with a sigh of amused relief.

Sid leaves no less than ten outraged and delighted messages in her inbox, for good measure.

 

-

 

Next time they're docked at the Nexus, she finds Sara in Liam’s den on the couch, cross-legged with her elbows on her knees and an intense expression of concentration on her face. Vetra leans against the airlock entrance with a grin and starts to ask what she's doing, only for Sara to put a finger to her lips and shush her.

“I'm on a stakeout, Vetra,” Sara says in a hushed voice, “get on the couch and pull your legs up.”

“Excuse me?”

Sara looks at her reproachfully. “You'll scare it away if you keep standing there.”

"Scare what away?”

“I've set a trap for whatever’s been stealing your cereal.” She gestures behind Vetra at a small contraption by the crates baited with several pink Blast-Ohs. Her favorite flavor, she thinks mournfully.

“I don't think Liam’s going to fit in there, Sara.”

“Okay,” Sara concedes with a grin, “for the other thing that's been stealing your cereal, species unknown. Also, I'm telling him you said that.”

“So you're just going to sit there and wait?” Sara glares at her silently and so she takes a seat with a quiet chuckle.

“Hey.” Sara pats her on the knee. “Legs up.”

“How do you expect me to do that, exactly? Turians don't bend like humans, you know,” she grumbles, but Sara just grins and shuffles about on the couch until she's stretched out longways and Vetra can squeeze on next to her. It's a tight fit but Sara slings an arm around her waist to steady her. “I really don't see how this'll help you catch anything.”

“Oh, I'm sorry,” Sara teases, “am I keeping you, Nyx?”

“Yep,” Vetra says, her shoulder beneath Sara's head and her hand curling back round to gently weave into her hair. “Lots of very important things to do and people to contact.” She makes no move to leave.

“Same,” Sara says, but just sighs.

“Didn't Tann want to meet with you?”

“Yeah. But I'm dealing with a very pressing problem right now, Vetra. We've got a cereal thief onboard. The future of the cluster is at stake.”

“That does sound serious. How can I help?”

“Just - mmm. Keep doing that.” Sara's eyes close as Vetra plays absently with her hair. “It's good for my morale.”

Vetra laughs quietly and they fall silent for a few moments. Vetra really does have a thousand things to do, but...

“Can I ask why you're on a stakeout?”

“Of all people I'd have thought you'd appreciate the seriousness of a cereal thief.”

“‘Of all people’?”

Sara snorts. “Don't play dumb with me, Nyx, I've seen you eating it straight out the packet.”

“Safety first, Ryder. I'm on a ship full of sloppy levos who don't clean up after themselves properly. Gotta watch the cross contamination.”

“Right,” Sara drawls, propping herself up on an elbow and leaning right over her. “Cross contamination. That a big issue for you, huh? Just, you know, we've been doing a lot of stuff that seems pretty dangerous when you put it like that…”

“It's a risk I'm willing to take,” Vetra says solemnly, and keeps a straight face as Sara frowns down at her doubtfully.

Eventually, she punches Vetra lightly on the arm and snorts. “You're so full of shit.”

“Yeah,” Vetra says, and grins. “But I probably shouldn't eat your food, you saw what happened to Kosta. Mostly it just tastes awful and I can't digest it.”

“That doesn't excuse the fact that every other meal you eat is just dry cereal,” Sara says, and then this huge, shit eating grin spreads slowly across her face. “Wait... You can't cook a thing, can you?”

Vetra groans. “Nope. My dad always just got us things out of packets, and Sid never liked anything else when she was little, so… never seemed worth it.”

“My dad couldn't cook either,” Sara says, and there's only the slightest waver to her voice that anyone else probably wouldn't even notice.

Vetra keeps her voice gentle. "Your mom?”

“Nah, she -” Sara pauses, fidgets with her fingernails for a moment, then ploughs on determinedly. “She wasn't much better. Scott’s pretty good, though. We used to get these synthetic steaks back on the Citadel - real meat, fake animal, you know the kind of vat grown stuff they've got off world - they always came in these gross little rectangles but he'd make them taste so great.” She sighs. “I doubt anyone brought any to Heleus, though. It's not like they were high cuisine.”

“You'd be surprised,” Vetra says dryly, and gets a laugh out of her. “I've seen some pretty specific stuff. Just say the word.”

Sara goes quiet; she never asks for anything. Vetra tucks her hair behind her ear and tries not to read too much into it, she's looked at it a thousand ways and never really figured it out.

“So,” Vetra says eventually, “the stakeout.”

“Just looking out for my girlfriend’s best interests. She's kind of a cereal freak, you see.”

The word ‘girlfriend’ still gets her stomach a little fluttery, but she takes it in her stride. “Yeah?”

“A very tall, majestic, and beautiful cereal freak, of course.”

“Sure,” Vetra says with a grin, “so you're just looking out for her, and it's nothing at all to do with avoiding your responsibilities, of course.”

Sara doesn't give the smart answer she expects, and instead sighs into her shoulder. “This is kind of embarrassing to admit to someone who has the best work ethic of anyone I've ever met, but -”

“What, me?” Vetra says, surprised, and then shakes her her head. “You're allowed to need a break sometimes, you know.”

“I'm the Pathfinder.”

“Especially because of that.”

“Everyone is depending on us to find Meridian. It's more than that.” Sara rubs at her eyes and then laughs nervously. “Do turians get imposter syndrome, or does the Hierarchy train that out of you?”

“You're asking the wrong turian,” Vetra says, and cranes her neck to tuck Sara's head under her chin properly. “I don't even have a citizenship tier, you know. I'm supposed to feel like an imposter.”

“You always seem sure of yourself,” Sara says somewhat wistfully, which strikes Vetra as particularly ironic coming from someone she's always thought of as remarkably self possessed. Prone to humorous melodrama and likely to wing it more often than not, but still; there aren't a lot of people who would cope half as well as Ryder if they'd be thrown into the same situation. It's one of the things she admires the most about her.

“Sara, I feel like an imposter on this ship at least twice a day.”

“Are you serious?” Sara squints up at her. “We'd never have made it off the Nexus without you.”

“I try,” Vetra says lightly, “but that's sort of my point. Listen, take it from your tall, beautiful girlfriend -”

“Majestic,” Sara says, “you missed out majestic.”

“ - majestic girlfriend,” Vetra continues, “you're doing an incredible job, and you can and should take some time out when you need it. And if that involves lying in wait for some little cereal stealing critter, then… each to their own.”

Sara's grin is back, bright and wide. “Oh yeah? And what's your choice of time out activity?”

“Cross contamination,” Vetra says slyly, and enjoys Sara's low chuckle.

“If only there was some way we could combine the two.”

“If only,” Vetra agrees, and then rolls onto her front in one swift movement to lean right over Sara, who lets out an undignified squawk as Vetra tugs her down the couch to lie flat on her back. “SAM? How about you close that airlock for us, huh?”

“Of course, Vetra.”

Sara makes a strangled noise as Vetra muzzles into her neck and draws Sara's knees up and around her waist. “Vetra! Liam will literally never forgive me if we do anything on his couch.” She sounds, quite contrary to her words, delighted about this.

“He doesn't have to know.”

“But he's -”

“He's probably in the Vortex right now, losing money to Gil.”

“He might come back,” Sara says weakly, but she's already lifting her hips obligingly to let Vetra make headway with her pants. “And - and we might scare away the cereal thief -”

“I guess you'll just have to be quiet then,” Vetra says low in her ear, and Sara does this incredible little whole body shiver that brings Vetra no small satisfaction.

In retrospect, she’d chosen a truly terrible time to finally let Ryder known how she felt, and if she’d just got the nerve to do it months ago then they’d maybe have had the time and space to properly indulge the ‘new relationship’ haze that - apparently - has her undressing Sara on Liam’s couch in the middle of the day. Now, with Meridian looming and the pressure growing, they have to find places they can determinedly carve out some time for each other, and sleep is usually the first thing to go. Vetra used to make a point of herding Sara off to bed when she started to look exhausted, but now she ends up herding them both, which generally entails a lot less sleep, no matter how noble her intentions.

So she’d be remiss not to take this opportunity, really. In the name of stress relief and in the name of being horribly besotted with her girlfriend, and a little bit in the name of getting Liam back for wasting her expensive food on a digestive system that gets literally nothing from it.

There's at least one angry, dangerous krogan out for her blood, and she's about to provoke him further. She's dragging her kid sister into all sorts of risky crap, again. The fate of the cluster hangs in the balance, there's a murderous race of genetically freakish aliens trying to wipe them all out, barring that the harsh environment of Heleus is doing its best to finish the job, and one dark day in the not so distant future she's going to come up empty for Blast-Ohs in the civilian storecaches. And maybe, just maybe, sleeping with the boss is a bad idea -

But even so, she can't help but feel that things are looking up for Vetra Nyx.