Growing up, Ryder had had visions of herself moving into University. She could see it clear as day; her Mother hugging both her and Scott tightly, tearing up, her Father trying to keep his strong nature and not shed a tear as his twins set off into adulthood. They'd hold hands and take their first step together - brother and sister, the dynamic duo, partners in crime - just as they always had.
In reality, Ryder had turned up sweaty, flustered and alone at the front door to her new University house, luggage in tow. Not quite the spectacular moment that she had always dreamed of.
As it was, her Mother had died just two years prior, missing the chance to send her children off. With her often absent Father throwing himself into work to staunch the grief, Ryder had no longer expected either parent to see her off. She had, however, always thought she'd have Scott.
Fate, however, had other plans.
A car accident three months earlier had almost claimed her brother's life; luckily, he had survived and was on the mend but three broken leg-bones meant a year deferring his entrance to University.
This meant that - as she fumbled with her new key - Ryder had turned up completely alone.
Stepping inside her new house, Ryder noticed noticed immediately that the place was dark and seemingly uninhibited. Shrugging it off - she had turned up at the earliest day possible - she flicked on the lights, pulled her luggage inside and surveyed her new habitat for the next year.
The front door opened to a simple living room, the carpeted floor tapering off into tile and a sectioned off kitchen. Television, uncomfortable looking sofa, white walls and garish art; classic University digs. At the end of the room were three rooms; a small bathroom and two bedrooms, labelled 1 and 2. On the right, a staircase. Ryder glanced at the key she had been given; a large 5 was painted onto it. She sighed, cursing the thought of having to drag her luggage up the stairs and walked onwards to find her room.
"So, found any hot girls yet?"
"So many I've been beating them off with multiple sticks!"
It hadn't taken Ryder long to set up her things in her new bedroom (simple decor - thankfully no more garish art - a bed, a wardrobe, desk and chair, some shelves all provided) and s promised her first move after settling was to set up a video chat with Scott. Seeing her brother again had made her at least feel somewhat at ease even if only via the internet.
It was still taking her time to get used to his new appearance; in an act of belated teenage rebellion, the twins had made a pact to dye their hair disgustingly bright colours before university. Scott had chosen a platinum blonde (dying his beard alongside his hair - bad move) and Ryder had chosen a hideously luminous orange for her own. Still, it was the same man she loved dearly; the face that was so similar to her own looking back at her, all olive skin, round baby face and a smattering of freckles. Two peas in a pod.
"I knew it. My sister, bonafied heartbreaker and not at all prone to blushing and stuttering around cute women" Scott winked.
"You know, I could bring up you trying to ask but Michael Holt when we were seventeen at that party but-"
"No!" Scott laughed. "Please, have mercy"
"Maybe this time"
"Don't forget you're on a boy hunt for me, too"
"Oh, is that it?" Ryder laughed, rolling her eyes. "You send me here first just to set you up?"
"I figured you big me up then I sweep them off my feet with my dashing good looks. In fact-"
Before Scott could finish his sentence, however, the unmistakable sound of the front door opening rang through the house followed by a group of muffled voices. Ryder froze.
"Thought you said you were alone in the house?" Scott asked.
"That's what I thought"
"Didn't you check?"
"Yes, Scott, I overturned every bedroom just in case"
The voices continued, growing louder, laughing as Ryder groaned. She had hoped for at least a few hours to settle before having to meet her new housemates.
"Well go on then! Make introductions! Feet! Sweeping" Scott waved his hands, shooing her eagerly.
"Alright, alright. You'll still be on when I get back?"
"Hard to run with a busted leg"
Ryder sighed again, pulling herself up off her bed. With Scott yelling words of encouragement from her laptop, Ryder padded out into the hall and down the stairs. Upon reaching the bottom she stopped and peered out at the group of strangers crowding her kitchen.
To her dismay, there were more than she had anticipated; seven in total, lounging around the kitchen and sipping beers. Leaning against the counter and facing her was a human man, slouched against the counter, a hat atop his head; next to him a male Turian standing very close to a female Quarian; then, two humans, a tall woman with long dark hair and a shorter, stouter dark haired man; closing the group circle, a muscular, red-headed woman with her arm around the waist of a Asari maiden.
Ryder stayed frozen in her position, cursing the fact that she hadn't stopped to make herself more presentable. At least one of these strangers was her new housemate and she was wearing fluffy rabbit slippers. Briefly, Ryder considered running upstairs to change but was stopped when a voice called out.
"Hey Shepard!" the man with the hat smirked. "Looks like you've got a mouse in the house!"
Ryder could feel her face heating up as every single one of the group turned to stare at her. Embarrassed and awkward, she went to scratch the back of her head. Decided against it. Dropped her hands to her sides. Worried she looked too hostile. Looked at her feet. Cursed her slippers. Looked back up to see them still staring.
"Uh... hi... I didn't think anyone else had... moved in yet" Ryder cleared her throat but her voice still came out small.
She watched the Turian nod at one of the women, who placed her beer on the counter and approached Ryder. Even as she walked, every seemed planned and meticulous; she was straight backed with a furrowed brow and held herself with an air of importance. Coming to stand in front of Ryder, she silently stuck out one hand to shake, her face unreadable. The woman was taller than Ryder and looked like she could - and probably would - throw her out of the window with one arm, without breaking a sweat. Her choppy red hair did nothing to hide the intensity of her green eyes, the few scars dotted across her face or the smattering of freckles on the bridge of her nose that matched Ryder's yet somehow looked so much more badass.
Ryder was - for lack of a better word - fucking terrified of this woman. Still, she took her hand and tried her best to meet the strong handshake she received.
"Shepard" the woman said.
"Huh?" replied Ryder, not noticing that she was still awkwardly attempting to shake the woman's hand.
"My name. It's Shepard. Second year"
"Oh, right. Ryder"
"You're one of the new ones"
Shepard was staring at Ryder. Ryder felt like melting into the ground under the stern gaze.
"My hand" Shepard said.
"Let go of my hand"
It was then that Ryder looked down and realised that she was still clutching Shepard's hand. Blushing beet red, she dropped it quickly, stuttering.
"Shit, shit I'm so sorry, I-"
Shepard looked about to say something when laughter erupted from the man with the hat behind her.
"Oh, stop it, Shep, you're scaring the poor girl!" He waved, smiling at Ryder. "I'm Joker. Don't mind her, she can't really shoot lazers from her eyes"
Shepard folded her arms and turned to glare over at Joker; Ryder was almost certain she saw a small smile creep onto her face, however.
The rest of the group followed suit, introducing themselves; Garrus. Tali. Ashley. Kaidan. Liara. Ryder smiled accordingly, waved awkwardly and felt sightly better about the whole situation. That was, until, she decided to blurt out
"So if she's the Shepard you must all be the sheep, right?!"
The room was silent as seven pairs of eyes stared into her soul; Ryder wished the ground would swallow her up whole and end her torment.
"I'm going to bed now..." Ryder said weakly after a tortuous minute of silence, running up the stairs as fast her legs would carry her. To her credit though, she did hear a few laughs behind her as she left; she chose to believe they were laughing with her and not at her.
As she reached her room, Ryder closed the door and threw herself down on her bed with a groan.
"So, the bunny slippers weren't endearing enough, huh?" Scott asked from the computer.
Over the next four days, Ryder got to know Shepard slightly better. Whilst they weren't friends, she at least felt comfortable enough to share dinner around her and had learned a few basics; she was taking sports and activity courses, lived in room 1, had been with her girlfriend Liara for six months and didn't have any parents. It wasn't a life long friendship in the making but it was enough.
As the fifth day rolled around, the occupant of room 2 arrived. Ryder never saw her move in and didn't see her until noticing her having a very brief conversation with Shepard in the kitchen; the twp obviously knew each other but not well.
A small, slender elf with hair that looked like it was growing out after being shaved, she had introduced herself as Mahariel; the telltale intricate facial markings and thick Welsh-esque accent had Ryder realising that she was Dalish, a rarity amongst a public University. Before Ryder could ask more about her - curious as to why she was here and not in a Dalish University as many elves were - she had quietly vanished back into her room, only making Ryder more curious about her new housemate.
On day six, a loud knocking on the door awoke Ryder. Stumbling out of bed, she opened it only to walk straight into the chest of a large Qunari woman. Peering up, the woman looked as nervous as Ryder felt and waved weakly.
"Hello" she had a strong Southern English accent and her voice was extremely soft, almost unsuitably so. "I believe this is my new house?"
"Don't you have a key?" Ryder asked.
"I do I just... thought it would be polite to knock first. I didn't wake you, did I?"
"It's fine, honestly" Ryder gestured for the woman to come in.
The Qunari towered over Ryder and was built like a warrior but she walked with an almost shy grace despite the fact that she was easily carrying all of her luggage without breaking a sweat. Ryder followed her upstairs to bedroom 4.
"Need any help with anything?" Ryder asked.
The woman smiled at Ryder.
"No, it's fine, thank you but please come in. What's your name?"
"I'm Adaar. It's nice to meet you"
Encouraged and warmed by Adaar's seemingly genuinely kind and soft nature, Ryder sat with Adaar and chatted to her as she unpacked. For the first time since moving in, Ryder didn't feel afraid of her new housemate; she was for once confident that she was making a new friend.
Their conversation was interrupted, however, by the sound of the front door swinging loudly open. Exchanging puzzled looks, the two women headed down the stairs to greet the arrival.
"Ah, Aveline, mon cherie, my greatest thanks for your 'elp"
Sitting at the dinner table at the back of the room was Mahariel, reading a book and seeming unaffected by the new arrival. In the kitchen, Shepard stood, glaring, arms crossed and thin lipped. In the middle of the room, a woman Ryder didn't recognise; tall, thin, with a shock of messy black hair that looked like it would never lie completely flat and a small red scar across her nose, she was half yelling in a terrible French accent at someone outside the front door, arms raised out, taking up the room as if it were always her own.
"How many times do I have to tell you to stop with the Orlesian accent?"
Another woman walked into the room; just as tall but much stockier with long ginger hair. She set down the bags she was carrying in the middle of the room before nodding towards Mahariel and Shepard.
"Hello Mahariel, Shepard"
Mahariel simply nodded back. Shepard waved, still tight lipped.
The dark haired woman turned to Shepard, a shit eating grin spreading across her face.
"If it isn't my best friend, the Commander" she said, mock saluting.
"You're not funny, Hawke. You've never been funny" Shepard growled.
"Hawke" Aveline warned.
Hawke grabbed her bags dramatically and headed for the stairs as Aveline approached Ryder.
"Are you both moving in?" Ryder asked.
"What? No, no. Nothing like that. Neither of us are... we're both very straight" Aveline recoiled in shock slightly. "Childhood neighbours. Someone had to get her here in one piece"
Aveline smiled fondly.
"I still don't know why you put up with her" Shepard muttered.
"Some days, neither do I" Aveline laughed.
Shepard, however, didn't seem amused. Ryder's curiosity peaked although she didn't get a chance to vocalise it as Hawke bounded back down the stairs, phone glued to one ear.
"Yes, yes, yes.... I've only been here five minutes.... careful, someone might overhear and think you missed me.... yes, I'm around people so you can't say that.... I don't care if you think it's obvious... I'll be there soon.... yes, I'm with Aveline..."
Hawke recoiled as the woman at the end of the phone yelled "Hey big girl!" before dissolving into uproarious laughter as Hawke ended the call. Aveline''s jaw clenched.
"I don't know why you're friends with her"
"Someone's got to put up with me since I switched classes. C'mon, I'll walk you to your car"
"You're going to see her? You just moved in"
"Careful, Aveline, people might think we're married again"
"And if you aren't careful people with start to think you're sleeping with her. You know she'd get with anything with a pulse. Those kind of rumours, you'll never get a man"
Ryder noticed a small glint in Hawke's eyes as a smile crept across her lips, something that Aveline seemed to be ignorant to.
"Ah yes, how would I ever live with myself. Mother would be so disappointed"
With a vague wave from Hawke and a nod from Aveline, the two headed back out of the house. Shepard grunted, muttering something that sounded a lot like "I can't fucking believe it" and stormed off into her room. Ryder turned to Adaar.
"So" she said. "Lunch?"