Rowan let her heavy duffel bag thunked onto the floor. She sighed, massaging her sore shoulder. Boot camp wasn’t easy but after being put through the Alec Ryder training for years, it was barely a challenge. Glancing around her room, nothing had changed in the 3 months she was away.
Her omni-tool beeped. It was from Ralph, her twin. She sighed, he wouldn’t be able to get to the Citadel until tomorrow. Flight delays sucked. That meant Rowan was going to be stuck with her parents, alone. That’s not something she enjoyed particularly. Rowan had a great relationship with her mother and was actually looking forward to spending time with her but her father, not so much.
“Well, it is what it is,” Rowan shrugged, she's nothing but adaptable. “Best enjoy what time I have before Dad gets here.”
Rowan popped her head out of the room, thinking to take her mother out for a good lunch.
There was no response. An old fear started to niggle at the back of her mind.
Still, silence. Her mother was diagnosed with AEND years ago. It was terminal but her condition was stable for years. They even did a month-long trip to Earth, taking the chance to visit their grandparents before she and Ralph enlisted. She was fine then. Wasn’t she?
Panic started to roil in her stomach as her feet lurched forward, taking her through the house. Mom wasn’t getting better but she was not getting any worse, right?
She found her mother slumped behind the kitchen counter, fighting to catch her breath.
“I’m fine, Rowan,” her mother said, but her paler than usual skin tone couldn’t convince Ryder. “I was just a little breathless.”
Before she could reply, her father burst into the room, “Ellen, are you all right?”
Wheeling to face her, his hands ran through his hair, her father’s grey eyes pinned her to the spot. “Rowan, what happened? Why didn’t you…”
Barely 5 minutes into seeing for her first time in a year, her father had decided this was somehow her fault. It must have been something she didn’t do. Rowan was done, she was no longer a child. She’s a soldier of the Alliance System. She didn’t have to take this shit anymore. Rowan surged to her feet, ready to give as good as she’s got but her mother’s voice cut through her frustration with a hoarse shout.
Rowan stilled, bending over her mother who started coughing. She settled for a glare at her father who had the sense to at least look ashamed. “Rowan, I’m fine. Maybe you can go get dinner? Meet some of your friends?”
Rowan hesitated but her mother smiled reassuringly at her. “Don’t worry about me, I’ll see you later.”
She was a coward and took the out her mother provided. Eventually, Rowan found herself at Dark Star Lounge after dinner. It wasn’t even midnight but she didn’t want to risk getting into it with her father again. The shops were mostly closing and she was sick of sitting alone at the all-day cafe. Maybe getting a little buzzed was what she needed. Hopefully, things would be better when Ralph got home.
Dark Star Lounge was a luxury club but Rowan had credits to burn. Boot camp didn’t provide many opportunities to spend them. As the doors slid open, the heavy beats of the music slammed into her. Rowan headed straight for the bar.
“What will it be?” the turian bartender asked.
“What-” was all she managed before someone slammed into her from the back, pushing her hard against the bar.
Annoyed, she whirled around to see a female turian coming in for a second time while another attempted to stop her. “What the fuck?” Rowan cursed as she weaved out of the way.
“Come on, she’s your type!” the shorter of the two whined loudly, obviously drunk.
“Shut up, you’re drunk. Let’s go,” the other said, pulling the drunk away.
The drunk one struggled and fought her way towards Rowan. Irritated, she moved out of the way. Rowan wanted no part of this. She was here to drink, get buzzed and get out. Rowan wanted no groping turians. It wasn’t worth the trouble and she left. Rowan rather take the risk of fighting with her father than be bothered by drunks.
The next night, she found herself back at Dark Star Lounge, attempting what she had failed the previous night. Ralph was back. They had a highly uncomfortable family dinner. Her mother had allowed both she and Ralph to escape after an hour of painfully awkward socialising. Her mother already knew what was going on with their lives, it was their father they had to update but he was constantly on his omni-tool throughout the meal. Rowan wished she could simply have a meal without her father.
As she entered Dark Star Lounge, she scanned the place to make sure there weren’t any drunk groping turians around. “Yup, none of that here,” she assured herself.
Rowan made a beeline to the bar and ordered the strongest drink they had. After that particular dinner, that’s what she needed. “Easy enough,” the bartender said and poured her a glass of something green.
She grimaced at the colour but downed it in one go. It burnt as it slid down her throat, gave her a nice buzz. “Anything else?” the bartender asked.
Rowan was about to get another glass or 3 when she heard a double flanged voice behind her speak up. “Hurry it up, some of us are here to drink, unlike some others.”
“Fucking hell,” Rowan cursed as she turned.
It was the drunk turian from yesterday, this time decidedly less drunk but no less annoying. Rowan glared at her as she lifted 3 fingers at the bartender. The bartender obliged. Rowan collected her drinks and shifted to a booth. “Fuck if I get bullied out of my drinking again,” she muttered.
She was deep into her last cup when she felt more than saw someone sliding into her booth, leaning in close. Rowan was in no mood to take shit from anyone. It was the same turian, now completely shitfaced. “Hey, you’re my sister’s type,” she drawled. “Can I get your number for her?”
“Go away,” Rowan growled. “Just fuck off.”
“No need to be rude. Sheesh! Squishy humans who can’t take a little flirting.”
Rowan's temper was starting to get the better of her. When she’s more than a little tipsy her control of biotics went from perfect to mediocre. Her arm was sheathed in blue and that instantly got the turian’s attention. “Spirits! A biotic? Count me out,” she said, her hands coming up to push Rowan away.
Her talons were clumsy and one talon scored a scratch down her arm. Ryder hissed in pain. Her buzz rapidly turning into anger. “Just go, I didn’t come here to be insulted and then assaulted.”
“You call that an assault? I’ll show you assault!” the turian yelled, standing up unsteadily.
Before things could get further the second turian from yesterday arrived. “Sorry, I’m so sorry. She’s my sister, Sid. She’s drunk.”
“I’m not drunk,” Sid slurred even as she weaved unsteadily on her feet. “She’s a biotic, Vi, like Dad. Spirits, like Dad.”
“Shit,” Vi cursed under her breath.
Sid was reduced to a sobbing mess, crying incoherently about her father, biotics and something. Rowan didn’t want to know and she, most certainly, didn’t care. “Just get her home,” she begged.
There was a solid thunk and they both watched as Sid's head fall onto the table. She was snoring. “Yup, too late. I’ll have to let her sleep it off here. I can’t carry her by myself.”
Rowan sighed, resigned to sitting with them until she finished her drink. “Shit, you’ve been cut. Was that Sid’s doing?” Vi asked, a hand shooting out to hold Ryder's arm straight, examining the wound.
She frowned and shook her head. “I’m fine. It’s just a cut.”
Somehow, Rowan was reluctant to pull her arm out of Vi's grip. The contact felt nice. She grunted at the odd feeling and downed the rest of her drink. “Look after her. She has been harassing me every time I come.”
Without waiting for a response, Rowan withdrew her hand, slid out of the booth and left.
Rowan made it a point go to Dark Star Lounge earlier than she had the previous two nights. It proved to be a winning formula. It was her last night before heading off to her new assignment, her first after boot camp. Rowan fully intended to shine, her father expected nothing less.
She was back at the same booth, drinking her fourth cup. “There you are!” someone called.
Rowan groaned internally. She glanced and saw it was Vi, this time without Sid in tow. She heaved a sigh of relief. “I thought you had given up on Dark Star,” Vi said. “May I?”
Rowan nodded after a moment of hesitation. “Thanks.”
“How’s Sid?” Ryder asked, just to say something.
“She’s fine. We had a meeting with our father, after like 15 years of absence. Sid wasn’t taking it well,” she said as she slid into the booth next to Rowan.
Rowan nodded, understanding the situation perfectly. They chatted about nothing much in particular. Vi’s double flanged voice rumbled and buzzed in a frequency that put her at ease. For the few hours they chatted, Rowan never once thought about her family troubles. She was riding on a high not from alcohol but simply from a person who cared. Vi attempted to pay for her drinks just to make up what Sid did. “It’s fine,” Rowan said. “I get why Sid was acting out.”
“What about you? You’re a mysterious Dark Star stranger, drinking all alone. What’s your story?” Vi asked, her mandibles fluttering in a teasing manner.
“Ha, Dark Star stranger? Guess I am,” Ryder laughed. “What does that make you? Bright Star? Let’s just say I am a grunt shipping out tomorrow. It’s my last night here to see family.”
“Ahh, an Alliance meathead,” Vi said. “A biotic to boot.”
Rowan shifted in her seat, Vi’s double flanged voice dragging something deep from within her to the surface. “So your last day here huh? Any plans after your drinks?” Vi asked, her voice dropping low and husky.
Rowan smiled as heat pooled between her thighs. The offer was tempting, actually very tempting. It had been a long time. Boot camp didn’t leave her time or energy to do anything else. It was her last night before assignment after all. Who knew how long before she’ll get to do something like this again. Rowan’s smile widened into a grin. Her hand slid over the table to touch Vi’s tentatively. Vi’s mandibles spread wider as she took Rowan’s hand, dragging her out of the booth. They stood, hands intertwined. Ryder's heart quickened in anticipation. This would be her first time with a turian. She was afraid and excited all at the same time.
Then an insistent beeping rang out. Vi frowned and brought up her omni-tool. She accepted the comm. “Vi! Where are you? Get me out of C-sec now!” Sid’s voice came clearly through the connection. “They are threatening to jail me! Vi, save me!”
Vi’s mandibles tightened, her hand released Ryder’s immediately. Ryder’s heart sank, her hand felt cold without Vi’s strange hard one over her own. Her predator sharp eyes looked at her human ones. Ryder sighed and nodded. “Go,” she said. “Sid needs you.”
“Thank you, Dark Star.”
Rowan sighed. 10 months on assignment, she could use the break but she didn’t want it this way. The news came from Huerta Memorial Hospital. Rowan practically begged her commanding officer for leave. “My mother is dying,” she remembered the words.
“Fuck,” she cursed as she pushed the memory from her mind.
Rowan had never spoken it out loud. Her mother’s condition was just something they all had lived with but it wasn’t something at the forefront of her mind. This time it felt different. Her heart felt heavy, slowly crushed by reality and facts. Her 5 days trip from her assignment to the Citadel was an exercise in agony. She wanted to reach the Citadel and not at the same time. As long as she was on the ship, her mother wasn’t dying, wasn’t actively dying. “Fuck,” she cursed again.
Reality always won. Sitting next to her mother’s bed, holding her limp hand, watching her taking shallower and shallower breaths was heartbreaking. Neither her father or Ralph had made it to the Citadel yet. Rowan spent three days and nights alone with her mother. By the evening of the fourth day, both Ryder men had arrived. Rowan had convinced herself as long as she was awake, Mom wouldn’t die. She would guard her mother against death itself.
Ralph clamped a hand over her shoulder and squeezed. “Hey, you’re here,” she whispered, their mother sleeping fitfully.
“Get cleaned up, Ro,” he said. “And eat something. Come back tomorrow morning. I’ll hold vigil with Dad tonight.”
Their father for once didn’t have some fault to point out. “Get some rest, Rowan.”
Rowan couldn’t quite bring herself to go home. It was empty, too empty. Her feet brought her to Dark Star Lounge before she realised it. Standing outside the lounge, the beats thumping through the doors, Rowan decided she could use something to drown the fears threatening to claw up her throat. She leaned against the bar, pouring shot after shot down her throat. It was barely keeping up with her biotic metabolism. Rowan held up a hand and signal the bartender for more when someone bumped her from the side. “Today is so not the fucking day,” she growled, whirling over to chew out the person.
Then a familiar double flanged voice spoke, “Hey Dark Star, fancy meeting you here.”
Vi smiled at her, mandibles spreading wide. Rowan stilled for a moment. The anger was gone. She just felt cold now. It must have shown because Vi immediately took her hand, squeezing it. “Hey, what happened?” she asked, concern shining in her eyes.
Rowan opened her mouth but found she couldn’t speak. If she did, she was going to break, she's going to cry. And Ryder women didn’t do that, not even in the face of death. Rowan clenched her jaw so tight there was a dull ache. Vi pulled her mandibles back tight against her face and pulled Rowan in for a hug. As hard and tough Vi’s armour was, Rowan moulded perfectly over it. She closed her eyes and allowed herself to be held. “It’s all right, it will be ok,” Vi whispered into her hair. “Whatever it is, you will get through it.”
Rowan's arms tightened around Vi and sighed. “Thanks, Vi,” she muttered into her armour. “I really needed that.”
They untangled from each other. Vi bent lower to look into her face. Predator eyes studying her. It sent a tingle of thrill down her spine. “I’m glad,” she said. “Come on.”
Vi snagged their drinks and pulled her to an empty booth. It was their usual spot. They chatted, Rowan skirted around her problems, Vi updating her about Sid and herself. It was like no time had passed. It wasn’t ten months since she last saw Vi. It felt like it was just yesterday. It felt a ship finding safe harbour. Rowan allowed herself to relax, leaning her head against Vi’s shoulder.
“So Sid told me she wanted to join this Andromeda Initiative,” Vi said.
Rowan frowned. “That sounds familiar, is it the one where you travel to another galaxy in cryo-sleep?”
“That’s the one. I mean it’s crazy, isn’t it? We have a good thing here, why travel 600 years and face who knows what?”
Rowan kept silent, sensing there was more Vi wanted to say. She shifted to face the turian. Vi was downcast, mandibles tight against her face. On a whim, Rowan placed her hands over Vi's face, her fingers caressing her mandibles. It was surprisingly smooth, polished. She traced Vi’s colony marks. A taloned hand took hers and Vi smiled. “Sid told me she’ll go with or without me. She didn’t want anything to do with this galaxy. It has been a tough ride for her here.”
“And you’re torn between Sid and what you’ve built here?” Rowan asked, reluctantly sliding her hand from Vi’s face.
Vi grinned, holding onto Rowan’s other hand in her own. “Yeah,” she admitted.
Rowan sighed. “Take it from me, choose family every time. That’s the most important thing. I should know.”
Vi’s hand tightened over her own as Rowan looked away. “Hey, hey, hey,” she coaxed. “Come back here. Stay here with me.”
A gentle hand took hold of her chin, twisting it to face Vi. “Dark Star, want to go somewhere else?”
Rowan could hear the invitation in Vi’s voice. "Take me away, Bright Star," she begged, anything was better than the thoughts in her head.
They made it out of Dark Star Lounge when Rowan’s omni-tool beeped. Her heart clenched as she hastily tapped to see the message. “Fuck,” the curse slipped out before she could stop it.
Rowan looked up and found Vi staring at her with concern. She nodded once at Rowan. “Go,” she said simply. “Family right?”
Rowan nodded and ran.
Rowan shifted, trying to get comfortable in the cryo-pod. Ralph rapped his knuckles. “Did you remember to pee, sis?” he asked.
“Ha. Ha. Ha. Very funny,” she said, rolling her eyes at him. “Why don’t you try that with Dad?”
Ralph just laughed. “See you in 600 years,” she said. “Sleep well.”
“You too, Ro.”
The doctors came and activated her pod. It hummed beneath her. Rowan was scared but excited. Her thought inevitably went to Vi, there were so many missed opportunities. The connection she felt was so tangible and strong. They had only met for a handful of times. Rowan could still remember Vi’s talons in her hand, her strong hug and her gentle touch. She sighed. “I wonder if they ever decided to go to Andromeda?” Rowan wondered out loud. “Even if they did, how does a person even find another in a whole other cluster?”
Slowly, her eyes sagged shut and the darkness took her into its embrace.
“Goodbye, Vi,” she whispered.
“Fucking shit,” Rowan cursed in her father’s quarters, now hers. “It has gone all to hell.”
Anger and grief swept through her in waves, making her waver on her feet. “How can I do this? All of this? I’m not good enough for this fucking job,” she shouted. “Dad, what the fuck?”
The room was silent, even SAM was. There was no doubt SAM was an AI, it was smart enough to leave her alone. Dying gave her nothing but a headache which was getting from bad to worse. “Damn,” she cursed as she popped the pain blockers into her mouth, swallowing them dry. “This better do the job or I’ll strangle someone.”
The meeting with Tann went horribly and the disappointment on everyone’s faces when they realised they got the 22-year-old as the Pathfinder instead of her N7 veteran father was so clear. Even Rowan was disappointed at the turn of events. “Fuck, Dad,” she choked as tears began to flow.
“Ryder, officer Harper is looking for you,” SAM said.
She took a deep breath. She's not only lost her father, she lost her name as well. It had been Ryder this, Ryder that. No room for Rowan here. She took a deep breath and wiped away the tears with the back of her hand. “Ryder women don’t break,” she muttered to herself. “Back to work, game face fucking on.”
Rowan checked herself on her omni-tool before leaving the room. Her eyes were a little red and puffy but it would have to do. Everything would just have to do. Squaring her shoulders, she walked out, looking as confident as she could manage.
She met up with Cora at the trams. Tann had provided them with a ship and Rowan had no time to lose. A golden world coming right up, yes sir. The tram ride was longer than expected. Rowan forced herself to make small talk with Cora. “Pathfinder en route. How’s the ship?” Cora radioed ahead.
Rowan pretended to be absorbed by the tram’s controls.
“In final checks and looking great,” a voice came through.
She jerked her head at the voice. It was familiar. The double flanged voice was a jolt to her heart. Before Ryder could speak, Cora terminated the comm and said, “We won’t be long.”
Rowan's jaw twitched. “The way things are going, we’ll be on our own out there…” Cora said.
Rowan had to wrestle her thoughts to make a coherent reply. Soon, the tram got to the docks. Rowan strode towards the ship. It was obvious which one was hers. There was only one coming into the docks. People were milling about waiting to see the ship, maybe to see her - the human Pathfinder. Correction, the only Pathfinder. Rowan sighed. Just ahead she could make out people moving cargo onto the Tempest. One of them taller than everyone else. Her body sharp edges and armoured. Rowan's heart lurched. Did she dare hope? Her heart thudded painfully in her chest.
The turian had her back facing her. She cocked her head slightly at their approaching footsteps. “So you’re the one making everything happen,” she said as she turned around.
Her eyes widened as they met Rowan's. Her mandibles went wide. “Hey Dark Star, fancy meeting you here,” she drawled in that familiar way.
Her world wasn’t all right but it was going to be. A crooked smile of her own matched Vi’s. Rowan stretched her hand out in a human handshake, “I am Rowan Ryder, call me Ro.”
Vi nodded. “I’m Vetra Nyx,” she replied, one familiar taloned hand shaking her own.
Before Rowan could react, Vi jerked her hand forward and pulled her into an embrace. “Ro,” she whispered into her hair. “We have a lot to catch up on.”
“Yes we do,” Rowan said, pulling Vi’s face down towards her. “Bright Star.”
Rowan closed her eyes and pressed her lips over Vi’s mouth plates. Rowan felt like she had come home.