Ryder looked at the Initiative uniform before her as she slipped off her bed. Two days spent lying on a bed wasn’t the norm for her even after a battle. But having her stomach sliced open in the battle of Meridian was a good reason to be flat on her back.
Tann couldn’t wait. Of course he couldn’t. As soon as she was awake and coherent after her surgery, he was in her room, demanding she make decisions. It was almost like the Leadership was useless without her. Kesh was there, her expression midway between concern and gleeful.
Fuck, she remembered the bet.
The last shore leave she approved before the Archon stole the damn Hyperion from under her nose, she spent it with Drack and Kesh, drinking and gambling. Well, she was basically being fleeced by the Nakmors. That taught her to play poker with Kesh. She was a shark.
“I’m done. I’ve ran out of booze to bet with,” she said, pushing the cards away.
Kesh eyed her, a grin on her face. It never failed to reinforce how much humans were squishy meat bags in comparison to the natural harden armour a krogan had. “That’s not all we can play for.”
Ryder narrowed her eyes at her. “What exactly are you suggesting?”
Drack snorted and leaned back against his chair. It creaked dangerously. “This I got to hear, rushan.”
“You see, our human Pathfinder here has been making my life difficult when it comes to dealing with Tann,” Kesh went on.
Ryder snorted, draining her bottle of ryncol. “Hey, I get things done, he is just fucking standing in the way all the time.”
“Touché, but still it does make my work harder, not easier. I have to deal with his temper tantrums after you’re done. And I actually have to work with him everyday. You get to run off on the Tempest.”
She nodded, acknowledging Kesh’s point.
“So, the next time Tann gives you an order, you say yes, and you do it.”
Kesh waved a claw and went on. “No matter how stupid, how time consuming, how asinine it is.”
Ryder frowned, her mouth opened ready to protest.
“You. Just. Do. It.”
Drack laughed. “That’s a good one. You should ask for something in return if you win.”
And of course, Ryder fucking lost.
“Just decide,” Tann whined. “We need you to pick the Ambassador.”
“Is that an order?” Ryder asked hopefully. At least that would be an easy decision. Her jaw tightened as she tried to find a better position. Having the four leaders on the Nexus looming over her wasn’t the best position to put herself in.
“No, no, not an order. We just need your input.”
Kesh covered her mouth and hid a snort of laughter behind a fake cough. Ryder sighed. “Fine, put the Moshae on as the Ambassador.”
Tann’s face fell. “You’re not going to ask each of us who we’d think would do the best job?”
“Tann, are you ordering me to pick someone else?”
Tann blanched as he looked at the others. Addison was giving him the stink eye while Kandros looked utterly bored. “You asked her to decide, you can’t possibly be telling me you want her to change her mind to suit you,” Addison growled.
“Ugh, no, no. Just…” his voice trailed off. “I’d thought Ryder would take our opinions into consideration…”
“The Moshae is an icon among the angaras. They were living in a nice little neighbourhood until we arrived like unwanted guests that refused to leave, bringing all our shit and problems along,” Ryder pointed out. “I’d think they deserve a seat at the fucking table, don’t you?”
Tann sighed and nodded. “You’re right. Of course, they should get a say in what we do.”
“Is that all?” Ryder asked, the painkillers that flooded her body from the surgery were wearing off and her stomach felt like it had been rearranged violently.
The others started to leave, taking the hint. Or maybe the cold sweat that was beading her forehead and the grimace that curled her lips were signal enough.
“Actually, there is one more matter.”
“Really?” Ryder growled.
“Spirits, can’t you see she needs time to recover?” Kandros pointed out. “She just got out of surgery.”
“This can’t wait,” Tann insisted.
“What can it possibly be?” Addison demanded exasperatedly.
“My office,” the salarian drew himself up to full height, “have been flooded with requests for an interview with Ryder. I simply cannot be dealing with this.”
“So what the hell do you want me to do about it? Just say no and be done,” Ryder gritted out.
“That will not do. This is an excellent PR opportunity not to be squandered.”
Her jaw tightened. The pain was turning into a burning sensation from the inside out. And getting pissed off meant she was being tense and that was very bad now. The blood pounded in her ears. If she had the energy she would have thrown all of them out of the room.
Tann droned on and on while the others argued. The back and forth was going nowhere. It was hell to watch. It’s no wonder they can’t fucking decide on anything.
“So what the fuck do you want me to do?”
“Just pick one and get it done.”
“Is that a fucking order?” Ryder asked reflexively. Her grip on her temper was tenuous at best, the pain was fraying what little control she had left.
“Yes, gaping cloaca, what is this obsession on if things are orders or not? Yes, it is an order. I order you, Ryder, pick one and be done with it.”
Kesh couldn’t stop the snort of laughter that erupted from her mouth. Ryder squeezed her eyes close for a moment. What the fuck have I done? As the others filed out, Kesh lingered. She grinned and reminded, “It’s an order, Ryder.”
“Fuck you too, Kesh.”
Two days later, Ryder was helped into a zipped up hoodie and a pair of sweat pants, forced into a wheelchair and signed out of the hospital. She didn’t believe in leaving things undone especially if everything else was ready.
Pick one he said. I’ll fucking pick one.
The problem was the magazine insisted on a sit down interview on top of the photoshoot. Ryder had no problems doing the photoshoot, actually that was why she specifically picked that magazine. After all, the idea delighted her to no end to imagine Tann’s expression when he eventually realised. But this came with the sit down interview and that was the bit that she didn’t enjoy.
She was accompanied by Carlyle, of all people, and Kesh. Of course Kesh couldn’t fucking resist.
“My name is Saraki T'Keris, editor in chief of Heleus, Andromeda’s premier X-rated magazine,” an asari approached the moment they entered the studio.
Ryder refrained from rolling her eyes. Having been given a dose of the good stuff before leaving, she remained relaxed. “and I am your interviewer for today. Please called me Saraki. I can’t tell you how thrilled I am that you given us the exclusive interview.”
Kesh sniggered. T'Keris offered Ryder a hand and she shook it. The asari winced at the force of her grip. “Sara, I hope you don’t mind me calling you by your name-“
“Ryder,” she interjected, her eyes regarded T'Keris cooly. “You don’t get to call me Sara.”
T'Keris’ words faltered and dried up, seemingly unable to comprehend. She cleared her throat and tried again. “Ryder, right. Ok, Lisa here,” she gestured as a human wielding makeup brushes and powder drifted over, “will do you up nicely.”
Ryder tolerated the makeup, even the part where they straightened her already straight hair. The turian photographer was testing shots and lighting angles with his trio of hover-cams and myriad of lighting. T'Keris had her head bent together with the turian as they gestured at the backdrop and the solo chair set up.
She sighed and rested her chin on her hand as her fingers curled over her mouth. Lisa jumped up. “Oh no, please do not touch your face.”
Ryder leaned back, forcing her hands away from her face as the makeup artist dealt with the mess she made of her face. Kesh sniggered.
“You’re enjoying yourself aren’t you?”
“Never enjoyed one of these as much as I am now,” Kesh admitted. “You know Tann is going to blow a fuse when he finds out.”
“I don’t care. I followed my orders.”
“I know you don’t and you did technically followed your orders,” Kesh replied. “I’ll try and make a little recording for you. You know, make all of this worth your while.”
Carlyle had his omni-tool out and started scanning her after Lisa left. “I'm fine,” Ryder said, tired of being scanned every couple of minutes.
“I'll believe it when you can function without a high dose of painkillers.”
“Do whatever you want.”
“I intend to,” he stated, eyes starring at the read out on his omni-tool. “Next time, schedule one of these at least a week after your intestines were hanging out of your body. Three days is a little pushing it even for someone made entirely out of stubbornness.”
Ryder just ground her teeth together. She was regretting the haste a little, just a little. She straightened as T'Keris approached. “All right we are ready for your photo shoot. Just to be sure, you understand this is a nude photoshoot.”
The asari bobbed her head happily but blanched when Ryder unzipped her hoodie right in front of her. Her eyes took in the bandages that winded across Ryder’s abdomen. “One moment,” she stammered as she hurried over to the photographer.
“Did nobody know I was actually injured?”
“Tann kept it quiet,” Kesh explained. “He said he didn't want to put a damper on the celebrations.”
She sank back into the wheelchair and went back to waiting.
Lisa had to return to fix her messed up makeup a couple more times before one of the wardrobe guys handed her a poor excuse for a g-string and a cropped jacket. He dropped it on the table and promptly fled. She stared at it. Kind of disappointed it wasn't going to be a nude shoot anymore.
T'Keris returned. “We have to have the bandages removed. It covers too much of the skin. This is after all for Heleus magazine, Andromeda’s premier X-rated magazine.”
Ryder looked at Carlyle. “No, the bandages are there for a reason. As her doctor I cannot authorise this.”
T'Keris tried haggling with the stone wall that was Carlyle. Ryder knew it would be meaningless so she took matters in her own hands. Picking up a pair of scissors from Lisa’s makeup kit, she started snipping.
Both Carlyle and T'Keris stared at her as she stood topless, an ugly thick red slash that ran from her belly button to her right hip. Kesh whistled. “The Archon got you good.”
“I got the Archon better.”
T'Keris recovered quickly, “Perfect! Now put on the clothes and come over whenever you're ready.”
Carlyle glared at her, his eyes hard as diamonds. Ryder smirked. Anger is a good look in him. She took her time. Wriggling out of her sweat pants as gingerly as she could, revealing she was completely prepared for a nude shoot.
Ryder didn't care who was looking. She had a good body and she knew it. But it was a tool in her arsenal for work, for pleasure and everything else in between.
She turned her back to Carlyle, a position she had taken so many other times, usually bent over a table. Almost achingly slow, she pulled the g-string on. “Some help?” she asked as winced.
Bending was a little beyond her at the moment. Carlyle sighed and pulled the thin fabric up her legs. The contact between skin was electric. And it went straight to her core.
Oh fuck, this is teasing me as much as it is teasing him.
Usually this motion was done in reverse and definitely never done in such a tentative manner. Her underwear never survive their encounter with Carlyle’s hands, teeth or whatever he used. The strap settled carefully on her hips, Carlyle took care to avoid her wound.
“Thank you.” She could afford some gratitude, after all he stuffed her insides back inside of her.
The jacket was slightly easier. He held it out for her as she threaded her arms into the sleeves. Her jaw tightening as she needed to twist her abdomen for it to work. His hand trailed up her back as he slid the jacket up her arms. It was subtle and it was unlike him.
She turned and looked at the doctor. A question rested on her eyes. His reply was a glare, not at her but at everyone else. “Mine, all mine,” it said, it was wild, feral and primal.
Ryder shivered, heat pooling where she liked it. His eyes flicked over to her. “Cold?”
She shook her head. It was more heat than cold bothering her. Heat between her thighs, heat that was demanding and hungry. Why fuck do I do this to myself?
T'Keris beamed as Ryder sat down on the chair set out for her. She took care to keep her torso straight as her wound twinged unhappily. Assistants hurried forward with combs and brushes for some last minute touch up.
l’m ready for my close up.
The asari settled down in a chair just beyond the lights. Her datapad ready. “This is how we will do it. Tirakrus here will do his magic and we will have the interview at the same time.”
“If you don't mind, Tirakrus works better with music.”
She nodded and music started thumping through unseen speakers.
Take me by the tongue and I'll know you
Kiss me 'til you're drunk and I'll show you all the moves like Jagger
The hover-cams whirled into life as the lights flashed with every snap of a button. The glare made it impossible to see anyone beyond the cameras. But she didn't need to see, she knew the effect her body had.
I've got the moves like Jagger
I've got the moves like Jagger
Ryder was the Pathfinder, cold, cool and all round bitch. Chin up, looking down past her nose as the jacket was artfully arranged to cover her wounds. Her mask was locked in place.
T'Keris (T): Did you always wanted to be the Pathfinder?
T'Keris started with the simple stuff. She replied dully, almost bored.
Ryder (R): My desire didn't factor into decision.
Assistants darted in and out, twitching her clothes a little lower, brushing her hair out of her face.
T: Do you have a partner?
She snorted at the question. Her legs parting slightly and there was a collective inhale. Her ears picking up Carlyle’s telltale grunt of annoyance. A pair of eyes flashing in the dark beyond the lights. It was almost savage.
R: Did you even do your homework? I assume my reputation had preceded me.
Ryder didn't need to move, the photographer shifted as the lighting set up rotated around her instead. But eventually even she could feel a cramp climbing up her spine. She shifted, drawing a foot up on the chair, one thigh pressed against her chest.
T: What is your favourite position?
A soft chuckle rippled through the on-lookers. Ryder was incredibly disappointed by the question. Are they expecting me to be a blushing virgin? They do know who am I, right? The cameras snapped on.
R: On top... With a sniper rifle. Are these the kind of question you want to waste your exclusive interview on?
T'Keris cleared her throat. Ryder saw the asari’s face had flushed a deep blue. Her white freckles stark against her skin. Good, do your homework next time, if there will be a next time.
T: What is your relationship with your father?
A twinge ran across her abdomen at the question. Her jaw tightened. Her hand gripped her ankle a little harder.
R: His sperm contributed to half my DNA. That's all. Next.
Beyond the glare of the lights, she could hear the whispers. Ryder didn't care. She was merely stating the truth. The rest of the world expected her to mourn Alec Ryder the father, the patriarch of the Ryder clan. They saw Alec Ryder the hero, the Pathfinder that never was. She saw none of that. Alec Ryder was a man she shared a house with. He was N7 soldier, in and out of the house. No sentiment, only discipline and combat readiness, nothing more.
T: It’s rumoured that you don’t get along with your second in command, any comments?
Ryder stiffened. Taking a deep breath, she wondered vaguely where the asari was getting her information. Who knows, maybe Harper has been talking to the press? It didn't matter, she would deal with it when she had some actual proof.
R: Anything that happens on the Tempest stays on the Tempest.
T'Keris looked almost gleeful as if she caught the tail of some juicy gossip. Ryder sighed. I should know better than to expect some quality questions from this magazine. Maybe I should have gone with T’Vessa instead.
T: What’s your vice of choice?
Ryder eyed the asari. She wasn’t sure what kind of game T'Keris was playing. But she was happy to keep things civil for now.
R: All of them.
The answer was glib but honest. It earned her a raised eyebrow while Kesh laughed.
T: What is your relationship with the Pathfinder’s doctor?
She cocked her head. Really? That’s interesting? Fine, let’s humour her. This is an exercise in humouring people anyway.
R: T’Perro? She's my doctor. That's all.
T'Keris’ mouth twitched. Her eyes darted to the side. Between the gaps of the bright lights and the stark darkness, Ryder caught sight of a ramrod straight body dressed in the white and red Initiative medical team uniform. Oh, that’s who she is referring to.
R: Ahhh, you’re referring the doctor over there. He’s my fuck buddy.
The silence that rippled outwards in the wake of her reply was satisfying. Ryder smirked though sweat was starting to bead across her forehead. The lights were uncomfortably warm, even in her state of undress it was too much.
T: How is your twin?
She shifted again, putting her leg down. Her wound protested by sending a stab into her core. She hid the grimace behind a stoney exterior.
R: He’s been better. Getting kidnapped by the Archon isn’t exactly good for his health.
T'Keris glanced down at her datapad. Ryder noticed the little flicker of the asari’s eyes raking over her. It wasn’t a pair of eyes looking at her like a piece of meat. Those she knew she was getting from the photographer and his assistants. Carlyle prowled the perimeter like a predator guarding his kill. T'Keris’ eyes had a healthy touch of fear there. What the hell is she planning?
T: Do you feel you are doing all the work while he slacks?
Anger surged instantly. The wound that had been throbbing since she sat down ceased to matter. Fury was the greatest analgesic.
R: What the fuck?
Blue was her blanket of protection, her cloak of power. It was hers and hers alone. Ryder flared. The blue flames beating back even the bright spotlights. But anger made her control finicky.
“Ryder!” Kesh shouted.
She ignored it. Her eyes pinning T'Keris where she sat. “What kind of question is that?” she growled as she advanced towards the whimpering asari.
“Ryder!” This time it was Carlyle.
Shouts of protests and grunts of annoyance echoed through the studio. Someone was pushing their way towards her. The lights were suddenly killed, leaving Ryder to blink away the after images. By the time her eyes could focus again, T'Keris wasn’t there any longer. Like a untamed beast, she whirled around, a snarl curling her lips. “Come back here!”
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I’m just doing my job,” the apologies came from somewhere among the assistants milling about both scared and morbidly curious to see the notoriously volatile Pathfinder tear T'Keris limb from limb.
Ryder strode into the crowd, craving a wide path among the on-lookers, heedless of how she was looked. A hand clamped on her shoulder, she shrugged it off. The hand’s grip pulled the jacket off of her shoulder, leaving her topless. Gasps rang out. But she couldn’t care less. Bare feet slapped against the cold floor as she stalked her prey.
“Your job includes asking fucked up questions?”
Ryder’s voice getting louder, past caring what anyone thought. The others were quickly trying to escape her wrath. But eventually she stopped, not because she ran out of steam, not because she thought better of her actions.
“Stop,” Kesh said, barring her way.
“Why?” she growled, her body trembling from anger.
How fucking dare she implied that Scott was not doing anything to help. He suffered for being related to me. He paid a price. A price nobody saw. Fuck her! Nobody gets away with saying this!
Ryder glared at Kesh. The krogan met her eyes head on. The unstoppable force had met the immoveable wall. It was a Mexican standoff without guns but equally deadly. T'Keris and the others took the opportunity to scamper. The studio was emptied in a flash.
The hand returned to her shoulder. Ryder whirled around, ready to put her elbow to jaw. But the action reminded her body of her wound. It screamed, sending electricity up her chest, down her legs. Her jaw tightened as she pressed a hand against it. It came away wet.
“That’s right, you’re undoing all my work. I didn’t put you back together so that you can tear it apart a few days later,” Carlyle rebuked, his tone stern like a teacher scolding a wayward student.
Ryder gritted her teeth, her frustration had nowhere else go but out. Her chest heaved as she roared. A blast of biotics crackled outwards, it sent the lights and cameras all tumbling into a heap.
“Are you done?” Carlyle asked, his patience at an end.
She nodded tightly, not trusting her feet to hold her weight if she moved. “Come on,” he said as he steadied her with an arm around her waist.
Kesh had the wheelchair and her clothes ready. Ryder all but collapsed on it. Carlyle worked quickly with his deft hands and some medi-gel. The contact was no longer teasing but workman-like. It was almost a disappointment. Quick and competently, he winded a fresh set of bandages around her wound. It was instantly stained red. She hissed but uttered no complaint.
“Back to the hospital. I need to check your stitches. I don’t need you bleeding out internally because of this stupid shit.”
As they passed Kesh, Ryder placed a hand on Carlyle’s, signalling him to stop. She looked up at the krogan. “I’ve fulfilled my end of the bet. We’re done.”
Kesh nodded. “We’re square. This teaches me to ask for the impossible.”
Lyrics Taken from Moves like Mick Jagger by Maroon 5