“Jenny?” Reyes asked, though he was sure she was the right person.
The human female dragged her dark brown eyes from his crotch to his chest and eventually settling on his face. “Jennifer,” she replied pointedly.
He slid into the corner booth as he bit back a sigh. Fucking amateurs. “Jenny then.”
Her mouth grew pinched. Reyes decided to head off more talking by sliding the OSD across the table. Her eyes narrowed as her hand reached out to take it, he pulled it back. “Not so fast.”
Jenny cleared her throat. “How will we know the intel is accurate?”
“What is sure in life?” Reyes countered. “Death, greed and lust, nothing else.”
“The Menin is paying you good credits for this,” she pointed out.
There we go, blurting organisation names out in the public while doing shady business.
“Yes, you are, or you will be,” he smiled, baring his teeth. “And I am worth my price.”
“You’d better be.”
Reyes folded his arms across his chest, and leaned back against the cushion. The bass line of the music boomed overhead. Neon lights flashed and flickered, lighting up the dancers’ joyful relief. Limbs flailed about with a kind of desperation as they screamed and shrieked. The atmosphere in Vortex and the Nexus was much improved. There was no doubt who was responsible. There was a Pathfinder now and outposts were being set up. Things were finally back on track.
He reined in his thoughts before it strayed down another path. He needed his full attention to make sure this transaction went off without a hitch. Reyes shrugged eloquently. “You’d be the judge, after you made the full payment.”
Jenny frowned before tapping on her omni-tool. A couple of seconds later, Reyes’ buzzed. He smiled and slid the OSD back across the table. Her hand closed over it. She wasted no time to push it into her omni-tool to check.
Reyes refrained from rolling his eyes. Where have all the etiquette gone? Or even just simple common sense? Viewing classified information in public is common place now?
He stood and leaned over Jenny. She shrank back a little, but her eyes dilated as she took a deep breath. He snorted. “Password’s jenny, lower case.”
With his business concluded, he walked away. Reyes had a berth booked on an ice hauler for a trip back to Kadara, but that was tomorrow. He still had more than 12 hours to kill. A yawn crawled up his throat as he pressed a hand against his mouth to stifle it. Maybe I should find a bed and get some rest?
“Give me another shot!” A shout rang out.
“Calm the fuck down,” the asari bartender yelled.
“I won’t! Not until you give me another fucking shot!”
The voice was familiar. It was normally cool, collected and calm. Today, it was shrill, loud and so obviously upset. Reyes walked over to the bar. Sure enough, it was Ryder.
Her fair skin was flushed red, her short cropped brown hair were all curled upwards at its ends, her ice blue eyes flashed as she smashed the empty glass against the counter forcefully. “More shots!”
Reyes put a hand on Ryder’s shoulder as he leaned onto the counter. “Let me take care of this. If you could send me a couple shots of your strongest stuff,” he said, eyeing the bartender.
Ryder stared at him. Her mouth agape, looking like a fish trying to breathe out of water. As out of it as she looked, her mind never stopped working. “What are you doing here, Vid-“
“Shhh…” he said hastily. “Not here, let’s go over to one of the booths.”
Ryder narrowed her eyes but allowed him to steer her to the booth he had occupied earlier. Jenny was no longer anywhere in sight. He nudged her into the booth and opted to take the seat next to her. A server came by with the drinks. Reyes was careful to keep them out of Ryder’s reach.
She glowered at him, her eyes assessing. Eventually she snorted, sagging against the wall the booth was set flushed against. “I see you put the joke gift to good use.”
Reyes cocked his head before he remembered he was wearing the white and blue Initiative jacket she had given him previously. “Waste not, want not.”
“I must say white and blue isn’t quite your colours,” she said, laughing a little.
The chuckle sounded hollow and brittle to his ears. His lips pressed thin together. “What happened?”
“Nothing.” The reply was flat and sharp. Ryder reached over for the shots, but he pulled it out of her reach.
“What the fuck, Vidal?” she demanded. “You’re obviously not supposed to be here. I don’t know how you got yourself through customs but I really should report you to Nexus Security.”
Her eyes were hard as diamonds as she stared him down. Reyes looked away first. This was his fault. He could have skirted under the Nexus’ attention if he hadn’t butt in. But it was Ryder, how could he just walk away?
“What happened?” he repeated.
She bared her teeth, her finger tapped against the table twice before curling towards the shots just beyond her reach. He slid one of them towards her.
“I had an argument with Keith,” she muttered as she drained it.
Ryder’s face creased as she grimaced. “Fuck, this tastes bad. This sucks. Isn’t drinking the way to forget stuff? What the hell? It’s not working!”
“Keith, your twin, he is awake?” Reyes prompted, keeping a close eye on Ryder.
At the mention of her twin’s name, she deflated. The anger and frustration from before was gone. Her eyes met his for a split second. Guilt, overwhelming and all encompassing, flashed for a second before the shutter slammed down. She looked away, eyes squeezed shut as breath after breath shuddered from her lungs.
“Yeah, he is awake and he is pissed.”
Reyes made a surprised noise. Ryder was radiating misery in a way he had never seen before. Kate Ryder was the human Pathfinder, the only fucking Pathfinder. She kicked down doors and took no prisoners. She got the job done cleanly and efficiently either with the end of a rifle barrel or the lashings of her silver tongue. His dealings with her were always with a smart and professional individual.
That was where his thoughts screeched to a halt. The lost of his jacket hit him again. He couldn’t help the sigh that escaped his lips. But Ryder was too much in her head to notice.
“I fucked up,” she muttered. “I lied to him that we had the golden worlds, I told him Dad was fine and a-fucking-live.”
She laughed, this time a full bellied one. Tears were spilling from her eyes. Her shoulders shook from the intensity of her laugh. Even over the thumping music of Vortex, more than a couple people were staring in their direction. Reyes shifted closer towards Ryder, putting a hand around her shoulder. He had expected her to flinch, to slap his arm away, instead she leaned into him.
“Am I supposed to test the best pillow on Andromeda out now?” she asked, her voice husky
Reyes gulped. That voice had fried his brain, again. He blinked, not quite able to catch her thought process as her mind leapt from one train of thought to another.
She slapped her palm against his chest. “This thing, you claim it is the best pillow.”
“Right, right, it still is,” he said, spreading his arms, allowing her to lean in. “Always open for reservations as long as you got the credits for it.”
“The Nexus pays me. I have credits to my name,” she said as she cocked her head, “I think…”
“I’m having a free trial promotion going on right now just for you,” he replied generously.
She sighed and shifted closer as their shoulders pressed against each other. Reyes took a deep breath. The whiff of her scent, a mix of body wash that smelt faintly sweetly floral and oddly cheap, and her natural musk was heady. It never failed to fuck with his thought process. Her weight rested lightly on his chest for a moment before she twisted and snagged the second shot of alcohol out of his hands.
She cackled as she downed the contents. Another grimace, she pushed the glass towards its twin. They clinked together. “These alcohol are as fucked up as I am,” she growled. “I’m not even tipsy.”
“What?” she scowled at him, her eyes seemed to dart from side to side as if she couldn’t quite tell where he was.
“You’re drunk, Ryder.”
“I’m not, I’m fucking not,” she repeated, her lower lip pushed outwards in a juvenile attempt of a pout.
“You’re cute when you’re drunk.”
“Stop it!” she insisted. “I’m not drunk!”
As frustrated she looked right then, Reyes couldn’t help but feel protective towards the Pathfinder. His eyes drifted to the dark rings around her eyes, the way her hair seemed to be curling wildly, the deep furrow across her brow. The Nexus has been running you hard.
Ryder took a shuddering breath as she bit onto her lower lip. Tears were spilling from her eyes again. Her jaw twitched as she dashed the tears away furiously with the back of her hand.
“I’m the worst Pathfinder in history.” She stared at him, daring him to say something.
“You’re the only Pathfinder in history. So you’re both the worst and the best.”
She spluttered, more tears spilling from her eyes, but she was giggling. Reyes smirked.
“You and your fucking smirk,” she growled, it had no teeth.
“I was born smirking.”
“It’s true!” Reyes insisted. “Do you want to hear the story of how I charmed my delivery doctor?”
“What?” Disbelief was written all over her face.
She shifted away from him. The space she vacated felt cold in her wake. Ryder rested her chin on both her open palms as her elbows were braced against the table. “This, I’ve got to hear.”
“So you see my family was poor but my father wanted the best for my mother and I was the firstborn,” he started.
She nodded along, her eyes scrutinising and watchful in her drunken way.
“So my father borrowed credits to pay for the deposit but he doesn’t actually have enough for the bill. There my mother was screaming and pushing. Legend has it-“
Ryder barked a laugh. “Legend huh?”
“Yes, legend has it that there I was naked as god intended, umbilical cord still connecting me to Mum, I smiled at the delivery doctor who had me in his arms.”
“And just like that your father doesn’t have to pay the bill?”
Ryder laughed again, her eyes turning into half moons. “Liar!”
“So the doctor waived the bill and I smirked at my parents. I was the baby that didn’t cry at birth, I smirked.”
“You’re a creepy baby, Vidal.”
“Maybe so,” he admitted.
“Ryder, which way to your room?” he asked as he struggled to keep her upright.
Somehow she managed to convinced him to buy her a couple more shots and she now was practically dead weight in his arms. She lifted an arm and pointed in a vague direction.
He hoisted her up, one hand on her waist, the other hanging onto the arm that was over his shoulder. Her weight on his side, her head lolling against his chest, her warmth pressed up to him. It was doing things to him. Reyes was no stranger to attraction but usually it was fucked and done. But this was the Pathfinder, she had to be handled carefully. But beyond that, Kate Ryder, not the Pathfinder had a way to turn his brain to mush when she looked at him. It was so open, so trusting, so willing to see the good in people.
Maybe, she is different.
The Nexus was quiet, only the skeleton crew was keeping things running. But the night cycle was fast turning into the day one.
“Kate.” A voice rang out from behind them.
Reyes stiffened, cursing that he wasn’t armed. Then he reminded himself he was on the Nexus, the Uprising was over and nobody needed to be armed all the time. Ryder straightened, taking her own weight as she pulled her arm back. She wavered as pressed her arm against the wall for support. Reyes kept his hands out to catch her in case her knees buckled, but they held firm.
“Keith,” she replied as steadily as she could.
Reyes perked up. There was no doubt they were twins. He was taller and more muscular than his sister, but they had the same piercing blue stare. The key difference was Keith’s hair. It was perfectly coiffed like his own. Reyes’ eyes narrowed. Just out of a coma and having perfect hair?
“Harry,” Ryder greeted.
The dark skinned doctor was standing behind Keith, while Keith was seated in a hover-chair. “Who is this?” Keith asked, his eyes already narrowed with displeasure.
“A friend,” she replied easily.
“Where were you going?” Keith asked. This question was directed to Reyes.
“I was trying to take her back to her room.”
“It’s in the opposite direction,” Harry replied.
Ryder had the decency to look a little sheepish. “I got a little ahh… confused.”
“You’re drunk,” Keith stated.
“I’m not,” she replied with a sigh. “I was upset. I tried to drown it out but it didn’t work.”
Ryder sighed. “I’m tired, Keith. I don’t want to fight. I’m sorry that I lied. I…”
“Maybe this isn’t the place to have this conversation?” Reyes suggested lightly.
Ryder was leaning more and more heavily against the wall. Her eyes were glued to the ground, unwilling to look at anyone. Her behaviour was so at odds to the confident and purposeful Pathfinder he had come to know.
“Yes, I’d suggest we all do this when everyone had a good night’s rest,” Harry interjected. “Can you get Kate safely to her room? It’s the Pathfinder’s quarters, straight ahead there.”
Reyes nodded his thanks to the doctor.
“Keith, your sister is drunk and tired. This isn’t the time to have any kind of conversation.”
“I’m not drunk,” Ryder slurred.
Harry pushed Keith’s hover-chair around and left. The Nexus was quiet again. Ryder’s knees gave out, but Reyes was ready. He caught her before she fell. As he knelt down on the ground in front of her, he said, “Get on.”
She blinked and made a confused noise.
“Get on,” he repeated.
Reyes pressed his back to her front and she draped herself on. His arms hooked under her thighs as her arms curled around his neck. As he stood, her weight sagged. He coughed. “Ryder, too tight,” he gasped.
She loosened her grip, her head leaned against his back, her breath hot against his neck. “This is the best pillow in Andromeda,” she muttered as she pressed her face into his back.
Reyes’ jaw tightened as he felt her tears soaked into his jacket.
Ryder was asleep by the time it took to walk from the wrong end of the passageway to the right one. He was trying to press Ryder’s hand against the holo-lock to unlock the door. Reyes’ breath was hot against his face as he tried to get as close as he could towards the door without mushing his face against it. But Ryder’s palm was limp. He needed to somehow dragged her palm downwards towards the holo-lock. Hopefully it would read her palm and the door would unlock.
Ok one more try.
He gritted his teeth as he straightened again. His face pressed against the cold metal of the door as he nudged Ryder’s arm with the imprecise instrument that was his head. Inch by inch, he lowered Ryder. His thighs burnt and trembled as he did it slowly and carefully.
Suddenly, a neutral voice spoke out from Ryder’s omni-tool. “Mr. Vidal are you trying to unlock the door?”
Reyes flinched, smashing his face against the door. He had almost dropped the snoring Pathfinder in his knee jerk reaction to reach for his pistol. “Erm… yes. Is this SAM?”
“Yes, I am SAM,” the voice replied. “One moment.”
The door slid open.
“Yes, Mr. Vidal.”
“Can you erase the security footage of the erm… what I did just now?”
“That’s against Nexus’ regulations.”
“Just this once?”
SAM remained silent. Reyes sighed and he entered the Pathfinder’s quarters. His shoulders and thighs were burning from Ryder’s weight. Why couldn’t SAM speak up earlier?
He dropped Ryder as gingerly as he could onto the bed in the room. Her eyes were closed and slept through as he pulled her shoes off. He stared at her for a moment before deciding that it was too chilly to sleep only in her Initiative uniform. He pulled the blanket and rolled her up in it.
Standing with his arms on his hips, he sniggered. “This is a Pathfinder Burrito.”
Ryder went snoring on.
Reyes spied a datapad on the desk. He wrote a short message on his omni-tool and sent it to the datapad. He propped it up against the footlocker at the foot of the bed. He sighed and smiled before leaving the room.
Ryder groaned. Her head was pounding and her mouth dry. She blinked as she sat up. The blanket fell from her shoulders. Her hair was sticking out every which way. She cocked her head and frowned.
“Good morning, Pathfinder.”
Ryder grunted, rubbing her eyes with her hand. She sighed, a little sound of misery as she run her hands through her hair before grimacing as they snagged on the curling bits.
“What happened? I remember something about a creepy smirking baby. Did I dream that up?” she asked.
An odd noise came from SAM, but before Ryder could address it SAM spoke. “It wasn’t a dream, that was Mr. Vidal telling you a story about his birth.”
She hummed. It rang a bell, but the rest of the night was a blur. She stretched and stood. The blinking screen on the datapad caught her attention. Narrowing her eyes, she lifted it up.
On it wrote, “I hope you had a good rest, you look like you needed it. You were really drunk and you drooled all over my shirt. I’ll need a replacement. I’ll have you know I am not a creepy baby and my chest is still the best pillow in Andromeda, not my back.”
Ryder snorted and winced. “That damned man.”
“Are you talking about Mr. Vidal, Pathfinder?”
“Erm, yes. He left me a message.”
“I have something interesting you might want to see.”
Ryder perked up, her eyebrows raising. “Show me.”
The datapad flickered as SAM took control and displayed the security footage. She recognised it as the view right outside her father’s quarters. Frowning she hunched over the screen as if it was going to give her a better view.
“Is that…” Her voice trailed off for a bit before peals of laughter erupted from her throat.
Alone in her father’s quarters, now hers, Ryder laughed. She hugged her belly, folded over in half as tears of amusement and joy spilled down her face.
“Oh damn, SAM. This is awesome. Please send a copy to my omni-tool,” she said in between uncontrollable bouts of cackling. “This, I have to show him.”
“Copy sent, Pathfinder.”
She smiled as she pressed a hand against her side, her laughter finally subsiding. The video on the data-pad looped again. The smooth operator that was Reyes Vidal had his face pressed flat against the door while she had a string of drool going from her corner of her mouth to his shoulder. He muttered and cursed, but the security camera couldn’t pick up a single word. Ryder’s eyes squeezed shut into half moons again as she howled. She had never laughed harder since she had stepped out of her cryo-pod. For that she was grateful for Vidal’s efforts.