For the first time, Reyes was well and truly sick of Tartarus. Since he’d arrived on Kadara, the sleazy dive had been his home away from home, and he knew he’d spent more of his nights sprawled on his private room’s couch than in his matchbox apartment in the Slums - or the much nicer one he’d acquired after taking control of the Port, mostly at Keema’s insistence. But tonight, despite its familiarity, the relentless pound of bass from the dance floor below grated instead of soothing, and though Kian was a man with many fine qualities, the ‘whiskey’ he sold had none of them. Still, it was alcohol, and at first, it had done what it was supposed to do. But, much to his consternation, despite the nearly empty bottle leaned against the arm of his couch and several of its empty comrades strewn across the floor, he barely felt drunk. He tried not to ponder the implications of such a heightened tolerance, though he knew he couldn’t be as sober as he imagined; his body would feel this when he dried out, even if his mind was still running at breakneck pace in precisely the direction he’d hoped the whiskey would roadblock. He sighed heavily, tipping the last of the rotgut straight into his mouth and shaking his head sharply before tossing the bottle aside, listening absently as it rolled beneath the coffee table. The insistent thrum of a Saturday night still far from its conclusion seemed to fade around him as he finally allowed himself a moment of weakness, letting his mind chase the thread it so wanted to- Sara Ryder. Her voice. Her smile. Her sharp wit and deadly confidence, her bright eyes, her long, purposeful stride, an unruly laugh which bubbled out at the most devious of times...
The last thought veered dangerously close to forbidden territory, to memories he refused to drag back into the daylight, and without thinking, he reached for the bottle of whiskey that was no longer there, his hand opening and closing around nothing several times before his brain caught up to his body. With a displeased groan and another deep sigh, Reyes pushed himself off the couch, wobbling on his feet almost enough to send him sprawling back into his seat. Physical evidence of the intoxication which seemed to have overtaken everything but his tired mind did nothing to improve his mood, and though he knew he didn’t really need to go down to the bar level to order another bottle - Kian would certainly have it brought to him, if he asked – he knew if he couldn’t make it there, he probably didn’t need it. That didn’t mean he didn’t want it, though, so with a low growl of frustration, he stalked out of his room, teeth gritted as the club music hit him at its full volume before he made his hasty exit, pointedly ignoring Kian’s worried eyes as he stepped into the arms of a Kadaran night. The air outside was only marginally cooler than that of Tartarus and still reeked of sulfur, even with the Vault reactivated, but it was still an improvement from the stale stench of cheap booze, sweat, and secondhand beer breath, and there was even a slight breeze to cool his sweaty brow as he rode the lift up to the docks in silence. He made his way up to the highest platform before he leaned against the dock railing, panting as he struggled to catch his breath and trying in vain to appreciate the view. A memory arose, unbidden - another time he’d had this sea of lights spread beneath him, with Sara beside him, the taste of far superior whiskey on his lips and his skin set alight by the promise of her proximity. His labored breath caught in his suddenly-tight throat and he exhaled harshly, running both hands through his thick hair before burying his face in his palms with a groan. He stood like that for a moment, eyes screwed shut in the dark, and he made a conscious effort to slow his breathing as he listened to the sounds of the port around him- his port. The muffled thump of bass from somewhere – maybe Tartarus, but more likely Kralla’s from the proximity. The whirr of poorly maintained engines on shuttles less reliable than their undoubtedly criminal pilots. Snippets of conversations on the marketplace platforms below him, a bright peal of intoxicated laughter, an indecent moan from some dark corner which sparked a few whistles in response. He scrubbed at his face and opened his eyes, looking out over his little kingdom. Kadara Port never slept, was never silent, and though most of the party crowd seemed to have found its destination for the night, there were a few dozen people of various species going about their business. He glanced over the few vendors still locking their stalls down for the evening, the loud drunks arguing amongst themselves with varying levels of aggression, and, to his annoyance, the couples necking in the shadows of the storage crates who seemed bent on bringing life to more memories he was determined to squash. His Sara was gone. Once she had seen him for the man he truly was, that glorious look in her eyes had vanished, and soon, so had she. The Pathfinder had raced back to the Port and was off-planet before his coup was even finished. He’d sent her email after email in the weeks following, both personal and political, chasing the vain hope that he might somehow still be able to make things right. She’d never replied, of course, forwarding any business concerning the Initiative on for Christmas Tate to deal with and ignoring the rest outright. Despite the hollow, throbbing ache in his chest- or perhaps because of it- he didn’t blame her at all. How could he? He had lied to her, refused to trust the one woman he’d thought he truly could, been an utter fool to think he could placate her with half-truths and tie up his loose ends once he got everything he wanted, and because of it, lost the only thing that had finally made this whole fucking intergalactic road trip feel worthwhile.
Reyes spat bitterly, very much wishing he was still in his room at Tartarus, spilling his sorrows to another bottle of shit whiskey. He preferred the company in the slums, anyway, but had a nagging suspicion Kian would try to cut him off if he came back more upset and tried to resume drinking for the night -or worse, water down perfectly bad whiskey. He could always stop at Kralla’s for a few before heading home to his bar of choice, he mused, and let his feet carry him back down the stairs in that direction. He paused a moment in front of the doors, smoothing his hair and trying to put on his best sober face. Based on the look Umi gave him as he walked in, it was a wholly unsuccessful effort.
“Vidal,” she spat, crossing her arms and shifting her weight to one hip. “What, tired of getting shitfaced at your own bar? Thought you’d come do it at mine?”
Reyes smiled halfheartedly and shrugged. “You wound me. Perhaps I simply missed the pleasure of your company?”
“Yeah, right. All the major players in Kadara know that in the past six months, Reyes Vidal has gone from taking every smuggling job worth a shit to spending most of his waking hours getting piss drunk in Tartarus and bitching at the barkeep. Mine’s not the pleasure or the company you’re missing.”
Reyes inhaled sharply, a dark look wiping the feigned mirth from his face. Umi blanched, holding her hands up in a gesture of surrender and quickly saying “Sorry, ah, shit, sorry. Guess that you really- I mean, I forgot she wasn’t – you know what, I’m just going to get you a drink.”
“Excellent idea,” Reyes replied through gritted teeth as she readied a glass, accepting the whiskey without thanks and draining it in one go. She pulled the glass back and refilled it, setting the bottle down beside it as she turned to go help a customer approaching the other side of the bar. Reyes took another long drink of liquor, bracing his hands on the edge of the bar and coughing a bit, shaking his head sharply against the burn.
“I don’t care how torn up you are, Vidal, don’t you dare puke on my bar,” Umi warned, watching him warily.
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” he replied a bit bitterly as he righted himself, mimicking her gesture from a few moments earlier and still smarting from her comment. She looked him up and down, assessing, then turned back to the Angara she’d been tending to. Reyes poured himself another drink, sipping this one slowly enough to notice the taste – which was solidly unobjectionable, meaning Umi had given him her top shelf… and he’d nearly finished it in the grand span of about two minutes. A twinge of guilt caught the edge of his mind, and he waved Umi over.
“Glad you took the time to savor it.”
“I did, and I enjoyed it- you should too,” Reyes replied with what he hoped was a grateful smile, pushing the remainder of the bottle towards her.
She eyed him warily again. “You know I don’t drink on the job.”
“I know that’s a damn lie, and I know you can’t have many more bottles of that. Go on, have one on my tab,” he joked.
Umi arched an eyebrow – well, where an eyebrow would be – at the mention of his infamously outstanding tab, but accepted the drink nonetheless, draining the bottle and tossing it in a receptacle under the counter, looking him up and down again and leveling him with a piercing look. If he didn’t know better, he might think she was worried about him, and he shifted uncomfortably where he leaned. He didn’t do well with people worrying about him.
“Well,” he said, pushing off the bar and injecting his voice with a weak attempt at charisma he didn’t feel, “I should get back to getting shitfaced at my own bar. Wouldn’t want to intrude on your hospitality any longer. Thanks for everything, Umi.”
“Vidal, wait,” Umi started, grabbing his wrist as he turned away. The both looked down at the point of contact, and she let go, looking almost embarrassed, before continuing, “You’re not… you aren’t going to walk out of here and do something stupid, are you?”
Reyes felt his cheeks color a bit, and he smiled ruefully, letting out a sigh. Did he truly seem so near the edge? “Damn, I knew I looked bad, but I didn’t think I was in that sorry of a state.”
Umi returned his half smile, regarding him with something that looked sickeningly like pity. “Take care of yourself, Vidal. Kadara would fall apart without you, and since- ah, since Sloane’s unfortunate passing- I’m finally pulling a crowd that doesn’t destroy my furniture more than three nights a week. Don’t you take that away from me.” She leaned back a bit, that horrible pity finally leaving her face, though there was a strange tendril of something else which remained; knowledge he’d care to know, if he had the energy to think about much anything beyond the moment at his fingertips. “Now pay your tab, or get out of my bar.”
“Going, going,” He said over his shoulder, watching as Umi shook her head. The drink had finally done its job, and he felt the much-craved drunkenness dampen his senses, but Umi’s worry and casual mention that his extended bender was public knowledge had only made him swallow a heavy dose of self-loathing. Was he truly in such a bad state that an informant, even a friendly one, would be concerned for his safety? He’d certainly spent long enough soaking himself for it to take an effect on his appearance; he knew his stubble had long since graduated into the scruffy beginnings of a beard, and the thick waves which had once been cropped close and barely met his forehead were now drooping to his brow and curling over his ears. The knowledge he’d stopped keeping up appearances fit for either Vidal the Smuggler or The Charlatan stung, badly, and he swallowed hard against the ball of shame in his throat. He had to pull himself together. He was sure Sara wasn’t conducting herself like this. He had no proof; he’d promised her he would never bug her ship and had long since told his men not to send him updates on her movements, but she was the Pathfinder, the shining beacon, always on the move, always off to save the day on some planet or another. She couldn’t still be out there making history if she was in the sorry fucking state he was dragging himself around in, laying shattered in her bed on the Tempest.
Reyes dragged his hands through his hair, heading back towards Tartarus as quickly as his drunken feet would take him. The lift jerked to a halt, and he stepped off, the mere sight of the ramshackle architecture which crowded the cavern enough to take a weight off his shoulders. It was an irrational sense of ease, he knew, since the Slums were undoubtedly more dangerous than the Port proper, but this was the underbelly, and the underbelly was where he felt at home. His omnitool buzzed as he paced towards Tartarus and he turned off his course, pausing in a corner to check the incoming message, frowning at the orange screen. An email from a blocked sender, to his Charlatan address, was cause for concern; the fact that it was flagged URGENT and blinked ominously at the top of his inbox only compounded it. Only his highest-ranking agents and Sara had ever received messages from that account, or had any way to contact it, for that matter. Incoming messages bounced through several layers of encryption and a myriad web of front addresses before reaching his inbox, no hacker could find the direct address. He sucked in a deep breath and opened the message.
The Pathfinder is in danger. Immediate intervention is required. I have attached her omnitool frequency; please track it to her location. Time is of the essence.
Thank you so much to everyone who left kudos! I'm really enjoying working on this, and I'll have the next chapter up soon. I meant for this one to be a little longer, but I had to cut it off a bit before where I'd finished for coherent pacing's sake. Your kudos and comments are always massively appreciated!
Reyes’ breath hitched in his throat. His hands moved without his mind’s involvement, and he downloaded the frequency without even bothering to scan it. A dangerous error, one he’d never normally make, but his intoxication and the chilly, clinical tone of the warning – or threat - that Sara was in danger somewhere on his planet were more than enough to throw him off his rhythm. He set off at an awkward half jog, still unsteady on his feet and trying to split his limited focus between his omnitool and the path ahead of him. He followed the directions highlighted on the tool’s glowing interface as they pulled him towards a familiar door, his heartbeat accelerating with the rapid beeps indicating that she was somewhere close. He stormed into Tartarus, sweeping the crowd below for any sign of her, then raced to his room, only to find it empty. He spun, half expecting her to leap from a corner, though the slowed beeping of his omnitool told him she couldn’t be in the bar. He realized his drunken panic had caused him to ignore the device’s directions, and Reyes cursed himself loudly. He ran back out of the bar, shoving rudely past several patrons loitering around the door as he rapidly surveyed the walkway outside, adrenaline racing, moving briskly in the direction his omnitool commanded as it took him around the side of the building, before it abruptly swiveled, pointing back the way he’d came. Reyes swore again, shaking his arm as if it could somehow correct the device’s glitchy readout. He wheeled on the spot, pacing in panic, and his hand flew for his gun when he started at a bellowing krogan cough from a pod somewhere below him. He bristled and glowered at his rapidly beeping omnitool as he turned around, meaning to check the bar again. As his clouded mind finally processed the sound which had startled him, a realization hit him.
“Down, you fool. She’s below you.”
Reyes raced down the stairs, cursing himself for the wasted seconds. A wash of cold sweat bloomed across his body as the myriad possible implications of the Pathfinder being alone and in unknown danger in the bowels of the port hit him– she could be wounded, bleeding into one of the still-caustic puddles. She could be incapacitated behind a dingy storage pod, somewhere the Collective guards couldn’t see, at the mercy of one of Kadara’s cruelest citizens. The worst-case scenario finally reared in his imagination: Sara laying quiet and still somewhere in the damp shadows, resting after charging into one unbalanced firefight too many, her calloused hands no longer warm in their gloves, but still curled as if to hold her precious shotgun, long since whisked away by looters…
Only the tight ball of fear in his throat muffled the strangled sob his racing thoughts provoked and he strode after his omnitool’s direction, trying not to succumb to panic. The beeping reached a feverish pace, and, swallowing hard, Reyes pulled up the thermal imaging scanner. He leveled it at the row of hopefully-empty, dark pods he faced with no response, and he slowly turned in a circle, the screen going mostly dark until the krogan bouncer outside the Oblivion den burned bright in the field of view. A handful of prone forms glowed in the building, earning no more than a cursory glance as he swiveled – a couple human males, one turian, and a few asari, curled around themselves in various spots of the floor. He turned towards a storage pod and another user’s form came into view, though unlike the others, this one was still mostly upright. She was concealed from his view, propped up behind a stack of crates and assuming a position which was unmistakable, even silhouetted in his heat sensor- one arm bending across the body to its mate, the other stretching long, inner elbow turning up like an offering. Reyes shook his head and continued to turn, unable to summon concern for the anonymous junkie when his Sara was also in danger, even if he knew her addiction was -albeit indirectly- somewhat his fault. Besides, he thought to himself, he was still better than Sloane. He didn’t intentionally foster addiction; he had reduced dosages, he didn’t cut the product with dangerous fillers, he made sure his dens provided antiseptic pads, clean needles and appropriate disposal, and he’d intentionally kept the Slums’ den just around the corner from Dr. Nakamoto’s clinic so medical attention would be close at hand for anyone who overdosed. The Collective couldn’t run on ideals alone, and he couldn’t keep addicts from being addicts, but he could try to make sure they wouldn’t end up as dead ones, at least. That would have to be enough.
He completed his rotation and growled at the empty pods before him, spitting at the incessant beep of his omnitool and the fog of his own drunkenness. What if she was actually above him? He cursed himself internally. It made sense; if she was wounded, or hiding, or worse, being hidden, it made far more sense for her to be holed up somewhere in the rows of identical prefab apartments, somewhere she wouldn’t be in plain sight. He spat, wheeling for the stairs up towards the apartments. Time was of the essence, the message had said; it had begun to feel like mockery. Sara was in immediate danger and here he was running the length of the slums, unable to find her, unable to help, and the omnitool frequency his anonymous informant had provided only lead him to a refitted shipping crate full of addicts. He swore loudly in Spanish, beginning to wonder if the whole warning had been a hoax. Was it all a trap to lure him from Tartarus, a plot from inside his organization, spearheaded by one of the precious few close enough to know his private address? If so, why spring it when he was already taking a rare absence from the place, only to lure him right back to the bar’s backyard? His mind raced as he met the stairs, fresh paranoia rising to meet his panic. His worsening intoxication finally caught up with him and he tripped up the first step, crashing down to his palms with another loud string of curses. His outburst triggered a short, delirious burst of unruly laughter from somewhere behind him, almost muffled by prefab walls.
Reyes froze where he’d fallen, his arms going rigid at a sound so familiar and so horribly out of place. He knew that laugh; he was searching desperately for its owner. Yet he had just scanned the area; unless she’d gone cold-blooded, Sara couldn’t be here. He was certainly drunk now, and evidently hallucinating, his tired mind finally bent by heartbreak, binge drinking, paranoia and panic. He pushed to his feet unsteadily and stumbled a few steps in the sound’s direction regardless, ignoring the unimpressed look the bouncer gave him as he passed. The krogan was Collective, just like the building he guarded and the credits -and Oblivion- flowing within now were. Though he wouldn’t know him as the Charlatan, he should certainly recognize Reyes Vidal, the boss’s most favored smuggler, and have orders to give the man and his dealings a respectful distance. Indeed, when Reyes summoned enough clarity to give him a pointed look, the large male gave a deep huff and nodded once before he turned and walked into the cargo pod he’d been watching, the recently installed door whisking shut behind him. Alone, Reyes pulled his omnitool up again, finally muting the rapid beeping before staring into the simple heat map as if its readout would change under the weight of his scrutiny. The krogan, the turian, the human men, the asari, now curled together- and the lone human woman sprawled behind crates in the shipping container, clearly moving to shoot up again, her hand rising almost in slow motion before it stopped, swaying above the crease of her elbow. He took a few halting steps towards the pod, unwilling to think what he knew to be impossible. His eyes darted back and forth from the screen to the dark storage container in front of him as he quietly made his way towards its open end, and he froze when he heard a small, slurred voice from within:
“Thisa- this the right spot, SAM? M-m-” she stuttered with another delirious giggle, “My eyes won’ n’agree an’more.”
Reyes’ blood turned to ice. It couldn’t be. The AI gave a silent reply and Sara’s voice spat,
“I don’ give a fuck if it’s esstremely inadverba- inanaviza- indadvisor- fuck. Jus’ help me, or’ll jus’go it alo-”
She went silent for a moment mid-sentence and Reyes nearly leapt forward in panic, before she exploded, even less coherent and much louder than before, each word slurring into the next:
“Don’ you F-FUCKING lie to me, SAM- yes’t tis! Cause ‘ees not! W-why would he, he doesn’ give a shit about me. Neither d’you, you lying fucking brain robot. Well- well okay fine. You won’ help me, you don’ care, then‘ll jus’ havta help myself.”
Reyes didn’t need to watch the thermal imaging device to know how she intended to do so. He leapt into the container, skirting a few crates and vaulting over the one blocking entrance to her little nook with more fluidity than he’d have thought his extraordinarily drunken body capable of. As he landed, bile rose in his throat, less from his abrupt movement or intoxication than from the sight in front of him: Sara Ryder, the Pathfinder, the shining beacon of humanity in Heleus, sprawled on the floor in the back corner of a shipping crate with her Initiative belt pulled tight around her upper arm and an empty syringe in her other hand, its end still buried in her elbow. She withdrew the needle with a quiet hiss and her hand fell limply next to her, still loosely gripping the syringe. She leaned her head back against the wall and her jaw fell slack with ecstasy, her earlier anger gone and a wide, spacey grin playing on her lips. She opened her eyes slowly and blinked several times at the ceiling, her addled smile spreading wider and a delirious giggle bubbling from her lips. Despite his noisy entrance, it seemed Sara hadn’t noticed his arrival at all. Her eyes widened and she stretched one hand towards the ceiling, the syringe falling from her hand and rolling a few inches away. Her arm swayed above her as she pawed at the empty air again and again, giggling harder as she tried to catch the invisible something. Her hand fell back to earth and she sighed contentedly, crossing it behind her head and sliding a little further down the wall as she stared up at whatever she was seeing. With her other arm, still tourniqueted with her Initiative belt, she reached for something jammed between her leg and the container wall. Sara raised the open bottle of whiskey to her mouth and took a long sip before tilting the bottle just a little too far and sloshing the alcohol onto her cheeks and shirt. She spluttered, turning away from him onto her side and slamming the bottle down as she curled in on herself, coughing. Finally, she cleared her airway of the invading alcohol and rolled back onto her back, sprawling out and staring back at the ceiling. Her brow furrowed and her lips pulled into frown, quivering as if she were going to cry. Indeed, it sounded like she was holding back tears when she shakily murmured,
“SAM? W-where did all the cherry blossoms go?”
Reyes was frozen as he watched Sara, his Sara, so utterly transformed from the woman he had known just a few short months ago. The mind which usually ran a hundred miles a minute was stuck in neutral, wheels spinning impotently.
“How?” He thought, staring uselessly as she laid there, blinking sadly at the ceiling, “How did this happen? How did you get here? What happened to you, Sara?”
“D’ya think she saw the cherry blossoms too, before she died?”
Reyes’s blood went cold. He staggered forward a step without thinking.
Before she died?
“Th-they always’aid there’ll be light. Do‘sari believe that too?” Sara asked her AI, sniffling a bit. She was quiet for a moment, listening to his answer. “I ‘ope she saw’it. I don’ see it,” She replied, closing her eyes.
“No. No. Dios, don’t let this be what I think it is.”
Sara drew in a shuddering breath, tears beginning to roll down her cheeks.
“Everything’is gone. Everyone I loved. Dad’s gone, Mom’s gone, Scott might’swell be gone, and…” She drew in another breath, hiccupping a little, “And‘ees gone. Even my cherry blossoms’re gone. N-nothing’s left. I wan’there to be light. A’least it won’ leave without me. Why shouldn’I have light?”
She threw one hand out next to her, eyes still closed, blindly reaching around for the syringe again.
“I wan’ my light.”
That was enough for Reyes to break through the paralysis which had momentarily overtaken him. He surged forwards, closing the short distance between them and seizing the syringe before it could meet her fingertips, flinging it against the far wall and falling to his knees at her side. Her blind reach met the edge of his knee, and her eyelids fluttered open, her head lolling in his direction. She looked up at him, her eyes large and glassy against her tear-stained cheeks and her pupils blown wide from the hallucinogens. Despite her absent, addled expression, they seemed to glow with a wild blue light, the same fire he'd seen rise in them before she used her biotics to charge across a battlefield, and for a moment, he thought she would send him flying across the room like she'd done so many mercs. Yet, to his surprise, a smile quirked at her lips as she slowly blinked at him.
“Sara?” Reyes asked, his voice a broken shell of its usual sultry lilt.
“N-no light, but a’least you sent’n angel. Well shit, Suvi was right,” She whispered with a small, heartrending huff of laughter. “I’eard ‘im before, but I didn’ believe… ‘M sorry, ‘m sorry I never believed…” She reached out a shaky hand, evidently with great effort, and her took it, twining his fingers gently around hers. They were colder than he’d ever felt them before, and much colder than anyone should be on a night like this.
“An’angel... is’so much better than light,” she sighed, her eyes falling closed and her hand going slack in his.
Sorry it took me a few months to get this chapter up! I have pretty serious medical PTSD, so writing medical content is very difficult and triggering for me, and I needed to take it slowly. Plus I was in the middle of nowhere at a festival for a week, and my birthday just passed! Regardless, I finally just finished it, so here it is, hot off the presses; no beta, we die like men. Thank you for reading, and your kudos and comments are always appreciated!
Reyes swore he felt his heart pull to a full stop in his chest. He yanked her into his arms and grunted as he stood, swaying dangerously. He ground his teeth together and placed her atop the crate which blocked the entrance to her makeshift hideaway as gently as he could, trying not to lose himself to panic at the way her limp body flopped as he carefully clambered over the crate and picked her up again, stumbling towards the nearby clinic. He couldn’t bear to check her breathing, but he was sure he wasn’t moving fast enough, though couldn’t get his feet to carry him forward nearly quickly enough for his liking without sending them both ass over teakettle. He staggered up to the entrance, kicking the closed door hard and thanking gods he didn’t believe in that the clinic hadn’t yet relocated to Ditaeon.
"Ryota! I need you, please!,” He cried, kicking the door again, “Mierda, open the fucking door!”
The clinic door swished open a few moments later and Ryota Nakamoto stood in the doorway, clearly half-awake and scrubbing at his face.
“Vidal, what could possibly be so-” His sentence died as Reyes shoved past him, laying Sara gently, if inelegantly, across the nearest bed. “Jesus Christ, is that the Pathfinder?”
“Clearly,” he spat as the doctor moved behind him, snapping on a pair of rubber gloves. “Oblivion. She just OD’d, I think.”
“What? How? Where did she get it?”
Reyes clutched her limp hand tightly and gritted his teeth. “From a soon-to-be dead man, when I find out who.” He stared down at her for what felt like an age, his heart rending each time her abdomen rose and fell with an uneven, too-shallow breath.
Reyes obeyed, releasing Sara’s hand and stumbling clumsily out of the way as Dr. Nakamoto took his place and swept his omnitool over her still form, cursing, before wheeling around and racing to the supply cabinets.
“Shit, BPM is 39 and dropping. Pull down her pants.”
“Just do it!”
Reyes complied, murmuring apologies under his breath and feeling horribly dirty as he unfastened the button of her synthetic leather pants and gingerly slid one arm beneath her body to ease them over her rear and a few inches down her thighs. He pointedly averted his eyes once he’d finished, locking his gaze on her closed eyes and the dark circles beneath them. He’d spent more time than he cared to admit imagining what it’d be like to get her undressed. With the knowledge of that she felt nothing but contempt towards him, combined with his drunken guilt and panic, the memories made his actions feel like a violation.
“I’m sorry, Sara. I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry.”
A drawer slammed shut behind him, pulling him from his thoughts, and he turned. Nakamoto handed him an antiseptic pad before whirling back to his work.
“Prep an injection site on her upper thigh.”
Reyes tore the packet open and swept the pad over a small area, keeping his eyes fixed on his work as his heart hammered in his chest. He finished and balled the pad up, shoving it in his back pocket.
Behind him, Nakamoto hurried between cabinets and drawers, pulling out a clear vial of something and uncapping a syringe. He drew a full syringe and flicked it once before quickly returning to Sara’s side.
“Where’d you prep?”
Reyes pointed to the spot without touching it, and the doctor grunted his acknowledgement before slamming the needle into Sara’s thigh. He rubbed at the spot with a gloved hand, smoothing a dab of medigel over the pinprick wound before he wheeled around again, depositing the syringe in a sharps container and pulling IV supplies from another drawer.
“What was that?”
“Epinephrine. Naloxone won’t work for an Oblivion overdose, since it isn’t technically an opiate, but that will keep her heart beating till I can get her on fluids and oxygen for long enough to clear her system. Get that IV stand from the corner.”
Nakamoto kept working as Reyes did so, preparing the bag of fluids and handing it to him when he returned with the stand.
“Hold this,” he said as he swept another antiseptic pad over the back of her hand and inserted the IV, taping it down before taking the bag back and hanging it on the stand Reyes had provided, pushing it to the head of the bed. Returning to his cabinets, he pulled out an oxygen mask and tubing. He connected the tubing to a device behind the bed before gently placing the mask over her nose and mouth, tucking the elastic straps behind her ears and adjusting the mask a bit for a proper seal. He paused for a moment, then gently loosened her belt from her upper arm, tossing it onto the countertop. He stepped back and exhaled deeply, raising his omnitool and scanning her vitals once more.
Reyes looked down at her from the foot of the bed: Sara Ryder, the Pathfinder, the shining beacon who had once been his Sara, but never would be again; the woman whom he still loved regardless, though she didn’t love him back and had damned good reasons not to. Before, she had always been larger than life, a force to be reckoned with, a siren able to steal his breath and send his mind reeling with just a promising look, but now, with her pants pushed down around her thighs, an oxygen mask covering most of her face, and various tubes connected to her body, she looked so very small. Fragile, even. She was much skinnier than he remembered, he realized; she’d always been thin, but before there’d been lean, wiry muscle where now he could see the sharp angles of bones. The gravity of the situation hit him all at once, and in his intoxicated state, it was all he could do not to fall to his knees at her bedside and cry. He drew in a sharp, shaky breath, and a hand clasped his shoulder.
“Heartbeat is back in normal range. She should be out of the woods for now, if all goes well. She’ll need several hours for the Oblivion to leave her system,” Ryota sighed, releasing his grip on Reyes’ shoulder and returning his gaze to his omnitool, tapping away.
“Should? If all goes well?”
“I still need to take a blood sample and see exactly how much of the shit she took, and if she was mixing substances. Her fancy Pathfinder implant seems to have helped regulate her system, but even so, another few minutes... Well, she’s lucky you got her here as quickly as you did.”
An unspoken question hung heavy on the end of the sentence, but Reyes chose to ignore it. Nakamoto raised an eyebrow but said nothing as he moved past him, readying another syringe and silently taking the blood sample he needed before injecting it into a tube in a device on the countertop. He pressed a few buttons and the machine whirred to life, spinning the tube for a few moments before it began to scan, orange bars of light crossing the now-centrifuged sample at various angles. He kept his back to the other man as he crossed the room, depositing the needle in the sharps bin before pulling off his gloves and depositing them in a trash receptacle next to the counter.
“She was. Ah, mixing, I mean. She was drinking, at least.”
Ryota turned and leveled him with a suspicious look. “A dangerous combination. How do you know?”
“I saw her.”
Reyes realized his misstep as soon as he made it, and cursed himself internally- had he been sober and in full possession of his faculties, he’d have said it was her whiskey-sodden shirt that gave it away. As it was, between his wild emotions and considerable inebriation, for the first time in recent memory, The Charlatan had forgotten to lie.
The doctor’s brow furrowed, his eyes darkening, and he finally gave voice to what he’d previously left unsaid: “So you were there with her, then.”
Rage bubbled up in Reyes’ chest at the implication beneath the statement, and he balled his hands into fists at his sides, trying hard to exert his strained self-control.
“You think I gave it to her?” He growled.
Nakamoto met his gaze without flinching, his expression surprisingly cold. “I think you were there when she took it, at the very least. I’ll know more as soon as the test results are back, but knowing Oblivion, I’d say she couldn’t have overdosed more than ten minutes before you got her here, or she’d-”
The beeping of the device behind him hushed Nakamoto before Reyes could. The doctor turned back to it and raised his omnitool to receive the results, reading them over in silence. His shoulders visibly tightened, and he took a long, measured breath before turning slowly back towards the other man.
If there had been ice in the doctor’s eyes before, his expression now would put Voeld’s permafrost to shame. For a moment, Reyes was horribly reminded of Sloane Kelly- he had seen this cold rage in her eyes many times, and it always promised that there would be hell to pay. From her, it had been par for the course. From the usually mild-mannered Dr. Nakamoto, it was entirely unexpected. When he spoke, his voice was dark, venomous, and dangerously level.
“Give me one good reason not to call the Collective guards in here and have you dragged to prison right now.”
The sudden threat was so unexpected, Reyes couldn’t even appreciate the irony.
Nakamoto’s eyes burned with a protective fury. “There’s enough drugs in the Pathfinder’s system right now to kill her twice, and then kill the wildlife wherever she was. There are drugs in her system I didn’t know you could get in Andromeda, and one I don’t even recognize. It reads like a laundry list.”
Reyes felt his heart drop into his stomach as the doctor continued, his eyes flicking down to his omnitool.
“Oblivion, of course, more than enough to be deadly on its own. A plant-based hallucinogen I’ve never seen before, though based on the structure, it’s clearly native to Andromeda. Potent painkillers of several kinds. Hallex. Red sand - a lot of red sand. With her biotics, I’m surprised she’s not floating off the fucking table. Also, cannabis sativa, and quite a bit of alcohol, though at this point, those are hardly worth mentioning.”
He paused for a moment, staring Reyes down, his face still alight with that icy, eerily-familiar rage.
“As I’m sure you know, given your line of work, Ryder stole the Oblivion formula back when it was taken from me. She put herself in serious danger and risked Sloane’s retaliation to help me prevent Oblivion from being abused. Those aren’t the actions of an addict. And yet here she is, dosed with enough of the shit to kill a krogan, even without everything else in her system. If it weren’t for that implant of hers, and if you’d dragged her in here even five minutes later than you did, she’d already be dead. She’d have coded out from the combination of stimulants and sedatives. Of that, I have no doubt.”
Reyes’ breath caught in his throat and he looked past the furious doctor in front of him to where Sara rested on the table. Hallex? Red sand? He’d known they were available in Andromeda, and he was fairly sure he’d moved some of both for various clients when he was still smuggling regularly. Both were exorbitantly expensive, too expensive to be worth the Collective’s time to supply on Kadara outside of special orders, and thus hard to find outside circles which wouldn’t exactly have welcomed the Pathfinder with open arms.
“Sara, Sara,” he thought mournfully, swallowing hard, “What have you gotten yourself into?”
“Ryota, I-” Reyes began, but Nakamoto ignored him, cutting him off.
“Save it, Vidal. I don’t live under a rock,” he spat. “I know damn well the Collective won’t sell Oblivion to any Initiative personnel, much less the Pathfinder. I doubt they’d sell her anything else either, but no dealer who was small-time enough to slip under the radar would have most of this. So then, I ask myself, who on Kadara would have access to such hard-to-acquire substances, who could operate without the Collective’s interference, and who would dare to provide them to the Pathfinder? Using illicit substances so irresponsibly – or, frankly, at all - runs contrary to everything I know about her, but even if she did choose to do all this, I’m still reliably certain she’s no fool. I doubt she’d buy from someone she didn’t trust at least a little. So now I ask myself, who has she worked with on Kadara? Who would she trust?”
Reyes had to admit that when put that way, the situation looked fairly damning – and The Charlatan found the points the doctor had raised concerning. He’d kept tight control over the drug trade in the Port, mostly for business’s sake. The Collective made huge profits thanks to the monopoly; that it also allowed him a good measure of quality control over the Oblivion supply was merely a bonus. But Ryota was right, he’d forbidden the sale of Oblivion to members of the Initiative, and no back-alley dealer would have had the more exotic stuff. Who else was moving product in the Port, and how had they escaped his notice? He bristled at the thought, but didn’t chase it.
“It’s no secret you worked together when she was active on Kadara, and who better to smuggle her in the good stuff than a man on the inside, right under the Collective’s nose?”
“I didn’t-” He tried to plead, only to be interrupted again.
“She’s half soaked in whiskey, and your breath could stop the Destiny Ascension. You admitted yourself that you were together. So, what’s the story? You got her everything she wanted, invited her over for a drink, and she just got carried away? Or did you spike her drink a few times, get her high enough to be open to suggestion, and only realize later you gave her too much?”
The venom in the doctor’s tone floored him. Sara was always good at making connections and inspiring loyalty, it was part of what made her such an effective Pathfinder, but the almost brotherly protectiveness the man showed for her still shocking. When he considered it, though, it made sense; he’d once told Sara that Ryota was the only honest man on the planet, and he still believed it. He was a truly good man, his only objective to help the poor citizens of the Slums and perhaps right his own wrongs in the process. Do-gooders were a rare breed on Kadara, and by Port standards, Sara had blown through like she was applying for sainthood. She had stolen back the Oblivion formula, stopped the murders, and prevented countless deaths from water poisoning by activating the Vault. She’d done a hundred good deeds for little reward besides a ‘thank you’, and sometimes not even that. She’d even welcomed the exiles back into the fold when she established Ditaeon, and he knew Ryota would be moving his clinic to the outpost before the month was out. Was it truly surprising that she was shown such devotion? The woman had earned every scrap of it.
He, on the other hand, had earned no such confidence. Everything he had done for the Port was within the anonymity of his role as The Charlatan, and his public persona belied any private good he’d done. He knew he had a reputation as the reliably shady sort – he’d cultivated it himself; it was good for business – and his quick transition in the wake of the coup from supposed free agent to The Charlatan’s favorite smuggler had only increased his infamy. From the intel he’d received, the general rumor was that he’d played the long game and played it well, pretending to be impartial, keeping a close eye on the balance of powers, and waiting till they began to shift to ally himself with the more likely victor. There was even talk that he had been a Collective agent the whole while, using his supposed neutral status to sabotage Sloane’s operations and ingratiate himself to The Charlatan. While the latter was closer to the truth than the former, neither theory made him out to be a man of good repute. Everyone knew he was a smuggler and a thief, and most assumed he was a murderer – rightly, of course, though the same could be said for more Kadarans than not – and while he couldn’t necessarily blame Nakamoto for assuming the worst, that didn’t mean it didn’t sting. Reyes had made sure to cultivate a friendly relationship with the doctor, turning up the charm and chatting warmly whenever he’d come in to be patched up in his early days on Kadara, and though the two of them weren’t best friends by any stretch, he’d thought he’d gained the doctor’s trust. Maybe the man was finally getting the hang of Kadara living, after all.
“Please, listen to me. I didn’t give her the Oblivion, or any of the rest. I certainly wasn’t trying to take advantage of her, hell, I wasn’t even there. I wouldn’t let her do this, Ryota, you have to believe me.”
“I don’t have to believe anyone on Kadara, least of all you.”
“Then don’t believe me. But I didn’t do it.”
Nakamoto huffed, crossing his arms across his chest.
“Really, Vidal? That’s the best you can come up with?”
“What do you want me to say, then? I would never do this to her.”
“And why not? She’s young, she’s beautiful, she’s making - ”
“Because I love her, god dammit!” Reyes roared, his voice shaking and his hands curling into fists again. The doctor took a step back, and Reyes took a deep breath to steady himself before continuing:
“I love her. I would never, never do anything to hurt her,” he paused, running his fingers through his greasy hair, “At least, not on purpose. I didn’t even know she was on Kadara until tonight, we broke up months ago. Badly. This is the first I’ve seen of her since.” He exhaled harshly, turning to pace. He didn’t know why he was telling the man all of this, it felt like a confession, like when he’d kneeled in a small booth as a child and spilled his secrets to a priest, trying to atone for his sins. Dios, but that guilt-wracked little boy hadn’t learned the half of sin yet.
“I got… a tipoff, earlier tonight. They warned me she was in trouble, so I went looking. I found her not far from here, near the Oblivion den.”
“A tipoff? From who?”
Reyes shook his head. “Not sure. It was an anonymous message.”
Reyes paused, considering his next words. He doubted the doctor would just believe him without seeing the evidence, but he couldn’t show the man the email without revealing his private Charlatan address.
Ryota crossed his arms across his chest, arching one eyebrow severely.
“It came in encrypted, to my private Collective account. I don’t know who the information came from, but it had to be someone within the organization. I can’t share specific intel outside the Collective, you know that. If my, ah, employer caught wind of it,” Reyes coughed, running his hands through his hair in an affectation of nervousness, “I think it would be rather bad for my health.”
“You mean you think it came from - ”
Ryota’s omnitool buzzed loudly, interrupting his sentence. He glanced down at the message and blanched, his eyes going wide.
“What’s wrong, what is it?” Reyes asked, worried.
The other man stepped towards him and wordlessly raised his arm so that Reyes could read the message he’d received. It was from an encrypted sender and flagged as urgent, just like the one he’d received earlier, and he too went white upon reading its contents, though for very different reasons.
Mr. Vidal is a valuable asset to the Collective, and I would prefer him to remain thus. Suffice it to say that he is telling the truth, but he has said more than enough already. Do not cost me my best smuggler, Doctor. Your assumption on his source is correct; within the Port, the Pathfinder is under my protection. I have supported your clinic and allowed you to operate outside my influence thus far because you have been a boon to the people of Kadara. If you want to live long enough to move your practice to Ditaeon, do not give me a reason to change my mind.
“Well, Reyes said, swallowing hard as panic rose in his chest again, “Now do you believe I was telling the truth?”