Ashlynn Grace Toriel hadn't seen the Tower in six months. She'd volunteered for a six month scouting mission to Nessus to study the Vex movements, and after finishing the intense research, she was somewhat relieved to be able to come home. Even though she knew that nobody was waiting for her anymore.
Well, except two people.
Ikora Rey walked into the Hall of Guardians that morning and found Cayde-6 asleep at his terminal, clearly avoiding doing his paperwork that he hated so much. But she knew it had to be done, so she shoved him awake.
"Cayde, get up." She sighed, shifting his arm off of the terminal. She watched as he flopped onto the floor, bolting up as soon as he hit the floor.
"Woah I'm up! What'd I miss?" He asked.
"Nothing. Why were you asleep?"
"Oh. Didn't get much sleep last night. Bad coupling again."
Ikora nodded sadly, and dropped the conversation. Unlike Zavala, she understood Cayde better, and was willing to let things go if they needed to be. She knew the coupling gave him fits at night, but nothing could be done to fix it as of yet.
"Ah crap. Forgot. The Nessus expedition is coming back today. I'd better go see what they found." Cayde yawned, stretching as he got up off of the floor and dashed to the hangar as fast as he could, where Amanda Holliday was waiting with a smirk on her face.
"Waiting for that expedition Cayde?" She asked as the Exo skidded to a halt.
Cayde panted, giving Holliday a thumbs up. "How'd you know?"
"Guessing you only just realised they're due back. That and you sound like you ran a marathon. Checked your calendar for the first time in years did ya?"
"Ah shut it Amanda. Three of my finest out there finally bringing in some hopefully decent intel. I can't remember their names except that Ashlynn girl."
"The volunteer? The one who's like, pretty short, longish brown hair and brown eyes? Pretty lookin'?"
"Yeah. Still no clue why she volunteered."
"I might have an idea, but it's her place to say it, not mine."
"Aw c'mon Amanda, I wanna know!"
"Cayde it's her place to say it. I don't wanna share. Besides, we all know you like her."
"What? Me?! No! Never! W-What makes you say that?"
"Because a couple Hunters saw you when she first arrived at the Tower all those years ago. Your jaw dropped and your fly was open."
"Hey c'mon that's not fair. She's... she's different."
"How do you know?"
"I just do. Something about her..."
"Seems alluring? Interesting? Hot? All of the above?"
"Off was the word I was gonna use. Nobody volunteers. And when she volunteered for this, she was almost in tears and wouldn't say why."
"Maybe she was having a bad day? Who knows."
Just as Cayde was about to push further for more information, the ships came in, and three Guardians disembarked onto the hangar floor.
Cayde watched Ash carefully, but he noticed something was wrong. She seemed paler, thinner, almost like a ghost. And then he watched as she crossed over to a blonde haired Warlock and his friends, who didn't seem pleased to see her. He watched as they snickered at her whilst she approached them, but she shrugged it off and walked off with them.
"Think I know a reason why she volunteered." Cayde mumbled.
"You do huh? Mind reader now are we?" Holliday chuckled.
"I’ve always seen her lookin’ pretty down. Think some people have been giving her a hard time. I think I know who."
"Cayde you don't have any proof. You'd need solid evidence. Evidence Ash probably won't give you."
Cayde's heart felt heavy knowing that Ash wasn't alright, but he was powerless to do anything about it unless he told her what was happening.
Or so he thought.
A few hours later, Ash came into the Hall of Guardians, exhausted and looking upset.
"Hey Toriel! What you got for me?" Cayde asked, greeting her warmly. She was barely standing up straight, so Cayde gave her his seat and grabbed a spare one to sit opposite her.
"Got my Io report for ya!" She forced a smile, trying to hide her sadness.
"Thought you guys went to Nessus?"
"Oh. Right. Sorry. I'm really tired, been a long six months."
"Hey, no worries. You want something to drink?"
Ash hesitated, almost shocked she'd been offered, but then smiled at the offer. "I'm alright but, thanks anyways. Got any missions?"
"You just got back though."
"Yeah I wanna get back out there. Stay busy."
"I'm not sure that's such a good idea Ash. You don't look too great and you deserve some time off."
"No rest for the weary or the wicked."
Cayde wanted to argue her, stop her leaving or something. But then it struck him. “Then by all means, let me come with you. I hate sitting here all day. Got a cave system on Nessus riddled with Vex and Fallen, wanna help me out?"
"M-Me? Helping you?"
"You sound surprised. Ain't I said you're my favourite before?"
"I mean, possibly. I can't remember."
Cayde's expression turned from confident to worried. He'd spoken to Ash before, plenty of times, but never had she been this uncertain and sad. Almost like a ghost of her former self. She was one of the only few remaining Iron Lords, the other two being the Young Wolf and Lord Saladin. But Cayde doubted it was to do with Saladin giving her orders. He suspected something more.
"You alright Ashlynn?" He asked, leaning a little closer. He could see tears building up around her eyes, but she kept them at bay. She didn't want anybody seeing her weak. But Cayde knew she needed someone. And he was hoping he could be there for her if she'd let him.
Ash didn't reply, but she felt the anxiety in her chest ease at his sincerity and concern for her. She wanted to tell him, but she knew she couldn't. Not yet.
"Yeah. Thanks Cayde." She smiled, wiping her eyes with her sleeve.
"Anytime. Now what's say we go get some ramen? Me and you. Long mission tomorrow, might as well fill yourself before we end up eating Vex." Cayde joked.
"Sweet! C'mon, let's go."
Cayde was hoping they wouldn't be disturbed during their ramen. Ash looked as if she could use a quiet night, but as he predicted, that wasn't to be. The Warlock he'd seen her with earlier came storming towards them, and he didn't seem happy.
"Ash? What are you doing? I've been trying to call you for hours but Spark wouldn't answer." He demanded, fists clenched.
"I'm getting ramen. Thought I'd eat now since I've got an early start tomorrow." Ash defended, sounding scared.
"I could've made you something. Instead you wanted to come get cheap ramen with your Vanguard?"
"Maybe you should keep it down a little, bud." Cayde warned him, standing up next to Ash.
"She's my roommate sir, I have a right to know where she is."
"And she has a right to her own space."
The Warlock fell silent for a moment as a crowd began to gather, but Ash then spoke up.
"Marshall please, go home. I need some space tonight. When I get back from tomorrow's mission I promise we can just, go get dinner or something." She pleaded.
Marshall scowled, and he grabbed ahold of her wrist before pulling her close.
"Better be more than that." He growled in her ear, and he stormed off before Cayde could do anything. He turned to Ash, and she was clearly shaken.
"You alright?" He asked, placing a hand on her arm.
"Y-Yeah. That's Marshall. Marshall Crawley. My 'wonderful' roommate and friend." Ash sighed.
"He seems like a douchebag, I'm just saying."
"He is. He's part of the Praxic Order, so he thinks he's really important. Not sure how I ended up liking him but, he made me like him. Convinced me to be roommates. He's just one of many assholes I know now."
"Why don't you just move out?"
"Not that simple. He's... not nice. I'd rather not have to deal with his ugly side again."
"What do you mean ugly?"
"I've said too much already."
"Nonsense. Ashlynn if he's hurting you I wanna know."
"I can't tell you Cayde. And please, just call me Ash. Everybody does unless you're Zavala who insists on calling me Lady Toriel. Iron Lord status and all that crap."
"You don't like it?"
"Not a fan of the trips to Felwinter Peak. Besides, I don't need the status to prove myself. But I guess people respect me more because Lord Saladin thinks I'm worthy. Or so I thought.”
"Oh Ash, you don’t need to be an Iron Lord to prove how awesome you are.”
"Yeah. No girl I know would stick with an asshole Warlock of a roommate and put up with his shit like that. And you didn't submit to him, that takes guts."
"Anytime. Now c'mon, let me walk you home. It's pretty late."
Ash was hesitant when Cayde said he'd take her home. She lived with Marshall after all, and if she showed up with Cayde, chances are it'd get ugly. She knew Marshall wanted her, but that was one thing she wasn't going to give him. Marshall was one of many bullies who made her life at the Tower hell, and she wanted to get out of there as much as she could.
"I appreciate it you know." She told him as they drew closer to her apartment in the Barracks.
"Appreciate what?" Cayde asked, hands in his pockets.
"You sticking up for me back there. Not really had anybody do that for a while now."
"Why not? U-Unless you don't wanna say then it's fine."
Ash smiled sadly before heaving a deep sigh. "I'll tell you when I'm ready. It's still fresh in my mind. Only Marshall knows but, that's because he subtly asked and I let slip by accident. He wasn't very sympathetic."
"I think you should leave. Y’know, get another apartment, I can get it sorted for ya.”
"You know I would but I can't."
"Ash I'll kill him if he wants to lay a finger on you. Don't forget that."
"Why? I haven't done anything for you to warrant you feeling you need to help me."
"You don't have to have done anything. I think you're a great person, and I have since we first met all those years ago. So I'm always gonna stick up for you if you need it. That's what friends do."
Ash felt butterflies in her stomach as they slowed to a halt in front of her apartment. She didn't want to leave. She didn't want to go inside. Marshall was inside. Cayde could see the worry in her eyes.
"If you need somewhere to go, you know where my place is right?" Cayde whispered.
"Yeah. West Tower top floor." Ash nodded.
"Good. I'll go before you head inside but if you need me, just shout."
"I will. Thanks Cayde."
"Anytime. Night Ash."
Thankfully, Marshall was asleep when she got inside, but he was asleep on her bed and sprawled out all over it. With a sigh of disappointment, Ash took off her armour and slept on the couch instead.
The next morning, Marshall was already gone, and he hadn't left a note for her either. Most likely he was still angry at her for being out with Cayde, especially since she didn't say she would be.
"Don't feel guilty Ash. Marshall is an ass anyways!" Spark, her Ghost, reassured her as she nibbled on a biscuit and drank some tea for breakfast. He was desperately trying to get her to help herself, but she wasn't interested. Spark was hoping maybe if she left then he'd listen to her more. Maybe even get with somebody who cared about her.
"I don't. Just can't help but feel a little bad though. I was out with another guy and I didn't tell him. I know he sucks but he is my roommate still." Ash sighed as she drained her tea and cleaned up the mug.
"Doesn't matter who he is. He's an ass and we should definitely leave. Even his Ghost thinks how he treats you is a bad thing. C'mon, will you at least think about it today?"
"During my mission with Cayde that we shouldn't really be going on since he shouldn't be leaving the Tower?"
"Yep. That one. I still think you two should just do something else."
"Aren't you the one who said I shouldn't shut myself off? Do you want me to do that?"
"Not at all. I just don't want either of you getting into trouble. Even though that's his middle name really. Just... be careful. Please. It's clear Cayde cares for you."
"He's my Vanguard, can you imagine the shit I'd get into if we had anything other than a mentor-mentee relationship? I'd be killed."
"No you wouldn't Ash, don't be stupid. Just... please, think about leaving this apartment. Get a new one. And please just, report the bullies. All of them. Doesn't have to be today, but sometime soon."
Ash breathed a deep sigh and shrugged her shoulders, unsure of what she wanted anymore. "Fine. Just, leave me alone about it and then I'll give you an answer."
"I can most certainly do that. Now you wanna gear up? Long couple days ahead of us!"
"Absolutely. I left my armour in my room right?"
"Yep. You really should get a new set."
"What do you mean? This is perfectly fine."
"It's just a little worn now. You should get something more durable."
"Hey c'mon, I'll get a new set when this breaks in two."
Ash had to admit that her armour was old. Her entire loadout was getting old too. She'd made it blue where she could since that was her favourite colour, but it wasn't the best and the modifications could've been better. But Ash always made do with what she had, and she became the best Arcstrider in the Tower because of it.
Ash threw on the bullet scarred chest piece and slashed pants before grabbing her auto rifle, hand cannon and sword. All of which needed an update or a clean. But Ash never had time. Spark had sworn that one day, when they had the Glimmer, he would buy her a whole new set. He was hoping to do it for her birthday, but that was a long time away and he wasn't sure if she'd last that long with her current set.
"Cayde's waiting in the hangar by the way. You ready?" Spark asked once she'd gathered everything into her backpack that she'd need.
Ash hesitated for a second. Was she ready to get herself into trouble? Cause some chaos? Do something she wanted to do?
She most definitely was.
“Yeah. Yeah let's go."
Ash ran down to the hangar as fast as she could go, leaving her out of breath by the time she reached her ship, only to find that it was just Cayde's ship prepared for flight.
"Excited huh?" Cayde chuckled as he unfolded his arms and stood from leaning against a pole.
"Nah. Didn't wanna be late." She panted. "Am I?"
"Not at all. I'm surprised I'm here on time really."
"Can I ask, whys my ship not prepped for flight?"
"Because we're taking mine! No sense taking two ships and wasting fuel ya know? Saving you some glimmer!"
"Oh, right! Well, thanks!"
"Anytime. So how'd it go last night with Mr. Stuck Up?"
"Better than expected. I got in and he was asleep all over my bed for some reason so I slept on the couch."
"Seems a little rough."
"Eh, it's fine."
"She's lying." Spark interrupted. "She got basically no sleep. I don't know how she's still standing."
"Oh c'mon Spark! Not cool. Besides, tea fuels me just fine." Ash sighed.
"You wanna catch a few winks on our way? I've got a bed in the back if you want." Cayde asked.
"Are you sure?"
"Absolutely. We want ya in fighting form don't we?"
"Yeah. Yeah we do."
"You definitely look tired. C'mon, go inside, I'll get us going shortly. I'm just doing some final prep."
"That being creating a lie for Zavala and Ikora to believe?"
"Oh I don't need a lie for them. They can find out I'm gone soon enough and yell at me later. Now c'mon, inside."
So Ash went inside Cayde's ship and laid down in the makeshift bed he'd fashioned out of a mattress and some old crates to stop the occupant from rolling onto the floor. Within minutes, she was asleep, and Spark watched over her closely.
Meanwhile, as Cayde was doing final checks for takeoff, a familiar face appeared in her Warlock robes, and she didn't look entirely pleased.
"Going somewhere Cayde?" Ikora asked, hands clasped behind her back. "It's very early."
"Oh. Yeah! We're going to Nessus to deal with some Fallen and Vex in a cave. Wanna come?" Cayde offered as he topped up the fuel tank.
"No, I'm needed here. As are you. But can I ask, who's we?"
"Me and Ash Toriel. You know, the Iron Lord?"
"Ah yes, I know her. She's a strong individual, but she's distanced herself recently. I'm surprised she wanted to come with you."
"Yeah well I think she wants more time away from someone." Cayde sighed, and he knew he shouldn't meddle, but he couldn't bear to see Ash in such a bad state. "Ikora can you do something whilst I'm gone?"
"What is it?" She asked, lowering her voice as Cayde had done.
"Ask around about Marshall Crawley. He's Ash's roommate and part of the Praxic Order. He's... I think he's making her life hell. I've seen people with her, making her almost burst into tears, but she claims it’s not him. I don’t believe her.”
"Marshall Crawley... I've heard that name before."
"Well he is one of your warlocks."
"I know. I'll see what I can find, but you owe me Cayde."
"Ikora you know I'm in debt. Best I can do is buy you some ramen."
"That'll do. Or make me some tea. Have fun today Cayde."
"You're not stopping me going?"
"Not this time. It's clear you wish to spend time with Ashlynn and I think that's a good idea for the both of you. And you're spending that time wisely. Now go, before Zavala finds out. If he asks I'll say you're running errands."
"Thanks Ikora. Really."
"You're welcome, Cayde. Now go."
So Cayde jumped onto his ship quietly after he noticed that Ash was dead to the world in the back, and he clambered towards the pilot seat. As quietly as possible, Cayde ignited the engines of the ship and punched in the coordinates for Nessus, specifically the Arcadian Valley.
"You looooove her!" Sundance, Cayde's Ghost, teased.
"Oh shut it you. I just think she's nice." Cayde sighed.
"Mhm. Sure. Now let's get outta here, adventure awaits!"