Creating The Collective had been hard work, but Reyes was no stranger to that. Hell, sometimes it seemed like his life had been nothing but hard work. Sure, he knew how to enjoy himself, no doubt about it, but he was always working on some… project or another.
Fate had been against him in the Milky Way, where he never managed to rise up the ranks despite the varied array of favours he’d done for those who should have been the right people. Andromeda had been kinder to him, despite the mess of trouble they'd encountered along the way - honestly, the chaos had probably been the reason for his success. Sure, Omega had been chaotic as well, but it was a well-established chaos where all the big players had centuries of advantage on Reyes. Kadara, however… Kadara had been ripe with opportunity.
Success and his work towards it had been the only thing on Reyes’ mind for so long that when one Pathfinder Ryder stumbled into his life, it hit him hard in the chest and left him breathless.
The teasing flirting wasn't unusual, Reyes talked to many people that way, but such eager participation from a downright heroic figure… Reyes had expected Ryder to use his info and nothing more, he hadn't expected Ryder to like him. It all left Reyes feeling like he had as a lonely teenager with his first crush.
That first crush had been unrequited and Reyes had fully expected this one to be as well. The fluttering of hope in his chest when Ryder kissed him was downright embarrassing and he killed it the minute they broke apart.
“Maybe a kiss more? Just to be sure?” Ryder teased and another surge went through Reyes, then they were kissing again.
You’re making this difficult, Ryder, Reyes thought, but he knew he wouldn’t want it any other way.
That evening Reyes carried on acting like a lovestruck teenager and he couldn’t even be mad at himself about it. He needed this. He needed the way Ryder looked at him, the laugh in his eyes when Reyes flirted or made a joke, the complete attention he paid Reyes when they spoke of his tasks, determination evident in all of his body, the barely audible intake of breath and slight fluttering of his eyes when Reyes’ insinuations excited him a bit too much to ignore and — more than anything — the soft look that came over Ryder when Reyes allowed himself to be vulnerable.
Drinking stolen booze and making out on top of a container might be silly and immature, but Reyes didn’t care. He had been looking forward to this whiskey in the months since he had learned of its existence, but sharing it with Ryder, tasting it on his lips, was more than he could have ever hoped for.
When they parted, Reyes held back from saying what he was feeling. He knew it was too soon, far too soon. Impractical, impossible, even if it hadn’t been. The Initiative's Pathfinder couldn’t be with someone like him. Not an outlaw smuggler and certainly not The Charlatan. Maybe he was someone, at that, but not someone Ryder could be with.
Reyes sighed and leaned his head back, eyes seeking an unfamiliar night sky. He was on his way down to the Tartarus, so it would only be visible for a few moments more. No stars for the slums.
There were many ways from the city proper to the slums, most more travelled than the route Reyes was currently using. This one was somewhat of a secret. Perks of being a smuggler.
Maybe if he was just a smuggler, it would all be easier. He should just stop being The Charlatan, let the story live on without the man behind it controlling the direction of the narrative.
Reyes didn’t give up on a good plan, he just didn’t. He could no more stop being The Charlatan than Ryder could stop being the Pathfinder. Besides, what he was doing was for the good of all Heleus. Sloane would never repair Kadara’s relationship with the Initiative, would never do what was needed. Kadara needed someone who would.
Yes, he needed to stick with the plan. No matter how much he wanted what he had with Ryder, this took priority. It had to happen.
It was a much harder choice than it should be, though. Reyes had never wanted anyone as badly as he wanted Ryder. It was all too much.
“Damn it,” he mumbled.
He hadn’t planned on falling in love.
“You ought to tell your boyfriend, you know,” Keema said, not for the first time.
Reyes pushed down the instinct to tell Keema that Ryder wasn’t his boyfriend, not really , because that truly would have been too immature, even for this lovesick side of him he’d recently discovered.
“If you wanted us to break up, you could just say that,” Reyes quipped instead.
Keema moved her nose in a way Reyes had come to think of as an Anagaran roll of the eyes.
“He’ll find out eventually. Don’t you want it to be on your terms when he does?”
Reyes sighed and rubbed his eyes. He knew that. He knew the truth would come out and be all the worse if he didn’t plan for it. But he just couldn’t bear it, couldn’t bear the thought of Ryder hating him, of those amused and aroused and attentive and tender looks disappearing as if they’d never been given to Reyes in the first place.
“I can’t believe you’re encouraging me to break cover,” he joked.
Keema did that thing with her nose again, but then she seemed to soften,.
“He really does care about you, you know,” she said. “When you left him alone at that party, you were the only thing he wanted to talk about. Sure, he asked me other things, but there was a whole other energy to him when you were the subject.”
“What do you know about human energies?” Reyes asked. “For all you know, that energy could have been annoyance that I’d abandoned him.”
“Really?” said Keema, who had made a point to learn about human behaviours ever since the outlaws had arrived on Kadara. “That’s the best you can do?”
“Sorry, the subject is throwing me off my game a bit,” Reyes said. “Speaking of which...”
Keema allowed him the change of subject, perhaps sensing that she wouldn’t get anywhere with it. She was right about everything, of course, but the mere thought of confronting Ryder with the truth — or, perhaps more accurately, with the lies — made Reyes’ stomach twist and turn in ways that told him he could never do it.
And then it happened. As so many things Reyes worried about ahead of time, it happened fast. He hardly had time to register anything before Sloane was dead and he was alone with Ryder.
Reyes knew his reasons well enough that explaining to Ryder required very little of him. This had to be done. Surely Ryder could see that as well. The edge in Ryder’s voice dug itself into Reyes’ heart, but he kept going as if he was fine.
Reyes was always fine. Even when this came to an end, he would be fine; had to be.
The end was imminent, he knew. This dream, this illusion, was over. Reyes’ life wouldn’t go back to normal, since he’d never had a normal, and even if he had, “King of Kadara Port” certainly didn’t match his old normal, but he would go back to being alone.
It hadn’t been so bad, before Ryder, but he could already sense that the after might ruin him. That was all there would be: Before Ryder and After Ryder.
Then Ryder spoke and his words turned everything Reyes thought he knew about the world upside down:
Reyes’ body moved without his brain having caught up, mouth forming words before moving in for a kiss. It felt like a fever dream, an absurd scenario beyond what was actually feasible.
He went along with it, because that was what Reyes did , what made him so good at his work. This was real though, and as Reyes slowly began to realise that, he felt happier than he could ever remember having felt before.
Ryder still wanted him, still looked at him like he was worth a damn. Which meant Reyes got to have this, he actually… he actually got to have this. It was astounding and beyond anything Reyes could ever have planned for. He’d dared to imagine Ryder forgiving him eventually, but never had he thought they would be able to carry on as before.
It was still too early for the words, even after this, but now… now Ryder had ensured there’d be a time when it wouldn’t be.