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Another Piece of the Puzzle (That Doesn't Fit)

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When Tris opens his eyes to an icy darkness, his first thought isn’t shit or fuck or where am I. No, his first thought is: I’m going to fucking kill them.

The pod chamber opens and light seeps in as icy air flits out. He sits up already scowling, looking around for familiar faces, but all he sees are people in white and blue – nurses, technicians, not the people he’s looking for. He shoves away hands trying to help (but steals the coffee pushed at him, because coffee is life and fuck, how long has it been since he had the sweet liquid?) and makes his way across the room, toward the exit, on shaky legs.

I’m gonna fucking kill them, he thinks again, as his legs threaten to give way and send him falling to his ass. He uses the wall for support, gritting his teeth against the wave of nausea slamming into him. Kill them. Slowly, painfully. They will regret making me a popsicle with them.

He has, officially, never been on the Ark Hyperion before. Officially, he’s never wandered the halls, he’s never tagged along with his father, and he’s never met his father’s friends. Officially, he should be completely and utterly lost right now. Unofficially, he’s read the ship’s blueprints, snuck in here at night just to see if he could, and he knows the general direction he needs to go if he wants to kill certain people.

“Mr. Ryder! Please! You’re not ready to move yet,” a voice shouts behind him, footsteps chasing him. “Scans show you have a mild concussion.”

Oh, those assholes. Those whores. I’ll kill them. They knocked him over the head then threw him in cryo, probably before he even hit the ground.

“It’s a miracle you woke at all,” the man behind him continues. “Mr. Ryder, stop! We need to run tests and make sure you’re okay!”

“I’m fine,” he snaps, glaring at the man over his shoulder. He moves quickly for such a short thing, huffing as he chases Tris down with his omni-tool ready to start scanning as soon as he’s within range and Tris stands still. Poor man. He has no intention of slowing down or standing still. Not until he kills a certain someone.

“Mr. Ryder!”

“That’s not my fucking name,” Tris growls, quickening his pace through the halls of the Ark Hyperion.

There. That door. It has to lead to the bridge, and that’s where his father will be, and probably his sister, too. No way would he be woken up if they weren’t already mobile.

The door swooshes open and he stomps inside.

Alec Ryder is speaking to a young woman with dark hair – Captain Dunn, if his memory serves correctly, and it usually does.

You,” Tris says through gritted teeth, causing Alec Ryder to turn from the woman and focus on him instead. Tris marches right up to him. “How dare you.”

And then he punches his father in the face.

He’s promptly tackled to the ground, by… others. He’s not sure who they are. But wow, they blend into the shadows. Or maybe he’s just a little foggy from that fucking concussion. And the fact he just woke from cryo.

There are suddenly feet in front of his face as he’s pinned to the floor. He follows those legs up to find his sister smirking down at him.

“Hello, little brother.”

Erin Ryder never let him live down the fact he was born only a minute behind her. He was always ‘little brother’, and she’d even go so far as to say ‘when I was your age’ and give him a lecture. He’d laugh and snap back, ‘what, a fucking minute ago?’

They were the best of the worst times, he thinks. Before all the chaos. Before all the lies and the shouts and the slap which echoed for days. Before-

“Go to hell,” he snaps, struggling mildly. He would like to get up, but honestly, he’s not going to waste all his energy fighting these people. He’s just testing their strength.

“Only if you come with me.”

“I’m here, aren’t I?” he drawls, glaring at her. “Except I don’t recall agreeing to come on your little trip. I’m pretty sure I said ‘have fun in the future’. Yet here I am.”

“We couldn’t just leave you behind,” his sister says, dismissively. “Now, are you going to behave or do I need to throw you back into cryo?”

He sneers up at her. “Do it. At least then I won’t have to look at your stupid face.”

They glare at each other for a long time.

Alec Ryder clears his throat. “Alright, you two, that’s enough.”

“Pathfinder, what is going on?” the woman from earlier, Captain Dunn, asks, confused.

The graying-haired man sighs. “This is my son, Tristen. He had a mild concussion prior to entering cryo; he’s probably a little uneasy right now, and clearly foggy if he’s picking fights like this. I assure you, I taught him better than that.”

Tris bristles, growling under his breath.

“Let him up,” Alec says. “He won’t hurt me.”

“He’s already assaulted you,” one of the people pinning him say.

“He’s just filled with adrenaline after being asleep for so long. I’m sure we all felt it.”

Alec Ryder is a man manipulation, however you sugar-coat it. He always gets what he wants, even when he doesn’t. He is a man of few words, but those words he does say… he uses them to twist everything to his favor, to make you the bad guy, and Tris is so sick of it.

They let him up, because of course they listen to the almighty Pathfinder, and Tris pushes to his feet, glaring at his father as he smooths out his rumpled shirt.

“Put me back in cryo,” he says, looking from Erin to Alec and back again, “and shoot me back the other way.”

“It would take another 600 years,” Erin says, quirking a brow. “You aren’t the patient type.”

“So it’ll be 600 more years,” he says, shrugging. “At least I won’t be here.”

“Sorry, Tristen.” Erin shrugs back, shaking her head. “This was a one-way trip.”

Tris growls. “I didn’t agree to any of this.”

“Well, you’re here now,” his father says.

“Suck it up, buttercup,” Erin grins.

He grits his teeth, and fights the urge to punch both of them in their smug faces. Instead, he spins o his heel and stomps out of the room.

xXx

He doesn’t look like a 600 year old popsicle. But he feels like one. Everything aches, he’s freezing, and there’s not enough fucking coffee on this stupid fucking ship.

He glares at his reflection in the mirror, splashing warm water on his face to attempt wake him up and warm him enough for him to function properly. His teeth are still chattering. Maybe that’s shock, though. He is 600 years in the future, and he never planned to be.

Everyone’s dead, he thinks.

Everyone he knew back there, in the Milky Way – everyone he cared about. They’re all dead. They died centuries ago while he slept in cryo on a long voyage to who the fuck cares. The Andromeda Initiative was a fresh start for Alec and Erin – but not for him. He had a shitty life back home but it was his, and there were people he cared about, and now they’re all dead and the life he knew is gone and someone else is probably riding his fucking bike around and – it’s 600 years into the future. His bike is scrap.

Everything is scrap.

“You are in shock,” SAM says.

He wants to punch something every time he hears that stupid AI. His father’s baby. As it is, he laughs. “Yeah, no shit.”

“Perhaps you should lie down. I will contact Dr. Carlyle, and-”

No,” Tris says, scowling. “I don’t need a doctor. I’m fine.”

He doesn’t need any help. He’s done just fine on his own, thank you very much. And the second he accepts help from an AI is the second he breaks down, and he will not give his family the satisfaction of witnessing that.

There is an image, in his head – of simpler times. Of a young girl with sunlit blonde hair, and a young boy with dirty blond hair, and laughter for days. Of a mother smiling warmly. Of a father with a hand on the boy’s shoulder, squeezing comfortably.

He blinks, and the image shatters. All he can see is the rage in his father’s face, the young girl turned into a young woman the spitting image of her father, of pain and rainy days for years. All he can hear are the words no one should have said, the shouts like thunder crackling violently, and a single handprint across his face from a slap heard for days.

He exhales shakily, his reflection blurring. He blinks back the burning wetness of betrayal, and splashes more water on his face.

“SAM,” he says, ashamed of how weak his voice sounds. He clears his throat. “Tell me where I’ll find the coffee.”

“That will be in the kitchen, on your left. If I may, I have some questions.”

Of course you do. He sighs. “Alright – hit me.”

“I assume you mean to ask my question. Very well. You are Alec Ryder’s son, yet I have no record of you. I find that… odd.”

“It’s not that odd, really,” Tris says, shrugging as he makes his way toward the kitchen. “Alec Ryder had two kids – fraternal twins, myself and Erin. We’re nothing alike. You might even say we can’t stand each other. Alec loves Erin. I think he hates me.”

“You are his child,” SAM says. “He does not hate you.”

“If he doesn’t hate me, then why are you just now learning about me?” Tris asks, finally locating the kitchen. It’s massive. He hurries toward the left hand side of the room and starts rifling through cabinets, but there are a lot of them. “Fuck me. SAM, which cabinet?”

“Unknown,” SAM replies. “Why are there no records of you in any of my databases or files?”

“What can I say, I’m just that good,” Tris mutters, opening another cabinet. He grins when he sees the coffee beans, carefully pushed to the back and partially behind a box of Blast-Os. “Fuck yeah. Jackpot.” He pulls out the Blast-Os and the coffee beans, spinning to look for the coffee maker. He finds it across the room, and in need of cleaning.

“Why would your files not be located anywhere, and why would your father not tell me he had another child?” Is it just him, or does SAM seem… confused?

He shrugs, rinsing out the pot. “I don’t know, SAM. You’d know him better than me.”

“… Alec has memory blocks in place,” the AI tells him, almost hesitantly like that’s private information. It probably is.

Juicy secrets on dear old Dad. “Oh? So even though you’re in his head, you can’t see everything?”

“That is accurate.”

“Sorry. That must be weird for you.”

“Are you one of his memory blocks?”

Tris exhales slowly, looking down at the countertop for one moment. “I guess.” He knew he and his father didn’t get along, but for Alec to go so far as to put in memory blocks regarding him… well. It shouldn’t sting at this point. “We’ve never been fond of each other.”

“And yet you are here, apparently unwillingly.”

“Yeah… my family isn’t exactly the gentle sort. And they don’t really take no for an answer.”

“You said they. Does that exclude yourself?

“You ask a lot of questions,” Tris says, scowling, watching the coffee brew. “You know that?”

“I apologize if my line of questioning is making you uneasy. That was not my intention.”

He sighs, exhaling loudly through his nose. “It’s fine. Just… let me get some coffee in me.”

Footsteps echo behind him. His first, initial reaction is to hunker against the wall, make himself a small target, and then attack when the person passes him. He shoves those thoughts away, though, because this is an exploration ship in a new galaxy, and these people aren’t here to hurt him.

Unless they’re his family. Then all bets are off.

“Oh, good,” the guy entering behind him chimes, “someone’s already making coffee. I’m still shivering from cryo.”

Tris nods, keeping his gaze focused on the coffee maker. It’s almost ready, thankfully.

“Not the chatty type, I take it?” the person asks, stopping next to him. Tris briefly glances over and smiles at the dark-skinned man with the afro-like black hair. “I haven’t seen you around before. What division are you?”

I have no fucking clue. “You ask a lot of questions,” Tris says, smirking disarmingly. He holds his hand out. “I’m Tris.”

If the name is familiar to this man, he doesn’t show it. He clasps Tris’ hand in a firm handshake. “Liam Kosta. I’m from the Pathfinder team. What about you?”

No idea, buddy. “Why spoil all the fun?” he asks, shrugging. It’s not like my dad is going to put me on his team. Why am I here? Why did they wake me? He has so many questions, but too few answers.

“You are both wanted on the bridge,” SAM says. “The Pathfinder team needs to be ready in thirty minutes.”

Tris almost chokes on his coffee. It burns. “Well,” he hums, using his hand to wipe at his mouth as he throws a smirk at the guy, Liam, “guess that answers your question.”

Dear old Dad has me as part of the Pathfinder team, probably along with Erin. This can only end in disaster.

He frowns. “SAM, is it possible for me to have a private chat with… Erin and Alec Ryder.”

“I have alerted them. They will meet you in the Pathfinder’s quarters, in 3.4 minutes.”

Liam looks at him oddly, probably wondering how, and why, he has that high of clearance to just call a random meeting with the Ryder family. Oh well. The less he knows about this whole family mess, the better.

Tris puts down his cup of life and makes his way out of the kitchen. Again, he’s not officially supposed to know where the Pathfinder’s quarters are, but SAM didn’t give him directions so his family must know he looked at the blueprints for the ship. Either that or they want him to get lost. Honestly, he wouldn’t put it past them.

It takes him three minutes to reach the Pathfinder’s quarters, with only one misstep he quickly realized and corrected. He’s rather proud of himself, honestly. The doors whoosh open, allowing him entrance, and Erin and Alec are already there, waiting for him. Erin smirks.

“Thirty seconds faster than I pegged you for,” she says. “Nice.”

It’s not a compliment. It’s never a compliment, coming from her. He looks at his father. “You put me on the Pathfinder team.”

“This is supposed to be about new beginnings,” Alec says, nodding at him. “And, you have certain skills we could use.”

He bristles. “You want me as cannon fodder,” he says, shrugging. “Alright, fine. You two do your little hush-hush Pathfinder thing, and I’ll make some noise when it’s needed and draw the fire. Whatever, I’m expendable.” He huffs out a sigh. “One condition.”

“You’re not expendable,” Erin says, scowling at him. “You have certain abilities which come in handy.”

“Yeah, yeah – you’re still jealous I got more exposure than you in the womb. Duly noted.” He looks back at Alec. “I do have other abilities, you know. Ones that aren’t so loud.”

“You’re a half-rate hacker,” Alec Ryder says bluntly. “We have better ones. We just need your usual brash nature.”

“I think you have me mixed up with Erin, which is tragic. We look nothing alike. And you call yourself our father,” Tris says, smirking. “But alright. Still, on one condition.”

“You’re not really in a position to be demanding things,” Erin says. “Besides, we’re family.” Her blue eyes narrow. “That’s unconditional.”

“We’ll hug later. But seriously – you want me to play my part, and want me on your little team, then I have conditions.”

“You said just one.”

“It’s a bit of an extended one.”

Alec sighs. “Just say it, Tristen.”

He bristles again. “You call me Tris. My files are all deleted – SAM has no record of me, and I’m sure no one else does, either. I don’t know if that was your doing or if I have an angel looking out for me, but either way – that’s great. I’m just Tris. Not Tristen, not Ryder, just Tris.”

“Is that the condition? We just call you Tris?” Erin asks, brows rising. “Rather weak conditions, brother.”

“I’m not finished, am I?”

“I don’t know, are you?”

“I’m not related to you,” Tris says.

“The womb doesn’t lie, little brother.”

He scowls. “No. I mean here, in Andromeda – I’m not Tristen Ryder, I’m just Tris. No one can know I’m related to you, or I’m off the team. You think I can’t sneak away from your little party, think again. I’m the master of escape, and this is a prison. But I’ll stay willingly if you agree I’m just Tris.” He smiles. “Do we have a deal?”

“I don’t understand what’s so wrong about being a part of our family,” Erin says, frowning at him.

“Do we have a deal?” Tris repeats, smile hardening.

Erin scowls. “What if someone finds out?”

“You better hope they don’t, or I’m out of here.”

“Fine,” Alec says, nodding, causing Tris and Erin to look back at him. “I thought you might want it that way – that’s why I told no one about you.”

Tris scoffs. “I’m sure you only had altruistic intentions,” he says dryly. Not because I’m the disappointment and you’d rather not be associated with me. I mean, the feeling is pretty mutual. “But good, at least we’re on the same page. If that’s all – I’ll join you guys with the others, on the bridge. I do have stuff here, right? Weapons, clothes, my omni-blade?”

“You have weapons,” Erin says.

My omni-blade?” he asks again.

“An omni-blade is an omni-blade.”

He swallows back the nasty words on his tongue. I fucking modified that blade my fucking self and put so much fucking time into it and it was perfect, you whore, and-

He smiles. “Sure. I guess I’ll go find my stuff and meet you on the bridge. As your teammate.”

He quickly leaves the room, keeping his gait and posture steady.

Playing nice with his family is going to be fun. Can anyone hear his sarcasm?

That’s okay, though.

He always did enjoy the theater.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER TWO: And I'm Free Falling

They have ten minutes to get ready before they are supposed to board a shuttle down to the planet. Tris finds his locker and pulls out dark red armor, smirking to himself. Well, he thinks. At least they remembered I like red. I guess that's a plus. He quickly fits the armor into place with ease of habit, and then attaches his weapons to his back. An assault rifle and a pistol; he'd prefer a shotgun, but this will do for now. He can't really be picky, he supposes. At least they gave him something.

Stop that, a part of his mind chides, sounding eerily like Mom. They don't want you dead. If they did they wouldn't have brought you here in the first place.

Which… yeah. Good point, Mom. They don't want him dead, but he can't see how having them all on the same team can end in anything except disaster. At least no one on the team, except his sister and father (and SAM), knows he's a Ryder. To everyone else, he's just Tris.

Liam tries to strike up a conversation, as do the others going down with them. They all look up to Alec Ryder and are proud to be a part of the Pathfinder team. They have high hopes for Andromeda.

Poor, sorry fucks. You're all screwed if you're looking up to Alec Ryder for answers, Tris can't help but think. They remind him of himself as a kid, back when dear old Dad could fix anything and everything. Back when skinned knees and papercuts were all he had to worry about.

Too bad the second you disobey him, you're off his nice list. They'll learn soon enough, he supposes.

Or maybe his father has changed with age. Maybe he's a better man, here in Andromeda.

The thought almost makes Tris laugh. His face contorts painfully as he bites back the sound. Liam throws him an odd look, one brow raised inquisitively.

"Sorry," Tris says, clearing his throat. "Just thought of something funny."

"So what's your story?" Kirkland asks, pushing to his feet now that he's finished attaching everything to himself. Greer stands next to him. They're supposed to utilize different groups, and different shuttles going down. Tris will be with Liam, Kirkland, and Greer. Erin and Alec will be on the other shuttle.

Small blessings, he supposes.

He realizes everyone is looking at him now. He smiles and shrugs. "No story, really. Just kind of here like everyone else. Nothing special."

"That's not true," Liam says, standing next to him. "He's friendly with the Ryders. Called a personal meeting."

Friendly with the Ryders. It almost makes him laugh. "I've known them for a long time," he says, and it's not a lie. Not even close to a lie, really. "I wouldn't say we're exactly 'friends', though."

"Enough chitchat," Erin says, stepping toward them. Tris glances at her briefly, unaware she and Cora Harper were approaching until then. Cora hasn't changed much since he last saw her 600 years ago; still as beautiful and deadly as ever, with her short blonde hair and piercing eyes, and blue armor. Erin's dressed in her usual black armor, sleek and shiny. Only the best for Daddy's Little Girl. Her light blue eyes scan over him briefly. "I take it the armor fits, Tris."

At least she's using his preferred name. All his life she's called him Tristen, mainly because it doubles as a girl's name. She likes to irk him in any way she can.

He smiles, not rising to the bait. "It'll do for now."

"When do we leave?" Liam asks.

Erin barely spares him a glance as she turns away from them all, moving toward the shuttle bay doors. "Dad's waiting."

They all follow after her, with Tris reluctantly bringing up the rear.

What is their plan? He can't help but wonder. What do they get out of this?

He's a scrapper, a vanguard. All his life his sister and father have used that to their advantage, flung him straight into the fray. He's good in the fray, but he has other skills too. He's good with a sniper; he's good at infiltration. He can hack. He doesn't have to be in the fray. He likes to use his mind; he likes a challenge. Being straight in the fray is all physical maneuvers and agility, which is fine, and filled to the brim with adrenaline... but the quieter moments are good, too. Not that they ever listen when he says that.

Never wanted to be a vanguard. Wanted to stay back and hack and build stuff. Was never good enough like that, though.

Alec Ryder is waiting for them, next to the first shuttle. The shuttles are identical save for the unique identifying numbers etched across the side. He nods at them, once, and climbs into his shuttle, with Erin and Cora quickly following after them.

Still not a man of many words, unless it gets him something he wants, I see.

Tris leads the way into the second shuttle, if only because the others are staring at the Ryders' retreating forms. It's amazing, really, how much people can look up to someone else... how much sway someone can have in so many people's lives. And the fact it's his family, despite their discharge from the Alliance for inventing the SAM units. Here, though... they're legends. They invented the SAM units. Alec Ryder invented the SAMs and he's the human Pathfinder. Without him, the Pathfinders wouldn't be nearly as effective. Maybe this wouldn't have even happened, without SAM. And now everyone looks up to the Ryders.

Glad I'm not one of them.

He never did well as the center of attention. With so many people looking up to him like they are to his sister and father… well, he doesn't envy the pressure they must be under.

Who am I kidding? They love the pressure. They love the attention.

Better them than himself, he supposes.

They sit in the shuttle, and barely have time to sit down before it takes off. Dear old Dad is still as impatient as ever, it seems.

Habitat 7 doesn't look promising, according to the scans. It's a not-so-golden world. They were promised a new home, but instead there's a mess of dark energy in space, encircling Habitat 7 and winding around the ship. It's a miracle they didn't ram into it, but somehow they managed to stop in time. If they'd hit it, it would have been around the time he was being woken, and he shudders to think what that would have done to his awakening process. Perhaps he'd be in a coma.

Tris hates shuttles. He doesn't mind being on ships in space, but shuttles are a little too bumpy for his liking, especially when he already has a headache. He grits his teeth the whole way down through the atmosphere, and tries not to look out the windows.

"Uh... the mountains are floating," Liam announces.

Which... yeah, okay, that's a new one. He looks up. Liam is standing in front of the window, glancing out of it. He sighs and pushes to his feet, throwing his hands out for balance as they hit a nasty gust of wind which threatens to drag him downward. He looks out over Liam's shoulder, and yes, the mountains are indeed floating. He stares at them for a moment, wondering how such a thing is possible, if there's gravity on this planet. There is, of course; otherwise he wouldn't have had that downward pull a moment ago, but the mountains are floating.

He's a little more concerned about the lightning striking absolutely everywhere, though. The sky is dark and gray, and the lightning brightens it every few seconds with strings of electricity shooting through the sky in winding patterns. One gets a little too close to the ship and he takes a step back, away from the window, like that will protect him.

This is why I hate shuttles.

"I don't think this is viable," Liam says, sounding downtrodden.

It's not a golden world, but they knew that from the initial scans. Why are they even going down here? This was a terrible idea, curtesy of Alec Ryder.

"Is there any way we can fix this?" Greer asks, sounding worried.

Habitat 7 is supposed to be the home for humans. If it's this ruined... this out of balance... and there's a dark mass of energy in space surrounding the planet... then is there a way to fix it? Looking at it, Tris doubts it.

But now they're all looking at him. Probably because he's 'friendly' with the Ryders and that must mean he has inside information.

I'm just as clueless as all of you.

He smiles. "Don't worry," he says easily. "We'll fix it. Might take a while, but hey, what good is having a home if you don't have to work for it a little?"

They relax a little, and he looks back out the window.

The lightning is picking up.

We should probably land before we get knocked out of the sky by this storm.

He takes a few steps toward the pilot's area, to knock on the door and tell them to land, Alec Ryder's orders be damned, when lightning hits the shuttle. The whole thing shifts midair, jerking everyone to the side, as the wall with the windows rips open. Liam flies out of the ship with a sharp yell, but somehow manages to cling to the torn side by his fingernails, his whole body dangling out of the ship.

"Help-!" Liam cries, struggling to get back into the ship.

No one else is moving.

Fuck me.

Tris lunges forward just as Liam's grip fails. His fingers find purchase on Liam's wrist and he throws himself backward hard, attempting to yank Liam back into the ship. Instead, another burst of lightning hits the ship, and the resulting shudder leaves them both flying out into open air.

Then they're falling, falling, fall-

"Your jump jets are failing," SAM informs him, and if he wasn't already having a heart attack from his sudden freefall, he would at the sudden voice in his head. "However, with my help, you could use your biotics to jump instead, and slow your fall. It might be enough."

SAM isn't throwing out probabilities, which is probably for the best right now.

"Do it!" he shouts, wind smacking his face. "DO IT DO IT DO IT-!"

And then he's jumping. His hands and feet glow blue and he's almost levitating, the sound of his racing hard hammering in his ears. Liam is... somewhere. He let go when they were both forced out of the ship, unable to stop himself as they were flung further apart. He's lost him in the resulting chaos.

But he's not falling as quickly now.

Steady... Steady...

He hits the ground hard, leaving him crumpling to the ground, and his momentum flings him into a sideways roll, over and over, until he slams into the rocky edge of a wall. The breath knocked from his lungs at the sudden stop, he groans and flops onto his back, staring up at the dark gray sky, illuminated in flashes of lightning that-

"Shit, shit, shit!"

He quickly pushes himself back to his feet, aching body be damned, and throws himself inside an open cave area, where there's a roof but no resulting darkness or enclosed area like a cave usually has. The lightning hits the ground where he previously lay, and he stares at it the scorched mark for a long moment, before he releases a shaky breath.

"Fuck me," he mutters, shoulders slouching. Then, once he's managed to catch his breath, he turns and looks around. "Liam? Liam!"

"Over here," comes Liam's voice, sounding surprisingly alive. The dark-skinned man rounds a corner, coming into view, looking a little sheepish as he rubs at the back of his neck, gaze cast downward. "Um... thanks."

"What?"

"For trying to save me," Liam clarifies. "Thanks."

"I didn't really help you," Tris points out.

"There's not that many people who would fall out of a shuttle with me."

"Well," Tris drawls, smirking, "when you put it like that..."

"Are you okay?" Liam looks at him again.

"I'm... sore, but I'll live," Tris says. "My jump jets failed. SAM helped me use my biotics."

"He mentioned that."

"Oh?"

Liam taps his head. "He told me where you landed."

"What a saint," Tris says, shaking his head. "Any idea what happened to the shuttle?"

About that time, there's the sound of an explosion, and smoke rising from the distance.

"Never mind," Tris says. "I think we found it."

"Oh, man," Liam says, staring at the smoke. "Think anyone survived?"

"Only one way to find out."

Chapter Text

CHAPTER THREE: I Was Lightning before the Thunder

Habitat 7 is a hellhole, Tris is certain. He's died and been sentenced here as his punishment.

It's hot inside the armor, even as the wind threatens to throw them off the cliffside. The air is hot, ripe for storms. They have to hurry through unprotected areas that don't have a roof above it, no matter how long that area might be. Racing lightning is not something he ever thought he'd have to do in his lifetime.

Back on Earth, this wouldn't have been an issue, he can't help but think, sourly. This is why he didn't want to come to Andromeda.

Could have stayed on the nice, warm ship, Dad. He runs for cover, listening to lightning strike at his heels. Could have listened to Captain Dunn and the scanners. He makes it into cover at the same time as Liam, their gaits in unison. But no, always have to get your way, don't you? And have to drag everyone else along with you. He takes a brief second to catch his breath, before they continue forward. When they emerge on the other side of the roofed area, there is a cliffside they have to climb quickly, if they want to keep going.

For a brief moment they share a look.

"I'll go first," Tris says, readying his biotics to help him jump again. That maneuver has come in handy so far, attempting to dodge lightning but using his biotics to fling himself to the side, forward, or backward quickly.

He inhales steadily, then darts forward quickly to fling himself through the open air, using his biotics to push himself with more momentum so he can make it the distance to the rockface. He lands on the edge, but assumes Liam will have better luck since he actually has his jump jets. He doesn't have time to look back, however, as he still very much exposed, and climbing higher and higher through jumps and landing on rocky edges. He nearly loses his balance on one of them, but manages to throw himself forward at the last minute, and brace himself on his arms to keep from falling flat on his face. Not his most graceful maneuver, but at least he's still alive and didn't fall into the seemingly endless abyss below. He pushes back to his feet and chances a quick glance behind him; Liam is a few rocks behind, but keeping pace and hasn't been struck by lightning yet. Small blessings.

He exhales through his nose, and then inhales deeply before charging his biotics for one last, big jump onto the solid landing above them, the end of this rocky hellhole. Almost there. Almost there!

He jumps.

For a moment he's flying. Then he's falling, far too soon.

No. No!

He uses his biotics to fling himself forward midair, and his feet hit the edge of solid ground. His heels hover momentarily in empty space, before he starts to fall backward. He wheels his arms, throwing himself forward, but without his heels to help brace him it's more difficult than it was before. One last shot of biotics sends him flying upward a few feet, where he then flings himself forward once more, solidly onto safe ground. He lands shakily, feeling his muscles throb and ache in protest of using so much energy, and his stomach growls loudly, reminding him he's low on protein if he's going to keep using his biotics like this. He was already tired before, but now… His head is throbbing and if he focuses for too long, his vision starts to blur. He blinks it away and looks behind him, to watch Liam land safely.

The lightning seems to have died down, now that they aren't between a wall and open air on the edge of the world. There's walls on either side of them, tall and rocky, winding all the way up. Lightning strikes up there, but not down in this crevice they're walking through.

"You okay?" Liam asks.

"I'm great," Tris says. "Let's keep moving."

xXx

It's not long before they come across the wreckage of a shuttle. The smoke gets thicker in the air the closer they get, and there's small pieces of the shuttle's shell broken all around them. They continue forward, and find the bulk of the debris, a lot of it surprisingly still intact. That means the chance for survivors is higher, at least, and at least they can get some supplies, if the supplies made it.

Just outside the bulk of the shuttle, there's a body on the ground. The pilot, Tris thinks. Flung from the wreckage, his body beaten and broken and twisted. He quickly sidesteps it and keeps forward, steadfastly not looking at it for more than a second. Liam inhales sharply behind him, evidence he's seen the body as well.

A shadow moves among the wreckage. Instinctively, Tris hunkers down behind a large rock, causing Liam to do the same. Well, at least the guy can follow orders, however indirect they might be.

How do you know it's not friendly? A voice in his head whispers, sounding oddly like his sister. It's probably Kirkland or Greer and here you are hiding like a coward. You're so paranoid about everything.

He shoves the voice away and peers around the rock at the shadow.

Shadows, now, because there's two of them. They're not very close together, but they're there all the same, and they are definitely not human. Not Kirkland or Greer.

There's a native species on this planet? Shit. What's the protocol for this, again?

"First Contact?" Liam whispers, obviously having seen them as well.

"Fuck me. I guess," Tris hisses back. What did I do to deserve this? I should not be among the first humans any species has to have First Contact with.

The aliens are in full armor, and holding strange, green assault rifles. They don't exactly look friendly, but then, Tris surmises, no one would be too friendly if a strange shuttle crash landed near their home; they'd instantly be on-guard and on the lookout for the intruders.

We're 600 years away. We're the aliens here. They don't know what humans are.

He's really not equipped for this. Why him? Why give him First Contact?

"We should probably go out without our guns in our hands."

Tris snorts. "And just give them the advantage?"

"We're the strangers here," Liam points out.

"Yeah. Yeah, I know." Tris huffs, shaking his head. "Alright, fine. But the minute they so much as look at us funny..." I'm charging them in the face.

They step out from around the rock, and head toward the two shadows, spreading further apart as they do so. The shadows spin toward them, guns trained on them immediately. They speak in a language which grates on Tris's ears, and one he has no hope of understanding. His translators won't pick it up.

"Hello," Liam says, and both gazes flicker toward him briefly, though the guns remained trained on both of them. They take a few more careful steps forward, but those guns aren't lowering, despite the smooth, amiable tone in Liam's voice. "We're all friends here; we mean you no harm."

Tris sees the shot before he hears it.

In the next second he's simply reacting. He uses a biotic charge, but not toward the enemy. Instead, it's toward Liam, and he manages to reach the crisis response expert before the bullet does. They crash to the ground from the sudden momentum, and the bullet whizzes over their heads. Tris scrambles back to his feet, pulling his own assault rifle free, firing rapid shots at the two alien figures, giving Liam enough time to scramble for cover. By the time the clip is empty and the aliens have a chance to return fire, from behind their own rocky cover, Tris feels ready to use another charge, the throbbing in his head dying down just enough he can focus again. This concussion really sucks.

He charges at the furthest alien, ramming into it with the force of his body, the edge of his shoulder knocking painfully into the thing's solid chest armor. They don't hit the ground; instead he hits the alien like he hit a solid wall, and it's painful and jarring and knocks the breath from his lungs. A moment later he's dodging as the alien takes a swing at him, mistakenly putting just enough distance between them for the alien to use its weapon without it backfiring and hurting itself, too. For a brief second, Tris stares down the barrel.

Then a shot rings out, but it's not the alien's. The alien staggers back a step, a hole in it's greenish armor. Tris feels a presence behind him and spins around to find the second alien aiming at him from a few yards away. He charges at the alien, slamming into it as well. It's, thankfully, a little more squishy than its comrade and he manages to knock it back a few feet, though it remains standing. Tris brings his assault rifle up, his shoulder throbbing from ramming into the aliens. He fires a rapid series of shots right into the alien's head, dropping it quickly. When he turns to face the remaining alien, it's just in time to see it drop to the ground as well. Liam stands from his cover, gun smoking.

"They attacked us," Liam says, frowning.

"They gave us no choice," Tris confirms with a nod. They had to kill the aliens. It was self-defense. He approaches the body he downed. It doesn't look like anything he's ever seen before, that's for sure. He shakes his head.

"You think the others are okay? I don't see them here," Liam says.

"I'm sure they're fine. Maybe they went looking for help," Tris tells him. Or maybe they fell out like we did.

"Yeah, maybe. We should keep going, yeah? Look for the others? The other shuttle?"

"Yeah, that sounds like the best bet."

It occurs to him only then that the other shuttle might have crashed, too. His family might be dead.

He feels... disappointed, but not really sad. More angry.

This is what happens when you don't stop to think of the consequences, Dad. This is why you should maybe, just MAYBE, listen to the captain of the Ark Hyperion. Captain Dunn said coming down here was a bad idea. Their sensors were going haywire with the strange energy field in space, but what they got confirmed that this planet was not, in fact, a golden world like they were told it was. Habitat 7 is not home. But no, Alec Ryder just had to come down here and see for himself, and drag everyone else down with him. And now he and his sister might be dead, and it's hard to mourn a family you said goodbye to years ago.

"Lead the way, Recon Expert," Liam says.

"Riiiight," Tris says, rolling his eyes.

"Hey, you handled yourself well back there. Good use of biotics, and you handled a gun pretty well."

"Uh... thanks," Tris says, moving away from the bodies. He's never been very good at compliments, or being thanked, or being the center of attention. It's just so strange to him.

"Where'd you train?"

"Here and there," Tris tells him. Admitting to his past is like signing his given name on paper. Tristen Ryder ceased to exist a while ago, if only on paper. Telling Liam he was in the Alliance could possibly allow the man to track down his history, and he's just not okay with that. He can feel Liam's gaze on him, even without turning around. He sighs. "Look, I really don't want to talk about it. It was 600 years ago, it doesn't matter now, does it?"

"I guess not."

"Anyway, you handled yourself pretty well, too," he says, turning back to face the man. "Saved my ass, too."

"I guess we're even," Liam says, grin evident in his voice.

Tris laughs. "Sure, sure, we're even. Where'd you train?"

"I was in crisis response," is Liam's response.

Tris knows that, but not because Liam has told him. He looked Liam up before they got ready to leave, once he realized he was probably going to be working with him a lot.

"That must have been interesting," he says.

"It was."

"We should probably keep going. Maybe the others are nearby."

"Lead the way."

xXx

"No, please-!"

The voice is desperate, and nearby.

They share a quick look.

"Isn't that...?" Liam starts.

"Kirkland," Tris confirms.

They round the rockface and find a group of those strange aliens surrounding Kirkland, who is on his knees with his hands raised in peace. One alien walks around him, pistol in hand.

Tris's heart hammers in his chest. They're going to shoot him.

They fired at Tris and Liam without provocation. Despite Kirkland being on his knees, they are going to shoot him, too. He just knows it.

He charges before the alien can raise its gun. Distantly, he thinks he hears Liam shout his name, before he slams into the alien closest to Kirkland. The pistol goes flying from its grasp, but it's a solid force against his moving force, and he comes to an abrupt, breathless halt, staggering back a step. Kirkland spins enough to look up at him with wide eyes, and then the other aliens are firing at them. Tris has no time to think, he simply reacts.

He charges in front of Kirkland, raises his arms, and flings up a barrier. It's messy and not at all large, but it's big enough to cover himself, and he covers Kirkland behind him. The barrier won't hold, though; already chips are being made. Barriers were never his strong suit, hastily learned before he decided to quit his family altogether, and now he's regretting not continuing his training outside of the Alliance and his family.

Liam is already giving return fire, though, which leaves the other aliens flinging themselves behind cover. For a brief moment, there are no bullets barraging his barrier. There is, however, an alien behind him.

The alien has recovered its pistol, and Tris cranes his neck around to focus on the alien, keeping his hands positioned in front of him to hold the barrier. He can't do anything; if he moves, the barrier will fall and they'll be open targets for the group of aliens. If he doesn't do anything, this alien will shoot him in the back. All he can do is watch as the alien lifts the gun. Hopefully Kirkland will be able to run while-

Kirkland has managed to free his pistol from its holster, and fires at the alien now that the attention is off him. The bullet catches the alien in the leg, downing it. It keeps a hold on its gun but Kirkland fires again, shooting it in the head this time, now that he has a better angle since he's still on his knees behind Tris. Tris exhales slowly, and returns his focus in front of him. They need to move; he can't keep this barrier up forever. Liam is doing a good job of holding them off, but he'll run out of ammo eventually.

"Kirkland," he says through gritted teeth, "I need you to run behind cover. I can't keep this up for long."

"What about you?" Kirkland asks.

"I'll be fine," Tris assures him. "Now go!"

Kirkland pushes to his feet. Tris keeps his gaze focused in front of him, but listens as Kirkland's footfalls get further away. He counts to ten in his head, and then drops the barrier. The effort leaves him staggering somewhat, his head throbbing painfully behind his eyes, causing little splotches of darkness to creep into his vision. He blinks it away and charges at the first alien to step out of cover and attempt to come at him.

It's just as solid as the last one, and this one manages to backhand Tris with a powerful swing, forcing Tris a few steps away from it. It raises its gun, and Tris curls his fingers into a fist, jumps up, and lands in a crouch, slamming his fist down hard into the ground to create a biotic nova. The force of it throws the alien back and leaves Tris feeling more than a little drained; he feels open and vulnerable. Novas are great, but they take a lot of energy and leave him feeling exceptionally exposed and exhausted for a good ten seconds, which is sometimes all it takes for an enemy to get in a good shot.

He spins quickly, finding another alien coming at him. He charges to meet it, and jumps back before the alien can swing at him. In the second it takes for the alien to raise its gun, his own assault rifle is already raised, and he fires without aiming. The alien drops to the ground, dead, and he turns and charges at another.

Between himself and Liam's covering fire, the enemy aliens are dispatched quickly enough.

At the end of it, Tris is surrounded by bodies and he's quivering like a newborn kitten attempting to stand for the first time. He's exhausted and hot and cold all at the same time, and if his head throbs any more he's going to shoot himself just to end the pain. He closes his eyes and tries to focus on breathing; the world spins around him, and he staggers briefly before he manages to catch himself.

You're okay, Tris, he tells himself. You're okay. Just breathe.

He inhales deeply through his nose, and exhales slowly through his mouth. After about five of these, he feels a little more steady. At least enough to finally open his eyes. The light threatens to blind him, the lightning storm far above against a gray sky, but he manages to keep his eyes open and seek out Liam and Kirkland. They are both hurrying toward him. He waves, aware his tired smile can't be seen because of his helmet.

"Are you insane?" Liam all but shouts, the minute he's close enough. Tris blinks at him, hand lowering. "Charging in there like that! They could have killed you both!"

"He saved my life," Kirkland says. "They were going to kill me!"

Their shouting is really not helping his head. He holds up a hand, this time for silence. Thankfully, they stop. "I gotta be honest, my head is killing me, and I really don't want to hear anything other than, 'oh, hey, I know where the others are, Tris; we should totally head that way right now.' In which case, thanks! Lead the way. And if you don't know where they are, then shut the hell up."

They both stare at him for a moment. He imagines their mouths gaping open, but at the moment he's too tired and pained to laugh at the mental image. "Yeah, that alien did backhand you pretty hard," Liam says. "I saw it from far away, but you did stagger back a little."

Tris stares at him. "I have a concussion," he says, unaware they didn't know until right this very moment.

"You what?"

"I got it before I entered cryo," he says. "Apparently concussions don't care if they've been around for 600 years."

"And you jumped out of a shuttle after me?" Liam asks, sounding in awe.

Oh, great. Just what I need. "I didn't jump after you," Tris says.

More like I fell. I fell after you. Not all that heroic, really.

"I can't imagine all that charging around feels good on your head," Kirkland says.

"It doesn't," Tris grunts. "But anyway ... the others? Do you know where they are?"

"Not too long ago, we saw a flare go up over that way," Kirkland says, gesturing. "We think it was the others letting us know where they are. I told Greer to run when the aliens showed up; I assume he went that way, looking for help."

"Brave of you," Tris says. "Alright, that way it is. Lead the way."

"I'm pretty sure they have a doctor with them," Kirkland tells him.

"Great, we'll have a powwow," Tris says, rolling his eyes. He really doesn't need anyone worrying about him; he's fine, if the world would just stop spinning so much. Just lay off the biotics for a while, take it easy, and breathe. You'll be fine. "Lead on."

Kirkland does just that, and they continue moving.

They don't get very far before there's a low growling.

"Um, what was that?" Tris asks. "Someone hungry?"

"Someone is, but it's not us," Liam replies.

"Yeah, I was afraid you'd say that."

The growling gets louder, but all he can see is the greenery of the ground and bushes, and the gray of the rocks and sky around them. There's a strange, alien-like structure jutting from the ground, but it's not technology like he's ever seen before. Then again, they are 600 years away from the Milky Way; that's to be expected.

The growling has turned into snarling now. Hungry, angry snarls.

And still he sees nothing.

Kirkland cries out suddenly. Tris spins to face him and finds the man on the ground, getting dragged. Blood spurts from his leg but there doesn't seem to be a source; just empty air around him. Is it cloaked?! Because that's just what they freaking need.

He doesn't know where to fire, but he brings his gun up anyway. If something does have him, it's safe to say its teeth are what are hurting Kirkland's leg, and trying to drag him off somewhere. Liam grabs Kirkland's arms from where they're clawing at the ground, attempting to gain purchase; he tries to get him to stop moving, but whatever it is jerks them both forward. It's strong.

He takes a chance, and shoots just above Kirkland's leg.

Blood spurts into the air as Kirkland's leg is dropped. The air shimmers and a creature comes into view, unlike anything he's ever seen. It's a strange looking creature, on four legs, with an oddly shaped head, and it can clearly cloak itself. There's now a hole in its face from where Tris shot it, but somehow it isn't quite dead yet. It locks angry red eyes on Tris and lunges at him. He fires quickly, grateful to have an assault rifle instead of a shotgun, just this once. By the time the creature gets to him, it hits the ground next to him, dead from the spray of bullets.

Tris exhales sharply, and looks toward Kirkland and Liam. Liam nods at him, and looks back down at Kirkland. His leg is a mess; Tris can see that from here, before he moves closer to them. It's spurting blood and the bite mark looks jagged and nasty. He needs a doctor.

Liam bandages it best he can, but there's really not much he can do; they fell out of the shuttle without their packs, and what they had was lost when the shuttle crashed. What he has now he probably kept somewhere on his person, in case of an emergency. Crisis response, after all. He is trained to expect the worst.

The patchwork job slows the bleeding, but Kirkland is in bad shape. He's pale and sweaty from the pain, but at least he's alert and breathing semi-normally. It's a little fast, but that's to be expected with the pain he has to be in.

"We need to get him to the others," Liam says. "But he can't walk on his own."

"Well, we're not leaving him here," Tris says.

"Go," Kirkland tells him. "I'll only slow you down. I'll have my weapon; I'll be fine. Just send someone back for me."

"We're not leaving him here," Tris repeats, not even looking at Kirkland.

Liam sighs. "Alright. I'll help him walk."

"Nah," Tris says, shaking his head. "My head is killing me, and he can't walk. You should take point. I'll help him."

The crease visible in Liam's brow tells Tris Liam does not like that idea. He doesn't seem the type to like to take charge; he's good at following orders. But jokes on him, because Tris doesn't like being in charge either. And he's exhausted. He's probably not the best option to take point at the moment.

Finally, Liam nods. "Alright." He looks back at Kirkland. "Just guide me as we go. You know where we're going; we don't."

"Alright," Kirkland agrees with a quick nod.

Tris wraps one of Kirkland's arms around his neck and guides him to his feet, his arm wrapped around Kirkland's waist to keep the man leaning against him and keep the weight off his injured leg. He looks over his shoulder at the downed animal. "Hopefully we don't run into more of those any time soon." He looks skyward. "But this planet is trying to kill us, so..."

"Let it try," Liam says. "We can take it."

"Well, with that attitude, how could we fail?"

"We can't."

Tris smirks. "Exactly."

Chapter Text

CHAPTER FOUR: I Sent Out an SOS

Fuck this planet. It's a fucking disaster.

Nothing has gone right since they landed. It's a hellhole. Tris just wants to get off this planet as quickly as possible. That's assuming, of course, that the rest of the team is still alive with the other shuttle, and the shuttle is still intact so they can get out of here. Hopefully Alec Ryder has learned his lesson and is ready to leave, too.

Nah, unlikely. He would have left already, rest of the team be damned. There's no way he could have known we survived.

When they first landed and started walking, they tried to contact SAM or anyone else, but sadly it seems their radios were damaged in the fall. No long range communication, and SAM was no longer answering them. They weren't sure if the storm was causing too much interference of if SAM had to stop helping them to focus on the Pathfinder. Perhaps SAM could have told Alec his son was still alive, but whether or not that mattered to him was still a mystery.

The radios aren't working for them, so it's more than a little strange when they start picking up random bursts of static. Like someone purposefully doing it; a message. For help?

"You hear that?" Liam asks from up ahead, where he's still leading the way while Tris helps Kirkland walk an unsteady, limping gait.

"Yeah," Tris says. "Think someone's calling for help?"

"Maybe it's Greer. Maybe he got caught by them too," Kirkland grunts, leaning heavily on Tris.

"I guess... we should look into it," Liam says, though he sounds uncertain.

Tris sighs. He's really going to make me decide, isn't he? "Yeah, we should," he says.

"Where do you think it's coming from?" Kirkland asks.

Tris looks around, but they're on a narrow path between death and a rock wall. The drop will kill them; no one is asking them for help down there. So... from the wall? He squints, looking around carefully, and notices a small opening, lit by the glowing blue mushroom-like plants along the ground. "There," he says, pointing with his free hand.

"A cave?" Liam asks, frown evident in his voice.

"We should check it out."

Liam turns to look back at them. His eyes speak the question he doesn't ask.

"Don't worry about me," Kirkland says. "Just prop me against the wall out here and I'll be fine. You two go investigate."

"I don't like that idea," Tris sighs, "but I guess it's all we have." He likes the idea of leaving Liam to go inside alone even less, if it really is a distress call. Out here looks safe enough, he supposes.

"You up for a fight?" Liam asks, quirking a brow at him.

"I'm always up for a fight," Tris says, smirking, despite the fact he knows Liam can't see his mouth with the way the helmet is designed. "Let's do this."

He places Kirkland gently against the wall, and allows him to slide down so he's sitting with his wounded leg outstretched. Kirkland keeps the pain from them well enough, not making a sound, but Tris can still see the rigid set to his shoulders.

"We'll be back as soon as we can," he promises.

"Go," Kirkland tells them.

He nods at Liam, and the two of them enter the cave's small opening. It wraps around a little, through a few nooks, and then opens to a wider area. There they can see more of those strange aliens walking around a person - Greer.

"You don't have to do this," Greer is saying, hands raised in peace. They've clearly taken his weapon and have him on his knees, much like they did with Kirkland.

Tris's jaw sets. Why do these aliens want to take them out, execution style? He's willing to bet Kirkland and Greer weren't antagonistic at all; the aliens just attacked them, like they did with Tris and Liam. He pulls his weapon free, and steps out from their small bit of cover with the rock wall.

"Hey, fuckers."

His sudden voice causes everyone's head to face his way. He starts shooting, and the second they start their return fire, he charges at the one closest to Greer. Thankfully, Greer's back is against the wall; as Tris shoves the alien away from Greer, he throws up a shaky barrier as he stands in front of the man on his knees, and he doesn't have to worry about what's behind him this time.

There aren't nearly as many as there were with Kirkland; there are only three of them here. Liam picks them off as they are busy attempting to break through Tris's barrier. As soon as the last one falls, Tris lets the barrier goes, and hunches forward, hands on his knees as the attempts to catch his breath and keep the world from spinning.

You're okay, he tells himself. You're okay. Deep breaths. It's almost over.

They'll find the others soon, and he can rest. He can get over his wounded pride and see a doctor about this concussion. The world can stop spinning.

"Thank you!" Greer says from behind him, breathless with relief. "I was tapping my mic just hoping someone would hear me! Thank you! They were going to kill me! I said I wasn't a threat and they were going to just-"

"Are you okay?" Liam asks.

"I'm fine," Greer says quickly. "Thank you!"

"Tris?"

"I'm good," Tris replies, swallowing thickly as he forces himself back upright. He turns to face the others. "Yourself?"

"I'm fine," Liam replies. "What did I say about charging in like that?"

Tris rolls his eyes. "Look, buddy - if you're gonna be around me, you're going to just have to get used to it. That's what they brought me here for." I'm cannon-fodder.

"They?"

He grits his teeth. "The Initiative."

"It was amazing," Greer says. "Thank you. I didn't think anyone was coming! Did you... Did you find the others?"

"Kirkland is waiting outside," Tris says, gesturing. "His leg's hurt. We haven't gotten to the others yet."

"Kirkland's alive?" Greer's eyes widen. "That's great! When he sent me away, I thought for sure he was dead."

"He's alive, thanks to this idiot here," Liam says, jutting his thumb at Tris.

Tris shrugs. "Charging is what I do, I don't know what you want me to say."

"Preferably that you won't do that again, but I'll take a heads-up next time."

"Fine," Tris says.

"We should probably go," Liam says.

Tris shrugs again. "Fair enough. Kirkland's probably getting antsy, with the gunfire."

They leave the cave, and find Kirkland outside, halfway through the entrance, bad leg be damned. He's limping badly, and there's a heavy sheen of sweat on his pale face, but he's moving. He's determined, I'll give him that.

His wide eyes latch onto them. "You're okay," he says, relieved. "When I heard gunshots, I thought-"

"We're good," Tris says, nodding at him.

"Thanks to this idiot," Liam says.

"I'm not an idiot."

"I'll believe that when you don't charge into a mess of people with guns."

"That's what I have you for, isn't it?" Tris says sweetly. He looks back at Kirkland. "You really shouldn't be walking, you know. That's kind of why I was helping you, if you'll remember. Unless you're a masochist - then, I guess it's fine."

Kirkland stares at him for a moment.

Liam laughs.

"We should keep going," Tris says, jutting his thumb in the direction they were heading in the first place.

"I hear that," Liam replies with a nod. "How's your head, by the way?"

Here we go. "It's fine."

"Everything's fine with you, isn't it?"

"You're learning," Tris says, smirking.

Liam snorts. "Greer, you help Kirkland walk."

"Yes, sir!" Greer says, doing as he's told, taking up position much like Tris was earlier.

Well, Tris thinks, at least I don't have to carry him anymore.

Except that means he probably has to take point. Which, fuck.

"Lead the way," he says to Liam.

Liam, to his credit, hesitates only slightly this time, before he starts leading the way again.

Tris takes up position behind everyone else, keeping the wounded party in the middle.

xXx

They've only walked about fifteen minutes before they hear murmurs - alien murmurs. The kind that grates on Tris's ears. They quickly move behind cover, up against the wall, attempting to keep from sight.

"Think that's more of them?" Liam asks quietly.

"Yeah," Tris huffs. "Figures. This planet is trying to kill us."

"We won't let it win."

"Good. I hate losing."

"Think we can get around them?" Liam asks.

Tris shrugs, looking back at Kirkland. "You said it was this way, right?"

"Yeah," both Kirkland and Greer say, nodding.

"I didn't see any other way through here," Tris says, looking back at Liam, "did you?"

"No," Liam sighs, shaking his head. "Alright. I guess we go through them."

"We should see how many there are, and plan accordingly."

"What, you're not going to just rush in there again?" Liam drawls.

"Nah... where's the fun in that when you're expecting it?" Tris asks, smirking.

"You're funny," Liam deadpans.

"I try."

"So who is checking it out?" Greer asks.

"I'm probably quieter," Liam says.

Tris smirks to himself. Look at you, taking charge. "Alright. I nominate you. Be careful."

"Yeah, yeah."

Liam edges away a few yards, enough to look around a corner and spot the enemies. He watches for a moment, before ducking back into cover and coming back to them.

"Well? Anything interesting?" Tris asks.

"They have those... animals," Liam says, somewhat uneasily.

Tris grimaces. "At least they're visible."

"Invisible animals?" Greer asks, confused.

He gestures at Kirkland's leg. "Observe."

"Oh," Greer says quietly.

"Oh," Tris echoes, nodding. "How many, Liam?"

"At least three of those, that I saw," Liam tells them. "And at least half a dozen of those aliens."

"Great," Tris mutters. Fucking whores. This planet hates me. "Game plan?"

"Uh," Liam says. He looks at Greer. "How's your aim?"

"So-so," Greer says somewhat sheepishly. "Kirkland's better than me."

"We should leave Greer here with Kirkland," Tris says, sighing heavily. "We can't leave him unguarded with those things around."

"That leaves two of us to take out everything," Liam says. "I don't know about you, but I'm running out of ammo."

"I have plenty," Tris says, handing over his spare ammo.

"Are you sure? You only have a clip in there."

"More than enough," Tris assures him. "Besides... if you haven't noticed, I'm more the 'in your face' kind of guy."

"Oh, I noticed," Liam says, shaking his head. "Alright." He takes the offered ammo and changes the clip to his gun. "I have some frag grenades."

"Nice," Tris whistles. "Use those if we get a group together."

"The problem is you're always in the middle of the group." Liam's eyes narrow at him.

"I'll be fine."

Liam throws his hands in the air, exasperated. "Alright, fine. I'll let you know when I'm going to throw it. Try not to be an idiot."

"I'm beginning to think you question my intelligence."

"I'm beginning to think you really are an idiot."

"Get a room," Kirkland says.

Tris throws him a glare. "No backseat talking." He looks at Greer. "Take care of him."

Greer nods seriously. "I will."

Tris nods and moves to stand next to Liam. "You ready?"

"As I'll ever be."

They leave the others and move along the rock wall, until they peek out of cover. Tris gets a look at the battlefield; there are indeed those strange, cloaking creatures walking about, clearly getting along with the hostile aliens. Guess it's only humans they don't like.

"I'll charge in," Tris says quietly. "Distract them. You throw a grenade when they gather on me, and I'll throw up a barrier."

"You really like being bait, don't you?"

Tris shrugs. "It's what I'm here for."

"What does that mean?"

"Nothing. You ready?"

"Let's do it. But if you die in the crossfire, I'm going to write 'died as an idiot' on your grave."

"Harsh," Tris says. "Guess I'll have to stay alive, then."

He charges toward the alien furthest from them, across the way. The sound of his biotic impact leaves everyone turning to face him. The three strange creatures cloak, disappearing from view as they start running toward him. He punches the alien in the face, backs up a few steps, and throws up a barrier. A second later he sees the grenade fly through the air and land in the middle of everyone, though they're all too focused on him to see it. Bullets slam into his hasty barrier, pushing him back a few inches. He takes a step back, then another, and another. By the time the grenade detonates, he's almost clear of the blast zone.

The alien he slammed into gets flown forward, into him, where it bounces off his barrier. The alien hits the ground, unconscious or dead - Tris is leaning toward unconscious. He can't hear anything over the ringing in his ears from the grenade. Bodies get flung everywhere; two of the strange creatures become visible as they fly through the air as well, landing a few feet away, unmoving.

Two of the aliens get back to their feet. One starts shooting at him again while the other looks around for the second attacker. There's still one creature unaccounted for.

Tris grits his teeth, hoping Liam can take care of himself if that creature finds him. As it is, his barrier is failing rapidly, as is his vision. I'm so tired...

So tired...

Just wanna close my eyes...

No.

Not yet.

He forces heavy eyelids back open, unaware they'd closed until then. He blinks rapidly, attempting to push the sleep from his thoughts, the headache from his eyes. The barrier fails, flickering from his fingertips as his hands drop weakly to his sides. Everything aches.

A bullet glances off the side of his armor, narrowing missing lodging into his arm. He takes in a breath, focuses on the target, and charges toward them. Colliding with them threatens to send him into sweet oblivion, but he manages to push past the pain, nausea and dizziness to bring his gun up and shoot the alien in the face with his pistol. The alien falls into a dead heap at his feet, and he stands there for a moment, simply trying to breathe.

"Tris?"

The voice is familiar; concerned.

He lifts his head just enough to find Liam walking toward him. Everyone else must be taken care of. Good.

The adrenaline fades. His legs shake. I'm so tired...

"Whoa, take it easy," Liam says. There are hands on him suddenly, steadying him. He blinks heavy eyelids at the person suddenly right in front of him. Wow, Liam can move fast. "How are you?"

"Not great," he pushes past reluctant lips.

"Not 'fine', then?"

He grimaces. "I'm going to puke on your boots."

"You'd have to take your helmet off first."

"I'll do it to spite you."

Liam snorts. "Come on; let's get back to the others."

"Did you get the..." He struggles to think for a moment. "Did you get the third creature?"

"Third creature?" Liam asks.

"Yeah - the grenade only got two of-"

One second he's standing, and the next he's on his stomach, being smashed into the ground, with hot breath and teeth at his neck.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER FIVE: And Another One Bites the Dust

One minute he's being smashed into the ground; the next there's blessed darkness.

"Tris?"

And an annoying voice calling his name.

"Tris!"

At least it's not his sister or father, he supposes. Small blessings and all that.

He's stuck in a foggy haze of here and not-here, of awake and asleep, semi-aware of his surroundings and yet too foggy to care. There's a hand on his arm, squeezing. He barely feels it thanks to the numbness settling over his body. His head is... foggy, but heavy. Like it's a sore muscle being put to rest after a long day. Like his legs feel after he's ran a marathon. Just... heavy, and achy, and tired.

"Tris, if you don't wake up right now-"

Oh, now they're threatening me. Nice.

He struggles through the fog, and attempts to pry heavy eyelids open. The more awareness that floods through him, the more his body aches, and his head starts to throb, though thankfully it's not nearly as sharp as before. He swallows thickly, Adam's apple bobbing, as his eyes finally open to reveal-

Too much fucking light!

He snaps his eyes closed again, grimacing.

"Try again," the voice says.

I'm going to kill them. Slowly, painfully. Fucking whore.

He pries his eyes open once more. The light isn't quite as blinding since he's expecting it; the sky is still gray, lightning still striking somewhere above them. Oh, right. Not on Earth anymore. In fucking Andromeda. He grimaces again, sighing heavily as his gaze moves from the sky to the face hovering over him – Liam. "Wha' happened?"

"You were tackled," Liam says slowly, watching him. "Do you remember that?"

"Yes."

"Do you know where you are?"

"Fucking hell? AKA Habitat fucking 7?"

Liam relaxes. "Good, no memory loss. You hit your faceplate on the ground when that creature tackled you; it made a crack in your helmet. Air got in and you couldn't breathe. I managed to fix it, but you passed out."

Probably not entirely just because of the air, though. So your consciousness can rest easy. "So, guess the air is dangerous. Great."

"Well," Liam says, shrugging, "the planet is trying to kill us…"

"Right. How could I forget?"

He looks around briefly. His neck is stiff and sore. Kirkland and Greer were just a few yards away, Kirkland leaned against the wall and Greer rebandaging his leg. Tris lifted a heavy hand in a brief wave when Kirkland glanced his way.

"He's up," he said.

Greer glanced over and nodded at him. "Welcome back."

"Great to be back," Tris groans. "I'd like to thank the rocks, and the air, and-"

"How about me, for dragging your sorry ass out of the fire?" Liam quips.

"And the grouchy man who threw a grenade at me."

"You told me to!"

"You threw a grenade at him?" Greer asks, finishing up with Kirkland's leg.

"He told me to!" Liam says.

"Semantics," Tris says.

"I hate you."

Tris laughs, and juts his hands and arms under him, leveraging himself up into a sitting position. The world spins around him, threatening to knock him back over, but he closes his eyes until the feeling passes. Opening his eyes again, he finds the others watching him. "I'm fine," he says. "We should probably keep going."

"Lead the way, Mr. 'Fine'."

Tris rolls his eyes, but pushes to his feet. Only the first step is unsteady; he finds his balance quickly enough. He waits a few paces away for the others to get to their feet, and for Kirkland to be leaned against Greer, before he turns and starts walking. Liam takes up the rear.

They start their journey again.

xXx

It's not long before they hear sounds of fighting.

"That must be the others," Kirkland says. "Who else would be fighting those aliens?"

"We should hurry," Liam says.

Tris quickens his pace, mindful of their wounded party. Liam continues to bring up the rear, weapon at the ready. Tris focuses ahead of him as they go up a hill. At the crest of it they can see the fight just down the slope; the second shuttle is still intact, though it is smoking. Their people huddle inside for cover, firing at the aliens surrounding them. Tris and the group have arrived behind the aliens, who have their backs to them.

He briefly scans the human group for blonde hair and spots Cora among the fray, but there's no sign of his sister.

"Game plan?" he asks quietly, since they still haven't been noticed by either party.

"I could throw some grenades, separate them," Liam suggests, coming to stand next to him.

"I could stay back here with Kirkland and give cover fire," Greer says.

"You don't have to guard me," Kirkland says, exasperated. "I can lean against a rock and shoot and Greer can join you."

Liam looks at Tris. "Do you feel up for a fight?"

"Always up for a fight," Tris reminds him. I kind of have to be, don't I? "I feel better after my nap."

"I feel better after a nap, too, but then I usually don't suffocate first," Liam says.

Tris rolls a shoulder in a brief shrug. "A nap is a nap. I'm fine." I have to be fine. Showing weakness in front of his family is not ideal, not in the least. It's landed him in trouble more than once. Granted, he doesn't see his sister or father at the moment, but that doesn't mean they're not there. Oh, I can't wait to see the looks on their faces when I save their sorry asses. They probably wrote me off as a lost cause already.

They're all looking at him. Great.

He sighs. "Same plan as last time. I'll charge in, distract them, throw up a barrier; you throw a grenade, and then we get the fuck out of here. Agreed?"

"Sure," Greer says. "What about me?"

"You keep an eye on Kirkland."

"I don't need a babysitter!" Kirkland snaps, glaring at him. "Just leave me here with a gun and I can cover you!"

"And if those creatures are around, and we leave you alone?" Tris asks, quirking a brow at him.

Kirkland doesn't say a word.

"Exactly," Tris says. "Greer, stay with Kirkland. Give cover fire if you can, but he's your main priority."

"Yes, sir!"

"Don't call me sir," Tris says, scowling. Makes me think of Dad. "You make me sound like an old drill sergeant."

"Sorry. Tris."

"There you go." He looks back at Liam. "You ready?"

"I'm ready, but keep in mind if you die in the crossfire, I'm writing-"

"Terrible things on my tombstone, I get it," Tris says, snickering. "Guess I'll have to spite you and stay alive."

"How dare you."

"Yeah, I know; I'm the worst."

He turns back toward the fighting. The aliens seem to be getting the upper hand, pressing closer toward the shuttle. He grits his teeth, focuses on the alien in the back of the group, closest to him, and charges.

He's at the alien in less than a second, ramming into it. It's much squishier than before, and he manages to knock it back a few paces before he starts shooting it in the face with his assault rifle. Fuck, he misses his shotgun. His omni-blade would have been nice, too. As it is, he didn't grab their crappy omni-blade they tried to pawn off on him; it was only the basic version, and he can upgrade it later, but right now, a biotic punch will do just fine if he wants to punch anyone.

Half of the aliens are turning to face him, now. The rest are still focused on the shuttle and its occupants. A few bullets whiz past his face and he quickly flings his arms in front of himself, creating a barrier.

"Now!" he shouts, hoping his voice will carry enough for Liam to hear.

It seems to work, because he watches a grenade land in front of the group converging on him. One of them literally steps on the grenade, just prior to it exploding. Body parts go flying; the force of the grenade knocks against Tris's barrier, forcing him skidding backward a few feet as he grits his teeth and holds onto the barrier.

The remaining aliens turn to face them, only two staying focused on the shuttle, keeping them from coming out and helping Tris and Liam. As they start to move toward Tris, one of them raises its arm and throws a grenade of their own. Tris's eyes widen as he watches it launch through the air, only to land directly at his feet, behind his barrier.

Oh, fuck me.

He drops the barrier and quickly turns to run as far as he can, aware that there's no way he can get far enough away to get behind cover.

The grenade explodes behind him, sending him flying forward and through the air. His flight comes to a sudden end when he hits the rock wall near where the hillside, and slides down to the ground, on his hands and knees. Coughing, he tastes copper in his mouth, and takes a moment to focus his vision enough that the world stops spinning, and he can look around at the battlefield. The aliens are raising their guns at him.

Fuck me sideways.

He's not sure who is more surprised by the sudden onslaught of cover fire – himself or the aliens. One minute they're raising their guns to finish him off, and the next they're running for cover, bullets raining from the hillside. He swallows and pushes to his feet, using the wall for support, and glances over to find Liam coming down the hillside, Greer standing just out of view of the aliens, but Tris has a good view of him raining cover fire at the aliens. He might not be the most accurate shot, but all he has to do is get them running for cover, and he's managed to do that.

Liam reaches him. "Are you all right? I saw you go flying."

"You've never gone for a flight before? You're missing out."

"I take it you're fine, then?"

"I'm always fine," Tris says, smirking even though Liam can't see it.

Liam's eyes roll. "Of course you are."

"There's not many left," Tris tells him.

"We should get behind cover."

They hurry back up the hillside to hide behind cover as Greer stops shooting at the aliens, having to reload his weapon. Thankfully, the people in the shuttle have taken care of the two focused on them, and have now started firing at the aliens in plain view, since the aliens took cover from this side of the battlefield and not that side.

They're dispatched soon enough, and the fight is over.

Tris exhales slowly, coming out from behind their cover. The people in the shuttle spot them and wave them over. He looks back at Greer and Kirkland. "Let's get you some help, buddy."

"Thank you," Kirkland says sincerely. "For not leaving me behind."

Tris smiles. "Leave no man behind. No matter how stubborn they are."

"Yeah... I guess I was kind of a pain, huh?"

He waves a hand dismissively. "Don't worry about it. I'm an ass when I'm in pain, too."

"Oh, you mean it's not just in general?" Liam quips.

"Shut it, you."

"Or what?"

"You know that threat to puke on your boots? Consider it done when we get off this planet."

"I'm quaking in my boots."

"You should; they're about to be filled with puke."

He and Greer grab one of Kirkland's arms and help him walk toward the shuttle, with Liam leading the way.

"You found us," Cora says when they get close enough. "Ryder said you would, but I just... we saw the shuttle go down."

So, dear old Dad had faith in me? How sweet. "The pilot didn't make it," he says, helping Kirkland into the shuttle. "You have a doctor, right? I wasn't lied to about that?"

"I'm here," says Dr. Carlyle. It's been a while since Tris has seen him. Well, since he's seen him face to face. He's spied on his father's people off and on, so he knows who Dr. Carlyle is from that respect, but he also knew him personally once upon a time. Dr. Carlyle and Alec Ryder have known each other for a long time. He probably knows who Tris is.

But he doesn't say anything.

Maybe Alec Ryder spoke to him?

Small blessings.

"He got his leg chewed on," he says, helping Kirkland sit down.

"And that one has a concussion," Liam says, gesturing at him.

"I'm fine," Tris mutters.

Dr. Carlyle shakes his head. "I think I'll be the judge of that. Sit down."

"I'm fine."

"You got your ass thrown through the air," Liam reminds him. "You're not fine."

"Fine." He sits down, like a petulant child. He hates how pain makes him feel so small. "Where's-" my family? "-the Ryders?"

"They scouted ahead," Cora tells him. "We got ambushed. Thanks for the help, by the way."

He shrugs. "Happy to help. I'm just glad this shuttle didn't crash and we can get off this hellhole."

There's a silence that follows his statement.

A knot forms in his stomach. "Don't tell me we're staying."

"The Pathfinder found some kind of alien station," Cora says. "He says we can't leave until we stop the lightning storms. He thinks he can stop it there; that's why they scouted ahead. They'll let us know when they're ready for us to join them."

Of course he said that. Of course we have to wait. Of fucking course he thinks he can fix the fucking weather of all things. Tris sighs heavily. "Fine. Take care of his leg, at least."

"And his head," Liam says.

"We don't have time to worry about a concussion," Tris says. "Not until we get off this planet. Besides, there's not much he can do for me out here, is there?"

"Sadly, he's right," Carlyle says, inspecting Kirkland's leg. He unwraps the bandaging slowly; the wound looks worse than before, filled with red-pink puss. It's infected. "If we don't get back to proper supplies soon, I don't know if I can save this leg, son."

"What?" Kirkland asks, going pale. "What do you mean? I can't lose my leg!"

"You gotta save it, doc," Greer says.

"Infection has already set in, and I can't take care of it here," Dr. Carlyle tells them. "The best I can do is try to stop it from spreading further, but if we don't get you some help soon, it's not just your leg you might lose."

Tris pushes to his feet. "You said they scouted ahead? Which way."

"What are you doing?" Liam asks warily.

"I'm going to see what's taking them so long."

"Before the aliens attacked," a girl says, "I managed to fix the comms."

"That's great," Tris says, raising his arm to touch the panel along it until it glows orange. "SAM, are you there?"

"I am here," SAM says in his robotic voice. "The Pathfinder would like to speak with you. Patching him through now."

Alec Ryder's face flashes into view, in a strange orange glow above the panel. "Good, Tris, about time you caught up."

The man can never be grateful, can he? "You know me, always late," Tris says, shrugging.

"Sir, we were attacked," Cora says. "We have wounded."

"We need to get airborne," Tris tells his father. Or Kirkland's going to lose his leg, if not his life. And he can't let that happen. "I heard you're playing weatherman?"

"I have an idea," Alec says. "Meet me at these coordinates."

The coordinates pop up on his display. It's not too far from here. "Alright."

"Sir," Liam says, focusing on his own display, "Tris has a concussion. Perhaps he should sit this one out."

Tris throws Liam a glare. How dare you admit my weakness to my father. Of course, it's not like Liam knows it's his father, or that showing weakness is bad, or that his family is the one who gave him this concussion in the first place.

"Getting rusty there, Tris," comes Erin's voice. Her face comes into view next to her father's. "But then, I shouldn't expect anything less, should I?"

Tris grits his teeth. "I fell out of a shuttle," he snaps. "What's your excuse?"

"He didn't fall out," Liam says. "He tried to save me."

Well, at least he's defending me, even if he does look confused. For all Liam knows, the Ryders are picking on some random person. Granted, someone who knows them, but Cora and Carlyle know them too, and they're not getting ganged up on.

"Semantics," Erin says. "We're not far. Do you think you can manage it?"

"I got it," Tris says sharply.

"Don't worry; we won't do anything fun without you."

He grimaces. "Of course not. You need cannon fodder for that." He ends the call there, and stalks away from the others, shoulders rigid. Talking to his family always makes him so tense.

He's not surprised when Liam follows him.

"So... what was that all about?" Liam asks.

"I don't really want to talk about it right now, okay?" Tris says. "Let's just say we don't exactly see eye-to-eye. About anything."

"But I thought you were close to them?"

"I've known them a long time; doesn't mean we're close. In fact I'm pretty sure they hate me. So. Let's just go. Unless you want to stay here and guard the wounded."

"Shouldn't you stay here, too?" Liam asks, quirking a brow.

"They expect me there."

And I guess I still do as they say. Fuck me.

"What did you mean about cannon fodder?"

"Nothing, Liam."

"But-"

"Drop it." It comes out more harshly than he intended. He swallows. "Please."

"... Okay. But you're not bait, you know? You don't have to be, anyway."

Yeah, sure. Just tell my family that. "Thanks. I appreciate it. So, are you coming or staying?"

"I'll join you," Liam says. "Can't let you go charging in alone, after all."

Tris smirks.

At least one person has his back.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER SIX: Always Stuck and Running from the Bullets

The way to the meeting spot is filled with sudden drops along the narrow path they're walking on, and random lightning strikes above them, sometimes next to them on the ground. Tris tries to ignore it and the throbbing in his head, and the stiffness of his body. Everything aches, and he pictures his bed at home. Back home. He doesn't really have a home anymore, does he? It's 600 years away. The thought leaves a heavy feeling deep in the pit of his stomach, and he's reminded yet again that he never prepared for this trip. He never thought he'd be coming here, so he never got his affairs in order; he never said goodbye.

Somewhere, 600 years in the past, is a bed half-empty, and he wonders if Dillon looked for him. He wonders if he even knew he'd been taken aboard the Hyperion and shot to Andromeda, against his will, or if he thought Tris just abandoned him. There are words he'll never get to say, and friends he'll never see again, and he wasn't prepared for any of this.

He sucks in a shaky breath, and shoves the memories away. Thinking about the past will not help him, at all. It'll only open a dark void to swallow him, if he's not careful. He can't let the despair in or he'll drown.

"You all right?" Liam asks, walking slightly behind him.

Tris glances at him over his shoulder. "I'm okay," he says, sighing. "Just thinking."

Liam insisted on joining him, as did Cora. Greer wanted to come, too, but Tris managed to get him to stay behind and keep an eye on Kirkland and the other wounded. They needed protection still; the aliens could attack again.

There's an anxious energy running through him, the closer they get to meeting up with his family. He honestly doesn't know how this will go, or what will happen next. All he knows is he's exhausted and sore and his head hurts; he just wants to go to bed, but he knows that won't be happening any time in the near future, not until they get back to the Hyperion, and they can't do that until they play weatherman, according to his father. He just wants to go to bed after such a long day (long 600 years), but they need him for cannon fodder. He needs to focus on his biotics, despite his low energy. They won't take that as an excuse for failure.

They won't take anything as an excuse for failure.

"We're nearing the rendezvous point," Cora says.

Nearing his family.

He exhales slowly. "They should be just up ahead."

They round a rocky corner, climb up a rocky wall, and there they are - Erin and Alec Ryder.

They're waiting for them at the top of the rock wall, and Tris can almost picture Erin's grin as her eyes land on him.

"About time you showed up," she says. "Losing your touch, huh?"

"You try navigating this planet," he mutters, rolling his eyes despite his headache.

"I did," she tells him.

"After falling out of a shuttle, without SAM to guide you."

She shrugs. "Whine, whine, whine. You're here now." She looks back at her father. "You wanna tell them?"

Tris huffs, and glances at Alec Ryder.

"Sir?" Cora prompts, looking at him as well.

"There's a base up ahead, of some kind," his father says. "According to SAM's scans, there's a console in there that might help us stop this lightning storm."

"How can you stop the weather?" Tris can't help but ask, because all of this sounds ridiculous. This is an all new crazy, even for you.

"Didn't you do any exploring while you were here?" Erin asks.

Tris's anger flickers. "No, I was a little busy trying not to die," he snaps back, glaring at her. "So, tell me."

"Some scientist you are."

"Never said I was a scientist."

"That's obvious."

"Uh... guys?" Liam asks, sounding a little uneasy.

"Look, Tris - why don't you just follow our lead? We know what we're doing," Erin says.

Tris bristles, shoulders stiffening. "Fine. Lead the way."

"Sir?" Cora asks again, confused.

"I'll fill you in on the way," he says. "Erin, take Tris ahead and fill him in on his part."

Tris's teeth grind together. He takes a step after his sister as she turns and begins walking away, closer to the strange structure ahead.

"Uh... sir?" Liam says hesitantly. "If it's alright with you, I'd like to go with Tris."

"That's sweet," Erin says, turning back around, clearly smiling even though no one can see it due to the helmet. "But Tris is a big boy and we'll need you elsewhere."

"She's right," Alec says, nodding. "I have a different job for you and Cora."

For a brief moment, Liam looks like he's going to argue, but then he nods. He has no real reason to question the Pathfinder, after all.

Tris follows his sister away from the group.

"Have you run into the aliens?" she asks.

"Yeah, a few times. Not very friendly."

"They're not," she agrees. "They're in the structure, too; we think they're looking for something. The same thing we are."

"You mean this mysterious way to stop the lightning?" he asks, mostly to clarify.

"You're learning."

He sighs. "What am I supposed to do, Erin?"

"You're going to be the distraction," she says. "You're not rusty, are you?"

"I'm fine," he says, defensively. "What kind of distraction?"

"We need you to create a big enough diversion so we can sneak past and get into this room they're guarding."

"What about Liam and Cora?"

"We'll take them with us to guard the room while we're in it. Dad said he might have to hack his way into it, too, so that will cause a ruckus. They'll help with that."

So I'm the only cannon fodder. Great.

Better him than them, though. As long as they'll be okay... he guesses this plan is fine with him.

He'll just have to shrug off this fatigue.

"So," Erin says, facing him again. "Liam seems... nice. He your boyfriend now?"

He scowls. "You know perfectly well he's not. He's just not an asshole unlike some people."

"You did jump out of a shuttle for him."

"I'm a decent human being. You should try it sometime."

"You think you're so great."

"I'm pretty awesome," Tris says, nodding.

"I should get back before Dad comes looking for me."

"He can see us from there," Tris says, glancing back at his father, Cora, and Liam. They're not within hearing distance, but they are still within sight.

"You know what I mean. We need to be quick about this. Are you sure you can handle this?"

He scowls once more, despite the fact she can't see the downturn of his lips. "Don't worry your pretty little head. I'll be cannon fodder for you. It's what I'm here for, after all."

It's why you stole me from my life and dragged me here.

Yeah... so I'm still pretty bitter about that. Huh.

She turns back toward the facility in the distance. "Try to lure them over there," she says, gesturing. "And we'll sneak in from here." She waves her hand in another direction. "If you get into serious trouble, let us know."

"And you'll, what? Come running?" he scoffs.

"We'll send you some help," she says, rolling her eyes. "Honestly, Tris, this isn't a joke. I don't know why you can't take anything seriously."

He grits his teeth once more. His dentist is going to be so unhappy with him. "Whatever. You better get back to dear old Dad."

Her eyes narrow at him, but she merely turns to walk away. "Good luck," she throws over her shoulder.

He exhales slowly, glancing back at the compound.

Well, he thinks, here goes nothing.

xXx

Charging into the enemies for a distraction is the least of his worries, as it turns out.

He creates a decent distraction pretty easily, by charging into one of them and retreating far enough back to shoot at them with his assault rifle. As he takes more and more of them out, more focus on him and come from all over the compound. Whenever they get too close to his cover, he charges across the makeshift battlefield and takes cover there, throwing up a barrier to help him get to said cover if he has to. He laughs loudly, and taunts them even though he's fairly certain they can't understand him. Still, there are some things that are universal, and tone happens to be one of them. They know he is mocking them, taunting them, and they don't appreciate it.

More surround him. He hopes it's enough of a distraction for the others to sneak forward.

Once, he glances up and finds the top of Liam's head on the walkway above them. He throws out a biotic shockwave to keep the enemies thoroughly distracted until the others sneak further away, so their footfalls aren't noticeable.

He's not sure how long he's over here, making a distraction. All he knows is he's exhausted. His strength is waning rapidly. There are spots flashing behind his eyes, and he just wants to find a quiet corner and go to sleep...

The crowd is waning, though. He's not sure if that means he's killing them all, or if that means they've noticed the others' presence and their group has divided. All he can do at the moment is focus on those remaining here in front of him; he'll worry about the others later.

Almost done, he thinks, panting. You're almost done. You got this. Keep going. Almost done.

xXx

By the time the crowd of enemies has fallen, Tris is ready to collapse himself. His arm is bleeding from where he took a shot to it, unable to get away fast enough. It's steadily seeping red, contrasting against his armor. He steps over a fallen body, looking around for more enemies. His vision blurs, and gravity threatens to tug him downward, but he remains standing by stubborn will alone.

Where are the others? He looks around, but doesn't see them anywhere on this landing. He remembers the walkway he saw them on earlier. How long ago was that? Minutes? Hours? He has no real sense of time; he's just exhausted.

Hopefully, they are all okay. No one has tried to contact him yet; he's not sure if that's because they don't care to try, or because they don't want to draw attention to him if he's hiding in cover or something. He prefers not knowing the answer to that question. At least then, he has the illusion that they care.

He slowly makes his way through the compound, ears tuned for any change in sound, any alarm calls an alien might make. Everything seems eerily quiet; his teeth grind together. He's on edge. It's too quiet.

It shouldn't be so quiet. I should hear... something. Voices, gunshots in the distance, something.

It's then that he realizes...

I don't hear lightning.

He looks up, and the gray sky has cleared somewhat. He doesn't remember when that changed; during the fight, perhaps? Just recently? He doesn't know. It's not as dark gray as before; it's lightening, the clouds beginning to part to reveal a dark blue sky in the background.

I'll be damned. He actually did it.

His crazy father actually played weatherman and fixed it.

How the hell did he manage that?

He'll have to ask him when he finds him.

It doesn't take much longer to find them. He sees Liam first, along the outskirts of the area, and smiles to himself at the sight of him. Finally, a friendly face. He climbs up to that platform and smiles as Liam glances at him, noticing him for the first time.

"Tris!" Liam says, jogging toward him. "You made it!"

"I'm not completely hopeless," he says, nodding. "How are things here?"

"Pretty quiet now," Liam tells him. "We had a little resistance, but not much, thanks to you." His gaze lowers, then, latching onto the red seeping from Tris's arm. "You're hurt."

"It's not bad," Tris says, shaking his head. "I'm fine. Where's everyone else?"

"Cora's over there," Liam says, gesturing. Tris looks and finds Cora on the other side of the platform, watching them. "And the Ryders are in there." He gestures at a closed doorway. It's rather massive, and definitely looks important.

"What are they doing in there?" he asks.

"We don't know, but the sky is clearing up. So whatever they're doing, it's working."

"Yeah..." Tris bites his lip, frowning at the doorway. "Did they have to hack in?"

"They did. It set off an alarm, which is why we had some resistance."

"I see."

Tris walks closer to the strange doorway, Liam following after him. The door suddenly opens, causing them both to stop in their tracks. Erin and Alec Ryder step out, an air of confidence about them, a spring in Erin's step. She's happy about something.

"Tris," Alec says, nodding at him in greeting. "Glad you could join us."

You mean, glad I'm still alive? "Yep. I see you played weatherman."

"Dad was awesome," Erin says admirably. "He hacked that technology without any trouble, and interfaced with the console."

Tris fights the urge to roll his eyes. Daddy's little girl. "Sounds interesting."

"Too bad you missed out."

His teeth grind together once more. By this point, his jaw hurts. "I was a little busy."

"I see you got yourself hurt."

He fights the urge to hide his injury. "I'm fine."

Alec Ryder moves forward. "I'll radio the crew, tell them to get the shuttle ready and come get us." He steps away from them; Erin, of course, follows after him.

Tris shakes his head, exhaling loudly through his nose as he watches them.

"What's that all about?" Liam asks.

"Drop it, Liam."

"I'm just curious. They seem... antagonistic, with you."

"It's nothing," Tris says. "I told you, we don't really get along. That's all."

"Seems like more than that."

Tris's eyes narrow. "I wasn't aware this was an interrogation."

Liam blinks at him. "It's not... but I'm here if you want to talk. It seems like it's bothering you. You're tense."

"They make me tense," Tris groans, shaking his head. "Doesn't mean I want to talk about it. But... thanks. For offering."

"Anytime."

Something changes in the atmosphere; an eerie feeling of dread settles over him, an electric charge in the air. He looks back toward the doorway Erin and Alec Ryder emerged from. Something seems... off.

"Tris?" Liam asks.

"They had to hack their way into the room," Tris says quietly. "They tripped alarms. If these aliens were looking for the same thing as us... then this facility isn't theirs. It's someone else's. Some other species."

"I guess... that makes sense."

"What if there were other fail safes, for getting hacked?"

"Like what?"

"Like-"

The sudden explosion leaves Tris flying off his feet. The room next to him, the one they emerged from, explodes outward and sends him hurtling through the air, pain igniting through him. He loses track of everyone and everything in the flight, until he crashes into his sister, and she crashes into their father, from where they stood at the edge of the compound, standing who knows how many feet above the natural ground.

Then they're falling.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER SEVEN: Sugar We're Going Down

He doesn't remember much of the fall.

One second he's freefalling, arms waving wildly in the air like that will somehow help him, and then he sees his sister and father falling as well. Erin's eyes are wide, her expression twisted into something he hasn't seen on her face in a long time: fear. Instincts kick in, and charges toward her midair, colliding with her, pushing her against the rock wall about ten feet behind her. She had no hope of getting to it herself but now she grunts as her back hits it, her hands clenching at the curves of Tris's breastplate.

Tris activates his omni-tool, stabbing the blade into the rocky wall. For a moment, nothing catches; they continue sliding down, down, down... and then, it finally sticks. It feels like his arm is wrenched out of socket, but they're not falling anymore. His fist is half embedded in the rocks, the orange glow of the omni-blade only visible around his wrist and forearm. He grits his teeth against the pain, finding purchase with his free hand as Erin continues to cling to him, her back smashed against the wall.

He hasn't pinned his sister since they were little. She fought dirty, and always got the upper hand, but occasionally, he'd win. He'd pin her to the ground and laugh, rubbing it in her face because she was such a sore loser, but bragged all the time when she won. It was his payback. She'd then get mad at him and say he cheated and she demanded a rematch.

It's been a while since he's been this close to his sister, period. But now her eyes are staring into his, still wide and fearful, and he's reminded that despite everything, she is still his sister. She's that same girl with the sunlit blonde hair who used to tease him and laugh with him and tackle him and ruffle his hair so playfully. She still gets scared.

It's almost refreshing, to realize this.

Maybe she's not so different after all.

And then the moment passes, and she huffs, that look clearing from her eyes as she realizes they are no longer falling. "About time you did something."

He scowls at her. "I could have let you fall."

"Then you would have fallen, too."

He rolls his eyes, but he doesn't want to argue right now.

He chances a look down. The ground isn't terribly far below them. If they drop and use their jump jets, they should be able to make it down safely. He remembers that his jump jets weren't working earlier; they malfunctioned when he was sucked out of the shuttle. He used his biotics then, so perhaps that will work now. He looks back at his sister, who is watching him expectantly.

"Do your jump jets work?" he asks.

"Of course," she says. "Did you break yours?"

"I'm letting you go now."

He retracts his omni-blade and pulls his clenched fist free of the rocks. The movement is painful, and he's certain he's broken a knuckle or two, but that's overshadowed by the sudden yank in gravity as it pulls him downward sharply. For a moment, he's freefalling yet again, before his feet and hands glow blue and he uses his biotics to slow his fall, much as he did before.

Erin lands on her feet next to him. "Neat trick," she says. "Where'd you learn that?"

He doesn't even spare her a look, instead glancing around them. "Didn't Dad fall, too?"

That shuts her up, as she instantly begins looking around, too.

Tris spots Alec Ryder first, sitting against the rock wall a few yards away, watching them. He doesn't appear to be hurt, but he's not getting up, either. Tris can't see any blood, but if Alec Ryder wants to hide something, he does it. He taps Erin on the shoulder and the two jog toward their father.

"Dad, you okay?" Erin asks.

"I'm fine," Alec says. "How about the two of you?"

"We're good," Erin says. "Wasn't much of a fall."

And I don't even get a thank you. Of course.

He sighs, uncertain why he thought he would, anyway.

"...can anybody hear me...?"

The voice is thin and full of static, but otherwise understandable. It's also familiar. Cora, trying to contact them.

"I hear you, Cora," Alec says.

"Thank goodness!" comes her relieved reply. "Are you all together? Are you okay?"

"We're okay," Alec tells her calmly. "Get that shuttle ready and come get us at these coordinates."

"Yes, sir."

Tris looks up, toward where they fell from. It's so high up he feels nauseous just thinking about the fall. Or maybe that's the concussion talking.

Either way, he turns to the side and pukes onto the dirt ground, opening his face mask enough to do so before quickly wiping at his mouth and closing it before he can breathe in the toxic air.

"Ugh," Erin says, nose wrinkled. "That's gross. You couldn't wait?"

"I'm sorry," Tris says, scowling at her, "would you have preferred I puked on you in the shuttle? Tell me when it would be a convenient time for you."

"No need to get snappy."

"Fuck you."

"Now, now," Alec Ryder admonishes in his 'stop being such children' voice.

Tris sighs heavily.

Rescue can't get here fast enough.

xXx

Liam claps a firm hand onto his shoulder as they climb into the shuttle. "Good to see you're alright," he says. "That was a nasty fall."

"It wasn't quite a tumble out of a shuttle, but it'll do," Tris replies, nodding at him.

Liam's eyes roll. "Maybe stop with the theatrics? There's only so much the human body can take, you know."

"What?" Tris gasps, staring at him. "You mean I have limits?"

"You're hopeless. Truly hopeless."

Tris chuckles.

The shuttle lifts off, and they're on their way off this planet.

This is definitely not home.

Will they find a home?

Or have they come this far only to lose their way now?

This is why I never wanted to come in the first place. Too many unknowns.

Not that anyone asked him, of course.

He grits his teeth, his last memories of Earth flashing briefly behind his eyes.

xXx

Once they're back aboard the Ark Hyperion, Tris takes off his armor and slips away from the rest of the group, exiting the locker area. Thankfully, no one seems to have noticed him disappearing, yet. His body aches, and he knows he should head to medical and get his wounds treated and his head checked, but right now all he really wants to do is sleep.

There's a crew quarters, of course. There's also the Pathfinder crew quarters, which isn't as large and won't have as many people, but it will have the people Tris is trying to avoid. So he heads to the normal crew quarters, kicks off his boots and slips under the covers, not worry about his underclothes.

His head throbs, his neck is stiff, and there's nausea creeping through him once more.

There's a million thoughts running through his head, none of them especially good. He's trying to find the silver lining to this situation, but he can't. All he can think about is the fact his family kidnapped him. Kidnapped him. Brought him here against his will, and there's no way to go back. There's no way to fix this, or undo it, and he's stuck here with them. He's stuck here with a family that hates him and he doesn't know what to do.

His eyes fall closed as his head hits the pillow. The pillow is rather flat, but he'll take what he can get considering he spent the last 600 years in a cryo tube. There's not a lot of chatter filtering through the large area; only necessary personnel are awake at the moment, and most of them are currently working on the ship somewhere. Not many are trying to sleep, and the few who linger in the room, talking to others, are further away and seem to be filtering out.

Soon, it's quiet, save for someone's snoring.

Tris tries to quiet his mind, but he's never been especially good at that. His mind is always racing, always thinking, searching for little thoughts to pierce through him when he least expects it. Dillon's face appears briefly in his mind, as he looked the last he saw him: happy, with an impish little half-grin and bright eyes. His face is still red and his hairline is sweaty, and a pang of longing shoots through Tris before he grits his teeth and shoves the image away.

Dillon's dead, he tells himself. He's been dead for centuries.

But yesterday… yesterday he saw Dillon. It feels like yesterday.

How can 600 years just fly by so quickly?

Just go to sleep, Tris. Thinking won't help you.

Especially with his head aching like this.

He swallows back the bile rising in his throat, and struggles to sleep.

It's not long before exhaustion wins, and he succumbs to a deep yet uneasy rest.

xXx

He wakes to voices above him.

His eyes snap open, and there's a bright light shining into them. He flinches away from it, only to hear someone with a smooth voice speak once again. His eyelid is pried open, the light shined back into it, before the lid is dropped once more. He grimaces, spots flashing behind his eyes, and squeezes his eyes tightly shut, his head throbbing sharply.

"Honestly, what were you thinking?" Carlyle asks, sighing heavily. His is a voice Tris could recognize anywhere. "Lexi, what do the readings say?"

"Concussion," the smooth voiced person says.

"And his arm?"

"Bandaged."

"Good, good." There's a hand, lightly patting his cheek. "Come on, Tris. Open your eyes."

"No," Tris mutters.

"Excuse me?"

"You're just going to blind me again."

Carlyle chuckles. "I wouldn't do that to you. Now, come on."

Tris sighs and pries heavy eyelids open. Dr. Lexi T'Perro and Dr. Carlyle stand on either side of him, looking down at him. He feels rather exposed, under their gazes. "What's the damage, doc?"

Dr. Carlyle shakes his head at him. "Lexi, could you give us a minute?"

Dr. T'Perro seems a little confused, but she doesn't argue. Instead, she steps out of the room, leaving the two of them alone. Since no one else is awake yet, and the only other patient in the room is asleep, it can give them time to talk.

Tris doesn't want to talk.

"Spare me the lecture," he says.

"What are you doing?" Carlyle asks.

"You mean they haven't filled you in? Poor doc."

"They filled me in enough, but I don't understand the game you're playing."

Tris shrugs, pushing himself up into a sitting position despite the raised eyebrow of death Carlyle is giving him now. "I didn't want to be here. They dragged me here. So, if they want me to stay, I can't be related to them. That's it, doc. Not really a game."

The doctor sighs heavily, shaking his head. "You could at least take better care of yourself. Honestly, what were you thinking, Tristen?"

"It's Tris," he says, sighing. "And I was thinking sleep sounded amazing, and yet here I am. Did you carry me here? How sweet."

"Liam found you."

The smirk slips from his face. Oh. Great.

"When he couldn't rouse you, he came to get me, and then carried you to a bio bed."

And it gets even worse.

Well, at least it wasn't his sister. He'd never hear the end of it, then.

"Mr. Kosta was worried about you."

"Yeah, well... I'm fine."

"What were you thinking, sleeping with a concussion?"

"I don't know... I thought, 'hey, I slept for 600 years with it, so what's a few more hours?' Seemed fine to me."

"I don't know who allowed you to enter cryo with a concussion, but if I ever find out who-"

"Spare me the lecture, doc. Wouldn't work on them anyway."

Carlyle quirks and inquisitive brow, but Tris just smiles at him. After a brief staring contest, the doctor sighs and shakes his head. "I can't force you to talk to me, even if it's for your own health. I just hope you know what you're doing."

"Thanks for the concern, but I'm fine. Can I go now?"

"I'd like you to remain here for a few more hours so I can monitor that head of yours, but your father has requested your presence as soon as you awaken."

Dear old Dad. Tris nods. "Alright. He in his quarters?"

"Yes, and I will let him know you are on your way, so don't think about slipping off."

"Me? I'd never. Don't you know I'm the model child?"

Carlyle rolls his eyes. "Just be careful, would you? I don't want you back in my med bay."

"Sir, yes, sir." Tris salutes, and leaves the room.

His gait is a little unsteady, but he manages to steady himself before he gets to the Pathfinder's quarters.

What's he want, anyway? he can't help but wonder. And they know I had to be carried to med bay. Great.

Liam carried him. He must have went looking for him and eventually found him. That's... nice of him, really. He honestly didn't think someone would look for him that much. Maybe it's best Liam did, if he couldn't get Tris to wake.

How long was I out?

He should have asked Dr. Carlyle. No way is he asking his family.

Hopefully Erin isn't there, too, but somehow, he knows she will be. She's always there. Daddy's little girl.

"Tris!"

The voice startles him, leaving him momentarily miss-stepping. He staggers and finds his footing again as he looks around to find Liam rapidly approaching him, a broad smile on the man's face. Tris smiles back.

"Hey," he says.

"It's good to see you up," Liam tells him, stopping in front of him. "How do you feel?"

"Better," Tris says honestly. He's still sore, and his head still hurts, but he does feel a little more refreshed like he got a decent amount of sleep for once. He's also not as nauseous as before, which is always a plus in his book. "I hear I have you to thank for that."

"You disappeared," Liam says, frowning at him. "I went looking for you to make sure you were alright."

"Well... thanks," Tris says, looking away, fighting the urge to rub awkwardly at the back of his neck. He's definitely not used to people worrying about him. Except Dillon. Dillon worried. Sometimes. But don't think about him. He pushes the thoughts away and refocuses on Liam. "Sorry, but I have a meeting with the Pathfinder, and I was told I shouldn't dillydally."

"No one says that anymore," Liam deadpans.

Tris smirks. "I just did."

"You're living in the past, man."

"I was born in the past."

"Yeah, by that logic, we all were."

"Seriously, though - he's expecting me. Probably Erin, too."

Liam frowns. "Want me to go with you?"

How nice of him. "That's sweet," Tris says, smirking. "But I'm a big boy, I can take care of myself."

"It's just... they seem... a little off with you."

"I doubt they'll do anything on a ship full of potential witnesses," Tris tells him.

"Yeah, that doesn't make me feel better."

Wow. He's worried. Okay. He's not sure how he acquired a friend here in Andromeda, but Liam isn't a bad friend. "I'll be fine," he says seriously, mirth fading. "But they are expecting me, and I do have to go, but I'll find you after?"

"Sounds good," Liam says, nodding. "I'll meet you in the kitchen for some food?"

"Oh, fuck me," Tris says, all but moaning. "Yes. Food. I'm starving."

Liam chuckles, and waves him on his way.

And Tris continues toward the Pathfinder's quarters, feeling more and more like he's walking to his execution. That's silly. They're your family.

He exhales slowly, and smiles as he walks through the entrance into the Pathfinder's quarters.

His father is there waiting for him, his back turned to Tris. Erin stands at his side, facing the doorway. She smiles as the doors swish closed behind him.

"About time you could join us," she says.

Tris shrugs. "What'd you want?"

"How are you?" Alec Ryder asks, turning to face his son. His expression is stoic, a stone wall as much as it's ever been. No concern, no remorse, nothing. Tris isn't sure what he was expecting.

"I'm fine," he says. "Is that all you wanted?"

"We're going to be heading to the Nexus," his father says.

"I thought you didn't have contact with them?"

It's why we went down on that stupid planet in the first place.

"We haven't, we're still getting automated channels," Erin tells him. "But we have to try."

"She's right," Alec says.

Of course she's right. When is she ever not right? "Okay... and you're telling me this because...?"

"Because while we're at the Nexus, it's best if you stay out of sight, if you don't want your little secret getting out," Erin says, rolling her eyes. "Nexus security will be curious about a mysterious 'Tris' and will look into it."

"Alright. I'll stay on the Hyperion."

Alec nods. "That's all. You can go."

A dismissal if I ever heard one.

Tris mock salutes and spins on his heel to leave the room.

He's halfway back to the crew quarters before he remembers: food. Liam is expecting him in the kitchen.

So he changes course and heads toward the kitchen, his stomach rumbling.

In the kitchen, Liam isn't alone. He's at a table with a few others - familiar faces. Tris smiles as he approaches. "Hey, Greer. Kirkland. Glad to see you're doing better. How's the leg?"

"The good docs patches me up," Kirkland says, looking down at the cast on said leg. "I have to use crutches for now, but by the time we get to the Nexus I should be good to walk short distances, Carlyle thinks. I get the cast off in a week."

So they know about heading to the Nexus. "That's good. I'm happy you're okay."

"Thanks to you," Kirkland says, grinning at him as Tris sits across from him and Greer, next to Liam. "And call me Joey. I think you've earned that right."

"I'm Andrew," Greer says, nodding at him, grinning as well. "We both would have died if it hadn't been for the two of you."

"Thank this one," Liam says, jutting a thumb at Tris. Tris scowls at him.

"Nope. It was a team effort," he tells them.

Liam drops a plate in front of him. Steaming hot, fluffy pancakes.

"I could kiss you," Tris says, mouth watering as he picks up the syrup pushed his way.

"Hungry, huh?" Greer - Andrew - asks.

"You have no idea," Tris tells him, stabbing into his first bite of pancakes. It's delicious and fluffy and everything amazing he loves about pancakes. "Oh, fuck... so good..."

"Shall we get the two of you a room?" Liam asks, laughing.

"Shut up, you." Tris nudges him with his elbow.

Liam nudges back, nearly making Tris miss his next forkful of fluffy pancakes.

"Who made these? They're amazing."

"That guy right there," Kirkland - Joey - says, gesturing at Liam.

Tris swallows down his mouthful of food. "I'm going to kiss you now." He leans over and gives Liam a quick peck on the cheek before Liam can move away, accompanied with a loud 'mwah' sound.

"Gross," Liam says, rubbing at his cheek. "Now it's all sticky!"

"You say, like it's a bad thing."

Liam dabs his finger in the syrup and pokes Tris's cheek. "Now you're sticky too."

"I'll wear it as a badge of honor."

"You're crazy."

"I think the word you're looking for is awesome."

Liam rolls his eyes. "So, what'd the Pathfinder want?"

The table goes quiet. Tris wracks his brain, trying to remember if Greer and Kirkland - sorry, Andrew and Joey - overheard any of their conversations or witnessed his family talk down to him. He can't remember at the moment.

"They just wanted to know if I was okay."

"So Erin was there, too?" Andrew asked.

"She was." She always is. "But enough about that." He looks back at Liam. "Liam, my man. Where have you been all my life? These pancakes are amazing."

"Well," Liam drawls, smirking at him, "quit charging into chaos and I might fix you more one day."

"Aw, you're no fun."

Chapter Text

CHAPTER EIGHT: And All of Your Flaws

Tris doesn't sleep much on the way to the Nexus. He has too much on his mind, and he finds himself wandering the halls of the Hyperion instead of remaining in his new bed in the Pathfinder crew quarters. Liam insisted he stay there instead of in the general crew quarters; perks of being on the Pathfinder team, he says. Better beds, and fewer people around to disturb their sleep. Liam bunks above Tris, and spends the night snoring. Tris can't sleep, and it has little to do with the chainsaw above him. So he wanders instead, tiptoeing out of the crew quarters to meander through the halls.

His sister isn't in the crew quarters. Tris assumes she's bunking with their father in his personal quarters; Daddy's little girl, after all. Only the best for her. Or maybe she isn't sleeping, either. He assumes their father isn't, considering he's the Pathfinder and there's probably a lot to go over before they reach the Nexus. They need to plan their next move, after all.

Tris finds himself alone in the kitchen at roughly two in the 'morning', although there is no day or night aboard a space ship. Only artificial light and nearly complete darkness when those are turned off. He says nearly complete because the closer they get to the Nexus, the closer they get to a star, or a sun; the brighter things become.

" Hello, Tris."

Tris flinches, heart hammering in his chest as SAM's sudden voice. He collapses into a chair, attempting to breathe again. "Hi, SAM. A little warning next time would be great. I don't need a heart attack."

"I could alert Dr. Carlyle if you are feeling unwell," SAM says, in that robotic monotone of his.

"No, SAM. I'm okay. What did you need?" He assumes SAM didn't contact him out of the blue for no reason.

" After much thought, you father has asked me to create a false file for you, under the name of Tris Reilly. Is this acceptable?"

Tris sighs, scrubbing a hand over his face. Out here in the open is definitely not where he wants to talk about this, but he knows they must be alone if SAM is even bringing it up, given that it's supposed to be a secret. "Tris Reilly is fine." It's his legal name now, after all. He legally changed it when he turned twenty. At eighteen, he thought of different names to change it to, but his mom always talked him out of it. He briefly thought about Harlow, his mother's maiden name, but chose not to take it because she asked him not to.

"Your father will always be a part of you. Don't choose my maiden name to get away from him. You don't need to change your name at all, Tris," she told him once upon a time. "I wish the two of you could get along."

"It's not that easy, Mom," he told her.

" Well, what about you and Erin? You used to be thick as thieves, you know."

" I know, Mom. But we're not ten anymore. Things change."

People change. It's life.

Everything changed, and while he and his sister used to be so close, now they can barely stand to be in the same room as each other. It broke Ellen Ryder's heart to see the rift forming between them, and between him and their father, but Tris grew tired of trying to hide it. He grew tired of everything.

He joined teenage Alliance training at sixteen, a special, advanced program to make his father happy. That lasted until he turned eighteen and could officially join the Alliance, and make his father proud. Erin joined a similar program, but didn't place as highly as Tris in the biotics department. She held a grudge against him because of this from day one. She always had to be the best. So they were placed in separate training, which only furthered the rift between them. Eventually, Tris stopped trying to make his father happy. He stopped trying to get his father to smile down at him like he always did to his sister, and he stopped trying to make amends with Erin when he did nothing wrong.

On his eighteenth birthday, in the middle of Erin's spectacular graduation party, he quietly moved out of the house and into his own apartment. He thought about withdrawing entirely from the Alliance, but there were still opportunities there – opportunities to get away. And the further he was away from here, the better. So he stayed in the Alliance, and was stationed on Arcturus Station for a few months, until his sister caught wind of his placement and stopped by for a 'visit'.

Their argument was heard by several commanding officers, who had to come between them before they could seriously injure each other. Since then, he hadn't spoken much to his sister until his mother's health began to rapidly decline just after his twentieth birthday. Just as quickly as her health was announced to them, he and Erin were both kicked out of the Alliance due to their father's work in building an AI against the Alliance's regulations.

Just like that, Tris's life ended.

In the span of a year, he lost his apartment, his assignment, his mother and his job. He lost his family.

After her death he officially changed his name to Tris Reilly.

No one fought him on it.

No one even called him to ask him about it.

No one spoke to him until six months before the Andromeda Initiative became real. Six months before they jetted off to Andromeda, his sister showed up on his doorstep. He was only lucky Dillon was out at the time, or there could have been a real fight on his hands.

" Tris?"

"What?" Tris blinks, shoving the plethora of memories away. "That's fine, SAM. I told you."

" Would you like to look over the file before I finalize it?"

"Can I do that?"

" It is your file."

Tris sighs, nodding even though he doesn't think the AI can see him. "Sure. How can I look it over? I doubt it's something physical."

" You do have access to pads."

"Alright."

There's a room where they keep the pads, and while he doesn't have a personal one, he can gain access to one temporarily. That's all he needs.

xXx

The file looks okay to him.

Tris Reilly

Age: 23

Human, Caucasian

Hair: Blond

Eyes: Blue

Height: 5'7"

Weight: 191lbs

Origin: Earth

And on and on it went, detailing a history he never knew, but which suits him well. It shows his adeptness as a biotic, but leaves out his hacking capabilities, which is just like dear old Dad, always denying it. He could never accept that his son was anything other than a charging weapon. Erin was always the smart one.

And I was always the expendable one.

He grits his teeth, feeling that familiar pain in his jaw as he does so. He shuts off the pad and pushes to his feet.

"Is it acceptable?" SAM asks.

"It's fine, SAM," Tris says, walking out of the room.

SAM's voice follows him. Of course it does; it's in his head. He can't escape it.

" Are you certain? You seem upset."

"It's nothing."

" Your stress levels have-"

"Stay out of it, SAM," he snaps, dragging a hand over his face. He really should shave. His stubble is getting scratchy. There's a silence which rings in his ears, and has nothing to do with the area around him. He sighs heavily. "Sorry, SAM. I'm not mad at you. The file is fine. Tell the Pathfinder it's acceptable."

" Very well."

He can almost feel it when SAM leaves him alone. It's strange, feeling his mind become his own again. Unnerving, really.

He shakes the feeling off, focusing instead on the familiar face suddenly in front of him.

"How did I know you wouldn't be sleeping?" Erin asks, smirking at him from where she stops in front of him, blocking the way. He grimaces at her, attempting to step around her, but she quickly moves into his path, keeping the way blocked. "Is it really so hard to talk to your sister?"

He looks around quickly. "You're not supposed to bring that shit up."

"Oh, it's shit now, is it? And don't worry, dear brother – there's no one around but the two of us, and SAM. Right, SAM?"

"She is not wrong," SAM says, the presence momentarily returning to his mind before it vanishes again.

"There, see?" Erin grins at him, lightly bringing a hand up to pat his cheek. "You should shave, you know. You look more presentable without the stubble."

"Maybe I like the stubble."

"You don't."

"What do you want, Erin?"

"Can't I stop to talk to my little brother?"

"You're a minute older than me. And, no. You hate me."

She sighs heavily. "I don't hate you."

"Sure you do. Don't worry, the feeling is mutual."

"You don't mean that."

"I do." His eyes narrow at her. "What do you want?"

"Why do I have to want something?" she asks, almost petulantly.

"You always want something."

She sighs heavily, rolling her eyes. "How do you like your new name, or, whatever?"

"It's fine, like I told SAM."

"Good. I'm... happy for you."

Tris scowls at her. "What game are you playing? What do you want?"

"I don't want anything. I told you. I was just checking up on you."

"Does Dad want something?"

"What is with you?" she snaps, glaring at him. "I just want to have a conversation with you, for once. God, it's not like we've even talked since Mom died."

Tris stares at her for a moment, beyond confused. Is this really his sister, standing there, talking to him? It can't be. She'd never ask to talk to him. She'd never just 'check up' on him.

Right?

The slap he receives is loud in the silence surrounding them. It echoes down the hallway and resonates in his ears, sharp against his cheek as her hand moves away. She glares at him and spins on her heel to stomp away. He raises a hand, to reach after her, but stops short of grabbing her wrist, letting his hand drop quietly back to his side.

He stares after her for a long moment, before he swallows thickly and heads back toward the Pathfinder crew quarters.

Sleep continues to elude him.

xXx

The Nexus looks larger than he thought it would. It looks rather reminiscent of the Citadel, back home. The Arks are supposed to attach in certain places to make the arms, but it appears they're the only ones here at the moment. Perhaps the other Arks are out, engaging in their own planets?

He hopes that's the case. They don't need any more bad news, after all.

As Erin and Alec Ryder disembark the Hyperion, Tris remains aboard, sitting in the kitchen, nursing a cup of coffee. Liam and Cora went with Erin and Alec, leaving him alone with Kirkland and Greer. Or, rather, Joey and Andrew.

Joey seems to be in some pain today, if the grimace on his face is anything to go by. Andrew tries to help him but Joey doesn't seem to want the help at the moment. Tris can understand that, of course. No one likes feeling like an invalid, after all. Tris doesn't bring it up, and neither does Joey.

Tris likes Joey and Andrew. They seem like good people, and there's not enough good people to go around these days.

His mind wanders back toward his sister, in the hallway. So unlike her, and yet... and yet it reminds him of her before. Before all the rage and arguments and the slap which echoed for years. Back when they were close. So many years ago, but sometimes it still feels like yesterday. Still hurts like yesterday.

"You okay, Tris?" Andrew asks, watching him. Something must have shown on his face. He schools his expression and nods, smiling at the man.

"I'm good," he says. "Do you know anywhere I could shave?"

"You didn't pack a razor?" Joey asks, almost snippily, but Tris can forgive him since he's in pain.

The smile almost feels brittle on his face, though. No, I didn't pack a razor, because I never packed anything. I never intended to come here. "Guess I forgot, silly me."

"You can borrow mine," Andrew tells him. "I'll give it to you after breakfast."

"Thanks."

Breakfast today, while the rest of their group is aboard the Nexus, consists of Blast-O's and whatever they can scrap together for a makeshift meal. It's nothing special, but it does hit the spot. Of course, Tris would still definitely rather have Liam's awesome pancakes. His mouth waters at the thought of them. Maybe he can convince Liam to make them when they get back to the Hyperion.

After this meal, though, Tris intends to shower and shave. Maybe it will make him feel like the new man everyone said Andromeda would make them. Right now, he certainly feels like the same old, pathetic guy.

You're not pathetic, he reminds himself. That's your sister talking to you.

Except, last night, she wasn't talking to him like that.

What is this, some new game of hers? What's she after?

He can't figure it out, and it's driving him crazy.

"You sure you're okay, man?" Andrew asks, bringing him back to the present. "You're kind of spacey."

"I'm fine," he says, a little more harshly than he intended. He clears his throat and softens his voice. "I'm fine. Sorry. Just have a lot on my mind. Andromeda is... not what I expected."

Andrew's expression softens. "It's not what anyone expected, man."

"It's certainly not what the pamphlets promised," Joey agrees with a nod.

"But we'll make do," Andrew says, smiling. "It's what we do, isn't it?"

"We'll muddle through," Tris agrees.

We always do.

Humans aren't a dying breed. They're too stubborn to quit.

xXx

The others don't return to the Hyperion until late. At the moment, the Hyperion is being used as power for the Nexus, turning lights back on in the structure and everything. Tris waits patiently for the others to return to tell him what's happening, and busies himself with showering, shaving, and training with his new omni-blade. It's not his old one, certainly, but it will do for now. He can modify this one as well. He'll have to; there's no way to get his old one back, and nostalgia won't help him now.

Liam returns late to the crew quarters. He looks exhausted by the time he enters the room, and he just climbs up into his top bunk and goes to sleep. The sound of his snoring starts almost immediately; he's exhausted, and Tris won't wake him, even if he does want answers.

Sadly, there are other ways to get answers.

He pushes out of bed and tiptoes out of the crew quarters, careful not to wake anyone as he does so. By this point, he's a pro at sneaking out quietly.

The halls are silent, except for toward the kitchen. He steers clear of it and instead heads toward the Pathfinder's quarters, despite his better judgment. His curiosity is getting the better of him, though; he needs to know.

The doors whoosh open upon his arrival; he doesn't even have to knock. He swallows and steps inside to find his father already watching him, his sister, surprisingly, nowhere in sight.

"Tris," his father greets with a small nod of acknowledgement.

"Hey," Tris says. "How'd it go on the Nexus?"

"Not good," Alec Ryder says, shaking his head solemnly. "It looks like the other Arks haven't made it here yet."

"What? But... aren't we late? Shouldn't they be there already?" Tris asks, frowning.

"They should, but none of them have showed up. We're the first. A lot of people on the Nexus gave up hope of ever seeing an Ark, or a Pathfinder. It's not looking good, for anyone."

He scrubs a hand over his face, grateful he shaved earlier. "What about the Golden Worlds? Do we have a home yet?"

"We don't."

Tris's shoulders slouch.

"None of the worlds panned out, according to those on the Nexus. They're all uninhabitable, and deadly. Their first two attempts at creating outposts on a planet failed, miserably. They need a Pathfinder now more than ever. I've been tasked with finding humanity a home, and locating the other Arks. We get a ship tomorrow, and head out at 0800."

"A ship? So we're leaving this one?"

"They're going to give us a ship suited for a Pathfinder, and a crew."

"Don't we already have a crew?"

"We'll need our own crew to run the ship and fly it. The Hyperion is being used for power and will have to remain here, along with most of its crew. We can't wake the others until we have a home for them."

"So... no pressure," Tris mutters, sighing heavily.

"No pressure," his father agrees, with a huff. "It's not exactly the welcoming we had planned, but you take what you can."

"I guess. Will I be joining you on your trip?"

"I was going to talk to you about that. Do you want to?"

"I have a choice?" Tris asks, unable to stop himself.

His father scowls at him. "I'm not unreasonable. If you would rather stay on the Hyperion, I won't stop you. It seems like you've made some... friends."

Tris bites his lip, wondering what he should say. Does he want to stay on the Hyperion? It's suddenly an option he never thought he'd have. "Who all is joining you on your fancy new ship?"

"Liam and Cora are coming," he says.

"But not Kirkland and Greer?"

"Kirkland is still healing and Greer is still taking to heart your message to look after him. So, they won't be joining us, at least not for a while."

Well, at least Greer is taking his job seriously.

Tris sighs. They won't need him on the Hyperion, will they? His file says he's a powerful biotic; they don't know of his other talents, so they will have no use for him. Instead, he will be more needed on this new ship, and Liam and Cora are going. He doesn't dislike Cora, and he and Liam are getting along just fine.

And, pancakes. He might fix pancakes.

"I guess I'll go with you," Tris says, shrugging. "But my rules still stand. Anyone finds out who I am, and I'm out."

"Understood. Welcome aboard, son."

A shiver crawls up his spine at the title. Son. It's been a long time since his father called him that, and really meant it. A long, long time. He swallows, feeling a particular stinging in the back of his throat, nods at his father, and turns to leave the room.

Alec Ryder doesn't try to stop him.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER NINE: Now I Never Make a Sound

The Tempest is a nice ship.

Sleek, not overly large, and fast. A Pathfinder's ship, indeed.

Tris claims his bunk in the crew quarters and stops by his locker to make sure all of his equipment is in order. As far as he knows, they are heading to a planet called Eos to investigate why their past attempts at settlement have failed. It's the only option they have at the moment; Eos is one of the only planets even close to being hospitable, according to Director Tann. Tris doesn't know much about this Tann guy, only that Erin seems to like him and his methods, which instantly puts Tris on edge concerning the guy.

Still, Eos is their only choice at the moment. He needs to make sure he's prepared for whatever they might find there. As far as he knows, it's a desert planet.

He pulls his chest plate out and looks it over; it's a little dented from the 'fun' they had on Habitat 7. He'll need to fix that, since it seems no one else will. That's fine with him; he prefers to work on his own armor, anyway. He finds a bench in the room and gets to work on taking the dents out, and installing a sort of coolant system through the armor plating, rewiring a few of the systems so he can't overheat easily. There's still the radiation to worry about, but at least he won't have to worry about cooking in his armor, for the time being.

He's in the process of adding a precautionary heating system for the cold desert nights when the ship takes off. He's unprepared for the sudden change in movement, and nearly falls off the bench as the ship takes off for the first time in... well, a long time. Centuries. He exhales slowly and balances himself back out, looking up from his work to find that a female turian is now standing in the doorway. He blinks up at her, and offers a small smile.

"Hey," he says, lowering the chest plate to the bench next to him.

"Hello," she says, her vocal chords mingling in a harmonious way, nearly humming. It gives her voice this pleasant quality which leaves him smiling.

"Am I in your way?" he asks, watching her as she continues to stand in the doorway.

"My locker is just there," she says, gesturing behind him. He pushes to his feet and moves out of the way, allowing her to enter the room and walk past him to get to her locker.

"Are you going to be joining us, then?"

"I am. My name is Vetra Nyx."

"Tris," he says, holding out his hand for her to shake. "Tris Reilly."

She hesitates only briefly before shaking his hand. He knows it can be a weird thing to do; a lot of races don't shake hands, and find it confusing when humans hold their hands out like that, but it's a natural thing for a human to do when meeting someone new. She's been around humans enough to know to shake the hand, though; he's had some aliens who just stared at him, confused, and asked if something was wrong with his hand.

After shaking her hand, he gathers his chest plate and stows it back in his locker, twisting the lock behind him. Not that he doesn't trust anyone here… but he doesn't. Not really. Of course, his family can still easily break into his locker with the help of SAM, or sheer force of will. They can be quite stubborn, after all.

He nods at the turian and takes his leave of the room. The ship isn't nearly as large as the Hyperion; it's not even a fraction of the size, but the ark had to house the entirety of humanity in this new galaxy. This ship is just that - a ship. The Pathfinder's ship. Sleek, fast, and beautiful. Tris wants to get a peek at its systems, look at the blueprints himself, learn the ship inside and out like he tried to do with the Hyperion - but he curbs the urge. His father will never let him do any of that; he's only good for charging, after all. It's biotics or nothing with his family. That's all he's good for, here.

Fine, he thinks. I can keep my hands to myself.

Nevertheless, he tours the ship for himself, having never had a tour of it to begin with. Briefly, Liam quickly showed him around and showed him to a bed so he could sleep, but then he scurried off to trail after the Pathfinder with Cora and Erin. A part of Tris worries Liam will become one of them - one of those people who look up to the Ryders entirely too much, to the point they almost worship them for their ingenuity and lose sight of themselves in the process. Cora is one of those people, he thinks. She looks up to Alec Ryder too much, and one day that will be her downfall. Tris learned his lesson long ago; he guesses they'll just have to learn theirs, too.

Still... if Liam gets pulled into their loop, we'll never talk anymore. He doesn't have time for Ryder supporters like that. He prefers people with more free thought... and yet everyone seems to gravitate toward the Ryders. Even after they were kicked from the Alliance, people still looked up to the famous (or infamous, depending who you asked) Alec Ryder and his wonderful daughter. It's how things have always gone.

Tris makes a friend.

Erin steals them away.

They're no longer Tris's friend.

It used to hurt, a deep cut somewhere in his psyche, but now it's just a scar, long scabbed over. Occasionally it will bleed, to remind him that ache never really goes away, but he's managed to ignore it for a long time. If Liam decides to befriend Erin, then oh well. Tris doesn't need friends, anyway.

But the pancakes, his mind laments. The pancakes are delicious. Maybe he can steal some when he cooks for the Pathfinder. Surely he'll do that at some point, right?

He tries to ignore the grim mood this suddenly puts him in. He shoves all thoughts of friendship and family out of his mind, and instead focuses on remembering the layout of the ship for future reference. Maybe he won't hunt down for the blueprints of the ship, but it's still nice to know where everything is, just in case.

He has a little while to learn it, he guesses. He's not sure how long it will take to get to Eos, but he guesses at least a few hours, if not a day or so. He doesn't know. It will be interesting, to see another planet from this strange galaxy, but the thought of touching down on another strange planet leaves his gut churning, too. The last time they landed, things didn't go so well. What if Eos is similar? There have already been two failed outposts there.

Visiting yet another planet also makes him more than a little homesick. He misses the Milky Way; he misses Earth.

I miss Dillon.

The thought appears unbidden, but lingers in his mind, poisoning it with images of the man he left behind. It haunts him, what Dillon must have thought of him – did he look for him? Did he care? Did he think something happened to him, or did he think Tris just up and left him for no reason? Would he think that lowly of Tris? Did he put up fliers or go to the authorities to report him missing? What happened, 600 years ago?

It doesn't matter now. None of that matters now. Either way, Dillon is dead. Time kept going while Tris slept, and he'll never get that back. He'll never get any of that time back. He woke up 600 years in the future, and everything he cared about is long gone. His bike is gone, his omni-blade is gone, Dillon is gone, Mom is gone...

His life is gone.

And he's stuck 600 years in the future. He's stuck in the here and now while his mind lingers in the past. He's stuck here, in a time he never asked to be part of, and he's just so angry.

So fucking angry. At his father, his sister, at himself for not realizing what they planned, for not fighting hard enough... At Dillon, for not helping him...

But it's not Dillon's fault. Dillon didn't know any more than Tris himself knew, so he can't blame him. He doesn't, not really. Mostly he just blames himself.

I should have known. I should have stopped this. I shouldn't be here.

But they made him.

They wanted something, and like always, they got it.

To hell with what Tris wants, they always get exactly what they want.

And it's not fair. It's completely unfair, and they dragged him here and there's no way back. Even if he were to find a way back, that would take another 600 years and he'd know absolutely no one. He'd still be alone, just like he is now.

He nearly trips when he bumps into someone exiting a room as he's walking past. He manages to steady himself, torn abruptly from his rampant thoughts as he looks up to find wide hazel eyes staring at him from a tan face adorned with red, spiky hair. Tris takes a quick moment to catch his breath and get his heart to stop pounding so rapidly at nearly losing his balance, before he releases a breathy exhale.

"I'm so sorry," he says. "Are you okay? I didn't hurt you or anything, did I? Sorry, I wasn't playing attention to where I was going."

Which, I really should have been. How clumsy of me.

He was just trapped in his thoughts, trapped in why am I here why did they bring me here what gave them the right why why why-

"I'm fine," the man says in this smooth, casual voice. "Although, wandering around trapped in your thoughts is probably not the best idea aboard a new ship. You know?"

Tris snorts. "Right, yeah, you're right. Sorry." He holds out his hand. "Tris Reilly."

A gloved hand clasps his own for a brief but firm handshake. "Gil Brodie."

"Nice to meet you," Tris says. He looks down the man's attire, and then back up to his face, noticing that he's covered in grease smudges. "Did you come with the ship?"

The man grins. "I did, actually. I'm the Chief Engineer. I take it you didn't come with the ship."

"Not exactly," Tris says, shrugging. "Part of the Pathfinder team."

The engineer nods. "Come to see how the riffraff is doing?"

"That depends," Tris says, quirking a brow. "Are you riffraff?"

"I'm the finest of riffraff."

Tris chuckles. "I'm sure you are. But I was actually just looking around the ship. Didn't get the tour earlier, so I wanted to see where I'd be living for the next... who knows how long."

Fuck me. This is going to be home for a while, isn't it? He hadn't thought of that until now. This is home. Great.

A ship is his new home in a strange galaxy he didn't ask to be part of.

Could it get any worse?

"So, anything interesting as Chief Engineer?" Tris asks, leaning against the guardrail since they're on the upper platform.

Gil grins again. "Don't get me started; I could go on for hours."

Tris smirks. "Please do."

It will give him something to think about other than the fact he's stuck 600 years in the future in a galaxy he never wanted to see. It might mask that hollow feeling in his chest, at least for a little while.

Gil starts talking, and he doesn't stop.

xXx

Gil talks for a long time, about anything and everything. About the ship, the ship's construction, his 'girls', Suvi Anwar and Vetra Nyx, about his poker games, a few scraps he was in back home in the Milky Way... he goes on and on, and Tris doesn't mind it one bit. It's almost a blessing to drown out the white noise of his mind with this man's constant chatter, and Gil seems especially upbeat and lively as he goes into another telling about the ship and her engines. He has a passion for his work a lot of people are lacking these days. It's almost refreshing.

Hours pass, until Erin comes looking for him. It's almost a shock to his system that she's down here at all, as she would definitely classify Gil and his kind as 'riffraff'. She doesn't usually mingle with the 'workers' in the ship, as she sees them separate from herself and her group. But here she is, bodily coming down to retrieve Tris.

Her grip on his arm leaves him grimacing. "What do you want?" he asks, as apparently her plan was just to drag him away mid conversation. Gil stops speaking, looking momentarily confused before he seems to realize who she is.

"Ms. Ryder," he says with a nod of greeting.

She spares the engineer a quick glance before refocusing her attention on Tris, scowling at him. "The Pathfinder has called a meeting, and you're the only one not there. So I was sent to get you." She makes it clear she is unhappy with this turn of events; she isn't a lapdog.

He grins at her. "Don't I feel special. But he could have just commed me." He gestures up at the comm system running through the ship. "Or, you know. Had SAM tell me." He taps his index finger to his forehead.

Erin rolls her eyes. "Will you come on? The meeting has already started."

"Fine." He looks back at Gil, who has remained oddly quiet throughout the exchange. He smiles at the man. "See you around, Brodie."

"Call me Gil. And yeah, see you," Gil says, waving him off.

Tris turns back to Erin. "Lead the way."

She huffs, but does exactly that.

The walk through the ship doesn't take very long; they remain on the upper platform and go through a doorway across the room. Then it's only a short walk up a ramp to get to the meeting area, around a large circular table. Alec Ryder looks over at them briefly upon their arrival but doesn't stop talking or acknowledge them otherwise.

"We need to be ready when we land. It won't be easy, but nothing ever is," he's saying, in that authoritative voice of his. His Pathfinder voice, some call it. But that's just how he sounds. It was never a Dad voice. It was always a Drill Sergeant voice.

Except with Erin.

He shoves the thoughts away before the bitterness can corrupt him further.

"I'll lead a team down with my daughter and Tris."

Tris winces. "Uh... I mean... shouldn't Cora go?" She is your second, after all. Cora is currently frowning at Alec, just as confused as he is.

The Pathfinder's eyes bore into his. "Cora is going to remain on the ship and see that everything is taken care of from this end while we travel on foot to the abandoned outpost."

There is no room for argument. There's never room for argument.

Tris's jaw clenches, teeth grinding, but he doesn't say a word.

"Could I go with you?" Liam asks. "I'm curious about the planet, and if things get hairy you could use all the help you can get."

Now Alec Ryder's sun-like stare switches to Liam.

Tris inhales slowly, aware of the disagreement which is about to begin. "It might be a good idea," he says, causing Alec to glare at him instead. He smiles under his father's visual wrath. "I mean, he was in Crisis Response. Could be useful to have with us, you know?"

"He has a point, sir," Cora speaks up.

Alec sighs and nods. "Very well. Mr. Kosta can join us. But, Cora, I want you to make sure everything is running smoothly here while we're gone."

"I understand," Cora says, nodding at him like the perfect little follower she is.

Tris fights the urge to roll his eyes, and instead nods respectfully at his father like the good little soldier he should be. It feels wrong on a variety of levels, but he bites his tongue.

"We should reach Eos in four hours. I want everyone ready to hit the ground by then. Sleep, shower, eat - do whatever you want until we get planet-side, but be ready. Dismissed."

Short and to the point, like always. Tris wonders why he had to be dragged bodily to this meeting; it could have been relayed to him after the fact.

He walks down the ramp away from the table and meeting area, unsure where he is going as he hasn't been in this area before. He'll figure it out, though; he doesn't need help. Still, Liam's sudden presence at his side does leave him relaxing, if only slightly. J

"Catch a bite to eat?" Liam asks.

"Sure," he says. "You cooking?"

"You saying you want pancakes?"

"Are you saying you'll fix them if I say yes?"

Liam laughs.

"That's not a no," Tris tells him.

"No," Liam says, "I guess it's not."

"I knew I liked you."

xXx

Eos is a desert planet. They knew that going in, but it doesn't stop the hatred from burning inside of Tris. He hates the desert. He hates the direct sunlight and lack of shade. He hates the heat; he hates feeling like he's cooking in his armor. He's thankful he thought to install those upgrades in his chestplate, though; it does help, almost immediately. He's hot, but he's not quite cooking. There's little bursts of coolness shooting through his chestplate occasionally, to disperse the heat gathering behind the armor.

The air is hot and dry, not humid like it could be back on Earth. The temperature is high, and the radiation levels are threateningly high, but it's not humid. He's not quite choking on the heat, at least not yet. The longer he stays here the hotter it will feel. Hopefully they're off this planet soon, but he's not entirely sure what they're looking for. If his father knows, he's not sharing. At least, not with him. Maybe Erin knows.

He's thankful Liam is down here with them. It means his family can't entirely gang up on him, should the need arise, which it usually always does. He's tense and nervous around them, but Liam's presence disperses that pent up energy a little, and allows him to relax. Hopefully Liam's a friend, but he is on the Pathfinder team, and will be close to Erin and Alec Ryder. Friendships and his family don't mix very well.

At first, things move quite slowly on Eos. They're searching through the remnants of the buildings left behind from the failed outpost when they run into someone who seems to still be living there. He calls the strange aliens the 'kett', which is the first Tris is hearing of it, but it seems familiar to Liam, Erin and Alec. Perhaps people on the Nexus told them of the kett, but Tris stayed on the ship and didn't visit the Nexus with them.

Kett. Such a strange name, foreign in his mind, but he is sure he'll be hearing more about them and seeing more of them, if they're supposedly still on this planet, monitoring it. They're part of the reason the first two outposts failed, along with the planet's high radiation levels and sandstorms.

They get the power back on in the outpost but it alerts the kett nearby. They land in dropships, ready for a fight, armed to the teeth.

The Pathfinder orders Liam off to the right to give cover fire, and nods at Tris. Tris sighs, looks at the enemies, lets the biotics flow through him, and charges into the fray. He can almost hear Liam's huff of frustration; he's uncertain if it's in his mind or if the man actually is huffing at him. It doesn't really matter; he knows what he's good for. He'll do his job.

Bullets whiz past his face as he charges into an alien - a kett - and rams his shoulder painfully into its chest cavity. Despite its armor, it staggers back with a grunt of pain, alien gaze focusing on him with a gleam of partially hidden anger. It raises its gun but Tris is ready; he closes his hand into a fist and slams it down into the ground to create a biotic nova. The wave of energy emanating from his palm throws the alien off its feet.

There's another kett behind it, already aiming at him. Its finger wraps around the trigger, firing at him. Tris watches the bullet shoot toward him, aimed at his face, and almost grins as he charges the kett firing at him, whizzing just under the bullet as everything moves in slow motion around him. Charging has always felt so freeing, moving so quickly, his mind alight with energy. He slams into the kett, knocking it off balance. Before it can get back to its feet, he's slamming his fist down into its stomach with a nova.

A bullet ricochets off his armor, leaving him flinching, ducking down as he spins in the direction of the assault. As he does so, he watches the shooter take a bullet to the face, and glances over to find Liam nodding at him before taking aim at yet another kett. He doesn't see his father or sister, but he knows they're around somewhere; he can see bullets coming from the top of a building, even if he can't see anyone up there from this angle.

He turns back to the fight at hand, barely ducking down in time to avoid a ray of bullets from two kett in the back. He barely manages to find cover and steel himself before he jumps up and charges into them. He slams into one with his shoulder, then twists and knees the second in the stomach as the first staggers off balance, the second doubling over but bringing up its weapon to fire close range. An orb of energy forms in Tris's hand and he flings it at the second kett, forcing the weapon from its hands in a lancing blow.

The first is back in the fray, kicking at Tris's legs. Tris staggers but manages to sidestep the majority of the blow before he charges into the nearly prone figure again. This time he strikes knee first, crouching atop the now unconscious kett afterward. The second comes up behind him; there's a pressure around his neck as hands close around his throat, yanking him off and away from the downed kett.

Those hands go limp before he can do anything. He feels the impact tremors through the body as bullets pepper the kett's back, leaving it releasing him as it slumps to the side, dead. Tris looks up at another kett and charges into it, this time freeing his shotgun after he lands the blow.

He missed his shotgun on Habitat 7. Assault rifles are okay, but a good shotgun can't be beat.

He barely aims at the kett before firing, swinging the weapon down at the kett now on its knees after failing to catch itself. He blasts it in the face and swings around to shoot at the presence building behind him, setting his teeth on edge and the hair on the back of his neck rising. He's not sure if it's a charged biotic thing, or what, but feeling a presence behind him always leaves a tremor ripping through him, alerting him of the fact. It's helped him in battle a lot.

The kett attempting to sneak up on him drops its weapon from slack fingers, bullets hitting its back while Tris's shotgun pellets pepper its face on the way down. It hits the ground, dead, and suddenly the fight is over and he's left with all this pent up adrenaline.

Adrenaline is a funny thing, really. He loves feeling this pumped up - until it stops. When the fighting stops, there's a crash and he's too alert and the sounds are too loud and-

He hates it. He hates the silence after a fight.

It's why he stopped fighting. It's why he tried to be useful in other things, but his family will only ever want one thing from him: his biotics. It's all he's good for in their eyes, and that means he's going to have to get used to... this.

The silence after the storm.

His skin is crawling. The armor is too hot. The silence is too loud, ringing in his ears, the sound of the faint breeze grating. His mask is hot, threatening to choke him as his breath heats up the interior. Panting. The fight is over but his blood is still pumping rapidly, he still has all this energy.

"Tris?"

His head snaps up a little too quickly. Liam is watching him, walking away from his own bit of cover.

"You alright?" Liam asks.

"Fine," Tris says, shaking his arms, rolling his shoulders. Shaking off the energy. "Thanks for the cover fire."

"Well, someone has to cover you," Liam says, shaking his head. "Charging in like that is reckless, you know."

"So you keep telling me."

"You got a thick head, you know that?"

"I prefer to think of it as a strong head." He looks around, frowning. "Where's the Ryders?"

"I don't know," Liam says, sounding almost frustrated. "They disappeared during the fight. We need to find them; they could be in trouble."

More likely they're snooping around and we were the distraction, Tris thinks, but keeps his mouth shut.

They find the Ryders at a shed of sorts, unlocking it.

"What's this?" Liam asks. If he's angry they ditched them in the fight, or if he even realizes that's what happened, he doesn't let it show.

Erin just grins and goes inside the building. She comes out driving some kind of vehicle.

"Oh," Liam says, surprised. "A Nomad rover."

Tris sighs. "At least we can get out of the heat."

Chapter Text

CHAPTER TEN: You Look at Me So Differently (Oh, Me Specifically)

Tris is so tired of this planet, and they've only been here a few hours.

He's certain he has sand in every orifice, despite his armor and the fact they are primarily traveling via the Nomad vehicle. There have been a few more fights as they run into the kett on their way to a strange energy signature SAM told the Pathfinder about. Tris doesn't know much about it, and Erin is driving, however that might be. She's all over the place, but Tris isn't sure anyone else could drive this thing any better. At least he's not driving. He hates driving.

He sits in the back with Liam, while the Pathfinder gets the passenger seat up front with Erin. There's little conversation, save for the occasional mutter from Alec Ryder to his daughter. As far as he can gather, they are supposed to be turning on some kind of... energy field? Locator? Structure? He's not certain, and the Ryders aren't being very forthcoming with information, but from what he can gather, there are several structures all over the planet which will eventually converge in one place and... what? Open a doorway? A hidden area? A vault of some kind? He's not entirely sure, but it's above his job description. He's just the hired help, after all; the distraction, the cannon fodder. He doesn't necessarily need to know.

He wonders how Liam fits into their plan. Is he just cannon fodder, too? That doesn't sit right with Tris, leaves his stomach churning uneasily. He's okay with his family seeing himself that way, but throwing another person under the bus with him is... insane. Wrong. Unfair.

He won't allow that to happen.

So when they get out of the vehicle for another fight at this strange site with the odd-looking structures, Tris pays attention to Liam's location and how his family behaves toward him. They don't order him into danger, but they do keep him separate from them. While they snoop around, he and Liam take care of the threat: robots. For some reason, he wasn't expecting robots. But these structures are strange, with glowing green lines of data and code sparking in foreign patterns - they look mesmerizing, reminding him of advanced computer systems back home, but on a massive scale. He wants to sink his teeth into the code and study it, but all he can do at the moment is fight these strange robots. It's almost a pity, fighting them, destroying them; he'd prefer to study them. Ruining their data cores seems almost... cruel. What if they could learn everything from these robots?

Nevertheless, he fights. It's survival at this point, and he has Liam's life to consider, now. He won't let any of these robots get close enough to take a shot at the man. His sister and father are... somewhere. He's not entirely sure where, at the moment; probably snooping and not fighting with them, like they've done a few times now. He's uncertain if Liam has noticed this trend, but it grates on Tris's nerves. Liam isn't cannon fodder. They can't treat him like this.

By this point, he's getting tired. They've fought several bands of kett, along with the local wildlife, and now these robots. His biotics drain his body of energy; he needs to eat and sleep to regenerate what he's lost. If he doesn't, his body could potentially shut down. He remembers the lessens from his younger years all too well.

Erin has never had to worry about that, though. She handles a gun and snipes from the background; that's her forte. Occasionally she'll offer biotic support, but that's not what she's ever used for. That's Tris's job. Sometimes he wonders if she's like him - screaming on the inside that he's more than his job. Does she want to use biotics more? Does she understand that he wants to use biotics less?

Then he remembers where they are. On a strange planet in a foreign galaxy. A place he never asked to see. Never wanted to see.

And he remembers he's here because of her. Because of them.

And he stops wondering.

The fight ends quickly enough; the robots stop coming, and Tris takes a moment to catch his breath as shivers threaten his spine, adrenaline fading. The adrenaline drop is probably the worst of it all; worse than gunshots, worse than bleeding. It's in his head, in his body, and there's not fixing it. There's no staunching the flow. It's just there, loud and roaring in his ears, hypervigilance threatening to drive him crazy.

Liam is at his side a moment later, by the time he's managed to mostly center himself. He smiles at the man, having been allowed to take his helmet off since they're in a safe bubble, of sorts; the air here isn't poisoned with radiation, cleansed for some reason. Liam rolls his eyes in response, huffing at him yet again, and they look around for the Ryders.

Alec Ryder is currently in the center of this strange, circular platform. There's some kind of console there, and Alec is raising his hand toward it. Tris makes his way toward his father, peering over his shoulder as a faint orange glow surrounds the man's lifted hand, seemingly connecting it to the console. How his father knows what to do, he doesn't ask; he doesn't care to ask. He was never paid to ask questions.

Due to his hypervigilance, he hears the footsteps before anyone else does. He spins around, attempting to locate the source, and realizes the person, or creature, is running at his father. He's the most likely target, after all, standing along the console like that.

I'm cannon fodder. So he reacts.

He leaps toward his father just as this mystery person appears, lunging at Alec Ryder. He intercepts her and is tackled instead; his back hits the ground with a painful thud, knocking the air from his lungs as a weight settles across his stomach. Someone is sitting on him. He blinks his eyes open, focusing on green eyes staring down at him from a blue face, a streak of black across her eyes. An asari, smirking down at him.

"Back off," Liam snaps, and out of the corner of his eye he can see Liam's gun is raised, aimed at the asari.

Erin and Alec are watching, but their guns aren't raised.

This person doesn't really pose a threat, Tris knows. If she did, he'd be dead by now. So he just kind of looks up at her and smirks. "Hey," he says easily. "Do you come here often?"

She chuckles, smirking back down at him. "I bet you use that line on all the girls."

"Only the pretty ones," Tris says, and she laughs.

"I said back off," Liam repeats, gun still aimed.

She holds her hands up, looking at him now. "Whoa, easy. I'm not going to hurt anyone. I just wanted to stop you from connecting to that console. You have no idea what could happen if you do that."

"We have some idea," Erin says, looking down at the asari seated atop her brother's stomach. "I knew you were bottom material, Tris. It's a good look for you."

Tris grits his teeth, glaring up at his sister. The asari seems to sense the sudden tension in his body because she smirks at Erin. "I'd rather be sitting on him than you."

Erin's eyes narrow.

Tris laughs. "I like you. I'm Tris." He holds his hand out to her, which is a little awkward with this position.

Her green eyes look back down at him. "Call me Peebee." Her hand clasps his and shakes briefly.

"Short and sweet, I like it."

Alec Ryder sighs, turning back toward the console, clearly done with this conversation.

"You wanna get off me now?" Tris asks.

"I dunno; you're pretty comfy."

"I've been told I make an excellent chair," Tris says, nodding. "But this is the Pathfinder, and he knows what he's doing." At least, I hope so.

Her eyes widen at that. "A Pathfinder?" She looks at Alec Ryder, incredulously. "I thought they made you guys up."

"He's quite real," Erin says, huffing. "And we're kind of busy here, so you can run along now. He knows how to interact with the console safely."

"Safely?" Tris can't help but snort. "Oh, right. I guess I forgot how safe it is after we got blown up."

"Sounds exciting," PeeBee says, finally sliding off of him.

Tris sits up, winking at her. "Oh, you have no idea."

"You'll flirt with anyone, won't you?" Erin asks, rolling her eyes.

Liam offers him a hand, which he accepts, getting hauled back to his feet. The crisis expert is still watching PeeBee rather warily, though his gun is no longer raised.

"Can I help it if people literally want to sit on me?" Tris asks, smirking.

Erin huffs and turns to focus on her father, effectively tuning him out. He winks at Liam, who shakes his head at him.

"So, PeeBee. How long you been here?" he asks.

PeeBee shrugs, standing next to him. She comes to just past his shoulder. "A little while. I've been studying the Remnant."

"Remnant?"

"The robots," she clarifies. "I named them Remnant. Because, you know, they're a remnant of something else, from a long time ago."

Tris nods. "Good name."

"They're fascinating. If I could just get my hands on some Rem-tech..."

Alec Ryder finishes with the console, then - whatever he was doing. He lowers his hand and this low, deep sounding 'thrum' echoes around them, vibrating the ground beneath their feet. A surge of some kind of power goes through the structure, a jet of light shooting from the upper tip to go across the land, leading to... somewhere. Tris stares for a moment, before looking at the Pathfinder.

"What's this?" he asks.

"A piece of a puzzle," Alec Ryder tells him.

xXx

There's another structure. A monolith, as the Pathfinder calls it.

This one is heavily guarded, just like the last one. PeeBee explains her names for the different types of robots: breachers, assemblers, etc. The names work, and help identify the different types and what they do. PeeBee is quite resourceful, and has decided to tag along with them. Tris vouched for her, said she could come, while Erin looked perturbed by the idea and Alec Ryder merely raised an inquisitive eyebrow.

No one argued when he said they could use all the help they could get, and she seemed knowledgeable about the whole thing. So they allowed her to come with them, if only temporarily.

Tris likes PeeBee. She's got this inner spark he finds fascinating; she's upbeat and lively and naturally flirtatious. He enjoys talking to her on their way to this monolith. Liam doesn't really talk to her, nor does Erin, but occasionally the Pathfinder interjects a question.

They fight the robots, the remnant, and then Alec Ryder works his magic on the console.

The ground shivers, a low threatening hum vibrating their feet, before another surge of energy brightens the tips of the structure, shooting off in a direction.

This whole thing is intriguing. Tris just wants to bury his head in the technology, study it and ask PeeBee a million questions about what she's found, but now isn't the time for any of that. In the back of his mind, he has to remember why they're here: to help fix this planet so that way they can maintain an outpost here. If this is what it takes to fix it, then so be it.

The Pathfinder thinks it's like that structure, that compound, on Habitat 7. If they can stabilize the atmosphere, the planet will become more inhabitable, thus making it less difficult to survive here. They need this. Humanity needs this. Tris has to curb his curiosity, at least for the time being.

For now, it's all one giant puzzle, and they have just uncovered another piece.

xXx

The third area they uncover isn't a strange structure; at least, not entirely. There is a structure, a monolith, further behind it but first they have to go through this building, a compound filled with kett. Why the kett care about the structure is a mystery to Tris, but he recalls them swarming over the compound on Habitat 7, too. Maybe they're looking for the same thing they are. Why haven't they found it yet, if they had such a head start?

Nevertheless, they fight through the kett. Tris charges in, distracting, while his family goes around the back way. In the fray, he loses track of PeeBee and Liam, but he thinks they went with his family, if not a little hesitantly. At least he doesn't have to worry about their safety at the moment; it's always hard to divide his attention between the enemies surrounding him, and his allies behind him.

He charges into a kett across the compound, closer to the building area he feels they need to infiltrate. There's a back door here he plans to use, as soon as he takes care of the threat around him. By this point, the kett realize they're under attack and are swarming around him. There's at least a half dozen encircling him, but he always did like a challenge.

His hand curls into a fist before he punches the air, outward, toward a kett's face in the distance. A biotic orb encircles his fist before shooting at the kett, slamming into it, leaving it knocked off its feet. He turns right, toward a kett charging at him, and brings up his shotgun to shoot it point blank. It ricochets off parts of its armor, but manages to penetrate enough to slow its charge. Tris sidesteps the incoming blow and swings with his shotgun, whacking the kett across the face, leaving it crumpling to the ground in a motionless heap at his feet. He looks up as bullets whiz past his face, and charges into the furthest kett, clamming into it with his elbow jutting at the alien's exposed neck. It goes down almost instantly, but he feels a presence behind him. It's so sudden he almost wonders if kett have biotics too, but finds that unlikely. He hasn't seen them utilize those abilities yet, and surely he would have by now.

Nevertheless, he spins on his heel, allowing his omni-blade to form. At first, he preferred the biotic punch amplifier to the omni-blade, but he switched it back on Habitat 7, when he realized an omni-blade might suit him better since he kept charging into the middle of everyone, even if it wasn't his omni-blade. At least it could penetrate the armor, and would come in handy against those invisible creatures, which he's thankfully not seen here. Hopefully they were only on Habitat 7.

He rams the orange tip of his blade into the space between the front and back pieces of armor, the blade easily sliding into vulnerable flesh. The kett in question howls in pain and outrage, attempting to shoot him with a shotgun, but Tris smacks the weapon aside with his free hand, causing the bullets to just miss his face. The sound is deafening, so close to his ear, ringing in the silence that follows, and his heart hammers in his chest. That was definitely close.

He throws his head forward sharply, headbutting the kett. It staggers back, ripping free of his omni-blade as it tears a jagged line through its flesh along the way. He allows the omni-blade to fade and punches the kett squarely in the side of the head, causing it to sink to the ground in a motionless heap. Bullets ricochet off his armor, leaving him quickly charging toward the nearest kett. He spins behind the kett, using it as a shield, and those bullets follow him. The kett in front of him drops, unaware of the danger present in that moment, and Tris charges again, toward another kett.

Eventually, the fight is over, and he's surrounded by bodies. Their strange blood coats his armor, and the silence is roaring.

He exhales slowly, looking around quickly. He doesn't see more kett, and can hear gunfire in the distance. The Pathfinder's group is busy, and the threat in his immediate area seems to have passed. He heads toward the door, which flashes red. Locked.

Damn it.

Of course it's locked. Of course he has no way in. SAM could probably help his father hack it, but-

I don't need my father to get inside.

He removes his gloves, focusing on the panel next to the door. Crossing the right wires will make the door open; it's an emergency protocol. All doors like this have them. The structure might be owned by strange aliens, but their technology is eerily similar to what they had back in the Milky Way. Some things will always be constant.

A door like this will always be just that: a door.

He pops the panel open. Wires greet him, along with buttons and switches. There's a computer system at work here, hackable by SAM, but a hardwire hack will always be an option when it concerns advanced systems like this. Anything with wires...

He smirks to himself, recognizing a pattern in the system. He grabs a wire, plucks it free of its connections, and the door slides open, flashing an error message on the little screen in the panel.

He walks inside, putting his combat gloves back on, listening for any danger inside.

He doesn't hear anything at the moment; it appears to be empty.

Looking around reveals it's just a large open room, for the most part. There are consoles along the far wall, along with weapons and caches.

Huh. Was it really worth the fight for this stuff?

"I like your style, kid." The voice is sudden and gruff, coming from somewhere above him.

He stiffens and looks up to see a krogan watching him, in full armor, a shotgun held in their grasp. It's not aimed at him, so he doesn't take it as a threat.

"My style?" he asks.

"I saw you fighting those kett. Real in your face and personal. I like it."

Of course this krogan likes it. Krogan are known for their 'in your face' fighting style. "Do you always watch creepily from the shadows, or am I special?"

"You'd be dead if I wanted you dead," the krogan assures him. "So maybe you're special, to be alive."

"I feel so loved. Why don't you come down from there, so we can talk like normal people?"

"Ain't got the time for normal people," the krogan says, shaking his head, but nevertheless he jumps down. The ground trembles slightly under the krogan's weight; it towers over him, standing right in front of him. "You fight hard for someone so squishy."

"Squishy?" Tris asks, staring. "Excuse you, but I'm not 'squishy'."

"All humans are squishy."

"Fleshy," Tris corrects. "Not squishy. What are you doing here, anyway?"

"Fighting kett, same as you. They're squishy, too."

"Is everything squishy to you?"

"Everything easy to kill, yes."

Tris smirks. "You think I'm easy to kill? Why don't you try it and see?"

"Feisty, huh? I like it. But don't get cocky, kid."

"I'm not a kid."

"You're all kids to me."

"I'm twenty-three."

"Talk to me when you've got a few centuries on you."

"Okay," Tris says, nodding. "Then I have six centuries."

"Cryo-sleep doesn't count."

Tris chuckles. He kind of likes this krogan. "What's your name, then? Or should I call you Old Ass?"

The krogan snorts. "The name's Drack, don't see how it would matter to you though."

"Well, I'm Tris. Part of the Pathfinder team."

"Pathfinder, huh? I thought they were all dead."

"Nope."

"Know anything about those strange structures?" Tris gestures in the direction the closest one is, the one just beyond this compound.

The krogan, Drack, shakes his head. "Ain't got time for that nonsense. I'm just here to kill kett. I'm good at it."

"I bet you are."

"You're not so bad yourself, kid."

"Thanks, I try." He sighs, and looks around. "Any idea where the others are? The others with me, I mean."

"I heard them shooting on the other side. Should be here soon, if they're as nosy as you."

"They're pretty nosy."

"Then I'm sure you'll meet them in here."

"Do you want to come with us?" Tris asks. "We could use you in the group, and I'm sure there will be plenty more kett to fight."

"I work alone," Drack says, watching him with his slitted eyes.

Tris shrugs. "If that's what you want."

It's about that time another door opens, and in comes the Pathfinder, Erin, Liam and PeeBee.

"There you are," Liam says, eying him and then the krogan. "Uh... who's this?"

"Drack," Tris says. "Drack, meet the team. Team, Drack. He likes killing kett."

"You all are too flashy and noisy," Drack says to them. "Not enough close combat."

"Not all of us are brutes," Erin says.

Drack's eyes narrow at her. "Who are you calling a brute?"

"Probably me," Tris says, before things can escalate. "I'm the one who likes punching kett in the face. Not really her style. So, are you sure you don't want to join us, Drack?"

"You can't keep picking up strays," Erin tells him, frowning.

"Now I'm a stray?" Drack asks.

"Of course not," the Pathfinder says. "My daughter simply misspoke. I'm sure your... brutish combat skills could be quite helpful. Tris could always use the help."

Tris can't help but bristle, glaring at his father. "I can handle myself just fine, thanks."

"This kid took out a lot of them on his own," Drack says. "Without the use of all your fancy weapons."

It's... strange, having someone stick up for him like this. First Liam, now Drack. What is happening? What has the universe come to?

"Yeah," Liam says, "he likes to charge ahead into the middle of the action. All the time." This is said with a deadpan look at Tris.

Tris smiles. "What can I say? I like to get my hands dirty."

"So are you not joining us?" PeeBee asks, watching Drack.

"Not my style," Drack tells her. "I'm just here to kill kett. Good luck with whatever you're doing, though."

He nods at Tris, and then turns toward the doorway Tris came through, to take his leave. Tris watches him go, before looking back at his family.

"How'd you get in here?" Erin asks.

"Hacked the door," Tris says, shrugging. "What took you guys so long?"

Erin glares at him, while Alec shakes his head. "The monolith is nearby. We should hurry, before more kett arrive."

"He's right," Liam says.

Of course he is.

Tris nods. "Lead the way."

Alec and Erin lead the way out of the building, toward the monolith. Liam hands back to walk next to Tris and PeeBee.

"You okay?" Liam asks.

"Fine," Tris says.

"And you made a new friend," PeeBee says, smirking at him.

"I'm friendly. What can I say?"

"You sure you're not hiding any injuries?" Liam asks.

He can feel the man's gaze on him, and tosses him a quick smile. "Why? Worried about me?"

"God knows someone has to. What have I told you about charging into the fray like that? Without back-up?"

"You weren't backing me up?" Tris asks, blinking at him. "How tragic. Good thing I'm a big boy who can take care of himself." Been doing it my whole life. I'm fine.

"The Pathfinder ordered us with him," PeeBee says.

"Of course he did," Tris says, nodding. "He's the priority, after all."

"There wasn't much resistance on our end," Liam says. "That your doing?"

"I'm the best bait."

"You are distracting," PeeBee agrees.

"The Ryders seem to think you're good at it," Liam says, sounding more than a little perturbed.

Tris shrugs. "It's what I'm here for."

"And what does that mean?" Liam asks. "You've never said."

"Doesn't really matter. Oh, look. A monolith."

It's a terrible distraction, but it works. The monolith activates under the Pathfinder's touch and shoots a third beam of light in a direction. It seems like the beams are all meeting somewhere.

Another piece of the puzzle.

"What do you think is over there?" he asks.

"I'm sure we'll find out," Liam says, sighing.

"This is so exciting! I worked for months, studying these monoliths, and the Pathfinder just activates them like he's been studying the technology his whole life," PeeBee all but gushes, an excited gleam in her eyes.

A part of Tris revels in her excitement, feels it the same as her - the urge to learn more, the curiosity gnawing at him. But another part feels rather wary. They have no idea what they've just activated. They have no idea where it leads.

They have no idea what might be waiting for them at the end of this puzzle.

It's not just himself he has to worry about anymore, but Liam and PeeBee, too.

How am I supposed to be everywhere at once?

He can't.

The Pathfinder will send him ahead, and leave Liam and PeeBee unprotected.

I might be cannon fodder, but they're not.

He won't stand for them being treated like that.

He grits his teeth and looks at the Pathfinder, his father. Alec Ryder. A man used to manipulating and using people to get what he wants, and he always gets what he wants.

He steps forward, causing Erin and Alec to glance at him.

"I need to have a word with you," he says lowly, grabbing the Pathfinder by the arm, leading him away. He comes quietly, surprisingly, but of course Erin follows. She always follows.

She must have told the others to stay, though, because Liam and PeeBee don't follow, but he can't feel their eyes on him, watching his every move. He can feel their nervous curiosity.

Once they're far enough away, he rounds on his father angrily. "You need to stop this."

"Stop what?" Alec asks, quirking a brow at his son.

"Don't 'what' me. You know exactly what I mean."

"Tris, we can't read your mind," Erin says, rolling her eyes.

"I might be cannon fodder, but they're not," Tris snaps, glaring at them. "If we're going to do this stupid puzzle thing, then you're going to send them both back to the Tempest. You're not going to use them as bait like me. They're better than that."

"They're not bait, Tris," Erin says, shaking her head. "And you're the one who said it was a good idea for Liam to come, and offered to let PeeBee join us. This is your fault they're here."

He grits his teeth, his jaw aching. "They're part of the team. You can't just throw them away as bait!"

"The priority here is the Pathfinder," Erin snaps, glaring back at him. "Or have you forgotten? You're part of the Pathfinder team. You should know that."

"That doesn't mean their lives don't matter!"

"Of course they matter! But you have to understand what's happening here! The other Pathfinders are missing, and Dad's the only one there is right now! He's too important to risk!"

"Then why is he out here?" Tris growls, taking a step toward her. She actually takes a step back. "If he's too damn important to risk, why is he even out here? Why not send Cora instead?"

"Because we need the Pathfinder to interact with the consoles," she says, folding her arms across her chest.

"Do we?" Tris asks, shifting his gaze toward their father, who has thus far remained silent while they argue things out. "Or do we just need SAM? SAM might be connected to the Pathfinder, but he's a part of everyone. Couldn't SAM just connect with someone else for a little while, and let them interface with the console?"

"No," Erin says, rolling her eyes. "That's what the Pathfinder is for."

"Is it? Because last I checked, no one knew anything about this shit back home, so unless you're a fortune teller and didn't fucking tell me, you have no idea what's going on."

"Enough!" Alec Ryder snaps, waving a hand at the both of them, slicing it through the air in an obvious 'knock it off' motion Tris remembers from his youth. "I won't stand to have you two arguing like this, and I will not stand for your insubordination, Tris." The Pathfinder glares at him, eyes narrowed into small, angry slits. "You wanted to be treated like any other team member, then you've got your wish. One more word out of line and I will send your ass back to the ship."

Tris glares back at his father, but can't determine if Alec is serious or bluffing. He knows the Pathfinder knows he won't let himself be sent back to the ship, not while Liam and PeeBee are out here as candidates for bait. His teeth grind together, creating a grating sound he's certain is audible to them, and in that moment he's never quite hated his father more.

"Fine," he spits out, hands clenched into fists at his sides. "But if anything happens to them, I'll hold you personally responsible. And if I'm just another member of the team, that means I'm well within my right to question your authority and spark an investigation into your methods." He spins on his heel, facing Liam and PeeBee across the way, both of them watching them with wide eyes. "I don't like being threatened, Dad. I'll be your fucking bait, but if anything happens to them... I'm coming after you next."

With that, he stomps away from his family.

As soon as he gets far enough away, Liam is at his side.

"What was that all about?" he asks quickly, worriedly.

"Absolutely fucking nothing," Tris says. "We should get back to the Nomad, make sure the vehicle is safe."

"Tris, what-"

He shrugs off the hand on his shoulder.

"Tris-"

"What was that about?" PeeBee asks, joining them. "It looked like you three were going to come to blows. Aren't you guys a team?"

"I don't want to talk about it," Tris says quietly, keeping his voice pitched low so he doesn't snap at them. It's not their fault. They don't know. They're just curious. He'd be curious too, if their roles were reversed; he can't blame them. That doesn't mean he wants to discuss it right now.

"Tris, slow down," Liam says, and there's a hand on his shoulder again.

He twists free of the grip, throwing a glare Liam's way. "I said I don't want to talk about it," he snaps. "Can't you listen?"

Now they're both staring at him, stopped in their tracks. Fucking great.

He drags a hand across his face, sighing heavily, averting his gaze toward the ground. "Sorry. I'm sorry. I'm not mad at you. I just don't want to talk about it right now, okay? Please?"

Liam sighs. "You've been acting real funny when it concerns the Ryders, and they've acted strangely when it concerns you. I thought you knew you could trust me to tell me what's happening."

"I do trust you," Tris sighs, shaking his head. "It's them I don't trust."

"Why not?" PeeBee asks. "Isn't it the Pathfinder's job to find everyone a home? To make worlds right again?"

"Not this Pathfinder."

"What do you know that we don't?" Liam asks, probing yet again.

He shakes his head. "Nothing. I don't know anything. Can we just go?"

"If there's something we need to know-"

"Is there a problem here?" Alec Ryder asks, suddenly right next to them.

"No," Tris says, shaking his head, not sparing his family a glance. "There's no problem."

With that, he walks away, back toward the compound. The Nomad is parked on the other side of it. The quicker they get there, the quicker they get to wherever these lights connect, and the quicker they can get off this planet and back to the safety of the Tempest.

The quicker he can be done with his family.

After this, I'm out. We'll go back to the Nexus, and I'll join the Hyperion instead. He offered it to me last time; it's still an option. I don't have to be here.

He can be done with them.

But... what about the others? Won't they have them be bait when I'm gone?

His teeth grit again. His dentist is going to hate him.

If he leaves, the others could be used as bait and cannon fodder in his place. He'd hoped his family would at least treat their team okay, but from what he's witnessed so far... that's rather doubtful. He can't guarantee their safety if he's away... but he can't guarantee it while he's here, either.

But at least, if he's here, they don't have to do his job.

At least, not alone.

He scrubs a hand over his face.

Why is nothing ever easy?

Chapter Text

CHAPTER ELEVEN: We Don't Talk Enough (We Should Open Up)

The strange streams of light lead to a lake. Its surface is rather pristine; it looks ordinary, despite the fact this is a foreign, radioactive planet. Another console, and something rises out of the lake - an opening of sorts, a structure, leading down. A doorway.

A vault, as the Pathfinder calls it.

Tris is steadfastly not talking to his family - or anyone, really. He hasn't said a word since they got back in the vehicle to head here. PeeBee and Liam have tossed him a few probing looks, but he's ignored them. He doesn't like the silent treatment, but he is good at giving it; probably because he never had anyone to talk to, anyway. Used to drive Erin crazy when she couldn't get a rise out of him. Serves her right.

They enter the vault, and the Pathfinder interacts with yet another console. How he's doing it, Tris doesn't know, and doesn't really care to ask. He's not sure if the Pathfinder really has to be here, of it SAM can help anyone like this; SAM is further in the Pathfinder's mind than anyone else's, has to be with the implant and everything, but that doesn't mean he can't help others, too. He's spoken to Tris, after all.

This time, once the console is activated, the floor splits. There's a giant opening before them, going, down, down, down...

Tris can't see the bottom.

He kicks a rock into the abyss, and smirks when it floats in place.

A gravity well, huh? Nice.

"What do you think is down there?" Liam asks.

Only one way to find out, Tris thinks, and jumps.

There are a variety of shouts above him as he falls, but then seems to catch on thin air, levitating in place for a brief moment before he's sucked down, gently. The fall is slow and steady, and he's swallowed by darkness. Finally, his feet hit solid ground and he looks around as the cavern brightens, allowing him to make out details thanks to the data-like green light along the walls and floor.

He steps out of the gravity well, and looks back at it to find PeeBee landing behind him, smirking at him.

"You gave your friend a heart attack," she tells him.

He quirks a brow at her. He doesn't have friends.

Liam lands next, scowling at him as he steps off the platform. "I could throttle you," he says, glaring.

Tris shrugs, watching the platform for the arrival of his father and sister. Surely they'll come down, too.

What if they don't? Will the gravity well pull them back up? How else can they get back up?

"You still alive down there?" Erin asks through the comms.

Tris snorts. Of course she's unwilling to come down without knowing; she never did enjoy risking her own life. That was always my job.

Liam watches him for a moment, before he sighs and taps the device in his ear. "We're good," he says. "Area is clear."

"You should see this," PeeBee adds.

Or hide up there, I guess.

You assume that your father sees all of you as 'cannon fodder', as you put it, a voice says, echoing through his head, causing him to flinch and spin around despite, eyes widening, but you are wrong.

No one else seems to have noticed SAM's voice. No one else seems to have caught that SAM called Alec Ryder his father. But how...?

Are you in my head? He thinks, frowning deeply.

I have access to a private channel in your mind, yes, though I cannot read your mind. I merely can collect brief surface impressions and hear what you direct at me, SAM tells him, and this is so wrong, on a variety of levels.

How can I hear you but they can't?

As I said, this is a private channel.

Does everyone have a private channel, then? He would have thought if anyone had a private channel, it'd be the Pathfinder, and only them. But perhaps SAM can do this with everyone. His father certain has a lot of secrets, doesn't he? Or maybe this is only strange to Tris; maybe the others know they can speak to SAM privately.

Not everyone has a private channel, is SAM's response.

So I'm just special? Tris almost scoffs at the thought. Liam tosses him an odd glance but he steadfastly ignores the inquisitive gaze, just as he has been since they left the last monolith. He doesn't like the silent treatment, but he's good at it.

It was his only defense, growing up. Yelling at Erin only aided her in her love of arguments, and gave her more and more fuel. She knew how to cut deep, and the more the argued, the deeper her linguistic blade went. So he stopped talking. She couldn't argue with silence, at least not effectively.

' Special' is subjective, Mr. Reilly.

It's Tris. And what is that supposed to mean?

SAM is silent now, after giving him a cryptic response. Tris sighs, shaking his head, aware of the keen gaze watching him. Liam thinks he's hiding something. He's not wrong. Tris is hiding a lot - a whole life from him, to be exact. But telling him his reasons for not trusting the Ryders would only allow for more probing questions, and he just doesn't have the time to spend his days dodging such inquiries.

SAM says they're not cannon fodder. That that's not how Alec Ryder sees them.

Bullshit. He knows he's cannon fodder; what other reason could they have for bringing him along? They need his biotics, his fighting strategy. They need him as a distraction. That's okay, really - he doesn't mind throwing himself under the metaphorical bus. But the others are innocent; they don't deserve to be run over with him.

"What do you see down there, Tris?" Erin calls over the comms. They still haven't come down yet, so everyone is just standing in this area, uncertain.

Tris sighs, aware that it's her way of getting him to break his silent treatment. Nevertheless, he looks around. "Kind of hard to explain," he tells her. "A big empty cavern, I guess. Are you coming or what?"

"What, you can't handle it?" she asks.

He grits his teeth once more, jaw aching. "That's what the Pathfinder is for, remember?" he pushes through his teeth, their argument still far too clear in his mind. He's ready to get this over with and return to the ship so he can be done with them.

Will I really leave? He isn't certain. He wants to get away from them, doesn't want any part of their game anymore, but at the same time he can't help but worry about who will have to replace him in their minds. Someone will have to take up the mantle of 'distraction cannon fodder', if it's not him. And he can't let someone else do that, can he?

Forever torn, no matter what he decides.

Why can nothing ever be easy?

"It might be too risky to send the Pathfinder down there," Erin says, cautiously. She's right to be cautious, because she's at the end of a very short fuse with Tris. "We could be ambushed by the kett who are also looking for this place. There could be more of those bots down there."

"I hope so," PeeBee says, gleefully, ever the academic.

"You're not coming down," Tris translates with a sigh.

"Sorry," she says – and she does almost sound sincere.

There's still that arrogant lilt to her voice, though. It's always there. He finds it grating.

"So what do you want us to do?" Liam asks.

"Can we get back up?" Tris asks, because that's all he cares about right now. He doesn't mind searching down here, as long as they have a way back up. He doubts their jump-jets will aid them with that big of a drop.

"The gravity well should work both ways," PeeBee says. "It's what it was built for."

Well, that's something, at least.

"How long do we have to stay down here?" Tris asks.

"An hour, and then we'll leave," Erin tells him.

He sighs, looking around the cavern again. What will they even be looking for? A part of him wants to insist they come down here, but she is right: Alec Ryder is the only Pathfinder they have right now, and he needs to be protected, Tris's personal feelings aside. Erin is daddy's little girl, after all; she's perfect for protecting him. At least she'll keep him safe up there while Tris and the others do their part down here.

He certainly doesn't envy his father's shoes right now. That's a lot of pressure, to find humanity a home and discover what happened to the other Pathfinders.

"We'll look around," Liam assures the Pathfinder.

"Let us know what you find," Alec tells him.

"Yes, sir."

Tris fights the urge to roll his eyes as he stalks away from the platform, further into the cavern. There's an odd structure across the way; the lines of glowing green converge here, in a unique pattern. It almost looks like a door; if only they could get it to open.

"Uh, how are we supposed to open that?" Liam asks from behind him.

If it's a door, there should be a panel or console nearby, right? Something to open it.

He opens his scanner. Not everyone has one, and he's pretty certain he shouldn't have access to one, but, well – he is a hacker. He wonders if his family knows he still has access to one. Probably not, or they would have taken that from him, too. They only need his biotics, after all.

There are glowing yellow lines in the floor, leading back across the room, to the other side of the gravity well. Smart, he thinks. It's so far away from the door, no one would probably guess it's how you open it without looking through the floor like this. He makes his way toward it, ignoring Liam's probing look, and smirks at the console. It looks like nothing more than a bit of random decoration, poking out of the ground like that, the same material as the floor and walls but lacking the glowing green lines. Smart, he thinks again. Whoever built this was certainly clever.

Looking around more carefully now, he notices that there are more of these structures - some even have the glowing green lines along their edges. Picking the right one to open the door would be problematic if one didn't have a scanner.

"What are you doing?" Liam asks.

He doesn't answer, instead kneeling in front of the console, making sure he's in front of the flat, smooth half instead of the extending outward half. He thinks this is the inside, where one would have to stand to operate the console. He opens a small compartment in the inside of his arm's armor, and pulls out thin metal stick with pointed edges, perfect for prying open panel casings to get to the wiring beneath. It's been a while since he had to use such a thing, but it works.

He slips a pointed edge between the smallest of cracks and pries. A panel pops open, revealing a multitude of wires.

Very clever, he thinks, smirking. This might actually take some thought.

"Whoa," Liam says, behind him. "What is that?"

Maybe SAM could hack his way into the system without prying open the case like this, like his father has done before, but the old-fashioned way still works for normal people like himself. Finding the right wire could be problematic, of course; he doesn't know what sort of fail-safes are in place. Choosing the wrong wire could cause another explosion, or something equally as dangerous.

He peers over his shoulder at Liam. "You might want to move away," he tells him, just in case.

Liam frowns, but backs up a few paces. It's not an ideal distance, but at least he's not right next to it like he was. Tris sighs and turns back to his work.

"So, is that some kind of console?" PeeBee asks, hovering just behind Liam.

"Is everything alright down there?" Erin asks.

Tris ignores both questions, instead pushing multiple wires aside with his gloved hands. He doesn't want to accidentally shock himself, and he doesn't need precise movement until he's certain which wire he wants to cut. As it is, he knows that some places have a fail safe button hidden in the back, to be used for emergencies. The wires won't help in that case; they are merely a distraction. Necessary, but cutting them could be disastrous. This is a new galaxy, but so far there have been similarities in their technologies; perhaps his luck will hold out here.

Of course, there's always the risk the button itself is the distraction. In which case, hitting it will probably blow him up. He's not exactly eager to be so near to another explosion again.

"Tris? Status update," the Pathfinder says.

Oh my fucking god. Let me work.

He remains silent, because answering his father is rather low on his list of priorities at the moment.

"He's working on a console," Liam informs them, in Tris's silence.

"He's trying to hack it?" Erin asks.

"I guess so."

There's the button, in a back corner, hidden from prying eyes unless they know what they are looking for. Tris almost smiles, reaching for it.

"Tris, that's a terrible idea," she says with a huff. "Just because you're some two-bit hacker doesn't mean you can-"

The door opens with a low hiss.

"I'm not a two-bit," Tris says, standing up. "I'm one of a kind."

Erin huffs, irritated. "So you hacked it?"

"I'm a little busy doing your job," Tris tells her, rolling his eyes as he walks around the console, back toward the door. "I'll have to talk to you later."

He ends the connection and stops just shy of the now-open doorway. Beyond it is a sea of darkness, with glowing green lines edging the hallway.

"Where do you think it leads?" PeeBee asks, at his side.

Guess we'll have to follow it to find out, Tris thinks, staring into the darkness.

"You know," PeeBee sighs, "I liked you better before your little argument with the Pathfinder. You're going to have to talk to us eventually."

Tris spares her a quick glance. If she doesn't like the silent treatment, that's her problem, isn't it? He has nothing to say right now. He just wants to get this over with and get out of here. Is that so much to ask?

"She has a point," Liam says, on Tris's other side.

"What do you want me to say?" Tris sighs, starting to walk down the hallway. Footsteps follow after him.

"How about why you were arguing with the Pathfinder?" Liam asks.

"That was private," Tris tells him. "It doesn't concern you."

"See, I think it does."

"I didn't take you for the self-centered type," Tris says, continuing down the hallway. It's strangely quiet, save for their voices. Maybe a little too quiet.

I don't like this...

"Do you know something we don't?" Liam asks. He's like a dog with a bone - refusing to drop it even when it's in his own best interests.

Is it, though? A part of him wonders. Is it in Liam's best interests to drop this subject? Tris tries to think of it from his point of view. He knows Tris doesn't trust the Pathfinder, but is close enough to him to call a personal meeting and just drag him away from a monolith console to argue with him. He knows he has a rocky relationship with the Ryders but can't discern why. So, of course he wants answers. If Tris knows something he doesn't, he should know. It's too dangerous to be in this line of work without trusting everyone, and if he thinks Tris thinks the Pathfinder is hiding something...

But he is hiding something, he thinks, frowning to himself. Alec Ryder is keeping secrets, but it's a secret Tris won't tell, doesn't want to tell. To his knowledge all Alec Ryder is keeping secret is the fact that Tris is actually his son, and that he kidnapped him and brought him here against his will, because he... what? Wanted cannon fodder?

Not for the first time, Tris wonders why he's here. Why they brought him here. If it's just to be bait, they could have had anyone do that - so why bring him? It doesn't make any sense, but he can't figure it out. What else do they want?

"Are you listening to me?"

Tris sighs. "Is now really the time to talk about it?"

"We're separated from the Ryders," Liam says, "so it seems like the perfect time to talk about it."

"This can't wait until later?"

"You won't tell me later."

"And you know me so well, do you?"

"Tris," Liam says quietly. "Why can't you just tell me? What's going on?"

Tris scowls. Liam deserves an answer, but he doesn't have one to give right now. Admitting to knowing anything leaves him vulnerable to further questions, such as his role with the Ryders, and why he's even here. He'll have to learn to keep his cool in front of his family from now on, and be a 'team player'. He'll have to get along with them, if he stays here.

If.

"I think you owe us an explanation for your odd behavior, and that argument back there," PeeBee says.

Not you too. "I don't know what to tell you," Tris tells them, sighing heavily. "We just don't get along, end of story."

"There's more to it than 'not getting along', and you know it," Liam says.

"Why don't you get along?" PeeBee asks. "Is the Pathfinder that hard to work with? I heard the human Pathfinder was supposed to be amazing, or something."

"Or something," Tris echoes, grimacing. Amazing isn't something he'd ever call his father.

The tunnel they're in brightens toward the end, showing more of the area ahead of them. It's another cavern, of sorts, but more wide open, with what looks like pixelated platforms. How does that even work? Strange, foreign technology... he thinks. Fascinating.

"So what's your deal with him and his daughter?" PeeBee asks, when he's quiet for too long.

"Nothing," Tris grits out, looking around the new area they're in. It's breathtaking, really. Strange yet familiar. It reminds him of the legends of the geth back in the Milky Way, not that he'd ever really seen anything of them personally.

"Whoa, look at this place," PeeBee breathes, and Tris relaxes slightly. At least she's no longer interrogating him.

Liam, on the other hand...

"So what do you know that we don't?"

"You don't quit, do you?" Tris asks, tossing him a quick smirk. He has to admire his stubbornness if nothing else, even if his line of questioning can only lead to trouble. He's determined. That will come in handy in Andromeda, he's certain. He looks from Liam to PeeBee and back again. "Look, all I can tell you is that I've known the Ryders for a long time. We haven't always gotten along. I don't really trust them, for my own personal reasons which don't concern you. We have a... turbulent history together." He shrugs. "If you trust them, all the power to you, but I don't, and I doubt I ever will."

"Then why are you here?" PeeBee asks. "Why be part of their team if you don't trust the people leading it?"

"That's a long story," Tris says.

"Don't back out now," Liam urges.

"Let's just say they made me an offer I couldn't refuse," he finally sighs, shaking his head. "That's why I'm here. We have an… understanding, but that doesn't mean I like it. Sorry if I've been a little snappish."

"A little?" PeeBee asks, smirking at him.

"Okay, I've been a giant ass. Sorry. Wasn't anything against you two."

"What was that argument about back there?" Liam asks.

Tris shrugs. "That's for me to know and for you to never find out." He grins, and walks away from the two of them, further into the room. "What do you think we're supposed to do here? Oh, look. A console." He moves toward the odd looking structure, similar to the one in the other room back down the long hallway.

He's much faster at prying it open and finding the button this time.

It activates, but he's not sure what changes. There's this sound. Something he can't quite place, a low thrum, but the area is too dark to really tell what's changed, at least from his position near the console. However, PeeBee is standing near the edge of what looks like a cliff, of sorts, with a long drop down. She laughs gleefully.

"Oh, look!" she says, pointing. "It made a bridge!"

A bridge, huh?

Tris stands, and moves forward. There's a drop, into an inky blackness he knows isn't solid ground, but rising from the depths of it is a hovering platform of sorts, still dripping with that odd liquid. He shivers involuntarily, clenching his teeth as he steps toward the platform. If it falls… it doesn't look like he can get back up out of the inky dark liquid beneath them. There's also the problem that it might be acidic or something.

Here goes nothing.

He jumps toward the platform, since it doesn't start directly next to the landing they're on. The ground is solid beneath his feet; it doesn't give way beneath him, despite the fact it looks like it should.

So far, so good.

He continues smoothly along the floating bridge, until he reaches the other side. He jumps for the next platform area, and lands gracefully before he turns to smile at the others, back across the bridge. PeeBee laughs and starts after him, while Liam seems more cautious, looking down at the inky liquid before he finally sighs and follows after the asari.

Soon, they join him on the new platform.

There's another console. And another, next to it. Either they both make bridges or one is a decoy. Tris brings up his scanner again; they both have yellow lines beneath them in the flooring. They're both active consoles, but must lead in different directions.

Tris activates both.

One bridge leads right, the other left.

"I'll go this way," PeeBee says, scurrying off toward the left, which seems to be the shorter of the two. Once she reaches the platform there's a hallway for her to go down; no more bridges or doors that he can see. She's gone before he can argue, so he merely sighs and heads right, knowing he'll just have to trust her to take care of herself for now.

I will monitor her the best I can, SAM assures him, and he nearly misses his next step and falls over the edge at the suddenness of it.

He swallows thickly, ignoring the look Liam throws him.

Please stop trying to give me a heart attack, SAM, he throws the AI's way.

Should I alert Mr. Kosta to monitor your vitals and lead you back toward the others? SAM asks, in that same low monotone.

He fights back the urge to scowl. No. No, it's a figure of speech, SAM. So you'll keep an eye on her for me?

I will, if that is your wish.

He's not sure when his wishes started mattering, but he's grateful nevertheless, a certain tension easing from his shoulders. Thanks, SAM. Can you talk to her like this?

No. The answer is brief and firm, brooking little argument.

Tris sighs. He can wait to ask, he guesses. There's more pressing matters at the moment, such as this massive door in front of them.

Huh. Wonder what's in here? He brings up his scanner again, seeing a large yellow line leading through it. They need to go through here, he's certain. He's not sure what they're even looking for, but so far trusting the yellow lines has worked in their favor, so he's willing to suspend his disbelief for the moment.

There doesn't appear to be a console this time, though.

He frowns at the door. Hmm... they're certainly clever, I'll give them that.

It's a puzzle, he realizes.

The monoliths, this vault, the consoles and shifting bridges and doorways...

It's all a giant puzzle.

Dad's gonna be sorry he missed this.

This thought only sours his mood further, though. His father should be down here, doing this shit instead of Tris. He's the Pathfinder, after all; Tris is just cannon fodder.

But, again, his sister's word echo through his mind, dampening his anger.

At the moment, Alec Ryder is the only Pathfinder. He needs to be protected.

"Tris?" Erin's voice echoes through the comms in his ear. "How's it going down there?"

"I'm thinking," he snaps, a little too harshly.

"Well don't hurt yourself," she drawls.

"Shut up. There's a stubborn door staring me in the face and I don't need your input."

"You can't get past a door?" she asks.

He almost feel her condescending little smirk.

He grits his teeth and ends the call.

"So, what do we do?" Liam asks.

"I'm thinking," he snaps again, and then winces. "Sorry. Just. Let me think for a minute."

He brings up his scanner again, this time scanning the doorway itself, and the walls around it. A panel flashes red, invisible to the naked eye but there nevertheless, and he pries open the panel casing to reveal the wires beneath, smirking as he does so. Very, very clever.

Maybe another scanner would miss it, but Tris has been hacking enough to have thought to programmed his personal scanner to check for wiring and consoles and panels; this panel might be able to hide from other scanners, but not his.

There is no button here.

Only three separate wires. They're all the same color - black. It's hard to discern between the three, but his gut says the one on the left.

People usually start with the right, or the middle.

Left is usually last choice.

So, he starts with the left, and hopes he hasn't just killed himself and Liam - but they've come too far to stop now.

The door lowers, sliding into the ground, opening for them.

Eureka.

He grins at Liam and walks through the threshold.

"So," Liam says slowly. "Do the Ryders know you're good with technology?"

"They know," Tris says, almost absently, looking around him. "They just don't care." This room is rather large, and seems... different, than the others. He's not sure what about it makes it stand apart, but it does. There's a console in the middle of the room. It actually looks like a console this time, though; it's not nearly as inconspicuous as the others. Tris frowns, approaching it slowly, dragging his scanner up to reveal that, yes, the yellow line does end at this console. This is where he's meant to be, but he's not sure why.

The Pathfinder should really be here, he can't help but to think.

But he's not, and Tris is, and Tris needs to figure out what the hell he's even doing here.

What is this place? Why lead to this console?

He presses the comm in his ear. "I have a question," he says quietly.

"And what is that?" the Pathfinder asks. "Where are you? Are you all okay?"

Tris can almost imagine he means it, that he's truly concerned, but the moment passes quickly. "I'm staring at a console and I don't know what it does."

"So, get it working," Erin says, like it's obvious.

He huffs. "All the others have led to here," he tells her. "But why? What's the point? What's here? What happens when I activate this console?"

"If it's anything like back on Habitat 7, it should make the atmosphere more bearable," his sister says.

But how do you know that? Is this just a theory or are you hiding something?

He sighs, looking back at the console. What other choice does he have, but to activate it?

"I'm going to activate it," he mutters. "Stand by."

He walks toward it and brings up his scanner, but this one is different: there is no panel that he can see. Nothing to access. Wires lead to here, certainly, but it doesn't appear to made up of wires.

What the hell...?

Whoever built these... they were entirely too clever.

He sighs, stumped for a moment.

He raises his hand and presses it to the smooth, flat surface of the console. It's not to activate it, it's merely so he can lean against it and hunker down to look more closely at the rest of it, but the second his hand touches it, there's a shock sent through his body. He's frozen in place, an orange-green glow surrounding his palm. He's unable to look away, unable to tear his hand away even as heat starts to burn through it, pulsating in a way, almost like it's alive or something.

"Tris?" Liam asks. "What's happening?"

"I... don't... know," he grits out, still frozen.

And then he's free to move. The heat fades, the glow disperses, and he's left dropping his hand, utterly confused.

And then all hell breaks loose.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER TWELVE: If I Can Live Through This (I Can Do Anything)

The dark purple cloud converging just over the console is only slightly less disturbing than the electric flicker deep within it, before it explodes outward. Tris jumps away from the console and the cloud, watches as it eats away at everything, listens as it scrapes along the floor and walls, quickly consuming the room and spreading outward. Tris backpedals quickly, hand held tight to Liam's arm to drag him out of the room as well, back toward that floating bridge.

As soon as they step foot on the bridge, bullets whiz past them. Tris grimaces as he spots the remnant bots a few platforms away, shooting at them. Their aim isn't spot-on, but it's accurate enough from this angle, and he's not willing to take chances. He throws up a shaky barrier and places himself between that side of the bridge and Liam, and they quickly make their way across the bridge and back toward the other platforms.

SAM, he calls, uncertain as to how this works.

Yes, Tris? SAM answers immediately.

How is Peebee? Is she okay?

She is unharmed, at the moment.

She doesn't know about this storm, or whatever it is that's happening. He chances a glance behind them; the purple mess of energy is ever-growing, consuming everything in its path, chasing them in a barrage of sparking smoke.

"Peebee," he calls through the comm channel. "You need to get out, now!"

"What's going on?" she asks, uncertain. "The whole place trembled!"

"Just get out!"

"I think I know a faster way back to the entrance," she tells him. "I'll meet you there."

With that, the connection is severed and he grunts as bullets bombard his barrier. He turns his attention back toward the fight and race at hand; they don't have time for this, for any of this. That swirling vortex is gaining on them, and they need to move faster.

He shoves Liam forward. "Faster!" he snaps. "I'll take care of them, just get back to the gravity well!"

He spins back toward their enemies before Liam can argue, and charges toward them. Liam's shout follows him, but he hopes the man is smart enough to run when he's told. He slams his shoulder into one robot - a breacher, Peebee called it - and grits his teeth as he spins on another, already firing at it with his shotgun. It drops to the ground, momentarily stunned, but bullets whiz past him. He ducks down and charges another one, keeping one eye on the swirling purple energy as he does so. It's getting closer. Too close.

He turns back toward where Liam ran, and finds the man waving him toward the platform, now off the bridge.

He's so stubborn, he thinks with a grunt as a bullet clips his side, ricocheting off his armor.

He looks back - the vortex is upon them.

Glancing back at Liam, he charges toward the man, nearly toppling him over with the impact, but they both turn and start running. Tris looks back over his shoulder and watches the purple energy swallow the robots; he hears the sound of them disintegrating, metal parts popping, electric whirls - then nothing. A chill runs up his spine and he turns his attention forward once more. They have to get out of here.

I knew coming down here was a bad idea.

His family had the right idea, remaining up top. Always safe.

Don't think about them right now, he tells himself. It will only distract him, and he can't afford to be distracted right now. He can only hope Peebee is already at the gravity well, or back up with the Pathfinder.

A part of him wonders if they'll be safe when they reach the gravity well, or if this strange energy will keep going upward with them. He doesn't see why it would simply stop; a force in motion will stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force. It only makes sense. But it's all they have; they have to make it to the gravity well. However, that dropped them down slowly, gently; will it take them up quickly enough, or will they die in the gravity well, consumed by this storm?

Can't think about that now. Focus.

They have to make it to the gravity well; it's their only chance.

They run down the long hallway. Tris looks over his shoulder for any sign of Peebee, but he can't see anything beyond the purple storm gaining on them. Faster - they need to go faster.

They emerge in the starting cavern, with the gravity well. He stops and spins around, looking everywhere for Peebee but he just doesn't see her. No... He spins in a circle; there's an upper platform, now that he's looking and the cavern appears to be more lit up now, but he doesn't see her up there either. Where are you?

"Tris!" Liam says, next to the gravity well.

"Go," Tris snaps. "I'm not leaving Peebee here."

"There's nothing you can do for her," Liam snaps back. A hand grabs his arm, hauling him backward, toward the gravity well. "Come on!"

He struggles to shake Liam's hold, but the crisis response expert isn't letting go. His grip is tight, firm and unyielding as he yanks Tris toward the well.

"Wait!" Peebee's voice cries, and Tris looks up to find her on the upper platform.

The storm is almost to them by now.

There's no time.

He spins, and shoves.

The surprise loosens Liam's grip on his arm just enough for him to wriggle free as the man staggers back, into the gravity well. He's swiftly yanked upward, the well taking him up quicker than it dropped them. That's good. At least he'll be okay. He can hear Liam cursing him, but can't make out the words over the roar of the storm.

Peebee jumps toward the gravity well but falls short. As she's yanked downward by gravity, Tris moves to catch her. She's not exactly 'heavy' but she's not light either, especially with her momentum. He grits his teeth against the harsh tug against his shoulders as his arms catch her, and she hits the ground running.

But there's no time.

He throws up a barrier against the gravity well entrance.

"Tris, come on!" Peebee shouts.

"Go," he hisses. There's no time. The storm will swallow them both if he doesn't do this. He has to get her out of here.

She's not moving.

He reaches out with his biotics, and shoves.

Her eyes widen in alarm as a yelp escapes her lips as blue energy knocks her off-balance, leaving her falling into the gravity well.

She's sucked up it, and the storm surrounds him. It eats at his barrier, the purple energy quickly moving on either side of it but not entering the gravity well. That's good. He can do this. He can save her. Save her and Liam.

There's a crackling energy slamming into his barrier, quickly chipping away at it. Pain shoots from his fingertips up into his hands, arms and into his shoulders and neck, stemming from the failing barrier. He grits his teeth against the barrage of pain, but doesn't let it up. Doesn't step back into the gravity well. The storm might follow him up. He can't risk it.

This is why we don't go playing in vaults.

His strength is quickly fading, the air becoming hard to breathe.

There's no holding this barrier. There's no stopping this.

Better to get it over with. At least they're safe.

He hopes it's quick. He hopes it doesn't hurt.

He sucks in a shaky breath and lets the barrier fall.

The swirling purple and blue energy surrounds him in an instant.

Except...

I'm still alive?

It doesn't hurt.

There's no pain. There's a prickling sensation, a foreign substance shimmering against his body, heating his armor, but it doesn't hurt. The air is thick, but he can breathe. He swallows thickly, inhaling slowly. Yes, he can breathe. He's not dead. It's not eating at his armor, disintegrating him as it did those remnant bots.

Why am I still alive?

The swirling mist and smoke should hurt his eyes. It doesn't.

He can see. There's something glowing on the other side of the room, near the wall with the upper platform. He doesn't remember it being there before. His feet move without his permission, and a second later he's walking across the room toward it. His mind is a haze much like the air around him; his thoughts are a frozen whirlwind, aching to unravel but unable to do so for the time being. It's like he's drawn forward, drawn toward this console. Is it a console? It kind of looks like one, the shape of it sticking out of the ground, but surely he would have noticed it before, right? What is this?

He stops in front of it. His movements are no longer his own; he sees his hand raise, but has little say in the matter. His gloved palm flattens on the surface of it, and for a beat nothing happens. Then there's this sudden pulse of energy, stemming from his hand. It's a swirling orange-green glow, like the last time he pressed his hand to a console, when this whole storm started. Like then, his movements aren't entirely his own; his mind is frozen but his body is active.

And yet, now it, too, is frozen. He can't move away, can't drop his hand, can't stop.

What's happening?

There's a brush of... something. In his mind. Against his thoughts. A foreign presence, a nagging thought, like he left the stove on. Something he needs to know, something he needs to look at, needs to remember...

Then it's gone the next second.

And his body isn't frozen anymore. He drops his hand, and the storm around him clears, disappearing as thought it had never been there to begin with. He swallows, spinning in a slow circle to look around the entirety of the room. It's empty and clean and clear; no thick smoke choking him, no storm chasing him, nothing.

What the hell just happened?

His head throbs sharply, painfully.

It's so sudden he staggers, and, unable to catch himself with his suddenly jerky movements, goes to his knees. The room spins around him; bile rises in his throat.

His vision blurs.

He falls forward, darkness consuming his vision.

xXx

Tris wakes with a start.

There's no in-between period of gradually returning to consciousness; instead, one second he's unconscious, and the next he's awake, springing to his feet, hands closed into fists as he spins around, ready for a fight. He only ever wakes like this when something is seriously wrong.

He's in a cavern of some kind. Memories of purple and blue collide with orange and green. A shiver threatens to throw him back to his knees, his entire spine tightening. He's stiff and sore, though he's not sure why. Was he in a fight? He doesn't think so; there are no memories of a fight.

Only of running.

Running for his life. A gravity well. Pushing Liam up it, then knocking Peebee into it.

A failing barrier.

Then nothing.

What happened? He can't remember. It's a giant blur, a nagging thought. Something he should remember. Something he needs to remember. A nagging thought, like he left the stove on. Just look, just check, just see...

But there's nothing. He can't remember.

The storm seems to be gone, though. He's not sure how he's alive. He remembers his barrier failing, and then - nothing. What happened after that? What the fuck happened?

How long has he been out? Where are the others?

Did they just leave me?

He can't really blame them, though. He fully expected to die after he sent them up; surely they thought the same thing of him. In their minds, he's probably dead. A lost cause, and there's no reason to chance coming back down when there's a dangerous storm down here. He supposes he can't blame them for leaving him behind.

That doesn't mean it hurts any less, though. Being left behind. Discarded.

I'm only a means to an end, nothing more or less.

He scrubs a hand across his face, and then stares at his palm.

His glove is gone. Not completely; pieces of it linger on his hand, trapped at the wrist, but the part which should be covering his palm and fingers has burned away, yet his hand isn't scorched. There is something there, though. Something...

What's that?

Some kind of symbol?

No. It looks more like a burn, but it's old and faded. A simple circle, dark purple in color. Not exactly 'faded', but healed over, like it happened years ago. Except he knows that wasn't there before. What is this? What happened?

He stares at the circle for a long moment, before he curls his fingers into a clench. What the fuck happened to me? He needs answers. But how to get them?

SAM? he thinks, remembering the AI can apparently hear him if he focuses his thoughts toward it.

There's no response, only a lingering silence.

He sighs. Guess I'm on my own, then. As usual.

He looks toward the gravity well. It appears dormant; the platform which emitted a faint light before, is now dark and silent. He walks toward it, frowning to himself. Great. Don't tell me I'm stuck down here. I'm sure I'll run out of air eventually, but I'll probably die of thirst first.

He doesn't remember seeing water down here, after all. Only that strange, inky liquid under the makeshift bridge. Somehow, he doubts that's a viable source of water.

His feet land on the gravity well platform. The air doesn't stir, he isn't pull upward or pushed downward; nothing happens. He growls under his breath.

"Of fucking course! Because nothing can ever fucking be easy, can it? Because fuck me, right?" he all but shouts in the empty stillness around him, frustration burning through him. He growls once more, louder this time. "Why can't anything ever work-"

His hand burns sharply, once.

And then he's sucked upward.

He's too shocked to think about it, is only grateful that it's working.

His feet land on solid ground up top. It's dark, the sun long since faded. The air is chilly, an icy breeze quickly surrounding him. He shivers, and activates his back-up heating unit, thankful he thought to install it prior to them landing on Eos. It doesn't do anything for his freezing hands, but his chest area is warm, and he supposes that's good enough for now.

He walks up, out of this area. The bridge is missing - the one that led through the lake to this point. He scowls at it, aware that he'll have to swim across it to get out of here. Too cold for that right now. If he takes a dip, he'll never get warm tonight. He tries to remember how long the day and night cycles are on Eos, but that information eludes him. Great. Guess I'm stuck here for now. At least I'm out of there.

But then the ground beneath him tremors and shakes, before it starts sinking back into the water.

Oh, fuck me.

Why does this galaxy hate him?

He moves forward to dive off into the water and get a head start toward shore, but then suddenly there's more solid ground beneath his feet. He staggers, and then takes a small step forward, then another, and another. The bridge reappears beneath each step, keeping him above the water. He swallows thickly, mind a rapid whirlwind of rampant thoughts, but instead he continues forward at a slow, even pace.

He makes it across to dry land soon enough, and looks back to see that the makeshift bridge and the vault's entrance have disappeared. He shivers, but not from the cold. What's happening? What's going on?

He has no answers, and a million questions.

First things first, though: he needs to get back to the Tempest.

xXx

It took a while to drive here in the Nomad, so he knows getting back to their landing site won't be easy. It will take days on foot. He'll need to improvise, as he's not certain how long the Tempest will remain here.

He tries SAM again, tries to contact the ship, tries to contact the team - but nothing works. His comm systems are fried. His neck and head ache; perhaps his implant is malfunctioning, too. It would explain why he can't contact SAM.

It's probably best to keep the biotics offline until he can get this fixed. Working biotics without an implant can be dangerous.

After a few hours of walking, when his legs are aching, his head's throbbing and he's ready to sit down for a rest, he comes across a kett camp.

He smirks when he spots a kett land vehicle, not exactly the same as the Nomad, but it has wheels and can get him from point A to point B.

Bingo.

The camp is rather quiet for the time being; no one seems to have noticed his presence. They're a little lax in their patrols, only two of them out patrolling for the time being. He only needs to take them out if they spot him getting into the vehicle. The vehicle is armored; once he's inside, he should be fine.

He moves forward slowly, silently, making sure each footfall is as noiseless as it can be.

It's just lousy luck that at that moment, someone exits a tent and sees him. They look half asleep, probably going out to use the restroom before going back to sleep, but now they've caught him.

Things happen quickly after that.

He charges toward the alien, eager to shut them up before they can sound the alarm. The alien staggers back under the attack, tripping over their feet, weaponless. About that moment, another kett walks out from the tent, but this one has a weapon pointed at Tris. Tris grimaces and slams his curled fist down onto the ground, creating a biotic nova. It's not as quiet as he'd prefer, but it does the trick. Both aliens are flung away from him, and he spins on his heel to run toward the armored vehicle.

Bullets whiz past him. He definitely has their attention now. Great.

Blue glows around his hand and he turns enough to shoot off a biotic orb at the closest assailant, causing them to duck for cover before it sails over their head. He reaches over his shoulder and pulls free his shotgun, hefting it with one hand just in case someone gets too close. With his other hand, he creates a quick barrier, attempting to use it as moveable cover.

Barriers were never his strong suit; he could create small ones to fit around himself, but they were never overly large or especially strong. They failed quickly enough.

So it's more than a little shock to him when his whole arm glows, and then his whole body.

It's a body barrier - hovering just over his armor, all over him. Entirely mobile.

What. The. Hell.

He doesn't have time to question it right now, though; he has more important things to focus on, like the fact bullets are smacking into his new body barrier.

A laugh escapes him. I don't care, this is cool. He feels almost invincible, like this.

There's another laugh, but this one isn't his.

He looks around and spots a large figure cleaving through a group of kett with a melee weapon.

One of the kett are coming up behind the figure. Anyone fighting kett is a friend of his, right? So he sighs and abandons the vehicle just a few yards away, and charges toward that kett trying to sneak up on his unknown helper. He slams into them shoulder first, causing them to stagger back. A biotic nova sends it and the one trying to sneak up behind him flying. He looks at his helper and blinks in surprise.

"Drack?"

"Hey, kid," the krogan says, laughing almost gleefully as he swings his massive war hammer. Energy sparks off it as it connects with a kett and all but flattens them.

Tris shakes his head and fires his shotgun at an approaching kett.

Soon the battle is over, and he can take a moment to catch his breath. His neck is stiff, his head throbbing sharply; the pain is getting worse and his vision is starting to blur. I really don't need this right now. He focuses on Drack, though it's a bit of an effort despite the krogan's size.

"That's a neat trick," Drack says, gesturing at him. "I don't remember you being blue last time."

He shrugs; he doesn't exactly know how to stop this. He doesn't have to focus on it to get it to stay. What is this? "What, uh... what are you doing out here at this hour?"

"Killing kett," he replies simply. "What about you? Where are your human friends?"

"I got left behind," Tris says, shrugging.

"You humans are good at that."

Tris snorts. "Thanks. Happy we excel at something."

Drack laughs. "So how'd you get left behind?"

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you." I'm not sure I even believe myself. "I'm going to take that vehicle and get out of here. You want a ride?"

"You know how to drive that thing?"

"Can't be too hard, right?"

Except his vision is really getting blurry. His head hurts. It's almost like the concussion is back in full force. Bile rises in his throat.

"You don't look so good, kid."

"I'm fine," he says, scowling. "You want a ride or not?"

"Just a ride, huh? Not trying to recruit me again?"

Tris shrugs. "I mean, if you're offering..." He smirks. "But no, I won't force you. I'll drop you off on my way if you want, but I have to get back to the ship before they leave me here."

"Yeah, getting left behind is never fun."

"So?"

"Sure, kid. I guess someone should keep an eye on you."

Oh, great. Now he's my babysitter.

"But you're not driving," Drack continues.

"Huh? Why not?"

"Because unlike you, I'm not about to pass out."

"I'm not gonna-"

In that second, all of his energy fades. The blue glow flickers away, dispersing. His head throbs sharply, the world spinning rapidly around him. Gravity yanks him downward.

Darkness claims him.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER THIRTEEN: All These Broken Souls

At eight-years-old, Tris just wants to sleep.

" Trissy! Mom says you gotta get up!"

Tris groans, roused from a pleasant sleep. His sister stands in his doorway, grinning at him, her hair tied back in a neat ponytail; she's already dressed in her school uniform, with the black skirt and red shirt. It's too early for this. Tris rolls over, burying his head under his pillow.

" Trissy!"

" Go away, Erin," he mutters sleepily. "I'm tired."

" You've been tired for days," Erin complains. "Mom says you gotta go to school today."

He's been sick for the past week, with a persistent cough and nagging fatigue. Mom let him stay home for the past three days, but he knows she wants him to go to school today. Erin can only pick up so much of his work.

" Go away," he says again.

Erin huffs angrily from the doorway. He listens to her stomp toward his bed. "Get up! You still gotta eat and get dressed for school."

" Not going."

" Tristen Anthony Ryder," comes a voice from the doorway, instantly causing his eyes to snap open. "I want you out of bed, dressed and downstairs for breakfast in the next five minutes. Am I clear?"

" Yes, Dad," he says quietly, lifting his head from under his pillow to glance at the doorway.

Dad frowns down at him disapprovingly. "No more of this 'sick' nonsense. You were fine last night. I want you ready in five."

" Yes, sir," he says, nodding.

Erin sticks her tongue out at him as their dad leaves the doorway. "Told ya!"

He scowls at her, but climbs out of bed. There is no disobeying their father.

xXx

At ten-years-old, he just wants his father.

Dad's been gone for days. He was supposed to pick Tris up from soccer practice yesterday, but he never showed. Tris walked home in the rain.

He stays up all night waiting for his dad. Mom assures him Dad will be home soon, he's just caught up at the lab or something, but he'll be home soon.

He stays up all night, but Dad never shows.

The next night, he doesn't make it as long. He falls asleep on the couch, and wakes in his bed, clearly having been carried.

Dad shows up the next day, to Erin's cheer recital.

He misses Tris's next five soccer games. He's too busy, he says. Tris's games are just at a bad time, at five in the evening. Traffic is a nightmare, he's busy, he doesn't have time to make it to his games. Surely Tris understands, he says.

Sure, Dad. He understands.

He watches from the sidelines as Dad makes it to Erin's recitals in the coming weeks, at five o'clock sharp.

There's no traffic then. No work keeping him away.

At ten-years-old, Tris learns an important lesson: Dad loves Erin more than him.

xXx

He's thirteen, and he thinks he hates his father.

Alec Ryder has forced him to go to summer camp with his sister. He'll be participating as a summer coach, to keep them in line and 'bond' with them. Tris wants nothing to do with him, but Mom said he should go. For his father.

Mom said he should, so he does.

Doesn't mean he likes it.

He beats Erin in their sparring match. She's a sore loser, always has been: she demands a rematch. Tris doesn't want one; he won fair and square and he wants to go to bed now.

" You need to do better," Dad tells him with a frown. "Your form was terrible. I know I taught you better."

" Sorry, sir."

" Do it again."

So they have a rematch.

He's tired, and doesn't care anymore. Nothing is ever good enough.

He loses to his sister.

Dad grasps her shoulder with a smile. "Well played, Erin. You performed admirably. You could learn from your sister, Tristen."

He glares at the man and trudges back to his cabin.

xXx

At fifteen he's had enough.

Alec wants him (and Erin) to enter an adolescent training course for the Alliance. They have to be sixteen to start, and their birthday is only a few months away. By the time the training starts, they'll be old enough. It's good for them, Alec says. They could both use the training, and it will be a head start in their lives.

Tris doesn't want to go.

He doesn't like fighting all that much. Sparring is fine, but his form is always wrong, his hits never count, his sister always wins. What's the point when he can't win even when he wins? He doesn't want to fight. He wants to go into a computer school or something, learn about security and technology.

Alec Ryder has a plan already laid out for his kids, and defying him is pointless.

" You're going," Alec says firmly. "And that's final."

" I don't want to," Tris says. "Can you just listen to me, this once? Dad, I don't want to fight."

" Don't be such a baby, Trissy," Erin says from the other side of the couch.

Tris looks at his only hope: his mother. "Mom, please?"

Ellen Ryder sighs. "I know you don't want to fight, but your father is right that it will be a head start for you. A few years in the Alliance and you can go to any college you want. And think of all you could learn about computers there! Just because you're being trained doesn't mean you're going to be fighting. Right, honey?" She looks at her husband.

" If Trissy doesn't want to go, that's fine," Erin says. "I'm better at fighting than him anyway. That's why he always loses."

" Erin," Mom says sternly. "Gloating isn't nice. Apologize."

" Sorry," Erin sighs.

She doesn't mean it. She never does, anymore.

" I don't want to do it," Tris says again. "Please don't make me."

" You're going," Alec tells him. "I won't hear any more arguments from you, understood?"

He glares at his father. "I'm not some soldier you can just order around, you know."

" What did you just say?"

" I think you heard me," Tris snaps, pushing to his feet. "I'm your son, and you're pushing me to fight. I don't want to."

" You don't have to," Mom says.

His shoulders relax, but only slightly.

" You're going," Alec says. "And that's final."

xXx

Consciousness returns slowly this time. He's aware of the incessant throbbing in his head, pain stabbing through him with every pulsation, and then slowly his senses return. He can hear the sound of an engine, can feel the rumble of something beneath and around him. He's moving, wherever he is.

His bed is hard, uncomfortable. Not a bed. What happened?

He blinks heavy, reluctant eyelids open. It's entirely too bright, even though deep down, he knows it's not bright at all. His eyes are just sensitive to light for some reason. Probably a migraine. He hates those.

He squints, looking around the area he's in. He appears to be in some kind of vehicle, just behind the driving area, where a krogan sits behind the wheel. Sunlight shimmers through the cracked window.

"Drack?" he asks, and then coughs. His voice is entirely too ragged.

"Hey, kid," Drack says from the driver's seat. "About time you woke up. You've been out for almost ten hours."

"Ten hours...?" Tris repeats, frowning. "Holy shit. Are you serious?"

"Your ship is still here," Drack says.

Tris swallows, remembering that he was looking for the Tempest. After they left him behind. No, don't blame them. That's not their fault. Surely they thought you were dead and there was nothing they could do about it. He can't blame them.

Doesn't mean it hurts less, getting left behind like that.

My own family left me behind to rot.

But why would they risk their lives to recover what they assumed to be just a body? Or whatever was left after the storm? There was no reason for them to go down there and risk their own lives. He understands that; doesn't make it hurt less.

"Where's the ship?" Tris asks, sitting up. A wave of dizziness slams into him, the taste of bile on his tongue. "Did I throw up?"

"Couple times," Drack replies. "Tried to wake you up and get you to drink or something, but you refused to budge. Was getting a little worried."

"Aw, you don't gotta worry about me," Tris says, swiping a hand across his mouth and the dry, cracked lips. Fuck, he's thirsty. "You wouldn't happen to have any water, would you?"

Drack tosses him a canister. Tris twists it open and drinks a few deep gulps of the refreshing liquid before resealing it and putting it down next to him.

"Thank you," he says.

"It's just water," Drack replies.

"Yeah, but... I mean... for helping me back there, and driving me around, and keeping an eye on me," Tris says quietly. "Thank you."

Drack remains quiet for a moment, before he sighs. "You're welcome, kid." He points to the right. "Your ship is just over that hill over there. I figured coming toward them in a kett vehicle was a quick way to get shot."

"You're probably right."

"So why don't we park this thing and then go say hello."

"We?" Tris asks, smirking.

"Well, I can't just let you walk over there by yourself."

"Why not?"

"You might pass out again."

Tris laughs, but then grimaces as his stomach churns and his head throbs. Drack might not be joking right now; he might be serious. He does still feel rather unstable, off-balance. There's the chance he will pass out again.

"So, what? You're my babysitter now?" he asks.

"You don't look like a baby to me, but if you want me to sit on you, I guess I can do that."

Tris snorts, choking on a laugh. "I knew I liked you."

"Kids," Drack huffs, putting the vehicle in park. The top window-frame opens, allowing them out of the vehicle. "Let's get going, kid."

"I have a name, you know," Tris tells him. "It's not kid."

"Kid."

"Tris. Say it with me. Tr-ii-ss."

Drack merely shakes his head and leads the way toward the Tempest. It's a bit of a walk, and he's still sore and tired, but at least his vision isn't graying at the edges anymore. It's not much, but it's something.

They crest the hill and there she is, the Tempest in all her glory. Sunlight gleams off the top and wings, nearly blinding him but he squints at it with a smile. There it is. There's home. It doesn't exactly feel like home, not really, but it's more home than this planet right now, and he supposes that's all that matters. He just wants to get out of the sun and rest in his bed. Maybe Liam will even fix him some pancakes.

"Are you sure I can't talk you into joining us?" Tris asks, on his way down the hill, toward the ship, with Drack at his side.

"I like your style, kid, but I'm just here to fight kett."

"I'm sure there will be plenty of kett where we're going, since we're after the same thing."

"Is that right?"

"Yeah, I think they're after the vaults, too." It would explain their presence on Habitat 7 and their presence at the monoliths. What they want with that purple storm is beyond him; they can have it if they want.

The sad thing he's only recently realized is that if there was a vault-like place on Habitat 7, and a vault here on Eos, he can only assume there are more vaults on more planets. The architecture is too similar for him to think anything else. That means more vaults in the future, because certainly his father will want to go to one again, even if it did absolutely nothing except try to kill them all in a purple energy storm.

I thought he said it was supposed to fix the planet.

It's then he realizes his internal systems aren't screaming at him like they were before they entered the vault; the radiation levels have lowered considerably. The radiation is still there, certainly, but nowhere near the extent as when they arrived.

A frown flits across his face, hidden by his helmet. Huh. Does that mean they got the vault to work? What was with that storm? What happened after I blacked out?

So many questions, so few answers.

Hopefully they'll have some for him on the ship.

"Here you go, kid," Drack says, stopping outside of the ship. "Doesn't look like you have a welcoming party."

He shrugs. "They think I'm dead."

"And how did that happen?"

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you."

"Have something to do with how they left you behind?"

"Something like that." He waves. "Thanks again, Drack. You really didn't have to do this. I appreciate it. I'm sure we'll be back to Eos at some point; I'll see you then."

Drack grunts in response, still looking at the ship. "You know a way in?"

"Yeah," Tris says. "There should be an emergency shoot toward the back of the ship. I can get in that way."

"Big enough for two?"

Tris stares at him for a moment. "You thinking of joining me?"

"Way I see it, someone should keep an eye on you, and that crew of yours ain't doing their job."

"So you're going to do it?" Drack is basically saying he might join just to babysit him. Tris doesn't need that, at all, but he still wants Drack to join. It will be nice, having him around. "I'm told I can be a handful, you know."

"I have big hands."

Tris laughs, nodding. "Fair point. Yeah, it'll fit you. If you're sure."

"You said there would be more kett."

"There will."

"As long as I get to kill kett, we're good, kid."

"Then welcome aboard, Drack."

They walk around toward the back of the ship. There's an emergency hatch Tris has to pry open by hacking the access panel, but that's easy enough. The Nexus should really update their methods, honestly; if they're going to use the same tricks as the Citadel and Alliance, then they'll never improve.

The hatch opens, allowing them entrance. There's room for Drack, but just barely; the krogan has to duck. There's a narrow staircase leading up; it will dump them in the engineering room. It's an emergency exit for engineers in case of a fire there and their other exits are trapped. Of course, this only works if the ship is on solid ground; doesn't work so well in space.

Tris opens the second hatch, and they're in the main engineering room.

He gives Gil Brodie quite the scare.

The engineer is currently holding a hand to his chest, eyes wide as he stares at him. "You're alive?"

"Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated," Tris says, then laughs. "Always wanted to say that."

Gil's eyes travel toward the krogan.

"Oh, that's Drack," Tris says. "Drack, our engineer, Gil Brodie."

"Nice to meet you," Gil says.

"Where is everyone?"

Gil shakes his head. "There was a big fight."

"A what?"

"I wasn't there for it, only heard about it later. The Pathfinder team aren't really speaking to each other. Things are tense."

Tris frowns. That's the first he's heard of there being tension among them. One would think that without him there, all the tension would disperse; he was the one the Ryders were tense with, after all. This doesn't make sense. "So where are they?"

"They're around," Gil tells him, gesturing with a wrench. "Liam is just down there, hiding out in a spare room."

"Hiding out?"

Gil shrugs. "Like I said, I wasn't there."

Tris sighs heavily. Great. "Thanks, Gil."

"Anytime. It's, uh... good you're back."

"Good to be back." I think. Unless everything's fallen apart and my family has gone crazy.

A nagging thought penetrates his mind: what if they told the crew I'm actually a Ryder...

He stops, just outside the engineering room, on the upper platform. Drack nearly runs into him. Oh, no. What if they told? Maybe that's why everyone was tense and arguing.

He scrubs a hand across his face, sighing again.

"Move it, kid," Drack says.

"Yeah, yeah, I know. I just..." There. There's a ladder. He moves toward it and climbs down it, Drack right behind him. His mind is a cluttered space at the moment, full of a chaotic array of thoughts, all colliding for his attention. It hurts.

He looks around, and spots two doorways under the engineering platform. One of them is Vetra's; he heard prior to landing that she claimed one of them as her own. He thinks he knows which one, but isn't entirely certain. He moves toward the opposite one, sighing as he does so.

What if they told...

Maybe it won't matter. Maybe no one will care.

Or maybe everything will change and they'll start... what? Treating him like a Ryder?

Please no.

He knocks, to be nice. He is back from the dead, after all.

There's no response. He frowns and knocks again, harder this time.

That earns him a muffled yell - something about 'away'. Probably to go away.

Well, that doesn't seem like Liam. And yet it's his voice. Huh. What happened while I was gone? He knocks again.

"I said go away!" comes through the door. Either Liam is yelling louder or he's closer to the door.

Tris sighs and moves toward the access panel. A few wires crossed here, one taken out there... The door swishes open and he walks into the room, leaving Drack to wait outside.

"I said go aw-" Liam snaps, spinning toward the door from where he stands across the small, empty room. All that's present is a table, not even a chair for him to sit on or anything. It's rather bare. Liam's words stop as his gaze lands on him, his brown eyes widening. "You're...?"

Tris smiles sheepishly. "Hey," he says quietly. "Guess I'm a little late."

The crisis response expert says nothing, instead merely stomps toward him. Tris holds his ground, watching him. What is he doing? Liam doesn't slow in his steady clip or stop once he gets to him. Instead he swings his arm around and there's pain in Tris's cheek.

"How dare you," Liam breathes.

And then he's pulled into a tight hug, before he can even think of a response or retaliate, his arms trapped at his sides.

Liam pulls back, releasing him. "We thought you were dead."

So you hugged me? You hugged me. I was hugged. What the fucking hell... He hugged me. I was hugged. He punched me then hugged me, what the hell is going on.

Liam frowns. "Tris?"

He blinks at him. "Uh... I'm okay," he says, lamely. "I'm okay." I'm okay. I'm okay. I was hugged. He hugged me. I'm okay.

When was he last hugged?

By Mom, he knows. Dillon wasn't a hugger. Sometimes they cuddled in bed, but that was only when Dillon was asleep and accidentally moved toward the warmth of Tris's body in his slumber.

Mom hugged him as a teenager. She squeezed his hand when he was older and she was sick.

He hugged me.

He swallows thickly. "What, uh... what happened? After the, uh... the storm."

Liam's eyes narrow. "You could have told us you had another way out of there, you know. We thought you were dead." He frowns. "We left you there."

Tris shrugs. He has no way to explain that he didn't have another way out, or what happened in the vault (since he doesn't really remember), or how he's still alive (he's not sure of that, either)... he's not sure of a lot. He doesn't have a way to explain anything to Liam because he can't explain it to himself. "Did everyone get out okay?"

"Everyone but you," Liam says.

"Good."

"Did the Ryders know you were alive?"

"I'm pretty sure no one knew," Tris says. "It wasn't a sure thing. Just a... gamble. And the storm fried my comm systems and fucked with my implant, so I couldn't contact SAM or anyone."

"So they thought you were dead."

"Guess so."

"And they just left you there."

He frowns. He's not sure he likes that tone. "It's okay; I know you had to go. I didn't expect you to wait for me."

Maybe I wanted you to not leave me behind, but, you know, life is life.

"They said you were a lost cause," Liam says, that frown still on his face. "They said you'd want us to keep going."

"Well, they weren't wrong," Tris says. "I am a lost cause." He smiles, but Liam doesn't return it. He seems genuinely upset - angry. At who? Him? He did punch me, after all. "Look, I don't blame you for leaving me there; you had no way of knowing I was alive."

"Kid."

He turns at the sound of Drack's voice. The krogan stands in the doorway, with his back to him, facing outward.

"We got company," the krogan says.

Tris moves toward him and looks out the door.

A crowd has gathered, alerted by the krogan's presence.

He locks eyes with his sister, and smiles.

She stares back at him. "You're alive?"

"Strange how everyone keeps asking that," he says, before pinching his cheek. "Yep, definitely alive. I heard you went around telling people I was dead."

She says nothing, simply steps forward to close the distance between them.

She slaps the same cheek Liam punched. His head turns to the side at the impact.

"You... You idiot!" Erin screeches at him. "What were you thinking!"

He scowls back at her, rubbing the sting from his cheek.

"Back off," Liam snaps, and he shoulders Tris over so he's partially standing in front of him, glaring at Erin.

Well... this is new, Tris thinks, watching.

Drack is at his other arm, a large, intimidating presence which causes Erin to glance his way.

"Touch him again," Drack says, looking down at her. "I dare you."

Oh, fuck me. Are they protecting me? From Erin? The thought would be laughable if it wasn't so... sad. I don't need protection from my own sister, guys. But they don't know that.

Erin looks back at him. Cora and Vetra stand in the background, watching them, hands twitching at their sides as if they're uncertain if they should intervene or let this play out.

"You collecting bodyguards now?" Erin asks.

Translation: You're so pathetic, you have to have others protect you.

He scowls at her. "They're not bodyguards."

Translation: I don't need protection; I can fight my own battles.

"It's good you're back," Cora says, approaching them, stopping just behind Erin.

Tris nods at her. "Not sure if it's good to be back yet."

Maybe I should have stayed on the desert planet. Who would look for me? I would have been a ghost.

It was his time to disappear, if he wanted it.

And he didn't even think about it. All he thought about was getting back to the ship, and off this planet.

What's wrong with me?

He scrubs a hand over his face. The one with the destroyed glove. "Look, not that it's not great to see you," he says with a pointed look at his sister, "but I'm tired. I almost died. Can you yell at me tomorrow?"

He glances over at Drack and then back at Erin.

"Oh, and Drack's going to be joining us."

Erin scowls. "We don't have room for all of your strays."

"There's only two," Tris tells her. "How's Peebee, by the way?" If you left her behind too, I swear to fucking god...

"She's claimed an airlock as her space," Cora answers him.

He shrugs. "If that's what she wants." At least she's here. She made it out. "Anyway, Drack will be staying with us. He's eager to kill the kett for us." He smiles as Erin glowers at him.

"Fine," she finally mutters. "I'm sure we can arrange a spot for him."

"Good," he says. "Now, I'm going to crash for a day or two."

"Dr. T'Perro needs to have a look at you first," Cora tells him.

Dr. T'Perro is the current doctor aboard the ship. Harry remained behind on the Hyperion; he felt he was more needed there, and Lexi T'Perro is more than qualified.

"I'll see her tomorrow," Tris says. "I just want to sleep."

His head still hurts; he's still entirely too sensitive to light, struggling not to squint the whole time thus far. He just wants to sleep.

"Doctor first," Liam says, grabbing his arm to lead him away from the group.

He tries to pry his arm free. "You can let go, you know."

Liam throws him a look. "Last time I let go, you tried to die on me."

"I didn't try to," he complains. "It just happened. And anyway, I'm alive, aren't I?"

"For now," is the response.

Translation: I might have to kill you.

Tris laughs. "Fine. We'll go see the doc. But then I'm sleeping."

"I'd expect nothing less."

Chapter Text

CHAPTER FOURTEEN: All Your Sentimental Virtue

Dr. Lexi T'Perro is not amused. Tris can tell by the scowl she's wearing as she checks his implant and reflexes, using her medical scanner to assess his vitals.

"You seem okay," she says finally, "except your brainwaves are off the charts."

Well, that's... huh. "What can I say," he says with a smile he doesn't feel, "I'm just awesome like that."

She spares him a level glance before looking back at her scanner. "Your implant was fried; you were right about that. It's just a short-circuit, it seems. I can fix it, but it will take a day or two. I need to get a base reading on your brainwaves before I can fix what might be damaged. Again, though, your brainwaves are... I haven't ever seen any like these, in a human."

He shrugs. "Is that bad?"

"Not bad, considering you seem healthy otherwise. Any blackouts? Memory loss? Nausea, vomiting, anything you're leaving out?"

He shifts uneasily, but can feel Liam's glare on the back of his neck. So he sighs heavily and nods. "I blacked out a few times, and threw up a little. Drack could tell you more; I don't really remember it."

"So, all of the above," Dr. T'Perro surmises, making a note on her chart.

"I guess."

"Care to tell me what happened in the vault?"

"I would if I could," he tells her. "I don't remember."

"What happened after you sent Liam and... Peebee through?" She hesitates on Peebee's name. Do they not get along? How much have they interacted? Now isn't the time to wonder about it, though.

"I don't know," he tells her honestly. "I just remember my barrier failing."

"And then?"

"It's a giant blur. I don't know. I woke up on the ground, and the storm was gone."

"So it's safe to say you blacked out, then."

"I guess."

She makes another note on her chart, sighing. "I'd like to keep you for 24 hours, for observation."

"Do I have to?" he asks, frowning. He hates med bays.

She smiles at him. "I'm afraid I'm going to have to insist."

"He'll stay," Liam says, clapping a hand to his shoulder, keeping him seated.

He sighs. "Excuse you, but last I checked you weren't my spokesperson."

"Good, so you can't fire me."

He glowers at the man, over his shoulder. Liam merely smiles back at him, all innocently. Lying liar. You're not innocent in this.

"He'll stay," Liam says again.

Tris sighs once more, turning his gaze back toward the asari doctor. "I guess I'll stay."

"I want you to lay in bed so we can monitor you," she tells him, gesturing at the bio bed he's sitting on. "I'll give you fluids, but you should try to eat something, too, if you're up to it. Your body needs the calories."

"I'll fix pancakes," Liam says, getting to his feet.

Tris smiles. Oh, fuck yes. "I knew I loved you."

"You just want me for my food."

"You say that like it's a bad thing."

"Boys," Dr. T'Perro says.

Tris blinks at her, smirking. "Sorry, doc. Anything else?"

She quirks a brow at him, but he thinks she might have a half-smile. Maybe. It's gone when he blinks. "I don't want you using any biotics for at least a week; even after we fix your implant, your body needs time to recover."

He shrugs. "It's not like I go around using them at random. Only in a fight. Am I going to be fighting?"

If the Pathfinder demands his presence outside of the ship, he can't really be blamed for that, can he? For using his biotics? He's only following orders, after all.

"You won't be fighting," Liam says.

"Why, doc. I didn't realize you were a grumpy crisis response expert. You should have told me," Tris says, in mock horror.

Liam smacks the back of his shoulder. Tris laughs.

It feels good to laugh.

The atmosphere in the room feels... good. He has no other way to describe it; he's comfortable. He hasn't been comfortable in a long, long time. Centuries. For the first time since coming to Andromeda, he almost feels like he belongs. The easy rapport with Liam more than sets his mind at ease. The tense set of his shoulders relaxes as he calmly sits on the bed.

"Please lie down," Dr. T'Perro tells him.

He sighs, kicks off his boots, and lays down on the bed. His armor is already in a pile next to Liam. He'd hoped to clean and repair it before putting it away, but at least he can sleep here. Sleep sounds amazing, even if it is in the med bay.

At least I don't have a concussion this time. He remembers the brainwaves Dr. T'Perro mentioned. I think.

"I'll bring you some food," Liam assures him, before he leaves the room.

Tris watches him go, and then yawns widely. He's not exactly hungry, but there's no way he can turn down Liam's pancakes, even if his stomach is twisted in knots. He knows he needs to eat, so it really has nothing to do with hunger. He slides his gaze toward Dr. T'Perro.

"So," he says, watching her carefully. "What aren't you telling me?"

She slides her gaze away from her omni-tool, glancing at him briefly. "What makes you think I'm hiding something?"

"You allowed the banter," Tris says. "Either means you're worried about something, or you let all your patients goof around in the med bay, which I highly doubt. So – what's up? Am I dying?"

She scowls at him. "You're not dying, at least not that I can tell."

"But?" he prompts, because there's always a 'but'.

"Human brains weren't meant to achieve such brainwaves," she tells him, biting at her lower lip. "Even the Pathfinder, with complete access to SAM, doesn't have brainwaves quite as high as yours."

"I'm just special," Tris says, snuggling his head further into his pillow. It's not exactly fluffy, but it's a pillow and it's better than the cold hard floor of a kett vehicle, or the confusion of the vault. "So you said I'm not dying. Why are you worried?"

"You're not dying. At least, not at the moment."

"But?" he prompts once more, dread coiling in his stomach.

She sighs. "There's no telling what those continued brainwaves will do your brain, or to your body. It could shut your mind down completely, leave you comatose, or cause you to hallucinate. Abnormal brainwaves are not a trivial matter, Mr. Reilly."

"It's Tris," he says, absently. He's on auto-pilot at the moment, staring up at the ceiling.

His brainwaves are spiked. He could die from it, or go into a coma. He could become a vegetable.

A tremor rips through him. He swallows and closes his eyes.

"I'd like to sleep now," he says quietly. "If you don't mind."

"Of course," Dr. T'Perro tells him.

His eyes are closed, but he knows when the lights are dimmed. Her footsteps walk around him before he hears the curtain get drawn, encircling his own little corner of the med-bay.

He rolls onto his side and opens his eyes to stare at the wall, a weight settling in his chest.

xXx

When Liam returns with his food, Tris pretends to be asleep.

Liam puts the food down on the table, lightly touches Tris's shoulder, and upon no response, quietly takes his leave. Tris opens his eyes to watch the curtain close behind him.

Thanks... he thinks, glancing at the food, but he's just not hungry right now.

Even for Liam's pancakes.

xXx

"I don't care, I need to speak with him," comes a firm, commanding voice. It rouses Tris from his light slumber, but he keeps his eyes closed.

There are people talking, just outside the line of his curtain.

The Pathfinder and Dr. T'Perro.

"He's resting," Dr. T'Perro says in a hushed whisper. "I understand you need to speak with him about what happened on Eos, but he needs his rest right now, and I need to keep him for observation. You can speak to him once he's released."

"I'll speak to him now."

"From what I've heard, the two of you don't exactly get along," the doctor all but huffs. "I can't have you disturbing my patient when I'm trying to get a baseline for his neural patterns."

"We'll be back at the Nexus in twelve hours; I need to have something to tell them."

"Tell them the mission was a success; you fixed the atmosphere, didn't you?"

"The radiation levels are lowering," the Pathfinder confirms.

"Then tell them that, but I will not have you disturbing my patient before he's ready. You and those on the Nexus will have to wait."

Alec Ryder sighs heavily. Tris can't believe he's actually conceding. He never gives in. "How is he?"

"It will take a little time to fix his implant, and even longer before I recommend letting him use his biotics," Dr. T'Perro says.

"How long?"

"At least a week, maybe two," she tells him.

"We don't have that long."

"Maybe you don't, but he does. You have other members who can replace him for the time being, don't you?" she asks. "Correct me if I'm mistaken, but you did recruit a krogan, did you not?"

"We have a krogan, yes."

But the Pathfinder didn't recruit him. Tris almost smiles.

"Then I suggest you let my patient rest, Pathfinder."

There's a tense silence for a moment. Tris's muscles tense in response; he can jump from his bed at a moment's notice if need be, but surely his father won't do anything. Dr. T'Perro does work for him, after all.

He's never hurt anyone working under him before, at least not that Tris can remember.

Except Tris.

"Very well," the Pathfinder concedes, sighing heavily. "Tell me when he's free to talk."

"I will," she says, and the Pathfinder takes his leave.

The curtain moves as the doctor enters his little area. He keeps his eyes steadfastly closed, feigning sleep.

"I know you're awake," she tells him. "Your vitals alerted me a while ago."

He blinks his eyes open, turning his head to frown at her. "Then why not let him talk to me?"

"I've heard some things," is all she says on the matter.

"What things?"

She smiles at him. "Are you hungry? I'm sure Liam won't mind fixing you more food."

He glances at the untouched pancakes, cold and hard by now. "I can just eat these."

"Nonsense," she says, grabbing the plate from the table. "I'll alert him you're awake and hungry."

"I'm not exactly hungry."

"But you're willing to eat."

She knows him too well, it seems. He smirks. "Sure."

She nods, dumping the contents of the plate in the garbage before putting the plate back down on the table. "About what we discussed before..."

He glances away, turning his face back into his pillow. "It's fine. You don't have to say anything."

"Do you have any idea what caused your brainwaves to spike? Did it happen in the vault?"

"I don't know," he murmurs. "I told you, I don't remember."

"Is there anything at all you're neglecting to tell me?"

He thinks back to the vault. The nagging feeling in his mind, like he was forgetting something important. The strange circle on the palm of his right hand. The way the gravity well wasn't working at first, but then suddenly worked for him. The bridge across the water, appearing under his feet as he walked. The body barrier he created back at that kett camp.

He closes his eyes. "Nothing comes to mind, doc."

None of it makes any sense.

There's no point in bringing it up when it feels like he's forgetting something important.

"Very well," she says with a sigh. "Let me know if you think of anything, or remember anything."

He blinks his eyes open, turning his head to look at her again. "You think I might start remembering what happened?"

"Anything is possible," she assures him.

He nods. Remembering would be good.

"In the meantime, rest. I'll have food brought to you, if you don't mind the company. I doubt I can kick him out again."

"Again?" he asks.

"Liam sat with you for a while earlier. I had to kick him out so he would get some sleep."

That's... hmm. Why would Liam be sitting with him if he was tired? "Don't wake him up just to bring me food," he says.

She smiles. "You don't realize how long you've been sleeping, do you?"

"Uh... how long?"

He thought it was just an hour or so.

"You've been out for thirteen hours."

His eyes widen. "Thirteen? What?"

How could he possibly sleep that long? Sure, he was tired and his head hurt, but thirteen hours? Without realizing how much time had passed? What's wrong with me?

"Liam has had ample time to sleep. He's awake right now."

"How do you know?" he asks, while his mind still tries to wrap around the fact he slept for thirteen fucking hours.

"He's been by to check on you three times in the past two hours," she says, smirking at him.

He blinks back at her. He's not entirely sure when he got a friend. It's... strange. Different. He hugged me. "Why?" he asks.

"Because he's worried about you," she tells him, like he should know that. "From what I've heard, he was very angry they left you behind on Eos. He said you died saving him."

He shifts uneasily, shifting his gaze away under her steady attention. "It wasn't as heroic as all that."

"Nevertheless, I believe he was suffering from survivor's guilt."

Tris frowns. He never meant for that to happen. He just wanted Liam and Peebee to live. He never thought about how it might be for them, afterward. He imagined himself in their place, with someone willing to die for him, pushing him out of harm's way and then just... not following after him.

Huh.

It's not a pleasant thought. He'd feel immensely guilty.

Is that how Liam feels?

He scrubs a hand over his face. "When can he bring the food?"

"I'll tell him you're awake and hungry."

xXx

Liam arrives roughly thirty minutes later, with a fresh plate of pancakes and a glass of milk. Tris smirks, watching as Liam puts it down on the small table.

"Thanks," he says, sitting up. "You really didn't have to."

Liam shrugs and sits in the empty chair next to the bed. Tris noticed its presence earlier, but didn't question it. He simply thought it was there as a room fixture; a chair by every bed, just in case. He didn't think much of it until Dr. T'Perro mentioned that Liam sat with him earlier.

He glances at Liam. Liam sat with him. He hugged him.

That survivor's guilt much be a bitch. Even if the person in question didn't die.

As soon as he alleviates Liam's guilt, things can go back to normal. Liam won't be trying to play bodyguard.

Okay, so that's his reason for trying to protect me from Erin, but what's Drack's? It makes no sense. Why did the krogan threaten Erin? What has the universe come to?

Tris picks up the plate of food and takes his first bite of fluffy pancakes. It's delicious, just like he remembers. He takes a moment to savor the food. "So, what all can you cook?" he asks, swallowing and reaching for his milk.

Liam shrugs. "A few things," he replies.

"Well, you'll have to show me sometime."

"Sure."

"I hope you ate, too."

"I'm not hungry," Liam tells him, shaking his head.

Tris sighs. "When did you last eat?"

"What does that matter?"

He shrugs. "I heard you got into an argument with the Ryders. Want to talk about it?"

Liam's eyes narrow. "They just left you there."

"They thought I was dead," Tris reminds him.

"They still could have went back for you, but they ordered us to leave."

"Wasn't that the reasonable choice?" Tris asks. "I mean, you all thought the vault was, what? Still in storm-mode? So why bother going back down for a body?" It's why he can't be angry at them for leaving him behind. It only made sense to leave him. They thought he was dead, so why risk their own lives to simply retrieve his body? He knew the risks going in, after all. Just like they all know the risks.

Liam's teeth clench, a muscle jumping in his jaw. "That's not the point."

"Then what is the point?"

"They didn't even try," Liam murmurs, gaze skittering away.

There's a pang of... something, in Tris's chest, but he ignores it. It's not he ever expected his family to try. "How could they?" he asks. Why am I defending them? Because he needs to alleviate Liam's guilt. He needs to fix this. That means making Liam see there was nothing he could have done, and the Ryders made the right choice.

If that means siding with his family, just this once...

So be it.

"How could they try to go back for me? The gravity well stopped working, didn't it? You couldn't have gone back down even if you wanted to, and if you did, for all you knew, I was already dead and there was a storm down there. What could you have done?"

There was nothing Liam could have done. Nothing any of them could have done to help Tris. He fully expected to die down there, accepted his fate, let his barrier fall to get it over with - and then he woke up. He lived.

"There was nothing you could have done," he tells Liam, who is steadfastly glaring at the ground.

"You shouldn't have pushed me in," Liam finally says, hands clenching into fists in his lap.

"You wouldn't go on your own," Tris reminds him.

"Because that meant leaving you behind!"

"Which was the right move."

"It wasn't." Liam's eyes move to glare at him now. "You pushed me into the well, and then you pushed Peebee into it, and then didn't follow."

Tris watches him for a moment. Liam is angry, but he's not sure at who. Probably Tris. "I had to push you both. You wouldn't have gone otherwise, and I needed you both to live."

"You don't get to make that call."

Tris laughs. "I do get to make that call, because I did it. I was fine with dying if you both got out of there."

"Do you have any self-preservation instincts?" Liam snaps, glaring.

"Sure I do," Tris tells him. "If I didn't, I wouldn't bother with armor, or a helmet on strange planets."

"Then why keep throwing yourself into danger?"

"It's what I'm here for."

"What does that mean?"

Tris sighs, scrubbing a hand across his face. "Nothing. It's nothing."

"Why do you keep doing that?" Liam asks, irritated as he pushes to his feet, glaring down at him. "How is that what you're here for? Throwing yourself into danger?"

He clenches his teeth, keeping his mouth shut as he looks away. He can't answer that. Answering that would be admittance, might lead to his secret, and he can't do that. Why can't Liam just drop it?

"Answer me!" Liam hisses, taking a step closer to the bed. "I deserve answers!"

"And why is that?" he asks quietly, keeping his gaze focused on the floor on the other side of the bed.

Abort mission, his mind whispers. Stop this.

Because he wants to tell Liam. He wants to tell someone.

But he can't tell anyone. Ever.

It will lead to more questions, could lead to his family, could lead to the discovery that he's part of that family, and he can't have that. He can't be part of that. He can't be a Ryder again. Everything would change. People would treat him differently; they always do, when they learn he's related to the amazing Alec Ryder, or perfect Erin Ryder. I can't do that again.

He worked so hard to leave his family behind. He can't quit now.

"I deserve answers," Liam says again, watching him. He can feel his gaze on him.

"Why?" he repeats.

"Because you tried to die for me!"

And now they're at the root of the issue, he thinks.

"You're off the hook for that," Tris assures him. "I didn't die. You can stop feeling guilty."

"You think this is about feeling guilty?"

He slides his gaze back toward Liam. "Isn't it?"

Liam growls under his breath - pure frustration. "Of course I feel guilty! You pushed me and then didn't follow! I thought you were dead! All because you decided to play hero, again." He takes a step closer to the bed. "You act like your life is so insignificant, but it's not."

Tris swallows thickly, another pang in his chest.

"You're my friend," Liam continues. "I'm guilty because I didn't push you through, first."

There's a tight knot in his stomach, sucking the breath from his lungs. "You're mad not because you thought I died for you, but because you didn't save me first?"

How does that make sense? Since when does he matter that much to anyone? That they would want to save him first. What the hell is happening?

"I'm mad because I wanted us all to make it out of there, not just two of us," Liam says, voice lowering. "But you had to go and play hero, and we left you behind."

"You thought I was dead," Tris reminds him, almost on auto-pilot, his tongue heavy in his mouth. "You had to go."

"We should have gone back down," Liam says, shaking his head. "We should have looked for you. We should have brought you back, no matter what. We should have tried. But the Pathfinder ordered us away, said it was a lost cause and you'd want us to continue without you, and..."

"And?" Tris prompts, quietly.

"I punched him."

He stares at Liam. "You punched him," he repeats, watching as Liam nods slowly. "You punched him. The Pathfinder. Alec Ryder. You punched him?"

"I did."

Tris laughs. "Oh, man. I wish I could have seen the look on his face. Tell me you broke his nose or something."

"He had a bloody lip," Liam says, lips quirking upward briefly in a small half-smile.

"What happened after that?"

"I'm sure that can wait for another time," Dr. T'Perro says, pushing the curtain aside to join them. She eyes the barely touched food. "I thought I told you to eat, Mr. Reilly."

"Tris," he says, picking up his fork again. "And I'm eating, see?" He takes a big bite, chewing noisily.

She shakes her head at him and glances at Liam. "How are you?"

"I'm okay," Liam tells her. "Just keep this guy in check."

"I don't need a babysitter," Tris says, taking a gulp of milk.

"If he tries to leave or gives you any trouble, just let me know," Liam continues, as if Tris isn't even there.

Which, rude.

I'm right here.

"I'll keep that in mind," Dr. T'Perro assures him.

Tris huffs. "Do you make that agreement for all your patients or am I just special?"

She just smiles at him. "Once you're finished eating I'm going to run a series of tests."

He sighs. "Alright. Sure."

She looks at Liam. "You can stay or go."

"I'll stay," Liam says.

Tris sits back into his pillow, surrounded by... companions.

It's a strange feeling.

But one he can definitely get used to.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER FIFTEEN: Shadow of the Day

"So, you are alive," Peebee says upon his release from med-bay. She's waiting for him in the hallway, arms folded across her chest as her eyes narrow at him. "You look pretty good for a dead guy."

"Thanks," he says. "High praise, coming from you."

He's stiff and sore from laying around for almost 30 hours, but he does feel much better. Not as nauseous, and the headache has receded, at least for the time being. Dr. T'Perro said the migraine might return, and to contact her if and when it does. For the next week he's supposed to be taking it easy - no strenuous activity, no biotics, no stress.

No stress. Yeah right. That's pretty much impossible, with his family.

Alec Ryder hasn't come to talk to him yet. He has to wonder if the man knows he's been released yet, but they reached the Nexus earlier, so he might be busy doing Pathfinder stuff. That's fine with Tris.

Peebee punches his shoulder.

"Ow," he says in mock hurt, rubbing his shoulder. "What was that for?"

"You know what that was for," she says, glaring at him, before she smiles. "Welcome back."

He laughs, shaking his head at her.

"How are you?" she asks, walking with him down the hallway toward the crew quarters.

"Better," he says. "Yourself?"

"I wasn't the one who locked himself in a vault with a storm rampaging through it."

"We can't all be awesome."

She rolls her eyes. "What happened down there? How did you get out?"

"I don't know. I don't remember."

"You don't remember how you got out of the vault?"

"I took the gravity well," he says.

"It wasn't working, after you sent us up," she reminds him, frowning at him, like he's lying.

He shrugs. "I don't know what to tell you. It's how I got out."

"How did you get it working again?"

"It just worked," he says, because he has no idea how he got it working. It wasn't working, and he was frustrated and so done with everything, and then it was working again. He can't explain what happened because has no clue, himself. "I'm more concerned with what happened after I lost track of you guys. I'm told Liam punched the Pathfinder? Do tell."

Peebee grins. "Oh, yes. That was great."

"Tell me everything."

"There's not a whole lot to tell. We were angry, and they wanted to leave immediately. Didn't even try to look for you. It rubbed us wrong, so we argued, and Liam punched Ryder in the face. He wasn't too happy about that, said something about insubordination, and demanded we go back to the ship," Peebee explains, shrugging. "That's about it. When we got here, there was another argument. Liam locked himself in a room near engineering and I claimed an escape pod."

Tris sighs. He can't believe they argued about... what? Him? It's so strange to him. But... I guess that's what it's like to have a friend? Friends? Is that what this is? Are they his friends? Liam seems to think he's his friend. What about Peebee?

He looks at her for a moment. She blinks back at him. "Something wrong?"

"No," he says quietly, smiling. "Everything's fine."

"So what happened down there, that you can remember?"

He shrugs. "Nothing, really. I remember pushing you into the gravity well, and my barrier failing." Or, letting it fall. "After that... nothing, until I woke up on the floor. By then it was dark and you guys had left."

"What happened after that?"

"I left the vault and found a kett camp. Stole a vehicle with Drack."

"Ah, the krogan. I saw him around."

He nods. "How is he doing? I haven't seen him since I got here."

"He's not all that fond of med-bays, from what I've gathered," she tells him. "He's been asking Liam how you are, though."

Which is, again, just strange. Is Drack his friend? How? Why? He barely knows the krogan. All they did was fight together and ride in a vehicle together. Why would that make Drack want to... what? Protect him, from Erin? I get why Liam did what he did, but why Drack? It makes no sense to him.

Why must everything be so complicated?

A part of him misses the old days, where he lived in anonymity and obscurity; when no one knew who he was. He lived in the shadows, hacking what he pleased, and only one person knew his name: Dillon. Until Erin came knocking. Then everything... changed. And now he's in a new galaxy, and suddenly people care, and he's just not used to it. At all. He's always hated being center of attention. He hates having eyes on him.

But now he has people starting arguments for him, and punching people in the face, and attempting to protect him, and he just doesn't understand. What did he do to deserve this? To deserve any of this loyalty?

What is going on?

"Tris?"

He blinks, refocusing on the asari. "Sorry. What?"

"Are you okay? You got kind of quiet."

"I'm fine," he assures her with a smile. "Doc says I might be spacey for a bit. Strange neural patterns."

"Have they fixed your implant?"

"Not yet. I'm supposed to get that looked at tomorrow."

She nods. "Did you see all that technology down there? It was amazing."

"It was something," he says, nodding. There's something, at the back of his mind - a nagging thought. Like he left the stove on. He blinks and the feeling is gone.

"There you are," comes a familiar voice.

He glances over and finds Erin walking down the hallway toward him. He sighs, irritation sparking through him. He really doesn't want to talk to her right now; he just wants to return to the crew quarters and... sleep. He's so tired lately. Why?

Stupid brainwaves.

"Hey," he says, as she stops in front of him.

She glances him up, down, and up again. "You're looking better."

"It's this new workout I'm trying, called 'running from the storm,'" he says, smirking. "You should try it sometime."

She glances at Peebee, who stands next to him. "You can go."

"Nah, I think I'll stay," Peebee says, staring her down.

Not you too. "You can go," he tells her. "I'll be fine." I don't need protection from my own sister. What's she going to do? Yell at me?

She can try to spar with him, but he's always been better at biotics. All it takes is a thought, a motion, and she will be flung away from him whenever he wants. Sometimes it's good to be the biotic.

Peebee hesitates, glancing at him briefly as she chews on her lower lip.

"It's fine," he assures her, smiling.

She nods, gives another glare at Erin, and finally leaves the two of them alone, walking back down the hallway.

Tris glances at Erin.

"I see you're collecting bodyguards," she says, rolling her eyes.

"I see you're still a bitch," he says.

She glares at him. "I came to check on you."

"Could have done that while I was in med-bay."

"Dr. T'Perro said you didn't want visitors."

"And you listened? I'm shocked." Especially since he never said that. Liam visited, after all. Not that he's not grateful, of course; he doesn't really want to talk to his family right now.

"Do you always have to be such an ass?" Erin asks, sighing. "I'm trying to ask if you're okay."

"Bit late for that," he says, shrugging. "But I'm fine. Didn't know you cared."

"Of course I care. I'm your sis-"

He puts a hand over her mouth, glaring at her. "I don't know what you're talking about."

She rolls her eyes and he removes his hand. "You're being so childish. I don't know why it's so difficult to admit who you are. Sooner or later they're going to find out, you know."

"They better not," he hisses. "If they do, I'm out of here. Remember?"

"Would it really be so bad if they knew your little secret?"

"Yes. It would."

It was their one rule, after all. Their deal. No one can know who he is, or he's out of here. He can't be related to them anymore – he can't be one of them. He doesn't want to be like them.

She sighs heavily. "What happened down there?"

"I've been over this with Lexi. Ask her," he says, not in the mood to go into it yet again.

"I want to hear it from you."

"So sorry."

"Tris, why do you have to be so difficult? Why can't you just talk to me?"

"That's rich, coming from you." He shoulders past her. "Excuse me. I'd like to sleep, now."

"You've been sleeping for days!" She grabs his shoulder, spinning him back around. "Just talk to me! I want to know what happened down there!"

"Then maybe you should have gone down too," he says, glaring at her. "I'm really not in the mood for this right now, Erin. We'll talk later."

He moves to walk past her again, but she grabs his arm and yanks him back around, slamming his back against the wall. He grits his teeth, glaring at her.

"Let me go," he tells her quietly. "I'm really not in the mood to fight right now."

His head is throbbing again, getting sharper and sharper. Dr. T'Perro said no stress, but she doesn't know what his family is like. They're nothing but stress.

Her eyes narrow at him. "I'll let you go when you tell me the truth."

"What truth? There's nothing to tell!" he says, frustrated. He tries to step away from the wall but she simply pushes him back against it, a hand on his chest. "You know," he says lowly, voice a whisper, "we're not ten anymore. You can't tell me what to do, and I don't have to listen to you."

"We just want to know what happened down there."

"I don't know," he tells her, sighing. "It's all a giant blur. I don't know what happened. I just remember the storm, and then waking up on the floor and you guys had already left. That's it. That's everything. Can I go now?"

She watches him for a moment, and then sighs, shaking her head. "You're still hiding something from me."

He frowns. "I'm not. Honest."

"You forget I know you, Tris. I know when you're lying."

"I'm not lying," he says, scowling at her. "You know what? I don't care what you think. I'm out of here."

He pushes away from the wall again.

Her hand is back on his chest, shoving. The wall meets his back again.

He huffs, irritated. His head throbs, once, twice, three times... He blinks away the blurriness, attempting to focus on his sister. Her mouth is moving – she's saying something. Something. His name? What?

What's... happening?

Her hands are on him. Not shoving, but holding him up. Gravity attempts to yank him downward but she holds him against the wall, shaking him, yelling but he can't hear her.

His eyes fall closed.

xXx

Pain.

Everywhere.

So sharp...

What's... going on...?

Thinking hurts. So much.

His mind is scattered. Fractured, broken.

What...?

Something. Something on the edge of his mind. Something...

A missing thought. Forgotten.

Needs to be remembered.

"Look."

The voice echoes through his mind, ricocheting off every broken, misplaced thought. Loud in the silence. Painful.

"Look."

Look at what? What's happening?

"Look."

Can't. Hurts.

Sharp.

" Look."

There's an echo, bouncing off the walls of his mind, little bullets of pain needling every little absent thought.

Too much.

It's too much.

Darkness.

xXx

The rhythmic beeping is almost hypnotizing, a lullaby in its own right. Steady, even. It's the first sound he hears upon reaching consciousness. The second thing to penetrate his mind is a throbbing headache, like he's been underwater for a long time and just took his first gulp of air.

Ugh... what hit me... what happened...

His blinks heavy eyelids open. The room is dim, thankfully. After several blinks, his vision finally starts to focus. He's back in med-bay, in a bed in the back, hooked up to IVs. Medicine has come a long way, but IVs are still necessary, vital, to get fluids and liquid medicines continuously into the body. The bio bed takes care of the rest, monitoring everything, revealing it on screens next to the bed, instead of having the patient stuck to wires. It's been a long time since Tris has been hooked up like this.

He watches the blips on the heart monitor. There's a screen above it, the lines in blue. His brainwaves, no doubt. They are high, nearly at the top of the screen, with no sign of falling. He swallows, watching it for a moment, before he sighs and closes his eyes, rolling his head back to the center of the pillow.

What happened?

He remembers arguing. Arguing with his sister. She wouldn't let him out of the conversation; he just wanted to go to bed. He just wanted to lay down, even though he's always laying down anymore. But she wouldn't let him, insisted he was lying.

And then there was pain.

And... a voice?

" Look."

He shivers, a chill running up his spine despite the blankets resting atop him.

He opens his eyes and looks around the room again. It appears to be late, due to the dim lighting and lack of footsteps. Perhaps Lexi left for the night, but somehow he doubts it. That asari is way too into her work; from what he's heard she's always in med-bay. Does she ever sleep?

She's probably around, just not moving around. Maybe she hasn't figured out he's awake yet.

He thinks about getting up, walking out of med-bay. He's fine; he doesn't need to stay here. He doesn't need to be continuously monitored; it's no surprise to him what happened. Dr. T'Perro said no stress and his sister happened. He blacked out. He's fine now.

He stays, though.

Mainly because Dr. T'Perro won't let anyone in to argue with him. She will want him to rest, like before. He doesn't need the stress. He's safe to actually sleep here, even though he doesn't particularly like med-bays or hospitals. He's never been fond of listening to his heartbeat.

His eyes fall closed again.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER SIXTEEN: Hoping for a Change of Heart

"We need to stop meeting like this."

Tris smirks. "I don't know, doc. I think you like taking care of me."

Dr. T'Perro makes a note on her chart. He's been awake for roughly two hours but she's only now checking on him. Judging from the circles under he eyes, she probably fell asleep at her desk. She deserves a moment of rest for all the work she does. He wonders if the Pathfinder has even spoken to her yet, outside of asking about Tris. She's an asari doctor on a human ship, with a (mostly) human team. That's got to be hard for her, right? But Tris thinks she's performing admirably.

"How are you feeling?" she asks him.

"One day you'll get tired of asking me that," he says, sighing. "I'm fine."

"If you were 'fine', you wouldn't be here," she says, sparing him a quick glance.

He shrugs. "Maybe I missed your smiling face."

"Flattery will get you nowhere."

"Admit it, I'm growing on you."

"What makes you say that?"

"This pillow is much fluffier than the last one," he says, grinning.

She shakes her head. "How are you feeling? And don't say you're 'fine' this time."

"My head hurts," he tells her. "Not as bad as before, though. I blacked out again, huh?"

"In the middle of the hallway, shortly after I released you," she says. "It's made the Pathfinder question if you were ready to be released."

Tris frowns. "He's not hassling you, is he?" If Alec Ryder is giving Dr. T'Perro grief, he'll have to have a conversation with the man. It wasn't Lexi's fault he collapsed again. She warned him about stress, and then Erin happened. It's not the doctor's fault.

"Nothing I can't handle," she assures him with a quick smile. "Any nausea? Vomiting? Memory loss?"

"I remember what happened," he tells her. "Nausea is okay right now. No vomiting, unless I puked on you and don't remember, then we'll revisit that memory issue, too."

She smirks. "You didn't puke on me."

"That's always good. I hate puking on people. Except Erin. I'll do that all day."

Her smirk fades, turning instead into a frown. "Speaking of Ms. Ryder, you were with her when you collapsed."

"Yeah."

"She said you just collapsed on her, but I'm willing to bet there's more to the story. Care to elaborate for me, since you remember?"

"What are you looking for?" he asks.

"The truth."

"We were talking. My head hurt. I woke up here."

"And that's it?"

He nods. "That's it."

She sighs. "I feel there is more to it than that."

He frowns, watching her. "What do you want me to say?"

He knows what she wants. She wants him to admit Erin hassled him, that she caused him to black out, but what good will that do? Dr. T'Perro surely already knows that anyway, but his confirming it will only lead to further complications. The last thing he needs is the doctor trying to protect him from his sister, too. That's too much. It stops here.

"We just talked," he tells her.

"What did you discuss?"

"She wanted to know what happened down in the vault. I told her I didn't remember."

"And that's it?"

"That's it." He smiles at her. "Sorry if it's not what you're looking for."

Dr. T'Perro narrows her eyes at him. "SAM."

"Yes, Dr. T'Perro?" The voice comes from a blue orb springing from a circular display on Tris's other side.

"Hey, SAM," Tris says, because it's been a while since he spoke to the AI. For some reason, it only feels right to say hello. SAM tried to help him down in the vault, after all.

"Hello, Tris," SAM replies in its usual monotone voice. "I hope you are feeling well."

"Better," he says, before glancing at T'Perro. Why did she summon SAM?

"I know you saw what happened," Lexi says, looking at the blue orb. "You have eyes on the ship and everyone in it. What happened in the hallway?"

Tris's eyes narrow. Is she really asking the AI for proof of her theory? Why? What does it matter?

" Ms. Ryder and Mr. Reilly were discussing the vault."

"And what else happened?"

" Mr. Reilly tried to leave, and Ms. Ryder stopped him."

"Okay," Tris says, springing into a sitting position. "That's enough." His vision spins, but he holds his ground, glaring at Dr. T'Perro.

"How did she stop him?" the doctor asks, ignoring him.

" She pushed him against the wall and would not let him leave. They argued, and Mr. Reilly collapsed."

She nods. "I expected as much." She looks back at Tris, finally. "I don't know why you're protecting her."

He grits his teeth, not answering.

"If she's hurting you, we need to know. You need to tell someone."

She's not hurting me. She's my sister.

He looks away, teeth still clenched, jaw muscles aching.

"Are you listening to me?" she asks, quietly this time. She sits on the edge of his bed. "I don't know why you're protecting her. If she's hurting you, she doesn't deserve your protection. We have proof thanks to SAM. All you have to do is say something."

What is her plan? What does she want to have happen? Get Erin thrown off the ship? Alec Ryder would never let that happened, and if he tries to get her thrown off the ship, they will only reveal that he's Tris Ryder, and is having a silly spat with his sister. He already knows how this story plays out. What's the point in trying?

He smiles, glancing at her again. "I don't know what you're talking about," he says. "Erin has no reason to hurt me. We were just talking, and I blacked out. It was bad timing, nothing more."

Dr. T'Perro frowns at him, watching him carefully. He keeps the smile firmly in place, waiting her out. Finally, she sighs and gets back to her feet. "Very well," she says quietly. "I can't make you say anything. Just know you have people on your side."

He watches her walk away, and close the curtain around him.

xXx

The Ryders stop by a few hours later. They want an update on his condition, and to see him, but Lexi says he's sleeping. He lays awake in bed, listening as she gives them an adequate update but says she can't have them disturbing him while he sleeps.

This has to stop.

She's protecting him. From his family.

I don't need protection.

Speaking with his family is unpleasant, and he doesn't exactly like them, but they're his family, despite how he tries to hide from that fact. They won't hurt him. They kidnapped him and brought him here, after all; they don't want him dead.

He doesn't need protection.

This needs to stop.

I can't hide here forever. He has to face them eventually. He needs to get everyone to stop trying to protect him. It's crazy.

He pulls the IV from his wrist and throws his legs over the edge of the bed.

Of course Dr. T'Perro is alerted immediately. Fucking tattle tell bed.

She excuses herself from the Ryders and enters his little area, swiping the curtain aside to allow her entrance before quietly shutting it behind her. Then she stares at him with a huff. "Just what do you think you're doing?"

"Ryders wanna talk," he says.

"You need rest."

"I'm fine," he tells her. "Where are my clothes?"

He hates these robes or whatever they put on patients. It's unnecessary. He was fine in his clothes.

"I'm afraid I can't let you leave," Lexi says.

"I'm afraid you can't keep me," he tells her, shrugging. "I'm in no immediate danger. You're just monitoring me at this point."

"You could relapse again."

He glances at her. "That wasn't a relapse, and you know it."

"So you admit something caused it."

She appears almost triumphant, like he's going to say 'yeah, Erin totally caused it, it's all her fault'. But he's not.

"We were having a conversation," he says. "I was reliving the memories of the vault. That's all." He smiles, and finds his clothes on a chair near the bed. He disrobes and starts to pull his clothes back on.

The curtain opens as he's pulling his shirt over his head. It's the Pathfinder. His eyes scan over Tris briefly; he always feels naked under his father's stare.

"Good to see you're awake," he says, with a pointed look at Dr. T'Perro.

"My patient needs rest," she says, unabashed.

"Your patient is ready to leave," Tris says, looking for his boots. He finds them under another chair, and sits in the chair to start lacing them.

"I must insist you stay, at least for 48 hours."

"I can sleep just fine in my own bed."

Dr. T'Perro sighs heavily. She knows she can't make him stay. As long as he doesn't collapse again, and continues showing few to no symptoms (save for the headache), he can leave when he wants because at this point she's just monitoring him. He doesn't actually need to be here now that he's woken up and feeling better. She can't keep him here either way because she can't force him to accept her help.

He finishes with his boots and pushes back to his feet. His vision blurs momentarily, but it's gone by the time he blinks. He smiles at his dad. "What's the Pathfinder doing, haunting the med-bay?"

"You keep winding up here," Alec says, sighing. He claps a hand to Tris's shoulder. "And we have things to discuss."

Of course we do.

He sighs and nods.

"We'll talk in my quarters," Alec says, leading Tris away from the bed and Dr. T'Perro. Just beyond the curtain wall is Erin, waiting for them. Tris's shoulders tense instinctively, but he feels eyes watching him and forces his posture to relax.

"Feeling better?" Erin asks, as he stops in front of her.

He shrugs, still feeling the weight of Alec's hand on his shoulder, squeezing. "Sure," he says. Until you irritate me again.

She nods and grabs his other arm, and together the Ryders lead him out of med-bay.

xXx

The Pathfinder's quarters aboard this ship are nice. There's a large bed near the center of the room, and a makeshift bed on the floor next to it, between it and the wall. He guesses the Pathfinder sleeps in the bed and Erin sleeps on the floor. Otherwise, the room is rather sparse save for a desk and terminal on the far side of the room, in a back corner. Alec Ryder never was one for decorating.

"Okay," Tris says, once they're in the room. "We're here. Talk." He shakes his arms free, sighing as he turns to face them.

"What happened down there?" Alec asks.

Tris glances at Erin. "You didn't tell him?"

"He wants to hear it from you."

He rolls his eyes. "Okay. Again. Everything was fine until we activated the last terminal; then this strange purple storm shot from it and tried to eat everything in its path, including the remnant bots. We ran back to the start. They got out, I didn't. My barrier failed, and I woke up on the ground hours later. End of story."

"You're not saying everything," Erin says.

"Not this again," he sighs, scrubbing a hand over his face. With all his time in the med-bay he hasn't exactly had time to shave; stubble pricks at his palm. "I don't know what you think I'm hiding. I don't remember what happened down there."

"Something happened to cause you to have abnormal brainwaves," she tells him, like he doesn't realize that himself.

"No shit," he mutters. "But I don't remember what. If I start to remember, I'll tell you, but until then, I'm just as lost as you."

She glares at him. "You know more than-"

Alec places a hand on her shoulder. "Easy, Erin. The doctor said no stress. I think that includes berating your brother."

Tris grins at her, and she scowls back at him.

"Fine," she says, "but this isn't over, Tris."

"It never is, with you." He looks at his father. "Can I go now?"

"You need to talk to your friends."

"My... friends?" he asks, momentarily confused.

The Pathfinder nods. "They seem to think we are trying to hurt you. Erin says they tried to protect you from her. They are here to protect the Pathfinder, not you."

Tris's jaw clenches. "I know that," he mutters. "I didn't ask them to..." I didn't ask them to protect me. From my sister, no less.

"I can't have them questioning my every move. If they can't follow orders, they'll have to be reassigned," Alec continues in that firm voice of his.

Tris nods. "I'll talk to them."

He's not sure what he'll say, but he knows he has to do something. This can't continue. It's oddly touching, that they are willing to do this for him, but he doesn't need it. He's been fine on his own. He doesn't need protection from family, even if he does dislike being around them.

"Anything else?" he asks.

This was a long way to go for a short conversation. They could have had it in the med-bay.

"How are you?" Alec asks.

He frowns. "I'm fine," he says. What is with people asking me that? He's perfectly fine, just has some abnormal brainwaves. No stress. He can do this. No stress.

The Pathfinder nods. "You can go."

He nods and pushes past the Pathfinder, out of the Pathfinder's quarters.

Liam, Drack and Peebee are waiting for him outside of it. The doors swish shut behind him and he stops, staring at them, confused.

"Uh... hi," he says slowly.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: Eyes Like Yours Can't Look Away

Okay. This is… what?

Why are they all standing here? How did they even know he was here? Are they waiting for him or do they want to see the Pathfinder? His shoulders relax marginally. That seems more likely; they must be here to talk to the Ryders, not him. How would they have even known he was here? He wasn't in there very long. This is just a coincidence.

He smiles. "Sorry, the Pathfinder is in there." He moves to walk around them.

"You okay, kid?" Drack asks.

He frowns, turning back around. "I'm fine."

They're all watching him.

Shit. They're not here to see the Pathfinder.

"What are you guys doing here?" he asks. He thinks he knows, but he needs to be certain.

"Lexi told us you were here," Peebee says, shrugging.

"She seemed concerned," Liam adds.

Tris sighs, scrubbing a hand over his face. "You don't have to worry about them," he says, frustrated. "They're not going to hurt me."

Liam's expression turns skeptical. Peebee looks much the same. Tris sighs; why can nothing ever be easy? Why do they have to make this difficult? How can they seriously be trying to protect him from his family? Granted, they don't know they're his family, but they have no reason to protect him, right? Why?

"Why do you think they're going to hurt me?" he asks.

"They haven't exactly given us reason not to think that, have they?" Peebee asks, shrugging. "And you don't trust them. Not to mention last time I left you alone with one of them, you passed out again."

"That was just bad timing," he says, but the words feel wrong even to his own ears. By the looks they're giving him, he hasn't convinced them of anything. He sighs, shaking his head once more, trying to make sense of this. "Can we just… do this later? I would like to sleep."

He's tired.

More than that, he's tired of being tired.

Why is he so exhausted? All he's done is sleep.

"I need to get to the crew quarters anyway," Liam says, gesturing over his shoulder. "Let's go."

It's as he's walking with Liam that he looks over his shoulder and notices Peebee and Drack just behind him, following them. He glances at Liam; his posture isn't exactly relaxed, but it's not outwardly standoffish either. Oh, dammit.

"On second thought," he says, stopping, causing all three of them to stop, too, "I think I'll eat before bed. Can't sleep on an empty stomach."

"I'm starving," Peebee says, grabbing his arm and leading him in another direction. "Let's eat!"

"I'll cook," Liam offers, following them, along with Drack.

"You cook anything edible?" the krogan asks.

Tris stops, pulling free of Peebee's grasp. "You know what? I'm sorry. I meant I should probably go check on things in engineering. We did sneak in through there, after all; don't want them to get in trouble."

"Sounds like fun," Drack says. "Let's go, kid."

Tris narrows his eyes at them. "Okay – what's going on?"

They share a glance. "Nothing," Liam answers.

"Uh huh," Tris says, folding his arms over his chest. "The truth, please."

"Look, kid," Drack says, causing him to glance at the krogan, "you don't trust the Ryders, that's reason enough for us to not trust them."

His head spins. "What? You don't even know them," he says, because Drack has only just joined them. None of them know the Ryders, except Liam and Tris.

"Doesn't mean I can't dislike them," Drack tells him.

"Then why are you here, if you don't trust them?"

"I never said I joined for them," the krogan tells him, blinking at him with those large, slitted eyes. "Someone has to keep an eye on you."

He glances at Peebee. "And you? You feel the same?"

"I don't trust them," she says, shrugging. "I joined because I figured I could learn more traveling with you guys, and you seemed nice enough, but then they just left you behind like it meant nothing that their teammate was dead, and that rubbed me wrong. And then I leave you alone with Blondie and you end up back in med-bay. Not exactly perfect for building trust."

"That was just bad timing," he says again, shaking his head. "She had nothing to do with it."

"Didn't she?" Liam asks, raising a brow. "I'm fairly certain stress is what landed you back in med-bay. Were you having an argument?"

"A mild disagreement," Tris says, glaring at him. "Nothing serious."

Except, he remembers her hand on his arm, yanking him back. Her hand against his chest, keeping him against the wall. The pain in his head. The world spinning. A voice. Something forgotten. Something he needs to remember. Something in the back of his mind, nagging. Something…

"Tris?" Liam asks, touching a hand to his shoulder.

Tris blinks, refocusing. "Sorry. What?"

"You okay?"

"I'm fine," he says, shrugging off the hold. He glances at the three of them again.

They aren't going to stop, are they? They're going to keep protecting him. Why, though? He doesn't deserve this. He's done nothing to deserve this. Nothing to warrant their trust. Their… loyalty. They barely know him, yet they are willing to trust him over the Ryders? They don't trust the Ryders not to hurt him? Why? It makes no sense.

"Let's go sit down. We need to talk," he tells them.

xXx

They meet in the kitchen. Tris isn't exactly hungry, but recognizes that he needs to eat all the same. It's been a while since he last ate; the last thing he needs right now is another trip to Lexi because his calorie intake sucks. He starts to fix himself a simple sandwich while the others sit. His back is to them as he pulls out ingredients, but he can feel their eyes on him.

"You guys need to stop this," he tells them, adding thinly sliced cheese to his sandwich.

"Stop what?" Peebee asks.

"Trying to… protect me," he replies, scowling down at his half-made sandwich. "I can look after myself, you know. I don't need a babysitter."

Or, in this case, three babysitters.

He places the last slice of bread on the top of his sandwich and pushes down, flattening it so the ingredients mush together. He doesn't bother grabbing a plate before he turns to face them, sandwich in hand as he leans his hip against the counter, watching them. He takes a bite when none of them speak, and chews thoughtfully before swallowing, clearing his throat.

"They aren't going to hurt me," he reminds them, before taking another bite.

"You don't know that," Liam says, scowling at him.

"Just because I don't get along with them doesn't mean they're out to get me," Tris says, but the words feel wrong on his tongue. Isn't that exactly what he's been thinking the whole time he's been here, since he woke from cryo? He's here to be cannon fodder, after all; they don't exactly care if he lives or dies. But then, he never expected them to.

Still, I don't think they want me dead. They would have just left me back on Earth otherwise. Then they could have come to Andromeda, safe in the knowledge he died some 600 years ago. But no, they knocked him out and dragged him to Andromeda with them. They care, at least a little. He realizes that, deep down, but trying to follow their actions instead of their words just leads down a rollercoaster of mixed signals.

"They left you behind," Liam reminds him.

He inclines his head in a small nod. "They did," he agrees. "But they thought I was dead already. It's not like they left me behind to be killed; in their minds, I was already gone."

He's not sure why he's defending them, really. They did leave him behind. They didn't even bother to look for him, didn't hesitate to leave, according to Liam and Peebee. They just left, like he was nothing, but he's never expected anything more from his family. It hurts, but it's not unexpected. They thought he was dead so they left. The mission will always come first. It's not just their lives at stake, but all of humanity's here in Andromeda, as well as other races of aliens. They have so much riding on their shoulders. Why bother looking for a dead man?

He understands.

"You don't trust them," Peebee says.

He sighs. They're back to this, are they? "I don't, but my reasons are my own. They don't concern you. You have to trust them."

"Why's that?" Peebee asks, frowning at him.

"Because if you're going to be traveling with us, you have to respect the Pathfinder's authority," Tris says, settling his gaze from one person to the next, making sure they all understand what's at stake here. "If he can't trust you to follow his orders, you'll be thrown off the ship."

Peebee tilts her head. "Did he tell you that?"

He clenches his teeth, aware this is a trap. "Doesn't matter," he replies. "You have to stop this. I can take care of myself."

"You're still healing," Liam says.

"Sure, but that doesn't mean I need a babysitter. Or a bodyguard." He shakes his head; this is getting them nowhere. "Look, the point is, you have to stop this. If you keep it up you'll be thrown off the ship, and I don't think you want that, do you?"

Maybe they do want that. Drack's reasons for staying are thin at best. He can leave whenever he wants. Peebee wants information; she'll get more if they are going to be running into kett and remnant on other planets. Maybe there's vaults there, too. There have been those strange structures on two planets already; why not more? It only makes sense. So, she wants to stick with them to satisfy her curiosity.

Liam is a loyal member of the Pathfinder team. Tris doubts he wants to be thrown off the ship, but he's not certain. Maybe he wouldn't mind.

"Do you hear me?" he asks, in their silence. "You have to stop this. I'm fine. I don't need protection." Especially from my family.

"Fine," Peebee huffs, clearly not happy. "But if they put you in med-bay again…"

He rolls his eyes. "Even if they do, you have to respect them. You have to follow their orders if you want to stay here."

None of them seem entirely convinced, but at least they're willing to stop – for now. He's not sure how long this will last.

Hopefully long enough.

xXx

They're docked at the Nexus for the next week. Tris remains on the ship only because he doesn't have anywhere else to go, and his head is still throbbing. He's spent most of the time sleeping or training in the cargo bay, chipping away at boxes with his biotics. He's not avoiding people so much as he has nothing to say right now; he just wants to be alone. There's a fuzzy feeling in his head that won't go away, a hazy blanket over his thoughts, fracturing them. He's forgetting something. Something…

He hates this. He hates not knowing. Hates that nagging feeling. Like he left the stove on…

When he sleeps, he dreams. They aren't always unpleasant, but more often than not he wakes gasping for breath, something on the edge of his mind, just beyond his reach. On the tip of his tongue. Somewhere. Something. Something he's forgotten.

Sometimes he dreams of the vault. He's trapped inside with that storm, but this time he feels it clogging his lungs. He wakes up choking on air.

His appetite hasn't returned, but he forces himself to eat twice a day. His biotics aren't suffering from lack of calories, though; instead, they're getting stronger. He doesn't have to focus nearly as much, and when he tries for a barrier without thinking, his body glows blue. He doesn't try again.

He's tired frequently, but sleeps little. Every time he's about to drift off, there's a voice in his head. Echoing, bouncing off broken thoughts. Something to remember. He just can't. He hates this, hates feeling so out of place, so disoriented. He needs to do better.

He hasn't been back to med-bay, thankfully. Lexi wants to run some tests on him again, but he's managed to keep putting her off so far. One day his luck in that matter will run out, though. She can be quite persistent.

Liam, Peebee, and Drack can be stubbornly persistent, too. One of them seems to always be at his side. He's spoken to his father and sister, but not without feeling watchful eyes on him in the hallways. He has a nagging feeling Erin wants to get him alone to question him again, but she won't try with an audience. He's grateful for that, at least. The last thing he wants right now is her line of questioning. He doesn't remember anything; he's said all he's remembered, but she doesn't believe him.

Why she doesn't believe him is still a mystery, but he doesn't think on it too much. He has other things on his mind.

On the fifth day, he leaves the Tempest. He walks around the Nexus, checking out shops and accessible areas. There appears to be progress, though he can't be certain as he didn't look around the Nexus last time they were docked here, when they first got the Tempest. From what he was told, though, it seems they're making progress. Thanks to using the human ark as a type of battery, things are really coming along here. That's good, he supposes. Progress.

His implant has been fixed. A technician checked him out two days ago and recharged it, giving it new life. Maybe that's why he has a persistent headache; the implant is attached to his neck and brain, after all. It's bound to be stiff for a while, after they tampered with it.

Though he's had a headache, he hasn't passed out again, thankfully. Small mercies, he supposes. He'll take what he can get.

When he returns to the Tempest, Liam is waiting for him in the docking bay. Tris doesn't bother rolling his eyes; the cheeky grin on Liam's face tells him the man already knows how frustrated Tris is, but he doesn't care. They walk through the bay in a comfortable silence, neither speaking, but Liam's shoulder brushes lightly against his all the same.

He should feel more annoyed than he does. He doesn't need this, after all. He doesn't.

But it's… kind of nice, he thinks, almost sheepishly.

It's as they're nearing the crew quarters that Erin stops them. Or, rather, stops Tris.

"We need to talk," she says, folding her arms across her chest, before she glances at Liam. "Alone."

Liam's eyes narrow in response.

Before he can argue, though, Tris pushes him forward, past Erin. "I'll meet up with you," he promises, smiling at the crisis response expert.

Liam watches them for a moment, clearly hesitating. Annoyance clouds Erin's face.

"Honest," Tris says, crossing fingers over his heart. "I'll meet you later. Go on."

Liam walks away, but doesn't disappear from view. Instead, he waits at the end of the hallway, out of earshot, but he keeps his gaze on the two of them, arms folding across his chest as he leans against the wall. Tris sighs; it's the best he's going to get, for now. He looks back at his sister.

"I thought you talked to them," she says, irritated.

"I did," he says, shrugging.

"Not well enough."

"I'm not perfect," he reminds her. "What'd you wanna talk about?"

"How's the implant?"

He blinks at her, confused. "Fine," he says, slowly. "Why?"

She huffs. "Can't I ask just to ask? Do I have to have ulterior motives?"

"Yes?"

She rolls her eyes. "You're good to use your biotics now, right?"

"Yeah." The technician, and Dr. T'Perro, gave him the all-clear. He can use biotics again without causing his body undo strain.

"Good," she says. "We leave tomorrow."

"Where to?" he asks, even though it doesn't really matter. Probably to another planet with another vault to do more of the same.

"There's a native race to this galaxy," she says. "And it's not the kett."

He blinks at her. "Okay…"

"They're called the angara. They supposedly have a home-world through the scourge, but navigating through it is difficult, even for the kett. The Tempest might be able to make it, though."

"So we're trying to establish contact?" he asks, blinking. Oh, this is a terrible idea.

"We're going to try, to at least see if they know anything about the vaults or if they've seen the other arks."

"Have they had contact with us yet?"

"Some have, on other planets."

Tris nods. "Okay." I don't think we should be part of first contact, so at least they kind of know us already. They have to know we're not like the kett. Right?

"We leave in the morning," she tells him. "Be ready."

He rolls his eyes. "I'm always ready. Anything else?"

Her eyes narrow. "Remembered what you're lying about, yet?"

He huffs, glaring at her. "I'm not lying."

"You're not telling me everything."

Irritation ignites quickly, flooding through him like an explosion. "Even if I was keeping something from you, I don't have to tell you anything. It's not like I owe you anything." With that, he moves to walk past her.

She grabs his arm and yanks him back. Shoves his back against the wall. He huffs in annoyance, but suddenly there's a hand on her shoulder, wrenching her back and away from him. He blinks as her presence leaves him, Liam standing next to her, glaring at her.

"Don't touch me," she snaps at him, twisting free of his hold.

"Don't touch him," Liam replies, just as sharply.

Oh, boy. Tris steps forward, away from the wall. "Guys-" he starts, but neither of them are listening to him.

"He's a big boy," Erin says, "he can take care of himself. He doesn't need you as a bodyguard."

"I'm his friend," Liam snaps back. "Not his bodyguard."

"Could have fooled me," she says with a sickeningly sweet smile. "If you can't keep your hands to yourself, I don't think we can trust you on the job. You'll have to stay on the Nexus when we leave in the morning."

Tris glares at her. "That's enough," he snaps, finally getting their attention as they both look at him. "You're not kicking him off the ship," he says to Erin, before looking at Liam. "And you're not going to keep trying to protect me, do you hear me?" He looks at both of them. "Well?"

"Last I checked, you weren't the boss," Erin says, shrugging. "I don't have to listen to you."

"If he goes, I walk," Tris says, narrowing his eyes at her. "Your choice."

"You can't be serious."

His lips twist in a sneer. "I am."

"You don't have to do that," Liam says.

He ignores Liam and keeps glaring at his sister. She glares right back at him.

"You're coming with us," she tells him.

"Can't force me to," he reminds her with a half-smirk. "If you try to force anyone off this ship, I'm out."

"That wasn't part of the deal."

"I'm amending the deal. Take it or leave it."

"Deal?" Liam asks, confused. "What deal?"

"Well?" Tris asks, holding her gaze. "What's it going to be?"

She huffs, rolling her eyes. "You're always so fucking dramatic. Fine. Your bodyguard can stay, but only if he does as he's told. We can't have members of the crew we can't trust."

With that, she spins on her heel and storms away from them.

Tris watches her go, inwardly seething. How fucking dare she.

"Deal?" Liam asks, dragging him from his anger. "What did you mean? What deal?"

"Nothing," he spits out, shaking his head. "It's nothing."

"Don't do that."

"Do what?"

"Don't close up on me again. You keep doing that."

"It's nothing," Tris repeats, moving to walk away. Liam follows, but then, he knew he would.

"It's something," Liam insists, keeping pace with him even as Tris quickens his speed, attempting to put distance between himself and this conversation. "Why won't you just tell me?"

"It's nothing."

Drop it. Please.

His head is burning. Sharp. Behind his eyes.

He grits his teeth, veering into the crew quarters.

He finds no relief when he sits down, though. The world tilts; he falls more than lays down. When his head hits the pillow, his eyelids become rather heavy.

Liam isn't finished, though. He never is.

He stands next to the bed, looking down at him. "Why can't you just talk to me?"

"It's nothing," he says, forever a broken record. It's nothing. Just drop it.

"What deal?"

Tris sighs, flinging an arm over his eyes to block out the light. "I made a deal with them," he mumbles. Shouldn't have done that. Was stupid.

"A deal with who? The Ryders?"

He sighs, head throbbing painfully. "Yes."

"What for? What about?"

His lips twitch into a smile he doesn't feel. "That would be telling."

"So tell me."

"It's none of your business."

"What deal?"

"You're very stubborn, did you know that?"

"So I've been told. You should know that by now, though. So?"

"You're not going to leave me alone until I talk, are you?" Tris asks, frowning at the thought. His head hurts; he just wants to sleep. Talking to his sister always makes his head hurt and leaves him drained.

"Nope," Liam answers, sitting on the edge of the bed, next to Tris's thigh. "So, talk. What deal?"

"I agreed to help them if they did something for me."

"Like what?"

"You ask a lot of questions."

"I have an inquisitive personality."

Tris snorts. "That's one way of putting it."

"What did they do for you?"

Agreed to use my name – Tris Reilly. Agreed to not have me be related to them. Agreed not to tell anyone.

All he has to do in return is be cannon fodder for them. Easy enough, right?

"Well?" Liam asks, elbowing his thigh for good measure.

He sighs, digging his arm more into his eyes, fighting off the pressure building there. "They just… know something. About me. That'd I'd rather they kept to themselves," he says slowly, forcing his words to come out calm and relaxed. "They agreed to keep it quiet in exchange for my services."

"Your services," Liam repeats, a frown evident in his voice. "What services?"

He's too tired to argue right now. "Cannon fodder," he replies around a yawn. " 'm the cannon fodder."

It's quiet for a moment. So quiet, he's almost certain Liam has left him alone and he's drifted off to sleep without realizing it. But then Liam mutters something under his breath and the weight on the bed shifts as he stands. Tris blinks heavy eyelids open to frown at him as he removes his arm from his face.

"How can you think of yourself as cannon fodder?" Liam asks, narrowing his eyes at him as he paces the length of the bed. "This is all so messed up. You know you're not, right?" The look in his eyes hardens when Tris remains silent, watching him. "Right?"

"Sure," Tris says. "Can I sleep now?"

"Why do you think you're…? What do they have on you to make you want to do that?"

Tris rolls over, his back to Liam. "I'm going to sleep now."

"Tris-"

"Please drop it," he mumbles, closing his eyes. "My head hurts."

It's more than he wanted to admit; all of this is more than he cared to admit, but he's said it and there's no taking any of it back. He swallows thickly around the lump in his throat.

A hand lands on his shoulder. "You're not expendable," Liam tells him, squeezing.

But I am, he thinks tiredly. It's the only reason I'm here.

"Okay," he says quietly.

Liam sighs and releases him. He listens as the man walks away, leaving him be, for now. He has no doubt that if he leaves the crew quarters, one of the three of them will be waiting for him around a corner. That's okay, though; he has no desire to move right now. His head aches, and he's so tired. He's tired of being tired. When will this stop?

Hopefully soon, but somehow, he doubts it.

Why is this even happening? What's wrong with him?

He wishes he knew, but the more he tries to think about it, tries to remember what happened in the vault, the more his head throbs and his thoughts fracture. There is no remembering, no matter how much Erin wants him to tell her what he's supposedly hiding. How can he tell her when he can't even remember himself?

He sighs and attempts to quiet his mind. Liam left him alone to sleep, and that's what he intends to do, random nightmares be damned.

xXx

He's encased in darkness.

The air is thick; hard to breathe.

A sharp haze in his mind, nagging at fractured thoughts.

"Look."

A voice in the still quiet of his mind, all that's left of some loud, sharp pain. An afterimage. There, but not there.

"Look."

I'm trying, he thinks, but thinking is so difficult. Thinking hurts. Thoughts are pain.

" Look."

Can't look. Nothing to see.

Just darkness all around him, blinding in its dullness.

" Look and see ."

Nothing to see. Nothing to-

There.

A flicker in the darkness. There, but not there. Something fractured, broken. Gone but intact. Shattered and whole.

He looks.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN: You Gotta Fire Up, You Gotta Let Go

Hands.

Hands on him.

Pinning him.

A scream echoing, bouncing off broken, pained thoughts in a haze of wrong mixed with oh so right. A chaotic cacophony of yes and no, here and not here, shattered but whole.

No air. No air in his lungs.

He inhales raggedly and only realizes he’s the one screaming when the sound cuts off with his shaky gulp of air, only to continue on his exhale.

Hands. Hands on his shoulders. Pinning him. Holding him down.

“Look!” the voice remains, all that is clear in the cacophony of wrong.

“LOOK!”

“I am,” he chokes, and his eyes fly open.

Liam hovers over him, holding him down. He stops fighting the hands, stops fighting the pressure, and falls lax on the bed, weak from a struggle. Behind Liam stands Peebee and Drack; he can barely make them out in the blur that has become his sight. Liam’s eyes are wide, and his lips are moving.

Tris can hear the words, but they make no sense.

He stares at Liam. “What?” he asks.

Liam frowns again. Says something. Something that should be familiar, but isn’t.

“What are you saying? I don’t understand,” Tris tries to tell him, but Peebee and Liam share a look and they’re not understanding. They’re not hearing him. Instead they’re staring at him like he’s grown a second head. “What?” he demands, narrowing his eyes at them.

There’s a roaring in his ears. A pain in his head. Something. Something in the back of his mind. Something.

A thought. Nagging. Like he left the stove on.

Can you understand me, Mr. Reilly? SAM asks, breaking through the haze of confusion.

It’s Tris, he reminds the AI.

So you can understand me.

Yeah? Why wouldn’t I be able to? I thought the implant was working again.

“Tris?” Liam’s voice penetrates his mind, scraping against raw, pained thoughts. “Can you hear me?”

“I’m not deaf,” he replies with a scowl. “What’s going on?”

Liam relaxes slightly, relief etched across his face. “Are you back?”

“Did I go somewhere?”

They share a look again. Tris is getting tired of that.

He shoves Liam’s hands away and sits up. “What happened? Someone better tell me.”

“We were hoping you could tell us,” Peebee says, from just behind Liam. She steps forward so she’s next to him, looking down at Tris. “You weren’t speaking… any language we understood.”

“That’s impossible,” Tris tells them. They have a translator built into their implants, after all; so they can all understand each other, no matter the language they speak.

They are not lying, nor are they mistaken, SAM tells him.

Tris frowns. So I… what? Know some weird alien language? How?

I am uncertain. You were, however, speaking a language that I myself recently learned to decipher.

Oh? And what’s that?

There’s a knot in his stomach, tightening, leaving him grimacing. He has a feeling he already knows the answer.

It is the same language used in the encryption and language I deciphered to ‘fix the weather’, as you so aptly put it, back on Habitat 7.

Tris’s eyes slam shut. “Fuck me,” he mutters.

While I can understand the language, and can in turn give the Pathfinder a passing understanding of it, I am curious how you can understand it and speak it so fluently.

I wasn’t, he replies, swallowing around the lump in his throat. I couldn’t have been. I don’t know the language. I have no way of knowing the language.

Nevertheless, you do, SAM replies in that same, monotone voice.

“You were screaming,” Liam tells him, breaking him from his thoughts. His voice is loud in the ringing silence of his mind; fraying raw edges, scraping broken thoughts. It hurts. “I thought you were having a nightmare, so I tried to wake you, but you wouldn’t wake. Then you started clawing at your head so I had to hold you down to keep you from hurting yourself.”

Tris blinks his eyes open, frowning at Liam. “Or you,” he says, reading between the lines.

Liam’s lips thin into a frown. “You took a swing at me. Caught me by surprise, but didn’t hurt too much.”

“Sorry,” Tris says, feeling rather disconnected at the moment. Like it’s not him. It’s not him who hit Liam. It’s not him who had a nightmare. It’s not him that was screaming. But it is – it’s him. He curls his fingers into fists, nails biting into the skin of his palms.

“Let’s get you to Lexi,” Liam says, grabbing his arm, hauling him to his feet.

What good will that do? Tris thinks, but doesn’t fight him.

Peebee grabs his other arm, and Drack leads the way out of the crew quarters. Tris reluctantly allows himself to be led; to be honest, his head is a little too fuzzy to walk correctly at the moment. His balance is off. If they weren’t holding his arms and keeping him upright he’d be favoring one side, which is wrong because he’s not hurt. He’s recovered from whatever injuries he sustained in the vault. He’s recovered from everything. Lexi said his brainwaves were still high, but didn’t seem to be causing him more black outs. He’s been fine all week.

Why now?

It doesn’t make any sense.

Nothing does, anymore.

What is wrong with him?

Erin meets them in the hallway just prior to getting to the med-bay. “I heard there was a commotion in the crew quarters,” she says, frowning at them before he gaze lands on Tris, being held upright by Liam and Peebee. “What happened to you?”

He grits his teeth. Wish I knew.

“We’re taking him to med-bay,” Liam says.

Drack pushes past her and Peebee and Liam follow with Tris.

“What happened?” Erin asks again, following them.

“Dunno,” Tris answers tiredly. Why is he always so tired?

His head hurts. Their words are too loud in the silence. It hurts. Quiet. He just needs quiet. What would it take for them to be quiet?

For things to just stop?

“What was the commotion?” his sister asks as they enter med-bay.

Lexi looks up from her desk and jumps to her feet, hurrying toward them, lips twitching downward in a concerned frown. She’s good at her job; she cares for her patients. Tris sighs as he realizes he’s probably going to be one of those patients again. They release him next to a bed which he’s forced to sit on, if only because gravity is an unforgiving bitch and yanks him downward until his ass finds the bed.

His legs are jelly. Arms are heavy. Head, hazy.

Why?

“What happened?” Dr. T’Perro asks, already running her medical scanner over Tris. “Your brainwaves are off the charts again.”

His shoulders slump. Great. Just great.

“So, what happened?” she asks again.

“We’re not sure,” Liam replies, hovering on the opposite side of the bed. “He was having a nightmare of some kind so I tried to wake him, but he wouldn’t wake up. Then he started clawing at his head so I held him down; I was worried he’d hurt himself. Finally, he woke up but…” He shares a look with Peebee briefly.

“But what?” Erin demands from behind Dr. T’Perro.

“He wasn’t speaking any recognizable language when he woke up,” Liam finishes. “It took him a few minutes to communicate with us clearly again.”

Erin’s eyes narrow. Tris mentally groans. “Is this true, Tris?” she asks, looking at him, pushing forward so she’s next to Dr. T’Perro, staring down at him. “Were you speaking some alien language?”

“I don’t know,” he says, shaking his head. “I don’t remember.”

“Don’t give me that!” she snaps, taking another step forward. He flinches at her tone and looks away, chewing on his lower lip. “You keep saying you don’t remember, but clearly you’re lying about something! So just tell me!”

“Hey,” Liam says, rounding the bed, “back off.”

“Or what?” Erin asks, turning her glare on him. “You’re lucky you’re even still on this ship with your insubordination.”

“Guys,” Tris says, weakly, watching them. What is happening? Why? Again?

“Well,” Liam says, glaring back at her, “you’re lucky I haven’t filed a formal complaint against you.”

“For what?” she demands. “I haven’t done anything wrong!”

“Guys,” Tris tries again.

“What do you mean, you haven’t done anything wrong?” Liam snaps. “You’ve done everything wrong!”

“That’s it! You’re off the ship!”

“Enough!” Dr. T’Perro snaps, stepping between the two. “Argue all you like outside, but in here you adhere to my rules, and I will not tolerate you disturbing my patients. Do I make myself clear?” She glares at both of them, expression stony, brooking no argument.

“I’m not leaving,” Liam says, folding his arms across his chest.

“You should go,” Peebee says, looking at Erin.

“Why should I leave? I have more of a right to be here than any of you,” Erin retorts.

Panic claws at Tris’s chest. She wouldn’t. She wouldn’t out him here. She can’t. Right? She won’t do that to him. She promised. They have a deal. She can’t.

He struggles to get his feet under him, but they’re still jelly, folding under his attempts, leaving him crashing back into a sitting position. He reaches for Erin’s arm but she deftly moves out of his way, either consciously or unconsciously; it’s hard to tell since she’s glaring so much at Liam.

“You have no right to be here,” Peebee counters.

Erin’s lips twist into a smile. “And what right do you have to be here?”

“I’m here for a friend,” she replies.

A friend. A friend? She’s his friend? How? Why? I have friends? How did this happen?

Doesn’t matter. Erin is going to ruin everything if he doesn’t stop her.

“Erin,” he says, before clearing his throat, trying again. “Erin.”

She glances at him briefly. “Well, Tris?” she asks, smirking. “What do you have to say for yourself?”

“Please,” he says quietly, meeting her gaze. Please don’t do this. Don’t tell them. Don’t tell anyone. You promised. Please.

In the grand scale of things, maybe it’s not a big deal. They’re most likely going to find out eventually anyway, but he wants this to last as long as possible. If they find out he’s really a Ryder, they’ll start treating him like a Ryder. Everyone will. They’ll start looking up to him and expecting him to have answers and he can’t. He can’t take on that burden, not again. He can’t do it again. He can’t do it anymore. He wants to be his own person, at least for a little longer.

Please.

“What do you have on him?” Liam asks, glaring at Erin again, causing her to look back at him. “What do you have on him that he’s willing to work for you?”

“What makes you say that?” she asks.

“You have a deal.”

“Trissy tell you about that, did he?” she asks, laughing. “Did he mention what he got out of it?”

“Erin,” Tris hisses.

“What deal?” Peebee asks.

“What’s going on, kid?” Drack adds.

Tris stares at Erin. Please stop. She barely spares him a glance.

“Face it, Tris,” she says, “your little secret was bound to come out eventually.”

“Tell them and I walk,” he snaps, glaring at her. “Do you hear me? I’m so out of here if you break our deal.”

“You’re not much good to us always in the med-bay, now are you?” she asks, almost sweetly.

His fingers curl into fists, nails biting at his palm.

“That is enough,” Dr. T’Perro says sharply, grabbing Erin by the arm and dragging her away from the bed.

“Let go of me,” Erin snaps.

“I will not have you further disturbing my patient. I have the authority to ban anyone not in immediate need of medical attention from med-bay, and I am doing so now. Do not disturb my patient again.”

“You can’t throw me out.”

“Try to fight her,” Drack says, standing behind Lexi. “I dare you.”

She looks back at Tris. “Tris. You gonna call off your attack dogs any time soon?”

Tris pushes to his feet, staggering slightly, but he manages to catch himself and remain standing. Peebee moves toward him to help, but he shrugs off her helping hands and walks toward his sister. She smirks at him the whole time as he approaches, quirking a brow at him.

“Are you going to call them off, or am I going to have to tell them your little secret?” she asks, grinning. She always has to have the upper hand; always thinks she has it, all the time. Tris is so tired of her attitude. He thought he could do this. He thought he could handle this, could keep quiet as long as she upheld her end of the deal, but now…

I can’t let her treat them like that.

They are only doing this to protect him. Why they want to protect him is beyond him, but they are, and he can’t let her ruin things for them because of that.

So he’ll do what he should have done all along: take himself out of the equation.

“I quit,” he says firmly, watching as the grin dies on Erin’s face. “Do what you want – tell them, don’t tell them, I don’t care anymore. I’m out of here, and you can’t stop me.”

He brushes past her to leave med-bay.

She grabs his arm, yanking him back. His balance is already fragile; he staggers and knocks his shoulder into the wall harshly, before he turns to glare at her.

Liam is already reaching for her, expression furious. It’s… nice, Tris thinks. It’s nice that he cares. But Tris can’t let him do this – can’t let him ruin his job for Tris.

“You can either let go, or I can fling you across the room,” he says, smiling sweetly at his sister. “Your choice.”

Her eyes narrow. “You wouldn’t.”

He doesn’t even have to concentrate to make his body glow blue, the body barrier slipping over him like a second skin. “I would,” he tells her.

He shrugs free of her grasp and turns to leave again.

“You really need to stay,” Liam calls after him.

I really need to leave, he thinks, and doesn’t answer.

They can’t make him stay in med-bay; he knows his rights. He can leave as long as he conscious and able to make his own decisions. Sure, he had a strange dream, woke up screaming, and spoke an unrecognizable language he doesn’t know… but he still has control of his mind. At least, for now. He doesn’t have to stay.

He can’t stay. His presence is only driving a wedge between everyone, causing tensions to rise, and he can’t be the cause of this. He can’t do this. He has to leave, he can see that now. He wanted to stay to make sure the rest of the team were treated okay, but his presence is causing more friction than necessary. They’ll be better off without him. They’ll all be better off without him.

“Tris,” Liam calls, hand landing on his shoulder.

Tris shrugs him off. “I’m going to have a little talk with the Pathfinder.” He looks over his shoulder at Erin. “You coming?”

She rolls her eyes but follows after him. “What is your plan here?” she asks, frustrated. “You can’t quit.”

“Pretty sure I laid out some ground rules, and you wanna break them all, so… pretty sure I can quit.”

“What rules?” Liam asks, right behind her. “What are you talking about?”

“Nothing,” Tris assures him. “You can stay here. I’ll be fine.”

“Somehow, I doubt that,” Liam says.

“It’s so cute how he follows you around, Tris,” Erin says, sneer evident in her voice. “Like a little lost puppy.”

Tris stops and turns to face them. Just behind them are Drack and Peebee, and even Dr. T’Perro, all shuffling along the hallway. This has gotten entirely out of control. What happened? How did he let this happen? How did he let things get this far?

“Stop,” he says, looking at all of them. “I really don’t need protection. Least of all from them.”

“That’s not what it looks like from here,” Peebee says.

He shrugs. “Just trust me.”

“Tell them, Tris,” Erin says.

He slides his gaze toward his sister. “I’ve had enough of your mouth, you know. I don’t know what the fuck you want from me. Nothing is ever good enough – my answers are always wrong in your eyes. You think I’m hiding something, but I’m not.”

“You are,” she snaps, glaring at him. “Speaking in a different language?”

“I’m just as confused as you are!” he hisses back, huffing. “I don’t know what’s going on! I’m tired all the fucking time, my head always hurts, and my biotics are out of control!” He looks down at his glowing arms, flexing his glowing fingers in front of him before he drops his hands back to his sides and glares back at his sister. “I don’t know what happened in the vault! I don’t remember, and I’m sorry if you can’t believe me, but I don’t know what’s going on. Pressuring me for answers isn’t helping because my answer isn’t going to change. I don’t know. Okay? I don’t know!”

Pain stabs at his head, a needle point incision drilling deep. He winces, rubbing at his eyes as the pressure grows behind them. Everything hurts. His legs shake, threatening to drop him. He hears movement and opens his eyes to see that Liam has stepped forward, brown eyes concerned. A part of him understands Liam is only trying to help, that without aid he’s probably going to collapse, but another part of him vehemently refuses the help. He’s fine; he doesn’t need help. He doesn’t need anyone.

He pulls back sharply from Liam’s reaching hands. The movement causes his vision to blur, the edges fuzzy. “Stop,” he says, shaking his head. “I don’t need help. I don’t… I’m fine. I’m fine.” He’s fine. He’s okay. Everything’s okay.

“You don’t look so good,” Erin sighs, pinching at the bridge of her nose. “Fine, Tris. I believe you. Now go to med-bay.”

“Like you fucking care,” he hisses, tired of her mood swings. “You’ve never cared.”

“Is that what you think?”

“It’s what I know.”

Erin has never cared. As kids, he thought she did. They got along, they did everything together – but changed quickly. Maybe she’s never cared. She learned to manipulate him from a young age; her ‘caring’ was probably nothing more, nothing less, than manipulation. That’s all it’s ever been. She pretends to care, she acts like he matters, and then when she gets what she wants she’s done with him. And he’s so fucking tired of caring. So tired of letting himself believe, letting his walls down time and time again, only to be betrayed in the worst possible way, every single time.

He can’t do it anymore.

The edges of his vision are going dark. The world spins around him. He closes his eyes when Erin multiplies; he doesn’t need to acknowledge three of her. Nausea claws up his throat, bile burning his tongue.

“Look,” a voice says. It’s familiar, but not familiar. There, and not there.

Echoing, but fading.

“Look.”

He pries his eyes open.

The ship stutters to a halt. He’s thrown sharply forward, into Liam and Erin, as they are knocked back by the same movement.

His vision clears, adrenaline pumping through him as he jumps back to his feet, heart racing in his chest. This is not normal. Something is wrong.

He hurries toward the pilot deck, climbing up the ladder to it before anyone can react. Voices call after him, but there’s no time. Something is wrong. Something…

He stops in the middle of the pilot deck, staring out the windows across the room, at the massive ship in front of them.

An image comes on the main screen. A kett. Tris grits his teeth.

“Where is the one who activated the remnant?” the kett asks. “The DNA signature is there.”

Chapter Text

CHAPTER NINETEEN: Let Me Make My Own Pattern

 

The kett staring back at him through the screen on the monitor looked more composed, more in charge than the others. The ship was also impressively large, with other smaller ships circling it, surrounding them. A quick glance at the other monitors assured Tris that they were trapped between the kett ships and the mess of purple energy which surrounded Habitat 7, and seems to be extending further through Andromeda in a gnarled mess.

Tris grits his teeth, glaring back at the kett. The Pathfinder stands in front of him, just shy of the mapping tool built into the pilot deck, so the Pathfinder can easily map his course. There’s a railing leading to the center, and Alec Ryder’s hand curls tightly around it, knuckles turning white. It’s more of a reaction than Tris thinks anyone’s ever managed to rouse from the normally stoic man, which makes this encounter all the more worrisome.

“What do you want?” the Pathfinder asks, in a deceptively calm voice.

There’s a small clatter behind Tris; the others have made it up the ladder, and stand behind him to stare at the screens as well. Erin storms forward to stand next to Alec Ryder, shoulder-to-shoulder. Tris can almost picture the defiant sneer on her face, directed at a certain kett who has the upper hand here.

She never thinks things through.

There will be no outmaneuvering these ships with them surrounding them on one side; a few well-placed blasts and the Tempest will be nothing but a memory. The empty vacuum of space is not how Tris intends on dying. Not today.

A plan. They need a plan, an exit strategy. A way out of here.

The pilot of the ship, a salarian named Kallo, is tapping furiously at his controls, trying to get them out of there. Tris hasn’t ever actually spoken to the guy, but he’s seen him around, when they were docked at the Nexus. He’s never actually been up here, on the pilot deck; it’s where Alec Ryder spends a lot of his time, and father-son bonding has never been their strong suit. Nevertheless, he has heard of Kallo. He’s an excellent pilot. The fact they aren’t moving right now indicates they’ve lost control of the ship; the kett have hacked it somehow, keeping them immobile.

They can’t run like this. There is no escape.

If they were going to hack the ship, it would be down in engineering. Gil is probably fighting for a way to get them moving, arguing with technology, trying to do his best. Tris can picture him, briefly; a wrench in hand, trying to manually override the consoles, but he’s good a building machines and taking them apart – hacking is another matter entirely.

Maybe SAM can hack it.

SAM? he asks, still uncertain how this works, how SAM can hear some of his thoughts but not all of them.

There is no answer. Maybe SAM is too busy fighting the hack, or maybe Tris’s implant is malfunctioning again. He does have the worst luck, after all, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to him.

SAM, he tries again.

I am here, SAM answers.

Can you hack it back?

I am making the attempt now. Stall for time.

He assumes the Pathfinder has received the same information, the same orders, because he steps forward, releasing the railing.

“What do you want?” he demands again.

The kett merely laughs. It’s a sound that slides right down Tris’s spine, leaving him grimacing. He backs away from the Pathfinder, his sister and the console. He’s no use here. SAM is attempting to hack the system and regain control from the kett; he’s better used there.

Engineering. That’s where he needs to be right now.

He slides down the ladder and hurries through the halls of the Tempest. No one follows after him, that he’s aware of. Everyone is focused on the kett and the ships threatening to blow the Tempest apart. They’re stuck between enemy ships and the mass of dark energy. A rock and a hard place. Not a good place to be.

He reaches engineering soon enough. He can only hope his father can stall for time. Just keep talking, he thinks. Just keep the kett talking.

He nearly gives Gil Brodie a heart attack when he all but slides into the room, turning on a dime to avoid running into a side wall and change course toward the engineering consoles. Gil looks up, posture stiff and rigid, clearly startled. “Any luck?” Tris asks, stopping next to him, taking a moment to catch his breath as he looks over the readings from the consoles. It’s much the same as up on the pilot deck, he’s certain. They’re stuck here for now. The kett have hacked their systems and they can’t use their thrusters or anything to go anywhere. Not yet.

SAM is trying to hack it back, but maybe a hardwire hack would be faster.

Computers are faulty, after all. Wiring is more hands-on. There are a million emergency protocols in place should certain wires cross, triggering a failsafe mode. SAM has no physical attributes, so triggering this reset will be slightly more difficult, attempting to find the process in the coding itself instead of the wires.

Tris can help with that, at least.

“Where’s the main processing console?”

Gil nods at the console he’s currently looking at. It’s been pried open, and he holds a wrench in his hand. Gil is an engineer, though, and not a hacker. They are two separate things, although there is a lot of overlap. A hacker has to know how a system works just the same as an engineer, in order to trick it and trigger certain functions. Gil looks like he had the same thought process, and has the wires exposed and available, but he’s clearly not sure what to do next.

“This wire goes to the engines,” he says, gesturing at a thin blue wire. “But it’s not the problem. The engine works fine. The thrusters work fine. There’s nothing wrong with them, we’ve just been locked out of accessing them.”

“What’s this wire?” Tris asks, jabbing a finger at a green wire just behind the blue one.

“That goes to the thrusters,” Gil says. “Again, though, that’s not the issue. They work fine. Tampering with the wiring could cause them to malfunction entirely.”

“They hacked us,” Tris says. “But it’s a remote access. Close range transmitter to confuse our signals. SAM is trying to fix it, but I don’t know if that will work fast enough. Altering the wiring might ruin everything, yeah, but get the right malfunction going and it could work in our favor.”

“What did you have in mind?” Gil asks, quirking a brow.

Tris shrugs. “You’re the engineer. What sort of failsafes does this baby have?”

Gil pauses and thinks for a moment. The ship rocks as it scrapes against the dark mess of energy, causing them to stagger and the open panel to the console to sway harshly backward on its hinges before snapping forward again.

“Kind of need an answer,” Tris says.

“I’m thinking,” Gil snaps back. “There are a lot of failsafes. I’m trying to think of one that will give us direct access.”

“Well, hurry up,” Tris says. “We’re kind of short on time.”

Gil snaps his fingers. “I got it. Follow me.”

He quickly spins away from that console, and off to one on the left. Pries it open. Tris follows, frowning down at him. He thought for sure they’d use the other console, but if Gil has an idea, he’ll happily follow through with it. No one knows the ship better than the engineer who works on it, after all.

“What are we doing?” Tris asks as Gil pulls out a circuit breaker, snapping wires in the process. The electrical spark that follows leaves the engineer flying backward. Tris catches him, yanking him up sharply from the downward tug of gravity, holding onto his arms. “Gil? Are you okay? Hey?”

Gil’s head lolls to the side. He’s unconscious.

“Son of a fucking whore,” Tris mutters, gently laying Gil on the ground. He looks at the mess Gil has left him with. The entire console is sparking dangerously, exposed wires flickering. Touching it will be dangerous.

Mr. Brodie had the right idea, SAM tells him.

“Fucking hell,” Tris hisses, fighting the urge to flinch as his heart jumps into his throat. “Warn me before you do that, please. Okay. So what was the plan? What do I do?”

He ripped background wiring. It will not harm the thrusters or the engine, but it will trigger a failsafe program for direct access, as a checkpoint of sorts. The system thinks it is under attack and has countermeasures. One of which is to hit this very console, where it has been damaged, to see if it was a mistake in the programming and not an attack.

“Okay,” Tris says. “But it’s sparking right now. I don’t see…” he trails off, watching a flashing red light in the background of the blue electrical chaos. “Fucking hell. Alright. Uh…” He looks around. He’s going to need a way to move those wires out of the way to get to the blinking red light and the hidden secondary console behind everything. “How goes the hack, SAM? Are we done here? Can we stop?”

Unfortunately, whatever the kett are doing to sabotage our systems seems to be keeping me out as well. I doubt they know I exist, but the interference is causing me some confusion. I’m finding it hard to access the appropriate subroutines.

“So a hardwire reset,” Tris sighs. “Great. Okay. Uh, let me just… find a way to not kill myself…”

There’s nothing he can see. There’s a crowbar and a wrench but they’re more metallic than anything. They won’t protect him from the electricity and might just crawl through it toward his hands and arms instead. So, that’s out.

Fuck it.

He pulls off his boot. Rubber soles. Never fails.

He shoves the wiring aside with rubber bottom of his boot and throws his hand in before he can realize how shitty an idea this is. His fingers hit the flashing red button and a back console flops open, knocking against the damaged wires. It’s a number panel. A code. He needs a code.

He looks back at Gil, but he’s still out.

“Any idea what the code is, SAM?”

5431670, is the response.

He types it in and the flashing red light stops. There’s a sound nearby – a console coming to life. He looks over his shoulder back at the main console. An image appears in the screen above it.

Green letters.

ACCESS GRANTED

HELLO, ADMIN

He drops his boot and hurries toward that console.

They are preparing to fire upon the ship. The Archon is done talking.

Archon? Tris thinks, frowning.

He presses his palm flat against the console panel, on the top. Gil’s hand would be preferable, but it’s designed to acknowledge the Tempest crew, and Tris is part of that crew. The screen flashes green again and allows him into the main system. He hits the designation for the thrusters, and gives power to the engine, and blocks out the unsecure connection that must be the kett interference.

“Go, go, go!” he says.

The ship surges sharply to the side. Toward the mess of dark energy. The Scourge, as they took to calling it. What a name.

He is flung to the side, slamming harshly into the side of the railing next to the ring of consoles. He catches himself on it, wincing at the pain in his ribs, and the ships turns again, sharply. And again, and again. Dodging through something. The field. They’re sliding around, hitting everything.

Gil, he thinks.

The downed engineer is as unprotected and unsecured as Tris, but at least Tris can attempt to hold onto something. And Gil is sliding right toward the exposed wiring console.

Fuck me.

Tris lunges forward, shoving Gil’s body away from the console even as he himself slides toward it. His back slams into it.

He doesn’t feel the shock that rips through him.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER TWENTY: You Throw Your Arms Up, You're So Damn Sick of It

 

He doesn’t dream.

A part of him finds that odd, and another part of him is just relieved. He isn’t sure how many more nightmares he can handle right now. They’re slowly wearing him down.

He doesn’t dream. He’s not aware of time passing, and only realizes he doesn’t dream after the fact. After he wakes up, a jolt shooting through him, adrenaline coursing through his body because his last conscious thoughts were of something. A battle. The ship moving around. Electricity. Gil. He sits up, an ache surging through his stiff muscles as he does so, and he looks around the room. Back in med-bay, yet again. Maybe he should just move in here.

He’s not alone, though. On the bed next to him is Gil. He’s awake, and is sitting up as well, fully dressed and ready to leave, if his shoes are any indication. He blinks at Tris, and then smiles.

“I hear you might have saved my life,” he says.

Tris frowns, and remembers shoving Gil out of the way. He shrugs. “How are you?”

“I’m fine,” Gil says. “According to the doc, anyway. How do you feel?”

“Fine,” Tris says.

If he’s being honest, he doesn’t feel too bad. A dull headache, and his muscles are sore and stiff, but it could be worse. It could always be worse. So he’s fine, and Gil’s fine, and the ship is still in one piece so he must have done something right. He settles back down into his pillows, releasing a slow breath. He’s tired, exhausted, and he’s not sure if that’s because he was electrocuted or because he’s been so tired lately. Tired and dizzy and out of it and he hates it. Wishes it would just go away, wishes he knew what it meant, but he doesn’t know. He assumes it’s because his brainwaves are too high, and this is what T’Perro meant when she said bad things could happen if it continued.

“Thank you,” Gil says.

Tris closes his eyes, sighing heavily. “Glad you’re okay.”

“You’re in trouble, by the way.”

He opens his eyes and rolls his head toward Gil. “What?”

“You’re in trouble,” Gil repeats.

“Why? What’d I do?”

“Liam looked ready to tear you a new one, but you were playing sleeping beauty so he said he’d be back when you woke up. I’m supposed to let him know when you’re awake.”

Tris scowls. “How am I in trouble? It’s not like I asked that kett asshole to take our ship hostage.”

“Something about you ending up in med-bay again.” Gil cocks his head to the side, frowning thoughtfully. “You do end up here a lot, so I hear. You okay?”

“I’m fine,” Tris mutters, rolling his head back so he can look up at the ceiling. The last thing he needs right now is Gil worrying about him, along with everyone else. “So, when are you going to tell on me?”

“I could hold off, if you want.”

“That’d be great.”

“What do I get out of it?”

His gaze slides sideways, back toward the engineer. “What do you want?”

Gil grins, all wide and genuine. “Let’s say you’ll owe me one. I’ll think of something.”

“Goody,” Tris mumbles, shaking his head, but even so a smile slips across his face because Gil’s mirth is contagious. He sits back up, rubbing at the back of his neck, a dull ache pulsing through there.

“I’ve been released,” Gil says. “I’ll tell them you’re still sleeping, but I’m sure the doc will know otherwise.”

Tris scowls to himself. T’Perro probably already knows he’s awake and she’ll be in shortly to lecture him and run scans, as always. Then she’ll try to keep the Ryders from him, like the others. He’s still not sure what to think about that, about their protection. All of them. They’re protecting him, siding with him, and that’s never happened before. It’s all new territory and it leaves his head spinning.

Before the kett took the ship hostage, he said he quit. He told his sister he was leaving and she could tell everyone whatever she wanted, but he was done. He still felt that way, to be honest. He was done with this. Done with his family, done with these headaches, done with everything. Leaving seemed like the best option. He could spend his time on the Ark Hyperion. He can find work on the Nexus. He can do something. Anything other than this, at least, because it feels like he’s suffocating here.

He can’t leave yet, he knows. Not until they go back to the Nexus, because he doesn’t want to be dropped off on some random planet he knows nothing about. Knowing his luck, his family will drop him off somewhere like Habitat 7, and no thanks. The thought leaves him grimacing.

“Tris?”

Tris blinks, focusing on Gil, who stands in front of him, frowning. “Sorry, what?”

“You sure you’re okay?”

“Just spacey,” Tris says, shrugging. “It happens. Just have a lot on my mind.”

Gil nods. “Well, if you ever want to talk, my door is always open.”

Tris smirks. “You mean I can get a word in edgewise?”

The engineer laughs, shaking his head. “I might take a breath now and then, to let you speak. But only because you asked so nicely.”

“Sure,” Tris says, nodding. Gil seems like a nice guy and he thinks they could get along rather well. He’s liked their few conversations they’ve had so far, after all, even if they haven’t really gotten to sit down and talk like normal people in a long time. Things have been too busy, too hectic lately for anything like that.

First the vault, then the blackouts, the strange language, the voice, the headaches and fatigue… it’s all getting to be too much.

Maybe if he leaves the Tempest he can relax more and the symptoms will die down and things can go back to normal. That’s his best bet, he thinks. To get off this ship and away from all the stress his family causes.

But then that feels like he’s running away, abandoning the crew. The crew he’s rather come to like. He thinks of Liam as a good friend, and he enjoys Peebee’s company and Drack’s stories of killing kett. He likes this makeshift group here, and leaving the ship feels a lot like he’s throwing them to the wolves. But sometimes, you have to do what’s right for yourself, and staying on the Tempest doesn’t feel right anymore. Not after all that’s happened.

He watches Gil leave the med-bay. It’s quiet afterward, the only sound that of his own soft breathing, his pulse pumping steadily in his ears. He debates laying back down, but he’s slept enough as it is. He’s tired of sleeping, tired of being tired. He debates getting up, but he’s not ready to face everyone yet. Not that he has anything to say, really. He didn’t do anything wrong, and he shouldn’t have to defend himself. Even if his sister thinks otherwise. In her eyes, everything he does is always wrong. She gets that from their father. He can’t do anything right in either of their eyes, and he’s so tired of trying. Tired of trying and failing and licking his wounds.

So he just sits there, indecisive. He’s dressed in different clothes than before. He wonders who dressed him, but shuts that train of thought down quickly because he’d rather not know who he has to be embarrassed around. Not that he’s self-conscious of his body or anything, it’s just the principle of the matter. He has scars, sure, and maybe he’s not as in shape as he’d like to be, but he’s not ashamed of his body. Still, that doesn’t mean he wants people dressing him like he’s some sort of invalid.

He runs a hand through his hair. It’s getting longer; he likes it unkempt and a little wavy, but it’s starting to get too long. He’ll need a haircut at some point, but he’s not sure where to get one. Anywhere, probably; everyone has a knife, he’s certain. Or scissors. But he’d prefer a professional do it, and it’s not like they have a high need of ‘hair dressers’ on the struggling Nexus. They need other people more. People can be cross-trained, sure, but that’s a question he’d rather not ask, really. So for now, he will endure, and get it cut when he can.

He tried cutting his own hair once. Erin dared him to do it, and he decided why not? After all, how hard could it be? So he cut his own hair and then his mother laughed and took him to have it fixed the next day. But he won the dare, at least. One of the few fond memories he has of his sister. He’s not sure where the thought came from, but the image of her playful grin flashes behind his eyes, and in that moment he’s not so alone. A pang of longing shoots through him. He wants that. He misses that. He misses having a sister, a twin. He misses when they were close.

At six-years-old, they were absolutely inseparable.

Funny how things change. Now they can’t even stand to be in the same room together.

Footsteps approach. He looks up and over as two people enter the med-bay. He recognizes Dr. T’Perro, but not the strange alien with her. The alien is purple. An angara, if Tris remembers correctly. That’s right, they were heading toward the Angaran world to see if they could ally in the fight against the kett. That’s where they were going when the kett attacked and trapped their ship. He looks at the angara and the angara looks back.

“Hi,” Tris says.

“Hello,” the angara says.

He feels like he shouldn’t know that language. He shouldn’t understand those words. But their language has probably been uploaded into his translator while he slept. It’s the same reason the angara can understand him, too.

“Good, you’re awake,” Dr. T’Perro says, gesturing for the angara to sit on a bed across the room before she walks toward Tris’s bed. “How do you feel?” She shines a light in his eyes, leaving him blinking furiously.

“Like my doctor’s trying to blind me,” he says.

“Very funny,” she says dryly. “That was a nasty shock you took.”

He shrugs. “I feel fine.”

“I’ll believe that when you stop ending up in my med-bay.”

“Everyone’s a critic.”

“The Ryders will be here soon,” Dr. T’Perro tells him.

He grimaces, but nods. Meanwhile, the angara is watching him.

“You do not get along with your Pathfinder?” he asks.

“That’s one way of putting it,” Tris says. “I’m Tris, by the way.”

“Jaal Ama Darav,” the angara replies.

“Nice to meet you,” Tris says, mentally going over the angara’s name so he doesn’t forget it. “Are you coming with us or just checking out the ship?”

“You have been out for a few days,” Dr. T’Perro says. “Jaal joined us, at least for now. I’m giving him a check up before we land.”

“Land?” Tris repeats, frowning. “Wait, how long have I been out?”

He thought it was only a few hours, maybe a day at the most, but from the way she’s talking it’s been much longer. A knot of dread coils tightly in his stomach.

“You’ve been here three days,” she says. “Did you not know?”

He opens his mouth to say no, he didn’t know, but he can’t find his voice. Three days. He was out for three days. Why? What happened? “From a shock?” he asks, just to clarify. A shock knocked him out for three days?

“Whatever the electrocution did to your system, it left your brainwaves higher than before.”

“But they were already high…”

“Exactly. I had to sedate you until they went down to more reasonable levels. Of course, reasonable is subjective when it comes to you, I suppose. They’re still high for a human.”

He scrubs a hand over his face. What’s wrong with me? “So you sedated me?”

“I took you off the sedation this morning and let you wake naturally. How do you feel?”

“I’m okay,” he says.

“I want the truth.”

He grimaces. “What makes you think I’m lying?”

“You always say you’re ‘fine’, so I have to assume that sometimes you’re not fine, and you’re instead lying to me.” She smiles at him, sweetly. “So, how do you feel?”

“Sore,” he mumbles, feeling like a child being scolded by his mother. He feels five-years-old again.

“That’s to be expected. I’ll do a final scan when I’m done with Jaal here, and then you can go sleep in your own bed since I know you’re dying to get out of here.”

Tris shrugs. He would prefer his own bed, but his bed is 600 years away, and there’s no waking up in it, ever again. Those days are long gone and there’s no way to get them back. There will be no waking up from this nightmare.

“Is Jaal okay?” Tris asks, wondering why the angara is here.

“It’s just a check-up,” Dr. T’Perro assures him.

“You said something about landing? Where are we?”

“Voeld,” she says.

xXx

Liam isn’t happy with him, as Gil warned.

He calls Tris reckless, with no thought for his own well-being. He says he should have called others to him if he had a plan, and they would have helped and neither he nor Gil would have been knocked out. He says a lot of things, but the truth is he wasn’t there, so he has no ground to stand on. He wasn’t there when it happened, he doesn’t know how quickly it happened or what choices had to be made or anything. He wasn’t there.

Tris lets him rant, because it seems like he needs to, but at the end he just asks, “Are you done?”

And Liam glares at him.

He smiles back. “I’m fine,” he says.

“You’re giving me gray hairs,” Liam replies.

“Makes you look distinguished.”

“I hate you.”

“You love me,” Tris says, grinning.

Liam rolls his eyes. “You’re a pain in my ass, you know that?”

“But the good kind, right?”

Liam laughs, shaking his head, but he doesn’t deny it.

“So, tell me what happened on Aya,” Tris says.

And Liam does.

xXx

His father is the first to come see him. Somehow this surprises him. He’s getting ready to leave med-bay, finally. His brainwaves are still a little too high for T’Perro’s liking, so she has him stay an extra day to make sure he is, in fact, fine. Tris doesn’t mind all that much; it’s quieter in the med-bay than it is in the crew quarters, and as his headache worsens, the quiet seems great. It’s not a dull ache like before, but it’s not sharp yet, either. Somewhere in-between, and he wrestles with pillow positions before footsteps leave him sitting up.

Alec Ryder has never been the coddling type, and he never seemed to like Tris all that much, so to see him standing there in front of his bed in the med-bay is more than a little odd. It leaves a knot in his stomach. The hour is late, even by ship standards. What can his father possibly want at this hour?

He eyes the man as he approaches the bed. He stops awkwardly a foot from the bed, and just stares at Tris for a moment. Tris clears his throat. “Hi?” he says.

“How are you feeling?” the Pathfinder asks.

“Fine,” Tris says. “Did something happen?”

Why are you here?

What’s happened that the great Alec Ryder is visiting him in the med-bay?

“I just wanted to see that you were alright.”

“I’ve been in here for days,” Tris says.

“I know.”

“So why now?”

If he wants to know Tris is okay, why wait so long to come see him? Why not even check up on him once, even in passing? To his knowledge, neither his father nor his sister have stopped by to see him, even when he was unconscious. Of course, they had other things to worry about, what with landing on Aya and everything, but it still hurts that his family didn’t think to come see him. Not that he expects them to, of course.

It’s odd seeing his father here now, after all.

“Dr. T’Perro gave me updates.”

Tris nods. “And?”

“She’s releasing you.”

“I know.”

He can leave when he’s ready. He wanted to get the headache to die down before he left, but he can leave now if he needs to.

“Did something come up?” Tris asks. “Do you need me for something?”

“I just came by to check on you.”

It’s something he can’t wrap his mind around. His father, checking up on him? Just stopping by to see him, with no ulterior motives? He snorts. “You want me to go with you tomorrow.”

His father says nothing for a long time. The silence is more than answer enough, though, and Tris looks away, uncertain as to why there’s disappointment clawing through him, because he expected this. He’s always expected this.

“I’ll be ready,” he says. “You can go now.”

“Tristen…”

“Just go,” Tris says.

His father goes, without another word.

The silence in his absence is suffocating.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE: Now We Only Ricochet

 

Voeld is an ice planet. He’s not particularly fond of the cold, but then he’s not overly fond of the heat, either. He prefers a happy medium, but Andromeda seems to hate happy mediums. First a desert planet, now this. He shivers despite the added heating units he installed in his armor. The snow goes up to his thighs as they trudge through it, making peace with the local angara. Jaal is with them, of course; he seems friendly enough with everyone, and no one tosses them ill looks after he introduces them and vouches for them. Tris wonders how much of that is political relations, and how much of it is real. Does Jaal truly believe in them? Or is he just saying that to keep the peace? Maybe it doesn’t matter either way.

There are a lot of kett here on Voeld. Driving around in the Nomad, they run into the kett almost instantly, in their small little camps throughout the barren wasteland that is the ice planet. It’s almost too cold for them at all; if they’re out in the temperature and elements too long, their life support installed in their armor dwindles and the chill gets to them all the more. They have to hurry and fight, hurry and move through the thick deep snow, and quickly get back into the Nomad where it’s slightly warmer, or they’ll freeze. How anyone can survive on this planet is beyond him, but the angara seem to be doing just fine. They don’t feel the elements like humans do, after all. Their biology and chemistry is different.

He’s stuck out here, in the snow and ice, with his father, sister, and Jaal. Things are awkward, to say the least. If it weren’t for Jaal asking the occasional question or giving them directions, they’d be riding in utter silence because none of them have anything to say to each other. Tris can feel his sister’s eagerness to probe him for answers again, demand that he knows more than he says, but she keeps her tongue in check for once, probably because Jaal is there and she doesn’t want to give too much away. Tris isn’t sure how much of their operation Jaal knows about; does he know about the vaults? Does he know about the weather changing? Does he know about Habitat 7, about Eos?

Using his biotics in a fight feels odd, after so long without using them. He doesn’t realize how long he’s been bed-ridden until now. How often he’s been put in the med-bay, how often he’s been told to ‘take it easy’. Now that he can let loose and explode into a biotic fury of action, charging here and there, feeling the energy flow through him… it’s freeing. He forgot how good this feels, to just let go and fight.

Battle has always been a dance to him. There’s right moves and wrong moves, there’s missteps and stepped on toes, and when you get down to it, there’s this flow of energy. There’s a rhythm to the fight, and he loses himself to it entirely too easy. Using biotics never used to be this easy. It was easy enough, sure, because he was gifted in that regard and trained long and hard to master what he could, but now it’s… different. He doesn’t use as much energy crafting a barrier, or slinging a lancing blow, or charging at an enemy. He doesn’t feel tired.

That’s what’s odd, he realizes.

For once, he doesn’t feel tired.

He’s been exhausted since the vault, but now, in the middle of this fight, he feels alive. Awake for the first time in so long.

He buzzes across the battlefield in a blur, charging from enemy to enemy, using his fists and his biotics to fight instead of his guns. It’s exhilarating.

All too soon it’s over, though.

The fight ends. The last enemy falls.

There’s too much adrenaline coursing through him. He’s too awake, too alert and aware of everything around him. His sister is breathing too loudly. He turns to snap at her but she’s several feet away, and she’s not breathing deeply or heavily at all, so the sound can’t be coming from her. He spins in a slow circle, looking from his father to Jaal and back to his sister, but none of them are as close as they sound.

His body shakes. Too much adrenaline. The silence is loud.

He closes his eyes and counts to ten, breathing deeply and steadily. Calming down.

The adrenaline after a battle is the worst.

“Are you all right?” Jaal asks, coming up beside him.

“I’m fine,” Tris says.

“These biotics you humans have, they are interesting,” Jaal says.

Tris smirks. “They can be, yeah. Do you guys not have that?”

“Not exactly,” Jaal says, and proceeds to tell him about angaran anatomy.

xXx

Jaal’s voice is relaxing, if Tris is being honest with himself. He finds himself nodding off several times on the ride, only to be jolted awake by a sudden sharp turn he’s not entirely certain is accidental. Then again, the Nomad can be hard to maneuver, and the ground is literally ice, so he can’t really complain. He doesn’t mean to keep nodding off, but he’s still tired, especially after the adrenaline from battle faded, and Jaal’s voice is soothing. Relaxing, in a good way. Not the boring way of college professors droning on and on about something no one cares about, but the good way, where there’s inflection in all the right places and easy calming laughs here and there and it all lulls him into a false sense of security.

He forces his heavy eyelids open again. Wow. What even is his life right now? A false sense of security? Here, in the Nomad, because of someone’s voice? No, brain. Try again.

He sits up a little further. Jaal continues speaking about his family. Tris is the one who asked, and Jaal did warn him it would take a while, but Tris said they had the time. So every time they get back in the Nomad after stopping somewhere in the snowy blanket around them, Tris asks where Jaal left off and they continue this mostly one-sided conversation. Not that Tris minds the one-sidedness, really. It’s annoying when it’s his family doing it to him, but that’s because they really don’t care to let him get a word in edgewise. Jaal’s one-sidedness is because he is passionate on the subject, and he has a lot to say. Tris doesn’t mind.

They eventually stop outside of a kett compound. The Moshae, some kind of angaran higher-up, is supposedly being kept here. She was taken from them, and they want her back, and this is what they promised them in return for their help. If they get the Moshae back, they will aid them against the kett. If they do not, then they are on their own.

Politics. Tris hates politics. Everyone wants something from someone, and everyone is always right. At least, in their own heads. How a group of four is supposed take down a kett compound and free someone the angara have been trying to free for a while now… well, he wonders if there was a lot of thought put into this.

And now he knows why he’s here.

For a brief moment, he almost wishes he wasn’t. Wishes he declined his father’s oh-so-generous offer to come on this mission. Wishes he told his father to leave sooner. Wishes he pretended to be asleep so they never had that conversation. Wishes he just didn’t show up to head out onto Voeld. But he did. He did show up, he did have that conversation, brief though it was, and he’s here now.

As the bait, because that’s all he’s good for.

Cannon fodder.

He grits his teeth and keeps from looking at his family. They could have told him. They could have said, ‘Hey, Tris, we’re doing something dangerous and stupid today, and that’s why we need you with us.’ Some small part of him thought they brought him because they wanted him here, but he can’t believe he was that naïve again. They never want him here. They bring him because he’s useful, and one day that will end and they’ll have no need of him. He’s both looking forward to this day, when they’ll finally leave him alone, and dreading it because I don’t want to be alone…

“Are you all right?” Jaal asks, standing next to him.

Tris nods. “Yep. All good. So what’s the plan?” he asks, looking at his family. He’s pretty sure he already knows the plan, but hearing them say it is necessary in that moment.

“There’s a group of angara waiting for us on the other side,” Erin says. “They’ll create a distraction while we sneak in and free the Moshae.”

Tris blinks. A group is being the distraction, not him? He’s uncertain of his place in this plan, to be honest. He’s part of a stealth operation now? They wanted him here specifically for this? What? Why?

“Don’t hurt yourself thinking about it,” Erin says, rolling her eyes.

Tris scowls at her, but says nothing. Says nothing because he can’t find the words, can’t find the right thoughts, can’t wrap his head around the thought that he’s not bait for once. They don’t plan on him being cannon fodder here; they’re sneaking inside and they want him with them. He’s not sure if this is altogether their plan or if they couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work with this angaran group.

SAM helps them get through the energy field encasing the facility. They create a small hole and slip inside. The angaran group follows after them, and then they veer off down a different entrance tunnel to create their diversion. They wait outside until the building shakes and alarms sound. Kett run past the opening of their hatch, chasing down the distraction group, and they slip inside undetected.

The kett facility is massive, dark and deadly. Chills inch up and down Tris’s spine as they wander through the halls, clearing rooms. They find little resistance, courtesy of the distraction team. He hopes they’re all okay, and briefly wonders why their roles aren’t reversed. Why their team isn’t the distraction group, while the angaran group enters to get their important person back. It makes more sense that way, doesn’t it?

He dismisses the thoughts as they come across a room. A kett stands in the center, with an angaran before them, and they’re infusing the angara with something. Tris can only watch, horrified and transfixed, as the angara changes before their very eyes, and is no longer angaran. Instead, what stands there in their place is yet another kett.

“No!” Jaal says, and he steps into the room as though his mere presence can stop what’s already happened.

The new kett accepts the offered gun and turns to face them, already bringing their weapon up to fire. Jaal stares at the kett with eyes wider than usual, and Tris grits his teeth against the horror etched across the purple face.

He brings his weapon up and fires, shooting the kett in the face, downing it almost instantly. Jaal continues to stare as the kett falls, and the rest of the kett in the room attack them. Anger fuels Tris’s biotics as he charges from kett to kett, punching them and ramming into them with the butt of his shotgun.

How dare you, he thinks. How could you do this? How could you turn them against their will, into something they’re not? And how can they just forget who they are and attack their old friends?

It’s difficult to wrap his mind around. He’s too angered and amped up to think about it right now, and instead uses the rage to fuel himself. His body glows blue but he has little time to think on that right now, and instead uses it to his advantage. Bullets ricochet off the blue glow surrounding him, and he barrels through enemies easier than he ever has before.

It’s almost a shame when the fight is over, when the last body drops and all is quiet.

He stands there, amidst of circle of fallen enemy bodies, and looks over his shoulder at the rest of his team. Jaal is on his knees next to the angara-turned-kett with a hole in its face. Erin and Alec stare at Tris, Erin in surprise and Alec in… something. Tris thinks it’s probably disappointment, because it’s always disappointment. He can never do anything right.

He exhales shakily, limbs trembling, pulse stuttering as the adrenaline fades, as the anger ebbs and leaves the horror taking its place. He walks quietly to stand at Jaal’s shoulder. If the angara is aware of his presence he doesn’t show it. For a long moment, nothing is said.

Then Alec Ryder clears his throat. “We need to keep moving. The Moshae wasn’t here.”

That’s all he says. Nothing about what happened here. Nothing about the horror they witnessed, or what Jaal is most likely experiencing right now. Tris can only imagine what’s going through the angara’s mind.

Jaal hesitates, but finally nods and gets to his feet. He doesn’t look at anyone, doesn’t say a word, but he doesn’t have to. His sorrow is palpable. Tris runs his shoulder into Jaal’s in a light shove, catching the angara’s attention.

“We’ll figure it out,” he says. It’s a promise he probably can’t keep, but he can sure as hell try. He’ll do what he can to help figure out this mystery, and see if there is a way to reverse it, to get back the angara lost to this transformation.

Jaal only nods, at a loss for words.

They leave the room and the horror it revealed, and continue their search for the Moshae.

xXx

The Moshae is being guarded by a powerful kett with abilities Tris hasn’t seen yet. This kett floats around in some kind of energy orb which seems to deflect bullets and attacks. The only way to fight this kett is to steer clear of it as it haphazardly teleports around the battlefield, and destroy the little drone creating the energy field. Sadly, the drone flickers back to life soon after silencing it, and the energy field returns at full power, leaving them constantly fighting a lack of ammo and resources.

Tris is exhausted. His biotics are useless here, because getting close to this particular kett can be troublesome. He learned that earlier when he tried to charge at them to put a dent in their energy field, and instead found himself encased in a strange burning light orb which left his skin feeling as though it were searing off of him entirely. Jaal sniped the kett and broke its concentration on Tris, allowing him to drop through the orb and get away. Otherwise, he might not be here now. His skin still burns beneath his armor, and his armor has little char marks everywhere. He’ll have to fix that later.

If there is a later, he thinks, reluctantly. This fight is hard, he’s tired and lacking ammo, and his whole body burns.

“I will not let you take the Moshae,” the kett calls throughout the fight, vowing that they will not leave here alive. The kett will kill them here, it promises.

“You won’t have her,” Jaal says, firing at the kett.

It takes a long time, but eventually the orb stops reforming, and they can finally work on breaking through the barrier and armor of this kett.

Tris charges into the kett and doubles the attack with a biotic nova, while bullets ricochet off his body barrier, and hit the kett he’s attacking. The kett falls to its knees, and Tris takes a step back, breathing heavily, exhaustion flooding through him despite the adrenaline.

“It’s over,” he says.

The Moshae, freed from her prison, joins them, looking down at the kett in disgust.

“We need to destroy this facility,” she says, in an accent different from Jaal’s.

Tris agrees. This facility is deadly and dangerous, and they need to get rid of it to keep more transformations from happening. He has no doubt they will rebuild this place, but at least it will stop them, for a time.

“No,” Jaal says, shaking his head. “We need to free everyone held prisoner here. Then we can destroy it.”

“There is no time,” the Moshae says. “More will be on their way. We need to destroy this place and flee.”

“And kill our own people?” Jaal asks, horrified.

“If we leaving it standing, more will only be tortured here, even if we free those here now,” she tries to tell him.

“Don’t destroy the facility,” the kett says, from its knees. “I’ll free your people if you leave the facility standing. You can get them out if you hurry.”

The kett really wants this place to remain standing. That makes Tris really want to destroy it. But at the same time, he doesn’t want to kill a bunch of innocent angara trapped inside.

It’s not his decision to make, thankfully. He looks at his father.

“We can’t leave this place standing,” the Pathfinder says.

“I agree,” Erin chimes in immediately.

“But our people-” Jaal all but pleads.

“If we free them, more will suffer later,” the Moshae says. “It is the only way. I’m sorry.”

“I’ll let them go,” the kett says, louder this time, “just leave the facility standing!”

“We’re just gonna let them die?” Tris asks, looking from his father to the Moshae and back again. “That’s the plan? How many are trapped here, hundreds? And you’re just going to throw all their lives away? On the off chance that this place will be dysfunctional enough that it’ll be gone, for a time?”

“You let him speak for you?” the Moshae asks, looking at the Pathfinder.

“Tris doesn’t always know his place,” Alec says, pursing his lips. “The decision has been made.”

“They’ll just rebuild it,” Tris argues. “Why not save those here now?”

“I would keep my silence if I were you,” Erin says, tossing him a glare. “The Pathfinder has spoken, and you’re being insubordinate.”

“But our people-” Jaal says again.

“Destroy it,” the Moshae says, looking once more at Alec Ryder.

The Pathfinder nods, decision made.

The kett surges to its feet, howling in anger. “I will not let you destroy it!” It charges at Alec Ryder, but only makes it a few short steps before a hole appears in its head, and Jaal puts down his smoking gun.

The purple angara looks crestfallen, but doesn’t argue further, deferring to his people’s idol for a decision, along with the Pathfinder.

Tris snaps his mouth shut, bitter and angry inside, but he doesn’t say another word.

They leave the facility. It blows up behind them, along with all the angara inside.

xXx

Tris doesn’t sleep that night, despite his exhaustion. His fingers are still cold, half-frozen from the snow and ice despite his gloves and armor. His mind is too wired despite his body’s aches and pains. He leaves the crew quarters and makes his way to the storage bay where he starts practicing his biotics. Hopefully it will tire him out enough he won’t have to think, and then he can’t possibly dream.

Because he knows if he sleeps right now, he’ll dream, and those dreams will be nightmares about the kett facility. He’s not ready to deal with that right now; he just wants a decent night’s rest.

His body glows blue without much thought or effort. He looks down his arms, flexes his hands and curls his fingers, turning his palm this way and that. He’s still not sure what to make of the ease with which he uses his biotics these days, or the fact he has a body barrier now. His family saw it, and he knows they will have further questions, but he doesn’t want to think about that right now. The less he thinks about them, the better.

They left the angara there to die, after all.

It sits with him wrong, leaves a knot coiled tight in his stomach. They left so many there to die, trapped and forgotten in their prisons, and for what? To destroy a facility, temporarily? The kett will only rebuild. What have they accomplished?

You feel guilt. SAM’s voice seems to echo around him, even though the words originate in his mind.

He stiffens, mentally counting to three before exhaling a quick breath. What did I say about not giving me a heart attack?

I could send Dr. T’Perro to your location, if you wish.

No thanks. And yeah, I guess I feel guilt, but it wasn’t my call so I shouldn’t.

It was the Pathfinder’s call. It’s always the Pathfinder’s call. Tris is just here for the ride. He had no say in the matter, because his father will never listen to him, so he shouldn’t feel guilty for something that’s not his fault. For something he couldn’t change.

But he does, because he was there, and he should have done something. He should have stopped them from destroying the facility, but he didn’t. He, like Jaal, kept his mouth shut and walked away, and now it’s eating him up inside.

He can only imagine how Jaal feels right now. A part of him wants to go to the angara, see how he’s doing, but another part knows that seeing the pain on Jaal’s face again will only deepen the guilt. So he selfishly stays put.

It was a difficult decision, SAM says.

He nods. Sure. It was. But they didn’t have to kill all those innocent angara.

Your father made a decision.

His spine snaps taut, face twisting into a grimace. My father is an asshole.

He did not make the decision lightly.

Tris bites back his first reply to that. That of course SAM picks Alec Ryder’s side, because everyone picks his side. That of course his father chose lightly, because he has that luxury, and he thinks Tris weak for not being able to sleep at night after tough decisions. But he keeps this to himself, and shrugs despite the fact SAM isn’t physically around to see him. Do you know when we’re going back to the Nexus?

The sooner he’s off this ship, the better. The further from his family he is, the better fir everyone involved.

I do not, SAM says. If your father knows, he has not shared that knowledge with me.

Of course he hasn’t. Tris sighs. Well, let me know when you find out.

You plan on leaving?

You reading my mind?

Not exactly. I get surface impressions, surface feelings. I sense that you wish to leave. Also, your father has been discussing the matter with your sister.

Tris bristles. Of course he has. What’s he been saying?

He merely says he wants what is best for you.

“Bullshit,” Tris mutters, shaking his head. With a growl, he spins quickly and throws a biotic lance at a nearby crate. The crate explodes into wooden fragments and he watches as the splinters hit the ground. Thankfully, the crate was empty.

“Whoa,” a voice says behind him. “Easy on the boxes. We only have so many.”

He turns to find Gil entering the storage bay, the low light casting shadows across his face.

“Sorry,” Tris says. “I didn’t know someone was awake to be advocating for box rights.”

“Someone has to,” Gil says, quirking a brow at him as he stops just in front of him. “Everything okay with you? I heard the mission was tough.”

“From who?” Tris asks.

“Liam tried talking to Jaal. It didn’t work out too well, from what I heard.”

Tris nods. That makes sense. He really should check on Jaal, but he prefers only feeling his own aggravation right now, now the angara’s too. “Did they tell you about the kett facility?”

“The Pathfinder held a brief meeting to discuss what they found,” Gil says. “You weren’t there.”

Tris shrugs. He already knew about it, so why bother going? He was still angry, anyway.

“Sounds like it wasn’t a fun trip.”

He snorts. “That’s one way of putting it.” He frowns, noticing the bags under the engineer’s eyes for the first time. “What are you doing up at this hour, anyway? Don’t you ever sleep?”

“Not if I can help it.” Gil looks away, hesitating. “Can I tell you something?”

“Sure,” Tris says, nodding.

“Every time I close my eyes, that kett asshole has us back in his clutches, and this time I can’t think of a failsafe to trigger and we all die.”

Tris winces. “Well, you did think of the failsafe, and we’re all okay.”

“I know that, but my head doesn’t always agree with me.” Gil shakes his head. “But I’m sure you have worse problems. Why else would you be destroying defenseless boxes?”

Tris smirks. “They’re not entirely defenseless. I could get a splinter.”

“The horror.”

“But what we saw down in that facility… it’ll take some time to forget it,” he says quietly.

“So, we’re both avoiding nightmares,” Gil says.

Tris shrugs. “I prefer boycotting sleep, but sure.”

“We should get matching jackets.”

“Next time we’re on the Nexus, for sure,” Tris agrees, even as the thought of the Nexus leaves that knot tightening in his stomach. He’s going to leave. He has to leave. But leaving shouldn’t feel so much like abandoning these people.

He’s not sure what makes the knot tighten more: the thought of staying, or the thought of leaving.

And that’s the real problem.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO: We'll Carry On

 

To say Tris and the Moshae don’t get along is a massive understatement. She sees him as something inferior, he’s certain. She seems friendly enough with the Pathfinder, but when she talks to anyone else aboard the ship, apart from Jaal, she has this sneer in her voice and her tone is oddly cold. She seems to dislike Tris in particular, because he apparently doesn’t know the meaning of following orders, and he questions the Pathfinder too much. She forgives Jaal for his insubordination, as she put it, back at the kett facility, but Tris is another matter entirely.

That’s okay, though. He’s not that fond of her, either. Soon she will be off the ship. They’re taking her back to Aya, and from there, he isn’t sure what they’ll do. Hopefully they’ll go back to the Nexus, having no other destination in mind for the time being, and he can get off the ship. There’s still a tight knot in his stomach every time he thinks about leaving this group, leaving Liam and Peebee and Drack, but if he stays, the friction between them and the Ryders, and himself and the Ryders, will grow. He can’t have his presence endangering the livelihoods of those on board, and so he’ll have to leave. It’s for the best, for everyone.

And he’ll finally be away from his family. There’s a certain relief that seeps through him at the thought, as well as a sense of guilt. He shouldn’t feel so relieved to be away from his family, and yet he is. He’s a terrible person. How many people here left their families behind? How many of them would give anything to see them again, talk to them again, hug them again? And he just wants to get away from his.

He shoves the guilt away.

Aya is a beautiful planet. He’s a little uncertain about wandering the city while they’re docked, but while the Pathfinder takes cares of things with the Moshae, he decides to look around because why not? It’s fresh air, and it’s not freezing or full of hot radiation. The weather is actually comfortable for once, and he doesn’t need a helmet. The sun feels good on his bare face.

He travels through the walkways and stops on a balcony of sorts, overlooking the world below. Lava runs rampant below; it makes him question the peacefulness he feels, if there are lines of lava below him, but up here he is comfortable and Aya is beautiful from here. In a way, it makes him homesick. He’s willing to tolerate hot, humid weather if it means he can live somewhere tropical, or even just visit there again. The beauty of Aya reminds him of family vacations when he was a kid, back when things were good.

Who am I kidding? He thinks, looking out over the land below. Things were never good.

Things were okay when Mom was around. He could tolerate his family, if only for her sake. But even as a kid, he felt different. He felt alienated and alone. As a child, he and Erin would get into mischief like all kids their age, and bicker like siblings were want to do, but even back then he recognized that their punishments were different. If Erin knocked over a lamp, she was given a look and told to pick up the pieces, and watch her step next time. If Tris broke a lamp, he was sent to his room after he picked up the pieces, his father glaring at him the whole time, like he expected better.

So Tris tried to be better, but it was never enough. He was never good enough. He never held a candle to Daddy’s Little Girl.

But Mom made it tolerable, at least. And for a time, he and Erin were actually close. They were normal siblings, and he would do anything for her. He took the blame several times, when she did something wrong. She was his sister, and he had to protect her because that was his job as the brother. As the second man of the house.

Growing up, they would go on a vacation at least once a year, when their schedules allowed it. A few times, they went to the Bahamas, or Hawaii. Somewhere tropical and pretty with the ocean crashing against the shore. He’d dip his toes in the sand and collect sea shells with Erin. Inevitably this would turn into a race to see who could get the most, with their mother as the judge. Erin always wanted to swim in the ocean; Tris disliked the ocean. While Erin and Alec would go swimming, Tris would remain on the beach with their mother, watching them.

Thinking back on it now, he can’t decide if his dislike of swimming in the ocean is because he doesn’t particularly care for sea water, or because even if he joined them, Dad never smiled at him like that.

A presence moves beside him. He stiffens, ripped from his thoughts and memories, and glances sideways at Jaal, who stands looking out over the lava-lined land as well.

“It’s beautiful here,” Tris says quietly, when Jaal offers no conversation.

“It is,” Jaal agrees. “Aya is our greatest city.”

“It’s pretty great.” He hesitates slightly, before he sighs. “I’m surprised you’re not in there with the Moshae. She’s important to your people, isn’t she?”

“She is,” Jaal says, nodding. “She is our most revered member. But I have never cared for politics, and Evfra became rather heated.”

Evfra. Tris rolls the name through his mind, but it’s unfamiliar to him. “Who’s Evfra?”

“My apologies. I sometimes forget you were not awake when your ship first arrived. Evfra leads the Resistance. He is also vital to our survival, much like the Moshae.”

Tris nods. So, Evfra is similar to Kandros back on the Nexus. He can imagine how conversations with him could become heated, especially with the Pathfinder involved. Then again, he muses silently, maybe the Pathfinder and Evfra get along.

“How did you like being on the ship?” Tris asks.

“It has been informative,” Jaal tells him. “I am learning a great deal about your kind and this ‘Milky Way’.”

Tris smirks. Hearing Jaal say ‘Milky Way’ is amusing. “Are you glad to be back here, though?”

He can’t imagine traveling with an entirely new race of aliens is easy, especially after all they learned at the kett facility.

“It is, but I am not staying.”

Tris glances at the angara. “Why not?”

“I feel I could be more useful with your crew. I have decided to stay with the Pathfinder for the time being. Evfra approved it.”

Tris is shocked. “Even after all we learned at the kett facility?”

Jaal closes his eyes, a muscle twitching in his face. “I have not forgotten the horrors I witnessed there. But without you and your Pathfinder, we might never have learned the truth, or saved the Moshae. I feel with the Pathfinder is where I can do the most good.”

“You realize we might run into more unpleasant truths?”

“The truth does not have to be pleasant,” Jaal says quietly. “It just has to be the truth.”

xXx

“I’m… what?”

He’s been summoned to the Pathfinder’s quarters. Urgent business, was the message. Strictly private and necessary. He had to hurry. So he did, and he’s here, and Erin is smirking at him and the Pathfinder is sighing heavily, like he didn’t just spring something so massive on him.

“We are going to search for the vault on Voeld,” the Pathfinder says again, slowly, like Tris is a small child who simply can’t understand. “And you are going to handle things on Kadara.”

 “Or is that too much for you?” Erin asks.

Tris grits his teeth. “I don’t understand. Why do I have to go to Kadara? Didn’t you agree to help find this traitor? And how do you know there’s a vault on Voeld?”

“There’s a vault on Voeld,” Alec says simply. Cryptic as ever.

Tris exhales loudly. “And I have to go to Kadara, why? Didn’t they ask you to do this?”

“My primary mission is to fix the planets and find a home for everyone,” Alec says. “I don’t have time to run to some exile planet and find a traitor hiding there.”

“But you said you’d do it.”

“And now I’m delegating it,” Alec says. “To you. Or is that too much for you?”

Tris grits his teeth. “Why can’t Erin go?”

Erin shakes her head, her ponytail swaying behind her. “Is this too much for you? Can you not handle it?”

“I got it,” Tris snaps, tossing her a glare before switching his gaze back toward his father. “How am I supposed to find this traitor?”

“Evfra has a contact waiting for you,” Alec says.

“Waiting for you, you mean.”

Alec’s gaze sharpens. “As your Pathfinder and as your father, I require a little respect. If you keep being insubordinate I’ll have you removed from the ship.”

“Fine,” Tris says. “Do it.”

“You’re being petty and selfish,” Erin says, causing him to glance at her again. She stands with her arms folded over her chest, her hip jutted out to the side. “This is about more than how you feel about us, or this ship and its crew. We get it, Tris; you don’t care. You’ve never cared. But this is about more than us.”

He stares at her, unable and unwilling to find the words. She thinks he doesn’t care? She thinks he doesn’t care about anyone on this ship?

“Your sister is right,” Alec says.

Of course you’d say that, Tris thinks, but he keeps his mouth shut tight.

“We need the angara on our side,” the Pathfinder continues. “We can’t win this fight against the kett without them. But we also need to find everyone a home, and as a Pathfinder, that is my job, and mine alone. So I’m asking you to do this for me, but I can make it an order if I have to.”

Tris snorts. “Everything you say is always an order. But fine. I’ll do it.”

It’s not like he has a lot of choice in the matter. Despite the tension between them, Alec is right. So is Erin. This is about more than them, and the Pathfinder’s job is to find everyone a home. If that means hunting down vaults and altering the atmosphere of a planet, then that’s what it takes. But they also need the angarans as an ally, and that means doing this for them: helping them find and relocate the angara who betrayed the Moshae and handed her over to the kett in the first place.

So he doesn’t really have a choice. This has to happen. He has to do this.

“I’ll go,” he says again, quietly. “Who’s my contact on Kadara?”

“Someone called Shena.”

xXx

He’s tired, but he can’t sleep.

Every time he closes his eyes he sees that scene in the kett facility all over again. He sees faces trapped in a cell that catches fire and explodes, and no matter how many times he hits the release latch, the cells won’t open. He sees the vault on Eos’s dark purple storm, feels it clogging his lungs until he collapses, choking, on the ground.

He wakes in a cold sweat and doesn’t bother trying to get back to sleep.

Instead, he enters the kitchen to make some coffee. They need to use this stuff sparingly until they can settle down and make more, but he hasn’t had a cup in a long time and he really needs his coffee fix right now, especially if he’s not going to be sleeping anytime soon. Exhaustion threatens to make him nod off waiting for the coffee to brew, but the sound of the liquid filling the cannister leaves him blinking heavy eyelids open, the image of the purple storm flashing behind his eyes.

A shiver inches through him, causing him to shake his shoulders.

He looks down at his bare palm, at the symbol still etched into skin. He forgets about it most days, but it’s still there, a constant reminder the vault and its storm were real. He can’t help but wonder if all vaults are like that, or if Eos’s vault was just special. He dreads thinking of them all being like that, and wonders how things will go for his father and sister when they find the vault on Voeld.

They’re going to drop him off on Kadara before looping back toward Voeld. They’ll pick him up in a week, they said. That’s plenty of time to find this Shena and get his hands on this traitor, Vehn Terev. All he has to do is get his hands on Terev and send him back to Aya for judgment there.

Easy enough, except he has a feeling things will only get more complicated.

Kadara.

He sighs, pouring himself a cup of coffee. He takes his mug to the kitchen table and sits, blowing at the steam rising from the dark liquid.

The scent of coffee leaves his pulse jumping. Fuck, he’s missed coffee.

Kadara is an exile planet. When the mutiny happened on the Nexus, those involved who were not killed were exiled, and sought refuge on Kadara. To hear tell of it now, it is nothing more than a bandit planet. It’s every man for himself, with different groups vying for dominance. Vetra and Drack have had a lot to say about the planet. It’s full of shady people and even shadier dealings, with murder and mystery and mercenary groups, all trying to survive on a toxic planet.

He doesn’t want to go there. After seeing the beauty and majesty of Aya, the thought of more toxic land leaves his stomach churning uneasily.

Drack offered to come with him, show him around and get into fights. A part of Tris wants to take him up on that offer so he at least won’t be alone, but he can’t. He’s not looking for a fight on Kadara. He just wants to get in, get the traitor, and get out. Besides, Drack wants to kill kett, and the current ruler of Kadara Port boasts that there are no more kett on Kadara.

Liam offered to come, too. Tris turned him down as well, because Liam has always believed in the Initiative, wholeheartedly, and so he needs to stay with the Pathfinder. He needs to work on finding everyone a home.

“I hear you’re going to Kadara.”

The sudden voice startles him. His grip on his cup falters, and it slips from his hold. He manages to catch it before more than a small drop of liquid can spill, and he tosses a glare at Gil as the engineer stands in the doorway.

“Wear a bell next time,” Tris says. “You’re almost as bad as SAM.”

“Sorry,” Gil says, smirking. “But you wear frightened well.”

Tris snorts. “I’m not frightened. You just startled me.”

“That look you had? Pure terror.”

He shakes his head. “I made coffee, if you want some.” He narrows his eyes, noticing the bags under Gil’s eyes. “Don’t you ever sleep?”

“Not if I can help it,” Gils says, moving toward the coffee maker. He pours himself a cup and joins Tris at the table, sitting across from him. “And I could say the same about you, you know.”

“I slept plenty in med-bay,” Tris mutters, rolling his eyes.

“About that. How are you feeling?”

“Fine,” he says. “How are you?”

“I’m all good, thanks to you.”

“I didn’t do anything.”

“So modest,” Gil says, smirking at him. “I like that in a man.”

Tris chuckles. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Please do.” Gil winks at him. “So, why are you still boycotting sleep?”

He shrugs. “Same old, same old. You?”

“I’m right there with you. We really need those matching jackets.”

“Next time we’re on the Nexus,” Tris says, nodding, “for sure.”

Gil sips his coffee. “So I hear you’re heading to Kadara while we go to Voeld.”

“Apparently.”

“Good luck. You’re gonna need it there.”

“Gee. Thanks.”

“I’m just saying, is all. Not a lot of nice folk there.”

“They used to be us.”

Gil inclines his head in a small nod. “That’s true, but exile changes people. They’ve had to fight hard to survive there, and being so guarded all the time can really damage how a person views the world, you know?”

Tris nods. “Yeah,” he says quietly, “I know.”

“So just be careful there.”

“You almost sound like you care.”

“Well, I mean, if you go and die on Kadara, who is going to save me when the Archon attacks?”

Tris snorts, unable to fight his smile. “Maybe if you weren’t such a damsel, you could be your own knight in shining armor.”

“But where’s the fun in that?”

“Well, I can’t really deny you you’re fun. Alright, I’ll just have to keep pulling you out of the fire.”

“I can think of worse fates.”

Tris smirks at him. “At least you’re easy on the eyes.”

Gil laughs. “I don’t know whether to be offended because of the whole ‘damsel’ thing, or take that as a compliment. I’m choosing to just think you find me undeniably attractive.”

“Oh, totally,” Tris says, winking at him. “It’s a struggle to keep my hands off you.”

“Well,” Gil drawls, “I’ve always been a hands-on learner.”

“I guess that makes you handy to have around.”

Gil snorts, shaking his head. “You have the worst jokes.”

“I think what you meant to say is, ‘oh my God, Tris, you’re so amazing!’”

A brow quirks. “Is that how I sound to you? A squealing girl?”

“Well, you are the damsel.”

“… Touché.”

Chapter Text

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE: No Lies and No Deceiving

 

They drop him off on Kadara sometime in the early morning, both on the planet and on the ship. The rest of the crew is sleeping when Tris exits the Tempest, which is almost upsetting because he wanted to say goodbye to Liam, at least. Maybe Liam could have fixed pancakes, too. But oh well, he can’t dwell on it now, and maybe it’s better this way. He leaves without a fuss, after a quick check-up from Dr. T’Perro, and a nod from his father. He stands just off the platform as he watches the ship pull away from the port, and waits as it lifts into the atmosphere and disappears from sight. Then he turns, slings his bag over his shoulder, and looks around him.

It’s early, the sun barely rising over the horizon. Few people are wandering about, but those who are stop to stare at him, obviously disturbed by the Tempest’s presence. He wonders if they know it’s a Nexus ship or if they just aren’t used to nice-looking ships coming in, since those who inhabit this planet are exiles forced to live off scraps they can find. He wonders, not for the first time, what really happened in the mutiny. He’s heard the Nexus’s side of things, but there are always two sides to every story, and he feels like there’s something not being said.

He keeps his head down but his eyes open as he makes his way through the port. He doesn’t think anyone will attack him outright, in broad daylight in front of everyone, when Kadara Port is supposed to be ‘neutral ground’, but one can never be too careful. He’s supposed to meet his contact, Shena, in a place called Kralla’s Song, but he has no idea where that is, and there doesn’t appear to be port maps anywhere. He’d prefer not to ask for directions, so he just wanders until he eventually finds the place.

The temperature increases as the hot Kadara sun rises in the sky. It’s a relief to get out of the sun and away from prying eyes as he ducks inside Kralla’s Song. It appears to be a bar of sorts; he smells food but sees people drinking. The place is rather quiet this early in the morning, of course. Only a few filter throughout, a few sipping at drinks. Someone is drunk already, and awkwardly trying to dance to music that isn’t playing. Tris makes his way across the floor toward the bar counter in the middle, where an asari stands cleaning the countertop. She watches him as he approaches, her eyes narrowing suspiciously, but she doesn’t make any quick movements or even really glare at him, so he smiles as he stops in front of the counter.

Shena doesn’t appear to be here yet. He’s probably early, but he doesn’t know where else to go, so he decides to wait here until Shena arrives.

The bartending asari stares at him for a moment, before she says, “Want a drink or what?”

“Sure,” Tris says.

It’s probably best not to drink on the job, but he’s thirsty and he is in a bar, of sorts. So why not? The bartender doesn’t ask what he wants, but instead puts a cup down in front of him. He blinks down at it the drink before he nods and accepts it. He turns, looking for a table to wait at.

There’s a table in the back corner that’s free, and has a decent view of the room. He sits at it and takes a sip of his drink.

It’s stronger than he thought it’d be, but it’s not bad. He swallows it and takes another sip, quietly looking around the place.

He might be here a while.

A week. And he has nowhere to stay, and somehow he doubts the locals will want to house him since he’s from the Nexus.

I could change, he thinks. Buy local clothes, dress like them, and they won’t know right away that I’m from the Nexus.

It’s a thought, at least. And he is going to be here for a little while. He might as well try to blend in, right?

A man approaches him. Tris sees him from across the bar but keeps his gaze focused further away so the man doesn’t know he’s seen him, or that he’s watching him. He’s dressed in more casual clothing; thin leather armor with a pistol at his hip. Tris feels his biotic energy pulsing through him, at the ready should he need it.

The man stops in front of his table. “You look like you’re waiting for someone,” he says, in this smooth accent.

Tris glances at him. He’s not bad-looking. If he was here for pleasure, maybe… “I’m not here to have fun,” he says.

“Such a shame,” the man says, smirking. “You look like you could be a lot of fun. However, I’m Shena.”

Tris blinks at him. This, he certainly was not expecting. “Oh,” he says, momentarily at a loss. “Well, then… I guess I’m waiting for you. I’m Tris. You, uh… don’t really look like a Shena.”

The man sits across from him, still smirking, brown eyes aglow in the low light. “I should hope not. Shena means mouth. My name is Reyes, Reyes Vidal.”

Tris nods at him. “I wasn’t expecting you this early.”

“Well, I wasn’t expecting you this early,” Reyes counters. “They didn’t tell me when you were coming, only that it would be today. Better early than late, I suppose.”

“I guess.”

“So you are the Pathfinder?” Reyes asks, quirking a dark brow at him.

Tris snorts and shakes his head. “Yeah, no. Sorry to disappoint.”

“I’m not disappointed. Just curious. I was told I’d be meeting with the human Pathfinder, not… you. Sorry, that came out wrong.”

Tris shrugs. “Don’t worry about it. And something came up, so you got stuck with me.”

It’s easier than explaining that the Pathfinder doesn’t find this mission ‘worthy’ enough for his time. Tris can understand his father’s reasoning, of course, but it’s a hard pill to swallow when you’re the ‘unworthy’ mission.

“I see,” Reyes says. “The Pathfinder must trust you, to send you here instead.”

That’s one way of putting it, I guess. “So, you know where this Terev guy is?”

“I do, but he isn’t easy to get to.”

“Nothing’s ever easy,” Tris mutters, shaking his head. “Where is he?”

“He’s being held captive by Sloane Kelly.”

Tris thinks for a moment, and then remembers why Sloane’s name is familiar. She runs this place, runs the outcasts and Kadara Port. “Well,” he says slowly, “that’s problematic.”

“It certainly is. The people are calling for his head, and Sloane is a woman of the people.”

He says this with a certain lilt to his voice. “I take it you don’t like Sloane all that much?”

“Not many people like her. You don’t have to like her to live here, you just have to follow her.”

“Well, maybe if I talk to her she’ll hand him over to me? I mean, I am taking him back to Aya, after all. Won’t that please the angara here?”

Reyes shrugs. “You can try, but I’ll look into alternative ways in the meantime.”

“Yeah, that’s probably for the best.”

“Care for a drink before you go?”

Tris shrugs. “Why not? I mean, heading into a dangerous meeting inebriated? What could go wrong?”

Reyes grins. “That’s what I like to hear.”

xXx

Sloane Kelly doesn’t like him, but that’s okay because Tris doesn’t like her, either. She’s strict and seems full of herself, sitting in a literal throne. She sneers down at him like he’s bitter coffee burning in her mouth. Her nose wrinkles in distaste, and her mismatched eyes narrow into suspicious, angry slits.

She throws names and insults at him. Asks why he’s here, and why she shouldn’t just kill him now.

“Because I’m just here to take a criminal off your hands,” he tells her. “Surely you don’t want more criminals here, do you?”

“That’s just like your kind,” she says, sniffing. “Treating us like we’re less than. You think you’re so high and mighty, but you’re the one standing there asking for my help.”

“I don’t need your help,” Tris says. “I just want to take him off your hands.”

“You can speak with him and get your answers before I execute him tomorrow morning,” she says, rolling her eyes. “I’ll grant you that.”

“Not good enough,” he says, shaking his head. When she glares at him again and he feels the muzzle of a gun press into his spine, he sighs heavily, holding up his empty palms in a show of peace. “I don’t want any trouble. I didn’t come here to pick a fight with you. I just want to take Terev back to Aya so he can be tried by his people.”

“His people want his head here, and they’re going to get it.”

This isn’t getting them anywhere.

Why do people have to be so difficult? Especially people in power? First his father, now this. Irritation brews deep in his stomach, churning tight knots.

“Can’t you tell your people you’re sending him to Aya to be judged? I’m sure they’ll agree with that if you tell them the Moshae will judge him herself.”

Sloane snorts. “I don’t care about them. I care about my people, and they want Terev dead, so he’s dead. We’re done here.” She waves her hand, and his shoulders are grabbed. He’s turned away from her and shoved toward the doorway.

He rolls his shoulders and storms out.

Why does everything have to be so difficult? he thinks, frowning. Why can’t anything ever be easy?

He finds Reyes waiting for him outside, leaning against the wall with a little smirk.

“How’d your chat with the queen go?” Reyes asks.

Tris shakes his head. “Not well.”

“Well, luckily my end paid off. I can get Terev smuggled out of here tonight, with your help.”

Tris grins. “I’m in.”

xXx

The plan goes off without a hitch.

Tris gets Terev smuggled off of Kadara thanks to Reyes, and now he has six days of waiting, at least, before the Tempest returns to pick him up, and he doesn’t know what to do with himself. He finds himself wandering through the streets of Kadara Port, bag slung over his shoulder, without a destination in mind. He’s happy things moved so smoothly, despite Sloane’s obvious distaste for him, but he still has several days of waiting before the ship will return for him, and he is going to need to lay low for a while.

Sloane won’t be happy come morning, when she discovers her prized prisoner is missing. She’ll immediately suspect him, especially if she learns he’s shown up on Aya to be judged.

Reyes offered to have a drink with him, but given the circumstances, perhaps alcohol is not the best choice right now. He’ll need to keep his mind sound until he knows he’s safe; right now things are too dangerous to become inebriated, and Reyes is a stranger on a hostile planet. Sure, he helped Tris today, but come tomorrow he might very well be an enemy. That’s how places like this work.

So he needs to be careful and watch his back until the Tempest returns to pick him up.

xXx

He spends the first night alone in a back alley. It’s a little chilly and he doesn’t sleep well at all, constantly waking at every nose, unwilling to allow himself to slip into a deep sleep despite the exhaustion weighing through him. He does manage to sleep a little, though, and that’s enough for now.

He spends the second day attempting to stay out of sight and out of mind. He hears whispers of Sloane’s anger, and tries to keep out of everyone’s way.

xXx

The second night, he almost dies.

He’s not sure what says about him or Kadara. Is he such a terrible fighter that he can nearly die on his second day on a planet, or is Kadara just so hostile it doesn’t matter how much training someone has?

He almost dies because a bandit, outcast or collective he doesn’t know, decides to try to rob him. He’s spent most of the day hiding from sight in dark back alleys, trying to avoid everyone and anyone. But these three people found him. They circle him, hold their guns and tell him to strip. He fires up his biotics, anger stirring in his belly, but then there’s the third guy, behind him, unnoticed until then. There’s an elbow in the back of his neck and then he’s on his knees, and he would have died then and there if it weren’t for an unlikely ally.

When he looks up as the enemies drop, Reyes Vidal stands in the head of the alleyway, the light of the street beyond him casting a sort of majestic arch of light around him. Tris pushes to his feet and grunts as he lifts his bag and slings it back over his shoulder, rolling said shoulder momentarily. His body aches, and his head hurts, but he’ll live, at least.

“Thanks,” he says quietly, glancing at the guy.

“You look like you could use a friend,” Reyes says.

Tris shrugs. “Friends can be overrated.”

“I agree. But they come in handy now and then, too. Like in dark alleys.”

“I had them right where I wanted them.”

Reyes quirks a brow. “So you wanted to be on your knees before them?”

Tris scowls. “What do you want, Reyes?”

The man shrugs. “I was just going for a stroll, and what do I find? The Pathfinder’s trustful sidekick, down on his luck.”

“I’m not his…” Tris shakes his head. “Never mind. Well, thanks for the help.”

“You could use a friend while you’re here,” Reyes says. “I could be that friend.”

“Is that some kind of pick up line?”

“Not at all. Unless you want it to be.”

Tris snorts. “Right now I just want somewhere safe to sleep. I’m exhausted.”

“I might know a place.”

“What’s in it for you?”

Reyes shrugs. “We’ll say you owe me one.”

xXx

He spends the night down in the Slums of Kadara Port, on ground level in a back room in a tavern called Tartarus. It’s reminiscent of Kralla’s Song but the music is louder and there are certainly more people drunkenly dancing. There are also what appear to be cages along the walls, with the dancers inside of them away from probing hands. Maybe that’s a good idea, though Tris feels bad for the dancers for having to be stuck in there.

Reyes takes him to a back room. He just opens the door and closes it like he owns the place, and maybe he does. Tris honestly doesn’t know much about him, other than his name, which might not even be his real name. There’s a long comfortable looking couch in the room, along with a sturdy wooden table. Reyes sits on one side of the table and pulls free a bottle of something from a hidden cache. He pops the cork and pours two glasses before pushing one across the table toward Tris, who sits across from him.

“Uh, I really shouldn’t,” Tris says. “I just need somewhere to sleep.”

“You can sleep here,” Reyes says, downing his glass quickly. “And you really should drink. You’ll need the help sleeping with all the noise.”

The rhythm doesn’t really bother Tris. He can feel the ground shaking beneath his feet, and while his head does ache from where that elbow was shoved into the back of his neck, it’s not overpowering. He can tolerate the sound. At this point he’s too tired to care about it much.

“I’ll be fine,” he says.

Reyes shrugs. “Suit yourself.” He pours himself another glass, while Tris’s remains untouched. “So tell me, Tris. Why do you hate the Pathfinder?”

Tris blinks at him. He’s glad he didn’t take a drink; he would have spat it out everywhere. “What do you mean? I don’t hate the Pathfinder.”

“You don’t have to lie to me, you know. If there’s one thing we know about around here, it’s hatred.”

“I don’t hate him,” Tris says, and finds it’s the truth. He doesn’t hate the Pathfinder. He doesn’t hate his father, or his sister. He just wishes things were different between them, but they aren’t and they’re never going to be. That’s just life.

He thought he accepted that a long time ago, but apparently it’s a hard pill to swallow – that you don’t hate your dad, but your dad hates you.

He doesn’t hate you, a part of him says. If he did, he wouldn’t have brought you to Andromeda.

That’s the part that confuses him. Why bring him if they don’t want him around? What’s their plan? Does he even want to know? Or were they just so determined to have their way that when he said ‘no thanks’ to coming here, they kidnapped him anyway?

Don’t think about it. Thinking about it will only ruin him. Maybe one day he’ll be ready to deal with it, but today is not that day.

He smiles at Reyes, and hopes it doesn’t look as fake as it feels. “I don’t hate him,” he repeats. “What makes you think I do?”

Reyes shrugs. “My mistake, then.”

“I don’t hate him,” he says again. “He’s just… We don’t really see eye-to-eye, that’s all.”

“And yet you’re here, on this important mission for him.”

Tris shrugs. “It’s complicated.”

“Tell me about it.”

Tris wants to, and that’s the crazy thing. He wants to talk to someone about how he’s feeling, and why he’s feeling like this, but it’s all a big secret on the ship. Maybe it doesn’t have to be, maybe the fact he’s related to the Ryders won’t matter at all to anyone, but maybe it will and that’s what worries him. As much as he wants to talk to someone about it, he knows deep down that he can’t, not if he wants people to not treat him differently.

But, a part of him whispers, Reyes is on Kadara and knows no one on his crew. The Pathfinder didn’t want to come here, and he probably never will, right? What’s the Pathfinder want with a planet of exiles when he’s busy fighting the kett and trying to find a home for everyone? So maybe, just maybe, Reyes Vidal is his answer.

Or maybe that will only ruin him.

“Hypothetically speaking,” Tris starts, “say my dad is this famous guy everyone loves and looks up to.”

Reyes quirks a brow, but doesn’t tell him to stop. “Go on,” he says, taking a swig of his drink.

Oh, fuck this. Tris grabs his drink and downs it one go. Reyes laughs and refills it, and Tris stares down at the liquid. “Say everyone thinks he’s this amazing guy. And he decided going to Andromeda was a great idea, and invited his kids to go with him, but one of his kids didn’t want to go.”

“That might be bad, for the father,” Reyes says. “Hypothetically speaking, I mean. If the father is so great he cares about his kid, right? So he would want both of them to come with him to a galaxy so far away, otherwise he’d have to live without them.”

“Maybe,” Tris says. “But let’s say the dad and this one kid don’t really get along at all. Like, the dad hates this kid and spent that kid’s childhood showing them how much they don’t matter compared to the other, better kid.”

“Go on,” Reyes tells him.

Tris finished off another drink, and Reyes refills it, simply raising a brow at him. “So the kid says ‘no thanks’ to going to Andromeda, but then after a bump on the head they wake up 600 years in the future in a galaxy they never wanted to see, and they can’t even complain about it because their father is this great, awesome guy and their sibling is their little angel and everyone loves them.”

“Sounds like that would suck,” Reyes says. “Hypothetically.”

“Hypothetically,” Tris agrees, nodding. “So, hypothetically, this kid doesn’t know how to feel about anything and isn’t sure if he should let everyone know how awful their father can be or how untrustworthy his family is, or if he should just sit back and distance himself. Er, themselves. Hypothetically.”

“Is this father in a position of power?”

Tris shrugs. “Hypothetically.”

Reyes nods. “I see. And what of this sibling?”

“Also kind of in a position of power, always at the father’s side.”

“And the kid that didn’t want to come?”

“They’re just kind of… there,” Tris says, looking away. “Like, they’re not excluded, but things are definitely awkward and… strained. Very strained. And it’s causing tension between everyone, not just the family members, and it’s getting to the point where the kid wonders if they should just leave.”

“Sounds complicated,” Reyes says.

Tris sighs heavily, nodding his head. “It is.”

“Hypothetically.”

He tips his head. “Hypothetically.”

“Maybe the kid should just leave and try to find their own way. They can always go back if they fail.”

“Can they?”

He hasn’t ever thought of that. Can he just return to the Tempest if he changes his mind later? Would he even want to? Would his family accept that?

He has no idea. He has no idea what he wants, either, and that just leaves him more frustrated. What’s the right move here? What’s the wrong play? Is there even a right or a wrong way to do things here? He doesn’t know, and he has no one to really discuss this with.

“Why can’t they? It’s not like they got themselves exiled.”

Tris winces. “Ah. Right.”

People here have things so much worse. He really has no room to complain.

“Sorry.”

Reyes quirks a brow. “Why are you apologizing?”

“I just… these hypothetical problems don’t really matter.”

“Good thing they’re hypothetical, then.”

“Yeah. I guess.”

Reyes refills his own drinks and takes a long guzzle before he stares at Tris for a moment. Tris shifts uncomfortably under his gaze, pushing his drink back and forth in front of him. His gaze skits away after a moment, and he bites down on his tongue to keep from asking what Reyes is looking at.

“So,” Reyes finally says. “I take it the Pathfinder is a shitty father.”

Chapter Text

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR: We’re All Broken Pieces

 

Tris stares at Reyes, nearly choking on the drink he tried to take. He coughs for a moment, pounding a fist to his chest, and swallows thickly before staring at the man. Reyes sits watching him patiently, that damn brow quirked inquisitively. “W-What?” Tris manages.

“That’s what we were talking about, isn’t it? The Pathfinder is your father, and you’re the hypothetical kid in your little story.”

“How did you…?”

“Please,” Reyes snorts, shaking his head. “Give me a little credit. You don’t become Kadara’s best smuggler without a little deductive reasoning, and you mentioned yourself in the beginning of your hypothetical story. This came after you mentioned how you don’t get along with the Pathfinder, despite saying you don’t hate him. It just makes sense. So, the Pathfinder is a shitty father. There are a lot of shitty fathers. The galaxies are full of them.”

“I guess,” Tris says quietly, looking away. He’s not sure why it matters. He’s not sure why he spoke in hypotheticals in the first place, because Reyes and the Pathfinder will never meet. Terev is off the planet and the Tempest will pick him up soon, and he’ll probably never see Kadara again. He won’t have to worry about Reyes spreading the truth or the others on the ship finding out from the smuggler.

“Here.” Reyes refills his drink. “Drink that.”

“Why?”

“Because you need it.”

“I’m fine.”

If he’s being honest with himself, he’s a little drunk. There’s a warmth spreading through him and his face is tingling. He’s never been much of a drinker, so when he does drink, it doesn’t take much to do him in. Dillon hated how much of a ‘party pooper’ he could be because he didn’t ever feel like drinking. It was on the things they never agreed on. It wasn’t the only one, but it was the one that stood out the most. The second biggest thing they argued about was probably Tris’s family, and how Dillon never met them.

“You can’t be serious about me if I’ve never met anyone in your family,” Dillon said. It was a serious derailment in their relationship, and probably why it never got too serious. Tris wanted more, but more meant exposing Dillon to his family, and he just couldn’t bring himself to do it at the time. Not when he spent so long trying to get away from them.

And then he blinked and was in a new galaxy, and Dillon’s been dead for centuries.

Stop, he tells himself. Don’t think about it.

Can’t think about it, not yet. Not right now. Not with Reyes staring him in the face.

He takes a sip of his drink. Reyes smirks at him.

“You need to relax,” the man tells him.

“I just need some sleep,” Tris says. It’s the whole reason they came here in the first place, so he could have a safe place to sleep. “I’ll be gone in a few days. Just a few more days. But Sloane is going to suspect I’m the one behind Terev’s escape so I have to keep low.”

“She thinks you did it,” Reyes agrees with a nod. “People are on lookout for the ‘Pathfinder’s puppet’. Her words, not mine.”

Tris’s nose wrinkles. “Great. Just what I need.”

“She should feel honored the Pathfinder sent his only son to Kadara in his place,” Reyes says.

Tris snorts. “Yeah, it’s really not like that.”

“So, what? The Pathfinder is too good for this place?”

“No,” Tris says, even though he doesn’t know. “He just has other things to worry about right now, and can’t be in two places at once.”

Reyes grins. “And he chose you to come here, instead of your sibling. A sister, I’m assuming.”

“Twin sister,” Tris confirms.

“Twins. Interesting.” His gaze roams up and down the visible parts of Tris’s body. “I take it you got the looks, then.”

Tris chokes on his drink again. He spends a moment coughing, blinking the water from his eyes to focus on Reyes’s smug face. “You like to flirt, don’t you?”

“I do enjoy it, yes.”

“I’ll keep that in mind. And, no. Everyone thinks Erin is beautiful. We look nothing alike.”

He says that, but they do look alike. They just don’t look similar enough that people think they’re twins right away, or even related at all unless they’re looking for certain features and know what they’re looking for. They have a similar facial structure but he has freckles where she does not, splotched in haphazard patterns across his nose and cheeks, and her hair and eyes are lighter than his, though the same colors.

“A shame,” Reyes says. “I imagine two of you would be enjoyable.”

Tris exhales slowly. He’s not blushing. He’s not. That’s just the alcohol running through him. “You really don’t want us in the same room together. Ever.”

“Why is that? This animosity between you and your family? What happened?”

“A lot.”

It’s easier than explaining his entire life so far. Reyes’s face says he’s not buying it, but he doesn’t press for further details. At least not yet.

Instead, the smuggler pushes to his feet. “We’ll talk later,” he says.

“Where are you going?”

“It’s getting late, and I have my own things to do. You’ll be safe here, so get some sleep and I’ll come wake you in the morning. Then you can repay the favor.”

“What do I owe you?” Tris asks. “I don’t have a lot of credits, at least not on me. I’m sure the Pathfinder-”

“What I want has nothing to do with the Pathfinder.”

Tris blinks at him. “Okay… so what do you want?”

“You’ll see tomorrow.” Reyes grins at him, and waves as he turns to leave the room.

The door shuts quietly behind him, and Tris is left alone to the remainder of his drink and the steady rhythm of the music.

xXx

The night is loud, the ground rumbling in rhythm with the music, but that’s okay.

Despite the noise, and the uncertainty of Kadara, Tris sleeps better than he has in a while. He’s not sure what that says about him or the Tempest. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe the distance between him and his family has allowed his mind to quiet.

He’ll take what he can get.

xXx

He sleeps in, somehow. He’s not sure what time it is when he wakes, but Reyes is prodding his shoulder and his body is stiff from wearing his armor all night. He lifts his head and nods at Reyes, who takes a step back to give him some space to sit up.

“You look like you slept well,” Reyes says.

“I guess I did. What, uh… what time is it?”

“Midday,” Reyes says.

Tris blinks at him. “Oh. Um.”

“You must have needed the rest.”

“I guess. I’m surprised no one kicked me out.”

“This is my private room.”

“It’s yours?” Well, that’s news to him. He thought Reyes just used the room for a bit last night, and that he’d be kicked out in a few hours. But instead he slept the rest of the night and half the day. He must have needed it. “Thanks, then. For sharing, I mean.”

“It’s no trouble. Like I said, you could use a friend.”

Tris smirks. “And you want to be that friend?”

“There are worse fates, I’m sure.”

“Why do you want to be my friend?”

“I have a problem.”

Tris frowns at the sudden change in the atmosphere, from humor and goodwill to something more serious. “What kind of problem?”

“There’s been a series of murders and I need your help stopping it.”

Well, that’s… definitely not what he expected. What did Reyes say he was? A smuggler? Why is a smuggler on an exile planet worried about murders? Don’t they happen all the time here, or is Tris thinking about this planet all wrong? “How can I help? What kind of murders?”

“We’ll get to that,” Reyes assures him. “First, I thought you might be thirsty.” He pulls out a flask.

Tris’s nose wrinkles. “Uh, no thanks. I probably shouldn’t be drinking again.”

“It’s water.”

“Oh. Then, thanks.” He accepts the flask and takes a long swig from it. It’s cool and refreshing down his throat, despite the tepid temperature of the liquid. He doesn’t realize how thirsty he was until he hands the half-empty flask back. “Why are you being so nice to me?”

“Why shouldn’t I be?”

Tris shrugs. “I don’t know. I just thought you guys didn’t like the Nexus.”

“We don’t, but you weren’t there when it happened. So I see no reason to hold you accountable for their actions.”

“That’s… nice of you.”

“I’m a nice man.”

Tris smirks. “Alright, then.” His stomach growls, and he looks down at it in dismay.

“Come,” Reyes says, nodding toward the doorway. “Let’s get some food into you.”

“You really don’t have to, I’ll be fine.”

“Nonsense. Can you imagine the flak I would get for not feeding the Pathfinder’s son?”

Tris winces, the memories of the night before flooding through him. Reyes knows he’s a Ryder, and while he didn’t mean for that to happen, he’s not entirely sure it’s a bad thing. “We don’t really get along.”

“So you’ve said. So he kidnapped you and brought you to Andromeda? That seems a little counterintuitive to his plan of hating you.”

“I mean, that’s the part I don’t get.” Tris sighs, looking toward the ground. “They’ve never wanted much to do with me, but they brought me here. So I guess deep down they must care, but I just… I don’t know. Things are so strained and it’s causing discourse with the rest of our crew.”

“How so?”

“I don’t know. They keep trying to… protect me. But I don’t need protection because they’re my family.”

“Protect you?” Reyes frowns. “What exactly are they doing to you?”

“Nothing, really.”

“Then why does your crew feel the need to protect you?”

Tris throws his hands into the air. “That’s what I don’t get! I don’t know why. I mean, yeah, so they left me in a vault, but they thought I was dead so that’s not really their fault, right? I mean, why break back into a vault that’s re-locked itself if you’re just going to be finding a body? So I can understand why they left.”

“A vault?” Reyes asks.

“Oh. Right. I don’t know. They’re like these… buildings underground or something. I don’t know. They help fix the weather on planets, somehow.”

“Sounds implausible.”

“I guess. I wouldn’t believe it if I didn’t see it myself.”

“Well,” the smugglers says, “you lead an interesting life.”

Tris laughs, but it doesn’t feel all that mirthful. “Yeah. I guess that’s one way of putting it.”

xXx

Tartarus offers a stew-like meal for them. It’s not much, and probably sub-par compared to what somewhere like Kralla’s Song offers, but it’s decent enough. Tris is hungry, and it’s food, and it’s not terrible. Even if he does miss Liam’s pancakes.

They eat at a table, in relative silence. It doesn’t feel strained or force, just comfortable and friendly. It’s confusing, because they barely know each other, but Tris doesn’t feel the need to talk and apparently neither does Reyes, and the smuggler doesn’t look strained, either.

When they’re done eating, Reyes takes him back up the long elevator toward the top of the cliff, where the majority of Kadara Port rests. Tartarus was down in the slums, which is a subset of the port, down at the bottom of the mountain. It’s a unique set up, Tris thinks. The elevator is interesting. He wonders what made the settlers decide to build their port on top of a mountain.

Reyes takes him to see a body. It’s just laying there on the ground, covered in flies. Tris stares at it.

“People just leave it here?” he asks. “They just walk around it and ignore it?”

“It’s not their problem,” Reyes says. “So why should they fix it?”

“That’s terrible. They should be buried, or something. Something less disrespectful than this.”

He’d hate to be the body on the ground, walked over and ignored as though his life never mattered.

“Someone from Sloane’s group will move the body eventually,” Reyes says.

“Sloane’s group. Oh, right. The Outcasts.”

“The Outcasts,” the smuggler agrees with a nod.

“Still. They should be taken care of. They’re dead now, but this is just… like their life never mattered.” It makes him shiver. That your life could end and no one gives a damn. That you could come all the way from the Milky Way, 600 years in cryo sleep, and wake up to this. To getting murdered and having no one care enough to even move your body out of the way. That your entire existence can just disappear in a second, and no one is around to even remember your name.

“There are more,” Reyes says.

“More?”

“More bodies. Seven so far.”

Seven. Seven bodies just like this one, forgotten in their deaths. “That’s too many.”

“It is.”

“You said they’re murders? All here on Kadara Port?”

“Not all on the port.”

“Then how do you know they’re murders? Aren’t the Collective and the Outcasts fighting?” He thinks that’s what he heard. He might be wrong. “Maybe it was a gang war thing.”

“I don’t think so.”

“Why not?”

“People think it’s the Collective, that the Charlatan is behind it, but they’re wrong.”

“The Charlatan?” Tris asks, frowning. He’s unfamiliar with the Charlatan.

Reyes shrugs. “They’re apparently the head of the Collective. No one knows who they are, man or woman, or if it’s just a group of people instead of one.”

“Alright, so the Charlatan leads the Collective. Are the victims Outcast members?”

“Some of them.”

“So maybe it is the Collective.”

Reyes shakes his head. “The bodies have been found in public locations. Whoever is doing this wants them found, wants their message spread, and that doesn’t seem like the Charlatan. The Charlatan is more secretive and careful than that. Plus, some of the victims have been Collective members, too.”

“Well… maybe it’s someone gunning for them both. A new party.”

Reyes frowns. “The idea has merit, but I don’t know about that, either.”

“Why are you trying to solve this, anyway?” Tris asks, watching him. “Isn’t that a little out of your job description?”

“I live here,” Reyes says. “I’d like for there not to be a homicidal maniac running around.”

“Right, sorry. That makes sense. Have you told Sloane? This is her place, right?”

She’s the one who runs Kadara Port, after all. Some say she runs the entire planet, though Tris has his doubts about that. The planet is a big place for one person.

“I’ve told her, but she doesn’t seem to care. She says people die; it’s what happens in life. In her eyes, if you can’t defend yourself, or pay someone to defend you, you’re weak so it’s not really worth protecting those who can’t protect themselves.”

Tris frowns. He’s not sure he got that vibe from her, but he doesn’t put it past her. People that let the power go to their heads can definitely be like that, even if they don’t use those exact words. And this is a hostile, exile planet.

Exiles, he reminds himself. They’re all exiles here. They mutinied.

Why, though? Were things so bad on the Nexus they thought they had no other choice, or were they just power-hungry like Sloane seems to be? He doesn’t know, because he wasn’t there, and he can never judge any of them properly because how can he judge someone’s actions when he doesn’t know their struggle?

He doesn’t know what it was like for those fourteen months waiting for an ark to show up. Waiting for the Pathfinders, waiting for their friends and family. He doesn’t know, and he’ll never knew completely no matter how much he asks, because he wasn’t there.

“I have a theory on what’s going on,” Reyes says, snapping him from his thoughts. He refocuses on the smuggler, who doesn’t seem to notice his train of thought. “I just need a little help confirming it. If I get involved again and it gets back to Sloane, she might get tired of my interference. Especially if I’m wrong.”

“Okay…” Tris says slowly, frown deepening. “So where do I come into your plan?”

“You’re a neutral party.”

“Neutral party?”

“You’re not from here, but you’re not inherently against us, either. You aren’t exactly with the Nexus; you work for the Pathfinder, who we were all waiting for. So she can’t really get angry with you for checking out the murders, and you have no ties to anyone here so you won’t look past what you find just because you’re biased.”

“I guess that makes sense.”

He’s not from around here, so he can’t be swayed on what he sees. He’ll figure out the facts himself and make his own decision, and no one can blame him of choosing favorites or anything.

It’s a smart play, and he’s more than happy to help stop these murders from happening.

There’s just a small snag.

“Just one problem,” Tris says.

“What’s that?” Reyes asks.

“Sloane hates me, and is probably already out for my blood after Terev escaped.”

“That is a snag,” the smuggler agrees, nodding. “But she doesn’t ever leave the port, and the newest body is out in the badlands.”

“The badlands,” Tris repeats. “Well, that sounds pleasant.”

Reyes grins. “I knew I liked you.”

“What am I looking for?”

“Just go check out the body and tell me what you see. We’ll go from there.”

“How do I get there? I don’t exactly have transportation.”

“I can get you there,” Reyes says.

“Alright, then. Sounds like a plan. I’m in.”

Reyes grins. “Excellent.”

“But first we need to take care of this body.”

The smile fades. “What do you mean?”

“It’s just out here baking the sun,” Tris says. “That’s so disrespectful. Would you want that to happen to you if you were killed?”

“There’s nothing we can do with the body. Sloane has a disposal unit. They’ll take care of it.”

Tris snorts. “Disposal unit. No, we’re not doing that.”

“We can’t bury the body on the top of a mountain,” Reyes says, shrugging. “Unless you want to ride down the elevator with it, we don’t have a lot of options.”

Reyes has a point, of course, but…

Tris looks away. “I can’t just leave it here. It’s not right.”

“This is how Kadara is. You can’t change that.”

“I don’t have to change it, but I can bury this one person.”

“So you’re saying you want to take it down the elevator with us.”

“I can do it myself.”

Reyes sighs heavily. “I didn’t have you pegged as the hero type, but I can’t say it’s not attractive. Alright, I’ll help you.”

Can’t say it’s not attractive? Tris nods. “Okay. Thanks.”

It takes some effort and a lot of determination, but they manage to get the body moved into the elevator. It’s starting to rot, baked in the hot Kadara sun for who knows how long, eaten by insects. It’s definitely an unpleasant stench and Tris’s hands feel sticky even though he’s wearing combat gloves. He’ll have to ditch them after this unless he can clean them thoroughly, because he’s going to be stuck here for at least a few more days.

They get the body out of the elevator and move out of the shadow of the slums. The land outside looks beautiful in the midday sun, but Tris knows this planet is more deadly than peaceful. It’s a hostile planet, after all. It’s a hard planet to survive on, and yet the exiles made it their home, and he can’t help but wonder why.

Reyes leaves to retrieve shovels. He returns a few minutes later, and they get to work digging up the ground to make a decent grave. They have no way to mark it, and as they dig Tris looks around for something, anything, to mark the grave with but all he sees are rocks near the bottom of the cliffside outside of the slums.

They don’t speak as they dig. To speak and shatter the silence seems more than a little disrespectful, and this poor human body has already been treated badly enough.

Once the grave is deep enough, they stop, climb out and roll the body in. It hits the bottom with a dull thud which makes Tris wince. Just throwing the body in a grave seems wrong, but it’s all they can do for now, and it’s more than the body got before. A moment later, they start refilling the grave.

Once the ground is dark and filled, Tris moves to grab some of the rocks. Reyes wordlessly follows after him and picks some up as well. Five stones later there’s a small pile atop the grave.

Tris stares at the grave for a moment. Somehow it doesn’t feel like it’s enough for the life that was forgotten, and no one even knows the poor person’s name. Is anyone missing them? Is anyone sitting in their home, waiting for them to come back?

Or were they written off the second they vanished?

A few minutes later, they take their leave and head back into the slums.

“So…” Tris croaks as they head for Tartarus. He clears his throat, hoping his sounds more steady this time. “When are we going to see this other body?”

“Since I assume you’ll want to bury that one too, we should probably wait until tomorrow,” Reyes says. “It’ll be sundown soon and Kadara can be a dangerous place at night.”

“Sure,” Tris says quietly. “Sounds like a plan.”

“You know,” Reyes says as they enter the club and head toward the same back room, “I didn’t realize seeing bodies would be so difficult for you. I’d imagine you’ve seen plenty since you arrived in Andromeda.”

“I mean… yeah,” Tris says, shrugging. “But I just… people were just stepping around them. Like they were part of the ground and didn’t matter at all, and everyone matters, right? I can’t help thinking that no one here even knows their name. They came 600 years to be here for a new, fresh start and what’d they get? They got killed and forgotten, stepped over on the ground, and that’s just wrong. Wrong on so many levels.”

“I guess,” Reyes says quietly as they sit together at the table in the back room.

“I just can’t help but thinking that no one will remember them. They’ve already been forgotten, erased from existence.”

“That’s life, though. And this is Kadara. Caring isn’t exactly anyone’s strong suit.”

“I guess, but it still feels wrong to me. I know people get murdered, but then they get buried and people remember them. They’re not just ignored and stepped over.”

“That really bothers you, huh?”

“I didn’t think it would, but I guess it does.”

“Will you be okay tomorrow, then?”

“Yeah,” Tris says, sighing. I’ll be fine. Sorry. It just felt wrong not to bury them.”

“Most people wouldn’t care enough to bury someone they don’t know,” Reyes tells him.

“Guess I’m just special, then.”

“Definitely rare,” the smuggler says.

“Well, I’d hate to think I was like everyone else,” Tris says, trying for humor. The atmosphere is a little too somber for his liking.

“Yes, I’d hate to think that, too.”

xXx

Tris dreams of death that night.

Death and being forgotten.

He dreams of Dillon, waiting for him to come home. He dreams of missing person’s posters.

Then he dreams of a lack of posters. He dreams of Dillon not caring that he’s vanished.

No one cares that he’s vanished. Everyone writes him off immediately.

There are people stepping over him. There’s dirt falling over his face.

He’s suffocating.

He wakes in a cold sweat with a scream on his lips. He swallows down the noise and squeezes his eyes shut tight, and tries to tell himself everything is fine. Everything’s okay.

He’s 600 years in the future and he never wanted any of this.

He wanted a warm bad and genuine smiles and happiness and love. He wanted a normal life with Dillon. He wanted to say goodbye to the pain of the past and move forward.

And then he woke up. He woke up in a future he never wanted to see, never wanted to be part of, and there’s no real way of dealing with that.

There’s no real way of accepting that even if he went back home, 1200 years would have passed and there’s nothing for him there, just like there’s nothing for him here. He’s stuck in a limbo he didn’t ask for and there’s no way of fixing it. There’s no way of going home.

And that’s the brunt of it, he thinks.

There’s no way to go home because there is no home anymore. There are no friends, no warm bed and familiar faces, no inside jokes, no levity, no happiness and no love. There’s none of that because that doesn’t exist here, and trying to make it happen here feels like betrayal.

Accepting where he is now feels like goodbye to the life he knew, and he’s just not ready to say it yet. He can only hope that one day he’ll be ready, but even as he hopes this deep-seeded ache disperses, a part of him fervently hopes it doesn’t. To feel better is to forgive, is to forget, and he can’t. He can’t forget the faces he knew, the people he left behind, the life he tried to build for himself. He can’t forget which means he can’t forgive, and there’s no real way of coping with that.

So he doesn’t. He doesn’t cope. He pushes it to the back of his mind and waits for another meltdown.

Tomorrow, he thinks. Tomorrow he can break down, tomorrow will be better. Tomorrow he can cry and rant and destroy, but today he has to remain calm. Today he has to stay in control and not think of what he didn’t want to lose, didn’t choose to lose. Tomorrow he can break down, but there’s still today.

It’s what he tells himself every day. Tomorrow. Tomorrow it’ll be better or worse but at least it won’t be today. Because today he needs to get over it, shove it aside, but tomorrow… oh, tomorrow will be so much better. Tomorrow he’ll break down and start to heal. Tomorrow.

But tomorrow never comes, because tomorrow becomes today and today he can’t break down.

“Stop,” he whispers to himself in the dark rhythm of the room. “Just stop.”

Tomorrow, he thinks. Tomorrow, for sure.

But today he has to stop.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE: A Little Understanding

 

The next morning, Tris tries to wipe the sleep from his eyes, and his mind. He’s exhausted and drained, and he just feels kind of empty. He’s not entirely sure why. Sure, last night was tough on him, with the nightmares and overthinking and everything, but today is a new day. And just like always, today he needs to keep it together, so he really doesn’t have time for this, and he shouldn’t feel this way anyway.

So he was ripped from his home. Big deal. People have it worse than him. Just look at the exiles, living like this, where they’re at a point they can die and no one cares enough to even move their bodies, or they’re the people stepping over them where they’re to the point they can’t afford the luxury of caring about others. They have it so much worse than him, so he really can’t complain, can he?

So he tries to wipe the night from his mind, and greets Reyes with a smile when the smuggler joins him early the next morning. He comes bearing a plate of food and some water, so Tris is more than happy to see him even if he doesn’t feel all that hungry. The food smells good, better than the stew yesterday made with some unknown meat, and he happily guzzles down the offered meal and finishes his water.

“Thanks,” he says. “You didn’t have to do that.”

Reyes watches him for a moment. “Well, you didn’t have to bury that body, but you did, so I felt I could at least give you breakfast in bed, or a close equivalent.”

Tris smirks. “Keep that up and people will start thinking you care.”

“And there goes my reputation. I worked hard for that, you know.”

“I can imagine. So, are we going to see this new body?”

“We’ll get to that,” Reyes says. “First, there are some people who have been trying to get in contact with you.”

“What?”

“Apparently you haven’t been answering your vid-calls,” Reyes says, shrugging. “When your crew couldn’t reach you, they contacted me, since I was your contact. So I’m telling you to call them before they decide to take their frustrations out on me.” He quirks a brow at Tris. “You said they were a protective bunch. I can see what you mean, but you still haven’t told me why they thought that was necessary.”

Tris shrugs, more than a little stunned. “I don’t quite know the answer to that myself,” he says quietly.

The crew tried to contact him? Why did the calls not go through? And when they couldn’t contact him they sought out Reyes to check on him?

It knocks a little too close to his thoughts and worries of last night, and he’s left swallowing thickly. Reyes’s expression softens, leaving Tris wondering what the smuggler can possibly see on his face.

“They’re worried about you. You should give them a call.”

“I don’t know why they couldn’t get a hold of me,” he says, shaking his head. He brings up his arm and taps the digital display his omni-tool can offer if he accesses it. It glows orange, but there’s a signal interference.

A signal interference? That doesn’t make sense. If there’s interference, how could they reach Reyes but not him?

“Uh… looks like my tool isn’t working properly. Maybe it happened in the vault.”

“The vault?” Reyes asks. “You mean when your family left you for dead.”

He shrugs. “Yeah, that. I woke up on the ground and my SAM implant was all… shorted. Not working. Must have happened to my omni-tool too but no one thought to check and I haven’t needed it recently.” It’s the only explanation he has, the only thing that even comes close to making sense.

“You can use mine,” Reyes offers.

Tris nods. “Maybe later. It’s early, and they’re probably busy.”

“I didn’t peg you as someone with avoidance issues.”

He scowls. “I’m not avoiding them, I’m just… alright. I’m avoiding the matter. Can we talk about something else?”

“Why avoid them? They seem to care about you.”

“They’re great,” Tris says, sighing, looking away. “Don’t get me wrong, they’re great. But I just… I don’t know. I’m not used to people being so…”

“Friendly?” Reyes offers.

“Sure. I mean, I had friends back home, don’t get me wrong, but they’re just… they’re a little overbearing sometimes. I’m not used to the attention, and now they’re getting into fights with the Pathfinder because of me, and-”

“Fights?”

“Liam kind of, well, punched my father in the face. Which is awesome, and I wish I could have seen it, but at the same time that’s his boss and he has to respect him and I just feel like I’m ruining things with everyone because they think they have to protect me and they don’t because they’re my family and they won’t hurt me but they just keep trying to help me and it’s so strange and frustrating and-”

“Take a breath.”

Tris inhales deeply, unaware he’d been rambling so quickly. “I just… it’s… I don’t know.”

“Overwhelming.”

“Yeah. Sorry. I didn’t mean to verbally throw up on you.”

“I’d prefer that to the literal vomit, thank you.”

Tris smirks. “You’re deceptively easy to talk to. I’ll have to remember that.”

“Maybe you just need a neutral third party.”

“Still. I shouldn’t be throwing all this on you. Sorry. I’m sure you have your own problems.”

“I do, but what good are having problems if you can’t share them with someone?”

“Is this that ‘I can be your friend’ thing you keep mentioning?” Tris asks, quirking a brow at the smuggler.

Reyes smirks. “I take it you weren’t hugged enough as a child. You brush off affection and friendship, which is why you think your new friends are smothering you.”

“They’re not…” Tris trails off, uncertain how to finish.

They’re not my friends. But they kind of are, because friendship is a general enjoyment in someone else’s company, isn’t it? And he likes hanging out with Peebee and Liam, and talking to Drack and Gil and everything. So maybe they are his friends, even if they haven’t known each other all that long.

They’re not smothering me. But they kind of are, because he’s not used to this. He’s not used to people caring like this, to people trying to protect him. To people worrying about him. It’s all so strange, and he’s not sure how to handle it.

“Let’s go find the body,” Tris says.

Reyes blinks at him. “You want to head out without calling them?”

“Yes,” he says. “That’s exactly what I want to do.”

Because he can’t deal with this right now, not when his head is all messed up. Maybe later, when he’s time to cool down and think about it and explain to himself that people here have things so much worse than him, so he can’t complain. He can’t complain because at least he has family here. At least he has… friends. And there are so many people here that are less fortunate, so what if his family kidnapped him and brought him here against his will? At least he’s not alone, right?

I’m not alone. The thought takes a moment to permeate his mind, but when it does, he feels his breath catch in his throat. He’s not alone. All this time he’s been lamenting all that he’s lost, but he’s gained a lot too.

He’s gained friends. It doesn’t make up for what happened and it doesn’t erase what he lost, but it’s a start. A start in the right direction. Because people do care about him here, if he’ll let himself have it.

But he can’t talk to them right now, because today he has to keep it together. Maybe tomorrow.

“Are you sure?” Reyes asks.

“I’m sure. Let’s go.”

He pushes to his feet and stretches his stiff muscles. Sleeping on this bench seat is really doing him in, but at least he has somewhere safe-ish to stay. This is Reyes’s private back room, after all. He doesn’t ask how the smuggler has his own back room in Tartarus, or why no one else ever seems to come inside even though it’s supposed to be a planet of hostile exiles.

Reyes leads the way out of Tartarus and out of the shadow of the mountain. There waits an ATV-type vehicle, great for off-road, bumpy travel much like the Nomad is designed to be, though that apparently controls badly. They don’t wear helmets, but that’s okay; Tris has his own helmet with his gear, but doesn’t bother putting it on because Kadara is at least livable, unlike those other planets.

Eos is radioactive and hot, and while that is changing slowly, he can only go without a helmet in the safe zones, according to what he’s heard. He remembers burning in his armor, sweating with his helmet, and doesn’t wish to repeat that experience. And then on Voeld, it was too cold to venture anywhere without his helmet, as even with the life support systems built into his armor, the cold was almost too much. Hopefully the vault will fix that, but thinking about that just opens a whole new set of worries so he shoves that aside.

Kadara isn’t like Eos or Voeld, though. It’s a refreshing change to let the wind rush across his face and through his hair as he rides on the back of the ATV, big enough for two people comfortably. The air is humid, and the sun is hot, but there’s a nice breeze which evens it out. There’s green plantlife he doesn’t realize he’s missed until now. It reminds him of Earth and a pang of longing shoots through him momentarily, before he forces it away.

He’s not sure how long they drive, but that’s okay because he’s more than content to check out the scenery. This small bit of normalcy is almost relaxing, in a way. Tense muscles loosen in his shoulders and he enjoys the ride more than he thought he would.

Eventually, they come to a stop atop a large hill, with two structures built as houses. They go to the one in the back, and Reyes stays outside so he doesn’t ‘contaminate Tris’s findings’, whatever that means. Tris can see where he’s coming from, though, and doesn’t argue as he enters the house.

The body is still inside. He’s not sure why that bothers him, because he already knows people don’t think it’s their problem to move the bodies here, and this is pretty far from Kadara Port where the majority of the people seem to be, so it’s really no shock that the body is still here. Insects buzz around much as they did with the previous body, and for a moment Tris simply stares down at the mutilated krogan.

They tortured this krogan. Pulled back his plate and cut him deep, and it would have been long and painful, and this krogain died in agony. Tris doesn’t realize his hands are clenched into fists until the pressure builds and he has to relax his fingers or risk straining something. He clenches his teeth until his jaw aches and circles the krogan, eying the blood trail and the bloody footprints. The footprints don’t look all that familiar, but they nag at something in his mind.

Jaal, he thinks. They remind him of the angaran footprints in the snow on Voeld. Does that mean these bloody footprints are angaran?

He follows the trail through the house. Outside, on the porch, the footprints stop as the assailant apparently jumped over the railing to land on the grassy ground below. Tris bites his lip and looks around, and spots a knife resting precariously on the corner of a box at the edge of the porch. There’s a strange series of marks and symbols on it, something familiar yet strange. He can’t figure out why it pulls at something in his mind, something forgotten, something unseen…

He blinks, and the feeling passes.

It’s just a knife, with strange symbols.

He looks over the railing and catches Reyes watching him. Their eyes meet and Reyes’s expression softens again. His eyes lighten, his lips twitch downward slightly, and he takes a small step forward seemingly without realizing he’s doing it.

“What did you find?” the smuggler calls to him.

Tris shrugs. “I don’t know. Some footprints, and a knife. This krogan suffered.”

“I’m sorry,” Reyes says. “What kind of footprints?”

“I don’t know.”

“What do you mean?”

He shrugs. “They kind of look angaran but I don’t really know them that well, and haven’t been around them that long, so I don’t know if I’m really the best judge of that.”

“And the knife?”

“Some strange symbols on it. Kind of looks like a ceremonial dagger of sorts. I don’t know.”

Reyes nods, like that makes sense to him. “I worried as much.”

“You know what it means? Who it is?”

Tris hopes so, because this krogan didn’t deserve to suffer like that, and the body from yesterday didn’t deserve to rot in the street like that.

“What do you know of the Roekaar?”

Chapter Text

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX: And This Old World is a New World for Me

 

There’s a haunting presence around him, swirling in a void he can’t see.

“Look.”

A voice in the stillness, a stillness like death around him. He thinks of fresh graves and dirt falling over his face, and for a brief moment he’s suffocating.

“Look,” the voice says, quieter this time.

He blinks, and refocuses. He’s not in a fresh grave, there’s not dirt anywhere on him, and he can breathe just fine.

He’s not anywhere near dirt, because he’s underground in a vault, and the floor beneath him is etched with green, data-like patterns, similar to the walls. For a moment, his mind freezes. He’s not here, he can’t be here, he got out of here.

“Look.”

He spins, because the voice sounds closer this time. Just behind him, just out of reach, right there…

No one is there, but there’s a light flashing like a beacon on a console in the back of the room. The console is eerily familiar, dragging at his thoughts, pulling on long forgotten chords, and he moves without thinking. Steps closer to the console with each step. Just a little closer.

The closer he gets, his hand burns.

It’s not pain, exactly, but it’s not something altogether pleasant, either. It’s a strange, eerie burn like his skin is alive and screaming, but in his mind he’s not scared. He’s not worried.

“Look and see.”

There’s a calming hush over his thoughts, and he raises his hand toward the console.

Then there are hands on him, and he opens his eyes to find Reyes frowning down at him.

“There you are,” the smuggler says. “What kind of dream was that?”

Tris stares at him for a moment, a lump lodged in his throat. He swallows it down and looks around the room. The same back room he’s been staying in; his aching muscles remind him of this. He relaxes against the bench seat and Reyes releases him.

It’s the first night he decided to sleep without his armor on, after Reyes’s reassurances that he is safe here and no on would dare disturb him when this is Reyes’s room. He wonders at that, of course, but in the end he was too tired to argue and stripped from his armor and slept better than he has in a while… until now.

“Are you all right?” Reyes asks, taking a step back to give him space.

“I’m fine,” Tris says, pushing himself up into a sitting position. He jams the heel of his hand into his eye and rubs, but the feelings linger. His hand burns. He stops and looks at it. Without his gloves, the circle is perfectly visible.

Usually it looks like a long-faded scar. A little ridged and rough but still smooth in a way, like it happened in his childhood. But today, the edges are red and his skin itches.

“What’s that?” Reyes asks, suddenly next to him, looking at it too.

Tris curls his fingers, hiding the circle. “Nothing.”

“You’re going to lie to me? Really?”

“No. I mean. I don’t know, I don’t really know you, and it doesn’t matter.”

Reyes quirks a brow. “You don’t know me, that’s true. But you don’t have to hide from me, either. I won’t bite.”

Tris snorts.

“Well, unless you want me to.”

“You’re terrible, you know that?”

“It’s a gift.”

“Sure it is.” He uncurls his fingers. “I don’t know what this is. I woke up with it in the vault, but I swear it wasn’t there before that. So I don’t know what this is because it looks like it happened when I was a kid, but this is new.”

“Seems faded, mostly,” Reyes says. “Maybe a little itchy right now.”

“It is. It was fine, but now it’s burning and…” he trails off, wondering how much he should say. He doesn’t know a whole lot himself, but keeping what little he does know inside is slowly killing him. He didn’t tell his sister or father, or anyone else on the ship, because this is crazy. This sounds crazy. Of course this had to have happened as a kid, because what other explanation is there? Maybe he doesn’t remember it there before the vault because he blacked out. Maybe he hit his head. Maybe that’s why he doesn’t remember exactly what happened in the vault.

All of this sounds insane, and he’s not ready to give anyone that kind of leverage over him just yet.

So he keeps his mouth shut.

“And?” Reyes prompts in his silence.

“Nothing. Did you need me? Is it time to deal with the Roekaar?”

Reyes spent a while yesterday telling Tris all about the Roekaar. He hadn’t really heard of them until then. Maybe his father and sister knew about them, but they didn’t share their information with him, and the topic never came up with Jaal.

They’re a group of angarans who don’t want anything to do with ‘aliens’, and that includes the kett and the Milky Way inhabitants. All the krogan, asari, humans, turians, salarians. They want nothing to do with any of them, and have become violent against them, wanting to chase them from Andromeda.

Tris said the Pathfinder was friendly with the angara; they freed the Moshae and came here to apprehend her traitor, after all. Reyes said that didn’t matter to the Roekaar, because an alien is an alien, and they want them all gone.

“Okay,” Tris said. “What does that have to do with the dead bodies?”

“All of the victims are either Milky Way inhabitants, or Milky Way sympathizers.”

“Sympathizers? So you mean like… friendly with us? Accepting of us?”

“Exactly that. They were outwardly vocal or willing to accept us, and the Roekaar have expressed their disregard for such ‘unforgiveable nonsense’.”

It’s a conversation he’s not soon to forget. Even now it leaves him shivering.

They have to stop them. They have to stop them from hurting anyone else here on Kadara.

They aren’t just killing their victims, after all. They’re making them suffer first, and then leaving them to rot.

Hatred or not, that’s unacceptable.

“I came to see if you would join me for breakfast, but if you need more sleep that’s fine. It is a little early. I came in and found you tossing around.”

“Just a dream,” Tris mutters, shaking his head. “Yeah, breakfast sounds good. And then is there anywhere I can get changed? I only brought so many clothes…”

He hadn’t anticipated burying bodies in the hot Kadara sun for two days in a row. He thought he’d just get Terev to Aya and stay on Kadara Port until the Tempest returned, but things kind of backfired.

“A shower would be nice, too,” Tris says. He probably stinks, being sweaty and everything.

Reyes pauses, hesitating.

“If not, that’s fine, I can deal,” Tris adds. “You’ve already done more than enough.”

“I know somewhere that has clothes, a shower, and some food.”

“That sounds great.”

“Come with me.”

xXx

At first, he’s not sure where they’re going. He assembles his armor after a quick glance from Reyes, and they leave Tartarus to head out into the Kadara sun. It’s early, like Reyes said, with the sun’s first rays making an appearance, chasing away the chill from the night. Unlike back on Earth, there’s not a fresh coat of dew on the early morning grass; instead it’s dry, like the air. Tris knows the water here is toxic unless you filtrate it correctly, since the world is so acidic. It must be hard for the world’s inhabitants to get enough drinking water with the way things are.

They’re not on an ATV today. Instead, they walk.

It’s almost peaceful, relaxing, with the calm silence around them. The wildlife are just beginning to rise, and the hostile exiles haven’t yet risen either, at least not entirely. Instead of the chaos everyone told him he’d find here, it’s more refreshing than anywhere else he’s been so far, and he’s not sure what that says about him or Andromeda as a whole. Maybe it doesn’t matter.

They don’t speak as they walk, though Tris has questions he wishes to ask. He wants to know where they’re going, where Reyes is taking him. There’s some part in the back of his mind that wonders if the smuggler is tired of him and his help, having gotten what he needed. He just needed Tris to come to a similar conclusion as him. He identified the footprints as angaran, said the knife looked ceremonial, and after discussing it with Reyes thought the smuggler was right in his conclusion. That means Reyes doesn’t need him anymore, and he has been a bother, hasn’t he? The smuggler didn’t have to help him, and maybe now he’s tired of it and is taking him somewhere to get rid of him.

Except that feels wrong, because why offer him breakfast if he’s just going to take him somewhere and kill him? Reyes said they would take care of the Roekaar together, after all, but people don’t always keep their word.

Tris keeps his eyes open, but tries not to let his paranoia get the best of him.

After about a half hour of walking, they come across a house built on stilts similar to the one the krogan lived in. There’s a walk-around wooden porch around it, and Reyes leads the way up the ramp. He hesitates at the top and turns to face Tris as Tris takes his first step onto the ramp. Tris stops and frowns at him.

“Everything okay?” he asks.

“You’re really the Pathfinder’s son?”

He frowns. “Where’s this coming from?”

“Yes or no,” Reyes says, eyes narrowing.

“Uh, yeah? Unfortunately.”

“And his daughter is your twin sister.”

“Yeah. Where’s this coming from?”

Reyes looks thoughtful for a moment, before he finally nods. “Alright. Come with me.” He turns and leads the way across the porch. Tris hesitates but eventually follows after him. Reyes pushes the front door open and gestures inside.

Tris enters, ready to reach for his biotics if need be. There’s no one waiting for him inside, though. No ambush. Instead a sparse living room greets him, equipped with only a couch and a lamp across the room. The windows are closed up and boarded, making the place seem abandoned from the outside. He turns to look at Reyes as the door closes behind him.

“What’s this?” he asks, thinking he already knows the answer.

“This is my home,” Reyes says. His words are quick and thinner than usual, like he’s nervous. Tris wonders if he’s ever brought anyone here before, but he probably hasn’t. He’s a smuggler after all, who spends most of his time in the slums, so why would he bring anyone home with him?

But he brought Tris here.

“Thank you,” Tris says quietly.

Reyes shrugs, clearing his throat. “Yes, well. You wanted a shower. I can provide that here, along with clean clothes and a meal, though I must warn you I only have stuff for sandwiches.”

“Sandwiches are perfectly fine,” Tris says, smiling at him, feeling his shoulders relax. “I appreciate it. Thank you. You didn’t have to bring me here.”

Reyes waves a hand dismissively, like it’s no big deal, but Tris knows it is. “I’ll go get you some clothes. The shower is down the hall to your right.”

He heads down the hallway and enters the first door on the left. There’s an opening before that, but it’s a doorway with no door. Probably a small kitchen, if Tris has to guess. He looks around the room again before he makes his way toward the bathroom. A part of him wonders how they installed this out here, but just like back home, they’d need construction workers and everything, and bathrooms are a standard part of a new home. It’s likely the people here know how to build homes and equip them accordingly.

It’s a small bathroom, with a standing shower, but that’s perfectly fine with Tris. He’s in the process of pulling his shirt over his head when Reyes knocks on the door and pries it open, holding out a handful of clothes even as his eyes skim over his exposed body. Tris smiles appreciatively, eager to be in clean clothes after a nice shower. Reyes backs out of the room and closes the door behind him, and Tris turns on the shower.

The water isn’t hot, exactly, but that’s okay. He figures fresh water for showers are scarce, so it’s fine that the water is a little cold. It keeps the shower short and sweet and conserves the water. He finishes his shower and steps out, toweling dry before changing into his clean clothes.

He and Reyes aren’t the same size. Reyes is a little taller than him, so his clothes are a little baggy, but that’s perfectly fine. He steps out of the bathroom with damp hair, a gray shirt and dark pants and joins Reyes in the kitchen. The smuggler is already sitting at the table, a thoughtful expression etched across his face. Two sandwiches sit on small, wooden plates, one in front of Reyes and one in front of the seat across from him. Tris sits there, quirking a brow at the smuggler.

“Deep thoughts?” he asks.

“Something like that,” Reyes replies. “How was your shower?”

“Great, actually.”

“Even with the cold water?”

“A shower is a shower.”

A hot shower would feel better on his sore muscles from sleeping for nights on a bench seat, but beggars can’t be choosers.

He picks up the sandwich and takes a bite. It’s made with a strange meat he’s never had before, but it’s not bad. He chews thoughtfully and swallows before taking another bite.

Soon the sandwich is gone, and Reyes has barely touched his.

“Not hungry?” Tris asks.

Reyes shrugs.

Tris chews on his lower lip, glancing away. “If I’m intruding, you can totally kick me out, you know. I don’t mean to impose.”

“You’re fine,” Reyes tells him. “I’m just not used to having people… here.”

“You didn’t have to bring me if you’re uncomfortable with it.”

“I’m not,” the smuggler sighs, causing Tris to glance at him again. “That’s the problem.”

“The problem is you’re not uncomfortable with it?” Tris asks, just to clarify.

“I never bring anyone here. But I’m okay with you being here, and that’s… strange.”

“Sometimes it’s nice to… have a friend.”

Reyes smirks, though it looks a little forced. “So you admit we’re friends now.”

“Well, we did buy two bodies together. That kind of automatically makes us friends, doesn’t it?”

“I suppose. There’s no one else I’d rather bury a body with.”

“You’re so sweet,” Tris says, smirking. “Why’d you ask if I was really the Pathfinder’s kid? I thought we clarified that already?”

“We did,” Reyes agrees, nodding. “But it’s hard to trust people on Kadara. Most of them are more than eager to stab you in the back at the first available opportunity. But you’re with the Pathfinder, you’re his kid, so you probably won’t go around killing people unnecessarily.”

“Well, you’re not wrong,” Tris says. Although, he’s not sure if being Alec Ryder’s kid has anything to do with that. It must show on his face, because Reyes frowns.

“Why do you and your family not get along?”

“We just don’t.”

“I’m sure there’s more to it than that.”

“I’m sure there is, too.”

“But you won’t tell me?”

“Well, what good would that do?” Tris asks, shrugging. “You can’t fix it, so why should you care?”

“Funny,” Reyes says, watching him, “coming from the same guy who cared enough to bury the bodies of two people he didn’t even know.”

“That’s just common decency. Anyone would have done it if they could.”

“No.” The smuggler shakes his head. “They wouldn’t. They didn’t. Only you did.”

“You did, too.”

“You think I’m some decent person, and that’s all well and good, but I’m not.”

“You’re not some evil asshole, either.”

“Is that what your father is?” Reyes asks. “Some evil asshole?”

“He’s the Pathfinder,” Tris says. “I guess I wouldn’t call him evil, but he is an asshole.”

“And you won’t tell me why.”

“Why do you care?” Tris asks, watching him. “Why’s it matter?”

“I guess I just want to know what you consider ‘asshole behavior’.”

“Why?”

Reyes shrugs. “I guess because we’re all assholes here.”

“You’re not.”

“You don’t know me so well. Give it time.”

“So you’re saying you’re an asshole?”

“Of course I am. I’m a criminal.”

“You’re a smuggler,” Tris says, rolling his eyes. “Doesn’t make you an asshole.”

Reyes remains quiet, gaze focused on the table.

Tris watches him for a moment, choosing his words carefully. “Doesn’t make you evil, either.”

Reyes’s gaze lifts to meet his own. “I’m a bad man.”

“Just because you’re a criminal doesn’t mean you’re the bad guy,” Tris says. “Just like being Pathfinder doesn’t mean dear old Dad’s the good guy. We’re all just people. We’re not good or bad, we’re just trying to get by.” At least, that’s the way he sees it. It’s the way he’s always seen it.

“You have an interesting outlook.”

“I’d like to think I wasn’t exactly like everyone else.”

“You’re not,” Reyes says, smirking at him. “You’re most definitely not.”

xXx

The Roekaar are hiding in a cave, it seems. Interesting hiding place, to be sure. Tris goes in first while Reyes loops around to sneak in behind them. Tris just has to be the bait, the distraction, make some noise.

Easy enough. It’s what he’s good at.

He just thought maybe it could be different here, but it’s not and that’s fine. Just fine. He’s good at this.

He steps in with some flourish, making the door smack off the back wall. It’s a small house-like entrance to a cave, hiding the structure behind the building. Unique, to be sure. It’s a wonder Reyes found them at all.

The angara in front is holding a knife similar to the one he saw before. It’s caked in dried blood, but it bears the same symbols and markings. Tris stares at it for a moment. These really are the Roekaar, and they really are behind the killings.

“I’m with the Pathfinder,” he says. “He’s friendly with the angara. He saved the Moshae and returned her to Aya.”

“We don’t care,” the female angara says, glaring at him as her companions circle around him. They easily take his weapons from him, but that’s okay. He doesn’t need weapons to be lethal. “You and your kind aren’t welcome here anymore. You need to die just like the others.”

“So you did do it,” he says quietly. “You killed them. You tortured that krogan.”

“They deserved it,” she says harshly. “They all deserve it. And you’re next.” She nods at her companions. “Get rid of him.”

They line up their shots. Anger stirs in his stomach. Where’s Reyes? Did he abandon him? Did he bring him here to get rid of him before he gets rid of the others? Why does he always have to be bait? Why is he always expendable? And does this angara really think he’s going to take this lying down? That she’s going to just kill him like she did so many others? She killed them and left them lying in the street. She tortured them prior to killing them.

The anger ignites within him and his body is suddenly glowing blue, brighter than it has before. The bullets fire and ricochet off the body barrier as he surges forward, charging directly at the female leader. He almost doesn’t notice the explosion at his side that takes out a good chunk of her companions, or the bullets offering him cover fire. He knocks into the leader and smacks his fist again and again and again into her face before he manages to stop himself. He stops and heaves a heavy breath and backs up, staring down at her bloody broken face as she gasps for air. He did that. He did that to her. He almost beat her to death.

He’s killed in combat before, sure. He’s used his biotics to kill them, too. But this feels different, because there she is, defenseless on the ground, and he’s so angry. He let the anger fuel him to kill, much as he did back on Habitat 7, and he doesn’t want to be like that. He doesn’t want to be some angry killing machine.

Then she raises her hand, holding a pistol. She’s down, broken, and should be ready to end this fight, if not for her then for her people who are getting mowed down Reyes somewhere in the background. She should be willing to stop this to save them, if she’s truly a leader. But here she is, aiming her gun at him, prolonging the fight, unwilling to give up. Stubbornness and pride.

“Really?” Tris asks. “You can stop this. Put the gun down or I will kill you.”

She doesn’t put it down. She lines up the shot, wraps her finger around the trigger, and squeezes. She thinks she’s faster than him.

She’s not.

She fires, and he charges, and the bullet misses because he’s faster. He slams into her and hears her neck snap as her body jerks backward into the ground with such force. Then he stops and stands over her, glaring down her for making him do that. For making that necessary.

It’s quiet around him. The cover fire has stopped.

He turns and looks around. Her companions lay around the room, dead.

Reyes approaches him. “You all right?” he asks.

Tris works his jaw, clenching and unclenching his teeth, trying to find his voice. He winds up just nodding.

“You’re glowing,” Reyes says, quirking a brow. “Impressive.”

Tris looks down at his arms. He’s glowing bright blue. It’s a thin but strong film around his entire body. He looks at his blue hands, curling and uncurling his fingers. Beneath his glove, his palm burns. He looks back at the fallen leader, frowning.

“You had no choice,” Reyes says. “You had to kill her or she would have killed you.”

On some level, he knows Reyes is right. He had no choice. It was kill or be killed, and there’s some primal part of himself that refuses to be killed. The adrenaline fades and he’s left trembling. He closes his eyes and exhales slowly, easing the tension out of his body. The blue glow fades and the trembling stops. He’s okay. He’s okay. It’s all okay.

He’s okay with killing, he thinks. He doesn’t like that it’s necessary, but sometimes it’s a war and you have to kill the others. Like he’s done recently with the kett. But this… this felt different, because this was anger, and a misunderstanding. The Roekaar hate all aliens because of what the kett has done to them, and on some level Tris can sympathize, but even after mentioning that they’re friendly with the angara on Aya and even saved the Moshae, she didn’t even care. She didn’t even give him a chance. She didn’t give any of them a chance.

“Let’s get out of here,” Tris says, turning to take his leave.

“What about the bodies?” Reyes asks. “You don’t want to bury them?”

Tris stops, hesitating. He wants to say no. They don’t deserve to be buried because they killed without remorse, based on prejudice, and tortured their victims before leaving their bodies to rot. They don’t deserve his kindness.

But at the same time, she and her people were still just that. People. And no one deserves to just be overlooked, stepped over and forgotten so they can rot away to nothing after being murdered. Because that’s what he and Reyes did – they killed them. It was a fight, sure, and it was kill or be killed and these people needed to be stopped… but deep down he hates that it came to that. He hates that he’s even having these thoughts because it makes him feel unclean. Makes him feel like a monster.

And he can’t just leave them like this. For whatever reason, they thought what they were doing was right. They were wrong, but they were so sure they were right they were willing to ignore everything and kill him.

“Okay,” he says. “But you don’t have to help.”

There are a lot of bodies, after all. And these people were trying to kill them, so he can’t blame Reyes if he doesn’t want to help.

“And leave you to do all the hard work? I think not.”

Tris’s shoulders relax, and as he grabs a shovel, peace settles briefly in his mind.

At least with Reyes, he can feel even the smallest bit okay.

xXx

Reyes doesn’t take them back to Tartarus that night, like Tris thought he would.

Instead he takes them to his house, and offers up his couch for the night.

Tris accepts, and feels another small piece fit back into place.

xXx

When he dreams that night, it’s of his anger consuming him.

He wakes in a cold sweat and stares up at the ceiling for a long time.

xXx

The next morning, he uses Reyes’s omni-tool to call his crew. He fits the piece on his arm and initiates the call. It’s staticky at first, and doesn’t seem to want to go through, but eventually it does.

Erin answers. He doesn’t think she was the one who originally called, but is just the one in the vid-call room, which is the only place that can place such long-distance calls.

“Hi,” Tris says, somewhat awkwardly, as he wasn’t expecting to get his sister. “Uh, I was told you guys were trying to contact me and apparently my omni-tool isn’t working.”

“The crew keeps asking about you,” she says, shrugging. “I take it you completed your task. Evfra thanked us.”

“Yeah, I got Terev back to Aya,” he says, nodding. “How goes the vault on Voeld?”

“Fine,” Erin says.

“Was there another storm?” he asks, because he’s curious. He hopes it’s not something all vaults have, and Eos’s vault was just special.

“There was,” she says, sighing. “We barely made it out.”

Damn it. That means they might all have them. “But the weather is getting better?”

“It is. We’ll be there in two days.”

“Where?”

“Kadara.”

“Oh, right. To pick me up.”

“Not just that.”

“What do you mean?” he asks, not sure he likes her tone.

“We’ve been told there are monoliths on Kadara.”

He freezes. Monoliths. Monoliths mean a vault. Here? On Kadara? But he hasn’t seen any monoliths! They might be hidden around the world, of course, and he’s only been near the mountain, but still.

“There’s a vault on Kadara. We’ll be there in two days to take care of it but according to Vetra we might need Sloane Kelly’s permission, so you’ll need to get that for us so we can just take care of the vault when we land.”

“Uh. Slight problem with that.”

“I don’t want to hear about problems, Tris. It’s been a long week. You need to talk to Sloane.”

“Yeah, but-”

“Just do it,” Erin says, rolling her eyes. “Why do you always have to argue? It can’t be that hard to talk to someone. Tell her we’re just going to fix the acidity of her planet. It’ll help everyone.”

“Yeah, that’s great and all, but-”

A voice calls over Erin’s shoulder. She turns to look, ignoring him. When she turns back she’s sighing heavily. “I gotta go. Take care of it. See you in two days.”

The vid-call ends, and he’s left glaring down at his omni-tool.

“But Sloane is out for my blood because I helped Terev escape,” he finishes in the silence that follows.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN: I Got a Plan for Us

 

She’s gonna kill me, Tris thinks as he paces back and forth in Reyes’s living room. It’s still early, the sun barely up, and he just finished the call with his sister an hour ago. He called early hoping he could just leave a message and let everyone know he was okay. He didn’t think anyone would be up, let alone that Erin would answer and give him a bombshell like she did. Of course, that’s the story of his life, isn’t it? So he really shouldn’t be surprised.

She wouldn’t let him get a word in edgewise, like always. So now he has to talk to Sloane, and she’s going to kill him because she’s already out for blood because he helped Terev escape and she didn’t get to execute him, and now he has to tell her more people from the Nexus are coming here and expect to ‘change the planet’. Even if it’s for the best, even if they’re fixing the acidic weather, he doubts she’ll care too much about that. If they’ve survived here this long, they know how to handle Kadara without help from the Nexus, after all. She won’t take kindly to him telling her the Pathfinder is coming.

Because that’s what Erin wants him to do. She made it sound like they need permission to go to the vault, but they don’t. That’s not what they want. They just don’t want to have to deal with Sloane, and thus want her to just accept that they’re coming. It’s definitely not going to go well, and it’s going to get him killed because Sloane already dislikes him and has a reason to want his blood.

“You know,” Reyes says, startling him. “My living room really doesn’t need a trench.”

He spins to find Reyes standing in the hallway entrance, arms folded across his chest as he leans against the wall, watching him. He looks comfortable, and Tris wonders how long Reyes has been watching, and why he didn’t notice.

He stops pacing. “Sorry,” he says quietly, running a hand through his hair.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.”

That brow raises, like always. “You really don’t need to lie to me, you know.”

“I know. Sorry. I just… I called my crew back.”

“Oh? What’d they say?”

“Well, I got my sister. And she, uh… apparently there’s a vault on Kadara, and she wants me to talk to Sloane about them coming to fix it.”

“There’s a vault here?”

“Apparently.”

“How do they know?”

“Apparently there are monoliths here, which means there’s a vault.”

“Monoliths? Those big alien structures? Even the angara don’t know where they came from.”

“Yeah,” Tris says, nodding. “Those.” He didn’t see them himself, but Reyes has been here a while, so it only makes sense that he’s seen them.

“They mean there’s a vault?”

“Yeah.”

“How so?”

“It’s complicated,” Tris says, sighing. “Apparently the Pathfinder can… connect to them, and they activate. When all of them are activated, they lead to a hidden vault.”

“Interesting.”

“I guess that’s one way of putting it.”

“And you said you have to talk to Sloane? I don’t know if that’s such a good idea,” Reyes says, shaking his head. “She’s kind of out for your blood. You took away her prized execution.”

“I know. I tried to tell Erin that, but…”

“Erin. Your sister?”

Tris nods.

“What did she say about it?”

“She wouldn’t let me say it,” Tris says.

“What do you mean?”

“She doesn’t like to let me get a word in edgewise.”

“So you’re telling me you couldn’t just tell her you can’t talk to Sloane?”

“Our conversations don’t really work like that.”

“You just say the words. Short and sweet.”

“Yeah, you would think so,” Tris says, sighing heavily as he pinches at the bridge of his nose. “It’s complicated. She wouldn’t let me say it. So now I have to talk to Sloane because they don’t plan to when they arrive, and if they just go traipsing around…”

“That could lead to problems,” Reyes says, nodding. “But if you talk to her, she could kill you.”

“It’s a possibility. You can see my dilemma.”

“So don’t talk to her.”

“If I don’t, they won’t. Then she’ll say the Nexus is trying to encroach on your guys’ territory, and that’s not what we’re trying to do. It’ll just cause a lot of anger and misunderstandings.”

“So why can’t the Pathfinder speak to her when he lands? That seems like the best option, and he is the one in charge. It’s better than sending a lackey like you. No offense, of course.”

“None taken.” When it comes to the Pathfinder, he is technically a lackey, of sorts. “And you would think that’d be the best solution, but you don’t know my father.”

It’s so weird to him, speaking about it so openly like this. Calling the Pathfinder his father to someone other than his sister. It’s so foreign, to be discussing his family, and he’s not sure what that says about himself or his family in general.

“So you’re saying he can’t take on his leadership duties and talk to Kadara’s leader?”

“He could, but he won’t.”

“Even if it’s for the best for everyone involved?”

Tris shrugs. “I could try to explain it to him, but that’ll just lead to an argument about how I can’t handle anything right, even though it’s not my fault, is it? Sloane is stubborn, and I was sent to get Terev to Aya. So I did. How was I supposed to know there’s a vault here when no one ever tells me anything?”

He’s ranting, he knows. Rambling and venting. But it feels good to do so, instead of always keeping it all inside, and as he said before, Reyes is deceptively easy to talk to. He’s not sure if that’s a bad thing or not.

“I don’t understand your family,” Reyes says, frowning at him. “I always heard Alec Ryder was a great guy, but you make him sound… unpleasant.”

“He is unpleasant,” Tris says. “Unless you help him get what he wants. Then he’s your best friend. Look, I really don’t want to talk about him, okay? Or Erin. Or any of this.”

“But if you don’t talk about it, what are you going to do?”

“I don’t know. I guess I’ll talk to Sloane.”

“That will get you killed.”

“And not talking to her might get someone else killed.”

If the Pathfinder and the crew land and start wandering around uninvited, without permission, trying to help the planet or not, they’re going to get into a fight with someone. And someone else might get hurt, might get killed, and he can’t have that on his conscience. Not because he was too afraid to go talk to someone.

“I might have a way to help you, if you’re inclined.”

Tris frowns, watching the smuggler. “Oh?”

Reyes nods. “As it so happens, Sloane is having a party tonight. She’s more forgiving at the parties than any other time, and is also more relaxed with all her little minions around her, so then is your time to ask.”

“But won’t she shoot me on sight?”

“Not in a crowded party. Itchy trigger fingers can inspire quite a massacre if one isn’t careful, especially on a planet of exiles. She won’t risk shooting you there, or doing anything other than glaring at you.”

“She could just throw me out and not talk to me, or not let me in at all.”

“Not if you’re my plus one, because I’m invited, and allowed to bring a friend.”

Tris smirks. “So you want to go to a party with me?”

“I could think of worse dates.”

“I assume you want something in return for your help here.”

“I’ll let you know,” Reyes says, watching him, smirking.

“Well, alright then. I could think of worse fates than a party.”

“Yes, as could I. First, we need to get you some proper clothing.”

Tris looks down at himself. “What’s wrong with what I’m wearing?”

Reyes smirks, eying him up and down. “You look fine, but my clothes are a little big on you. I thought you would like to be a little more comfortable, with properly sized clothing, for the party.”

“I mean… yeah, I guess.”

“I know someone who can help.”

xXx

Reyes takes him to an angaran male who seems to run a clothing shop. It’s small, but necessary. It makes sense; the angara have been here far longer than the Milky Way inhabitants, after all. “My friend here needs some clothes for a party tonight,” Reyes says.

They’re in the slums, so Tris doesn’t expect a big selection, but what he does see looks comfortable. They don’t have a wide array of choices, but they have various colors on the few styles they do have. He picks a simple red shirt and dark khaki pants. You can’t go wrong with khaki. Maybe he won’t look all that fancy, but somehow, he doubts that matters too much on an exile planet filled with warring factions, dangerous factions, and acidic water.

Reyes gives him a once-over before nodding in approval and paying for his selection. Tris wants to tell him he doesn’t need to worry about that. He doesn’t have a lot of money himself, but he can always try to forward it to the Pathfinder’s account, since this is technically a mission for the Pathfinder, right? But Reyes waves him away and pays for his purchase, and they take their leave, with Tris’s new clothes in a paper bag.

“Thank you,” Tris says. “I’ll pay you back.”

“What if I don’t want your credits?”

“Well, then what do you want?”

Reyes glances at him and smiles, slowly. “I’ll let you know.”

Tris snorts. “Of course you will. Alright, fine. But please keep in mind I didn’t plan to come to Andromeda, so I brought nothing with me.”

“I don’t want any of your items.”

“Well, good. So, are we really doing this? The party tonight, I mean?”

“Of course.”

“But what if she shoots me?”

“She won’t shoot you in a public crowd. Too messy.”

They’ve gone over this already, of course, but he can’t help the worries that eat away at him. Now that they’ve actually purchased the clothing, it’s sinking in that it’s really happening. They’re going to a party to talk to Sloane.

And then comes the other doubts. The more normal, human ones.

I’m going to a party as Reyes’s plus one. Does that make this a date?

He’s not sure if that’s good or bad. He’s not opposed; he likes both genders, and Reyes is certainly proving to be a good friend, and he’s certainly attractive, but at the same time, he didn’t come here to go on a date.

And Reyes probably doesn’t mean this as a date, so he’s getting worried about it for nothing. Reyes just offered this to help him, nothing more or less.

But why does he want to help me? he wonders, frowning to himself. What is he getting out of this?

Reyes has helped him with Terev, which one could argue he was paid to do. Alright, fine. But he also let Tris stay in his private back room at Tartarus, which he definitely didn’t have to do. One could argue that he only did that because he needed Tris’s help with the murders. Which, yeah, okay. Makes sense. But then he brought Tris home with him, which he apparently never does with anyone, given how he acted. And now he’s invited Tris to a party as his plus one, and has even bought him proper, form-fitting clothing.

Why, though?

It doesn’t make sense. He can’t wrap his head around it.

What’s he getting out of this?

He glances sideways at Reyes. The smuggler is already watching him. He raises a brow. “Something wrong?”

“No,” Tris says. “Everything’s fine. Just, uh… thanks, again. For everything. You really didn’t have to do this.”

“It’s just clothing. Not that expensive.”

“Not just that. Housing me and everything. Helping me. I just… You didn’t have to do that. So, thanks.”

“Is there a reason I wouldn’t help the Pathfinder’s son?”

Oh, Tris thinks, feeling something in him deflate. Right. He knows who I am. He’s doing this to get on the Pathfinder’s good side, because that might help him later.

It all makes sense now.

“Right,” he says, looking away. “Sorry. I’ll be sure to tell the Pathfinder how helpful you’ve been.”

Chapter Text

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT: It's Been a Long Day

 

Tris isn’t in a bad mood, exactly, but there’s something gnawing at him. He just feels a little more empty than he did yesterday, and can’t place exactly why. Maybe it’s because he found out this morning that there’s a vault on Kadara and he has to smooth the way for the Pathfinder to come in and play hero. Maybe it’s because talking to his sister always puts him in a foul mood. Maybe it’s because she wouldn’t let him get a word in edgewise about why him talking to Sloane isn’t such a good idea. Or maybe it’s because he realized Reyes doesn’t actually want to be his friend, but is instead being helpful and nice to him because he’s the Pathfinder’s son, and getting in the Pathfinder’s good graces could be beneficial to the smuggler in some way.

There’s a lot reason why today isn’t such a great day, so he can’t pinpoint exactly why he’s in a bad mood. He just is, and isn’t really in the mood to go to a party. He showers and dresses in his new clothes, but it takes a long time before he exhales and leaves the bathroom to join Reyes in the living room, ready for the night. He doesn’t know how long the party will last, or how long he’ll need to stay. He’ll stay at least long enough to talk to Sloane, but then he’ll leave. Reyes can enjoy the night partying without the Pathfinder’s son there to bother him more than he already has.

“Why the long face?” Reyes asks. “Did something happen?”

Tris looks up from his shoes and finds the smuggler watching him, brown eyes inquisitive, a frown on his face. “I’m fine,” Tris says, shrugging. “Nothing happened. Are you ready?”

“I am,” Reyes says. “But you don’t have to look so unhappy about going.”

“Sorry.”

“Is going to a party with me really so bad?”

“It’s fine,” Tris says. “I’m just not big on parties, I guess. And I might die tonight, so there’s that.”

“She won’t kill you at her party.”

“So you say.”

“Would I lie to you?”

“Probably not about getting me killed,” Tris says. He doesn’t tell Reyes that getting him killed might actually get him in good with the Pathfinder quicker than helping him. No need to risk his life more than he already is.

And your dad doesn’t want you dead, or he wouldn’t have brought you to Andromeda. His mind has a point, of course, but it’s hard thinking of his dad getting choked up at the thought of his death.

“Then you can relax,” Reyes says. “I won’t let anything happen to you.”

There’s a part of Tris that wants to sink into those words. No one has ever said them before, not to him. He’s heard them in movies, thought that was all a lie because people just don’t say that in real life, but here Reyes is, saying it to him. His expression is open and calm, genuine in a way Tris isn’t used to seeing, and the sound he releases is some choked exhale of breath as he struggles to find the words to say.

Reyes doesn’t mean it that way, of course. He can’t. He doesn’t know the effect that has on him. He’s just saying it to calm him, because of course he won’t let anything happen to the Pathfinder’s son.

So he doesn’t mean anything by it, he doesn’t mean anything special by it, so Tris can stop feeling like this.

He forces a smile. “Yeah,” he says, hoping his voice doesn’t sound as thin and frail as it does to his own ears. “Thanks.”

Reyes frowns. “Did I do something wrong?”

“No, of course not. Why would you think that?”

“You seem upset, and I don’t understand what changed from this morning.”

“Nothing’s changed,” Tris says. “Talking to my sister always puts me in a mood, and now I have to go to talk to another woman who hates my guts.”

“I’m sure your sister doesn’t hate you.”

“You obviously don’t know her.”

“I don’t, because you won’t tell me anything about anyone.”

“I’m sure you’ll learn about them when you meet them.”

“Am I going to meet them?” There’s a touch of surprise in Reyes’s voice.

It doesn’t add up with what Tris already knows, so for a second it throws him off. “I can introduce you.”

“I mean, if that’s what you want, but I’m okay with being in the shadows.”

Tris’s head spins. “I thought you wanted to meet the Pathfinder.”

“Why would I want that? You make him sound horrible.” Reyes seems genuinely shocked, which matches Tris’s own emotions right now.

“So you aren’t doing this for the Pathfinder?”

But that makes even less sense, because why else would he be so helpful? It all made sense earlier, so why is he throwing a wrench into everything now?

“I’m confused,” Reyes says, frowning. “When did the Pathfinder come into this?”

Tris opens his mouth to say that of course the Pathfinder is in this, because Alec Ryder is in everything, but the words won’t come and he snaps his mouth shut, shaking his head. “We’re going to be late if we don’t leave now.”

“I scheduled us to be fashionably late,” Reyes says. “The party started a while ago.”

“Then we should really get going before her good mood vanishes.”

Tris moves toward the door and pushes outside. The ATV waits for them, despite the fact it’s only about a half hour walk from here to the elevator up to Kadara Port, but it can be dangerous at night so Reyes said he it was better to be safe than sorry. At the time, Tris thought Reyes was simply protecting his investment, trying to keep Tris safe and happy to curry favor with the Pathfinder, but now… now he doesn’t know what to think.

Reyes exits a moment later, shutting the door loudly behind him.

“What’s up with you?” the smuggler demands, standing on the porch instead of following Tris down the ramp.

Tris turns to face him, standing next to the ATV. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“The hell you don’t.”

There’s an edge to the smuggler’s voice now, and Tris frowns. “What’s wrong?”

“That’s what I’ve been asking you.”

“I’m fine,” Tris says. “Look, it’s just been a long day. Sorry if I’m off. Can we just get this over with?”

“Is going to a party with me really so bad?”

It’s the second time Reyes has asked the question, and Tris is beginning to think there’s a different meaning than the one he has. “What’s it matter?”

Reyes sighs, shaking his head. “I guess it doesn’t.”

“I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for the invite and for your help, but won’t this just cause you trouble if you’re associated with me?”

“Sloane and I don’t really see eye to eye anyway, so that doesn’t really matter.”

“Are you sure?”

“Of course.”

Tris shrugs. “Alright then. Still time to back out if you change your mind.”

“My mind is made up. What about yours?”

Tris nods at the ATV. “Should we go?”

“I suppose.”

Reyes approaches the ATV, and Tris throws him a smile. “Can I drive?”

The smuggler quirks a brow.

Tris blinks. “Please?”

“Do you know where we’re going?”

“It’s a straight shot, I think I can handle it.”

“Fine.” Reyes throws him the keys.

“Awesome.”

xXx

The bouncer almost doesn’t let Tris in, until Reyes expresses that he’s with him. The bouncer looks at him and nods to let him through. How much sway does Reyes have around here, anyway? Tris glances at the smuggler briefly, and then looks around as they enter the building.

A giant room greets them, along with flashing lights, dancing and music. Tris can feel the rhythm in his feet from it reverberating through the ground. It’s certainly more upbeat than he expected, but honestly he shouldn’t be surprised. As Reyes told him, his clothing fits right in with everyone instead of having him stand out for appearing ‘too casual’, like Tris worried.

Almost immediately, an angaran female rushes toward them. She smiles, glancing from Reyes to Tris and back again. “I take it this is Tris.”

Tris blinks. “Wait, what?”

The angara laughs, jutting a finger at Reyes. “This one can’t be quiet about you. Isn’t that right, Reyes?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Reyes replies, looking at her blandly.

“You don’t have to lie to me,” the woman says. She looks at Tris and nods at him. “I’m Keema Dohrgun, a friend of Reyes’s. It’s nice to meet you.”

“Uh, likewise,” Tris says. “Though I can’t say Reyes has mentioned you before, so you have me at a bit of a disadvantage.”

He wonders what Reyes has said about him. Wonders if he’s told everyone he’s the Pathfinder’s son. He never told him not to, never said it was this giant secret, because he never thought the Pathfinder would be coming here until this morning. His breath catches in his throat, but thankfully neither of them seem to notice because Keema is looking at Reyes again, smirking at him, and Reyes is glaring back at her.

“This one talks highly of you,” Keema says, nodding toward Reyes. “I can see why you brought him home with you.”

Okay, so Keema has been to Reyes’s house. Maybe they’re an item.

Tris takes a step away from them. “I can, uh, leave you two alone if you want. I need to find Sloane anyway.”

“I feel it should be the other way around and I should leave you two alone, but if you need to talk to Sloane, she’s right over there, on the other side of the room,” Keema says, pointing.

Tris decides not to think about her words because they’re far too confusing, and he needs to get this over with, so he takes his leave and makes his way across the large room. It’s not as easy at he thought it’d be, as people are drunkenly dancing everywhere, and he somehow finds himself maneuvered toward the bar instead of Sloane’s throne he can make out on the other side of the room.

A drink is shoved into his hand before he realizes what’s happened. “Uh, I didn’t order anything,” he says.

“You might as well have some fun,” Reyes says, suddenly behind him.

Tris stiffens and spins to find the smuggler smirking at him. “Are you trying to give me a heart attack?” He looks around. “Where’s Keema?”

“She had other things to attend to. I also have something I have to do here in a minute, but wanted to tell you to wait for me.”

“Wait for you?” Tris repeats, frowning. “What do you mean?”

“Talk to Sloane if you need to, but wait for me before you leave.”

Won’t it be better for Reyes if he just leaves afterward, instead of staying and potentially making a scene? Nevertheless, Tris nods, because he owes Reyes this much at least. “Alright,” he says. “I’ll wait.”

“I’ll try not to be too long.”

“What are you doing, anyway?”

“I just have something to do.”

Tris shrugs, used to people being cryptic. “Fine. Go ahead.”

“Good luck with Sloane. Keema is around, if you need her.”

“I thought you said Sloane won’t shoot me.”

“She won’t, but if anyone else gives you problems, she’s around and she’ll help you.”

“How nice of her.”

“Good luck.”

“Yeah,” Tris says, nodding. “Same to you.”

He watches as Reyes walks away and is lost among the crowd, before he turns to glance back across the room toward Sloane. No one seems to be talking to her right now; she’s slumped sideways in her thrown, her hand holding her head up as her elbow rests against the arm of the chair. She looks almost bored, but she’s smirking, so maybe she’s enjoying herself.

He puts his un-ordered drink down and makes his way through the throng of people. She doesn’t notice him right away, which is a small mercy, he thinks. He stops at her side and waits until she flits her gaze toward him. As soon as her mismatched eyes land on him, her smirk fades and turns into a sneer as she looks him up and down.

“How’d you get in here? You certainly weren’t invited.”

“A friend invited me,” he says, not giving away names because he doesn’t want to get Reyes in trouble for this.

She twitches, clearly an aborted movement. Her fingers curl into fists and her eyes narrow into small, angry slits. “You don’t belong here. You have some nerve, showing your unwanted face here after what you did.”

“I didn’t do anything,” he says.

“Bullshit,” she snorts. “You’re lucky I’m in a decent mood. You get one night. Fuck out of my face, and you can stay.”

“That’s really nice of you,” he says, “but I kind of need to talk to you.”

“I have nothing to say to you, Nexus scum.”

He inhales slowly. “You know I work for the Pathfinder.”

“You’re his puppet, I know.”

He’s been called worse, so he shrugs. “Sure. Well, they got in contact with me, and I don’t know if you’ve heard, but they’ve fixed vaults on a few planets now.”

“I’ve heard. Big fucking deal.”

“Well, apparently there’s a vault here on Kadara.”

“Bullshit.”

“That’s what I thought, too, but, well, you have monoliths, and monoliths lead to vaults, and… you see where I’m going with this?”

She’s getting angry, he can tell. “Do you have a point, or are you just wasting my time?”

“The Pathfinder is coming to Kadara, to fix the vault.”

“He’s not welcome here, and neither are you.”

“I’m aware of that, but-”

“We don’t need your help. We don’t need anyone’s help, you hear me? Certainly not help from the Nexus.”

“I hear you,” Tris says, nodding. “But you see-”

“Are we done yet?”

Why do people always have to cut him off? Why can he never get a word in edgewise?

Anger stirs within him, which is rather unfortunate because this is really not the time or the place for that.

“No, we’re not done yet because I still have stuff to say,” he says, somewhat harshly, and her eyes narrow further. “And you’re going to listen to me because I heard itchy trigger fingers don’t go so well here, and this benefits you, too.”

“You think you know our ways? You dare come here and tell me what to do?” She sits up fully, and pulls her gun from her belt. It’s a pistol, but looks damaging enough, especially at such a close range. Tris stares into the barrel. “Party or not, I will shoot you dead if you don’t fucking shut your face and get out of my sight.”

“I’d love to do that, really. But the Pathfinder is coming, and I just wanted to let you know what he’s doing here.”

“Tough shit. He’s not welcome.”

“He’s just coming to fix the vault, not mess with you.”

“He should have thought about that before he sent you to annoy me.”

“I get it, you hate me. I’m not that fond of you either.”

Her finger wraps around the trigger, but doesn’t squeeze. “You’re trying my patience.”

A few of her men have come closer to them now, sensing her unease. Tris swallows, confidence wavering.

She’s going to kill me, he thinks, much as he did this morning.

“They’re just coming to fix the vault, and then they’ll be on their way, and you won’t have to worry about acidic water anymore. You can take the credit for yourself if you, I don’t care, no one else has to know we’re even here. Won’t that make you the best leader in their eyes?”

“I don’t care what they think, and we’re doing just fine without your help.”

“Look, like it or not, the Pathfinder’s coming. I can’t stop it, you can’t stop it. I tried to tell him this was a bad idea, but they won’t listen to me.”

“So you’re low on the food chain, big deal. It’s no surprise to me.”

“I know, I know. I’m a lackey, I’m a puppet, blah, blah, you’ve said already.” He shakes his head. “But is picking a fight with the Nexus really the best idea? You already lost that fight once and got sent here, where there’s hardly any drinking water. Just letting the Pathfinder fix the planet is better than arguing, right? You have your people to think about, here. Sure, you have drinking water now, but how hard is it to come by? It could be so much easier, and everyone would love you for it.”

She pauses, and then slowly lowers her gun. As she does so, the men around her take a step back, no longer suffocating him in their presence.

“Fine,” she says. “But the Pathfinder needs to come see me when he lands so we can hash out all the details, and I can get his guarantee that they will leave afterward and won’t return. I can’t trust a lackey’s promise.”

Well, Tris thinks, shit.

“Now get out of my face, before I really get annoyed. I tend to shoot the messenger.”

Tris nods, and leaves her be. He doubts he’s going to get anything better from her. Great. Now he has to call his family back and let them know they’re going to have to speak with Sloane anyway. They’re not going to be happy about it.

He debates leaving. After all this, he’s ready to go, and doesn’t feel inclined to stay. He prefers to get out of Sloane’s line of fire lest she change her mind, but he promised Reyes he’d wait for him.

He looks around, but doesn’t see the smuggler anywhere. He does see Keema, though.

“Have you seen Reyes?” he asks, walking up to her. “He said to wait for him but I don’t know where he is, and I’m ready to go.”

“He’s around,” she says.

“Well. Tell him I said sorry.”

“Wait,” she says, as he turns to leave. He looks back at her. “Don’t tell him I told you, but he’s in a back room, that way.”

She gestures, and Tris frowns.

“What’s that way?”

“Why don’t you go see? I’m sure he could use your help.”

“Help with what?”

“Go find out.”

He sighs. There’s a guard in front of that doorway, so he doesn’t think Reyes should be back there, and there’s no way he can get back there himself to find him. Keema seems to notice his look because she strolls toward the guard and strikes up a conversation. Tris slips in behind him and goes through the doorway.

A hallway greets him. He ducks into the first room on the left, filled with boxes, and finds Reyes hunched over a box in the back, muttering about serial numbers.

“What’s this?” Tris asks, frowning.

Reyes flinches and looks up, holding onto bits of wiring and metal.

“Are you stealing from Sloane?” he asks, a knot forming in his stomach as certain thoughts line up in his mind. It finally makes sense. “That’s why you brought me here to talk to Sloane. You just wanted a distraction.”

“What?” Reyes asks. “No.”

“You used me.”

“I didn’t,” Reyes says, putting the items back down into the box and stepping toward Tris.

Tris takes a step back, a whirlwind of emotions running through him. “You know she almost shot me? Had the gun to my face and everything.”

“What?”

“You don’t even care, do you? You just wanted to steal from her, and used me to do it.”

“It’s not like that,” Reyes says, eyes wide as he watches him.

Tris shakes his head. Laughs, but it sounds as hollow as he feels. “At least it makes sense now, why you were helping me.”

“Tris-”

“It’s okay, really. I’m kinda used to it by now.”

At least it makes sense to him now, even if it’s not what he expected, or wanted to hear.

Footsteps echo in the hallway. Reyes’s eyes widen further. He’s not supposed to be here. Neither of them are supposed to be here. If they get caught, Sloane will probably kill them both outright, no questions asked, potential deal with the Pathfinder be damned.

Tris scowls at Reyes and takes a step toward him. Reyes’s eyes latch onto his own as he frowns worriedly.

“Don’t read into this,” Tris says, and grabs the smuggler, tugging him toward him.

Their lips meet as the person comes around the corner.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE: I Gotta Get Out of Here

 

Tris expects the tense set of Reyes’s body, expects the firm line of his mouth. It’s a surprise, after all.

What he doesn’t expect is for the smuggler to completely take over the kiss and wrap his own arms around him. Next thing he knows, his back’s against the wall and Reyes’s tongue is at his lips, gently but firmly prying them open, and it’s not altogether unpleasant.

Just surprising.

And wrong, because Reyes used him, could have gotten him killed, and he’s angry. So it’s not okay to be doing this right now.

He shoves the smuggler away and looks over to make sure the person isn’t there anymore. Likely it was someone coming to check the place, a guard, and they found them just in here making out and thought it was a drunken escapade, leaving them alone to ‘finish’.

When he looks back at Reyes, big brown eyes are watching him carefully.

Tris runs his tongue over his lips. Reyes’s eyes track the movement.

“Well,” Tris says. “That was… unexpected.”

“I’m sorry,” Reyes says.

“I mean, I guess it was necessary to get them to leave, so I can’t really be angry about it.”

Otherwise Sloane would kill them both, so the kiss saved their lives. So he can’t really complain.

“No,” Reyes says, shaking his head, but holding his gaze. “Not about that. I’m sorry you thought I brought you here to distract Sloane so I could steal from her. I’m sorry you think I was just using you.”

Tris’s head spins. “Well, weren’t you?”

“Of course I wasn’t! What kind of person do you take me for?”

“I don’t know! What else was I supposed to think?”

“That I was your friend and just wanted to help you?”

“You want to curry favor with the Pathfinder, or you want to steal from Sloane,” Tris says. “Those are the only options that make sense.”

“Why can’t I just be doing this for you?”

“Why would you?”

Reyes stares at him. “Wow,” he says, shaking his head again. “Your family really fucked you up, didn’t they?”

“What are you talking about?”

“I like you,” Reyes says. “I have the whole time. I just wanted to help you.”

“You…” Tris stares at him, the thought refusing to penetrate his mind. “You like me?”

What does that even mean?

“Well, I have been flirting with you.”

“That’s… fair.” Reyes has been flirting with him, but Tris just thought it was all in good fun, and nothing serious. “But you barely know me.”

“I know you enough to want to help you,” Reyes says. “I know you enough to decide I like you.”

“We just met!”

“And I like what I’ve seen.”

This is… way too much. Entirely too much. How the hell is he supposed to wrap his head around this?

He takes a step back. Not necessarily away from Reyes, but from this conversation, because he can’t right now.

Reyes’s eyes widen. “Wait,” he says, taking a step after him. “Don’t go.”

“I need some air,” Tris says, turning away from him.

Wait,” Reyes says again.

His head is throbbing. Sharp, painful. The world spins around him. Tris staggers, using the wall for support as he blinks to clear his vision.

“Tris?” Reyes is suddenly right next to him. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Tris says, attempting to shake off the dizziness. “I just need some air.”

“Wait a minute,” Reyes says. “Let me grab what I need, and we can get out of here. Just wait there a minute. Take it easy.”

There’s a hand on his arm briefly, and then it leaves. He listens, eyes closed, as Reyes walks away. Listens as he messes around in a box again, lifting and pulling and shifting, and then hears a panel open. He pries his eyes open and finds Reyes in front of him again, but there’s nothing in his hands.

“What…?” he asks. “Where…?”

“I sent it out,” Reyes says.

“Sent it out?”

“To a friend of mine waiting on the other side.”

“You sure have a lot of friends.”

Reyes shrugs and grabs his arm, pulling him away from the wall to lean on him instead. “Let’s get you out of here.”

“Oh no,” Tris groans as they head toward the room’s exit.

“What?” Reyes asks. “What’s wrong?”

“That guard saw us making out and now I can’t walk. You know what he’s going to think.”

Reyes smirks. “He’s going to think I was amazing, and we’re going to let him think that.”

“Fuck you,” Tris says, but he laughs as he says it.

They walk past the guard who gives them a sly smile as they do so. They make it out of the building before Tris feels something in Reyes’s pocket.

“Is that a bottle in your pocket?” he asks.

“Maybe I’m just happy to see you,” Reyes says.

He throws a withering glare at the man holding him upright. The smirk fades from Reyes’s face.

“Seriously, what’s wrong with you?” Reyes asks. “You were fine earlier. Did something happen?”

“You mean other than Sloane threatening to kill me? Other than you shoving your tongue down my throat? No, not really.”

“I think I should be offended if you’re going to place those two together like they’re on the same scale,” Reyes says. “And it wasn’t down your throat.”

“Semantics. And why do you have a bottle in your pocket?”

“It’s a bottle of whiskey from the Milky Way.”

“… You mean you have a bottle of 600 year old whiskey?”

“That depends. Do you like 600 year old whiskey?”

“You’re sharing.”

Reyes laughs, tightening his hold on him as they make their way toward the elevator. “I could think of worse fates. But seriously, what’s wrong with you?”

“I don’t know. It just happens sometimes.”

“What does?”

“I don’t know. I pass out, I guess.”

“Pass out? You don’t sound very alarmed about that.”

“I thought I was past this.” At least, he hoped he was, but apparently not. Dr. T’Perro is going to be so thrilled.

“Why do you pass out?”

“Like I said, I don’t know. My brainwaves are…” he trails off, wondering why he’s telling Reyes all of this. Then again, the smuggler is easy to talk to.

“Are what? What’s wrong?”

He sounds like he really wants to know, like he’s actually worried.

Tris sighs. “They’re just high for a human, ever since the vault. So I get headaches and pass out sometimes. I thought I was better.”

“So you’re going to pass out on me?”

“I don’t think so, I just got dizzy. I can probably walk on my own now.”

Reyes doesn’t release him. Tris doesn’t try all that hard to move away, either.

They get into the elevator and the doors close behind them, locking them inside. On the ride down, Reyes’s grip loosens somewhat, but the second Tris tries to step away it tightens again.

“You can let go, you know.”

“I could,” Reyes says.

“… but you’re not going to?”

“Are you arguing?”

“I mean… no?”

It’s not like anyone’s held him because they want to before, after all. He’s not really sure how to feel about this. It’s new, and strange, and he and Reyes barely know each other but it doesn’t feel entirely wrong, either, and it’s just a big confusing mess. Besides, what if he gets dizzy again on the way to the ATV?

Oh, shit. The ATV. What if he gets dizzy on the ATV?

Wait, who even said they were going to get back on the ATV? Who said he’s going back to Reyes’s house?

Who said you’re not?

Oh, fuck. What has he gotten himself into?

The elevator stops and opens, and they exit. The ATV waits for them just outside the shadow of the mountain, just outside of the slums. They head toward it.

“Wait,” Tris says, tugging against Reyes’s hold until the smuggler loosens his grip and frowns at him. He doesn’t quite let go, but makes it clear that Tris can leave if he wants. Tris steps back, watching the smuggler. “Did you mean it?”

“Mean what?”

“That you want to help me because you just want to, and that you like me?”

“Of course I meant it.”

Tris exhales slowly. “But we just met.”

“Things move fast here,” Reyes says, like that explains everything.

“You know nothing about me.”

“I know your name is Tris Ryder, you’re the Pathfinder’s son, and you’re running from something. You won’t tell me what happened with you and your family, but they did kidnap you to bring you here, against your will. You’re angry with them but still want to help them and do as they say. I don’t know if that’s just the kind of person you are, or if you feel conditioned to help them, but even so, I admire you for it.”

This is all a little too much. Tris’s head spins again.

“I know your armor is red but you seem to like blue. You care about others more than yourself. Care about them enough to bury random strangers you had no part in killing, and then you care enough to bury their killers, too. That’s rare around here, unheard of, even. I might not know a lot about you, but I know enough.”

“But I’m…”

“You’re what?”

Broken, he thinks. I’m so broken.

He feels broken. He feels like a million shattered pieces desperately trying to fit back together, but there are slivers missing and he just won’t ever be whole again. But the words get lodged in his throat, and he just shakes his head. Reyes steps closer.

“Tell me you don’t feel the same, and I’ll leave you alone. I’ll still help you, but it doesn’t have to be anything more.”

“Anything more?”

“We can just be friends,” Reyes says.

What else is he offering? A fling? That’s all they really have time for, right? The Pathfinder will be here in two days, and after they fix the vault, they won’t ever be back because that’s the deal the Pathfinder is supposed to make with Sloane. So unless Sloane changes her mind, he doesn’t see himself coming back here.

Unless he leaves the ship and stays here. The thought appears unbidden, but there’s a pang of longing that shoots through him. He’s felt more at peace here than he has anywhere else in Andromeda so far, but Sloane would never let him stay, so it doesn’t really matter how he feels. He can’t stay here.

Reyes must know that. So what is he offering? It must just be a fling.

Tris hasn’t ever really been all that into flings. He’s had a few, but they were just broken things meant to last but they shattered instead. Throwing Reyes in that category feels wrong, but at the same time, isn’t a little happiness better than nothing at all? Doesn’t he deserve something, after all he’s been through? It’ll definitely help distract him from the vault, but saying he wants a fling with Reyes to distract himself feels wrong.

He doesn’t know what feels right. He doesn’t know what to do or say, because he never expected to be in this position in the first place. He’s completely unprepared for this.

He thinks briefly of Dillon. Feels guilt stir in his stomach, like he’s betraying him, but Dillon is 600 years dead and gone.

And Dillon never held him like that. Never clung to him like Reyes did a few minutes ago.

“Tris?” Reyes asks, and there’s a touch of nervousness to his voice. Tris realizes he’s been quiet too long.

“I don’t know,” Tris says. “I don’t really do flings.”

“That’s all I do,” Reyes admits.

“And I doubt I’ll be back after the vault. Sloane won’t allow it.”

“Sloane doesn’t speak for everyone.”

“She seems to,” Tris says, shrugging. “And she runs the port.”

“For now. But don’t let Sloane influence you. What do you want, right now?”

“I don’t know. I like you, and you’ve been really nice, and you’re attractive as hell, but at the same time, I just… I don’t do flings.”

Reyes is quiet for a moment, chewing thoughtfully on his lower lip, before he sighs. “It doesn’t have to be a fling.”

His words are quiet, hushed, almost like he’s afraid of saying them.

Tris stares at him. “Are you suggesting we date?”

“I could give it a try. I’ve dated before.”

“That’s not… I mean, that’s cool, but… what good would that do? Sloane won’t let me come back here.”

“What if Sloane wasn’t in charge?”

Tris frowns. “What do you mean?”

“Take Sloane out of the equation for a minute. Forget about her. What do you want?”

“I mean… I don’t know. I really don’t. I never expected to come to Andromeda. I had a life back home, I had… I had a relationship, of sorts, with this guy and things were… things were okay, you know? And then I woke up here, and everyone I knew is dead, and I just never expected to be here.”

Reyes remains quiet, letting him vent, which he appreciates. At the same time, though, he wishes someone would shut him up because he can’t do this today. Tomorrow, he tells himself. Tomorrow you can break down, but today you have to keep it together, and this is not together.

“And no one wants me here,” he continues. “My family doesn’t want me on the ship, doesn’t want me with them, so why the hell did they bring me here? They left me to rot in a vault, didn’t even bother to look for me according to the others, just wrote me off as dead and didn’t fucking care, and when I got back they just kept saying I was lying to them. Every step of the way, it’s a fight with them, and I just don’t belong there, but I can’t be anywhere else either because I never wanted to be here, so don’t know what-” he cuts himself off, taking in a ragged breath. “I just want to belong somewhere.”

There’s a stifling silence after he finishes the words, and he can’t bring himself to look at Reyes and see the disgust in his gaze. It must be disgust, he tells himself. He’s pathetic. So many people have it so much worse than him, so he really shouldn’t be complaining about the life that he does have, but he can’t help it because he’s just so angry

“You can belong here,” Reyes says. His words are soft and quiet, but they shatter the silence nevertheless, and leave the breath catching in Tris’s throat as his gaze snaps toward the smuggler. Brown eyes meet blue and hold his gaze. “All you have to do is tell me you want it.”

“I can’t,” Tris says, feeling his vision blur as he swallows down the lump in his throat. “I can’t belong here. Sloane would never allow it.”

“I can handle Sloane,” Reyes says.

“How?”

“You don’t need to worry about it.”

“What do you mean?”

“Tris,” Reyes says, and Tris snaps his mouth shut. “Just tell me what you want.”

He doesn’t know. He wants to belong somewhere, but he can’t belong here. He won’t belong anywhere here, because he was never meant to be here in the first place. He was meant to die 600 years ago. He was meant to live in the Milky Way.

“I want to go home,” he whispers.

Please. I just want to go home.

Reyes watches him for a moment. Tris works to control his breathing, because he will not fall apart. He will not break down.

“Alright,” Reyes says quietly. “Let’s go home.”

It’s not what he meant, and he’s sure Reyes knows that, but the words shatter him in all the right ways. He swallows thickly and manages a small nod, and Reyes grabs his hand and together they make their way toward the ATV.

Reyes drives, and Tris climbs onto the back and clings to the smuggler, burying his face into his back to hide his face from the wind, and from the world. I don’t deserve this, he thinks. He doesn’t deserve this kindness, because he’s a pathetic waste of time, and that’s all he’s ever been.

They stop outside of Reyes’s house. Reyes turns off the ATV and turns enough to face Tris, and Tris lifts his head, hoping he doesn’t look as wrecked as he feels.

Reyes smiles at him. Tris offers a half-smile back, even if it feels forced.

They climb off the ATV and head inside without saying a word.

Tris stands in the living room, wishing he didn’t feel so awkward and out of place. He doesn’t belong here, he tells himself. Even if it’s felt nice the past few days. Even if he likes Reyes’s company. Even if the couch is comfortable. He can’t stay here, and Reyes can’t really want him here.

Reyes disappears down the hallway. Tris contemplates fleeing, but where would he go? Maybe back to Tartarus, but that’s Reyes’s private room, so he can’t really go there to hide. Maybe Kralla’s Song? No, too open. He doesn’t really have anywhere to go because he doesn’t belong here, and he doesn’t belong anywhere.

Reyes reappears with blankets and a change of clothes. Tris recognizes them as the clothes he’s been sleeping in while he’s staying at Reyes’s house. They’re just an old white T-shirt and gray sweat pants, but in that moment they’re so much more, and he closes his eyes to hide the moisture building there, wondering why he feels so broken right now.

He keeps trying to push it aside like he always does, but today it’s not working.

Tomorrow finally became today.

Reyes stands next to him, and lightly pushes the clothes into his arms. Tris accepts them automatically, and opens his eyes as Reyes moves to the couch, fluffing the pillow Tris has been using.

They still haven’t spoken. The silence is starting to get to him.

“What do you want?” Tris asks finally.

Reyes glances at him, putting the pillow down next to him. “What do you mean?”

“You keep asking what I want, but what do you want?”

“I’d like to kiss you again, but I don’t think you’re in the right mind for that right now. So we’ll just sit here instead.”

“Just sit there?” Tris repeats. “And do what?”

“We can talk,” Reyes says. “You can tell me who broke you so much, and how I can help you.”

That damn lump is back in his throat, and he wishes he didn’t feel so pathetic right now. “You can’t fix me,” he says.

“You won’t know until you let me try.”

“Why would you want to? I’m so broken, you said it yourself.”

“We’re all broken here,” Reyes says. “I grew up on the streets. I’ve gone from fling to fling, from dead end to dead end, and I came here to get away from that. If you’re broken, so am I, but everyone’s broken in their own way. If they’re not, they’re lying.”

“That’s… an interesting point of view.”

“I’d hate to think I wasn’t unique,” Reyes says, smiling.

Tris snorts. “Quoting me now, are you?”

“I could think of worse people to quote.”

Tris shakes his head. “Stop that.”

“Stop what?”

“Stop acting like I’m some… some great person. I’m not.”

“Who says you’re not?”

“I’m just not, okay? I’m pathetic and expendable and-”

“Who says you’re expendable?”

Tris snaps his mouth shut.

“Your family?” Reyes asks, eyes narrowed into small slits. “Is that why you don’t get along? Do they use you as cannon fodder?”

Tris winces, but doesn’t say anything.

“Do they really? Those fucking assholes.”

“You don’t know me,” Tris says. “You don’t know them either.”

“So you’re saying they’re right to use you like that?”

“I mean… no? Of course not. I just… it’s the way it is. I’m used to it.”

“You shouldn’t be used to it,” Reyes says firmly. “You don’t have to do that, you know? You don’t have to let them treat you like that.”

“It’s not like that,” Tris says.

“Not like that?” Reyes repeats. “How is it not?”

“You make it sound like they’re… I don’t know. Abusing me. And they’re not.”

“They are.”

Tris shakes his head. “It’s not like that. They just… it’s just complicated, okay? But they’re not hurting me.”

“Abuse isn’t always physical.”

“It’s not like that,” Tris repeats.

“I don’t know what they did to convince you they were right to abuse you, but your head is seriously twisted.”

“I told you I was fucked up,” Tris says, looking away.

“I didn’t mean it like that and you know it. Look at me.”

Tris keeps his gaze focused on the far wall.

“Look at me,” Reyes repeats, firmer this time.

“Look,” a voice echoes in his mind.

He winces, head throbbing.

“Look,” Reyes says.

“Look and see,” the voice says at the same time.

Their words reverberate through his mind, ricocheting off crevices and cracks and walls, and Tris grabs his head as the world spins around him. He looks at Reyes only to find that he’s decided to multiply. Three of Reyes is much better than three of Erin, he thinks.

Reyes is saying something, but the words are lost in the chaos that is his mind right now.

He blinks.

At least, that was the plan.

His blink instead turns into a deep sleep he doesn’t mean to have.

 

Chapter Text

CHAPTER THIRTY: If You Call, I Will Answer

 

 “I hate that you’re suffering here.”

The voice is warm, familiar, but also with an edge to it he doesn’t quite remember. Nevertheless, every broken shard breaks free inside of him, piercing him in ways he didn’t think possible, and he turns to look at Mom.

“Mom?” he whispers, staring at her with watery eyes. She looks the same as he remembers, with graying hair and warm eyes. He takes a small step toward her, like she’s a mirage in a desert. “You’re not… I’m dreaming?”

He has to be dreaming, because he has very vivid memories of his mother dying.

“Something like that,” the mirage says. “Does that make it better, or worse?”

“I don’t know,” he murmurs, shaking his head, unable to tear his gaze away from her.

“You worry I will vanish, but this is just an image created from your mind. We thought it the best way to approach you, since our other attempts have failed.”

“Wait… what?”

What is going on? Where is he?

He spins in a slow circle, looking around, but all the backgrounds are filled with green, data-like lines. The vault. He’s in the vault. In the background, a storm rages. He flits his gaze back toward ‘Mom’ and frowns. “What’s going on? Who are you?”

It’s not his mom. His mother was never in a vault.

And if this is just a weird combination of images in a dream, or a nightmare, it feels a little too clear. He thought he forgot Mom’s voice, but there it is, clear as day. It reminds him so strongly of home he has to take a moment to catch his breath.

Not-Mom smiles at him, and it’s her smile down to the last little detail, like someone plucked her out of the past and dropped her in front of him. “We thought this form would be the most appropriate to speak with you, but as you have guessed, we are not your mother.”

“We?” Tris asks.

Not-Mom’s gaze slips downward, toward his hand resting at his side. He curls his fingers instinctively, flexing the digits, before he lifts his hand and looks hard at his palm. The circle is red and glowing, but it doesn’t hurt. He stares at it for a moment before he looks back at Not-Mom.

“Did you do this to me?” he asks. “Who are you?”

Her gaze slips past him, to somewhere just behind him. He turns on his heel and finds a console behind him, eerily familiar in its strangeness. A lump forms in his throat, and his feet move on their own. He takes the few steps toward the console and stops in front of it, marked palm already lifting to touch it.

He stops short of resting his hand flat against it, and looks over his shoulder.

Mom’s gone, but then she was never really there to begin with, was she? This isn’t real.

If it’s not real, there’s no danger in pressing his hand to the console. It’s not like he has any real choice in the matter anyway, as his hand is already moving as though called to it, magnetized to it. The console’s surface is smooth and cool beneath his burning palm. A wave of energy leaps from the console in a wide arcing circle, stealing his breath away and mussing up his hair.

He has the feeling of ghostly fingers trailing across his cheek. For a moment, he’s ten-years-old again and just came home with a bruise on his face, and his mother ghosts her fingers across the darkened skin in a loving caress. He closes his eyes, and the ghostly fingers trail away.

“You are worthy,” his mother’s voice whispers in his ear, but when he turns his head, there’s no one there. He tries to move but his body is frozen where it stands, his hand held to the console, and all he can do is move his head to look around a little.

“Worthy?” he asks, confused. “Why can’t I move? What’s going on?”

“We created the vaults to help the planets, as you have discovered.”

“We?”

“But too many wished to use them for their own gain, so we sealed them, and hid them away. Only those worthy could activate the monoliths and rediscover the location of the vaults.”

Another pulse expands from the console, a burst of air hitting him in the face, stealing his breath again. The air isn’t cold or hot, pleasant or unpleasant, it’s just there.

“And then you came along.”

“I didn’t do anything,” he says quickly. “Okay, I mean, I hacked a few consoles, but-”

“When you touched the primary console, we discovered your soul. You wish to help, not to harm, unlike those who came before you. You are worthy.”

“What are you saying?” Tris asks. This is all a lot to take in, and he waits for the usual headache to start, but nothing happens. He feels fine. Even his burning palm doesn’t hurt. Instead, the heat is almost a relief. Like a fire on a cold, dark night.

“Journey to the vault on Kadara,” his mother says, in that quiet, advice-giving way she’s always had. A shiver inches up his spine, because he wants that. He wants her advice. He wants to talk to her again and hug her tight and have her tell him everything will be all right. But this is a dream, and she’s not really here.

“Kadara?” he asks, frowning. “How do you know where I am?”

“We combined with you, when you touched the console. Where you go, we go.”

“That’s… creepy. I don’t feel any different.”

That’s a lie, he tells himself. He’s felt different since the vault. His biotics are stronger, better, more easy to activate, and of course he can’t forget the strange dreams, speaking in a language he’s never learned, and all the headaches and blackouts.

He is different, even if he doesn’t realize how much yet.

“I didn’t ask for this,” he says. “I didn’t want any of this. I just touched a console, that’s it.”

He remembers touching a console, before the storm surged around them. He remembers just resting his hand against it so he could bend down to look or a panel and wiring, and then the console just lit up. He remembers a strange sensation swarming over him. A sense of calm, mixed with confusion. And then the storm exploded.

He didn’t even mean to touch the console. How can this be happening?

“Those who seek power will never receive it. Those who don’t seek it are worthy.”

“That makes no sense.”

“Go to the vault on Kadara,” his mother says again. Hearing her say all of this cryptic stuff is heartbreaking, really. She was always real with him. Alec’s the one who is cryptic. “There, you will find answers.”

“Why can’t you just tell me, if you’re with me?”

“We try, but we cause you harm. We can speak more easily there, and all will be explained.”

“Why do I have to go? The Pathfinder is coming.”

“We know of your ‘Pathfinder’, but he is not worthy. He has help, and we grant him minimal access, but we have seen his heart and it is twisted. There will come a time when this will fail him, as his helper fights us to convince us he is worthy, but have seen worthy, and he is not it.”

Tris’s head spins. All this talk of ‘worthy’ and unworthy. They think he’s worthy? Why? Because he touched a console and ran for his life? “If I’m so worthy, why did a storm try to kill me?”

“All will become clear in Kadara’s vault. We will meet you there, and in the meantime try to keep our interference to a minimum. We apologize for causing you pain, but your body and language are strange to us. It took time to learn.”

“Wait. So the headaches and everything? That was you… trying to talk to me? Trying to learn about me?”

“We seek to understand those who are not understood.”

“You really like riddles, don’t you?”

A warmth settles around him. He still can’t move his hand, but in that moment, he feels safe. Like a blanket has settled over him. Like his mom is just behind him.

She’s not, because this isn’t real, but for just a moment, he can dream.

“A word of advice, young one.”

“Yeah?” he asks, voice thin and frail around the lump in his throat.

“Do not bring the imposter. We do not wish for you to be caught in the crossfire, as we will no longer tolerate the unworthy.”

“Wait. You want me to come to the vault, alone?”

That’s… not something he wants to do.

“You need not be alone, but do not bring the imposter.”

“I can’t even find the vault by myself,” Tris says. “Only the Pathfinder can manipulate the monoliths to find it. I can’t do that.”

“Have you tried?”

He stops. Thinks for a moment. Remembers Eos, and him standing back while the Pathfinder did everything. “Well, no,” he says slowly.

“Then try.”

“I can’t just tell him not to come with me. He’ll be here in two days.” If this thing, whatever it is, has been with him since the vault on Eos, then it must know that there is no talking to his father. There is no convincing him to stay put. Sure, he stayed out of the vault on Eos, but that was because they didn’t know what they did or what would happen. Now they know, and the Pathfinder won’t just sit idly by while Tris fixes the planet.

“If he comes in, we will retaliate. He is not welcome.”

Well. That’s threatening. If the Pathfinder goes into the vault, what will happen? Will another storm surge and kill him?

“Our time is short,” Not-Mom says. It claws at his chest, hearing her sound like that, like she’s saying goodbye all over again. “We do not wish to cause you further harm. Find us in the vault.”

And then his hand his free, and he spins away from the console to find only darkness all around him.

And then he wakes up.

xXx

The first thing he says upon opening his eyes is a stranger hovering over him. Their face is entirely too close to his own, and he yelps as he scrambles away, heart hammering in his chest. The man pulls away, looking at the fresh readings on his omni-tool as he stops waving it over Tris. Beyond the man, there is movement, and Tris’s gaze snaps toward Reyes as the smuggler hurries forward.

“You’re awake,” Reyes says, crouching down next to him. “Are you all right?”

Tris looks around the room. Definitely Reyes’s living room. He’s on the couch, now bunched up in one corner instead of sprawled flat on it like he was, and there are two people crouched next to him at the edge of it now. He swallows thickly, struggling to find his voice. “What happened?” he asks, hating the raw, wrecked sound of his voice.

“You passed out,” Reyes tells him. “You know, that thing you said wouldn’t happen because you were just dizzy.”

“Oh,” he says, nodding. “Right.”

He remembers, now. He passed out in Reyes’s living room, and then… Mom? A dream. A dream, in the vault. As the words from the dream trickle back through his mind, he shoots to his feet. He has to talk to his father, he has to find the vault, he has to… sit back down.

The world spins. His breath catches in his throat. His legs sink under his weight and he sits back on the couch, teetering a little close to the edge. Reyes’s hand is on his shoulder, guiding him down, and the other man is waving his omni-tool scanner over him again.

“Who is this?” Tris asks, waving the man off.

“This is Dr. Nakamoto. He works out of the slums, helping people. I called him when you passed out.”

“Uh… thanks,” Tris says, uncertainly. “You really didn’t have to.”

Dr. Nakamoto stands, smirking at him. “You seem fine. Brainwaves are high, but Reyes said that is normal for you. He also said you have passed out in the past, but that you thought you were past it. Is that true?”

“I mean… he’s not wrong,” Tris says, looking away. “But I’m fine, really.”

“Such high brainwaves are not fine. You’re looking at migraines, at best, and death at worst.”

Well. At least he’s blunt, Tris supposes. Right to the point. “I know,” Tris mutters. “I’ve heard it before, but I’m fine.”

“You could die from this, and you don’t care?” Reyes asks, frown evident in his voice.

“Well, there’s not a whole lot I can do about it, is there? Besides, the brainwaves were higher before but they leveled off a little,” Tris says, shrugging.

“I need to run a few tests. If you could come back to-”

“No,” Tris says firmly, shooting a look at the doctor. “No offense or anything. I appreciate you looking over me, but I’m okay. I have a doctor already, and she said I was stable. I’m fine. Thanks, but no thanks.”

He doesn’t want more tests. He doesn’t want more anything. He just wants to get to the vault and figure out what’s going on, but he has no idea where to start.

He looks at Reyes. Reyes has seen the monoliths. He can help.

Question is, will he even want to? And am I really going to do this?

What if he doesn’t? What if he tells the Pathfinder Sloane won’t let him traverse the planet? Will that work to keep his father safely out of the vault? Probably not, he realizes. Alec will take it as a challenge, and will talk to Sloane himself. Not before he lets Tris know how unhappy he is with his performance, of course. And then Sloane will just tell him that she did give him permission, but wants to speak with him first, and Tris will never hear the end of it. Not to mention, it won’t keep the Pathfinder out of the vault.

“I guess I can’t make you seek treatment,” Dr. Nakamoto says. He looks at Reyes and quirks a brow. “I take it the threats on my life are over, and I can leave?”

“Wait, threats?” Tris asks, frowning at the smuggler.

“Oh yes,” Dr. Nakamoto says, rolling his eyes. “He said he would personally cut me to pieces if I didn’t come out here to check on you. Even gave me a time frame to be here by. It’s not what I expected to hear when the vid-call woke me up in the middle of the night.”

“I’m sorry,” Tris says. “That was really unnecessary.” He tosses Reyes a small glare.

Reyes shrugs. “I regret nothing.”

Tris shakes his head and looks back at the good doctor. “Thanks again,” he says. “And don’t worry, I’m sure Reyes didn’t mean anything by it. He won’t cut you into pieces.”

“I should hope not. Take care of yourself, and don’t be shy if you’re feeling worse later. Reyes knows where to find me, although I hope the threats are left out next time.”

“No threats,” Tris says, nodding. “Promise.”

“Good. Then I guess I’ll leave now.” Dr. Nakamoto nods at the two of them and then heads out of the living room.

Tris quirks a brow at Reyes. “Threats, really?”

“You passed out mid-conversation,” Reyes says, shrugging again. “Collapsed right there on my floor. Excuse me for thinking something was wrong with that.”

“I’m not blaming you for calling a doctor,” Tris says, shaking his head. “I mean, thanks for that. Really. I appreciate it. But the threats were unnecessary.”

“He didn’t want to come,” Reyes says. “I simply convinced him it would be in his best interests if he made a timely arrival.”

“Still. Even if I’m bleeding out, there’s no need to threaten him.”

Reyes’s eyes narrow. “I see you altered sense of worth has reared its head again.”

Worth. The word floats through his mind, knocking against rampant thoughts.

“There’s something I haven’t told you,” Tris says quietly, looking away. He’s not sure if telling Reyes is the right idea, or if Reyes will just think he’s crazy and throw him out. He hasn’t tossed him aside so far, so hopefully he won’t now, either.

“And what is that?” Reyes asks, sitting on the arm of the couch next to him.

“When I was in the vault, I… I touched a console and something weird happened. I didn’t think much of it because no one else mentioned it either, not after the storm and everything, so I just… kind of forgot about it.”

“You touched a console,” Reyes repeats. “What happened that was so weird?”

“I don’t know. It’s kind of hard to explain. It was just a feeling I had. And then, when I got back to the ship, I kept hearing… voices.”

“Voices?”

“Like… I don’t know. In my dreams there’d be a weird voice telling me to do something. Sometimes I heard it when I wasn’t sleeping, either.”

“That sounds…”

Tris nods, exhaling shakily. “Crazy, I know.”

That’s why he never bothered telling anyone. It just makes him sound crazy. Hearing random voices, combined with the high brainwaves, would lead them to assume he was hallucinating or something. It would get him thrown back in med-bay and held there while Lexi ran test after test, and that’s not what he wanted. So he didn’t tell anyone.

Maybe he should have, but if Not-Mom from the dream is right, there’s not much they could do to fix it anyway.

“But you think it’s not crazy now?” Reyes asks. “Did something happen?”

“When I passed out, I… I had another dream.”

“Another dream,” the smuggler repeats, almost flatly.

He doesn’t believe me, Tris thinks, but keeps going because it’s too late to stop now. “Yeah, and I understood more of what it was saying this time.” He doesn’t mention the fact that it looked like his mom. “It said I have to go to the vault.”

“Aren’t you going there anyway? With the Pathfinder?” There’s a certain inflection in his voice when he says Pathfinder. Like it puts a bad taste in his mouth.

“That was the plan,” Tris says. “But the voice said the Pathfinder shouldn’t go in the vault, or bad things could happen.”

“So… what?” Reyes asks, quirking a brow. “It wants you go there, alone?”

“Not alone, exactly. Just not with the Pathfinder.”

“Sounds crazy,” Reyes tells him, frowning.

Tris looks away again, finding a spot to stare at on the ground. There’s a small stain against the wooden floor, a dark spot in the brown. “I know. I am probably crazy. But I have to do it.”

“You have to find the vault yourself, and go in alone.” That same, flat tone.

“Yeah.”

“No,” Reyes says. Tris looks over to see him shaking his head, scowling at Tris. “If what you say isn’t crazy and you really did hear a voice telling you to go to the vault, you don’t listen to it. It’s obviously a trap.”

“I don’t think it is,” Tris says, though the thought did cross his mind. He just didn’t get that feeling from the dream, though. He remembers the sense of comfort and warmth, a sense of… belonging. He might have been projecting what he wants to feel, but at the same time he can’t ignore it.

“It’s crazy! Going could be suicide. You said yourself there’s a storm in the vault and it almost killed you last time.”

“I know. But I’m still going to go.”

“You’re crazy.”

“Probably.”

“And suicidal.”

Tris shrugs. “Debatable.”

Reyes throws his hands up, frustrated.

“Will you go with me?” Tris asks quietly.

Brown eyes latch onto him again, narrowed somewhat.

“You know where the monoliths are,” Tris says. “Or at least some of them, and activating a few should lead us to the others.”

“Don’t you need the Pathfinder to activate them?”

“I thought so, but apparently not.”

Reyes shakes his head, muttering under his breath. “Crazy.”

“I can do it alone,” Tris says. “Just tell me where the vaults are, and you can stay here.”

He won’t make him go with him, after all. Even if he’d rather not go alone.

“You’re serious about this.”

“I am.”

“You’re not even going to wait for the Pathfinder to get here.”

“I kind of can’t.”

“Because bad things will happen if he goes into the vault.”

“Yeah.”

“But not if you do.”

“I mean, I don’t think so,” Tris says, shrugging. It’s not like he has all the facts. He’s mostly following a hunch, here.

Crazy,” Reyes says again, spitting the word out as he shakes his head.

“You don’t have to come.”

“And let you go alone?”

“I think I’ll be okay.”

“You think,” Reyes repeats, glaring at him. “I can’t decide if I like this noble streak or hate it. You’re going to get yourself killed.”

“Maybe.”

It’s always a possibility, after all.

“I’ll go with you,” Reyes says. “Someone needs to keep you from destroying yourself.”

Tris winces. “It’s not like that.”

“Just like your family isn’t abusive?”

He sighs. “It’s really not like that. They don’t hurt me.”

Reyes shakes his head. “You’re not convincing me I’m wrong. I’m a stubborn son of a bitch, and I believe what I see.”

“You haven’t seen them at all, so you can’t believe they hurt me.”

“I can see the aftermath clear as day.”

Tris’s shoulders slouch, but he doesn’t argue. He’s tired, it’s been a long day, and he’s already passed out once. He can’t handle more emotional strain right now, certainly not from Reyes, who apparently likes him enough to threaten a doctor to come here to look him over. Which… come to think of it, is probably the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for him.

Yikes. Puts my life into perspective.

“I’m going with you,” Reyes says again, snapping Tris from his thoughts. He looks back at the smuggler to see him watching him carefully. “But at the first sign this is a trap, we leave.”

“Deal,” Tris says, nodding.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE: I Need to Know

 

Tris sleeps soundly for the first time in a long time. No dreams, no nightmares, no tossing and turning. He closes his eyes and when he opens them again, it’s morning and Reyes has breakfast and coffee. He doesn’t ask where the smuggler got coffee, or if it’s plentiful on Kadara, only sits at the kitchen table and greedily drinks the precious lifeblood. They have meat and eggs for breakfast. He’s reticent to call it bacon and eggs because it’s not bacon, but he doesn’t know the type of animal it is. Probably something found on Kadara. That’s probably where the eggs come from too, not chickens like he’s used to.

It smells good, though. He sits at the table and digs in, while Reyes sits across from him.

Halfway through the meal, the smuggler speaks. “We’ll need a shuttle.”

Tris glances over at him. “A shuttle?”

Reyes nods, chewing thoughtfully before swallowing. “Kadara is a big planet, and the monoliths are spread between various mountain ranges. We’ll need a shuttle, if you’re still set on this crazy plan.”

Tris nods. “Alright, a shuttle. Do you know where we can get one?”

“I can get one,” Reyes says. “It’ll be here within the hour.”

“Do we have a pilot?”

Reyes laughs. “I am the pilot.”

“You?”

“I came here to be a pilot.”

Tris tries to imagine Reyes in Kallo’s job. The image doesn’t connect in his mind. “That’s cool,” he says. “I prefer engineering, myself.”

“Do you?”

“Yeah. I like wires, and math, and calculations. The numbers never lie to you.” He looks down at his plate, pushing the remainder of his food around.

“Are lies a big thing with you?” Reyes asks, seemingly nonchalantly.

Tris shrugs. “I don’t know. I don’t like lies. But I’m also a hypocrite, because I’ve been lying to the whole crew.”

“About the nature of your birth?”

“Yeah. They don’t know I’m a Ryder, and I’d like to keep it that way.” He lifts his gaze, focusing on Reyes again.

Reyes shrugs. “Not my secret to tell,” he says. “They won’t hear it from me.”

Tris relaxes in his seat. “Good.”

“Although, isn’t that a secret likely to come out eventually?”

“Yeah, probably.” It’s already come out a few times now, after all. He knows it’s not something he can keep secret forever.

“So why not just tell everyone?”

He slumps in his seat. “I don’t know. I guess I’m afraid of how they’ll treat me.”

“How they’ll treat you?”

“Everyone loves the Ryders,” Tris says, quietly, pushing food around the plate again, his grip tight on his fork. “If they learn I’m related to the great Alec Ryder, they’ll stop treating me like I’m just… me. Not to mention how much worse it’ll be with my family.”

“Why would that make it worse?”

“Then they could taunt me openly. I mean, they do it now, too, but it would be worse then.”

“And you say they’re not abusive.”

Tris glances over at him. “They’re not.”

“You’re blind, but I don’t know if that’s really your fault,” Reyes says, shaking his head.

Tris sighs. It’s really not like that, as he keeps telling Reyes. His family never hurts him, they just don’t really like him. But that’s okay. Take away the DNA element, and the blood that they share, they are completely different people and they don’t have to get along. If he learned anything growing up, it’s that just because you’re family doesn’t mean you have to love or even like each other.

And that’s okay, really. Isn’t it? Sure, it would have been nice if, just once, Dad looked at him like he did Erin. It would have been nice if he just smiled at Tris and said, “you did good, son.” If he was just proud of him for one moment. But it never happened, and wishing it did won’t fix anything. It’ll only destroy him further.

He long ago gave up on his father’s approval. He gave up on winning his father’s affections. He gave up on competing with his sister and thinking that this time, this time for sure, he would get his father to clamp a hand on his shoulder and tell him he was proud of him. It never happened, and it never will, and fixating on it won’t get him anywhere.

Reyes sighs, catching his attention. He looks over to find the smuggler pushing his food around the plate, now. “Are you sure about this? Going to the vault, I mean? Won’t it be dangerous?”

“Probably,” Tris says.

“And yet you still want to go.”

“I need answers,” Tris murmurs.

“Answers,” Reyes repeats.

“The voice said I’d get answers there, and I need to know what’s happening. I need to know why me.”

He needs answers, and if going to the vault alone is the only way to get them, he will gladly do it. Thankfully, Reyes is going with him so he won’t be alone, exactly, but that makes him worry, too, because he doesn’t know what will happen down there. He doesn’t know what they will find in the vault, and he doesn’t know if Reyes will be safe.

Maybe he should have kept his mouth shut and just snuck off in the night to do this on his own, but he doesn’t know where the monoliths are. Reyes does. He’s stuck either way.

They’re going to take a shuttle.

“How do you have all these vehicles at the ready, anyway?”

First the ATV, now this. He probably has others, too, Tris would imagine.

Reyes shrugs. “Let’s just say I have connections.”

“Right,” Tris says, shaking his head. “Well, thanks for helping me. I’ll repay you somehow.”

“I’m sure you will,” Reyes says.

There’s this lilt to his voice and a chill flits down Tris’s spine. His pulse quickens, and he busies himself with finishing the last of his food.

xXx

The shuttle is small but fast. It’s just the two of them on it, Reyes flying and Tris sitting awkwardly, strapped into the passenger seat. He’s never been a huge fan of shuttles. Ships are fine, but shuttles are bumpy, and the last time he was in a shuttle was back on Habitat 7, when it got hit by lightning and he and Liam fell out of it.

If Reyes notices his stiff posture, he doesn’t say anything.

It doesn’t take long before they find the first monolith. Reyes seems to know Kadara fairly well, despite only having been here about a year or so. Tris lived on Earth most of his life but there are still places he never saw, things he never knew, but it’s different out here.

They land, and Tris approaches the circular platform. Atop it sits a console. He stops just short of it, biting down hard on his lower lip, because it can’t be this easy.

“What’s wrong?” Reyes asks from behind him.

Tris shakes his head. “This is too easy.”

“What do you mean?”

“When we activated the monoliths on Eos, they were swarming with remnant.”

“Remnant?” Reyes asks.

“Uh, these robots. Peebee calls them remnant since they’re remnants of something a long time ago. They kind of guard these places, I think.”

He doesn’t know for sure, but it’s what he feels in his gut.

“Robots,” Reyes repeats. “Sometimes there are robots around monoliths. Not always, but sometimes.”

“It can’t be this easy.”

“Would you prefer us to get swarmed? We’d be vastly outnumbered.”

“No. I just don’t like easy. Bad shit always happens.”

He steps up to the console, closing the distance between him and it. He pulls off his combat glove on his marked hand, and presses the palm flat against the surface.

Nothing happens.

He frowns. He’s not sure what he expected to happen, but that definitely isn’t it.

“Huh,” he says.

“Is something supposed to happen?” Reyes asks, stepping up to stand next to him.

“I don’t know. I think so.”

Something happened when Alec Ryder touched it on Eos, after all.

“C’mon,” he mutters, glaring at the console. “Work, damn you.”

“Maybe it’s-” Reyes starts.

The console sparks to life.

One minute nothing is happening, and the next it is. A warmth spreads from his palm, pulsing up his wrist into his arm and shoulder, and an orange glow encircles his hand from where it rests atop the console. There’s a low hum, and the ground trembles, and then there’s this whooshing sound. Tris looks up, and sure enough, the top of the monolith has activated, sending a blue streak of light energy through the air, obviously pointing toward another monolith who knows how many miles away.

And then it stops, just as quickly as it started. The glow disperses and he pulls his hand off the console, flexing his tingling fingers.

“Well,” Reyes says from behind him. “That was impressive.”

“It was something,” Tris says, frowning down at his hand. The circle. Something about the circle. It gnaws at him like a shark with blood in the water.

“Something wrong?”

“I don’t know.”

“What’s that supposed to mean? The monolith activated, didn’t it?”

“It did,” Tris agrees.

“Then what are you worried about?”

“Nothing,” he says, recovering his hand with his glove. His mind is probably just trying to make connections that aren’t there, even if he can’t figure out what the connection even is. “It should lead us to the next one. How many monoliths are there on Kadara?”

“I think only three,” Reyes says, shrugging. “But I don’t know for sure. I’ve never really worried about it.”

“Three,” Tris repeats, nodding. “We should get moving to the next one. This one should lead us there.”

“Are you sure about this?” Reyes asks again.

Tris nods grimly. “I need to know.”

“Alright. Let’s get back to the shuttle.”

They climb into the shuttle, and Tris fastens his harness.

“Hey, Reyes?” he asks, as the smuggler starts the engines and gets ready to launch them into the air.

“What is it?” Reyes asks, checking the gauges.

“Thanks again. For everything.”

Reyes glances at him. “You don’t have to thank you.”

“I do. When we get done, drinks are on me.”

Reyes smirks. “I thought you didn’t have money.”

“I don’t have a lot, but I have some.”

He’s not sure how he has any, but the Pathfinder made sure he had a little before they dropped him off on Kadara. Enough so he could buy food and wouldn’t starve while he waited for them to come back.

“I have a better idea,” Reyes says, as they pull into the air.

“And what’s that?” Tris asks.

“I believe there’s a bottle of 600 year old whiskey with our names on it.”

Tris grins. “You know, I think you’re right.”

“I’ve got just the place, too. If we get back by sundown.”

“I guess that’s incentive to get this done quickly, huh?”

Reyes smirks.

xXx

The second monolith activates easily enough, and there are no robots there, either. By the third monolith, Tris is starting to get worried about the lack of security the monoliths have. Back on Eos, it seemed the fight never ended, but here, he’s yet to see a single remnant bot.

“This is weird, right?” he asks, glancing at Reyes as they climb back in the shuttle to head toward the vault’s location, now revealed by the activation of all three monoliths.

“What is?” Reyes asks.

“The lack of remnant.”

“It’s a little strange.”

Why aren’t there any remnant around? Why is this going so smoothly? Why is it so easy?

He doesn’t trust things that are easy. It usually means something is going to bite him in the ass.

He shifts uncomfortably in his seat.

“We could take a break,” Reyes offers. “We haven’t eaten since breakfast.”

They ate at eight o’clock this morning. It’s now about three in the afternoon. The monoliths were fairly close to each other. A few hours away from each other, sure, but when comparing that to an entire planet, it puts things into perspective.

Tris’s stomach growls. He is hungry.

“Sure,” he says. “Let’s get to the vault and we can eat and relax before we head in.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

xXx

Soon enough, they get to the vault. Or, at least, where the vault is said to be. Like before, on Eos, he doesn’t see the vault’s entrance yet, despite them being in the right location. Whoever built these certainly knew how to hide them. He’s not sure if he should be worried about that or not. Exactly what kind of thing has ‘combined’ with him?

Combined. He really doesn’t appreciate that word. It makes it sound like he’s not himself anymore. Maybe he isn’t, but he’d like to believe he hasn’t changed.

Tris doesn’t remember packing food or Reyes carrying anything with him into the shuttle, but there’s a basket of food waiting for them in the back of the shuttle. He wonders how it got there, how long it’s been there, and who put it there. Somehow, he doubts it was Reyes. Maybe it’s one of those ‘connections’ the smuggler was talking about.

For a smuggler, Reyes certainly has a lot of connections. And vehicles. And people willing to help him steal from Sloane. Which, Tris never asked about that, did he? Granted, things happened quickly after Sloane’s party, but he still needs to ask.

“So what’d you steal from Sloane?” he asks as they sit down just outside the shuttle to eat. It’s a warm, dry day with a nice breeze. The perfect day for a picnic.

“Parts,” Reyes says.

“Parts? For what?”

“Just parts. Sloane likes to hoard everything good and keep it for herself and her most trusted followers. I’m a smuggler. It was in demand.”

Tris frowns, because while that makes sense, it doesn’t seem like the whole story. He watches Reyes for a moment, noticing the rigid posture. It’s something Reyes doesn’t want to talk about. Tris owes him a lot, so he can leave it be for now. It probably doesn’t even concern him anyway, so it doesn’t really matter. He won’t be here much longer.

The thought leaves a pang of sadness ripping through him. Despite everything, he likes Kadara. He thought he would hate it, but he doesn’t. It’s actually been a refreshing change.

He can’t stay, though. He knows that.

Despite what Reyes says about ignoring Sloane, Tris can’t just ignore the fact that she will not tolerate him staying here. Not only will that probably get him killed, but it could endanger Reyes as well, for housing him and helping him. He doesn’t want to cause anyone any problems.

They finish eating and pack up the basket before Reyes takes it back inside the shuttle. Tris looks around, eying the spot where the monoliths’ lights hit the ground. The ground is flat and solid, and doesn’t look like there’s anything hiding beneath it, but there is.

Tris walks toward it. When he gets a few yards in front of it, the ground trembles and crumbles. Something rises from beneath, climbing higher and higher until Tris is standing in the shade. It’s an arched doorway leading down, similar to the vault on Eos. He enters the structure and walks down the ramp, listening to Reyes’s footsteps behind him. The wall at the end of the ramp whirs and opens, allowing them walk through another doorway. Beyond that, there’s a crack in the floor much as there was on Eos, and Tris grimaces.

Another gravity well.

He steps toward it, but is stopped when Reyes grabs his arm.

“Are you sure about this?” the smuggler asks.

Tris turns to face him. “You keep asking that.”

“Because this is crazy. You’re crazy.”

He shrugs. “We’ve come this far.”

“We don’t know what’s down there. It could be a trap.”

“I need answers,” he says quietly.

Reyes sighs. “You look like a damn kicked puppy. Alright, fine. Let’s get this over with. What is this?”

“A gravity well,” Tris says. “Eos’s vault had one too.”

“And it, what? Sucks us down?”

“And brings you back up.”

Except, he remembers after he woke in the vault. He remembers going to the gravity well, and it not working at all. It didn’t suck him up, and for one horrifying moment he thought he was stuck down there. He’d die of thirst before he ever suffocated to death, buried alive without dirt.

A knot curls tightly in his stomach. It pushes against the food he just ate, and for a moment he feels like he’s going to throw up. The feeling passes quickly enough, and he releases a slow, steady breath.

Then he steps off solid ground into the hole.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO: This World that Shares My Fate

 

The gravity well sucks him down.

It’s a slow gentle fall much like before. For a moment, he is surrounded in darkness as the sink through the walls, but then the bottom lightens up and his feet touch solid ground. He steps away from the gravity well and watches it, waiting for Reyes. It doesn’t take long for the smuggler to appear, looking more than a little uneasy as his feet touch the ground.

“That was… different,” Reyes says.

“It is,” Tris agrees.

“And it will take us back up?”

“I think so. It did last time.”

Reyes nods, and looks around curiously. The walls in this room they’re in look much the same as the vault on Eos. The floor and walls are a dark gray with green trails of data-like lines etched through them, lighting up the room. There’s a door on the far wall, closed, with a console a few yards in front of it. It must be the way to open it.

Tris moves toward the console. At first, he his plan is to bend down and open the panel and mess with the wiring like he did back on Eos, but he stops short of doing that and presses his hand against the panel, after removing his glove. He’s not entirely sure if this will work, but it’s worth a shot.

There’s a small pulse of something from the console. He’s not sure what, it’s just a feeling that slips through him, and he shivers. The door whirs open, sliding into the walls, and Tris looks over his shoulder at Reyes. Reyes frowns, looking around, and then back toward the doorway.

“Where are we going?” he asks.

“I don’t know,” Tris answers. “They just said to come to the vault. I assume we have go all the way through to the core to get answers, but I don’t really know.”

“The core?”

“The vault is like a series of puzzles that lead to this center area. Or, at least, that’s how it was on Eos. You can activate the vault at the core.”

“I thought you came here for answers.”

“I did,” Tris says, nodding. “But nothing is happening yet and I don’t feel any different, so I assume we have to get to the center to find out what’s going on.”

“Lead the way,” Reyes says.

Tris turns back toward the doorway, and steps through. He listens as Reyes falls into step behind him.

That last time he was in a vault, there were remnant shooting at him. So far, he hasn’t seen any. He stops at the edge of a platform and looks down. The inky dark liquid at the bottom causes him to shiver, like a spider crawling down his spine. He doesn’t like that liquid. He doesn’t know what it is, but it leaves a knot in his stomach every time he sees it.

“What now?” Reyes asks. “Do we go for a swim down below?”

“No,” Tris says, looking around. He spots a console off to the left, and moves toward it. Presses his palm flat against it, and waits.

There’s this rumbling sound, a hum in the air, and then a platform rises from the inky depths to create a bridge across. Tris steps onto the bridge, wondering why this is so easy. He hates easy almost as much as he hates complicated. It lures him into a false sense of security, and he can’t afford to let his guard down here.

“Are you sure that’s safe?” Reyes asks from behind him.

“As sure as I can be,” Tris says.

He crosses the bridge and steps off on the other side, turning to face Reyes. The smuggler finishes the last few steps and drops onto the platform with him.

Tris turns and looks for another console.

There’s more than one, though. There are three.

Three consoles.

He frowns, looking around. There are various doors on higher or lower platforms across the giant space they’re in, and he has no idea which direction to go, which door is the right one.

Well, he thinks. Shit.

He approaches the closest console, and activates it with his palm. A series of steps emerge from the bottom, leading up to a higher platform. He moves toward another console, a few yards away, and activates it as well. This one leads to a lower platform.

The third console activates and creates an orb around it and Tris. Tris blinks, exhaling slowly before inhaling, making sure the air in the orb is safe to breathe, as nothing else seems to be happening.

“Are you all right in there?” Reyes asks from a few feet away, outside the orb.

“I think so,” Tris says. He takes a step back to see if he can leave the orb. He can.

Huh, he thinks. What is this about?

“What is it?” Reyes asks.

“I don’t know.”

It reminds him a little of barriers, with the color it’s glowing. Maybe it’s a shield of some kind? He looks around, but there are still no remnant attacking.

Wait. He squints, looking at the lower platform. There are remnant walking around down there, but they haven’t started attacking. Either they’re too far away or they don’t care that they’re up here.

“Let’s go up,” Tris says, nodding toward the line of stairs leading to a higher platform. He’d rather not fight if he doesn’t have to. He just wants answers.

“Alright,” Reyes says. “Lead the way.”

Tris leads the way up the stairs, and stops at the top once he steps onto the platform. There’s a door against the back wall, large and looming, but there’s no console.

It reminds him Eos, so he thinks he’s on the right path.

There’s a whirring sound behind him, and he spins to find a remnant bot stirring off to the side, previously hidden by a corner. Now it stands there, and he can almost feel it watching him. Any second now, it will attack. He braces himself.

Nothing happens.

He frowns, shoulders tense. What is going on?

Reyes is at his side, looking at the remnant bot too. “Does it usually just stand there like that?”

“No,” Tris murmurs, shaking his head. “On Eos they were attacking us.”

“Well,” Reyes says, “aren’t you just special.”

Tris grimaces and turns away from the robot. He opens his scanner on his omni-tool and waves it along the walls and flooring, before grinning when he finds a panel next to the door. As he moves toward it to pry it open and hack the door, the door whirs open on its own. He stops, staring at the doorway for a moment, wondering when this became his life.

“Spooky,” Reyes drawls.

“Creepy,” Tris agrees, and steps through the doorway.

This inner room is much the same as it was on Eos. He wonders if all the vaults look the same, as a uniform design. Probably, he decides. There’s a console in the center of the room, and a floating mass of energy and light beyond it. It’s mesmerizing, in its own way. It calls to him, familiar yet foreign, shattered but whole, there and not there.

He steps toward it automatically, body moving on its own.

He doesn’t remember raising his hand. Doesn’t remember resting it on the console.

All he knows is one second he is free to move, and the next it’s like his body is frozen. His hand presses hard against the smooth surface, energy shooting into his wrist, and he grits his teeth against the warring sensations ripping through his body. There’s a pain that isn’t quite pain, and a sense of calming worry. It doesn’t make sense, but then, little does right now.

“Hello?” he calls quietly, voice a mere whisper. He clears his throat and tries again. “Anyone there?”

“You have made it,” a voice says, and he nearly yelps because that voice comes from right behind him. He moves to turn around but finds himself frozen in place, much as he was in the dream. “Welcome, young one.”

“My name’s Tris,” he says.

“Welcome, Tris.”

“You said I could get answers here.”

“What do you wish to know?”

“What are you?” Tris asks. “Where do you come from?”

“We are the last remnants of the Old Ways.”

“Old Ways?”

“The Jardaan spread through Andromeda quickly. They were highly intelligent and had superior technology. They built the remnant, and the remnant helped build the vaults.”

Tris chews on his lower lip. So a race known as the Jardaan were here, once, and built everything. “Where’d they go?” It’s the first time he’s heard about them, after all. Then again, who would have told him anything about them? Certainly not his father. Does Alec Ryder even know about this?

“They also helped create the angara.”

“How?” Tris asks. How can they create organic life like that? Sure, there’s experimentation and whatnot, but this is on a much larger scale. This is life they created. Actual living, breathing life. Intelligent life.

“They were at war, and needed allies. So they created the angara to help them, but when one of their research ships was attacked and destroyed, it detonated and combined in ways unimaginable at the time. The Scourge was created.”

Tris’s head spins. “Wait. So you’re telling me the people who made the vaults also made the Scourge?”

“We are.”

“And… And what are you? Where do you come in?”

“We are remnants.”

“What does that mean?”

He wishes he could step away from this console. He wishes he could turn around and see what’s behind him. He wonders how Reyes is taking all of this, as he hasn’t heard the smuggler in a while. A chill inches up his spine.

“Is Reyes okay?”

“Your friend is fine,” the voice says, and his shoulders relax slightly.

“What do you mean by remnants?”

“When the Jardaan left after the creation of the Scourge, they planned to return. They sealed away their creations, left Meridian adrift, and went to extremes to erase any trace of themselves.”

“Why erase themselves? And what’s Meridian?”

“Meridian was their prized creation. The epitome of terraforming. It is the heart of all the vaults you activate.”

So, the vaults lead to Meridian? How? Why? “What’s Meridian?” he asks again.

“It is their planet.”

“Their planet,” he repeats, and remembers ‘prized creation’. “They made an entire planet?”

“They desired to make the perfect home. The perfect planet. They aimed to prove it could be done. First they started on planets like this one, installing vaults and monoliths, everything the planet would need for terraforming. When the vaults were active and operational, the planets thrived beautifully. After the vaults were sealed and the Jardaan left, the worlds became hostile wastelands once again. Until you came along.”

Tris’s head hurts. This is a lot to take in.

The Jardaan created the vaults and the remnant bots. They accidentally created the Scourge eating away at the galaxy, as well. They were highly advanced, and somehow made their own unique planet.

“What happened to Meridian?” he asks.

“It was sealed, and sent away. Activation of all the vaults will initiate a recall, of sorts, and reveal its location.”

“But you can’t tell me where it is right now.”

“We do not know. When the vaults were sealed, we went dark and dormant. We woke only when the kett arrived. They seek the vaults, and seek Meridian, but they are not worthy. They have darkness in their hearts, and are tainted.”

“How do you know that? Are you a spirit or an AI or something?”

“We are the guardians of the vault. We protect it from harm. The vaults were made for terraforming, and helped create Meridian as its heart, but in the wrong hands the results could be devastating.”

“How so?”

If it’s just used for terraforming, how much trouble could the kett cause with it? Won’t it only help the planets?

“If the kett get Meridian, they could learn all of the Jardaan’s secrets, and use their technology to take over clusters and galaxies for themselves. The vaults help with terraforming, but they also connect planets in the galaxy, as a network of sorts. If the kett discover their secrets and control the vaults, they can learn to reverse the effects of the vaults and destroy planets easily and quickly instead of helping to fix them.”

“So you’re saying the kett, if they get their hands on Meridian and the Jardaan’s secrets, could use terraforming to bring down their enemies,” Tris says, swallowing thickly. This is all a lot to take in. If the kett get their hands on this stuff, then they’re all doomed because nowhere will be even remotely inhabitable. The kett can bring them to their knees so easily.

“It must not happen,” the voice says.

“How do they know so much about it? How do they know about the vaults and everything? Are they native to here?”

“The kett are not from this cluster. They are invasive, like you. However, they are not looking for a home like you are. Instead, they want to expand their empire, and learning to cripple their opponents on such a level would certainly make them far superior to everyone else. They know about the vaults because, like you, they discovered clues.”

Fuck me, my head hurts. “But they can’t get in the vaults.”

“If they find the vaults and break in, they can get in. They will face resistance, though, and the storm will eliminate pests.”

“The storm,” Tris repeats. “You say I’m worthy, but that storm almost killed me last time.”

“The storm chased out intruders. We were not prepared to be disturbed, and started security procedures. When you were willing to sacrifice yourself we realized you were worthy, and we could see into your heart. You wish to help, not harm. We dispersed the storm and kept it from hurting you. When we combined with you, you fell unconscious.”

Like a patchwork puzzle, memories fit into place. Memories forgotten, because now he knows where to look. The storm came at him, and he held his barrier and sent the others up the gravity well. Then he dropped the barrier, and the storm surrounded him. He expected to die. He was prepared and willing to die. But he didn’t. Instead, the storm didn’t hurt him at all, and he made his way, almost robotically, toward a console.

His hand.

He looks down at it, and while he can’t movie, he knows that there on his palm is that circle. A symbol of sorts. Something. It has to be something. It gnaws at him, something he’s missing. His gaze flits sideways, and there, in the upper left corner of the console, barely visible, is a small circle the same as his palm, etched into the surface.

“What’s this symbol?” he asks.

“Unity,” the voice says.

“Why’s it on my hand?”

“Because you are worthy.”

They say it so simply. Tris frowns. “So I’m marked?”

“You are chosen.”

Chosen. He doesn’t necessarily like that word. It puts a foul taste in his mouth, like bitter coffee.

“What am I supposed to do?”

“Activate the vaults,” the voice says. “Find Meridian, and protect its secrets. You are the guardian now. Our time is short.”

“Wait, what? Are you leaving?”

“We stayed to protect the vaults, until the Jardaan returned or someone worthy came along. The Jardaan will return one day, but until then, we leave you in charge of their secrets.”

“I can’t do this,” he says.

“You must.”

“I can’t,” he repeats. “I’m not some great person. I’m not a hero. I can’t do this.”

“You must,” the voice reiterates. “Or all hope is lost. Do not let the kett win. Do not let the secrets get out.”

It’s a lot to put on him, and he didn’t sign up for any of this. They think he’s worthy, but he’s not. All he did was accidentally put his hand flat on the console back on Eos, and that’s it. Nothing more, nothing less.

And yet…

“A word of advice,” the voice says.

“Sure,” he says, voice cracking slightly.

“Be careful who you trust. Not everyone is who they seem. And keep the secrets close to your heart.”

They don’t want him to tell anyone, after he gets the secrets. They don’t want him to tell anyone what’s going on, but he kind of has to, doesn’t he? He can’t make it to Meridan by himself, right? He can’t go head-to-head with the Archon on his own.

“Trust in yourself,” the voice says, “as we trust in you.”

And just like that, the room goes dark and he pulls his hand from the console.

Next thing he knows, he’s sitting up with Reyes’s worried face hovering over him.

“What was that?” Reyes asks.

“What happened?” Tris asks, looking around. It’s just him and Reyes in the room, and the console is bright, the swirling mess of energy more controlled now. It seems the vault is activated.

“You touched the console and got zapped,” Reyes says, frowning at him. “You’ve been unconscious for twenty minutes.”

“Unconscious?”

No, he can’t have been unconscious. He spoke to the voice. The guardians of the vault.

“Did you hear any of that?” he asks.

“Any of what?”

“The conversation I had.”

“You had a conversation?”

Tris sighs. “I’ll take that as a no. Great. So I blacked out and dreamed it all.”

“I thought you were supposed to get answers.”

“I did,” Tris says.

“And what did you learn from your nap?”

Tris bites down on his lower lip, debating what he should tell Reyes. Wondering if the smuggler will even believe him, or if he can trust him. The voice said to be careful, after all, and to keep the secrets close to his chest.

He shrugs. “I learned this is far from over, and I apparently have a lot of work to do.”

Chapter Text

CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE: How Does It Feel (to Be Somebody Real)

 

There was no storm.

The thought bothers him for some reason. There was no storm in the vault. Of course, the voice explained that the storm on Eos was a security measure, but still. He’s not sure if this one didn’t have a storm because he’s ‘chosen’, or because maybe Eos is the only planet that has a vault with a storm. He doesn’t know.

He and Reyes fly back to Kadara Port, landing at about seven in the evening. The sun is just starting its slow descent into the horizon. They land up on the mountain, bypassing the slums and the elevator. Tris is tired from the long day, and his head aches from all the new information. He’s a little shaky, his hands trembling if he looks at them long enough, but he tries to keep them flat at his sides so no one notices.

This is a lot of pressure, he thinks with a small frown. The voice wants a lot from him, right? Or is he just making it out to be a bigger deal than it is? The voice wants him to activate the vaults and find Meridian, and collect its secrets before the kett can. Simple enough, especially since the Pathfinder is actively trying to find the vaults already, but then that also brings more problems.

What is he going to tell his father?

Preferably nothing, but he knows that won’t go over well. They will be here tomorrow and will wonder why the vault is already activated, if they even believe him that it is activated. SAM might be able to help with that, though. But then they’re going to ask how he found it, and why he bothered when he knew they were on their way to do exactly that. It’s a conversation he doesn’t want to have.

“You look tense,” Reyes says, breaking him from his thoughts. He glances over at the smuggler, who is waiting a few feet away, but not toward the elevator. Tris thought they were just parking up here, but apparently Reyes wants to go for a walk or something.

“Just thinking,” Tris says, shrugging.

“I know just what will help with that.”

“Oh?” he asks, quirking a brow. “And what’s that?”

Reyes pulls out a bottle from his jacket pocket. Tris eyes it and laughs.

“Where have you been hiding that all day?” he asks.

“In the ship,” Reyes says, grinning. “Even I have standards.”

Tris shakes his head.

“Join me?” Reyes asks.

“Sure,” Tris says, nodding. There’s no way he can say no to 600 year old whiskey. “Where are we going?”

“The best sight on Kadara.”

xXx

They’re on the tallest roof on Kadara Port. It’s a breathtaking view, looking down the mountain over the sprawling land below in the dying sunset. It makes Tris miss home more, but he stifles the thoughts with a swig of whiskey. It burns all the way down, but in the best possible ways. He hands the bottle back to Reyes, who takes a sip himself.

“It’s nice up here,” Tris says.

“It is,” Reyes agrees with a nod. “I come up here to think.”

“Perfect spot for that.”

“Well, I like to have perfect thoughts.”

Tris snorts. The whiskey burns his throat again. “Well, at least your thoughts are perfect. Mine, on the other hand…”

“What happened in the vault?” Reyes asks.

Tris closes his mouth, looking out into the sunset. “I don’t really know. I guess I blacked out.”

“You said the voice spoke to you.”

“I guess it was a dream.”

“What happened in your dream?”

Tris shakes his head. “We just talked.”

“About?”

“I don’t know. Stuff.”

“Vague doesn’t really suit you.”

“It suits me fine,” Tris says. “You forget that you’re the only one that knows I’m a Ryder.”

“Right,” Reyes says, passing the bottle back to him. “How’d that happen, anyway?”

“I didn’t want to come here. They made me. The least they could do was let me be my own person.”

“So they just gave you a new name?”

Tris nods. “As far as everyone else knows, I’m Tris Reilly, biotic extraordinaire.”

“And who are you really?”

Tris pauses. Thinks for a moment. Puts the bottle to his lips and drinks. “I’m just Tris.”

“Tris, biotic extraordinaire?”

“I like hacking,” Tris says. “Technology is so much easier than people. It can’t turn on you.”

“I hear you there. I didn’t know you liked technology.”

“It’s a hobby.”

“Any interesting feats?”

“I don’t know. Does hacking the vault count?”

Reyes laughs. “Certainly. So, last time you were in a vault, the doors didn’t just open for you?”

“No,” Tris says, scowling. “They were stubborn. I had to pry open the wiring. Surprised I didn’t electrocute myself, really. Also surprised their technology is kind of similar to ours, when it comes to the basics. Then again, maybe that’s the only way to really work it properly, with wires and shit.”

“Who do you think built them? The remnant?”

“Yeah, but someone had to have built the remnant, too.”

“Who? Did they tell you?”

Tris frowns. “The Jardaan, whatever that means. I don’t know. And I’m not looking forward to having this conversation again tomorrow.”

“Again?”

“The Ryders will be here tomorrow. They’re going to wonder why the vault’s already taken care of, and I really don’t want to get into this with them. Do you know how much hell they’re going to give me?” He sighs, shaking his head.

“What are you going to tell them?”

“I don’t fucking know.” He takes another chug of the whiskey. The world spins around him briefly as he hands it back to the smuggler. There’s a warmth brewing in his chest. “I didn’t come to Andromeda to talk to my family.”

“I thought you didn’t want to come at all.”

“That, too. But, I mean. Since I’m here and all. I thought about leaving the ship, but…”

“What stopped you?”

Tris shrugs. “Where else am I going to go? Eos is too hot, Voeld is too cold, and Kadara… Well. Sloane hates me, so that’s a no-go.”

“What if she wasn’t in charge?”

“She is, so there’s no point in debating what if.” He glances over at the smuggler to see a thoughtful look on his face, the fading sunset casting odd shadows under his eyes. “What about you, Reyes? Why’d you come to Andromeda?”

Reyes takes a long drink of the whiskey, Adam’s apple bobbing furiously. He sighs, handing the bottle back to Tris. It’s almost empty, and he’s already light-headed. Probably not the best idea to be drunk on a rooftop. “Andromeda was supposed to be a new start,” the smuggler says quietly. “I just wanted to be someone.”

“You weren’t back home?”

“No.” He shakes his head. “I was a smuggler there, too. I came here to be a pilot, but when things with the Nexus fell through… I didn’t like how they handled it, patting themselves on the back for a job well done, so I left. Came here, and became the same as I’ve always been.”

“But people know you here,” Tris says. “You have friends.”

“I have acquaintances,” Reyes says, shaking his head. “They help me because it suits them. But I have plans.”

“Plans?” Tris asks, frowning, because there’s a certain lilt to Reyes’s voice he can’t quite place. It sends a shiver down his spine. Or maybe that’s the alcohol.

Reyes shakes his head. “It’s nothing. You don’t need to worry about it.”

“I could help?” Tris says, uncertainly. Reyes has been so helpful, he can at least offer to return the favor. He doesn’t even know if Reyes needs any help, but he’s willing to offer all the same.

“Maybe,” Reyes says, shrugging. “If you’re still here.”

Tris nods. He might leave tomorrow. For all he knows, the Ryders will land, become angry with him, and leave him here. Or make and abrupt departure and leave him scrambling to reconnect himself with ship life. After staying on-planet all this time, he’s grown used to it, and didn’t realize how much he missed it until now. He misses living in one place, ad not moving around all the time. He misses living somewhere with actual gravity, not artificial. With actual sunlight.

He misses home.

Home’s gone, he tells himself. Home’s gone, and it’s never coming back.

His only choice is to accept it, but that’s too much like goodbye. He’s not ready yet. Maybe tomorrow.

But today…

Today, he finishes off the whiskey.

“If it helps,” he says, slurring somewhat, feeling entirely too relaxed, “you’re someone to me.”

He can feel eyes on him, but keeps watching the sunset. He’s not sure when he’ll see an actual sunset again, doesn’t know when he’ll be back on-planet, or if he’ll be somewhere icy or hot or normal. So for now, he’s just going to take it all in, and enjoy it while he can.

“Thank you,” Reyes says quietly.

Tris glances at him. Their eyes meet briefly. The dying light makes Reyes’s eyes glow like a hot burning flame.

And then there are lips on his. The kiss is rough and fiery and eager, but sloppy. They’re both drunk and at awkward angles, and Reyes’s nose knocks against his cheek, and it’s painful but that’s okay. Life is pain anyway, and this… Tris is okay with this. It’s not perfect, but maybe they were never meant to be perfect. They’re just two broken souls together for the time being, and maybe that’s enough.

Reyes pulls away first. “Sorry,” he says, wiping at his mouth. “I’m quite drunk.”

“Same,” Tris says, shrugging. “And I didn’t argue, so…”

“Yes. Well. If you stay, we can… explore that further. When we’re sober.”

“Maybe,” Tris says. “But you know I can’t stay.”

“We’ll see,” Reyes says.

There’s that lilt again, that tone, but Tris ignores it. If Reyes doesn’t want to talk about it, he doesn’t have to. Tris doesn’t even know what it is, but Reyes has been too helpful for him to argue the silence.

“Either way,” Tris says, sighing, “thanks for being a friend.”

“So you admit I am your friend.”

“Yeah, I guess you win.”

“Sweet victory.”

Tris laughs. “Maybe we can keep in contact after I leave.”

“Maybe,” Reyes agrees. “I must warn you my communication skills are lacking.”

“You’re doing just fine now.”

“I meant my written communication skills.”

“So it’ll be a little stiff at first. That’s okay.”

“Will you be able to communicate on your ship?”

“I mean… yeah? I would think so. Why?”

Reyes shrugs. “I wasn’t sure, since your omni-tool seems dysfunctional.”

Tris groans. “Ugh. Don’t remind me. I can’t wait to pry it open on the ship and look at it. I don’t know what’s wrong with it.”

He assumes it was shorted out and needs a few replacement parts, but he’s not sure. He’ll have to get the parts on the Nexus, he thinks. He has no idea when they’ll be going back there.

“So,” Tris says, looking around. “How do we get off this roof without dying?”

“You think I would let you fall?”

“I mean… no? Who am I to stop you if you want to play knight in shining armor?”

The sound Reyes releases is either a laugh or a cough, or maybe somewhere in-between. “I could be convinced to play dashing hero, if you were the damsel.”

Tris remembers a similar conversation, but reversed, with Gil prior to him leaving the Tempest. It makes him laugh. “Just don’t expect me to wear a dress and scream for help.”

“The dress is non-negotiable,” Reyes says, deadpan.

The laughter bubbles free. It feels so good to laugh. “My pale legs will blind you.”

“I have sunglasses.”

Tris shakes his head, still laughing.

The sun finally sets, and darkness falls over them. The lights in Kadara Port flicker to life, hesitating briefly, before illuminating them. Reyes gets to his feet.

“And that’s our cue to leave.”

Tris follows after him. “I hope you know a safe way down.”

“Of course I do,” Reyes says. “I’m a hero, after all.”

Chapter Text

CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR: Caught Up and Twisted

 

Tris sleeps well, but only because there’s alcohol in his system and he’s had a long, exhausting day. He sleeps deeply but wakes early, before Reyes for once. Reyes seems to be an early riser, but he drank a little more of the whiskey than Tris did, so he’s probably still sleeping. Tris makes his way through Reyes’s house and into the kitchen. Reyes has let him stay here; the least he can do is make some coffee and breakfast.

He’s halfway through cooking meat and eggs when Reyes enters the kitchen, tiredly rubbing at his eyes. “I smelled food,” the smuggler says, grinning at him. “No one’s ever cooked me breakfast before.”

Tris shrugs. “It’s the least I can do. You’ve been really helpful.”

“And coffee, too?” Reyes moves to pour himself a cup.

“I aim to please.”

“I’m sure you do,” Reyes intones, smirking at him over the top of his mug as he takes a sip. He releases a pleased rumble in the back of his throat as he swallows, and moves to sit at the table. “Did you get enough sleep?”

“I guess,” Tris says. “Why, do I look like shit?”

“You could never,” Reyes assures him. “But you do look tired.”

“That’s just because I have to talk to them today. They make me tired.”

“Yes, that.” Reyes sighs, putting his mug down on the table, giving Tris his full attention. “Where are you meeting them? Have you thought about what you’re going to say?”

“I guess I’ll meet them at the ship when they land.” He hasn’t thought about it all that much. Thinking about it leaves a bad taste in his mouth. After a week of freedom, going back to his family feels… wrong. But where else can he go? He can’t stay here, despite what Reyes keeps saying. “And I don’t know what I’m going to say. They won’t believe the truth, and… well. Talking to them is complicated.”

They won’t believe him, and will keep asking questions like he’s hiding something. They’ve already proven that, after he returned from the vault and kept blacking out. They never take him at his word because apparently his word means nothing to them. Why’d they bring him here if they’re just going to treat him the same as they always have?

He sighs as he finishes cooking the food. The puts it on two plates and carries it to the table.

“Are you going to introduce me?” Reyes asks.

“To your food? You’re just going to eat it, I don’t think the relationship will last,” Tris says, sitting across from him with his own cup of coffee. It’s not as hot as he prefers, having sat there while he cooked, but coffee is coffee.

“I’m well acquainted with my food,” Reyes tells him. “I meant your family.”

“I can,” Tris says, shrugging. “If you want to meet them. I don’t know if they can help you with your smuggling, though. Vetra might be the one to talk to about that.”

“I didn’t want to talk to them about smuggling.”

“Oh. Then what?”

Reyes shrugs, and takes a bite of his food.

Tris shakes his head. Reyes can be so confusing. It’s a whirlwind, with him. One minute Tris thinks Reyes is only helping him because he wants something from the Pathfinder, and the next the smuggler is accusing his family of abusing him. Which, they aren’t. They don’t touch him. Why does the smuggler want to meet his family, if not for his smuggling?

It’s something he’d rather not think about right now. He has enough to worry about.

“Have you thought about what you’ll do after today?”

Tris sighs, shaking his head, poking at his food. Thoughts of his family have made his appetite make a hasty retreat. “I don’t know. I guess leave with them. Unless they kick me off the ship. I did say I quit, before.”

“Oh? How’d that work out?”

“Not so great,” Tris says. “I wound up in med-bay again and we haven’t really talked about it since.”

Reyes’s eyes narrow. “What’d they do?”

“What? Nothing. The Archon attacked.”

“The Archon,” Reyes repeats. “Right. The kett leader. I think I read something about that, prior to your arrival. I heard the Pathfinder saved the ship.”

That… stings a little. He’s the one who altered the wiring. He’s the one who initiated the fail-safe that saved them. But, if he’s being really honest, Gil is the one who saved the ship. It was his idea; Tris just followed through on it. And yet the Pathfinder took credit for it all. It’s not surprising, and he knew about it already, but to hear that it traveled this far, that everyone here probably thinks the Pathfinder is some amazing person who outwitted the leader of the kett… Yeah. It stings.

Tris shrugs. “Something like that.”

“Is that not how it happened?”

“Not exactly, but what do I know?”

Apparently nothing, considering his family didn’t even mention him in a footnote, to anyone. Maybe that’s for the best, though. He doesn’t like being center of attention, and being hailed a ‘hero’ can really ruin his whole ‘part of the background’ schtick.

“So what really happened?” Reyes asks.

“It doesn’t really matter,” Tris tells him. At the end of the day, all that matters is they made it out alive. He should just be thankful of that, and he is. Dying via explosion in space isn’t how he wants to go out, especially when he never wanted to come to this galaxy in the first place.

“And why not?”

“Why would it? We survived. That’s enough.”

“Humor me.”

Tris sighs. “SAM said he was trying to fix the problem so we could get away, but it was taking too long. I figured a remote hack would be quicker, so I went to engineering. Gil had the same idea, and pried open a panel. Long story short, he got knocked out so I finished up for him. That’s it.”

“Uh huh,” Reyes says dubiously. “And how did you end up in med bay?”

He shrugs. “Got electrocuted. Woke up days later in med-bay because apparently it fried my system or something. My brainwaves spiked so Dr. T’Perro kept me sedated for a bit, since I apparently don’t know how to take it easy.”

“That I can believe.”

“Hey. I like relaxing as much as the next guy.”

“I’m sure you do, but you don’t do ‘idle’ well.”

“I get bored. Sue me.”

He hates just sitting around. Relaxing is fine, but then he needs to keep his mind busy. Med-bay seldom offers that, so he likes to escape first chance he gets. And he always meant to take it easy when he left, Andromeda just had other plans. If it wasn’t his sister berating him for information, it was the Archon knocking on the Tempest’s door.

“When are the Ryders due to arrive?” Reyes asks, poking at the last of his food.

“I don’t know. I’m sure they’ll let me know when they land, and demand an explanation as to why I’m not there waiting for them.”

“You don’t actually plan to linger up there all day waiting, do you?”

“It crossed my mind,” Tris admits.

“Fuck them,” Reyes says simply.

Tris snorts. “It’s not that simple.”

“Why not?”

He shrugs.

“From what you’ve told me, they are either always arguing with you or setting you up to fail. They brought you here against your will, which would suggest they wanted to make amends, but from what you’ve said, they haven’t tried yet. If they’re going to be angry because you’re not there when they land, when they haven’t even told you when they’ll be arriving, then fuck them.”

“I guess,” Tris says. It’s not that easy, though. If he’s not there when they land, they won’t let him live it down. They’ll call him incompetent. They’ll say he should have asked when they were landing if they didn’t know, despite them not telling him in the first place. They’ll say he’s not taking his job seriously.

They’ll say a lot of things if he’s not there waiting, and it’s just easier in the long run if he’s there to nip all that in the bud.

Explaining that is difficult, because it’s hard to explain even to himself. He doesn’t know why he still cares. He doesn’t know why he lets it bother him. He’s done with them, but he can’t seem to get away. He can’t seem to just say goodbye and walk away, because maybe there’s some small part of him that says maybe. Maybe they mean it. Maybe they want things to change. But then they snipe at him, berate him, call him childish and immature, say they expect better from him.

I can never be more than who I am now, Tris thinks. I can never be more than myself.

But they always expect so much more.

It gets tiring. More than tiring.

He doesn’t know why he doesn’t just walk away.

They’d probably just pull him back, anyway. Find some way to make him stay. They’ve already tried that, he thinks. Using the crew as leverage against him. He knows he’s being manipulated, but can’t seem to think of a way to get it all to stop.

They finish eating, and Reyes does the dishes. Tris offers to do them, but the smuggler shoos him out of the kitchen, so he settles in the living room and relaxes on the couch. It’s an old, tattered, beaten up couch, but it’s comfortable enough. His head aches and he has a mild hangover from the night before, but it’s been a long time since he drank and had fun.

A long time, he thinks with a frown. Like I’m old. I’m only twenty-three.

Give or take a few centuries, of course. He’s never been a big fan of drinking, but that’s probably more to do with the fact he never had people to drink with. He had friends in the Alliance, sure, but most of them just saw him as Alec Ryder’s kid and wanted to make an impression to get closer to the legend. Or, they wanted to date his sister. More than one man came around trying to be his friend in order to get into his sister’s pants. Which, no. The less he thinks about that, the better.

And I have to see them again today. He still doesn’t know what he’s going to say. They won’t believe the truth, and they won’t believe a lie. Whatever he says or does is always wrong or false in their eyes, and he’s so tired of it.

Why tell them anything? a part of him whispers in the back of his mind. Let them guess. Surely SAM can corroborate that the vault is activated, and they don’t need to go there.

If they do go there, he’s not sure what will happen. The voice said it didn’t want the Pathfinder there. It might be Alec Ryder’s job to find humanity a home, but apparently the vaults are Tris’s job. He never applied for the position, but he has it anyway, and he doesn’t know if he can quit. What will happen if he just ignores that voice?

He doesn’t know, but if the voice can give him blackouts just by simply trying to talk to him, he doesn’t want to risk angering it by declining the job.

The voice said he’s worthy, whatever that means. Why him, though? Why him, above everyone else? Why him, above the glorified Pathfinder?

Why me? I’m no one, he thinks.

There’s a knock on the door.

For a moment, Tris doesn’t realize what’s happening. It’s a normal sound, on a normal couch in a normal living room. He gets up to answer the door, because that’s what you do when you’re in the living room and someone knocks. It’s not his house, but yelling across the house for Reyes to answer the door is impolite, when he can just answer and let the person in or relay a message.

It doesn’t even cross his mind that there’s anything wrong with this picture, until Reyes snaps his fingers and makes him stop. Tris halts mid-step, halfway to the door, and looks over his shoulder at the smuggler who emerges from the kitchen with a gun in his hand, already aimed at the door. His expression is cold and stony as he brushes past Tris, toward the door.

Oh, Tris remembers. He doesn’t bring anyone here, and he is on a planet of exiles. I guess someone knocking on the door is suspicious. Though, he doubts an intruder would knock. He doubts a killer would knock politely and wait outside to be let in. Then again, you never know how things will go on an exile planet.

Nevertheless, he prepares himself for a fight. Seeing Reyes this uneasy is all he needs to tap into his biotics. The blue glow covers him like a second skin, as he quietly moves to stand just behind Reyes, peering over his shoulder as the smuggler’s hand wraps around the knob.

He yanks the door open quickly, instantly moving his gun into the slightly open space. Tris can’t see from this angle, but he knows better than to make a sudden movement in a tense situation. Reyes’s posture relaxes, and he lowers the weapon, causing Tris to relax as well, the blue glow dispersing. He takes a step away from the door as Reyes pries it open further, revealing Keema standing outside.

“You should have called first,” Reyes says.

“I tried, but you didn’t answer,” Keema says, quirking a brow when she takes notice of Tris behind him. “I hope I’m not interrupting something.”

“What do you want?” Reyes asks.

Her gaze slips past Reyes toward Tris. “I need this guy.”

“Uh, what?” Tris asks, frowning. “Me?”

He tries to think of a reason Keema might be looking for him, but can’t come up with anything solid. They don’t really know each other, only having had that brief introduction at Sloane’s party. He would think she’d be after Reyes, not him, if she came this far.

“Sloane’s ordering your presence,” Keema says. “I said I knew where to find you, so she sent me after you.”

Tris realizes two things then. One, Keema is in a position of power with Sloane, of at least some kind. She might not be an intimidating presence, but Sloane apparently trusts her enough to tell her a few things, and trusts her enough to find Tris and bring him to her. Secondly, Sloane is demanding his presence. This isn’t a friendly chat she wants; he has to go see her.

“What’d I do?” he asks, because he doesn’t remember doing anything extra to piss her off and call for his head. She already agreed to let him stay until the Pathfinder arrives, but then they’re supposed to leave after the vault is taken care of. Maybe she knows the vault is activated? How would she know, though? He looks at Reyes, a knot forming in his stomach.

“I know what you’re thinking,” Reyes says, frowning at him. “I didn’t tell anyone anything.”

“Then what’s she want?” Tris asks. “I haven’t done anything. I’ve been with you the whole time.”

Now Reyes looks at Keema. Something unspoken passes between them.

“No,” Reyes says, shocked.

“Yes,” she says, nodding grimly.

“They didn’t.”

“They’re eager,” she replies. “I’m sorry. I know we’re not ready, but it’s happening now.”

“What is?” Tris asks. He doesn’t like being center of attention, but he doesn’t like being ignored either, and they’re talking like he’s not still in the room waiting for an explanation. Both refuse to meet his gaze – Reyes because he’s glaring at the ground, and Keema because she’s frowning at Reyes. “Someone tell me what’s going on. Why does Sloane want to see me?”

“Someone attacked her lieutenant,” she replies, glancing at him finally.

“And, what? She thinks I did it?”

“No,” she says, shaking her head. “She knows who did it. Well, not the exact person, but the group they’re in.”

“Group?”

“The Collective,” Reyes mutters. “They attacked. The Charlatan must be making their move.”

He sounds unhappy about this. Tris struggles to process his words.

“The Charlatan,” he repeats. “The head of the Collective. This guy who might not even really exist, or might just be a group of people. That guy?”

“The same,” Keema says, nodding.

“And Sloane wants me, why? She knows I didn’t do it.”

“She’s not looking to blame you,” Keema says, shaking her head.

“Then what’s she want?”

She looks at Reyes, something unspoken again passing between them, an apology etched into her expression, before she glances back at Tris. “She wants your help.”

“My help?” Tris repeats, staring at her. He laughs, loudly. “You’re kidding, right?” At her stony expression, he falters. “Wait. You can’t be serious. She hates me.”

“She hates the Charlatan more,” Keema says. “They used her own people to attack her lieutenant. She’s not trusting anyone. I’m not supposed to even be telling you this, I’m just supposed to bring you to her.”

Tris’s head spins. “That’s insane,” he mutters, scrubbing a hand over his face. His head throbs behind his eyes. “Right, Reyes?” Silence follows, and he turns to look at the smuggler. “Reyes?”

Reyes is staring at him, a look of silent horror on his face. When he notices Tris looking, he quickly morphs his face into something unreadable. “It’s crazy,” he agrees, before looking back at Keema. “Are you certain?”

“That’s what I overheard,” she says. “She didn’t know where he was staying, though. She checked Tartarus, but they only said he’d left, and not where he went or who he hung around.”

That’s probably for the best, as far as Reyes is concerned. The last thing he needs is Sloane’s wrath for housing him, after all.

“I said I thought I knew where you might be staying, but her presence would not be taken kindly since she’d already threatened you. I said I’d go instead, and bring you back,” Keema finishes, watching him.

“This is insane,” Tris sighs. “First she wants me dead, now she demands I help her. I wish she’d make up her mind. Why’s she think I can help, anyway?”

“She doesn’t trust her own people,” Reyes says, roughly, like he’s parched but Tris knows he just finished a cup of coffee.

“Because they attacked her second,” Tris finishes. “Fuck. And she thinks I can help? How?”

“You’re not connected to anyone here,” Keema says. “You’re neutral territory, in her eyes. If you can’t help yourself, maybe you can convince the Pathfinder to aid her. She knows he’s coming today, but doesn’t know what time, and fears it might be too late. Time is of the essence.”

“Uh, how so?”

“It’s at noon,” Reyes says, in that same scratchy tone. Tris glances at him. He seems… pale? Paler than normal. Like he’s seen a ghost.

“How do you know?” he asks.

Reyes doesn’t answer. It nags at him, but Keema is grabbing his arm, hauling him toward the door.

“We need to go,” she says. “If I’m not back in the next hour, she’s going to send a search party and hunt you down herself.”

“What’s happening at noon?” Tris asks, attempting to break free of Keema’s grip, but she’s determined and he doesn’t want to hurt her. He allows himself to be pulled out the door, out onto the porch.

“A showdown,” Reyes mutters from behind him. Tris looks over his shoulder to find him standing in the doorway, a dark veil over his face.

“A showdown?” Tris repeats. “Wait. You mean between the Charlatan and Sloane? They’re going to fight it out? Is a war breaking out?”

“Not war,” the smuggler says, shaking his head. “Two people killing each other is better than a lot of people killing each other.”

“A duel,” Tris says. “I mean, I guess. But surely there’s a better way? Why would the Charlatan attack her second?”

“To draw her out,” Keema says. “My guess is she’s supposed to go on her own, not trusting anyone, or not show up at all. But you pose an interesting third option. She wants you to go with her.”

Tris’s head spins. This is all a lot to take in, in a short amount of time. Just a few minutes ago he was relaxing on the couch, and now everything is so chaotic.

“I don’t know about this,” Tris says, uneasily. “I didn’t sign up to be part of a territory dispute.”

“Nevertheless, you’re part of it now.”

She makes it sound so simple, but this whole situation is anything but simple.

If he goes, and helps Sloane, who’s to say the Charlatan won’t kill him? Or Sloane, after she’s done with him? He’ll be the only one who really knows about the duel, after all. Except Keema, and probably one other person, since Keema overheard the conversation originally. Plus, Sloane is his enemy, and people here seem to not appreciate her rule all that much. What if the Charlatan is a better choice? Can Tris remain entirely neutral, like she wants, when placed in the middle of them? What exactly is she expecting of him? Is he supposed to just stand there and keep watch, or is he supposed to participate in a fight he wants no part in?

“Come along,” Keema says, tugging at his arm again. “We need to leave.”

“Wait,” Reyes says. The porch boards creak as he steps closer. Tris looks back at him, frowning at the hesitation etched across the smuggler’s face. “Don’t go.”

“What?” Tris asks.

“You don’t have to go,” Reyes says. “Let Sloane handle it on her own, or wait for the Pathfinder to go with her. You said it yourself, you don’t know when he’ll be arriving.”

“You want me to stay here,” Tris says, mostly to clarify. “You want me to ignore her asking for help.”

“She’s not asking, really,” Keema says. “It’s an order, that you go see her right now.”

“Don’t go,” Reyes says again.

Tris bites on his lower lip, looking from Reyes to Keema and back again. “What are you hiding?” he asks. “You both know more than you’re telling me.”

“Tell him,” Keema says, prompting Tris to step back so he can see both of them. She’s glaring at Reyes in an ‘I told you so’ sort of way. It almost reminds Tris of his mother, in his younger days.

Reyes remains silent.

Tell him,” Keema says, more firmly this time.

Reyes’s eyes land on Tris, brown meeting blue. “You can stay or go, I won’t judge you. But there’s something you should know first.”

“And what’s that?” Tris asks, frowning. He doesn’t like that look on Reyes’s face, or the solemn tone of his voice. It sounds almost regretful, and he hates to think that Reyes has been hiding something big from him.

Reyes inhales slowly, flicking his gaze toward Keema briefly, before he glares down at the ground. He mutters something under his breath, but it’s too quiet and garbled to hear.

“What?” Tris asks.

“I said…” Reyes sighs, shaking his head, shoulders slouching in defeat. “I’m the Charlatan.”

Tris’s whole world freezes, narrowing to a fine pinpoint focused on Reyes’s shocking words. I’m the Charlatan. The words echo through his mind, bouncing off broken thoughts and half-formed replies.

“You’re kidding,” Tris breathes, watching Reyes. “Right? Tell me you’re kidding.”

Reyes simple shakes his head, at a loss for words.

Tris spins away from both of them, curling his fingers in his hair, tugging at the strands until his head hurts more, but it’s easier than focusing on the thoughts running rampant in his mind. Reyes is the Charlatan. The leader of the Collective. And he has been, all this time. He defending the Collective, and the Charlatan, when Tris wondered if they were the ones behind the murders. He used Tris as a distraction to steal from Sloane, and when Tris tried to ask about it, he just said it didn’t concern him. He asked about meeting the Pathfinder, and if Tris would introduce them.

He also said Tris was his friend, and that he likes him. But he said that as the Charlatan, someone vying for control of Kadara, and it taints everything Reyes has ever said to him. It taints everything, because if he wants to be ruler of Kadara and overthrow Sloane, then he doesn’t want Tris’s friendship. He can’t. What he wants is a way to set up a cordial meeting with the Pathfinder, posing as Tris’s friend, pretending to like him, kissing him, sharing 600 year old whiskey with him… all so Tris will let his guard down, and introduce him to the Pathfinder.

“Tris?” Reyes’s voice is meek and quiet, not at all what he associates the smuggler with.

Floorboards creak, announcing Reyes’s movement toward him.

“Stop,” Tris manages to push out of his dry mouth. “Just… don’t.”

Reyes stops, but he can feel the heat of his gaze boring into the back of his head.

“Let me explain,” Reyes says, voice shaky and lost, and he has absolutely no right to sound like that. No right at all, because he’s just been using Tris this whole time, and he can see that now.

I was right the first time, he thinks sourly. In the storage room at the party. He was right, then. Reyes is just using him. He used him as a distraction to steal from Sloane because he planned all along to have a showdown, to overthrow her. He said it wasn’t like that, he said he cared about Tris, but it was all a lie, a ploy to get closer to the Pathfinder to earn his approval so when the time came, he’d have his backing to rule Kadara Port.

And I let it happen. That’s the worst of it. The fact he didn’t see it coming. Or, worse, the fact he did see it coming, but let himself believe otherwise. Let himself believe he was worth it. That he’s worthy.

All of Reyes’s words congratulating him, or supporting him, or helping him… they’re all tainted, because they’re all lies.

Just like everyone else, Tris thinks. It’s a thought he doesn’t want to connect to Reyes, but he can’t help it. Reyes used him to get close to the Ryders, just like everyone else before him. And this is why Tris doesn’t want anyone to know he’s a Ryder, because without fail, this always fucking happens.

Always.

“I’m so stupid,” he mutters, mostly to himself, but the weight behind him shifts as Reyes takes a small step forward before stopping again when Tris’s body tenses.

“You’re not,” Reyes says quickly. “This is my fault. Blame it on me, but don’t blame yourself.”

“We need to go,” Keema says. “I understand you’re shocked, and this is a lot to take in, but we really need to be leaving. It’s a half hour trek back to Kadara Port, and we’re wasting time.”

“Don’t go,” Reyes says, a little louder.

“Why?” Tris asks, spinning to face him, glaring at the smuggler only a few feet away. “Because you’ll be there? Because she wants me to help her against you?”

“You’re angry with me,” Reyes says, swallowing thickly, Adam’s apple bobbing. “I understand that. I do. But you have to believe me when I say I never wanted you to be involved in this, and it wasn’t supposed to happen this way?”

“Oh?” Tris intones. His voice sounds flat even to his own ears, so he’s not all that surprised when Reyes’s flinches.

“We had a plan,” the smuggler says. “This plan, yes, but it wasn’t supposed to happen until later. They jumped the gun, put it into motion early, and now… now you’re involved. I’m sorry.”

“You’re sorry?” Tris laughs, harsh and hollow. “You’re the fucking Charlatan!”

“I am,” Reyes says, nodding slightly. “But you don’t know what that means.”

“You’re the head of the Collective,” Tris says, glaring at him. “You want to overthrow Sloane. You want to rule everything. Is this what you meant by being someone?”

Reyes takes a half-step back, whiskey brown eyes wide, mouth opening in a silent ‘oh’.

It’s harsh, to throw that in Reyes’s face, but Tris is so angry. So angry and hurt and broken, because he trusted Reyes.

Be careful who you trust, the voice’s warning comes back to haunt him. Is this what it meant? Did it know Reyes was the Charlatan? That he was just using Tris?

If so, why didn’t it keep Reyes out of the vault? It wanted to keep the Pathfinder out, after all, so why not Reyes, too? Why not just tell Tris to explicitly enter alone?

His head throbs sharply behind his eyes. Too much. This is all too much.

Reyes takes two steps forward. Tris takes two steps back, until he’s a step away from walking off the porch and dropping onto the ground below.

“Don’t,” he hisses, bringing a hand to his head as the pain throbs again. “Just don’t.”

“Let me help you,” Reyes says.

“Fuck off,” Tris snaps. He looks over at Keema. “And you? You knew about this the whole time?”

“I did,” she says, nodding. “I told him to tell you, but he can be stubborn.”

“So the whole time…” he trails off with a choked breath, unable to continue. He swallows around the lump in his throat and tries something else. “You were just going to take me to Sloane, knowing she’d take me to the showdown?”

“I was hoping you’d say no,” Keema says, “but I said I’d bring you to her, not that you’d say yes. I warned her very heavily that you might not want to come. She said to use force if necessary.”

Tris shakes his head, like it might shake away the thoughts, might erase this entire conversation.

“I’m sorry,” Reyes says softly, apologetically. “I should have told you sooner, but I didn’t know how you’d react, and I didn’t want you involved.”

“This is why you kept telling me to forget about Sloane.” It all makes sense now. Reyes dropped a few hints, but he just didn’t connect the dots. How could he? Reyes barely ever mentioned the Collective or the Charlatan, and didn’t badmouth the Outcasts in his presence, so how could he know?

But I should have known. I should have realized. Should have seen it.

He should have, but he didn’t.

Because at the end of the day, he didn’t want to see it. He trusted Reyes, and wanted to keep trusting him because he could finally breathe. He could breathe here, on Kadara, with Reyes in this house. He could breathe, drinking on a rooftop watching the sunset.

And now…

Now he feels like he’s shattering all over again.

“You could have just told me,” he says flatly, closing off his emotions. “I could have still set up a meeting with the Pathfinder for you. I owed you that much, at least, for your help with Terev. You didn’t have to…” he trails off with a noise between a shaky breath and a broken laugh. “You didn’t have to pretend.”

“Pretend?” Reyes asks, a crease in his brow like he’s confused, but Tris won’t let himself be played a second time.

He shakes his head. “You could have just told me. I’d have understood.”

“Wait,” Reyes says, shaking his head. “Wait. Do you honestly think I was pretending?”

“You don’t have to worry about me interfering,” Tris says, before looking at Keema. Her gaze flits between him and Reyes. He’s not that familiar with angaran anatomy by any means, but he thinks that’s a worried tilt to her mouth. “We can go now. Before you get in trouble for not bringing me.”

“Wait,” Reyes says again, but Tris is done talking.

He turns and heads back into the house. He’ll need to get his things, because he won’t be coming back here. It’ll take a bit to put on his armor, but they should meet Sloane’s deadline on time.

“Tris,” Reyes says from behind him as he’s fastening his chest plate. “Can you let me explain?”

“What’s to explain?” he asks nonchalantly. “I understand.”

“I don’t think you do.”

“Forgive me, but I don’t really care what you think right now.”

“Why do you think I didn’t tell you?”

Tris shrugs. He knows why, but admitting it aloud just makes the seeping wounds bleed more, and he can’t do that to himself right now.

Tomorrow, he tells himself. Tomorrow he can shatter completely, but today he needs to keep it together.

“Please,” the smuggler whispers.

It makes Tris still, pausing in his efforts, because he can’t remember Reyes ever saying ‘please’ before.

“Let me explain. You can finish putting on your armor while I talk, just… just listen.”

“Fine,” Tris says. “You have a minute. Talk.”

“I wanted to tell you a while ago, when you were so worried about a dead body you decided to bury it yourself.”

Tris grits his teeth, jaw aching, but he remains silent, steadfastly equipping his armor. He’s almost done, and then he’s out of here.

“But then you… you looked at me.”

Tris frowns, because that makes no sense.

“You looked at me like I mattered. Me. A smuggler on an exile planet you had no reason to trust, no reason to care about, and I just… You looked at me like I was worthy, like I meant something, and I didn’t want that to stop.”

“Why would it stop because you told me?” Tris can’t help but asking.

“Why do you lie to everyone about who you really are?” Reyes throws back.

“Me and my family don’t get along.”

“That’s a bullshit answer, and you know it,” Reyes says. “You know why you go by another name. You don’t want them to look at you differently, to have this altered perception of you, just because they know the truth. They’ll classify you as a Ryder, compare you to the Pathfinder, and you can’t handle that.”

Tris turns to face Reyes, hands dropping to his sides. He’s finished with his armor, but that’s not what makes him turn around. Their eyes meet briefly, and Tris swallows thickly. “How… How do you know that?”

“Because it’s the same for me,” the smuggler says, watching him carefully. “If you knew I was the Charlatan, you’d have expectations, and if I lived up to them you consider yourself right, and if I didn’t live up to them, you’d consider me lacking.”

Tris remains quiet, but his breaths quicken and his head throbs.

“And I know…” Reyes swallows. “I know what you’re thinking.”

“And what’s that?” he manages.

“That it was all pretend.” He spits the word like it causes him physical discomfort. “That I used you, that I lied, that I just… I just wanted to talk to the Pathfinder, and since I knew you were his son, I could get to him through you.”

He’s not wrong, but Tris isn’t ready to believe himself incorrect, either.

“I think the evidence speaks for itself,” he says.

“Does it? I’ve tried to be your friend. I’ve tried to show you I’m not using you, but your family has you so fucked up you can’t see that anymore.” The smuggler takes a small step closer. This time, Tris doesn’t back away. A touch of hope enters Reyes’s eyes as they hold Tris’s gaze. “I’m sorry. I should have told you everything earlier, but I just… I really liked how you looked at me. I just didn’t want to lose it.” Now his expression softens, saddens. “But I did, didn’t I?”

Tris doesn’t answer, but his silence is answer enough.

Reyes’s exhales raggedly. “And that’s okay. It is. I deserve it. You see me as a monster, but I can’t be more than I am. I’m a bad guy, and I tried to tell you that. But I… I really liked being the hero, with you.”

“You’re not a monster,” Tris breathes. “I don’t… I don’t see you like that.”

“I wish I could believe you, but your look says it all.” Reyes shakes his head sadly. “I’m sorry I broke your trust. I never meant to hurt you.”

No one’s ever said that to him before. It hits him like a train, knocking the breath right out of his lungs. His whole life has been pain, but no one has ever apologized for it. No one has ever accepting responsibility for it.

“You can hate me all you want,” Reyes continues, in that same fragile tone, “but you can’t go with Sloane. When she sees it’s me, you might connect the dots and you could get caught in the crossfire. You have to understand, I never meant for it to happen like this. Later on, sure, but not right now, not with you stuck in the middle.”

Tris can believe that. He knows Reyes didn’t want him involved, didn’t want him to know anything about this. He would have waited until Tris and the Pathfinder were gone before staging a coup. He can realize that, but it doesn’t make this any easier to experience.

“Make up your mind,” Keema says from the doorway, shattering the silence. They both flinch, not expecting her. “If you’re coming, we need to be going.”

He needs to go with her. He doesn’t want her to get in trouble because he doesn’t go see Sloane. But at the same time, he doesn’t want to go, because he’s fairly certain denying Sloane anything when she’s in a mood is a recipe for an early death.

“You don’t have to go,” Reyes tells him. “Keema can handle herself fine.”

Tris looks at the smuggler, watching him thoughtfully for a moment. The torn expression, the wary look in his eyes, the rigid set of his shoulders. “Was any of it real?” he asks.

“Of course it was,” Reyes says, frowning. “I would never use you like that. I meant what I said before.”

Tris wants to believe him, but he’s been burned too many times. He looks at Keema. “I’ll go so you don’t get in trouble, but I won’t participate.”

If Sloane wants to kill him for refusing, then that’s just how he dies.

He’s supposed to be dead anyway. He should have died 600 years ago in another galaxy. He should have died in the vault.

Keema nods. “Then let’s go, if you’re ready.”

“I am.”

She backs out of the house, and he moves to follow. As he brushes past Reyes, the smuggler grabs his wrist, pulling him to a stop. Tris halts, but doesn’t turn to look at him.

“I’m sorry,” Reyes says. “For everything.”

Tris nods, and steps out the door.

There’s a sound from above, and he glances up.

The Tempest has entered the atmosphere, heading toward Kadara Port.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE: The Way I Feel is Numb

 

For a long moment, Tris simply stares at the ship, uncomprehending. There’s a knot forming in his stomach, on top of the one already there due to Reyes’s revelation, and a wave of uneasiness spreads through him. The ship is here. The Tempest is here. The Pathfinder his here. His family is here. These thoughts circle his mind, until all he can say is, “fuck me.”

“What?” asks Keema, who doesn’t recognize the ship.

“That’s my ship,” Tris says, still watching it as it flies across the sky, heading toward Kadara Port atop the mountain in the distance. “The Pathfinder’s here.”

There’s silence for a long moment, before Keema sighs heavily.

“Well,” she says, “Sloane will want an audience with him as soon as he lands, no exception. I guess that means you’re off the hook.”

That means the Pathfinder will be told to help her, probably in exchange for letting him explore the planet and look for the vault. As Tris hasn’t told him he already took care of the vault, there’s no real reason for the Pathfinder to say no, is there? He might not want to help Sloane specifically, but he’ll do it in order to get to the vault, because he thinks that’s his job as the Pathfinder. Which, it really isn’t. The Pathfinder is supposed to find everyone a home, sure, but back in the Milky Way, no one knew anything about vaults, so the Pathfinders aren’t specifically designed to handle them. Maybe SAM can help with that, but his help can only go so far, as evidenced by the voice’s misgivings about the ‘imposter’.

“Will your father help Sloane?” Reyes asks.

“Wait,” Keema says. “Your father is the Pathfinder? You’re the Pathfinder’s son?”

Tris can’t even be angry that the truth is revealed, because he’s too shocked by everything that’s happened today to feel anything else right now. To be honest, he’s starting to feel mostly numb. He’s hit the emotional roof for today, and feeling anything beyond this point isn’t going to happen. He could be shot in the stomach and probably not process it right now.

“Who all knows about this?” Keema asks. “Does Sloane know?”

“She doesn’t know,” Reyes says. “I gather that no one outside of his family knows, except me. I apologize; I shouldn’t have let it slip to you, even.”

Well, at least he’s sorry for exposing Tris like that, but at this point, he’s still too numb to really care all that much. He watches as the Tempest lands and disappears from his view, and then slowly lowers his gaze toward the ground. He has no idea what to do next. Going to Kadara Port won’t do any good; he’ll either be caught in Sloane’s rampage because he didn’t come soon enough, or will be tossed aside anyway because now the Pathfinder is there and she doesn’t need him anymore. Then he’ll have the fun of telling his father the vault is already activated. That’s assuming SAM hasn’t already alerted him to this fact, which will just make this whole situation worse, and he has no idea what to do or how to make this better.

And today started out so normal…

An easy breakfast with Reyes, then relaxing on the couch… now this.

His mind wanders back to last night, drinking on the rooftops of Kadara Port, watching the sun set. Why couldn’t that just last?

But today, everything is shattered and he has no idea what to do, or how to feel, other than numb.

“What are you going to do?” Keema asks.

He glances at her. She stands next to Reyes, and they’re both watching him carefully. “I guess I’ll go talk to them,” he says. “Maybe I can convince them to stay out of it.”

He doubts it, of course, but maybe he can fix this. Maybe he can stay out of it, and get them to stay out of it too, by telling them the vault is already taken care of and they don’t owe Sloane anything. They’ll hound him for answers, sure, but at least then they’ll stay out of local politics, and Reyes will be safe.

He pauses then, frowning to himself.

If they go to the meeting with Sloane, and side with her because they think they have to, Reyes could get killed. Despite all that’s happened today, he doesn’t want that to happen.

He needs to stop this.

“Are you sure that’s wise?” Reyes asks.

“I’m not sure of anything,” he says, shrugging, “but I can’t just stand here and wait.”

“What if you can’t talk them down?” Keema asks.

“I don’t know.” He glances at Reyes. “Just… be careful. If they do show up, they won’t let you get away with whatever you’re planning. Keep that in mind.”

“You be careful, too,” Reyes tells him.

Tris nods, and then glances back at the mountain.

Somehow, he’s going to have to talk them down. He has no idea how, or how to even explain about the vaults in the first place, but he’s going to have to figure it out, and fast.

He starts walking again toward the mountain.

“Wait,” Reyes says, stopping him.

He stops, but doesn’t look back.

Footsteps approach, and the smuggler stops next to him.

“Let me drive you, at least.”

“What about me?” Keema asks, though there’s no real heat in her tone.

“You can both go,” Reyes says. “I can stay here. But at least let me help. I’m part of the reason you’re in this mess in the first place.”

As much as Tris wants to still be angry with him for not telling him sooner, for using him, he can’t be right now because he’s too numb. Everything is happening so fast. He nods.

“Take the ATV,” Reyes says. “Keema knows where to put it for me to pick up later.”

That should bother him, that they have this system all worked out, because Reyes in the Charlatan and Keema works for Sloane… but he’s still too numb to really worry about it. He nods again, helplessly, and then follows Keema toward the ATV parked in a small shed-like area hidden behind a hill just beyond Reyes’s house. It’s about as inconspicuous as it can be, out here.

They climb aboard the vehicle, with Keema driving and Tris on the back. As they start to pull away, Tris looks up and meets Reyes’s gaze. His brown eyes are dark with worry, hesitation etched across his expression, and some knee-jerk park of Tris just wants that look to go away, so he smiles. Reyes offers a small smile back, and then they pull away, heading toward the mountain.

They don’t speak on the drive, but that’s okay. Tris doesn’t have much to say anyway. He’s too worried about speaking to his family, and how he’ll talk them out of this craziness. If Sloane is worried about her position as ruler of Kadara Port, she should take care of that herself, not involve outside help.

They make it to the mountain soon enough. Tris climbs off and heads into the elevator while Keema drives the ATV around toward wherever the rendezvous spot is for Reyes to pick it up later. The journey up the elevator seems to take forever, but in reality it’s just a few minutes like always. Once at the top of the mountain, the door opens and he steps off the elevator. He can see the Tempest from here; the doors are open, the ramp leading out into the port, so they’ve already left the ship. He growls under his breath and looks around, but of course they’ve left the area already. He’s just wasting time, he tells himself. He knows where they are.

He just doesn’t want to go there.

Confronting them in front of Sloane is probably not the best idea, but at the moment, it’s all he has.

He hurries toward Sloane’s headquarters. The guards outside don’t want to let him in at first, but then one of them recognizes him as someone working for the Pathfinder, and they step aside to allow him entry. He hurries through the halls and stops in the ‘throne room’, where the Pathfinder and his sister are standing in front of Sloane. His father is shaking her hand, and she’s smiling. A deal has already been made; he’s too late.

He steps forward. At the sound of his footsteps, they all look at him.

“Well, look who finally decided to show up,” Erin says, watching him.

“I sent for you a while ago,” Sloane says, sniffing. “You’re no longer needed.”

He looks at his father. “Can I talk to you for a second? In private?”

“Whatever you have to say can be said in front of us,” Erin says.

He shakes his head, attempting to plead with his father via eyesight, but Alec Ryder simply shrugs.

“We have somewhere to be, and the matter is rather urgent,” he says. “We can talk later.”

“It can’t wait,” Tris says.

“Sloane’s agreed to let us have free reign over Kadara, and explore the vault, if we do this one small thing for her,” Erin says, like he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. “So you can see the urgency. Whatever you have to say can wait. We have to do this for the vault. I’m sure you understand.”

He grits his teeth. “This really can’t wait,” he says again, eying his father. Please, just listen to me for once.

“We’ll talk later,” the Pathfinder says.

Tris huffs. “The vault’s already activated.”

It’s not how he wanted to tell them, but at this point, it’s his only option.

They all stare at him. “What?” Erin asks. “This isn’t the time for jokes, Tris.”

“I’m not joking,” he says seriously, holding her gaze before he looks at his father. “Ask SAM. I’m sure he can tell you.”

The Pathfinder cocks his head to the side for a moment, a thoughtful expression on his face, before he frowns at Tris. “How?”

“Does it really matter? You don’t have to worry about it,” Tris says. “It’s taken care of, so you don’t have to do this for Sloane.”

Sloane is glaring at him now, like he’s some creature beneath her boots, but he really doesn’t care what she thinks of him right now.

Erin is staring at their father like she can’t believe Tris is right, or that Alec Ryder believes him. It’s almost refreshing to see that look on her face, but he can’t enjoy it right now.

“What are you hiding?” Alec asks, narrowing his eyes at him.

“Nothing,” Tris says, shaking his head. “The point is, you don’t have to do anything for her. The vault’s taken care of. We can leave.”

“What did you do?” Erin asks.

“Does it matter? It’s done. We can go.”

“Your associate seems rather insubordinate,” Sloane comments. “I’d get rid of him if I were you. Can’t have bad blood like that in the field. Too untrustworthy.”

He glares at her, but he doesn’t really care what she says at this point. All that matters is that his father believes him and stays out of this.

“How did you take care of the vault?” Alec asks, watching him carefully.

Tris runs his tongue across his dry lips. “Who said it was me?”

“Do you think we’re stupid?” Erin chimes in, rolling her eyes. “What did you do? How?”

“Same as before,” Tris says. It’s not true, but it’s more believable than ‘the vault likes me’. “I hacked it.”

“How did you find the vault?” the Pathfinder asks.

You can hack?” Sloane asks.

“I hacked the monoliths,” Tris says. He doesn’t even know if that’s possible, but again, it’s more believable than anything else he could say.

“How?” Erin asks.

“I keep telling you I can hack stuff, but you just like to ignore me.”

“Why didn’t you tell us, then?”

“My omni-tool isn’t working properly. Which you already knew, considering I used someone else’s omni-tool to contact you,” Tris says, rolling his eyes. He refuses to use Reyes’s name; they only know him as ‘Shena’, after all, and he will not expose him here. He will not throw him under the metaphorical bus, despite everything. He still owes him too much, even if the ‘caring’ wasn’t real. “So I couldn’t contact you.”

“When did you do this?” the Pathfinder asks, still watching him.

Tris feels three inches tall, under a microscope, exposed for everyone to see. He swallows thickly, choosing his words carefully. “After I spoke with you. I got curious and went looking for the monoliths you said were here. I found them, and tried my hand at them. It worked, and I found the vault and activated it. I’m sure SAM has confirmed this much.”

“Why?” Erin asks. “Why bother? Didn’t you hate the last vault?”

“I didn’t like it,” he agrees, nodding. “But like I said, I got curious.”

“How did you survive the storm?” the Pathfinder asks.

“Again,” Erin adds.

He shrugs. “I don’t know. Got lucky, I guess.”

“Bullshit,” his sister says, glaring at him. “Why do you keep playing dumb? We know you’re lying.”

“This is all very fascinating,” Sloane says, “but we really need to be going. You got your vault activated, so I expect your cooperation.”

“We don’t owe you anything,” Tris tells her, glaring back at her.

“You let this puppet speak for you?” Sloane asks, looking at the Pathfinder. “I thought better of you, but apparently I was wrong.”

“He doesn’t speak for me,” Alec says, shaking his head. “We will help you. You did let Tris have free reign to look for the vault. We keep our word.”

“But she didn’t give me free reign,” Tris says. “She wanted to kill me, actually.”

“I could still do that,” she snaps.

“We’ll discuss your involvement later,” Alec says, eyes narrowed. “But I will not take any more insubordination. Either keep quiet or go back to the ship. We are keeping our word.”

“But why?” he asks. “You owe her nothing.”

“Why don’t you want us to go?” Erin asks suspiciously.

Now Sloane is eying him too. Great.

“I just… don’t think it’s a good idea,” he says, pathetically.

“How do you even know what it’s about?” Erin asks.

“I overheard,” he says, shrugging.

“Did Keema find you?” Sloane asks, like she knows exactly who told.

“Who?” Tris asks innocently, frowning at her. He will not get her in trouble, not if he can help it.

“We’ll discuss this later,” the Pathfinder says again. “Please return to the ship.”

“You heard him,” Sloane adds.

There’s no stopping this. They’re going to help Sloane, no matter what he says. He doesn’t know why they care so much about ‘keeping their word’, when Sloane’s part of the deal is null and void now, but once they set their minds on something there’s no stopping them. Like them dragging Tris to Andromeda, or Tris joining the Alliance. Once Alec Ryder makes up his mind, there’s no changing it. It’s happening. Because Alec Ryder always gets what he wants.

And for some reason, he wants to help Sloane.

Tris swallows thickly. He doesn’t know how to keep this from going terrible. If they go, he’s fairly certain Reyes will die. Even if he winds in this ‘duel’ he has planned, the Pathfinder will kill him anyway.

He can feel it in his gut.

“Let me go too,” Tris says, around the lump in his throat. His voice sounds strange even to his own ears. He clears his throat and tries again. “I mean – I’ll be quiet. And you might need me. Never know when a fight will break out. I don’t know what this deal is you have with her, but… I mean… I can at least do my part.”

They all eye him suspiciously. He tries his best to look earnest, putting on the starry-eyed expression everyone else gets when confronted with the amazing Ryders.

“What are you up to?” Erin asks.

“Nothing,” he says. “It’s just… you were right.” The words burn coming out of his mouth. “I haven’t been taking this seriously. What good is the Pathfinder if he doesn’t keep his word? So I just… I’ll go with you. Let me help you.”

They watch him for a long moment. Sloane clearly disapproves of this suggestion, but it’s not her he has to sway.

He might not be able to stop them from going, but he can at least go and make sure Reyes walks out alive. He owes him that much, at least.

The Pathfinder nods. “Very well, since you’re already armored. But I won’t tolerate further insubordination.”

“Fine,” Sloane huffs, disappointed but unable to outright disagree if she wants their help, “but we need to be leaving. Time is of the essence.”

“So,” Tris says, attempting to sound as clueless as possible, “what exactly is going on?”

“We’ll explain on the way,” the Pathfinder tells him.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX: A Young Man Feels So Far but So Close

 

This is not going to go well, Tris thinks as they fly across Kadara in Sloane’s private shuttle. His pulse stutters in his veins, loud in his ears, as he struggles to think of a way this can possibly turn out well. He keeps coming up empty. There is no way this can go well. Reyes is going to challenge Sloane to a duel, revealing himself as Charlatan, and either he dies to Sloane or the Ryders will shoot him for killing Sloane. Those are the only two ways this can go.

And he doesn’t know how to stop it. Doesn’t think he can.

They arrive outside a cave. Why is it always caves? Clever, sure, and well-hidden, private, but still – caves? He’s starting to miss actual architecture. They climb out of the shuttle and head inside. It’s all happening so fast; he can’t quite wrap his mind around everything. This morning, Reyes was his friend, maybe starting to be something more, and then Keema knocked on the door and it all shattered. Then his family arrived, and now he’s here. How did this happen?

Where did it all go so wrong?

“Remember,” Sloane says as they walk through the tunnels, “your job is to protect me. Do this and I might consider letting you put an outpost here.”

Oh, Tris realizes. That’s why they want to help her so much. She must have mentioned it before; if they please her, they can build an outpost and she’ll, what? Protect it? Let it exist without attacking it? He doesn’t know. But it suddenly makes sense as to why h is father is being so incredibly stubborn. He glares at the back of Sloane’s head for manipulating them like this.

“We won’t let anything happen to you,” the Pathfinder assures her.

Tris sighs as they keep walking. Finally, the area brightens a little and they enter a large cavern of sorts. There’s a rock wall on the other side, light spewing in from behind it. There’s a shadow moving up there; he barely sees it, but now that he has, he can’t take his eyes off of it. No one else seems to have noticed it yet. The shadow moves, disappearing from view entirely, and Tris swallows and looks back at the rest of his group.

They are gathered in the center of the cavern.

“I thought you said this was the place?” Erin asks.

“It is,” Sloane says, nodding.

“Then where’s this asshole?”

“I don’t know.”

Don’t show yourself, Tris thinks. Just let them think it’s a hoax.

“You look like you’re waiting for someone,” Reyes says, stepping out from behind a large boulder atop the rock wall.

Tris stares at him. Reyes stares back, clearly not expecting him.

“What is this?” Sloane huffs, annoyed. “We’re here for the Charlatan, not some second rate smuggler.”

Don’t do it, Tris mentally pleads, slowly shaking his head as Reyes watches him.

“Sadly, the Charlatan couldn’t make it,” Reyes says, shrugging nonchalantly. “They send their regards. And I ask that you don’t shoot the messenger.”

“This is bullshit,” Erin says, rolling her eyes. “We come all this way for some showdown and they’re not even here?”

“The Charlatan asks for a duel,” Reyes continues, focusing on Sloane. “Since they can’t be here in person, they ask that you duel me.”

“So the Charlatan must trust you, huh?” Erin asks, frowning at him.

Reyes shrugs. “Not really. Let’s just say they have something of mine and I want it back.”

“You’re willing to die for it?”

The smuggler smirks. Tris can see it from here. “Who says I’ll be the one dying?”

“A duel?” Sloane asks skeptically. Tris remembers her background. She worked in security; she knows how to shoot. A duel is probably child’s play for her, and she thinks there’s no way she could lose. Tris really hopes Reyes knows what he’s doing.

He also hopes Reyes knows this won’t stop his family from interfering.

It’s a nice ploy, but in the end, it won’t work. They will shoot the messenger.

His anxiety spikes again, pulse stuttering. How can he fix this?

“A duel,” Reyes confirms with a nod. “Me and you. Winner takes Kadara Port.”

“You’re just going to kill each other?” Erin asks.

“Two people killing each other is better than a lot of people killing each other,” Reyes replies, shrugging. “According to the Charlatan, anyway.”

“And they aren’t willing to take this risk on their own?” Sloane asks dubiously.

“It wasn’t supposed to happen like this,” Reyes says, sighing. “From what I can gather, a few members of the Collective jumped the gun and started everything early, so the Charlatan is otherwise engaged right now. But if you can’t beat me, you definitely can’t beat them.”

“Fine,” Sloane huffs. “I’ll take those odds. Do you think your boss will mourn you?”

“Only one way to find out,” the smuggler says, jumping down from the rock wall. He lands in front of them, and walks toward Sloane. Tris takes a few steps back, away from the incoming firefight, keeping his eyes on his family. They step back as well, seemingly respecting the terms of a ‘duel’, but he doesn’t know how long that will last.

I hope you know what you’re doing, Reyes, he thinks, glancing back at the smuggler. He and Sloane are circling each other now, fingers wiggling near their holsters, ready to snag their weapons and fire at each other.

Then there’s a light gleaming behind Reyes, up on the rock wall. Tris barely sees it, barely has time to acknowledge its existence, before a loud gunshot echoes through the cavern and Sloane falls to the ground, limp and lifeless, a hole in her chest from a gun Reyes didn’t fire. Reyes makes a gun with his fingers and says a quiet, ‘bang’, smirking down at her. Tris stares at him for a moment. What just happened?

“That’s dirty,” Erin snaps immediately, causing Reyes to look at her.

“You can leave,” Reyes says. “You had no part in this. The Charlatan has nothing against you.”

Erin’s gun is up, trained on the smuggler. The Pathfinder is reaching for his weapon as well.

“This was a duel,” Reyes tells them. “Nothing to do with either of you.”

“But you tricked her,” Erin says. “You had a sniper fire for you. That’s cheating.”

“I don’t see why it should matter to you,” Reyes says. “You had no loyalty to Sloane; you just met her.”

“She was going to let us set up an outpost,” the Pathfinder finally speaks.

Reyes inclines his head slightly. “You can still do that. I’m sure the Charlatan will allow it, if you remain out of things.”

Erin shakes her head. “I don’t think so, traitor.”

Then she’s firing her gun, trained on Reyes’s chest.

Tris’s mind blanks. No.

He reacts without thinking. One second he’s behind the Ryders, and the next he’s in front of Reyes, slamming into him after charging across the cavern. Reyes falls backward, ass hitting the ground, out of the line of fire.

Tris doesn’t know what happens after that. Not really.

His body glows blue, and this energy surges through him. The bullet ricochets off his back thanks to the body barrier, and he spins to face his family. Erin takes a small half-step back, staring at him, horrified.

Enough,” Tris snaps, glaring at them. There’s this energy around him, crackling and bursting. He can feel it, can hear it resonating in the silence, but he can’t see it. He’s too focused on his family, on the anger burning through him, igniting in his chest and leaving his hands clenching into fists at his sides.

“Tris,” his father says slowly. “What is happening?”

“Shut up,” Tris snaps, glaring at him. “For once you’re going to listen to me, do you fucking hear me?”

“You can’t talk to us that way,” Erin says, frowning.

“I’d listen to him if I were you,” Reyes says from behind him. He’s okay. Tris saved him.

A small part of him relaxes, but only a tiny bit. They shot at him. They tried to kill him, even after the duel was finished, even after Reyes offered them the same thing as Sloane, even after they had no real part in this showdown.

“Why can you never listen to me?” Tris asks without meaning to. The words just slip from his lips.

“Tris,” the Pathfinder says calmly. “Relax. We can talk about this on the ship, in private, like you wanted.”

“You tried to kill him,” Tris growls.

“He killed Sloane while cheating,” Erin replies.

And yeah, that hurts. It hurts that Reyes even lied about the duel, that he cheated like that, but at the same time, he remembers that the Charlatan is supposed to be cunning and sly, so of course he would challenge Sloane to a duel he had no chance of losing. That’s just his way, right? And the Ryders have no part in any of this.

“No one else is dying today,” Tris says, glaring at his sister. “Do you hear me? Enough.”

“Since when are you the boss?” she asks, before looking at their father. “You’re the Pathfinder. Are you going to let him talk to you this way?”

The Pathfinder watches him for a moment, thoughtfully. The body barrier dies down a bit; maybe he’s getting through to him. He can only hope, after all. Then regret crosses his father’s face. Tris blinks and the Pathfinder is across the room, slamming into him with a biotic charge, which is wrong because Alec Ryder is not a biotic. Tris staggers back a step but before he can make sense of what is happening, something presses to his side and electricity shoots through him, burning beneath the failing body barrier.

His whole body seizes, stiffening, and then he falls limp.

He’s vaguely aware of his father catching him, of Reyes shouting, gunfire, and then the cool dirt ground beneath him.

Then there are more hands on him, and he’s being lifted. Dragged away.

His mind finally blanks as sweet darkness encases him.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER THIRTY-SEVEN: We Try to Stand Before We Fall

 

He surprises himself later and wakes up.

There’s a dull ache in his head, a ringing in his ears, and his whole body feels stiff and tired, sore and aching. Like he ran a marathon and pushed himself to the limits. He pries heavy eyelids open, the dull pain growing, and winces at the light above him. There’s a few hushed voices, the sound of footsteps leaving, and then a quiet whisper in his ear.

“Try again,” the voice prompts.

He blinks his eyes open once more, and this time the light isn’t nearly so bright. He swallows, mouth and throat so very dry, and waits for his vision to focus on the face hovering over him.

There’s a lot of worry in those brown eyes. “Do you know who I am?” the person asks.

Tris tries to think of a name, knows it’s on the tip of his tongue, but can’t quite clear the haze away from his mind enough to locate the words. So he just stares at the person, and watches as their expression falls.

“Don’t worry,” the guy says, “I’m sure it will come back to you. You had quite a shock, and your brainwaves are all over the place. The doctor said memory loss would probably occur.”

Brainwaves all over the place. Did they spike again? He remembers something about that. Something about trying to get them to lower, in a med-bay. Is he in a med-bay? He looks around, but he’s in a room, on a comfy bed, but this definitely isn’t any med-bay he’s seen before.

The person notices him looking. “It’s the only place I could bring you where you wouldn’t be disturbed. As far as I know, they’re still looking for you.”

Who? He frowns, confused.

“Your family,” the person says.

His family. His sister and his father, the Pathfinder.

Kadara. He’s on Kadara. Or at least he was; he has no idea where he is now. What happened?

A duel. A showdown, between Sloane and the Charlatan.

The Charlatan.

Reyes. Reyes Vidal.

And suddenly he knows who this person is.

“Rey…” he starts, but dissolves into a coughing fit due to his dry, scratchy throat.

Brown eyes widen hopefully. “You remember me now?”

He can only nod, unable to speak at the moment, his eyes watering from coughing.

Reyes disappears from view for a moment, before returning. “I have water for you. Can you sit up?”

Tris thinks about it for a moment, and then nods. With Reyes’s help, he manages to sit up, and a cup of water is brought to his lips. He drinks greedily, not caring how pathetic he must look like this. After swallowing as much as he can down, he clears his throat and tries again. “What happened?”

“You don’t remember?”

“It’s kind of fuzzy,” Tris says, shaking his head. “I think… you killed Sloane? Well, not you, but a sniper. And… and Erin tried to shoot you?”

“You stopped her,” Reyes says. “For which I am beyond grateful, by the way. You saved my life.”

“What happened?”

“Your father stabbed you, and electrocuted you.”

Tris stares at him for a long time. “What?” he finally manages to rasp. He must have heard wrong. It’s the only explanation.

Reyes’s expression is grim, solemn. “He attacked you. He used his omni-blade to get past your barrier, which you were letting down, and then I guess he charged it up and electrocuted you. I don’t know, exactly. I just know what I saw. You collapsed, and he tried to carry you off, but I stopped him.”

“You… stopped him?” He’s still trying to wrap his mind around the whole ‘your father stabbed you’ bit. Is this shock? He thinks he’s in shock.

“My sniper shot him, and he dropped you. My sniper gave me cover fire while I got you out of there, and to my shuttle.”

“Wait. You shot my father?”

“I didn’t,” Reyes says, partially amused. “But yes.”

“Is he… okay?”

“Would it matter to you if he wasn’t?”

“I don’t know.” That’s the worst part, he thinks. The fact he’s too numb to everything now, and if Reyes were to tell him his father is dead, he doesn’t know that he’d have a big reaction or anything. He doesn’t know if he’d react at all, because Alec Ryder hasn’t been a father to him in a long, long time.

But at the same time, that’s his family. He should care about them, right? He should care if they live or die. Maybe there’s something wrong with him. Maybe he’s just a terrible person.

“He’s fine,” Reyes says. “He was shot in the shoulder. As far as I know, he and your sister returned to the Tempest, but they haven’t left yet. They’re looking for you.”

“Looking for me,” Tris repeats, frowning. “Why?”

As far as they know, Tris betrayed them, right? And his father even attacked him. It’s still hard to wrap his mind around, because as much as his father hasn’t really been family to him, he’s never hurt him before. So why now? And now they’re looking for him, staying on Kadara to find him?

“How long has it been?” Tris asks.

“You’ve been unconscious for four days,” Reyes replies. “The doctor said it was your brainwaves. You… had a few seizures.”

“Seizures,” he repeats flatly, staring at Reyes. “Oh. Great. Just fucking wonderful.”

“Yes,” Reyes says, nodding, “they were rather unpleasant.”

“Oh,” Tris says, blinking. “You saw them.”

“Someone had to watch you while you recovered.”

“Um… thanks,” he says, shifting uneasily.

Reyes simply nods. “The doc says the electricity caused your brainwaves to spike more than they already were. You’ve been in and out of consciousness, but haven’t been very coherent. He also said there’d be some memory loss, and you’ll probably be stiff and sore for a while.”

“He stabbed me,” Tris says, still stuck on that.

“I don’t think he meant to kill you,” Reyes says. “Not that that really matters. I don’t know what his plan was, but he didn’t stab very deeply; just enough to electrocute you. I think he just wanted to knock you out and drag you back to the ship, though why he’d do that is beyond me.”

“I don’t know, either,” Tris mutters, frowning to himself. This is all a lot to take in. He can’t believe his father actually attacked him. At the moment, he’s thankful for the numbness spreading through him, because he’s not sure he’d be able to process everything if he wasn’t in shock. As it is, he’s not really processing anything anyway, is he? He just feels numb. His father attacked him. Electrocuted him. Left him having seizures. Why?

He throws his feet over the edge of the bed. Reyes puts a hand on his shoulder, halting him from trying to get up.

“Whoa there,” Reyes says. “Take it easy.”

“I need to talk to them.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

It’s probably not, but he needs to know why. He shrugs off Reyes’s hold.

“What’s your plan?” Reyes asks, watching his feet touch the floor. He doesn’t try to stand just yet, is just trying to gear himself up for it. “What makes you think he won’t attack you again?”

“I just need to talk to him,” Tris says. “I don’t have to go there. I just want to know why.”

“SAM could use the data in the call to extrapolate our location,” Reyes warns him.

“Where are we?”

It might be Reyes’s house, but it doesn’t look like it. The walls are stone, not wood.

The bed is comfortable, though.

“In the mountains,” Reyes tells him. “The acidity in the air interferes with radio signals out here. It’s the best place to hide.”

“I don’t want to hide.”

“Yes, well, you didn’t see yourself having seizures for days,” the smuggler snaps, tone suddenly firm but not quite harsh. Tris blinks at him, and Reyes sighs heavily. “You’re not exposing yourself.”

“I need to know why.”

“Later, but for now, rest.”

“I’m tired of resting!”

It’s all he ever does. In the med-bay on the Tempest, now here. He’s always told to take it easy and rest, and he’s so tired of it because he feels fine. Okay, he’s sore and his head hurts, but he’s okay. He’s alive, and he needs answers. He wants to know why his father suddenly attacked him. Is it because he argued with him? Because he told the Pathfinder to stop, to leave Reyes alone? His memories of the confrontation are a little blurry, but he can’t think of a reason his father would just attack him like that.

“Are you finished throwing a fit?” Reyes asks, eyebrow raised.

Tris scowls at him. “You can’t keep me here, you know.”

“I can, but I won’t. If you don’t want to stay, you don’t have to. But please consider the fact that your father attacked you, and you are still recovering. Confronting him right now is a recipe for disaster.”

He has a point, Tris has to admit, however reluctantly. “He wouldn’t just… just attack me,” he says, shaking his head. “There has to be a reason.”

“From everything you’ve told me, your family does this on a regular basis,” Reyes says, frowning at him. “It might not have been physical until now, but abuse is still abuse.”

“It’s not like that.”

“How can you keep defending them?”

“I’m not defending them,” Tris argues, but it feels weak even to him. He swallows thickly. “I just… They’re my family.”

“They’re related to you by blood,” Reyes says. “That doesn’t mean they’re family.”

On some level, Tris understand that. On another level, he keeps hearing his mom’s voice in his ears, telling him to try to get along with his father and sister, for her sake. But she’s not here anymore, so it’s okay if he doesn’t, right? It’s okay if they argue and they attack him and he hates them.

Right? That’s okay?

Or is he the worst person ever for thinking this? So many people have it so much worse than him. So many people don’t have any family at all, or have never known their families, and here he is, complaining about the family he does have. He should be grateful he still has them, right?

So why do I feel so… wrong?

“At least wait another day,” Reyes says quietly. “I’ll call the doctor back, and they can look you over, make sure you’re okay. Then if you want to call them… you can. But not from here. We’ll go somewhere else so this place remains safe.”

Reyes wants to keep him safe. The thought doesn’t permeate his mind at first, but now it’s all he can think about. He stares at the smuggler, uncertain.

“You’re protecting me?” he asks.

Reyes frowns. “Of course I am. Why wouldn’t I?”

He shrugs.

“Do you still think everything I said was a lie?”

“I don’t know.”

He doesn’t really know what he thinks right now. It’s all a confused mess in his head. Everything happened so fast, and he has no way to process everything without completely shattering.

My father attacked me. He stabbed me and electrocuted me. But why?

And they’re still looking for him. They haven’t left yet. What do they want from him?

Did they tell the crew what happened, or lie to them?

Does the crew think Reyes kidnapped him? Do they have orders to shoot first and ask questions later?

This is too much. It’s all too much right now. His head hurts.

And didn’t Reyes technically kidnap him? He stole him, took him away with suppressing fire, so maybe in their eyes it is a kidnapping. But in Reyes’s eyes it’s not, because according to him, the Pathfinder attacked him and he simply got him out of there, and got him looked at by a doctor. Probably the same one as before.

What does it say about his life that a relative stranger cares more about him than his family? That someone who might have been using him, saved him from his family? That he even needed saving in the first place?

It’s all a mess. It’s one big mess and he doesn’t know how to fix it, doesn’t know if it can be fixed. Doesn’t know if he’ll ever be able to look his father in the eye again, and doesn’t know if Alec Ryder even deserves a hint of forgiveness.

“Okay?” Reyes asks, and Tris realizes he’s been quiet too long.

There’s a lump in his throat, difficult to swallow around. He closes his eyes against the wetness gathering there, and nods weakly. “Alright,” he murmurs.

“Good,” the smuggler says. “Are you hungry? You should probably eat.”

“Not really,” Tris says.

“Well, you’re eating anyway. What do you want?”

“I’m really not hungry.” He has no appetite right now.

“Too bad. I will force it down your throat if I have to.”

Those words shouldn’t break him like they do, but suddenly he’s a million shattered pieces falling apart, and his shoulders are shaking and his body is trembling. There’s a sob lodged in his throat he struggles to swallow back down, but the pressure is building and building and he screws his eyes tightly shut, a hitch in his breath.

“What’s wrong?” Reyes asks, alarmed. He sits next to him on the bed, their shoulders lightly brushing together. “Are you all right? Is something wrong? What hurts?”

Tris can only shake his head, because he doesn’t have the words to express that Reyes is what’s wrong. He doesn’t have the voice, right now, to tell him that his kindness is the problem. What has he done to deserve any of this? To deserve Reyes’s kindness, or his words, or his protection, or anything?

“Talk to me,” Reyes tells him.

“Why are you so nice to me?” he breathes, keeping his eyes tightly shut.

“Why shouldn’t I be?”

“You don’t even know me.”

“I know enough, and I don’t have to know you to treat you well.”

Too much. This is all too much. Everything – Reyes’s revelation of being the Charlatan, his family arriving on Kadara, talking to Sloane, the duel, his father attacking him, Reyes’s protection… it’s all too much.

“Tris?” the smuggler asks worriedly.

He just shakes his head. “I’m… I’m okay.”

“Are you sure?”

“I just… Thank you. For being so nice. You really don’t have to be.”

Reyes doesn’t say anything further, but there’s a hand on his shoulder, squeezing tightly, and that’s enough. That’s more than enough. All his life he’s wanted that. He’s wanted a hand on his shoulder, squeezing in comfort, in approval, and he never got it but watched his sister get it all the time. All his life he’s just wanted to be noticed, to be acknowledged, to be loved equally as her, and right now, this simple shoulder squeeze is everything.

Reyes will probably never know how important this is to him, why it hurts in all the right ways, but that’s okay. He doesn’t need to know, because he’s doing this to be a decent person, and maybe that’s all Tris wanted in the first place. He just needed someone to be decent to him, just for once. To treat him with just a little respect.

He’s not sure how long they sit there, in silence as Tris tries to pull himself back together, but eventually Reyes leaves him alone. He returns a bit later, with a plate of hot food. The scent simultaneously makes his stomach churn, and makes his mouth water. He’s hungry, even if he doesn’t feel like eating.

He pokes at the food at first, but Reyes stays and waits for him to finish the plate. It almost reminds him of Mom, when he was sick as a kid. She used to give him soup and make sure he ate it all, and in that moment he felt loved.

“Thank you,” he says quietly, as Reyes collects the empty plate.

Reyes nods, and disappears with the plate. Tris looks around the room, feeling more stable now than he did before. The walls are in fact stone, and the room is rather dark with the lights still turned down. They must be in the side of a mountain, or in a cave or something, like the Roekaar were.

Reyes returns a few minutes later, but pauses in the doorway. “You should get some sleep,” he says. “I called the doctor. He’ll be here soon.”

Tris nods. Now that he’s eaten, he does feel rather tired, the exhaustion from the past few days getting to him. “I hope you didn’t threaten him again.”

Reyes smiles faintly. “Only a little.”

Tris snorts. “What’d you say to the poor guy this time?”

The smuggler shrugs. “Only what needed to be said to get him here quickly. Don’t worry, he’s still in one piece.”

“You shouldn’t threaten him. I’m not worth it.”

Reyes frowns. “We’ll revisit that later, but the short answer is: yes, you are. Anyway, please get some rest. I’ll wake you when he arrives.”

“Okay,” Tris says, laying back down. His body feels heavy suddenly, as he realizes just how tired and sore he really is. The bed is so comfortable. “Thank you,” he says again.

“You can stop thanking me. But you’re welcome.”

With that, Reyes leaves him alone and shuts the door.

Tris closes his eyes, and drifts off to sleep.

xXx

He wakes a few hours later, with Reyes gently shaking his shoulder. He blinks his eyes open and finds Reyes and the doctor next to him. Dr. Nakamoto waves his omni-tool over him, and frowns down at the readings.

“Well,” he says, “your brainwaves are still off the charts, but it’s nice of you to join the land of the living again. How do you feel?”

“Sore,” Tris says.

“That is to be expected, after being electrocuted. Your muscles will continue to be sore for a few more days. If I had better equipment, I could give you something for it, but the soreness will go away on its own.”

“Thanks,” he says, smiling at the man. “I appreciate the help. I hope Reyes didn’t threaten you too much.” This he says with a pointed look at the smuggler, who scoffs in return.

Dr. Nakamoto smiles. “Nothing I couldn’t handle, although the graphic details of my dismemberment were unwarranted. I am a doctor, after all; it’s my job to help people.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Not your fault, and Mr. Vidal did feed me, so I suppose I can let it slide.”

Tris smirks, glancing at Reyes. “You’re becoming quite the cook, then?”

“I am a man of many talents,” Reyes replies, smirking back at him.

“Mr. Vidal told me the Pathfinder did this to you?”

Tris’s smile fades. He nods. “I guess so. I don’t remember too much of it.”

“That’s probably for the best. I must say, I am shocked to hear the Pathfinder would do such a thing to someone under his employ. I thought he was a better man than that.”

“Yeah… everyone thinks that,” Tris says, shrugging. “He’s kind of a jerk, though. But you didn’t hear that from me.”

“Of course not.” The doctor winks at him. “Mr. Vidal also tells me you want to speak with them, and expressed concern about your health.”

“Just a little,” Reyes chimes in, scowling at the doctor.

“You should be okay to talk to them, but if you become too stressed out, it could cause your brainwaves to spike again. I gather that stress is a factor?”

“Kind of,” Tris says. “The doctor on the Tempest told me to avoid stress as much as possible, but that was back after it initially happened, and she said I was doing better.”

“Nevertheless, stress should be avoided as much as possible. It’s a trigger. Strong emotional responses can alter brainwaves, trigger chemical reactions in the brain, and right now your brain is simply not in a state to withstand those kinds of changes. So, speak to them if you need closure because that’s important for your mental health, but at the same time, do not overdo it. If you become stressed, please end the call and rest.”

Tris sighs heavily. “I’m tired of resting. I’m fine.”

“You are not ‘fine’,” Dr. Nakamoto says, frowning at him. “I don’t think you understand the seriousness of the matter.”

“I understand it just fine. I get it. High brainwaves equals bad stuff.”

“Not just ‘bad stuff’. If this continues, you could fall into a coma. You could become completely brain dead if your brain gets too exhausted trying to handle the higher brainwaves. This could kill you if you do not take it seriously.”

“But life is stress,” Tris says. “So just living could kill me.”

“Yes, but there are ways to minimize that stress. Not speaking to those who attacked you is probably a good way to avoid it, but again, I understand it is important for your mental health to receive closure. Since you don’t seem to be taking it seriously…” He glances over at Reyes. “I leave his care in your hands. If you see him becoming agitated or lightheaded after exposure to stressful situations, then please remove him from the situation and force him to relax.”

“Uh, he’s not my caretaker,” Tris says.

At the same time, Reyes says, “I will do my best.”

Tris glares at him. Reyes just smiles back.

“Seriously,” Tris says, looking at the doctor. “He’s not responsible for my health.”

“Since he keeps threatening me whenever something happens to you,” the doctor says, looking at him pointedly, “then he is very much responsible for your health. As well as my own mental health because if I have to listen to graphic details of my own dismemberment should I not arrive in a timely fashion, then you can suffer the evils of a comfortable bed in a quiet room.”

Well… when he puts it like that

Tris sighs heavily. “Fine.”

Dr. Nakamoto smiles. “Good. I’m glad we have an understanding.”

“So he’s good to travel?” Reyes asks.

“I wouldn’t travel very far, or very long, but yes. He should be okay moving around, he’s just going to be sore for a while. Just try not to stress him out.”

“Uh… I’m right here…” Tris says, because they’re talking like he’s not even in the room.

They ignore him.

“If he starts getting a headache, however mild, do take care of it with medicine or herbal remedies,” the doctor continues. “Also make sure he’s eating regularly, as he’ll definitely need the nutrients with his metabolism and biotics. A lack of nutrition could also give him a headache, and trigger stress responses.”

“I’ll make sure he eats.”

“You really don’t have to,” Tris says, but again is ignored.

“Adequate hydration is equally important.”

“He won’t go thirsty.”

“Don’t let him overexert himself, either,” the doctor says.

“I’ll make sure he rests,” Reyes says.

“Guys?” he tries again. “Still in the room.”

“I’ll come back in a few days to check on his progress, but call me if there are any further problems, or his seizures return.”

“I will,” Reyes says solemnly.

Tris coughs loudly, and they both finally look at him. “That’s all very well and good, but I can take care of myself. I don’t need a babysitter. No offense.”

“Apparently, you do need a babysitter,” Dr. Nakamoto says, scowling at him. “This is not the first time I have been threatened to see to you. I’ll not have any more of it, do you understand? So you will let Mr. Vidal take care of you until I deem you adequately healthy.”

“Uh… you kind of can’t make me?” he tries, frowning at the doctor.

Dr. Nakamoto smiles. “Oh, but I can. I don’t have access to a lot of things, but I do have plenty of sedatives. If you continue to argue I will put you in a medical coma until I deem you fit enough to wander off on your own. Do you understand me, young man?”

Tris stares at him. What is this? What is happening?

Reyes bursts out laughing. “Don’t worry, doc. I’ll take care of him. That won’t be necessary.”

“Are you sure you’re a doctor?” Tris asks.

“Of course I am,” the doctor says, grinning at him. “But I’m also an exile. I don’t have to play nice to help my patients.”

Tris swallows. Reyes laughs again.

“Thank you, doctor,” the smuggler says.

Dr. Nakamoto nods and moves toward the door. “If that is all, I will take my leave. You know how to reach me, though I do hope the days of threats are behind us.”

“Sure,” Reyes says, shrugging.

“Mm. That doesn’t sound very certain.”

“No more threats,” Tris says.

“Very well. Until next time. Take it easy.”

The doctor leaves, and Tris looks at Reyes.

“He’s kind of scary,” he says.

Reyes laughs once more, nodding his head. “Welcome to Kadara.”

 

Chapter Text

CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT: What's the Use in Speaking Out

 

Tris is stuck in bed until the next day. He’s not sure when Reyes became the person in charge of his overall health, but he guesses he can’t complain. It’s more than anyone’s ever done for him before, after all. He doesn’t have to ask for food or drink; it’s there for him whenever he thinks about it, like Reyes just knows what he needs, and when his head starts throbbing again, Reyes offers him an herbal tea, compliments of Kadara.

It’s strange, being seen to like this. He can’t decide if he likes it or not, because it’s just so foreign to him. He has no basis with which to compare it to. It’s just different, and Reyes really doesn’t need to go to all this trouble to help him. He appreciates it nevertheless, of course.

So Tris stays in bed all day, and sleeps most of the night. He has a few nightmares he can’t quite remember; they’re something on the tip of his tongue, there but not there, fuzzy and hazy but also vivid in a way nothing else is. All he gleans from the dreams are feelings of terror, but no actual images or scenarios. He wakes in a cold sweat, and almost immediately Reyes is there. It makes Tris wonder if Reyes has a hack on his vitals, but that would require use of his malfunctioning omni-tool, so maybe he just hears Tris moving in bed and comes in to investigate.

It’s a long night, but he gets through it. When he’s not sleeping or having nightmares, he thinks about what he’s going to do tomorrow. Tomorrow, they’re going to travel somewhere and Tris can contact the Tempest. He has no idea what he’s going to say, or what kind of reaction he’ll get, or who will answer the call. He doesn’t know what the crew thinks happened to him, or if the Ryders even said anything. He doesn’t know what he’ll say to his father, but he knows he needs answers. He needs to know why. He needs clarity and closure, and he’s only going to get that by talking to his family, despite how much he doesn’t really want to.

Just the thought of them puts a foul taste in his mouth and leaves his nose wrinkling distastefully. His father stabbed him, actually attacked him, and Tris has no real way to process this, at least not without speaking to his attacker. He doesn’t know what prompted his father to do this, what he thought he was doing, if he did it because Tris told him to leave Reyes alone, or if he thought he had a valid reason. Maybe it doesn’t matter, because there’s nothing he can say to validate himself, is there? There’s no real excuse for attacking your kid like that.

Or maybe there is. He doesn’t know. He doesn’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, and that’s what worries him.

He’s tired of worrying about it. He’s tired of worrying about his family in general, about what they’ll say or do or think of him. He’s tired of it all. He thought he was over longing for their approval, thought he was over trying to get them to finally see him, but apparently not because it’s all back forefront in his mind again, like it never left in the first place. Funny, how the past can come rushing back like that. How it haunts you.

He tosses and turns, until Reyes pushes open the door to the room to check on him.

“Sorry,” he says to the smuggler. “You don’t have to keep checking on me. I’m fine.”

“I don’t know if ‘fine’ is the word I’d use,” Reyes says, quirking a brow at him. “Is everything okay?”

“Just thinking about tomorrow.”

“No stress,” Reyes says.

Tris rolls his eyes. “Yeah, yeah. I know.”

“Do you?” the smuggler asks skeptically.

Tris huffs. “You realize just thinking about them is stressful, right?”

“Then don’t think about them.”

“It’s not that simple.”

“It never is, with you.” Reyes shakes his head and fully enters the room, quietly shutting the door behind him. He pads across the hardwood floor, barely making a sound in his movements, until he stops just in front of the bed. “Do you need anything?”

“I’m good,” Tris says, feeling heat rush to his cheeks. “You really don’t have to do this, you know. I can take care of myself.”

“While I know you are competent in combat, that doesn’t mean you have been a very good judge of your overall health,” Reyes says, shaking his head.

“I’m fine,” he insists firmly.

“I’m not sure you know the meaning of the word.”

He sighs heavily. “I’m really okay. Honest. Just… have a lot on my mind.”

“That, I can understand.”

“How goes being the Charlatan?” Tris asks, watching him carefully. “Now that Sloane’s out of the way, I mean.”

He still has issues with how the duel went, how Reyes never intended to fight fairly, but at the end of the day this is the best outcome, isn’t it? He much prefers Reyes alive and Sloane dead to the alternative, so he guesses he can’t really complain. Plus, Reyes is helping him and protecting him, and that’s not something he ever thought anyone would do for him, so he has no right to complain.

“Keema has taken over Kadara Port,” Reyes says, shrugging.

Tris frowns at him. “Uh, what? I thought you wanted it?”

“Everyone believes she is the Charlatan. It’s nice to have an angaran face as the head of the port, again. It boosts morale. Plus, I do my best work in the shadows, and I can’t very well operate behind the scenes if I’m front and center, can I?”

He has a point, but still. “I thought you wanted this,” Tris says. “To be someone.”

It feels wrong, to throw that at him, but it’s what comes to his mind anyway.

Reyes is quiet for a moment. “I thought it was what I wanted, too,” he says. “But I guess what I really wanted was a friend.”

“A friend,” Tris repeats, staring at him, frown deepening.

“I had Keema, of course, but it’s always been more of an ‘I scratch your back, you scratch mine’ kind of situation,” Reyes tells him, shaking his head. “I have other contacts, certainly, but she’s the only one that knows the truth about me.”

“The truth. That you’re the Charlatan.”

“Yes, that. But now you know, too.”

“Because you had to tell me,” Tris says. It’s not like Reyes just came out and told him; he waited until he had no other choice, and revealed himself to Tris to keep him from getting stuck in the middle later on. He still got caught in the middle, but at least he was well-informed by then. Still, though, Reyes only told him because he had to, and Tris doubts he would have otherwise.

“I did,” Reyes agrees with a small nod, “but please believe me when I say I wanted to tell you anyway.”

Tris isn’t sure if he believes that, but so far, Reyes hasn’t really given him any reason to not believe him, has he? He’s been so helpful, going above and beyond to aid him, to protect him, and there’s no way he can repay that. So he chooses to believe him, and nods slowly.

“How’s that work?” Tris asks. “With Keema in charge, I mean.”

“I’m the Charlatan, as you know, but I tell her what I want her to do or say, and she does it, acting as the Charlatan. From what I’ve gathered, the overall morale has risen for everyone on Kadara Port, except for the few Outcasts still scrambling about. Sloane was a poison to this world, and now that she’s out of the way, it can flourish like it was meant to, especially now that you’ve activated the vault.”

Reyes makes it sound so simple, so easy. Tris wishes it was that easy.

“How do you know, if you’ve been stuck here with me?”

Reyes said it’s been four days, right? Four days since the attack, since the showdown, since Alec Ryder stabbed and electrocuted him. He presses a hand to his side, beneath the covers. There’s no bandaging, as the wound wasn’t bad enough for that apparently, barely penetrating the skin before stopping, but it’s still a mark on his side all the same, tender to the touch, reminding him of what happened, how his father attacked him and Reyes got him out of there.

And Reyes has been stuck here with him since, so how does he know how things are going on Kadara Port?

“Trust me,” Reyes says, smirking at him, “I know.”

A small part of Tris wants to argue, wants Reyes to get out of here and go achieve his dream of being someone, but his voice fails him and he simply nods instead.

Reyes pats his shoulder lightly before stepping away. “Get some sleep,” the smuggler throws over his shoulder on the way to the door. “We have a long day ahead of us.”

Tris watches as he leaves, the door closing behind him. Alone again in this room, he stares up at the ceiling as he lays back down, attempting to clear his mind and purge his brain of worrisome, stressful thoughts.

Eventually, he falls back into an uneasy, fitful sleep.

xXx

He wakes late the next morning, to Reyes knocking lightly on the door. He groans and rolls out of bed, his entire body stiff and sore. Reyes opens the door before he gets to it, and stops when he sees him halfway across the room.

“I thought you might like to shower,” Reyes says.

“Fuck, yes,” Tris all but moans, nodding happily.

Reyes nods and leads him out of the bedroom. The hallway is long and dark, with various doors along the walls. He wonders where all these doors lead, wonders how many rooms are hidden here, but cuts off this line of thought when Reyes opens a door, revealing a small bathroom. It’s a standing shower, but a shower is a shower and Tris is so grateful.

“Thank you,” he says.

“There are fresh clothes for you in there,” Reyes tells him. “I’ll have breakfast ready when you’re done.”

“You’re spoiling me,” Tris says.

Reyes simply shrugs, and ushers him inside.

Tris enters the bathroom and quietly closes the door behind him with a small snap. Then he looks around the bathroom, at the stone walls and hardwood floors. It looks similar to the bedroom he’s been staying in. He remembers waking to use the restroom a few times, but that was a different bathroom, connected to the room he was in, like it was a master bedroom. No shower in it, though.

Did Reyes give him the master bedroom, or are there multiple rooms like that here?

He strips slowly, body aching as he stretches abused muscles, and then slips into the shower. The water is hot for once, a soothing spray across his head and shoulders, and he releases a quiet, contented breath of relief as it starts to relieve the aches and pains. The stiffness gradually diminishes, and he starts to wash, not eager to use up all the hot water and be left with cold after experiencing the warmth.

Once he’s finished showering, he turns off the water and steps onto the hardwood floor, curling his toes against the wetness gathering beneath him, not eager to slip and fall. He towels dry as quickly as he can, shivering in the coolness of the room, and then changes into the clean clothes Reyes set out for him. They’re a little big on him, like all of Reyes’s clothes, but he’s grateful for them anyway. They’re not overly large, either, just a little baggy. He looks up and catches a glimpse in himself in the mirror above the sink, damp blond hair sticking to his forehead, face a little pink from the heat of the water despite the coolness in the air, and a small bruise on his left cheek. He wonders when that happened, but assumes it was during the showdown a few days ago. He must have hit it on his way to the ground. He doesn’t remember all that much.

But what really gets to him are his eyes.

They’re bright blue, and they’ve always been darker than Erin’s. Erin has bright, penetrating blue eyes, and he has darker blue eyes. That’s just how it’s always been, but today… today they look brighter than his sister’s eyes, and that’s wrong. He stares at his reflection for a few long moments, attempting to figure out if he’s just seeing things and is going crazy, or if his eyes are actually brighter than usual.

Then he blinks, and the color fades. They’re their normal blue now, darker than Erin’s.

What the hell? He swallows, shaking his head. He must be seeing things. He’s had a rough few days, a rough few weeks. It’s okay if he’s a little unhinged, right?

He looks away from the mirror, and pulls his shirt over his head. It’s a light gray T-shirt, combined with dark faded jeans. Not a bad combo, really, for casual wear. It won’t matter when he puts his armor on, though, because he doesn’t plan on leaving this place without armor.

Which begs the question: is my armor damaged? Probably, he concludes. His father did stab him, if only slightly. It had to penetrate the armor enough to dig into his skin and electrocute him, after all.

Great. More stuff to fix. Just add that to his list, along with the omni-tool.

He sighs and steps out of the bathroom, before he stops. He doesn’t really know where to go from here, but he smells food cooking. He turns left, following the scent down the hallway, and finds himself in front of a doorway leading into the kitchen. He enters, and sits quietly at the table, where a cup of coffee already sits, waiting for him.

Reyes is too nice, he thinks, picking up the cup and taking a greedy sip.

It’s nice and hot, burning all the way down, just how he likes it. It helps to further wake him up after the hot shower relaxed him.

Reyes turns away from the stove, quirking a brow at him. “Well,” he says, “you clean up nice. You look much more human, and a lot less corpse-like.”

“Gee, thanks,” Tris says, rolling his eyes. “And I didn’t look that bad.”

“You didn’t have to look at yourself.”

“No one made you look.”

“Fair point,” Reyes says, inclining his head slightly, before he turns back toward the cooking food. “Breakfast is almost finished. I expected you to take longer in your shower.”

“I didn’t want to use all the hot water.”

“Thoughtful of you.”

He shrugs, sipping at his coffee.

A few minutes later, two plates of hot food are placed on the table, and Reyes sits across from him. Tris’s mouth is watering, and he didn’t realize how hungry he is until now. He hungrily digs into the food, shoveling it into his mouth, moaning at how great it tastes. It makes him think of Liam’s pancakes, and there’s a small pang in his chest when he thinks he might never see Liam again.

I wonder if he knows what happened, he thinks. Probably not, though. He doubts the Ryders told anyone what actually happened.

Once the food is gone, Reyes cleans up and then looks at Tris. “Are you ready?”

Tris nods, pushing to his feet. “As I’ll ever be.”

Reyes sighs, but nods. “Very well. Let’s go.”

xXx

The shuttle they take is small but fast, seating only the two of them. They don’t travel very far, but they do fly over mountains so discerning their location relative to this one will be difficult, if SAM tries. Tris isn’t sure why his family would bother, but apparently he knows nothing about his family because he never thought his father would outright attack him, either.

When they land, Reyes hands Tris an omni-tool, and Tris types in the code for the Tempest. He knows the code despite his family never telling it to him; another thing they just assume about him. Luckily, he makes it a point to know almost everything about the ship he’s on, just in case.

You never know when the Archon will attack you in space, against a mess of purple space energy called the Scourge.

Reyes doesn’t leave, but Tris is okay with that. He doesn’t mind the lack of privacy right now. In fact, he’s grateful for the company because if he had to do this on his own, he’s not sure what would happen.

It doesn’t take long for the call to connect. It’s his father that answers, unsurprisingly, though he supposes that’s better than getting his sister. Alec Ryder has dark bags under his eyes and looks like he’s had a rough few days, but so has Tris, so he don’t feel any sympathy. Instead, he glares at his father, as Alec’s eyes widen in recognition.

“Tris?” his father says.

“Hi,” Tris says, glaring back at him. “I heard you attacked me. You want to clarify why?”

“Where are you?”

“That’s not what I asked.”

“Where are you?” he says again.

“Somewhere you’re not, thankfully. Now, why did you stab me?”

“I didn’t stab you,” the Pathfinder says, shaking his head. “I merely penetrated your barrier and armor enough to shock you. You were out of control.”

“Out of control?” Tris repeats, anger burning through him. “Out of control? That’s what you call me standing up to you? Me telling you not to kill more people?”

“Your body was glowing, and so were your eyes,” the Pathfinder tells him. “You looked possessed, and weren’t behaving like yourself. I just wanted to knock you out and take you back to the ship where Dr. T’Perro could see to you, but instead, the Charlatan wannabe kidnapped you. Are you okay?”

“He didn’t kidnap me,” Tris huffs. “He saved me from you. And I’m fine.”

“He saw what was happening to you and thought to use you for his own means. He had his sniper shoot me and stole you. Now, tell me where you are so I can come get you.”

“He didn’t steal me,” Tris says.

“You don’t even know him,” his father snaps. “He works for the same shady organization that wanted a fair duel and cheated. You can’t trust him.”

If Reyes has anything to say about his father slandering him like that, he just remains quiet and pensive, quietly glaring at the omni-tool, but out of sight.

Tris exhales loudly. “At least he didn’t attack me. His own son.”

“I didn’t attack you, I was worried about you.”

Tris scoffs. “Yeah, right. Since when?”

“Tristen,” his father says in that ‘stop this right now’ tone of his.

“You’ve never cared about me, so why do you suddenly care now? You expect me to believe that?”

“Who says I’ve never cared about you?”

“Well, you haven’t!” Tris snaps, glaring at him. He can feel a headache building behind his eyes, and feels the catch in his throat. “You only care about yourself, and Erin! If you cared about me at all you wouldn’t have brought me here in the first place! I clearly said I didn’t want to come, but you fucking gave me a concussion and brought me here anyway!”

“Tris,” Reyes says quietly, stepping closer. There’s a hand on his shoulder and his father is suddenly glaring.

“Is he there with you?” the Pathfinder asks. “Let my son go.”

“I’ll think about it,” Reyes says sarcastically, and hits a spot on the side of the omni-tool. The screen flickers and dies, the connection severed. The smuggler’s voice is softer when he speaks again. “Are you okay?”

Tris focuses on his breathing. In, out. In, out. Manages a small nod as the pain grows behind his eyes. “I’m fine,” he says quietly, though it sounds strained even to his own ears.

“A likely story,” Reyes says, shaking his head. “Come on. Let’s get you back to bed.”

“I’m fine,” Tris says again, but it still sounds wrong.

“Uh huh, I’m sure you are. Come on.” There are hands on his shoulders, guiding him back toward the shuttle.

“I’m fine,” he repeats. “I’m fine.”

I’m okay. I’m fine. I’m okay. I’m always okay.

He knew confronting his father, even via omni-tool chat, would be difficult, but expectation can never prepare you for reality. It hurts more than he imagined it would, because he thought he was done with them. But in some dark corner of his mind, they’ll always be family, and some small part of him will always expect more. Some part of him will always expect them to act like family, but they never have, so why would they start now? He wishes he would just learn his lesson and stop getting his hopes up.

Reyes gets him into the shuttle, and then they take off.

Tris focuses his attention out the window, attempting to reign in his rampant emotions.

I’m okay, he tells himself, over and over. I’m okay. I’m just fine.

Maybe if he says it enough, it will be true, and he’ll actually be okay.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER THIRTY-NINE: When Did Everything Go Wrong

 

If there’s one thing Tris is tired of, it’s lying down and resting. He’s tired of being tired, tired of the headaches and dizziness and everything, but that doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. The shuttle lands, and Tris steps out without Reyes’s help because he’s not an invalid, but at the same time the world is spinning around him and he staggers slightly, vision burring and head throbbing. Reyes is at his side a second later, but doesn’t touch him, thankfully. Tris wants to do this on his own, because this is pathetic. He’s fine. He should be fine. So he got electrocuted; big deal. Some people have it so much worse, right? He really can’t complain. He should be fine.

But I’m not… He’s not fine, despite how much he wants to be. Despite how much he tells himself he is.

To his surprise, Keema is there waiting for them. He didn’t think anyone else was here, or knew about this place, but he shouldn’t be surprised. Reyes trusts Keema, after all. She is his new figurehead; everyone thinks she’s the Charlatan instead of him.

He’s not sure how that works out, or why Reyes would give her the position when he worked so hard for it and clearly wanted it, but it’s not really his place to question him, is it? At least he hasn’t been stuck here alone.

“How did it go?” Keema asks, quirking a brow at them.

Tris grunts. He doesn’t want to talk about it.

Reyes shrugs. “About as well as expected. Do you have news?”

“The Ryders are still demanding permission to explore the planet. I received another call a few minutes ago, actually, on my way here.”

Tris’s head spins. “Wait,” he says, struggling to make sense of things. “You’re keeping the Ryders on the ship? You have that kind of authority?”

“I am the Charlatan,” she says, grinning at him. “At least, as far as they’re concerned. As the new ruler of Kadara, what I say goes. They have irked me, so I’m not letting them off their ship. They’re lucky I let them stay parked.”

Tris just stares at her.

Reyes claps a hand to his shoulder. “Keema can be quite vindictive.”

“But why?” Tris asks, frowning at her.

“They hurt you,” she says, like it’s simple.

But it’s really not, because she doesn’t know him at all. She knows next to nothing about him, right? They’ve spoken only a rare few times, the longest conversation being when she came to collect him for Sloane when Sloane demanded his presence for the whole showdown situation.

“Look,” Keema says, rolling her eyes, “when you’re hurt, Reyes sulks, and I have to put up with his mood swings. I’m tired of it. So, really, not letting them wander around is purely selfish on my part.”

“I don’t sulk,” Reyes argues.

“You sulk,” Keema says, nodding at him. “Pathetically, I might add. Like some kicked puppy. That’s what you humans say, isn’t it? A kicked puppy.”

“I think you’re exaggerating.”

“Really? I think I’m downplaying.”

“What news do you have, Keema?” Reyes asks, clearly changing the subject.

“They’re still demanding an audience with me, and demanding that I let them find and collect their ‘valued member of their team’.”

Tris stares at her again. “Uh, what? They called me that?”

“They did.”

He scowls. “That’s funny.”

“I thought so too. I told them we can maybe talk when they quit making demands on my territory, but they didn’t like that and ended the call.”

“I’m surprised they’re listening.”

Keema grins, all teeth and no mirth. “Oh, they don’t really have a choice. I have their ship surrounded, so any attempts to leave the ship without my permission are to be taken as hostile action and regarded accordingly. They’ve tried two attempts but have been caught immediately, and made up pathetic excuses as to why they thought they had to take a back way out of the ship.”

“You’re kind of scary,” Tris says. “So’s the doctor. Is everyone on Kadara just scary?”

Reyes laughs. “We can be,” he says, shrugging, squeezing Tris’s shoulder. He didn’t realize the hand was still there until now.

“But if they can’t leave the ship, then why are we hiding here?” Tris asks. “You said we had to make the call from somewhere else because they might track us.”

“Just because they’re on lockdown right now doesn’t mean they can’t track your location,” Reyes says, sighing. “Eventually, we’ll have to let them roam around or risk conflict with the Nexus, and we don’t really have the numbers to sustain a war.”

“A war,” Tris echoes, frowning. “Because of me?”

“They want you back,” Keema tells him.

“Why, though?”

“They think something’s wrong with you.”

His frown deepens. His father said something similar. He indicated he hurt Tris to knock him out and take him back to the ship so the doctor could help him, but that whole line of thinking doesn’t make sense. If he just expressed his worry, and seemed genuine enough, Tris might have just said ‘okay’ and left with them willingly, because he knows he’s not 100% okay. He knows something is wrong with him. But Alec Ryder didn’t even try to talk to him, he just attacked him, hoping to get his way like always.

“There is something wrong with you,” Reyes says, “but we can take care of it here. They need not involve themselves.”

“I’m fine,” Tris says.

“Oh, honey,” Keema laughs, shaking her head. “I don’t think so.”

He’s apparently outnumbered. He scowls at them, folding his arms across his chest.

“You’re not fine,” Reyes says, “but we’ll make sure you get there.”

The tension in his shoulders eases slightly.

“The reason I came to you today instead of simply vid-calling you is because they have attempting to infiltrate my communication networks and find your location that way,” Keema says. “Since I’ve never called you at this location, I don’t think that would help them very much even if they were successful. However, since they’re even attempting it, it leaves me worried about what they might try next.”

“It’s good to worry,” Reyes says, nodding thoughtfully. “We don’t want to risk war with the Nexus, but just handing Tris over is out of the question too.”

“You make it sound like I’m your hostage,” Tris says.

“In their eyes, you are,” Keema reminds him.

They do think Reyes is keeping him hostage. They think Reyes is the bad one here, not them. Tris can’t really correct them on this without revealing that Reyes is Shena, and also the Charlatan. The real Charlatan, and not the fake one Keema represents.

“So what do we do?” Tris asks. “I’m sure they’ve convinced everyone you kidnapped me or something, so people will be on their side, not yours.”

“Unless you correct their opinions,” Keema says.

“And how do I do that?” Tris asks, frowning. “Without exposing Reyes.”

Because that is something he will not do, no matter what. He owes the guy too much to betray him like that.

“You reveal to your crew who you really are,” Reyes suggests. “And how the Ryders have treated you. You reveal to them what really happened in the cave.”

Tris’s spine snaps taut. “No.”

“Think about it-”

Tris quickly shakes his head, lungs clenching painfully. “No,” he says again, more firmly this time. “I don’t want them to know who I am. I don’t want to be connect to them.”

“Then just tell them what really happened in the cave.”

“If I do that, how am I supposed to prove it? It’s not like Erin will back me up, and your opinion won’t matter.”

“What about Dr. Nakamoto?” Reyes offers. “He could speak with the doctor on your ship, and compare notes on your health, and your new injuries and how you sustained them.”

“There’s no way to prove the Pathfinder is the one who did that to me, though, and not you.”

It’s how his family spin the story, after all. Sure, Tris might have been stabbed a little, and electrocuted, and it might have happened recently… but for all they know, Reyes did this to him, and that’s exactly how his family will tell the story if asked about it. He knows this.

“Then your crew will simply have to take your word for it,” Reyes says, sighing. “You said yourself they were already trying to protect you, so is it really a stretch, to them, to believe the Ryders attacked you?”

Tris bites down on his lower lip, thinking. “I guess not…” They already seemed to think Erin would attack him or something, and didn’t like leaving him alone with either the Pathfinder or his sister, but it’s a big leap to go from thinking it might happen to actually having the beloved Pathfinder attack him like that.

“Would they believe you?” Keema asks.

“I don’t know.”

They might believe him, but at the end of the day, they have to trust the Pathfinder, don’t they? They work for him, after all. He’s their leader. They have to trust and respect him, and that’s hard to do if you also believe he’d attack a random member of his crew like that, supposedly for their own good. If Tris goes to them with the story of what actually happened, and tells them Reyes did not, in fact, kidnap him… then he’s throwing the entire crew out of balance, and ruining a working relationship they need to keep going.

He can’t be responsible for that.

“Why don’t we just… kill me?” he asks.

They both stare at him in horror.

He shakes his head. “No, not like that. Not for real. Just… make it seem like I’m dead? Then they’ll stop looking for me, right? They’ll quit hassling you, and there’s no need to go to war with the Nexus over a dead crew member, right? I mean, this is hostile territory, so it’s only their own fault for leaving me here for so long, alone, right? These things happen.”

“We’re not killing you,” Reyes says.

“I don’t know,” Keema says thoughtfully. “The idea has merit.”

“They’ll just cause discontent between us and the Nexus anyway, for revenge.”

“Maybe,” Tris says, “or maybe they’ll let it go. It’d be suspicious of them to want revenge for a random crew member in hostile territory, right? And they’ll have evidence that I chose to stay, at my own risk, right?”

“I still don’t like it,” the smuggler mutters. “Don’t you have friends on the ship? Do you want them to think you’re dead, too?”

“I do have friends, but at the same time, they’ll be able to work better with the Pathfinder this way. If I tell them what really happened… they might turn on my dad, and that won’t be good for anyone, will it? They’ll get kicked off the ship in a heartbeat. They don’t deserve that.”

“You don’t deserve to die, either.”

Tris rolls his eyes. “I won’t actually be dying.”

“I still don’t like it,” Reyes repeats.

“Then what do you suggest? Because I’m running out of ideas here.”

“I don’t know. Let me think on it.”

“Fine. If that’s all, I think there’s a bed with my name on it,” Tris says, nodding toward the structure hidden away in the side of a mountain.

“Yes, get some rest,” Reyes says, nodding.

“Hope you feel better soon,” Keema adds, waving him off.

Tris sighs and enters the structure, leaving the two of them outside by the shuttle to talk.

xXx

A day later, Reyes knocks on his door, waking him.

“Yeah?” Tris calls, and the door opens to reveal the smuggler.

“Get dressed,” Reyes says.

“Where are we going?”

“You’ll see.”

Tris gets dressed, and meets Reyes out by the shuttle. “Where are we going?” he asks again, as he climbs inside.

“I’ve thought a lot about this, and so has Keema.”

“About what?”

“Your situation, with the Pathfinder.”

“Oh. Okay, and?”

Reyes waits for him to strap in before taking off, and continuing to speak. “Your main fear is your identity being revealed, right?”

“I guess?”

It’s something he doesn’t want to have happen, but he doesn’t know if it’s his greatest fear or anything. It’s up there. He also doesn’t want to cause further trouble for his crew, or cause a mutiny simply because he was too weak to defend himself against his father.

“Stop that.”

Tris blinks, looking over at Reyes.

“Uh, what?”

“Stop overthinking things,” Reyes says, tossing him a quick scowl. “We have a plan.”

“A plan?”

“We sent the Pathfinder a message to meet us, with your crew, and that if he reveals your true identity during this conversation, bad things will happen.”

“Wait, conversation? What?”

“We set up a meeting.”

Tris’s breath catches in his throat. Anxiety coils tightly in his stomach. He’s going to have to speak to his family? Face-to-face?

“Calm down,” Reyes says, glancing at him briefly. “You don’t have to speak to them. You don’t even have to be in the same room. But we are all going to sit down and have a nice talk about what actually happened, and let your crew decide where they want to go from there.”

“I don’t want to cause them problems,” Tris says.

“I know you don’t, but they deserve the right to know who they’re actually working for, don’t they? What if it was someone else they attacked? What if they attack someone else in the future? Do you want that on your conscience?”

Tris winces. “No, of course not.”

“Then they need to know, even if it hurts their working relationship.”

“You said… I don’t have to be in the same room?”

“We’ll have you in another room, watching or listening in,” Reyes says. “If you want to leave, you can. If you want to involve yourself, you can. But I won’t make you do anything. Your crew simply needs to be informed, and know that we didn’t actually kidnap you and you’re not in any real danger.”

“We could just tell them that, without everything else.”

“You said it yourself, that they might need proof.”

“You have proof?”

“I was there,” Reyes says. “I saw what happened. So did my people who were also there. I can also call in Dr. Nakamoto, who will be on stand-by.”

“Please tell me you didn’t threaten him again.”

Reyes smirks. “Of course not.”

“And do you think that will be enough? For proof, I mean?”

“I think it will be enough to convince your crew that something is amiss with your father’s story, and maybe that’s all we need.”

“I don’t want to cause problems with them,” Tris says again.

“They need to be informed.”

“I mean… I guess.” He sighs heavily, shaking his head. “You could have told me about this earlier, you know. Instead of just springing it on me.”

“If I told you earlier, you’d find a way to talk me out of it, and this needs to happen. For you, and for your crew.”

“I guess.”

“I’m just trying to help.”

“I know you are.” That’s just it, though; he knows Reyes is trying to be helpful, trying to get him out of this situation without ‘killing him’, so it’s hard to be angry with him. He’s just trying to help, and Tris already owes him so much.

He just wishes this wasn’t sprung on him like this, but he can see why Reyes did it this way. He’s right that Tris would try to talk him out of it. If they weren’t already on their way there, he’d try to talk him out of it now, but he can’t.

“Like I said,” Reyes continues, “you don’t have to be in the room, but I do think you need to hear what everyone has to say.”

“Okay,” he says quietly.

“And if it becomes too much, if you get stressed out, just leave the room or mute the sound or something. You don’t have to be involved, okay?”

“Okay,” he says again.

“And I’ll be there the whole time. Maybe not in the room with you because I have a few things to say to your father, but I’ll be there all the same.”

“Okay,” he says for a third time, focusing out the window at the passing scenery.

“Sorry for springing this on you,” Reyes tells him, almost nervously.

Tris nods, pulse racing too much to talk right now.

They land on Kadara Port. It’s quiet for the time of day, but the streets look cleaner. The atmosphere feels less hostile, too, but that might just be because Sloane is dead so she can’t want his head anymore. Or maybe having a change in leadership is a good thing, and is really what this place needed. He doesn’t know for sure.

He doesn’t really want to think about it right now. He’s too busy trying to stave off the headache and racing of his pulse due to thoughts of his father and sister.

They head toward Sloane’s former headquarters. He guesses they’re Keema’s headquarters now. Hopefully she can make better use of it than Sloane ever did.

The hallways are familiar but different. Brighter, almost. Sloane kept them dark and quiet, but now they seem almost… lively. Which is strange, coming from the supposed head of the group known as the Collective, who are known for their strategic cleverness and way of the shadows.

They bypass the main room and head off into a small side room instead. Inside there’s a small tablet, and earphones.

“Just put the earphones in and turn the tablet on,” Reyes tells him, gesturing at them. “They’ll let you see and hear what’s happening, but you won’t need to involve yourself this way. We’ll be right next door if you want to join us, but you don’t have to.”

“Alright,” Tris murmurs.

“And if you feel stressed or anything, then feel free to leave whenever. Keema has someone waiting at the shuttle to take you wherever you want to go, and you can trust them. Or you can wait at the shuttle for me. Knock on the wall three times and I will leave them and join you in here, if you need me. Do you understand?”

Tris nods slowly, staring down at the equipment on the floor in the center of the room.

“Do you hear me?” Reyes asks, watching him.

Tris glances at him briefly, and nods again. “I hear you.”

“Good. Don’t stress about this. We’re just going to have a little chat.”

“Sure,” Tris says, sighing.

“They should already be in there,” Reyes tells him quietly, from just behind him. Tris can hear him moving, can feel his eyes on him. “All you have to do is turn it on, and listen. Whenever you’re ready.”

He nods again, the lump in his throat preventing him from speaking at the moment.

Reyes sighs, and exits the room. The door closes quietly behind him, and for a long moment, Tris just stands there, staring down at the equipment.

He doesn’t have to watch. He doesn’t have to look.

He does.

He sits on the floor, picks up the tablet, and turns it on.

The screen on the tablet flashes white before flickering to life with an image of the room, from a view across the room overlooking the group seated at a large rectangular table.

Everyone’s there. Liam, Peebee, Drack, Cora… everyone. Including his sister and father, at the head of one side of the table.

Reyes sits at the other end with Keema. Members of the Collective surround them. Tris can’t see any weapons on anyone at the table, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have any, nor does it mean they’re powerless.

He exhales slowly and puts the earphones in.

“Where is Tris?” his father demands immediately.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER FORTY: Find No Answers Here

 

His father’s voice is rough and almost uncertain, a change Tris certainly was not expecting when he first sat down. He stares at the screen depicting a blurry image of his father’s face, small and lacking intricate detail, but he can still make out the curve of his brows, the crease in his forehead. Tris swallows, pulse quickening.

“We’ll get to that in good time,” Reyes assures him, before looking at the rest of the people there. “What exactly do you know about what happened here?”

“They know that you kidnapped him,” Erin says harshly, blue eyes narrowed into harsh, angry slits. Tris can’t remember the last time he saw her this angry. Maybe that last huge fight, when that slap echoed for eons. He’s not sure. Her face is flushed red, a crease deep in her brow, and her piercing eyes are focused solely on Reyes.

Reyes shakes his head, looking at the others. “I want to hear it from them, not you, or the Pathfinder.”

His voice is calm, even, full of quiet authority. Tris wishes he felt as relaxed as Reyes sounds right now, even if he can read the quiet tension in the smuggler’s body. The set of his shoulders is just a little too rigid, the stony expression on his face a little too relaxed to be natural.

“Uh, where is Tris?” Liam asks, the first of the rest of the crew to speak.

“Yeah,” Drack adds, eyes narrowing. “Where’s the kid?”

A pang of… something, shoots through Tris. They seem like they really want to know, like they’re really worried. A lump sticks in his throat, and he swallows thickly around it.

“He is safe,” Reyes replies.

“They said you kidnapped him,” Peebee speaks up, frowning at him.

“They said you hurt him,” Liam adds.

“Well,” Reyes sighs, “there’s more to it than that.”

“And what is that supposed to mean?” Vetra demands, her own eyes narrowing.

“He’s stalling, obviously,” Erin huffs, rolling her eyes. “He doesn’t want to answer the questions or tell us where Tris is. I take it you’re not letting us take him back, either?”

He can see the unease stirring within the crew, can almost feel the tension growing like something palpable in the air, suffocating in its thickness.

Reyes watches Erin for a moment, expression still so eerily calm, at least to them. Tris can see the lines of tension barely hidden, can almost feel the burning heat of his gaze. A shiver inches up his spine, leaving him exhaling slowly. “I wasn’t speaking to you, was I?”

“If you cannot be silent, I will have you removed from this discussion,” Keema adds, with a pleasant smile.

Another chill in his spine, because that easy smile is anything but friendly, in his opinion.

Erin glowers back at her, but after a brief look from the Pathfinder, she falls silent. For now. It won’t last long, Tris knows. She’s never been the silent type, and hates being ignored as much as she hates the silent treatment.

Always so stubborn, he thinks, sighing heavily.

“Where is Tris?” Liam asks again, refocusing on Reyes and Keema.

“Safe, as I said,” Reyes replies. “Now, I asked you a question. What all do you know about what happened? Other than me kidnapping Tris, of course.”

“So you admit you took him,” Erin says.

Keema throws her a quick glance, but Erin seems fine to remain silent save for the occasional jabs.

“I did take him under duress,” Reyes says, shrugging. “There’s no hiding that. I did take him while someone offered cover fire, and he wasn’t conscious at the time so I suppose you could say he didn’t give his consent. So, in theory, I guess I did kidnap him.”

“What do you want with him?” Cora asks, speaking up for the first time. Tris is a little surprised she’s speaking up at all; he thought she was solely on the Ryders’ side and wouldn’t care too much about what happened to him. She speaks almost timidly, like she’s uncertain she should be questioning what the Pathfinder said happened, but there’s a confidence in her voice as well, like she’s determined to know the truth.

“Why do you think he was unconscious?” Reyes asks, quirking a brow at her.

“You attacked him,” Vetra answers. “You faked a duel and knocked him out, and took him while firing at the Pathfinder.”

“I see,” the smuggler hums, nodding to himself. He looks from person to person, inquisitively. “They told all of you the same?”

“You attacked him, and then kidnapped him,” Cora responds, eyes narrowing. “And now you won’t even let us search for him, or let us see him to know he’s okay.”

“Yes, it does seem like I’m holding him prisoner, doesn’t it?”

“You are,” Liam says. “I just don’t understand why.”

Keema looks at the Pathfinder. “Well? You want to tell them or should we?”

“You faked a duel, attacked us, and took him,” the Pathfinder replies evenly, his own eyes narrowed into dangerous slits. It’s that look he gets when he means business, and there is no arguing with him. Argument is futile because he oozes control and authority, and disobeying him brings punishment. “That’s all there is to it. You can spin it however you like, but you’re only making this worse for yourself.”

“No,” Reyes says, smirking faintly. “You’re only making this worse for yourself.”

“You’re trying my patience,” Alec Ryder says, irritation heavy in his voice. “And why do you speak for your boss?” His gaze slides toward Keema. “Do you always let those beneath you speak for you?”

“Now there’s an interesting idea,” Keema says, almost thoughtfully. “You see, I could ask the same, considering you sent a pawn to do a king’s job. That is the correct phrasing, isn’t it?” Now she looks at Reyes, who shrugs at her, nodding slightly, before she looks back at the Pathfinder. “You had a job to do here, a mission promised, and you delegated that responsibility to a lowly member of your crew. It’s really no wonder you can’t keep track of your own people if that is how you run your operation.”

“We entrusted Tris to do something important while we did something more consequential,” Erin says, glaring at her. There’s a rough edge to her voice now, a dagger-like quality to her words.

“I see,” Keema says, nodding. “So now those here on Kadara, and indeed even all of the angara, are inconsequential to you pompous humans.” She smirks briefly at Reyes. “No offense.”

“None taken,” Reyes says, shrugging. “I did sever ties with the Nexus, after all.”

“Yes, I suppose you did.” She looks back at the rest of the group, mouth tightening into a solid line. “I wonder if Evfra knows of your delegation.”

“What does it matter?” the Pathfinder asks. “Tris got the job done, as we knew he would.”

“He did succeed,” Keema agrees. “Despite the fact it was not his job, was it? It was yours. And yet you speak to me about how my second speaks for me. He is human, and understands your kind more than myself, so therefore shouldn’t he speak for me in matters like this? Or do you think yourself so arrogant that you can’t discuss matters calmly with someone who, in your eyes, is inferior?” She smirks again. “Or are we all inferior to you?”

“You’re making no sense,” Erin snaps. “You ramble on and on but all you’re doing is wasting time, stalling. Just tell us where Tris is so we can get him and leave. Then we’ll be out of your way; isn’t that what you want?”

Keema looks at Reyes again, nodding at him.

Reyes clears his throat, causing everyone to glance at him again. He looks at Liam. “You seem rather vocal about finding Tris. Is he your friend?”

“You don’t have to answer him,” Erin says.

“Yes,” Liam says, with a quick glare at Erin. “He’s my friend.”

“Mine too,” Peebee adds.

When did I get so many friends? Tris thinks, head spinning.

“Good,” Reyes says, nodding. “Now, Tris has been telling me things. A few secret things.” This he says with a quick glance at the Ryders, who in turn share a look. “And he told me that, during his time on the Tempest, you became a little overprotective of him, to the point you thought the Ryders might not be trustworthy. Is that true?”

“What does this have to do with anything?” the Pathfinder demands.

“It’s true,” Peebee says, watching Reyes carefully. “They were being… odd, about him.”

“That’s an understatement,” Liam adds, shaking his head. “They were being overly aggressive with him.”

“We weren’t aggressive,” Erin says, rolling her eyes. “You just don’t know how to follow orders.”

“Orders?” Liam repeats, incredulously. “Are you serious? You left him to die in a vault!”

“You said it yourself that he trapped himself down there with a killing gas,” Erin retorts heatedly. “And the gravity well wasn’t working. What else did you expect us to do, stand around all night waiting for a miracle? Did you expect us to dig our way into a potentially deadly situation to retrieve a probably dead body?”

“It would have been better than just leaving,” Liam replies, shaking his head. “You just left him there to rot without giving him a chance.”

“We were doing our job,” the Pathfinder calmly reminds him. “I thought you understood that, at least.”

“There’s the job, and then there’s losing ourselves in the process.”

“Interesting,” Reyes says. “So you’ve left him behind before, but refuse to do so now. Why is now so different?”

“He’s a valued member of our crew,” the Pathfinder says. “And you attacked him and took him.”

“Was he not a valued member of your crew before? In the vault?”

“What do you even know about the vault?” Erin hisses.

“A great deal more than you, I’m sure.”

“You know nothing.”

Reyes shakes his head. “I think we’re done here.” He looks at the rest of the crew. “You have a right to know who you’re really working for, so I’ll give you that despite Tris’s misgivings. See, he doesn’t want to make your jobs difficult for you. He doesn’t want you to lose faith in your precious Pathfinder, but I think you deserve to know who is guiding you.”

“What do you mean?” Jaal asks. He’s been quiet up to this point, looking hesitant and indecisive, but Tris can understand that. He’s new to the ship, new to the crew, new to humans and other aliens in general. He’s uncertain of his real place on the ship, and doesn’t want to question the Pathfinder, who helped retrieve their beloved Moshae, even if he did delegate an important task. Now he looks more than a little uneasy, probably all too aware of some of the raging emotions displayed by some of the crew.

“The Pathfinder attacked Tris,” Reyes tells them. “Not me, not anyone else there, just him. The Pathfinder. Alec Ryder. He attacked Tris, and yes, I did kidnap him I suppose, but I also got him patched up and looked after.”

“What are you talking about?” Cora asks, frowning deeply. She looks at the Pathfinder uncertainly. “He wouldn’t attack us.”

“He might,” Liam says, throwing the Pathfinder a cautious, suspicious look. “He’s been odd ever since we came to Andromeda. Ever since Habitat 7.”

He’s been ‘odd’ a lot longer than that, Tris thinks grimly, lips pursing. They just only saw the quiet façade Alec Ryder put up before Andromeda. The hard-working man only wanting to achieve his dream, his goals. A stubborn, dedicated scientist, eager to prove himself. Someone they could all follow, could all get behind.

That was the Alec Ryder they knew, but it wasn’t the real one. It’s not the real Alec Ryder. He is stubborn and dedicated, but not to others. He wants only for himself, and for his daughter, and deep down he wanted so much more for his wife, too, but he failed her. He failed her and a part of him disconnected, he lost a part of himself, and he’ll never really be able to get that back because some things you can’t take back. Some things you can’t fix, you can’t erase or rewind, and the loss of his wife propelled him toward Andromeda, toward the future, and in turn left him dragging Tris along too. Because he always gets what he wants.

That’s the real Alec Ryder. A man dedicated and determined to the point of cruelty. His laser-like focus pinpoints to a double-sided sharp edge, and he loses all thoughts of helping others because at the end of the day, if he’s not happy, why should those around him be happy?

That’s a little cruel, he thinks, frowning to himself.

Alec Ryder isn’t cruel, not really. He clearly loves his daughter, and there wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do for Mom. But she’s gone now, and so is his better half. Now it’s just Erin and Alec, day in and day out, and Tris has no part in their circle. He’s just the unwanted third wheel, tied to them by genetics.

He swallows and refocuses on the conversation at hand.

“The Pathfinder attacked Tris, after he stopped Erin Ryder from attacking me,” Reyes says calmly, evenly, holding everyone’s gaze. “She tried to shoot me, but Tris stopped her. When the Pathfinder attacked him, it was only fair that I return the favor, so I got him out of there.”

“Lies,” Erin says.

“I’m not lying,” Reyes says, glancing at each crew member. “Of course, you may think what you want, but deep down you know the truth. I can offer a little proof, but there’s no way to know who really inflicted the wounds, so I guess you’ll just have to trust what you have already seen and compare it to what they told you versus what I’m telling you. Because obviously one of us are lying.”

He glances at Keema, who nods back at him. She taps something on her omni-tool, and a door opens in the background. Tris can’t see it from this angle, but he hears the approaching footsteps.

“This is Dr. Nakamoto,” Keema introduces as the doctor comes into view, standing just behind Keema and Reyes. “He’s our most trusted doctor here on Kadara. He checked Tris over himself, multiple times. He can tell you what injuries Tris received in that cave.”

“What happened?” Liam asks.

“Tris suffered from electrocution coupled with a minor stab wound used to pierce the armor and allow him to become electrocuted in the first place. His brainwaves are also vastly higher than usual,” Dr. Nakamoto replies calmly.

“Yeah,” Liam says, nodding. “That’s been happening. But you said stabbed? Electrocuted?”

“Did they not tell you how I supposedly attacked him?” Reyes asks, quirking a brow.

“They didn’t go into details,” Peebee says.

“How is he?” Jaal asks.

“Tris will be okay as long as he avoids stress triggers until his brainwaves return to normal levels,” Dr. Nakamoto says. “He tells me this has happened before and this is not new information for anyone.”

“The stabbing is new,” Liam says, tossing a glare toward Alec.

Alec opens his mouth, but then stops, shooting a glance toward Reyes. What was it Reyes said before bringing Tris to this room? That ‘bad things’ will happen if the Pathfinder thinks to mention his true identity to people. Tris doesn’t know what Reyes said when he set up this meeting, but hopefully it’s enough to stall him. Hopefully it’s enough that his father won’t reveal his secret.

It might not change anything if the crew knows… but then again, it just might. And it’s that ‘might’ that leaves him keeping his mouth shut.

His hands are shaky. The screen is trembling as he holds onto the tablet with white, cold fingers. There’s adrenaline pumping through him like there always is during an argument, especially with his family, and seeing them this close yet so far is rather difficult. He wants to shout at them, scream look what you did to me until they realize, finally realize, what all they took from him, how they’ve ruined him, but they’ll never know. They’ll never know because that would require him being face-to-face with them, and right now he doesn’t think he can do that. He doesn’t think he can tolerate their direct presence, not just yet. Maybe later.

Maybe tomorrow, he thinks sourly. Always tomorrow.

He didn’t used to be like this. He tried to avoid them as much as possible, but at the end of the day, confrontation with them was nothing new. But now… now it leaves his pulse racing, leaves his breaths quickening, and the pain tightening in his head. It’s a physical ailment he can’t tolerate right now. He’s just so angry. So angry at them for what they stole from him, the normal life they yanked him from, this path they’ve set him on.

It might have been different if Mom was still alive. If she could reel her husband in and be the good-natured authority figure Erin needs. But she died, and Tris severed ties with his family. Or, at least, he thought he did.

They were never going to really let him go, though. He can see that now. They let him slip away, let him believe they weren’t going to do anything crazy like knock him out and take him with them… but then that was exactly what they did. They waited until he was vulnerable, until he trusted that they respected his decision, and then they struck.

The details of that day are fuzzy at best. He remembers waking late, after Dillon had already left for the day. He ate a quick breakfast, took a hot shower, and then… he doesn’t remember. Pain, he supposes. Odd dreams that never ended. A chill he couldn’t shake.

And then he woke 600 years in the future, in a galaxy he didn’t ask to join, and nothing has gone right since then. Nothing has made sense since he woke up.

He wonders if anything will ever make sense again.

The earbuds have fallen out as he tries to recollect himself. He takes a few slow, steady breaths until he feels a little calmer, and then he carefully fits them back in, attempting to keep his hands steady and the screen from shaking.

Something has happened. He’s not entirely sure what, but they’re all on their feet now. They’re all standing, in aggressive and defensive positions. Liam has rounded the table to stand behind Cora, just to the right of the Pathfinder, who is turned to face him in return. Liam’s stance is aggressive, one foot forward ready to lunge, while the Pathfinder’s stance is also aggressive. Cora’s stance is defensive; she doesn’t want to get caught in the middle, and hunches forward, out of the way.

“Stand down,” the Pathfinder orders, voice too calm to be natural. Drack joins Liam around the table, with Peebee not far behind. “I said stand down. Or I’ll have you all thrown off the ship.”

“I’d like to see you try,” Drack laughs.

Dr. Nakamoto stands between Reyes and Keema, who form a solid line of unity. He looks from one to the other, then back at the growing aggression in the others, expression eerily calm.

“Back off,” Erin snaps, glaring at them all. “This is the Pathfinder you’re talking to! You know how important he is!”

“Oh, we know,” Liam says, nodding. “But it’s also gone to his head. And to yours, too.”

“How dare you!” She steps forward to stand next to her father, seething.

How unhinged, Tris muses. Her life is coming apart at the seams. Maybe now she’ll know some semblance of what she did to him, how it made him feel. He wants to feel pity, because that’s his sister, his twin, but at the end of the day she’s no more family than him than a stranger on the street.

A part of him knows that’s a lie. Despite all they’ve done to him, they’ll always be his family. Not all of his memories of them are bad. There were some good times, and once upon a time he and Erin used to be close, but those days are long gone. He misses the memory of them, the thought of them as a family, but he doesn’t miss them personally. He misses what they could have been, what they should have been, but they’ll never be.

A happy family with a white-picket fence. It’s not in the cards for him.

“They’re just trying to turn us against each other,” the Pathfinder says. “Can’t you see that?”

“Maybe they’re telling the truth,” Peebee says.

“They aren’t,” Erin says.

“There is someone we could ask,” Liam tells them.

“And who is that?”

“SAM.”

A hush falls over the group. Erin and Alec share a glance, before Erin shakes her head. “SAM will only confirm our story. But if that’s what it takes to get you to see the truth, then so be it. Right, Dad?”

“Right,” Alec says.

Tris winces. SAM will pick Alec’s side, because they share a mind. He’d be a fool not to side with the Pathfinder.

He hasn’t given SAM much thought since arriving on Kadara. Being stuck here as he was, the Tempest and SAM felt so far away, like a bad dream. He doesn’t have a personal dislike of the AI, but at the same time, it does try to get into his head, and it still shares a brain with Alec Ryder. Sharing anything with Alec Ryder is a double-edged sword.

Things are getting out of hand. He never meant for any of this to happen.

The crew are turning against the Pathfinder. A part of him thought this might happen, but he never wanted this. He never wanted to jeopardize their mission, never wanted to get anyone thrown off the ship, least of all Liam, who believed in this trip to Andromeda so whole-heartedly. He didn’t do anything wrong; he simply trusted the wrong people to guide him, but he had no say over that. Whoever he knew as Alec Ryder before, that man disappeared when he got what he wanted and came to Andromeda.

There’s no reason to play nice anymore. At least, not for Alec. He’s the Pathfinder, has his own ship, and people depending on him. He can do whatever he wants and get away with it because he’s needed, and it’s that kind of power that can really go to people’s heads. It’s that kind of power Tris has shied away from his whole life, because it’s so tempting. It’s so tempting to just let himself be a Ryder, to have the name and the status that comes with it, but at the end of the day he doesn’t want that kind of power, that kind of responsibility. It, too, is a double-edged sword. Alec Ryder is powerful, he’s a high-ranking authority figure and people are going to believe him over anyone else on the crew, but at the same time, that makes him responsible for everyone on the crew.

“Alright,” Liam says, snapping Tris from his thoughts, “let’s get back to the ship and ask SAM, then.”

Tris frowns. Why can’t SAM just speak in their minds like he does with Tris and the Pathfinder? Once upon a time, he remembers SAM stating that while it could speak in his mind, it couldn’t do the same with everyone. What makes him so different? So special?

Can Cora hear it, as the secondary Pathfinder? She’s trained to take Alec’s place should something ever happen to him, after all. Shouldn’t she be able to hear SAM only in her mind instead of through speakers?

“We have a system your AI can speak through here,” Keema says. “You don’t have to go back to the ship. We can all get the truth right now.”

“Let’s do it,” the Pathfinder says, nodding. “Then you’ll all see who is actually lying.”

Tris grimaces, teeth catching his lower lip as he debates going in there to set things straight. They’ll believe him, right? They’ll believe him when he says who actually attacked him. His father can’t spin the truth then, can he?

He’ll try, he thinks, frown deepening.

“Your AI needs a speaker system to connect to, right?” Reyes asks.

“Of a sort,” the Pathfinder responds.

Keema moves away from the group and retrieves something from across the room, sitting on a shelf he doesn’t remember seeing there last time, when Sloane was in charge. She brings it back to the group and places it on the table. It looks like a regular speaker, but if it’s technology SAM can integrate with it, right? Tris watches, frowning.

This is a waste of time. SAM is going to side with the Pathfinder. Surely Reyes and Keema know that already, don’t they? They have to know that.

Out of hand, he thinks again, uneasily, his fingers white in his tight grip on the tablet.

“Are you there, SAM?” Liam asks.

There’s a long pause. Silence.

Tris releases the breath he was holding. Maybe he doesn’t have to worry about it. Maybe it doesn’t work.

“SAM,” the Pathfinder says, frustrated.

“I am here,” SAM finally says, almost reluctantly. Tris frowns again.

“Can you tell us what happened in the cave?” Cora asks.

“I can.”

“Alright, then what happened?” Peebee questions.

Another long pause. The Pathfinder scowls, as though having an internal argument. “Answer the question, SAM,” he orders.

Yet another pause.

“SAM,” the Pathfinder all but growls.

“Come on, SAM,” Erin says. “You know what happened. Tell them.”

Tris pushes to his feet. When SAM answers, he doesn’t know what will happen. Maybe the others will believe him, believe that Reyes attacked Tris, and go after him. He doesn’t know, but he needs to be ready to stop it just in case.

What he really needs to do is go in there and tell his side of the story, and hope they believe him. But for all he knows, the moment he reveals himself, his father will attack him again and take him back to the ship, and he doesn’t know what will happen then. Is Alec really worried about him, were his eyes really glowing? He remembers looking at them in the mirror, and for a brief moment, they were different. He doesn’t know. He doesn’t know what to believe or think, and all he knows in that moment is going face-to-face with his family makes his head throb painfully, and he’s supposed to be avoiding stress.

“SAM?” Liam asks.

Finally, the AI says, “The Pathfinder attacked.”

Tris’s mind blanks as voices raise, everyone shouting at once, stepping angrily toward the Pathfinder and Erin, who in turn step forward to meet them.

“The Pathfinder attacked,” SAM continues, “but he thought he was doing what was best. It wasn’t done in malice. He thought Tris was a danger to himself and others, and reacted accordingly. This does not excuse his actions, but it does put it in perspective.”

Thought I was a danger to myself and others? Tris thinks, frowning to himself. The cave is all blurry in his mind, but was he really that bad? All he did was try to talk them down from shooting Reyes, right?

Liam releases a growl a rage, and takes and angry step forward. He doesn’t attack, but if looks could kill Alec Ryder would be six feet under a million times over, the fury of a thousand suns hot in Liam’s gaze. And that’s just from looking at it through the tablet; Tris worries what his expression looks like up close and personal.

“What did you mean?” Cora asks, before anyone can react further. “About Tris being a danger to himself and others. How could he?”

“He was shaking with rage,” Erin says quietly, causing Liam’s rage-filled gaze to slip toward her. She almost flinches under it, and averts her eyes. “His eyes were glowing. He didn’t look… normal. He wasn’t himself. It was… terrifying.”

“How could he not be himself?” Liam demands.

“Something has happened to him,” the Pathfinder says calmly. “I don’t even know if I can blame it on Kadara, or the influences he’s met here.” His gaze slides briefly toward Reyes before he looks back at Liam and the others. “Something’s been wrong with him for a while now, if I’m being honest with myself. I think we all know that. Strange things have been happening with him. I guess this was inevitable.”

“So you’re blaming him?” Reyes asks, staring at him. “Seriously?”

“You didn’t see what he looked like that night,” the Pathfinder says, shooting him a quick glare. “He had his back to you, and was protecting you. So in your eyes, you saw nothing wrong. And you haven’t know him long, but I’ve known him all his life. And that wasn’t him in the cave that night.”

Tris’s grip on the tablet trembles. He’s afraid he’ll drop it and cause it to shatter on the floor, or that it will splinter in his grip, his knuckles white despite the shaking. His father is trying to convince Reyes he doesn’t know Tris. Trying to convince him he had a legitimate reason to attack him.

And Reyes is frowning, looking thoughtful, like he’s thinking about it.

Maybe they’re right.

Maybe he’s a monster now. Maybe he’s not himself.

He feels like himself. This pain in his chest, it’s all his. It feels so real.

But he saw his eyes brighter than they usually are. He thought it strange then, and now, with his father’s words, and his sister’s quiet fear… maybe they’re right. Maybe he is a danger to himself and others. Maybe he’s out of control.

There’s steel bands around his lungs. He can’t breathe. There’s not nearly enough air in the room.

He swallows air around the lump in his throat, trying to keep the bile from rising.

I’m a monster. I’m not normal. I’m a danger to everyone around me.

His anger scared him before. When he killed out of anger, even if it was deserved, even if it saved his own life. He killed out of anger, and now apparently he was shaking with rage, and his eyes were glowing, and he was angry. He remembers being furious, feeling desperate, and who knows what he would have done if his father didn’t stop him.

Maybe Alec Ryder is right.

Maybe he had no choice but to attack.

Because Tris isn’t himself. He’s not normal. He’s out of control.

I have to get out of here.

The panic is clawing at him full force now, sharp talons sinking in, never letting go. He drops the tablet and spins toward the door, doesn’t even look back to see if the tablet is still in tact as it falls to the ground, as he rips the buds from his ears and lets them fall, too.

He flees through the door, flees from the room, flees from the truth.

No idea where he’s going. Doesn’t really matter that much, as long as it’s not here, where he can hear how monstrous he is, where he can hear how much he needs to be stopped.

He just runs.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER FORTY-ONE: I'm a Stranger When I Wake

 

He’s not sure where he is. Not really. Somewhere on Kadara. Not on the port anymore. Not up on the mountain. He had to get out of there, but going to the shuttle would mean going away with the people Reyes assigned to wait there for him, just in case he wanted to leave in the middle of the meeting. While it’s tempting to take the shuttle anywhere he wants to go, he doesn’t really have a set destination in mind, and he doesn’t really want the company.

He’s a monster, after all. He doesn’t need company. Doesn’t deserve it.

He’s known something was wrong for a while now, but tried to ignore it for the sake of his sanity. He should have known it’d backfire on him, but somehow it still manages to catch him by surprise and take his breath away due to the enormity of it all.

Did he really look so fiendish? Enough that his father attacked him?

He doesn’t know. He doesn’t remember being out of control. He just stood up for what was right, didn’t he? Killing Reyes could have sparked war between the Nexus and the exiles once again, and he couldn’t let that happen. He also didn’t want Reyes to die – he was one of the few people on this planet who actually made him feel welcome, and despite his lies, he didn’t deserve to die.

He doesn’t remember losing control. He doesn’t remember what he might have done, in those split seconds of reaction, to cause his father to outright attack him.

While he knows something is certainly amiss with him, in his mind, he doesn’t feel out of control. He still feels like himself, just a slightly different version than before. It’s hard, attempting to rethink every choice he’s made since coming to Andromeda.

He sighs heavily, and tilts his head back to look at the sky. Night fell a while ago, and the stars are magnificent here. They’re so different from what he saw in the Milky Way. It’s interesting, to see the new strange patterns and not all the familiar old ones. Unnerving, in a way, but also intriguing. He wonders, idly, if the angara have constellations and names for them like they did back home.

There’s a screeching sound nearby. His muscles tighten and he looks around, but there’s nothing but an inky blackness around him. He swallows and pushes to his feet, a chill inching up his spine. Maybe running off was a bad idea, but it’s too late to change it now. He knows the wildlife on Kadara can be quite dangerous, but he hasn’t really had any run-ins with anything yet.

A flash of Habitat 7 enters his mind. The creature that could become invisible. It makes him wary in a way little else does. He prefers to see the danger coming at him.

There’s a rustling sound off to his left. He slowly stalks toward it, aware that he has no weapons because he didn’t think to bring them when traveling with Reyes earlier. A stupid mistake – he should always be ready for a battle. It’s just more comfortable without them on all the time, like his armor, and Reyes assured him there would not be a fight or anything before they left, even if he wouldn’t tell him where they were going. He just got dressed and they left, so now he has no armor, and no weapons, and he’s somewhere on the ground on Kadara at night.

I’m stupid, he thinks with a grimace.

He’s not powerless, though. He’s never been powerless. At least not in this way.

He has his biotics. They’ll never leave him.

Something flares in his mind. A half-second warning from his lizard brain, violently slinging him into Fight or Flight territory.

The body barrier falls over him only a half second before something lunges from the nearby bushes. There’s a flurry of teeth and claws and all he can think is, oh, nice, I’m going to get killed by a fucking dinosaur.

Teeth lance off his body barrier as he flings his hand out, shoving his palm harshly into the thing’s tough, reptile-like skin. There’s a pulse of vibrant blue energy, and the thing falls back a few steps. Now that he has personal space to maneuver, he closes his hand into a tight fist and lunges himself, slamming his fist down into the ground right in front of the thing. The nova blast knocks it off-balance slightly – it squawks and staggers, shifting from foot to foot as it shakes its head, as though gathering its bearings.

He doesn’t give it time to regain its footing. He’s already swinging again, slamming his biotic fist over and over into the creature. Eventually it falls over, and he stands over it, breathing heavily, pain throbbing through his head. It cries weakly, and a pang of guilt shoots through him, but this is kill-or-be-killed, and he doesn’t plan on dying today.

Finally, the pathetic sounds stop, and the creature lies there, dead.

Before he has time to rest, or even catch his breath now that the adrenaline is starting to fade, there’s a whirring sound in the air. He looks skyward and sees a shuttle flying toward him. It’s quite dark, so he doesn’t think the shuttle can see him. It’ll just pass over him, but that’s fine. He can take care of himself.

I should probably head back, though.

Reyes might be worried. He’s not sure. He thinks they have something special between them – something kind of unspoken, something uncertain, but also definitely there. There’s a connection. He likes Reyes, and he wants to believe Reyes likes him too, but sometimes it’s hard to wrap his head around.

There’s a chance Reyes is worried about his disappearance. It’s this chance that makes him sigh and start heading back the way he came. At least, he thinks it’s the way he came. He’s not entirely sure, because it’s dark and he had a lot on his mind coming here. He didn’t really pay attention to the scenery.

Even at night, though, the large mountain that is the port is hard to miss, especially when he thinks he knows its general direction. He can see it, see the light from the port on top, and sighs as he starts toward it. He doesn’t want to cause Reyes any undo stress from potentially worrying about him, after all. Reyes has done more than enough for him.

I could just not go back, a part of him whispers.

He stops walking, and stands there, uncertain.

I could disappear. Find someone to get me off-world, maybe try some other planet. It’s a tempting thought, to be sure. Then he wouldn’t be causing Reyes stress and he wouldn’t have to deal with his family. That’s assuming Reyes is even worried in the first place. It’s hard to connect the Reyes who looked after him after his father attacked him with the version he had in his head prior to the confrontation in the cave. The image where he thought Reyes was only friendly toward him because he wanted a way to get in good with the Pathfinder.

Reyes went against the Pathfinder. Had him shot, even, to get Tris out of there. That means that, on some level, he does care.

It’s very tempting. So tempting to just turn and walk the other way, find someone in the morning who can get him off-world. He won’t be bothering anyone this way, won’t be making Reyes worry or not-worry, won’t have to deal with his family and repercussions of his supposed ‘monster’ behavior. But where would he go? Staying on Kadara is out of the question; they’d look for him here, Reyes is here, he could run into someone. No. He has to get off-world, if he chooses to run. He can’t go to Eos – too hot. Voeld, too cold. So where can he go?

It’s as he’s deliberating that he hears another shuttle coming closer. He looks up and finds a shuttle racing across the sky. It would look ordinary if not for the fact there’s a search light attached to it, scanning the ground. What are they looking for?

Is it me? Are they looking for him?

The light’s getting closer. Soon it will illuminate him. He debates ducking for cover in the bushes, or letting the light hit him.

The odds of it being someone he knows are fairly slim, he thinks. There are a lot of people on Kadara, and most of them hate him, at least in some way or another. For either being part of the Nexus, or for Sloane’s untimely death, he doesn’t know. He just knows they don’t like him. It’s a very small chance it’s Reyes looking for him.

Only one way to find out, he thinks, and stays put. If it’s an enemy, oh well. He can handle it just fine.

His biotics aren’t going anywhere, after all.

The light hits him. The shuttle stops in the air, just hovering above him.

Then it’s landing, moving slightly to the side to do so, so it doesn’t land directly on him. He stays put, watching it land, and the searchlight is nearly blinding.

The shuttle door opens. Someone jumps out. A familiar outline.

“Tris! Are you okay?”

It’s Reyes, and there’s a certain tightness to his voice, a certain edge.

Tris swallows and tries to find his voice as Reyes storms toward him. There’s a harshness to Reyes’s face, his mouth’s thin line conflicting with that look in his wide eyes. Reyes stops directly in front of him, his hands reaching out to ensnare the front of Tris’s shirt even as his eyes roam up and down Tris’s body, as though searching for injury. It’s enough to leave a lump solidly placed in Tris’s throat, because there’s real worry in Reyes’s dark eyes.

“Are you okay?” Reyes demands again, gaze finally flicking up to meet Tris’s own.

Tris swallows thickly and manages to finally find some semblance of his voice. “I’m okay,” he says quietly.

Reyes’s grip tightens on his shirt, bunching up the fabric in two clumps. “What the hell were you thinking? Why did you run off? Are you crazy? You don’t even have any armor!”

“I just needed to get away for a little while,” Tris says, but it sounds weak even to his own ears.

“You could have been killed!”

There’s fury in Reyes’s voice, but his eyes hint at a different emotion. He’s not sure what, but it’s not quite rage.

“I’m fine,” he assures the smuggler.

Reyes growls and finally releases him, but doesn’t step away. “Why did you run? I had a shuttle waiting for you.”

“I just needed to be alone.”

“You could have been alone on the shuttle.”

“I’m pretty sure the pilot’s not a ghost.”

“He wouldn’t disturb you if you didn’t want to talk.”

Tris shrugs.

Reyes exhales slowly. “But you’re okay. I guess that’s all that matters. But you had me worried out of my mind, you know.”

He swallows again. “I did?”

Those eyes are on him again. Narrowed. “Of course I was worried. Did you really think I wasn’t?”

He shrugs and looks away.

“Dammit, Tris.”

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to worry you.”

“Why’d you run?” the smuggler asks again. “Why did you want to be alone?”

Because I’m a monster, he thinks but doesn’t say, instead focusing on the ground. His shoes are a little bloody from that creature he killed, but Reyes’s are nice and clean.

“Tris,” Reyes says quietly. “Answer me.”

“What do you want me to say?”

“I just want to know why.”

He sighs heavily, and runs a hand across the stubble on his face. He really needs to shave. “I don’t know. I mean, you heard them. I’m a monster.”

Silence follows his words, both standing there quietly. The silence stretches on and on, until the rubber band snaps as Reyes speaks.

“You’re not a monster,” the smuggler says firmly.

Tris just sighs.

“You’re not. Don’t let them get to you.”

He tries not to let his family get to him, but they’ve been doing it his whole life so there’s really no avoiding it. “I’m sorry if I worried you.”

Reyes sighs heavily. “You should be. I’ve spent hours looking for you, certain I’d find you dead somewhere.”

“Why dead?”

The smuggler shoots him another nasty look. “You don’t have any armor on, and I’m sure you were considerably stressed, which, as I’m sure you remember, is bad for you.”

Tris shrugs. “I’m okay.”

“Yes, I can see that now.”

Silence wraps around them again. Tris sighs, shoulders slumping. He doesn’t know what to do or say – everything sounds pathetic. He has no real excuse for running off like he did, other than he was scared. Scared to hear that he was a monster in his family’s eyes. Scared that he let his anger get the best of him in the cave that day. Scared at what he’s capable of. So he fled, and caused Reyes to worry. Reyes has helped him so much; he really needs to stop causing him undo stress. It’s not good for him, either.

“I’m sorry,” he says quietly.

“Okay,” Reyes replies, just as softly. “Are you sure you’re okay? Do I need to check you over for injury?”

“I’m fine,” Tris says. “Honest.”

Reyes exhales slowly, and nods. “Alright. Let’s get out of here, then.”

He turns to head back toward the shuttle. Tris follows him. They climb into the shuttle and lift into the air, flying across the landscape. For a few minutes, nothing is spoken. Tris watches the passing dark line of the ground below them, the searchlight now off.

“When did you run off?” Reyes finally asks.

“I don’t know. After they called me a monster.”

“They never called you that.”

Tris shrugs, still looking out his window. “They might as well have.”

“We finished the meeting, and I went to get you but found you gone, and the tablet broken.”

Tris winces. “Sorry about that. I didn’t mean to break it.”

“You think I’m worried about a piece of technology?”

He keeps quiet.

“Your friends on the crew side with you,” Reyes tells him. “No one seems to agree with what the Pathfinder did, even if he says he had a good reason for doing it. They argued, and said no matter what you might have looked like to them, they shouldn’t have attacked you. They’re on your side.”

That’s… comforting, he guesses. In some small way. He exhales slowly.

“And they never called you a monster, Tris. They just said you didn’t look like yourself, and it worried them.” A hardness enters Reyes’s tone. “Not that that gives them any right to do what they did, especially to their own family member. He could have tried talking to you, or listening to you, but instead he attacked. It was all too easy for him to attack his own son – not a good quality in a leader.”

Tris remains quiet.

“You don’t really think of yourself that way, do you? As a monster, I mean. Do you?”

He sighs. “I don’t know. Something’s wrong with me. I’m… angrier. Losing your temper as a biotic is… dangerous.”

“But not monstrous.”

“Sometimes it is.”

“Okay, but you’re not. There’s nothing monstrous about you.”

“I’m different. Coming to Andromeda changed me. My brainwaves are high all the time, my biotics are stronger than ever – something’s wrong with me.”

“Well, this is the only version of you I know, and you’re not a monster to me,” Reyes says firmly.

Tris swallows thickly, and finally glances over at the smuggler. His face is only slightly visible in the darkness thanks to the digital display on the control console. “But I’m different, and so screwed up, and angry, and-”

“We’re all fucked up in our own ways,” Reyes says. “That doesn’t make you a monster. I’ve done far worse than you. Do you consider me a monster?”

“Of course not,” Tris says, frowning.

Reyes nods slowly, tense set of his shoulders relaxing, like he was afraid of Tris’s answer. “If I’m human, so are you. We’re not monsters.”

“But I’m different,” Tris says. “You’re normal. I mean, a smuggler, and the Charlatan, but you’re normal. You don’t have weird new abilities or voices in your head or anger issues or-”

“Tris.”

He takes in a slow breath. “My own family is scared of me.”

“Good. They need to be.”

“This is serious, Reyes.”

The smuggler sighs. “You said you hid this from everyone the ship, right?”

“I tried to.” He’s not sure how well he did, because at the time, he wasn’t even really sure what he was hiding, or if he was hiding anything. It was on the edge of his memory, so he couldn’t reveal what he didn’t remember, could he? And the dreams were strange, as were the voices, but he just assumed it was from having high brain waves – nothing entirely strange about it, considering that. So he never mentioned it to anyone on the ship.

“So for your family, they remember you as you were back in the Milky Way. But you’re a different person now, because of all that’s happened to you. Some weird stuff might be happening to you, and around you, but you’re still the same person. They’re just caught up in the differences and not focusing on who you are as a person.”

“But you can?” Tris asks quietly.

“I’ve only ever known this version of you,” Reyes says again. “And I like what I see.”

It’s a lot to take in.

“My head hurts,” he mutters.

“Let’s get you to bed, then.”

He should argue. He doesn’t need a babysitter, or a caretaker – but maybe, deep down, he wants one. A caretaker, that is. Someone to worry about him, to help him through the tough times, to be there for him when he needs it. To make him sleep when he’s stressed, to make him eat when he thinks he can’t, to just be there for him in general.

He’s been on his own for so long it’s hard to fathom a world where he doesn’t have to be.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER FORTY-TWO: The Burden that I Face (Inside Every Night)

 

Dr. Nakamoto is waiting for them when they arrived back at their mountainside base. Tris shoots a scowl toward Reyes before looking back at the doctor. “I hope he didn’t threaten you again.”

The doctor smiles. “He said that if you were dead when he found you, he needed me to bring you back so he could kill you himself. It wasn’t a threat on my life so much as yours.”

Tris snorts and shakes his head.

“You’re pale,” Dr. Nakamoto says. “Are you hurt?”

“I’m fine,” Tris says. “Nothing happened. I just walked around. I needed time to think.”

“Well, I hope you got the closure you needed.”

Closure. Right. He doesn’t think he really got any closure, but at least now he knows why his father attacked him – really knows, anyway. He suspected, but now it’s confirmed. He looked like a monster and Alec and Erin thought he would attack them, so Alec knocked him out. It’s not ideal, and it hurts to think that his father could just do that to him, but honestly he shouldn’t be surprised anymore. It’s just who they are. And maybe he is a threat – maybe he is a monster. Maybe they had no choice but to attack him.

Reyes leads the way inside, and they head toward Tris’s room.

“I really don’t need an escort, you know,” he says.

Neither of them comment.

He sighs and enters his room. It’s odd to think of it as his. He hasn’t really had a room since he left the Milky Way. He sleeps in the crew quarters on the ship, surrounded by others, and ack on the Hyperion he was also in the crew quarters with other people. Staying with Reyes at his house, he slept on the couch in the living room. It wasn’t his room. But this… this almost feels like his room. He’s not sure if it’s because he’s spent the past few days holed up in here, and a few days unconscious in it prior to that, but it feels more his than anywhere else has so far.

He sits on the bed and Dr. Nakamoto starts running his omni-tool over him. Reyes stands just behind the doctor, reading over his shoulder.

“No new injuries,” Dr. Nakamoto says.

“I told you,” Tris replies.

“You said you were fine – by now, I know I can’t take your word for it,” the doctor says as the omni-tool’s orange glow disperses. “Your brainwaves are still quite high, but not more than it has been, despite the stressful day I’m sure you had. Either it’s had time to calm down, or it’s stabilized.”

“Here’s hoping.”

“How did it go?” the doctor asks, looking from him to Reyes and back again.

Tris shrugs, looking away. “It went fine. Now the crew knows.”

“I’m aware of what happened in the meeting. I was there, remember? I meant how did it go for you? When Reyes went to check on you after the meeting, you were gone and the tablet was broken. I thought he might have an aneurism.”

“I wasn’t that bad,” Reyes scoffs.

“Shh, Vidal. This is my story,” Dr. Nakamoto says, smirk evident in his voice. “So, Tris?”

“It went fine,” Tris repeats, flatly.

“I’ve spent a lot of my precious time looking after you lately. The least you could do is not lie to me.”

“What’s it matter? I wasn’t hurt.”

“Emotional and mental hurt are still injuries, and can sometimes be worse than the physical pain.”

“Well, I’m fine.”

“Stop saying that,” Reyes says, somewhat harshly. Tris flinched and keeps his gaze locked on the floor. “You’re not okay, and you know it. I know it. We all know it. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. And this is a doctor – he’s only here to help, and sometimes that means talking about things instead of just patching up wounds.”

Tris finally looks up and meets Reyes’s gaze. Those brown eyes pierce into him, tearing away layers and breaking through carefully constructed walls until he feels entirely too vulnerable. He swallows and looks at Dr. Nakamoto. “Something’s wrong with me. They think I’m a monster.”

“Who cares what they think?” Dr. Nakamoto asks, quirking a brow.

“I know. I shouldn’t care. But I just – it’s hard. They thought I was monstrous enough to attack me. Erin said it was terrifying. I was terrifying.”

It’s hard to talk about, especially since it’s all so new and raw. He also just discussed it with Reyes in the shuttle, which makes him feel even more exposed.

“Well, you’re not a monster from what I’ve seen,” the doctor said. “You’re as human as ever.”

“Sure,” Tris says, inclining his head slightly. “But I’m also different. My eyes apparently glow, my biotics are coming to me too easily and they’re stronger than ever, and I’m just so angry all the time. Not to mention the vault and-” He snaps his mouth shut, a muscle twitching in his jaw.

“What about the vault?”

“Nothing.”

Only Reyes knows what happened in the vault, and he doesn’t know all of it. He just knows they went there for a conversation, and Tris blacked out and apparently dreamed of having a conversation with someone. He doesn’t know what they talked about in said dream, because Tris didn’t tell him.

“I can’t help you if you continue to lie to me,” Dr. Nakamoto reminds him.

“Sorry, I just – nothing happened in the vault. Not really. I just passed out.”

The doctor looks over his shoulder at Reyes, who nods, agreeing with Tris.

“Why did you pass out?” the doctor asks, looking back at Tris.

Tris shrugs. “I don’t know. I guess I just got dizzy again like before. It happened so fast.”

It happened so quickly he wasn’t even aware he was dreaming the conversation or that he’d passed out until he woke up later with Reyes hovering over him. So it’s not really a lie.

Dr. Nakamoto watches him for a moment before he finally nods. “Very well. Regardless, you’re not a monster.”

“That’s what I said,” Reyes cuts in.

It’s nice, that they don’t think he’s a monster. They’re not scared of him like his family. Or, if they are, they’re good at hiding it.

“Is that why you ran?” the doctor asks. “Because they said you looked different and were scaring them?”

“No. Yes – I don’t know. It just felt like I was drowning and I had to get out of there,” Tris murmurs.

“Why do you think you’re a monster?”

There’s a lump in his throat and a hitch in his breath. “Because I’m different now. I know I am – I can feel it. I’m not the same person I used to be, so maybe they’re right.”

“They’re not right,” Reyes says firmly.

“But it’s the only way this makes sense,” Tris says quietly, glancing at him. “They either attacked me because I was out of control, like they said, or they attacked me just because. I don’t know which is worse – that I’m a monster in their eyes, or that they really didn’t care about attacking me and just did it to prove some kind of point.”

“You’re not out of control,” Reyes tells him gently. It’s rare that Reyes sounds gentle like this, but it always leaves Tris’s shoulders relaxing. “You’re the same you you’ve always been. Maybe a little different on the outside, and maybe a little angrier, but you’re still you, deep down. There’s nothing wrong with being angry. You’ve been through a lot, so it’s only natural that you’d get upset.”

“You make it sound so simple.”

“It is,” the smuggler assures him.

“Maybe for you, but not for me.” He swallows thickly, Adam’s apple bobbing. “I don’t know who I am anymore.”

“You’re Tris,” Reyes says, smiling softly. “Hacker extraordinaire.”

There’s another swift catch in his breath. He remembers the conversation he and Reyes had on that rooftop on Kadara Port.

Dr. Nakamoto clears his throat, causing Tris to flinch because he’d temporarily forgotten he was even there at all, with the way Reyes was looking at him. He glances back at the doctor.

“Physically, you seem fine. There aren’t any new injuries. But you’ve had a stressful day, and I’m sure your head must be hurting. Get some rest, and I’ll come back in two days to check on you.” He looks at Reyes. “Call me if anything changes and you need me before that. But keep the threats to a minimum, please.”

“I’ll try,” Reyes says.

“I suppose that’s all I can ask.” The doctor glances back at Tris. “Take it easy, and I’ll see you in two days. I hope you got at least a little of the closure you need.”

Then he turns and exits the room, leaving Tris and Reyes alone.

Tris scrubs a hand across his face, sighing heavily. It’s been a long day. A long, stressful, exhausting day. Somehow, though, he knows his sleep will not be restful.

“How are you, really?” Reyes asks, stepping closer to the bed, watching him carefully.

Tris shrugs. “I don’t know. Tired. My head hurts. It’s been a long day.”

Reyes suddenly steps even closer, hands grabbing his shoulders tight enough to leave fingerprint bruises through the clothing. Tris’s gaze snaps toward Reyes’s face as he frowns, taking in the smuggler’s wide eyes and the thin line of his mouth.

“Where are you hurt?” Reyes demands.

“Uh, what?” Tris asks. “I thought we went over this – I’m okay?”

“There’s blood on your shoes,” Reyes says tightly. “Where are you hurt?”

“Oh,” Tris says, sighing. “That. I’m fine, really. There was this dinosaur looking thing that attacked me, but I’m good.”

“You got attacked – where are you bleeding?”

“Nowhere.”

Reyes growls under his breath and then releases Tris’s shoulders, moving his hands down to grab the hem of Tris’s shirt to lift it up – searching for injury.

Tris bats his hands away. “Whoa, hey – I’m fine. Reyes. I’m fine. The blood’s not mine.”

Reyes’s hands still, brown eyes searching his face carefully. “Not yours?”

“No. It’s from that thing that attacked me. I’m okay. Honest.”

Slowly, Reyes releases his hold on his shirt and lets it drop back down to cover his abdomen. The smuggler takes in a somewhat shaky breath and backs up a step, dragging a hand across his face. He suddenly looks tired – exhausted, really. Like he hasn’t slept in days.

“Sorry,” Reyes says quietly, looking away. He shifts his feet somewhat nervously. “Sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Tris says slowly, watching him.

“I just – I saw the blood and…”

“Dr. Nakamoto said I had no new injuries, remember?”

“I do, but… for a moment, I forgot. Sorry.”

“No need to apologize.”

An uneasy silence surrounds them. Tris shifts on the bed, while Reyes settles his weight onto his left foot instead of his right.

“Do you need anything?” Reyes finally asks, still not looking at him.

Tris shakes his head. “No, I’m good. Just tired.”

“Then I’ll leave you to sleep.”

Reyes quickly leaves the room, leaving Tris staring after him.

What was that about?

xXx

He was right.

He doesn’t sleep well that night.

xXx

Reyes has breakfast waiting for him the next morning.

Tris joins him at the table, and they settle down to eat in silence. There’s a tension in the air between them that wasn’t there before, and Tris has no idea what to do with it, or how to fix it. He’s not sure what went wrong, what he did wrong.

So he keeps quiet, and the silence stretches on.

xXx

That night, he sleeps even less than the night before.

He tosses and turns, lost in the possible reasons Reyes might be acting this way toward him.

xXx

Dr. Nakamoto visits later that day. Reyes is strangely absent during the visit, having muttered something about Charlatan business earlier before taking off. Tris feels rather out of place without the smuggler there.

“How are you today?” the doctor asks.

“Fine,” Tris replies.

“I see your vocabulary hasn’t improved.”

Tris shrugs as the doctor waves his omni-tool over him.

“Huh.”

Tris frowns at the crease in the doctor’s brow. “What?”

The doctor frowns down at the omni-tool, teeth catching his lower lip. “I’m not sure.”

“What do you mean you’re not sure?”

“You’re strangely electric today.”

“Electric?” What is that supposed to mean? Is it supposed to make sense to him? “What’s that mean?”

“The body is a series of electrical impulses. Mostly it’s just the brain, but your whole body seems charged today. It’s… odd.”

“Odd how?”

“I’ve never seen it before. Sometimes after people get electrocuted they can carry a charge with them for a day or two, but it’s never like this, and you got shocked days ago so if it was from that, it should have shown itself sooner.”

“So… what’s wrong with me?”

“I don’t know. How do you feel?”

“Fine,” Tris says.

The doctor scowls at him.

“Seriously. I’m kind of tired, but I feel normal enough. Nothing feels different today.”

Save for the fact Reyes is ignoring him. That’s different. A pang of unease shoots through him at the thought.

“If you’d let me run tests I could figure out more about this,” Dr. Nakamoto says, looking at him hopefully, but Tris shakes his head so the doctor sighs. “But you won’t allow it. So I’m just guessing, but your brain waves are higher today, too. Not by a whole lot, but it was already dangerously high to begin with. Do you understand?”

Tris swallows and nods.

“It could be your body’s reaction to the higher brainwaves. It’s probably a good thing your omni-tool is already not working, or you’d fry it and any other technology on you. How is your implant?”

“Uh…”

He thinks it’s okay. It doesn’t feel broken.

He lifts his hand, and his palm glows blue.

“Biotics are fine, so implant must be too, right?”

It fried before, after the first vault. SAM couldn’t reach him. But his biotics still worked then. They just thought it was the part that connected with SAM that got fried, not all of it.

The doctor lifts his arm and runs the omni-tool over the back of Tris’s neck, over the implant.

“Huh,” he says again.

“What?” Tris asks nervously.

“It’s fried,” Dr. Nakamoto says. “You shouldn’t be able to tap into your biotics so easily with it fried like that. It should cause you pain.”

“Well. I’m in no more pain than usual. Headache’s died down a little today, even.”

“That’s good, I suppose. Still very odd.”

“What’s wrong with me?”

“I don’t know, but the body isn’t supposed to electric like that. It’s… I guess I can’t say impossible, but it’s very unheard of. It’s also not good for the body or the brain. Your brain is running even more in overdrive. This is dangerous for you.”

“So you’re saying…?” Tris trails off, swallowing thickly, a tight knot in his stomach.

Dr. Nakamoto settles a firm gaze on him. “This could kill you. Very easily. You could just drop dead and not realize it’s happening. This is not good for the body at all, and those brainwaves… Extremely bad for the brain. I recommend not using your biotics until I say you can – it can cause your body to charge more, and more of this electricity will kill you, despite your body’s stubborn will to live. This extra – charge – isn’t good for your brain or your heart, as both are affected by electrical impulses. Disrupting that in any way is dangerous, and to have it like this now…”

Tris’s head spins. I could die. So easily. I could just drop dead.

His eyes fall closed as he gives a tight nod. “Okay. I’ll take it easy.”

“No stress, no biotics.”

“Okay.”

No biotics. He can do this. Easily. It’s not like he’s used them a whole lot here on Kadara anyway, right? He’s mostly just been at Reyes’s house, and this base.

No stress, no biotics.

Easy enough. He can do this.

How hard can it be?

Chapter Text

CHAPTER FORTY-THREE: Heart Hits Like a Drum

 

He’s not quite asleep when Reyes checks on him so much as he pretends to be asleep. It’s just easier this way, he tells himself. Reyes has enough on his plate already – he doesn’t need Tris making things worse for him by adding on his own worries. The burden is his to bear and his alone.

I could die. It’s not a new thought. It’s been on his mind since Dr. T’Perro mentioned it on the Tempest a while ago, after he returned from that first vault on Eos. She said it could kill him because human brains weren’t meant to have such high brainwaves. Even the Pathfinder, with SAM in his mind, didn’t have brainwaves like this. It was dangerous. It could kill him. He’s know that for a while, but hearing it confirmed by Dr. Nakamoto, and with the odd electricity apparently running through his body… It’s a lot to take in. A lot to wrap his head around. A lot to accept.

No stress. No biotics. He can do this.

A part of him wants to tell Reyes what the doctor said. But a much larger part of him outright refuses. Reyes has his own worries to deal with; he doesn’t need Tris piling stuff onto him. He can handle this himself. It’s his life, and possible death, after all – not Reyes’s. It doesn’t concern the smuggler.

Plus, he still doesn’t know what he did wrong. He doesn’t know why Reyes is upset with him. Is it because deep down, he thinks Tris is a monster, too? It’s part of why he ran in the first place, after all. He saw that thoughtful expression on Reyes’s face, and thought Reyes would agree with Alec Ryder. Would agree that Tris was out of control, and needed to be stopped, even if that meant attacking him and knocking him out.

He said Tris wasn’t a monster. He seemed adamant at the time, but maybe he changed his mind. Tris runs that last conversation over and over in his head, but can’t think of what he did wrong. Did he seem unusually angry after Dr. Nakamoto left? He doesn’t remember feeling all that angry, but he’s been rather forgetful lately. Maybe he had an outburst and just doesn’t remember having it.

He sighs and scrubs a hand over his face, sitting up in bed. Reyes checked on him an hour ago, but Tris feigned sleep and waited until the smuggler shut the door before he opened his eyes and turned his light back on. He has all this nervous energy flooding through him, and doesn’t know what to do with it. He can’t sleep, despite the fact he knows he needs to. He hasn’t really slept the past few days. His body needs the rest, and his mind needs a break, a reprieve, but apparently his body has other ideas.

It’s like he can feel the electricity, now that he knows it’s there. He didn’t quite notice it before, but it’s probably why he couldn’t really sleep after returning here. He doesn’t know. There’s this charged sensation along his skin, occasionally making his hair stand on end. He drags his nails up and down his arms, scratching at the exposed skin, but nothing seems to help the rush in his veins.

He needs to get rid of this energy. It feels a little too much like adrenaline, in the heat of a battle. All charged up with no way to disperse the unwanted energy. It’s why he hates the aftermath of a fight. Using his biotics makes him feel alive, keeps him alert, but it also leaves him crashing as soon as the fight is over when his adrenaline has nowhere to go.

Dr. Nakamoto said no biotics, though, so he can’t even disperse the energy that way.

It feels like his skin is crawling.

He turns his light off and lays down, attempting to sleep for real this time.

xXx

He doesn’t sleep.

xXx

He can feel the charge along his skin like a physical coat, thick and suffocating.

Reyes asked what’s wrong.

Tris said he was just tired.

No need to worry him.

xXx

It’s getting worse.

He took a shower today. The water was too hot, even when it was ice cold.

Everything’s so hot. His clothes are constrictive. There’s a fire burning through him, electric blue.

xXx

“What’s wrong with you?”

Tris can’t answer. He’s afraid if he opens his mouth, if he unclenches his teeth, that he’ll explode. The continuous pressure on his aching jaw muscles is all that keeps him in check. That, and how he sits on his hands so they have nothing else to do. If they’re free to move, he’s afraid of what they’ll do.

Last night, as he tried to slip, his fingertips glowed blue.

It took him a moment to realize it wasn’t his biotics.

It was little electrical pulses, seen through the thin sheeting of his fingernails, the thin membranes of skin coating his fingertips.

Looking at it worried him. So now, he sits on his hands, fingers clenching into the covers beneath him.

“Well?” Reyes asks, watching him. There’s a worried crease to his brow, and Tris wants to wipe that look away, but speaking is too difficult right now. He just shakes his head, jaw tightly clenched. Reyes sighs, stepping closer. Every muscle in Tris stiffens, spine snapping taut, until the smuggler stops. “What’s wrong?”

He shakes his head again. Please leave. I don’t know what will happen when I explode.

“Tris?”

He exhales slowly through his nose. The air burns on the way out, as though searing the inside of his nose.

He swallows and tries to find his voice.

“Will you answer me? Or I’m calling Nakamoto.”

“Get out,” Tris says quietly.

Reyes’s brow furrows more. “Excuse me?”

“Get. Out.”

“… Have I made you angry?”

“I don’t – don’t want to hurt you.”

“Why would you hurt me?”

“Get out!”

Reyes flinches from the sudden volume of his voice.

He doesn’t move to leave.

“Please,” Tris forces through clenched teeth.

“I’m calling the doctor,” Reyes says, but he leaves the room, thankfully.

He must think Tris is just angry at him. Tris wishes it was that simple.

And then he’s burning, burning, burning…

Everything is electric blue.

xXx

He’s floating in a dark, cool void.

It’s a relief, after the burning heat of the past few days.

He can breathe again.

xXx

When he wakes, every single nerve in his body is alight with a burning flame.

He screams.

Hands hold his shoulders down. He can’t form the words, or even the proper thoughts, to explain that the added heat of the hands causes only more agony. He thrashes, but those hands hold tight, and a voice calls to him.

The words make no sense. None at all.

There’s a quiet hush of sound, a pinprick against his neck, and then there’s only more blissful darkness.

xXx

“We are sorry.”

The words echo, bouncing off non-existent walls.

The void is endless, yet suffocating. Small yet large. Cold, but hot.

It is an abyss of nothingness, of here and not here.

“We hope we have settled things. If not, we apologize further. Your death is not our wish.”

The words are too loud, too soft, too echoing in this void of here and gone. A push and pull of sensations, a whirl of pain and relief clashing in his mind in a way which should be painful – if pain existed here.

Silence rings, loud in the loss of echoes as the words fade to nothing.

On some level, the words should make sense.

They do not.

xXx

There are lips against his.

It really shouldn’t be the first thing to register in his mind. He should first notice the aching need for air, the painful swelling of his lungs as he takes in a ragged breath, the air shoved into his mouth by those very lips. He should first notice the painful beating drum that is his heart, hammering against the wall of his chest cavity, as though it wishes to leap right out of his chest. He should first notice the searing pain in every nerve of his body, the rock party playing too loudly in his head – but he notices the lips first and foremost.

They’re soft. And warm.

Almost too hot. Belatedly, he realizes this is because his own lips are cold. There’s an icy chill warring with the heat attempting to reignite within him. It threatens to send him back into the darkness, but the lips keep him awake.

It takes him a second or two to realize he is not, in fact, breathing. At least, not on his own.

That other mouth – that soft warmth – is doing that for him.

He coughs, suddenly starved for air. The other mouth leaves him, and he drags in a ragged, shaky breath. He’s lightheaded and dizzy, without even opening his eyes. Nevertheless, he forces heavy eyelids open, and finds a face hovering over him. It’s familiar, and he should know it, but he’s happy enough to stare at it for now. It’s a welcome sight, after the darkness.

The person is speaking.

Words that make no sense.

His eyes fall closed again. What a weird dream.

There are hands on him. Shaking him.

“Stop,” he wheezes.

They don’t stop. They say something back, but the words are senseless. Wrong. Different.

“What?” he asks.

The darkness tugs at him, attempting to yank him back into the void. It’s tempting to give in, to be back in that sea of nothing, where pain doesn’t exist, but the voice is shouting now.

He struggles to open his eyes again.

His vision is a little clearer, but the words still make no sense. The face is familiar, but hazy.

He’s shaken again, even though the person is looking right at him and they can obviously see his is, in fact, awake.

He scowls. “Quit it – I’m awake.”

More weird words.

“Look, if you’re not gonna speak something I can understand-”

A sharp ache in his head. Sudden and jarring, worse than the rock concert. A deep, penetrating ache. He winces, and suddenly the words aren’t so strange.

“-swear if you do not snap out of it right – do you hear – Tris!”

It’s his name that finally snaps him firmly from the void.

He blinks at the familiar brown eyes, dark with fear. Fear? He can’t figure out why that look is there. “Reyes?” he asks quietly.

Those eyes widen slightly, and those hands stop shaking him. Instead they just grip his shoulders firmly, and he realizes, belatedly, that Reyes is practically straddling him. It should be painful, but compared to his head and the other aches and pains shooting through his body – the floor isn’t so bad, beneath him.

“Are you with me?” Reyes asks, voice equally as quiet – almost frail, which is certainly not what Tris would ever associate the smuggler with.

“What happened?”

Reyes just stares at him for a moment. A long time, really. So long Tris wonders if he’s accidentally slipped back into the void, or if this is all just some dream, but then the smuggler laughs. It’s not a pleasant sound – it’s raw and scratchy and fragile, and Reyes’s eyes fall shut.

“You’re okay,” Reyes says, mostly to himself. “You’re okay.”

“I’m fine,” Tris says.

Reyes’s eyes snap open again, angry and dark. “You were dead!” He shouts the words, flinging them with such vehemence and outrage, before the anger dies away just as suddenly as it appeared. The grip on his shoulders tightens, even as Reyes’s own shoulders fall slightly slack, as though losing strength. “You were dead,” he says again, quieter this time.

“Dead?” Tris repeats, frowning.

“I came to check on you, and…” The smuggler drags in a shaky breath. “You were on the ground. Dead.

“Well, I’m alive, so…”

“How?” Reyes asks, staring down at him.

“I don’t know…?” Memories return to him slowly. “I felt like I was on fire. I told you to leave. That’s all I remember.”

Reyes nods slowly. “That was two days ago.”

“Two days…?”

“I called Nakamoto. When I came to check on you before he got here… you were thrashing in bed. Had a high fever. Convulsing. I tried to hold you down but you started screaming. Do you remember?”

Tris shakes his head.

“Well. That’s probably for the best.”

“Then what happened?”

“Nakamoto arrived. I brought him to you. He gave you something to make you sleep, calm you down. It worked, for a little while. He left to get more, since he only brought a little, and he didn’t know how long it would take for the fever to leave you. I showed him out. He said you were stable, and I’d been up for a while, so I thought… just a little sleep. A little.”

Tris nods. “Understandable.”

“But when I checked on you a few hours later…” A pained look runs across Reyes’s face. Tris fights the urge to wince, hating that expression. “You were on the floor. Quiet. Still.” An edge enters his voice. “Dead.”

“But I’m alive.”

“I did CPR for… I don’t know how long. Too long. Called Nakamoto, but he was far away, and… he said he wouldn’t be able to get here in time. I told him to come anyway.”

“Stubborn,” Tris says quietly.

Reyes inclines his head slightly. “And then you woke up… and here we are.”

“Here we are,” Tris repeats.

Silence surrounds them for a moment. Reyes finally slips off and away from him, releasing his shoulders. “Sorry.”

“It’s fine.”

Tris sits up, wincing. The world spins, and he closes his eyes until the feeling stops. Then he looks at Reyes, who is steadfastly glaring at the ground. “You look tired,” Tris says.

Reyes exhales slowly. “Says the man who was just dead a moment ago.”

“So clearly, I know what I’m talking about. Obviously.”

“Yes. I suppose.”

“Are you okay?”

Reyes snorts. “I’m not the dead man.”

“Well, my heart is painfully thrashing against my ribs, so I’m pretty sure that means I’m alive.”

“Painfully?” Brown eyes glance at him again.

He shrugs. “I’m getting kind of tired of rising from the dead.”

“Has this happened before, then?”

“Uh… I mean… not exactly? I don’t really remember exactly what happened in the vault that first time… but I definitely remember my heart racing and everything aching. Kind of like now. Of course, it also made me speak in tongues now and then, so there’s that.”

Reyes frowns. “You weren’t speaking any language I understood, when you woke up.”

Tris sighs heavily, scrubbing a hand over his face. “Fucking great. As if I don’t have enough problems.”

“This has happened before, though?”

“I mean – I guess? I don’t really know. The talking in tongues part, sure. The ‘burning alive’ part… not so much. I’d remember that.”

“Burning alive?”

“I don’t know. Nakamoto said something about electrical impulses. Felt like my blood was on fire. All this – pent up energy.”

A shadow crosses Reyes’s face. “That’s what he meant.”

“Huh?”

“When I first called him – he said he warned you to take it easy.”

“Well, yeah. Something like that.”

“And neither of you told me!”

The anger is sudden, but real, and it leaves Tris flinching.

“I didn’t want to worry you,” he says lamely. It’s a pathetic excuse, looking back on it, but it’s all he has. That, and the fact he was trying to make sense of himself, without always needing someone to help him. He caused Reyes enough trouble, after all.

Reyes laughs hollowly. “Yes, well, excellent work there. I’ll have to find some other term for watching you die for two days.”

“I’m sorry.” It’s not much, but it’s all he has right now. He’s too wrecked, emotionally and physically, to come up with anything more extensive.

The smuggler makes a sound. Tris can’t really place it – something between another hollow laugh, raw and grating, and some other sound he can’t identify. “You could have told me. I’d have not left you alone to begin with, if I knew.”

“You have enough to worry about without always worrying about me. I didn’t want to be a burden anymore.”

“Why would you think you were a burden?”

Tris glares at the ground. “Because that’s what I am. You’ve been really nice, and helpful, but you have your own stuff to worry about without adding on my own issues. I can’t help but think that you aren’t the actual, officially recognized Charlatan because you’re stuck here helping me.”

“That decision has nothing to do with you.”

“Sure. But if I wasn’t here, it’d be easier for you.”

“Is that what you’ve been thinking?”

Tris shrugs. “I thought you realized how much trouble I was. You suddenly started avoiding me, after all. After they called me a monster.”

Silence follows his words.

He hears movement, and looks over to find Reyes suddenly right in front of him, instead of a few feet away.

“Is that really what you thought?” There’s an incredulous tone to his voice.

“What else was I supposed to think? I couldn’t think of what else I could have done to piss you off so suddenly, in that conversation we had that night after Nakamoto left.”

Reyes shakes his head. “I never meant to make you think that. I was just… dealing with my own issues.”

“Which you could do easier if I wasn’t here.”

Brown eyes narrow. “No. It’d be worse then.”

Tris frowns, confused. “Worse? How could it be worse?”

Reyes sighs heavily, resigned. “Because I realized something, that night. That’s why I avoided you. I thought it’d be easier… but I was wrong. It just made things worse.”

“What are you talking about?” His head hurts enough without trying to understand this odd train of thought.

“That night – I thought you were dead.”

“I was fine.”

“I know that now. But at the time…” Reyes shakes his head. “You took off, on your own, without a weapon or armor, and in some twisted state of mind… and I thought for sure you’d run off and died. I was certain I’d find you dead somewhere.”

“So why’d you come after me, if you were so certain?”

“Because even if you were dead… I couldn’t just leave you there. And hope is a funny thing. There was a chance you were okay. Living here, it’s beaten into you that hope is what will most likely get you killed. Believe the worse, and be happily surprised or always right, but hoping for the best just gets you into trouble. But that night, I hoped.”

Tris stays quiet, watching as Reyes runs his tongue over his lips, as though searching for the words.

“And you were okay. You were alive, and uninjured, and it seemed too good to be true,” the smuggler continues quietly. “Then when we got here, and I saw the blood… I thought I was wrong. Hope ruined me, and you were hurt or worse. And I just – I couldn’t deal with it. I overreacted. For that, I’m sorry, and I’m sorry for making you think I was somehow angry with you, because I wasn’t.”

“Then why…?”

Reyes looks directly at him, holding his gaze. Tris freezes beneath the intensity. “That night, I realized I wanted more.”

“More?” Tris repeats, somehow shocked the words can even fall from his lips, with the weight of Reyes’s gaze on him.

“More from you. More with you. More of you. Just more.”

Tris stares at him, attempting to understand.

“You know I like you. But that night, I just…” Reyes sighs. “I realized I wanted more. I needed you to be okay. Not because I like you, but because…”

Tris struggles to find his voice again. “Because…?”

“Because I’m a better person when you’re around. Because you see me, even if I’m in the shadows. Because I like who I am when I’m with you. Because a lot of things, really, but mostly just because if you were dead, I’d have to go back to being some shady smuggler, and I just – I needed you to be okay. To be alive. And you were, and it was a little too much, and I overreacted and needed time to… think.”

Tris’s heart races as he tries to make sense of Reyes’s words. They’re words he understands, but the meaning… it’s a little more difficult to decipher. Reyes likes him. He’s known that – they might have a crush on each other, and he does like being around the smuggler, even if Reyes lied to him about the Charlatan – but he never dreamed it actually went both ways.

He thought Reyes was just putting up with him. Helping him because it was the nice thing to do. Helping him to get in good with the Pathfinder.

Helping him for any reason other than the fact Reyes just liked being around him.

It’s… so strange. Unnerving, because what the hell? How is this his life? When did this happen? Since when do people care about him like this?

How the hell is he supposed to react?

“I hope you can forgive my feelings,” Reyes says softly, shattering the quiet. “I thought I could stay away. I thought I could handle this. But then I saw you lying there, dead, and – I couldn’t. I can’t.” Their eyes meet again, Tris frozen at the semi-desperate look in those brown eyes. “Don’t make me.”

And he has absolutely no idea what to say to that. How to respond to that. How to comfort Reyes, how to make sense of what he’s heard, make sense of his own rampant thoughts and feelings-

But in that moment, all that really matters to him is giving in.

Because there was a plea in those words.

And there’s no way he can possible deny Reyes anything right now.

“I won’t,” he says quietly.

Reyes releases a shaky breath, and then there are quick footsteps storming toward the room.

They glance over, the moment shattered as Dr. Nakamoto enters the room, his wide eyes falling on both of them.

“You’re alive,” he says.

“Maybe I’m just a really elaborate zombie,” Tris says.

“How are you alive? Reyes said-”

“He gave me the kiss of life.”

Dr. Nakamoto looks at Reyes. “But that was an hour ago that you called me.”

Reyes shrugs.

The doctor looks back at Tris. “You shouldn’t be alive.”

“Right. I’ll just add ‘can’t effectively die’ to my list of failures.”

“How are you alive?”

“I’m not the doctor here. How should I know? I was out the whole time.”

The doctor looks back at Reyes. “What did you do?”

“CPR,” the smuggler replies.

“That wouldn’t have saved him. His heart was fried.”

Now Reyes’s eyes narrow. “And how would you know that? You weren’t even here.”

“I saw him earlier, remember? Before I left. His pulse was too unsteady, too quick and thready. It was only a matter of time.”

“You said he was stable,” Reyes says harshly.

“He was, but only enough to cling to life a little longer. My omni-tool doesn’t lie. Every nerve in his body was lighting up in the sensors, every area of his brain, and the heart showed significant overuse and scarring. He had a day, maybe two, at the most. I left to get supplies to make him comfortable, because it’s a painful thing to go through.” His eyes narrow as he looks at them both. “So, again, how are you still alive? What did you do, Reyes?”

“Nothing!” Reyes snaps, glaring at him. “I did nothing! I couldn’t do anything!” He jumps to his feet, stalking toward the doctor. “You knew he was dying and you left anyway! I had to sit there and watch him die!”

“I’m alive, so…” Tris tries to cut in, getting to his feet as well.

They both ignore him.

“There was nothing I could do,” Nakamoto says quietly, frowning at Reyes. “I warned him to take it easy, I warned him of the dangers. And when it happened, all I could do was make him comfortable. I’m not a miracle worker.”

“You didn’t even tell me!”

“Still alive, and right here, so…” Tris says.

“Doctor-patient confidentiality,” Nakamoto says, sighing. “How could I tell you, if he didn’t want you to know? I might live on an exile planet, but I’m still a doctor.”

Reyes growls, and then he’s lunging at Nakamoto.

“Whoa!” Tris shouts, jumping between them. Reyes stops, but stands there seething at Nakamoto, while the doctor just looks back calmly. “I’m alive, okay? So all of this arguing? Debating my death? Totally unneeded, because I’m alive. So let’s all just clam down, okay?”

Reyes growls again, but says tightly, “Check him over.”

Dr. Nakamoto already has his omni-tool up and running, waving it over Tris as he standsj there, separating them. Tris scowls at him.

“The electric charge has died down,” Nakamoto says, a crease in his brow. “I suppose death dispersed it, however temporary it was.”

“Sure. Wonderful,” Tris says, rolling his eyes. “At least death’s good for something.”

“It’s still higher than a normal human’s, but so are your brainwaves so I’m going to assume that’s just the new normal for you. Your temperature is a little high, which is… odd, considering you were apparently dead for a few hours. You should be ice cold.”

“I’m full of surprises.”

“Is he okay?” Reyes asks, like Tris isn’t standing right there between the two of them.

“He’s alive,” Nakamoto says, sighing. “I don’t know if I’d ever classify him as ‘okay’.”

“Still right here, you know. Still totally standing right in front of both of you. Not a ghost yet.”

“Quit with the death jokes,” Reyes snaps, gaze locking on him again.

“Sorry. It’s my coping mechanism. I can’t help it. Otherwise I’m going to freak the fuck out because holy shit I died and that’s wrong on so many levels and how the fuck am-”

“Breathe,” Nakamoto says. “Relax. Stress still isn’t good for you.”

“I just died and came back to life like fucking Lazarus,” Tris snaps, glaring at him. “I’m allowed to freak out!”

A hand touches his shoulder. He swallows and swivels his head back toward Reyes.

“Easy,” Reyes says quietly. “Freak out later. Right now, you’ve been through a lot. Would you like to sit down? Lay down? Sleep?”

“I haven’t slept in days,” Tris says, voice cracking.

“You haven’t?” Nakamoto asks.

“I was burning – I couldn’t…”

“Then you should sleep now,” the doctor says. “Lack of sleep can cause undo stress, too.”

“I’ll stress if I want to!”

“Come on,” Reyes says, tugging on his shoulder until he give in and lets the smuggler lead him toward the bed. He sits heavily, and Reyes sits next to him. “He’s not in immediate threat of dying?”

“Honestly, I have no idea with him. I don’t think so.”

“Then leave.”

“Excuse me?”

“Leave,” Reyes says again. “I’ll take it from here.”

“I don’t know if that’s wise. I need to run tests, see how this happened.”

“He’s not going to be your test subject. I’ll call you if anything changes.”

By this point, Tris has lowered his head and allowed his eyes to close, attempting to drown out his own presence in the room. It’s all too much right now.

Every piece of his mind and soul hurt. Like broken shards cutting his fingers as he tries desperately to hold onto his sanity.

A door closes.

“Lay down.”

It’s a simple command. Easy to follow. It’s easier than thinking right now.

He lays down on his stomach, giving into the soft pushes against the back of his shoulder. He’s without a shirt, and only notices it now, as the soft covers are cool beneath his stomach as his bare skin connects.

Reyes shifts over him, straddling him from behind.

“Close your eyes and relax.”

It’s another easy command.

He rests his head on the pillow and closes his eyes, willing his body to relax.

Then Reyes’s hands are on his back, pushing and prodding, kneading and pressing, a push and pull of sensations. A massage.

The smuggler works into all of his sore, tight muscles. It’s painful, but pleasant. He relaxes further, releasing a relieved breath.

When sleep comes, he gives in easily.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER FORTY-FOUR: Where Do We Go from Here?

 

He sleeps for a long time. There are no dreams, which is a small blessing.

When he wakes, it’s to Reyes’s warm voice in his ear, a hand on his arm, and the scent of waffles in the air. He blinks his eyes open, mouth already watering, and finds Reyes sitting next to him with a tray of food. He brought him breakfast in bed, and Tris has no way to process this, especially not this early. He stares at the food for a long moment, before Reyes finally shifts somewhat nervously.

“I hope you’re hungry,” he says.

“Starved,” Tris answers, and sits up to accept the food and the glass of juice waiting for him. The second plate of food goes to Reyes. They’re eating breakfast in bed, and it’s so strange he has no way of truly processing this. No one has ever done this before. He brought Dillon breakfast in bed, once, but Dillon never brought it to him. No one has ever done this for him before. “Thank you,” he says quietly, taking his first bite of food. It’s delicious, on par with Liam’s pancakes, though of course waffles have a slightly different flavor.

“I always wanted breakfast in bed,” Reyes says, stabbing at a piece of waffle with his fork. “Never tried it before, though.”

“How come?”

“Never found someone to share it with.”

The words hang between them, and Tris remembers with startling clarity the conversation they had before he slept. After he woke from death. There’s a catch in his breath as Reyes’s pained expression returns to him, along with his sincere words. Tris said he’d stay – Reyes won’t have to be without him. He can’t help but think this is a lie, though. He can’t stay here, not permanently. It’ll cause too many problems for the smuggler in the long run, with his family breathing down his neck and everything.

Not to mention, there’s an unpleasant thought nagging at him, about what that voice in the vault said.

“I meant what I said,” Reyes says softly. Tris glances over to find the smuggler watching him, the quiet intensity in those brown eyes threatening to swallow him whole. He swallows the food in his mouth and struggles to find his voice.

“You… really like me?” he asks, mostly to clarify.

Reyes said he liked him, even though they haven’t known each other all that long. Tris likes being around Reyes, too, but he thought it was only one-way. How could the smuggler possibly like him, after all? He’s no one. Just cannon-fodder, brought to this galaxy against his will. Maybe the vault thinks he’s worthy, but that’s just a disembodied voice – what does it know?

“Of course I do,” Reyes tells him, brows furrowing. “What have I done to cause you to doubt me?”

“Sorry,” Tris says quickly. “It’s nothing you did. I mean – I just – I’m not used to this.”

“Used to what?”

He sighs heavily. “People don’t – like me. Not really.”

“And why do you say that?”

“I don’t know. It’s just how it is. I’m not even supposed to be here.”

“You might not have asked to be here, but I’m rather happy you’re here.”

Those words warm him better than the heat of a fire ever could. The intensity in those brown eyes reminds him of a flickering flame. “I just – you barely know me. And I’ve caused you a lot of trouble.”

“Maybe I asked for the trouble.”

Tris scowls. “Be serious.”

“I am.”

He shakes his head. “How can you be? No one asks for this kind of trouble.”

“Maybe I think you’re worth it.”

His spine snaps taut, and his gaze flickers away. “I’m not.”

“You are.”

“I’m really not,” he argues, shaking his head with a heavy sigh. “You and the vault – you both think I’m worthy, but I’m not. I’m just – me. Just Tris. I was brought here to be cannon-fodder; I’m not worth-”

“Excuse me?” Reyes says sharply, and Tris snaps his mouth shut. He can feel the heat of Reyes’s gaze, threatening to burn a whole in the side of his face as he keeps his own gaze firmly planted on the ground. “Cannon-fodder? Your family brought you here because they think you’re expendable?”

“It’s not like that,” he says instantly, but the words feel flat.

“How can you keep defending them?” Reyes demands. “After everything they’ve done?”

“They’re my family,” Tris says quietly, shoulders slumping. “What am I supposed to do?”

“It’s okay to go against them,” Reyes says firmly. “You realize that, right? All your talk of not getting along with them, but you defend them all the way. Quit doing that. You’re not expendable, do you hear me?”

“Sure,” Tris says.

There’s a hand, warm against the wide of his face. Fingers hook under his chin, lifting and turning until his gaze slides toward Reyes. “You’re not,” Reyes repeats, glaring at him. “Do you hear me? Do you understand? You are not expendable. If your own family can’t see that – if they consider their own flesh and blood cannon-fodder – then they do not deserve your protection, or your loyalty. Do you understand?”

“I understand.”

He does, really. It’s just hard to completely turn his back on them, to admit how they’re treating him is wrong. He can admit it to himself all he wants, but saying it out loud, admitting it to a relative stranger, to someone outside his own mind – it’s something completely different, and he’s shied away from it for so long. Admitting it to someone else means admitting there’s a real problem, that they are abusing him in some way, that they do think he’s expendable… and admitting it to himself in the quiet of his mind is not the same as saying it aloud. Speaking the words, admitting it, makes it real. Makes the sting worse, the cut deeper, the wounds seeping. It hurts.

His eyes fall closed as he takes in a slow breath. “I understand,” he repeats quietly.

That hand is still warm on his face, rough and calloused but gentle and smooth at the same time. “You’re not expendable,” Reyes tells him. “Say it.”

“I get it,” he says. It’s embarrassing enough admitting this; he doesn’t need to go through this whole spiel and feel even worse.

“Say it.”

“Reyes…”

“If you can’t admit it to me, then how can you accept it yourself?”

Tris sighs. “I’m not expendable.”

The words feel wrong on his tongue. Foreign. So wrong. He knows he’s expendable; he was brought here for that very reason, has been used for that reason. He’s a good frontline fighter, but if he were to die in combat, would anyone truly care?

Apparently, Reyes would.

And that makes all the difference.

His eyes open. The smuggler watches him carefully. He leans into the touch on his face, smiling faintly. “You know,” he says quietly, “for a shady smuggler, you’re pretty good at this.”

“At this?” Reyes repeats, though he’s smiling too. His thumb moves slightly, like a gentle caress on his face, warm and smooth on his cheek.

“Making me feel better,” Tris says.

“Well, you’re pretty good at this too.”

“At this?” Tris asks.

“At making me a better person.”

“You were always a good person,” Tris tells him.

Reyes shakes his head. “It’s kind of you to say that, but I haven’t ever been a good person. Not until recently. I haven’t ever wanted to be a good person until now.”

“That’s not true. You came to Andromeda to start fresh, remember? To be someone.”

“I did,” Reyes agrees with a small nod. “But running from the past and aspiring to do good are two entirely different things, aren’t they?”

“They don’t have to be.”

“They are, for me.”

“You always had good in you,” Tris tells him, frowning. “Even if you couldn’t see it until recently.”

“Well, I have you to thank for making me see it.”

“That sounds so…”

“Cheesy?” Reyes asks, quirking a brow.

Tris shrugs. “I was going to say mushy, but sure, cheesy works too.”

“You make me cheesy.”

“Oh, God. Please stop.”

Reyes chuckles. It’s a nice, welcome sound after the stress of the past few days. “How do you feel?” Reyes asks.

Tris shrugs. “I’m fine.”

The smuggler scowls, hand dropping from his face. “I’m going to just assume you’re lying whenever you say that, because you clearly don’t know the meaning of the word.”

“I feel better – honest.”

Reyes nods.

“The massage helped,” Tris says. “Thank you. If this whole Charlatan thing doesn’t work out, I’m sure you could make a living doing massages.”

“Reyes Vidal, masseur extraordinaire.”

Tris smiles. “It has a nice ring to it.”

“I could think of worse titles.”

“Like Shena?” Tris asks. “Why Shena, anyway?”

“It means ‘mouth’ in angaran,” Reyes says, shrugging. “It seemed appropriate at the time.”

Tris snickers, which earns him a scowl. “Sorry,” he says, shaking his head. “I’m just picturing calling you ‘Mouth’ from now on.”

“It has a less appealing ring to it, huh?”

“Something like that.”

This is nice, Tris decides. Sitting here, talking like this. Feeling normal. Everything comes so naturally with Reyes – like they’ve known each other a long time, instead of just a few weeks. They’ve known each other less than a month, but Tris enjoys his company, and apparently Reyes likes his company as well. He actually likes being here.

“Dr. Nakamoto wants to run some tests,” Reyes says.

Tris scowls.

“I know. I said it would be up to you, but I made no promises. If you don’t want to do them, you don’t have to. But if they could help you…”

“I know I should,” Tris sighs. “I just hate tests. And needles. And hospitals. And med-bays.”

“You hate a lot of things, don’t you?”

“I hate being so idle.”

“So, you get bored.”

“I suffer from inactivity, not boredom,” Tris corrects, smirking.

“Well. As long as you’re not bored,” Reyes says, shaking his head. “But seriously – I think you should let him run the tests.”

“Why?” Tris asks, nose wrinkling in distaste.

“Because I can’t have you dying again.”

The words are so blunt, so sincere, they leave Tris staring at him for a moment. “Oh,” he finally manages, running his tongue across his lips. “Uh. Okay.”

It might happen again. He realizes that, of course. He might be dying, more and more each day, his body breaking down from whatever’s happening to him – whatever this voice is doing to him – and next time, he might not come back.

The last thing he wants is for Reyes to find him dead on the ground again.

“What kind of tests?”

xXx

Dr. Nakamoto has a lot of tests to run.

They travel to his lab in the slums beneath Kadara Port, even though Reyes offered to let them use an actual lab up in the port. Nakamoto refused, saying this was his area, and it would stay that way no matter who was in charge of the port. The people in the slums needed him just as much as the people up top. It’s a very ‘doctorly’ thing to say, and Tris respects his choice.

Even so, he’s not thrilled about the tests.

First, there’s a series of blood tastes. Nakamoto turns into a vampire for the first day of testing, and feeds Tris sugar and cookies and steals his blood in little tubes he scurries away with while Tris closes his eyes for a quick nap or munches on his food.

Next, bone marrow tests. It’s a little more invasive, and slightly painful, but it’s over quickly enough.

Heart tests. He’s strapped to machines and runs on a treadmill of sorts, or jogs around the slums while wearing some type of heart monitor. Nakamoto makes notes on the feedback and writes it all down.

Basic puzzle tests – to make sure he can still focus, and his brain isn’t scrambled.

Simple enough, really. He can still think just fine, thank you very much.

Even if he does get a headache before the day is over.

When it comes to biotic tests, things get a little more complicated.

When someone is a biotic, it’s standard for their biotics to be tested when something concerns their health. Their health can be attributed to their biotics, to their implants or overuse of energy and lack of nutrition. Biotics have to intake more calories than the average person, after all. They use a lot more energy, and have quicker metabolisms.

Still – Tris is pretty sure it shouldn’t be this easy.

His biotics come way too easily, too readily, as though they’ve been waiting for this exact moment – waiting for him to use them. His body glows blue and the energy thrums through him, a familiar, tingling heat across his skin. Nakamoto is very interested in this, and asks if he feels like he’s ‘burning alive’ again. He does not. This feels almost comfortable, to be honest. There’s a burning heat running through him, a nervous energy, but it’s not unpleasant like before. Instead, it feels almost natural. Almost… freeing. Like he’s powerful, empowered, able and ready to fight anyone and anything. It’s almost invigorating, to be honest.

And it scares him.

He’s always enjoyed a good biotic fight. He prefers his biotics over his weapons, likes the ‘in your face’ fighting style he has, but this is ridiculous. He’s never felt so powerful. It’s never been so easy.

At least back home, in the Milky Way, he knew his limits.

Now he’s not so sure he has any, anymore.

It’s all too easy.

Too easy to give into that power and let go.

He can’t. He won’t.

He shoves the tantalizing thought away and lets the biotics fade.

Nakamoto makes a few more notes, frowning at him all the while.

Deep down, he can’t help but wonder if the doctor has rethought his stance on the whole ‘is Tris a monster’ debate.

It’s an unnerving, unpleasant thought.

When he leaves the labs and climbs into the shuttle with Reyes to head back to base, he’s quiet all the while, thinking about the tests and everything that’s happened recently. Thinking about his biotics, and how easy it would be to give into that tantalizing power.

“Are you okay?” Reyes asks as they fly.

“I’m fine,” he says instantly, and then winces when he feels the heat of Reyes’s glare on him. “I mean – I’m just thinking. Physically, I’m great.”

“Well, that’s something, at least. What are you thinking about?”

“Just… stuff.”

“Ah. I see. ‘Stuff’ has felled the best of men, I’ll have you know.”

Tris snorts, shooting a quick glance at the smuggler. Reyes’s gaze is focused out the window, on the sky ahead of them, so it’s okay to look at him right now, and just watch him for a moment. He looks so at peace and in control when he’s flying. “Why aren’t you a pilot?”

“Huh?”

“I mean – you came here to be a pilot, right?”

“I did,” Reyes says carefully, casting him a quick glance before looking back out the window.

“You look like you e