Duty 35

There was the lazy pitter patter of the rain, the drops falling gently from the sky. It wasn’t enough to thoroughly soak anything, the rain more nuisance than danger. It had taken time for the rain to get to this point, the storm having raged for hours. Ryder had spent most of those hours standing under a tree, allowing himself to be pelted with the worst of the storm. The rain that fell now was enough to keep his hair from drying, Ryder’s dark locks plastered against his skin. He didn’t bother to brush his bangs aside, instead staring broodingly through them.

His back was to the tree, Ryder leaning against some fruit bearing oak. It was to his convenience that he chose to position himself in such a way as to avoid looking at the tool shed. But though he couldn’t see the ramshackle building, he was aware of it. Aware of both the building, and the woman who hid herself inside it. He thought her smart to stay hidden, Ryder not trusting the mood he had been in. The mood he was still in, even hours later.

The storm’s rain had been cold and he was being foolish. Had been ever since he had stalked out of the shed. But Ryder had almost preferred to get sick, rather than remain inside with the priestess. With a woman who had suddenly taken it upon herself to try and heal him, willing to do just about anything to soothe his tormented soul except give him the only thing he could take comfort in. The solace of her body.

His hands clenched into fists at his sides. He was cursing himself a fool before the words were finished. Alexandria meant nothing to him. Nothing at all. There would be no comfort, no lasting solace in fucking her. There would be pleasure yes, but it would be just a moment that would end in the blink of an eye. She had been right to refuse, right to know that giving herself over to his attentions wouldn’t do anything towards healing his broken faith. Nothing and no one could. No matter how beautiful a woman, or earnest her desire to help was, nothing could ease the pain of his shattered faith.

He let out a low growl, none of his agitation going away. It was all her fault. All because Alexandria had chosen to pry where she had no business going. She had found a wound Ryder thought long over healed, and with those delicate nails, had torn it open. Leaving him bleeding in pain. The pain was as raw as it had been the day his faith had died, Ryder wanting to scream from the agony of it. It would have been a protesting sound, Ryder not wanting to remember, not wanting to feel the same sorrows that had burned through him, stealing his breath and leaving him a crying mess on the floor all those years ago.

And yet the memories stirred, things he had actively spent blocking out. Things better left not thought about, Ryder not wanting to dwell on the details of the day his family had died. He snorted then, one of his fists pounding against the tree behind him. Saying his family had died was too nice a word for what had really happened. As though they had expired from some illness or accident. But it was no accident they were dead, Ryder remembering the screams. Remembering how his own voice had pleaded with anyone who would listen, but especially with the Gods his own parents had taught him to worship.

He had screamed himself hoarse, a young boy just barely on the cusp of adulthood. Too young to have ever suffered any real loss beforehand, it had been a shock to everything he had ever known to have his whole family wiped out. And all because of his own actions!

That fist of his hit the tree again, Ryder’s growls continuing. It was either that or start screaming, and he wasn’t about to be that undignified. Not again, not when he had already screamed once this day. A scream that had been born of his frustration and misery, Ryder fighting the feelings the priestess had roused in him. It was a devastating mix, both lust and sorrow. A mix perhaps only Alexandria could have managed, her delectable body calling to him, even as her innocent desire to help him had done more harm then good.

The wounds of his past were torn open, leaving him exposed to the power of his memories. He tried to control them, tried to stop them from taking him over. But unbidden, he saw them. Images of his family, memories of his mother’s kind smile, his father’s stern expressions. Of his brothers and sister, playful imps that had delighted in teasing one another. The images should have relaxed him, but they were marred with the blood of his past. Leaving the good memories tainted, Ryder recalling the lifeless look in his mother’s eyes. The blood she had been laying in, the puddle expanding around her. Growing in size and mingling together with similar puddles.

His fist struck the tree again and again, Ryder trying to use the pain to block out those unpleasant moments. It was a failing effort, Ryder remembering the King’s smile. A malevolent smirk, the man speaking. Voice loud and mocking, taunting Ryder with the fact it was his own fault his whole family was dead. Soldiers had been present, mostly men, but a few women too. All wearing a different range of expressions, from a careful blankness, to outright pity. Even sorrow for the boy’s loss, or shame for what they had been forced to do.

Ryder remembered the soldiers’ grabbing hold of his arms, stopping the young Drule from rushing the King. Zarkon hadn’t been afraid of him, nor had he been angry by Ryder’s hissed out curses. He had been so young, he hadn’t even learned how to growl like a man, sounding more like an enraged feline than a threatening Drule. Zarkon had looked at him with amusement, eyes practically dancing with glee. He had enjoyed watching Ryder’s family die, almost as much as he took pleasure from Ryder’s pain. A pain he wasn’t going to end, Zarkon telling him he was going to live.

Ryder hadn’t been able to process the concept of living without his family. Nor had he been ready to embrace the idea of being molded into the perfect instrument for Zarkon’s use. To have his skills used to further the King’s own ambition. Those very skills that had led to his downfall, to Ryder’s family being slain. And all because Ryder had been both curious and arrogant, wanting to show off his genius.

Ryder was smart. To the point it had done him more harm than good. A brilliant mind, he had shown a talent with computers that few possessed, be they children his own age, or grown men and women. By the time he was close to fourteen years of age, Ryder was being actively courted by several companies and even a few nobles. He was wanted for his superior skill, valued for his intellect when it came to all things related to computers.

His family flourished under the attention Ryder was getting, lavish gifts and money being awarded to them. His future seemed bright, prospective employers fighting over the chance to pay for Ryder’s education. His family treated Ryder as though he was their own personal blessing, grateful for that keen mind that had allowed them to prosper. Their home might not have been a mansion, but it had been better than what most Drules on Doom had. It was practically unheard of for a family that size to be well off and not have been an active part in Zarkon’s military.

He pounded his fist harder against the tree. His family should have been free of the evil of Zarkon’s rule. His parents had known to stay off the King’s radar, to play good citizens rather than attract Zarkon’s attention. His brothers and sister, though rambunctious, had been too young to cause any real trouble. They should have had their whole life ahead of them, if not for Ryder’s curiosity.

He reviled his curious nature. A nature that even as a boy had led him to exploring. An exploration that went from his physical surroundings, to the many realms of the digital. Using that same skill, and knowledgeable brain, he had begun exploring the world online. And though it was vast, a seemingly limitless highway of information, Ryder soon chafed at the restrictions that the Drule’s own King had placed on such a valuable tool.

Ryder knew that on other worlds in the Denubian Galaxy, there were no such restrictions on just where a computer could take you. At least, none so strict as that which existed in the Doom Empire. The King, he kept tight control of the Drules’ online use, preventing them from accessing sites and information on other worlds’ servers. Nor were they allowed to freely mail each other between worlds, the electronic transmissions going through a filtering process. It was common knowledge that any electronic missives that went out, were first handled by the proper authorities, sometimes heavily edited before arriving at their destinations. Zarkon wanted to limit what his people had to say, preventing them from so much as crying out for help to the other worlds.

It was different as a soldier. Being in Zarkon’s military gave those Drules a new kind of freedom, limited though it was. Their transmission were still scrutinized, but they were allowed to contact other worlds provided your rank had enough clearance. It was a system meant to limit the Drules, to keep them oppressed. To make sure no one outside the Doom Empire knew what was really going on under Zarkon’s rule.

As a boy, Ryder had chafed at these limitations. But they were never obstacles, not for one as smart with computers as Ryder had proven to be. It had been a game, to unravel the blocks and restrictions that censored and limited his usage of the net. He easily circumvented the very things that kept others from contacting worlds not part of the Doom Empire, Ryder innocently trying to make friends. He developed programs that disabled the very checks and balances of a system meant to keep all computers inside the sphere of Zarkon’s influence. And he had fun doing it, hacking them apart, broadening his knowledge horizon.

If that wasn’t enough, Ryder began to challenge himself. To actively hack the people who wanted to employ him. It was all meant to be innocent, a testing of his skills. A way for Ryder to continue to prove he was the best at what he did. He never dreamt in those days, that his hacking would lead to such calamity, Ryder beginning to test the programs that guarded the government’s own database.

He didn’t realize in time, the trap laid out for him. That someone had noticed his entry into the highly restricted data. They tracked his movements easily, Ryder not at all careful about hiding what he was doing. For all his smarts, he was too eager to show off. Too proud and too sly. He’d hack into database after data base, downloading information that he didn’t even have time to properly read. The challenge goaded him on, Ryder wanting to hack into that which had the tightest of security. That of the King’s own computer.

Was that the moment he had gone too far? Or had Ryder already been lost the first time he had hacked into the government’s confidential files? Did it even matter? His family still paid the price, Zarkon ordering Ryder and his family be brought to the castle. He remembered the day as though it was yesterday, his parents nervous. They hadn’t yet known to properly fear what this summons meant. They had actually thought the King was like all the other nobles who had paid attention to their son. Never did they dream of the horrors that awaited them, the family innocent as they bundled up their children into their best clothes. Ryder’s sister had worn a new dress, the girl young enough to wear a multitude of colorful ribbons in her hair. His brothers had chafed at the idea of wearing such finery, more interested in playing then meeting with a King.

And yet they had all gone to the castle. All six of them. His brothers had shown interest when they saw the soldiers waiting for them, the young boys thinking their assault rifles a cool looking weapon. Little did they know those very rifles they admired, would be turned against them, the bullet lasers tearing holes into their tender, unprotected flesh.

They hadn’t even gotten inside the castle before Zarkon himself strode out to meet them. He had been smiling even then, a twisted expression that showed off his sharp teeth. The anticipation in his eyes had alerted something in Ryder’s father, the man protectively guiding his family to stand sheltered behind him. It would make little difference, the bullet lasers built to tear through flesh and into the people behind him.

Not that they shot on sight. Not when Ryder was close enough to his family to be caught in the cross fire. Someone would take him by the arm, a sad looking woman who began trying to lead him away. A word from Ryder’s father had him hesitate, the woman pulling in return. Until he stumbled forward, dropping down to his knees and was dragged along the rough gravel ground. Even with the fabric of his pants in place, his knees had been skinned, Ryder hissing in pain.

That pain was nothing compared to what would soon happen. Ryder would never forget it, that smirk on Zarkon’s face. The way the King’s voice oozed satisfaction as he talked of how troublesome Ryder had been. His mother had let out a strangled gasp, realizing the true extent of what her son had been up to in those past few months. His family wasn’t the only one learning of Ryder’s folly. It was being broadcast, the very moment his family was massacred in retaliation for Ryder’s crimes against the Doom Empire caught on film.

Zarkon made sure to let Ryder’s parents understand why they were about to die. Why their children were going to die as well. He made sure to spell out every detail, as though trying to instill in the family, a hatred for the child that had once been their blessing, their star. Ryder couldn’t even say for sure if Zarkon had failed in that endeavor. It wasn’t as though his parents had lived long enough to damn him on their own.

It was a hopeless, sad situation. Ryder’s father had bravely shoved at his wife, urging her to take the children and run. Even if she had made it inside the cruiser, it wouldn’t have mattered. Even if she drove away, where would she go so that she and her children would not be forever hunted by Zarkon and his soldiers? And yet she had tried to get away, clinging to his brother’s hands, screaming at his sister to move. By this point the three had been crying, confused and picking up on their parent’s agitation.

Ryder remembered the stiff back of his father, the man facing the squad of soldiers. He seemed unflinching as they aimed their weapons in his direction, actually spreading his arms in a welcoming gesture. He had been so brave, welcoming death if it meant his wife and children could get away. And still he let out a pained cry when the first bullet lasers tore into him, someone taking him out by the knees. He had staggered, and even as he fell more shots were fired into him. Untill he lay in a crumpled mess on the gravel, blood seeping out of his many wounds.

Ryder’s mother had screamed when her husband had fallen, actually turning to look. The first bullet laser caught her in the chest, blood spurting out of her still screaming mouth. The children had frozen in place, the boys clinging to their mother’s hands. The little girl had been whimpering loudly, accompanied by the weak growls of her dying father.

Ryder can remember being frozen in place until the first shot took out his mother. And then he had fought, screaming, biting down onto the arm of the woman who held him. She had cried out, but didn’t let go, enduring more of his abuse as he fought to get to his family. Another soldier would slap him across the face, trying to subdue Ryder. He had been dazed by that blow, knowing the man had held back his strength. Otherwise Ryder would have lost consciousness, and that was something Zarkon would not allow. The King had wanted Ryder to witness this, to know that what was happening was all the boy’s fault. By the time his brothers and sister were killed, Ryder was on his knees, choking on his own vomit.

A shadow had fallen over him, expensive boots stopping just in his range of sight. He hadn’t looked up, not until someone grabbed him by his short hair and forced him to meet the King’s merciless gaze. His eyes had glittered with cold amusement, the King pleased. Reminding Ryder of why this had all happened. How it was all Ryder’s fault for hacking into places he shouldn’t have.

A sudden burst of energy had over took him, powered by his grief and his rage. Ryder had tried to lunge for the King’s throat, even as hands gripped him harder, pulling him back. Zarkon had merely laughed, inordinately pleased by Ryder’s show of defiance. Purring as he began to speak on just what plans he had for Ryder. Zarkon would explain to the young boy Ryder had once been, that his skill was such he would be given a high position under Zarkon’s command. To some it might seem the King was rewarding a hacker for his impertinence, but any who would have been encouraged to try similar, were stopped cold by the massacre of Ryder’s family. It was a most effective threat, Zarkon letting all would be hackers know that there would be a price for their curiosity, their arrogance. Ryder had been both rewarded and punished in one breath, the King intending to pay for his schooling. To ship him off to the Drule Military Academy, where Ryder would learn about discipline, and how to stop being a sniveling, crying brat.

Again Ryder had tried for Zarkon’s throat, the soldiers easily holding onto the enraged boy. Ryder had sworn he would never work for Zarkon, never ever do his bidding. He had goaded the King to kill him, to end him or else. Zarkon had used Ryder’s hate, his grief, and his desire for revenge, mocking him with the knowledge that the boy was unable to do anything to the King. Purring at him to live long enough to get stronger, to use his hate and desire for revenge as self motivation to keep on living.

Ryder had hated to do anything Zarkon commanded of him. But he HAD lived for revenge. He still did, though back then he had thought to use Lotor in an attempt to give Zarkon a taste of what Ryder had been through. Never had he dreamt Zarkon wouldn’t have cared if his son lived or died, Lotor as abused as anyone else who had the misfortune of coming face to face with the King.

There were more, less upsetting memories to be had. But Ryder was stuck in the looping one of the day his world had been blown apart. The day he had screamed and begged the Gods to save his family. They had failed him, Ryder left to wonder why beings who the temple claimed love the Drule, could allow such horrors to be inflicted upon them. He could never get an answer from any of the temple people. The priests seemed just as confused as Ryder, when faced with the question of why such a monster like Zarkon was allowed to live.

Was it any wonder his faith had been shattered so thoroughly? The very Gods his parents had raised him to believe in and love? They either didn’t exist, or didn’t care, abandoning Ryder. Abandoning them all, if one were to judge the state of life on planet Doom. Ryder felt if ever there was a cause for divine intervention, it should have come in the form of a celestial assassin, one who would have targeted Zarkon. Instead the cruel tyrant was flourishing, as twisted and full of life as ever. It just wasn’t fair, and Ryder felt all the pain that his fourteen year old self had suffered through, the Drule letting out a vicious growl as he violently slammed his fist into the tree. Something splintered underneath it, but Ryder paid no mind.

He would have gone on ignoring what had happened, ignoring the pain of his hand for the pain of his past. Even as the tree ran slick with blood, he continued pounding it. Until suddenly SHE was there, shouting at him. Emerald eyes that were frightened and alarmed gazing into his, her trembling hands hesitating a second long enough for Ryder to hit the tree again.

“Ryder!” Alexandria cried out, seeming to flinch in response to his fist connecting with the tree. And then her hands were grabbing at his arm, trying to pull him towards her. Trying to stop his assault on the tree. It was a pure animalistic response he had, Ryder baring his fangs in the fiercest of growls. Glaring at her, the sounds he made threatening without vocalizing the words he couldn’t speak. She should have stayed hidden, should have remained where it was safe in the shed. Rather than confront him when he was in this violent mood, the pain of his memories twisting his guts.

“Leave me.” Ryder ordered, ready to lash out with the very arm Alexandria was holding. It was pathetic to think Alexandria believed she had the strength to stop him from hitting the tree, and yet he held himself still. Or as still as he could manage, given he was trembling with the urge to do something violent.

“I won’t!” Came the priestess response. She was still pulling on his arm, trying to drag him away from the abused tree. She was either very brave, or very stupid, and Ryder wasn’t sure which one he leaned towards more. And then he registered details about her, realizing she had put on her gown before coming out here. So she wasn’t so foolish as to face a volatile Drule in nothing but a pair of wet panties. She got points for that bit of smarts, though Ryder still refused to give in to her urgings.

Instead he tried for a cruder method, hoping to scare her, or at the very least offend her to the point she walked away. “Have you changed your mind?” Ryder demanded. Those emerald eyes of her blinked in confusion. “Are you ready to let me fuck you?!” He didn’t wait for an answer, suddenly giving in to her hands’ urgings. Stepping into her, grabbing her with his other hand. Kissing her.

Alexandria’s lips were already wet, the light patter of rain leaving beads of water on her face. He was in no mood for gentle, Ryder unable to savor and lick away those drops. Instead he sealed his mouth over hers, a ruthless possessive kiss that held no artful expertise. He was kissing her like he meant to conquer her, thrusting his tongue inside her mouth with invading force. Swallowing up her strangled, protesting sounds.

Alexandria placed a hand on his naked chest, trying to shove him back. And yet she never let go of his arm, the one that had been pounding the tree over and over again. Ryder refused to step away, and would have kissed her harder if possible. But there was no harsher kiss than this, Ryder using bruising force against Alexandria’s mouth. Tasting her, and eating up the cries she had made.

When she tried to back away, he followed, not caring if she choked on his kiss. He wanted her scared, wanted her to back off. Hell he just wanted her, even though in his current mood any attempt to take her would be violent and unrestrained. Some small part of him that was still sane hissed at him to stop. To show the priestess some care. That she deserved better than his anger, then his malicious attempt to send her running from him.

Alexandria continued to back away, Ryder moving with her. Leaving her little choice to do anything but breathe through her nose. It was either that or choke on his kiss, and Alexandria was a bright girl. Though he was surely stealing her breath away, she was adapting. Learning how to kiss and breathe at the same time. The odd dance continued, Alexandria backing up all the way to the tool shed. He felt the change in the ground, the dirt given way to smooth tile. The roof sheltering them from the soft rain.

It didn’t matter, this change of surroundings. He was determined. Either to scare her away, or to have her. Either option seemed just fine to Ryder. Until a sudden pain connected to him, the sharp spike of it breaking through his anger. Alexandria had dug her nails into his hand, most likely in a last ditch effort to get him back to himself. It almost worked, Ryder pulling back with a growl.

Before he could question her, she was speaking. “You have hurt yourself!”

“It’s not my hurt you should be worrying about!” Ryder snapped, his words meant to be as ominous as the look he was giving her. She ignored it, pressing against him now. Touching the hand she had just hurt, Alexandria clicking her tongue. Her touch was soft now, fingers just barely caressing over his skin. Even that hurt too much, Ryder finally glancing at his hand. He let out a string of vicious curses, Alexandria reddening in response. It didn’t matter, Ryder staring fascinated at the blood coating his knuckles. He had done real damage in striking the tree over and over, to the point his skin had ripped open, bleeding heavily.

There was even a few nasty looking splinters sticking in his hand, Alexandria’s fingers hesitating over the longest. “I think I saw some pliers around here.” She seemed loathe to let go of his hand, as though she feared he would run back out into the rain. Run right back to hitting the tree.

His blood was getting on her hands, but Alexandria didn’t seem to care. She’d actually lead him over to the work table, Ryder noting his clothes were still where he had left them. An assortment of long abandoned tools lay spread out across the table, dirty or rust covered. That same dirt was on her dress, Ryder having carelessly left her wet clothing on top of this table.

Holding onto Ryder with one hand, Alexandria would shift through the mess of tools until she found the tiny pair of pliers. “This may hurt…” She warned, and then was gripping the largest of the splinters with the pliers’ tips. It was a long piece, easily pulled out when she gave a brutal yank on his hand. Ryder didn’t so much as whimper, just staring at her as she worked to remove other splinters from the back of his hand.

She began to talk as she examined his hand, Alexandria surely looking to see if there wasn’t a splinter hidden from her. Her touch was gentle, and avoiding his bloody knuckles, the priestess making a tsking sound. “Why would you do this to yourself?”

Ryder gave an uncaring shrug, which drew her eyes away from his hand. He found himself the attention of a concerned gaze, her green eyes looking more worried than he had ever expected her to be for him. She was also waiting for an answer, Ryder finding he didn’t know what to say. “Didn’t think much about it.” He finally admitted.

“Didn’t think much about it?!” Alexandria repeated it as an exclamation. “Ryder, you could have broken your hand!”

“That would have been inconvenient.” He said in response. She seemed exasperated by his nonchalant attitude, Alexandria staring at him.

“Don’t you even care?” She wanted to know. “Or is your pain so great, you would rather injure yourself than deal with it?!”

“Listen you…” Ryder growled, but it wasn’t as angry or threatening as it had been just minutes earlier. “You know NOTHING about it.”

“Then tell me!” She cried plaintively. She made a frustrated sound when he said nothing, turning her attention back to his hand. “I have worked with people.” She said this softly, though his sharp hearing had no trouble making out the words. “People who have been through so much. People who have to hurt themselves in order to somehow minimize the pain they are going through. Or people who feel the only way they can feel truly alive is if they are hurting themselves…”

“And you’re wondering which one I am?” Ryder demanded. She gave a nod of her head, still examining his hand. “Forget it. I’m not that easy to classify. This was a one time incident and will never be repeated.” Or at least he told himself it wouldn’t, though Ryder couldn’t predict what would happen the next time his past reared it’s ugly head in his mind.

“For your sake, I hope it won’t be.” Alexandria told him. Again he was surprised by her concern, the raw sincerity in her voice. Alexandria truly meant it, truly did not want Ryder to hurt himself again. He started to ask why, but she was suddenly letting of of his hand. Actually lifting her long skirt, searching out the hem which wasn’t as dirty as the center of her dress was. He was almost distracted by the glimpse of her shapely legs, but then a tearing sound brought Ryder’s attention back to the skirt.

Alexandria was tearing off a long strip. It didn’t take much deducting on his part to figure out why. She intended to bandage his hand, to staunch the bleeding he was doing. Mute for once in his life, Ryder wordlessly watched as Alexandria began gently wrapping the cloth strips around his hand. She paid special mind to his knuckles, making sure to wrap them up the most. She made it tight enough to keep the blood from leaking onto the cloth, Alexandria looking satisfied.

“There.” She said to him. “That should do for now. At least until we get back to the mansion and have Qualenn look at your hand.”

“It’s just a surface wound.” Ryder replied. “No need to trouble the nurse…”

“Even surface wounds can become infected.” Alexandria told him. “There’s no telling what sort of germs and parasites were on that tree you hit.”

“I’ll be fine.” Ryder insisted.

“Maybe your hand will be…but I am not so sure about the rest of you.” He growled at that, eyes narrowing at her. She stared up at him, not cowed by his glare. “I don’t know what happened in your past. But it’s clear you suffer because of it.”

Suffering was an understatement of what he was doing, Ryder eaten up by his own guilt. The guilt that told him in Zarkon’s own voice, that it was Ryder’s fault that his family had been killed. It didn’t matter that Ryder hadn’t pulled the trigger of the weapons that did it, that the command had cpme from Zarkon’s own tongue. Ryder had signed their death warrants in hacking into places he had no business being. He almost laughed then, a bitter broken sound as Ryder thought to himself he wasn’t his family’s blessing but their curse.

“Ryder…” Alexandria had responded to that sound he had made, her hands touching his arms. She seemed uncaring of his nudity for once, staring concerned into his face. She was so sad for him, so worried and concerned. She had to be a bleeding hurt, a sucker for those in need. But nothing the priestess did could fix Ryder’s past, his own mistakes and sins against his family. No matter how she tried, how heart felt and sincere she was in the efforts made, there was nothing she could do. Even Ryder couldn’t atone for his past, even if he killed Zarkon with his bare hands. The dead stayed dead, and there was no way to change that.

“Forget it.” Ryder said, and jerked away from her. She moved to follow, Ryder holding up his hand in a gesture meant to ward her off. Wisely she heeded it, Alexandria gazing at him sadly. He couldn’t bear that look in her eyes, like her heart was hurting for his pain. She didn’t even know the reasons behind that pain, and yet she wore such a look. So open and raw, so earnest in her desire to soothe him. Ryder suddenly felt he understood Lotor better. His reasons for not telling Allura about his own ordeals. Ryder didn’t think he loved Alexandria, but his attraction was enough. To the point it bothered him to have a woman who affected him so powerfully look at him this way. It wasn’t quite pity, more sympathy then anything. And he HATED her for giving him that look.

“Stop it.” He growled, glaring harder at her. “Stop looking at me. Stop looking down on me.”

She seemed shocked then. “I am doing no such thing! I just…”

“Just what?!” He demanded snidely.

“I just want to help you.” She finished softly.

He snorted in response, running his uninjured hand through his wet hair. “Save the help for someone who WANTS it.”

“Sometimes what we need is not what we think we want.” Alexandria countered.

“What I need is a drink.” He eyed her, in the mood to be nasty. “Or a good fucking.”

She didn’t blush, though she seemed to cringe from his coarse language. “Those are not things I can help you with.”

“Then what good are you to me?!” Ryder demanded, and even then she didn’t rise to the bait, remaining calm. Unaffected by his rudeness. He almost missed the quicker to anger priestess she had been just hours ago, Ryder wanting her to fight with him. To argue and hiss, rather than be this kind, eager to help woman she had become. He wondered how much more of her sympathy he could stand, if he would go mad before they could return to the mansion.

“I don’t know…” Alexandria whispered. It took him aback, Ryder shocked she didn’t have a quick answer to his question. “But I want to try. Ryder. No one should suffer the way you clearly are. No good person should…”

“I am not a good person.” Ryder interrupted. He couldn’t be, if he had gotten his own family killed.

To his frustration, Alexandria turned sadder. And all because she realized he meant it. He saw the understanding in her eyes, but it didn’t turn her away from him. “I don’t believe that.” She said. “You can be mean, and nasty…you take pleasure in upsetting me. You’re an incorrigible pervert, who is willing to lie and manipulate situations and people to suit your own needs. But if you were not a good person, you would have stayed on Doom. You would have taken pleasure in the things Zarkon does.”

His lips had been trying to smirk, Ryder amused at how Alexandria had described him. Amused right up until she mentioned Zarkon. “Some evil is too twisted even for me to contemplate doing.” Was his quick answer.

“I don’t think you evil at all.” Her tone was reassuring, Alexandria earnest. “And you know how I can think that?” His own look was wary, Alexandria pausing a beat. “Because no one truly evil can feel such pain, such suffering. Such sheer regret and loss. The true evil cares nothing for no one, it’s only concern for itself. I’ve seen you with Lotor, with the other Drules. You care for them.”

Ryder couldn’t muster up a denial. Alexandria’s hand pressed to her heart, her green eyes seeming to glimmer. He hoped that wet sheen didn’t mean she was about to start crying, for the priestess’ tears was the last thing he thought he could deal with.

“You have a good heart.”

“This kind of talk is nauseating.” Ryder retorted. And yet he didn’t turn his back on her, wary of her. It was as though he feared she’d try to touch him again, Ryder wondering what he feared more. That he would grab and kiss her again, or become undone by her kind touch. Either option was horrifying, for Ryder knew this time whatever happened he wouldn’t stop. It would be embarrassing to lose control, to become a sniveling, screaming mess. Even worse would be if he fell on her, intent on using her to bury the pain of what he was feeling temporarily inside her body.

Always in a half aroused state around Alexandria, Ryder knew it would be easy to let his desires take control. But in this moment it wouldn’t be satisfying, his private pain too fresh in his mind. He wondered what look Alexandria would wear, if she would gaze wounded up at him as he went wild on her. Or would that damn sympathetic look remain, Alexandria enduring anything he did to her all in some misguided attempt to heal him.

She must have read the danger in his expression, the priestess maintaining her distance. To keep them both safe, Ryder actually retreated, putting the work table between them. It wasn’t much of a barrier, a Drule able to leap over such a thing with ease. But the illusion it gave them was comforting, Ryder touching the dirty surface. He should probably put his clothes on, the rain outside less than it had been, the sky turning dark with the approaching evening. It would get cold, and neither he nor Alexandria was dressed for such weather.

The search party, if there was one, really needed to hurry up and find them. And not just so that they wouldn’t freeze to death! There was too much trouble awaiting them inside this tool shed, too much emotions running wild between them. It was a recipe for disaster, hers and his, Ryder worrying he’d do something he’d regret if Alexandria kept trying to heal him.

And yet he didn’t know how to stop her, all his angry looks and threatening vibes seeming to have little effect on the priestess. She was no longer so nervous, foolishly ignoring the signs that screamed she should fear him.

“You’re not very smart.” He said meanly, though inside he didn’t mean the insult. “You don’t know enough to leave well enough alone.”

“Not all things can heal, if left alone.” She pointed out.

“Some wounds are impossible to heal.” Ryder countered.

“Those are the worse kind.” Alexandria said. “If one can’t heal, one will usually fall into decay, die….”

“Not gonna die.” Ryder retorted. “Not from this.”

“But you can’t be truly happy either, can you?” She asked. “Not so long as you haven’t worked through your pain. Not so long as it keeps haunting you.”

“Most days I don’t think about it at all.” Ryder reached for his pants, intent on putting them on.

“Ignoring it won’t make it go away.”

“Nothing will do that.” Ryder countered, stepping into the leather. “Just gotta accept, it’s a part of me. For good and bad, it’s molded me into who I am.”

“Facing it, healing from it, won’t change who you are.” Alexandria insisted. “There’s no wrong in moving on from it.”

He jerked up the zipper of his fly, his words and actions angry. “There is no way I could ever move on from what happened!” Part of him recognize there was fear in the thought of moving on. As though he might somehow further dishonor his family, in going on to live a normal life of his own. He wouldn’t ever be free of the guilt, or the pain. And maybe a part of him liked it that way.

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