Takes place during Grunt's loyalty mission.
Morinth hears a buzzing in her ears and her visions darkens momentarily as she falls. She has misjudged the distance, smacked herself into a rusty beam and it leaves her momentarily stunned. She bares her teeth when her concentration scatters around her and the klixen is on her. She feels the heat of its breath even through the insulating layers of her armour as its weight bears down on her.
A moment is all she needs, less than a second and she could blast the beast off her with nothing but a thought, but there is no time at all, not another heartbeat, not another breath. Just nothing, her life spinning away into darkness.
Something hard and dark knocks against the klixen, she feels the impact shudder through the beast's body all through her, hard enough to be painful, stunning in its immediacy, as if all of time has combined into this, when her all her promised futures come crashing back to her.
She breathes and blinks, clears her head and tries to order her thoughts. A little away, Grunt grips the klixen and smashes it against another pillar repeatedly, roaring furiously as he does it. The klixen goes limp and Grunt drops it, dodges away surprisingly nimbly, takes aim and fires a shot from the Claymore.
Before she can say something — a reluctant, unfamiliar expression of gratitude perhaps — Shepard's shadow falls over her and there is another bark from his own shotgun as it sends a klixen flying. Silence follows, broken only from more gunfire. Grunt hasn't stayed, has already moved on. He howls in triumph against the harsh winds.
Shepard steps away from her, spares her a quick glance, assessing her condition in one lightning moment and then looking elsewhere, his eyes and mind already scanning the battlefield for other threats.
Morinth struggles to her feet, sees Grunt return to them, eyes alight while his face and body are soiled by klixen and varren innards. Normally, he would scoff at her, the way he had done earlier. Grunt had no respect for her brand of danger, for her lethal subtlety and maybe that's why Shepard picked her. Teaching them both a lesson in the process. Grunt will follow Shepard's command and Grunt will work well with anyone Shepard hands him. It is a useful experience, considering the battle into which they all are heading, where no one knows how the tides would force them together. All of this team, they will have to trust each other implicitly, without holding back at all, without questioning or thinking.
And the lesson for Morinth? Although she has never been much of a team player, she knows her place and she understands the new game she is part of now. For her, Tuchanka is something else. A lesson in humility, the unrelenting, unchangeable fact of her own mortality thrown into her face and stinging her eyes with the radioactive dust. For all her power, some battles are not hers to be won.
She stands in awe as the thresher maw shows itself. The very ground vibrates under her feet as the giant creature moves below them, playing in the ruins of the krogan city like a child in a sandbox.
Something closes her throat and it takes her long seconds to recognise the feeling as fear. She wastes time in examining it, in letting it spin through her mind like an alien thought and the thresher wavers in front of her, hurls acidic spit in her direction and she just barely manages to dive for cover.
Some old, rusted column has been in the way, and the force of the spit sends it crashing over her head, the metal already dissolving as it comes down.
She breathes hard through her nose, won't risk choking on the dust right then. Shepard and Grunt have taken cover a little further along, side by side and hunched behind another feeble barrier. Shepard is looking back at Grunt and she can see the excitement spark in his eyes even at the distance. He has to yell against the roaring of the falling city around them, the rumble of the earth below.
"Your kill, Grunt!" Shepard declares and rolls to his feet, hefting his rifle and sending a round of shots towards the thresher. It yanked its head around, mouth flaring wide as it focuses on the new annoyance.
The thresher's attention stays on Shepard while Grunt darts off the other way, faster and far more nimble than Morinth would willingly have given him credit for. Grunt makes for the lower ground, closes the distance fast, but the thresher is already zoning in on Shepard and he has placed himself out in the open, far away from even the slightest cover.
Morinth snarls and propels herself from her hiding place, running only a few paces, to stop and fire herself at the thresher. It's head whips around and the spittle originally intended for Shepard comes hurling her way.
She dives down, tries to roll but something hot hits her arm as she throws it up for a semblance of balance. She goes down in a cloud of dust, it blinds her for a moment but she has no time to worry about that. She keeps going, finds her feet again and even fires at the thresher's direction even as she goes. There is the low, resounding bark of the Widow close by her ear and a moment later, Shepard closes his hand around her upper arm, pulls her with him and then down behind a pillar.
He pulls her arm forward, harshly, her joints protesting wildly, and rips the gauntlet from her arm. The spittle has already eaten through the layers of hardsuit, burning to the padding beneath. Patches of skin come off with it when Shepard keeps tearing.
"Shit," she mutters.
"You'll live," he declares. "Keep your head down."
She cannot detect any actual concern in his voice or face, though it is hard to read in this moment, time has slowed only for a moment and he doesn't linger, doesn't stay. He calls back over his shoulder as he goes, "Cover me!"
Blood is running down her wounded arm, where the skin is gone it hurts to move, to even think of moving. She turns around, brings her gun and aims around the corner of the beam, praying that this one will withstand the onslaught rather than bury her as it comes crashing down.
They kill the thresher together. Shepard holds his place in the open, has an uncanny ability to dodge the acidic spittle and between the pinpricks of Morinth's shots and Shepard's distraction, Grunt has made his way across the rubble towards the bulging body of the thresher where it towers from the ground.
It's too far to make it out clearly, too far for her to hear the shot, but the thresher suddenly shakes, writhes back from them and twist around, its neck curls, finds the new target so much closer. The Widow bellows and this time the shot hits true, sends a chunk of meat flying from the side of the thresher's face. It snaps around again and a second shot rips at its neck.
The thresher shivers again, seems to hesitate for a long second, then throws its head back and slides down, doubtlessly meaning to withdraw underground and attack from some other direction, get at its prey from another angle. It will be the last mistake the creature ever makes. Sliding down, it comes face to face with Grunt, suddenly on the same level. The thresher opens its maw wide, but before it can attack or even swallow Grunt, he release a round of shots right down its throat. The thresher jerks back, stung, twists to the sides. The incendiary rounds ignite the thresher acid, heat burning down the thresher's throat and it explodes in a spray of orange and green.
Grunt stalks back to them, eyes ablaze and a grin plastered savagely across his face.
Her mother's expression itches on her face, more ill-fitting than ever before now in the vicious air of Tuchanka, more thoroughly uncomfortable than the trace elements of Thresher acid still pumping through her system. Her arm throbs painfully with every tiny involuntary twitch of muscle. Bare flesh was showing through the yet transparent, artificial skin; it'd darken as her body incorporates it onto herself, gradually supplementing it with her own tissue.
So she is exhausted and in pain and still a little angry at Shepard for throwing her in this particular fire, but for the most part she feels almost content.
The krogan are a species on a decaying orbit. Regardless of what the salarians claim, the Genophage is killing them. It might be slow, it might seem gentle, but it is a genocide nevertheless. It changes so many things, it has taken away everything the krogan might once have had of culture, or hope or promise. It leaves them with nothing but the might of each singular warrior. At the edge of death, all celebration is wild.
So it comes as no surprise that the feast is already in full swing when they even return, the news of their triumph preceding then. Wrex's face twists in irony, but he seems more amused than anything. The krogan understand strength, after all, perhaps better than anyone else in the galaxy.
A glass is put on the table in front of her, pulling her from her contemplation. The liquid sloshes lazily, thickly. Human blood looks like this, although she doubts such things would be served tonight. Then again, Wrex knows Shepard well enough and Shepard wouldn't care either way.
"Of course I don't know if your Code allows it," Garrus says and settles on the low bench opposite her.
She forgets about her wounds as she reaches for the glass, winces at the sudden flare of pain. She lets it cover for the small, ironic smile that would be entirely inappropriate for her mother's rigid dignity.
She says, "The Code seems to have been unaware of krogan Rites of Passage."
She drinks, lets the hot-cold slide down her throat, no less merciless than the Thresher acid, but infinitely more pleasant
Garrus is silent, watching the debris-scattered yard below them. Morinth prefers to study him instead. The ruined side of his face is towards her, harsh, irreparable damage down and only freshly healed. He is lucky to have retained mobility of his mandibles and their arch has come out nearly unblemished.
As an asari — and a hunter with peculiar tastes — she looks at Garrus like a turian would, reads the ridges of his nose and the curve of his fringe, the perfect raptor-shape of his face. Garrus has been handsome, once, before that blast took half his face off. Handsome enough that echoes of it still remain, a clear imprint of memory past the destruction. It makes for an interesting combination, this face, full of contradiction and contrast.
"So," she says. "Archangel."
He snorts, not looking at her. "It guess it was good while it lasted."
There are two things on her mind and for a moment it almost chokes her. She, herself, as the demon that she is, appreciates Garrus' stepping outside the rules, for taking his gun and beginning to carve the world according to what he wanted. And not only that, but he had also been cold-blooded and charismatic enough to pull it off. When she came to Omega, Archangel's name had still been on anyone's tongue, halfway to becoming the criminal scum of Omega's personal bogeyman. People still fear Archangel and she will respect everyone who commands the hearts and minds like this.
However, she is unsure how her mother would have seen it and in the destroyed glory of Tuchanka, she finds she doesn't care.
"It was an impressive feat," she says, after a moment's consideration.
He glances at her from the side, an odd, dark twinkle in the vast blackness of his eye. "You don't disapprove?" he asks.
Something else is here, Morinth thinks, something more below the surface of his words.
"You saw injustice," she says, trying very hard to not to drawl the word, holding firmly to her role. "And you choose to act."
And left carnage in your wake, she adds with the beginnings of a purr in her mind, carved your name into the history of Omega for all of posterity to see.
He shrugs slightly, a twitch in his mandibles that might — or might not — indicate a smile.
In the yard below them, Shepard sits on the floor in a circle with half a dozen krogan. He has been teaching them some kind of human card game. Credit chits and thermal clips are piled between them, sometimes topped off by some battle token or other — a mummified salarian horn, a turian mandible. She hasn't seen Shepard this relaxed before. He is settled back casually, supporting himself on one outstretched arm and looking through the smoke of a cigarette at the worn cards in his hand. He shakes his head, then, laughs as he tosses the cards aside and one of the krogan roars in victory.
"I wish I could have met Archangel," she says, honestly, despite her mother's voice. A comfortable little tremor travels down into the pit of her stomach and settles there. Hunting a creature like that, oh the glory of it! She would have enjoyed nothing more, if only she had come to Omega earlier instead of dallying on Illium and hunting lesser prey there.
A low growl leaves his throat. "I think," he says, quite deliberately. "It turned out better this way. Fewer… misunderstandings. You never know what would have gone wrong."
He knows, she thinks with an icy shock where the desire still shivers, a sudden sense of dread underneath the heat of her damaged skin. He knows that I know that he knows… like a symphony and she would never dare putting this to the test.
She thinks it should, perhaps, not surprise her. He outsmarted all of Omega's criminal ilk — all carrying themselves with instincts and experience gained in long centuries of doing business on the fringes of society, in the heart of the Terminus. Garrus' instincts would be difficult to fool, near-impossible to truly waylay. Besides, Shepard keeps few secrets from Garrus. He has seen through to Shepard's core and there are sins that bind people.
"There is that," she concedes as noncommittally as she can.
She doesn't quite understand the multi-facetted relationship Shepard shares with Garrus. She sense what Garrus will become, the force of nature he might be once he frees himself from the commander's shadow. She wonders if Garrus knows, though, realises that Shepard and all the unconditional trust he places in him, is only holding him back. Perhaps he will come to resent Shepard once this truth reveals itself to him.
"I thank you for the drink," she says and her mother's voice doesn't grate quite as much as it has before. The truth has taken a different shape between them. It doesn't threaten her in the way she imagined it would. In time, she thinks, maybe she can even find a home among this odd collection of strangers that inhabit the Normandy.
She leans back in her seat, watches Garrus from the corners of her eyes. She tries a slow smile, contentment rather than any attempt at seduction and he flares his mandibles again as if in indecision.
"You are welcome," he says eventually. "It's the least I can do for a friend."