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Shepherds and butchers

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2157 CE

The troop carrier shook and creaked as it entered the earth's atmosphere. Weeks of orbital strikes had not cowed the inhabitants of this strange planet into submission, and the Hierarchy had no desire to send another dreadnought deeper into the Sol system for a backwater species with no sense of self preservation. General Arterius had wanted to make short work of the human obstinacy and had decided on a ground assault at the headquarters of several of the nation states of earth to break fleet morale, despite the objections of some of his captains.

Galenus Vakarian clutched his rifle and desperately prayed their carrier would not get hit before landing. The generals plan of breaking from the main fleet and coming to Terra alone while earth forces were engaged over Shanxi and Arcturus Station was typical of the mans arrogance. Earths smaller defensive fleet had nothing to compare to a turian dreadnought, but still, to come almost alone, with only a few dozen cruisers.. Galenus hoped the spirits of the ship would inspire them to a quick victory.

The carriers VI evaded most of the incoming enemy fire, but they were grazed several times and the resonating tremble in the ship almost made him sick. He had never been one for heights, and one direct hit would cause a rather steep plummet down to earths surface. Captain Fedorian shouted orders over the blaring klaxons, explaining that their mission would be to take control over a nuclear missile silo situated in the northern hemisphere. The area was called Siberia, and long range scanners of the Belli Finem had revealed high activity in the camp surrounding the silo. It was inhospitable, uninhabitable and inturianly cold. Galenus suspected the captain had been especially chosen for the assignment after his objections to Arterius' actions.

The carrier landed with a soft thump, but the slippery ground caused it to slide into a snowdrift. Galenus heard safety straps creak as they came to a sudden stop, and he was jerked sideways by the impact. The cold was already seeping into the shuttle, causing him to shiver. Hopefully they were not far from their mission objective. The team inspected their armored survival suits and checked all weapons before opening the shuttle door.

All their training had not prepared the hot-blooded turians for an earth arctic winter, and Galenus felt regret for not applying to C-sec sooner. War was not the way he wanted to serve his people, and standing here on a freezing spirits forsaken planet populated by barbarians was not how he wanted to die. He and the rest of the team huddled at the entrance of the shuttle, not eager to explore this strange new world. Captain Fedorian finished checking his bearing and made adjustments to his omni-tool. The magnetic field in the northern areas could play tricks on electrical components, but he felt sure he had programmed the right compensation.

“We're ready, get out and seal the doors. We don't know if the humans can pick us up on their systems, so we can't stay her for long.”

Fedorian saw in their faces the same doubt he felt in his own heart. The cold would be crippling them in a few hours if they missed their target, leaving them vulnerable to any sort of attack.

“I have calculated our direction, one hour march to target.”

The team sighed, but Fedorian thanked the spirits they didn't seem defeated anymore. The men gathered their equipment and supplies in preparation for travel. He saw Vakarian tie a piece of cloth around the barrel of his sniper rifle to prevent snow from entering, and decided to do the same with his assault rifle. That is, assuming they fired at all in this frost, he thought bitterly. Curse Arterius and his headstrong pursuit of glory. 15 minutes later the turians were on the march.


As the turian team disappeared over a ridge, a smaller snowdrift above the valley began to move. A hooded man with ice crystals in his beard peered out before carefully pulling a com unit out of his white camo jacket, giving the code signal for proximity alert. The silo base activated several mine fields around the area, and reset their turrets with explosive rounds. Three kilometers further down, a small team was latching huskies to an unusually large dog sled and prepared to set off for the landing site.


Captain Fedorian had assembled his men in the hills above the base. His scanner picked up turrets and what looked like a primitive mine field. There was no way to hack through the minefield, as these humans clearly had no high tech capability, and had to settle for mass production of low tech crap. Unfortunately, there was no way of knowing what kind of mines these were, unless he was prepared to set them off. The area scans indicated hundreds of small metal cylinders in the ground, and there was probably more in casings the scanner could not detect. He was unwilling to put the mission at risk but knew they were now working against time, as the cold was already dulling their reflexes. He had decided to send a small recon team to scout the other side, when he saw Vakarian tense.

“What is it, Lieutenant?”

Galenus pointed into the snow clad trees some meters away.
“I heard something.”

Fedorian turned his scanner to the trees. He picked up small heat signals from several four legged animals.

“It's the local wild life, Vakarian. I doubt they'll give us much trouble.”

Galenus nodded to the captain, but something made him very uneasy. An gut feeling he couldn't suppress screamed at him of incoming danger, but he had no evidence to support his inner voice, and so he kept quiet.

The captain continued to instruct corporal Vesperus to scout around the ridge, when 5 furry earth animals trotted out of the forest. Three turians raised their rifles to shoot, when Fedorian hissed an order to stand down. In this cold the sound of a gunshot would carry all over the mountains. The animals began bearing their teeth and stalk forward. The captain issued another order, and five turians stepped forward with their combat knives drawn. The serrated edges would easily tear up these creatures, with less sound than rifle fire. Galenus felt a rising dread, and he pulled the cap off his scope and aimed for the animals. He watched them intently as they crept forward, their speckled gray fur puffed up and jaws open with a menacing growl. Natural predators, he thought, but so were turians.

The alpha was suddenly only three meters away from the formed line. Galenus watched in disbelief. Was this natural behavior of earth predators? Attack when vastly outnumbered? He stood a little above the rest of the team, sweeping the animals with his scope. And there it was. Confirmation of his fear. Under the thickset fur of the brown-speckled animal, he saw a small rein with a container fastened to it, impossible to spot unless you were looking for it.

He shouted a warning to Fedorian as the alpha leaped into the line. When the animal got within half a meter of the first turian, it exploded with a huge flash, taking with it one turian and grievously wounding the one on either side. Galenus opened fire and took out the next animal, before the third jumped into a huddle and took out two more turians in a searing light. Fedorian shot the fourth as it charged him, and the fifth came in proximity of one of the injured turians and went up with an earsplitting boom. Blue snow rained down around them and pieces of blue meat and shredded plates littered the now darkened craters. Captain Fedorian was now down 5 men.

The explosions had been spotted at the base, and the turrets began raining down rocket fire, shaking the ground as the mortars impacted and caused columns of snow and dirt to rise into the air before falling down as mud. Fedorian desperately looked around. If they retreated, the cold and the inevitable pursuit would kill them anyway. They would never reach the shuttle in time. He had only one choice, charge the base through the mine field and hope against all hope that the humans had not buried anything like what was strapped to the animals, which remained undetected by scans. Hidden in the base structure they at least had a small hope of committing sabotage. The mission came first. He yelled at the remaining team to follow him as he held the scanner in front of him, and started to run for the minefield.

Galenus made one last swipe with his rifle and noted humans in the towers of the base, and wondered why they hadn't opened fire. His ears became aware of the shrill whine of an incoming shell and ran after his captain and what remained of his team.

Fedorian made it to the middle of the clearing before the scanner failed to pick up a mine. He threw himself forward when he heard the click, and with a second of delay he thought he made it, before he saw in the corner of his eye how the mine propel itself into the air and exploded into hundreds of shrapnel. The first mine set of the next, and suddenly the field was alive with bouncing bettys, personnel mines the humans had designed for their own kind. The turian armor could take quite a lot of damage, but the field was lined with quite a lot of mines.

Galenus reached the edge of the mine field, saw the captain fall and the mines shredding his comrades with thousands of cuts, tearing through armor and flesh while their victims screams were cut short by more blasts. He stood nailed to the ground, witnessing the carnage and an internal struggle to join them in martyrdom or try to save himself. Galenus was spared the choice when a mortar landed near him and the blast tore open his armor and sent him sprawling into a snow bank. In his last moments of consciousness he heard human voices drawing nearer. His hand pawed the ground aimlessly for his rifle before a spasm of pain knocked him out.


David Anderson leaned back in his seat to watch Shepard’s shouting match with the Russian senior sergeant. Hannah spoke Russian well enough to function as a temporary liaison between the United nations and the United federations, but sadly, this time negotiations had broken down. The sergeant wanted to turn the prisoner over to his superiors for study and probably dissection, while Hannah insisted he was a prisoner of war, and was to be treated as such. Sergeant Volkov finally gave in to what he saw as a crazed soft hearted woman, and gave her the codes to the turians shackles. David tutted at Hanna’s triumphant return.

“Our arrival were supposed to further cooperation. My Russian is not as good as yours, but I'm pretty sure you asked him to sit on a dick somewhere in there.”

She shrugged.“Might've come up. Standard Russian idiom. At least now we have a live prisoner to interrogate. If we left him here, he'd be dead in a week.”

“Are we sure that's a bad thing?” David frowned. “We know very little of these creatures. Now is perhaps not the best time to try and get acquainted. And keeping in mind if that plan of yours works, it won't be many happy turian faces around here.”

“What other time is there if their plan is to kill us all?” Hannah turned and touched the barred window. “We don't know why they attacked us, or how many there are. What we do know is that the giant ship above us is not the only one they have, but it's the only one here. They have decimated our defense fleet, and Mars won't help unless we cripple that thing. These ground assaults provide possibilities.”
She turned back to David.
“Some of them rather farfetched and improbable, but if earth is slated for another round of extinction, who'll remember whose ideas were more crazy? She winked at him.

“Ah, that lovely gallows humor of yours. How I've not missed that.” He gave her a look of disapproval.

“Really Anderson, If I hadn't seen your birth date on file, I would have pegged you for the old married man and me for the young sprout with a man in each port.”

“What? I don't.. You won't say that in front of Sarah, you hear me?” David spluttered.

“Yeah yeah, keep yer pants on. I'm going to check on our prisoner, alert me when our ride arrives.”


Galenus woke with a severe ringing in his ear canals. He mumbled indistinctly to turn it off, before his brain lifted some of it's fog, and it became clear the sound came from his own head.
“The explosions..” he muttered while trying to get up. His movements were stopped by straps and chains snaking around his torso and wrists. He threw a fit of panic, vainly trying to coil and twist his way out of the restraints. The metal chains did not relent, and clinked mockingly in the large room. His head swiveled around the cell before he caught sight of a human calmly observing his feeble escape attempt. Galenus growled at it, daring it to come closer. The humans mouth jerked upwards in an expression he didn't know, showing teeth as it approach him slowly.

Galenus forced himself to lay still as the human reached for one of the chains that reached around his upper body, and punched in a release code for the lock. It fell away, and it stepped back quickly. He tried to lunge again, but the removed chain had merely prevented him from sitting up, he was still tied to the bed, and the bed was welded to the floor. He stared at the human and sneered at it's incompetence. If the locks were digital, then he could easily hack it when.. He felt a sting on his left arm and now saw the bandages around his wrist and waist. They'd operated on him. He felt panic again. They had also removed his omni-tool. Spirits curse these fucking animals. The humans mouth pulled downward, and it said something in a low voice. Galenus didn't care. They had killed his team, and now, as the last remaining man he was going to be tortured for information, he was sure of it. Well, he would not make it easy for the barbarians. He threw himself at the restraints again and shouted in palaveni that he would rip their throats out if he got loose.

Again the metal clinked and jangled with every struggling move. It had the opposite effect of what he had hoped. The human now looked at him with glittering eyes and a small staccato sound escaped from it. He made out the words "feisty one", but not their direct meaning. He got the gist of it, however. The human found him amusing.

The realization that he was entertainment for his captors caused him to fall dejectedly back onto the bed. He felt a warm trickle on his side. All his fighting had caused the wound to reopen. The human saw this as well, and opened the door barking orders to other humans behind it. To larger humans in combat armor and armed with rifles marched in. Galenus assumed these to be males. They lifted their rifles and aimed directly at him, while the smaller female human grabbed some fresh bandages out of a bag. She approached him slowly again, gesturing at his wound and the bandages, and then to the soldiers. The meaning was clear. He considered making an attempt on her life and so cutting his own life shorter, but in truth he didn't want to die on this planet. His family back on Palaven would never know what happened to him, and he'd never see Vistilla again either. He made a low grunt and laid back to convey he wouldn't try anything, and the human did that thing with her face, making her teeth show. Apparently it was supposed to be reassuring, but to him it looked like she wanted to eat him.

Galenus tried not to squirm to much then the clueless female changed the cloth around his waist. Oddly thankful for the pain that prevented any ideas of a mishap with his plates, he stared at the ceiling and felt her many creepy fingers administer care in a unexpectedly gentle manner. When she'd also finished his wrist, she fished a few packets of turian field rations out of her pocket and put them beside him. She also signaled one of the soldiers to hand her a canteen from the corner. He got it hesitantly, while the second soldier kept his rifle firmly fixed at Galenus. The turian could smell the mans overpowering scent of fear in this closed room, and he hated it. The female stepped back again and ordered the soldiers out. She leaned back against the wall as he sat up, eying the rations with care.

It seemed improbable they would poison him when he was already a prisoner. He looked back at her. It seemed like she wanted to make sure he wasn't hungry, and he could choose whether to eat the food or not. He chose the former. If an escape attempt was going to have a chance of success, he could not be both starving and injured. Galenus tore the rations open and tilted his head back, dropping the food in his mouth. The canteen was inspected carefully, he sniffed at it and poured some of it's content on the floor. It seemed to be water. With his head tilted back, he poured the liquid down his throat, then tossed the canteen back to the human. She'd been watching him with rapt attention. The feeling of being fed and cared for by your enemies made him angry, and he refused to acknowledge her presence. This was no more of a deterrent for her than his earlier growling. She stepped into the middle of the holding cell and pointed at herself.

“Hannah Shepard.”

He refused to speak. She sighed and tried again.

“Hannah Shepard. Human.”

She pointed at him. “Turian.” No reply. “Fatuus.”

That made him jolt his head up. Did she speak his languate? No more turian words came, and he figured she must've heard it from others of his kind. How many others had they captured? He decided to play along for now to gain some Intel. He pointed a talon at her.

“Human. Hana Ssheprrd.”

His finger tapped on his own chest. “Turian. Galenus Vakarian.”

The human flashed her teeth again.

“Galnus Vakrian.”

He gave her a dark look and muttered “fatuus” back at her.

This time she laughed aloud, and picked up the canteen. She held it towards him, and he understood the gesture. He made a swallowing motion. She walked back to the door and gave more orders, handing the canteen to the soldier outside. While they waited the human made several attempts at pronouncing his name before she go it right.

“Galenus Vakarian,” she finally managed, giving him a nod.

“Shepard,” he replied and returned the nod, it was a similar greeting to theirs.

A dark skinned human came back with the canteen, and whispered something in her ear. Her expression suddenly changed, and she tapped her fingers on her right hand pocket, seemingly lost in thought. The male gave Galenus a suspicious stare, and pointed to himself. “Anderson.” He placed the canteen on the floor and kicked it towards the turian. Galenus felt offended. He did not trust this new human, and with his feet he located the canteen and kicked the water back.

“Sheparrd.”

The two males glared at each other.

The female had watched their interaction with an expression Galenus now recognized as amusement. The Anderson human took a step towards him, but she gave him a pat on the shoulder and picked up the water. With her eyes on him she twisted off the cork and mimicked his method of drinking, head tilted back and then poured. It was clear this was not the usual way for humans to drink when she got some water stuck in her throat the wrong way, and started coughing. Anderson started slapping her between her shoulders. Galenus was unsure if this was supposed to help or if it was punishment. When she stopped spluttering, she put the cork back on the canteen and slowly walked over to him. As she held the canteen out at arms length, Anderson pulled his gun out and held it casually along his side. Galenus got the message, slowly raising his own arm accepting the water.
The humans pulled back and continued their hushed conversation.

Galenus drank more water, and tried to observe the two without being obvious. They disagreed on something, and he guessed it was him. Anderson kept waving in his direction with anger in his low voice, and the female calmly rebuffed him. He finally relented, and she left the cell, talking in a changed language to the soldiers outside. Anderson stood listening to their discussion as he fiddled with something in his pocket. Absent absentmindedly he pulled it out. Galenus held back a gasp. It was his omni-tool implant. Immediately he let his gaze fall. It was imperative that he went with these humans now, if he could get his hands on and reactivate the omni-tool his people would rescue him. He would behave for now, but when the time came, he wouldn't hesitate to kill either of the humans.

Chapter Text

 

Hannah fastened the last strap on the tarp covering the caged turian. The Russian quarter master had nearly cried when she and Anderson had commandeered almost every last blanket and pillow on the base to line the turians cage, but Hannah was indomitable. The alien would not freeze to death in her care. Anderson were attending to some last minute details of their plan, and were expected to be back soon. She peered in under the tarpaulin, and the bright eyes of the turian almost shone in the dark. The base mechanics had welded a big metal anchor chain on both the cage floor and roof to keep the turians arms mainly in the middle of the movable holding cell and to keep him from slashing at them from within.

They had also welded a makeshift bed in the middle, with side bars preventing blankets from falling out. The whole thing resembled nothing so much as a giant nest, and Hannah reckoned that this would either be construed as a giant insult for the avian-like alien, or at best some wheedling attempt at earning his trust. He'd been very cooperative after she'd given him the water, but Hannah didn't trust him for a second. A captured soldier thought of little else than escape, and if they weren't careful, he would most certainly kill all of them in the attempt.

Over by the garage door a Russian private saluted, and Anderson walked in. He beckoned her to follow, giving a dark look to the tarp.

When they were inside the waiting room of the mechanics, he closed the door.

“Dureios Five have completed the mission.” He sounded anxious. “None of the other four have been picked up. Still just sitting out there.”

“This time they have to come back, David. The silo is too big a risk, even for them.”

“God I hope you're right.” He shifted his attention to the small prison. “Can't believe you're taking that thing with you. It's a great risk.”

“I would never risk Jonathan’s life, or the lives of my crew needlessly. Drop it.”

Anderson wanted to protest further, but caught the stern look in the commanders eye. “Yes mam.”

She laughed. “None of that when we're alone. We've known each other for years. You're the Alliance's golden boy. Will probably outrank me some day, and I won't have you pulling rank on me every time I disagree with you. That is, if we survive this.”

He grinned at that. “Think the alien will survive the trip?”

“At least it won't freeze to death. I have Karin standing by for when we arrive. It seems that she has seen the insides of a turian already. Didn't ask how.”

“Probably for the best.” Anderson shuddered. For such a mild mannered woman, Karin Chakwas sometimes gave him the creeps.”

Hannah slammed her fists on the table. “The Alliance's best doctor, their first N7 and a damned good commander-”she grinned at him, “Stuck on earth because their ship got blasted in dry dock. “The gods certainly has a sense of humor.”

“The gods? Plural?” Anderson took a playful step away. “Think I'll stand a few paces away. Reckoning, you know.”

She shrugged. “I like to hedge my bets.”

“Don't let general Williams overhear you say that. That is a man that fears the wrath of god.”

The room turned silent, thoughts wandering to Shanxi.

Hannah shook her head. “He's too stubborn to die. Probably Russian ancestry.”

Anderson raised an eyebrow. “Russian? What makes you say that?”

“Have you heard his theory on dogs and bears?”

“Can't say I have, but I'm intrigued.”

“If you're attacked by a bear you'll sic your dog on it, no matter how much you love it. Or something to that effect.”

“That's cold. True, but cold.”

Hannah sat down. “Yeah. The turians didn't consider the trained hybrids a threat at first, except for the one we have in our travel cell. He's very astute. Be careful around him.”

“No worries. I got my eye on him.”


Galenus felt his body being jostled around when they loaded his cell on to what he assumed was a primitive and rickety aircraft. The bedding provided by Shepard the female kept him from being thrown around, even if he was chained to the center. Clever little human, he thought. He could move around the bed, and sit in the opening, but his reach didn't extend to the outer bars. Safety precautions he too would have implemented if he were in their place. From everything he knew and had heard about humans, they were transporting him to a secret base for information extraction. Galenus was only a corporal, but that surely wouldn't stop them. Everything he knew about the Belli Finem could be exploited by a cunning enemy, and the turians on his team had grievously underestimated these barbarians, to their detriment. He would not make the same mistake again. Remembering the gut-feeling he had when those animals came out of the woods, he decided not to mistrust it if it happened again.

Without his omni-tool he was unable to pinpoint travel time, and the aircraft was more noisy and shaky than he was used to. Judging by sound the thing stayed aloft by some swirling flaps above it, and this did nothing to alleviate his reluctance to heights. If they fell down, his body would never be recovered and brought back to Palaven. Instead he would be a pile of ashes on the human's home-world. Galenus found the thought repulsive. He only needed one chance, and he would teach the damned humans a lesson they would not soon forget.

When the aircraft finally landed, it was not the end of his undignified stay in the cage. The cage was hoisted onto another vehicle, and he was driven from the landing site to a hall of sorts. The smells around him were metal, machines and sweaty humans, and he was starting to feel unwell. His wound needed changing, he was hungry and needed to relieve himself. None of which he wanted to, or could do trapped in here. A human jumped onto his cage, slapping a chain around the central beam. Galenus tried to reach him, but to no avail. Deprived of all possibilities, he had to wait. At least it couldn't get worse. The cage was suddenly hoisted in the air, swung to the side and then began a slow descent down a drafty shaft. Galenus felt the cage swing slowly from side to side like a pendulum all the way down. He was wrong, this was worse. He swore inwardly. No wonder the barbarians didn't cow to orbital strikes. They could live deep underground, like worms. If only he could get this message to general Arterius, they could end this war faster and he could go home.


Anderson stood guard while the turian prisoner descended down the ventilation shaft of the old metro system. The Russians, having endured countless invasions in the past had built all city metro tunnels as easily convertible bomb shelters for their inhabitants, and under this particular station was the ad hoc United North American States embassy and field hospital. Every entrance and exit of the metro was guarded by Russian special forces, and only Hannah's position as the chief planner behind Dureios had allowed them to bring the alien down into the tunnels. He did not like the idea of having a turian on the loose in those dark long tunnels, stalking and preying on humans while trying to get out, but, Hannah was determined that it was a prisoner of war, and so he had to make do. At least the alien would be locked inside his miniature prison for his stay here.

Suddenly arms snaked around him from behind, trapping him in a hard embrace. He stiffened. Sarah's low laugh was in his ear and her hot lips on his neck, and slowly his heart resumed it's former pace.

“Sarah, sweetheart, one day I'll hurt you when you do that.”

“Never, you're N7, probably sensed me down in the ground.”

Anderson turned around and returned her embrace, kissing her back with fervor. Some of the spetsnaz started laughing and hollering, and they broke quickly broke apart.

“Been too long, David. Did we do it this time?”

Anderson simply stared into her dark brown eyes and had trouble focusing his mind on her questions.

“David, did we get Dureios?” She cocked her head with a smile. Anderson returned to the present and smiled back.

“Hannah thinks we did. She's going back to oversee the operation, and make sure the radar is still operational. I'll be staying here for a few days, making sure the.. package is secure.”

She gave him a knowing look. “Call it what it is. A turian.”

His eyes darted around to the surrounding soldiers. “How do you know that. Only a few of the guards know, and if they-..”

“What else would it be, babe? Large cage, not heavy enough for supplies, clearly something that needs to breathe inside..” She enjoyed the look on his face. “And it upsets you and was cleared by Shepard. Don't exactly need a crystal ball, now do I?”

He pulled her close and whispered in her ear; “If you tell anyone, I won't have my way with you all night.”

“You wouldn't dare!” she mock scowled at him.

“Yes I would. A long life of celibacy for both of us.”

She smiled against the side of his neck. “These N7 types, so ruthless and cruel. I should get a nice boy.”

“Poor little SEAL. As if you could stay away from aaall this.” He motioned to himself before kissing her again.

She found herself agreeing with him. 

The gears on the crane screeched as they came to a full stop, and the chain swung idly while the underground crew secured the makeshift elevator to the boom. The machinist got the green light, then started hoisting the platform back up. Anderson turned when he heard Hannah and the ground supervisor walked in from one of the passageways. She gave the man a few parting words, and headed for the elevator site. As she approached, she spotted them standing nearly on top of each other.

“Starting already, I see.” She nodded at the pair.

“Can't waste time, seeing as I'm going back with you in a few hours.” Sarah smiled.

“What? Without me?”

“Really, sweetie, there's a war on. Some of us need to win it, while the others hide underground.” Sara flashed a mischievous smile.

Hannah tried to hide a snort and began studying a very boring spot at the wall.

“Well, damn. That's the worst news I had all day.”

“Worse than the package?”

“Yeah, yeah, laugh it up. But yes.”

“Would you two kindly refrain from alluding to sexual activities, some of us are married, after all. Haven't seen a penis in years.” Hannah's eyes were still fixed on the spot, but the lovers snickered knowingly, and said nothing.

The elevator platform stopped with a jolt. A few orders in Russian, and the three of them stepped on. Gears whined back to life as they descended into the dark tunnels.


Jonathan Shepard arranged for the tarp covered cage to be stowed away in a closed off cul-de-sac, and set a guard before hurrying back to the elevator. It felt like an eternity before the platform was all the way down, and the wait was excruciating. When the platform thumped the ground he was already on it and wrapped his arms around his wife. Hannah hugged him back with desperate zeal. The two were lost in the moment, and Anderson and Sarah made themselves scarce.

“Miss you, always,” Jonathan whispered in her ear.

“Of course you do,” came her reply in a suspiciously creaking voice.

They chuckled at their shared joke, and he cupped her face for another kiss.

“Please leave the elevator, people. Some us work here,” came a voice from the lift crew.

They broke apart and he grabbed her hand leading her towards the cul-de-sac.

“I wanna see it.”

“I’s not a toy, Jon. It's a soldier, very dangerous and at least somewhat intelligent. Like you.”

“Ahhaha, funny. Be mean to the man who loves you, see what that gets you.”

“More love?”

He snorted. “Not a chance.”

When they entered the sealed off tunnel, Jonathan pulled the provisional doors shut. His wife regarded them with a skeptical eye.

“If he gets loose in here, those doors won't hold him at all.

“Won't happen.” He assured her. “Now pull the tarp off, I'm sure he'll appreciate the light.”

Hannah loosened the front latches and pulled the tarp halfway off.

Galenus blinked his eyes from the sudden exposure to light before he fixed his gaze on the two humans.

“Damn, it's big. Did we do this?” He pointed at the bandages covering the turians waist and wrist.

Hannah looked unhappy with the question. “A mortar did the waist, we,” she emphasized the word, “did his wrist. They sometimes have a com-system imbedded in the flesh of the forearm. It was.. necessary.” She dragged the words out.

“Hey, sorry. I'm sure it was. Never implied that you'd cut it for fun. Do you know it's name?”

“He told me Galenus Vakarian. Might be true, might be false. Who knows. He's been cooperative. A little too much, in my opinion, considering his reaction when we first met.”

“Well, you're kinda an acquired taste. Not for everyone.” She shot him a look that said “really?”

“More for me,” he replied happily. “Now, let's see what our new guest needs.


Galenus didn't care for the fast transition from dark to light, but at least they weren't transporting him anymore. In front of the bars stood the female Shepard, and beside her with his fingers entwined in hers stood what must've been her mate. He was hungry, thirsty and desperate for relief, but how to explain all this to the humans. It might take all day. Her mate swung the door open with what Galenus figured was meant to be a friendly show of teeth. Shepard herself walked up to him and pulled a few ration bars out of her pocket. He got up and held his hands in front of him. She told the mate something, and he pulled out his gun and aimed at him through the metal bars. Galenus understood. Same procedure as last time. Shepard leanded in far enough to place the ration bars in his talons. Then she barked something at the guard, and he pulled a container from his belt. Shepard took it and did the same thing she'd done at the base, without the choking and spluttering this time. After handing the container over, she seemed to relate the story to her mate, pretending to choke and heave. They both laughed. He gulped down the food and water, but how was he to explain his next urgent need. He had to try demonstrating.

“Shepard.”

She turned immediately. He held the container above his mouth pretending to drink, then pulled it down the line of his body and held it in front of his groin.

The man behind her laughed again and said a few words. Her eyes widened as she looked at Galenus and said something that sounded like “sorri.” Her mate went and fetched a bucket, and was about to lean in and hand it over to him. Shepard pulled him back, giving a low rebuke while eying Galenus carefully. Way too clever, he thought. Galenus hoped Shepard would leave the place later, her presence would make his escape more difficult. She pulled out her own gun and aimed it at him, before letting her mate set the bucket down inside. Strangely, they both turned away when he fumbled with his undersuit. The chains were hampering his purpose, but when they were all looking in another direction it gave him a moment to study the area. He noted the flimsy doors, the single guard, army crates and a murmur of voices outside. This must be an Alliance base, he reasoned. He hadn't seen or heard anything resembling civilians. When he could finally release a stream, he gave an contented sigh. Shepard and the mate moved a little away. He glanced over the guard’s position,  but his keen eyes caught something else: Shepard's mate placed his hand on her belly and squeezed it gently, before pulling away quickly, looking around. Galenus averted his eyes just in time. Now that was interesting.

 

Chapter Text

The warm smile on Jonathan’s face when he touched her belly made Hannah feel lucky despite their situation. The war, the plan, the ship she lost, it was all surmountable when he was beside her. She had to make sure he stayed that way. They spoke in whispering tones, standing a few meters away from the miniature prison.

“How's your ribcage?”

“It's fine, I'm pretty much healed.”

“Are you? Or are you lying to your doting wife?” She gave him a knowing look.

“Of course not, sweetheart.” That complete look of innocence had fooled her when she first knew him. Not anymore.

“Not even if she threatened to punch said ribcage?”

A guilty chortle escaped him. “Well, I might be omitting some things from the old ball and chain. But you know how she nags. You are much more fun.”

“Not funny, Jon. I need you to heal up, not puncture a lung and choke to death.” She smiled sweetly. “But if you do snuff it, I'll tell the munchkin that captain Hackett is the father.”

“Hah, as if there is any woman in that man's life beside his ship.”

“Seriously though, I mean it. And it's not just for selfish reasons. If you die, we have no other radio man on this side of the Atlantic capable of signaling the fleet undetected. Not Arcturus and not Mars.”

“Radio man? Hopelessly outdated classification.”

“I’m a soldier, not a wimpy office-man.”

“Ouch. If I hadn't been forced to a shotgun wedding..”

“Love you too.”

They turned back to the turian. He had finished his necessities and was now calmly sitting on the bed. The bucket he'd availed himself of was pushed as close to the door as he was capable of.

“I see what you mean with too cooperative,” Jonathan muttered out of the corner of his mouth.

“Mhm. Still, those wounds needs changing too. Can you trust the guard?”

“With your life.”

She hook her head. “Then we need to get Karin. I want her to do a general checkup of our prisoner, make sure he doesn't expire in our care. We might need more guards for that.”

“I know some guys,” he smiled. “Let's go.”

Shepard picked up the bucket without examining the content and locked the cage. She handed the key to the lone guard when they left.


Galenus watched them leave, and the guard was again sitting at his post, casually observing him. That was unfortunate. A plan was forming in his head, but it would require him to get out of these chains. Shepard would never allow it, he was sure of that, but that mate of hers might. He didn't seem like a regular soldier, maybe a specialist of some kind. Galenus yanked at the metal cutting into his wrists. The hole from the implant was darkened with blood, and would most likely get infected if not treated with disinfectant. He pondered this for a moment. Shepard had herself changed his injuries up at the other base, so they wanted him somewhat undamaged. If the chains inflicted more wounds..

While pretending not to watch the guard he held one chain immovable to prevent it from jangling, and started to roll his wrist inside it. The chafing movement burned after a few moments, but he persisted. After several minutes he was bleeding from one arm, and switched to the other.

With both wrists bleeding, he got up and paced slowly around the bed, making sure the guard saw the chain catching on it's edges. He jerked at them irritably and made small noises of discomfort and pain. It was doubtful if Shepard would believe his new-found injuries were caused by the cage itself, and he hoped she would not be returning again. Galenus continued his charade until the doors opened again, and another human female stepped through. She carried a small bag and wore a kind of coat. Behind her trailed three more armed guards, and they took up position around his cage. The female exchanged a few words with his jailor, and the key-bearer opened the door for her. Three armed rifles armed and red reflector sights appeared on his body. Shepard, he thought wearily. He would try best behavior again.

“Hello”, he said in turian. “Nice to meet you, human.”

She regarded him with surprise. “Hello there, turian. Galenus, I've been told. Seems like a steady fellow. Let's have a look at you.”

The words were lost on him, but her tone was soothing yet commanding, and she pointed to the bed. The red dots on his chest reminded him that he really had no option now, and sat down.

The human pointed at herself: “Karin Chakwas.”

Placing the bag on the edge of the bed, she opened it and pulled out bandages and a small bottle. He regarded it with suspicion. Who knew what they would put in him, and what it would do to him. Apparently she caught his stare, and uncorked it. She smelled it, then held it up to him to do likewise. It smelled like something a krogan would order in a bar. Probably some sort of human disinfectant. He wasn't sure if he wanted it on his body. Chakwas looked at him again. Galenus held back a shudder and decided he would take his chances with the bottle. This seemed like the response she waited for, and she started unwrapping his bandages.

 


“We haven't heard anything from Vancouver HQ for three days, and their last message was that Beijing HQ was silent. We are loosing more ground day by day.” Jonathan’s expression was grim.

“This might be our last chance to take that thing out. They can track all our launches from orbit, and so far we've not gotten one missile through the atmosphere.”

“I know. But if we're wrong, we're not only dooming the Mars auxiliary fleet to destruction, we're also causing major destruction here on earth as well. Nobody has done this before, and for good reason. Parts of earth will go dark, and nobody knows how far the nuclear EMP will travel in space.” Anderson's voice was low and fast. Hannah watched the two men in silence. Sarah took a step forward and crossed her arms.

“If we do nothing, we'll die anyway. Does it really matter if it's them or us that destroys earth? I say we follow the plan.”

Hanna sighed. “Sarah is right. We have no other plans, no other contingencies. That ship must be taken down now. We're loosing ground everywhere, and if we loose earth too, there's no place left to hide. If we can show them we're a force to be reckoned with, maybe they'll parley.”

“Big maybe,” Anderson muttered. “Too bad we can't understand what that turian is saying. Maybe we can force him to point to some weak spots on that ship.”

“No torturing prisoners!” Hannah snapped. “Enough of the griping. We're committed. Sarah and I will go back and reconnoiter the landing site. When they return and we signal you, send the message to Mars that we've brought the monstrosity down and to come to our aid. I'm hoping the EMP have dissipated or disappeared by then, but that's a risk we'll have to take. Then message all available channels to initiate Darklight. Hopefully there'll be something left down here when it's all over.”

Anderson shook his head. “Like the 4 horsemen of the Apocalypse here, with no assurance of success.”

“There are two ways of doing things, the right way, or again.” Sarah gave a determined smile. “This is one of the times there is no again. We either get this done, or we're done.”

Hannah pushed away from the wall. “It's settled. We need to get back. I doubt the turian backup team will wait more than 24 hours before they send reinforcements. Be ready.”

 


 

The elevator gears creaked and whined while the elevator was descending down the shaft. Jonathan waited while his wife checked her winter gear and pulled her mitts out of her pack. Hannah caught his gaze and sent him a reassuring smile.

“Can't say I'm happy about you leaving again.” He hugged her again.

“Just a short field trip before our victory celebration. Be back in no time.”

“I love the way you lie, you know that, right?” The cheerfulness in his voice was strained.

“Jon, I'll come back to you, I promise. And I need you here, coordinating with what remains of our forces. If any of us fail, we all fail.” She leaned her head into his neck.

“I know. Hey, Hannah.. I thought of a way to maybe talk with your prisoner.”

She looked up sharply. “You can't let him out. Not for any reason.”

“Yeah yeah, but as long as he's in the cage, we can try talking to it, right?”

She gave him a skeptical look. “Not alone. I want Anderson with you at all times when you attempt to communicate with him. And don't trust him.”

“I won't. We just have some recordings of turian speech from some vids, I just want to try.”

Hannah knew her husband to be a language and communication expert, but also having a little too much faith in the inherent goodness of people in general.

“I hope those are not the vids from the first assaults on our bases. The ones with the unmarked turians in the first recon squad. Those are not likely to get him to open up.”

“Of course not, but he's not responsible for what they did.”

“No, but that shows the amount of damage they can inflict with just their talons, and that they can behave just like rogue earth soldiers. He cannot be allowed to enter the hospital area or the sanctuary for the civilians.”

“We have things under control here, just concentrate on the mission. Dureios isn't going to insert itself.” Jonathan’s voice was warm and slightly exasperated.

She gave him a last hug and stepped on the elevator. Sarah was already there, having reluctantly freed herself from Anderson's embrace a moment earlier. They waved a last goodbye as the gears gave a metallic grinding sound and spun into life to hoist them up from the dark safety of the metro.

 

“And now we wait.” Anderson growled resentfully.

“We also have to set up everything for Darklight, and I want to have a few words with the turian.”

“The turian? Hannah OK with that?”

“Sure, she said you'd help.”

“Really?” Anderson sounded doubtful.

“Well, she said you had to be there, but it's practically the same thing.”

“Uh-huh.” The N7 wasn't too happy being dragged into Jonathan Shepard's little experiment, but it would keep his mind occupied, and perhaps even be of some help.

“All right, but we'll first set up for transmission. Then we can go play with your new toy.”

Several hours later the system was prepared for earth-wide distribution when it came, and in addition they had decided when the order to shut down came, they would close and evacuate all entrances to the metro just as a precaution against potential fallout.

“Hopefully the people we can still reach have time to respond to our message. And Mars will come.”

“Anderson, your eternal optimism is going to be the death of us all one day,” came Jonathan's irritated voice from behind the hydraulic aggregate.

“There, we're as ready as we can be. The message is automated and will repeat itself for as long this thing is running. Let's get some grub and go do important stuff.”

“The turian? Your priorities is all skewed, Shepard.”

“If we're to negotiate with them we at least need to understand a few words, like surrender and defeat.”

“Now who's the optimist?”

“Hey, I've been stuck in this dark hole for weeks sending messages while you've been out gallivanting with my wife. I'm entitled to some grumbles.”

Anderson merely shook his head again. Shepard was as relentless as his wife, though in his own way.

 

When the pair of them had eaten, they returned to the cul-de-sac and stepped inside. Doctor Chakwas was instructing two of the guards to set the last touches on the small metal fence that now surrounded the cage. Inside it, the turian was now clutching the bars and staring intently at them. He had been released from the chains, both wrists heavily bandaged. A cold feeling of dread seized Anderson, and he nearly grabbed the good doctor to shake her. Instead he closed in right behind her and hissed; “What do you think you're doing? Who the hell allowed you to free that thing.”

Karin Chakwas spun around. “He was injuring himself on that medieval contraption in the center of the cell. His arms were cut open and sepsis would probably set in if not prevented.”

“Then prevent it by other means. You two, clap the turian in chains again.” He signaled to the guards. Karin stepped in front of the fence gate.

“We're not animals, Anderson. It's not like he can get out through the bars. This fence will keep people out of reach from him, and we will not be killing a prisoner with blood poisoning.” They stepped into each others faces.

Jonathan approached them and spoke in hushed tones. “Let's not show dissent amongst ourselves in front of it. Anderson, the turian has been cooperating with us, allthough probably for his own ends. With this as a show of good will, he'll be more likely to try and talk with us. If something feels amiss later, we can always chain him back up. For now, this works in our favor.”

Both Anderson and Karin glared at him. None of them liked his proposal, each for different reasons, but finally they nodded and broke apart.

Jonathan made one guard fetch a table. He placed it inside the fence, so the turian would have a clear line of sight but far enough away that he had to stretch far beyond the bars to reach anything on it. He placed a water canteen, a small knife, bandages and other assorted items on it. The turian had stepped away from the bars and sat complacently on the bed, ignoring him. Jonathan tried to talk to it.

“Hello Galenus Vakarian." He pointed at the turian then himself; “Jonathan Shepard.”

That earned him a small look of interest, before he was soundly ignored again. Anderson gave an evil smile.

“Perhaps you have nothing that tempts him.”

“We've barely started, I didn't expect him to tell me all his secrets at once.”

“Perhaps he needs a little motivation,” Anderson continued.

“What kind of motivation are you talking about, lieutenant?” came Karin's voice from the sideline.

“Nothing too painful,” he replied and pulled the implant out of his pocket, placing it on the table.

The turian got up immediately and clutched the bars. He stared hungrily at it.

“Now you have it's attention. Make the best of it,” Anderson gloated to Jonathan.

“Thank you Anderson, shameless show-off,” he murmured, and continued his attempt to communicate with the prisoner.

 


 

Hannah and Sarah said little on the helicopter ride back to the missile silo. There was little too say that weren't mission related, and both of them used the trip back to reflect on the coming hours. Hannah felt as she was standing on the precipice of the unknown, there was no way of accurately predicting that the turians would return for this shuttle any more than they had for the previous four, but this time she had made sure the intended target could not be ignored. There was no way for the giant ship above them to know where or how many missiles hid in the ground around them, and they had to send a team to investigate. At least the previous animosities between the east and west finally benefited humanity as a whole. She made a mirthless smile. Siberia had turned out to be the coldest hellhole she'd ever been to, but the added blessing was that the enemy seemed to hate it even more. They seemed more sluggish when exposed to the cold for too long, even in heated armor. An unexpected advantage they would use to it's fullest. She glanced over at the woman beside her. A black op SEAL-trainee with no known last name, Sarah had turned out to be one of the most fearless woman Hannah had ever met. She had been on shore leave when earth was attacked, and was transferred to her crew on admiral Drescher's order shortly before Hannah's ship Resolute was destroyed in the first attack. She'd been a part of their team since then, and it was no wonder Sarah and David had found each other, each outstanding in their field.

Hannah pulled her parka hood further down her eyes. She truly hoped the turians would do what she expected them to do, as it was precisely what she'd do herself in their position.

When they arrived at the base, a small blizzard was underway. Deciding to take advantage of the weather to remain undetected, Hannah called on the base commander to get their mushers out and hook up the dogs. The wind and the falling snow would hide tracks leading back to the hidden surveillance outposts. While conducting a last check on weapons and com-system for frost damage, Sarah quietly came up beside her.

“What if they come and don't take the shuttle with them? Do we have a reserve plan for that?”

“Yes, wing it. Seriously Sarah, don't jinx us. The Dureios 5 team will make it seem as if we've tried to breach the shuttle, but unsuccessfully. I'm sure they have some sort of technology they don't want us to have in there. Hopefully they'll send one soldier back with it, or activate some sort of auto-pilot. In either case, when they take off, our last functioning radar will inform us when they're close enough for major damage. If we are lucky and don't raise suspiscion, the shuttle will be taken into the ship's hangar. Either way it'll work.”

Sarah shook her head. “Too cocksure for your own good sometimes. Glad to be on your side, Hannah Shepard.”

 

The sled ride lasted for about 30 minutes, the handlers driving the dogs to make good time. Hannah enjoyed the brisk pace and the sound of dog feet trudging in the snow. The wind was picking up, aiding their purpose of arriving and leaving unnoticed. At the hidden lookout, the two women got out of the sled and thanked the handlers, whom smiled proudly before turning the sleds about and disappeared into the snow-filled steppe again. Down in the valley the turian shuttle was covered with a layer of snow, but still visible from afar.

“I guess we wait,” Sarah shrugged and sat down, peering out if the small opening of the buried observatory. “Hopefully not too long.”

 

Several hours later a small engine hum could be heard through the snow, steadily increasing in pitch. In the dark sky above them a small aircraft approached, before decelerating and landing ungracefully on the snow-filled lake, throwing cascades of snow up behind it in its wake. It came to rest in a snow-heap on the opposite lakeside of the first shuttle, and they could hear the muffled sound of the engine powering down. Nothing happened for almost 15 minutes, then a hatch in the rear opened and several armored turians stepped out onto the snow, rifles ready and scanning the area. Hannah knew they were hidden from their small scanners as long as they stayed in the observatories. The cold didn't seem to agree with the turians. The scouts spotted the other shuttle seconds later, and gesticulated to more turians hiding inside, unwilling to leave. Hannah slowly put on a pair of night vision binoculars and sent a silent prayer to all available gods. This plan had to work.

Two turians stayed behind to guard their shuttle, and the rest scampered through the snow towards the other one. When they reached it, they took up positions around it and the turian she supposed to be the leader assayed the damage her infiltration team had done, before he punched a code into a hidden keypad. The hatch gave a metallic creak before slowly opening. The leader ordered two turians inside, weapons ready. Hopefully they wouldn't notice any changes, she thought, pulse racing in anticipation. The scouts came back out and said something to the leader. They huddled together in a small ring to discuss something, and one of the turians gave what she recognized as a salute, and went inside the shuttle again. Hannah felt a burning desire to believe in gods for the first time in her life. It would work! Beside her Sarah shifted her position and breathed out. She'd seen the same, they would send the first shuttle back, probably to try and ascertain what happened to the former crew. Now they would most likely reconnoiter the base, but the Russians had proved they could deal with one turian ground team. Hannah turned to the Russian radio-operator and nodded. He grinned widely and signaled the base to convey their success to Jonathan, and to initiate operation Darklight.

The turians continued to talk for about 20 more minutes, probably discussing how to safely approach the base unseen. They started to move back to their own shuttle for supplies and the two remaining teammates, when the leader suddenly froze and held his hand to his helmet as if receiving an incoming message. He then bellowed orders to his team and they raised their weapons and fanned out around him, while heading back to their transport. The single soldier they had left behind came running after them, leaving the shuttle open. Hannah closed her eyes in despair. They'd been made. There was no telling how right now, but somehow, something had thrown the whole plan out of the window. Sarah turned her head and gave her a concerned stare. Hannah raised her eyebrows and gave a mock sigh to the SEAL. She turned around and picked up a small device Sarah recognized as a short range jammer.

“And now we wing it.” She punched the switch on the device, and then pulled out a land-lined com unit from the wall while activating the speaker:

все команды, огонь.

The hills surrounding the lakes erupted in muzzle flashes and tracer rounds. Hannah pulled out her own rifle and opened fire at the turian duo guarding the shuttle. Seconds later her fire was joined by Sarah's, the latter being far more accurate then her own. One of the turians toppled over sending several rounds aimlessly up in the air before more bullets tore through his armor and sent dark liquid spraying over the snow. The other ducked behind the shuttle, returning fire from cover, before a Russian sniper on the other side of the lake took his head clean off with a well placed shot. The turians in the middle of the lake was still trying to return to the shuttle, but were drowning in incoming fire from all sides. They fired back as they retreated, never breaking formation, and Hannah observed their unavoidable defeat in admiration. “You'll only see their back once they're dead,” she commented to Sarah as the last turian fell and the hills again went silent, snow quietly falling from a cold sky.

Hannah refocused her mind. Now they needed a new plan, fast.

 


 

Galenus had suffered through the undignified medical examination with a stoic expression, accepting every push and prod the human doctor subjected him to, and it had paid off. When she'd turned her attention to his wrists, he'd made a small keening sound, pretending to pull away. The look on her face was difficult to discern, but when she finished cleaning him up, she stepped out of the cage and started arguing with the guard holding the key to his chains. The argument carried on for a good while, but the small woman finally won out. She got the keys from him, and very carefully walked back into the cage, motioning towards his hands. He was still covered in those red dots, and knew to attempt something now would be tantamount to suicide. Calmly he stretched out his arms while the doctor unlocked the chains, not moving an inch as she stepped back and out of the cage, locking it behind her. He felt a surge of satisfaction. One step closer to freedom. The key-guard and the doctor again started a discussion, and seemingly reached an accord. Two of the riflemen were sent out to get something, and that turned out to be a rail of sorts. They set it up around his prison, and he saw the reasoning behind this. As long as the humans stayed behind this rail, he couldn't reach them. They would give with one hand, take with the other. Galenus almost felt impressed by them.

The rail was almost done when Shepard's mate and the one who called himself Anderson arrived. The rail seemed to cause some friction between Anderson and the doctor, and it seemed to Galenus they nearly started to fight. Nobody stepped in another person's face unless they wanted a good brawl, but Shepard's mate intervened and calmed them down. He then started to gather a collection of things on a table outside the cage. Galenus watched with disinterest. Too many people here now to try and make an escape. The mate spoke his name, Galenus Vakarian, before introducing himself as Jonathan Shepard. Galenus smiled. He'd been right. A Shepard. He quickly lost interest again when this Shepard began lifting certain items and saying some words each time. He didn't really want to expand this vocabulary with human words, and as long as there were so many people in here, he couldn't get out anyway. The dark-skinned man appeared to laugh, and said something to Shepard, before pulling something out of his pocket. His omni-tool. Almost against his will Galenus got up and eyed the implant with determination. Anderson gave it to Shepard, whom placed it on the table in front of the cage. Galenus gave an annoyed sneer. Fine, he'd play along again, as long as the implant remained close by. He pointed at the knife and said “telum.” Shepard smiled while Anderson pulled on his shoulders.

 

Shepard continued to show Galenus new things for hours, writing down his replies and trying to get the turian to repeat the human words back to him. Anderson had got bored after a while and left Shepard to his latest pastime. There were only three of them in the room now, Galenus noted, himself, Shepard and the key-guard. He prayed to the spirits for inspiration to act on the right moment, if and when it arrived. A small device in Shepard's pocket suddenly buzzed, and when he pulled it out to check it, his face whitened. Galenus was surprised that humans changed color so fast. Shepard barked something at the guard, dropping the book he held in his hand and ran out the doors. The guard followed him and yelled something after him, apparently receiving a negative in return.

There was a small commotion outside, and the guard closed the door. Galenus figured he'd been instructed to remove the table, and wasn't very keen to do this alone with an unchained turian. Galenus took a step back. The humans didn't know how fast he was, and maybe he could reach the human if he got too close. The guard seemed somewhat reassured by his retreat, and took a step inside the railing. Galenus kept impassive while touching his waist as if experiencing some pain there. The guard bent over further to grab the table. A loud clank was heard, and suddenly the lights went off and was replaced by a reddish gloom. The guard was momentary disoriented and Galenus lunged forward to grabbed the guards arm, pulling him into the bars and repeatedly smashing his head in them, before he reached out with his other and and slashed the man's throat with his talons. The red blood seemed almost black on his hands. Galenus held the man while he gurgled and twitched, life slowly ebbing from his body.

When he was sure the guard was dead, he frantically searched his uniform pockets before locating a small key. Now he would show these humans they could not hide. He unlocked the cage and started searching for the implant. Turian eyes saw better in the dark then these barbarians, and Galenus soon found it, lying underneath the table. He removed the small jamming device the humans had placed on it, and quickly keyed up a message: #Ambushed. Underground Alliance base at location. Bombard. Allow hour for escape.# The message found an outgoing signal and affixed itself onto it, getting sent above-ground. The reply came one minute later: #Affirmative. Location fixed. One hour.#

Galenus pocketed the implant and grabbed the guard's bag. He knew it contained some turian ration bars, but had something else in mind. Efficiently he rolled up several blankets into small bundles and stuffed them into the bag along with the guard's belt, bandoleer and weapons. A small pistol he kept in his hand, looking at it with some interest. The humans use of metal bullets were primitive, but effective. However, he needed to get out fast, not hoard heavy ammunition to lug around. There was a sound outside the door, and Galenus hurried back to hide beside it. The first human to step through was the human doctor, and he pushed her hard onto the floor. The second was Shepard. The human seemed surprised, and it was enough time for Galenus to knock the man out with a blow to the temple, dragging him inside. No other humans seemed to be coming, and he pulled the unconscious Shepard into the cage and locked the door. He knew he should kill the man, but Shepard had not mistreated him, and Galenus would probably have more luck extracting help from his hostage if he didn't slaughter the incapacitated man.

He went over to the doctor and shook her.

“Chakwas.”

On the side of her head a bruise was developing, and he hoped he wouldn't have to carry her all the way.

“Chakwas!” His voice was more insistent now.

She rolled onto her back, and saw him towering above her. Her mouth opened to scream, and he clamped his three fingered hand on it.

“Chakwas!” This time it was a threat.

He felt her still under his hand, and reasoned she would not call out before she saw help coming. He removed his hand.

“Shepard?” She whispered.

Galenus pointed at the cage. “Shepard.”

This seemed to placate her, more so when she got up and that saw the man in the cage was breathing.

“Galenus Vakarian.” he said, and pointed to the ceiling.

She looked at him, and at his wrists. Galenus smiled. Soft hearted and a quick study. Perhaps he'd let her live if he got out. She nodded. Time was of the essence and he picked up the bag and moved towards the door. When he passed the fallen guard, his eyes caught a pair of what looked like handcuffs sticking out of his back pocket. He bent down and picked it up, stuffing it in the pocket of his undersuit. If she gave him trouble, he'd use those. Outside there was noting but silence, and he secured his grip around Karin's forearm as he hauled her along. As they stood in the cul-de-sac, he was unsure in which direction to go, and aimed the gun in her face, then upwards. She was breathing fast, but only scared, not terrified, he thought. Karin started moving towards the elevator.

There was no operator in the small room that held the levers, and Galenus cursed inwardly. He was now running out of time. Around the elevator dirt and grit had accumulated from countless loading and unloading operations, and Galenus heard footsteps in the gravel behind them. He swung around and held the doctor in front of him as a shield. In the dimly lit space he saw the contours of Anderson aiming a gun in his direction. The man was probably an excellent shot. Galenus ducked into the lever room. He held the gun in front of Karin's face, and whispered “Anderson.” Then he squeezed her arm hard. Karin yelped.

“Chakwas, are you all right?” came Anderson's voice from the dark.

“I'm fine. He knows you have a gun. I think he wants it.”

“Is Shepard alive?”

“The turian locked him in the cage. The guard is dead.”

Anderson swore. "What does it want?”

“He wants to get to the surface.”

Galenus twisted her arm, and she cried out in pain.

“He wants the gun now, Anderson.”

“Can't do that. He'll kill us both.”

"I don't think so. He could have killed Shepard. The important thing is to get him away from the hospital and the civilians. If he got in there, he could wreak an immense havoc just with his claws. He won't survive long in the cold up there anyway, and he'll be slow. Easier to take out.”

Anderson swore again.

“Can't believe I'm doing this,” he growled.

The thought of the turian with a human shield in front of him slashing his way through hundreds of people to get out was frightening, and Chakwas was right, the turian would be worse off up there in the cold. Worse still, he wasn't sure he'd win against the turian in a firefight in the dark, and with their only doctor in the middle..

“All right, I'm tossing the gun.” He threw the gun at the opening.

Galenus saw it skidding to a halt against the doorstep. He pulled the handcuffs out of his pocket and tossed it towards Anderson.

“Where the hell did it get handcuffs?” Anderson's sounded angry now.

“The guard, I think.”

Anderson muttered more words as he clapped them on. At least he knew how to pick them, so that would not save the turian from him. Galenus stepped out with Karin in front of him, and Anderson held up his hands.

“There! Satisfied, you damn big bird?” Galenus glanced over him to make sure he was cuffed, then pushed Karin aside and struck Anderson down. He fell to his knees and struggled to get up.

“Fucking coward,” he murmured before silenced by another blow. Galenus grabbed him by the leg and pulled him onto the platform. He beckoned Karin to follow. When she hesitated, he pointed his gun at Anderson. Karin felt guilty. She'd now helped him get two hostages. She followed him into the makeshift elevator.

Galenus kept his eye on the woman as he studies the engine that operated the lift. It seemed very old and mechanical. A stroke of luck, since the electricity was out on the entire base. He didn't know why, but hopefully this thing didn't require that kind of power. It seemed to have some primitive standalone batteries to start it. The wires bent in shapes they had molded into by long use, and he assembled it like that. Then he turned the switch. The engine roared into life. There were only two levers, each with a faded arrow painted behind them. One for up, one for down. He yanked the lever with the upward arrow, spun around and ran towards the elevator. The platform was already rising, and he lept up on it, landing awkwardly besides the humans. He got up and shuddered when he remembered the long descent earlier. Perhaps half the time left. He could still make it.

 


 

Hannah had called down the reserve dog team from the adjacent lookout, and it was now going back and forth between the shuttles, carrying warheads they'd hidden in the first. This time there was no room for finesse, they had to load as many as possible into this one, then someone had to activate it and take it back to the mother-ship. She studied the controls, and though they were different, there were plenty of similarities as well. Efficient simplicity, was the thing that struck her with turians. If it worked, why fix it. The steering seemed to be some kind of auto-pilot, but ricochets had torn off several panels inside, and they now had to steer manually. Perhaps the big ship could take control if they got close enough, but they would need a reason for that. Dying soldiers inside, she figured. She went outside and asked the Russian soldiers if there was some turians still alive, and got an affirmative. Two was still breathing, but only just. Hannah ordered them gathered up and carried inside the shuttle. The Russians weren't particularly gentle, and the two turians cried out in pain as they were dragged through the snow, their breaths rasping. Pretending not to hear them, she was nevertheless aware that she would hear their cries in her sleep.

Sarah came up by her side. “There's no more time before they get too suspicious. It must take off now.” Hannah stared at the warheads stacked all over the shuttle bay. “You think that's enough?”

“As long as the shuttle gets inside that thing, yes. It'll tear a hole right through the hull.”

“I hope you're right.” Hannah stepped back inside. “Thing is, the auto-pilot is gone. At least we know there's not likely to be anyone firing at it with Darklight in effect, but someone needs to get it out there.” Taking a deep breath and exhaling, she turned back to Sarah. “And that should be me. I'm the commander, it was my plan, and I'll see it through to the end.” Sarah stared at her with a surprised expression, before saluting her. “It's been an honor, mam.”

Hannah returned the salute. “Likewise.”

“And I really hope you'll forgive me for this,” Sarah continued, before she punched Hannah square in the jaw. She tumbled backwards, vision obscured by clouds. Sarah now called out several orders in perfect Russian, and two of the soldiers marched inside and picked Hannah up before dragging her outside and placing her on the dog sled.

“Sorry commander, but I have orders from admiral Drescher. If this plan fails, the Alliance need you to come up with another one. We're to keep you alive at all costs.” She gave a few more orders to the dog handler, and turned to step inside the shuttle, when she hesitated. “Commander, one last favor, tell David.. tell him my last name is Hammond. I want him to know.” Sarah Hammond then stepped inside the shuttle, closed the hatch and activated the engine, while a lone dogsled pulled away from the lake.

 


 

When the platform reached the surface, Galenus thought he would die of shock. The storeroom they had built over the entrance was empty, but it was not insulated. He tore open the bag and made an incision with his talons in the center of a blanket, before sticking his head through it and wrapping it around himself. He did the same with the other blankets, wrapping himself in to avoid freezing to death in a matter of minutes. A piece of the tarp that had covered his cage was strewn in a corner, and he grabbed that and did a final wrap before using the belt and bandoleer of the guard to fasten his ridiculous getup. The humans weren't dressed for this cold either. He opened the warehouse door slightly ajar, and saw a huge vehicle with tracks outside. Perfect for snow. Some parkas hung on the wall, and he grabbed two and tossed one to Karin. She quickly pulled it on. Anderson was still unconscious, and Galenus rolled the parka around him, then grabbed the man under the arms and started dragging him outside. Karin followed anxiously. He continued until he was standing beside the big vehicle. Karin's eyes widened when he motioned her to get into the driver's seat of the Russian snow caterpillar, but she climbed in with little hesitation. If she refused, she suspected Anderson would not live long. Galenus opened a side door and hoisted Anderson in, before half jumping, half crawling in after.

He pointed ahead. “Chakwas!” That was becoming tiresome, but she knew better than to protest. She turned the key that was luckily in the lock, and the engine roared. She shifted gears, and the vehicle lurched forward. Galenus now tapped the window, saying something in turian, but apparently the doctor understood him. She shifted gears again, and the speed picked up.

He had to get as far away as possible from the blast zone.

Some twenty minutes later Galenus and Karin saw a flash on the sky, and a resounding boom shook the ground beneath them. Karin stopped the vehicle and jumped out, staring into the dark town that was now being lit up by serial explosions that seemed to follow a network throughout the city. Her hands started to tremble when she realized that the explosions were coming from the metro system, the blast working itself up through the closed off stations from underground. The turian version of bunker busters. The embassy, the hospital, the thousands of civilians hiding in the tunnels, all gone. Even Jonathan Shepard. She fell to her knees crying, and not even the snarling turian behind her with his gun pressed against the back of her head could make her stop.

Galenus was angry. The doctor had left the now warm vehicle to watch the destruction of her hidden army, probably her friends, and he could sympathize with that, but now he was freezing again. He stepped out and pushed her with the gun. It made no impact, and she was making some strange sounds, the water coming from her eyes and turning to ice when they streamed down her face. From the vehicle he could hear Anderson waking up and struggling to get out. When his enraged face appeared in the window, he turned gray at the sight of the explosions.

“No,” he whispered, “no, no, no. It can't be.”

Galenus' omni-tool buzzed, and he opened a channel to the Belli Finem.

“Vakarian, are you there?” He recognized the voice as his staff sergeant, Cannius. “Yes sir, I managed to escape.” “Are you safe?”

“For now, but not for long. The humans will come looking, and I won't last long in this cold.” “Just sit tight, we just have to get this shuttle squared away, they've seen quite a fight, then we'll-...”

The line went dead. In the night sky one turian and two humans saw a searing flash in the sky, like a beam of sunlight directly into their eyes. There was no sound, but the following minutes saw the remaining city lights and road lamps blink out one by one, and that was somehow more terrifying than all the explosions that had gone off earlier. The world had gone dark, and only the flames that licked the city buildings illuminated the horrors they had seen.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

The Citadel, two days after the destruction of the Belli Finem

 

Councilors Tevos and Melarn read the war report from the salarian STG. The human home-world had gone dark, and the turian dreadnought Belli Finem that was maintaining a siege of earth had either stopped sending back to the fleet or had been defeated by the humans, the latter being very unlikely. The turian councilor was nowhere to be found, and had been unreachable all day.

“The report says that captain Eridanus Fedorian is missing in action after a failed ground assault on a missile base,” Tevos commented to Melarn. “No wonder Brennius is nowhere to be seen.”

Melarn's dark eyes darted over the last pages of the document.

“Unfortunate. The primarch will not take the loss of his cousin well. If he is still alive, general Arterius will have several things to answer for.”

“And the humans? If this situation is as we fear, then they will rather destroy their own home-world rather than surrender. We do not need another Tuchanka on our hands,” Tevos said.

Melarn stood up and faced the asari woman.

“The krogans are not the issue here! They had to be contained. The matter at hand is whether the turian patrol vessels acted rashly when they opened fire and started this war! If so, then the arm of the council is now aiding in the destruction of a new species.”

Tevos frowned. “You do not think they had cause?”

“Turians are not generally an inquisitive type. They follow protocol, and their protocol if often shoot first and ask questions later. In the initial rapport they did not hail the humans at relay 314 before opening fire.” He sighed. “Turians. Ever stalwart, never changing. Too bad the ones with more agile minds is the likes of the Arterius family. If Desolas is dead, Saren will not react well.”

“He will obey the council,” Tevos reassured her colleague.

“Of course. Wouldn't dream of implying otherwise.”

Tevos thought she heard a hint of sarcasm in Melarn's reply, but it could just be the salarians usual nasal voice.

 

The door to the citadel council chamber swung open, and councilor Brennius briskly strode in. His usual confidence was obviously shaken, if his two co-councilors were to judge by the twitching of his mandibles.

“Greetings. My apologies that I have not attended our meetings until now. Much to do on the home front.”

They observed another nervous twitch.

“So it would seem,” Melarn replied. “We hear you might have, ahem, misplaced one of your dreadnoughts?”

Brennius' eyes bulged and he gripped tightly around the datapad in his hands.

“What have you heard? We haven't released that information yet.”

“We are not the public, Brennius, we do not wait to be informed by the citadel news reel,” Tevos snapped.

Melarn sat back down and folded his arms.

“The Belli Finem has not been heard from for two days. We have information indicating that a small auxiliary fleet from Mars is now orbiting earth, and so the dreadnought has either retreated or been destroyed. Both seem equally improbable.”

The turian councilor seemed like he was about to have a seizure. He opened and shut his mouth several times.

“Perhaps,” Tevos interjected, “you would like to shed some light on the situation?”

Brennius now looked defeated, and collapsed into his chair.

“It's gone. The humans managed to set off some sort of thermo nuclear device inside the Belli Finem, and it tore in half and plummeted to earth. The support fleet was severely damaged by the following electromagnetic pulse from the blast, and when human support came from Mars, they shot down almost every cruiser there. Our soldiers were sitting pyjaks.”

The turian councilor now looked like he was going to be sick.

“The primarch is furious, and is preparing for a full invasion.”

Both Tevos and Melarn rose to their feet.

“Without the support or opinion of this council?” came Tevos angry snarl.

“Young Fedorian would do well to remember that his people was the ones that started this war,” Melarn's voice joined Tevos'. “The humans were defending their home-world.”

“The primarch is determined to-” Brennius began, but was cut off by the asari.

“This council is not here to support personal vendettas for the turian primarch. If he does not desist in his plans for invading the Sol-systems, we will be forced to reconsider the turian role as peacekeepers of the council.”

“We concur.” Melarn blinked his black eyes. “The STG have heard rumors among several krogan mercenary groups to offer their services to the Alliance, merely as an excuse to war against the people whom they blame for their current state.”

“And that does not include the salarians, I suppose,” Brennius growled back.

“It does,” Melarn replied coolly, “which is why we do not want to give them a reason to bandy up to the humans in this. We need this situation to dissolve, or face a much greater threat if the two junior species join forces and wage war on all of us.”

“Precisely! If the primarch does not immediately pull back his forces from Arcturus and relay 314, we will be forced to take extreme measures. Stripping the turians of their peacekeeping duties, or perhaps start negotiations to end the volus' role as a client race for your people.” Tevos almost glowed.

Brennius now looked as tired as he felt.

“I'll relay this to the primarch. I doubt he'll receive this news with pleasure.”

“It's for the good of the galaxy, councilor Brennius,” came Melarn's glib voice.

“In your opinion I'm sure it is, Melarn. But my people will not forget that you forced them to give up this war.”

“Nor will the humans forget you attacked their home-world, so let's not compare grievances here.”

“Send a message to your primarch. We will prepare the Destiny Ascension and citadel ships from the asari and salarian squadrons, and they will leave for Arcturus, relay 314 and earth, lest some message gets lost in transmission.” Tevos interrupted.

“No more misunderstandings. We will also need our top linguists. The humans need to understand that we come in peace. I think we should bring Liara T'soni, matriarch Benezia's girl. She's here at the citadel at the moment.”

“She's barely 80, just a child,” said Brennius.

“A prodigy in linguistics, and close by. And she's not turian, that alone will help.”

“I agree with councilor Tevos, and would like to add another person to the linguistics group; Maran Solus, very esteemed family, highly intelligent, capable, and also not turian.”

“I get your meaning, esteemed colleagues.” snapped Brennius. “I will convey to the primarch that the council will be intervening, and then I'll join you on the Destiny Ascension. We turians are still a part of this triumvirate, and should participate in the peace process.”

“Yes, when you start something, you like to finish it, I suppose,” came Melarn's terse reply.

“Enough!” Tevos gave a small biotic shimmer. “We will stop a war, not start one amongst ourselves. Make yourselves ready, and we head out.”

The three glared at one another, before they swept out of the room through separate exits.

 


 

Siberia, three days after the destruction of the Belli Finem

 

“Is there nothing here that works?!” Hannah barked to the quarter master.

“We are trying,commander. The radar is, how do you say, fried? Our other transmitter has a blown out circuit board.” Her new friend had a sarcastic smile.

“We are prioritizing the air filters right now, seeing as your plan had a rather large piece of warship crash-landing a few kilometers away and is pouring smoke and who knows what else over us. The wind is carrying it this way, and fallout is such a dreadful thing.”

“Basanov, if I didn't need your help right now, I'd strangle you. You're getting on my nerves.”

“Strange, my wife keeps saying that also.”

“Big surprise,” she murmured. “Do we have anything to repair the coms with?”

“Well, we might, but the дым, the smoke, nobody wants to go outside. The opening to the stock room is at the far side of the compound, so, here we sit.”

Hannah was all to aware of that. Even though the base had gone offline during the operation, many of the electrical components that were out in the open simply ceased to work. Hours after the searing light, parts of the great ship had started to fall from the sky, and one of the larger pieces landed rather close by. There had been a flash like an orbital strike minutes before the shuttle piloted by Sarah had succeeded in taking down the mother ship, and Hannah was worried. She had no reason to believe that Starysibirsk would be a target, but seeing the direction of the strike she couldn't rule it out either. There was only one way to make sure, and apparently that way was through the smog covering the camp and into the reserve stock.

“Do you have any gas masks?”

“Yes.”

“Could you get one?”

“Yes.”

Hannah closed her eyes and counted to five. “Will you get me a gas mask?”

“Of course.” Yuri Basanov grinned. “Americans. Always so complicated.”

She tried to remember that the man was on her side, and waited for him to procure it.”

“Any particular items we need?” She fastened the mask and prepared to run.

“Just get the green striped box that says запчасти. It should all be there.”

“Let's hope so.” She opened the doors and hurried through the smoke.

 

20 minutes later Hannah returned with a green box and dumped it on the floor in front of Basanov, before tearing her mask off.

You complete and utter хуй! Do you know how many green striped boxes there were in there?! A lot!”

She started coughing and realized the fallout from the ship were stuck on her clothes. He refrained from making a snide comment, instead taking her arm and pushing her into the shower room and hung a towel and new tracksuit over the door.

“It was a risk, but you made it. No fret, I will get the parts to our operators. You just get clean, or as clean as you can on the low pressure in the pipes.”

Hannah heard rustling as he picked up the box and walked off. She tore off the dirty clothes and stood under the water. It was low pressure as he said, and add to that bloody cold water, coupled with the freezing weather outside made her feel like her limbs would fall from her body. If only they could reach someone out there, someone who knew what was going on now.

The tracksuit was standard army gray and she was still a little wet from the shower when she put it on, but it felt a lot better not than wearing nothing in this cold. She pulled the hoodie over her head and went to look for Basanov.

 

“Are you sure we want to broadcast openly?” Basanov's voice had lost it's snark. “They could still be out there, and looking for survivors.”

“I know. But we have little choice. I'm hoping Mars will have answered our call for help, and that their fleet is somewhere above us, either fighting the turians or searching for signs of life.” She nodded to the operator. “Send the distress call.”

The com-system crackled and gave a small rattle, then the Alliance code signal for aid needed went out into the ether. Around the dimly lit room Hannah saw the anxious faces of soldiers forced to wait for an uncertain fate. Somewhere in the back someone said a prayer. Now all they could do was wait.

 

The message repeated over and over for the next 5 hours, and resignation started to set in among them. Hannah decided to leave and get something to eat, when a garbled voice was heard on the speakers;

“...is ...mrial.. Dres...”

Now she got to her feet, and followed the operator's hectic struggle to unscramble the message.

Basanov seemed to hold his breath.

“This is Admiral Drescher of the Second Fleet, hailing all Alliance personnel. There is a seize-fire between us and the aliens, do not engage. Repeat, do not engage.” Basanov translated to the listeners, and the whole room erupted in loud cries and yells. The tension that had lingered in the soldiers now made them boisterous, and Basanov cheerfully ordered them out of the com-room to spread the good news, and to let the operator try to hail the admiral back.

Hannah held her face in her hands as she felt an immense relief flow through her body. Almost as fast as the glow of peace came, it disappeared, and she straightened up. The fate of her husband and friends still uncertain, and she had to return to the metro.

While the operator punched in the numbers, Hannah dictated a message. “Com. H. Shepard at Siberian m.base. Requests extraction. Dureios Hippos successful.”

She drummed her fingers on the table, awaiting a reply. It came in minutes later. “Request granted. Sending extraction shuttle now.”

She turned to Basanov and gave him a tired smile. “This is it, sergeant. I'll be out of your hair shortly. Send my regards to your wife, she's an unlucky woman.”

He smiled back. “I know, and yet she keeps smiling at me when I come home. Go find your husband, commander. до свида́ния.”

“God I hope not, but sure, до свида́ния.”

They saluted each other, and Hannah made her way towards her assigned locker to find winter clothes.

 


 

“Welcome aboard the SSV Tokyo, commander. Glad to have you with us.”

Admiral Kastanie Drescher was a small woman with brown hair and a gaunt face, but her presence in the room was heavy, and Hannah rearranged her manner back to Alliance standard.

“Thank you, ma’am. I'm grateful for the pick up.”

The admiral waved her hand to show it was of no import. “You've made quite the splash in galactic politics, let me tell you. And nearly ruined earth at the same time. Remind me not to need the help of a Shepard again. You cost too much.”

Hannah wasn't entirely sure if the admiral was joking, and what she said was true, the cost had been great. While she was searching for an answer, the admiral interrupted her thoughts.

“Relax, commander. Your actions, though drastic, made a break-through in our diplomatic relations with the galactic community. There are apparently more alien races out there, and not all of them are like the warmongering turians. The council, I think they are called, have intervened in the war and called for a truce. We have a little trouble communicating with them at the moment, but a “committee” have been set up to deal with that. A little too blue and horned for my taste, but beggars cannot be choosers.” She smiled.

Hannah's head spun at all this. Desperately searching for a stabilizing element, she asked the only thing she could think of.

“Have you heard from any other Alliance people?”

The admiral went silent for a moment while watching her, then beckoned her to follow her into a conference room. Hannah felt a sense of dread. This would not be good news.

“I know why you ask that, commander, and yes, we have. That was the first place we looked for survivors, seeing as it was the last place the dreadnought attacked.”

“Dreadnought?”

“Yes, that's what they call that class of ship. The council seemed astonished that we managed to take one down.”

Hannah now caught the last part of that sentence.

“Attacked?”

“Commander.. The dreadnought Belli Finem apparently got a message from a captured turian that the metro system of Starysibirsk was an Alliance station. They deployed a bomb designed for eradicating underground enemy bases. I'm afraid almost half of the tunnels have been destroyed or collapsed.”

Hannah felt feint, and started swaying on her feet.

“We have found some survivors, among them one David Anderson and Karin Chakwas. They have confirmed that your husband was still in the tunnels when the bomb hit. I'm sorry.”

Admiral Drescher's words sounded like a faraway whisper, and Hannah almost fell into a seat. Weeks of stress, loss and now this final blow, it was all becoming too much. She hid her face in her hands and cried.

Kastanie Drescher said nothing for a while, then have Hannah's shoulder a short comforting pat before leaving the other woman to grieve. The admiral too had known such loss, and knew that any more words of consolation right now would be patronizing.

 

When admiral Drescher stepped outside the conference room she was met by Anderson, whom was hovering outside the door.

“How is she? Did she say anything about Sarah?”

“Lieutenant, I think your commander will need a moment alone. I've just informed her about her husband. And no, she didn't mention operative Sarah, but the fact that she's not here speaks volumes.”

Anderson jerked his head at this and looked quizzically at the admiral. She sighed.

“Look, you might as well hear it from me. Sarah was under my orders to keep commander Shepard alive at all costs while completing the mission. We needed Shepard to come up with another plan if the first failed. If at any time there was a risk to Shepard, Sarah was to assume her place.” She paused. “I suspect Sarah had something to do with the explosion inside the dreadnought, but only Shepard truly knows. Give her some time, then you can go inside and ask.”

 

Admiral Drescher nodded to Anderson and left him there. His jaw clenched and he leaned his forehead against the wall. Around him the crew passed him by without staring too much, probably the orders of the admiral. For twenty minutes he stood there, waiting and willing the worst not to have happened, then he requested entry. Hannah answered in a low voice. She got up when he walked inside, and her red face told of earlier moments of grief. Without saying anything, she merely walked up and hugged him. Anderson breathed heavily.

“Sarah, is she..?”

“She's gone.” Hannah broke the embrace. “The shuttle auto-pilot was blown out in a firefight. We needed someone to take it out. I was going to, but Sarah had other plans.” She pointed to her face, where some bruising still lingered.

Anderson smiled sadly. “She always had a mean right.”

“David, I did not order her to go. I would have done it myself, but..”

“I know. The admiral told me her orders.” He looked away.

“Before she left, Sarah asked me to tell you her name. It's Sarah Hammond. She wanted you to know.”

He remained silent, and Hannah didn't push. She knew his feeling of loss. For a while they both sat in silence, trapped in their own thoughts. It was Anderson that spoke first.

 

“She told you about Jonathan?”

“Yes. He was still in the tunnels. Didn't make it out.”

He hesitated, but if things were different, he would have wanted to know the truth from a friend.

“You probably know it was our captured turian that signaled the dreadnought. He got loose after doctor Chakwas took his chains off. They were chafing and making him bleed.”

Hannah made a sad scoffing sound.

“She was always too kindhearted. He probably made those wounds herself. How is she holding up?”

There was no anger in her voice, and Anderson was a little surprised at this. He'd been furious with the doctor, but Hannah seemed to feel different.

“About as you'd expect. Not well. She feels responsible for the deaths he caused. I'm inclined to agree with her.”

“No!” Hannah snapped. “The fault is mine. Jon, the remains of my crew, the people in the metro, all dead, because I insisted on treating that, that.. parrot like a prisoner of war. You were right, I should have left him to be dissected, or left him bleeding in the snow where I found him!”

“Hannah..”

“Thousands dead so he might live! Tell me I made the right choice! Dare say that to my face!” She felt her voice give out, cut herself off before it could betray her. Anderson waited for her to compose herself.

“Jon will never see his child. Never hold, or hug, or hear any first words.”

Tears fell quietly from her eyes.

“I took that away from him. For the sake of doing the right thing, if there is such a term in war.”

After a long while, Shepard wiped her eyes and got up, face hardening.

“We should see the admiral. I want to have a few words with that turian.”

 


 

“Commander Shepard, this is the way of things now.” Admiral Drescher sounded irritated.

“Turians cannot be trusted.”

“I agree with the commander,” said Anderson

The admiral turned to him. “We can't afford more war now. We were almost defeated.”

We're on our knees now, but we'll rise again.” Hanna’s voice was calm and cold. “And when they come at us next time, the turians will know we learned our lesson well.”

That talk might jeopardize the peace treaty, and you wanting to see the turian responsible for your husbands death certainly will.”

I know he's on this ship, admiral. He was picked up with Anderson and Chakwas.” Hannah was angry.

He was on this ship. I had him transferred to one of the council ships. Prisoner exchange was part of the agreement we have understood this far.”

Hannah clenched her fists and said nothing. Drescher had hoped the commander would be a part of the peace talks, as she had a reputation for keeping a clear head when others did not, but in view of the latest developments that was not a good idea.

“I know this is not what you wanted, but nevertheless, you are to be congratulated, commander. Your plan forced their government to intervene, and now we have a truce between us and the the turians. If I'm not much mistaken, you will be promoted to captain after this.”

Hannah seemed not to hear this.

“They are not to be trusted,” she repeated as if to herself, then with a last withering stare at the admiral, she left the room.

 


 

Destiny Ascension, six days after the destruction of the Belli Finem

 

“That is everything that happened, it's all written down in my report.”

Galenus Vakarian gave his councilor a tired look. He'd been interrogated since he got on-board the Citadel flagship, and wanted nothing more than a safe night's sleep away from enemies likely to murder him in his sleep. Councilor Brennius gave him an appraising stare that implied that he knew more than he was letting on.

“Almost everything, but there is somewhat of a sticking point here. The destruction of the so-called base has been classified by the humans as a war crime.”

Galenus gave a disdainful scoff. “They were conducting warfare from that tunnel. There was crates with their Alliance's sigil on them, armed personnel and military vehicles around the entrances.”

“Technically, yes, if sending messages and planning is defined as such. Unfortunately, they also had a hospital and several shelters for civilians down there. The death toll is now 15 493 and counting. The underground sections become closed off and separate entities when they are at war, but the ones closest to impact couldn’t withstand the blast. There is still silence from several of them.” Brennius studied Galenus' reaction.

Galenus Vakarian froze in his seat, disbelief written on his face. This could not be true. The crates, the presence of Anderson and Shepard was no coincidence, and his own feeling of danger, like the one he had before those animals blew up his squad. There was no way he'd been wrong. His instinct had told him he was making the right call, he was dead certain. Galenus felt Brennius' eyes on him, and knew that he was observed. Unwelcome words started forcing their way into his head. Hospital. Civilians. The sick. The injured.  Females. Children. Old. If the councilor's words were true, he’d killed them all. A sneaking feeling of doubt crept into his mind. His gut feeling had told him that the human underground base was military, but the crates he’d seen could theoretically have contained hospital supplies. Food. Bandages. Blankets. When he escaped, he hadn't checked before leaving the area. There was no time, he told himself. Images of small burning humans screaming down in the dark before bursting into flames filled his head, and he sagged in his chair, clutching is face in his hands.

“I didn’t know. I swear, I’d never.. a hospital.. spirits.. I DIDN’T KNOW!” He shouted the last words and jumped to his feet, staring desperately at councilor Brennius.

The councilor sighed. “I believe you, but the humans are insisting. We will not extradite you, but it would be better if we could say we’ve discharged you from the army. The council demands peace, and they consider you a small price to pay.”

“So I’ll be sacrificed?” Galenus’ emotions swung wildly between guilt and indignation.

“Be reasonable, corporal  Vakarian. We won’t throw you out of the military on a dishonorable discharge, but according to your files you want to work in Citadel security. We can simply make that transition a little faster, and the humans will, well.. not exactly be happy, but they’ll know this is as far as we’ll go. They were hiding soldiers among civilians themselves, so they can’t push too far. They must be seen doing something, however. Charred remains of females and children looks bad on any news-feed, if and when they get their planet back online.”

Galenus struggled to keep a keen out of his subvocals. Realization was setting in, and it was almost as if thousands of dead human eyes were staring blankly at him with cold accusation, and he wanted to shout back into their faces that he wasn’t alone at fault. It was war! People died everywhere, his team had been blown apart in a mine field, friends of his had been shot down at relay 314, it wasn’t as if- they burned in an underground inferno he called down. 15 493 and counting. He jerked up and forced the intruding thought away, trying to control his emotions. Even here, in the warm office of the turian councilor, he now felt cold, as if the biting cold of the human world could follow him here. His plates felt like they were covered in ice, and the softer skin in between started to contract and ripple to help warm him up while his hands firmly gripped the  councilors desk as he felt the room start to spin.

Brennius watched the younger man struggle to keep his composure, and how he subconsciously kept scratching his talons over the metal table. To the councilor the signs were clear.  For all intents and purposes Vakarian was having a breakdown. Even if the Alliance weren’t making a fuss over that particular bombing, the man would be better off serving the Hierarchy in some other capacity than the fleet. It would be better to send the man back to his family on forced leave, then enroll him in the C-sec training program. There were rumors that the human behind the fall of the Belli Finem blamed Vakarian for the death of her mate, and it would be better for all of them if she wasn't expecting to meet him on every turian ship she encountered when her new ship was ready. Brennius was impressed by how much information the STG managed to come by a mere few days after meeting with the humans, but this piece of information gave him no comfort. The Alliance was planning on promoting commander Shepard to captain and assign her a new ship as soon as one was available. For her services she'd been allowed to name it herself. It was to be called the SSV Vengeance.

 

Chapter Text

 

Palaven 2159 CE, Fedorian Memorial

Galenus stood quietly in the gray corridor while patients and orderlies past him by. The doctor had told him to wait outside while his wife was in for her examination, and he passed the time watching the newsfeed from the Citadel. There had been another border skirmish between a turian patrol and some human mercenary groups, and things got really complicated when the SSV Vengeance came to investigate the situation. There had been a disagreement between the two captains on the ships over how to resolve the problem, and shots had been fired. The council had set down a team of investigators from the STG, but Galenus had little hope of a positive outcome. Whatever had sparked the shooting would be covered up and the mistrust would only increase on both sides. As a rookie in C-sec, he'd heard the rumors that batarians and some barefaced turians were looking to join up with these human mercs, as they were extremely ruthless and could hide in Alliance space as long as the turian patrols were not allowed to cross into human territory. Credits seemed to be the only thing that could unite the different species under one banner, he thought with a sigh. The examination room swung open, and the doctor waved him in with a smile.

“Officer Vakarian, come in. Your wife has something to tell you, should you wish to know it.”

He nodded to them both and left them alone. Galenus took his wife's hand.

“Well? Which is it?”

Vistilla gave him a mischievous smile, and pulled his hand to her stomach.

“Are you sure you want to know? Some people like to be surprised, you know.”

“Not me. I like to be prepared, and this will be the greatest challenge of my life.”

Vistilla merely watched him stroke her belly and gently hummed her subvocals. He gave a small laugh.

“Vistilla, my love, don't tease. I will go fetch the doctor if you don't tell me.”

“What do you want?” she asked lightly.

“One of each, so you better get working,” he smiled.

“Hah! Greedy man. But you're halfway there.”

His eager expression softened her desire to play around any longer.

“It's a boy.”

Galenus  felt his child kick against the palm of his hand. A son. An heir to the line of Vakarian. He felt his hearth bursting with joy, and at the same time weighed down with dread for the future. His boy would be born into a seemingly endless conflict with the humans. If there was no permanent peace, his son would most likely join the war as he himself had. Galenus leaned closer to his wife and their foreheads joined. The conflicting emotions hummed through his subvocals, and his mate put her hand around his neck to stroke the back of his fringe.

“I know," she thrummed back. "But the negotiations are going well.”

“They always are, before some border skirmish or raiders foil our efforts.”

His wife gave him a warm smile.

“Nobody wants this to continue, not even the humans.”

“Right. Tell that to Hannah Shepard,” he spat bitterly.

“Captain Shepard has cause to be angry with you. She saved your life and you got her mate killed, along with many of her crew. But even she must want a safer world for her daughter.”

In Galenus' head appeared the image of Jonathan Shepard touching his wife's belly in a stolen moment, much like this. The memory was almost painful.

“I know. But her safe world is free of turians.”

The vid from the news reel of the SSV Vengeance firing all forward batteries at the turian cruiser came into his mind, and he went silent.

“Galenus, don't. Don't torture yourself.” Vistilla's voice was sad.

“I know what you did on earth, I know you would undo it if you could, but you must leave those ghosts in the past. Do right by making the world better now, for us, for our son.”

“The humans will never forgive me.”

“Do not seek forgiveness then, but redemption through action. Save lives, be just, do right.”

She smiled again.

“And be a good husband to your suffering wife, for being lumbered with such a husband.”

“You almost had me there, Vistilla.” He stroked her fringe.

“I'll always have you, Galenus Vakarian.”

She rose from the bed and wrapped her arms around his cowl.

“The humans can't hate us forever.”

 


 

2165 CE - Arcturus Station Hospital 08:00 AM

 

Anderson woke with a start as his breakfast tray hit the roof with a clang. Seconds later cutlery rained from above, and only a solitary white hospital mug still soared in the air. A pair of guilty gray eyes belonging to his young guest peeked shyly at him.

“Sorry, uncle David.”

The airborne mug was starting to wobble, and the big krogan that accompanied Jane Shepard grabbed it and set it down on the night stand.

“Too much Shep, I told you, one thing at the time. Now you nearly killed your infirm and invalid uncle.”

Anderson felt annoyed at the krogan's rudeness, but Jane looked shocked.

She took a step back and her wide horrified eyes flicked between Anderson and the scar-faced krogan.

“I remember what you said, I just... They felt so light, they just flew up. Don't be angry Wrex.”

Wrex the krogan chuffed a laugh at the squirming girl in front of him. The contrast between the hulking alien and the little girl made Anderson uneasy. The use of krogan mercenaries as bodyguards for Jane had been out of the things he argued with Hannah about, but she was adamant and somewhat paranoid. She partly picked krogan guards as they had little love for turians, and would in her opinion be less susceptible to bribes. This particular krogan was a biotic, and Jane had taken to him immediately. She seemed oblivious to the fact that he was capable of killing anything or anyone for a price, and followed him around like a puppy when he was on guard duty. Equally strange was the fact that the krogan seemed to bask in her admiration.

“Listen Shep, one day you'll be ready to lift more than one thing. That ain't today. Got me?”

“Gotcha, Wrex,” she beamed at him.

“Good little pyjak.”

“You shouldn't teach her to speak that way,”Anderson said reproachfully to the krogan.

“Really? My language is the worst thing I can teach her? No wonder that Cynthia female split on you. Prudish human.”

Anderson gritted his teeth and turned his attention back to Jane.

“Hey kid. Your mom not here yet?”

Jane quickly glanced up at the Wrex, then turned her eyes down again.

“She's talking with some grown-ups about things children doesn't understand,” she said as if repeating an often heard line.

That almost made Anderson laugh, and he told the krogan to leave the two of them be while they waited. Wrex merely gave a scoff, walked outside and stood guard on the other side of the door.

“All right kid, spill, what do you know?” Anderson said playfully.

“The reporters are talking to mom about the bad turian, but I didn't hear everything.”

“Bad turian?” Anderson sat up and looked around for the projector controller.

“Mhm, the turian that hurt you, his brother was on the ship that killed dad. Mom is very angry.”

“I bet she is,” Anderson mumbled. It was probably a bad idea to let Jane watch that news feed, but he had to know what happened.

The screen blinked, and the image of Hannah Shepard mobbed by several journalist was accompanied by a small frame-in-frame image of the SSV Vengeance in dry-dock, being overhauled after taking severe damage. Jane's hand crept over the blanket and gripped his. It was too soon for the girl to know about shield damage and hull breaches, but spacer kids seemed to learn about that through osmosis. Anderson gave her a fast smile before turning the sound on.

 

“Captain Shepard? Captain Shepard, what's your opinion of humanity's failure to get a candidate into the council Specters?”

“It was an unfortunate situation, and I'm just glad we got our man back.” Hannah's face revealed no emotions when she answered, and the new wound on her neck was almost hidden by the high collar of the uniform.

“Captain Shepard, regarding your latest engagement with a ship breaching our borders, they say a council Spectre named Saren Arterius was in pursuit of human smugglers in a new group called the Blue Suns, would you comment on that?”

Surrounded by the aggressive pack of cameramen and microphones, Hannah looked all wide eyed innocent when she answered.

“It is very unfortunate that humanity does not have their own Spectre candidate to confirm or deny such allegations. I'm positively sure no one aboard the ship we encountered announced themselves as a Spectre. One turian looks much like the next, I'm afraid.” There was a small chuckle among the journalists, but Anderson frowned. 'Careful, Hannah,' he thought.

In the back of the crowd, another journalist practically shouted to make his voice heard over the rest: “Are we to believe that you of all people wouldn't recognize Saren Arterius, brother of Desolas Arterius, the turian that attacked earth? And, your detractors say that your latest skirmish with Arterius is nothing more than a grudge match between to feuding families. And furthermore, what do you say to the allegations that the rumors of your upcoming promotion is a blatant provocation of the turian Hierarchy at a critical moment of our negotiations??”

There was a hush in the crowd, but Hannah's face displayed nothing but icy civility.

“My my, those are quite a lot of questions, rumors and speculations, mister.”

She gave a detached smile. Anderson closed his eyes and just knew this would be a political incident.

“If Saren Arterius was indeed involved in this little tiff, I'm sure he'll get his mandibles clicking at the council to make a formal complaint in no time,” she said with a dark undertone.

“Until we know for certain that he was involved, let's keep those accusations of a vendetta under wraps, good sir. Now, as for the negotiations, there are always negotiations, and so far very little has come-..”

Click!

Anderson shut the screen off. There was no doubt in his mind that Saren had been involved somehow, and that Hannah had managed to injure the turian, by the things she didn't say on live broadcast. Beside him Jane stared intently at him, and he forced a smile.

“Nothing to worry about, kid. Your mom always makes it back.” For now at least, he almost said aloud, but cut himself off when Jane beamed at him.

The smile disappeared as fast as it came.

“Do you think mom would be happy if all the turians were dead?”

Anderson was stunned.

“No! Nothing like that will make your mother happy again, and your father wouldn't wish it. He had a kind heart. Even for aliens.”

“Mom does not?”

“Your mother is..very sad. She works to hard, she hides it, but the only thing that makes her smile is you. Not dead turians.”

“I'll work hard too. Look!”

Jane's hands glowed blue and the hospital bed lifted a few centimeters above the ground. It felt like time was standing still and Anderson prayed he would not get slammed into the roof as the tray had been earlier. Jane held it up for a few seconds until sweat formed on her brow, then it dropped back on the floor with a clatter and squeak of rubber wheels. He exhaled slowly, and kept his face neutral.

“That was.. not bad.”

“Sorry. When I'm bigger, I can lift much longer.”

Her voice sounded tired, and Anderson called for the krogan to take her back to Hannah's place. He needed to talk to her mother alone, the situation with Saren had only escalated after his failed Spectre-assessment.

 


 

Third Citadel peace conference, 16th August , 2166 CE - Early morning

 Wreav stomped down the hallway like a man possessed, while people almost ran aside to avoid getting rammed by the advancing krogan. Behind him he heard the light jog of his charge struggling to keep pace. Shep never said anything when he was in a mood, just obediently followed him and stayed by his side. This annoyed him even more right now. He was itching in his shell for some kind of fight, and being stuck as the babysitter today was not high on his wish list. While the different dignitaries from the human and turian world was assembled in the embassies to discuss a permanent truce, the children of said dignitaries would come together in a show of reconciliation and future and love and peace and some other worthless crap, and Wreav fumed. He and Wrex had butted heads for the position of heavily armed guard for the admiral, and he lost. Wrex had certainly cheated, Wreav thought and flashed his teeth at a passing turian, who almost fled at the sight. And here he was, among the high and mighty people whom were responsible for his own species' downfall. He would be damned if he couldn't cause some sort of problem today, didn't matter who for. Shep stood beside him in a miniature Alliance dress suit. The admiral had forbidden name tags, but unless these folks were extremely stupid, and Wreav couldn't rule it out, any small kid with a krogan bodyguard would be singled out as Hannah Shepard's daughter. Right now she was staring wide eyed at the other children there, some asari, some turian children still too young for colony marks, at least three small drells and one salarian kid that had a whole retinue of guards. No krogan children though. Wreav tried to ignore the stab of loss in his chest. This was not the time. The caterers were bringing foodstuffs and placing it on several lined tables, and he gave Shep a small push.

“Hey you, go find yourself something to eat.” He nodded towards the tables.

There were a few other human children in the queue, but she hesitated and gave him a pleading look. “Not a chance, I'm no nursemaid. Now get some food. While you're at it, bring me some too.”

That seemed to help, she now had a mission. Wreav watched as she headed straight for the table with the cold meats on it, and grinned. His favorite. The kid was all right, for a human.

 

A second wave of ambassadorial offspring were sidling into the fenced off area, and these were older and mostly human, Wreav guessed they were a few years older than Shep. Two boys stood out with expensive official clothes and finery, and after they glanced at his polished but well worn battle armor they sneered at him. Most of these humans had probably never been this close to a krogan in their life, and knew next to nothing about their physical capabilities. Exceptional hearing being one, Wreav overheard the boys calling him a lizard-brain and crocco-face. He recognized the slurs, and felt elated. Here was his trouble. Too bad he couldn't be the one to start anything, or Wrex would wring his quad off. Those brats were unlikely to behave all afternoon, however, and he only needed to pick his moment. Behind him he heard Shep's proud voice announce that she'd found some food, and held out a large plate with meat and earth sea food for him. Diplomatic immunity, a small voice whispered in his head, and he gave her a sly toothy smile.

“Very good Shep. Now how about you and me keep an eye out for bad-guys, hmm?”

“Yeah! We can be like Blasto, and his krogan sidekick Brov.”

Wreav narrowed his eyes and studied her face for a hint of sarcasm, then sighed when he saw nothing but childlike enthusiasm. He grabbed the plate held out to him and swallowed a shrimp.

“Sure, Shep, just like that. Let's be ready for anything.”

 

After the holo-images of a row of obedient, saintly children had been captured by a professional, if rather high strung hanar holographer, Wreav took Shep with him to the skycar platform above the reception area. This afforded them a great view over the guests, and he quickly spotted the gaudily dressed brats from earlier. They were sneaking up on a small silver plated turian kid that had left or separated from his group. Standing on the bridge connecting to the financial district, he seemed to study the top of the presidium through what appeared like a detached rifle scope, and Wreav knew this to be his moment.

“Look over there, Shep.” He pointed. “Trouble.”

She followed his gaze and saw the two older boys approach the little turian.

“Are we gonna help?” There was a slight worry in her voice.

“Oh, I can't, not when they're tiny humans, but you can.” he assured her with a insidious smile.

“They are older then me, and Wrex says I can't use biotics in public. Besides, he's a turian. He doesn't like humans anyway.” She gave him a puzzled look.

Wrex had certainly worked magic for this stubborn kid to be so obedient, Wreav thought, but he had an ace in the shell.

“Nobody's saying something will happen, Shep, but somebody should be there just in case. And I know your father was the kind of man that always did the right thing, even for aliens. Don't you wanna be like him?”

Shep had a decidedly worried expression on her face now, and he almost felt guilty. Almost.

“Go ahead, I'll keep an eye out.”

She clenched her jaw and stared straight ahead. “Like my dad. For mom.”she said and marched off.

Wreav figured that gullibility must come from the father, as there was none of it in the admiral. He leaned on the railings and awaited the show.

 

“Look at that, a bird doing bird watching.”

Garrus Vakarian spun around to see two human boys circling around him, one quite a bit taller than the other. He took a step back and craned his neck to check if his mother was near, but she was nowhere to be seen. The boys strayed even closer.

“No gun, just a scope. How are you gonna kill any of us with that,” one of the boys laughed.

“I wasn't going to hurt anyone, I just...” he began, but was cut off by a push to the chest and stumbled back.

“No wings, no feathers, no balance. And no scope.” The taller boy snatched the scope from Garrus.

“No! Please, it's from my dad!” Garrus' voice almost trilled.

“Your dad has a gun, has he? A human killer, is he?” the smaller boy demanded.

Garrus said nothing and looked down. It was supposed to be a family secret, but he knew his dad had been a soldier in the war. He'd done something very bad, and sometimes talked to mom about it when he had too much to drink. It happened rarely, but he knew. And these humans could not know.

“My dad is a policeman.” he said out loud.

“Your dad is probably a spy,” the tall boy said and looked at Garrus through the scope. “And that's why you're here. You're his little minion, trying to find secrets and ruin the peace talks.”

“I'm not!” Garrus said hotly.

“Look, he's not even painted,” the taller boy said, “barefaced, I think they call that.”

Garrus felt his neck flush at the insult, and tried to growl, but his second voice-box wasn't fully developed yet, and it sounded like a mix between a yowl and something stuck in his throat. They laughed at this, and Garrus jumped forward, talons out to swipe at the boy holding his scope. The boy yelped, and three red gashes appeared on his arm. His face contorted with anger.

“The bird attacked me. You saw it,” he said to his companion.

“I did. Best we drown it before it hurts someone else.”

They stepped closer to him.

Garrus gasped and glanced at the presidium lake. Turians in general didn't swim well, and he didn't swim at all. He started backing away, trying to find an escape.

“Throw yourself in, save me the trouble,” a small voice said behind them. Garrus glanced passed the boys, and saw a human girl in a blue suit with short cropped hair standing there with her arms crossed. She seemed a lot smaller then her compatriots, and practically minute compared to the krogan he could see on the balcony in the distance.

“Back off, short-stuff. We're teaching the bird a lesson.”

The small boy waved his fist in her face, and to Garrus' surprise she seemed unperturbed.

“Give me the scope,” she demanded.

Garrus felt confused. Was she going to steal from him as well?

“Make me,” the taller boy said holding the scope in the air.

The girl glanced over her shoulder, and it seemed to Garrus as if she was watching the krogan. She turned back with a huge smile and said “Okay,” then slammed the shorter boy with a biotic blast that propelled him backwards, slamming him into the rail. The momentum made him topple over and into the lake. The splash caused some of the other guests to startle. The girl saw their reaction and grimaced. She kept her hand glowing and turned to the other boy.

“The scope, gimme! Hurry up!”

He carefully reached out his hand and dropped it into hers, before he turned on his heels and ran. The girl turned to Garrus and held out the scope to him.

“Here.”

He stared into her gray eyes, waited for an insult or an ambush. None came.

“Go on, it's yours.”she grinned at him. “I gotta bail, not supposed to do that to other kids.”

She pushed the scope into his talons and made a break for it. She made as far as the C-sec elevator, before the boy that got away appeared with a guard. The boy pointed at her, and she was snatched up while the guard shouted something at her. There was more commotion among the guests as the krogan Garrus had seen on the balcony charged through the crowd, almost trampling people in his path, and clamped a huge three-fingered hand on the guards shoulder. He swung the man around and growled in his face. Garrus almost felt envious of that growl. Now that was a sound to frighten your enemies. Next to him his mother appeared with Solana on her arm, took his hand and pulled him away.

“Let's go Garrus, that human girl is causing quite the stir, and that krogan looks like trouble enough for ten guards.”

He let himself get led away, but tried to turn sideways to glance at the strange girl who'd saved his father's early marking day present for him. She was kicking the guard on the shin and screaming bloody murder, while the krogan almost lifted the poor man off the ground. Garrus flared his mandibles in a smile. They passed over the bridge as some human men dived into the lake to save the boy screaming in the water. Garrus listened to the boy's cries as a very un-turian sense of smugness filled him. His father would not approve, he knew, but Garrus felt the scope thief got what he deserved. Too bad he never asked the girl's name, she seemed nice. For a human, he added as an afterthought.

 


 

Third Citadel peace conference, 16th August, 2166 CE – Anderson's apartment - 22:00 PM

 “Will you calm down, Hannah. You have only yourself to blame for this. Krogans are notoriously difficult to reason with, and Wreav is a loose cannon on deck. Be thankful it wasn't worse.”

Anderson took a sip of his whiskey and pretended to read some shipping manifest. Thankfully the admiral had simmered down since yelling at the two krogan brothers, and Jane had been sent to her room after refusing to implicate Wreav in the morning disaster. The krogan seemed too satisfied with the situation to dispel their suspicions, but Jane refused to say he'd masterminded the thing, and so she was grounded.

“Calm down? Really? You do know who those two boys are?” Hannah snapped at him.

“Some politician's kids, I guess. They weren't seriously hurt, and at least Jane's actions, foolish as they appear, might have prevented a uproar among the turians. If some humans had hurt a turian kid at that Future for peace-thing, it would have complicated the peace talks.”

It had been a long day for both of them. Pretending to make nice with people they'd been trying to kill for years was taking its toll, and it was only the first day. At least Saren Arterius was not on the Citadel, but Anderson knew that Galenus Vakarian was a lead detective in C-sec, and currently on the space station. The last time they had been face to face was in a burned down building in Starysibirsk, awaiting an uncertain fate. Hannah knew as well, and it was driving her a little crazy.

“The two boys,” she interrupted his train of thought, “was the nephewes of Donnel Udina.”

“What? Oh crap,” he said, taking another swig.

“Crap is the correct phrase, yes. He won't forget something like this, even if Jane is only a child.”

“Surely the man is not that resentful? He might not like you but..”

“He doesn't like anything that impedes his career or family standing.” Hannah sighed and poured herself a drink as well. The top button in her dress suit felt like it was strangling her, and she popped it open. “Gods. And tomorrow there's more of this. It's much easier just to shoot them.”

Anderson gave a mirthless chuckle.

“Yes, and that's why you're not part of the main negotiations, just here to make nice. The Orizaba sounds much nicer than the Vengeance.”

“Sometimes I think they really did promote me to rear admiral to get me off that ship.” Hannah gave Anderson a knowing glance. He coughed, and pretended not to smile.

“It's not that they don't have faith in your abilities, Hannah, but you going toe to talons with the turians every chance you got didn't help things for the Council. Now you have a higher rank but a toned-down profile.”

“Politics,” she said with disgust.

“Be reasonable, Hannah. You've done your part, now we must think of the future.”

“A future where my daughter helps turians? How lovely..”

There was no way around the next part of this conversation, but he knew it was better it came from him.

“About that, did I mention who that turian kid was?”

“Nope.” She took another sip. “Don't see why it's important. He's a kid, he was saved from bullies, he went home. End of story.”

Anderson forced a laugh. “If only. The kid's name is Garrus Vakarian.”

He saw her body stiffen, and expected the worst. Instead, she went completely silent for several minutes, before he saw her relaxing and lowering her shoulders, exhaling deeply.

“Well, how lucky for him. Another Vakarian saved by a Shepard. Wonder what that's gonna cost us.”

The sarcasm was dripping from every syllable. The venom that seeped through her voice unnerved him, not because it shocked him, but that is was so familiar. 9 years had not made him forget Sarah Hammond, and that cost him a marriage. The image of Jonathan Shepard dead in a blazing tunnel had kept Hannah in a constant state of rage for years, but now was the time for both of them to lay old grievances to rest.

“Hannah, he was just a boy that Jane wanted to help. She's much like Jonathan in that regard.”

“Yes she is, and being like Jonathan will get her killed as well.”

“That's not a good thing to teach Jane. Humans and turians must learn to accept the past and move on.”

The withering glare she have him would have cowed a weaker man.

“Do not tell me how to raise my child.”

They stared at each other, both unwilling to yield to the others reasoning. To his surprise, Hannah broke eye contact first.
“Clan Vakarian is bad news, and I won't have Jane consorting with them in any way. Even Saren would be preferable to that.”

“Galenus Vakarian has become a respected member of Citadel Security. You can't do anything about that,” he said. “We all need this peace. Please don't do anything to derail that.”

“I won't. But Jane will know where her loyalties lie,” she said with a sneer. Hannah knocked back the rest of her drink and walked upstairs to find her daughter. Anderson slowly spun the whiskey glass around in his hand with a sinking feeling that she had missed his point entirely.

 


 

Third Citadel peace conference, August 16th, 2166 CE – Vakarian household 22:00 PM

 “It was beyond foolish, Vistilla!”

Galenus was clenching and unclenching his talons, a sure sign he was more upset than angry, his wife noted to herself. After having a rather strange family dinner, with both parents putting on forced smiles and pretending nothing unusual had happened, Garrus and Solana was finally coaxed into bed, and Vistilla knew her husband would have some words about the mornings events. She loved Galenus, but sometimes he was very overprotective.

“There was some disturbance, yes, but what did they expect with so many children around.”

“You know who I mean. A biotic human girl with krogan bodyguards? There is only one woman in this galaxy who have such an arrangement, and I know for a fact that her ship docked on this station yesterday. And knowing this you let Garrus out of your sight.”

Vistilla bristled at the accusation.

“So, you think Hannah Shepard would lurk around the C-Sec entrance to try and murder your family? Seems a bit excessive, even for her. And our son would not have tried to escape from my sight if you hadn't given him that scope!”

There was enough tension in the room now to choke a krogan, but Galenus wasn't done yet.

“Do you know what he Hierarchy would do if I or my family caused a scene that prevented a truce? We would be outcasts, no matter the reason for the dispute. My history with the Shepards-..”

“Are not going to influence the negotiations. It was the admiral's daughter who threw that insufferable boy into the presidium lake, after he verbally abused Garrus. And she made them give your present back. He's quite smitten with her, actually.”

She winked playfully at her husband, who almost choked on a combined cough and a snort.

“Spirits, that will be the day. At least he doesn't know who she is, and there has been no leak in the news reels.”

Galenus seemed to have found some morbid amusement in the thought of his son with Shepard's daughter, and kept huffing in a semi-distressed tone. Vistilla rose from the couch and fetched a pair of glasses and a bottle of their finest turian brandy. The triple-distilled was her husbands favorite, and he flared his mandibles in a grateful smile when she held the glass out to him.

He knocked it back in one swallow and motioned for a refill. She indulged him.

“Thank the Spirits there was only one official holographer there, and Shepard's girl is almost lost in the background. I don't want Garrus to get involved with that family.”

His voice was sad, and Vistilla didn't push him on this. This new beginning had to overcome a lot of bad blood, both blue and red. If Galenus wanted them to leave, she would.

“Garrus' marking day is coming in a month. He's a Palaven boy, and should get them done there. We could leave ahead of you, to prepare everything in advance.”

“Thank you. You read my mind,”his subvocals hummed with devotion.

“Love you too. Garrus will most likely forget all about that girl when he gets back to Palaven. They'll never see each other again.”

“I can only hope,” her husband murmured to himself.

 


 

2172 CE – Gagarin Station – August 20th 09:00 AM

 

“Freedom!”

Jane Shepard grinned as the shuttle conveying her mother back to the Orizaba finally left the station. Her mother had insisted on accompanying her to the BAat-program's main school, the infamous Jump Zero, and had talked Shepard's ear off about honor and dedication and responsibility and all that, but all she could think of was that she would finally get to train professionally with other biotics her own age. Wrex had helped a lot when he was hired as her bodyguard, but he hadn't really explained the whys, just the hows, and he grunted a lot when she got it wrong. Around her there was teeming with students her own age, some of them regular recruits and some of them biotics. Jane was all alone for the first time in her life, and it felt exhilarating. New friends, new place, new faces, this place was heaven.

From her left she heard a flanging voice shout something about a bag, and turned her head to see several turians throwing a backpack between themselves, keeping it away from the brown-plated turian who obviously wanted it back. There was always a snake in paradise, right? She shrugged. Her omni-tool pinged, and she pressed 'read.' It was a message from the team leader she'd been assigned, K.A, containing directions to the barracks and some standard information about mealtimes and regulations. They were to meet up with the other recruits in 40 minutes, and she hoisted her bag onto her shoulder and made a beeline for her new sleeping quarters.

The barracks for the biotics were painted cobalt blue inside, and Shepard suspected it was some psychological idea of calm and quiet behind the idea. The beds were already assigned based on team numbers, and she was in team 1. Even the damn lockers were blue, she thought as she snapped it shut, and the closing door revealed an older recruit standing beside her. She jumped back, then gave a small laugh at the guy.

“Nice one, creeper. I'll be keeping an eye out for you.”

He had dark wavy hair and a big smile shone back at her.

“You'll be having your eyes on me all the time, rookie.”

“Oh conceited one, you’re not that cute,” she teased.

“Cute, am I? Well, I guess it's never too early to suck up to your new team leader. I'm Kaidan Alenko, by the way.”

He extended his hand, and she shook it while examining him.

“I'm Jane Shepard. You're my team leader? You look rather old.”

“Oh, ouch. You'll be sorry for that when I drive you around the track all afternoon.”

Shepard groaned when she realized how rude the comment was, and tried to apologize. Kaidan waved it away and gave her another disarming smile.

“I'm an L2. Got my implants early, and they are causing me some problems. I've been held back a few times when they had to readjust too much.”

“Hey, I am sorry, I didn't mean to pry.”

“No worries. Wouldn't want you to think I was hanging around just to creep on pretty young girls.”

He winked.

Shepard couldn't help it, she started to laugh again, and flushed slightly. He was funny and handsome, and if she wasn't careful, she might be drooling all over her TL when she should be training. The rest of team 1 had come into the barracks and was making themselves at home, claiming lockers and beds while introducing themselves. Kaidan seemed to be waiting for something, and when the loudspeakers crackled to life and announced assembly at the training field, he called for silence and ordered them to follow. On the field was assembled a big platform, and several turians were standing behind the human headmaster. Right, Shepard thought, they'd hired turian biotics to train human biotics. That was a little less paradise. Kaidan saw her study their turian instructors, and leaned a little closer.

“The one on the right is our main trainer. He's very powerful, but a real bastard.” he whispered out of the corner of his mouth.

Shepard fixed her eyes on the turian Kaidan pointed out. He had a sickly green-gray tint to his plates, and his head seemed to dart from side to side, as if looking for troublemakers.

“What's his name,” she whispered back.

He gave her a rueful smile.

“They call him commander Vyrnnus.”

 

 

Chapter Text

The rectangular classroom was set up with six by four desks facing a large holo-screen and a turian-style chair behind a metal desk. Shepard noted that the left top of the screen read Conatix Industries, as did the datapads, track suits, sweatsuits, boots, sneakers, crates, training weapons an everything else she'd seen on on their tour of the facility. Clearly there was to be no doubt as to who were funding this camp, she mused and sat down on the second chair, first row. The fact that turians were running the training facility shone through here already, team one on the first row with the TL in first row, team 2 on second row and so forth. Very standard. Very turian.

Shepard slid down in second row and studied the charts covering the walls. Lift, stasis, shield, even reave on the short wall opposite her. Almost every field of biotic was illustrated, and she felt a little giddy at the thought of learning all of them. The rest of the students filed in and sat down while their chatter filled the room. One of the last to enter the room was Kaidan, and he placed himself in the seat in front of the line, like the other 5 team leaders. He turned around and snapped his fingers to get team one's attention.
“Listen up, when the instructor arrives, be silent, don't talk back and don't be provoked, whatever he says. He likes to push the students around, so give him no reason to..-”

“Attention!”

The flanging voice rang outside the door, and commander Vyrnnus marched in like a conquering general. When he reached the metal desk, he slammed both hands down in the middle of the table, before he scraped his talons all the way down to the edge, making the students wince. Vyrnnus flared his mandibles in a very disturbing way, and Shepard saw Kaidan's back shudder. Okay, she thought, time to shut up.

“I am commander Vyrnnus,” the turian said in a deadly voice.

“It's my unhappy task to turn you maggots into something with a semblance to a a biotic fighting force.” He scanned the room, dwelling on each and every new student.

“And this sorry rabble is what they give me to work with.”
He made a dramatic sigh, pushed himself off the desk and wandered to the far side of the classroom and gave one of the new recruits an eagle eyed stare. The girl shrank under his examination, but Vyrnnus merely scoffed at her and exclaimed “Worthless,”before moving to another recruit in line 5. This time his examining eyes hit a small mousy haired boy who was staring intently into his desk to not draw attention to himself.

“Look at that, cowering before his betters.”

The boy bent further over his desk, and his face reddened. Shepard moved in her chair, but caught Kaidan's half turned figure shaking his head as a warning. Her eyes fixed on the back of Kaidan's head, and she gritted her teeth as she tried to ignore the taunting instructor. Another boy in line 4 fared no better. Vyrnnus commented on his blank look, complaining that the Alliance were made up of dullards and morons, before heading to line 3. He grabbed the shoulder of a dark haired boy and bent down into his face.

“I was at the helm of the dreadnought that killed your father.”

Something snapped in Shepard’s head.

“Hallelujah, for he is risen.” Her voice rang clear out in the room, and the whole class froze. 
Vyrnnus' head swiveled to find the perpetrator, and bellowed;

“Who said that? Stand up!”

Shepard sprang to her feet and put on her best 'dumb grunt'-look.

“You,” Vyrnnus hissed as he slowly approached her. “You dare interrupt me!”

“Forgive my exuberance, sir. May I say what an honor it is to meet the new messiah of humanity. You seem to be remarkably well preserved after falling from the sky.”

Vyrnnus stared at her agape.

“What are you dithering about, human? What's a messiah?”

“Well, sir, since you were at the helm of the Belli Finem as it crashed into the earth and killed my father, you must be the resurrected son of god personified.”

On her right side she could hear Kaidan groan. She was, however, unable to stop herself.

“We humans always heard that it was general Arterius at the helm of that particular dreadnought, but we were obviously misinformed.” She leaned in closer and whispered to Vyrnnus;

“The information came from the turians, sir, best not to trust a word they say. Dishonest bastards, the lot of them. ”

Snapping back to attention, she resumed her blank stare.
Vyrnnus blinked slowly several times, while this new reality caught up with him. He stared incredulously at her, before the cogs in his brain started to whirr, and a gleam of understanding shone over his face.

“Shepard. You're Jane Shepard. And quite the comedian, it appears.”
Forgetting that he had more rows of students to terrorize, he strolled back to his desk with a thoughtful look.

“Well, we'll soon cure you of that. 6 rounds around the obstacle course will take some of that insubordination out of you.”

There was a gasp from the team leaders. Shit, Shepard thought, I really stepped in it now.

“Your team leader will fill you in on what you missed here this afternoon. Now get out and report to captain Corinthus for your punishment.”

Shepard saluted, and began walking to the door when a brown haired burly boy stood up from the last row of line 2.

“Excuse me, commander Vyrnnus. I would like to join recruit Shepard in her new training program.”
Vyrnuus looked like he was about to have a seizure.

“Incredible! Did they assign me all the cretins this year? Explain yourself!” he barked.

“You see sir, a piece of the Belli Finem hit my family's outhouse. I feel this makes me especially suited to help people deal with their personal crap.”

Muffled snorts was heard scattered around the classroom, and Vyrnnus narrowed his eyes.

“Your name, wretch!”

“Recruit Dmitri Basanov, sir, glad to be here.”

The instructor's gaze flicked from Basanov to Shepard, uncertain if they truly were as stupid as they appeared to be. Finally he made a decision.

“Eight rounds. And Basanov, you're hereby transferred to team one. I like to keep all the idiots in one place. You there,” he pointed at the boy seated behind Shepard's place, “you're on team two. Move!”
The boy scuttled over to Basanovs' spot. The latter was grinning like a madman, and Shepard tried not to smile herself. Vyrnnus was at the end of his rope.

“Get out!”

The both of them disappeared out the door, and he turned his attention to Kaidan.

“This is day one. On day two, you will be punished for their actions. Do you understand me?”

Kaidan nodded grimly. He knew Vyrnnus meant business, and he also knew it meant he needed to chastise half of the team. In the last row sat his last team member, a quiet girl with raven black hair in a pony tail. Kaidan glanced at his papers to get her name. Rahna Yilmiz. At least there would be one normal person on his team.

 


 
2172 CE – Gagarin Station – August  20th  20:00 PM


Shepard’s entire body burned with exhaustion, and she had to mentally force her legs to keep her standing upright. Only the rather rigorous training regime imposed on her by her mother from a young age kept her from toppling over. She felt a small comfort in that right now. Her right side ribs were incredibly painful after a fall from the monkey bars in the last round, and both Basanov and her were wheezing for breath. He'd missed a step when vaulting off the rope swing and fell into the water moat. When he resurfaced he had a cut in his temple and a slight limp.
Shepard glared at him without any real anger.

“Next time you can run this course alone, please don't offer me any more moral support. Eight damn rounds, I feel half dead already..”

Basanov's face split into that maddening grin again.

“We have family history, yes? So I am required to help.”

His cheerful attitude grated somewhat on her nerves, while she tried to remember if her mother had ever mentioned a Basanov.

“Russian, right? And your family survived the crash of the Belli Finem?”

“Oh yes. Your mother had brilliant plan. Shame about the fallout. Many biotics born after that. Some survived.” He shrugged. “Sad, but so is life.”

“And you are one of them?”

“Born late in year. Child of darkness, my father says.”

Shepard raised an eyebrow at him. He grinned through the pain of his ankle.

“The man has no sense of humor. Great burden on me and my mother.”

They both chortled.

“Are you two done?” Kaidan strode into view, and gave both of them the evil eye.

“First day? First day! Are you two completely irresponsible? Now Vyrnnus has has it on for the entire team!”

Shepard and Basanov exchanged sheepish looks.

“It's not funny. Listen, this little run? Not even a warm-up for him. He will get really nasty unless you learn to control yourself.”

Basanov cocked his head and watched Kaidan's stern face.

“Even when he acts like bastard?”

“Yes! Now hit the showers, and I'll catch you up on the study plan afterward.”

He pointed to the barracks and practically herded them over there. The rest of the recruits were in the mess hall, and the place was completely deserted but for the three members of team one. Shepard and her partner in crime plopped down on a bench, and prepared for another lecture. Kaidan handed both of them a small backpack stuffed with datapads, and picked up two duffle bags with a Conatix logo and tossed one at each of them.

“This is what you wear from now on. Only reglement attire is allowed. No unsanctioned contact with the outside world. Your parents and or guardians will receive monthly rapports, you will get a holo-call once every second month. The first six months are an assessment of your skills and abilities. You will need to pass five examinations, in the station vernacular first examination is called firex, second examination is called secex, and so fort. After six months there will be held war games off base, comprising of everything you've learned thus far. The regular recruits' squad-training happens much the same way. Some classes are shared; Hand to hand close quarter combat, weapons training and the much beloved obstacle course you guys have already tried, but we have separate examinations from them. If you wash up at the war games, expect to be reassigned to a lesser training facility to prepare you for a future in cargo conveyance. So don't mess up. And don't rile up commander Vyrnnus.”

Kaidan paused and observed his two delinquents. They were listening with rapt attention, and were comparing notes on a pair of datapads. A relieved smile washed across his features. He seemed to be getting through to them. Then Shepard started snickering at something Basanov was doing on the datapad. Kaidan snatched it from him and saw it was an image of himself, with large breasts drawn on his chest, pig tails draped around his shoulders. These two nutcases would be the death of him, he thought as his blood began to boil.

“You are both confined to these barracks until tomorrow! There should be some ration bars in the duffle bags, replace them when you go to breakfast in the morning.”
He then spun around and walked out, leaving Shepard and Basanov to burst out laughing as soon as he was gone.


 
2172 CE – Gagarin Station – August 21th 17:00 PM


Next day was Initial Assessment day, and Kaidan really ran them ragged. Rahna beat the two others in the obstacle course, Basanov out-shot both girls in weapons training and Shepard crushed both of them in hand to hand. The three were more matched in biotic abilities, but none of them could rival Kaidan for pure power. When he demonstrated his throw ability on the fortified target, it ripped off the latches keeping it down and flew halfway across the training field. Shepard couldn't help notice his proud smile was primarily aimed at Rahna, and nudged Basanov in the ribs, wiggling her brows in Kaidan's direction. Their team leader failed to notice Basanov's feigned retch, and they both shook with silent laughter. Rahna saw them, and shook her head mildly disproving. They snapped back to attention before Kaidan turned around and gave them a suspicious look.

“All right, I think I got what I need,” he said.

“You all have your strengths and weaknesses, but that's why I'm here. We will work together, and by the time we reach the six month mark we will all excel in every field.”

He beamed at his team, and they felt some of his pompous enthusiasm rub off on them.

“Our first goal should be to become first in firex. Now I know that a month of hard physical training on top of keeping our cool in the presence of the commander,” here he glanced at Shepard and Basanov, “will be hard, but that also is a test. If you can't take what a lone turian can dish out, then maybe you need to reconsider if you should be here at all.”

Three pair of eyes stared at him with reproach. He made a small embarrassed laugh.

“I'm sure you're all be good enough when the time comes. Now let's get some chow.”

His team lept to their feet and cheered.


The mess hall was full of the clatter of plates and metal cups, and Shepard juggled her tray past several other recruits and sat down next to Rahna. The other girl gave her a small smile, and continued to scarf down every morsel on her plate. Shepard knew precisely how she felt, as she was just as starved. She started wolfing down her own food. Basanov dropped into the seat opposite Shepard.

“You eat like animals. Uncivilized little beasts,” he grinned, before starting to chomp down his own meal.
The tree of them snorted into their plates, and continues eating. A few minutes later Kaidan joined them. His own plate had a big topping, and he sat down beside Basanov and ate in silence with them.
When the plates were clean, Basanov leaned back and groaned happily.

“I feel better now. Almost human.”

“No longer a beast?” Rahna's shy little quip surprised all of them.

“Finally. The girl speaks. Now, we should get to know each other better. I will start.” Basanov leaned forward.

“I am Dmitri Basanov, you should say first name. We will be great friends, all of us. I am biotic because a dreadnought fell near my parent's house. Next!”

He looked at them with anticipation. Rahna, Shepard and Kaiden exchanged glances. Kaidan shrugged.
“Why not? My mother was downwind of a plane accident in Singapore, and nobody told us about it. How about you Shepard? Naturally good genes, or Conatix accident?”

“Ah, well, it seems my mother was wading around in some strange smog that kept pouring out of a turian dreadnought, and it had some side effects. Weird how these things happen.”

She gave Dmitri a knowing look.

“Your mother being admiral Shepard, right? That's some name to live up to. Or down.” Kaidan winked at her.

“Oh, thank you for your very reassuring words. She did give me the 'remember your proud family history-speech on the day I left, so I'm guessing failure is not an option,” she said, sarcasm dripping from every words.

“Parents usually wants their children to excel and do better then they did, because they love us.” Rahna's voice was calm and reassuring, and she reached out to pat Shepard's hand. “Your mother wants what she think is best for you, and perhaps this doesn't always match what you want. What you must remember, is that it's not from malice.”

“That's a very profound insight Rahna, I get the feeling you have something similar in your family.”
Kaidan's big brown eyes were admiringly fixed on Rahna. Dmitri leaned back into his seat and rolled his eyes. The two girls tried not to smile.

“There was no accident near where I lived, so perhaps it was just genetic for me. My parents think its' a gift, meant to help humanity.”

The last sentence was interrupted by a scuffle in the chow line between two adolescent turians, trying to push each other out of the queue.

“The peacocks are posturing at their future rivals,” Shepard muttered under her breath. Kaidan overheard her.

“No more of that talk, Shepard. We're meant to work together, not insult our allies.”

Shepard glared at him for a few seconds, then nodded quietly.

“You're right. I'm sorry.”

He gave her an encouraging smile and went to put his eating utensils on the dish rack.

“Allies for how long?”

Only Dmitri heard her last comment, and he said nothing, merely glanced over at the turians with a dark expression.

 


 
2172 CE – Palaven – October 20th 15:00 PM


“What were you thinking, Garrus?”

Galenus' voice were mildly reproachful, and it made Garrus feel worse than a downright yelling, and certainly worse than the bruising on his face. The home office of his father was large, filled with old family heirlooms dating back to the unification wars, and standing in front of his father's large desk with a guilty conscience always made him feel like all his ancestors was siding with his father.

“They were three against one, I wanted to even the odds,” he said defiantly.

Galenus sighed. This was a conversation the two of them had often.

“If you see someone in trouble, you call one of the teachers. You do not injure another student to prove a point.”

“There was no time, if I left then-..”

“Help would have arrived earlier.”

Garrus stared at his feet, and refused to meet his father's disapproving eyes. Galenus worried about his son. The boy had a good heart, but he was too eager to cut corners and jump right into a situation before thinking it through. Brawling on school ground was reason enough for expulsion, as it showed low impulse control and lack of discipline. In this case, it did not make matters better than one of the other students involved in the fight was a Fedorian. The primarch was wary of any insults to hos family after his 'defeat' before the council regarding his intended invasion, and tended to take even small family squabbles personally.
Galenus decided to opt for honesty with Garrus.

“You have to see the bigger picture, son. Timeus Fedorian is cousin to the primarch. The primarch's standing has been compromised after the failed war, and so he regards any attack on his family members as an attack on his authority. Do you see the danger in your actions now?”

“Then the primarch is in the wrong!” Garrus exclaimed. “He should not interfere in matters beneath him.”

Galenus watched his son with a mix of pride and exasperation. Too young for politics, old enough for right and wrong. The boy had honorable intentions, but his impetuous nature would lead him astray if not tempered with patience. In their father-son time at the shooting range, he'd shown high promise as a marksman. Perhaps the patience required of a sniper would prevent more hasty clashes on the school. As a bonus, he enjoyed spending some time with Garrus, with a common goal and no arguments between them.

“Garrus, calm down. I understand how you feel, but that's how things are.”

Garrus opened his mouth to protest, but his father raised a hand, calling for silence.

“I think you understand my will in this. No more fighting, or there will be severe consequences, not all of them from me.”

His son again fixed his eyes downwards, clearly not liking what he heard.

“I think you and me should go down to the shooting range today, get some hours of practice in. There's that youth tournament coming up in a week, and your mom and your sister are coming to cheer for you.”

“But not you?” Garrus' voice was low.

“I have to go back to the Citadel in two days, son. I'm sorry I'll miss that, but you can show me how good you are now.”

Garrus seemed to mull that over, then gave his father a careful smile.

“All right dad. I'm pretty good, almost as good as you.”

“Oh, big words, Garrus. You need to prove that to me before I'll believe that.”

Galenus smiled back at his son, and gave him an affectionate rub on his short fringe. Garrus seemed slightly embarrassed, but very pleased, and his subvocals hummed with anticipation of spending the evening with his father.

Chapter Text

2172 CE – November 01th Gagarin Station – Gym 08:28 AM

“Kaidan, will you relax? You're killing us here.”


Shepard dropped down from the pull up bar and rotated her shoulder joints. Dmitri finished his jumping push ups and got up from the training mat.


“I agree with Shepard. We are best team in last two examinations, you should cut some slack.”

The continuous drilling Kaidan subjected them to in the last couple of months led to them coming in first in both firex and secex, but he was relentless. As soon as they mastered one technique he introduced a new one, and the breakneck pace was making both Dmitri and Shepard to rebel. Kaidan would have none of it. He suspected the two of them to be behind several subtle pranks against Vyrnnus, and if the turian ever proved that, they would all be out of the station in hours.

“I will give you a break when I'm satisfied that your ingenuity is not being used to irritate the commander,” he said sternly.


“Irritate? Come on, Kaidan, that turian is a permanent state of irritation, for us.” Shepard gave a mocking grin.


“This is true,” Dmitri chimed in, “the way he keeps tilting that chair in class? Very annoying.”


They both snickered.


“Right. And that has nothing to do with the fact that one of those chair legs is now slightly shorter than the other?” Kaidan said accusingly.


“Whatever do you mean?” came Shepard's innocent voice. “He has never said that himself, so don't go saying things you can't prove.”


“I found the metal file in the barracks, Shepard. Lucky for you that you filed it down over time, so he didn't notice right away.”


“Everyone has metal file, Kaidan. For weapon maintenance, repairs, and other stuff.” Dmitri smiled his crazy smile again.


“Cut that out. I know you did it, and only the facts that I can't really prove it, and that it would reflect badly on me is stopping me from turning you guys in.” He sighed. “You're playing with fire. If it should come to the attention of Vyrnnus that you're on a campaign to sabotage him, we're all done.”


Rahna stopped doing her lunges and came up beside Kaidan.


“I agree with our TL. You should focus on studies, not annoying instructor Vyrnnus. I'm sure he only means to help us with his strict teaching methods.”


The other three watched her with amazement. Whatever else they disagreed on, the fact that commander Vyrnnus disliked humans with the intensity of at least one small burning sun was not in dispute. Rahna however, always wanted to find the good in everybody, and while Shepard admired that quality in her friend, she could never think that way of people herself.


“Hey, I know you mean well, but Vyrnnus is not deserving of you defending him. He's a former mercenary, not a turian cabalite. He's also barefaced, and not even trusted by his fellow turians.”


Dmitri nodded at this.

“Captain Corinthus is hard-ass, yes? Makes you climb that rope ladder again and again if you do it badly. But he treats everybody equally harsh, human or turian. Vyrnnus, he likes to bother humans especially. He deserves to be bothered himself.”


“What if people had looked down on you your entire life for not having markings on your face. I'm sure something has made the commander the way he is today. We should not make his life harder.”

Shepard could hardly believe Rahna's determined faith in the inherent goodness of people, it was like a shield she wore to protect herself from a hard truth; that some people simply were not good people. She decided against arguing about this, as she knew Dmitri and her should give their attempts to make life harder for the commander a short rest anyway. Best not to overplay that hand.


“Sure, we'll play nice. For now.”


Rahna smiled warmly at her, but Kaidan eyed her with suspicion. He probably knew that had been too easy, but a little distraction would keep him happy.


“What, Kaidan? Want me to kick your ass in hand to hand for ogling me?”


“I’m years older than you, Shepard. Just because you won in your examinations it doesn’t mean you will beat me.”


“I respectfully disagree.” She grinned at him.


“I’m with Shepard on this one, Kaidan. No chance.” Dmitri said, jumping on the spot to loosen up his leg muscles.


Kaidan gave Rahna a glance. She shrugged apologetically.

“Sorry Kaidan, I’m with them.”


He bristled at this. “Ah hell no, you’re on, Shepard.”


“Oh yeah, that’s the spirit.”


They started circling each other, jabbing and dodging while trying out each others defenses. She saw that Kaidan’s upper body strength and reliance on defense made him a powerful, but not agile fighter. Almost like a krogan, she thought. Well, she would try a trick she learned from fighting Wrex. She unleashed a series of strikes he deflected with ease, before quickly swiping his right leg back, causing him to stagger. Kaidan kept his elbows up, expecting a downward strike, and she instead bent low, reversed the leg swing and hooked both his legs from behind, causing him to fall flat on his back. She was on top of him in seconds, pinning his arms down. Shepard’s weight on his chest made him struggle for breath.


“I yield, get off,” he gasped.


She rose and held out a hand, and he took it and got hauled back on his feet. Rahna and Dmitri clapped slowly, trying to hide smiles.


“She went easy on you, Kaidan. Lucky bastard.”


Kaidan gritted his teeth, seemingly having an inner conflict on his humiliating loss, before his better nature won out.


“All right, Shepard, not too shabby. I went easy on you, you know.”

He smiled that wide disarming smile both Shepard and Rahna liked so much.


“I’m sure you did. Not your fault I’m krogan-trained.” She flashed a satisfied smile.


“Cheater.” Dmitri growled playfully.


“I can still kick your ass in biotics, though.” Kaidan’s chest puffed out slightly.


“For now.”

They exchanged calculating looks, as if they were competing rivals. Finally Rahna interjected, rolling her eyes.


“No false modesty here, then. Show off some other time, we’ll be late for Vyrnnus’ class.”


That broke the tension between them, and they both laughed.


“Some other time, Shepard.”


“Sure. A little more training for both of us, and we’ll have a rematch.”


“After you can hit a target with that assault rifle and not just the shotgun,” came his smug reply.
Dmitri chuckled. “And here I think Kaidan can not go low.”


“You’re both paying for that later.”


Their banter evaporated the second they stepped into the classroom. Vyrnnus was staring out the window as the students piled in and sat down.
On every desk was three baseballs, and Shepard felt relieved. This was one of her better exercises When all the students where in place, Vyrnnus turned around.


“Lift one!” he barked.


The classroom shone with blue and purple glow, one ball was not that difficult. Vyrnnus however, was not all about the training.


“There are rumors flying around campus, that someone wants to build a transmitter.”


The class went silent except from the small sounds of exertion that came with keeping the baseballs floating.


“Someone here thinks they can break the rules with impunity, but if any rules are broken, so will the perpetrators be. Lift two!”


Shepard easily lifted the second ball, but several of the other students were having a difficult time with lifting multiple objects. Behind her Dmitri’s quiet “хуй” told her he still preferred more offensive style biotics. Rahna usually had no difficulty lifting objects, but team three was in trouble. Two of the members’ baseballs were wobbling dangerously, and Vyrnnus sneering face did little to mask his contempt.


“Humans. They think they can break every rule, and not even make the effort to do the simplest tasks.”


He turned to a boy in team three who’s face was sweaty and red from exertion.


“I always thought your kind were good at juggling balls.”


The boy jerked away, and the baseballs fell to the floor.


“Team three, 3 rounds in the obstacle course after dinner. Yes, I said after dinner, TL 3, any more complaining and that will be four rounds.”


Shepard kept her mouth shut, but noticed with some satisfaction that Vyrnnus was not sitting in his lightly calibrated chair.


“Lift three!”


Shepard lifted the last ball. This had been one of Wrex’s favorite game to keep her occupied when she was a child, and she knew she could balance six before she felt the strain. Around her, the rest of the teams were failing rapidly, and the small thuds of baseballs bouncing off the floor filled the classroom. Behind her Dmitri groaned and dropped his balls. From his corner she felt Vyrnnus eyes on team one, which meant that they were the last team standing.


“Well well well. If it isn’t little Shepard and her team of miscreants who win this little test. The rest of you, two rounds in the obstacle course.”


The students chorused “Yessir,” and piled out of the door. Shepard was the only one still levitating the baseballs in the air, and Vyrnnus strolled down to her place.”


“Take care that power is not too much for a little pyjak runt like yourself, Shepard.”


Shepard’s mouth ran away from her before she could think.


“Don’t worry about me, sir, there is much eezo in a dreadnought, sir.”


Ahead of her she could see Kaidan shrink in his seat. Vyrnnus nailed Shepard with his gaze and clamped hiss mandibles close to his face.


“And just when you win your team a brief rest, you drag them all back down with you. Four rounds in the obstacle course, and you all have to float a ball in the air all the way round.”


Shepard winced, and the rest of the team groaned.


“Dammit, Shepard!”


“Really?”


“Pizdet!”


“Sorry guys.”


Vyrnnus gave them all an evil smile.


“Move it!”

 

 

2173 CE – 27th February – Orizaba – Captain’s quarter 20:00 PM

“Hello? Jane? Can you hear me?”Hannah tapped the screen impatiently.


“Loud and clear mom. I even I hear you hitting the poor onmi-tool, give it a rest.”


Hannah smiled. She had missed her snarky daughter, and not even being forced to work with turians seemed to have stilled Jane’s need to backtalk.


“That mouth of yours getting you in any trouble?”


Hannah heard a muffled snort on the opposite line.


“Ahem. It happens. But really, a few rounds around the track is good for you.”


“Really? Is this the voice of reason I hear, coming from my own child?”


“Haha, mom. You’re just as bad as Dmitri.”


“That Basanov-boy?”

Hannah hadn’t believed Jane when she told her about him, but she made some calls and confirmed it. It was Yuri Basanov’s son. The worlds most irritating man, but his son and Jane seemed to be good friends.


“Yup. But you’re not calling just to hear about Dmitri, are you?” Hannah heard the smile in her voice.


“No, but you like tormenting your mother, so let’s have it. How did the war games go?”


“Well, you know..” There was a prolonged silence.


“Come on, you. Just tell me.”


Jane laughed softly.


“Sorry mom. Can’t help it. I passed with flying colors!” Jane’s voice brimmed with pride.


Hannah gave a silent exhale of relief.

“And your biotic class?”


“They think I’m best suited to be a vanguard. I’m top of the class in shields, and even better with lifts.”


“Jane, I’m so proud that you do well in school, but be careful of being arrogant.”


“I know that, but that’s the two biotic abilities I’m really good at. Let me have one moment to crow about it.”


Hannah chuckled. “All right, but just between us. I can’t wait until this semester is over and we can go out to celebrate.”


“Mom, there’s one more thing. One of the instructors is thinking about recommending me for a position as an assistant trainer next year.”


“Assistant trainer? Quite the honor. What class?”


“Hand to hand for both biotics and regulars.” Jane sounded a little nervous, and Hannah wondered why.


“Who’s the instructor that recommended you?”


“It’s, ah.. captain Corinthus.” Hannah stiffened. That was a turian name. Jane seemed to pick up her mother’s hesitance, and her mouth kept running.


“I mean, he’s seen me during practice and our monthly exams, I’ve won every time, uh, I’m not bragging or anything, it’s just what happened, and he’s the one in charge of the obstacle course I’m always running, he’s not the turian that made me do all those laps, that’s commander Vyrnnus, he’s a real assh-..I mean, not nice, but Corinthus, he’s always been fair, he’s not like other turians, I just...”

Jane’s voice trailed off.

Hannah knew her daughter was trying to avoid upsetting her, and that made her feel a twinge of guilt.


“I’m sure that.. captain Corinthus has excellent judgment. You’re going to do a great job helping the other students, Jane.”


“I will be tutoring turians as well, you know.” Jane said reluctantly.


Hannah was glad it was only an audio line and no image that could show her grimace at the news.


“That’s what that station is all about, cooperation and learning from each other, right?”

She felt surprised she didn’t choke on the words, but they came surprisingly easy.


“Really? That’s great! I thought you might be.. doesn’t matter. I’m so glad you approve!”

Jane’s voice carried her smile all the way to the Orizaba. Hannah fought back the resentment she felt for the thought of her daughter working with turians, and forced herself to sound cheerful.


“Off course I would, sweetheart. You’ll do great.”


The rest of their conversation consisted of anecdotes of rebellion and friendship from Jane, and updates on David Anderson and some of Jane’s school friends from Arcturus station. Jeff Moreau was still determined to be a pilot, and missed having Jane to argue and get into fights with.
Jane hoped she would be able to meet everyone after the semester, and Hannah promised they would try their best.

 

2173 CE – 15th May – Gagarin Station – Training Field 05:30 AM

The six teams were gathered around a lone student tied to a post in the middle of the field, with a triumphant Vyrnnus standing beside him. They were all quiet, as they guessed what the student had done. Shelby had been one of the students whom desperately wanted off the station, and he was always scrounging small parts of electrical equipment and wires the instructors wouldn’t notice. Commander Vyrnnus had somehow figured it out, or perhaps found his location when he activated the transmitter. Nobody knew for sure, and nobody was going to ask.


“I seem to recall,” Vyrnnus voice boomed over the field, “telling you sad excuses for biotics what would happen if you tried to break the rules and communicate with the outside world without permission. And yet, some of you did not listen.”

He pointed dismissively to Shelby.


“Now you will all suffer for it. Do you think this program is a joke? That Conatix is wasting all this money on you worthless animals just so your parents can be rid of you for a year?”


The class made no reply, merely observed the shivering and crying boy tied to the post.


“NO!” Vyrnnus bellowed, his voice echoing on the field.


“You are here to evolve from your primitive origins. You are here to learn to control your emotions, your fears and your weak flesh.”


His gaze swept over all of them and turned to Shelby, grabbing his head and yanking it back.


“This one is a failed experiment, best left out here to die.”


He slammed the boy’s head into the post, making Kaidan’s face harden. Shepard gave him a small nudge, reminding him that things could always get worse.
Vyrnnus left Shelby bleeding from the gash in his forehead, and stalked down the row of students.


“But you will be given the chance to save him. Over there are the building bricks to our new future.”

He pointed to several blocks laid out over the field.


“If you can build a structure according to my instructions, using only your own biotic powers, then I will let your friend go. If not, you’ll all be here all week, no food, no rest, no water. If you fail, if you collapse, if you make too many mistakes, you’re out of the program. Perhaps you’ll get a job working beside some asari hookers in some of the seedy lower wards at the Citadel, I don’t care. At least you won’t pollute my air any longer.”


The students looked at the blocks, and each others. Vyrnnus lost patience again.


“What are you waiting for, useless apes, get to work!”


They scrambled over to the blocks and the field lit up by glowing hands lifting dozens of blocks.

 

 

2173 CE – 15th May – Gagarin Station – Training Field 11:00 AM

The first student had dropped at 09:13 AM, and the second an hour or so later. Shepard was doing fine with her own building, even though Vyrnnus had walked by twice and toppled it over, just to watch her do it again even higher. When she rebuilt it for the third time, he set her to hold several large blocks over the heads of the slower students. Even if lift were her specialty, her arms were starting to tremble from the strain. Several of the student struggled, having been deprived of food and water and not being good at lifting in the first place. Dmitri was having a hard time stacking the blocks, but Rahna was in big trouble. She was close to dehydration, and could only lift small blocks. Kaidan had helped her when Vyrnnus was occupied on the opposite side of the field, but he was coming back and he couldn’t risk it anymore.
Vyrnnus strolled past Dmitri, giving a small scoff at his attempts to build. He grinned openly at Shepard, and she found she hated the man even more than before. When he saw Rahna stumbling and almost dropping the block she was levitating, he also saw Kaidan catching it, and pounced on them both.


“Impressive, Alenko. Bit I distinctly remember telling you to do this alone. Perhaps this one is special to you, yes? Maybe that’s how she’s managed to get this far, with you helping and receiving something in return for your troubles?


Kaidan’s face contorted in fury, but he said nothing. Shepard was getting a headache from the strain, but she tried to hold the blocks while simultaneously watching her friends. Vyrnnus was amused by Kaidan’s anger, and poured water from his canteen into a cup and levitated it in front of Rahna.


“If you can take this by biotics, you can drink. Nothing else will do.”


Rahna seemed completely dazed, and blindly reached out with her hand for the cup. Vyrnnus’ hand flared with blue, and a biotic orb struck Rahna in the arm. There was a loud snap as the bone in the arm broke, and Rahna cried out in pain while doubling over.

Kaidan dropped his lift and blasted commander Vyrnnus in the chest with a charge. The turian flew backwards and landed on his side. Around them blocks were falling down all over the field as the students scattered to the sidelines. Shepard was finally able to drop her blocks, and fell to her knees, trying to stem a heavy nosebleed. Dmitri pulled at her arm to get her up and away.


“Come on, Shepard, we’re in the middle of a war zone here.” he urged.

“That was incredibly stupid, boy!”

Vyrnnus was back on his feet and slammed Kaidan with a warp. His shields were shimmering under the strain, but it held out, barely.


“Surprise was the one thing you had going for you, Alenko. What do you do now?”


He pulled out a gleaming blade, brandishing it before Kaidan. Kaidan watched the turian with uncertain eyes, and ignored Rahna’s pleas in the background to back down.


“What you did was wrong.”


“Wrong? Teaching your kind to defend themselves is wrong?” Vyrnnus goaded.


“You are a bunch of weaklings, none of you would last a minute in a real fight.”


They circled each other.

Dmitri shook Shepard’s arm.

“We have to help Kaidan! Shepard! Focus!”


Shepard stumbled back to her feet, her face smeared with blood. She zeroed in on the instructor and Kaidan, and gave Dmitri a confused look.


“What are we going to do? If we hurt Vyrnnus, we’re all out of here come morning cycle.”


“I have feeling something bad will happen. We must stop it.”

 

Vyrnnus sneered at Kaidan.


“Done already? No more sneak attacks now, coward.”


“Don’t force me, bird!” Kaidan sneered back at him.


“That’s it. Show me your true face, human.”


Vyrnnus punched Kaidan in the face, and sliced his side with the knife. Kaidan gasped in pain, and shot another biotic blast at the turian, making him staggering backwards. He grasped at his side, blood pouring from the open wound and stared at the turian with a look of pure loathing, before he starting charging his biotics again.
Rahna cried out “no!” but he refused to listen.

“Shepard, shield Vyrnnus! Now! Now!”

Dmitri was frantic. The only reply he got was “huh?” Shepard’s mind were still a little addled by exhaustion, but Dmitri spun her around and yelled in her ear.


“Shield Vyrnnus! NOW!”


Her arms flew up and a shield formed around Vyrnnus just as the flaring figure of Kaidan delivered a powerful kick straight to the turian’s face. The two of them were pushed apart by the disintegrating shield, and Dmitri charged into the fray and pinned Kaidan to the ground. He was shouting and cursing at both Dmitri and Vyrnnus now, but made no attempt to injure his friend.
Shepard stumbled over to the unconscious Vyrnnus and checked his pulse. It was faint, but it was there. She turned to the TL of team two.


“Get the medic!”


She saw his hesitation, and jerked her head irritably.


“We’ll all be in more trouble if he dies. Now GO!”


The team leader turned on his heels and ran. Rahna came and sat down beside her, clutching her arm.


“He’s still alive?”


“Yes.”


“I can’t believe he would do something like that.”


She sounded shocked. Shepard felt more tired than ever before in her life.


“Vyrnnus has a mean streak, we all know that.”


“Not him, Kaidan! I can’t believe he almost killed a man. I never believed him capable of murder.”


Shepard stared at her, agape.


“Vyrnnus hurt you.”


“Yes, but I thought Kaidan was a better man than this.”


Kaidan had stopped struggling and were sitting up, staring at Rahna with a devastated look on his face. She glanced at him, before getting up and disappeared off the field. Dmitri and Shepard exchanged looks as well, not knowing what to say to Kaidan.

 

2173 CE – 18th June – Gagarin Station – Docking station waiting area 09:04 AM

Dmitri and Shepard sat down in the waiting area, both in a somber mood.
The semester was over, but the approaching holiday didn’t seem as appealing to Shepard as it had a month ago. Rahna was gone, her parents had pulled her out of the program mere hours after the incident. They had refused her to give any of them her contact information, and she had smiled sadly as the shuttle left the station. Shepard overheard her and Kaidan talking before it left, but it seemed that she had not entirely forgiven him for being what she called a man of violence. Kaidan had been crushed. He was sent off station two weeks later. The station program was to important to be derailed by a minor training incident, or at least that was the official explanation they received from the headmaster. Vyrnnus was to be reinstated as an instructor as soon as his neck was healed. It had been a close call, but the shield and quick medical response had saved his life. Dmitri had expressed his hope that they would not be training under him again, and she hoped that as well. Her mother would not be picking her up this time, and she was to take the shuttle to Arcturus station with Dmitri. He suddenly nudged her side, and she followed his gaze to a figure approaching them with a limp and a cane. It was Vyrnnus. They both jumped to their feet and stood at attention. He stopped in front of them, giving them both a look of pure hatred.


“I’m guessing you two think I owe you anything for that stunt in the field.”


“No, sir!” they chorused.


“Good for you. It wasn’t my ass you saved that day, it was your own. Imagine having that in your files. Unstable, unhinged human biotic mishaps, causing the death of their instructor through their incompetence.”


This time it was Dmitri that couldn’t keep his mouth shut.


“We did save your turian life, Sir! It must hurt, being indebted to pair of humans.”


Shepard closed her eyes, knowing that he just made everything much worse. Vyrnnus leaned in close and lowered his voice.


“You’re still training under me, idiots. And one day I will show you how much I owe you for that day. Until then, enjoy your holiday.”


He stepped back, and limped off back into the station.
Shepard gave Dmitri a tired lopsided grin.


“That was really smart, buddy. We’re gonna catch hell for that.”


“Perhaps, but not until next semester. Until then, we have fun.”


He grinned back at her, and they picked up their bags and walked down to the shuttle bay.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

217 3 CE – August 20 th - Gagarin Station – Shuttle docking area 08: 00 AM

Shepard dodged the incoming students while scouring the crowd for her friend. His shuttle was supposed to have docked 10 minutes ago, and she had spent last hour pestering the docking crew for news of delays or early arrival. The introductory session for the assistant trainers would start at 10 AM, and she wanted to meet Dmitri before meeting the new students. According to their second year timetable, classes didn’t start before the 23 rd, and she wanted to catch up with Dmitri and get his opinion on some ideas for her class.

Shepard thought she just caught a glimpse of Dmitri’s hulking frame when a passing first-year turian with dark gray plates slammed into her shoulder. She bounced off him, crashed into a Conatix floor poster, tripped and fell flat on her face. Her first instinct was to get off the floor and shout in the guy’s face, but when she rolled around and glowered at him, he was clicking his mandibles nervously and shifting his weight from one leg to the other. In his talons he was clasping his backpack in front of him as a shield, looking scared. Shepard closed her eyes and sighed. First time with humans, probably from a backwater colony and ready for his first impression of the human species. Damn. She forced her face into the semblance of a comforting smile and held out her hand. The poor turian pulled back at first, eyes flicking between her and her outstretched hand. He then stepped forward, shifted his bag into his left hand and reached out the other. She grabbed it and practically hoisted herself up by his arm.

“Slow down, buddy. The barracks are up two levels, just follow the signs. First years are to find their respective team leaders and assemble at the training field.”

He looked surprised at not being yelled at, huffed out a ‘thank you’ and disappeared down the hall. A large hand landed on her shoulder and spun her around, before the hands owner scooped her up in a big hug.

“Shepard!”

“Dmitri, you russian hoodlum! Missed you!”

“Apparently not enough. Falling for turians now?” He grinned.

“Ahaha, very droll, you jerk. Can’t really be scaring the first years before class, or the captain would have my ass.”

“I still cannot believe you will play nice with those awful first-years, let alone turians.”

She raised an eyebrow at him.

“We were first years not three months ago.”

“Yes, and we were horrible. Did you forget?”

They both laughed at this.

“Allright, I concede your point. Haven’t seen the commander yet, but I’m guessing he’s lurking around somewhere. Nothing we can’t handle when we stick together, right?”

Dmitri’s smile wavered for a fraction of a second, before it came back in full force.

“Off course. We are indomitable.”

She eyed him for a few seconds, then grabbed his arms and pulled him towards the exit.

“I need you to look at a few charts with me before my meeting with the rookies.”

“Aw, homework? Already? You got cruel over summer. Or perhaps you’re just nice with turians now.”

She elbowed him in the ribs, causing him to wince.

“Ouch. Proving my point, xenophile.”

“Shut it, or I’ll never cause problems with you again.”

“Cruel,” he whispered under his breath.

They continued the bickering all the way to the barracks.

 

 

2173 CE – August 21st - Gagarin Station – Sand pit training area 09:00 AM

While the introductory class over, captain Corinthus expected them to introduce themselves to their assigned groups, and to assert themselves as leaders for both the humans and turian students. Shepard had dreaded this moment for weeks. Teenage humans were bad enough, but adolescent turians? She had no idea how they responded to being pushed around by a human, let alone a biotic, and decided to play it safe in the first lesson. Some anatomy charts for both species to learn what to avoid, and some easy demonstrations to the benefit of the class was probably a good place to start.

The students started to pile in from the locker-rooms and filled the wooden bleacher seats surrounding the large sand pit. The anatomy charts she had printed out and placed on the seats were cursory glanced at and some of the students tossed them away. Shepard’s jaw tensed. These little brats would regret that. When the rookies was seated, her fellow trainers tried to shout to get the attention of their new subjects, whom seemed more interested in jeering and cursing their fellow students of a different species. She pinched the bridge of her nose in irritation, and several of the students were laughing at the attempt at getting their attention. Shepard looked up and surveyed her group with an evil stare. Fine, it would be the hard way.

She held out her arms and made her body glow with biotic aura. The students seated before her immediately went silent, before erupting in yells and cries as the wooden stand lifted into the air for a few seconds, then slamming back down on to the ground, knocking several students against each other.

Around the pit the other groups had gone silent as well. Good, Shepard thought, use the momentum.

“As some of you might know, my name is Shepard.”

Among the turians there was a small stir.

“Yes, my mother was Hannah Shepard, previously of the SSV Vengeance. I have inherited several of my mother’s traits, all of them unpleasant.”

There was a small titter in the turian portion of the seats. Shepard continued her speech.

“I will have no fucking profanity in my class. I will not accept racial slurs, not from the hairless pyjaks and not from the birds. Any forbidden moves on your opponent and I will repeatedly demonstrate what was done wrong on the offender before the entire class. The charts you’ve been given illustrates where you’re allowed to strike and where you’re not. Study it!" She glared at them.

"At the end of the day I am strict and I am unfair, other than that you must take me as I am.”

 

“Oh I’ll take you as you are.”

The voice was turian, and Shepard swiveled her head and saw several turians edge away from a beige-plated turian with purple markings, and she shot her hand out and pointed at him.

“You! Down here for a demonstration!”

The turian got up and sauntered down onto the pit. She gave him a mocking smile.

Take me then, rookie.”

He gave her a confident smirk, before charging straight at her. She sidestepped his assault easily, tripping his right leg and grabbed his spur at the same time. The turian’s own momentum caused him to smack headlong into the sand, and she held on to the spur in a painful grip and caught hold of his short fringe with the other hand. There was a collective gasp from the watching turians. The beige turian whimpered under her.

“Weak spots for turians are, among others, the spurs and the fringe. In addition to being extremely painful,” a cry from the turian underlined her words, “touching a turian’s external cartilage such as the spurs or fringe is something of a cultural taboo. This move is not allowed, but no one could have known that, not having read the charts I gave you not 5 minutes ago.”

She released the turian and scowled at the group. There was a complete hush, before a human recruit on the back row burst out: “Yeah, that’ll show the birds!”

The turians turned their heads and stared intently at her to see what she’d do. Without a word she shooed the beige turian from the pit with a hand motion, and then pointed at the human to get his ass down from the bleachers.

He sidled down, more confident than nervous, and took position opposite her.

“Show me!” she snarled.

He approached carefully, not wanting to make the same mistake as her previous opponent. He threw a few testing jabs, before swinging his right in a wide haymaker. She bent backward while falling to her knees, and as he was regaining his balance she swung her body forward and headbutted him in the groin. There was a collective groan from the male human students, and a stunned silence from the group.

She got up and dusted off her knees, while her opponent sagged down with a small line of dribble escaping from his mouth. His eyes were shut from pain.

“Human males have external genitals as opposed to turians. Hitting, kicking or headbutts in this area is extremely painful, and can cause the recipient to faint, become sterile or have a ruptured scrotum. It is not allowed.”

There was a collective wince from the males of both species.

She turned to the beige-plated turian.

“You will help your fellow student here down to the medics. Take two charts with you.”

The turian nodded quietly and walked over to assist the kneeling human. She gave him a curt smile before turning back to the bleachers.

“We can either go through every illegal move here on the pit, with me demonstrating every illegality on some volunteers, or we can go through the charts to avoid unnecessary damage. Any preference?”

There was a rustling as the students searched around for the charts they’d thrown around earlier.

“Also, turians will need to use fight gloves to avoid injuring their human counterparts. Humans will avoid grabbing at a turian’s face, as the mandibles can easily be yanked off.”

A turian with striking green eyes in the front row fixed his eyes on her. He had white colony markings and an indeterminate muddy plate color, like a mix of light grey and brown, and she saw a flash of recognition she didn’t like. She saw him lean into the turian sitting next to him and heard the almost imperceptible wisper: “Saren Arterius.”

“You, green eyes in the front row!”

He jerked back and gawked at her with wide eyes.

“I’m Decian Chellick, sir.”

“Were you informing your friend here about the finer points of human anatomy?”

“No, Shepard.”

“Then I suggest start reading, as I will be asking questions during demonstrations next lesson.”

“Yes, Shepard.”

She gave him a scrutinizing look. Something about his tone reminded her of Dmitri, but surely no turian could be like her best friend.

“Good. Get your chart.”

She glanced around the pit and saw that some of the other groups were staring at them instead of doing their own work, and the other trainers gave her the evil eye. She shrugged. That was their problem, she had her own. Corinthus would undoubtedly summon her to explain two injured students before training even begun, but at least she got their attention.


 

“So, using biotics on your students, sending two of them to the medics, breaking several cultural taboos, printing out semi-pornographical images of humans and turians, making your fellow trainers look bad.. Did I miss anything?” Captain Corinthus sounded almost amused, but his gaze was withering.

“They were silhouettes, not porn,” she muttered.

“Speak up, Shepard!”

“No, sir, that sounds pretty accurate,” she said aloud.

He studied her face intently before he spoke again.

“Do you know how many complaints I got from your team about your teaching style today?”

She grimaced.

“I would imagine quite a few.”

Corinthus flared his mandibles in a smile.

“None! In fact, I got several petitions from both turians and humans to join your group.”

“What?”

“I know. Strict and unfair, and still they want to join your team. It would seem that your eagerness to manhandle students of either species has given you some admirers.”

“That’s, uh, strange.” She was uncertain what else to say.

“Not so strange, Shepard. I know you’ve read up on turian anatomy for your lessons,” he chuckled, “but what else do you know about turian teenagers?”

“Very little,” she confessed.

“They are very competitive, way beyond human adolescents. Sparring is both a way of gaining position, and releasing tension that comes with being, ahem, hormonal.”

She raised an eyebrow at him.

“Thank you for informing me that I have to train horny turians, sir.”

He gave a small chuffing laugh.

“I think you’re more than a match for most of them. My point is, they will do anything to impress you now that they know you can best a turian easily. They admire strength and fairness, and you being equally unfair to both humans and turians seems to be very, ah, appealing to them. Take care not to exploit this.”

He waited while letting his words sink in.

Shepard gaped at him as she finally understood his meaning.

“You’re telling me not to… take sexual advantage of my turian students?!”

“It’s highly unlikely, I grant you, but stranger things has happened. Like commander Vyrnnus’ freezing shower cabinet?”

Shepard’s face went blank.

“Wouldn’t know anything about that, sir.”

“I’m sure you don’t, Shepard. Just be careful this year. The barefaced bastard is gunning for you. And that friend of yours.”

Shepard gave him a suspicious look.

“You’re telling me this, even though you’re both turians?”

Corinthus sighed.

“Do you know why you are here, Shepard? You, specifically?”

“Cooperation and training, and-..”

“No. You are here because your mother is who she is. It was not her choice, she argued vociferously against it. Your presence here is part of a prestige project between the humans and my people, for peace. Vyrnnus is here for credits. If our people didn’t have a truce, he’d be a mercenary for whomever paid best. He’s unpredictable and dangerous, and he’s in charge of you.”

Shepard thought about Corinthus words for a moment.

“I think I understand sir. I’ll.. tone things down for now.”

“Thank you, Shepard. And Shepard. One more thing. You are the symbol for the human’s willingness to cooperate. The Hierarchy will also..”

His voice trailed off, and he observed her closely.

“No. Best to wait. You just have to know that I don’t always agree with orders from above.”

She didn’t understand where he was going with the last part of their conversation, just nodded and left.


 

When she closed the door behind her, Corinthus relaxed back in his chair and scraped his talons absentmindedly against the table. Shepard was showing some promise in dealing with turians, as her handling of Celsus when he knocked her over area proved. His son was one of the turians that requested a change of groups after that bizarre morning lecture. It was a good start, but one year wasn’t that long. If the rumors was correct, Galenus Vakarian was expected to make the same sacrifice as Hannah Shepard. If Shepard the younger was as volatile as her elder, those two would make for a rather tense meeting. Corinthus pulled out a datapad and reread the inquiry from the primarch’s office. Risk assessment regarding G.Vakarian’s participation in the Jump Zero-project.’ He then studied a second datapad with a vid of this morning’s lesson. After mulling it over for 20 minutes he reached a conclusion. Activating the first datapad, he wrote in a reply: Risk to G. Vakarian – substantial. He pushed the pads away, feeling that he made the right decision. Progress or not, it was a needless risk.


 

 

2173 CE – September 24th - Gagarin Station – Biotic training field 03:21 AM

“Faster, faster, faster! Come on, Shepard, what do you think this is? A human retirement home? Move it!”

Shepard cursed under her breath as she slid down the muddy slope while holding the 40 kilo dumbbell afloat over her head. Ahead of her Dmitri was already climbing the next hill, and she levitated the dumbbell up after him. He reached the top and activated his lift to relieve her. Behind her she heard a shout and something rolling downhill toward her. Shepard gave the dumbbell an extra push before she was knocked down like a bowling pin.

“Really, Shepard? Rolling in the mud like an earth porcine,” came Vyrnnus' jeering voice.

“He means pig, Shepard!” came Dmitri’s cheerful one from the hill.

“I do not need a translator, Basanov, Shepard knows what she is.”

Vyrnnus sounded annoyed, and Shepard tried to hide a grin as she wiped away mud from her face. Leave it to Dmitri to take the fun out of taunting your students.

“Get your ass moving up that hill, or your whole class will be doing extra laps before weapons training.”

“Yessir!”

She hauled herself out of the mud pit and scrambled towards Dmitri.

 

 

2173 CE – September 24th - Gagarin Station – Locker-rooms 09:00 AM

“Gods. And here I thought he couldn’t possibly get more assholish.”

Shepard leaned up against the cold blue locker with closed eyes to ease her headache. Dmitri sat with his back to his own locker and rested the back of his head against the metal like her.

“I have no problem believing he could get even worse.”

His face flinched with pain, and he placed his thumbs on his temples and started rubbing them gently.

“You think this will get better when we get our implants?”

He glanced up at her, before hurriedly looking away.

“Maybe,” he said. “Maybe it get worse.”

Shepard opened one eye and peered at him.

“You are getting the implant, right?”

“Maybe.”

“That’s three maybes in two sentences.”

“Let’s change the subject, yes? No more biotic talk today.”

He sounded serious, and that was unusual enough to make Shepard back down.

“Okay then. New topic?”

“All the lustful turians in your class.”

“Aaah, hell no, as Kaidan would say. Not up for debate.”

“Come on, indulge your friend. If you had to choose...”

“No, no, no, no, no, no. No way!”

“Which of the flightless birds would you let land in your bunk-bed?” He leered playfully at her.

“Why do I tell you anything at all? I actually think I prefer Vyrnnus to you right now.”

“Do you think they nest?”

“Dmitri!”

“What?” He sounded so innocent, if not for the wide smug grin plastered on his face.

Shepard groaned and hid her face in her palms. He’d been relentless ever since she told him about her conversation with Corinthus, and while she usually found it funny, it was decidedly less so with her brain attempting to escape through her ears.

“It’s not so far-fetched. You have pictures of naked turians everywhere in your room. Your private room, now that you are coach. Very sneaky.”

“They are black and white external anatomy charts, moron. I’ve never even seen a turian’s cock in my life. You’ve probably seen more than me, since you share showers with them.”

“Maybe.” He grinned. “Want details?”

She glared at him.

“Sure, why not. Tell me all about those wonderful turian cocks you sneak-peak at all the time.”

There was a commotion at the door, and they both spun around to see a delegation of turians being led by Chellick stare at them with mandibles clicking in embarrassment. Dmitri burst out laughing while Shepard let her forehead bang softly into the metal locker again. The turians continued clicking and looking anywhere but straight at them, except Chellick. He recovered admirably, and his bright green eyes were fixed on her in a silent challenge. A chuckle escaped her at the absurdity of the situation. That seemed to relax the rest of the turian recruits.

“Anything I can help you guys with?” she asked.

They pushed Chellick forward, and he stood straight with his head high.

“We want to know if you’ll be in the sand pit today. Firex is over, we need to prepare for secex.”

Dmitri shook his head lightly and got up from his seat.

“That is nearly three weeks away.”

“Exactly. We need to get moving now. Get in the basics, before-..” He cut himself off.

“Before?” Dmitri asked.

“Look, we know that second-years biotics get their implants in November. We’ll be without a trainer while Shepard is in recovery.”

“Don’t be stupid, you will get substitute.”

“A substitute is not Shepard.” Chellick took a step closer.

“I know who you are, Chellick. Careful.”

To Shepard’s ears, Dmitri sounded a little confrontational. She remembered captain Corinthus’ words about competitiveness in turians, and decided to step in.

“Relax Dmitri. Boys, I’ll come down after our fire drills, around 15:00 hours. Be warmed up when I get there so we can make the most of the afternoon.”

“Sure, Shepard.”

Chellick gave Dmitri a triumphant glance, and nodded at her before he and the rest of the turians strode out. Dmitri gave her a triumphant look of his own.

“I think I know your favorite bird now.”

He pulled three fingers down his chin, mimicking Chellick’s white colony markings.

Shepard flashed him a condescending smile, before slamming his own locker door in his ass with a loud smack.

“Ow! No wonder they like you. Only fight fight fight, all day.”

“Yeah yeah, now move it. I’ll show you how to use a real gun instead of that little pistol you insist on using for everything.”

“Always with the size. Women..”

They shoved each other as they exited locker room and headed for the shooting range.

 

 

2173 CE – October 25th - Gagarin Station – Gun Range Armory 17:10 PM

 

“I don’t know why I need to be here,” Dmitri complained.

“Because I asked for you, buddy,” Shepard said, smirking.

“It’s your turn to clean the rifles, why must I help? I had date with Irina, and you ruined it.”

“I got to pick a reward for my group winning the most in secex, and I choose you.”

“Why? That is evil. We are friends. Or so I thought,” he grumbled.

“Oh, I just enjoy your company. And, I know that you told my training group that I think turian colony markings are sexy.”

Dmitri coughed guiltily, and tried to stifle a laugh.

“That is..technically true, yes, but surely they didn’t believe that. It was just for fun.”

“I know. And so is this,” Shepard grinned. “If you try to hook me up with turians, I’m gonna cockblock you.”

Dmitri groaned. “Come on, Shepard. You’re no fun anymore after becoming a coach.”

“Responsibilities, Dmitri. If I do this well, I could be fast-tracked into a Navy branch of my choosing after BAat.”

“Still thinking about joining the military after this? You like getting ordered around?”

She tossed an oily rag at his head. “Perhaps I like ordering others around.”

Dmitri scooted away from her line of fire. “coughTurianscough.”

“Hmm, perhaps I’ll tell Irina about Angela.” Shepard mused into the air.

“No! I have real cough, see?” He hacked and spluttered in a dramatic way for several minutes, but she was unimpressed.

“Right. Well, since you’re not getting laid tonight anyway, how about a game of skyllian five in my room?”

He straightened up and put away the guns he’d finished cleaning.

“Sure. You are bad friend, I will not feel sorry for taking your vendor tokens.”

She waggled her eyebrows at him.

“As if.”

 

 

2173 CE – October 25th - Gagarin Station – Outside Shepard’s room - 17:43 PM

“Will you open door, Shepard? I look like stalker here,” came Dmitri’s annoyed voice.

“Sorry, here’s the keycard, go on in. I need to hit the head.”

She tossed him the card and went into the bathroom. He swiped the lock and entered her room. She heard a muffled bark of laughter, but thought little of it until she was back in front of her door. It locked automatically, and she knocked on the door to get Dmitri to let her in. Hurried steps could be heard inside, and the door whooshed open. She stepped inside.

“All right, get out the ca-…” Shepard stopped dead in her tracks and stared at her room.

Inside her private room, from the floor to the ceiling the place was lined with images of naked turians in various states of arousal or performing sex acts. The pictures seemed to be torn from a glossy magazine, and they covered nearly every surface of the room, including the furniture and inside her locker and the ceiling above her bed. Shepard turned around slowly, staring slack-jawed around the room, partly disgusted and a small disturbing part completely fascinated. Dmitri grinned at her with the world’s biggest smirk.

“Well well, Shepard,” he said, imitating Vyrnnus’ voice, “interesting decorating style for a wretched human.”

Shepard endeavored to find her voice, but merely managed to blurt out “I, ..ah,...I don’t, ...I haven’t...” then went silent.

There was another knock at the door, a beep from the door lock, and captain Corinthus walked in.

“Shepard, I wanted to congratulate you-..” he said before catching sight of the full horror of the room. His mandibles went slack and eyes widened, before he reclaimed his faculties and snapped his mandibles close to his face.

Shepard finally found her voice.

“Sir, this is not what it seems.”

“Unless it seems like Shepard is admiring the turian form in all it’s naked glory, sir,” came Dmitri’s helpful voice behind her.

She swung her elbow back and caught him in the stomach.

“Oomph.”

“Shut it,” she whispered through gritted teeth.

“I think I can grasp what’s happened here,” Corinthus said with a strangely strained voice.

“Mail into the station is closely monitored, and as far as I know, you don’t subscribe to Fornax.”

“Fornax?”

“My point exactly. My question is, how are you going to handle this, Shepard?”

“What?”

He sighed. “How are you going to handle this prank, Shepard. I don’t want you to murder any of your students.”

“Prank,” she said, realization dawning, and it dawned fast. “Chellick! That little twit!”

Corinthus and Dmitri looked at her, awaiting the inevitable explosion. Instead, Shepard scanned through the images covering the room again, and burst out laughing. Both her friend and the turian captain stepped back, uncertainty in their faces.

“That little creep! He was definitely the instigator, but I’m sure they were all in on it. Ooh, I’m gonna give him hell tomorrow!”

She smiled maniacally, and Corinthus and Dmitri eyed each other carefully. It would probably have been better if she was angry, and Corinthus decided to sit in on tomorrow’s lesson, lest Chellick somehow disappeared without a trace.

 

Chapter Text

2173 CE – October 26th – Gagarin Station – Training Field 15:46 PM

Shepard plunked down the crate on the short side of the field beside the others and wiped the sweat from her brow. Some 20 meters behind her Dmitri tottered along with one crate under each arm, complaining loudly. She ignored this, and started to loosen the lids off their plunderage.

“You know, If Vyrnnus was aboard the station, you would never dare this,” he gasped as he dropped off the last crates.

“And if I didn’t suspect that you had at least one finger in the vandalism done to my room, I wouldn’t make you carry these up here,” she replied dryly.

“Paranoia, that is your problem.”

She turned around and raised an eyebrow. He shrugged, feigning innocence, and she narrowed her eyes and bored them into him. He shrunk a little, but persisted commendably.

“It’s the turians, they are all bad. No sense of humor at all.”

“Really? I thought it was pretty funny.” She returned his innocent expression.

Dmitri wasn’t fooled. “They are evil, you can see it in their scales.”

“Mhm.” Shepard flipped off the last lids.

He looked inside, and made a face. Hundreds of baseballs, tennis balls, softballs and other assorted circular objects littered the crates. It was commander Vyrnnus private store for training biotics, and they had raided all of it.

“Are you sure about this? It looks amazing, yes, but it will hurt like hell.”

“It’s my thing. You can crack concrete blocks, I can make the pieces fly.”

“You just want to show off in front of your fans,” he jeered at her.

“That too.” She winked back.

Dmitri feigned surprise. “What? Never have believed you wanted to joke around with the birds, Shepard.”

She straightened up and reflected on his words for a while, before coming to a unpredicted conclusion.

“Let’s not say that word anymore, okay. These boys are not that bad. For turians, I mean,” she said hurriedly.

“Who are you? Where is my mean friend?” Dmitri poked her in the shoulder.

“Yeah, yeah, I know. Shocking. Let’s just get ready. Nobody plasters my room with porn and gets away with it.”

 


 

Captain Corinthus flicked his eyes from the students practicing throws and leg swipes to his datapad, detailing station inventory. The lesson had been relatively uneventful so far, and that made it possible for him to get some of the more boring aspects of his position as an instructor done as well. He was beginning to think Shepard had risen above petty revenge, when a shrill whistle sounded over the pitch. Shepard could be seen lining the students up on the opposite side of the field. Corinthus saw several open crates displayed on the short side where he sat, and frowned his brow plates. Whatever she’d planned, he was glad he wasn’t on the field right now.

 


 

“Well, I must say I’m impressed, rookies. We’re the leading group in hand to hand, you’re all making steady progress. So far, so good.”

There was a line of flaring mandibles and proud grins.

“Sadly, it has come to my attention that some of you have way too much free time on your hands. And since idle hands do the devil’s work, there’s no wonder some rather sinful stuff appears where it’s not wanted.”

Several chuffs and snorts was heard along the lined up students, and Shepard distinctly saw many eyes darting to Chellick before looking straight ahead. Not all of them turians, she noted. Interspeices cooperation, or simply collusion? No matter, they would all suffer the consequences.

“So, I’ll have to implement a much harder regime. So far you’ve fought one on one against each other. Now, you’ll all fight me.”

Both the turian and the human students now exchanged worried looks. They knew her well enough to sense a trap. She smiled a reassuring smile that did nothing to ease their minds.

“Not to worry, boys. The first one will be easy. I’ll just stand over there,” she pointed to the other side of the field, “and you guys try to tackle me to the ground. I won’t use my biotics on any of you in this exercise.”

She emphasized the word you very little, but her main culprit caught it. The other students relaxed a bit, but Chellick’s green eyes had already observed the arranged crates and he remained as tense as ever.

“Just knock me down, and you’ve won. If you flee the field or fall down, you’re out. Show me what you’re made of.”

She started backing away with a big inviting smile on her face, and the students glanced at each other, anticipatory smirks spreading, readying for the charge across the field.

 


 

Corinthus observed with apprehension. Shepard couldn’t possibly fight off the entire group of her own without biotics, but the amount of power needed to subdue this crowd could possibly kill her. This could bring both the Alliance and the Hierarchy down on him, and he deliberated on whether or not to stop this experiment, when Dmitri Basanov suddenly appeared at his elbow.

“Captain! Come to see the show?”

“Basanov. Do you know what she’s going to do?”

“Ah, probably liquefy her brain and make Vyrnnus very happy.”

“That’s not-.. what?” Corinthus stared at him.

“It was joke! Shepard is great at manipulating objects.”

“It would take quite a few objects to stop those students. She trained them herself.”

“Yes, hundreds, but Shepard is trained by Vyrnnus. He is not very fond of Shepard, and makes her do twice as much as the other biotics.”

Dmitri turned to the field with a look of pure delight on his face.

“We will either see a spectacular sight, or a horrific death.” He pondered this for a second.

“Maybe more than one deaths.”

Corinthus wore a blank expression as he caught up with the information. “Hundreds?”

He turned around and opened his mouth to call it off, when the field around Shepard started to flash with a biotic glow, and the students charged her from the other side.

 


 

Shepard felt the biotic field around her expand as she spun the vortex around herself. It felt like time slowed down as the swirl helped the uplift of the balls in the crates, and they started to spin around her like debris in a tornado. The first of the students hesitated shortly before throwing themselves into the biotic whirlpool. Shepard realigned her focus and caught the students in a roiling eddy, smacking them repeatedly with dozens of balls. Cries and yelps erupted from the first wave, and they broke formation and dived for the baselines, escaping the storm. The second wave of students halted their advance up the field, and she refocused on them. Already she felt the strain of holding that many balls in the air at the same time, and the dizziness warned that she had to keep this as short as possible.

As she shifted her eyes from one to the other, the students were already ducking and weaving the occasional stray projectile that escaped her vortex. She felt lightheaded, and decided to push for an early victory. Her hands extended, and a barrage of flying balls shot over the field, making her students squeal and scatter to the sides. Every time one was hit, there was a loud ‘whack’ that made even her flinch, and a pained outburst. It reminded her of the occasional old-style game of paintball she used to play on Arcturus, and recalled vividly getting hit by the small paint-bullets. This was going to show for days. She grinned at the thought.

It took less than 10 minutes for her to clear the field, and to her great schadenfreude the last man standing was Chellick, dashing around the field like a madman to many cheers from his defeated co-conspirators in the sidelines. Shepard followed the scurrying turian with a hail of balls, hitting him in the back whenever he zigzagged too slow. Despite having reduced the number of opponents on the field to one it was still exhausting. Shepard felt a small trickle of nosebleed and knew she was playing it close. She dropped all but one soaring tennis ball, and fell to her knees, coughing and clutching her chest. Chellick stopped immediately, and even though he was gasping for breath, he gave her a look that reminded Shepard of genuine concern. It made her hesitate, and he took one step toward her. It was a spontaneous reaction from him, countered by one from her; the tennis ball smacked him right in the crest, and he staggered before toppling over.

Laughter erupted from the sidelines, and spread applause for both Shepard and the last turian standing sounded around the field. She saw both Corinthus and Dmitri clapping, and decided to go for the coup de grace. She hauled herself to her feet, flared her bio-field to life again and made a run for the downed turian. A couple of meters away from him she somersaulted herself in the air with her biotic lift and used slam to propel herself downward against the prone position of Chellick. Corinthus, Dmitri and the other students shouted from the sides, but to no avail. Shepard slammed down with both feet on either side of Chellick’s face, and the turians wild eyes stared fearfully at her. Shepard’s face broke into a tired grin, and her eyes met Chellick’s. He took several deep breaths, before giving a huffed chortle.

“You’re crazy Shepard, you know that?”

“I’m just krogan-trained.” She stepped away from him and reached out a hand. He flared his mandibles and let himself get pulled to his feet by her, before having to support her when she started to sway. Chellick leaned down and whispered in her ear as he held her; “Your eyes, Shepard. They are filled with blood.”

She made a small groan. That last trick had been stupid. Using biotics on oneself should only be used sparsely, and she’d done it for fun. Now the blood vessels in her eyes were most likely ruptured, which meant she would look like a damn vampire for weeks. She heard footsteps approaching, and saw captain Corinthus drawing near with a thunderous look on his face. She quickly turned to the group.

“There were 223 balls in those crates, I expect all of them found and returned to their rightful place. Dmitri Basanov, that guy over there will help you.”

She had no more time as Corinthus had arrived and grabbed her by the shoulder, dragging her away from Chellick and off the field.

“Every single one,” she yelled as they disappeared through the exit, and the green eyed turian looked wistfully at the door where she’d left, before joining the others in clean-up duty.

 

2173 CE – October 26th – Gagarin Station – Locker Rooms 20:14 PM

Shepard thought she could almost hear the flanging angry voice of Corinthus down here in the locker room, but that was most likely due to the faint echo in her head of every little noise nearby. Her mouth was dry, and she opened the door to her own cabinet and pulled out three painkillers and a bottle of water. In the reflection of the mirror she could see the sclera of both eyes had turned blood red. The doctor had said the damage was only superficial, but reprimanded her and told her not to do it again. Placing the pills on her tongue to dissolve somewhat, she closed the door and unscrewed the cork, taking a sip. The captain had been furious, not only for the game of biotiball she played on her rookies, but for risking her own life in ‘ the most foolish display of insipid arrogance and human idiocy’ he’d ever seen. All in all, she figured she’d gotten off easy. Vyrnnus would have invented an inspired form of punishment as well, Corinthus merely called her an idiot. Today she knew it was deserved, and she put her forehead against the cold metal. Dmitri was right, she could be such a shameless showoff sometimes.

The feeling of her head against the locker was familiar, the strained sounds of someone grunting and wheezing was not. Shepard still felt a little dizzy and scraped her hand against the row of lockers as she went searching for the person making the noise. In the far corner of the turian’s designated area, she found Chellick. He was bare-chested with his back to her, trying to bend his arm behind his back to apply medi-gel to the dark blue areas under his sloping cowl. Perhaps it was the pain killers kicking in, but she felt genuinely sorry for causing those marks. It was only right she help out, right? He was bending and contorting his body in some disturbing ways, causing the plates and the hide between them to shift in a fascinating pattern. She’d never seen a half-naked turian before, if she discounted those pictures from the Fornax magazine, and it was a captivating view up close. It reminded her that she really needed to throw those pages away instead of hiding them under her civvies. Shepard couldn’t for the life of her think of a reason why she’d kept them. It must have been that the trash bin was full. That was probably it. It was definitely it. Chellick was too busy to notice her presence, and Shepard realized that she was ogling his plates instead of helping. She cleared her throat, and he spun around.

“Shepard! I, ah.. can’t seem to reach. We’re a bit less malleable than humans, so..” He noticed he was babbling, and closed his mouth plates.

“Need a hand, Chellick?” Shepard felt like she was floating on a small cloud of selflessness.

“Nnngh, huh?” He looked thoroughly confused.

“With the medigel? I caused that, so it’s the least I can do. If you want me to, that is.”

He studied her face intently, trying to find if this was some sort of joke, but he found no trace of trickery in her demeanor, and decided to risk it.

“Uh, sure,” he said, handing over the medigel.

“All right, hold still. If it hurts, let me know and I’ll stop.”

She slathered the gel on her hands and started to gently stroke the

gelatinous fluid on his back plates and in the seams between them. Chellick let out a relieved sigh.

“That feels cool. I really appreciate this, Shepard.” His flanging voice was warm.

“No problem.” Shepard squeezed out more gel and applied it to his lower back.

“Let me see if I can really work it in there.”

“It’s really not as bad as-... wooheey!”

Chellick started squirming under her hands.

“Will you stand still, silly turian. You’ll get gel on both of us.”

“But, but that’s my waist!” He almost wailed.

“Yes, and it’s several shades of royal blue. Unless I get some gel on that, you’re in for a world of hurt. Now please stand still.”

Chellick forced himself to remain still, but he kept jerking and wriggling under her careful ministrations. Shepard gently kneaded the suede hide with light blue abrasions, and went on to stroke her thumbs tenderly over the darkest areas. Apparently Chellick had been hit more times than she intended. For a long while she absentmindedly kept stroking and kneading Chellick’s lower back and waist, when a sound coming from the turian caused her to snap out of it. It sounded like he was giving off a low hum, and his entire body felt like it was vibrating under her fingertips.

“Are you all right? Am I hurting you?” She got no reply, just a continuous low rumble, and Shepard was worried the damage to his plates was deeper then perceivable to the naked eye. She stopped stroking him. That seemed to wake him from his trance.

“Huh? No, I’m fine. I, uh..” His voice gave off some odd trills and a sound she could have sworn sounded like a growl. When he saw her giving him a strange look, he composed himself.

“I’m good, Shepard. Thank you for your, ah, help.”

“Anytime, buddy.”

To her own surprise, she meant it. She wondered how strong those pills were, to make her this friendly with a turian. He handed her a towel and she wiped her hands clean of gel.

As she turned to leave, Chellick was shifting his weight from one foot to the other. She’d seen that before among his fellow turians when they were getting ready for an unpleasant encounter. If she was lucky, she’d get out before-..

“Wait!”

Too late.

“Shepard, I need to ask you something.”

She still maintained some of that floating feeling of benevolence, and turned to him with a smile.

“Yes?”

“Would you ever, uh.. Have you ever thought of a turian, ah..” He shook his head, and steeled his resolve.

“Would you let me court you?”

Chellick’s words came fast, as if he expected her to make fun of him.

“No.” Her reply was soft.

“Why?” he asked in a low voice.

His green eyes met her bloodshot ones, and she knew all the reasons that would be a tremendous mistake. He was an alien, her mother would have a stroke, it was fraternizing with a possible enemy, he was spiky, she was soft, he had no lips, for crying out loud. All of these things and more ran through her mind, and she decided it was best to be honest and blunt.

“Captain Corinthus has forbidden it.”

Chellick and Shepard stared at each other, both equally stunned at her words. Shepard could think of no other reason for that stupid excuse than a severe case of head trauma from this afternoon. That turian doctor had probably only ever read a small pamphlet on human anatomy, because she was clearly concussed. Add to that those pain killers, and in five seconds she might be smooching Chellick like he was the last male in the galaxy if this went on.

“Is that true?” He sounded guarded, but hopeful.

Shepard told herself she should also tell him that she’d never consider dating one of the aliens that killed her father, but the words stuck in her throat. That was not Chellick’s fault. He was fun, and a good sport, and things were a lot easier when she disliked all turians just the same, her brain added.

“Yes. Because I’m a trainer, I can’t get involved with students in my group.” Lying by telling the truth, she thought. That was new for her. Chellick however, accepted her words readily and waggled his mandibles with a happy chuff.

“That’s a relief. I was worried it was because I’m a turian.”

For some reason she felt like crap. That was precisely the reason, and now she couldn’t tell him.

“I mean, we were enemies, but we’re here to build a new future, right? I’m sure many people would disapprove, but I’m glad you’re not one of them.”

For every word he spoke, she saw the hole she’d dug for herself get bigger, and there was no getting out. If only he wasn’t so damn nice .

“And it won’t be a problem next year, when I’m no longer your student.”

Shepard knew a lost cause when she saw it. Chellick was okay, and she could at least banter a little with him.

“Next year you’ll probably be plates deep in a turian first-year you’ve impressed with my fighting moves, Chellick. Don’t expect me to hold my breath.”

“Plates deep, huh? So you really did study those pictures. That’s.. very interesting, good to know.”

There was a sound of clanking metal as the lockers started to vibrate, and Chellick took a step back.

“All right, all right, just kidding.”

That little display took what little remained of her strength, and she leaned heavily against the door frame. Her body would remember this day for weeks, and Vyrnnus would be back soon.

“I need to get some rest, buddy. See you later.”

“Sure, Shepard. Sweet dreams, as you humans say it.”

As she walked out, she wondered about that remark. She wasn’t familiar enough with turian expressions to spot if his flared mandibles was more than a smile, and right now too tired to really care. It was likewise too late to take out the trash, she thought, and the reasoning behind that stray deduction made her blush. Happily there was no one there to see it.

 

2173 CE – November 20th – Gagarin Station – Captain Corinthus’ office 18:09 PM

The images hung on the walls outside Corinthus’ office had always fascinated Shepard, and while she was waiting for the captain to call for her, she wandered along the waiting room studying them. They depicted mostly scenes of war, turians fighting or dying, locked in a deadly embrace with enemies of all speices, but in the background of most of these paintings there was one or several ghostly  figures. In one memorable picture there was a turian cruiser locked in a dogfight with another vessel, but above the cruiser was a figure of an even larger turian ship, almost hidden in the dark backdrop of the galaxy. Shepard didn’t hear the captain coming out of his office, and he observed as she was lost in contemplation.

“You like turian art, Shepard?”

Pulling herself away from the image, she turned to face him.

“It’s very interesting, sir. Almost all of them seem to have a hidden figure somewhere in the frame.”

“Do you know why?”

“Something to do with religion, sir?”

“Something like that. It’s a depiction of the spirits belonging to that unit, or that place. I admit my interest lay mainly with military images, but that’s not all there is to our paintings or art. Will you step inside please?”

When they were inside he indicated for her to sit down, and he seated himself behind his desk.

“You have yet to have your operation, Shepard. Any particular reason?”

“No, sir. I just wanted to delay it until after thirex, so my guys were better prepared. I’m scheduled for the surgery on the 23rd, if there’s no delay.”

“Hmm, yes. About that, congratulations on your group coming first again. Sorry to pull away from the celebrations, but this is important.”

Corinthus tapped his talons on the desk, and the slight scraping noise gave Shepard a small tick in the corner of her eye. The blood from the burst vessels in her eyes was almost gone, but there was still a small red hue covering the whites of her eyes. Both Dmitri and Chellick had commented on her now looking like a krogan, and from the look of Corinthus, that had occurred to him too. When he just kept tapping and said nothing, she began to get nervous. When he finally broke the silence, he was very serious.

“Shepard, I need to tell you something. You need to hear me out, and not run out the door before you’ve heard it all. Are we clear?”

She nodded and braced herself for the worst.

“While training in the obstacle course this morning, Dmitri Basanov had an accident. He’s fine,” he added when he saw her jump out of her chair, “but he’s been unconscious for several hours. He woke up about two hour ago.”

“Why wasn’t I told? He’s on my team?”

“He’s on your biotics team, Shepard. That’s commander Vyrnnus’ sphere of influence. Not mine.”

She glowered at him.

“This is Vyrnnus’ doing, isn’t it? He did it!”

Corinthus was faster than her and blocked the door, preventing her from storming out.

“No. Basanov lost his grip and fell from the monkey bars. There was no biotic exercise involved.”

Shepard refused to believe the captain, and tried to pry herself past him. Corinthus merely leaned against the door, and her escape was shut.

“Listen, Shepard. You will gain nothing from yelling at Vyrnnus, besides landing yourself in trouble. He wants you to make a scene, so he can make an example of you.”

Corinthus and Shepard glared at each other, him feeling unnerved by her red stare and her feeling unease at the slow blinks he made with his deep seated eyes. To his surprise, she took a step back first.

“I want to see my friend,” Shepard said with a cracked voice.

“I’ll take you down there. But you will not make me regret this, understand?”

She agreed in a monotone murmur, and he stepped away from the door, offering her to exit first. Corinthus led the way to the hospital ward, with Shepard trailing silently behind.

 

2173 CE – November 20th – Gagarin Station – Hospital wing 20:17 PM

The beeping monitor was getting on her nerves, but the dim lights was soothing. Dmitri was lying in a secluded area, and she figured it was because he was a biotic. The cast on his leg already carried several signatures, and she noted some of them were turian. She shook her head imperceptibly. She’d been the last to know about Dmitri’s accident, and she placed this fact squarely on Vyrnnus’ shoulders.

“Hey Shepard, did you sneak me some food?” came Dmitri’s weak voice from the bed.

“For being this clumsy you don’t deserve any food.”

He gave a small laugh, then winced when it caused him to move his leg.

“Cruel again. I’m sick, you must take care of me.”

“Right. Who’s gonna take care of me, when I become your bedmate in two days?”

“Bedmate? Oh, the implant. I remember now.” Dmitri gave her a sad smile.

“Shepard, I need to tell you something.”

“Oh gods. You and Corinthus just have an endless supply of bad news. All right, lay it on me.”

Dmitri looked down at his hands.

“I’m not getting the implant. I’m not even staying on this station after my leg heals.”

His hand fidgeted with the controller to the bed, and started raising it up so he could sit up and speak to her.

“You’re leaving? Because of a broken leg? Come on, Dmitri, that’s no more than a small bump in the road. Hey, I can break my leg and we can have a crutch race every weekend.”

Her mind refused to consider his words seriously. There was no way her best friend would abandon her alone here on the station.

“Please.”

The low plea made her shut up.

“I have been allowed to talk to my parents today. My mother was crying the entire time. She never wanted me to come here. My father wants me to join his company.”

“What do you want?” she asked quietly.

“I’m 16, I want to get laid.”

They both chortled, then sunk back into melancholy.

“Mother is very sick, Shepard. Something in the ship that landed beside our village. I became biotic, father became rich selling parts of wreck, and mother, she just got bad end of the stick.”

He stared into the ceiling.

“She worries too much. I worry for her.”

Shepard closed her eyes to prevent tears from starting to fall, but it failed.

“Then you must go home, Dmitri. Spend time with her.” She struggled to keep her tone even.

“Shepard...”

“I just.. fuck you, Dmitri. Fuck Vyrnnus, fuck this station, fuck everything.”

His bed sheets were clutched in her fists, and she made no attempt to hide her tears. He was infuriatingly calm, and he placed one of his large hands on top of hers.

“I know..”

She started wiping the tears away.

“Everyone wants to fuck me. That’s why I fall off monkey bars. No strength left in arms.”

Against her will, she started to grin through the tears.

“Are you seriously making fun of the fact that you’re ditching me alone here?”

“If it works..” He rubbed her hand.

“I really hate you right now, you know that?”

“Yes, I know that too. I don’t hate you. Dislike you, maybe.”

When she didn’t reply, they both sat quiet and listened to the beeping noise of the machinery for a while.

“I will stay until after your operation,” he finally said.

Her fingers interlaced with his, and gave him a soft squeeze.

“Thanks.”

Between good friends there was nothing more to say.

 

 

Chapter Text

2173 CE – December 04th – Gagarin Station – Hospital Isolation wing 15:16 PM

Dmitri stood in shadow and waited for the visitor. After limping after the surgeon for near an hour he’d finally gotten the man to give him an update on Shepard’s status, which was sadly unchanged. The consensus among the medical staff was to keep her in a medically induced coma due to her reaction to the implant until the inflammation was reduced further, and Dmitri knew there was a possibility, however small, that she would never wake again. His father had already pulled him out of classes, but Dmitri kept insisting he be allowed to stay at the hospital, citing his injury and any other malady he could invent to avoid being shipped out. It was when he was pretending to faint on the turian receptionist, and he’d been left alone while the poor turian ran for help he happened to glance on the visiting logs for Shepard. There were several names, some turian, some human, but only one name was written in every day she’d been in isolation, and he wanted to have a few words with that particular turian. After standing here for almost an hour, his leg was starting to ache, and he leaned back against the wall. The station felt different to him already, as if he didn’t belong here anymore, and the one thing that kept him here was now defenseless and soon to be alone. If that Chellick character was getting ideas unfitting his station, Dmitri would have to make a point about that soon. Twenty minutes later he heard footsteps approaching. He said nothing as Chellick walked slowly up to the door of room 23 and peered through the glass. The turian remained silent, but reached his hand up and rested three talons on the glass as if he was waving to the girl inside. For some reason, this annoyed Dmitri to no end. He pushed off the wall and limped towards Chellick.

“So. Back again, I see,” he said with a menacing tone.

Chellick’s head jerked to the side, and when he saw Dmitri, he let his talons slide off the glass window.

“What of it? I’m not doing anything wrong,” he said with small smile.

“Remains to be seen. Why are you here every day?” Dmitri demanded.

“Same reason as you, I guess,” Chellick said.

Dmitri took one step closer and knew he was invading the turian’s space. He didn’t care.

“Careful, turian. Don’t think you know me. Or what I will do to you should you do something I dislike.”

“I’m making another guess and saying that list is somewhat long, Basanov.”

They glared at each other.

“It is. And if anything on that list includes Shepard, it becomes problem I have to deal with.”

A small chuffing sound escaped Chellick, and he gave Dmitri a look of pure disdain.

“Good luck with that, since you’re leaving soon and all. I’ll look after Shepard for you.”

Dmitri stared at the forward turian, before he lost his temper and punched him in the mandible. To Dmitri’s surprise, Chellick rolled with the punch to negate most of the power behind it. The turian retaliated by grabbing at his arm, and they grappled for a few seconds before Chellick suddenly had both his arms locked behind his back.

“I’m going easy on you, cripple,” Chellick hissed in his ear.

It occurred to Dmitri that Shepard might have trained her recruits a little too well, and not sparred enough with him. Still, bad leg or no, he still had an ace up his sleeve.

“Aw, you should not have.”

Dmitri’s body glowed purple, and Chellick was thrown across the room, slamming into the waiting room couch. He jolted back up and charged at Dmitri as a turian doctor appeared in search of the source of the ruckus.

“STOP! IMMEDIATELY!”

They froze.

“This is a hospital with sick patients, not a sparring ring. Mr Basanov, if you’re well enough to brawl, you’re well enough to leave. Recruit Chellick, you’re a guest in this hospital, I know you know the visiting rules for the human isolation wing, I made you read them three times.

“Yes sir,” the two boys chorused.

Doctor Publius studied the two culprits, then shot a glance at the door they both were here to visit, then scratched his fringe as an afterthought.

“Look, I know this is difficult for you, but this is the only warning you’ll get. One more incident, and you’re both out permanently. Understand?”

“Yes sir!”

Doctor Publius left them standing there, one with cheeks burning and one with a deflated fringe. Chellick was the first to speak.

“Hey, sorry for calling you a cr-..”

“Shut it, turian,” Dmitri cut him off. “I have a few more things to make clear for you. Shepard is family to me, so if you do anything to hurt her, I will kill you.”

Chellick gave him a skeptical eye. “You’re not related, and how will you do that when you’re off the station?”

Dmitri gave a mirthless laugh. “You think I can leave important project because my father asked nicely? No, he paid important men to get me out of here. My family has credits. Enough credits to pay some former mercenaries to find and kill a named turian idiot, even inside Hierarchy space. You understand now? And Shepard is family by choice. No blood required.”

Chellick seemed to mull the last part over for a while.

“So it’s like bonding, but not for mates? I didn’t know humans did that.”

“What? No, it’s not some weird turian thing, we have become like family, and I protect my family.”

“Yes, kin-bonding or clan-bonding, like I said,” Chellick said patiently.

“It’s NOT like that, it’s.. fuck it. Just as long as you know what I will do to you if you cross line.”

“I...see. And where is that line?” Chellick asked carefully.

Dmitri’s leg gave a painful twinge, and he sank into a chair. Chellick twitched his mandibles for a few seconds, and he sat down opposite Dmitri, awaiting his reply.                                                                           
“My damn leg hurts. What did you say earlier?”

“Where is the line?” Chellick repeated.

“Are you serious?”

“As a broken leg.”

Dmitri gave Chellick a suspicious glance, a sneaking realization appearing in his head. All those jokes on Shepard’s expense on admiring turians, and now there was probably one sitting in front of him, almost asking for permission to.. what? Date Shepard? Sleep with Shepard? He shuddered at the thought. And if Shepard had any deviant ideas of her own regarding said turian, remote as that possibility was, she’d probably rip his arm off if he interfered. He decided to play it safe now, and play merry hell on her later when recounting this conversation.

“The line is a hurt Shepard, either physically or emotionally,” he said aloud. “If that happens, I will hurt you.”

Perhaps it was only his imagination, but Chellick’s fringe seemed to perk up.

“Oh. That’s okay then. I get it. Male human display of protectiveness for kin-bonded. Turians have similar concept for when a suitor is perceived to maybe be inapt for bonding or mating.”

Dmitri visibly cringed. “Mating?”

Chellick gave him several slow uncertain blinks. “Yes. I know turians and humans have been at war for a long time, but you must know that it’s possible to date outside your species? I have a cousin that used to date an asari, and a friend of mine’s uncle had a quarian girlfriend. Humans are unusual, yes, but it will change.”

“Not for long while,” Dmitri whispered under his breath.

“Well, you’re all right, Basanov,” Chellick said as he got to his feet and sauntered off, “you have an open mind for interspecies-relationships.”

Dmitri stared slack-jawed after him. When had he ever said that? Shepard would kill him if he gave Chellick implicit sanction to date her and she hated the turian’s guts.

He got back on his feet and walked slowly over to the door, looking in and the sleeping figure inside. Dmitri leaned his forehead to the cold glass.

“Please get better, Shepard. I need you to laugh with me again before I go.”

The only answer he got was the blinking of the machines within.

 

 

2173 CE – December 05th – Gagarin Station – Hospital Isolation wing 17:26 PM

The game of solitaire was going badly, and Dmitri decided to sort to a little shameless cheating. He flipped a few more cards, and deftly swapped them for a few of the turned down cards locked under a very stubborn queen of hearts. The new cards would unlock more of the down-turned cards, and he smiled to himself, when he suddenly became aware that a certain turian knave was looking over his shoulder.

“Is that allowed?” Chellick asked.

“Not really, but I don’t mind,” Dmitri said.

“Hmm.. I see.”

The turian walked over to the door and looked inside. He did the same thing with his talons as yesterday, but today Dmitri didn’t mind. For some reason, he felt sorry for the lovesick turian. Perhaps it was the fact that his hopes would be dashed when Shepard woke up, or that Dmitri himself had been in love with a girl he couldn’t have back on earth. Perhaps it was that the holidays would soon be upon them, and he always liked this one. His parents was devout followers of the old orthodox church, and while he himself was a bit more ambivalent on the subject of a god, he enjoyed the celebrations with his family to the fullest. Traditional food, songs and customs that belonged to his homeland, and a few traditions that had traversed country borders and space beyond. He glanced at the turian again. Maybe there was some yuletide fun to be had here too.

“Hey, Chellick,” he called out not to loud, “how about game of skyllian five?”

The turian turned around with a puzzled look on his face. “With me?”

Dmitri rolled his eyes. “I would prefer Shepard, but in pinch I will take her turian.”

“I’m not.. I haven’t..” Chellick stammered.

“Not at the rate you are going, no. Want some advice?” he said innocently.

The turian's eyes narrowed. “Yesterday you were going to hire someone to murder me. Today you want to help me? Forgive me for saying this, but that’s highly suspicious.”

“You’re forgiven. Now sit scaly ass down.”

Chellick slowly sat down, keeping his eyes on Dmitri the whole time.

“Now, it cannot have escaped your notice that human holiday is coming. There is not much done on station, but some posters are hanging around the place and two glowing figures are put in the mess hall. You have seen this, yes?”

“Yeees,” Chellick drawled uncertainly. “Don’t know what it’s about, really.”

“Neither do we humans,”Dmitri grinned. “For some, it’s celebration of birth of savior, for others winter solstice on earth, or rebirth of heathen god, depends on your faith. The only thing that is truly universal among humans is tradition of the mating stick.”

Chellick sat upright and stared at Dmitri with an almost hungry expression.

“Ah, yes, it is old tradition from human stone age. You see, when humans used only stone tools, the way of getting a mate was to sneak up behind them and whack them over the head with wooden club, then drag them back to cave. Both males and females did this, but now we are more civilized. We sneak up behind potential mate with small stick, smack them gently on the head with it to show that we have ‘captured’ them, and if they are not opposed to maybe share cave sometime in future, they bestow on the smacker a human gesture of affection. If they are not interested, they simply leave.”

Chellick listened with rapt attention, and Dmitri had to bite his tongue to not laugh.

“Do you have such a stick?” Chellick asked in an offhand manner.

“No, but I think I could procure one. If I knew the receiver had honest intentions...”

Their conversation was interrupted by a small medical team lead by a woman Dmitri had never seen before. She had pale bangs with silver streaks, standard alliance medical uniform, and carried herself like a woman who would stab you with the syringe if you gave her any trouble. They stopped outside Shepard’s room and exchanged a few hushed words. Dmitri tensed and rose from his chair, and Chellick followed suit. They made their way over to the door.

“Excuse me, who are you?” Dmitri asked brazenly from the woman.

She raised her eyebrow at his impertinent question, and her eyes flickered between him and the attending surgeon. The surgeon gave a slight sigh.

“Dr. Chakwas, this is Dmitri Basanov.”

Chellick made a small cough.

“And Decian Chellick. They’re friends of Shepard and keep pestering everyone that passes by.”

Chakwas swiftly turned her head and nailed the turian with a withering stare. He shrunk under her gaze at first, then pushed his chest out and met her eyes. Her upper lip curled for half a second, but Dmitri was unable to recognize the emotion behind it.

“How quaint. Two white knights guarding a maiden,” she said.

“Now you know us, who are you?” Dmitri persisted.

“I’m Karin Chakwas, doctor in the Alliance Navy, and I’m here as a favor for a friend. That’s all you need to know.”

Next it was Chellick that spoke: “Is Shepard so sick that her mother felt it necessary to call in the cavalry?”

“I never mentioned Shepard’s mother,” Chakwas said with a bemused expression.

“Didn’t need to,” he replied curtly.

Dmitri was glad Chellick had the wherewithal to ask questions, as he himself was now getting visibly worried.

Karin Chakwas watched the two boys intently, then finally said: “Things are taking a little longer than we would have wanted. I’m here to hurry things along a bit. Don’t worry, your friend is in good hands.”

She turned around to leave, then apparently remembered something and turned back.

“Is by any chance your father Yuri Basanov?”

“Yes. Do you know him?”

“No. Not at all, but I know someone that did,” she smiled at him and left with the team.

Decian? Really?” Dmitri said.

“Beats Dmitri in any case,” the turian replied with a mandible flare. “Do you think that new doctor will help?”

“If Shepard’s mother sent her, I doubt it will hurt,” Dmitri said, “probably knows all about family medical history.”

“Probably. Look, I need to get back to the barracks. Keep an eye on things for m-.. for Shepard.”

Dmitri pretended he hadn’t heard that little slip.

“No problem. See you tomorrow.”

 

 

2173 CE – December 06th – Gagarin Station – Hospital Isolation wing 18:10 PM

The figure in the bed was jerking intermittently as if in pain, and Dmitri awaited every spasm with trepidation. Chakwas and her team had been inside earlier in the day, and Shepard’s new doctor had decided to attempt to bring her gradually out of the coma to see if there had been any brain damage from the operation. The regular doctor had told Dmitri that Shepard’s movements and twinges were completely natural, and to be expected when muscles started to reactivate and the brain attempting to assert control again, but to him it looked painful. Another twinge caused Shepard to knock her elbow in the side rail of the bed, and he had to look away.

“What’s going on?” came Chellick’s concerned voice.

“Hey Decian. That Chakwas woman has decided to wake Shepard up.”

“She’s awake?” Chellick pushed Dmitri aside, ignoring the jibe at his name and stared through the window.

“Hey! No pushing the cripple. And no, she is not awake yet.”

“Why is she moving like that?”

“Because her body and her brain is not cooperating with one another,” Dmitri said, starting to hobble towards the waiting room. He sat down and pulled out his deck again, leaving Chellick to gaze through the window for a while. With nothing to do but wait, he started laying down a castle. The soft ‘flip’ sounds of the cards being placed down was familiar and soothing. Halfway done with the game, he saw the shadow of a turian fall over the table. Dmitri said nothing, merely continued to flip cards. After a while, Chellick cleared his throat. “So, is she going to be okay?”

Dmitri shrugged and placed another card. “They think there is good chance.”

“That’s good then. That she’ll get better.” The turian hesitated, fidgeting with his talons, then asked; “So, about that mating stick...”

Dmitri stifled a laugh, then beamed at the turian. “Not to worry, my fringed friend. I will help a fellow recruit out. When my father’s ship arrives, I will get you the goods.”

“Yeah? That’s fantastic! I will never forget this, Basanov,” Chellick said with a grateful grin.

“Always glad to be of service, Decian.”

Chellick was too happy to notice the all too polite demeanor from the human. Dmitri felt a fleeting happiness that he probably would be long gone when Chellick tried to solicit intimacy from Shepard by hitting her with a small piece of wood. When the turian was out of earshot, he broke into a very undignified fit of giggles.

 

 

2173 CE – December 07th – Gagarin Station – Hospital Isolation wing 14:10 PM

“That’s beginning to look good on you, Shepard,” Dmitri grinned at his friend.

She’d opened her eyes that morning, and they were as reddened and bloody as they were when she’d done the ball tornado. Chakwas had stopped him from rushing in with the medical team, and kept him outside all day. He’d not even been allowed to wait in the waiting room outside Shepard’s room, but was shoved ungracefully into the reception area. Furious at this, he spent the morning showing his naked backside to the turian receptionist, encouraging some female human recruits to ask the same receptionist about loosened plates and singing woeful Russian ballads outside the emergency entrance area.

Finally the receptionist gave in and called for dr. Chakwas. She arrived shortly after the buzzer sounded.

“Mr. Basanov. You’re quite the showman, I’m told. Stripping, singing and interesting conversation topics. Might we be looking at the new male escort of Gagarin Station?”

“No one can resist me, that is why you will let me see Shepard,” he said and gave a sarcastic bow.

She beamed at him. “Am I now? And if I say I will have you thrown out on your little behind for bothering the staff?”

“But you have not seen my willy helicopter yet. It’s said to be very.. hypnotic,” Dmitri replied dead serious.

At this Chakwas broke into a laugh. “Oh, you’re quite incorrigible, young man. All right, 10 minutes, that’s all! And no amount of swinging genitals will prolong that time limit, are we clear?”

“But of course,” he said politely.

 


And now he was at last face to face with Shepard. She looked tired and worn, but was glad to see him.

“Shove off, Dmitri, I look gorgeous, and you know it.” Her chuckle turned into a cough.

“I would never say otherwise, my krogan-faced beauty.”

Shepard started coughing even harder. When she got her breath back, she was grinning like an idiot.

“Charming, aren’t you?” she said.

“You know it. But I’m not the only one dying to see you, you know.”

“Really? Vyrnnus been by for a quick throttle?”

“Nope, you’re still alive, yes? But you got the species right.

“A turian? Chellick?” she asked with a weary smile.

“Aha! I knew you were carrying on with that turian hotcake. Pervert!”

“Say what? Whose brain were inflamed again? Chellick is nice, but I haven’t been tearing his clothes off or anything.”

“Lies, filthy lies. Why else would he be here every day, scratching at door to get in, like trained house cat?”

“Been dipping into the medicinal spirits, Dmitri?” She paused. “Every day?”

“And now she has converted to talking about spirits,” Dmitri railed on, “eew, imagine how kids would look. Soft pink scales, red eyes, short fringe and tiny tiny talons. Like deformed shrimp.”

“Shut up, nitwit, or I’ll fry your brain with my new power.” Shepard made several slow dramatic gestures aimed at Dmitri’s head. “Wooooh, I can’t do it, there’s nothing in there. That explains a lot.”

He shrugged at her. “Pathetic attempt to hide from truth. But Chellick is not the worst, I suppose, if you had to stray from human path.”

She met his gaze with a strange smile. “No, I guess he’s not.” Dmitri cocked his head with a quizzical look, and returned her smile. They sat there for a while, saying nothing, just enjoying the others company until dr. Chakwas appeared and ordered him out.

 

 

2173 CE – December 07th – Gagarin Station – Hospital Isolation wing 17:41 PM

“But Basanov got to see her!” Chellick growled at the receptionist.

“That was a special concession from her doctor. Her human doctor,” the receptionist emphasized. Chellick slammed both hands on the counter and his growl went so low his second voice box broke a few times, causing a crack in his attempted threat.

“Spirits.” The brown-plated turian decided he was not payed enough to listen to nutty teenagers all day and pressed for the doctor again. Chellick pushed off the counter and turned to face what he assumed was security. Instead he saw the pale haired doctor again approaching them with a small smile.

“Mr. Chellick, was it? Been flashing your knickers at poor Liscus here, have you?”

Liscus rolled his eyes and went back to his datapad.

“Flashing my knickers?” Chellick asked with a hint of uncertainty.

“Your friend Mr. Basanov has been pulling off his pants all midday, all but singing and dancing to get my attention. I’m somewhat disappointed you’re on such good behavior.”

Chellick’s neck flushed blue. Surely this woman wasn’t expecting him to behave in such a human fashion?

“Relax. Just funning with you. Let me guess, you want to see Shepard.” She gave him a long inscrutable look. “But are you sure she wants to see you? You must know her family history, not a lot of love for turians there.”

He looked away. “Shepard’s not like that.”

“I can see you believe that. Careful of putting people on a pedestal. You might be disappointed.”

“I’m glad I’m not as cynical as you people.” His voice was defiant.

“There really is no stopping puppy love, is there.”

“Puppy?”

“Never mind. I will give you 5 minutes, as it’s been a long day for her.”

“Sure! I’ll take it.”

She signaled him to follow.

 


Chellick walked quietly into the room where Shepard was resting. At first it seemed like she was sleeping, and he felt like an interloper, but decided to take a seat next to the bed. She heard the creak of the chair, and turned her head to the sound. When she caught sight of him, she gave him a drowsy smile.

“Hey you. Keeping out of trouble?”

He was happy she didn’t know what a foolish turian grin looked like. “Yeah, as much as you are. How are you feeling?”

“Like I’ve been hit by hundreds of small flying objects,” she joked.

“Ouch. Know the feeling of that. Want me to give you a rub?” he offered with mandibles flaring.

“Don’t make promises you won’t keep, buddy.”

“I would keep that one, if you would ever want to, ah, avail yourself of my talents.”

This made her laugh and cough again, and the smile vanished from his face. “Shepard, are you okay? Should I call the doctor?”

She got it under control while subconsciously patting his hand. “Don’t worry. Don’t want to get yourself thrown out that fast, do you?”

“No, I don’t want that,” he replied quietly, watching her hand on top of his.

Shepard followed his eyes. “Sorry, is this some sort of taboo again?” She moved her hand slightly, but he gently grabbed it and pushed it down again. “No, this is.. nice. Really nice.”

Their eyes met for a few seconds, and they both gave an embarrassed chuckle.

“Ah, how’s the training going, with me out of the loop?”

“Fine! It’s fine, uh, not as eventful, of course, but I think we’re doing.. fine.”

“That’s fine, then.”

They laughed again.

“I will need some time to recuperate, so you’re stuck with the substitute until then.”

“Spirits willing, that won’t be long. You will come and watch us, right? To make sure we’re not falling too far behind?” he said eagerly.

“If you want me to.”

“I want you to.”

His remark was followed by another silence, but this one seemed more comfortable than the last.

They were interrupted by three quick raps at the door, signaling the visit’s end. Chellick slowly got up and only reluctantly released her hand. Shepard gave him a small wave as he walked out.

 


Karin Chakwas watched as the turian cavalier left. This was one thing that would be left out of her report to Hannah Shepard, that was certain. If Jane wanted to befriend turians while she was here, that was none of Karin’s business, and hopefully there would not come any harm from it. She had to remind herself it wasn’t like before, they weren’t enemies anymore. She herself found dr. Publius to be both highly intelligent and polite to a fault, but she still felt a cold chill if he came upon her without warning. Hannah would never have let her guard down around these turians, and some of them did seem if not overtly hostile, then pointedly aloof. She suspected it had something to do with her uniform. It was a good idea of Conatix to make all the students and the staff were their brand of clothing. Her Alliance uniform stuck out like a sore thumb. Chakwas jotted down a few more notes, then prepared to break for evening meal. Hopefully there were no more troublesome teenagers eager to visit her patient.

 

 

2173 CE – December 10th – Gagarin Station – Docking area 09:10 AM

Dmitri’s father had been rather puzzled when his son asked him for the mistletoe replica on the ship. Yuri Basanov was even more baffled when Dmitri tied the sprig to the end of a wooden stick and wrapped the contraption in a piece of cloth, but he was completely stumped when this was handed over to an anxious turian that kept scanning the surroundings for something or someone. His son whispered something in the turian’s ear, and the alien clasped the stick to his chest as if it was some treasure he found, vanishing in the crowd. Dmitri wore an expression he knew only too well, the satisfied grin of a well fed cat, but he decided not to pry too deep.

“So, was that friend you keep talking about? A little less cute than I imagined,” he said to his feline son.

“That was Decian Chellick, and I have either given him road to salvation or perdition.”

“Will this cause problems later?” Basanov the elder asked his son.

“Yes.”

“For yourself?”

“Heh, not for long time, but yes.”

“I see. Will you be deserving of it?” Basanov raised an eyebrow at Dmitri.

“Oh yes,” the boy smiled.

“тогда ладно, it will be your problem.”

“Yes. Look, there she is!”

Yuri Basanov looked to where Dmitri was pointing, and saw a girl with short cropped hair and a pair of crutches hobbling towards them. She seemed unimposing at first sight, but as she got closer he saw the muscles in her arms that stood out from the strain of compensation for her limp. Basanov had a hunch he was not the first to make the mistake of prejudging the girl. After all, she was her mother’s daughter.

“There you are, you Russian layabout. I’m for all intents and purposes disabled and infirm, and still I have to come to you.”

Basanov the elder took a few steps back and listened with an amused expression on his face.

“I know I am irresistible to ladies.” Dmitri winked at Shepard. “So why are you here?”

“Oh, haha, if I didn’t know how easy it is to beat you, I would hit you myself. Heard a first-year got the drop on you, and you even had first strike.” She smirked at the thought.

“Your little disciple exaggerates, he only wants to woo you into his nest.”

“Sure. At least he’s prettier than you.”

“No one is prettier than me. But since you cannot have me, I don’t place blame for throwing yourself at anything that is near. Even turians.”

“Hah! As if you..-”

 


Yuri Basanov strolled over to the vending machine on the other side of the waiting lounge and bought something that resembled food while he waited. His son and the Shepard girl needed some time to swap insults as they would not see each other again for a long while. He heard Dmitri laugh out loud at something Shepard said, and couldn’t resist smiling himself. His son spent the last entire summer going Shepard this and Shepard that, making both him and his mother thinking he was in love with the girl, but he saw no evidence of that today. Only two troublemakers enjoying the others company. He hoped for their sake they’d stay in touch. He let them have the better part of half an hour, before he broke up the pair.

“Miss Shepard, nice to meet you at last,” he said as he walked up to them.

“Mr. Basanov, it’s a pleasure to meet you at last.”

“Indeed. Now I am sorry for interrupting my sons effort at forgetting all his manners in the company of women, but we must be off.”

“Are you a woman,” Dmitri whispered to Shepard and got a small punch in the arm for his efforts.

“Ow. Obviously not.”

“Come here, Dmitri,” she said emphatically, and pulled him into a big hug, holding on for a long while. Against his solid frame she felt rather small. “You won’t make me cry again, you big lug,” she said with a croaked voice. Dmitri cleared his throat twice before answering. “Never on purpose, Jane.”

 

Yuri Basanov saw the pair hug one more time before parting, and his son slowly got out of her embrace and started walking towards him in a quick pace. Dmitri said nothing as he passed, but Basanov spotted that his eyes were glazed as he passed and let him be. Shepard waved to them, and both Basanovs raised their hand one last time before heading into the air sluices.

 


Shepard turned around to leave, and almost bumped into commander Vyrnnus.

“Careful Shepard,” he said in an overly supercilious voice. “It’s hard to lose the one person you could count on in here, I understand, but you still need to watch out.”

She made no reply, and he seemed almost disappointed.

“Well, not to worry. I’m sure if you keep your head down and know your place, things will go better for you. Now run along, or, shuffle, rather. I do so look forward to having you back in class.”

He left her there, glowering in the middle of the lounge, with no immediate comeback and no Dmitri as backup.

 

 

Chapter Text

2173 CE – December 10th – Gagarin Station Mess Hall 19:04 PM

 Shepard was quiet as she carried her tray in one hand to the furthermost table and sat down far from the others. It was quite the balancing act on crutches, but she managed with moderate success, avoiding spilling on the floor. She maneuvered herself down on the bench and placed the crutches next to her. Usually she’d sit beside Dmitri and joke about the food or classes, but today the familiar back chatter of the hall felt foreign, and she idly played with the liquid that passed for sauce on her plate. When a few minutes had passed, there was a rustle near her and Chellick unceremoniously plopped down on the seat next to her with his tray. He pretended not to notice her, and started unpacking the small packets of dextro nutrients on the tray.

A few seconds later another turian dropped down in the spot opposite hers, and gave her a cheeky grin.

“Hey coach,” he said and started unwrapping his food. Shepard recognized the beige-plated turian she’d given a thorough wallop on her first day as trainer. His name was Emerus Victus, and he was one of the cockiest little devils she’d ever met. After their first dramatic encounter they’d gone along very well on the training yard, but this was the first time he’d ever talked to her outside their classes.

“Hello Shepard.” A third turian sat down beside her, and this was Arista Nerva, one of the few female turians in her group. Shepard had been on the business end of Arista’s short jab more times than she cared to admit, and the turian would become a formidable fighter with a little more training.

“Hey Shepard,” another batch of students chorused. This was composed by both turians and humans, Celsus Corinthus among them, and they all piled in on her table. She gave Chellick a look from the corner of her eye, but apart from a slight waggling from his mandibles, he made no reply, merely continued eating from his tray. Further down the table several hands, both turian and humans waved at her, and she halfheartedly waved back.

“Not eating, Shepard? Mind if I throw your food on Arista, we think she might be allergic.” Emerus’ voice rang out.

The female called Arista bristled at the comment. “Don’t even thing about it, Victus. You’re just mad I beat your sorry crest in training, again. Not my fault you leave yourself wide open on the left.”

“No, that’s Shepard’s fault,” Emerus said, giving Shepard a scathing look. “You’ve been gone for weeks, leaving us at the mercy of that wimp of a substitute. He doesn’t dare touch us turians, how are we to learn when we leave our flanks open.”

“Emerus,” Chellick warned. Shepard started to smile against her will, and realized she’d actually missed training these twerps.

“It’s okay, Chellick. I almost forgot what delicate things turians are.”

There was a chorus of chuffs and protests around the table, with the odd human voice laughing in support. “I’ll be back in no time, and woe betide the student that fucks up at firex. He or she will be forced to spar with Victus for the remainder of the year.”

“Oh, hardy har, our trainer had her brain swapped with that of a comedian,” Emerus grumbled, but with no malice behind his words. He looked slightly downcast, and Shepard wondered if he had intended to guilt-trip her, because she did feel culpable that she’d not been around to help him with his defense.

“Say what Victus, I’ll come by classes tomorrow and see what needs to be fixed, and I’ll give you a few pointers to start with, how’s that?”

Emerus looked surprised, but pleasantly so. “Really? That’d be great. It’s not like I don’t like getting pinned down by a female, but it would be nice to be on top once in a while.”

There was dispersed snickering at the table, and Shepard tried to hide a grin behind her hand. It fooled no one. The group was a little astounded that Shepard would take time out of her recuperation to come help them in training, particularly so soon after her friends departure, but they were glad of it. Some of them had gone to visit while she was in a coma, though none quite as often as Chellick. They missed her training style, but to discover she could be pleasant and accommodating after class was an unexpected bonus. She glanced at Chellick again. Something in his expression looked remarkably smug, even if it was difficult to tell with turians. She gave him a small discreet kick under the table, making him spill some of his water, but it did nothing to remove the smirk. Despite she never cared for being manipulated, this time she was grateful to Chellick for providing her distraction, and she gave up being pig headed. She gave his arm a quick pat and started to eat. The gesture almost caused Chellick to drop his mug in amazement, but Shepard didn’t notice.

If she didn’t, Emerus did. He fluttered his mandibles to Chellick, but kept his mouth shut. His friend gave him a deadly glare, daring him to ruin the moment for him, but Emerus wasn’t that unkind. Shepard was an unpredictable one, and Chellick was more than capable of ruining things on his own. Best not to piss her off now that she’d promised to help him with his open flank.

 

 

2173 CE – December 21st – Gagarin Station Sparring Ring 10:05 AM

“Come on Victus, strike-swipe, strike-swipe!” Shepard shouted, gesturing wildly from the sidelines now that she was free of the crutches.

Captain Corinthus sat several rows up in the bleachers, and he still heard her bellowing over the rest of the crowd. It was no wonder that Emerus Victus heard as well, Corinthus mused, and the young turian who’d been taking a beating in the ring up until now switched to alternating between short strikes and leg swipes, and it was his opponents turn to struggle.

“Finish him!” Shepard yelled, and Victus managed to catch his opponent unaware with a grapple hold and slammed him into the mat. Her team erupted in cheers, and the sight of humans and turians jumping up and down together in celebration made Corinthus shake his head. Crazy kids. Beside him commander Vyrnnus made a disapproving clicking sound.

“Barely good enough,” he scoffed.

“A win is a win, commander,” Corinthus said.

“No, it’s not. Sloppy is still sloppy.”

“Give it a rest, Shepard’s been out of it for weeks.”

“Oh, I know it’s not Shepard. Shepard is trained by me. It’s your people that can’t keep up.”

Corinthus turned to face Vyrnnus. “Are you questioning my ability to train fighters, commander ? Lofty title, for a common space pirate.”

“This space pirate has a trainee whom defeated your group of fighters with a few flying rubber balls. Yes, I know about that, even if you could not be bothered to inform me about the incident. What’s more, I don’t like it when you interfere with my training of Shepard. It was not your place to inform her about Basanov’s injury,” Vyrnnus snarled.

“She’s one of my trainers, that makes it my place,” Corinthus growled back. Luckily then din of the crowd veiled most of their argument.

“Not after this year. Then the prestige project of the Alliance and the Hierarchy reverts back to me.”

“Why is that human so important to you?”

Vyrnnus gave a barking laugh. “Not important at all. But Conatix has changed my contract after that Basanov boy left. The more powerful I can get them, the more credits I get. The more that survive and join their army, the more credits I get. And Shepard, well.. she comes with a large bonus.”

He leaned close to Corinthus while his subvocals thrummed threatening; “If you lose me those credits, captain, you’ll regret it. I still have people out there.”

“Threats will not avail you with me, mercenary! You should be in a cabal where you belong!” Corinthus thrummed back.

Around them other turians had sensed their use of hostile subvocals and were starting to glance at them with worried looks.

They broke off sat back in their seats.

“Why do you care about the humans, Corinthus? What’s in it for you?” Vyrnnus sneered in a low voice.

“Peace, and the future, Vyrnnus.”

“I’m surprised you didn’t mention those precious damned spirits of yours as well.”

The remark made Corinthus gasp, and Vyrnnus smirked.

 

 

2173 CE – December 24th – Gagarin Station Shepard’s room 20:06 PM

There was no Christmas things in Shepard’s room, but even so she was still feeling a little holiday cheer. It made her tidy up and clean her room a little extra, leaving the door a little ajar to get a little fresh air in from the air vents in the corridor. Earlier today she’d been allowed to call her mother, and even though the signal had been bad, it’d been great to talk to her again. She couldn’t really complain to anyone at the station about missing Dmitri and feeling alone, but it helped to talk to her mother. Hannah had promised to send a message to Dmitri, wishing him a merry Christmas and telling him that he was definitely under no circumstances missed at all. Shepard knew he wold understand the very personal message just fine, and maybe send one back in return. After 15 minutes the room was spick and span, and with no other chores pending she decided to practice her card shuffling skills. She made a point of never cheating when she played with Dmitri, but it never hurt to keep up that particular art. She recalled uncle David teaching her the sleight of hand to do card tricks when she was 12, and when he saw she had the dexterity for it, he also taught her to cheat at poker. He made her promise she’d never tell her mother, and she had only ever used her talent to win treats off Wreav and Wrex, against her mother’s instructions regarding sweets. The nostalgic memories made her play with the deck of cards absentmindedly, and she never heard Chellick sneak into her room with his stick at the ready.

 

Thwack!’

 

Something slapped her in the back of the head, and Shepard jumped to her feet while 52 cards flew all over the room. Once on her feet she spun around and grabbed the assailant by the throat and slammed him into the wall.

“Chellick!? What the hell?!” she roared in his face.

With her hands around his throat and one hand clasping the stick, he couldn’t fend her off effectively, and only managed to croak a few noises in his defense. After breathing heavily for a few seconds, she let the turian go and crossed her arms.

“Explanation, NOW!”

With his free hand, Chellick rubbed his neck while gasping for air. “Humans. Stone age. Caves. Civilization.” His words made no sense to her, and she raised an eyebrow at him. He sank down to the floor, looking completely deflated. “Human tradition of the holiday. Mating stick. Dmitri said..” he cut himself off, and looked down. On closer inspection she saw that a small plastic mistletoe was tied to the end of the stick, and upon hearing Dmitri’s name alarm bells went off in her head. If he had a hand in this, then Chellick might be the real victim here.

She walked over to kneel beside him, and gently took the stick from him. “Hey you. Come with me now.” He refused to budge from the floor. “Please, Chellick,” she said and looped her fingers around his talons. Slowly he rose back up, and let himself be led to sit down on the bed. The two chairs in the room was rather rickety, and this was more cozy. It was Christmas after all.

“Will you tell me what Dmitri told you?” she asked with a comforting smile. He remained silent.

“I’m not above saying please again,” she joked and gave him a small nudge with her shoulder. This finally made him give a nervous chuckle, and he painstakingly recanted Dmitri’s tale of the mating stick-tradition. Shepard did her best not to smile. This was typical Dmitri, but Chellick was turian and perhaps not used to be made fun of in this way. He seemed very upset, and Shepard felt a swell of sympathy for the turian.

“You know, Dmitri’s story contains a grain of truth.”

“Yeah? Which part? The part where the female clubs the male over the head?” he asked sadly.

“No, not that part. But the mistletoe is a part of human christmas tradition.” She liberated the plastic sprig from the stick, and on spur of the moment held it over them.

“What does that mean?” Chellick said, ogling her with big green eyes.

“It means, I should give you a kiss. If you want.” Shepard felt like she was all of a sudden skating on thin ice now, but was unable to stop.

“Kiss?”

“A token of human affection, if you will.”

“You will? I mean, yes, please.” He seemed perplexed, but not about to let this opportunity slip from his talons. Shepard wondered what the hell she was doing, but decided if she’d said A, she might as well say B.

“Okay, now just sit still. It won’t hurt.” She raised one hand and cupped one mandible, turning his head towards her, then tenderly placed her lips on his mouth plates. He moved slightly in surprise, but sat still and left everything to her. When she pulled back he followed her movement, prolonging the intimacy for a few seconds. When their heads parted, his eyes shone like green stars.
“That was.. nice.”

“Heh, yes, it was.” Shepard was shocked that she had enjoyed it. Even worse was the fact that she wanted to try it again.

“Still, it seems a bit weird. You just press your mouths together? That’s it?” Chellick scooted a little closer. Shepard’s mouth suddenly felt very dry, and she swallowed.

“Well, no. That was the light version. Humans often open their mouths and play with their partners tongue.”

“Really? That sounds.. strange.” He sounded a little creeped out.

“Perhaps it is. You’re kind of tasting your partner, getting a feel for how he likes to play. Some researchers say when humans kiss the female subconsciously picks up if their partner’s pheromones are likable.”

“We should try that then,” he said with fervor.

“You didn’t sound convinced earlier,” she replied smiling.

“Oh, I’m convinced. Show me.”

He was sitting very close now, looking directly into her eyes. She decided to just let this stream carry them wherever it was headed. She sat up and got close to him again, almost close enough to kiss.

“Open your mouth just a little, Decian.”

When she said his first name, he shuddered, but did as she asked. She pushed her lips against his plates again, snaking the tip of her tongue out and gave him a small lick.

Chellick gave another little jerk, then slipped his own tongue out to meet hers. Meeting it with her own, she gave it a few soft playful twirls before she sucked it into her own mouth. He seemed a little taken aback, but responded by clasping his hands around her hips and pulling her towards him. Shepard had a vague feeling this was not a good idea, but slipped into his lap nonetheless. Chellick responded by giving a low hum she remembered from that day in the locker room. When she reached up and started stroking his cowl, she felt a small vibration coming from his chest. It felt soothing, and he was learning tongue play at a breakneck pace. She had to break from their kiss to gasp when he inadvertently rubbed against her breasts, and he used this distraction to nuzzle the line of her neck. Shepard started to feel a little too aroused for her own good, there was something nagging in the back of her head, but when Chellick was gently lapping at her neck it was difficult to think clearly. Something about turians? Gods, now he was breathing heavily in her ear. Something about Emerus? Why was she thinking about several turians now? This was not… ‘Arista!’ The image of the female turian flashed in her mind, and she remembered what it was.

“Stop! Chellick, wait!”

He pulled away immediately, looking startled.

“What? Did I do it wrong?”

“No, you did...just fine. I just remembered something. Did you take the allergy test?”

He blinked slowly. “Hmm? What test? The levo-sensitivity one?”

“The very one. Well?”

“I can’t dheally dheemembeh. I donht thinhk tho.”

Shepard gawked at Chellick as his speech became more slurred. If he was having a reaction this quick, he might actually die of shock. “Hey, we need to get you to the medical wing, now.” She slid off his lap and tried to pull him up. Instead he slumped back and started twitching.

“No no no, come on, don’t do this to me.” She climbed up beside him to make sure he didn’t suffocate while she ran for help. As she started to shove him into a more safe position, he grabbed her and flipped himself on top of her. There as a mischievous glint of green above her. “That’s for the mating stick, cruel human.”

“Chellick? You.. you bastard!” she cried out and started smacking him with the pillow. “I actually believed.. Next time you can just curl up into a ball and die, you know that?!”

He shrugged. “As long it was in your bed, I don’t mind.”

“And the stick thing wasn’t my idea,” she said, calming down a bit. “Gods, you gave me such a fright. Are you sure you’re not allergic?”

“I’m fine. Took the test before I came her. My mom is a bit paranoid, thinking some human would bleed all over me. Somehow I never think she pictured this.” He grinned.

Shepard exhaled deeply. “That was so not funny.”

“I disagree.”

Shepard rubbed her face in her hands, and he rolled off to lie beside her.

“You know, you’ve practically seduced me now.”

His comment caused her to splutter and laugh out loud.

“Come on, one kiss does not a seduced turian make.”

“No matter how you stack your words, it’s true. First you dominate me out on the field, that is something of a turn-on for turians. Then you almost have your way with me in the locker room, rubbing and stroking my waist until I’m basically purring for you,” he said, letting his voice drop low and giving another hum.

“Your waist? That’s a turian thing?” she asked with a skeptical look.

“Oh yes. It’s very much a thing. Highly sensitive erogenous area. Imagine my surprise when you ordered me to stand still so you could rub on me.”

“Oh NO!” Shepard closed her eyes and let her head fall into the mattress. “Oh no no no. I am so sorry, Chellick, I didn’t know.”

He snorted. “Obviously. And today you sit on my lap and taste me. What’s a simple turian to think?”

She responded with a long drawn-out groan. “Corinthus is going to kill me.”

Chellick laughed quietly. “I remember you saying that. Don’t worry, I respect your duty. I will wait, now that I know you can’t wait to get those sinister five-fingered hands on me. Pervert.”

“Hah!” The familiar accusation made her fix her eyes on him. “Did Dmitri tell you to say that?”

“No, and I will never trust the words of that guy ever again.”

She chuckled, and he joined in.

“I know. I can’t believed I asked mom to tell him I missed him. Won’t happen again.”

Chellick twitched his mandibles, and he looked like he was nervous again.

“I want to ask you something, Shepard.”

“Go ahead,” she said with closed eyes.

“I really liked it when you said my first name. Can you do that again? Only when we’re alone, I mean.”

Shepard opened her eyes and smiled at him.

“I can do that, Decian. And since I’ve ‘seduced’ you already, you can say Jane when we’re alone.”

“Jane,” he said almost in awe. “I like it.”

“Don’t think kissing the coach will make me go easy on you on the field.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it.”

“And if you brag about this to your friends I’ll have your spurs for hair pins.”

“Agreed.”

“You seem very complacent about this, Decian?”

“I’m a good turian, I know how to follow orders.”

“I see captain Corinthus’ point now,” she murmured. “So if you’re the good kind, who’s the bad kind?”

“The likes of Vyrnnus. Doubt you’ll ever kiss him.”

She smiled at him. “Never happen. But I once believed that about this situation too.”

“What? A turian in your bed? Bound to happen.”

“This was not fate, this was an ill conceived belief that humans initiate mating by hitting each other on the head.”

“Well, it worked,” he said and scooted even closer.

Shepard sensed that she was standing on a precipice of a personal reformation. If she pulled away from him, it would most likely end right here, whatever this was. If she accepted his closeness and affections, she would break scores of unspoken taboos, and perhaps her mother’s heart. He laid entirely still and awaited her choice. Her mind raced with different arguments. He was turian, lying in her bed, it was Christmas, they were both fully clothed, not doing anything really inappropriate, he was turian, this was cozy, he was really nice, he was still a damn turian.

If he was not turian, would she say no? Would she even think about it? After a short soul search, she knew the answer was no. And her mother wasn’t here. And Chellick felt like there was warmth coming off him, and it was a little cold in here.. And, and, and.. Fuck it, she thought and rolled into his embrace. He huffed happily into her hair and spooned her, giving her some of his heat.

“You can stay until lights-out, and if anybody asks, we were playing skyllian five,” she mumbled. “Merry Christmas, Decian.”

“Merry Christmas, Jane? Was that right?”

“Perfect.”

 

 

2174 CE – January 15th Palaven The Vakarian Family Home 16:47 PM

Vistilla Vakarian rubbed her crest as her husband continued to swear against his primarch. Galenus rarely lost his temper in such a manner, but the latest message from Fedorian’s office sent him into a rage. She opened the message on her own omni-tool and read it again:

 

From: Council of the Primarch

To: Vakarian, Galenus; Vakarian, Vistilla

Subject: Congratulations

 

We are pleased to inform you that your son Garrus Vakarian has been accepted into the exchange program at Gagarin Station. To promote peace and cooperation between the Hierarchy and the Alliance, the primarch has decreed that citizens of high tier will be requested to commit family members of suitable age to this program, as the Alliance is doing the same. We hope for your favorable reply within three days.

 

The signature on the message was the primarch’s secretary, but Vistilla trusted her husband enough to believe his ranting assurances that this was from Fedorian personally. As Executor of the Citadel Galenus was insulated from many of the primarch’s whims and vagaries, but Garrus’ continued boyhood feud with Timeus Fedorian had kept him in the Fedorian clan’s bad graces for some time. His father had hoped to contain the boy’s rebellious spirit on the shooting range, and had succeed to a limited degree. He no longer got into fights, but he opened his mouth a little too often for either of his parents liking. Garrus always saw things in black and white, and no matter how much scolding they did he continued to noisily oppose that which he believed was wrong. His mother loved his kind heart, but feared his headstrong disposition, which was so much like his father.

 

“Galenus, life-mate, please calm down,” she said without any conviction that it would happen.

“Calm down?! Calm down, she says,” he barked, “knowing that we must send our boy to that dreadful place!”

“Must? They only request that we-..”

“It’s as good as an order, Vistilla. How would it look if the Executor of the Citadel refused to support the Hierarchy’s peace efforts? And not to mention, if the Vakarian clan refused, when the horrid Shepard woman has sent her girl there.” Galenus continued to pace the room. “Do you know what the humans call me? The executioner of the Citadel. They will not have forgotten the relay incident, and now I’m to send my son to a human station? Is Fedorian mad? Our investigations are complicated by aggressive patrolling from both sides, and slavers and smugglers take advantage of the situation to slip past us, the diplomats refuse to back down, neither wanting to look weak in front of the other and in the middle of this, my son has become a pawn in the primarch's power play. I've a good mind to rip his gizzard out.”

He was out of breath, and Vistilla decided to jump in.

“Enough, Galenus!” she said sharply. “There are plenty of turians on that station, including captain Corinthus. His son is also attending boot camp there, and he would never allow that unless it was safe.”

Galenus said nothing, merely gripped the back of a chair until it creaked.

“Garrus is ready to aquire his second tier, and it is a great honor to be singled out for this project.”

“And yet it’s conspicuously free of Fedorians,” Galenus growled.

“Stop it. We need to make the best of this. Garrus is very curious about humans, and it will be very exciting for him to go.”

“If they don’t kill him for being his father’s son. And you don’t know all the facts yet.”

“Then tell me those facts.”

“The Shepard girl is still there. Human biotics attend for three years, until they turn 18 and can join the Alliance.”

“I have read the information sheet attached in the message. The regular recruits and the biotics do not train together. They will probably never meet.”

Galenus shook his head. “We said that years ago at the summit. Now the universe conspires against us. I have an itch in my fringe about this. Things will turn bad fast.”

He started to throw glances at the decanter, and Vistilla got up to distract him. She embraced him and held her forehead to his, humming her love for only Galenus to hear.

“Have faith that the spirits will guide our son and us through this. It may turn out better than you think. The younger Shepard has, unbeknownst to herself and Garrus inspired him to defend the weak, or land himself in trouble, if you will call it that. Perhaps it was meant to be if they meet again.”

He embraced her and held her closer.

“You have a good heart, Vistilla, but we must disagree on this. I wish this would never come to pass, as I fear nothing good will come of it.”

“So Garrus will go to Gagarin?”

“He will. He must.” Galenus sighed. “I hope you are right, but my fringe tells me otherwise.”

“Your fringe talks to much. Let me handle it,” she smiled and reached up to groom him.

He leaned into her familiar touch, letting her soothe his restless body.

“All will be well. I’m sure of it, she said. He merely hummed in response.

 

 

2174 CE – January 21st – Gagarin Station Common Barracks 18:24

“To the best damn recruits on this entire station!” Emerus bellowed.

A cheer went up from the room.

“And to the hard-ass coach that made it all possible!” Celsus chimed in.

Another cheer, and Shepard felt her cheeks redden, but it was oddly satisfying. Her group came first again, and fivex was the last trial before the deciding exam. The turians were exuberant, being well prepared and ready for the field exam was at the forefront of their minds. If they did well, they would get to pick a specialization of their choosing for their military service, if not, one would be picked for them by the attending instructors. If they failed to perform and flunked the exam, they would have to start again, having wasted 6 months to achieve their citizenship tier. Not to mention the stain on the clan name. This was a life defining moment for them, and right now, her turians felt like they could battle a titan. The humans in their group were also happy, mainly because this would look very nice on their record when and if they chose to enlist with the Alliance later on. She looked over the mottled ensemble of turians and humans and wondered when they had transformed into her people.

They weren’t Dmitri, and Chellick was whatever the hell he was, but somehow she felt like she owned them. At least for one more month. After February, they would no longer need her as a trainer, they’d go on to specialize for their military service. Shepard’s mood was a little brooding. She’d thrown herself into her role as trainer to keep busy, and now it was nearing it’s end. When the exam was over, she’d have very little to look forward to during Vyrnnus’ classes. The old turian’s behavior had changed after Christmas. The commander was as condescending and vile as ever, but he made no attempt to get her thrown off the station, as she first believed he would. In fact, he was now looking at the students with something that resembled avarice, and she saw no reason behind his change. It was upsetting.

 

Beside her Chellick appeared with a small juice box which he handed to her, and he received her grateful smile with fluttering mandibles. It was a seemingly harmless gesture, as he was carrying several levo-boxes in his arms when he came into the barracks and passed them out to the other human students, but he saved her for last, allowing him to sit down beside her to open his own.

“Sneaky turian,” she whispered out of the corner of her mouth.

“Nice turian,” he whispered back as he sunk into the couch, making himself comfortable.

Emerus was done publicly crowing over winning, and headed straight for them. Shepard rolled her eyes when he arrived, as she had a good idea of what he wanted to say.

“So, what do you think of your favorite turian today?” Emerus grinned.

“Arista seems in fine form, thank you for asking.” she said casually.

“Aaaaww,” the two boys chorused. Chellick flared his mandibles, but Emerus was like a varren with a bone, not letting go. “I’m talking about this mornings warm-up,” Emerus protested. “The great Shepard got downed by a superior opponent.”

“He got you there, Shepard,” Chellick said.

The two of them awaited a scorching reply, but she was feeling oddly mellow right now.

“All righ, Victus. This morning you had the best moves.” She took a sip from the juice box.

The two turians glanced disbelievingly at each other.

“Are you feeling all right?” Chellick asked.

“I didn’t drop you too hard on your head, did I,” Emerus followed up.

“Don’t push it, guys. I’m feeling generous today. And you did remarkably well this morning. No opening on your left, and a swift counterattack to my jabs. I didn’t expect it, and so I deserved the loss. Well done.”

Emerus swelled with pride at her words. “Arista will regret calling me a fledgling, I’m going to challenge her tomorrow.”

“Why not now, she’s right over there,” Chellick pointed to the female turian standing in a small crowd.

“Why not indeed,” Emerus said and marched over. Several of the other students sensed a spectacle, and followed suit, leaving Shepard and Chellick alone in the couch.

“There’ll be blood on the floor if he pisses her off,” Shepard frowned.

“Nah, she likes him. You probably can’t smell the pheromones coming off those two, but they’ve been playing this game a while now.”

“You can smell pheromones?” she said eyeing him carefully.

“When the attraction becomes, ah, notable, yes. Speaking of which...”

“Careful now,” she warned.

He lowered his voice; “Second year is very far away.”

She quelled a smile. “And?”

“I wouldn’t mind a little more practice in human customs.” His voice became a purr.

“And respecting my duty, no problem waiting, so on and so forth?”

“Ahem, yes, I meant that, I just didn’t know it would be this difficult. So I’ve come up with a solution.”

Against her will, Shepard chuckled. “Let me hear it then.”

“If I do so well in my field exam that you simply cannot resit giving me another ‘token’, then I think I will manage until next year.”

“That’s-..”

“And,” he cut in, “you’ll not be our coach after the exam.” He looked at her as if this was good news, but she felt her heart drop. “No, I guess I’m not.”

“Hey, I only meant that impediment is gone, not that we want to be rid of you. Far from it.”

Shepard gave his thigh a quick and discreet rub. “I know. I’m just going to miss this.”

“Me or the team?” he asked only half jokingly.

“The team. I suspect you won’t run away yet.”

“No, I won’t. Shepard, I-..”

 

Suddenly there was a loud noise from something slamming into the side of the barracks, and they all jolted up and ran outside. An indentation on the wall was visible, and a dumbbell laid on the ground under it. The wall was sprayed with the numbers 314, but the malefactors was gone.

“Humans,” Arista growled.

“Who else,” Celsus said glumly.

The human members of the group who’d been inside now looked uncomfortable, and the turian’s moved a little ways away from them.

“That didn’t take long,” Chellick said in her ear.

“All right, show’s over,” Shepard said over the murmuring crowd. “I’ll report this to the captain, go back inside. Chellick, will you come with me?”

“No problem.” He picked up the dumbbell and they set out for the officer’s alley.

“Does this happen often?” she said quietly.

“Not that often, but it happens.”

“I must’ve been blind then,” Shepard said with a disapproving frown.

“You don’t see a lot of it because you’re in an all human biotics class, and no one wants to get on your bad side in hand to hand training. We all remember your first lesson.” He shuddered. “It’s still painful to think about.”

“Good. If I ever catch the idiots that did this, I’ll do worse by them.”

Chellick cast her a sideways glance and flared his mandibles. “I absolutely cannot wait until next year. I’m going to win me that kiss next month.”

She shook her head. “You have a one-track mind, young turian.”

“I’m a sexually repressed young turian.”

“Whoa whoa, when did you get so direct,” she said, watching him with surprise.

He grabbed her hand and stopped their trek, leaning down; “When I smelled you the day you sat on my lap, Jane.”

Stepping back just as quickly, Chellick continued walking like nothing happened.

Shepard groaned. That damned sense of smell. There was no point in protesting, and she picked up her pace to catch up with him.

Inside the captain’s office Shepard explained the evenings occurrences while Corinthus seemed to contemplate the presence of the dumbbell placed on his desk. When she finished speaking, Corinthus turned to Chellick.

“Do you also believe it was humans?”

For some reason Chellick all of a sudden appeared nervous. As he jabbered his way through his answer, Corinthus fixed on him with wide eyes, then peeked over at Shepard. When he stopped talking, Corinthus sat down at his desk.

“Shepard, thank you for coming to me with this. Dismissed.”

They started to leave, but the captain called out once more, “Not you, Chellick. Remain.”

Shepard looked puzzled as she closed the door behind her.

“Sit down, recruit,” Corinthus said and the younger turian shuffled his feet to the chair.

“I think you know what I need to ask you,” he said carefully.

“I do, sir.” Chellick looked down.

“You have an interest in Shepard, and judging from your haywire subvocals, it’s quite deep.”

“Yes, sir.”

“You also smell of pheromones. Lucky for you, so does every other turian in this station.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Does she know?”

“Yes, sir.”

Corinthus sighed. “How?”

“I, uh, hit her over the head with a mating stick.” Chellick said while his neck flushed blue.

When he saw the captain’s mandibles hang limp from his jaws, he hurriedly explained the joke Dmitri pulled on them, leaving out the aftermath of that Christmas eve. When he was done, Corinthus was stunned.

“And you’re still alive after hitting her over the head with that thing? Are we sure that’s Shepard and not some clone?”

Chellick chuffed. “I doubt it. She slammed me against the wall and yelled in my face.”

“Well, that’s a relief,” Corinthus mumbled. “I understand that for a young turian the prospect of a dangerous, able female of another species is alluring, but have you considered the implications of your choice of possible mate?”

Chellick remained silent.

“This latest incident should tell you something of the controversial nature of relations between humans and turians. If this became known..” Corinthus closed his eyes in horror.

“We’ve done nothing wrong,” Chellick protested. “She told me you don’t approve of trainers getting involved with first-years, that’s why-..”

“Has Shepard encouraged your infatuation?” Corinthus cut him off.

“I… not really, I’ve been doing the encouraging, sir,” he answered, not wanting to tell the whole truth and get her in trouble, but not lying outright and defy his turian upbringing. Corinthus appeared to understand the predicament and did not pursue that line of questioning.

“Have you considered the ramifications for your and Shepard’s future careers?”

“Is not the fulfillment of one’s duty more important than who’s mate one is?”

“Don’t pretend you don’t realize the danger of dating a human, even here on this station. Tonight was just for a group mainly consisting of turian group winning fivex, imagine if you two were found out.”

Chellick met his gaze.

“Do you forbid it, sir?” he said defiantly.

Corinthus rubbed his crest with one hand, mulling it over.

“I should. I really should,” he said, sinking back into his chair. “But I believe in a better future for our people, and the humans. Perhaps it starts here. However, I will insist that you defer this relationship until you’re done with first year. I plan on keeping Shepard on as part time trainer till the end of the semester.”

Chellick’s fringe perked up. “Yes, sir.”

“And you will be discreet. That is paramount.”

“Yes, sir.”

Corinthus went silent and started drumming his talons on the desk. He felt decidedly uncomfortable, but he had to ask; “Do you, erm.. know about.. human anatomy?”

“Sir?”

“Don’t look so dense, recruit. Human female anatomy. I happen to know that ‘someone’ subscribes to Fornax, but that might not be… sufficient.”

To Chellick’s unadulterated glee, Corinthus’ subvocals rung with embarrassment. “What do you mean, sir?” he said and struggled to keep his own subvocals under control.

“Humans are, erm, soft and squishy, not plated like our females. There might be some, uh, chafing…oh spirits..”

His voice faded out, and Chellick could almost swear seeing the captain’s neck flush blue like his own had earlier.

When Corinthus found his voice again, he appeared to be defeated. “Just… check the extranet on the summer break. Now please leave,” he grumbled.

Chellick jumped to attention and saluted, “Yessir!” before leaving with a huge grin on his face.

Inside, Corinthus wondered what Hannah Shepard would do to him if she ever found out what he had just said in this room.

 

Chapter Text

2174 CE – February 25th – Gagarin Station Biotic training Class 08:49 AM

“Concentrate, humans,” Vyrnnus shouted among the strained grunts and groans from his students.

“A small child should be able to do this.”

He’d lined them up two and two, making the pairs alternate between attacking and defending. Shepard’s opponent was a girl called Anne, whom was currently trying to break her barrier. So far she’d been unsuccessful. This was still one of Shepard’s best moves, but she hoped Vyrnnus would not reach their position when they switched, as her offense was a little shoddy. Too much physical training with the regular recruits and not enough practice on biotics after getting the implant. Since Dmitri left she’d let her bio-training slip. If only someone else in the group could screw up, she’d have time to train offensive biotics before the next lesson. Sadly, there was no such luck. Vyrnnus marched up beside them, stopped and leaned against the rail.

“Switch!”

In front of her Anne’s body glowed with a purple mist, and she became enveloped by a shimmering barrier.

“Let’s see it then, Shepard. Amaze us with what you can’t do,” Vyrnnus derided.

Cursing under her breath, Shepard tried her best to break the other girl’s barrier. She focused on Anne, and threw a shockwave at her, with little or no effect. Shepard tried again, conjuring a warp that stuck in the barrier and started siphoning power from the protective aura. This gave her a small breather until she could muster up enough remaining power to focus on sending a biotic charge straight into the flickering light. The shielding rescinded in a burst of blue and purple vapors. Heaving for breath, she turned to Vyrnnus.

“I was right,” he said, “I am amazed at your ineptitude.”

Shepard gritted her teeth, but didn’t rise to the taunt. This was typical of the commander.

“Three moves to bring down one barrier, oh dear. That’s three rounds in the obstacle course for all of you.”

Around them the other students groaned and gave Shepard the evil eye, and she knew they were justified in their anger. That had been pathetic.

“And as a special reward for you, Shepard, you will be at this field all evening, drilling those attacks until it resembles something I’d teach in my classes. If I’m dissatisfied, the whole class will run more laps for your failings.”

She clenched her fists so hard her nails dug into her palms, but again resisted the temptation to fire back at him. The rest of the class was tense and observing, and she gave the only response she could; “Yes, commander Vyrnnus.”

Vyrnnus looked triumphant. “That’s better. We’ll beat the rebellion out of you yet. To the obstacle course! Double-time!”

The entire class started to run, but a some of her fellow students managed to give her a few shoves to denote their displeasure.

 

 

2174 CE – February 25th – Gagarin Station Biotic training Field 19:55 PM

As Shepard sprinted down the field, she was glad she’d only had a light meal. The large biotic training field had been refurbished for the evening, and most of the contraptions was of Vyrnnus’ own invention.

These devious devices was a part of the exercise, and would, if not performed correctly, backfire on the student causing at least moderate harm. The sleeve of her track suit was already torn off from using a lift when she probably should have used a throw, and she’d only been at this for 25 minutes. Over the speakers she could hear Vyrnnus; “Not good enough, Shepard. Again!” There was a crunching sound before he released the speaker button, and she figured the bastard was probably having himself a snack while ordering her around. Damned turian. Wasting little time, she jogged back to the starting point to repeat the drill.

The next run was better, but Vyrnnus was far from satisfied. She got the last attack wrong, and it backfired in a spectacular fashion; the target sprang apart and burst into flames. Only a quick barrier saved her from having her right arm severely burned, but she still had to furiously pat her arm to put out the small flames. The sardonic laugh of her tutor once more rang across the speakers; “Slow learner, are we. Not to worry. We have all night.” She also heard more crunching sounds. In addition to the new burn and cuts she already had suffered, Shepard was getting exhausted, but knew better than to complain. Running and swerving the last few laps, she got the rest of the targets right, but the commander was unyielding.

“One more, Shepard. I won’t lower my standards, even for Corinthus’ little pet. Hop to it.”

She bit back the need to gripe or to run upstairs and set his head on fire, and lurched back to the start. A light meal and heavy use of biotics was not as good an idea as she first believed, and the lightheadedness she was experiencing was punishment for that mistake.

“Chop chop, Shepard!” Vyrnnus’ voice crackled over the field. She was beginning to really hate the sound of that voice, in addition to the man himself. Sadly, there was little she could do right now. If she disobeyed, the whole class would pay, and they would blame her. This day she’d been given a loosing hand, and she had to play It out.

“Ready? Run!”

Her hands glowed, and she darted off down the track again.

 

37 minutes later Shepard had run through Vyrnnus little house of fun again, and this time she managed to get past all his contraptions with the right attack. True to form, Vyrnnus had no praise to offer. He strolled onto the field to deliver a last salvo. “Too slow, too weak, too human. I wonder why I bother at all,” he said, wiggling his mandibles. “But there was some improvement, no matter how small.” The commander made a point of walking around her, inspecting her trembling limbs, burns and cuts. “War is harsh, Shepard. If you want to be a warrior, you need to embrace this pain, this feeling of hopelessness. And if you’re better than most of the trash on this station, prevail in face of it.” Shepard raised her head and met his cold eyes in a wordless challenge. For some reason he seemed delighted. “That’s it, Shepard. Be cruel, be hard, and you may yet survive me.”

At this, she could no longer keep her mouth shut. “I will never become what you are!”

He gave a joyless chuckle. “We’ll see, human. We’ll see. Now get to the medical wing and get yourself patched up.”

When he walked off, the floodlights lining the field started to shut off one by one. Her body screamed in pain and her legs felt numb, so she did as she was told. The walk to the medical wing felt longer than usual, as Shepard had to force one leg to step in front of the other, but she got over there by sheer force of will. Her only encouragement was that the hospital could hopefully provide her with information she was anxious to hear.

 


Liscus, the brown-plated turian receptionist was seriously considering handing in his resignation at Conatix, or at least demand more security at the hospital entrance. No one had told him that handling teenagers would be this dreadful, and now he was stuck with a bruised and battered human student whom refused to see the nurse unless he told her if captain Corinthus and his field teams were on route back to Jump Zero. She’d been arguing with him for 20 minutes and were at this point threatening him with her biotic powers, while simultaneously pretty much hanging off his counter. He listened to her complaints for another five minutes before he decided Conatix did not pay him enough credits for this crap and called for doctor Publius. As the senior doctor at the station, he would be the only one with clearance for that information, and frankly, Liscus figured he deserved to be stuck with the mad biotic, the way that man kept hogging all the females at the station bar.


 

“Recruit Shepard. We meet again, although you were more quiet and accommodating the last time you visited,” Publius said as he walked into the reception.

“I was comatose, not really grounds for comparison, doctor,” she said, clinging to the counter.

“Well, what can I do for you this evening?”

“You can tell me if the field exam is over and whether or not they are on their way back.”

“Or I could explain at length that information regarding off station expeditions are not subject to student scrutiny,” he replied smiling.

“Yes, but then both of us would be stuck here for a considerable length of time, for some of which I might cry,” she said and made a point of wiping away a few nonexistent crocodile tears.

Publius laughed. “You don’t strike me as the tearful type, Shepard.”

“I like to branch out.” When she put her arm back on the counter, Publius gaze fell on her blistering arm.

“Is that new?”

“It’s commander Vyrnnus idea of a good time. We’ve had such a fun afternoon. He’s a lovely man.”

“Spare me the sarcasm, recruit. Now please follow me.”

She stayed put and instead tried to sneak a peek at Liscus’ datapad. When he became aware of this, he snatched it away and gave Publius a pleading look.”

“Come with me, Shepard,” Publius repeated, “I’ll see what I can do.” There was a subtle thrum in his voice that she’d heard from Chellick when he was communicating something without saying it, and decided to follow him.

Inside his office, he directed her to the examination bench, and she sat down.

“Remove the shirt,” he said while he searched in a cabinet for medigel.

The blistering on her right arm made the shirt removal more intricate than it needed to be, as the blisters felt like they were bursting whenever the cloth touched her skin. Publius observed with an amused expression as the human tried to wriggle her way out of the tattered shirt, but only managed to tangle herself worse.

“Need some help, recruit?” he said after watching for a while.

“If you wouldn’t mind..” came her tired reply.

Picking up a scalpel he carefully sliced the sleeve off the shirt. The shirt fell down, and he saw that her upper body was covered in deep blue and black bruises, and the skin had nicks and cuts where she’d been hit or scraped by something.

“Worse than I expected,” he said thoughtfully.

“This? He had a good day today,” she responded. “When are they coming back?”

“Can I first ask why it’s so important to you?” asked Publius.

“I.. I’m an assistant trainer for the captain. When my group is here, I’m obligated to train them on my afternoons,” she said, hoping he would make up the rest of the story for her. He did.

“And you’re not available to be a punching bag for Vyrnnus.. I see..”

Publius handed her several packets of medigel and instructed her on how often to apply it, and some ointment for the burn. When he finished that, he paced the room for a few minutes, weighing internal arguments before he made a decision.

“The field exam is going well. Only four squads are not done fighting each other, but Corinthus thinks they will finish during this night cycle. They will then board the ships and return. If things go according to this plan, they will be back in four days.” He turned to her. “Sometimes I talk out loud when no one’s around. Terrible habit, especially if I say things that are restricted.”

She gave him a grin. “Didn’t hear a thing, sir.”

“Good. Now get to the mess hall and get something to eat. Your exhaustion is partly caused by lack of nourishment before extended use of biotics. If the cook says it’s late, tell him I sent you. Your stomach sounds like it wants to murder me.”

As if on cue, a small growl came from her abdomen. He chuckled and gave her a large hospital shirt.

“This will suffice for now.”

“Thank you, sir. I appreciate this.”

“Then perhaps next time you will not try to drive our receptionist up the walls? He seems more fragile of late.”

“Can do, sir.” She saluted him and left the room.

 


 

The mess hall was mostly dark when she entered, only a small emergency exit light in the back illuminated the silhouettes of the furniture. She maneuvered past them in the gloom and slipped into the kitchen pantry. In the levo section she saw egg powder, dried meat, different kinds of nutrient paste, cans labeled only with numbers, and cartons of various kinds of field rations. She shrugged, and grabbed a few different cartons and a couple bottles of nutri-juice. No point in making this more complicated than it needed to be, she reflected, and the rest of the loot she could hide in her room for next time she pissed off the commander.

Upon leaving, she heard heavy breathing and squeaking noises coming from the far side of the mess hall. She swiftly ducked under the counter, and snuck towards the emergency exit in a low crouch. The noises became giggles and grunts, and she recognized the voice of the cook.

“Who has the biggest cock on the station?” he panted.

Shepard cringed. Gods, she was not hearing this, she was not hearing this.

“You do, chef, you ram me like a bull, aaauugah, I love it!” That was the voice of one of the female security staff-members in the officer’s alley.

“That’s right, I’m a stud bull, I’m gonna fill you up real good,” grunted the chef.

Shepard almost threw up in her mouth a little. Time to get out. She no longer felt even remotely hungry, and was determined to never ever sit at that table section ever again. That couldn’t possibly be hygienic. Eating here at all seemed a lot less appealing, and the best thing to do was to get out and wash her ears with bleach. The two lovers seemed completely invested in their own pastime, and she remained unseen as she crawled her way to the emergency exit and made her escape. On her way back to the barracks she tried to delete what she overheard, but it was impossible. She chewed a couple of field rations despite feeling nauseated, and she knew who to blame. Under her breath she swore that someday she’d get back at that cook, even if it took years.

 

 

2174 CE – March 01st Gagarin Station Docking Area 17:32 PM

The loudspeakers announced that Conatix’s crew carrier docked five minutes ago, and Shepard stood at a vantage point, eagerly awaiting the passengers. After Publius little reveal, she had made an effort to behave in class to avoid more special time with Vyrnnus, but yesterday she’d tripped up and he made her evade and block his biotic attacks all evening. Her success had been limited, and she had to go back to the medical wing for more medigel. Publius handed them over without comments, just a consoling pat on her shoulder. None of that was important today, as Deci-... Shepard gave herself a mental slap, ..as the group would return. The first batch of students piled through the gateway, looking ruffled and dirty. Some were chattering and laughing while others appeared downcast, practically dragging their feet out of the shuttle, but still no sight of her people. There was no way she was going to budge from her lookout, but that forced her to sidestep and swerve the oncoming students. Somewhere over the commotion of the entrance hall she heard Emerus Victus’ boisterous laugh and she turned her head in that direction. When she spotted them, she had to grin. Emerus, Arista and Chellick swaggered like they owned the room, flaring their mandibles and laughing, and Shepard could not feel prouder. There was no way their exam had been anything other than a success. Emerus spotted her first, and gave Chellick a not so discreet nudge. The turian swiveled his head to catch sight of her, and his green eyes glinted triumphantly. Another reason to believe the exam went great, she reflected, he looked like he had a prize to claim. They set a course straight for her, and she went to meet them half way.

“Hey, Shepard,” Emerus said. He was brimming with pride, fringe flared and a small gash on his crest.

“Good to see you, Victus. How’d you get that? Don’t know when to duck?” She pointed at the gash.

“Turians don’t duck,” Arista said in a sarcastic, but playful manner. “But usually they have enough brain to dodge.”

“Oh, that’s cute,” said Emerus. “You left out the part that I saved your plates by taking that hit.”

“Yeah yeah, I already said thank you, stop bragging. It’s unbecoming.”

“Just making sure it’s not forgotten.”

“Speaking of not forgetting,” Chellick interjected, “I remember a certain deal.”

Shepard smiled. “Yeah yeah, I already said okay, stop nagging. It’s unbecoming.”

The boys looked offended while Arista and Shepard laughed.

“So that’s how it is, huh,” complained Emerus. “I save the day, and all I get is insults?”

“Come now,” Arista said, “I’m sure I can think of something to placate you.”

There was no reply from him except for a soft thrum.

“Ah, for spirits sake, stop that,” groaned Chellick, “I don’t need to hear that.”

Around them several turian students started chortling, making Shepard do the same.

“Save the dirty talk for later, guys, they’re looking at you like you’re a public nuisance.”

“All right, but just because you asked nicely,” Emerus said. “Let’s go to the mess hall, I’m starving.”

“Ah, yes, about that. Might want to let me choose seats today,” she said, making a disgusted face, “dirty talk all around.”

“Ooh, I want to hear this.”

“Trust me Victus, you don’t.”

“Come on, Shepard, we’ve been gone for days, give us the recent gossip,” Arista chimed in.

“Remember, you asked for it,” Shepard said as they headed for evening meal.

 

 

2174 CE – March 01st Gagarin Station Shepard’s Room 18:46

There should be a little more guilty conscience on her part about kissing a turian, Shepard mused as she gently stroked Chellick’s mandibles. He returned her movements with his talons, carefully brushing them down her cheeks and down her neck. Outside they could hear chattering students, and she was glad she was still had a room of her own. Next year would be more problematic, but they both had promised the captain. Chellick’s breathing was a little deep, and he eagerly leaned in to press his mouth plates to her lips. She’d missed him too much, she realized. Cupping his face, she met him halfway and slipped her tongue out to meet his. After a few seconds he was emitting a sound that was like a purr, and the vibrating from his chest felt very pleasant.

“Now who’s the seducer,” she said after they broke for air.

“That would be me,” he replied with a smug flare of the mandibles. “And you’re not exactly running screaming away from me.”

That made her laugh. “Bad leg. Vyrnnus been giving me some extra homework while you were gone.”

The smile left his face. “What did he do?”

“It’s nothing, don’t ruin the moment.”

“What did he do, Jane?”

She sighed. “Just some extra work to catch me up on my own classes. No big deal.”

He looked doubtful. “If you say so.” He put his arms around her, pulling her closer. By another stroke of her usual luck, he touched the part of her back where she’d hit the ground as Vyrnnus’ biotic lift gave out. Shepard hissed in pain and pulled away.

It was his turn to sigh. “Why haven’t you put medigel on that?”

“Because my arm is too stiff, I can’t reach behind my back.”

“You’re going to tell me about Vyrnnus later, but first, take off your shirt.”

“Say what?”

“Take your clothes off, injured one, or I’ll rip them from your body,” he said, growling playfully while nudging her down to the bed. “I saw you had some medigel in your satchel over there. Now just sit still, silly human, or you’ll get gel on both of us.”

“I can’t believe you’ve actually memorized those words,” she said as she shimmied out of her shirt. “So, what do you think?” She stood before him in her sports-bra, arms outstretched.

“You seem to have good functionality in your arm, it must be just the twisting backward movement that’s impaired,” he said after a quick peek and continued to rummage in her bag.

Shepard regarded him with bewilderment. “That’s not what… Never mind. I forgot turians don’t look where human guys look.” She slumped down with a glum smile.

“Is this a human thing? Like our waist?” He looked at her again. “You have really nice… chest ornaments?”

At this she threw her body back on the bed and laughed out loud. “Well, that’s better than nothing.”

He looked apologetic as he sat down on the bed with two packets of gel. “I’ll figure out what’s what later, right now I’m more concerned about your back. Turn over.”

“Listen to you, taking charge and giving orders,” she said but flipped over on her stomach obediently.

“Mmh, if you like it, I’ll do it some more.”

The medigel felt cooling on her back, and he squeezed the whole packet along her lower spine before throwing the empty packet in the bin.

“Open the clasp on my back, Decian. Then you can reach my whole back.”

He hesitated, then fumbled with the small buckle, seemingly afraid to nick her with his talons. She heard a small exhale of relief when the bra sprang apart. When he placed his hands on her back to rub and stroke along her entire back, she arched to give him more access. His palms felt like soft suede, and the careful brushes of his talons gave a tickling sensation.

“Feels nice?”

“It feels very nice. You’re very nice, Decian.”

He chuffed, and she sensed he was happy with her answer. Next semester might be months away, but if she could have a little bit of this every time Vyrnnus got upset with her, then perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad after all.

 

 

2174 CE – March 25th Palaven – Field of Unification Shooting Range 16:16 PM

While the targets in their lane re-positioned itself to maximum distance there was a whirring sound that gradually diminished as they traveled down the rails. The small flag that denoted wind direction hung idly from the pole. The shooter lined up his last shots while keeping his breathing steady. These field conditions were optimum, and a miss would not be accepted by the towering figure standing behind him. He saw the figure’s shadow pull up a pair of binoculars.

“Five still targets, one moving. When ready.”

Fourteen seconds passed as the silenced muzzle flashed five times, each followed by a small ping from the built in target-screen in the wall. The figure ignored the screen, but flicked his gaze between the prone shooter and the binoculars. With every hit he did a small twitch with one mandible. As the moving target rolled out from it’s position, the shooter readjusted his position on the ground. His last shot rang out. The screen gave another ping, but no mandible movement followed from his watcher. There was a tense silence as the shooter awaited judgement.

“If that was a living animal, there would be an angry limping nathak out there. Not good enough, Garrus.”

Garrus clamped his mandibles to his face. “Yes, dad.”

“Not even in the kill zone, barely a graze. You did this last month with no difficulty.”

“Yes, dad.”

“Don’t ‘yes dad’ me, Garrus. Eject the heat sink and put the safety on. We have used up our time.”

“Sure, dad.”

Galenus prayed to the spirits that he would have enough restraint to not throw his monosyllable son out of the skycar on the way home. He led Garrus out of the range and back to the armory. The sergeant in the gun cage took the rifle when Garrus placed in on the counter.

“Executor Vakarian, young Vakarian,” he nodded. “How did you like the Hammer?”

Garrus seemed to lighten up a bit. “It’s pretty good, but Elanus is not quite as good as Armax. When do you get the new Armax rifles in?”

“Oh, they should be here in August, barring any incidents,” the sergeant replied.

“We’re coming back then, right dad?”

Galenus coughed, and avoided the question. “How much for the session?”

While he transferred the money, Garrus drifted over to the large holo screen showing a gaudy exhibit from several weapons manufacturers. He flipped through Haliat, Serrice, Elkoss and Armax before finding a new name on the roster; Rosenkov Materials. It was from earth.

“Dad, look at this. It’s a human company. Since when do humans sell weapons to turians?”

His father came up beside him and laid a hand on his shoulder. “About the same time turians started selling space ships to humans, I expect.” In his mind Garrus was a little to fascinated with everything earth. “We’re not sharing everything with them, just as they’re not sharing everything with us. But trade needs to start somewhere, and weapons seems be a common denominator for our species.”

“You don’t sound too happy about that,” said Garrus.

“I’m not. There is peace now, yes, but is it permanent? If not, then the humans will know substantially more about us through our weapons, and use it against us.”

“Isn’t it the same for us? We will know more about them, and so that will deter both sides from attacking?”

Galenus smiled. “That particular strategy has big flaws, son. Let’s go, I have something to discuss with you.”

 


The skycar flew by the beautiful jagged rocks native to the plains of Palaven, but Garrus did not care about the landscape. Not even the sight of running kheelies could rise his interest, and they usually made his mouth water. His father had just told him he was to be sent off world for the major parts of two years, and Garrus was speechless. He knew his parents had argued many times these past months, but they had refused to divulge what the fights was about. Being sent to a human station to acquire his second tier was the last thing he imagined. The honor of the family demanded it, and he would never be able to refuse, but the fact that it was foisted upon him stuck in his gizzard. The Vakarian name alone could single him out as a target at the station, and it was placed in human territory under human control, despite being filled with a large contingency of turian soldiers. There would be no way to be certain that his life would not be in danger, as his father just informed him. Garrus was unsure how he felt about that. On one side it was frightening to be in mortal danger so long away from home, but the rebel in him relished the thought of a real adventure away from the restrictions of Palaven and his family. He’d miss his mother and Solana, sure, but if he went to military boot camp on Palaven, he’d still be away from them for long periods of time, like his father was when on the Citadel.

The trip back home went by like lightening. Upon returning to their house his mother stood in the doorway, greeting them back.

“There you are. How did it go?” Vistilla asked.

Garrus knew she didn’t ask about the target practice. “Unexpected results,” he said.

“I can imagine,” Vistilla laughed and brushed his fringe.

“Mom!” he protested.

“Forgive me, Garrus, but no matter how old you get, you’re still my little boy.”

He grumbled something and slipped past her. Behind him he heard his parents subvocals hum as they greeted each other.

In the living room Solana sat reading a datapad. She gave an excited squeak when she saw her big brother enter. He sat down beside her.

“Not done with homework yet, sis? Not that smart after all, are you?” he teased.

“Hah, I was done hours ago.” She whispered conspiratorially; “I’m playing Galaxy of Fantasy. Don’t tell mom.”

Garrus chuckled. “I won’t.” He inclined his head to see how the game was going, and they sat watching the game until footsteps was heard drawing closer. Solana pressed pause and took up a math problem instead.

Vistilla came in and sat in the chair on the other side of the table, while Galenus went into the kitchen. She gave both her children loving looks, before addressing her daughter. “Solana dear, could you play that awful game in your room? I need to talk to your brother.”

Solana gaped at her mother, then gave Garrus an accusing glare. He was quick to shake his head. She pointed at his crest in a manner that said ‘I don’t trust you,’ and marched out.

 

“So, Garrus, what do you think about Jump Zero?” his mother asked.

“It’s.. it’s not what I expected.”

“It’s not what your father and I wanted for you either, but the Hierarchy made the request. We could refuse, if you really hated the idea.”

“What about the shame on our clan?” he asked.

“It would be severe, yes, but my family is more important. You are more important.” Vistilla looked at him with an expression of infinite tenderness. Garrus found it hard to meet her eyes when faced with so much motherly affection.

“That is hardly the answer expected of a turian,” he said carefully.

“Perhaps not. Or perhaps one day, you will have someone you’re willing to break all the rules for.”

Garrus grinned. “Dad would molt on the spot.”

“It’s good to slough off stagnated ideas,” Vistilla smiled back. “But I never said such a thing.” She fluttered her mandibles. Garrus supressed his smile as Galenus walked in. His father was a stickler for the rules, but his mother was more unconventional.

“So, Garrus, what do you think?” he asked.

“I will go.” Garrus answered calmly.

Galenus looked both pleased and worried. “I thought as much. I will do my best to protect you while you’re there. Captain Corinthus and I are old acquaintances, I’ll ask him to be on guard.”

“Dad, I’m supposed to do this on my own,” he objected. “You can’t interfere!”

“And I won’t. The hardship of training is yours alone. But if I can prevent that your life is in any more danger than other turians on that stations, I will.”

His father seemed determined, but Garrus first checked his mother for support. Vistilla closed her mandibles, letting him know that his father would not be swayed. So be it, Garrus thought. At least the humans wouldn’t give him any special treatment, like this captain could be prone to do.

 

 

2174 CE – May 26th Palaven – Palaven Public School number 156, Gym Hall 08:02 AM

“Pst, Vakarian. Hey, Vakarian!”

Timeus Fedorian did his best to gain Garrus’ attention as they warmed up, but was being soundly ignored. This did not stop him from speaking.

“I hear you’re getting shipped out to train with a bunch of humies. Your dad must be so proud.”

Ever since his father had forbidden him to engage in fistfights with Timeus, Garrus’ strategy had been to turn a blind eye to his classmate’s mocking remarks. It was becoming more and more difficult as he had kept his temper under control for a very long time. Timeus’ antics were wearing thin.

“Perhaps those weaklings will be grateful for your presence. Nobody here seems to care.” Timeus snickered.

They were interrupted by the gym teacher. “Line up for selection. Today is clawball. I want a clean game. No unnecessary tackles, no talon stomping, and no elbows to the nose, Timeus. I’m looking at you.” Timeus merely laughed. The young turian was quite larger than his fellow students due to an early growth spurt. Garrus envied Timeus his increased size. It gave him a distinct advantage, and the sense of entitlement that came with being in the primarch’s clan made him completely unbearable.

“Shoulder to shoulder, teacher. Not my fault these fledglings can’t stay in their feet.”

“I got my eye on you, Fedorian. Behave!”

 

As the game progressed it became clear that it was a fight for dominance between the contestants, not the teams. Timeus and Garrus had ended up on the same side, and they made short work of the opposing team. Timeus knocked players away and gave Garrus and the other teammates the opportunity to score. Normally Garrus would have been thrilled to be winning by this margin, but Timeus was being very unsportsmanlike. Whenever he tackled an opponent to the floor, he made fun of them while they were down. When he had the ball, he allowed the opposing players to catch up with him so he could pass the ball and brawl instead.

So long as he wasn’t drawing blood, the trainer didn’t pull Timeus from the game, since clawball was in it’s essence a very physical sport. On his side, Garrus was getting fed up with Timeus. In the last reversal of the game he decided to improvise. Timeus charged ahead, clearing a path for him, but when they were straight in front of the goal, he pretended to miss and slammed the ball straight in the back of Timeus’ fringe. It hit him with a hard ‘thud!” and his teammate fell on his face with a yelp, sliding along the ground as the room went quiet.

The trainer ran out on the floor. “Timeus, are you all right?”

The younger turian got up and rubbed his fringe. “I’m fine!” He swiveled his head and saw Garrus standing a few meters away with an empty expression on his face.

“You! You did that on purpose!” he snarled.

“It was the heat of the game, Timeus. These things happen.” the trainer said, trying to calm matters down.

Timeus was shaking with barely repressed anger, but could only nod whilst standing in front of a superior. “A mishap. Sure. It happens,” he said with mandibles pressed to his face.

The trainer gave him an encouraging nod. “Good. It’s just a game, after all.”

He blew the whistle, signaling the end of the game and the class. While the students queued up to leave the gym for the showers, Garrus felt a prickling feeling in the back of his neck, and he knew Timeus was glaring at him, trying to burn a hole in his head. Unless Garrus wanted a confrontation, he would need to go straight home after school. There was only a little more than a month remaining of classes, and he’d rather not face the disappointment of his father again, or the wrath of Timeus Fedorian before that time. Hitting him with the ball had been an impulsive act, and not one the larger turian was likely to forget.

 

Six hours later

 

The weight of his backpack was heavy due to all the extra datapads that were needed for today’s lessons. To top that off, it was turian culture class, the most boring classes in school, always emphasizing duty and honor and sacrifice, but not questioning if the orders coming down from on high was worth following. An order was an order, to not follow was unthinkable, unturian and unpatriotic. Garrus had once asked if a soldier whom received an order he knew to be wrong, would not be more honorable if he refused to obey it. That day he’d been sent home early with a note, and after a talk with his father online from the Citadel, never asked again. He loved the anthem Die for the Cause, but he would prefer it if the cause was just. Mired in his own deliberations, he never saw Timeus emerge from an alley to grab him by the shoulder.

They were only a few blocks away from the school, but Garrus refused to cry out for help. Instead he allowed himself to be dragged into the alleyway, knowing full well he was in for a beating. Timeus pulled Garrus’ backpack off his back and tossed it away, before he shoved the smaller turian down on the paved road.

“It’s time you and I got this out of the way,” he growled. “I won’t get a chance when we leave for boot.”

Garrus got back up unsteadily, and got in a fighting stance. “Real brave, Timeus, sneaking up on people like that.”

“I haven’t laid a talon on you yet, fledgling,” he scoffed. “But I will now.”

“First blood?” Garrus asked as the other turian stepped closer.

Timeus halted, looking incredulous.“Duel rules? You think we’re doing this by rules? Should have thought of that before you threw that ball in my fringe.”

He launched himself at Garrus, pinning the smaller turian against the wall and started pummeling his sides and abdomen with heavy strikes. Tasting blood in his mouth, Garrus tried to hit back but compared to his opponent he had little power behind his blows, and Timeus just laughed at his pathetic attempt at counterattack. Garrus had no escape and resigned himself to try and block the worst of the onslaught. A particular vicious hit made him involuntary jerk forward and smash his crest into Timeus’ nose. The other turian staggered one step backward, and Garrus used the small opportunity to pounce. He jumped and grabbed the larger turian’s cowl, hauling himself up and planting his teeth in Timeus’ neck. Timeus howled in pain and tried to swat Garrus off, but he refused to let go. If Timeus got loose, the vindictive turian would probably maim him for this. Garrus was so focused on keeping his teeth sunk in that he blocked out Timeus sending a low pitched call for help with his subvocals. Garrus felt talons scrape along his own cowl and back plates, cutting deep marks as they slashed through his civvies. The pain made him wince but he hung on like a hungry pyjak. Whenever he saw an opening he slashed back at Timeus arms and chest. The taste of blood in his mouth was pungent, but at least it wasn’t his own anymore.

“Garrus!” By some coincidence the first teacher at the scene was the clawball coach. “Garrus, let go! Let go now!” he barked, grabbing both boys by their cowls.

Reluctantly Garrus opened his maw, and Timeus stumbled back.

“He fucking bit me!” he coughed, causing specks of blue blood to spray out of his mouth. “It’s taboo!”

Blood leaked from every teeth mark in Timeus neck. It dawned on Garrus that he might have committed a horrible transgression.

“I had no other option! Timeus is the size of an elcor, there’s no way I can beat him.”

The trainer crossed his arms. “And yet you accepted the challenge?”

“….Yes.” Garrus hung his head.

“And you, Timeus Fedorian. This is not acceptable behavior from a member of the Fedorian clan. What do you think the primarch will say when he hears his kin is skulking in alleys like a robber, beating up weaker opponents on a personal whim?”

There was no reply from Timeus, only a dark stare.

“Both of you are coming with me to see the nurse. I’ll have one of your parents pick you up after you’ve been examined.”

Garrus spat blood on the ground. The taste was sickening, and he felt like throwing up now that the adrenaline from fighting was receding. At least his father was back on the Citadel, but when he imagined his mother’s mild reproach he wished for a fatherly shouting instead.

The older turian beckoned Timeus and Garrus to follow him back to the school, and they followed him reluctantly.

 

 

2174 CE – June 14th – Gagarin Station – Shepard’s Room 10:00

“Come on Jane, one more for good luck,” said Chellick, nuzzling her neck. “I won’t be seeing you for two months, I need my fix.”

The shuttle coming to bring her back to Arcturus Station and him to Palaven would arrive in less than an hour, but Shepard didn’t care. She had her hands full of turian, and she hugged him as if she was never going to see him again.

“Since you need it, Decian.” She kissed him passionately. He snuggled up against her and she felt the warm sensation of his vibrating purr down her whole body. The promise to Captain Corinthus remained unbroken, but it was getting harder and harder by the day. She wrapped her hands around his waist and fondled it, knowing the response it would elicit from him. Chellick moaned against her neck.

“That’s not nice, Jane,” he hummed.

“Your subvocals tells me it’s very nice,” she said in his ear, before running her tongue the length of his mandible, making him shiver of lust.

“My mom told me to stay away from alien girls, now I know why.”

“We’re irresistible?”

“You’re evil.”

He began to return the favor, licking along her cheek and down the side of her neck. Now it was her turn to shiver in his arms.

“See? Not so nice when it’s your turn,” came his smug muffled voice.

“I concede your point, licentious alien.”

“You know I can smell you, right?”

Two months ago that remark would have made her blush. Now she only heard the longing in his voice.

“I’m surprised you haven’t stolen one of my shirts, given how much you’re sniffing me.”

“Who says I haven’t?”

They laughed. Chellick wriggled and propped himself up on an elbow, suddenly looking serious.

“Don’t you go running off with some human guy on Arcturus, Jane. I’d be devastated.”

She reached up and brushed her fingertips along his mandible.

“I thought turians was supposed to be more relaxed about sex than humans,” she joked.

“Yes, because all turians are the same, right? Anyway, if a part in a turian coupling wants to have sex with someone outside their relationship, it has to be agreed on by both parties. And I don’t consent to you pawing at some other male.”

“So we’re in a relationship? Not just biding our time until 6 minutes after we’re no longer bound by our promise?”

Chellick sat up on the bed looking perplexed. “Aren’t we?” After three more seconds he added; “What do you mean, 6 minutes?”

Shepard got up beside him and kissed him again as a diversion. This was a thorny subject, and she could have brought it up another time. Despite being covered by a carapace, it felt like he melted in her arms when she put her mouth on him. Good to know. She pulled herself away, giving him a quick rub on his nose.

“I want us to be, but turians don’t always think as humans do.”

“Well, this turian thinks like you,” he said, relief written on his brow.

The nagging doubt she had for harboring tender feelings for the turian came back in force when she saw his face. They would be apart for a long time, and she knew her mother would ask about the turians at Gagarin. If Hannah perceived that her daughter’s allegiance had shifted towards a more turian friendly stance, there would be hell to pay. In addition, if her mother knew how friendly, there was no telling what she might do. She also felt a personal doubt about the steadfastness of her own character. Could her mother’s personal beliefs change how she, Jane, felt when she was away from Chellick? Was she dishonoring her father’s memory by initiating a relationship with this turian? She felt torn between her own growing feelings for Chellick and her family history with his species. Perhaps she would grow to resent them again if she was under her mother’s influence long enough.

“Jane? Where did you go?” It was Chellick’s turn to cup her face and kiss her to break her line of thoughts.

“I just.. my mother doesn’t like turians,”she said honestly.

“Understatement of the year,” he chuckled. “And now you do, so you feel like you’re abandoning the family creed.”

“Something like that.”

“You’re afraid she might find out?” he said, giving her a knowing look.

“That too. More worried I’ll.. return to bad habits.”

Without saying anything more, he still understood the problem.

“If your mother’s bad ideas rubs off on you, that only means I need to seduce you all over again.”

He pulled her into his arms again and kissed her cheek, before flicking his tongue slowly along the bottom of her lip. Tasting me, Shepard remembered he said once, and it gave her a hot thrill that traveled downwards. She returned his kiss eagerly, opening her mouth for him and allowing him to slide his blue tongue between her lips. Shepard shivered again. Now there was a mental image that worked on several levels.

Putting a hand on his keel bone, she pulled him back down in the bed and on top of her. Engaging in a little inventive acrobatics, he managed to maneuver one of her legs to the side so he was placed directly between them.

“Mmmh, I like this,” he purred after kissing her again.

Shepard let her fingers play with the sensitive skin on the side of his neck. The sensation made him squirm and grind his hips against hers. Shepard felt her self control wither away like fog on a sun-filled morning, and by Chellick’s strained breathing he was having the same problem. If they continued, neither would be able to stop.

“Spirits, Jane, if we don’t-..”

“Thump-thump.”

There was a very convenient knock at the door, and Emerus’ flanged voice carried through it; “You two better hurry up, the shuttle docked early, like 10 minutes ago. Unless you want to stay here.” There was an unmistakable chuffing sound, followed by the sound of someone getting punched in the cowl.

“Ouch! What?!”

“Don’t be a jerk, Victus.”

“Come on, Arista, I was just-..”

The voices faded away. Shepard and Chellick shared an embarrassed glance and climbed off each other and out of bed. So their friends knew. Great. The intimate moment had passed and now they had to hurry to make their rides out of Gagarin. Chellick picked up his bag and straightened the bed clothes while Shepard made sure to double-check her paper-copy of Carl von Clausewitz’s ‘On war’ was in the rucksack. It had been a gift from uncle David, and more importantly, tucked away between the pages was dozens of glossy images of naked turians she hadn’t managed to throw away. A little research that would come in handy over the summer. Shepard tossed the bag over her shoulder and gave Cellick a guilty smile.

“Let’s be off, shall we?"

 

Chapter Text

 

2174 CE – July 10th Siberia Memorial Service

For Hannah Shepard, the warm and sunny Siberian summer day didn’t fit her state of mind. Standing here in this place so many years after the loss of her husband, the heavens should weep at the human lives lost in the darkness that hid below the ground. She took several deep breaths and tried to remain composed while tears streaked down her cheeks. In front of the procession, yet another memorial placard was unveiled. Each year they managed to identify a few more remains of the thousands that was still missing after the orbital strike 17 years ago, but it had been years since she’d attended the memorial service. It was simply too painful. This year the event had coincided with both her and commander David Anderson being docked on earth, and they had agreed to be present. The names of Jonathan Shepard and Sarah Hammond had been among those first engraved, despite that Sarah’s body could never be found. David’s face was a stone mask revealing nothing of the turmoil within, but Hannah knew from his bloodshot eyes that he’d been drinking heavily the night before.

Behind them her daughter was unusually quiet. Hannah threw a quick glance at her, and she stood side by side with her Russian friend from Gagarin, the Basanov boy. He’d put his arm around her, letting her lean on his wide shoulders. At the makeshift stage the speaker began his eulogy. Hannah turned her attention to the man. Jane had never learned Russian, but her friend gave a hushed translation as the speech progressed. It was heartwarming to see that she’d made good friends on that thrice damned station. Perhaps more than friends. After she came home for the summer, her daughter had been a little aloof and secretive. Hannah was familiar with those symptoms in a teenager. Jane had been on her omni-tool chatting with someone ever since she got home, and became almost panic-stricken when her mother playfully tried to spy on her. Hannah smiled despite her tears. Love was a wonderful, terrifying thing.

 

 

2174 CE – July 10th Siberia Memorial Service Reception

“Hey uncle David.”

David Anderson chuckled and looked for the only person in the room that would call him that. He saw Jane walk toward him, towing a big adolescent boy after her by hand. He didn’t seem to mind, merely followed her with a good-natured grin.

“Hi. I’d like you to meet my friend, Dmitri Basanov. We met at Gagarin Station.”

Anderson reached out and shook the boy’s hand with a firm grip. He was familiar with the name.

“Nice to meet you. I know your father,” he said.

Dmitri gave a small nod. “Many people in military does after company merger. Nice to meet you too, Mr Anderson. I am sorry for your loss.”

Anderson gave Jane an enquiringly look, and she turned slightly red.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything.”

“We all lost something precious here. Pretending we didn’t won’t help,” Anderson said and added;

“How are you holding up, Jane?”

“I’m not sure. It seems strange to miss someone you’ve never met,” she said, hesitant to go on. Anderson and Dmitri waited while she searched for words.

“Mom rarely talks of him, but I’ve seen the holo-vids. He looks a bit like me,” she said sadly.

“He does,” Anderson said with a smile. “Or, you look a bit like him.”

“Poor man,” Dmitri whispered in her ear.

Jane pinched his side. “Shut it you.” A small smile broke on her face.

“I see your mother has a point,” Anderson said to the air. Jane suddenly became very self-conscious.

“Don’t know what you mean.”

“She merely said that your new friend could bring a smile to your face.”

For some reason, Jane appeared to be flustered. Dmitri seemed unfazed and put his arm around her. “Always,” he said.

Protective and friendly, Anderson thought. No wonder Jane wanted him to tag along. He looked at his omni-tool. It was late, and his ride would be there soon.

“Have you seen your mother?”

“She’s talking to the Russian ambassador, I think.”

“I see.” Anderson turned to Dmitri. “Would you let me have a few words with Jane in private?”

“Of course.” Dmitri gave Jane’s hand an encouraging squeeze and left them alone.

“Is something wrong?” she asked.

“No, not at all. I know this is neither the time or the place, but I wanted to say it in person. I should perhaps wait until your mother can join us, but that may be a while, and I must leave shortly.” He guided her to a quiet corner. “Nothing is official yet, but you are being considered for enrollment in the N7 program at Arcturus.”

“What? Really?” Jane said, aghast.

Anderson chuckled. “Don’t sound so shocked. We’ve been monitoring your results from Gagarin, and you come highly recommended by your trainers.”

Jane raised an eyebrow. “All of them?”

“We are aware of that some students find commander Vyrnnus’ approach to teaching a little harsh, but we cannot deny the results. He’s not your biggest fan, but he writes that you have potential, under a lot of waffle about insubordination and defiance.”

“I’m not the easiest student to have in class,” she admitted.

“So I’ve heard,” he said with a chuckle, before turning serious. “What you do this year is important, Jane. Keep up the hard work, stay out of trouble, and I think you have a good chance at being accepted into the program. It’s a great honor, and I know you have aspirations of a career in the Alliance Navy.”

“I will, and I do,” she said, a fire set alight in her eyes.

“Who knows, this might be one of the last occasions you may call me uncle David. Next time it might be commander and sir.”

“A hard sacrifice,” she grinned, smile going from ear to ear, “but I think I could manage.”

“And no scandals, Jane. That’s important,” he said jokingly.

Her smile became somewhat rigid. “Uhm.. What kind of scandals?”

“I’m sure you’ve got nothing to worry about. That Basanov kid seems okay.”

Jane gave a nervous laugh. “Dmitri! Sure, he’s.. great. He’s.. really great.”

“See? That’s not going to cause a rumor mill for the Alliance. Don’t sweat it, you’ll do fine.”

Anderson patted her on the shoulder. There was a buzz from his omni-tool, alerting him to the arrival of his ride.

“Tell your mother I’m sorry I couldn’t stay. The Tokyo is ready for departure.”

“I will. Safe journey, uncle David.” She winked at him, and he winked right back. When Anderson left, he saw the boy Dmitri sidle back to Jane, and she whispered excitedly in his ear. He whispered something back and grabbed her into a bear hug. Anderson felt relaxed. Jane seemed to be doing things the right way. One more year, and she’d be on the fast track to the Navy’s officer’s corps.

 

 

2174 CE – July 10th Siberia Dmitri Basanov’s Hotel Room 19:06

“This has been an awkward day,” Jane sighed as she sat down by the window.

“It has been good and bad, yes?” Dmitri said, offering her a small bottle of dubious origins.

She gave it a skeptical look.

“It is samogon. Russian moonshine,” he said, uncorking the bottle and taking a small sip. The look on his face was priceless, like a man sucking on a lemon.

“Ugh, not bad.”

She grinned. “Really? Not a good liar, are you?”

“Are you wimp? Or do you have hair on chest?” he teased.

“Neither, I hope.” Jane accepted the bottle and took a swig. The drink burned down her throat and made her cough and fight for air.

“Not bad, for first timer. I want to try Ryncol, but father says no,” he said, sitting down beside her.

Jane regained her voice. “But he says yes to this?”she said in a strained pitch.

“Well, no.. but I work in his company now, a little embezzlement here and there he will not notice.”

“Not funny, delinquent.”

“I will be 17 soon, Jane. I need to rebel.” He took another sip. “How is your mother?”

“In her hotel room since the reception. I haven’t disturbed her. She looked so tired.” Jane held her hand out, and the bottle landed in her palm. The samogon smelled like paint thinner, but she pretended not to notice and took another gulp.

“Is it strange to be here?” Dmitri asked, brushing her shoulder gently. “I know it must be different from how your mother feels.”

Jane was quiet for a while. “I feel selfish,” she finally said. “I know my mother is heartbroken, and I’m also sad, but I feel happy that you’re here, and David was here, and now the N7-program. And Chellick...” Her voice trailed off. She waited for him to crack a joke about the turian, but she saw only sympathy in his eyes. It encouraged her to go on. “It’s like I’m being disrespectful, without meaning to be.”

“You are not disrespectful, but like you said, you are not your mother. You must make own choice. Even when really stupid.” Dmitri flashed her a lopsided smile, and she joined in.

“Thank you for coming here, and for going along with their… assumptions.”

“No problem. If Jane Shepard wants to pretend she is my girlfriend, she can.” Dmitri grinned. “Even if she is riding the xeno bandwagon.”

“Aaaww, that’s crude,” she said and gave him the finger. “Here I thought you’d become sensitive and understanding.”

Dmitri nabbed her upturned middle-finger and curled his hand into hers. “I am both, to little degree. But it is not healthy to wallow in sadness. Life hurts, and then moves on.” He gave her hand a reassuring press.

“How is your mother?” Jane said.

“Not good. But she told me to come here today, told me to get more wild tales to tell her. Are you sure you have not bedded your turian? Mother will not tell,” he coaxed.

Jane laughed. “Sadly, I haven’t. I have kissed him, many times.”

“How disgraceful! Was it good?”

“Get your own turian, try it out.”

“Never. But maybe asari, in future.”

“Quite the shocker. Never knew you had a thing for smurfs.”

“If I cannot say bird, you cannot say smurf.” he said with a hint of accusation in his voice.

“Yeah yeah. Hand me the bottle.”

 

By the time Jane was on route to her own room, she was a little tipsy. Her mother still hadn’t moved from her locked hotel room, but there was a small shining through a crack under the door. Jane put her ear to the wooden surface. She could hear the voice of a man, tinged with a small sound distortion. The voices were familiar, and she remembered hearing it before. Hannah was watching old holo-vids of hers and Jonathan’s wedding day, vacations, and perhaps the one where she’d told him he was going to be a dad. Jane had only seen that a few times. The big happy smile of Jonathan Shepard when he was informed he was going to be a father was one of the things that made Jane really miss the dad she never had. She raised her hand to knock on the door, but froze midair. She’d been drinking. Her mother was sure to notice. She let her hand drop. Feeling more than a little ashamed, she walked back to her own bed and tried to sleep.

 

 

2174 CE – August 19th Gagarin Station Barracks – One Day before semester start

The bio-barracks was quiet and empty when Shepard walked in. She checked out the main room and picked the bunk next to a side exit. The keypad on the locker adjacent to the bunk blinked ‘ready.’ Shepard wasn’t sure she was ready for another year. She punched in a new code and started stuffing clothes onto the shelves. Changing from civvies to the Conatix suit was like stepping into a different mindset. She was now one in the crowd instead of an individual. It felt familiar. The main bulk of students would get here on opening day, and she used her early arrival to snatch the best bunk. It would allow her some freedom in getting in and out more or less unnoticed, whenever the mood struck her. The private trainer room of last year was gone, but maybe Chellick would become one. It would make things a little smoother for them, but if not they had to improvise. Unless it was a better idea to call it off, she reflected. No fuss, no scandal. No Chellick. The whole situation was getting too complicated. Shepard pulled the remaining clothes from her bag and shoved them into her locker in frustration. Third year biotics were exempt from military room standards, and there would be no inspections. She dropped down on her bunk, and the springs gave a small squeak. Great. Not discreet at all.

A low chuffing laughter came from the entrance, and the shadow of a turian fell on the floor.

“Decian!”A huge smile broke on her face.

“Jane. Great to see you,” he said and scooped her into a hug. Shepard gave an undignified squeal as he lifted her up from the floor. Over the summer he had gained at least ten centimeters, and his fringe horns had grown longer. He huffed into her hair and she could feel the warmth almost radiate from his body. Regardless of his new height, he looked amazing, and she told him that after he sat her down.

“Thanks. I’ve hit my last growth spurt. Too bad you’re still so short.” He leaned down and kissed her.

“I like you anyway.”

“How generous of you,” she smiled. “Your fringe is.. very long. Elegant. Looks dashing.”

Her words seemed to delight Chellick, making his neck flush dark blue, and he subconsciously turned his head in profile a few times to show it to her.

“I, uh.. That’s.. very nice of you. So, I was thinking, since the station is more quiet than usual, we could have a meal together, somewhere in private?”

“I’d love that. Captain Corinthus caught me when I came off the shuttle, he asked me to go over the inventory for my group before the next trainer takes over. Gloves, pads, mats, the works. We can go after that.”

“Great. I’d help out, but I’ve received a message to appear before the captain as soon as I arrived,” he said.

“And you’re not there?”

“No, had to make sure you were back. And dazzle you with my amazing size.”

Shepard looked away with a guarded expression. She wasn’t about to touch that one. Not yet, at least. She tenderly hooked her index fingers under the tips of both mandibles and pulled him in for one last kiss.

“See you later, gorgeous.” she said. Chellick grinned and strutted out like a king. Shepard shook her head in amusement. Flattery was universal, and in her opinion, males were the most susceptible ones.

 

 

2174 CE – August 19th Gagarin Station Gym Store Room – 17:03

Shepard snapped the last store cupboard shut and wrote down the numbers. Low on turian gloves. The damn things tore after a few days if the students didn’t file down their talons. Everything else was in order and her successor would have an easy time taking over. She felt pretty good about that, and she also had plenty of time to get ready for her dinner with Chellick. This was turning out to be a good day.

As she stepped outside she saw a bunch of new recruits gathered in the sand pit for what sounded like standard horseplay. Even if she was no longer a trainer, she was curious to see what the newbies were capable of, and she had a couple of minutes to spare. Strolling closer she heard the normal shouting of frenzied teen boys cheering for their friends, but among them there was an unmistakable flanging voice desperately trying to be heard over the din. It was cut short by sounds of stomping feet. Shepard swore and started shoving her way to the front. A bunch of humans ganging up on a turian and beating the crap out of him would be disastrous for everyone on the station.

The interference of a biotic among the regular soldiers would make her really popular, but rather that than stand before captain Corinthus and explain how she let this one slide. The human wall around the fighters gave way when she jammed sharp elbows in whatever soft tissue she could reach, and she propelled herself onto the pitch.

Two humans was taking turns kicking a fallen silver-plated turian, and there was a small pool of blue on the sand. The recruits standing around them in a semi circle screamed at her to ‘get the fuck outta there’ and ‘kill that turian.’ She took in the spectacle in seconds and quickly strode into the middle of the pit. The crowd jumped several steps back when her entire body glowed purple, and a few more steps when she charged both hands. The charge only took a few seconds. She braced herself, discharging straight into the human recruits still kicking the downed turian. The biotic lifts hit both of them with a hollow thwomp sound, jerking them up and sending them screaming and soaring into the air. The turian coughed more blue blood onto the sand and rolled over on his stomach. He cast a bleary eye on the floating humans, clutching his side in agony.

Shepard spun around. “Anyone else wants a go?” she said in a dead calm voice that carried over the crowd.” Her words was followed by a stricken silence, apart from the strangled gasps from the huddled turian.

“This is not how we train at this facility! You are going to be soldiers! Not thugs brawling in the streets. Who’s your assigned trainer?”

There was a low murmur, but no one stepped forward to answer. Behind her the lifts gave out and there were audible thuds and yells of pain when the two boys hit the ground. She didn’t bother to turn around.

“So, the Alliances new soldiers just felt they should take it upon themselves to beat up one of their fellow recruits, do they? You there!” she barked at the biggest recruit in the crowd. “Front and center!”

He shuffled to the front. “Name and squad?”

“Todd Erikson, mam. First and third squad in attendance. We report to captain Corinthus.” he said through gritted teeth. Erikson looked angry for being singled out, and probably for reporting to a turian, and he met her eyes with a scornful smirk. Shepard curled her upper lip. Mam? Why not, as long as it allowed her to control the situation.

“Well, recruit Erikson, you will be responsible for taking your whole damn crew to the captain. Give a full recounting of what happened here. I will give my own later, and yours better corroborate mine. Bring those two morons with you.” She gestured to the recruits sprawled out on the pitch. “Dissmissed!” Her hand still shimmered menacingly purple, and Erikson resentfully obeyed. He told two of his team mates to help up the fallen brawlers, and they all made their way down toward the officer’s alley.

The turian on the ground had his blue eyes fixed on her with a distrustful stare. His colony markings were deep blue, and complimented his eyes. She sighed and bent down, offering her hand and shoulder.

“Come on, big guy. We need to get you to the medic. I'm pretty sure all that blue stuff is supposed to be on the inside.”

He chuffed a laugh, causing more blood to trickle down his mouth plates. “I was winning, you know.”

She shook her head, smiling. “Sure you were. I just wanted to ruin your fun, since you're oozing blood all over my sand pit.”

“Turians don't ooze,” he protested with a small smile.

“Mhm...”

He almost toppled over, and she grabbed him around the waist and hoisted his arm around her shoulder. He tensed immediately and tried to wriggle out of her grip. She knew why, but as a human supporting a tall spiky alien, that left her few options.

“Stop that. It's either this or I drag you by a spur to the doctor.”

“But I.. that’s... all right.” He sounded dejected, as if he could stoop no lower this moment.

“Don't worry about those just assholes, not all humans are like that. You'll get a chance to pay them back later. Same squad?”

The turian tried not to limp, and failed miserably. She adjusted her position so that she carried more of his weight, and he practically clung on her for support.

“No, I'm squad four. I was just exploring the station, and they jumped me, you know. I didn’t start that.”

“I believe you. They probably thought they could haze some random turian because the station is almost vacant. I’ll help you get even, don’t worry.”

He huffed at this, but she couldn't read his expression and changed the subject.

“First year in basic?”

“Yeah, I'm 15, it's mandatory. Never thought I'd be sent to Jump Zero's exchange program. Probably because my dad's high tier, they want to prove the Hierarchy is serious about cooperation. You?”

“Same thing here. I'm 17, mom is high in the fleet, and since I turned out to be a biotic, I was enlisted in Biotic Acclimation and Temperance training. Didn’t expect our instructors to be mainly turians. Conatix seems to believe having turians yell at you and berate you for sucking at controlling your powers is good for morale.”

The silver turian hacked a laugh at this, and she flashed him an encouraging smile.

He changed his grip on her shoulder and threw her a careful glance. “So, you're 17? You look older.”

Shepard raised an eyebrow. “Well, fuck you too.”

He looked startled before he saw she wasn't really angry.

“I meant, they followed your orders so readily, I thought you were..”

Now she was openly grinning at him and he decided to stop digging a deeper hole for himself. It was his turn to change the subject.

“So, humans also start military training from 15?”

“Nah. We usually start at 18, but biotics are expected to start earlier to gain some control over our powers, lest we kill everyone around us with a flick of the wrist. The Alliance send those of us who are stable enough to brain camp, and since the program is stuffed with turians, military training is part of the package.” She shuddered. “Commander Vyrnuus is my personal demon here. If he could throw me out the airlock and get away with it I bet I'd be slowly bobbing around the station with a look of frozen surprise on my face.”

“Demon?”

“That’s like an evil spirit.”

Now it was the turians turn to shudder. “There's no such thing.”

“Ah, well, that's your opinion. Here we are.”

They had arrived at the medical center, and she pushed open the door for them and helped him in. Liscus the receptionist saw the blood and called for a doctor over the comms. Minutes later doctor Publius appeared alongside a human porter pushing a stretcher.

“I'm doctor Publius. Got in a fight already, did we? Please sit down on this.” The turian first-year sat down. Shepard nodded to him and turned to leave.

“Wait!” he called after her, and she turned back, “I don't know your name. I'm Garrus Vakarian, pleased to have met you.” He held out his right hand for a handshake, and flared his mandibles in a grateful smile.”

 

A long stunned pause followed while Shepard stared dumbfounded at the young turian. A powerful undercurrent of emotions told her the ground had disappeared from under her, causing her to fall and the underground cave contained her worst dreams and nightmares: Images of her mother crying at Jonathan’s grave, the memorial placard with thousands of names, herself getting caught kissing Chellick, Anderson’s disapproving stare, her smiling skeletal father telling the camcorder he was going to be the worlds best dad, commander Vyrnnus cruel laughter, newsfeed of Galenus Vakarian acquitted by the Hierarchy for war crimes, Galenus Vakarian appointed as the executor of the Citadel, Galenus Vakarian with his blue eyes, light gray plates and blue colony markings, ordering her father to his death. It all blurred together until the image of Galenus morphed into the puzzled face of his son Garrus, slowly lowering his arm.

She stared wide eyed at the young turian, the personification of her family’s misery and loss. A representative of a species they’d warred with for years. Shepard’s own clandestine affair with a turian suddenly weighed on her conscience like high treason, and her entire body tensed like a tightly wound spring. Doctor Publius saw her reaction and was quicker on the uptake than either of them.

“Yes, well, you can greet later, we need to look at your injuries immediately.” He started pulling the gurney away from her. Shepard backed away slowly with a look of utter loathing at the personification of evil in front of her. Garrus, on the other hand, remained clueless. He put his hand down.

“Did I not do that right? Please, tell me your name before you go.”

Shepard remained tongue-tied, staring at him with a blank expression and continued ti back away.

Garrus hitched himself up and caught her arm. “Hey, I didn't mean to offend-”

She jerked away from him like she’d been given an electrical shock and grabbed the tip of his keel bone.

“Don’t. Fucking. Touch. Me!” she snarled.

Publius started to pat his jacket pockets with a desperate urgency. Shepard’s free fist crackled with biotic energy and she slammed it into Garrus’ midsection while simultaneously unleashing a blast that sent him sprawling backwards into the corridor. He crashed into the wall with tremendous force, broken picture frames and glass scattered around him upon impact. Behind them Liscus was shouting for security. As Garrus slid off the wall and collapsed on the floor, Shepard took one step forward, preparing another assault. His eyes bulged in fear and he made a pitiful attempt at crawling away from her, breath rasping. Pieces of broken glass protruded through his clothes and stained his Conatix suit blue. The metallic smell of blood and the sight of the broken turian before her shot a cold sensation of dread searing up her spine, and she hesitated. It was long enough for Publius to run up behind her and jab a syringe in her neck, releasing a powerful sedative into her bloodstream. Shepard’s mind scrambled as she was overcome by the drug. A rapid exchange of distorted images flashed through her head as she fell. The last incoherent thought flashing through her head was recruit Erikson’s face as he cheered her on while she was kicking a turian lying on blue sand.

Chapter Text

2174 CE – August 20th Gagarin Station Hospital Post-op 07:24 AM

The beeping sound of the heart rate monitor was the first thing Garrus noticed when he awoke. The room was dark except for the lights on the machine glowing like small beams and the jumping light column representing his heart. The second was that his mouth was parched. He painstakingly lifted himself to his elbows and looked around for something to abate his thirst. A small drinking bottle could be seen in sheen from the lights. It was placed on a table next to his bed, and he took it and drank greedily. Somewhere in the room someone stirred, and Garrus turned his head to the sound, trying to adjust his eyes.

“Who’s there?” he asked with a voice like gravel. “Doctor?”

The seated person gave a short flat laughter, revealing it as male before he switched on a lamp beside him. The sudden brightness made Garrus’ eyes hurt, and he momentarily turned away, closing them briefly. The unknown male gave a small scoff and idly scratched his spur. Garrus had never seen him before. He was a barefaced turian of an indeterminate gray-green plate shade, clad in a station instructor’s uniform. After yesterdays run in with the humans inhabiting this station, the presence of a turian should have felt reassuring, but Garrus felt his plates itch. Something in the man’s face was wrong. His eyes were cold and the continuous flicks of his mandibles made Garrus uneasy. The young turian searched around the room for a call button for the nursing staff, until he saw the older turian casually flipping it around his talons. He sank back on the bed while his visitor smiled.

“Vakarian the younger. Son of Executor Vakarian, scourge of smugglers and slavers in Citadel space,” he said in a mock friendly tone. “Such an honor to have the future of the Hierarchy on our humble station.” He made an artful pause before continuing: “That is, prior to you almost starting a race riot all by your lonesome less then three hours after coming aboard.”

There was an unmitigated tinge of glee in the barefaced turian’s voice. Garrus said nothing, merely stared in bewilderment at him. How was he in trouble? He’d done nothing wrong, had he? The humans were the ones at fault for this, they nearly killed him. The evidence for this was right on his body.

“Lost your tongue, boy? Got nothing to say against the human’s allegations?”

Garrus bared his teeth angrily. The heart rate monitor picked up the pace, and he tore off the chest sensor in annoyance. So that’s how it was, huh? He got knocked out and they blamed him for everything while he was unconscious? Fucking humans.

“I have done nothing wrong, sir! I got jumped on the sand pit by several humans, they started shoving me around and hitting me. I tried to fight back, but they were too many,” he said, fuming.

“I see. So you couldn’t handle a few humans. Disappointing,” the older turian remarked and pulled out a datapad, making notes. “What happened then?”

Garrus was taken aback by the callous words, but continued. “They managed to get me on the ground, two of them continued to kick me to prevent me from getting up. Then another human came, a girl. She did some biotic thing, making them fly into the air and away from me.”

This sparked some interest from the instructor. He looked up and stared intently at Garrus. “Really? One at the time or both of them?” he asked.

“Both of them, sir. She ordered them to report to the captain, and then helped me up. She almost carried me to this hospital, sir, which is why I don’t understand why she attacked me later.”

“Just like that? No warning?”

“I introduced myself and asked her name. She looked at me like I had, I don’t know, insulted her. She was going to leave, and I took her hand to ask what I’d done wrong. Then she slammed me into the wall. I thought she was going to end me,” Garrus said, trying to remember what might have set the biotic girl off. Handshake was the human way of greeting, his father had told him. There had been no other interaction between them.

“I see,” said the turian and made more notes. “Well, that covers your side of it. Let me explain how this looks to the humans.”

Feeling apprehensive, Garrus clawed his talons on the sheets.

“The son of a high-tier turian arrives at Gagarin. He starts a fight he cannot possibly win with a bunch of humans, before getting rescued by another human, who happens to be biotic. This human brings him to the hospital wing for treatment. When they arrive, this young turian introduces himself to the human girl, when she tries to leave, he attempts to grab her to pick another fight. She responds by using biotics on him in self-defense. He’s knocked out, and she is placed in the brig for fear of reprisals from the boy’s father. With me so far?” the older turian said with a small smile.

“That’s not true,” Garrus growled, “I never attacked her! It was her!”

Ignoring his outburst, the turian continued. “The humans are outraged that the son of Vakarian the elder cannot control himself, even going so far as attacking the very human that helped him. And the whole thing spirals out of control when it’s discovered that the helpful human is none other than Jane Shepard, daughter of the infamous Hannah Shepard. Galenus Vakarian’s disregard for human lives had been passed over to his son, and said son tries his best to continue his father’s work. What do you think of the story so far?”

Garrus mind raced to catch up with this information. A Shepard? That girl was a Shepard? No wonder she had it in for him. He clambered as best he could so he could sit up on the bed. Several of the bandages came loose and he felt the medigel under them come off and the wounds starting to seep small amounts of blood. The physical pain was nothing compared to the pang of injustice he felt by this spurious untruth perpetrated by the humans, and her in particular.

“That’s a damn lie!” he shouted, “a big fucking lie! I never hurt anyone!”

“No?” the turian opposite him asked in a sweet voice. “Then what of this report from your last school? You got into another fight you couldn’t win, and you.. oh dear, you bit the other boy without prior agreement or consent, committing anathema.”

Garrus froze in horror. How could he possibly know that. Those records were supposed to be sealed. The older turian chuckled darkly.

“And now you see the problem. A young turian with a track record of wrongful behavior, set against the words of a paragon of interspecies cooperation. Shepard has quite a few turian friends on the station, trained many of them herself. It would surely be inconceivable that she would attack you without good cause, Vakarian or no Vakarian.”

The unfairness at this whole situation stuck in Garrus’ gizzard. He was getting blamed for nearly being killed. How was this just?

“And then there is the matter of how this will reflect on your clan, boy. If this becomes a public case with hearings and press, things will come out that could smear the Vakarian name for generations,” the turian said, sounding very pleased. Garrus hung his head and his fringe at the last comment. One day among the humans, and he would bring years of shame on his family, without actually doing anything. His visitor seemed to savor his misery, and he added in an almost happy voice;

“There is a solution to all of this, if you care to hear it.”

Garrus jerked his head up. “What?”

“If you were to sign a statement saying this was all a misunderstanding, you might have unintentionally provoked the humans, there will be no complaints filed and you would prefer it was handled locally, I think we can keep all these unfortunate events under wraps,” he said and motioned to his datapad. “Everything will be expunged from the record.”

“But, that would mean they would get away with it,” Garrus protested.

“Yes. It would also mean that the rest of Palaven wouldn’t know that Vakarian the younger is a warmongering little runt, picking fights, fighting humans and committing anathemas wherever he goes,” the older male snapped. “An easy choice, all things considered.”

Garrus’ talons tore through his sheets. Those humans had outplayed him and left him no choice.

“I’ll do it,” he murmured.

“Excellent.” The gray-green turian handed him a datapad, and Garrus scribbled down words that would absolve his attackers from all guilt before he tossed it back. The older turian stood up to leave.

“And if you will excuse me, I have another meeting I need to get to. Rest up, I have a feeling you will need it,” he said as he left, leaving Garrus alone with the nagging sensation that he should have asked the other male his name.

 

 

2174 CE – August 20th Gagarin Station the brig – 07:52

When Shepard woke up, it was in an unfamiliar room stripped of everything except bare necessities. A sink, a toilet and a bunk bed were the only things inside the cage except for herself. Her head felt like a roadkilled pyjak, and when she rolled around on the bunk she felt something strapped around her neck. After a few seconds of exploration with her fingers, she recalled the shape of the device. It was a primitive bio-inhibitor, used for dangerous biotic prisoners. She closed her eyes and rubbed her aching temples as the events of the previous day flooded back. The recollection made her shrink. She’d really fucked up royally this time. That turian, she tried to not think of his name, had done nothing to deserve that blast. Not to mention the fact he’d been already injured. A strange mix of shame and anger welled up inside her chest. Who’s stupid idea was it to place a member of that family on this station while she was still here? The fact that she had no excuse for her actions only made her angrier, both with herself and that turian. He could have kept his trap shut until she’d left, and perhaps she would have been forewarned next time she saw him. Instead, he tried to stop her, he even touched her. Just the thought of that gave her jitters.

The sound of approaching footsteps made her struggle onto her feet and await the arrival of their owner. With her customary luck it would be captain Corinthus, or maybe even Vyrnnus, if he had arrived on the station. It was neither of them. The turian that stepped inside was Chellick.

Shepard gave him a tired smile. “Hi, Decian.”

He made no reply, merely stared at her like she was an unknown entity. Shepard walked up to the bars and reached her hand out to him. He made no attempt to take it. They looked at each other through the bars in what, to Shepard, appeared like an eternity.

“Is it true?” he finally said.

“Which part,” she asked as she let her hand fall to her side.

“That you almost killed a turian first-year yesterday.” His voice was dull, but underneath was a desperate hope, trembling in his subvocals. She felt sick to her stomach, knowing that she was about to crush it.

“It is.” She tapped her fingers on the collar around her neck. “They don’t give you one of these for nothing.”

Chellick bored his eyes into hers. “This amuses you? It’s funny you almost killed someone?” He took one step forward, and his tall figure was now so dangerously tense, she instinctively took one step back and was glad there were bars between them. This was Decian, her funny and adorable Decian, transformed into an angry predator with his sights set on her. The situation was not funny at all.

“No,” she said and looked away.

“Why?” he demanded.

Shepard considered making an excuse, but there was none to be found. She opted for honesty.

“Because his name was Vakarian,” she answered, still looking intently at the wall of her cell, avoiding his eyes.

“That’s it? A name? A family feud none of you were to blame for?” He sounded shocked.

She wanted to explain, to tell Chellick about the seconds before she blasted Garrus Vakarian, but she knew it would only enrage him further. That she felt she betrayed her family by caring for him? The thousands of names on a placard in Siberia that the young turian had no blame for? Garrus’ resemblance of his father? They were all true, and they were rationalizations of the fact that she lost control of her anger and unleashed on someone that didn’t have it coming. There was no explanation that would exonerate her.

“Yes,” she said in a hollow voice and waited for judgment.

Chellick looked hurt, as if she’d stolen something precious from him.

“So that’s it. That’s all it takes for the Shepard family to harm others, a shared name,” he said after a while. “I was warned about thinking to highly of you, but I thought you were better than this. Perhaps you are just like your mother underneath, hating all turians under a thin veneer of friendship.”

“Decian, please don’t… I never pretended with you. You’ve become one of my best friends. Much more than a friend, I truly care for-...”

“Stop!” he cut her off. “I don’t want to hear. Whatever we were, it’s over. Done! I won’t be friends with murderers.”

Murderer.

The word struck in her mind like a hammerblow. That’s what she could have been if she hadn’t been stopped. The lingering anger from earlier dissipated as she was forced to look at her actions from his perspective. That turian could have been dead because she didn’t restrain herself. She stepped further back from the bars with a blank expression on her face. Chellick saw it and misinterpreted it as indifference. He clamped his mandibles to his face.

“I waited for you yesterday, you know. When you didn’t show, I searched everywhere for you. When they told me what you hand done, I refused to believe it. But I see the truth now. You’re no different than the humans that hurt that kid on the pitch, Shepard. In fact, you’re worse, and you deserve what’s coming to you,” he said with a look of utter disgust on his face.

Shepard, she thought. Not Jane. Not anymore. Yesterday she’d have given anything for a room alone with him. Today she could no longer bear watching his disappointed face. She cleared her throat so as to not betray her feelings when she spoke next.

“I don’t disagree with you,” she said in a low voice. “Would you please leave?”

She walked back to the bunk and sat down, trying hard to hold back tears. Chellick opened and closed his mouth several times, trying to decide if it was worth saying anything else, but decided against it. Instead he stormed out and slammed the door behind him. Shepard gritted her teeth and forced the tears back. She would be in front of a hearing board in a matter of hours, and she would not be seen as weak. Her actions were wrong, but she could end this in the right way. Admit her guilt, and accept whatever punishment they came up with. Chellick was right. She deserved whatever they threw at her.

 

 

2174 CE – August 20th Gagarin Station the brig – 08:41 AM

When captain Corinthus marched into the station brig, he didn’t know what to expect from Shepard. He had imagined that she would perhaps rail and complain that she’d been drugged, collared and imprisoned, but she hadn’t mentioned that with a word. Instead she listened to the charges of reckless endangerment, bodily harm and willful imperilment of another student’s physical well being with a deadened expression that worried him. Commander Vyrnnus drove his biotics hard enough that some of them snapped, but Shepard had seemed immune to the commander’s harsh treatment. He had a good idea of what drove Shepard to injure the Vakarian boy, and she confirmed his suspicions with a simple “Yes.” Feuds were not that uncommon on Palaven, and the captain cursed himself for not checking that Shepard and Vakarian had both arrived early. Still, it was no pardon for this kind of behavior. He shuddered to think of what might have happened. The boy was stable, but badly injured. From the corner of his eye he saw that Shepard continued to wear an empty expression while answering his questions in monosyllables or short sentences. During the interview, she kept touching the collar around her neck, but omitted nothing and did nothing to try and justify her actions. When he asked why, she merely said ‘because he’s a Vakarian.’ Nothing else. Corinthus rubbed his crest in exasperation. With no other explanations for the attack, Shepard would be expelled from the BAat-program, and the repercussions would carry all the way to the highest echelons in their respective governments. The lesson taken from this station would be that old enemies would never become allies. He sighed and tucked the pad away, then signaled Shepard to get up and follow him. The review board was assembled, and they were expected.

 

 

2174 CE – August 20th Gagarin Station impromptu review board office 09:15 AM

The board sat a mere 10 minutes deliberating after Corinthus had repeated Shepard’s account of the attack. When she was called in front of them she knew the sentence would be expulsion. There was no other possible outcome, and she was glad it didn’t drag out in a long and heated discussion where she had to defend her position with lame arguments. Better to be up front and get it over with. A turian female on the board clasped her talons and leaned forward.

“Are you sure you have nothing else to add, recruit Shepard? This does not bode well for your future at the station.”

“No, mam.” Shepard said calmly.

The turian female leaned back. “Very well. Then I’m sorry to inform you that..”

“Might I have a say in this?” came a very familiar and unwelcome voice. Vyrnnus had arrived.

“All right, commander Vyrnnus, but this board will not change it’s opinion on your recommendation alone,” the female said.                                                                                                                        
“Then perhaps a look at another piece of evidence would sway the board,” he said with a quick smirk in Corinthus direction. “I’m afraid the good captain has only gathered damning information from one side.”

Vyrnnus emphasized the word good, letting it linger a second before he continued his speech. The captain twitched his mandibles in irritation. He cast a glance at Shepard, and saw that she was completely unaware of whatever ruse her instructor was up to.

“I have spoken to the young Vakarian, and he has admitted his complicity in yesterdays lamentable events. Being new on this station, he unintentionally aggravated the humans, leading to these two violent incidents. Even though Shepard’s actions later in that afternoon was reprehensible, she was also the one that saved Vakarian on the pitch. This must be taken into account before the verdict is pronounced.”

Vyrnnus tapped his onmi-tool, and sent a copy of Garrus’ statement to the board and Corinthus.

They read it and turned to Corinthus. A human board-member asked;

“Captain, what do you say to this? If the boy was awake, you should have spoken to him as well as Shepard.”

The captain stood up. “I was told he was still asleep, and with Shepard’s explanation, it didn’t seem pertinent,” he said and glared at Vyrnnus. That bastard had gotten to the boy, but how? Shepard flicked her eyes between Corinthus and Vyrnnus, a faint glimmer of hope appearing on her face.

“Nevertheless, Shepard has acted in a despicable manner, regardless of provocation. Are we merely to let her stay? Without any reaction?” the turian female snapped.

“Off course not,” Vyrnnus smiled. “Shepard must learn that her actions have consequences. The board, with a little input from myself, will come up with a fitting punishment. One that will both correct and instruct. After all, she is not the only guilty party here.” Corinthus heard the cruel whinge in Vyrnnus ‘ subvocals and winced. It might be better for Shepard to be sent off the station.

“I must impress the board with the severity of attacking a fellow student. Shepard must be expelled,” he implored.

“Must, captain?” the human man said. “This board must and will do nothing by your orders.”

“I agree with the commander,” the female said. “This is better solved here in this ensemble, rather than involving other parties.” She pointed at Shepard. “Recruit, you will leave while we discuss disciplinary actions.”

The board seemed relieved at having been given another option, and Shepard was led outside by a guard.

“So, Vyrnnus, what is your plan?” a male turian board-member asked.

“It’s harsh but effective,” the commander said and began laying out his idea.

 

 


 

Shepard stood completely still outside the meeting room, trying to eavesdrop anything from inside. The voices were muffled, except for a few outbursts from what sounded like Corinthus. At one point a big argument broke out, and she tried to shuffle closer to the door, but was yanked back by the scruff of her neck by the guard. She glared at him, but said nothing. This was not the day to start a brawl. For some reason, and she couldn’t fathom why, Vyrnnus had appeared like some guardian angel and was prepared to fight to keep her on the station. Under the righteous voice that told her she deserved to be thrown out, was a smaller more treacherous voice that whispered that she still might make it, if she looked appropriately contrite and apologized. The latter was gaining the upper hand when the door burst open and captain Corinthus stomped out. He gave her a fast angry glance and walked off. Vyrnnus promenaded out after him. He gave Shepard an unctuous smile before grabbing her shoulder, boring his talons into her flesh. Shepard yelped in pain, and that made his smile even wider.

“With me, Shepard. We have some things to discuss.”

She was practically dragged by her shoulder to an unoccupied room and thrown inside. Vyrnnus grabbed her collar and stuck a small key into the lock, releasing her from the shackles. Rubbing her neck, she turned to face him when he backhanded her hard across the face. Shepard fell backwards on the floor, blood streaming from a split lip.

“That is for causing me no end of trouble before school is even in session, Shepard,” he growled.

“And if you think you have a cause for complaint, you can take that up with Corinthus. He’s very upset with you as well, though not for the same reason I am.”

Shepard licked blood of her lips and got up carefully, watching his every move.

“That’s right. Respect. That’s what you’ll show me every spiritsdamned day you remain on this station. I am the reason you’re still here, and I am the only reason you’ll remain here. One word from me, and you’re bound and collared and shipped in a cell to Arcturus. Do you understand me?”

“Yes, sir.” She had problems speaking clearly.

“Good. Now I will say I’m impressed. You sent the poor boy several meters backwards by a flick of the hand.” He sounded pleased. “I also heard you sent the humans that first attacked him flying, keeping both of them airborne for a good long while. Very impressive. Not as inept as most of your kind, eh, Shepard?”

“You would know, you've pushed me often enough.”

“For your benefit, human. Now we see the results.” He leaned on his desk and crossed his arms.

“The board doesn’t see that as I do. They want penance from you, and I have thought of a way for you to show some,” he made a grimace, “personal growth. You will be assigned squad 4 as a leader. Mostly turians, in the hope that will cure you of randomly attacking my kind. Furthermore, every squad member who fails will count towards your expulsion. You'll organize their training, find their weaknesses and mold them into soldiers worthy of the turian army. You yourself must be the best if they are to be the best, none of that Alliance crap your people do. You will become as close to turian as you can, or die trying. If I find that you set them up for failure, you will be discharged from the program. Perhaps an asari strip club will take you in, if you can learn to use your biotics for more intimate means.”

Shepard gasped. This was an even more sadistic version of Vyrnnus. She never believed she’d come to miss the old one. “But I'm done with squad training, I'm in bio-temperance this year.”

“Oh, you'll do both, or you'll do neither. Condition one, if too many of your squad fail at the 6 month field exam and the war games at the end of year, you'll have failed as well, and you're gone.”

“There will be no time for-” Shepard began, but Vyrnnus cut her off.

“I'll see to any extra classes you'll need.” He smiled again, and the smile was decidedly unpleasant.

“Condition two, Vakarian the younger is in that squad. If he fails, you fail.”

She stiffened and stared intently at the floor. No! Never, she screamed inwardly. That little brat was going to ruin things for her a second time.

“Yes, that choice is deliberate, and you’ll accept it and learn to love it. If not, you’re gone.” He gave a small laugh.

“Your squad will know this is a punishment for you, and they'll expect you to fail them. It's twice as hard to earn the trust of someone that dislikes you from the start. And you're a biotic. They'll love you all right, and not just Vakarian. The board wants to see remorse, and you’ll give them that by cooperating with turians as a team, Vakarian especially.”

Shepard searched desperately for an out, but saw no leeway in his face. She would accept his outrages demands, or be expelled. Loose her chance at the N7 program. David would be disappointed. Her mother would be furious and disappointed, a very bad combination indeed. And Garrus had been further injured due to her lapse in control. And Chellick was still here. There was no telling whether it was possible to accomplish two classes at once, but there was a chance. A small one, and she would take it.

“I agree to your conditions.”

“Of course you do, Shepard. You're an ambitious little shit, but not without skills. As long as you stay on the station, your ass belongs to me. If you complain about harsh treatment, I’ll have you thrown out. If you complain about training getting too rigorous, you’re out. If you do anything to piss me off again, you’re out. See a pattern here?”

Shepard yearned to punch the turian straight in the face, but restrained herself to balling her fists and muttering a “Yessir!” through her injured mouth. The taste of blood was still pungent.

“Would you look at that? Progress already. Now, say thank you for helping you to stay.”

The taste of defeat was worse than the taste of blood. “Thank you, commander Vyrnnus.”

Vyrnnus laughed again and waved towards the door.

“I expect you in the line-up with squad 4 in the morning. You’re confined to quarters until then. Now get out.”

She controlled her face until she was outside the building, and then no amount of Vyrnnus could prevent her biotics from erupting in a glow of shimmering purple covering her entire body. Once the surge settled she started to walk back to her barracks. Since yesterday, the place had filled up with students, and several of them gawked at her bloody face. She ignored them, pulled a small towel from the locker and cleaned her lip. The task set by the board was almost impossible, and yet, there was no way in hell she would let that barefaced asshole break her, despite being encumbered with that worthless Vakarian. If only there was a way to repair the breach between her and Chellick. Perhaps she would get another chance to talk to him tomorrow, to mend fences now that she was no longer scheduled for transport out in the morning.

Shepard stayed put as the rest of the students left for the opening ceremony. She’d been ordered to stay, and not even Dmitri could have coaxed her into breaking more orders this day, even if they were from Vyrnnus.

 

 

Chapter Text

2174 CE – August 21st Gagarin Station Mess hall 06:59 AM

As soon as Shepard walked into the mess hall, she started checking around for Chellick, or just even one of her other friends. Not catching sight of them at first, she got up to the counter to get a breakfast tray. When she walked past a table of turians, there was a curious murmur rising as she went, but so far no outright hostility. The humans, however, were not so discreet. She recognized several members of squad 1 and 3, and they wolf whistled and gave scattered applause as she made her way further in. An ill omen of things to come. Shepard tried to keep a neutral face and ignore them. After fetching the tray, she spotted Emerus Victus sitting at their usual table, and took a few tentative steps in his direction. He didn’t see her, but was waving at someone else and she turned her head to see who. Arista had just walked through the door, smiling and making a beeline for his table. Chellick trudged in right behind her, and he spotted her immediately. While he kept walking, she saw his mandibles snap to his face, and when he sat down it was very pointedly with his back to her. Any hope of reconciliation with him this soon went out the window. Shepard turned back to the section with mostly humans and settled at a vacant table. She missed the glance Emerus now cast in her direction, before he gave Chellick a slightly disapproving look. Chellick paid him no mind and went to get breakfast.

Shepard checked the time and scarfed down her own food alone. There was no way she could afford to be late for her first squad meeting, and no reason to stick around the mess any longer then necessary.

 

2174 CE – August 21st Training field 11:03 AM

The following midday had in Shepard’s mind, been a horrible trial. Not only was she the only biotic on the field, she was oldest squad leader, and her team consisted of Garrus Vakarian, Aius Uticensis, Nirea Tarpeian, Castor Sorio, Strabo Calan, Mevia Orestillan and Ivar Argyle. With six turians and one human, her squad was the only one with such a strong slant to one species, and she had an inkling suspicion it was done on purpose. If this punishment thing worked out, Vyrnnus would be hailed as a promoter of collaboration between former enemies. If it didn’t, the onus would be on her. He had set this up perfectly, a win at every scenario. As much as she despised the man, she admired his set-up.

There was close to 40 squads and around 300 recruits to be dispersed on the different squad leaders. There was expected to be a certain amount of washouts every year, and therefore they accepted more recruits than they expected to graduate. The other squads was given leaders from those in their second year of basic, among them Emerus, Celsus Corinthus and Chellick. She was a little surprised Arista wasn’t among the chosen. The female turian had been one of her best students in hand to hand, and Shepard knew she excelled in almost every class. She made a mental note of asking, if she ever got the chance again.

Shepard ran the squad through a handful of aptitude drills, and from the incoming results knew she had her work cut out for her. Argyle, as he’d asked to be called was the slowest of the bunch, but immensely strong for a human boy of fifteen. He’d done quite well when pitted against Castor. The turian had ended face down in the dirt, the drubbing somewhat lessened by Argyles big smile and offered hand from above. Aius was a snarky little devil, always a ready quip and a snide remark. Nirea had done the turian equivalent of rolling her eyes at him several times over, and even Shepard had to hide a smile every now and then. Mevia and Strabo was clean slates for now, but Garrus was going to be a problem.

He had been forced to abstain from several of the more physical tests due to his wounds. His explanation of the cause for this left the other turians wary at her, and understandably so. Garrus himself seemed to have some suppressed anger towards her, and she couldn’t blame him for that. No, there would be difficulties working with the Vakarian, not because he was antagonistic towards her, but because even after yesterdays humbling experience, she simply couldn’t stand him. He was an obnoxious little jerk, and he obeyed her orders to the letter with an air of silent rebuke. It was almost like he was daring her to find a fault with the way he carried out his duty, like he was trying to show her up. Taking down more notes on her pad, she tried to appear unaffected, but under the surface she glowered. Garrus had insisted on being allowed to participate in the gun aptitude tests, and even though his injuries to his right hand probably affected his score, he had an impressive accuracy with both assault rifles and sniper rifles. She copied the result from the target screen onto her datapad, and was engrossed in thought when a turian voice behind her made her jump.

“So, you're back with the grunts?” The voice belonged to Celsus.

She gave the turian an annoyed cursory glance. He too had grown over the summer, and his dark gray plates gave him a very handsome appearance. Shepard slapped the thought out of her head on the spot. No more turians.

Instead she gave him a halfhearted shrug and an apologetic smile. “Couldn’t stay away. Had to do something stupid to land myself here again.”

He grinned. “Never thought humans were this stupid. You continue to impress.”

Shepard gave him the finger. “And you're some random plain-plated turian, interfering with my assessments. Shove off.”

He chuckled. “Me? Plain? Hah! I take it you won't give me the whole story behind you landing your sorry ass back with the grunts?”

“Its almost like you can mind meld, nosy one. Been embracing eternity too much over the holiday?”

“I haven't tried any asaris yet, but that thing they do does sounds interesting. And I happen to be glad you’re back here. Going up against you this year should be fun. I rule squad 2, by the way.”

Aius had just made clean work of the shotgun maze and was gloating it over Mevia who had two misses. Shepard made another note, then looked up at Celsus.

“You rule squad 2? Not afraid they'll commit mutiny, Oh king of the monkeys?”

He grinned again. “What, just because I got stuck with 4 humans? I consider it at challenge, since I'm going to follow in my fathers footsteps one day. He’s furious with you, by the way.”

“Believe me, I know,” she said, shaking her head and watched Castor miss several shots on a still standing target. Damn. That would require serious work.

“That doesn't look good,” Celsus observed and nodded at the screen. “If you need any advice on how to train your team, I'll be happy to help.”

The smugness in his tone grated her nerves, but the humor glinting in his eyes prevented her from getting angry.

“Have no trouble on my account, Your Majesty. At the end of this month you'll be begging me to let your squad learn from my guys.”

She flashed him her most glib smile. He laughed.

“A wager? Winner gets everlasting glory and the loser’s vendor tokens?

“Although I'll feel bad from taking food out of a starving turian’s mouth, a fool and his tokens are easily parted. You're on!”

He flared his mandibles to show the challenge was accepted and walked back to his own squad. Shepard followed him with her eyes as he left and was grateful at least one of her turian acquaintances still spoke to her. Once again she missed the scrutinizing glance from Emerus on herself.

 

When Shepard reviewed the results of the drills, a few of her team already distinguished themselves for certain classes based on performance and background. Aius and Argyle as a close quarter specialists, Nirea as a combat engineer, and Garrus as a sniper. The other three were more all-rounders, even if Castor was going to need several hours in the new Armax combat sim to get his accuracy up. At least he didn't flinch under fire during the simulation. Small blessings were better than none.

To keep up with her biotics classes, Vyrnnus had equipped her with a primitive wristband style omni-tool. It was blocked from making contact with the extranet and the station com-buoys, maintaining a strict two-way link between herself and the commander. He had assured her in his usual charming manner that any tampering with the device would lead to immediate expulsion. Shepard briefly considered asking if there was anything that wouldn't lead to that result, but kept her mouth shut. She couldn't afford to sass him anymore. After the regular recruits were done for the day, she was due to meet up in the library for studying biotic theory, and then a personal lesson with Vyrnnus during the station evening meal time. The library was a typical space library, filled with terminals, datapads and holoscreens and not a single paper book. Shepard usually liked to read, but the time schedule for these extra sessions sucked. She knew he’d done that on purpose to see if she’d complain, but instead she raided the vending machine for a pile of ration bars she ate in secret at the library. If Celsus actually won their bet, she’d be in trouble, Shepard mused, and arrived at the conclusion that the best course of action was to get through this day, then nab whatever she could get her hands on during breakfast time.

 

2174 CE – August 21st Library 18:55 PM

The silent buzz of her old omni-tool alerted her of an incoming message from the commander, and Shepard gathered her notes and went to meet him. The room he directed her to was their usual gym room, but he’d informed her that they would train wherever he saw fit. Just another one of his little quirks.

The mats were already laid out when she arrived. Shepard was puzzled, as they were rubber mats designed for outdoor use in rain and bad weather. They were rarely in use on a space station. Vyrnnus himself was clad in a training suit like her. He motioned her to take position opposite him, and she tossed her backpack aside and did as instructed.

“Much like your recruits, today you’ll be run through a series of tests. We’ll see how well you react, or how badly. You are not allowed to use offensive biotics against me, I’m not the one being tested. Are we clear?”

“Perfectly, sir,” she said.

“Good! Then let’s begin.”

A large dumbbell rose from the ground and launched straight at her. She blocked it easily with a barrier, but was taken aback by his follow up. He lunged at her and slashed his talons on her arm opening up three red gashes, dripping blood on the mat. She jumped back with a short yell. The copper smell of the red blood made Vyrnnus sneer.

“Disgusting.”

Shepard flicked wide eyes between the wounds and Vyrnnus. It dawned on her that the mats were placed down for a specific purpose.

“Well?” Vyrnnus smiled cruelly. “Something you’d like to say?”

There was plenty she wanted to say, but now was not the time. One year, she repeated in her head, one year and she’d be gone. It wasn’t that long. She resumed position.

“No, sir. Would you like to go again?”

His mandibles flared so wide that all his teeth showed between his mouth plates.

“That’s the spirit. Let’s see if we can’t forge something out of that soft human flesh.”

She prepared for another biotic attack, but instead he stepped forward and stomped his two-taloned foot on top of hers, tearing through her sneaker and into the flesh. Shepard cried out in pain and sank to one knee, and he followed up with an elbow to the face, splitting her lip wide open again. Stepping back, he took in the sight of her spluttering blood on the mats, trying to get up.

“Giving up yet?” he taunted.

In her pain addled mind a stubborn sense of resistance made her pull herself up. That barefaced bastard fought like Wreav, cheating when he felt like it. She too could fight like that, or at least go down with the ship.

“Is that all you got?” The lip made her slur the words.

Vyrnnus smiled again. He was getting far too much enjoyment out of this. “Now we’re getting somewhere. Take your punishment like a turian.”

His third attack was again without biotics, but she was expecting him to fight unfair now, and she blocked his strike, evaded his rendering talon feet and managed to land a punch in the softer hide on his stomach.

“Oomph. Not bad,” he breathed. “But still not good enough.” He began a flurry of talon swipes at her, and while her hastily conjured barriers could take most of the impacts, the lacerations on her arms and body grew rapidly in number. She was forbidden to use biotics against him, so getting distance between them was nigh impossible. Even if doing the mandible yank would be immensely satisfying, she doubted the commander would appreciate her ingenuity. Instead she concentrated on defending as best she could, keeping as far away from his talons as possible, and trying to dodge or deflect the occasional biotic volley thrown in her direction while landing the odd cheap-shot herself.

 

After about an hour and a half, Shepard was bleeding from dozens of cuts and stumbling to keep up. The wounds gave off a burning sensation on her arms and she was feeling lightheaded. It forced her to grab the wall bars while she was gasping for air and flecks of red twinkled before her eyes. Luckily for her, Vyrnnus all of a sudden got an incoming call on his omni-tool, and he stopped his advance at once and held up a hand to silence her, and pressed ‘receive’.

“I’ve told you not to call me on this channel,” he hissed, “this had better be important!”

“It’s about our oldest friend,” the voice said, sounding nervous.

Vyrnnus put the call on hold at once. He shot a dark look at Shepard, who was too far gone to be interested in whatever deal Vyrnnus was involved in and was hanging on the wall bars to prevent herself from falling. He hoisted his own bag over his shoulder and walked over and grabbed her by the collar. “Lesson over, Shepard. Remember what I said about complaints.”

He picked up her backpack and thrust it in her arms before dragging her to the door and pushing her outside. The caller on the omni-tool sent a buzz, and Vyrnnus growled impatiently. “Yes yes, be right there.” Opening his own bag, he plucked out 4 packets of medigel and dropped them on the ground.

“That should be sufficient. Now get lost.” He slammed the door in her face.

Bending down very carefully, she picked up the medigel and placed them in her backpack. The training shirt she was wearing was torn to shreds, and she pulled it off and wiped her face on it, swapping it for a Conatix hoodie. It was big enough around the arms to prevent blood from seeping through the fabric, and the black sneakers hid the blood on her foot. This was not an ideal start of the semester, and tomorrow she would have to train with the other recruits despite her injuries. Fantastic.

Shepard limped her way towards the locker rooms for a shower, when she bumped into a familiar face. Chellick . Hoping he was in a better mood now, she tried to speak to him.

“Hi De..Chellick. Saw you’ve been made squad leader. Congratulations,” she said, giving him a cautious smile.

His posture tensed, but since she’d spoken to him, he couldn’t ignore her entirely.

“Yeah. Some of us get what we’ve earned, you know,” he said.

She didn’t rise to the bait.

“Couldn’t have happened to a better guy. Emerus and Celsus too. I’m just surprised Arista didn’t make the cut?”

His mandibles twitched irritably. “Why don’t you ask her yourself? Or are you too busy with your new friends?”

“You mean my squad? I haven’t had much time to get to know them yet.”.

“No, I meant the bigots that applauded you in the mess hall? Didn’t think that would get around?”

A twinge of shame made her avert her eyes. “I didn’t want that.”

“But you got it. You get a lot of things lately,” he said, sarcasm dripping of every syllable. Shepard pulled away from his, looking hurt. Perhaps it was foolish, but she’d hoped he of all people would give her another chance, instead of rubbing her face in her failure.

“I get everything that’s coming to me, don’t I?” she said, raising her head and giving him a false smile so wide her lip started bleeding again. His eyes widened when he saw her injured face, and he made a few tentative sniffs, smelling blood, but he composed himself quickly.

“Did you ever consider that you deserve every part of it?” he barked, condemnation sparkling from his gaze. Seeing his hardened resolve, Shepard's initial hopes faltered and then crumbled entirely under the pressure.

“Even if I hadn’t, I’m so glad I have you to remind me,” she said quietly and brushed past him. There was no forgiveness to be found here, and she’d had enough of berating turians for one day. A burning sensation came behind her eyes, but she blinked furiously to force it back. No crying and no self pity, Shepard swore inwardly. The bed was made, and now she had to lie in it alone.

 

2174 CE – September 07th Mess Hall 19:11 PM

“Have you tried talking to her after that?” Emerus said in an irked tone. His friend’s endless whining was getting on his last nerves.

“No. Why should I?” Chellick asked, giving Emerus a disdainful look.

“Because if you really were done with her like you’ve blabbed about for the last two weeks, you wouldn’t force the rest of us to listen to this crap over and over again.”

Chellick didn’t answer, but continued to stab at his dinner with the fork. Emerus sighed. He had been just as upset with Shepard as Chellick when he first heard of the incident, but this was getting ridiculous. The few times he saw Shepard lately was at breakfast when she was stuffing food into her pockets whenever she believed herself to be unseen, and walking around before night cycle with a dazed and exhausted expression in the direction of the bio-barracks. She also carried around an aroma of medigel. Something was clearly amiss, but Chellick refused to see it, and his continued presence prevented Emerus from approaching Shepard himself. Arista was too busy with her special project, and that left him to deal with the pining and resentful turian seated on the other side. Emerus had thought of asking Celsus for moral support, but he had also started in the food thieving business, and levo food at that. After dinner the young Corinthus had taken to casually grab a few items of wrapped foodstuffs and pretending they were for him. Emerus had a funny feeling he knew where that food really went. This triangle thing could spell disaster for the participants, he reflected, but then again, if he had to listen to Chellick’s despondency for a whole year, he might just push the guy out of the station airlock. Better to move things along. Chellick opened his mouth to say something, but Emerus cut in first.

“So, Shepard seems a bit tense lately. Training with the squad in the morning, biotics in the evening. Might be due for some stress relief.”

His friend went visibly rigid.

“Who cares,” he mumbled through closed mandibles.

“I know you don’t, wasn’t talking about you,” Emerus replied smugly.

“Probably some racist human, clapping her every move like a trained pyjak,” Chellick growled.

Emerus chuffed. “You would think that, but no.” He took a strip of meat and dropped it in his mouth, savoring the taste and pretending to have no further interest in the matter. Across the table, Chellick was staring at him irately.

After a loosing inner battle, Chellick forced himself to ask: “Well? Who then?”

“Hmm? Oh. Celsus. They have a bet going, or so he told me. Was pretty sure he’d win. Perhaps that’s the stake? A night of steamy hot passion for whomever has the better squad.”

“Fuck you!” Chellick said with narrow eyes.

“Don’t blame me for this. I’m not the one who told her she deserved to be punched in the face.”

“One small cut for almost sending someone to the morgue is hardly fair.”

“Whatever,” Emerus said, tossing another piece of food in his mouth. “You didn’t want it, and now he’s got it.”

“He doesn’t have her!” Chellick shouted and with a backhand swipe threw his food tray into the wall, spraying sauce everywhere.

“It can’t be like that! She’s not like that!” he said, pointing a shaking talon at Emerus. A hush swept over the mess hall, and Chellick looked around at all the wide eyed faces.

“Excuse me,” he murmured and hurriedly walked out.

Emerus shook his head. “Making complete sense there, Decian,” he said to himself and continued to eat his dinner.

 

2174 CE – September 07th Library 20:03 PM

“I’ve tried that,” Celsus snapped at her, “but the damn human still misses half her shots.”

Shepard rubbed her eyes and tried to explain again. “Celsus, you’re a big scary turian to her, and hovering over her all the time is only going to make it worse. You’ve shown her how to shoot, now she needs to practice without you coming down on her like the wrath of the gods after every shot. Just give her the orders and go correct someone else. Let her have time for a few warm up shots, then go back and review any mistakes.”

The library was empty except the two of them. Even the librarian had left for the night. Her lessons with Vyrnnus had been postponed due to some pressing off world business of his, and Shepard usually used that time to catch up on her biotics, either training on the bio-course or reading up on theory. Her entire body was covered in scars and healing wounds from their training. She had concealed most of it with long sleeves, but a few days rest to let the larger gashes close properly was a welcome change. The same could be said for Celsus’ company, and his offerings of chow. With all the biotics training, healing and missed meal times, she was starting to loose weight.

The young turian grumbled, but deliberated on her words. Reaching across the table, she snatched a ration bar and took a bite.

“The commander is not here right now, so why aren’t you in the mess hall for a warm meal?” Celsus asked.

“Needed to catch up on some work,” she said, hoping he’d drop the subject. He didn’t.

“Don’t tell me you’re avoiding our friends? Arista has been asking for you.”

“I just.. I’ve found a routine that works for me. Don’t want to break it now.”

“Is that all? Nothing else?” he said with a skeptical look.

“Well, no,” she admitted. “I’m avoiding that Vakarian boy. I’m trying, but he just rubs me the wrong way.”

Celsus chuffed. “How about a turian that rubs you the right way?”

The last piece of the ration bar en route to her mouth froze. The look on his face was of honest interest, nothing sleazy at all, but it left her unsettled all the same.

“Don’t have that,” she said and swallowed the last piece of the bar.

“Not what I heard,” he smiled. “In fact, I’ve heard precious little else from a certain turian.”

“Funny how rumors get around,” she said flatly. “I’ve heard the precise opposite. Straight from the horse’s mouth, as it were.”

“Stupid horse,” he shrugged. “It’ll come around.”

“Do you even know what a horse is?”

“Some daft earth animal, not knowing what’s good for it,” he said airily.

That made her laugh. “Thank you, Celsus. For the food, and for coming to talk to me.”

“No problem. I’m just here to pick your brain for good ideas, and leave you in the dust at firex.”

She tossed the wrapper at him. “Fat chance. Prepare to pay the superior alien, turian.”

“Hah! You know, there’s little chance of our teams actually meeting one another in the exam. Random draw, remember?” he said.

“Thank your spirits then. Squad 4 is invincible! I got 3 great hand to hand combatants, at least two crack shots and a pretty good overall team ready to kick ass, and take names.” Shepard threw her arms up in a victory pose, carefully holding on to her sleeves.

Celsus merely raised a single brow plate and crossed his arms. “And how are we feeling today, patient Shepard? Any long lasting symptoms from your last fight with Vyrnnus?” he replied dryly.

Shepard grinned maniacally. Vyrnnus was far away, and so were the horror of his lessons.

“I feel fantastic knowing that I’ll be robbing the great Celsus Corinthus of his only currency to buy Fornax,” she grinned.

“I’ll just borrow yours,” he flared back. “I bet you still have those pages.”

Her eyes narrowed and she said on a mock strict voice: “So you were in on it. On my shit list now, Corinthus.”

“Nah, you adore me, I bring you gifts,” he laughed and pushed the last of the ration bars across the table. Her laughter joined his.

“All right then. You’re almost off the hook. Next time I’ll plaster your room.” She winked at him. “With the Krogasm edition!”

Celsus almost choked on his tongue.

 

2174 CE – September 18th Infirmary 16:36

The small ripping sound when doctor Publius slowly tore the bandage off his wound made Garrus’ hide shiver, and he looked down on his loose lower rib plate with a pained expression.

“Still not healed,” Publius said with furrowed brow plates. “Might need to confine you to bed rest if the plate doesn’t reattach soon. You should not participate in firex. It could do more harm than good.”

“No! I’ll be fine,” Garrus said hastily, “it’s mostly basic stuff like target shooting and theory. That’s not so bad.”

“True, but then there is the obstacle course and the hand to hand tournament. Don’t think I don’t know the curriculum, Vakarian,” Publius said, taking out a new bandage from the cupboard.

“It’s just one day, then I can take it easy,” Garrus tried.

“Sure, because then secex is just four weeks and two days away, no training required for that,” Publius said sarcastically.

“Please! I can’t fail on the first exam. Not after.. her.” He trailed off.

Garrus was aware he was being observed, and made light of the singeing pain in his side plate.

The doctor twitched his mandibles. “Is Shepard giving you a hard time?”

“Not too much.. Not much more than the others get, anyway. She just has this look on her face, like she wants to box me up and send me with a one way ticket to Invictus.”

Publius sighed. “That is to be expected, given your family history. I hoped Shepard would be the one to break the mold, but alas.. Some things are ingrained too deep.”

“I get that her father died during the failed invasion of earth, and that my father somehow caused it, but they were soldiers, right? Soldiers die,” Garrus said. “No reason for the Shepards to stalk my family.”

Publius blinked a few times. “That’s what Executor Vakarian told you?”

“He doesn’t talk about it much. Only when he’s had a drink.”

“I see. It’s not my place to say more. Ask your father one day before he’s had that drink.”

“Doctor?” Garrus wanted to hear more, but Publius gave a short mandible flick. Conversation over.

“Hold your arms out. I need to apply some medigel before the bandage.” The doctor checked the cupboard again and frowned. “Hmm.. My store is running low, I must order more. Vakarian, I urge you to reconsider participating in the exam. One false step and you’ll undo weeks of my work here.”

“I understand. I’ll be careful,” Garrus said and held his hands over his head.

Publius slathered gel on and taped the plate, before replacing the wrappings. Stepping back to admire his own work, he nodded to Garrus. “We’re just about finished. Any pain or feeling of discomfort, you come see me. Tell Shepard I told you if she objects.”

“Yes, doctor,” Garrus replied dutifully, they both knew he would not return of his own free will unless he received a new grievous injury.

 

2174 CE – September 20th First Examination

The day had been a disaster, despite that Shepard's team had gotten off to a pretty great start. Just like she’d predicted, her team’s two best shooters, Garrus and Aius had aced every test, pulling up the lower score of Castor, whom had improved tremendously in the last month, but still had a tendency to choke when the pressure was on. The last four had high average scores, and they came in first. When the ranking was announced, Shepard found herself to be oddly proud of the motley crew assigned to her. That feeling was not to last all day. Nirea and Garrus were tech savants, gaining them another first in the ‘hack and disable’ obstacle course. Aius and Strabo had gotten into an argument on the ‘breach and enter’ proficiency test, each demeaning to go first into the staged crashed shuttle, but a nudge from Nirea made them cast a glance at their squad leader among the judges, whom literally glowed in frustration, and resolved their differences very quickly. That event had been timed, and they were tied for first with Celsus’ team. Shepard started to hope the last event would land them into first place. There were small margins separating the top squads, and when the wins stood equally, they took into consideration individual time and levels of advanced techniques. Among her team she had the three experts she’d bragged about to Celsus, Mevia being the breakout surprise.

The female turian proved to be surprisingly vicious, and in her bout she broke her human opponents arm when she threw him to the ground. Afterwards she hovered over the poor boy trying to apologize, until Shepard pulled her away and told her leave him to the medics. Mevia continued to fret and peek over Shepard’s shoulder to see what the medics did to the guy, and it occurred to Shepard that breaks were much worse for turians than for humans. The air sacs in their bones could lead to suffocation if they broke enough if them, and she quietly told Mevia that the human recruit would not suffer that fate. Mevia was still distraught, but calmed down enough to leave the recruit alone and follow the remaining matches. Shepard was still feeling rather optimistic about the day at this point. It would not last. Aius had won his bout easily, so had Argyle, but after that it was a steep downhill plunge. They weren’t matches at all, they were beat-downs.

Castor got tossed all over the field by a gigantic turian whom had hit his last growth spurt early. Nirea showed some technique but lacked the strength to follow through. Strabo was no technique and all power, and got headlocked by a smaller turian female to the jeers of both his own team and the opponent’s. The worst was for last. Garrus was obliterated by his opponent in a matter of seconds. One leg swipe and he was on his stomach pinned down by a turian named Stasius, of Chellick’s squad. Shepard pinched the bridge of her nose in defeat. Chellick himself might not gloat too hard about this, seeing as he hardly spoke to her at all, but Vyrnnus would blame Garrus' failure on her, and he’d be right. It was painfully obvious that she’d not put enough effort into close-quarter combat practice, but there was simply not enough hours in the day. Not that any of that mattered to Vyrnnus. Her own personal tormentor would be on her like a vulture on dead meat.

She tallied the result in her head. Castor and Strabo she could work with. Nirea would need a few tweaks and a follow up workout program in the weight room. The last turian on her team appeared to be an utterly talentless hack in hand to hand, and she had no idea what to do about that. Four weeks of training, and he showed zero aptitude for it. And his abysmal showing reflected badly on her. She awaited the results with trepidation. They counted up points, and while it was possible for more than one team to be in tier one, they only announced the top five tiers. She wasn’t really surprised when Emerus’ squad was announced tier one. Two other teams she did not know in tier two, Chellick in tier three with four other squads and she and Celsus in tier 4 with some other dregs. The announces continued, but her attention was needed elsewhere. Less than a minute after the annunciation of her squad, came the silent buzz on her arm. Vyrnnus required her presence.

 


 

His office was locked when she arrived, and she leaned against the metal wall while she waited.

The commander himself appeared 10 minutes later, not from his office but ascending the stairs from below. When he saw her already there, he gave a satisfied smile. “You’ve learned not to keep your betters waiting. Good.”

She made no reply, knowing that it would be fruitless. Vyrnnus opened his office and entered, waving her to follow.

“So, the first month is over. And your team didn’t do too well, I’m informed.”

“Teething problems,” she said with some trepidation. “We’ll do better next month.”

Fourth tier out of 20 possible was bad? Really? She wondered what he expected so soon.

“Better is nowhere near good enough, Shepard!” Vyrnnus glared at her through narrow eyes.

He fished out a data pad from his coat and studied it. “And look at these results. Poor Vakarian nearly ending in hospital. Again.” He gave a dark chuckle. “Do you remember the terms, Shepard?”

She shuddered. “I do, sir. And I will fulfill them, sir.”

“Don't sir me and think that' will get you out of trouble, you little twerp. Conatix pays me to teach you to win, not to make excuses. There is no one to help you out there, you must face this trial alone, as everything in life. I pray to no spirits but myself, and you will learn the same. I will not accept weakness from you, Shepard. If you fail, I will break you in more ways than one.”

When he saw the look on her face, he laughed. “Oh, you think any and all turians believe in the spirits-crap? What a charming racist you are.” Her face flushed red, and he enjoyed her discomfort a little too long.

“But enough of that. Your little protegee is doing quite badly in hand to hand. Perhaps you don’t have not the stomach for training recruits full time, and need a little extra incentive. Until you manage to make Vakarian fighting fit, I will add an extra hour to our little training sessions. No biotics, just regular hand to hand. Maybe that will inspire some zeal in your duties.”

Shepard felt a cold dread and wanted sag to her knees to scream out loud. Only by the knowledge that a show weakness on her part would be punished even worse, did she remain composed.

“Of course, Sir.”

Vyrnnus ignored this and leaned heavy on his desk with a satisfied smirk.

“Good. We start tonight.”

“Yessir,” Shepard said compliantly, saluted and dragged her feet out the door. At this moment she was tired, she was hungry, and most of all, she was pissed at the turian who’d landed her in this mess.

Garrus Vakarian!

Chapter Text

2174 CE – September 24th Mess Hall 19:36 PM

Four days had passed since firex, and Garrus was still walking on eggshells around Shepard. Ever since their first disastrous meeting, she’d spoke to him as little as possible, but he had grown to fear her disapproving frown even more than that of his father. Whenever he stole a glance at her when he knew he was being observed, she had a testy expression on her face. The cut in her lip that healed unevenly didn’t help either. It looked like she wore a perennial sneer that alarmed everyone on the squad. They never saw her after classes since she disappeared for her own lessons, and therefore they knew next to nothing about her. Only the station scuttlebutt yielded a few clues, and even those were disturbing.

“No, it’s true,” Strabo whispered to Aius, “I asked squad leader Victus myself. She was trained by krogans.”

“That can’t be true, just some claptrap he said to frighten you.” Nirea looked at Strabo with pity.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Aius grinned, “she certainly has the manners of one.”

Garrus didn’t participate in the conversation. He kept wiggling on his seat to check if the bandages were in place. The last thing he wanted was another trip to the doctor so soon after the exam, but the harsh training regime made recovery slow. For some reason Shepard had avoided hand to hand training since firex, and restricted their training to the obstacle course, shooting and weight training. During the latter, she kept a special eye on Nirea, and the young female had redoubled her efforts, earning little less than a small nod of approval. What he wouldn’t give for that. He’d been soundly ignored for four days, and that was more disconcerting than being yelled at. Garrus had spent the last month trying to perform his duties flawlessly like a good turian, but the more he tried, the more annoyed she seemed to become. He was at his wit’s end, with no sign of appeasement.

“Vakarian, are you all right?” came Castor’s voice. You keep jumping around. Might want to take that trip to Publius after all.”

“No. I’m fine.”

“You’re not fine,” Mevia snapped. “You’re injured, and your performance pulls this entire team down.”

“Whohey! Big words for someone that broke someone else’s arm not five days ago.” Strabo crossed his arms and gave Mevia a stern look.

“I know that, and that recruit is now in the infirmary where he should be. Not walking around trying to impress people.”

“I’m not trying to impress people,” Garrus said, discreetly patting his injured plate.

“No?” Mevia’s voice was razor sharp. “Then you do you keep fondling your ribcage? Trying to waft pheromones in my direction?”

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Garrus snorted. “You might break my arm as well.”

“She’s right,” Castor added a little more softly, “you don’t need to push so hard.”

“Tell that to Shepard.”

“Tell her yourself,” Castor said and nodded in the direction of the entrance.

Garrus jerked his head up to see. It was indeed Shepard, and she appeared to be sweeping the room for someone in particular. When her eyes landed on their table, she headed straight for them. None of the others had remarked on it, but Garrus saw she was still walking with a small limp. The limping disappeared and reappeared with regular intervals, but he would never dare to ask what caused it. Perhaps it was normal human frailty.

“Squad 4. Glad to find most of you here. Where’s Argyle?” she said. Short and to the point, no small talk, as always.

They glanced at each other. Was he in trouble?

“We, uh, we think he’s in the barracks, trying to chat up someone from squad 9.”

That made her flash a rare short smile.

“I see. One of you will relay the message then. Change of plans. Tomorrow we’re starting the morning with hand to hand, not the obstacle course. Meet at the sand pit. I’ve booked three hours.”

“Yes, Shepard,” they chorused.

She gave them a brief nod and walked out. Garrus noted she cast a longing glance at the hot meal counter as she left, but otherwise stared straight ahead. Humans were strange.

“Well, that’s it then.” Aius gave a melodramatic huff. “It’s time. We’re all going to die.”

“Not all of us. Just one.” Strabo flicked his mandible in Garrus’ direction.

“Oh, haha. Thanks.”

“You know what the humans say, don’t you? If you first don’t succeed, try and try again.” Aius flared his mandibles wide, showing all his teeth. “And she’s only tried once.”

“Lick a dead batarian’s ass, Aius!” Garrus murmured to the laughter of his fellow squad members.

 

2174 CE – September 25th Sand pit 09:48 AM

Garrus felt himself lift from the ground and swerve in the air until he hit the sand on her other side with a loud thud. A stifled ooofh escaped him, before he rolled off his back and rose to his feet. Shepard’s gray eyes was on him, the familiar disapproving frown all over her face.

“Vakarian, that is the third time today. Why do you insist on repeating the same idiocy over and over?”

He looked away. “Thought I had an opening.”

“By charging me from several meters away? Brute strength is helpful, but easily countered if applied without thought. And I have seen precious little thinking from you so far.”

Garrus caught the sound of snorts that emanated from his teammates. That was most likely Aius, that bastard. The low hum from a commiseration subvocal was Castor, and the rest of them merely observed. Truth be told, he knew that Shepard right, but several of the counters required moves that pulled on the damaged plate. In spite of that, he'd be damned before he let Shepard perceive a physical weakness in him. The krogan-lady would most likely pull him out of training, adding insult to injury. She shook her head and motioned him off the pitch, calling for Castor and Strabo to enter. She tossed a datapad to Nirea and told her to keep score. Aius and Argyle were already shouting advice to the combatants. Mivea merely looked bored. She was already ahead of the pack, and only Aius, Argyle or Shepard offered any competition.

Garrus knew he was in for another lecture and mentally braced himself. Shepard walked up to him and sat down on the bleachers. Up close when he wasn’t worried about getting his arms torn off, Garrus discerned that she looked tired, gaunt and had some swelling in her face. The double work load of squad training and biotics might be catching up with her, he reflected. Maybe she’d drop dead soon. He could only hope. Still, she made time to be insufferable towards him. He threw his fight gloves away and glared at her.

“Vakarian, I’ve spent 40 minutes trying to get some techniques to stick in that thick skull of yours, and if possible, you’ve gotten worse! No improvement whatsoever, no matter how many rounds we go. What’s your fucking problem?”

“Nothing!” His voice betrayed a slight apprehension, and Shepard latched onto it like a tick.

Nothing! Is the reason even a slight breeze will topple you over. Nothing! Is the reason you will come last of all fucking recruits on this station in H2H-training. You're practically nothingness personified.” Her words inflamed him with the kind of irrational rage he’d never felt against another turian, not even Timeus Fedorian. When he saw the sneer on her lip curl up, his last remnants of self control broke. Letting out a loud snarl, he swung wide at her. Shepard sprang up from her seat and caught the arm easily, then grabbed him by the throat. She heard the rest of the team click their mandibles in shock behind her. A turian’s throat was a very vulnerable area, and they were aghast she would use it against them. Garrus tried to strike at her with his free arm, his talons scratching her forearm, but it was like she didn’t feel it.

“That kind of impulsiveness will get you killed, Vakarian.” Her hand glowed blue and she lifted him off the ground. Garrus squirmed in her grasp, gasping for air and pawing at the hand that held him up. She shifted her gaze to is midriff, and immediately dropped the biotic hold. He fell down, but landed on his feet.

“Class dismissed! Get out of here! Not you, Vakarian!” Shepard’s gaze nailed Garrus to the steps. He stopped midstep and rubbed his sore neck. Aius and the others looked apprehensive. “We still have 25 minutes left,” Argyle protested.

“Did I stutter? Leave! Now!”

The squad almost broke into a run as they left.

Shepard stepped into Garrus’ personal space and yanked his tunic up. The bandaged plate had began to bleed again, and the blue stain had seeped through the gauze.

“How long have you been hiding that?” The tone of her voice was deceptively calm, with only a hint of accusation.

“You know when I got this, Shepard. The day we met, remember?”

To his surprise that seemed to take some of the venom out of her. The color of her face took on an unfamiliar red tinge. Sinking back down on the bleachers, she started to rub her temples with two fingers.

“And you thought it would be a good idea to hide this from me?” This time she could not hide the weariness he’d seen earlier.

“I knew you would pull me out of training, Shepard. If I fall to far behind, I'll fail.”

She gave a mirthless chuckle. “You and me both, turian.”

Garrus flicked a mandible in contempt. Right. She'd be fine if he flunked out of the program entirely, and probably happier for it.

He felt her study his expression, and clamped his mandibles close to his jaw.

“Clearly, this isn't working for either of us,” she said slowly. “Perhaps a more theoretical approach until that plate is fastened.”

The threat of being placed on the sidelines made Garrus skip from one leg to the other.

“Shepard, please, don't cut me from the squad. I'll be ready to fight in the next test, you'll see.” The shrill anxious tone in his subvocals was obvious even to her human ears.

“I highly doubt that, Vakarian. But we'll work on technique until then and see.” She beckoned him to follow her back onto the field.

“All right, we will do everything in slow motion. Every block, strike, counter and throw. I still think it would be better if you sat out all training for a few weeks..-” Garrus trilled angrily at her, “but that thick-headed turian pride would just make you beg your squad mates to train you in secret, injuring you further. This week is breach and enter, mainly shooting and hacking. That won’t stress your wound too bad. You and I will still meet here after every class until secex to work on your combat skills. I’m sacrificing hours of my own classes for this, so you better godsdamn appreciate this.”

Garrus closed his eyes. Spirits save him, three weeks of private classes with Shepard. He would be dead before the test for sure.

 

2174 CE – October 1st Library 20:02 PM

“Come on, just fess up. What happened to your team?” Shepard looked expectantly at Celsus.

“It’s not important.”

“I won’t give up, you know. Might even ask get desperate enough to ask the commander for the results,” she pressed.

“Fine! I hovered! Just like you warned me about, and they hit everything but the targets and the judges, okay?”

If a turian could pout, Celsus Corinthus would have been the first. Not even ten wild Vyrnnuses could have stopped her from grinning, but at least he didn’t sulk for long.

“At least you didn’t beat me.”

“True, but next time I will. Better keep saving those tokens, I’m buying the entire machine in three weeks.”

“As if. Speaking of truths, I hear you’re giving Vakarian private training after classes. Any truth to that?”

Shepard sighed. “It is. Can’t see any way around it, he’s been too much on the shooting range and not enough sparring. Although, I’m told he’s good at clawball, whatever that is.”

“It’s the sport of primarchs, Shepard.” Celsus said reproachfully. “Honestly, humans are too ignorant for their own good.”

“Pffh..” She waved him off with a casual flick of the hand. “If it’s not about sweat and a decent ground pound I’m not interested.”

“Ground pound?”

“Basically sitting atop your opponent and punching him in the face.”

“Ah, you mean foreplay,” Celsus said in a smug voice.

“Celsus Corinthus, getting down and dirty with the aliens,” she grinned.

“Am I interrupting something?”The dulcet tones of Emerus appeared behind a shelf, and shortly thereafter, the imposing figure of the turian himself. Shepard gave him a puzzled smile, but Celsus perked his fringe as if he was listening to something. Some form of communication transpired between the two turians, too low for Shepard to hear, but she saw their body language change. She caught the occasional resonance change, but this was much lower and higher than she was able to pick up. Perhaps turians could hear bats too, or maybe an enhanced ecolocation device could disrupt turian communication. Something to think about, she thought and smiled absentmindedly, while the two of them continued to ‘talk’. It took a while before she became aware that both turians stared at her.

 

“What are you smiling about?” Emerus looked suspicions.

“Just inventing something.”

“Well, I’ll be off. See you later, Shepard.” Celsus gave her a quick nod and hurried out.

“Inventing what?” Emerus said and sat down.

“Never mind that, what did you say to him to make him leave? We were working, well, mostly working.”

“I’m sure,” Emerus said dryly. “We’ve not spoken since,” he coughed, “since we came aboard. How are you, Shepard?”

“I’m, ..you know. I’m fine. A little overworked, but that’s the way the clawball bounces.”

“You’re hiding something from me,” he said matter-of-factly.

Shepard was not a good poker player just for her cheating skills. She could lie as well. “We all hide some things. It’s no big deal.”

She knew she sounded sincere, and only her continued presence on the station belied her words.

“Then why do you smell like medigel whenever I see you?”

“Slipped from the pull up-bar, ankle is slow to heal when I need to do double shifts.”

A small flick of the eye was her only tell, but she knew it had been there. Turian sense of smell. Dammit.

“And you’ve grown thinner. Not a good thing for biotics,” he continued.

“I’m okay, Emerus. Everything is fine.”

“Uh-huh. Well, if everything is just fine, guess you won’t be needing this.”

Emerus pulled out a small container of today’s slushy levo dinner. It was still warm, and it smelled like heaven.

“I had to steal this. You know how strict the cook is about taking anything but dry food out of the mess?”

“Emerus...” Her stomach gave a revealing growl.

He flashed a long row of razor sharp teeth. “All you have to do is to tell me what you’ve been up to this last month, and it’s aaaall yours.”

The innocent smile she gave him in return could have walked her into a nunnery. “You win, Emerus. Just let me see what it is first.”

The container opened easily enough, and he held it out in front of him with an open palm, but to far away for her to snatch it from him. That is, if she’d been a regular recruit. The container glowed blue, slammed the lid and flew out of his talons and into her waiting hands.

“Hey! That’s not fair!” he yelled and belted after her, but Shepard had already disappeared between the shelves. She zigzagged through the datapad-section on urban warfare and hunkered down by the section of the first-contact war and poured the container unceremoniously into her mouth. That would teach Emerus not to flaunt his goodies in front of her.

“Shepard, we had a deal,” he rumbled behind her.

“I just negotiated a better deal for myself. You can have the box back, I’m not greedy.”

The sound that came from him was a mix between a snort and a snarl, and he playfully grabbed her and shoved her against the wall, pinning her arms above her.

“I want what I came for,” he said in her ear.

“And that was?” she replied laughing, but Emerus suddenly tensed. She followed his eyes. They were fixed on her arm where the shirt sleeve had fallen down. He jerked her arm down and pulled the sleeve further up.

“What’s this?” he said in a voice that flanged dangerously low.

“It’s nothing.”

His talons locked around her wrist, refusing to let go. “Shepard, who did this? Was it Decian?”

“Chellick? No! He’d never do that, he’s not…” she hesitated, “like me.”

Emerus gave her a hard stare and pulled up her other sleeve. His face contorted into a scowl, and then quickly, before she could protest, pulled at the neck line and peeked down into her shirt.

“Hey! That’s rude, knock it off.” She pushed him away, looking scandalized.

“You’re covered in what’s unmistakably talon slashes and I’M the rude one? You better damn well speak, Shepard, or I’m reporting this to Corinthus.”

Emerus crossed his arms, and Shepard sighed. The game was up, time to reign in the white knight.

“Corinthus knows.”

“Knows?! That’s impossible. He’d never allow this.”

“Not his call, not his area. I think he’d rather have me carted off the station, but Vyrnnus made a deal with the board. If I submit to doing double duty as a third year biotic and squad leader for a team, I can stay. Shows repentance, or whatnot.”

She have a short hard laugh. “But you know Vyrnnus. There was more small print in that deal than a standard volus contract.”

“What did it say?”

“The long and short of it? Two conditions, I obey and train with Vyrnnus without objections, and if the squad fails I fail. Vyrnnus’ methods are a bit hard on human skin.”

“And putting Vakarian in your team?”

“Vyrnnus little joke to force me to play nice.”

Emerus considered her words for a moment.

“Shepard, I have to ask.. Do you regret it? What you did to Vakarian?”

“Yes,” she said without hesitation. “I don’t like the guy, and I lost control and almost killed him. Worst decision of my life. If I could undo that day, I would.”

Emerus relaxed a bit. “Well, that’s a relief. You not wanting to murder all turians, I mean.”

“Very droll, Emerus. Look, you can’t tell anyone about this.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s not part of the deal I made. If the board or the captain finds out about this, Vyrnnus will find a reason to send me off Gagarin.”

“What about our friends?”

“No! Especially not them. You came by this by accident and it will stay between us. If you blab, I’ll find you. I know where you sleep.”

That made him flare his mandibles in a smile. “Fine. But I’m not happy about this.”

“Really? I’m ecstatic.” She flashed him a big smile, then frowned. “Don’t ruin this for me, Emerus. I can deal with one year like this. It’s not like I don’t deserve it,” she said, pulling down the sleeves.

“That sounds rehearsed.”

“Doesn’t make it any less true.”

The empty container had fallen under a table, and she bent down to pick it up.

“Thanks for dinner. It will help later.”

“Later when?”

She looked at her omni-tool. It was five to nine.

“When I do offensive biotics with the commander.”

 

2174 CE – October 05th Sand pit 17:45 PM

For the last eleven days Garrus Vakarian’s day had consisted of little else other than sleeping, eating and training. Every day when the rest of the squad was let go, he had to stay back with Shepard to go over and over every move and stance they’d learned so far. He felt like he had sand in his training suit, sand in his fringe, sand between the groin plates and according to her, sand in his head. Besides that she slung quite a few hurtful remarks about his prowess in the ring, the training itself was remarkably gentle. They went slow, she never hit him in the hurt plate, didn’t make him perform moves that would worsen his injury, and she let him practice some rather brutal takedowns and holds on herself. Slowly but surely, he was gaining more confidence as a fighter, and with that, the occasional faint praise. He hated himself for how proud he felt on those occasions, and how hungry he was for her approval.

“All right, Vakarian. You’ve done reasonably well today. One more and I’ll let you go.”

“What do you want me to do?”

“Try a hip throw. Your good hip, mind you. And I will be trying to foil you, so keep your guard up.”

“I’m on it.”

He circled around her slowly, then grabbed her by the suit and flipped her over his hip. Instead of fighting him on this, she followed his momentum into the throw, landed on her feet and swept his legs from under him. As he fell, she grabbed hold of his arms and slowed his fall, followed his descent and landed straddled on top of him.

“Told you I’d try a reversal.” She flashed him a rare smile.

It had been a long time since he’d been this close with a female, not to mention one that dominated him so completely. Garrus felt a stirring behind his groin plates, and realized he was a young stressed turian with a female alien wriggling on his lap. ‘ Not with her,’ his mind rebelled. ‘Not ever.’

“If that was the last one, could you get off now?” he said tersely, trying to push her away.

Shepard quickly got up and looked at him with something akin to worry.

“Did you pull the plate? I can check if you want.”

“No! I’m good.”

“Now why don’t I believe that. I changed my mind, I’ll check as I want. Strip!”

“What? No!” His hands flew subconsciously to his suit front.

“Pull your shirt up, Vakarian. If you’re bleeding, I’ll carry you over to Publius.”

The objection stuck in his throat. Challenging her right now was playing with fire. It was just the shirt, right? Not like she asked him to pull his pants down. Which he would never do in front of her.

“There! Happy?” he said and opened the suit up to reveal a snug-fitted bandage. “No blood. Are we done?”

“We’re done. I’ve seen much improvement these last days. Not bad.”

Shepard picked up her gear and headed for the library, leaving Garrus in the pit utterly dazed and confused.

 

2174 CE – October 10th Library – 20:09 PM

Three turians walked into a library, and one of them was very upset. Chellick had been 'persuaded’ to come with Emerus and Arista, but he regretted it already. For some reason, a week ago Emerus had begun a ceaseless campaign of not so subtle hints that he should talk to Shepard, which led to a no holds barred close-to-deathmatch in the sparring ring. Chellick lost, and had to tag along with the other two as they entered Shepard’s den, the library.

Shepard heard the door woosh open and closed, but was far too caught up in her studies to pay it any mind. In less than twenty minutes Vyrnnus expected her presence on the field, as he was incorporating the basic form of stasis into their training, and she hadn’t read all the theory yet. The extra training for Garrus took much of her focus. Not even when she heard approaching footsteps did she look up, not until it was too late.

“Hi Jane, it’s been a while.”

That voice. Not believing her ears, she glanced up. It was him. Since when did he call her Jane again?

“Can we go somewhere private and talk?” Chellick’s voice was low and cold, it stung in her chest and she recoiled from him like he was a polar opposite. Damn, wasn’t she over him already? She just found a routine she could work with. Chellick’s hostile presence would be an unwelcome distraction. Not to mention detrimental to her mental balance. It wasn’t like she needed another speech about her flawed character, she already got that on a daily basis. Maybe you deserve it, a treacherous voice belonging to Vyrnnus said in the back of her brain. Shepard pinched her nose bridge.It was like having a guardian demon with her wherever she went. She already had the physical Vyrnnus to contend with later. The mere prospect of being berated by Chellick as well did not bear thinking about.

“Sorry, Chellick, I’m a bit short on time. Much to do.” She gathered up her charts and datapads, swept them abruptly into her bag and practically vanished out the door. Chellick was left looking stunned as he returned to his companions.

 

“I don’t understand humans.”

“No, they’re completely inscrutable. We heard your low subvocals all the way here, and even if she cannot, you weren’t exactly forthcoming.”

Chellick shrugged. “She didn’t need to run away.”

“No, because everything is so right with you two. No matter that Shepard is a high strung biotic under a lot of pressure lately, abandoned by her turian boyfriend for a mistake she’s atoning for every day, and said boyfriend thinks after a month he can just jump back in where he left off instead of easing into it? Moron. I’d run too.” Emerus glared daggers at Chellick.

“Easy, Emerus,” Arista said, laying a hand atop his.

“Atoning for? She got to be a squad leader, how is that any form of punishment?” Chellick said with a voice brimming with indignation.

“She is a biotic! That’s a setback for her! Their last year is temperance training, not boot,” Emerus barked.

“Hey hey, calm down, both of you. Emerus, he doesn’t know what you know.”

“Know what? Shepard's been whining about how terrible it is being squad leader? Well, boohoo.”

Arista grabbed Emerus before he could leap at Chellick. “Stop! Perhaps you’ll believe the evidence of your own eyes then. Shepard usually has biotic lessons until about eleven. Wait for her in the locker room.”

“What for?”

“Just fucking do it!” Emerus snarled. “Self-righteous oaf.” He got up and stormed out.

Arista gave Chellick and apologetic smile. “It’s probably hormones. I’ll talk to him,” she said and followed Emerus.

His friend’s anger disconcerted Chellick. What did Emerus know that he didn’t? And why had he told Arista and not himself? Just because they were involved, they kept secrets from him? Whatever. He’d go because they’d nag him otherwise, but in reality, he didn’t care. He really didn’t. Not anymore. Chellick kept assuring himself of hos indifference while he read the first datapad he pulled from the shelf, contemporary Hanar poetry, and he kept reading it until the time was quarter to eleven.

 

2174 CE – October 10th Locker Room 22:57 PM

In the hallway Chellick heard an uneven gait approach, and hid himself behind some shelving. Slowly pushing open the door, Shepard limped in, one hand clasping her ribs and the other wiping blood from her chin where it trickled onto her track suit. Her left eye was almost swelled shut. Chellick gasped. His eyes saw in the gloom where hers did not, and she did not turn the lights on as she removed her suit to get into the shower. He suspected the lights were off to serve as a warning if someone were to arrive, as the switch were on the outside wall. In the dimmed room he saw talon lacerations on her arms and legs, defensive wounds and slashes for when she’d been too slow. Some were open, others partially healed. The worst part was a large tree-shaped blackened contusion that covered her entire back. He knew of no combat technique that caused such damage. It had to be from biotics. There was a rustle of cloth as Shepard wrapped herself in a towel, hissing in pain as the soft material came into contact wit her skin. Her hand fumbled inside the locker and one single packet of medigel fell out. He saw her wince at the sight. It was nowhere near enough. Shepard painstakingly bent down to pick it up, swearing under her wheezing breath. She looked so alone and defenseless in that moment, Chellick felt it like a stab of pain in his chest and a keen threatened to force itself from his subvocals. This was wrong! That old turian was torturing his girlfr-… his friend, and he’d let it happen. He pushed her away. He told her she deserved it, and now she avoided him. Spirits, no..

A new purpose formed in his mind, and he stepped out of the shadows and walked towards her.

“Jane,” he trilled softly.

Her reaction was not the one he’d hoped for. Her one open eye darted around in the gloom until she saw who it was, but her face displayed no pleasure in seeing him. Instead she took several steps back.

“What the hell are you doing here, lurking in the dark! You some kind of perv?”

Definitely not the response he wanted. “Uh, no. I wanted to.. I had to..” the words formed in his head and slipped away just as fast. His indecision made Shepard impatient, and she leaned heavily against the wall.

“I’m not in the mood for games. Just yell what you were going to yell and leave.”

He swallowed. It was all or nothing.

“I’m sorry, Jane. For loosing all faith in you. For not staying by your side when you needed me the most. I.. I miss you. I miss us. Don’t really know where we go from here, just wanted to let you know where I stand.”

Shepard blinked several times, looking dumbfounded. When she spoke again, it was not the sound of the self assured troublemaker he was used to, but a fragile jilted lover.

“Please don’t do this, Chellick. I can’t let you back in again. I just need to survive this year and get out of here.”

“Please, say Decian.”

“No.”

“Please?” This time Chellick could not keep the keen out of his voice, and Shepard closed her eye and turned away.

“Decian, please..”

“Don’t shut me out. Don’t do to me what I did to you. You’re better than that,” he said, desperation evident in his face.

“I deserved this,” she whispered and her expression went blank. “Every part of it.”

His own words to her, taken more to heart than he believed they would be when he practically spat them in her face. Right now he regretted every word he said in anger, and from her defeated countenance he saw she regretted quite a few things as well. Had he helped Vyrnnus break her?

He tried one last time. “Jane, please listen to me. You don’t deserve all this. I was wrong. Please, just.. I want us to be friends again.” He stood back and waited.

 

Shepard refocused her good eye and the gloomy locker room swam back into view. Chellick was still there, apparently waiting for her to say something. She had a whole spiel ready to throw in his face about the whys and the whatnots, why he should leave and they’d be better off as strangers, but she was tired. Tired of games, tired of this place, being hurt, injured, sore, sleepless, and most of all, tired of being alone. Celsus and Emerus were great, but she missed having a close friend around. Her bleary gray eye met Chellick’s glowing green ones.

“I missed you too,” she said simply, and walked into the showers.

 The single shower stall she’d taken refuge in rained hot water on the open gashes and made the blood stream down her body and into the swirling drain on the floor. The stinging she felt from the water was manageable, and nothing compared to when she got the cuts. Behind her the stall door creaked, and Chellick got in hesitantly when she moved forward to make room for him. His double talons clicked on the tiles with every step. Shepard felt no discomfort being naked in front of him. Right now, in this place, in this moment, there was no sexual tension in the space between them, just to estranged lovers trying to reconnect as best they knew how. She turned around without haste, watching his alien features as they came into view. The sloping cowl that led water to pour from the jutting keelbone. The plates that glistened metallic from the spray of the shower head. The double-clicks from his talons. His long fringe. He was completely alien, but right now, he felt like safety. She leaned against him, placing her arms deliberately on his back plates and not his waist. He seemed unsure where to touch her without causing pain, and she whispered ‘waist, least bruising.’ Even her tormentor avoided that area to strike. Chellick hesitated but for a moment, then his talons gently seized around her.

The water continued to cascade around them as they stood embraced for an eternity.

Chapter Text

2174 CE – October 20th Second Examination

The big day had arrived, and Shepard stood by the score board with cold sweat running down her spine. Her team was in the top five, and tier placement would again be settled in the hand to hand tournament. The one place where her team could fail miserably and bring the wrath of Vyrnnus down upon her again. Garrus had shown great improvement the last week, but his Achilles’ heel was still his side plate. One good wallop, and he’d be down for the counting. She’d drilled him again and again on keeping the guard up on his weak flank, just like she had Emerus when he was a first-year. Where Emerus had shown natural talent, Garrus needed relentless repetition, but he showed an innate tenacity for learning and put so much effort into it, Shepard was amazed. The squad had backed him when she’d hinted at him sitting out secex in lieu of his injury, they all supported him and wanted him to participate. Even Mevia, although her support was given with a few angry glares at Castor.

Garrus was a tough little bastard, she had to give him that. He simply would not stay down, and she felt a reluctant twinge of respect for his perseverance. It was an uncomfortable sensation, and she wished it would evaporate soon.

By some great conspiracy, Garrus drew Stasius as an opponent yet again. Vyrnnus himself had joined the proceedings, and she glanced in his direction up in the bleachers only to receive a devious smirk in return. Fuck. The wait for Vakarian’s turn was agonizing, and when the moment of truth finally arrived, Shepard was almost shaking with anticipation. Garrus stood up when they called his name, and she gave him an encouraging pat on the shoulder, to the great surprise of both of them.

“Just do like we trained, yes? Wait for him to open up, then grab and get him under you. And watch that flank!”

“Yes, Shepard.” He sounded confident, but she saw he was nervous.

“Vakarian, you’re fighting with a handicap here, I don’t expect anything else besides your best.”

“You don’t expect me to win, do you?” The hurt tone did not escape her.

“I expect you to realize your limitations, and do your utmost with what you have. Now go.”

She shooed him into the ring. The sad part was, he was right, she didn’t think he could win. Not in his condition.

Stasius clearly believed the same, as he tried the same leg sweep he’d done in their last fight. Garrus easily avoided it, grabbed Stasius’ extended leg and pulled him onto the mat. A desperate fight for the upper hand ensued, and Shepard shouted encouraging words every time Garrus got in a hit, and winced every time Stasius did. The boys rolled around and exchanged punches until the judge got tired and called a restart.

Garrus got up and shot a look at her, and she flashed him a big grin and gave him two thumbs up. He probably expected her to be upset with him, but for his condition, he did great.

“You think he can do it?” Aius asked, his eyes not leaving the ring.

“If he lands a lucky shot, yes. If he’s very good, he’ll force another draw.”

“You think he’ll lose?”

“I think he’s doing great for a guy whose plates are torn off. Thanks for informing me, by the way.”

Aius gave a nervous cough. “We figured you’d throw him off the team. We only meant to protect him.”

From me, Shepard thought but did not say aloud. “All right, but not again, you hear?”

“Yes, Shepard. Look, they’re starting again.”

Stasius was more careful this time, throwing a few testing jabs at Garrus to see if he’d follow up. Garrus didn’t fall for it, they’d discussed tactics before the game and she’d forbidden getting into a clinch with the other turian, leaving his ribs exposed for pummeling.

For Stasius, it must have looked like Garrus was afraid, because he started to rain blows against his guard. Once more, Garrus managed to get hold of Stasius, and wrestled him down again.

Aius and Shepard was now shouting at the top of their lungs in support. Neither Stasius or Garrus managed to get the upper hand, and after several minutes, the judge called for another restart. There was a groan coming from the spectators, but Shepard was almost ecstatic.

Strabo came up beside her. “You think they might call a draw?”

“If he does it one more time, yes, I think so. But Stasius will not be going for the draw, he needs to win now.”

“Come on Garrus, you can do it,” Strabo hissed, and Shepard felt the same way. Garrus could do it, if he played it smart.

Stasius was not interested in losing to the small silver turian, and he took his time this round, studying Garrus’ moves. It became obvious that he favored his right side, revealing injury to the left. Garrus saw this understanding dawn in Stasius’ face, as did Shepard.

“Careful now,” she murmured under her breath, “he just realized it.”

Like he could hear her from the ring, he shifted his stance to prevent a full assault to his flank.

Stasius flicked his mandibles expectantly. He had high hopes of finishing this fight soon. Garrus cocked his head, then shifted stance again, preparing to execute a front kick. Shepard’s head almost exploded. “What is he doing? That’s not the plan!”

“Garrus, no!” Nirea cried out behind them.

Stasius couldn’t believe his luck and charged ahead like a mad bull. Garrus was caught in the midriff and a yelp of pain escaped him, but he let himself follow the momentum of Stasius and fell backwards, simultaneously pulling the other turian flying over his head and down to the ground on the opposite side. Stasius landed with a thud, but Garrus wasn’t quick enough to follow up and pin him down, so again the two boys rolled around on the ground, swapping the occasional punch.

Shepard was awed. That was the move she’d done on him the day she discovered his injury, but they had never rehearsed it in training because of the agility it required. The judge blew a whistle, and the seasons first and hopefully only draw was announced. Garrus got up and twitched his mandibles in pain. He was slightly hunched over when he walked out of the ring, awaiting her verdict.

“I didn’t win, like you said:” His drooping fringe gave him a pathetic look.

“No, but you didn’t lose either. You did well, Vakarian, I’m very impressed. Now haul your ass over to the doctor, I want that looked at right away.”

Speechless, Garrus merely stared at her. Perhaps she shouldn’t be so stingy with praise when he did something right.

“Castor, you take him, you’re done with your bout.”

“Sure, Shepard.” Castor put his hand on Garrus shoulder and pushed him to move.

Shepard felt a strange pride in having trained Garrus well enough to stand his ground when wounded, but the feeling lasted only until the omni-tool on her wrist buzzed.

A draw is not a win, Shepard. Not good enough.

It said nothing else. At least it wasn’t a summons. She knew it was only a short reprieve, and it was imperative that in the meantime Garrus healed up so she could train him at full speed. Perhaps it would not be the herculean task she first imagined.

 

Squad 4 came in tier two with Chellick, another win for Emerus in first and Celsus third. Shepard tried to keep her gloating to a minimum when Celsus paid up their bet. It was proving to be difficult.

“You got lucky,” he said, handing over the tokens with reluctance.

“Hard work, Celsus. You should try it once.”

“Bah. I hoped Vakarian at least would fail, after that spectacular loss last time.”

“Hey, only I may mock my team, otherwise I might comment on your squads shooting prowess. Still lacking, by the way. Want me to send over Vakarian to give you a few pointers? I don’t know if you saw the score board, top marks in all gun related events for the little sprout.”

“Thank you, I got it. You’re a bad winner.”

“I know. Character flaw. You, on the other hand, are a gracious loser.” She winked at him.

Celsus put down the datapad he was studying and leaned back on the chair.

"I figured you’d be training with Vyrnnus today? What gives?”

“It’s canceled. He’s been busy lately, and I even got a message saying the extra training hour he set down after firex was annulled. Gives me some time to breathe before his next grand scheme.”

“You’re free for the evening?”

“I still have biotics class to do.”

“Well, yeah, but you could do that after dinner? If you’re not seeing Vyrnnus, you can make time for hanging with us in the mess hall. If Decian gives you any crap, I’ll personally..,” he thought about it for a moment, “yank his mandible for you, how’s that?”

Ten days had passed since their cautions reconciliation in the shower, and they had yet to reveal it to their friends. Celsus hadn’t noticed Chellick sneaking out of the library shortly after he arrived, and Shepard wasn’t keen to let on. Having Chellick back as moral support, as food thief extraordinaire and an unstinting kisser was wonderful, and she wasn’t sure she was ready to share that with the rest of their friends. On the other hand, Celsus and the others were pushing for this out of concern for both of them, so a small concession might be in order.

“Okay. I guess I can spare one hour.”

 


 

It was Arista who spotted them first. She nudged Emerus discreetly in his side and nodded in their direction. Emerus was just as surprised as Arista, and tried to wave Celsus off before they could sit at their table. Chellick sat with his back to the door, and wasn’t aware until Shepard dropped her tray down next to him as if nothing was amiss, and sat down while ignoring him. Emerus, Arista and Celsus waited for an outburst of anger, rage, hysterical whining, anything really, but Chellick merely tensed for a moment, then began eating his dinner again. The trio felt like they could breathe freely. Crisis averted for now.

“Hello Arista, long time no see. How’s that secret project of yours doing?” Shepard asked. She figured she might as well jump instead of crawl back into the fray.

“Hi, Shepard. I, uh.. It’s good. Can’t say any more than that.” Arista tried to follow up as best she could to avoid any awkward silences.

“No problem. I won’t snoop.”

“Heh, then you’re more polite than Emerus here. He’s always trying to wheedle it out of me.”

“Come on now ladies,” Emerus protested, “less than a minute before you gang up on little old me? Not fair.”

They continued the light banter for a while, but Chellick was quiet. He sat staring into his tray, refusing to say a word. Their friends mistook his reluctance for disapproval, but Chellick and her was in agreement of taking things slow for a while, and not let on. They kept glaring at Chellick, but he held steadfast to their deal. Shepard felt a stab of sympathy for him, and decided to make things worse for the poor sod. She reached down under the table and stroked at the curved spot between his leg and where the spur began. A short chirrup escaped his mouth plates and his mandibles fluttered wildly before he clamped them to his face.

“What the,” Arista glared at him. “I’ll thank you not to use that kind of language at the dinner table.

“That was rude, Decian,” Celsus added in support of Arista. “Behave like a proper turian, at least for a while.”

Only Emerus widened his eyes as a glimmer of understanding shone in them, and placed blame where it should be placed.

“Shepard, stop fondling your little sex-toy at meal time, if you please. Some of us have standards.”

“Really? Since when?” she asked with a glib smile.

At last Chellick couldn’t keep a straight face any longer, and chuffed a laugh.

“You’re.. since when?” Arista lowered her voice.

“Since I had an epiphany in the library,” Chellick said quickly.

Arista and Emerus began laughing.

“Uh, hello, I’m not in on this joke,” Celsus complained.

“Me neither,” said Shepard.

“Tell you some other time.” Chellick dared a small brush on her hand even here in public.

“Anything for you, dear,” she said smiling.

“Oh spirits, that didn’t take long. I liked it better when you were not speaking.” Celsus made retching noises to great amusement of his friends.

 

“Hey guys, are you seeing what I’m seeing?” Aius jerked his head in the direction of their squad leader’s table.

“Spirits, is that Shepard laughing? It must be a clone. Hurry, someone kill it,” Strabo said as loud as he dared.

“Shh, don’t land us in trouble.” Mivea was annoyed. “We’re almost in the top tier. With a little more work, our squad could be in the top next month, and I don’t need you screwing things up for me by antagonizing Shepard. We already have somebody for that.” She shot Garrus a dark look.

“”Hey, what did I do now? I didn’t lose, and even Shepard said I did well,” Garrus protested.

“Sure, you didn’t lose, but you didn’t win either,” Mivea said.

“Wait a minute, I say your shooting score, so don’t dare imply I don’t pull my weight on the team.” He raised his voice quite a bit, and they got several looks from the surrounding tables.

“Yeah? One decent exam and you think you’re even for the last? Typical high-tier asshole, at least your father’s name doesn’t win you any favors with Shepard.”

Garrus slammed his metal mug down with so much force the handle broke and the clang from the break sounded all round the mess hall.

“Don’t bring my family into this!” he shouted.

Mevia got up and prepared to fire off another insult, when a hand was placed on her shoulder from behind.

“Hey now, take it easy you two. No need to show group dissent in public.”

Their squad leader had stepped in, and she was being nice about it.

“I believe this sort of thing is usually settled in the ring, yeah? Until Vakarian is better, the pair of you will stick a pin in whatever this is, and fight it out later. Understood?”

The sight of a calm and relaxed Shepard with a friendly smile on her face scared the spirits out of them.

“Yeah, sure,” Garrus mumbled.

“Yes, sir,” Mivea said in a low voice.

“Good. I hope you enjoy the rest of your dinner.” She walked back to her own table, and her squad finished their meal in complete silence. Something was definitely very wrong here.

 

 

2174 CE – October 25th Training field 16:45 PM

Training just ended, and Shepard and Chellick had the unenviable task of hauling every training apparatus back in storage. This usually took near an hour, but Shepard was not above using her biotics to ease the workload, and they soon had everything stowed in place.

“That went well,” Chellick said happily. “We even have a few moment to ourselves.”

He grabbed her and pulled her into his arms, gently pressing his mouth plates to her lips and stealing a kiss. While she usually loved kissing Chellick, today Shepard had more elaborate plans. When she managed to free her tongue from his, she hooked her index fingers behind the first fin on each of his mandibles. “I have something a little different planned for today?”

“Aw, no kisses? Come on Jane, that’s all I think about these days?”

“All you think about?” she said with a faint smile.

“Well, there’s training, and specialization classes, and..”

“Is kissing all you think about in regards to me, I meant?” She wondered how long it would take for his brain to shift into gear.

“Wait, I read about this on the extranet. Human females like to be liked for their minds? You have a very nice, uh, brain?” he added lamely.

“Such a smooth talker, Decian. But I was thinking about something more.”

“This is.. difficult for me. Usually a turian can transmit what they mean in subvocals to low for humans to hear. With you, it’s like a guessing game. Can I get a hint?” He looked hopeful, and she hadn’t the heart to toy with him. At least not too much, at any rate.

“It involves replaying some scenes from a certain magazine.”

Several slow blinks later, he seemed to be catching up. “You mean.. that magazine?”

“I’m pretty sure we’re on the same page now, so to speak.”

“Are you sure? I mean, not that I don’t want to, but you and me are taking things slow, not too slow I hope, but I won’t push you into anything, it’s not like I haven’t thought about it a lot, uh, I mean sometimes, not too often, I’m not a perv lurking in the dark, oh no, not always, except that time, but I would like to-..”

He rambled on until he saw the big grin on her face, and he jolted out of his monologue.

“The short answer would be yes, please.”

“Great. I’ve been hoping for the commander to leave the station, and today he’s gone all day, so we have all evening.”

Chellick beamed at her. “Fantastic. So, where should we.. ?”

“I don’t have a room anymore, and neither do you, so we’ll improvise. I used Vyrnnus’ name to book the gym, saying I’d train Vakarian. There are some soft mats in there, and we can use some makeshift sheets..

“And some towels,” he said, “need to shower afterwards.”

“Hey, I’m not that dirty.”

“Not yet, but wait until you smell like a horny turian has been grinding all over you,” he flared his mandibles. “The whole turian population on this station could smell that.”

“Oh,” she said, blinking. “And what about the smell of-..”

“I got that,” he said hurriedly, understanding what she meant. “Brought several packets from Palaven.”

There was no female in the galaxy that could have missed the eager tone in the young turian. Shepard grinned from ear to ear. “I guess we have a plan then. I’ll get the sheets.”

“I’ll get the prophylactics and the towels.”

“Meet in the gym in 20?”

“How about 15?”

“Deal!”

 

 

2174 CE – October 25th Gym 17:55 PM

“So, how do we do this,” he said, looking nervous.

They’d made a provisional bed on the floor with several mats laid on top of each other. Their creation was built inside the small side shed for exercise equipment, since none of them wanted to hold a large show in the middle of the gym court.

“How about a little show and tell first,” she said. She sat down on the bed and pulled her shirt off. From the human version of Fornax, Chellick knew they had the same fleshy chest ornaments as asari, but right now he couldn’t take his eyes of the scars crisscrossing her torso and arms, and his temper flared with the wrong kind of emotion. Shepard saw his mood alter, and stopped removing her bra.

“What’s wrong? Changed your mind?”

“No! Never.” He sat down on the bed beside her and removed his own shirt, while nudging her to continue removing her clothes. “Come on, last one naked is a quadless krogan.”

When they sat naked together on the bed, neither of them was aware who’d won the bet, as they were engulfed in watching the others’ features.

Shepard carefully placed her hands on his plated chest, alternating with stroking the plates with her palms and running her fingers in the soft leathery seams between the plates. Chellick leaned a little back, allowing her free exploration of his body. One of the things she was really curious about was the sensitivity of the waist, and when her soft human fingers touched the suede like hide under his chest plates, Chellick was doing his damnedest not to moan out loud. The muscles under his skin created small ripples in the hide, like a cat trying to shake something out of it’s fur.

“Feels good?” she asked smiling.

“Mmflh,” was the only reply she got.

“I’’l take that as a yes. How about..” she started kneading his waist a little firmer, running her hands on both sides, up and down from his waist to the hips in a large squeezing motion.

“Nngh, that’s, spirits, too many fingers, uungh.”

Shepard took the comment in the spirit in which it was said, from someone who was rapidly losing control of the situation. And speaking of loosening.. The plates on his groin started shifting to either side, and from the sheath underneath a blue shaft emerged. It’s really that blue, Shepard blinked in amazement, not photo-manipulated at all.

From the corner of the eye she noticed Chellick was wary of her reaction. Perhaps he was afraid she’d run screaming out the door when she saw his cock? In truth, she kind of hoped she’d scream before the end of the night, but not in that fashion.

“May I,” she winked at him and let her hand slide towards his parting plates.

“Yes,” he said in a strained voice.

Shepard rubbed his pubic plates with one hand and ran one finger on the other along the parting seam while he became fully exposed. Chellick leaned back on his elbows when she closed her hand around the length of his emerged cock, letting her run the show. She gave it a few slow teasing strokes, and he responded with more moaning. In the Fornax magazine the turian genitals looked like they had ridges. Not so, Shepard mused, they were shaped like corkscrews, albeit, smaller than the photos. The spiral narrowed into a slightly tapered head with a small indentation for expulsion of semen, a perfect fit for a caressing human finger, and he called for his spirits once again. The cock was also secreting some sort of natural sweetly smelling lubricant, and she gave it a few more strokes, slicking her hand and relishing the sounds he made. A devilish impulse came over her.

“Decian, sweetheart? Can you tell me about your penis?”

“Mmph? It’s, uh.. it’s blue.”

“I can see that. What about this helix-shape? Other than pleasure?” She kept up the stroking, and played with his waist at the same time.

“It’s, aah, for.. for expansion.”

“You mean, it gets bigger?” She couldn’t believe her ears.

“Yes.. it’s smaller to fit into the female, and then, spirits..”

Chellick’s body was starting to give off a small vibrating hum emanating from his chest, and stringing together a coherent sentence was difficult for him. She was merciless.

“And then?”

“the friction between the male and the fhhhemale,” he panted, “the spirals, makes blood vessels expand to.., to..”

“Hmm?” Shepard knew she was cruel now, but had to admit, having this large turian at her mercy was more arousing than a million Fornaxes.

“Allow for the passage of.. of..”

“Semen?” She whispered in his ear canal. His subvocals went haywire, fluctuating wildly between pitches, and she could only heard some of it. Shepard looked down at the cock in her hand and it was indeed expanding. Not so big it would be an uncomfortable fit, but just enough. She smiled and noticed something new. At the base of his cock was a strange bulbous form. She hadn’t noticed that in the pictures.

One hand kept pleasuring him, and the other snaked down to nestle the base.

“Decian, what’s thi-..”

Chellick practically roared when he came on her chest and hands, hips jerking up to fuck her fist, and after the first surprise she obliged him willingly, increasing the tempo, working him through his orgasm as he emptied in her hand. His come shot everywhere, and when he was done she was dripping with blue tinged liquid.

Chellick laid back on the bed and drew several ragged breaths while his cock slowly retracted behind his plates.

“Sorry.. a little too good,” he panted.

“I’m having fun,” she smiled, hoisting a towel from the pack. “I see what you mean by shower.”

“Spirits, you got it all over you. That’s not good.”

“I smell bad to you now?” Shepard fell down beside him and wiped the worst of the semen away.

“You smell wonderful, but you smell like my mate. Turians don’t usually.. spray casual encounters. And no, that doesn’t mean we’re casual.”

She gave him a puzzled look. “If the smell comes off in the shower, what’s with the condoms. It’s not like you can get me pregnant. Or have scale itch.” She let the last sentence hang in the air.

“Of course not. But you can’t really scrub with soap on the inside, can you?” he said carefully, and the implication of that sunk into Shepard’s mind like a rock in a lake. They can smell it on the inside, she reflected. Ah, what the hell. Not like she was going to back out now.

When he saw she wasn’t running away, he rolled on his side and pulled her into his arms.

“So, what to do about you? I hope you want me to return the favor?”

Even though Shepard was hot and turned on like a lighthouse, her entire body shuddered and broke out in goosebumps. Her turn. What would he do?

“What do turians normally do to entice a female to sex?” she asked in a casual voice.

“We have two types of standard foreplay, one involving fighting and one involving something like what you just did,” he said and licked her neck. “Which would you prefer?”

“No fighting. Not today,”she said, tilting her head back to expose more neck to him. He happily obliged, nipping gently at the soft skin.

“Then there is more of this,” he said, dragging a blue tongue along her jawline. “Turian females are plated as well, and the male as a rule has to lick them open.”

An involuntary shudder went through her body, and Chellick hummed in delight.

“Oh, that’s interesting. Can I interest my lady in some turian-style licking?”

For once since she first started practicing Skyllian five, her poker face failed her entirely, and she grinned like a crazy woman. “Hell yes.”

 

It was Chellick’s turn to let his hands roam her body, and he did so with great enthusiasm. Every crack and crevice was his to explore, he played with her breasts, fondled her hips and squeezed her ass, but he kept away from where she most wanted his hands to go. Instead he licked her neck, kissed her and curled his tongue around her nipples in a way that bespoke the great research he’d done about human females. Although she savored his attentions, there was another area that yearned for his touch every time she rubbed her thighs together.

“Decian, please?”

“Hmm?”

It was his turn to play the sadist, and he loved it.

“You’re going a little slow, Decian, I need-..” She gasped as he slid one finger with a blunted talon in between her folds.

“Need what Jane?”

It was her time to answer with a gurgle. The look of pure enjoyment on his face as she was writhing under him made her understand why turians sometimes fought as foreplay. She wanted to smack him for procrastinating.

Just when she opened her mouth to tell him precisely that, he began stroking her slit gently, searching for something, and when she gasped loudly, she knew he’d found it. So did he. “It’s not a lie, then. Human females have a special button for pleasure.”

“Please do not call it that, say clitoris or clit or.. aaahhh.”

His movement shifted from stroke to circling, and she let out a whine under him.

“This is for touching my knot without warning me,” he breathed in her ear, “a word to the wise for next time.” He pulled his hand away and slid down her body.

“Let’s see if a human can compete with this.” He pulled out his long blue tongue and showed it to her, wiggling playfully at her before he settled between her legs.

Seconds after she’d seen his tongue and before she felt it graze her outer labia, she heard the sniff as he took in her arousal, and then he parted her lips like the red sea with his blue tongue. She arched her back and tried to press her hips further towards him, but he put each of his arms around one thigh and held her in place, his meaning clear. This was his show, his turn and she had to lay back and submit, as he did earlier for her. And she tried, the gods knows she tried, but he ravished her with that turian tongue, lavishing attention on her clit until she almost came, then changing tactic and pushing it inside her, curling it like a coil but refusing to release her from the sweet agony. Only when she was clawing at the sheets and bucking hard against his hold on her, crying out his name in desperation, did he let her come, his name still on her lips.

Shepard felt like she’d been hit by a skycar when he climbed up beside her and laid down.

“Well? Good?” His flaring mandible smile was large and proud.
“Fucking amazing,” she gasped and kissed him deeply. Even her human sense of smell could smell her on his face.

“And your squad won’t smell me on you?” she joked.

“Sadly, I’ll have to scrub it all off,” he said with a huff. “Awkward to explain why I smell of human arousal to other turians.”

“Too bad. I like the way you smell.”

“Yeah? I was kinda hoping you were up for a little more,” he said and pressed his plated nose against her cheek. “I was sort of inspired by all your moaning and groaning.”

“I moan and groan? Speak for yourself, turian.”

“I made you speak for me.”

“Showoff. You ready for round two?”

“What do you think?” He took her hand and wrapped it around his reemerged cock. She gave it a few experimental tugs. “It’ll do.”

“It’ll do? Rude human, I’ll give you what for,” he growled playfully and pinned her under him, stealing another kiss from her.

“Let me get a condom,” he said and rolled out of bed.

Shepard stretched out on the makeshift bed as he rummaged in the pack for his prize.

“Found it,” he proclaimed, holding the small packet up like a trophy.

As he rolled the condom on, Shepard sat up and leaned her chin on his shoulder.

“Did you change you mind?” he asked softly. “We can do this some other time if you’re tired.”

“I was just thinking I should start on top, since you might be too tired,” she grinned at him.

“Very funny, Jane. But if you must,” he said and pretended to sag down on the bed, “I might let you do all the work.”

“Don’t I always?”

She climbed into his lap and straddled him, pushing him further back onto the bed.

“Assuming control,” she quipped and lined his cock against her entrance, then waited.

“Come on, Jane, or you I need to draw you an anatomy chart?

She looked at his eager expression and concluded he didn’t deserve the easy option for his insubordination. Shepard slowly lowered herself on his cock, giving him a few shallow hip rolls get used to the feeling of having an alien inside her, and a turian at that. By allowing Chellick to enter her, to fill her, she has passed a threshold of no return. The last vestiges of her mother’s belief that all turians are the enemy disappeared when she met Chellick’s flaming green eyes and heard his soft purr. Not an enemy, just a lover. She rolled her hips again, watchfully following his expression and deepening purr, and just when he thought he’d be fully sheathed inside her, she pulled up and out. Chellick gave a frustrated groan. “Hey, what gives?”

“No lip from the boytoy, just be grateful for what you get.”

From the scowling glare in his eyes, he got it all right. He'd been played again, and did not like it. He enjoyed it, but he didn't like it. Fine distinction, but it was there. She repeated the process again and again, slowly letting him enter her halfway, then pulling his pleasure away from him like a kid with a toy, and Shepard admitted to herself she loved to tease him. The problem was, the more frustrated and horny he got, the more she wanted him plates deep inside her as much as he wanted to be fully sheathed in her, but it devolved to a battle of wills. Chellick broke first. His groans rose in pitch until he begged her, but before she could give him what he wanted, he instinctively jerked up and pressed his crest between her breasts, then placed his arms around her and pulled her down, fully inserting his cock in her tight pussy. Shepard gasped at the sudden intrusion, but was more than wet enough to accommodate him. “Sorry, sorry, sorry,” he whimpered and tried to soothe her by licking her neck and throat. Must be a turian thing, she reflected, but he didn't harm her, and she showed him that in no uncertain terms.

 

Chellick’s green eyes were almost rolled back in is head and his voice was a hoarse croak when he asked if he could be on top. She had no sooner agreed when he rolled them over and propped himself up on one arm, the other firmly grasped around her ass for leverage and unleashed the beast on her, his inner need to claim her as his own. He pounded her into the mattress, hitting plates deep every time, and even though he once mentioned the word chafing, Shepard knew it’s the rug burns on her ass and shoulders she’d feel tomorrow. It was no more finesse, no more long drawn out foreplay, it was a turian male claiming the female he’s not supposed to court, the female from the enemy clan that could get him killed, and his subvocals sang in triumph that she was willing, open and his to mate. His human female clung to him with one hand inside his cowl and the other on his waist, egging him on as he fucked her hard. He purred and trilled in equal measure, subvocals she couldn't hear begged her to love him as he loves her.

When Chellick was close to reach his climax, his body began to vibrate again. He'd forgotten to tell her, but was a sign of his blood system now pumping the last available blood into his throbbing erection to fully open the ejaculatory ducts in his cock so he could fill her to the brim with his semen. Only the deep conditioning of turian consent stopped him from trying to tie with her, as he hadn't really told her about his knot either. Too many words, too many explanations, they were all lost to him as he reached his peak and thrusted into her one last time. Chellick's entire body vibrated and shook at his release. Shepard cried out under him in her own pleasure, and the feeling of shocked relief flooded him in the afterglow. He almost left her behind. She didn't appear to have noticed, but instead entwined him in a sweaty tangle of arms and legs, eagerly seeking his mouth for more kisses. In his haze of emotions Chellick did something bold. He pressed his forehead against hers, afraid to have crossed some sort of cultural border between their species. She couldn't hear the promise that accompanied his declaration, but somehow understood despite this, stroking his fringe and cupped his mandibles. Chellick cursed inwardly when he felt a short tug in his chest. A small bond had been formed, not noticeable among others yet, but still dangerous. And yet he had never wanted anything so bad in his life before. Shepard needed to know, but not now. He would not ruin this perfect moment, instead he searched for her lips for one more taste.

Chapter Text

2174 CE – October 25th Shower 11:48 PM

“Come on, Decian, how long do I have to stand here?”

For the last 35 minutes Chellick had made her scrub until she was almost raw all over, but every time she stepped outside the stall he sniffed her and twitched his nose. Apparently there was almost no end to the pungency of turian semen, and he scooted her back inside with a stern glare. She looked down on her pruny fingers and the almost empty bottle of soap. If he didn’t deem her smell clean enough soon, they had to raid someone’s locker, or find some other foul smelling liquid to pour on her.

“You’re almost done, Jane. It’s just a small trace of my scent left on you, other than that you smell like detergent.” Shepard heard him try to stifle a chuffing laugh. The fiend, she’d get him for this later.

“It’s not my fault, you know,” he said, “you-..” He went quiet for a few seconds, then hurriedly opened the door and came inside. “Shh, someone’s coming. Turians,” he whispered. After a few more seconds, she too could hear voices coming from the other room.
“Will they notice us?” she whispered back.

“They will hear the shower, notice me, and smell a soaked human,” he said, “Unless..”

“Unless what? They’re coming now!”

Chellick picked up his own bottle of soap and poured it all over her. It was a special turian plate furbish with a strong aroma and minuscule pumice stones. The smell wasn’t too bad, but when the soap streamed down her body, it gave burning feeling to her sore skin.

“Shh, I know, don’t rub, just stand still and try to stay out of the spray,” he said as the two turians came into the shower. It was Strabo and Mevia.

“There’s someone already in here,” Strabo said, tapping at their stall door.

“So? They’re probably doing the same thing we are,” Mevia said. “Are you shy? Should I ask Castor instead?”

“That guy? Much too careful for you, you need a big strapping turian like myself to help out.”

“Big and strapping? That’s an idea. Maybe I’ll ask one of the squad leaders to help with some stress relief. What about.. Chellick?”

They heard his cough inside the stall and laughed.

“Just saying, sir, you can come out and watch, if you want,” Strabo ventured.

“Or join us,” Mevia added.

Chellick glanced at Shepard with a worried expression. If he was afraid she might take umbrage at the blatant propositioning, he was dead wrong. She held a hand over her mouth, trying not to laugh out loud. Chellick was probably the closest thing to a prude a turian could get, and he was visibly embarrassed.

“That’s fine, just, uh, carry on,” he said over the falling water.

“Your loss,” Mevia crooned. “Now hurry up, if we’re not done here and back in the barracks in time for lights out, you know the overseer will report it to Shepard.”

“I know, I know. Although I like our stress release thing, I like my plates un-flayed too.”

“Hey, hey, careful.”

There was no more comments after that, but Shepard imagined Mevia pointing to Chellick and hers stall, thinking he might divulge their conversation to her. Were they really that scared of her?

 

For some reason, Strabo and Mevia got it on in the public section of the showers, maybe to entice Chellick to join them, maybe because the space was roomier. Either way, Shepard was lost in thought and paid no heed to the screeching, fighting and fucking turians outside. Chellick poured more pumice soap on her now and then. His breath was a little heavy, but he wasn’t really interested in another round. They’d pretty much worn themselves out during the course of the evening, but the sound of another couple having sex so close to them made him a little possessive, and he closed his arms around her, nuzzling her ruffled wet hair and breathing hot air in the crook of her neck.

The screeching reached a crescendo and was shortly after exchanged for panting and scuffle noises. The pair were finished at last.

“Spirits, I can hardly walk,” Strabo gasped. “She’s gonna kill me tomorrow.”

“If you can’t keep up with the squad, I hope she cuts you,” Mevia said with an air of cold rationality.

“You’re all heart, Orestillan,” Strabo said, sounding offended.

“I have plans for my future. I’m going to join the army as a recon-scout, and neither you, nor that wimp Vakarian is going to derail me. If Shepard is my only option to achieve that, I’ll live with the fact that she’s not overfond of turians.”

“I think it’s mostly Vakarian she doesn’t like,” he replied.

“Maybe. She doesn’t seem to care to much about the rest of us either, but at least she doesn’t favor Argyle just because he’s human.”

“Let’s take the conversation elsewhere,” Strabo said, underlining the elsewhere.

“Take your time, sir,” he said loudly, banging on the stall door as he walked out.

 

After they left, Chellick helped Shepard hose away the worst of the turian soap. The good thing about this was that she no linger smelled like Chellick, the bad that she reeked of plate shiner. Shepard was in no mood to stand another half hour under the running water, she wasn’t a godsdamned fish. In addition, the overheard conversation between Mevia and Strabo bothered her. In her second year turians applied to be in her training group, now they feared to be in her squad? It was Vyrnnus’ words come true.

“I suppose we could start over with the washing,” Chellick said, interfering in her train of thought.

“No! Absolutely not. Any longer in the water and I’m going to develop fins. Let’s just find something else that’s more inconspicuous to cover it up. Gun oil, maybe?”

He considered this. “It might work, but it won’t mask everything.”

“I get up early tomorrow and have another shower, saying I found this bottle and got some on me, how’s that?”

“You know, they might imagine you in a stall where a turian supposedly took care of his intimate needs?”

“They can imagine all they want, as long as they don’t know the truth.” She gave him a quick peck on the mandible. “Let’s get out of here before the next batch of sex-crazed turians arrive.”

 

2174 CE – October 27th Armax combat simulator supervision room 09:31 AM

Aside from Castor and Mevia, the rest of the squad made their way through the combat sim with ruthless efficiency. Shepard had picked a Hastatim-program that incorporated a rouge turian faction needing to be suppressed. It was a suburban setting for 5 squad members, and Castor and Mevia were the odd pair out this time. She’d called them to the holo-booth to watch their teammates performance, and to ask them to point out potential problems as they saw them arise. Their reluctance was obvious.

“I’d rather not, Shepard.” Castor was the first to admit his qualms. “It’s like I’m calling them out on their mistakes in front of our superior.”

“I agree with Castor. It’s not our place,” Mevia said.

Shepard sighed. Loyal to a fault. To big a fault this time.

“So, you would rather your comrades developed bad habits that will get them killed, rather than help them? I see..” She scribbled a few notes on the datapad for effect.

“No, we just.. We think it’s your job, that’s all,” Castor said again. Mevia however, looked doubtful and flicked her eyes between Shepard and the screen. When Aius went through a door without checking behind it, she raised a talon hesitantly to the holo-screen, then lowered it again.

“You caught that? Good. That’s the third time today Aius forgot to check his flank. That’s three dead turians, and a severely weakened squad. The sooner we get that fixed, the better.”

The two turians waited while she picked up a transmitter and froze the program.

“Third missed doorway, Aius. You’re one very dead turian. Start the program from the beginning, and do not make the same mistake again.”

The remaining squad members made no sound, but Castor and Mevia saw them giving Aius the evil eye as they trudged back to their starting positions.

Shepard swiveled her chair back to face them. “If these kinds of mistakes are not weeded out as soon as possible, the whole team will be put at risk. Tier one, folks, that’s our goal, and with a little help from you, we’ll make it in no time. And rest assured, those guys in the maze now will be asked to evaluate you in a few hours. So, from the top?”

They chorused a “yes, Shepard,” and returned their focus to the screen. Some of the things she said appeared to have sunk in, as they were more eager to call out errors now. Shepard noted mistakes on the pad for a later review, the more grievous ones were handled by pausing the program and addressing the offender at once. At first her squad looked like they were waiting for an erupting volcano at every fault, but Shepard kept her tone neutral and calm. After while they were still guarded, but not openly hostile.

Through the day she rotated the squad so that every one of them got some time in the booth with her, and unsurprisingly, Garrus was stiff as a board when it was his turn to be in her presence. His unwillingness to point out mistakes was clear, but despite a small urge to strangle him, Shepard made her argument in a rational manner that appealed to his team spirit.

“You need to spot these mistakes and address them as fast as possible. It’s your responsibility as a future leader, and as part of a team. If the commander of a team fails to lead them, his entire team will suffer. Know your weak links, and use your people accordingly.”

“Meaning?” Garrus asked carefully.

“Don’t place people with obvious flaws in a position where an enemy might exploit it. Know your team, what it can do, and what it can’t.”

“Do you do this?” The question was like a small needle under a finger nail, but she ignored the sting.

“I try to, but I make mistakes, same as everyone.”

“What do you do to rectify mistakes?” Garrus was like a varren with a dead pyjak, and she had to restrain herself from telling him to fuck off. She knew what brought on the questions. They both did.

“Sometimes they can’t be rectified, one can only learn from the experience and do better in the future.”

 

Garrus came around to some degree eventually and tried his best to help his team by denoting weaknesses in their advance. Shepard was again impressed, this time over his intuitive grasp of the battlefield. Unfortunately, this did nothing to help the strained relationship between them. Nirea was chattering a lot for a turian, trying to keep the tension from rising.

“The Hastatim squads are the best at repressing an uprising,” she said, “Everyone not in the safe zones are shot. Everyone inside are protected.”

“Does it apply to all civilians,” Shepard asked while fiddling intently with a keyboard.

“There are no turian civilians, Shepard,” Garrus said proudly. “Enemies of the Hierarchy will be killed and cremated.”

There was a loud crack in the room when the keyboard snapped in two, but she managed to keep in check the sudden need to punch him in his smug face. Cremated. That’s basically what happened to her father, and the thousands of other human beings in the Siberian metro. ‘This is your own fault,’ she reminded herself, ‘you picked the program. Say nothing, it’s the last round of the day. Let Vakarian go, use the anger against Vyrnnus later.’ Nirea and Garrus both looked unsettled, and Shepard leaned back in the chair and discreetly tossed the pieces away. Way to go reassuring your squad, she sighed inwardly. After a few minutes of uncomfortable silence Shepard exhaled deeply and relaxed. The lesson would soon be over. How bad could it get in here? She heard tentative sniffs behind her, and pinpointed the source as her silver stalker.

“Why does it smell like plate shiner and gun oil in here?” he said bewildered. Shepard again fought the urge to murder him, mainly because she had no place to hide and cremate the body.

By the time the hourglass jingled on the holo-screen, both Shepard and Garrus were more than relieved to be rid of each other.

 

2174 CE – October 28th Mess Hall 07:02 AM

Breakfast on the station wasn’t served until 07:30 AM, but Shepard and Chellick had started a routine of coming in early to have a short talk before the start of the day. Right now she felt like no matter what she said, the squad would always mistrust her. Not a big surprise, all things considered. Chellick, on the other hand, was a careful optimist.

“Like we talked about, Jane. Be nice, take an interest in them. Do you know what they sound like to a turian when you get near? They’re genuinely scared of you. You come off as unpredictable and aloof, not caring whether they fail or pass their exams.”

“And I’ll fix this by what? Passing out hugs and kisses?” Sarcasm dripped from every syllable, but Chellick was unperturbed. “Nope, those are mine. And on that subject, Aius wants to smell your hair. I vote no on that too.”

She rolled her eyes. “Okay, which is it? I scare them or they want to get in my undersuit? It can’t be both.”

“Why not? It’s a turian thing, but right now they see you as more tyrannical than a dominant leader should be. Kind of like.. you and Vyrnnus.”

For Shepard, it was like he just doused her in ice water. “Like Vyrnnus? Vyrnnus?! What the hell, Decian?”

“Calm down, I only meant-..”

“That I play with my squad for sport, to see how much hurt they can take before they crack? That I enjoy inflicting pain on them? Fuck you!”

Breakfast could go to hell. Shepard got up and stormed out. Over her shoulder she could hear Chellick call out, but she needed some new recirculated air to breathe in, and ignored his plea.

She knew she was being childish, but the comparison between herself and Vyrnnus hit a little too close to home. Were they really that similar? To her, Vyrnnus was a capricious bastard, out for his own ends and not caring about the havoc he wreaked among his students. Had she become like that? In her mind, it was only Vakarian she had a problem with, but did her squad see it like that? Or had she been insulated by having several turian friends, forgetting how suspicious she herself had been when she first came aboard. She arrived at the combat sim arena with a growling stomach. It was stupid to run out on both Chellick and food, but stubborn pride prevented her from going back. She could apologize to him later. It was time to be ‘nice’ to her squad.

 

2174 CE – October 28th Armax combat simulator supervision room 08:45 AM

Castor Sorio kept his yellow eyes on the screen, unsure of what to do. His squad leader kept asking him questions about himself in a polite and interested manner, and he was terrified to make a mistake. What if he had the wrong plans for his life? What if she wrote a damning report on him after the war games? Spirits, why couldn’t she leave him alone? Beside him, Nirea clicked her mandibles in agitation. It would be her turn after him.

“A field medic? You want to join the army then?” Shepard asked.

“Yes, sir. I want to help save lives, not just end them.” Was that comment offensive to humans? Castor had no idea.

“Is that why you’re always over at the hospital?”

She was aware of that? Spirits, was she angry? “Uh, yes. Doctor Publius is holding advanced courses in first aid for turians. Is that a problem?”

“No problem at all. I think it’s good you follow up on your plans. If you sometimes need to leave early to get there in time, I’m sure I can rearrange it so you have your practice session first in the day and can go after that. Perhaps you can instruct the rest of the squad later on what you’ve learned?”

Castor blinked slowly several times. That was not what he expected to hear. “Uuuh.. Yeah. Sure. Thank you, Shepard.” He thanked the spirits when it was Nireas’ turn.

 

“How about you, Nirea? Based on your performance when you first came here, I would guess combat engineer, but I could be wrong.”

“Erm, no, you’re not wrong. My mother is a combat engineer, and I want to follow the family tradition.” Just as she said it, she remembered the Shepard family tradition was to kill turians, and instantly regretted the comment. Shepard merely smiled. She smiled! What was wrong with her lately?

“I understand traditions are important for turians. Not surprising, considering you’ve been guardians of Citadel space for thousands of years,” Shepard said, and Nirea wondered if it was a hint to the relay incident.

“My mother and I don’t always see eye to eye on matters, but I hope she’ll come around one day.”
Before she could stop her mouth plates, Nirea asked; “Any particular matters?”

Shepard smiled her crooked smile again. “Turians, for example. You’re not as bad as I believed when I came to Jump Zero.”

The timer on the screen rang out, and it was time for rotation. Castor and Nirea left the booth utterly perplexed. What was going on with Shepard?

 

2174 CE – October 28th Armory 16:07 PM

It was Aius and Argyle’s turn to check and clean the squads weapons and armor, but Strabo had tagged along in pure frustration.

“And then she asked me if I had any plans at all after boot. I told her, I’d accept whatever position my superiors believe I’m most suited for, and she looked.. she looked.. Argyle, what was it?”

Argyle grinned. “She looked sad.”

“She looked sad! On my behalf! Like I was considering building a house in an Invictus jungle. I mean, come on! Since when did she care about our future?” Strabo sounded exasperated, and Aius tried not to laugh.

“I think she’s just disappointed she’s spent months trying to teach you to shoot straight and fight properly, and you might end up like a toilet scrubber. Doesn’t say much about her teaching skills, does it.” He loved riling up Strabo.

“Oh give me a break. I’ll probably end up in the infantry like most of us. It’s just.. she looked at me like she hoped for more.”

“Or perhaps you’re the one hoping for more,” Argyle murmured as he poured more gun oil on the cleaning rod.

“Fuck you, human. I’m not the deviant here,” Strabo barked and jerked his head in Aius’ direction.

“As if you’ve never thought of it,” Aius grinned. “I’ve heard you when she pins you and hold you down.”

“Fuck both of you,” Strabo said, straining to keep the humiliation from his subvocals.

“In the future that will be as normal as asari relationships,” Argyle said from his cleaning station.

“You approve of this sickness?” Strabo couldn’t believe his ears.

“It’s not sick, it’s just different.”

“I think the human has his eye on a turian himself,” Aius cut in, as Argyle took on a darker shade of pink.

“Who?” Strabo demanded.

“Now it’s your turn to go fuck yourself,” Argyle shot back.

“Guys, no fighting in here, this is the armory.” Aius got between them and held out his arms to keep distance. “Even if Shepard is.. I don’t know, suffering some sort of personality blackout right now, you never know when she might snap back and tear your arms off for causing trouble.”

Strabo and Argyle stood down, but neither was done with the conversation.

“Let’s wait a while. If Shepard reverts back to her old ways, all’s well, but if not.. I don’t know. I honestly don’t. The whole situation is creepy.” Aius gave an involuntary shudder, and the other two nodded in agreement.

 

2174 CE – October 28th En route to Mess Hall 18:13 PM

“If you could behave like a normal turian and answer a few questions, I wouldn’t look the idiot standing next to you!” Mevia’s voice was as sharp as her talons.

“It’s none of her business,” Garrus mumbled.

“That you want to join the Spectres? Every little fledgling wants that,” she scoffed. “Be glad I told her you want to be a sniper or join your father in C-sec.”

“Glad? Why should I be glad about that? Shepard hates my father, and you just reminded her.”

“Because she might have died laughing otherwise. You in the Spectres, really? You couldn’t fight your way out of a carton of rations.”

“And you couldn't shoot your way out of that same carton, so keep your mouth shut. Recon scout my plates. Even if you could spot the enemy, you can’t hit him.”

Mevia came to a sudden stop and grabbed Garrus by his cowl. “If Shepard hadn’t forbidden me from beating the crap out of you before you can walk without bawling your gizzard out, you’d be in a world of hurt right now. Stay away from me, Vakarian.” She pushed him backwards and kept walking to the mess hall. Garrus rubbed his cowl where she’d burrowed her talons and followed at a distance. Was it this station that made all the females crazy, or was it just him? Spirits, he wanted to go back to Palaven.

 

2174 CE – October 28th Library 19:57 PM

Shepard and Chellick had quickly finished their dinner, he then helped her skim through her biotic notes, and now they were hidden away in on of the public sofas on the library upper floor. Shepard knew it was time for that talk she skipped out of at breakfast.

“You were right about the squad, by the way. They do see me like Vyrnnus. Sorry for acting like a child this morning.”

“I don’t mean to hurt you when I say these things. I mean to help.”

“I know, but some things are just hard to hear. I.. can we talk about something else?

“Whatever you want, Jane.”

“Tell me about yourself. I’ve never asked before, it’s long overdue. What do you want to do when you leave Gagarin?”

“Ah, my grand plan.” He made himself comfortable on the sofa and pulled her close. When she was nestled in his arm and he had his nose buried in her hair, he was ready to continue.

“Most turians serve years in the army. It’s an honorable career, but I want to serve the mandatory time only and transfer to C-sec. My father worked there before he went back to Palaven, and I grew up hearing stories about chasing criminals, fugitives and slavers all over Citadel space.”

Shepard listened to him retell several of his childhood stories, and while she suspected parts of them were censured to suit an underage turian, she had to admit it sounded exciting.

“Maybe one day I’ll be Executor of the Citadel.”

The title jogged her memory. “Isn’t that Galenus Vakarian’s job now?”

Chellick was pulled out of his reveries. “Oh! Yes, but.. I.. Uh..”

“Relax. I can hear his name without going crazy.”

“Phew. That’s a load off. Yeah, he is. Kind of a hard-ass. Always by the book, and nothing outside the book. I hear he comes down heavily on anyone of his officers trying to doctor evidence.”

“Rule of law is absolute? No bending the rules? How boring.”

Chellick crossed his arms and gave her a withering stare. “That’s how the Citadel works. Without the rules, we’d have chaos.”

There was no discussing with that tone of voice, and Shepard conceded his point in good humor, even if deep down, she was more than a little willing to skirt the rules to achieve the best result. She’d let Chellick be the paragon of good behavior. As for herself, she’d be what the situation called for.

“Jane, we need to talk about something else.” Chellick spoke softly, but she felt the muscles in his arm tense.

“Uh-oh, that can’t be good.”

“I did something to you when we laid together,” he said, keeping his voice very low.

“You did several very nice things, as I recall,” she smiled and kissed his mandible.

“This is serious, Jane.” He cupped her face and looked her straight in the eye.

“I.. We made a bond.”

“Nope, can’t remember you tying me down. Maybe next time?”

“Stop that. I mean it.”

She sighed. It had to be a turian thing. One among many. “Okay, tell me about this bond.”

“It’s what happens when two or more turians get very close. First it’s just a small bond to signify that they’re.. what you humans call boyfriend and girlfriend, but closer. If they continue to share of themselves with each other, over time it evolves and matures into a lover’s bond. Should the people involved want to become proper mates, they make the bond official by becoming pledged to one another, life-bonded. That’s the final stage, very serious. Other turians and species that have a strong sense of smell can sometimes pick up that individuals are bonded this way by sensing their pheromones. Not all the time, but still..”

“Right.” Shepard wasn’t sure she liked where this was going. “Can this bond be undone?”

“Yes, it’s normal for young turians to have small bonds when they’re have many partners. Breaking a lover’s bond hurts, but most turian’s experience that once or twice in a life time. A life-bond is.. more difficult. It can be broken, but it can also break the turian mentally.”

Shepard shuddered. “And where did we land on this scale?”

“I.. We have a small bond now. Or at least I do, I don’t know how humans react to a bonding turian.” Chellick mulled over his own words while he absentmindedly kept playing with her hair, trying to make the short locks stand out like a fringe. When he noticed her amused grin, he looked away and twitched his nose plates. “Maybe we should ask Publius?”

She raised an eyebrow at him. “The last time I saw Publius, he stabbed me in the neck with a needle.”

“Fine, I can go when I have the time, if you continue to make an effort to get close with your squad.”

“Hair-smelling close?”

“Jane!” he warned her and nipped an earlobe.

“Iiihh. All right all right. Gods, I get manhandled by turians everywhere I go.”

“Mmmh, it’s just dreadful,” he murmured and turned her head so he could kiss her.

 

2174 CE – November 06th Outside the Library 20:04 PM

“Come on, Strabo, don’t be such a wuss,” Aius whispered.

“I’m not a wuss, you halfwit,” Strabo growled as he clutched his metal boots.

Conatix spared no expense on the new combat sims, but whenever students needed new armor they insisted the old one had to be worn down to the nubs. Strabo had tried to repair his pair of boots several times, but the metal was getting stressed. It had began to break apart in places, but not enough to warrant a replacement, at least not for the station quartermaster. The next day they would have a half- station march, and Strabo knew the boots would break after a few miles, forcing him to march on sharp metal for the remains of the day if Shepard didn’t help him out. A very big if.

“She’s been nice so far,” Argyle said encouragingly, “perhaps our luck will hold.”

“Or perhaps she’ll mount my head in the bio-barracks, with an expression like this.” Strabo rolled his eyes back and let his tongue hang out.

“A clear improvement if you ask me,” Aius said with a smirk. “Get in there.”

They pushed him through the door while staying in relative safety on the outside. Strabo tried for a casual stroll, but the silence of the library combined with the knowledge that somewhere inside, Shepard was working and not eager to be disturbed made him tip-talon around the corners looking for her.

He found her in the biotic section, datapads propped up on a communal table in a semi circle around her seat. The quick tapping on a keyboard in front of her made him think she hadn’t seen him yet, until she curled her upper lip in a sarcastic smile.
“Trying to assassinate me, Strabo? Your breathing is a little too loud for that.”

“Uhm, no. Not yet, anyway,” he managed to splutter.

The smile spread to her entire face. “Not yet trying to kill me? I’ll watch my back in a month or two, when you’re ready.”

A nervous laugh escaped him, and he trudged forward and held out his boots. “These are pretty worn to my eyes,” he said, “but the quartermaster says they’re good for another couple of months. Tomorrow is marching day, and so I thought..” Strabo stopped, trying to decide if the look she gave him was of annoyance or pity.

“Let me see then.” She held her arms out, and he gave her the pair. On one side the small metal rivets had started to crack, and it would take him the better part of the night if he had to fix it.

“Hmm.. Typical turian eyesight,” Shepard said while raising en eyebrow. “Can’t spot a krogan in a den of vorchas.”

Strabo’s neck took on a darker shade of blue, then widened his eyes as the boots glowed purple. The rivets along the seams creaked and snapped one by one with a metallic ping, while the metal plates groaned under the pressure and bent into an unrecognizable twisted shape. The boots clattered as they hit the table. Strabo stared at her with slack mandibles while she rubbed her temples.

“These boots aren’t pretty worn, they’re ruined. Tell the quartermaster that if he won’t replace them, I’ll lodge a complaint with commander Vyrnnus himself.”

“I.. Thanks, Shepard.” He gathered up the pieces and gave her a grateful smile, the first one since he arrived on the station.

“Not a problem.” She gave him a roguish wink back, and Strabo could understand in that moment why Aius kept blabbing about sniffing her fringe. Not really wanting to break the spell, he searched for another question before he had to leave.

“Hey, is commander Vyrnnus as strict as they say?”

Her smile froze and he thought he saw a small twitch in her face. Shepard, afraid?

“He’s.. not to be trifled with, no. You guys shouldn’t worry about him though, he deals only with biotics. Anyone else on the team need something replaced before the march?”

“Erm, no, I think we’re all good.”

“Good. Don’t want any unnecessary injuries on the team.” She paused and stared at her hands. “One was more than enough.”

Strabo tried to work up the courage to ask about the incident with Garrus, but she placed her hands firmly down on the table and he missed his moment.

“Was there anything else? I have a lot of reading to do before my practical lessons.”

“You have lessons this late?” Strabo noted her hesitance before giving her anwer.

“It’s just.. remedial biotics with the commander. I’m a bit slow on the uptake. Now of you pop, you need to get that to the quartermaster before he closes shop for the night.”

The conversation was over, but Strabo was sure she wasn’t telling the entire truth. Remedial lessons? Her? His hind plates it was. Something was up with Shepard, something to do with Vyrnnus, and since this new version was a lot more agreeable than the other, he wanted to keep it that way. Aius and Argyle was waiting outside, and he decided to enlist their help in snooping out the latest rumors concerning their changeable squad leader.

 

Chapter Text

2174 CE – November 12th – Training Room – 17:26 PM
“So, any luck?” Argyle put his barbell into the rack with a clang and wiped sweat from his face.
Aius swished his mandibles in denial. “Not one whiff. They all clammed up when I approached the subject. Not even Victus wanted to say anything, and he’s the one that told me about the krogans. Why don’t we just ask Shepard herself?”
“No, we’re not gonna ask Shepard. I don’t her to know how much we’re snooping around behind her back. Bad enough you asked Victus.” Strabo crossed his arms and looked at his two squad mates. “Let’s hear what Argyle coaxed from that biotic girl he’s always flirting with. Did you learn anything?”
Argyle picked up a set of dumbbell and started on his hammercurls.
“Yes and no. Shepard haven’t been in regular biotics class all year, she studies by herself in the library, then trains alone or with the commander after that. Specialty first year was defense and second year object manipulation. Speaking of which, there is a bitchin’ vid from a mini-tool recording that shows Shepard bio-pelting a whole group of first-year students with small balls on the field, among others Decian Chellick and Emerus Victus. Other than that she could also use biotics to levitate herself. Guys, you really have to see that vid. It’s awesome.”
“Nothing about her and Vyrnnus?” Strabo asked.
“Anne and Shepard both had Vyrnnus as instructor. There was an incident two years ago when a student almost killed Vyrnnus. Anne said Shepard and some other male biotic saved his life.”
“Anne? Oh, your little girlfriend,” Aius said. “That can’t be right. There are rumors that she and another biotic made life hell for Vyrnnus for years, not that they saved him.”
Argyle shrugged. “Who knows. Anne wouldn’t say another word about him.”
“Shepard can levitate?” Strabo said in awe. “I’ve only seen that on holo-vids of Saren Arterius.”
Argyle looked puzzled at his two companion’s reverence. The illustrious Spectre had history with the Shepards, and the image he conjured in their minds was one of awe.
“I heard Shepard's mother fought against Saren years ago,” Aius said. “There was a skirmish on the Alliance side of the Skyllian Verge.”
“Yeah, I remember that. My dad talks about that a lot,” Argyle interrupted, “some pirates escaped a turian cruiser by entering Alliance space, and when the cruiser tried to pursue, the SSV Vengeance swooped in to stop the turians infringing our borders, gave them a good thrashing,” he said with poorly hidden pride, until he saw the staring faces surrounding him.
“He said it, not me,” he added meekly.
Strabo wiggled his mandibles in repressed anger, then forced himself to simmer down. “I think that was reported differently on our newsfeed,” he said through clenched mouth plates.
“Whatever. That wasn’t our Shepard,” Aius said. He turned to Argyle. “Think you can get the vid of her playing with balls?”
Argyle coughed and snickered at the same time. “I’ll ask my ‘source,’ but not in those words.”
“Let us know when you have it,” Strabo said. “I have to, erm, go meet someone.”
“”Yeah you do,” Aius grinned and was joined with Argyle in laughing. “Take care she doesn’t wear you out before thirex.”
“Funny!” Strabo growled at them and stalked out.

 

2174 CE – November 15th – Sand pit – 18:16 PM
Ever since Garrus started training with Shepard after hours, his skill level at hand to hand had increased rapidly. Where he first would swing wildly, he now struck with purpose and balance. Instead of charging in like a blood crazed krogan, he now waited for an opening and exploited it. He knew he was getting rather good, which was why he couldn’t understand why seeing Shepard smile at him in approval behind her guard was making him nervous. Had she spotted a chink in his defense and was waiting for him to make the move? Was there a glaring fault in his fighting stance? Garrus couldn't make up his mind, and that made him two seconds too slow when she caught him around the waist and pulled him down to the ground. Again he was pinned under her as she sat atop of him. He thrummed his subvocals in anger.
“What are you saying?” she asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Uh, you can hear that?” he said in disbelief.
“Nope, but turians sometimes have a minor tremble in their chest when they use their..” She stopped and suddenly looked flustered.
“Never mind. Training! I got you under me again, how are you going to escape?”
As fast as possible, he wanted to say as she shifted position on him again, making his groin plates twinge. Spirits, what was wrong with him? He needed to get away.
“Uh, any advice?”
“You’re a lot heavier than me. If you can get me off balance, then use the momentum to turn the table on me.” She gave him an encouraging nod.
Garrus took a few sharp breaths, then quickly jerked one arm from her hold and struck her in the kidneys. When Shepard let out the air in her lungs with a groan, he dragged her down by the shoulder and rolled them over, trying to get her to release her hold. Shepard wasn’t about to let up that easily. She hooked her legs around his midriff and tried to wrestle him into an armlock. That would have been bad enough if Garrus wasn’t right now making the discovery that having a wriggling alien female under you was even worse than having it on top. Her legs around his waist certainly didn’t help, and he was horrified at the thoughts that fought their way into his brain, Shepard under him and writhing for other reasons.
“Please, stop,” he gasped and Shepard dropped her hold immediately.
“Did I hurt you? Is it the plate?”
“It’s.. it stung.” He was a bad liar, but Shepard didn’t notice this time.
“Hey, it’s okay. Let me see.”
He climbed off her and she got up with a concerned look on her face. He knew she was going to insist, and he pulled the suit up without protest so she could check. She carefully traced the healed plate with her cold human fingers, and the unfamiliar feel made him wince. She mistook it for pain.
“Looks healed, but these wounds can still hurt in the lower layers of the skin. Or hide, in your case,” she said and looked at the omni-tool timer. That was another thing, Garrus thought, why did she have an omni-tool? No one else was allowed.
“I think we better call it for today. There is another booking in a few minutes, and you might want a shower and rest before dinner.”
“Yeah, sure.” Garrus knew she often missed meal time, but he wasn’t about to ask why. He followed her off the pit when the next team arrived. They were all humans, and Garrus recognized one of the taller humans. It was Todd Erikson from squad three, one of the students that stood by and watched when he got jumped the first day. Garrus fixed his eyes on the human walking in front of him, staring at her strange waist when they walked past the other group, and didn’t see the shoulder until it was too late. Erikson slammed his massive frame into Garrus as he passed, and Garrus spun and fell over in the sand.
“Ops, sorry. Didn’t see you there,” Erikson grinned. He also gave Shepard an appreciative wink. His winking eye remained closed as a purple biotic field froze him in place. Garrus got up and stared at Shepard. She was livid.
“How the fuck dare you mess with MY squad?” she bellowed over the pit, making the sound of her voice echo in the rafters. “I should splatter your skull against the concrete wall for that!”
Garrus didn’t know if he should be grateful or terrified of being under Shepard's protection. At least this time her anger wasn’t pitted against him, but crushing this guy’s skull might be a slight overreaction, even if he was an asshole.
“Hey, Shepard, come on. I think they get the message,” he said under his breath. His voice seemed to break the trance of fury she was in, and she released Erikson from the hold and stepped into his face instead. “If I hear of one more such incident, you’ll regret it. I ‘m guessing you’ve heard of what I can do? Don’t think I won’t use it against humans.”
She turned around and gestured Garrus to come along. He followed her without another word. Hopefully, after thirex he wouldn’t need more of these intimate encounters with humans. They were getting under his plates.

 

2174 CE – November 18th – Locker Room – 10:06 AM
“Let me see, let me see!” Castor eagerly bent over Argyle’s shoulder to watch the vid playing on his pad. Distorted images of a biotic tornado sweeping over the field and smacking down all opposition flickered on the screen, and the turians huddled around the lone human chuffed gleefully that someone other than them had been on the receiving end of that one. The sight of Chellick zigzagging all over the field to escape the barrage of balls following him had most of them howling in laughter, even Garrus gave a small chuckle, despite once having been subjected to Shepard himself. Then as the final act commenced, they gasped in shock as Shepard launched herself into the air and slammed down on Chellick’s head, until it was revealed to be a ruse.
“That was terrifying,” Nirea exclaimed, “imagine seeing that coming towards your face.”
“I’m in love,” Aius said dreamily.
“You’re in lust, sicko,” came Strabo’s reply, but he gave Aius a friendly nudge.
“I’m appalled that you can even consider that,” Garrus snapped at Aius.
“And you’re all in deep shit for lingering in the locker room when you should be running the obstacle course with the rest of the squads,” came a sour voice from the door. Shepard was leaning against the door frame with a look of mild disappointment. “What are you gawking at?”
Argyle quickly hid the pad behind his back. “Don’t even think about it,” Shepard barked, “show me.”
He reluctantly handed over the pad, and she began the recording again. To their great surprise, she laughed out loud. “Somebody filmed this? Fantastic. Why don’t you make me a copy for later,” she smiled and handed the pad back to Argyle. “Now get out on the course.”
Shepard pointed at the door, and they almost fought to get out first.

 

2174 CE – November 18th – Obstacle Course – 10:32 AM
“Why are you late, Shepard?” Emerus and his squad was already lined up at the start.
“My squad was hiding in the locker room again,” she replied, to their consternation and protests.
“Hey, we were watching an old vid of you two,” Aius shouted from the back.
“What vid?” Emerus called out.
“The one with the biotic hail of balls,” came the answer.
Emerus turned to Shepard with an evil grin. He raised his voice and said; “Hey, did you tell them why you almost wiped out your group?”
Garrus saw Shepard's jaw tense, and she raised her flat palm to her throat in a slashing movement, but Victus didn’t care, he just chuffed a laugh. “Whoops. Guess you got to tell them now.” He turned to her squad. “It’s quite scandalous,” he grinned, before blowing the whistle and he and his squad entered the course.
“So, uh, why did you challenge the entire group?” Strabo was getting bold after Victus’ joking and Shepard’s new found good humor.
“You want to know?” Shepard said casually.
“Yes.”
“You really want to know?”
“Yes!” Now Aius and Mevia joined in.
“Then haul your sorry asses in to a first tier placement, and I’ll tell you,” she grinned. “And Emerus is right, it was scandalous.”
“Oooh, you’re on, Shepard. That juicy gossip is ours.” Aius got up on the starting line and was rearing to go. Behind him the rest of the squad lined up, with Garrus last. He still wasn’t sure how he felt about all this, but he would not be throwing himself into the line of fire again.

 

2174 CE – November 18th – Obstacle Course – 13:30 PM
“But can you do it? Argyle asked.
“Yes, if I wanted my eyeballs to pop out of my head. It’s dangerous, and I haven’t tried it in a year.”
“Come on, Shepard. Just once?” he begged with fervor.
Squad four was done with their rounds, and they were waiting for the last stragglers from opposing squads to finish. Argyle had spent the last ten minutes trying to talk Shepard into ‘flying,’ as he called it.
“Nobody will mind,” he tried again. “Look, captain Corinthus isn’t even looking at us. They’re too busy timing the last ones. Please?”
“Please?” Strabo added. Another ‘please’ was heard from Aius, then Nirea, then the whole squad except Garrus was saying ‘please please please’ in a high pitched begging marathon. Shepard finally relented.
“All right, but it’s nothing like flying. More like getting launched in the air with a rather ugly descent.”
“Yess!” Argyle hissed, “this is going to be great.”
Shepard had a small sense of foreboding as she took a few steps away from them and let her body be enveloped in biotic power. Showing off in front of her squads, really? Had she really become that vain? Well, too late to change her mind now, she figured and jumped into the air while she activated a lift. Her body floated up in the air as she was straining to keep from tearing any more blood vessels than necessary, and the squad whooped and cheered under her. The whole thing lasted maybe 20 seconds, before she heard captain Corinthus bellow from the observer’s stand. “Fire in the hole!” Her squad dived for cover, and there was a loud bang and something hit her square in the stomach, making her drop the lift and fall down. She managed to do a combat roll as she landed, but stayed on the ground, groaning in pain. A bean bag. The captain had shot her with a godsdamned bean bag.
“I’ve told you what I think about foolish displays, Shepard,” the captain shouted in their direction, and she managed to conjure up the wherewithal to answer with a ‘yes, sir.’
Strabo walked up to her with a worried look on his face. “Are you okay, Shepard?”
“I’m a little reduced, Strabo. Mind giving me a hand?”
He pulled her on her feet, and she clutched her side with a faint smile.
“Last time he merely yelled at me. This time he shot me. Wonder what he’ll do a third time,” she said with a short glance in their direction.
“I think we better not find out,” Castor said. “Want me to look at where he hit you? We do human anatomy in class too.”
Shepard took two steps backward as if she needed to fend him off. “No, no, that’s fine. Just a bruise.”
“It’s what you’d make us do,” Garrus said with a stare.
“Back off, okay?” she snapped, and they all took a step back, exchanging hurt or offended looks. Shepard exhaled silently. She’d left herself just enough rope to hang herself, but she simply could not let them see the scars covering her body. It would raise unwanted questions.
“Look, guys, I’m sorry for being short, but I’m really fine.”
They eased up a bit, but she could see they were not entirely trustful. If she didn’t trust them, how could they trust her? If there was a solution to this conundrum, Shepard wasn’t able to see it.
She was saved from trying to make more amends by the commanding roar of captain Corinthus summoning her over to the observer’s stand. “Great, now I’ll be chewed out for ‘insipid human arrogance,’, thank you Argyle,” she joked and flashed him a smile. That broke some of the tension between her and the squad. “Meet up back on the shooting range in 30 minutes.”

 

2174 CE – November 18th – Library – 20:04 PM
“It’s not funny, Celsus, I fell down like a sack of meat,” Shepard said to the chuffing turian. “Hopefully your dad got that out of his system.”
“I’ll take care of it later,” Chellick hummed while brushing his talons in her hair, like he often did.
“Your fr.. hair is very different from a turians. And it smells..well, sweet, to us.”
“Stop flaunting your human girlfriend in my face, Chellick,” Celsus said with a sigh. “I’m here for work.”
“You think you can beat Emerus?” Chellick asked.
“I think I can beat you, and maybe Shepard, since she’s been distracted with carnal thoughts since you two patched things up.”
The two of them communicated something under their subvocals, and Shepard was miffed.
“No matter what you two mumble under your vocal chords, I’d like you to know that I don’t begrudge you second or third tier at the exam.”
“You’re a good sport,” Celsus smiled.
“Because I’ll be in first, and you dregs can settle the leftovers among yourselves.”
That got their attention.
“Dregs?”
“Really, you think squad four can beat Emerus?”
Dregs?
“Mhm. Sorry, lowly turians, but that’s just life. I’m heading for the stars, but you can, by prostrating at my feet, ride my coattails.” She was laying it on thick now, but they damned well deserved it for trying to keep her out of the conversation.
“Prostrating at your feet?” Celsus said, flaring his mandibles wide open. “What sort of perversions are you two up to when you’re alone?”
“All of them,” Chellick announced proudly and squeezed her into his arms, playfully smothering her.
“You wish, thhuurian,” she groaned when her last air supply escaped her.
“Okay, okay, give it a rest, the pair of you. Shepard, you promised to go over flanking tactics with me before thirex,” Celsus sighed.
“Sorry Decian. It’s true, I’ve promised my body to another turian tonight.”
“Ahaha. Hah.” Chellick said and gave her one last nip in the neck. “Don’t try any moves on my girl, Celsus.” He got up to leave.
“Wouldn’t think about it. Too much, anyway.” He gave Chellick a soft thrum, and Chellick laughed when he left.
“You really think you can get to tier one in thirex?” Celsus asked Shepard.
“I do. I’ve been training a lot with Vakarian, and Nirea’s been with Argyle in the weight training room. Even our resident field medic is doing great, so yeah, I think I have.. that we have a good shot.”
“You better be right. Emerus was challenging me to a wager earlier, and now I just might take him on his word.”
“What was the bet?”
“That nobody on this spiritsdamned station could ever hope to defeat him.”
“Nobody? Hah. And captain Corinthus say I’m arrogant. Don’t worry Celsus. I’ll knock him off his perch.”
That last part was perhaps a little offensive, but if Emerus had said she was no match for him, he had it coming. Thirex could not come soon enough.

 

2174 CE – November 20th – Third Examination
“This is it, squad four. Today we’ll put all the training and our hard work to good use. You know your squad mates, you know their strengths and weaknesses, so keep an eye out for each other in the squad-exercises. I’ve run you often enough through the obstacle course, and you’ve kept up when we’ve had marching days, so your conditioning is excellent. And it’s my firm belief, that every single one of you,” Shepard gave an encouraging nod to Garrus, “can win in the hand to hand tournament later today.”
The squad saluted her with a resounding “Yes, sir,” and headed for the equipment check booths.

“Rousing little speech,” Emerus said behind her. “Perhaps that’ll get you in second again.”
“Keep on telling yourself that, Emerus. When this day is over, squad 4 will rule this station.”
Emerus laughed, and Shepard joined in. Truth be told, she wasn’t sure her squad could beat Emerus’ consistent good scores, but today she at least felt sure she wasn’t sending her people on the field with a handicap.
“He’s here,” Emerus said in a low voice and gave a brief nod to the stands. She understood who he meant. “How could he not. He’s been on my case about the team’s nonperformance. Today I’ll rub his crest in my victory.”
“Second place,” Emerus replied with a smug expression.
“We’ll see, Victus.. We’ll see..”

As the hours passed, Shepard could hardly believe the score board. Squad four’s performance was outstanding, they ran fast, shot well and prevented their teammates from committing errors in the trials. It ran like a well oiled machine, and Shepard was half proud, half horrified of what turians could do when they worked as a team. Argyle as the only human on the team appeared to have seamlessly integrated into her little piece of turian war machine, and they racked up an impressive score, landing them firmly at the top before the tournament. Even Emerus looked concerned. From the corner of her eye she saw Vyrnnus sitting in the stands, but his expression never changed. He merely looked bored. There really was no pleasing some turians.
Chellick appeared beside her. “Looks like it’ll be settled in the ring.”
“As usual,” she said. “Emerus doesn’t seem happy.”
Chellick chuffed a laugh. “He was getting used to life on the top. About time someone disused him of that notion.”
“You don’t want to be on top, then?”
“On top of who?” he replied with an innocent gaze.
“Hey hey, shh..”
“I know, I know,” he sighed. “Secrets upon secrets. Let’s go to the sparring rings.”

Of all the fights her team had gone through today, Shepard had dreaded none so much as the one about to start. Garrus Vakarian’s trial of fire, his first fight without a grievous injury. She knew she’d trained him hard this last month and he was physically prepared, but if he lost his mental edge he might end up losing all the same.
“Vakarian, this is your moment. Use your reach and keep your guard up. I have high hopes in you.” She patted him on the cowl. Garrus’ eyes widened, then he snapped his mandibles to his jaws in concentration and walked into the ring with long steps. Shepard placed her hands together and pressed to her lips like in prayer. If he fucked up again, Vyrnnus would throw a fit.
“Don’t worry, Shepard,” Mevia said beside her. “He’s not as bad as he was.”
Shepard chuckled. “High praise from you, Mevia.”
“He’s not as good as me, obviously, but he can manage this,” she said, following the combatants closely.
“Yeah he can,” Strabo said, “don’t be so hard on the kid, Mevia.”
She merely responded with a hard thrum.
“Easy guys, focus on the fight in the ring,” Shepard interrupted before it devolved into an argument.

All of her and Garrus’ hard work had paid off. He was fast and accurate, punching past the other turian’s guard when he saw an opening, whilst keeping himself protected. As the fight went on, his opponent got more reckless, but Garrus kept his cool, becoming more self assured with each landed hit. Shepard could feel herself holding her breath, hoping desperately that he wouldn’t ruin the whole thing with one last mistake. He never did. His opponent swung wildly at him, like Garrus had done against her so many times, and he grabbed the oncoming arm and pulled the other turian down in an armlock. The judge counted down while Shepard counted in her head, and when he called in favor of Garrus, she and the entire squad roared and practically pulled Garrus over to congratulate him and pat him on the cowl. He flared his mandibles in a smile showing all his needle teeth.
“We won,” he said in amazement. “We’re first tier.”
“We are the best,” Aius shouted to no one in particular, and Mevia and Nirea hummed in support.
Shepard searched for the figure of Emerus Victus, and he met her eyes with a downcast look, but still managed to smile at her. More graceful than she would have been, she reflected. Something to work on.
“Squad four, report to the mess hall for the victory dinner,” Strabo announced, utterly pleased with himself.
Right, the victory dinner. Tier one exam winners got special treatment from Conatix. Today it was their turn. She looked up at commander Vyrnnus seat, and he slowly shook his head at her. Damn. No dinner for her. Work and more work. What could he possibly have to complain about now?
“Congratulations, guys, you’ve earned it,” she called to her squad.
“You’re not coming?” Strabo looked incredulous.
“I got some extra work I need to catch up on, but you guys should enjoy every moment of this day. It’s well deserved.”
She picked up her bag and walked out of the arena area. Behind her Strabo cast a glance up to commander Vyrnnus, who was also leaving. The turian waggled his mandibles in puzzlement.

 

2174 CE – November 20th – Mess Hall – 19:34 PM
Auis grabbed the saucepan from their reserved table and started pouring the content down his throat to the loud complaints of his teammates. When he finally put it down it was empty, and he waived it around like a trophy. “To the victor, goes the spoils.”
Argyle chuckled at the rest of the teams consternation, his levo sauce was safe and sound, and he made a point of slathering it all over his steak.
“Fuck you, Aius you thieving bastard,” Strabo growled. “That was meant for all of us.”
Aius was unconcerned. “Ask Argyle, I'm sure he's willing to share with a bunch of lesser beings.”
Mivea was not in a jesting mood. “Lesser being? We all came through for the team this time, even Garrus, so why are you acting like you won this alone?”
“What do you mean, even Garrus?!” Garrus added with an indignant tone.
“Because I'm just better.” Aius replied with smug satisfaction.
“Because,” Nirea said, dropping her plate on the table with a clang before she sat down, “Aius here got a date with that cheating short clawed wench in squad 1.”
Castor chuckled. “Relax, it’s nothing to be sore about. It doesn't matter, you still won.”
“It matters because if she's willing to rub levo compounds on her gloves against someone who's maybe highly allergic, they could end up in hospital,” she snapped.
“I agree with Nirea,” came Garrus' voice from the end table. “You shouldn't injure your sparring partner.”

“Wow, would you listen to the turians whine.”
They swiveled around and saw several human members from squad 3 grinning savagely at them.
“Getting injured certainly did wonders for you guys.” Erikson said with disdain.
“Yeah? How so?” Strabo demanded.
“You must be joking. After this one here,” he pointed at Garrus, “finished caterwauling to the doc about how mean the humans are, his squad is suddenly assigned a senior student to train them. And then when you win, you still cry foul.”
“We didn't ask for that.” Mevia rose from her seat at took a step towards them.
“Oh, so tough now when they even get private lessons after class from Shepard,” Erikson quipped to one of his friends.
Nireas browplates rose in confusion. “What? We don't-” She cut herself off when she heard a distressed clicking and saw Garrus' mandibles clamp to his jaw.
Erikson caught it as well.
“Oh, so it's just Hi Ho Silver over there. Well, that's no wonder, considering just how much pure suckage he showed in firex.”
Garrus leaped to his feet and charged Erikson, but Castor and Aius grabbed him and managed to wrestle him to the floor.
“Not here, Vakarian.” Aius whispered, “Shepard will flay your plates off for brawling in the mess.”
Erikson grinned. “At least we know Shepard didn't volunteer for bird watching. She got you good in the hospital, little dodo.”
Garrus blinked a few times as he laid on the floor when a moment of deja-vu appeared. ‘A bird doing bird watching?’ Where had he heard that before?
This time it was Argyle whom jumped to his feet and in a few short strides he reached Erikson before the rest of the squad could react. He punched the taller teen straight in the nose, and when Erikson doubled up, followed with an uppercut that sent him flying backwards into the tables. Erikson's broken nose gushed blood like a fountain, and his squad mates pulled him up and out the door. The mess had cleared by the time the orderlies arrived. Aius released Garrus while muttering what squad 4 were all thinking:

“Shepard is going to blow a gasket.”

Chapter Text

2174 CE – November 20th – Library – 20:15 PM

Only Chellick’s keen ears had alerted them to the sound of an approaching turian, and when captain Corinthus rounded the last corner, Shepard and Chellick had their tongues in their own mouths and looked very busy studying. Corinthus glanced over the datapads and looked puzzled at Chellick’s presence.

“Captain,” Shepard greeted with a guarded expression.

“Shepard. I expected to find you.. unencumbered,” Corinthus said.

“Chellick is just catching up on a little reading, and I’m here most days. Can I help you?”

“Come with me. Now.” Corinthus was curt and tense.

“Uh, sure, but I have a lesson with Vyrnnus in an hour. Will this take longer?”

“Your commander has been informed that you might be late. Come!”

Shepard cast a bewildered glance at Chellick, but he was as lost as she was.

“Go, J-.. Shepard, I’ll get your things.” There was a slight twitch in his face from almost slipping up.

“Thanks, Chellick.” She got up and followed Corinthus. “What’s this about, sir?”

“An altercation in the mess involving your squad.”

Shepard balled her fists and tried to keep her voice calm. “Did they start it?”

“Hard to say. There was a verbal exchange beforehand, leading to recruit Argyle attacking a member of squad three.”

Corinthus picked up the pace, and to keep up Shepard occasionally had to break into a jog.

“Who was the recruit?”

“His name is Todd Erikson. He’s been in front of my desk before, on your orders.”

Shepard racked her brain and her memory brought up the large boy who’d knocked down Garrus about a week ago. Her jaw tensed. “The big racist. I remember him.”

“Glad to see you’re not agreeing with him,” came Corinthus voice from the front.

“Sir!” She came to a full stop.

“Yes?” The captain turned to face her.

“I’ve done plenty wrongs while on Jump Zero, but I’m no bigot! I expect those kind of accusations from Vyrnnus. Not from you.”

Corinthus stared intently at her for several seconds, then relaxed his stance. “I suppose not. I know you’re good friends with my son, and several other turians. Your actions on the start on this semester, on the other hand, told a different story.”

“I know, sir. I regret what happened, and I’m trying to make up for it. It’s.. hard to let go of certain things.” Shepard looked down.

“So it is, Shepard.” Corinthus sighed. “That’s what this place was made for. Don’t stop trying. We all have something to make up for.” He motioned her to follow again, and they hurried down officer’s alley.

 

2174 CE – November 20th – Captain Corinthus’ Office – 20:29 PM

Outside the office three other people were already assembled. Argyle off course, and Erikson, now sporting a patched up nose, and the squad leader of squad three. Shepard knew him mostly from appearance, a tall muscular guy with dark curls. Earlier Shepard might’ve thought him to be gorgeous, but now she thought he lacked mandibles. Strange how fast she’d developed a preference to them. Pretty face, but the name eluded her. Thankfully Corinthus was more informed.

“Santiago. Argyle. Erikson.” He entered his office, and they poured in after him. They lined up in front of the desk, and Shepard noted that Argyle lined up on the end, next to her, but away from the other squad. Almost like he felt safe next to her, and she was struck with the realization that he hoped she would fight for him.

“Anybody want to start?” Corinthus leaned back in the chair.

Erikson stepped forward. “I would, sir,” he said with a distinct nasal tinge to his voice.

Shepard suppressed a smile. Apparently Argyle’s nose punch had hit, well, straight on the nose. Beside her Argyle moved uneasy, and she gave him a small nudge, as if to say ‘wait your turn.’ It worked, he calmed down.

“Go ahead,” Corinthus said.

“We, squad three and four, that is, had a discussion in the mess hall about the exam, sir. That one there,” he pointed at Argyle, “ran out of arguments and resorted to violence. He broke my nose, sir, and the doctor says I might have a cracked rib.” Erikson glared at Argyle, who thankfully, kept his mouth shut and waited.

“I see,” Corinthus said. “Argyle? Anything to add?”

Argyle stepped forward with gritted teeth. “Yes, sir. What that bast-.. Erikson forgot to mention, was that he wasn’t having a discussion with squad four, he was throwing racial slurs like birds and dodo, singling out Garrus Vakarian in particular. Garrus tried to get him, but was taken down by Aius and Castor. I had my hands free, and made use of them.”

Shepard closed her eyes in a silent groan. Way to go exonerating yourself, Argyle.

“You admit punching this recruit?” Corinthus said with a peculiar flange in his voice. Shepard recognized it as amusement, but it was doubtful the other humans would.

“Yes, but only after being provoked.”

“Hmm. What does your squad leaders say to this? Santiago?”

“The use of violence against one’s fellow recruits should be punished severely,” he said. “Name calling is no excuse.”

Corinthus turned to her. “Shepard?”

Next to her Argyle tensed. Shepard stepped forward.

“It’s obvious that the use of force against a fellow recruit outside training should be punished, nobody’s denying that. In the case of recruit Erikson, I have a few more details to add.”

“Indeed? Go on,” Corinthus said with interest.

“At the start of this semester, I myself was involved with a rather unfortunate case of a similar nature to this. Todd Erikson and squad three was involved in the passive acceptance of force being used against a turian, the aforementioned Garrus Vakarian of squad four. Erikson and a number of other recruits stood by as a couple of humans kicked Vakarian’s plates in.”

“You did worse,” Erikson spat from the sideline.

“Shepard is not the one in trouble today,” Corinthus said with a low growl, and Erikson backed down.

“Five days ago Vakarian and I were training in the pit, and as we were leaving, Erikson here knocked Vakarian over on purpose, thinking it would earn my approval.”

“And why didn’t you report this?” Corinthus asked.

Shepard gave a guilty cough. “I.. ahem, sir, I threatened to split his skull against the wall should it happen again. Figured he wouldn’t try it one more time.”

Argyle stared at her with big admiring eyes, and Santiago couldn’t hide the grin twitching in the corner of his mouth. Erikson on the other hand, scowled.

“Threats of violence? Really, Shepard, that’s unbecoming of a squad leader.” Corinthus’ voice was condemning, but she saw his mandibles waggle in a characteristic turian smirk.

“Yes sir. I agree sir. I mention it because it shows a pattern of racism and specieism in recruit Erikson’s actions, when one also adds in today. Of course, this is no excuse for punching him in the face,” she threw a scathing glance at Argyle, “but it is the culmination of a string of incidents that cannot be judged alone, but as parts of a whole.”

Corinthus turned to the other squad leader. “Santiago, you wish to say something?”

“I.. find myself in agreement with Shepard,” he said hesitantly. “I wasn’t fully aware of the previous incidents.”

“Well. This is going smoother than I would have guessed. Erikson, for the deliberate incitement of racism and malcontent on the station, you are hereby given two weeks of latrine duty, starting tomorrow morning. Argyle, for attacking a fellow recruit, no matter how justified you might have felt, you too are given two weeks of latrine duty. I expect those bathrooms to shine, gentlemen. As for the respective leaders of squad three and four, get some discipline into your people. Dismissed.”

 

When they stood outside, Argyle broke into a wide smile. “Wow, Shepard. Figured I’d be in deeper shit than that. A couple of weeks lavvy mopping for giving that idiot a broken nose? Bargain!”

“Glad you’re happy for a fortnight of early rises, but you’ve used up your chance now, you do know that? Any more crap and Corinthus won’t be so lenient next time.” She glanced at the omni-tool. It was 21:11. The meeting was done in 40 minutes, which meant she would have to meet Vyrnnus for practice.

“Better go tell the squad you’re still alive. I don’t doubt they think I’ll kill you and use your skin as a blanket.”

Argyle chuckled. “Nah, only Garrus and Strabo thinks that. The rest think you’ll space me out the airlock.”

Shepard pretended to mull it over. “Now there’s a thought..”

“Hey, hey.. Going now,” he said quickly and hurried towards the barracks.

Shepard shook her head and smiled before heading to the training field.

 

2174 CE – November 20th – Locker Room – 21:20 PM

Garrus had just got dried and dressed when the door slammed and someone marched in, swearing loudly. He peeked over his locker, and was greeted with the furious face of Todd Erikson.

“Great, the bird,” Erikson scoffed. “Just what I wanted to see.”

“I’m not too fond of monkeys either,” Garrus said and started to pack his things onto the locker shelves. Erikson punched the small metal door in front of him.

“Fuck you! It’s a disgrace, you of all birdmen being allowed in human space. Yeah, I know who you are. Son of the executioner of the Citadel.” The human was beside himself.

“Executor of the Citadel. Want me to spell I for you?” Garrus couldn't help himself.

“Oh, he got jokes. The son of a mass murderer got jokes,” Erikson retorted. “Tell me, bird, do your family hold a celebration each year, toasting to all the thousands of civillians your daddy burned to a crisp on earth?”

For the first time since Erikson started mouthing off, Garrus felt uncertain. What was he referring to?

“If you mean Shepard's father, he was a soldier. Many soldiers die in war.”

“Shepard’s father? He was just one of many. I’m talking about the underground strike on a war shelter for civilians. Almost 20 thousand dead. Women, children and people to old and sick to fight. Murdered by your asshole father. I bet he laughed when they burned.”

Garrus could almost sense the temperature in his veins drop. This must be a lie. His father would never kill civilians. He always obeyed the rules, always looked for evidence and proof. There was no way he was a killer.

“You lie,” he whispered under his breath.

“Lie? Hah! The truth is on the extranet, everyone can see it. But perhaps daddy won’t let his son see such nasty things, you cracked egg. After what your family did to our planet, I don’t get why Shepard bothers to protect you. Must’ve been some punishment to get her to agree on that.”

Garrus tried to remember something that would contradict Erikson’s words, but to no avail. His mother had cautioned against asking Galenus about the war, and the only times he heard it mentioned was when his father had partaken of too much horosk, and let a few words slip. It was mostly about the loss of his platoon, and meeting the other Shepard, but sometimes he talked about massive losses and regret. Garrus always assumed it was in regard to turian forces, but if Erikson was telling the truth.. No! It was impossible. His father was a paragon of justice. Garrus rasped his talons against each other, a subconscious attempt to calm the blistering rage that was growing inside of him.

“You lie!” he repeated with more force behind his words.

“No lies, bird. You are the offspring of a mass murderer, and will become one yourself. It would’ve been better if your kind were drowned at birth.”

“LIES!” Garrus leaped at Erikson and swiped his talons at the boy’s face.

 

2174 CE – November 20th – Training Field – 22:31 PM

The two of them stood panting on opposite sides of the mid line. Shepard was as usual bleeding from several slashes, but they were significantly fewer than they had been three months ago, or even one month ago. Vyrnnus was watching her with a sarcastic smirk. “I see some of our lessons have taken root, Shepard. Too bad you have lesser control over your squad than you now do over your body.”

Shepard said nothing. There was no point in pissing him off.

“And a human at that. I would have thought it would be that high tier runt that would dishonor you.”

“Corinthus dealt with it,” she said at last. “They’re his responsibility.”

“Wrong!” In five strides he was in her face. “Your team, your people, your fault! If they break the command structure, break them.”

Shepard resisted the urge to flee, but met his gleaming eyes with her own stare. “No. Not all broken things can be mended or rebuilt.”

“Trash,” Vyrnnus sneered and towered above her. “To be cast out with the rest of the garbage.”

“Callous way of thinking,” she ventured.

“The only way of survival, Shepard.” He grabbed her arm and twisted it around to check her new wounds. “I think we’re about done with the physical aspect of becoming a turian. Time to learn to obey orders. And maybe you’ll learn how to control those pups under you.”

 

“Shepard? Shepard!”

A sound of running boots approached, and Vyrnnus pointed to her backpack and shoved her in that direction. She got the hint and ran to hurriedly change clothes.

“What, boy?” he snarled to the shouting recruit. “A little late for you to be out here, without permission.”

It was Castor, and he was visibly stressed. “Captain Corinthus summons Shepard, right now,” he said, out of breath. “I’ve searched almost everywhere for her.”

Shepard quickly slathered some medigel on the worst wounds while Vyrnnus was distracting Castor, then pulled a Conatix hoodie over her head. Had he changed his mind? Was Argyle in more trouble? She strolled up to greet him.

“Hello, Castor. What is it this time? Argyle pushed Erikson down a flight of stairs?”

“No, it’s not Argyle, it’s Garrus. He attacked Erikson in the locker room. There was a lot of blood, still lingers in my nose.”

Vyrnnus chuffed, and the sound of his laughter made Shepard wince.

“So, the runt did decide to shame you all on your day of victory. Impressive. I think I better come along for this one. Lead the way,” he said to Castor, and the trio, led by Castor, made their way to an assembly room in officer’s alley.

 

Castor was ordered to leave as Vyrnnus and Shepard walked into the assembly room. Both Erikson and Garrus were already present, as was Santiago and Corinthus. Erikson’s face and chest were bloodied and haphazardly bandaged, Garrus had a swollen eye and a mandible taped to his face. Must’ve been some fight, Shepard caught herself thinking. Wonder who won.

“Hello Shepard. I had hoped we’d be done for the day, but as you can see, there has been another incident.” Corinthus glared at Vyrnnus when he walked in behind Shepard. “There’s no reason for you to be here, commander. It’s not your place.”

Vyrnnus smiled his condescending smile. “The regular recruits aren’t my concern, no. But this one here,” he placed his hand on Shepard’s shoulder and squeezed, “is my problem.”

Shepard tensed like a wound spring, and had problems stopping her besieged arm from trembling. She had to grab the side of her suit to avoid it being obvious. She noted Garrus’ curious flick of his one good mandible, then he focused on Vyrnnus’ face and tensed like she had. Did they know each other?

“It’s really not necessary,” Corinthus said, straining to sound polite. “But if Shepard wishes it..”

She felt three talons dig into her shoulder.

“I would not mind the commander’s presence,” she said, struggling to keep her voice even.

“There! You see? I’m always welcome among my students. Whenever you are ready, captain.”

They all took a seat around the table.

“This is a very serious matter, and I cannot stress enough the grave implications for everyone involved in this,” Corinthus began. “Here we have two students with a history of enmity towards each other, now culminating in a deadly locker room fist fight. You could have settled these differences in the ring, but instead you chose to fight alone, without rules and regulations. Do you have anything to say in your defense?”

It was unsurprisingly Erikson that spoke first. “I was attacked and had to defend myself. The turian went mad, he tried to kill me!”

Shepard tried to read the expression on Garrus face, but he avoided her eyes and stared down on the table.

“Vakarian? What is your explanation?” Corinthus would brook no sulking.

“The human insulted my family. Said my dad is a mass murderer, and that turians should all be killed.” Garrus’s voice was low and flat.

“Especially your family of psychos,” Erikson hissed, his bandages almost coming loose.

“Enough! You were let off with a minor punishment earlier, Erikson, you’re not garnering any sympathy for your plight with that talk. You were given a chance and you misused it. And as for you, Vakarian, those were just words. Hurtful words, to be sure, but you should have taken that up through proper channels, or lodged a complaint. Instead you used talon strikes against an unarmed opponent. As it is, I must consider expulsion for both of you.”

At this point Vyrnnus leaned in and whispered in Shepard’s ear. “If the runt fails, you fail. Let’s see what you can do.”

Shepard froze for a second, then scanned her brain for options. Santiago was not about to challenge Corinthus’ decision, but she had to, or Corinthus would expel them for sure. The deliberation part was just protocol.

“Sir, I have an objection to your course of action,” she said aloud. Vyrnnus made himself comfortable on his chair and said or did something with his subvocals that made both Corinthus and Garrus stare at him.

“Very well, Shepard. Let us hear,” Corinthus said when he pulled his eyes from the commander.

“I think we should call in the station board of directors,” Shepard said. “This is an incident on par with my first meeting with Vakarian, and of a similar explosive political nature. Nobody wants the ghost of the relay incident to darken the reputation of this program. Nor is it a good idea to remind neither the turian nor the human side of the metro incident of 2157. Those wounds are not healed, and ripping up in them now, considering Vakarian’s family history, would be detrimental to what we’re trying to achieve here.”

The robotic tone of her voice as she droned on should have made Corinthus suspicious, but he could barely wrap his head around the message she was spouting. On her left, Vyrnnus was smiling his most contented smile. Garrus looked betrayed, and Corinthus looked confused. He got up and stalked around the room. Vyrnnus touched her arm again and Shepard felt her skin break out in goosebumps. Another involuntary shudder ran through her body.

“Well played,” he whispered to her and made some swipes on his omni-tool.

“You want to assemble the board?” Corinthus said after pacing for several minutes.

“Yes, sir.”

“For this?”

“Yes, sir.”

Corinthus shook his head. “No, Shepard. This is not a case for them.”

“Too bad the board disagrees with you, Corinthus. Again.” Vyrnnus smirked. “They’re calling an emergency meeting right now.”

“At who’s request?!” Corinthus growled.

“Mine. I have a considerable amount of goodwill among the members, since I’ve been able to rein in my little rebel.” He patted Shepard like a pet varren, and this time she could not hide her revulsion. Corinthus opened his mouth to speak, when he saw Shepard’s pleading eyes. He shut it again. “Very well. There’s no need for the rest of you to stay. I will alert you of the board’s decision tomorrow. You, however,” he pointed a talon at Shepard, “will convey your opinions to the board. Come along.”

“And me,” Vyrnnus added cheerfully.

“Could wild nathaks stop you?” Corinthus replied sourly.

“I doubt it, but they’re welcome to try.”

 

2174 CE – November 21st – Corinthus’ Office – 06:10 AM

Garrus and Erikson stood at attention in front of captain Corinthus desk. The captain had dull plates and looked tired, like someone having been up all night. Garrus hadn’t been able to sleep much either, but lay awake, thinking about what Shepard was going to say at the board meeting. Her words yesterday left much to the imagination. Perhaps he was to be sacrificed in favor of Erikson. If that was the case, he could say goodbye to his hopes of becoming a Spectre. Maybe a low position in the army, and no advancement for the next 30 years. His father would be fuming, his only son having thrown away his future on a foolish fight. On his left, Erikson seemed to be thinking along the same lines. He did not look happy.

“Morning, boys.” Captain Corinthus looked out of the window and not straight at them.

“Good morning, sir,” both boys said automatically.

Corinthus chuffed mirthlessly. “Depends what you mean by good.” He turned around slowly. “Neither of you will be expelled. Erikson will be on latrine duty until the field exam.”

Erikson turned red. “That’s three months away. How am I going to sleep and train?”

“Should have thought about that before provoking another fight,” Corinthus cut him off. He was in no mood for complaints. “And you, Vakarian, will get three months of station maintenance shifts. We already have two on bathroom duty, and it was not considered wise to have the two of you working in tandem.”

It was Garrus turn to protest. “That’s.. not fair. They often have duty during meal times. I’m on my last growth spurt, when will I eat?”

“Make do!” Corinthus snarled. “The pair of you should be glad you’re not on the first shuttle out of here, but because of politics,” he spat the word, “you’re allowed to stay. I don’t like it, but orders are orders. Erikson, you have a whole section of toilets to scrub before breakfast, I suggest you get moving. And you, Vakarian, report to the maintenance crew after training.”

Both Garrus and Erikson saluted stiffly, then marched out. They exchanged angry looks, but neither was willing to risk Corinthus wrath one more time. Garrus had no clue as to what had happened during the board meeting, but he was sure Corinthus would never have expelled him anyway, and now Shepard had landed him in a pile of krogan dung. He did a quick calculation in his head. It was over four weeks since he last spoke with his family on the station line, and would be about four weeks until next time. This time he would not heed his mother’s advice, his father was going to tell him the truth. Corinthus hadn’t corrected Erikson’s statement on Galenus Vakarian being a mass murderer, he merely said the comment was hurtful, nothing more. Shepard mentioned a metro incident, which probably had caused her father’s death. Until he knew the whole history, he would be a good turian and do what he was told, even if it killed him. Afterwards, well.. That would depend on the truth.

 

2174 CE – November 26th – Shooting Range – 16:35 PM

The days since her second meeting with the board had been thoroughly unpleasant for everyone on squad four, Shepard included. Garrus was convinced she had orchestrated his punishment and lack of hot meals every night, and the rest of the squad was torn between the comradeship they felt to Garrus and disgust for his actions. Garrus’ accusations also put a strain on the growing respect they felt for her. Argyle was firmly in her camp, having related his encounter in Corinthus’ office several times, but the turians were still wary. What Shepard knew, and they didn’t, was that Corinthus was a real stickler for his own code of conduct. If you fucked up your second chance or committed grave misdeeds, he was more than willing to throw people out. And now she had twice defied his wishes. She doubted even Vyrnnus could save her again if she got on the captain’s bad side one more time.

Perhaps the squad would come around eventually. Garrus she now considered a lost cause. Every day at the end of training he disappeared, and she’d been told by Celsus that he hadn’t been around for meal times the last five days. The necessity of food theft was familiar to her, but she doubted he’d accept anything from her at this point. She continued her reflections while checking her rifle, before she was interrupted by a small cough behind her. She turned around.

“Yes? Can I help you three?”

Strabo, Nirea and Castor looked like they were poking at a bear with a sharp stick.

“Shepard, we need to talk. About Garrus.”

She put the rifle down to not appear too aggressive. “What about Vakarian?”

“He’s not eating. He refuses to take what we smuggle out of the mess, saying Corinthus ordered him to make do.” Strabo clacked his mandibles to his face, but she got the impression he wasn’t only angry with her.

“I see. The captain did say that, but I doubt he meant for Vakarian to starve,” she said slowly. “It’s only for three months, can he live on breakfast and rations until then?”

“A grown turian might,” Castor said, “but Garrus is in his last growth spurt. Our food makes sure we get what we need to develop our bones and external cartilage. He might not achieve his full height, or his fringe might be..short..” Castor stopped himself.

Shepard felt a headache coming on that had nothing to do with her implant. Turians and turian problems. How had they completely taken over her life?

“So, what you’re saying is, if I don’t find a way to feed Vakarian, he might become a turian midget?”

“Uhm, if you mean he might be shorter than others his age, that’s correct,” Nirea said. “We believe you will help.”

Shepard figured it was time for a moment of truth. “Do you three also believe I tried to get Vakarian booted off the station?”

There was an uncomfortable silence and much shuffling of talon feet. When Strabo stepped forward, Shepard was nonplussed. He was not her greatest fan, not by a long shot.

“I don’t think that. I did at first, but.. It doesn’t make any sense. Corinthus would have expelled both of them anyway, regardless of what Garrus thinks. Then you call for the board, and Garrus gets a hefty punishment, like you did with us,” he gestured to himself and the other two, “yeah, we know about that. But he got to stay. So did that cloaca Erikson.”

“Yeah, what did you say to them?” Nirea asked with a careful smile.

“I.. I said the same things that were said at my board own meeting.”

“Which was?” Castor’s question was sneakily off-handed.

“That nosy turians will be made to run five laps, Sorio. Look guys, I know you might be curious, but don’t pry into this affair. It won’t help anyone.”

They gave affirming grunts, but she had a feeling they weren’t entirely honest. No matter. She would have done the same thing.

“I’ll see what I can do about Vakarian’s diet, okay? Move along, guys, much to do.”

 

2174 CE – November 26th – Mess kitchen – 17:03 PM

To venture into the kitchen area of Miller, the head chef, was always a daunting task. Not only was he the most territorial man she’d ever come across, she also vividly remembered his naked ass bouncing up and down between that security guards legs. A sight to make eyes sore.

“What are you doing here, rookie? Get out, dinner is not ready!” he barked at her from behind the counter.

“Hello, chef Miller. I was wondering if I could ask a favor?” she asked politely.

Miller waved a spatula in the air. “Let me guess, you want food served outside meal time? I’ll tell you what I tell all the officers around here, I’m the boss in this mess. My word is law. I have the last say in all nutriments on this station, do you hear me? And no, you can’t! Would that be all?” he said in a tone that wanted her gone.

Shepard broke into a huge grin and a devil may care feeling seized her entire being. If that’s how he wanted to play, she would serve him up good. She leaned on the counter and said in a conspiratorial manner:“My my, you are the big man in the kitchen. Tell me, did you ever find out who has the biggest cock on the station?”

Miller’s spatula fell limp from his hand. “What?”

Shepard gave him a lopsided grin. “It’s just, I happened to walk by this mess once, and ‘someone,’ ” Shepard made air quotes to the chef, “was making some rather large claims to a woman on a table in here. I thought the whole thing rather unhygienic, but live and let live, I say. Now, about my favor...”

“You can’t tell Conatix,” he croaked, “I’ll loose my job.”

“My favor,” she repeated with a sharper tone, “is that I want a full turian hot meal prepared for one of my squad when he comes late off maintenance duty. Every night up to and including 20th of February. Do we have a deal?”

“That’s three goddamned months, you little jackal!”

“It’s a bit of a bugger, I agree, but not like getting rammed by a bull or something. Doesn’t that image fill your ...head real good with ideas?”

The chef looked like he was about to faint. “You… you...”

“Yeah yeah. Turian meal. Three months. Deal or no deal? And if I ever catch you spitting in my food, Conatix will have the whole thing on vid.” The lie rolled so easily off her tongue.

Her last comment seemed to release some sort of remaining work pride in the man. “I don’t soil the food I make.”

“No, only the tables you serve it on. Do. We. Have. A. Deal?”

Miller stared at her with utter loathing. “We do. Did you want something else? Truffles? Caviar? Champagne?”

“I got what I came for,” she replied and sauntered out, still smiling from ear to ear. Blackmail shouldn’t be this fun.

Chapter Text

2174 CE – November 27th – Breakfast 07:32 AM

“When I asked him who had the biggest dick on the station I thought he was going to have a seizure,” Shepard laughed. Emerus and Celsus chuffed along with her, while Chellick was changing between a worried smile and a frown.

“That was a big risk to take, Shepard. What if he reported you for extortion?”

“Extorting him for food? Really, you are the pride of the Hierarchy, Chellick,” she said with a fond smile.

“You could get in trouble just by breathing,” Chellick muttered to the guffaws of their friends.

“The thing I want to know,” Arista said with a flash of teeth, “is why you didn’t use this information to get warm food for yourself.”

The other turians went as silent as Shepard went blank. After a long moment of afterthought, Shepard realized it never occurred to her before she had to provide for someone else. And that someone being the future garden gnome of Palaven.

“Nooo,” she said aghast, “Gods, I’m going to pretend you never said that. Fuck, I’m so stupid!

The laughter resumed, and now at her expense.

“I knew you had a soft spot for turians, but that guy? Looks like competition, Chellick,” Emerus flicked a mandible at his friend.

“Looks like it,” Chellick replied with a feigned sigh. “Humans are insatiable.”

“Turians can’t keep up, you mean,” Shepard retorted back with a wink.

“Speaking of which,” Chellick said in a casual tone, “isn’t your commander due for another off-world trip soon?”

“He is. Celsus and I are planning a little intimate party,” Shepard said equally casual.

“So true,” Celsus confirmed, “I’m afraid I’ll be quite worn out.”

Chellick almost choked on the water he was drinking, and stared accusingly at the pair.

“Not funny. Shepard, tell me that’s not true.”

“It could be true.”

“Is it?”

“You know the old theory about the multiverses? Somewhere it’s true.”

“I should push you out the airlock,” Chellick said, exasperated.

“You should, but then you’d have to sniff Emerus’ fringe.”

“Whoa whoa, don’t you mean, my fringe? As in ‘that fringe belongs to me?” Arista growled playfully.

“Hey, I’m not your plaything.” Emerus looked offended until he saw the smiling face of Arista and had a quick change of heart. “Okay, I am. Do with me as you please.”

“I will,” she said and nipped at his neck.

“Will you four cut that out? I have no neck to nibble on, and you guys shoving your happiness in my face is bad enough.” Celsus slammed down his cup and looked away.

“Sorry Celsus.” Arista gave Emerus a raised browplate. He nodded discreetly, and gave Celsus a small poke.

“You know, you could join us tonight, if you wanted?”

“Don’t even joke about it.”

“We’re serious. If Chellick weren’t so selfish, we might even lure Shepard with us as well.”

“No!” Chellick exclaimed, then looked nervously at Shepard. “No?”

She smiled at him. “Nah, I got you.”

“Then no. So hah!”

“Just the three of us then. Celsus?” Arista gave him a smoldering stare.

Celsus um’ed and ah’ed his way into a confirmation, making Shepard suspect he’d carried a small torch for Arista a long time. She had to ask Chellick about that later. Thankfully none of them were talking about sex when Aius ran up to their table.

“Shepard, you need to see this, Castor is regurgitating all his food. We think he might be sick.”

“Gods,” she groaned and got up.

“Good luck,” Chellick called out as she trotted after Aius.

 

2174 CE – December 3rd – Sick bay 10:00 AM

“You look really adorable with that purple bonnet on your head,” Argyle said, pretending to swoon over Mevia. The turian version of flu was sweeping the station, and only Shepard and Argyle by virtue of being humans could freely mingle with sick squad members. The sickness was relatively benign but highly contagious, and teammates that showed any symptoms had been quarantined. Only Garrus and Nirea remained healthy, and they were currently down the hall for immunoboosters to keep it that way.

“Spirits damn you, human,” Mevia croaked from her bed. “When I get well, I’ll tan your hide for this.”

Beside her, Strabo tried to laugh, but it came out as a gurgle, and he almost threw up again.

Castor, who’d become ill first, was on the mend and sat up, trying to read on a datapad, but the sick turians around them was distracting him from homework. Aius was half asleep, only opening his eyes if a sudden need to sneeze or vomit overcame him. Outside the sickbay quarantine area they heard the environmental sterilization sluice activate, and moments later Shepard stepped in.

“Hello Four. Aren’t you guys a sorry sight,” she smiled and put down a bag she had slung over her shoulder.”

“Haha. Here I thought you were beginning to like us,” Strabo said, trying to joke.

“Not a chance. But, since I’m such a warm and caring person, happy unification day to you.” Shepard pulled out a slew of assorted snacks and treats, all purchased with the tokens she’d fleeced from her turian friends by betting. Perhaps they’d get wise some day.

“Now, I know you might not be able to keep these down, but that’s not the point. When you’re sick, you should have something to keep your spirits up.”

Shepard was suddenly aware that they were all staring at her, even Aius had woken from his slumber to gawk.

“Did I say the wrong thing? Mentioning spirits? It’s just an old human expression, I didn’t mean to insult your heritage or anything..”

They still said nothing, and being stared down by four stunned turians and one puzzled human was unnerving.

“Guys, come on. Tell me what I did wrong.”

Castor, the mediator on the squad opened his mouth first. “We.. we didn’t think you’d know about today”.

“You didn’t have to, really,” Mevia said from the bed. “It’s not how we celebrate unification day.”

“But I wanted to,” Shepard replied firmly. “I’ll leave the bag here, take what you want and leave what you don’t. Just get better, all right? Almost every squad has some sick turians, so we’re not out of the running for fourex. I’ll come by later to check on you.” She motioned Argyle to follow, and they stepped into the sluice and activated the sterilization process.

 

You didn’t have to, really?” Strabo mimicked Mevia. “Now she thinks we hate her. Well done.”

“I think like the bringer of snacks,” Aius grumbled from his bed. “Castor, can you get some for me?”

“Hey, you all thought the same thing, don’t pin this on me,” Mevia protested.

“Wow, digerisian chocolate? Aren’t these your favourite, Aius,” Castor said while rummaging the bag.

“Ooh, from my homeworld? Gimme gimme,” Aius said with a hopeful, yet tired smile.

“Too bad,” Castor said and chomped down the chocolate bar to Aius whining accompaniment.

“Noooo.. Whyy?” Aius was the picture of sadness.

From their beds, Mevia and Strabo was straining with hoarse laughter.

“That’s for stealing all the sauce during our victory dinner, you thief,” Castor said and crossed his arms.

“Castor, I never thought you could be this cruel,” Aius said meekly. “I’m sick, I can’t take much more abuse.”

“Well done Castor,” Mevia said. “Serves him right.”

“Cruel fates,” Aius whinged. He dropped back on the bed and curled into a ball.

“Hope you learned something from this,” Castor chuffed and tossed another chocolate bar on Aius. “Next time you steal from all of us we’ll force you to eat in the hallway.”

Someone from the neighboring beds cast beady eyes in their direction. “Hey, squad four has treats,” one of them shouted.

“Forget it, they’re all ours. Get your own turian friendly squad leader, Cassius,” Castor called back.

“Are you talking about Shepard? She gives out treats? You must be huffing red sand, Castor!”

“Starve for all we care,” Mevia’s shrill flanging voice cut through the din. “It’s ours!”

“The palaveni dried scarabs are mine,” she muttered to Castor, whom handed them over with a grin.

 

2174 CE – December 3rd – Shooting Range – 13:45 PM

“Another ten. You’re cleaning up today, Vakarian.” Shepard glanced over to the second of her last standing squad members. He’d been obedient and quiet ever since their meeting with Corinthus, and the absence of bitterness he showed while she was in his presence disturbed her, especially since she knew he vented about her to the others.

“Thanks, Shepard.”

“I guess we’re lucky that you two aren’t sick, would’ve been worse if every turian on this team was down.

“Yes, Shepard.”

It was like talking to an emotionless robot. Shepard pinched the bridge of her nose, then gave Nirea an encouraging smile. The female turian gave a small nod. The understanding between her, Nirea, Castor and Strabo was making Garrus believe that they were the ones that had fixed so he would get food after late shifts with the repair crew, and so far it worked.

Their turn was up, and since they were done early and Garrus had one hour of rest before he had to attend his other duties, he left to to some maintenance on his rifle. Shepard used the opportunity to call Nirea back.

“Happy unification day, Nirea. Is that how you say it? I got our malingerers some treats in commemoration, so you and Garrus should too. The thing is..”

“that he won’t accept gifts from you, and you want me to pretend it’s from me?” Nirea smiled.

“From you, or the squad, or you found it laying around. Whatever works best,” Shepard said and handed over a small satchel.

“I will. Thank you, Shepard. It’s really thoughtful.” Nirea shifted her weight from one leg to the other, and Shepard held her breath, awaiting a new crisis.

“Do you think we stand a chance in fourex?” The worried look on Nirea’s face was the only thing that kept Shepard from smiling. She exhaled. No crisis, just school.

“I think we stand a fair chance. Pretty much all the team has been crippled by this,” she said. “Emerus’ squad is our biggest opponent, and he’s the last turian still standing on his team.”

“But Celsus Corinthus has a mostly human squad,” Nirea persisted.

“No worries, we’ll do fine. Castor is already on the mend, and the rest can’t be far behind.”

“I hope so.” Nirea lifted the satchel and thanked her again. As Nirea left, Shepard realized she had the whole afternoon to herself, and went to find her boyfriend for some much needed intimacy.

 

2174 CE – December 3rd – Armory – 14:10 PM

“Hey Garrus, I got us some treats in celebration of the day,” Nirea smiled at him.

He looked up from his rifle and gave her a confused look. “Why? That’s not tradition.”

“Come on, don’t be like that. You should be glad someone’s still talking to you after what you did,” Nirea replied and tossed a small bag over to him.

“Glad? I almost got thrown off the station by those racist humans again, and I’m supposed to be glad?”

“Garrus Vakarian, it was you who almost tore that boy’s face off. I don’t care what he said, your actions put all of us in a bad light.”

“Give it a rest, Nirea. I got that ‘don’t hurt your fellow recruits’ speech from Castor already. And Strabo. And Mevia yelled at me. Aius ignores me.” He closed his mandibles. “It’s not fair.”

“Garrus, you need to take responsibility for what you did, not blame everyone else.” Nirea was not unsympathetic to him, but Garrus was trying her patience, even if she knew more than he did.

“Like Shepard? She gets away with everything, and I have to take the fall?”

“Don’t talk nonsense, Garrus.”

“Don’t patronize me! I know who Vyrnnus is! He’s the turian that threatened to have thrown out of here unless I lied about how I got attacked. Turn out he’s Shepard’s master! He was practically fawning over her, and humming insults at me and the captain!” Garrus was shouting at the top of his lungs now.

Nirea wanted to answer back with what she knew about his close encounter with expulsion, but their squad leader would not appreciate her spilling the truth, for whatever reason. Instead she closed the conversation with an angry thrum, signaling the end of argument.

“Whatever,” Garrus said and sat down petulantly. “In three weeks I’ll talk to my dad, and the truth will come out.”

“What truth,” Nirea asked despite herself.

“You didn’t want to talk anymore, and I have things to do.” He packed away his rifle and cleaning items and left for his shift. Nirea noted that he also took the little bag of sweets despite their fight. The growing turian would probably be hungry before the end of shift, and the kheelie jerky would help, no matter how much he wanted to sulk.

 

2174 CE – December 12th – Shower – 20:05 PM

“How is this being discreet? It’s early.” Shepard raised an eyebrow at Chellick’s explanations.

“Everyone is still at dinner. Pretty much everyone had to shower after the march anyway, and now we’ll have the whole place to ourselves for a while.”

“You dragged me out of dinner early to have your way with me in the shower? Lurid turian.”

“Not just any turian, your turian boyfriend, and this is one of the rare times when that lunatic commander is off-station. Come on, you know you want this.” He grinned and stretched out, showing his polished plates and narrow waist. The little sneak was right, she thought, she did want him. Badly.

“All right,” she sighed, “I’ll make the sacrifice.”

Chellick scooped her into his arms and kissed her fervently, whispering “I’ll give you sacrifice, human.”

She dug her nails into his waist and started kneading the hide. His reaction was instant, his breath became ragged, but he pried her hands away. “Not like that,” he panted. “I have a plan.”

He frog-marched her into the inner shower stall, and turned her to face the wall.

“I once saw you do a split to avoid a high kick from Arista. Time to see how flexible you really are.”

“Decian, sweetheart, it’s not like humans don’t have sex in the shower, we don’t do it in front of an audience.”

“Careful Jane, or I might not share this with you.” He pushed up against her hips and started slide his cock between her thighs. She instantly arched against him and tried to place her hands on his hips from behind.

“I told you, not like that,” he chuckled. “Like this.” Chellick took her hands and placed one on the top of the stall wall and one on the metal beam holding the shower head. “Hold on.” He gently shoved her legs apart and let one hand slide between her folds while he kept up the agonizing slow grind from behind. Against her back she felt the vibrating hum coming from his chest, and with his warm tongue playing with her neck, it didn’t take long before she needed much more than his fingers.

“Mmh, not that I don’t adore all this attention, it’s not really all that difficult, standing here and letting you do all the work.” Shepard turned her head so she could kiss him, and he was more than happy to oblige. “This is merely warm up, Jane. Are you ready for me?”

“Very ready.”

“All right, give me ten seconds.” He extracted himself from her and she heard the small rip from a condom wrapper, then he was at her back again. “Bend a little forward for he,” he groaned, and she did, letting him catch an eyeful of his prize. “Spirits,” she heard behind her, then his talons was at her hips and he slowly guided himself into her. Shepard closed her eyes and enjoyed his first careful thrusts. His cock was already swelling to fill her, and she held on to her designated handles, expecting a thorough fucking to commence at any moment. The wait was delicious.

“That was the first step,” she heard Chellick behind her.

Clearly, this was not going where she wanted it to go.

“First step? Decian, if the second step is not you pounding your girlfriend until she can hardly stand, I’m going back to dinner.”

He chuffed at the irritability in her voice. “Soon, soon. Are you holding on?”

“Yes, but I haven’t seen any reason to stay moored to this stall yet,” she teased.

“You will. Keep holding,” he said and turned on the shower. He then placed one hand around her waist, and maneuvered her so he could pull up her leg with the other hand.

“Whoa whoa, what are you-..”

“I told you to hold on.” Chellick hitched her leg behind one of his spurs, then switched arms and tried to pick up her other leg. “Humans get so slippery in water.” His intent was becoming obvious.

“Oh, I get it. Ambitious, are we? Trapping the poor human between the wall and your spurs and having your way with her?”

“I don’t hear any protests,” he hummed.

“Nor will you. Wait, let me change grip,” she said and got hold higher up on the pipe. It made it easier to help him lift her other leg up, and he now had her hanging off the wall with both legs trapped in his leg spurs while he was fully sheathed inside her.

The absurdity of the situation should have made it too funny to be sexy, but she felt her pussy throb in anticipation of being fucked like this. “Decian, please, I can’t hang here forever.”

“Please what, Jane?”

Great, now he was making her beg too. “Just do it, okay?”

“Do what,” he purred.

“I hate you,” she muttered. “Please, would you just fuck me?” The ‘fuck’ was spoken in almost inaudible tones under the falling water, but he heard her perfectly.

“Pretending you don’t want this, Jane? Never took you for the shy type,” he grinned and gave her a few deep thrusts, and was rewarded with a small moan from her.

“Just tell me you want this,” he said, and there was a pleading twang in his subvocals now.

“I want you, Decian. Now please..”

“Anything for you, Jane,” he said with relief, and started moving in and out of her in a slow pace.

Her arms were still not feeling the strain, instead she let herself savor the slow rhythm he was setting, the touch of his blunt talons gently tracing over her skin. The feeling of oncoming euphoria lasted until she heard “oh no” behind her, followed by a scraping sound. She opened her eyes and saw they were both slowly gliding backwards. The angle of her pushing against the wall for support and him so close under her to fill her entirely was causing them to shift away from said wall. The scraping sound was the talons on his feet, desperately scratching for purchase. “Uh, I wasn’t thinking of how slippery the tiles would get,” he panted in her ear. “Spirits, don’t try to jump off, you’ll break my spurs.”

Their slide came to a halt when his talons caught on the grout lines between the tiles.

“Thank the spirits for that. Do you want to.. uh.. stop?”

“Decian, don’t you fucking dare. I thought turians were hard workers, now you can’t even finish the job?” She turned her head and winked at him.

“You’ll regret those words, I swear,” he grunted and hilted inside her again.

 

Chellick started fucking her in earnest, and as the sounds of her soft whimpers and his flanging groans filled their stall, there was another sound gaining in intensity in their immediate vicinity; The mournful creak of a hinge reaching the end of it’s lifetime. The cascading water, sounds of pleasure and the rhythmic slap of plates on flesh dulled it, but it was increasing in decibel by every thrust from the eager turian. As the pair was about to reach their inevitable climax, the hinge gave one last squeak and snapped with a metallic ping. The wall Shepard counted on for support gave in, and the sudden shift in balance in addition to the far-gone turian still ramming her from behind made Shepard lurch forward and cling solely to the shower pipe instead. The pleasure of being fucked by her boyfriend while they wrecked the surrounding area was like a thrilling high, until the sound of another piece of groaning metal warned of impending collapse in front of her.

“Decian, hold up, the pipe-..” she began, but it was too late. The lone beam could not hold hers and Chellick’s combined weight and snapped from it’s fasteners, dragging with it the shower head and bringing the double branch pipes for hot and cold water with it. The water now gushed everywhere, and Chellick, having recovered some blood to his brain, pulled Shepard away from the hot spray and covered her with his body. The momentum, coupled with the slippery surface of the bathroom tiles threw them back into the already struggling stall wall, which at this point gave up in face of the newest onslaught, slowly toppling them over onto the next stall, then the next, and so on. The effect was much like dominoes. After the last of the metaphorical dust had settled, Chellick was still hanging on to Shepard, but they were both sprawled on the floor under pieces of stalls and the occasional spray of steaming water.

“Ow,” Shepard moaned and carefully pulled one leg away from Chellick’s upturned leg spur.

“Spirits, we are in so much trouble.” Chellick clicked his mandibles in horror.

“We need to get out of here,” Shepard groaned again and untangled her last leg from under her boyfriend.

“Spirits, we are going to be exposed. And expelled” Chellick was not listening to a word she was saying.

“Hey. The spirits are not going to get us out of this. We are. We’ll get up, find that condom and escape with a fraction of our dignity intact.”

“We broke everything. The right procedure is to report ourselves to our superiors.”

An image of confessing this whole debacle to Vyrnnus flew across her mind’s eye, and she winced. “Not a chance. Now get up, and let’s get out of here.”

“It’s not honorable,” Chellick insisted.

Shepard looked at him like he was crazy. The poor turian appeared to be in shock. Shepard had no time for that, she could nurse his wounded psyche later.

“Do you want me to get thrown out of the program, Decian? Because that’s what’s going to happen if anyone finds out I’m screwing a turian in the station showers.”

“No.. no..I don’t.. I don’t know, this isn’t right, this isn’t right,” he wailed.

She sighed. “Come here now. Let’s just make our escape now, and if things get complicated later we’ll deal with it then, okay?”

“..I..okay..” Chellick calmed down enough for her to help him up and look over the damage. She was already showing bruises from having a turian landing on her, but no splinters from the stalls. Besides from his resistance to fleeing the scene, Chellick seemed fine. His cock had retracted behind his groin plates, with the upper part of the condom stuck between them. Shepard gently tugged it away. In the bin with that.

“Let’s go.” And then she added with an afterthought; “This is going to be a hilarious story in a few years.”

The turian beside her vehemently disagreed.

 

2174 CE – December 12th – Shower – 21:24 PM

Garrus stared in disbelief at the ruins of the shower. Whomever did this, had outdone themselves in wanton destruction, as half the stalls on one side was obliterated, and only the presence of several drains had prevented the whole building from flooding.

“Those turians,” the senior maintenance engineers sneered. “No shame whatsoever. I mean, we all know they fuck like animals in here, but at least until now they let the fixtures be.”

Garrus didn’t bother with acknowledging the blatant racism. This was eons away from Erikson levels, and he was determined to not cause more upheavals. Not yet, at any rate. Two weeks until he could talk with his father, and he counted the days.

“Albert, get the main water supply closed of. The lever is down in the maintenance hatch. Turian, get that flotsam carried out of here. It’s going to be a long evening.”

Garrus got to work with his usual ruthless efficiency, first clearing out the broken stalls with minor damages while the water was still flowing from the pipes pulled from the wall. When the water finally stilled, he picked up the last pieces from the floor and noted the scratch marks on the tiles. Talons. What else. Some of his compatriots had been having the time of their lives, clawing and scratching at everything in their reach, before practically devastating the entire… Garrus’ train of thought decelerated as he first looked, then observed the stall wall. No scratch marks. He took another look at the bent metal beam pulled from the wall. No marks on that either, nor on the wall itself. That was… weird. A turian couple that was so into each other that they would scrape the floor would surely make other marks as well? Unless… He started breathing faster. Unless there was a human in there with the turian. It was unthinkable. It couldn’t be right. A human.. with a turian? His imagination ran wild, returning to forbidden thoughts on him pinning down his squad leader, but to shove her against the wall and mount her from behind.. Spirits, that would be... awful? It would be awful, he told himself. The soft feeling of unplated flesh... the small grunts and outcries she made when she trained against him.. they would probably be louder, right? No! No. No. No. He forced the aroused hum from his subvocals and picked up a wrench. Garrus got back to work, trying to remember algorithms from his tech-classes to keep his mind occupied with safe subjects. They would keep his mind away from such deviant thoughts.

There was nothing sordid about calibrations.

Chapter Text

2174 CE – December 13th – Outside Corinthus’ Office – 07:46 AM

There had been suppressed snickering around the table as Shepard and Chellick sat down with their friends that morning. She quelled a sigh and sank down in her chair with her tray. Her boyfriend apparently had to confess to someone, and since that someone was Emerus, that meant Arista knew, and Celsus, by virtue of now often being privy to their pillow talk. At least Celsus hadn’t blabbed to his father, a fact that became obvious when captain Corinthus marched in and announced that someone had caused severe property damage on the station, and the culprits knew who they were and needed to take responsibility for their actions. Chellick almost stood up right then and there, only her firm hand on his thigh kept him from jumping out of his seat and confessing the whole affair right in front of everyone. His distressed clicking caused some of the turians around them to peer suspiciously at him. Shepard had caught Emerus’ eye, and he shook his head almost imperceptibly. The meaning was clear. Chellick would fold under questioning.

Which was the reason she was here, Shepard mused. Another visit to Corinthus' office. He might as well just give her the damn keycard and let her set up a cot in here.

She wasn’t worried when she stepped inside his office, just overly pragmatic. Corinthus was sitting in front of his terminal.

“Morning, Shepard. Is there a problem with your squad?”

“No, sir. I just happen to know who thrashed the shower rooms yesterday,” she said matter-of-factly. Corinthus intertwined his talons in front of him in a very human gesture. “I appreciate that you want to report the culprits, but I want them to do it themselves. And if they were in your squad, you reporting this without encouraging them to do the right thing first is.. could be problematic for your team.”

So she wasn’t a suspect in the debauched shower affair after all. Shepard somehow felt a little insulted at that. She could ‘debauch’ as well as the next turian.

“Actually, sir, it’s not on behalf of anyone in the squad. It’s on behalf of myself.” She kept her eyes fixed forward. Corinthus blinked slowly over and over, as if willing her to disappear before his very eyes. When the world refused to vaporize her in front of him, he leaned back with a sigh instead, and motioned her to sit down.

“Do I even want to hear this, Shepard?” He sounded tired.

“I don’t know sir. Do you?”

“Less snark and more facts, please.”

“Yes, sir. I have for some time entertained a close relationship with one of my fellow students. We don’t often have the chance to, uh, see each other, with our time tables being rather full, so when we can meet up, we make the most of it.”
There was an unmistakable snort coming from Corinthus, but he recovered quickly. “Go on.”

“We were in the shower yesterday, and things got a little carried away. Unfortunately, those flimsy stall walls couldn’t support the weight of two people, and the shower beam was a bad choice of leverage, and so the whole thing collapsed on itself. And us, you might say.”

Corinthus pretended to stifle his chuffs with a cough. “And that other party, why isn’t he here to confess with you? Afraid of turians.”

“Not really, sir. I felt I had to come forward first, because of the sensitive nature of the case.”

“What sensitive nature? We know that the showers are used for letting out a bit of steam, though not usually as literal as this. And it does not speaks to his better nature that he’s not here.”

“It speaks to his better nature that I practically had to tie him down to prevent him from running here and start confessing outright, but I guess thousands of years of civil service is bred into his DNA.”

Corinthus started blinking again, and Shepard was concerned the man might develop a serious tick any day soon. She could almost hear the cogs in his brain whirr to life. His mandibles gave a few erratic jerks before they closed on his face.

“So, this fellow you’re not naming by name...” he began.

“I won’t, so don ask.”

“I don’t think you have to. I remember having an informal, ahem, chat with one of my recruits last year, about aliens and chafing and whatnot. Might this be up the same alley?”

“It might,” Shepard admitted.

“Spirits..” Corinthus looked like a man that was facing the void with no hope of redemption.

“Shepard, is it your mission in life to make mine miserable? If you’re this much trouble now, I dread to think what you’ll be like when Gagarin unleashes you unto the galaxy at large.”

He stroked his fringe tentatively. “I remembered talking about repercussions for the careers of ‘individuals’ caught up in such matters.”

“I think we both know if this information became public, the careers of all the instructors on the station would be in jeopardy.”

“Are you threatening me, recruit?”

Shepard wondered is she also looked as tired as she felt. “No, sir. Can I speak plainly, off the record?”

“You may.”

“If this becomes public, I will take the blame for the.. affair on me. I will try to shield him as much as possible because he does not deserve to be publicly condemned for being my boyfriend. We’re not hurting anyone, and I don’t know how I would have made it through these past months without his help. In all honesty, this is just another thing that should be swept under the rather large carpet at Jump Zero.” She met his eyes with a steely resolve.

“Boyfriend? So it’s not just steam, then?” Corinthus asked.

“Much more solid than steam, sir. I genuinely care for him, and I hope he feels the same for me.”

Corinthus mulled over her words for a while, before making up his mind.

“I see. Those stalls were rather flimsy, as you say. No need to make a big deal out of this. Feces occurs, as humans say.”

This time it was Shepard’s turn to blink at the turian’s strange use of idioms.

“You might have reported the water leak a little sooner. Could have been disastrous if there were not already floor drains in there.”

“Understood, sir.”

“No need to put a minor incident in the station records. They were probably due for replacement anyway.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And tell your.. boyfriend, that I hope he took my advice last year. Dismissed.”

Shepard stepped outside feeling relieved. Crisis averted, for now.

 

2174 CE – December 17th – Armax Combat Sim – 21:39 PM

“It’s time for the next step in your education, Shepard.”

Somehow Vyrnnus could make even innocuous words sound malevolent, and Shepard felt a familiar chill run down her back. At least he wouldn’t be able to hit her when she was to participate in a holo-program.

“Hold your arms out.” Vyrnnus removed two small bracelets from his pockets. Shepard recognized the brand. It was from the set she’d had clapped around her neck at her board meeting.

“I know not to use biotics in the sim, sir.”

“This isn’t a suppressor,” the commander said as he locked them in place. “You’ll see. Now I expect to see a kill for every enemy you encounter. I will be watching every step, and I’ve ordered this program especially for you.”

Shepard shrugged at his words. She had tried all the sim’s environment settings, and even if they upped the difficulty, there was no real danger inside the holo-dome.

“I’ll be in the monitoring booth to give instructions. Prepare to start in two minutes.”

Shepard checked her rifle and adjusted her gear, more out of habit than necessity. ‘Make gear check your second nature,’ her uncle David used to say when she asked him for advice. She jumped up and down on the spot to get a little spring in her step before the program started.

“Ready? Go!” Vyrnnus called over the com.

The setting was from earth, suburban, fighting militia from house to house, a practice in discerning friend from foe. Kill anyone with a gun, let civilians and children escape. The orders came from on high, who to shoot and who to let live. Vyrnnus sounded like he was having a good time for once, ordering her around the field to kill other humans. The pop-up enemies were fast, but not to an unrealistic degree, and Shepard felt she was making good time. A new image of a militia fighter appeared in a broken window, she heard the order to ‘kill’ and aimed her gun for a headshot, when she saw the militia fighter’s face. She froze. It was her mother’s.

“Fire, Shepard!” Vyrnnus’ voice thundered in her ear.

It was like time screeched to a halt. She could smell the layer of rubber on the rifle stock, saw the gray beret worn by the figure before her had a pin with the Alliance fleet on it, heard the small creak of fabric in her armor as she shifted grip on her rifle while she was staring down the mirror image of herself behind the cracked glass.

“Kill it, Shepard!”

Vyrnnus’ voice was in her head, but managed to sound far away, as if she heard him in slow motion.

“No,” she croaked. “I can’t.”

“Kill the enemy, Shepard!”

She knew why he kept repeating her name over and over, but her finger refused to pull the trigger. Eventually time unfroze and ‘Hannah’ fired her handgun in Shepard’s chest until the heat sink glowed. Shepard felt every simulated impact through the special sim-suit, and Vyrnnus had ramped up the pain threshold. She could barely breathe.

“Disappointing, Shepard. Not only are you dead, you also disobeyed a direct order. And for that-..”

The bracelets around her wrists buzzed and gave her a sharp stinging shock. The pain made her pull the trigger, and the salvo went over ‘Hannah’s' head. Shepard dropped the rifle and cried out in distress.

“Did I say you could drop your gun? Pick it up! Pick. It. Up!” The commander’s screech sounded almost deranged.

Her hands shook as she searched the ground for the rifle, and on instinct she did another rifle check when she held it again.

“Next target better be killed, human. Go!”

Shepard stumbled forward, and the next two militia men were generic humans, easily picked off. She tried to control her breathing and prepared for another image of her mother, but the third target wasn’t Hannah Shepard. It was Dmitri Basanov. She froze again.

“Kill him, Shepard.”

No response, but her trigger finger twitched.

“Him or you, Shepard. Shoot it!”

Shepard trembled and fired, but the shot went low and missed the figure carrying her best friend’s face entirely. He was carrying an assault rifle, and like last time, she got the entire clip in her chest and staggered backwards. The pain was unbelievable, made worse by the followup shock to her wrists. This time she managed to hold on to the gun, but barely.

“Not much of an improvement,” Vyrnnus scoffed over the coms. “Not to worry, we have all evening. Next!”

‘Gear check.’ Shepard forced herself to perform it again and continued the path ahead of her. Her hands were still trembling from the aftermath of the shocks, but she knew he could always get worse. Who else could he know about? Her mother, Dmitri, uncle David? She didn’t have much family outside those, and she doubted the commander knew of her friends on Arcturus, like Jeff. But if he knew about Chellick, there was no telling what he might do. A few more militia targets, and then David Anderson’s face stared at her through a sniper scope. This time she was expecting it and fired four shots. Only two of them hit the mark.

“Flesh wounds? Really, Shepard? You think a wounded enemy won’t kill you?”

“It’s because of the bracelets, sir,” she mumbled back. “My aim is a little unsteady.”

“Don’t lie to me, human. I know why you hesitate, but we’ll soon have that drilled out of your head. Back to start and do it again. I have more targets for you to kill.”

Shepard licked her dry lips and tried not to show too much trepidation. It would embolden him further.

“Affirmative, sir. Returning to start.”

A feeling of despair began to stir inside, and she struggled to keep it at bay. How could she fight back on this?

 

2174 CE – December 17th – Locker room – 23:45 PM

Chellick felt relief wash over him when he finally heard footsteps approach and Shepard walked in. She’d been much too late tonight, and he’d began fearing he might have to go to bed without helping her after her training.

“Spirits, I was starting to think-..” When he saw her dead eyes, he knew something had happened. “Jane, what’s wrong? What did he do?”

“We trained. Combat sim.”

There was no emotion in her voice, and Chellick was concerned. “Let me look at you, Jane. What scenario?”

“Urban warfare.” There was still no expression on her face, and she avoided meeting his eyes.

“Jane, you’re scaring me.” He tried to take her hands, but she shied away from him like he’d tried to hurt her.

“No..”

It was heartbreaking to see her pulling away from him, but even worse when she sounded like this. Vulnerable.

“Jane, please. Let me see.”

She appeared to gain some control over herself, then carefully removed her undersuit. Her chest was reddened from sim-burns, and around her wrists were red burn marks and blisters in a circular form. Chellick flared his fringe in anger. “We can’t let this go on. He needs to pay for this!”

“It’s nothing,” Shepard said flatly.

“Nothing? Jane, he hurts you, and you think it’s nothing? What’s wrong with you?”

“He made me kill them,” she whispered. “All of them.”

“Kill who? You’re not making any sense.”

“The combat sim. He programmed them in. My mom, Dmitri, uncle David, mom’s friend Steven Hackett, several members of the fleet and.. and.. my dad. Vyrnnus made a character that looked like my dad!”

The last word was shouted, but her eyes were still unfixed, and she started to shiver, as if someone had thrown her into a cold river. Chellick was torn between his anger towards her tormentor and concern for her, and the latter won out. Pulling her stiff body into his own, he placed her arms around her to give her of his warmth, and to comfort her.

“Ssh, Jane, come back to me, you’re not alone now.” There was no immediate response, and he tried the turian way instead, purring softly in the crook of her neck. They stood like that for a long time, and he was afraid she’d finally broken, when he felt her arms snake his back and she leaned on him, accepting his offer of safety. Not a sound was uttered, but he felt her tremble in short silent sobs. Chellick made no comment, knowing she despised being seen as weak. This would be their secret. She clung to him while she tried to take back a semblance of control, and her sobs finally stilled. When she untangled herself from his arms, there was a telltale look of redness around her eyes. He pretended not to notice.

“Jane,” he said simply and pressed his mouth plates to her forehead. They could discuss this later, right now he desperately needed her to cheer up, it was like a physical ache in his gizzard.

“Thank you, Decian,” she said with a sad attempt at a smile, but he felt it go right to his chest.

“Anytime. Let’s get you cleaned and patched up. Fourex in three days. Don’t want to go easy on us, do you?”

Shepard chuckled against her will, discreetly wiping away the last tear. “No. I’ll get you all.”

 

2174 CE – December 20th – Victory Dinner – 19:02 PM

“Hey Garrus, want more kheelie steak?” Aius prodded him in the arm. “We even have some sauce left, I can pour some for you.”

“No thanks,” he replied and glanced at the timer again.

“The vid-call is half an hour away, take some time to celebrate. We won again! We’re the best!” Aius was exuberant.

Garrus was sullen. “Sure.”

“Spirits, you’re hopeless,” Aius rolled his eyes. “I give up. Sit there and mope to death for all I care. Nirea, want more steak?”

“Wow, Castor really scared you into becoming a proper turian. Thank you, yes,” Nirea laughed while Aius served her.

Garrus didn’t care. A month ago he would have been brimming with pride over being first among the squads, now he saw his forced presence at the table as an annoyance. His squad mates were short with him and he’d been distancing himself from them since his almost expulsion, and they all knew it. Yet for his self imposed solitude, he didn’t feel alone. He felt driven. And the goal was measly 28 minutes, no, he corrected himself, 22 minutes away. He’d been let of maintenance duty today because of the vid-call and their victory, the only thing between him and his father was now.. 20 minutes. The minutes snailed by and he tried to stop himself from looking at the clock, to no avail. 19 minutes.

“Cut that out, you’re ruining the evening for the rest of us,” Mevia snapped.

“What?” Garrus didn’t even look at her.

“Just get out of here, if we’re so intolerable. Go make our call, and then get your head back in training.”

“Fine.” He got up, avoiding Castor’s worried gaze as he walked out on them.

 

 

The holo-screen flickered before the image stabilized, and Garrus saw his father’s face appear, mandibles flaring wide.

“Garrus! How are you, son? Did you get the package we sent you? How did your exam go?” Galenus thrummed with anticipation.

“We won again,” Garrus said with a mandible flick and stared on the screen. His father didn’t notice the hard edge in his voice.

“You’ve won twice? Well done, Garrus! That’s impressive, even more so considering your squad leader. How do you fare, working with that Shepard girl? I got the impression you didn’t much care for her last we spoke.”

“We don’t see eye to eye on much, and she’s not very pleasant,” Garrus said shortly, not wanting to down that particular road.

His father gave a mirthless chuckle. “I can imagine. She’s not too fond of our family.”

Garrus was unable to carry on exchanging pleasantries any longer. “And who’s fault is that?”

“Garrus, admiral Shepard has never liked turians very much, a lingering effect from the relay incident. Now, about your exam-..” Galenus said, but was cut off by his son.

“You don’t think it has something to do with you burning her husband to death in an underground cave?!” Even is he wanted to, Garrus could not keep the vitriol from his voice. Galenus Vakarian straightened up and stared at his son.

“Where did you hear that?”

“Is it true?”

“Tell me who told you! Was it that girl?” Galenus used his commanding voice, but Garrus was too far gone and too far away to care.

“Is it true?!” he demanded.

“Don’t believe everything that human tells you, their hatred of turians is well known,” Galenus tried again.

“Shepard never said why she hates me, she has other methods to convey that. No, I had to hear that from one of the other humans here. Don’t lie to me, did you do it?”

“Garrus, there will always be casualties in war, and Shepard's father was an unfortunate incident-...”

“Like the other thousands of humans that burned in those tunnels? Almost 20 000 of them? How unfortunate was that?”

Garrus’ voice was cruel, but he harbored a desperate hope that his father would deny these allegations, tell him that they were nothing but slanderous fancies by a crazed human, but he did not. Instead, he saw his father, the great Galenus Vakarian, champion of rules and justice, lost for words, trying to evade telling the truth. The implications were staggering.

Galenus Vakarian clamped his mandibles to his jaw, subconsciously scraping his talons at the desk towards the decanter, trying to keep the distressed thrum out of his subvocals.

“Son, you must understand.. I was.. I was a different man back then. Captured behind enemy lines, in fear for my life. I had to escape.” Galenus paused. Garrus saw him wince at recalling distant memories, but he had no mercy for his father. His father, whom had stolen Garrus’ faith in him, robbed him of his family honor, and at this moment, the son wanted the father to feel the same pain.

“And the wholesale slaughter of women and children? They just had to die?”

“I didn’t know, Garrus. We were underground, I thought it was a military base. I didn’t know.”

“It was a shelter! You burned them all so you could live! Coward!” he shouted, yelling at the screen as if his father was in the room.

“You will not speak to me in that way, Garrus Vakarian!” Galenus shouted back at his end, but Garrus paid no heed to him. Todd Erikson had been right. He was sired by a war criminal. The pain at losing all familial pride and having the image of his proud father tarnished like this made him livid, at himself, his father and the stupid human that told him.

“You have no honor, child murderer,” he growled at Galenus. “You don’t deserve the markings you bear, you should be barefaced to show your shame. And mine.”

“Garrus, stop this,” Galenus repeated, now with a fearful undertone. “You had nothing to do with this, neither does your mother and sister.”

“We carry the name, thus the shame. The Shepards are right to hate us.” The call pad was in view of the screen, and his father saw him reach for it.

“Garrus, no! Wait, we need to talk about this.”

“No more words, no more lies. Goodbye, father.” Garrus spat the last word and clicked ‘end-call.’

 

Outside in the hallway he leaned against the wall and drew a few heavy breaths. The truth was here, and it was not what he expected. The high tier of the Vakarian clan was based on a lie. They were war criminals. No wonder the humans complained about his father working on the Citadel. It was like they were shoving clan Vakarian in the human’s faces, hey look what we can do, and you have to sit there and take it. Garrus felt something in his pocket jut into his thigh, and pulled out the maintenance crew card. The card granted access to almost every public part of the station, and he was now in the officer’s wing, the only place that allowed vid-calls off world. He had ended his call early, and the next caller would not be around for a while. This place also had a private mess hall, with a small bar, if his memory served him right. He remembered his father’s hand creeping towards the alcohol in their call. Garrus decided to go upstairs to check. If his father could drink, then so could he. Why should he care about his reputation, it was already ruined.

 

2174 CE – December 20th – Library – 21:01 PM

“And did he say why he canceled your lesson?” Celsus asked.

“Nope, but I’ve heard rumors. The commander supposedly has his beady eyes on one of the turian nurses, and this was her night off. Never one to let an opportunity slip past him.” Shepard tried to sound cheerful, but she was still a bit shellshocked from his new training method. Even worse was the knowledge that shooting images of family and friends was already becoming easier. It should not be, not even under the threat of electric-shocks and simulated fire. If her trigger finger obeyed more readily, her mind was straining under the pressure. The N7- program was the only reason she still held out this abuse. That, and Chellick. He was still with his squad, celebrating their second tier tie with Emerus.

“Shepard, I asked you a question,” Celsus said reprovingly.

She’d ignored him while lost in thought. “Sorry, I was a little distracted. What was it?”

“How do you get your squad to function as a team? Mine is always at odds with each other on the field, placing blame.”
“Well, I put them in the sim and had a couple with me in the booth. It’s much easier spotting mistakes in there, and I made them help out the rest of the team during the exercise. Maybe that’ll work for you too.”

“Thanks, I will try that,” he said and jotted it down on a datapad.

They looked up as the library door whooshed open and someone ran in, calling her name.

“Shepard?! Shepard!! I know you’re in here!” Strabo’s shrill voice made her jump from her seat.

“Whoa whoa, calm down, I’m up here,” she called to him, and he ran up the stairs to find her. When he arrived at their table, he opened his mouth to speak, then he saw Celsus. The roar became a squeak. “We need to speak. Right now! Alone,” he begged.

“Uuh, right, I’ll just.. get a shower then,” Celsus grinned and winked at her. He got up and strolled out.

“Hope you drown, buddy,” she smiled at his disappearing back, then turned to Strabo. “What’s the matter?”

“It’s Garrus. He’s climbed to the top of the water silo down in the storage hall, and is throwing off bottles and shooting them.”

“He’s got a gun from the armory? They’re all locked in and accounted for,” she said, staring at Strabo in surprise.

“We don’t know how he did it, just.. He won’t listen to us, and he’s drunk!”

Shepard groaned. There was just no end to trouble with that kid. “Why is he drunk, Strabo? I doubt they served alcohol at your dinner today?”

“We don’t know that either. You need to come and talk him down, or he might get in trouble.”

“Firing live rounds in unsafe environment, he’s already up to his cowl in trouble,” Shepard grumbled. She swept her datapads in the backpack and hid it on top of a shelf, before running after Strabo.

 

2174 CE – December 20th – Storage Hall – 21:15 PM

Garrus tossed another empty bottle, took aim and splintered it with one perfectly aimed shot. The beer wasn’t doing much for him, so he picked up the lone bottle of horosk he’d managed to break out of the bar, wrenched the lid open and gulped down a third of the content without tasting it. When he put the bottle down his mouth was on fire. That stuff really burned. His feet swayed as the beer and the horosk fought for dominion inside his stomach, and he put his hand inside his suit and pulled out the small package his dad had sent him. It was small and rectangular, and he wondered if it was Galenus who had bought it, as it was usually his mother’s style to find thoughtful little gifts for her children. It didn’t matter. His father had sent it, and he wanted nothing to do with that man any more. He tried to straighten up and held the rifle in one hand, tossing the package over the edge with the other. He hitched the gun to his chin, but the horosk made its presence known and his hands tremble, and the shot went wide. The small brown carton sailed through the air and began its steep descent. It didn’t matter, Garrus thought, picking up the bottle for another swill. No matter what was inside it would break upon impact. Good riddance!

 

Shepard heard the last shot and saw something fall through the air towards them. Her turian troublemaker must really be drunk if he couldn’t hit that, she reflected and activated her biotics, catching the item before it hit the ground. There was broken pieces of glass scattered around on the floor, and she noted they were mostly beer bottles. She spun the small packet around in her fingers before pocketing it for later.

“This needs to be cleaned up,” she whispered to Strabo, and motioned to the shattered glass.

“We’ll fix that,” he whispered back. “Just get that lunatic down.”

“Anyone has an idea what caused this?”

“He had a vid-call from home today, been waiting for that for a month.” Strabo looked away. “We’ve been having some fights with Garrus after that thing with Erikson. He’s very stubborn. We just didn’t think he’d do something like this.”

Shepard exhaled heavily. “I’ll see what I can do. Stay back, bad enough I have to get in the line of fire.”

He nodded at her, and stood back at the ladder.

“See you in a bit,” she said with more confidence than she felt, and started the ascent.

Chapter Text

When Shepard hoisted herself over the edge, Garrus was downing another gulp of horosk. He staggered a bit, and she gasped when he almost stumbled over the ledge and down from the silo. The sound made him swing around, rifle waving wildly in front of him, and she felt a phantom shock in her wrist. ‘Kill it,’ a ghost voice muttered in her head. She mentally swatted it away.

“Hi, Vakarian. Having a private shooting contest?” she said in a light tone.

The rifle was pointed directly at her chest now, and Shepard had to fight the urge to strike him with a biotic charge or put up a shield. That would not solve anything in the long run, even if it might save her some pain right now. She extinguished the biotic flare in her palm, but not before Garrus spotted it.

He glared mistrustfully at her. “Come to use your biotics on me again? Think you can stop me before I shoot you?”

She suddenly felt uncertain. This was new. He never actually threatened her before.

“No. I won’t use biotics against you again. If you want to shoot, I’m right here.” She held open her palms to show she was unarmed and not flaring biotics. It was a big risk, but she doubted he actually meant to shoot her. Or maybe she just hoped he didn’t mean to shoot her. The dice was cast, however, and now she had to play it out.

“That’s not like you.” He swayed again. The bottle in his hand was not beer, and she wondered where he’d got hard liquor on the station. “Usually you’re all out to get me. And why not? We deserve it.”

Shepard winced at the term ‘deserve it.’ That was not something she wanted to be reminded of.

“Who’s we,” she asked and took a few steps sideways, trying to get away from the wavering rifle barrel.

“Me. My dad. Clan Vakarian,” he said and took another gulp. Shepard wondered if he’d ever been drunk before. This seemed a little too much to handle for a first time drinker.

“I know what we did to your famuly.. faimly.. family,” he mumbled. “And all the others.”

Shepard cursed inwardly. He’d asked his father about what Erikson told him. That could be a problem.

“You didn’t do any of those things, and what’s between our parents should’ve stayed between our parents,” Shepard said and took one step closer. “Will you put the rifle down? I won’t try to take it from you, but I’d feel safer if it wasn’t aimed at me.”

“Wasn’t going to shoot you anyway,” he said in a low voice. “Won’t shame my clan further.” The rifle clattered as it hit the ground, and Shepard jumped away to avoid any misfire. After thanking a number of deities that the rifle didn’t go off, she picked it up and ejected the heat sink. Safety first. Gear check. Next step. She sat down on the generator housing on the roof and patted the spot next to her. “Tell me about it.”

He glared at her like a petulant child. “No.”

Shepard glared right back and barked at him like a disobedient dog; “Sit!”

The turian in him responded to direct orders, and Garrus shuffled over and sat down reluctantly.

“Would you give me that bottle? Please?” she asked more gently.

He pulled away but remained seated. “Why shouldn’t I drink?” he snapped at her. “Dad does. Quite a lot for a high tier turian.”

“And my mom hates turians. I don't,” she replied softly. “We don’t have to do what they do.”

“You hate me though,” he muttered and lifted the bottle again.

Shepard placed her hand on his forearm and held it back. “I don’t hate you, Garrus.”

He jerked at her mentioning of his name. She’d never used it before, it was always Vakarian this or that, but he recovered quickly.

“Tried to kill me. Yells at me. Doesn’t even speak to me unless you have to.”

These things were all too true, except that she never meant to kill him. Not really. Nevertheless, she couldn’t blame him for believing that.

“Never wanted you to die. I blamed you for many things that was outside your control. I was a real asshole, just like the ones I warned you about the day we met. Now please give me the bottle.”

“You’re just saying that to calm me down. You’d never be friendly with me otherwise,” he insisted, alcohol slurring his speech.

“I haven’t been so far, no. I’ve been unfair and cruel, but I’ve never outright lied to you.”

Lies of omission was best kept out if this discussion.

“Have a drink with me then, if you mean it.” Garrus waved the bottle in the air, challenging her to grab for it. She ignored the flailing arm and smelled his breath instead.

“Is that.. shuttle fuel?” she said with a grimace.

“It’s turian. Freshly stolen from the officer’s bar,” Garrus hiccuped. “Amazing where you have access with a maintenance card.”

Shepard forced a smile. Of course it was stolen. Nothing like another awkward meeting with captain Corinthus on the conduct of her squad. The thieving turian sitting next to her wasn’t worried about consequences right now.

“Drink! Or it’s all lies. Everyone lies to me on this station. Except racist humans who want me dead.”

She sighed. “Fine. Hand it over then.”

Slowly, as if daring her to snatch it from him, he held out the bottle and watched her carefully. She could take the bottle away and break it, thereby breaking the minuscule level of trust he showed, or she could take a sip from the horrid stuff and join him in violating another set of station rules. There couldn’t be many more she hadn’t broken already, she reflected, and took the bottle from him and raised it to her lips. From the corner of her eye she saw the look of surprise on his face, and followed up by swallowing three big sips before her taste buds could fire off a warning of oncoming poison. When she put the bottle down she had three seconds where her mouth was numb, then a burning sensation spread from her mouth down her throat and she was seized with a coughing fit. She tried to spit out whatever remained of the horosk inside her mouth, to the flanging chuffs of Garrus.

“Didn’t actually think you’d do it.”

She gave him an accusing stare with watery eyes. “That wasn’t ‘normal’ alcohol, was it?”

“No. That was horosk. Turian stuff, meant to give some extra plating on your chest. Not that you’d need that,” he said and glanced down at her chest. “Your chest is already padded.”

If that comment had come from anyone else than a drunk turian, Shepard would have clipped that someone over the ear. As it was, she doubted this particular turian knew what breasts were, and let it slide. For some reason, he suddenly met her eyes with an embarrassed wide eyed stare. “I didn’t mean to.. I don’t know why I said that, human females are not..I’ve never-..”

“Hey hey, no harm, no foul. I’m sure you don’t have the faintest idea about human chests, I’m not offended.”

“That’s.. good.”

She pretended to take another sip while he fidgeted with his talons. Under other conditions having a drink under the noses of her superiors wouldn’t have caused her much consternation, but this stuff tasted like bilge water, and she needed a clear head to deal with... whatever this was. A slight surge of dizziness struck her, and reminded her that whatever horosk was made of, it wasn’t intended for human consumption. That stuff worked fast, and she wondered what it did to young turians.

“My father killed a lot of humans,” Garrus said absentmindedly. “No wonder everyone always wants to beat the plates off me.” He sounded sad, and Shepard was reminded of her own role as a punching ball for Vyrnnus. It was an uncomfortable comparison.

“That’s still not your fault, Garrus. Those people, me included, should’ve known better than to take their issues out on you. You never deserved that.”

“I don’t believe you,” he hissed. “You hate my father, and his name, and by extension, me! There’s nothing changed between us.”

She stared out into the storage facility. “I’ve changed. Not enough, perhaps, but I know what I did to you had little to do with who you are. It was all about what I am. And it was evil.”

Garrus moved uneasily at her admission, not believing what he heard.

“And you got away with it,” he said, refusing to look at her. To his surprise, she gave a short snort and rubbed her left wrist as an afterthought.

“I wasn’t kicked off the station, no. But I didn’t walk away from that scot-free. Why don’t you tell me more about your vid-call with your father,” she said, trying to steer the conversation away from the topic of punishment.

“Like you even care,” he mumbled with a voice that thrummed with emotions. Garrus was apparently not a happy drunk, and she felt a rising determination to comfort him. Much of his predicament was on her.

“You know, the first day we met, before I knew your name, I thought you were a pretty decent guy. You refused to admit defeat when those guys beat you, and you said I was old.. hah, okay, maybe not that last part. You also denied oozing blood on my sand pit, it was pretty funny.”

“Yeah?” He sounded confused and hopeful all at the same time, before remembering who he was talking to. “Whatever. You’re just saying that to keep me from jumping from this silo.”

“If I didn’t care, would I be up here talking to you, instead of floating you down from here with my biotics? Or chanting ‘jump, jump’ from the floor?” She let that sink into his drunk brain while trying to figure out what to say next. The rest of the squad had opened up a lot since their first month, even the hard headed Mevia, but Garrus remained a mystery. Perhaps if you bothered to talk to him before this, a treacherous voice said in her head, and this time she listened to it. This was her fault, but perhaps it was still time to make things right.

“He shamed our clan,” Garrus said out of the blue. He looked as surprised as she was at this sudden revelation. She said nothing and let him set the pace. For Garrus, her silent acceptance was like the opening of a flood gate he’d tried to keep closed for too long.

“A crime like that should lead to demotion and public hearings, stripping of colony marks. The shame should stain our clan for generations. Why did he too get away with it? He prides himself in truth and fairness.”

He stared at her, daring her to answer, the other escapee from justice. From the stories she knew from earth, she had an inkling as to why things had played out the way they did.

“It was after the war. The turians had to retreat from Arcturus after the Council intervened. One of their dreadnoughts was shot down over the human homeworld, and I don’t think they wanted to make more concessions after that,” she said. “Admitting to having committed war crimes on earth would have skewered the public opinion in favor of the humans, and I’ve heard your primarch is a proud man. He’d never allow it.”

Shepard had rarely allowed herself to think about this from the turian point of view, but it made sense, at least. Garrus looked dumbfounded at her.

“And you agree with this?”

A mirthless chuckle escaped her. “I never said that. It’s just.. politics. I can see why Corinthus hates it so much.”

“Politics,” he repeated, "and politicians. That’s where it all gets muddled up. It’s never black and white for them, all gray. I don’t know what to do with gray.”

“Garrus?”

“Did you know primarch Fedorian hates our clan too? Even though he must’ve protected my dad after the war?”

“I didn’t know that, no.”

“And the squad hates me, after I cut that human.” Garrus’ voice was becoming high pitched and slurring even more. He was swaying slightly even when sitting down.

“They don’ hate you, Garrus, they need time to see you’re sorry for what you did. It was the same thing for me when I hurt you. My friends hardly spoke to me for weeks.”

“Your turian friends?”

“Yes, my turian friends. They were very pissed at me. I don’t blame them.”

“But you were sorry?”

“Not were. I am sorry. I’m sorry I hurt you, Garrus. There’s not a thing in my life I regret more.”

He looked down. “The thing is, I’m not sorry.”

She could feel those bright blue eyes glowing in the semi-dark at her.

“I don’t blame you for that either. It’s understandable, given what humans have put you through after you arrived here,” Shepard said, keeping her voice neutral.

“You don’t hate me for it.” It was no longer a question, only a confirmation from a tipsy turian, trying to make sense of what was being said.

“I don’t hate you. Actually, I.. I wish that we could get along better. I don’t expect you to want us to be friends, but we can..Well, I know I can stop being such an asshole to you at all times. What do you think?”

She tried to catch his eye, but he was still stuck on his previous topic.

“You don’t hate me.”

“No, I don’t. What do you say we get down from here, find somewhere else to chat? I can teach you how to cheat at poker?”

“You’re the only one that doesn’t hate me.”

Shepard chuckled despite herself. “Still on that loop, are we? Well, that’s okay. We can sit here for a while until you get your bearings.”

Shepard scooted a little closer and placed a hand on his cowl, patting him slowly on the back. She felt genuinely sorry for him, and knew Chellick liked being comforted by having his cowl stroked. Garrus turned around to stare at her in astonishment, and she wondered if she’d misread some turian body language and committed another cultural atrocity. Instead, Garrus broke into a low warbling thrum, and suddenly she had her arms full of drunk turian. He burrowed his face in the crook of her neck and continued to give off that warble while his body occasionally contracted in what sounded like chuffing sobs.

Shepard was again struck by the similarity of their situation, both were shunned after their transgressions and struggled to keep up appearances despite being socially marooned in a sea of other students. The thing was, she’d been saved by Celsus and Emerus, Garrus had, as far as she could tell, nobody. In was not three days ago when she’d been crying in someone else’s arms, and she felt a pang of guilt for not seeing Garrus for what he was; A fifteen year old boy long away from home for the first time, isolated and alone. She should have seen that earlier, if she was any kind of leader. The younger turian clung to her like she was his only source of air, and she couldn’t stop herself from wrapping her arms around him and patting him reassuringly on his cowl and back. His body relaxed a bit when he felt she wasn’t going to shove him away, but he did not let go, still warbling in her neck.

“It’s okay, I got you. I got you, big guy,” she said with her chin pressed to his crest.

“We’ll fix this. It’s you and me, against the rest.”

His breathing slowed and the warble was replaced by a low keening sound. Shepard wasn’t sure what it meant, only that he seemed to get less agitated, and she kept on stroking his back in slow circles. She kept on soothing him until he stopped keening and merely held on for comfort, letting him take all the time he needed to compose himself. This morning this scenario would have been unthinkable, in this moment it felt inevitable. She was his leader, she was supposed to support and help him. So far she’d done a piss poor job, she reflected. That would stop now.

When he finally pulled away from her, he was slow and unsteady, tentatively peering into her face to see if there was any condemnation or ridicule to be found. There was none. She gave him a comforting smile. “Hey you. Feel better?”

He swallowed and opened and closed his mouth plates a few times. Then he studied her face again, trying to decide if this was real. Having him this close she could smell the horosk on his breath again, and she saw that his eyes were squinting more than normal. He was still on a rising alcohol level.

“Feel all right?” she asked again, giving him another pat.

He closed his eyes and made a sound that was a distorted purr and a chirrup. She smiled again. At least he wasn’t doing that turian crying any more. She shifted in her seat, and he quickly opened his eyes again to stare at her. Reaching out with one hand, it looked like he was about to touch her hair. Shepard sat still, a little hair touching wouldn’t do any of them any harm, she figured, but he pulled back the hand and looked at her again, like he was asking for permission. There was no danger in indulging him in a little drunken curiosity at this point, she reasoned and gave him a nod. Garrus’ eyes widened, and he quickly reached out again. Instead of just touching her hair, he carefully placed his hand on the back of her head and pulled her forehead to his. His blue eyes pierced her gray ones for any sign of her finding his gesture offensive, but Shepard again saw no harm in this strange turian ritual and leaned into his crest. Again he made those odd chirps and half strangled purrs, but she thought nothing of it. It wasn’t like he had a thing for her, it was probably a ‘buddy’ ritual turians did when they made peace.

When he released her, he flicked his mandibles in a careful smile, gave another purr… and then promptly vomited in her lap. The smell of regurgitated horosk and stomach acid made her gag.

“Augh! Garrus, what the hell?” she said in exasperation, but without real anger.

The look of raw shame in his face made her regret the comment. “Sorry,” he warbled.

“Hey hey, none of that. It’s fine, not like there’s not an abundance of conatix sweatpants around here. Let’s go find the doctor.”

“ I‘m fne,” he mumbled, trying to extrapolate himself from her arm. His speech was starting to slur badly.

“I know you’re fine, but what about me? I have a dextro allergy and need someone to follow me to Publius. Won’t you help me?” Her first outright lie to him and hopefully the last.

“Nd my help?” he said with a look of drunken uncertainty.

“Yes. Will you escort me to medbay? Please?”

At the ‘please’ he stumbled back on his feet and wiped the last remnant of sick off his mouth plates.

“Yeah. ‘kay. I got your six, Shparrd.”

Shepard pulled herself up and got as much vomit off her pants as possible, then deftly put her arm around a swaying Garrus. “I might need support, you did promise to help me.”

There was a giddy flange in his voice when he answered. “Anything for you, Shparrd.”

Despite the fact that he would almost certainly remember very little of this tomorrow, Shepard felt an unfamiliar sense of contentment at his newfound trust in her. Too bad it wouldn’t last. She’d seen this level of intoxication before. There would be blackouts, and perhaps alcohol poisoning. Garrus had to get to the doctor as soon as possible, but maneuvering a drunk turian down the ladder would be impossible. If only they could..

“Fly down?” Garrus mumbled on her shoulder.

“Fly?” Perhaps he was more far gone than she first assumed.

“Like when capn shot you. That was grreat,” he enthused.

The ‘capn’ being referred to was Corinthus, and she remembered that day. She’d never tried to levitate another being and herself at the same time, and with horosk churning inside her own stomach, she didn’t trust her pin point accuracy with biotics right now. However, there was not a lot of other options.

“Do you trust me to do this?” she asked.

“Mmph, yourr hairrr smells nice,” Garrus said and sniffed her ear. He was drawling those ‘r’s like there was no tomorrow.

Okay, biotic fall it is, she decided and pulled him towards the edge. It would be risky, but something about his behavior was really wrong right now. It was beyond making nice. He was flirting with her. Publius needed to cleanse the horosk from his system immediately.

“Ready,” she asked him and pulled him closer. Not really the best solution for his present state, but she had no other.

“Mmh, yes, rready,” he said and sniffed her again. This time his breath tickled down her neck in a way that was.. disturbing.

“Okay then, here we go,” she said and pushed both of them off the ledge. After two seconds she activated lift, and their descent slowed as they fell towards the ground. After their landing, Shepard saw a rustle of movement beside a container, and realized her ‘ground-team’ was still here, waiting for her.

“My carrrapace tickled,” Garrus said beside her. “Again?”

“Another time, Garrus. You need to help me get to Publius, remember?”

“Ssshure,” he drawled while trying to nuzzle her neck. What on earth had she agreed to with that head bump?

“Shepard?” Strabo took a few steps towards them.

Pointing to the top of the silo and mouthing the word ‘rifle,’ she managed to impart orders to him and he headed towards the ladder. His waiting companion was none other than Mevia, and Shepard waved her hand in the general direction of the strewn glass on the floor. Mevia nodded, and stepped forward with a hoover. They were already prepared. Shepard felt a surge of pride that was swiftly replaced with a surge of dread as Garrus tried to purr again. Mevia gave him a look of disbelief as Shepard started to drag him out of there. “You don’t hhhate me,” he said again, and she had to smile by the absurdity of the situation.

“No, I don’t. Come on, big guy. You and I have a date with the doctor.”

 

 

When Liscus saw the apparition of a vomit smelling Shepard practically carrying Garrus Vakarian slumped over her shoulder, he slammed down the emergency button several times to alert the medical staff. With only a short delay, doctor Publius came running down the hall, eyes searching for the incoming crisis, and his eyes narrowed when they landed on Shepard.

“You,” he hissed and reached into his pocket for another tranquilizer syringe. “What have you done this time?”

Shepard looked bewildered until she saw the needle in his talons, and flared a biotic shield one one hand, using the other to keep keep Garrus from falling down.

“Hey, hey, easy,” she said out loud, and it could be directed to either turian in her vicinity.

“What did you do to him,” Publius repeated angrily.

“Shhheparrrd liikes mee,” Garrus’ strangled purr said before she could answer the doctor. “We’re fffrriends nowwww.” The last sound was a deep unsteady rumble.

“He’s drunk,” Publius stated and stared at her. “Did you get him drunk? Have you taken advantage of him?”

“What? No!” she gasped.

“Yhes,” Garrus chirruped.

Between Shepard’s shocked expression and Garrus’ haywire subvocals, Publius didn’t know what to think. Placing the needle back in his pocket, he motioned to Garrus. She deactivated her shield, and Publius got close and together they hoisted Garrus up for transport.

“Help me get him to the emergency room, Shepard. And so help me, if you’ve done anything untoward to him, I’ll..”

“Stab me with that syringe, yeah, I know. Let’s help him first, all right?”

 

Shepard talked like a motormouth while Publius checked Garrus’ vitals and took blood samples. The horosk in particular worried him, as the young turian appeared to have mixed levo beer with turian horosk, creating a rather original reaction to the two types. Vakarian seemed enthralled by the human, longingly reaching for her whenever she had to step back during his examinations, and he keened when she shortly left to change her vomit soaked pants. When he’d finished taking the last sample, she was back at the young Vakarian’s side and spoke softly to him. Publius wondered if he was hallucinating himself. This level of care was a complete reversal to her attempt to injure him in the reception, and it didn’t seem like it was affected or for his benefit. When he attempted to get Garrus to swallow the fluids that would flush his system, he blatantly refused to take it until Shepard gently insisted that it was for his own benefit. After that he took it obediently. It had the side effect of making him drowsy, and Publius had other patients to check on. Shepard promised to stay by Garrus’ side until he returned, and she sat down beside the bed and tried to exchange pillow talk with a semi-conscious turian.

When he returned with the test results, Shepard got up, looking anxious.

“Is he okay?”

“He will be now. If you hadn’t brought him in, he might’ve suffered kidney failure. We’ll flush out the toxins and he’ll be good as new.” Publius caught Shepard’s eyes. “He might not remember all of tonight.”

A cynical smile curled in the corner of her mouth. “Of course he wont. We just agreed to settle our differences and work together, it makes sense with my luck that he can’t recall any of that tomorrow.”

“And you.. really didn’t get him drunk? You didn’t.. touch him?” Publius had to ask.

“No! I’d never to that to anyone under my command, and certainly not against their will.” She glared at him.

Publius chuffed, relieved. “I believe you. It’s just the way he kept talking to an about you. Made me think you’d been intimate.”

“No, we just talked. Oh, and he did that thing with our foreheads, but it’s no big deal,” she said in an off handed manner.

“No big deal?” Publius said astounded. “He told you he’s fond of you and it’s no big deal?”

“Fond of?” Shepard’s eyes widened. “Is that how turians kiss? Is that what he did?”

“He did it. I see,” Publius sighed. “Look, Shepard, that is a big deal to turians, they express fondness and trust with the gesture you so flippantly call ‘thing with foreheads.’ I’m surprised you don’t know this, considering.”

“Considering what?” Shepard asked in a suspicious tone.

“I have a patient that came in here and asked about bonding with a human.” Publius said, flicking his mandibles. “Your name came up. Patient confidentiality prevents me from saying more, but it led me to believe you might be more familiar with our ways than you let on.”

“Really?” He saw the tendons in her jaw tense.

“My patient confidentiality extends to you too. And considering you’re not denying the claim, I think it’s prudent to run a few test on you as well. Such a thing is unheard of in Citadel space, for good reason.” He pushed her over to an examination table and pulled out swabs and blood vials. “I’m very interested in your physiological response to the turian bonding pheromone. Sit still,” he snapped when Shepard tried to pull her wrist away from him. He jerked the shirt up, and saw burn marks and scars cover her arm.

“This is..” he began, but she cut him off.

“Nothing! If you want your blood samples and your saliva swabs, you’ll keep quiet about this. It’s between me and Vyrnnus, nobody else.”

“My responsibility as a doctor-...” he tried again, but again she stopped him.

“Is to the well-being of your patient. I’m telling you, as that patient, I’m well. You can either believe me and get first hand knowledge to a new phenomenon, or you can press on about this, in which case I’ll get Vyrnnus to tell you to back off. He wont be as polite as I am.”

“Difficult, aren’t you,” Publius said. “All right. But if I see that you are putting yourself in mortal danger out there, I will haul your ass back in here for a full examination, agreed? And you owe me brain scans as well.”

“Fine,” Shepard muttered.

Publius used a little more force than necessary when he jabbed her with the needle, but Shepard barely narrowed her eyes and continued to stare at the sleeping Garrus.

“How much will he remember?”

“How much do you remember after a night of binge drinking? It varies. Sometimes the whole day is gone, sometimes glimpses remain.”

“I don’t binge drink that often,” she said. “The occasional party in summer holidays. If you think security here is rigid, you should see my mothers liquor cabinet. It’s like Purgatory.”

Publius chuffed. “I can imagine.”

“Hey, doc… Can you keep this drinking thing under wraps? Garrus, I mean.”

“Shepard, that’s not.. I can’t lie about having him admitted here.”

“No, but you could say there was a lingering infection after that turian flu.”

He crossed his arms and stared at her.

“Why would you ask me to lie on behalf of this boy? You’ve never liked him before. Quite the opposite.”

“I’m aware. It’s just.. he had a vid-call from Palaven today. It really upset him. I think it made him drink all that stuff.”

“What was the call about?”

“I’d.. rather not say. It would be a breach of trust, even if he doesn’t remember it. Let’s just say I have a better understanding of him, and myself after tonight,” she said and met his eyes with a firm gaze.

“And if I say no?”

“Then I’ll say he suffers from levo poisoning after I tried to kiss him the human way,” she grinned at him.

“Spirits, not that. The Executor would arrive to arrest you himself.”

Shepard shrugged and smiled. “Those are your choices.”

Publius’ scientific curiosity won out over the need to file a rapport on teenage drinking.

“My scans. Tomorrow after class,” he said and picked up a saliva swab.

He kept her there for 20 minutes before letting her go back to her barracks, after assuring her that Garrus would be kept under close observation for the night.

Chapter Text

2174 CE – December 21st – Corinthus’ office – 06:45 AM

“Do you know why you’re here, Shepard?” Corinthus said with a sigh.

“I can make an educated guess, sir.”

“There was a break-in in the officer’s mess yesterday, and some alcohol was stolen. We suspect turians, since a bottle of horosk is also missing. My gizzard says your team.”

“Really, sir?”

“Oh yes. One student has been admitted to the sick bay with-..” he glanced at the rapport in front of him, “latent infection from early exposure. How strange that the medical information for this particular turian also shows that he took an immuno-booster and avoided the flu altogether.” He looked up from the datapad and raised a browplate at her.

“Was there a point to this, sir?”

“The carpet on Gagarin is rather large, but half the stuff under there is you and your squad. When is this going to stop?”

“Right now, sir. Vakarian and I will work together as a team from now on, you have my word on it. Any lingering issues between us, we’ll resolve it in the team.”

“This was one of your lingering issues?”

“Yes, sir. We’ve fixed them now. Vakarian had a little talk with his father, and, well.. uh, he got a little depressed. I have this in hand, sir.”

Corinthus sighed again and dropped back in the chair. “You have what, seven months left here, Shepard? When I see your shuttle leave Gagarin for the last time, I’ll drink what’s left of this station’s horosk by myself.” He leaned forward again and shot her a penetrative stare. “No more trouble from you or your squad, do I make myself clear?”

“Of course, sir. No more, sir.” Shepard barked while standing to attention.

“Good. You may leave.”

When Shepard marched out, Corinthus rubbed his crest and had a rare moment of self-pity. Shepard and Vakarian was going to be the death of him.

 

2174 CE – December 21st – Med Bay – 09:48 AM

When Garrus woke, he had a distinct feeling of being in the wrong place. His eyelids were stuck together, and the place smelled and sounded wrong. Not enough clattering talon feet and jabbering voices. The first thing he did was try and lift his hands to his face to clear his eyes, and was surprised to find his arms so heavy and sluggish. The hand that landed on his faceplates almost poked him in one eye. Something was definitely wrong. The next thing he noted was that his throat was parched. His tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth, and he felt like he’d swallowed an entire desert. Garrus tried opening his crusted eyes, and the light flooding his retina caused his head to explode in an ocean of agony. Letting out a pained squawk, he rolled over and tried to shield himself from the light as best he could.

The noise alerted a nearby nurse. She peeked quickly inside the doorway, and left to get a flask of water and a few painkillers. Upon her return, Garrus drank greedily and wolfed down the pills, before smiling gratefully at her. She had her long locks in a pony tail, and when she leaned over he caught a whiff of her hair. It was scented with an earth perfume many of the humans seemed to like, an earth flower called rose. She smelled nothing like Shepard's, Shepard was more like the grass in the meadow at his grandparents place. Garrus laid back on the bed. What happened yesterday? He talked to his father, stole that booze, and then.. What? He desperately tried to remember, before another thought weaseled its way into his mind, making his body go rigid. Shepard’s fringe! How did he know that?! He’d never allowed himself to sniff her. Not even in training. Not once. So how could he possibly know that?

Garrus tried feverishly to make his brain remember, but there were hours missing from his memory. He’d gone to the bar and stolen the beer and horosk, then… a rifle? He’d taken a rifle from the armory? Why? What had he done? The stress of not remembering caused his heart-rate to increase rapidly and the monitor on the side of the bed gave an alarming beep. He was too distracted to remove the sensor on his chest, and after a few minutes, doctor Publius appeared. Publius turned off the alarm and made some notes on a datapad.

“How are we feeling this morning, Vakarian?”

“That’s.. a good question,” Garrus said carefully. “How, uh, how should I be feeling?”

“Ashamed at being carried in here like a fledgling in his mother’s cowl, and hung over, but beside that, not too bad, would be my guess.”

“Carried in here? By whom?” Garrus dreaded the answer.

“Your illustrious squad leader. Quite frankly, I thought it was her fault that you ended up in that mess, but apparently you did that all by yourself. Congratulations.”

Garrus suspected this wasn’t the usual pillow talk a sick student got, but he wasn’t really sick, just suffering the aftermath of drinking.

“Am I in trouble,” he asked and looked down at the sheets.

“For what? Being ill is not a crime,” Publius said in a deliberate dense tone.

“You know what I meant. For the.. the drinking.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” Publius said again in a tone like he was speaking to a child. "This datapad says infection, and nothing else. Although you might owe your squad leader a new pair of sweatpants. The ones she carried you in with yesterday was ruined by regurgitation.”

The alarm on the monitor went off again, and Publius gave Garrus a deliberating look. Garrus himself was close to hyperventilating, and tried to control his breathing. It failed. He’d gotten himself drunk and spewed all over Shepard! Oh spirits! Oh ancestors. Oh titans of Palaven, she was going to tear off his dermal plates one by one.

“Are you joking?” he gasped between breaths. “Please tell me you’re joking.”

“No joke, I’m afraid. I don’t think she’s angry about that, she sat with you for an hour while I had to check on other patients.”

“That can’t be true,” Garrus whined in a high pitched tone, “did you have to resuscitate me when you came back?”

“Vakarian, don’t be so dramatic. Shepard merely kept an eye on you until you were sleeping, and asked if you would be okay.”

“Bet she was sad when you said yes,” Garrus murmured.

“Garrus Vakarian, that is enough!” Publius barked. “I’ve never heard so much drivel in a short time. Shepard was nothing but helpful and polite, and believe me, after your last incident in this hospital, I kept looking for any sign of the opposite. Instead, she sat here and held your paw while I tried to remedy the strange concoction of liquids you’d decided to use to poison your system. I’m quite frankly astounded by the level of hostility you throw at her, considering what you di-..” he trailed off as he saw Garrus’ horrified expression. “Never mind about that. Better for you to remember in your own time,” he said dismissively. He took some more notes and laid out some more pills for his patient, told him that he had to stay for the rest of the day and that visiting hours were after classes, then left with a grumble.

Garrus was thunderstruck. Publius had no reason to lie to him, unlike many others on the station. Shepard had dragged him to the hospital and apparently tended to him while he was out cold. And he’d regurgitated all over her. What made it worse, was the nagging sensation that he should’ve remembered the ‘deed’ Publius alluded to, because it was important, and the hazy memory was stuck behind a dark cloud, but felt like it was just at the tip of his tongue. What had he done? What had he said? Why was he not informed that his conduct was unbecoming and thrown out of here. Yesterday the information of his clan disgrace had almost broken him, but in the light of a new day he didn’t want to leave. He wanted to stay, to trade barbs with Mevia, spar with Argyle, laugh with Aius and see the look on Shepard’s face change from anger to proud approval. Shepard’s face.. had some amazing big gray eyes up close. Garrus winced and looked around, as if anyone was present and could spy on his thoughts. Visiting hours was several hours away, and he hoped some of his squadmates would come to see him. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to see Shepard, he wasn’t a glutton for punishment. But perhaps she wasn’t that upset? Maybe she would only yell at him? Did she expect them to report to Corinthus together on his behavior? It took a few seconds to realize that the keening subvocals in the room was his own, and he clamped down on it, feeling ashamed. Spirits, he was such a wimp.

 

2174 CE – December 21st – Med Bay Entrance – 15:45 PM

The squad was assembled in front of her, and Shepard decided to do one last check.

“What did we agree on? Aius, I’m looking right at you!”

Aius shimmied awkwardly under her stare. “We’re not to make fun of Garrus for this, because we’re supporting him,” he echoed her earlier speech.

“Good. Mevia?”

Mevia sighed and crossed her arms. “We’re not going to make a big deal out of the fact that we had to clean up all the broken glass after his drunken idiocy.”

Shepard coughed and gave her a stern glare.

Mevia raised her hands in defeat. “Not in those words, of course.”

“Fantastic. Argyle?”

“We’re to take it easy on Garrus in training the first couple of days, because he also has maintenance duty to deal with.”

Shepard smiled. “Almost there. Strabo?”

Strabo sighed. “We’re not to spread around that Garrus was drinking, just say it was the flu. Though how you managed to persuade the doc and the captain on that, you didn’t say.”

“Good. Now that’s all squared away, we can go in.”

“Wait a minute,” Aius protested, “why didn’t Castor or Nirea get asked anything?”

“Because they’re the nice ones on this team, and I know who the troublemakers are, Aius Uticensis. Now get your plated butt inside.”

Castor and Nirea snickered at Aius as they passed him. “Brown-nosers,” he murmured, but joined their snickering three seconds later.

 

“Hey, Garrus, the turian who is always late,” Aius announced as he entered the room. “How’s your form?”

“I’m a lot better, thanks,” Garrus replied and surveyed the squad as they piled inside. Six people and one patient was too many for the space allotted, and he registered with mixed relief and disappointment that Shepard didn’t fit into the now crammed room. Was she not around?

“Are, uh, are all of you here?” he asked carefully.

“Yep. Shepard is right behind us, she said something about saying hello to that Santiago fellow from squad three, you know, the leader? He’s in the room next door with a sprained wrist,” Argyle said.

“Is Santiago good looking for a human?” Strabo asked. “He is rather big and bulky.”

“If you like the strong and dark-haired type, I guess,” Argyle shrugged.

“He’s a moron,” Garrus snapped with more intensity than he had intended. He didn’t have anything particular against Santiago, but for some reason his plates itched by the fact that the human was considered attractive.

“What? Why?” Nirea gave him a disapproving look. “Santiago’s never done anything to us.”

“He hasn’t, but that squad of his has,” Garrus muttered.

“Yes, but he came down pretty hard on Erikson after that,” Strabo added. “We can give the guy a chance. Shepard certainly has.”

Garrus wasn’t the least bit happy about that, but was unwilling to think closer as to the reason why.

“How was today’s training?” he asked instead.

“It was awesome,” Castor smiled. “Shepard got permission from the captain to fight on the field with bean bag guns, and we wiped out squad 9.”

“Aaaaww, come on!” Garrus whined. “I’m in here and you do something fun! That’s not fair.”

“Not our fault you’re in here with-.. the flu,” Mevia finished after catching the stern look from Strabo.

“Ah, yeah.. the flu.. right,” Garrus said lamely, and everyone in the room tried looking everywhere else than at each other. The awkward silence lasted for a full minute, until there was a knock at the door, and Shepard’s voice carried through. “Is there room for one more?”

The squad looked at each other and chorused affirmatively, then as quickly as they piled in, they nodded to Garrus and piled out, leaving him at the mercy of their squad leader. Garrus’ mandibles twitched nervously. The hour of reckoning was upon him.

“Hi Garrus, how are you feeling?” Shepard smiled at him and sat down next to the bed.

This was a ruse, it had to be. She was just waiting to pounce on him, right?

“I’m fine,” he said giving her several quick glances and looking down just as fast.

“Good. You had me worried there for a moment. And you don’t have to worry about captain Corinthus, I’ve managed to smooth things over with him.” She left him a long pause so he could jump into the conversation, but her words left him speechless. Shepard had fought for him? What unholy spirits had caused that to happen?

“Okay, moving on,” she continued after perceiving she would get no reply on that subject, “how much do you remember about yesterday? Do you remember the silo?”

After clearing his throat he found some remaining brainpower to answer. “A rifle?” he guessed.

Shepard chuckled. “Yes, there was that. You were taking pot shots at beer bottles. Quite a lot of glass in there.”

“Spirits, I’m going to have to clean that up, don’t I?” he said miserably.

“Nope, I got some help for that. The rifle is back on its rack too. No worries.”

The feeling of nervousness was almost making him shiver. Why was she doing this?

“That’s.. all done?”

“Mhm. I fixed it. You just focus on getting out of here, I got the rest.”

The next question would be unbelievably embarrassing, but he had to know.

“Did I.. throw up on you?” His neck flushed a deep blue.

To his amazement, Shepard merely chuckled again. “Yes, you did do that. Horosk and beer doesn’t mix very well, does it. Don’t worry about it, I’m no worse for wear.”

“Doctor Publius said I did something, but he wouldn’t say what,” Garrus said.

“Did he? How much do you remember after the rifle, Garrus?”

“Not much,” he conceded. “It’s like hours is just gone.”

“I think we should wait until those hours catches up with you to talk about what happened. It’s.. difficult to explain. I’d hardly believed it myself unless I was there.”

“No, now! Please, just tell me,” he pleaded.

Shepard sighed. “Short version? You got drunk, shot at bottles, threatened to shoot me when I got on the silo, you put down the rifle, we talked and agreed to get along better. How’s that?”

“That’s.. unbelievable. As in I don’t believe it. What are you hiding?”

“I’m not hiding anything, as much as I am waiting for some of the details to catch up to you. Garrus, whatever you told me up on that roof, I’d never tell anyone else. Especially what regards your father.”

“My father?” Garrus voice was cold. “What did I tell you about my father?”

The thought of Shepard knowing about what his father told him would give her a huge advantage over him, not to mention she’d know his shame. He begged the spirits that this was not the case.

“I think that’s enough for now. We’ll talk about it later.”

“That’s it, is it? You pumped me for information when I was drunk, and now you want to lord it over me later?”

Shepard started coughing and put her hand over her mouth at the word pumped, but Garrus was beginning to seethe again and didn’t reflect on his choice of words, just stared at her, daring her to answer.

“No. You owe me nothing for this, and I won’t use it against you later. You have my word.”

“I don’t put a lot of stock in your promises, Shepard.”

“Well, then I just have to show you,” she said with a neutral tone.

She wasn’t even annoyed with him provoking her, and that angered him even more. “What did I tell you?” he asked again.

“Nothing that made me think any less of you. Ask me again when you remember more.”

“You didn’t think much of me to begin with.” Garrus knew he was trying to provoke another fight now, but her calm demeanor was infuriating. At his last comment, she cocked her head to one side as if she waited for a follow up comment from him, like there was something he knew, and that niggling feeling in the back of his mind grew worse.

“You really don’t remember,” she said sadly. “I hope it, well, most of it comes back soon. In the meantime, take it easy and don’t overexert yourself.

He scoffed and looked away, but the anger left him unsatisfied. Earlier, his anger towards Shepard could carry him through the roughest exercises, now it felt empty. She’d somehow stripped him of that too. Horrible human.

“Garrus, whenever yesterday comes back to you, or parts of it, come find me any time. I’ll make time for you whenever you need it.” She got up to leave.

Garrus was conflicted, on one hand he wanted to tell her to fuck off and never speak to him again, on the other hand, having her around was.. was.. he had no words for it. Just that she wreaked havoc with his entire being, and how dared she? He never asked for this.

“Oh, I almost forgot,” Shepard said and turned back. “I have something for you.”

“Don’t want anything from you,” he said, and he heard how petty it sounded.

“Good thing it’s not from me then,” she smiled and pulled out a small rectangular packet that he immediately identified. His gift from home.

“Here.”

She held it out to him, but he made no effort to take it.

“Go on, it’s yours. I have to bail, not supposed to stay too long here. Apparently I make Publius nervous and have to check in with him to make sure I haven’t done anything wrong,” she said and grinned at him. Garrus blinked slowly, flicking his eyes between her and the packet. Finally she shook her head slightly, and pushed the gift into his talons.

“Just don’t shoot at it again, you hear me? It fell on my head when I was about to climb that silo, and I knew something was wrong. You never miss, you’re just too good.”

At that he met her eyes and held them, confusion and bewilderment shining in his blue ones, against the comforting warmth of her gray.

“Garrus, it’ll be all right. We’ll figure this out, whatever you need.” She gave him a nod and left him alone with with his thoughts.

He stared at the packet and started to breathe faster, as if he’d run rounds around the track. The niggling feeling of forgetfulness had been joined with another feeling of deja vu. He’d lived this before. He’d seen this scene play out another time, another place, but his brain refused to cooperate. Instead it shut down and started giving out white hot lightning stabs of pain. Garrus gave up and picked up a pair of painkillers left by the nurse, unwrapped them and swallowed them without an afterthought. Perhaps a little sleep would help him unravel yesterday’s events. In the meantime he could check what his parents had sent him. Using a talon, he sliced open the bag and a small box with the inscription ‘Kuwashii.’ When he popped it open, it was a custom visor, possible to upgrade without changing the frame, perfect for a sniper. It had to be his mother’s doing. He remembered talking about something like this before he left, his mother had stroked his fringe and said ‘we’ll see.’ And he almost destroyed it because he was mad at his father. Spirits, how stupid could he get? Shepard had saved his father’s present. He blinked. Father’s? He meant mother, surely. Another white searing flash of pain made him jerk his head. Damn those slow pills. If only Shepard was here to pat his cowl. He blinked again. Shepard? What the blazes? His mother! Mother, not Shepard. It was the pills. Had to be. They scrambled his mind and caused him to make mistakes like this. Garrus laid back on the bed and fluffed the pillow to better support his fringe. A few hours of sleep and he’d feel a lot better. Just before he fell asleep, he remembered something else.

Since when did Shepard call him Garrus?!

 

2174 CE – December 21st – Library – 20:06 PM

When she entered the library and climbed the stairs to the second floor, she could see Chellick sitting in her usual place, waiting for her lessons with the commander to end. However, Captain Vyrnnus had unexpectedly left the station again, and nobody knew why, but she didn’t complain. It meant she had time to have a little fun with her boyfriend, and she crouched down, pulled a newly made ‘mating stick’ out of her bag and stealthed along a line of shelves. Chellick was too absorbed in his datapad to notice her, and when she was about two meters behind him, she swung the stick and hit in the back of his fringe with a soft ‘whack’.

“Hey!! What the..!”

The chair toppled over and the table was pushed back with force as he fought his way to his feet. He glared around until he found the culprit, doubled over in a fit of laughter.

“It’s the time of the mating stick,” Shepard gasped between snickers, “You have to come with me to my cave.”

“You!” he said, struggling to decide between happiness and accusation. “How dare you sneak up in innocent turians to have your way with them? Have you no shame?”

“Nope,” she grinned and was in his arms the next second, eagerly seeking his mouth plates for a hot kiss. Chellick generously obliged, he loved to taste his human girlfriend, much more than he’d let on to Emerus and Celsus, lest they got ideas of their own. When they broke for air, he pulled her even closer and hummed against her hair.

“How did it go with your little rebel? Celsus told me you was roped in by one of your squad members yesterday, and since Vakarian was not on the field today..”

“He’s better. Some trouble from home, but I hope we got that sorted out.”

“That’s not all there is to the story, is it?”

“Nah, but it’s between Garrus and me. I can’t tell on him, even to you.”

“I’d never ask you to, just checking how my girlfriend’s day was going,” he purred and sniffed her hair while rubbing his face in it. Turians had a real obsession with fringes, she mused and stroked her fingers along his waist. The purr deepened.

“So, I just have to ask. What does it mean when a turian presses his or hers forehead to someone else’s forehead?”

The purr stopped instantly.

“Why do you ask?” Chellick said in a suspicious tone.

“Uh, no reason.”

“Jane, don’t skirt the truth on this. Not on this topic.”

“Someone may or may not have put their forehead to mine,” she said tentatively.

“Basically, someone did,” Chellick said, and Shepard had rarely heard him get so angry so fast.

“It was that Vakarian boy, wasn’t it? I’ll rip his talons off.”

She took a step back and stared at him. Where did this rage come from?

“You will do no such thing, Decian Chellick! What happened was between me and him, it has nothing to do with you.”

“It has everything to do with me,” he snarled. “suavis tactu is not for casual encounters.”

“I haven’t had any ‘casual’ encounters since I met you, so careful what you assume,” she warned.

Chellick’s mandibles twitched in anger, and he clenched and unclenched his talons in a disturbing way.

“Not you,” he hissed. “Him! How dare he!”

“Okay, someone needs to calm the fuck down,” Shepard said testily. “Garrus wasn’t.. completely in his right mind when he did it, and you need to let this go.”

“No! It’s disrespectful. What do you mean, not in his right mind?” Chellick gave her a disbelieving stare.

Shepard took one of his clenched hands and entwined her soft fingers around his talons so he could no longer sharpen them. She placed the other around his waist, sneaking her fingers into his shirt in a very unsubtle way of trying to distract him. Chellick saw the blatant attempt for what it was, but was helplessly suckered into it and pressed into her hand.

“What I’m about to tell you can go no further, its’ between us, all right?” she said, kneading the soft hide under her fingertips.

“Mmmpgh, yes,” he agreed, sounding less angry by the second.

“Garrus was drunk off his hind plates when he did it,” she said and continued to knead his waist, “and today he had no recollection of the whole thing.” She leaned her forehead to the side of his keel bone. “The worst part was, we’d agreed to stop fighting, and he remembers none of that either. He’s still just as angry as he was two days ago.”

“I.. see,” Chellick said and swallowed, trying to focus on her words and not her hand. “You know I know you’re trying to manipulate me, right?” he said with a strangled chuckle.

“Oh I know. It’s working too,” she smiled at him.

“Mmph, sadly, yes,” He was back to purring again. “It’s just.. the suavis tactu is for serious relationships, for promises and loved ones. I should have been the first turian to do that, since I was your first turian to.. to...” he stopped, unsure of where to go from here.

Shepard struggled to keep a straight face. “Have me?” she said with a look of innocence.

“Spirits, yes,” he moaned as she ghosted his groin plates with the other hand.

“How about we let that poor forgetful turian in the hospital be, and you can have me as many times you want tonight,” she said and continued her teasing of his plates. They were loosening up as she spoke.

“Uuuh, a hard bargain,” he said trying to remain stern.

“Looks like I’ll be getting the hard bargain soon,” Shepard smiled, and licked his left mandible. This teasing was having an effect on her too, and she hoped nobody else would come into the library.

“I have… I have a condom,” Chellick moaned.

“Good. Put it on then,” Shepard smiled and released him, then walked over to the table he’d pushed away, pulled down her undersuit and hopped up on it. Chellick quickly fished out the condom, pulled down his own suit and rolled it on, then he was taking his rightful place between her legs and pushed her back on the table. “Spirits, I could smell you from a mile away,” he growled and lined up against her. Shepard closed her eyes and let herself get swept away with the current as Chellick pushed himself inside her to the hilt, and cast a silent prayer to his spirits that they would not be disturbed.

 

2174 CE – December 21st – Med Bay – 01:17 AM

Garrus woke with a start and sat bolt upright in bed. The images in his dreams were still vivid as if it played out right in front of him, but with no apparent meaning. They were jumbled and scattered, sharp edges that he cut himself on whenever he tried to focus, nothing but small pieces of a whole he couldn’t fathom. He saw himself, pointing a rifle at Shepard, then a sudden shift to a memory when Shepard said she liked him the day they met, another shift and they were floating down from a great height, her arms wrapped around him in a safe embrace. The even more confusing part were childhood memories he’d almost forgot, standing on the Presidium walkways and dreaming of going to the top, having his marking day present both stolen and returned by an alien. It was a mess, and he tried to steady his heavy breathing, telling himself they were nothing but silly dreams. They weren’t connected with real life, he assured himself, not in.. any… way… Another image reappeared, himself locked with Shepard in suavis tactu, staring into the warmth of those gray eyes. Like the eyes of the alien that had returned his scope that day. A human girl. With.. with a krogan guardian.. His brain struggled to catch up as he mouthed the words; ‘Go on, it’s yours. I gotta bail, not supposed to do that to other kids.’ Oh no.. Oh no no no no no… This wasn’t real. It was a bad dream. The alien he’d admired as a child for standing up to bullies was Shepard? The worst bully on the station?

I’m sorry I hurt you, Garrus. There’s not a thing in my life I regret more.’

“No,” he whispered to the dark. “It never happened. She would never admit to that.”

Actually, I… I wish that we could get along better. I don’t expect you to want us to be friends, but we can..Well, I know I can stop being such an asshole to you at all times. What do you think?”

By all the spirits, what had happened up there on that roof? None of this made any sense.

His breath hitched as one last image formed in his head. Himself, reaching out in despair for the only living creature in his vicinity that had shown any empathy for him, hiding his shame in her neck and clinging to her like she could stop him from drowning.

It’s okay, I got you. I got you, big guy. We’ll fix this. Its’ you and me, against the rest.’

Garrus almost forgot to breathe. She’d held him like a fledgling while he bawled on her shoulder, and never said a word against him. This wasn’t like her. And crying on her shoulder was nothing like him.

He needed the anger towards her to fuel his fight, but today she’d rolled with the punches and accepted ever poke and barb with an amicable smile. He needed her angry, he needed the distance. He definitely needed to unknow what her fringe smelled like, but he could never take that back. Shepard was still one of those people that got away with everything, one moment of weakness on his part didn’t change this. Garrus ignored every argument in Shepard's favor. He was humiliated, angry, confused, and he found he could blame all of this on Shepard. Just because she was nice, didn’t mean he had to accept this. It was too late. She would learn that as soon as he got out of here.

They would never be friends.

Chapter Text

 

2174 CE – December 25st – Field Exercise – 11:03 AM

Squad Four was having a really bad day. They’d been having a joint game of tool-tag with squad three, and the cooperation, to put it blunt; sucked. The meaning behind the squad merger was clear, to work on the animosity between Squad Four and Three, but while the two separate teams themselves had a hard time working together, the unity in Squad Four was struggling worse. Garrus was doing his utmost to piss off Shepard, and while she mostly ignored his outbursts, she’d also forbidden the rest of the squad to lash out at him. Mevia in particular resented this turn of events, as she saw Garrus’ upstart pretensions as a threat to her own flawless record. She really wanted to shake his crest loose.

“Vakarian, why are you not in position,” she whispered over the comms.

“I found a better spot, moving there now,” he reported back.

“No! Get back to your assigned position, if you leave, Nirea won’t be covered!”

“I’ll only take a second,” he hissed back.

“Follow orders! You little..”

There was a loud beep, and Nirea was out of the game.

“Dammit! Vakarian, that’s on you!” Mivea yelled.

“If you hadn’t distracted me, I would’ve gotten there on time,” he shouted back.

“Knock it off, you two,” came Shepard’s stern voice on the comms, “make do with what we have left. We’ll discuss the loss of Nirea later.”

“Bet your plates we are,” Strabo said and glared at Vakarian’s new position. It was undoubtedly a better spot, but they were one turian down by his hasty decision. Garrus had no right to flaunt orders and do whatever he pleased on the battlefield no matter how upset he was with their leader.

“Everything under control, Shepard?” Santiago sounded concerned.

“Just a minor disagreement, we’ll deal with it,” she replied calmly.

“Whatever..” Garrus less than tactful reply was heard over the open channel.

There was no other sound in the observation room other than Shepard’s fingers tapping furiously at her terminal. Santiago wisely refrained from speaking. This was an internal matter on Four, and he would not get involved for all the nutri-bars on the station.

 

2174 CE – December 25st – Classroom 2 – 17:49 PM

“What were you thinking, Vakarian?” Mevia was the first in the room to voice what the rest of the squad was thinking.

“The position I chose was better for the layout of the field,” Garrus said defiantly. “I could have covered the entire squad from up there.”

“Except you didn’t,” Nirea growled and pointed and accusing talon at him. “I got killed, and that’s on you!”

“That was because Mevia slowed me down.”

“Don’t you fucking dare blame me for this,” Mevia roared. “I’m not the one making up the rules as I go along. You follow orders in the field, or else we’re all dead.”

“The orders were wrong,” Garrus shouted back.

“Why do you think orders were wrong,” Shepard said in a dead calm tone. The squad stopped bickering at once and stared at Garrus.

“Because… because I would had line of sight to everyone, and could have covered our backs without exposing myself to the enemy.” He met her eyes with a glare, daring her to contradict him.

“You’re right, it was the better position.”

Garrus smirked.

“Which is why a member of squad Three was on her way from the east to take that position and provide cover for all of us. You took it upon yourself to think your superiors was not aware of this, and acted prematurely. As a result, one of your teammates is dead.”

The smirk vanished. “Oh.” Garrus glanced around at his squad mates who were glaring at him. “I didn’t know.”

“No, because you weren’t supposed to know, you were supposed to follow orders.” Usually Nirea was the mediating one on the team, but right now she was angry.

“Hey guys, let’s take things down a notch.” Argyle stepped between the two turians. “We all learned something today, that’s the important thing.”

“Argyle’s right. What’s done is done. Only fivex remains until the field exam in February, and teamwork will be the deciding factor.” Shepard smiled her lopsided grin that made her cut lip curl upward. “In the field exam I will be participating with you, so we need to practice the chain of command. Mistakes are allowed in training, not on the field. Okay? We’re not pointing any more fingers today, just hit the showers and get some food. Garrus, you have other duties to attend to.”

“Off course I do,” he mumbled and skulked out of the classroom.

After he left, Strabo turned to Shepard. “You let him get away with too much!”

“Strabo, you don’t now the whole history, let him run it off in a harmless way before the exam. If he doesn’t improve his attitude before fivex, I’ll have another word with him.”

“If he doesn’t shape up, we can ‘friendly fire’ him on day one of the field exam,” Mevia grumbled.

“I did not hear that,” Shepard said loudly as she walked out.

 

2174 CE – December 25st – Mess Hall – 21:12 PM

The meat on the tray in front of him was steaming hot, and kheelie was one of Garrus’ favorites, but he had no appetite. He kept shoving the meat strips around the plate, too annoyed to eat them. Why hadn’t she yelled at him today? He’d done something stupid and reckless, and she’d let him off with hardly a talking to. Why couldn’t she be like her old self? Instead, he was caught between self-loathing for showing weakness in front of her, and anger towards her for allowing him to do it. She should have pushed him away. Shouted at him. Called him a weakling and laughed at him, not.. not cuddling him like a fledgling, like a friend. The memories of that fateful night had returned in full, and the humiliation he felt over his actions threatened to suffocate him whenever he thought about it. The warbling, the forehead press, throwing up in her lap, his drunken ravings about Shepard being his friend, all of it stuffed in his gizzard like gravel. For the last five days, nothing he did caused her the consternation she caused him. Garrus stabbed a piece of meat with his fork. Stupid food. Stupid Shepard.

“Have you cooled down yet?” Castor had appeared and sat down beside him.

“I’m not bothered by today,” Garrus blatantly lied.

“Good. Now this is probably a waste of time, but the rest of us are planning on giving Shepard something for the human holiday, since she gave us those treats on unification day, remember?”

“She never did that, that was Nirea,” Garrus said dismissively.

“Uh, no, that was Shepard,” Castor said smiling, “she was in the quarantine bay and gave us a whole bag.”

“Then why did Nirea.. oh..” Garrus’ eyes narrowed. “She tricked me!”

“Who, Nirea?”

“Both of them! They lured me to eat something from Shepard!”

Castor rolled his eyes. “Oh yes, a conspiracy theory for the ages. Cruel Shepard tricks Vakarian to have a snack. Get over yourself, Garrus, she didn’t mean any harm, and it was a nice gesture.”

“I don’t want nice,” Garrus said testily.

“Okay then. I’m guessing you won’t chip in a vendor token for a couple of nutri-bars for Shepard?”

“No!”

“Fine. It’s just us six then. Would have been a nice thing if we had the whole squad, but..”

“Forget it!”

Castor got up with a sigh. “You know, this petulance of yours is getting old real fast.”

“Whatever.”

Castor opened his mouth to say something else, but stopped himself just in time. “Right. Whatever. Real mature, Vakarian.”

After he’d left, Garrus ate the meat strips out of spite. He owed her nothing, and would give her nothing.

 

2174 CE – December 27st – Holo-vid Call Room – 20:01 PM

The vid-screen flickered briefly, and then her mother’s face came into view.

“Hi sweetheart, and merry Christmas to you,” Hannah’s smiling face said light years away.

“Merry Christmas mom,” Jane smiled back. “How’s everyone on Arcturus?”

“Oh, they’re much the same, from last I head. Jeffrey still wants to be a pilot, he’s very adamant about that. His parents are going a bit crazy, because he applied for flight school and got early acceptance without their approval.”

“Wow, that’s great! Can’t wait to tell him myself,” Jane grinned. “He can fly me around next time I need a skycar cabbie.”

“Jane, be nice,” Hannah said more out of old habit than anything else.

“Jeff’s all right with it, he doesn’t want to be treated differently. He can take a joke.”

“From you, maybe, but a lot of other people will be giving him a hard time.”

“Not when I’m around,” Jane said still grinning.

“So confident. Wonder who you take after.”

“It’s a mystery. Tell me some Alliance gossip, I’m dying to hear some news from the outside.”

Hannah contemplated that for a second. “Well, there’s increased pirate activity in the Skyllian sector. We’re seeing some rivalry among the different groups, the Blood Pack is duking it out with the Blue Suns, and the Eclipse is waiting for the other two to exhaust themselves before swooping in on the cadaver. A lot of betrayal and backstabbings.”

“If there’s increased pirate activity in that sector..” Jane began, but Hannah laughed it away.

“Can’t tell you where the Orizaba is stationed, sorry honey.”

“Ah, worth a try. Anything else?”

“Those turians are making trouble again,” her mother said with a slight sneer on her face. “They keep saying if we can’t keep the peace in our own sectors, the Citadel might as well give those areas to the batarians. Insufferable blow-hards.”

“Ahaha,” Jane chuckled nervously. “Those turians, at it again. Do you think we’ll ever truly get along with them?”

“Not like this we aren’t,” Hannah said shortly. “They think they’re better than us. We’ll show them otherwise.”

“Uh, yeah..” This was not the direction this conversation should be going. “Erm, what kind of Christmas celebrations are you having on the Orizaba?”

“Oh,” Hannah said, surprised at the sudden change of topic, “we have some small decorations, nothing much, this is a ship of the line after all. I believe one of the lieutenants have a mistletoe hidden away somewhere. That’s about it. How about Jump Zero? I can’t imagine you have a big celebration there.”

“Nah, a few decorations here as well. Some friends of mine gave me a set of nutri-bars with berry flavor,” Jane grinned.

“How nice of them,” Hannah said warmly. “I’m glad you have good friends on the station. Can’t be easy with all those turians around.”

“Uhm.. It gets easier after a while,” Jane said carefully. “They’re mostly just kids like us.”

“Just be vigilant, Jane. I’ve heard that the Vakarian clan have a representative on the station. They’re not to be trusted.”

Jane shifted uncomfortably. “I understand. I’ll.. keep an eye out for him. Or her! Whichever it is.”

“That’s good, Jane. Now, tell me about your biotic studies, are you getting better?”

Jane put on her poker face and prepared to tell her mother the story she wanted to hear, while avoiding the reality of life on Gagarin Station.

 

2175 CE – January 05th – Armory – 18:45 PM

“Thanks for helping us stacking these,” Strabo said and hoisted the last crate on the shelf.

“No problem. I had some time available since the commander has been gone for almost a week now,” Shepard smiled at him and Aius. “Don’t know what takes him away from the station, but it’s nice to have a breather.” Just as she said that, the omni-tool on her wrist gave a warning buzz. Shepard felt blood drain from her face. Speak of the devil. He was back, and not in a good mood, according to the message.

Gym in 30. Training suit. Do not be late.’

Whenever he’d been away, it was always a gamble whether he’d return in a reasonable state of mind, or as close to reasonable he could get, or in a raging fit of suppressed anger he took out on her. She could guess what this was.

“Sorry, guys, I have to run. See you tomorrow.” She hurried out of there, and didn’t notice that Aius had been peeking over her shoulder the whole time.

“Strabo,” Aius said in a strangled tone.

“What?” His friend was busy writing the last crate labels.

“I saw it.”

“Saw what?”

“The message from Vyrnnus. I know where they are going to train?”

“What!?” Strabo jerked his head up and stared at Aius. “You’re not kidding me with this?”

“No, but it’s like, real soon. We’ll miss dinner if we go.”

“Who cares, it’s only paste today anyway. Let’s get the others and go!”

“Even Vakarian?”

“Who cares about him? If he’ll come, he’ll come, if not, so what. I’m tired of his shit anyway.”

They locked the armory and practically ran the whole distance to the barracks.

 

2175 CE – January 05th – Gymnastics Hall – 19:10 PM

Squad Four had hunkered down on one of the observer balconies surrounding the hall. They were normally in use during exhibition matches and when a judge was needed for overseeing a competition, but with Garrus’ maintenance card they easily got in. All seven of them were crouched down and signaling each other to be quiet. Only a stroke of luck had revealed Vyrnnus' impromptu training, and they eagerly awaited his and Shepard’s appearance. Shepard was a relentless hard-ass in every class, but while she drove them hard, she kept silent about her own training. The one exception to this rule was that one time she’d let it slip to Strabo she needed remedial biotics training. They were all in agreement that this had been a lie, but none of them knew why. Strabo had been searching for this opportunity for months, and he would be damned before he let it slip away. His biggest concern was Garrus tagging along. The stubborn kid had brought along his brand new visor and strapped it to his face. Show-off.

 

Garrus swept his eyes around the room, and the visor kept flashing all available parameters straight into his eye. This thing was awesome. What made it even better, was the recording capability he’d found yesterday, both image and sound. It was like the spirits had guided him, and now he could record for posterity whatever Shepard was trying to hide from them, maybe shove it in her face later. His entire body tingled with anticipation. He adjusted the color range and hoped they would not wait long. Somewhere to the left Aius whispered that maybe Shepard and Vyrnnus was bedmates, and hid in here to fuck, to a chorus of soft chuffing laughs.

The doors swung open and Vyrnnus strode in, Shepard in tow. Garrus quickly pressed play. Vyrnnus motioned toward the center of the hall, and when Shepard passed him trying to chow down a nutri-bar he smacked it out of her hand. The blueberry bar rolled along the floor.

“No eating in training, human! Why can your kind never follow orders, not on the station, not in the real world? I have to repeat myself, again and again.”

She gave him a tired look. “That's all I've had today, I need-”

“You need to remember your position, Shepard. Either training with me or first shuttle out of here. And in my classes, I set the rules.”

She nodded quietly and went into the ring, turning to face the commander.

The team was bewildered. This demure cadet was not their fierce leader, this was a resigned recruit who awaited the inevitable.

“Defense, Shepard. Prepare yourself.”

She’d barely flared a shield when Vyrnnus hit her with a charge that resonated through the hall. Shield barely holding, he hit her with another blast that shattered her defense before he sent her tumbling backwards with a kick to the abdomen. Garrus thought he might have heard a small cracking sound, but he could have been wrong.

“Pathetic. Again,” Vyrnnus voice rang out as Shepard struggled to get up and flared another shield. He hit her with a reave that shattered it instantly and caused her cry out as she fell down again.

“Is this it, Shepard? All these months of training, and one attack have you on all fours before me.”

She stumbled back up and evaded his next attack, before she reacted instinctively to the advancing turian and hit him with a charge of her own straight towards his chest. Vyrnnus blocked it and was on her before she could muster another shield of her own.

“Defense I said,” he snarled, striking her in the face, “something wrong with those big ears?”

She pushed him off and tried to block as he swiped her with his talons, blood seeping from the open gashes on her arm.

There was a collective gasp among the hidden team. That was not how the military was supposed to train. You didn't purposefully injure your training partner, even this barefaced turian should know that. As the team kept watching it became apparent that Shepard and Vyrnnus were not training as equals, but as tyrant and underling. With increasing horror they saw how Vyrnnus hit Shepard with practically every biotic attack in his arsenal and refused to let her fight back. Every time her shield failed, he beat or slashed her in retribution. Every time she failed, more blood trickled on the ground and into her suit. The situation was made worse by the fact that is was impossible to leave without being caught,because the doors had noise alerts. They had to watch the whole ordeal. Shepard tried to defend, and Vyrnnus beat her down. Every defeat accompanied by taunts and slurs, and yet every time Shepard hoisted her damaged body up for another round.

In the end, the metallic smell of the red blood filled the hall, and the turian squad members felt nauseated by the scent. After almost 90 minutes even Garrus was appalled. Vyrnnus shattered the final shield she managed to conjure, and lifted her up by her throat. “Pitiful,” Vyrnnus snarled and punched her in the ribs. This time there was a definite cracking sound. He dropped her to the ground and stared indifferently at her. Shepard was bloody, broken and soundly defeated. She couldn't get up anymore. Vyrnnus shoved her with his armored boot and scoffed at the limp wheezing body.

“We're done here, Shepard. Get to the medic. Tomorrow you must do better, or I'll do worse.”

He walked out, leaving her on the floor. The team stayed silent, watching as Shepard slowly crawled over to a rail and pulled herself up. Blood trickled from her nose and the corner’s of her mouth, and her arms shook. She spat blood and swayed as she tried to find her legs again. They heard a soft “fuck” before Shepard began to leave the hall, limping heavily and clutching her side. Halfway down she fell to the ground and coughed up more blood.

“Spirits, what are we going to do? She can’t stay there,” Castor whispered.

“I’ll go down and help,” Strabo said and moved to get up.

“No, wait!” The doors were opening again, and another turian came in.

“Shepard? Are you in here?” It was Decian Chellick. “She-.. Oh no! Shepard!”

He ran over to her and pulled her gently to her feet, clutching her in his arms. “Why didn’t you tell me he was back? Spirits, your face!”

“’m still gorgessh,” she smiled at him through a broken lip.

Chellick let out a strangled chuff. “Yes you are. And we’re going to Publius, no arguments!”

“’kay.”

Without any further delay, Chellick picked up Shepard and carried her in his arms out of there. Garrus’ visor zoomed in on their faces, and he saw Chellick very carefully put his nose in Shepard’s hair. Behind him he heard Mivea whisper something to Strabo, and Garrus missed Chellick’s last word to Shepard. When the two of them was gone, he turned around, trying not to face his squadmates.

 

Sneaking out the way they came, once outside they finally found their voices.

“I wondered why she always refused to take off her shirt.” Nirea’s quiet voice was sad.

“She carries some extra medigel in her kit,” Aius added. “I saw it a couple of weeks ago. I shouldn’t have joked about her and Vyrnnus.”

“No wonder she hates turians.” Garrus was surprised he had said that aloud.

“She doesn’t hate turians.” Castor glared at him. “I heard Chellick had a thing for her, looks like it might be true,” he added.

“Do you think Shepard likes Chellick?” Aius asked.

They stared at him.

“Shepard has a thing for Decian Chellick? Are you on sand? They’re just friends,” Mevia said.

“Not a chance..”

“There's no way..”

“Hey, just spreading a rumor. If he likes her, though..”

Garrus sneered at him. “Why would anyone like Shepard? Besides feeling a little sorry for her getting beat up, there is nothing to like. She's ruthless, hard, calculating and downright mean.”

“Oh stop, you're making my plates loosen.” Aius grinned at Garrus, but the rest of the squad glared at their unfriendly teammate.

“She never surrendered, even though she was half dead at the end. Not bad for a biotic nutcase. If only she was turian.”Aius’ subvocals brimmed with admiration. He’d missed that the mood was changing against Garrus.

“I think this is part of the deal she made after her first encounter with you, Vakarian. Training your squad and private training with Vyrnnus. You heard what he said about first shuttle out of here.” Strabo looked as deadly as he sounded. “Looks like you’ve been getting payback for months now. How about you give us a little more whine on how horrible you’ve been treated?”

Garrus was sick to his stomach of the blood bath he’d just witnessed, but his stubborn pride refused him to go down without a fight.

“Just because she got slapped around a few times today, doesn’t mean she wouldn’t fuck things up for me while I’m here. I know she-…”

 

There was a loud smack as the always gentle Castor slapped Garrus across the face. Garrus looked shocked.

“Shut up, Vakarian. I’ve never met a more self-absorbed idiot in my life.”

The rest of the squad took a step back.

“So Shepard did something bad. She definitely got punished for it. Shepard is mean to you? Who do you think fixed it so you could get food outside normal hours? Who came and gave us snacks when we were sick? I know you got some of that too. Who talked the captain out of canning your sorry hide from the program after Erikson? Who made Strabo and Mevia clean up your mess in the storage hall and covered for you with Corinthus again? And did she ever say a word about you regurgitating all over her before she dragged you to sickbay? Fuck you! High tier bastard.” He turned around and marched off.

“Uh, yeah. That was... constructive,” Nirea said, trying to ease everyone out of the awkward situation. “Let’s just think about this until tomorrow and decide what to do then.”

The squad dispersed in silence.

 

Garrus sent a message to the chief engineer that he’d been feeling ill and therefor hadn’t showed for duty. The chief accepted his excuse without further questions. Returning to the barracks wasn’t a tempting option and Garrus decided to hide out in the locker room. Shepard would not be returning there tonight, she’d probably spend the night in Med bay. He sat down in front of his locker. After making sure no one else was around, he reset the vid and started watching the recording again.

The sight of Shepard coughing up her own blood made him physically ill, but he forced himself to watch it again. He saw Vyrnnus use his talons on her like he’d used his talons on Erikson in this very room. The sound of ribs cracking and Shepard crawling along the floor. A feeling of shame and disgust much worse than the ones caused by his drunken night washed over him, but he had no words to describe the changing emotions in his chest. He was still angry with her, but now he was also disappointed with himself. He wished she could be free of Vyrnnus so he could hate her in peace, not being forced to feel this great surge of pity welling up inside. And she’d gone out of her way to help him, he really disliked her for that. And yet.. ‘I don’t hate you, Garrus.’

There was a piece of the story missing. Garrus pressed fast forward until the part where Chellick appeared, clearly looking for Shepard. She’d made a joke to lighten his mood, and he pressed his nose in her hair. This wasn’t enough proof. Perhaps Chellick thought she wouldn’t notice. He fiddled with the audio, trying to block out the voices behind him and focus on the two down on the floor. The visor wasn’t made for this, but he managed to enhance Chellick’s word a little. Except it wasn’t words. Chellick was purring at Shepard. Garrus paused the vid and stared blankly into the room. He blinked several times, and turned slowly towards the showers.

As if in a trance, he started taking off his undersuit, and walked into the newly repaired disaster zone. The stall he was looking for was rebuilt in the same space, but they had not replaced the floor tiles. A turian.. with a human. There could only be one pairing. A fresh mixture of shame and arousal hit him as he placed his own feet over the scratch marks on the floor. The human trapped between the wall and the turian. Garrus knew what he was doing was perverse, but he was a young turian under a lot of stress. Turning on the shower, he let the steaming hot water flow down his chest. It felt nice. He closed his eyes and leaned on the wall, pretending he was pressed against a female. His mind conjured up the smell of the grass of a palaveni summer meadow, and his hand felt its way down between his legs and stroked the seam between his already loosened plates. This was wrong. He knew it. He’d just seen her hurt and injured, and then in the arms of another male. He just couldn’t help it. His breath hitched as his cock slid into his hand in under a minute, and his subvocals thrummed out his lust loud and clear. Only a bad turian would succumb to something like this. A. Very. Bad. Turian. He worked his cock at a furious pace, imagining a pair of gray eyes staring into his as he had the female at his mercy, took her, claimed her, marked her and..

In less than three minutes, he found his release and ejaculated all over the wall, moaning loudly at each spurt. After having spent his entire pent up reserves of semen, Garrus slowly opened his eyes and felt another twinge of humiliation hit him. How was he supposed to look Shepard in the eyes after this?

He hosed down the stall and himself and walked back to the locker room to get dressed. The turians in squad Four could probably smell what he’d done tomorrow. After what they’d seen tonight, they’d think he was a deviant too. And rightly so. In the dark, Garrus keened quietly and hung his head in shame.

Chapter Text

2175 CE – January 05th – Med Bay – 22:13 PM

Since he’d been told to wait in the hallway, Chellick had paced it up and down, waiting for the doctor to come back out. He tried his best to avoid looking at the blood on his clothes. After putting Shepard down on the examination table, she’d given him a grateful smile and asked hoarsely if he would wait. Like he would ever have considered anything else. It felt like forever, but finally the door opened and Publius came out, looking grim.

“Still here, I see. Care to tell me what happened?”
“She didn’t tell you?” Shepard wouldn't want him to tell, but lying was not Chellick’s strong suit, and now he was trapped.

“She told me something, all right. Training accident? Must’ve fallen from the ropes quite a few times to cause that, and landed on broken glass every time.”

“I wasn’t there,” Chellick mumbled. “I just found her.”

Publius sighed. “Recruit Chellick, I will have to report this. The report will end up in front of Shepard's commanding officer, who is at this point-..”

“Commander Vyrnnus,” Chellick whispered, looking thunderstruck. “Please don’t. He’ll think Shepard told on him.”

“On him? Vyrnnus is doing all of that?” Publius demanded.

Chellick looked down and clenched his talons. “Can’t say.”

“Didn’t deny it either.”

“Look, it’s.. complicated! She has to obey, or she has to leave. No two ways about it. I can’t say anything else, please..” Chellick clamped his mandibles to his jaw.

“You’re placing me in a very difficult position here, recruit. I can’t allow one of my charges to be abused under my care. This is the reason so much medigel has been taken from the gel-stations around Gagarin?”

Chellick’s only reply was his distressed humming subvocals. Publius flicked his mandibles and gazed at him for a long minute. Even if his second voice box betrayed him, Chellick would not answer more questions.

Publius shook his head. “Go in and see her. I’m going to attend some other patients.”

Chellick gave him a relieved smile and slipped inside Shepard’s room.

Publius keyed up his omni-tool and punched in Vyrnnus’ number. ‘Student in Med-Bay. Strange injuries. Meet at my office now.’

If those two weren’t going to tell the whole story, he’d talk to the head trainer of the biotics himself.

 

15 minutes later Vyrnnus was standing in front of Publius’ desk with an expression of willful ignorance. Publius hadn’t expected to feel worried in the company of a fellow turian, but Vyrnnus had a reputation, and now that he saw the male in person, he was beginning to understand why.

“Your reason for summoning me here is an injured student? Students get injured all the time,” Vyrnnus said with a sly smile.

“Not all of them by design,” Publius said, flaring his fringe. “The injuries of the biotic is not consistent with any form of regulated training I’ve seen on this station. I will have to report this.”

“So be it. I will look forward to reading your findings with interest,” his barefaced compatriot said with disinterest.

“Not only to you. It has come to my attention that you might be the cause of some of these injuries.”

Vyrnnus slowly raised his head and stared right at him. The look of calculating madness therein made the doctor suppress a shudder.

“What did the recruit say?” There was a cruel hint of amusement in Vyrnnus’ voice.

“She said nothing. Training accident. But her injuries, and more importantly, her scars, say otherwise.”

“So, what? Your testimony against hers and mine? Won’t get you far with this board of directors.”

“I will not allow this abuse to continue!” Publius stood up and faced down the smiling commander. “These are still children! I won’t have it!”

To his surprise, Vyrnnus chuckled. “The children? Precious. Just precious. If it were anyone else, I would have believed them. From you, it’s downright hypocritical.”

Publius felt a chill down his carapace. “What do you mean, from me?”

“I know who you are, Publius. I know what you worked on before you got contracted by Conatix to babysit these fledglings.”

“And I know what you were, commander. Don’t try to blackmail me, my employer is aware of any previous employments I might have had.”

“Oh, I’m sure Conatix doesn’t mind, they’re all about credits, like me. Your research background was a pleasant bonus for them, I should think. I doubt the krogans feel the same way. Clever, hiding out here in human space.” Vyrnnus bristled his fringe in a playful manner. “The salarians got tired of you? Or did you grow a conscience with them too?” The commander’s derisive laugh made Publius pull back from him.

“How long would you last out there without Conatix protection? I’m one of very few experienced biotics willing to work for a human company. They can always find another doctor.”

Publius closed his eyes his eyes for a second, before he opened them and glared fixedly at Vyrnnus.

“You think you’ve got me, don’t you? Two can play this game. How about someone leaks to a certain admiral that her daughter is being abused by a turian mercenary? How long do you think you’ll last anywhere?”

There was a flicker of uncertainty on Vyrnnus’ face. It didn’t last long, but Publius knew he’d seen it.

“You have no proof.”

“Don’t need it. Try explaining away those talon slashes to the most notorious turian hater on this side of the Traverse. I’d pay a years salary to see that.”

The sneer on Vyrnnus’ face told Publius he’d hit a nerve.

“Fine,” Vyrnnus growled. “Shepard can stay here for a few days. Since she’s such a delicate little thing, I’ll go easier on her in training. Is your own life worth more than that?”

“That’s.. acceptable. If she returns again in this condition, I will bring the matter to light.”

“There are more ways than one to train a human.” Vyrnnus had regained his confidence. “I’m sure she’s learned her lesson. For now.”

After the commander left, Publius sank down in his chair and cursed his own cowardice. He might have bought Shepard a reprieve, but if his own background became public knowledge, he would be in danger. The need to call his old mentor was almost overpowering, but he could not afford such sentimentality. Besides, there was no telling where doctor Solus was now.

 

2175 CE – January 05th – Med Bay, Shepard's Room

When Chellick had entered her room, Shepard was laying in the bed with her eyes closed. The whoosh of the door made her look in his direction, and she smiled at him, trying not to upset her injured lip too much.

“Hey you.”

“Spirits, Jane, how are you so calm?” He was relieved to see her smiling, but she took these matters too little to heart. “If I hadn’t found you..”

“But you did. My big hero,” she grinned and winced from pain.

“Don’t.. don’t smile if it hurts.” Her hero. He liked that.

“It’ll pass. Come here?” She held out her hand, and he enveloped her fingers in his talons. The bandages on her arm reminded him of what those claws could do, and he wanted to hurt Vyrnnus.

“Decian? Don’t get foolish ideas. It’s over.”
“For this time. What about the next? And the next?”

“6 months left. I can deal with it.”

“I don’t think I can. Jane, please.. We have to tell someone.”

There was no reply from her, she merely looked away from him and stared emptily at the wall.

“No. Not when I’m so close. Halfway there.”

“Doctor Publius can help, if we tell him everything. I know he’s concerned about you.”

Shepard crawled up to a sitting position, clutching her ribs. “What did you tell him?”

“Nothing.” One mandible flicked nervously.

“Decian? Did you tattle on me to my doctor?”

“No.. I just.. I said he shouldn’t ask questions, because Vyrnnus would get upset with you.”

Shepard groaned and leaned back. “Gods, now he IS going to ask questions. Thanks a lot.”

“Hey, that’s unfair. I’ve tried doing it your way for months now, do you have any idea how this makes me feel!? And I can’t do anything about it!” Chellick said, pointing to her bandages and swollen eye.

She looked away again. “Sorry.”

“No, Jane, please, I didn’t mean.. Damn!” He grabbed the side of the bed and scraped his talons in frustration. “It’s not your fault, but this isn’t working. He’s hurting you! And all you think about is getting into that N7 program. It’s unhealthy. Literally.”

“It’s important to me,” she said through gritted teeth.

“Jane,” he said and gently put his hand on her cheek, making her face him. “You’re important to me. Don’t make me see this again.”

“I have to. The N7 is everything I’ve worked for. Sorry, Decian. I can’t give up now.”

Again, she smiled her lopsided grin that made her wince, and lifted a hand to stroke the tip of his mandible. “I care for you, a lot more than I should for a turian.” A playful wink and another wince. He chuckled. Jane was relentless when she wanted something.

The ring of blood encircling her pupil in the damaged eye made Chellick uncomfortable, but he wanted to kiss her all the same. Pressing his mouth to hers would only hurt her right now, and so he did the one thing he’d promised himself he’d not do until they got the results back from Publius.

Chellick tenderly put his hand on the back of her head, and pushed his forehead to hers.

“I’ll help in any way I can. Even if you are unbearably difficult at times.”

 

The door swung open and Publius entered.

“I have good news for y-.. Spirits, what are you doing, Decian Chellick!”

Chellick got up and looked like he’d just been caught with his hand down his undersuit.

“We, uh, were just talking.”

“Don’t try that with me. I know what you were doing, and I haven’t spoken to Shepard about the tests yet. And you!” he snapped and pointed at Shepard. “Why are you trying to get up? Lay down and stay down, I will not hesitate to put a guard at your door to make sure.”

Shepard waved one hand in surrender, and shuffled back down on the bed.

“Right. Now, will you give me and Shepard a moment alone?”

Chellick gave Shepard one last look before leaving.

There was a visitor’s chair by the wall, and Publius fetched it and sat down beside her bed. There was no way of easing into this conversation, and he decided to be blunt.

“I talked to Vyrnnus.”

Her mouth fell open and she tried to get back up.

“No, no, no. Stay down, give those ribs a rest. You are very fortunate that they’re only fractured and didn’t penetrate a lung. I’d recommend bed rest for a week-...” She opened her mouth to protest, “but I doubt I could keep you here for more than a day. Listen to me, this next part is important.”

Shepard closed her mouth again, but he could see the tensing of her jaw. To her credit, she managed to lay there in silence and wait.

“Commander Vyrnnus and I have reached an understanding. You’re to remain here for two days, no that’s not negotiable,” he waved off another attempt at interruption, “and he will not be as harsh in your training from here on out.”

There was a long pregnant pause before Shepard answered.

“How did you manage that? Told him you could sell various body parts on the black market and needed me undamaged?”

Against his will, Publius chuckled. “No, but not too far off. I said I would be reporting this to higher authorities if id didn’t desist.”

“The board doesn’t care,” Shepard said and studied the roof with more attention than it deserved.

“The board is not the only ones with influence in this galaxy. You have your secrets and I have mine.”

“Fair enough. So when can I get back to training?”

“I told you, two days, don’t pretend you didn’t hear me.”

“All right, all right. Worth a last try. Can I read, at least? If someone brings me the datapads?”

Publius reached over her and examined her eye again. “I think that would be okay. Not the whole day, mind you. You need rest.”

“Yes, mister jailer.”

“Funny, Shepard. Careful, or I won’t let that boyfriend of yours back in here.”

It was Shepard’s turn to chuckle.

“By the time you’re ready to be discharged here, I’ll have the results from the tests ready. The implications so far are.. interesting.”

“You’re telling me this and then telling me to wait? Cruel man.”

“Very. Say goodnight to your paramour and let him get to bed. He has no excuse for sleeping in late tomorrow.”

“Right.” She gave the doctor a tired nod.

Chellick all but bounced inside when Publius had left. “What did he say?”

“That Vyrnnus won’t beat the crap out of me again and I have to stay here for two days.”

His mandibles flared so wide all his needle teeth showed. “It’s over? Will he be fired.”

“No, just taking it out on somebody else, I guess.”

The smile became a little smaller, but he was still happy. “Great news anyway. Two days in here? That’s good news for all the other squad leaders. Fivex isn’t long off.”

“Shove it, Decian. Some boyfriend I have,” she smiled at him.

“I’m delightful. Ask me anything, and you shall have it,” he said, bowing sarcastically.

“In that case, mind giving Four some orders for tomorrow? Since I’m not there?”

He raised a brow plate. “Sure, but I thought Strabo was your second if you’re away.”

“He is, but I want them to train combat missions in the Armax sim, core focus on teamwork. He might have them do differently, like rehearsing on forming an execution squad with Garrus as target practice.”

The chuff following that comment was very uncharacteristic from Chellick. “Perhaps he could use a few blows to the head, to make him stop trying to get intimate with other people’s girlfriends.”

“Hey, don’t be like that, you’re the mature one. That’s why I like you.”

Chellick rolled his eyes. “Fine, it will be as my human commands,” he said and gently poked at an undamaged spot on her arm. “I still think he’s a bit of a rotten sneak, though.”

 

2175 CE – January 06th – Roll Call – 08:04 AM

“What are we supposed to do?”

Squad Four hadn’t heard anything about Shepard’s condition, and Argyle was the first to voice his concern.

“Wait until everyone is in attendance,” Strabo muttered. “We’re missing our sniper.”

They hadn’t seen him since that fatal meeting yesterday, and he even missed breakfast. Two minutes later Garrus appeared. He smelled strongly of pumice soap, but the other five turians still recognized the scent underneath it.

“Really, Vakarian? We had to wait while you unplate yourself in the showers?” Mevia said gruffly.

“Sorry guys,” Garrus said, unexpectedly demure. “It won’t happen again.”

Castor hadn’t forgiven Garrus for his outburst yesterday and pretended not to hear. “So, what are we to do? Should we report that Shepard isn’t here?”

“The protocol says we will be informed of a squad leaders absence, I don’t know by whom,” Strabo said and looked around. “Spirits, it’s Chellick! Remember, we know nothing about yesterday.”

Squad Four stood to attention when Chellick stopped in front of them with a bag slung over his cowl.

“Easy, Four. Shepard is indisposed, but has given instructions for you to work in the Armax Sim today. I’ve already booked the hours, so you should be fine.” Chellick did a quick survey and reported them in attendance.

“When will she be back?” Argyle asked.

“Uh, yeah, and why isn’t she here?” Mevia added.

Chellick shifted his weight uncomfortably. “Training mishap. She’ll be back in two days. Strabo is her second, you will oversee the sim-training, but I’ll be by to see how you are doing.”

“No problem. We got this,” Strabo said, puffing up his fringe.

“One more thing. I was going to deliver these datapads to Shepard so she could do some studying while in the med bay. I can’t make it, and wondered if-..”

“I’ll do it,” Garrus said quickly and stepped forward.

Seven pairs of eyes stared at him, and Chellick’s grip on the bag tightened. Those green eyes of his bored into Garrus’ head, the low growl telling Garrus that Chellick was aware of his suavis tactu with Shepard. He was now signaling ‘I know what you did to my girlfriend, sneak.’ Garrus tried to look properly contrite without tipping off the rest of the squad as to why Chellick didn’t trust him with the datapads.

“Chellick, relax. We know Garrus has been giving Shepard a hard time, but that’s about to change, isn’t it?” Strabo said, trying to defuse the situation.

“I think it would be a good thing, having him deliver that bag. Reconciliation, you know,” Argyle added.

Chellick stopped growling but kept staring at Garrus while he slowly and reluctantly handed the bag over. He flicked a mandible in irritation when he smelled the younger turian. “Don’t try anything, just give her the bag and get your hide back here.”

“Sure thing, Chellick. Won’t be long.”

“No, you won’t,” Chellick said coldly. “I’m watching you!”

Garrus left without another word, and so too did Chellick.

“That was intense,” Nirea said. “Wonder if Shepard has been complaining a lot about Garrus to Chellick.”

“I know I would have. So, how about mountain setting for our first round?” Aius said, looking at Strabo. “I’m a little tired of urban sprawl.”

“That’s because you always get shot in the back.” Mevia gave Aius a small push.

“Now you sound like Shepard,” Aius groaned. “Aius, check behind the door. Aius, you’re one dead turian. Aius, this is the third time, you’re driving me nuts. Aius, do you like being dead?” he mimicked.

“Was she wrong? Nope!” Mevia grinned. “Don’t worry, I’ll tell you how much you suck when Shepard's not here.”

Aius grumbled something intelligible, and the rest of the squad laughed.

 

2175 CE – January 06th – Med Bay – 08:25 AM

There was nobody around in the corridor when Garrus stood outside Shepard's room, and he wondered if he was allowed to enter outside visiting hours. Since there was no one to ask, he knocked softly on the door and waited.

“Come on in,” he heard a female voice say, and swung open the door. Shepard was on the bed, looking surprised to see him, but waved him closer. One eye was very swollen, but besides some bruises to her face and some light bandages to her arm, she looked fine. If he hadn’t seen what happened yesterday, he would have believed the lie she served with a smile.

“Hi Garrus. Small accident in training, nothing to worry about.”

As he stepped closer, he could smell the medigel on her, like so many times before. How come he hadn't thought about that smell earlier?

“Erm.. Hi. You, uh… you look good,” he said lamely.

Shepard snorted, then clutched her ribs and laughed in spite of the pain. “Gods, you and I have to play poker one day. You’ll not even have the shirt on your back when I’m done.”

“You want to see me naked?” Garrus asked in a shocked tone.

“Shepard threw her head back and laughed out loud, jerking in pain as her ribs protested the excessive use of air. “Ow, stop it, ahaha, you’re killing me here!”

Garrus tried not to chuckle, seeing as the amusement was hurting Shepard, but he couldn’t resist it.

“You said it, not me.” He grinned at her.

“I guess I did. So, what can I do for you, in my reduced state?”

“It’s more of what I can do for you. Here you go,” he said and placed the bag on her bed.

“Praise the sun, this is a lifesaver, Garrus.” She leaned over and whispered in a playful manner; “The evil doctor Publius is keeping me here against my will. I think he wants my kidneys.”

It had been a long while since Garrus had joked around with anybody, and the fact that it was Shepard who tried to jest with him made the whole thing more surreal. There was a timid spark of connection between them, the divide that separated them lessened by him knowing more about her than the other way around. Not to mention Shepard was still the only one on the team who wasn’t angry with him for the moment. Neither could she smell what he’d been up to in the showers. He met her eyes and flared his mandibles again.

“Want me to scratch him out for you?”

Shepard chortled again despite the pain.

“I don’t think it’s necessary yet. Thanks for the offer, though.”

“No problem,” he said and looked at the wall timer. “I have to go, Chellick booked the sim for us.”

“Yeah, I know. Hey Garrus?”

He turned around. “Yes?”

“Thank you for bringing these. I’d go crazy if I had to be cooped up somewhere for a long time with nothing to do.”

“No problem. Hope you’re better soon.”

“Ahm, well.. me too. Good luck in training today.”

Garrus paused a moment when he was standing outside the Med Bay. Of all his encounters with Shepard, that had been one of the shortest, and one where they both tried to play nice. It felt good, with none of the awkwardness he’d expected, all things considering. He only hoped it would last.

 

2175 CE – January 12th – Class Room 2 – 16:49 PM

“It’s been a week worth of sim-training, guys. It’s time we did something different.”

Shepard glanced over her gathered flock. Ever since she got out of Med Bay, Four had insisted on doing combat sims with her in the observer’s booth, and she had quickly caught on why. They felt sorry for her being injured, and flatly refused to do something with her in a more active role. The first time they’d insisted on having another sim-day, it was Garrus’ suggestion. The others had glared at him like he was a dirty merc, but he’d hummed something with his subvocals, and suddenly they were all clamoring for more sim-hours. Only Argyle had been dumbfounded until Strabo scratched his side and coughed, then he joined in too. It was a damned conspiracy, that’s what it was, and it stopped now.

“Tomorrow it’s time for more hand to hand. We’ve neglected that these past few days, and I’ve seen the other squads during their sessions. Fivex will be a hard sell, make no mistake.”

Castor stood up, looking like he’d been pushed out of his chair.

“We think a few more days in the sim would be good.”

“Or maybe more theoretical stuff,” Nirea said.

“Yeah, we should read more on the history of warfare,” Strabo added. “Can never know enough about that.”

“History of warfare, huh?” Shepard said and crossed her arms, grinning. “I have some history for you. Centuries ago back on earth, mutineers were thrown into the sea or pulled under the keel of the ship.”

“No oceans here, I’d say we’re good,” Aius quipped, and the rest of the squad tried to muffle their chuffing laughs.

“I hear we have our first volunteer to walk the plank. Next rabbit run on the holo-tag deck, you’re the rabbit, Aius.”

“Aaaww, come on!” Aius pleaded. “It stings to get shot by those things.”

“I know,” Shepard quipped back and wiggled her eyebrows.

Beside Aius, Mevia let out a high snicker.

“And there’s your partner,” Shepard said and pointed at Mevia. “This should be fun.”

“Hello there, partner,” Aius said huskily to Mevia.

“Jerk!” There was a rustling of chairs as Mevia tried to grab Aius in a stranglehold.

“Help, murder, murder!” Aius leaped to his feet and ran around the room to the ringing laughter of the squad, even Shepard.

“All right, you two, settle down,” she said after three laps. “We need to get sharp, this is our last campus exam. The field exam is off world, so is the war games at the end of semester. Fuck up in the field exam, and you turians might not get to chose your specialty. Argyle, you’ll get a red mark on your record that’s hard to erase. We need to work on this.”

It was Garrus that raised his hand next. Shepard saw the apprehensive looks the rest of the squad shot at him.

“That’s all true, Shepard, but you’re still injured. We can see it when you move too suddenly or turn too fast. You shouldn’t train with us.”

The room went dead quiet.

Shepard sighed. “I don’t like it when you guys use logic against me. It’s just rude.”

A small titter sounded from the squad.

“But you’re right. I shouldn’t put pressure on those bones now, but I can instruct you seven. Don’t think I won’t see every false step you make and call you out for it. Emerus and I have a wager, and I don’t intend to lose. Tomorrow it’s close quarter combat. That’s final.”

“Hey, hey, wait a minute,” Aius said with a shrewd expression. “I just remembered another wager. Before thirex Emerus Victus told us there was a reason why you tried to murder your squad with that biotic hail, and you promised to tell us if we won.”

“That’s right, you never did,” Strabo said, looking like a shark scenting a drop of blood.

“Tell us,” Nirea chimed in.

“Tell us, tell us, tell us,” the whole squad chanted and Shepard held up her hands.

“Fine, a promise is a promise.”

She chortled and sat down on the desk. “I was a reserve trainer for a group of first years in CQC, and one day those little buggers broke into my room.”

“Go on,” Garrus urged.

“When I returned, they’d plastered everything, and I do mean everything, with images ripped from Fornax, plate naked turians doing every damn sex act in the book on every available surface, even the roof,” she grinned.

Argyle wolf whistled and the turians flanged laugh sounded into the class room next door, where Celsus banged on the wall to get them to shut up.

“Oh, but that wasn’t the worst,” Shepard said dreamily, remembering that fateful day like it was yesterday.

“Tell us, tell us,” the squad whispered and drummed their hands on the desks.

“The worst part was when captain Corinthus walked in on me five minutes later, while I was staring at all these butt naked turians. I thought the poor man was going to swallow his mandibles.”

This time they could hear Celsus bellowing at them through the wall to be quiet.

After he was done gasping for air, Aius had one more question. “And what did you think? Of naked turians in general, I mean?”

“Ooooh,” Argyle hooted, “flirting with danger there, Aius.”

Shepard sauntered down to Aius’ seat, making a point of swaying her hips from side to side.

“I think,” she said and ran a finger slowly under his mandible, “the naked turian physique is mighty fine.” Then she swayed her hips out of the classroom.

Aius made a strange chirp and suddenly looked very embarrassed with a deep blue flush on his neck. His squad mates guffawed, all except one. Nobody noticed Garrus giving Aius the evil eye.

Chapter Text

2175 CE – January 13th – Mess Hall – 19:36 PM

“Afternoon, Shepard,” Emerus grinned as she sat down by the table. “I see you’re feeling a lot better lately.

Shepard returned the smile. “I do, actually. This is one of the few times I’ve been able to have dinner here while the commander is on the station. Good thing too, I’m starving.”

“Me too,” Arista said. “My workload is killing me. Not that I can tell you what I’m working on.”

“Is that so?” Shepard pretended to think real hard. “Someone that should have been made a squad leader based on her excellent performance first year of boot is taken out of rotation and given a secret curriculum. This can in no way be related to being headhunted to a special program? Maybe Spectre-training? Oooor.. Blackwatch?”

There was a subdued cough from Emerus, and Arista looked scandalized. “How do you-.. I never said anything!”

Shepard shrugged. “Not like it’s much different for humans. Exceptional individuals get picked out while still in school. The rest of us has to work hard to get what we want.” She winked at Arista and started wolfing down her dinner.

“I’m not confirming or denying anything.”

“Or maybe you’re training to be a politician,” Shepard said with a mouthful of grub.

“Ew, stop that, human!” Emerus grimaced. “It’s disgusting.”

“All right, all right. Wimp.”

Emerus and Shepard ate while Arista stared at the content of her plate. “I’m sure I never said anything.”

“You didn’t,” Shepard grinned, “but if you continue harping on this it will be construed as confirmation.”

“Right. Not another word then. Let’s talk about you instead. I hear you’re groping your underlings in training, is that correct?”

This time it was Shepard’s turn to look scandalized. “What?!”

“Oh, just a rumor flying by. Apparently, one Aius Uticensis has been telling everyone who would listen that you have a thing for turians,” Arista crooned.

“Another one, Shepard? Last time it was Vakarian, and before that Decian. Might want to get some ointment for the chafing,” Emerus laughed.

“I hope your plates wither, both of you,” Shepard said in a sweet voice.

“What are we discussing?” Celsus asked as he sat down beside Shepard with his tray.

“Shepard’s appetite for turians,” Arista smiled.

“Ah, that. Decian is in a bit of a foul mood, he heard about that too.”

“Come on,” Shepard complained, “it was just for fun. I was telling the story about the Fornax pages in my room, and Aius asked if I liked naked turians. I was just teasing him.”

There was a loud hum of subvocals around her.

“Hey, not fair! I can’t understand your underhanded communication.”

“Here he comes.” Emerus nodded in the direction of an oncoming turian.

“Hi.” Chellick sat down without another word and refused to meet anyone’s eyes.

“Oh, I’d say he’s heard plenty,” Emerus snickered.

“Hello, gorgeous,” Shepard smiled and gave him a small nudge.

A short grumble was the only reply.

“Aw, Decian is jealous.” Arista whispered to Emerus.

“I think so too,” he whispered back. “Very unbecoming.”

“You know everyone can hear you, right?” Shepard said, pretending to be annoyed. “Hello Decian, how was your day?”

Chellick still refused to answer and merely started opening his nutri-paste packages.

“Hi, is this the unofficial gathering of squad leaders?” They all looked up at the unexpected visitor. It was Santiago from Squad Three. He waved a hand and smiled broadly.

“We’ve been working together a while, but I don’t really know you guys. Mind if I sit down?”

“Uh, not at all,” Celsus said and they all shuffled closer to make room for him.

“I’m Miguel Santiago, leader of Three.”

“Hi Miguel, I’m Arista Nerva. Looking good out on the field today,” she thrummed at him.

“Really? Thanks.” Santiago took on a slight red color, but sat down.

Arista gave Shepard a quick mandible flick and she caught on immediately. Arista was up to something.

“Hi, I’m Jane Shepard. We’ve met many times earlier, if you recall?”

“How could I forget? Whenever you show up, there’s always trouble.”

“Aw, thanks. I’d hate to think I was boring.”

“You’re anything but,” he chuckled.

The three male turians around the table peered at the intruder. Why would a turian female signal interest in this guy?

“Emerus Victus, in the running for top team this year,” Emerus said, observing the newcomer closely.

“I know. I’ve been studying your team’s results, trying to copy your success. Hasn’t worked out so well for me yet.”

“Maybe that’s because of the people on your team. Celsus Corinthus here.”

“The captain’s boy, right?” Santiago said, still smiling. “Standing before your father is bloodcurdling, but it helps to stand beside a friendly face.” He winked at Shepard.

“Decian Chellick,” Chellick suddenly growled and held out a hand in the customary human greeting. Santiago took it and shook it politely.

“Hi, I’ve seen you around. Ouch, that’s quite the grip there, Chellick.”

Shepard gave Chellick a gentle elbow in his side to get him to release his hold on Santiago’s hand.

“Sorry. Turians are naturally more powerful than humans,” he said in a voice that was far from apologetic.

“But you seem to be quite the strong guy yourself,” Arista said to Santiago. “You’re a lot bigger and bulkier than the other human males I’ve seen here. Is it natural, or do you need to train much?”

Three pairs of turian eyes glared at Arista. Santiago didn’t notice, he had taken on a more intense shade of red.

“It’s, uh, it’s both. I’m rather broad shouldered by nature, but I work out a lot too.”

“Looks great on you. Is your face considered handsome among humans? Perhaps we could work out together one day?”

Emerus stared in disbelief at Arista, then turned to Santiago and let out a low growl. The message was plain enough, even for a human.

“That’s an interesting.. I mean, maybe.. You’re really, uh.. I have to go.” He jumped up and practically ran from their table.

“What was that about?” Emerus crossed his arms. “What if I behaved like that?”

“Oh, shut it, Emerus. That was for Decian.”

Chellick looked nonplussed. “Huh?”

That was something to be jealous about, not Shepard having a little fun at Aius’ expense in front of his friends. Grow up!”

“I wasn’t.. I’m not..” he tried, but Emerus, seeing light in the end of the tunnel, jumped on board.

“Yeah, serves you right. Getting worked up over nothing. Good thing my girlfriend was here to clear things up.”

Celsus chuffed. “Yeah, good thing you weren’t jealous, Emerus.”

Chellick thought about it for a moment, then looked sheepishly at Shepard. “She’s right. We’re good?”

“Always.” Shepard gave his thigh a slight squeeze under the table.

“So Arista, who else looked good out there today,” Celsus said, clearly not done teasing Emerus.

“Well, there was Santiago, and Zhang, Carlsson..” Arista began.

“Hey! Stop that!”

“Davidson, Althaus, Borsin..”

Okay, okay, I get it. And Decian gets it too. No need to rub it in.”

“Depends on the rubbing,” Arista hummed at her glowering boyfriend.

 

2175 CE – January 16th – Med Bay – 17:18 PM

“What’s up, doc?” Shepard said to her resident physician.

“I’d like to know why almost every human on this station like saying that,” Publius said, ruffling through a stack of datapads. “It gets old after the first 20 times.”

“Sorry,” she grinned. “I’ll find something new. This is about those tests?”

“It is indeed. First things first, I have seen the new scan of your ribs. The bones that were fractured are healing well, and I think you will be fine to resume light training with the rest of the squad, and you should be fully healed to the field exam.”

Shepard pressed three fingers in her side, noting no great discomfort, only a dull ache.

“As for the other matter, I’ve had difficulties making an accurate prognosis, since this is pioneering work with minute samples, but I’ve come to a few conclusions I think are sound.”

“Okay,” Shepard said doubtfully. “I’m not going to like this, am I?”

“That remains to be seen.” Publius found the right datapad and opened his file on Shepard.

“Here it is. It appears that contact with the turian bonding pheromone caused your brain to construct new neural pathways which increased your levels of oxytocin and vasopressin above that which is normal for a human partner. The longer you stay in a relationship with a turian, the more said network will probably grow.” Publius clicked his mandibles and looked uncomfortable. “With the neural development I’ve already seen, even if the existing connection was to be severed, it is probable that your future choice of mate will have a bias towards rebuilding the existing underlying network.”

Shepard tried to keep up with the things he was saying. “So, the result of my relationship with one turian is.. that I have developed a preference for all turians?”

“Yes.” Publius looked apprehensive.

“Oh.” She stared blankly at him. “An exclusive preference?”

“Uhm, no, I don’t think so. However, if you meet a human male and a turian male, if all other attributes are equal, such as virility, strength, intelligence and so forth, your brain will nudge you towards the turian.”

“Oh.”

“Oh is not really the response I’m looking for here, Shepard. Are you angry? Upset? Sad? Shocked?”

“Flabbergasted comes to mind.”

“Better than oh, at least.”

“Is it reversible?”

“That’s hard to say. There are some experimental phero-blockers being developed for turians, but they are very unreliable and can cause permanent damage. The need for such medications is extremely rare, since the last process of life bonding is done conscientiously by consenting partners, but there has been instances where bonding was forced upon another.”

“Oh.”

“Say that one more time, and I will get irked, Shepard.”

“O-.. right. How can someone force a bond?”

“It springs from the old portions of the turian hind brain, from a time when turians were more aggressive and feral. A turian biting through the soft hide of another usually meant to kill or dominate. The bite worked as a trigger that could cause a sudden release of pheromones from either fighter, even when one part does not wish the bond. It was a way to either kill the outsider or enforce loyalty to the new pack. Bloodletting only works on adult turians, by the way. Adolescent turians don’t produce enough bonding pheromones, their bodies are busy with growing cartilage.” Publius twitched his mandibles. “Among my people, biting another turian that has not consented to the act is considered anathema.”

Shepard glanced at him sideways. “So, turians don’t bite anymore?”

His mandibles flared widely, as if hearing a private joke. “Turians bite plenty, but only between partners that like that sort of thing. And rarely to the point of bloodletting. It’s considered.. kinky, I think humans say. Old fashioned, but not out of style.”

“Have you ever bitten anyone?”

Publius cocked his head and gave her a condescending frown. “You’re not my doctor, Shepard. I don’t have to answer such impertinent questions.”

“So you have?” She didn’t even bother with hiding her grin.

“If you have no other comment about your own results than prying into my sex life, I think we’re done for now.”

“Hey, I might need further advice on this.” Shepard knew she was pressing her luck.

“I will get you a pamphlet.”

“A pamphlet? You're kidding me.”

“Hmm. Perhaps we don’t have that much information about this available to humans. Maybe a flyer?”

“Haha. I’ll ask my boyfriend, then.”

“You do that. And I advice you to tell him about this.”

“That I have become uncontrollably attracted to all turians? Sure. I say, those are some adorable long mandibles you have, doctor.”

“That’s it! You’ve had your 40minutes. Time for the next patient. Shoo!” Publius looked both embarrassed and flattered as he pushed her towards the door.

“If you have any pertinent questions about this, my door is always open.”

He gave an embarrassed cough, then closed the door in her face. Shepard didn’t much mind. She had been rather imprudent, after all.

 

2175 CE – January 16th – Library – 20:23 PM

“Preference for turians?” Chellick said incredulously. “How is that possible?”

“Some turian creep bonded with me without warning,” Shepard grinned. “Shame on him.”

“Please, don’t say that. Makes me feel like a criminal.” He hung his head.

“Hey, it was a joke. There was no anathema done. And I liked you before the bond too.”

“Yeah?” Chellick lightened up. “I like you too. How did you know about anathema?”

“Publius told me about it. And kinky turians.”

“We’re not kinky!”

“No? You like to nip at my neck. Is that a preamble to chomping down and having your way with me?”

Shepard felt his body shake with chuffing laughter.

“A nip is a harmless show of affection. Biting is not my thing. From what Arista has let slip, Emerus likes it. Celsus does not.”

“Hey, why aren’t I privy to these discussions?”

“Because you’re always in here, pretending to work.” He nipped her neck playfully. “Just because you have preference, I’m still the only boyfriend you’re allowed.”

“You can’t be serious? I must keep my connection with the human world alive. How about letting me have Santiago in the weekends?”

“Never,” he growled and tickled her undamaged rib.

“Iiih. How about every other Thursday?”

“Forget it.” Chellick slid a hand under her top, caressing her breast.

“Unfair,” she gasped. “Every third month when there is a full moon on earth?”

“All mine,” he hissed and started pulling off her undersuit.

“We are going to be discovered up here one day,” she smiled and raised her hips to let him remove the bottom half.

“At least everyone would know who your boyfriend is,” he replied and pressed his mouth plates on her lips.

Publius was right, Shepard thought as Chellick kissed and licked his way down her body. If there was a choice between the likes of Santiago on one hand and Decian on the other, she would definitely chose Decian.

 

2175 CE – January 19th – Locker Room – 17:00 PM

The last of her fresh clean sports-bras and socks were tucked away on the shelves, and Shepard closed the locker with a sigh. One more day until the exam. They’d better be ready. Emerus and Chellick was both rearing to go, hoping to push her from the throne, but she wasn’t ready to admit defeat yet. All those hours in the sim seemed to have payed off, and their shooting was-..

Out of nowhere, Garrus was standing beside her.

“Aaargh!”

“Aaah! What!? What!?” He swiveled his head around, trying to spot the danger.

Shepard took several deep breaths, trying to overcome the mortification of being frightened by Garrus Vakarian.

“Can you not sneak up on me in the future? I don’t have a spare heart like the krogan.”

“I didn’t mean to. I just.. I wanted to talk to you alone. You said I could come find you any time,” he said humbly, as if she might have withdrawn the invitation.

“It’s all right. Just jumping at shadows. Anything in particular you want to discuss?”

“..Yes.”

He shifted his weight from one leg to the other. Ahoy turian problems, Shepard thought, but didn’t say it out loud.

“Do you want me to guess, or..?”

“It’s about my dad,” he blurted.

“Oookay,” Shepard sat down. “This is going to be an awkward interspecies thing, isn’t it?”

“Probably,” he admitted and placed himself on the bench opposite her. “The day I.. the day we.. uh..” he began, but the words got stuck in his throat.

“I think I know which day and incident you mean, go on.” Shepard gave him a friendly smile which he gratefully returned.

“Thanks. I just spoke to my dad, I said some things I maybe shouldn’t have.”

“That’s understandable. You were angry and upset. I’m sure your father knows that.”

If anyone had ever told Shepard that she would be doing family counseling for the son of Galenus Vakarian, she would have laughed at them, and yet here she was. Even if Garrus had started to grow on her, Vakarian senior was another matter.

“We’re supposed to put in requests for vid-calls every other month, and for me that’s one month away.”

“And you’re not going to?”

“I don’t know,” he said glumly. “I meant what I said to him. You remember? About the.. the shame and our markings?”

“I remember.”

“What do you think?”

Shepard blinked. “You’re asking me if you should call your father?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Because of what you told me on the silo. You’re honest with me.” Garrus met her gaze with a sad expression. “What do you think I should do?”

Shepard said nothing for several minutes. There was an inferno of churning thoughts in her head, the smallest and pettiest told that she could really hurt Galenus Vakarian by turning his son against him. Make him feel the pain her mother had felt for years. Then there was the other voice, the one saying that this wasn’t a choice at all. It was a question of duty, to her squad, and to the well being of someone that trusted her. How she’d ever managed to make Garrus rely on her judgment after her treatment of him was a mystery, but there he sat, looking forlorn. Her grudge against Vakarian the elder would not make her injure Garrus again.

“I think you should make the request. He’s still your father, and you might want to yell and swear at him some more.”

Garrus chuffed. “Probably. I’ve never been so let down in my life, hearing what he had say.”

“Sadly, our parents are only human. Or turian, as in your case. If it makes you feel any better, while I might not lie to you, I lie to my mom all the time. She wouldn’t approve of me having turian friends.”

He opened his mouth to say something, but instantly closed it again.

“What was that?” she smiled.

“Nothing. You must tell many lies then.”

“A lot.”

“But not to me?”

“Nope. I might not tell the whole truth all the time, but so far no outright lies.” She remembered something. “Oh, right. For the sake of full disclosure, I have told you a blatant lie once. I’m not allergic to dextro.”

“Yeah, I didn’t think you’d be,” he said, flaring his mandibles.

“How do you know?”

Garrus started fidgeting with his talons. “Uh, because.. you would have broken out in hives after I regurgitated on you.”

“Ah. Right. Makes sense.”

Garrus looked very relieved. “Yeah. So, uh, thanks for the advice. I have maintenance duty, so..”

“Take heart, it’s only one more month, and you’re free.” Shepard smiled at him again, but he returned her smile with a look of.. pity? That particular turian expression wasn’t too familiar, and she couldn’t be sure.

“Right.”

“Are you doing all right with that? Getting the right nutrition and all?”

“Yes, I get food a little later, but other than that I’m good.”

“Good. Ready for the big day tomorrow?”

“I think so. I hope we’re ready.”

“With, your shooting you better be a lock in that competition, or else,” she joked.

Garrus grinned. “I’m top three on the station. Top two, if I’m honest.”

“Ooh, cocky. I like it.”

He’d half turned away when he stopped. “Do you like me?”

This was new territory, and she hesitated.

“When you say like..”

“You said on the silo that you would like us to get along better. But do you like me? In the same way you like Strabo, or Aius?” His voice rose a pitch at the last name.

“I don’t know as much about you as I do the others, but what I know thus far I like. We’ll just have to work on the rest, right? Starting with you acing that shooting contest tomorrow.” She gave him a playful prod on his cowl.

“Hah! You’ll love me by the end of that,” he said confidently.

They glanced at each other and started to laugh. Shepard felt a lot better about tomorrow. If the rest of the squad was as self assured as Garrus, they would wipe the floor with Emerus.

 

2175 CE – January 20th – Fivex

The last small exam was a surprise to all participants. The judges had switched every discipline to unsettle the contestants, which meant hand to hand was first, followed by cooperative team exercises on the field, fast run through the hostage rescue sim, timed speed runs with hacking and when everyone was tired and worn, the firing contest.

Garrus kept his breathing steady, lazily flicking a mandible in Castor’s direction. Their field medic had never been a sharpshooter, but meticulous training had afforded him a fair enough average score to not sink the squad. He still struggled to keep calm before the last run. They were neck and neck with Squad Seven, their arch rival, and Garrus knew Shepard and Victus would be glued to the score board to follow their last round. Speed and accuracy was hard enough when you were alert and ready, but after a long day of exams, there was a pronounced drop in accuracy from most of the students. Not him though. Garrus smiled to himself. He still had a perfect score and it was important to keep it that way. To win, of course, it wasn’t like he really believed Shepard would fall for him if he could shoot straight. Couldn’t hurt either, a treacherous voice said in the back of his head. Garrus checked the heat sink again. Not like she’d date a first-year anyway, even if she didn’t have a boyfriend. And certainly not Aius, no matter how many times he bragged how she’d stroked his mandible.

 

The loud ringing of the starting bell sounded, and they ran down the field. Garrus loved the discipline ‘dynamic shooting’, as the humans called it. Just move and shoot, pop the heatsink, insert new, move and shoot. First stage, 30 meter dash and standing 5 shot series, second stage, 25 meter dash and firing three shots from prone position. Third stage, 15 meter crawl and firing 4 shots from cover. Final stage was 20 meter sprint, switch weapon and fire two headshots on moving targets.

Garrus had rarely felt a rush like those last 20 meters when he ran far ahead of the pack to the last targets, pulled his pistol and fired off two perfect headshots before running in to a clear victory.

He was greeted at the finish line by an ecstatic Shepard, whom enveloped him in a crushing hug.

“You did it! You fucking aced it!” she all but shouted in his ear. He didn’t care. He flicked his eyes towards the towering figure of Decian Chellick who had to stand there and pretend like nothing while Shepard hugged him like a madwoman. Garrus tried to contain his prideful hum, but some low tones escaped him. Chellick pointedly looked away and stared at the scoreboard. Shepard only released him so she could go to croon at Emerus Victus, who stood by the sideline, looking dejected.

“That was some run, Garrus,” Strabo gasped behind him. He and Mevia had come in about the same time.

“It was nothing,” Garrus said, trying to sound humble and failing badly.

“It was pretty good,” Mevia said and trilled a soft challenge at him. It made Strabo swivel his head and stare at her.

“What? Mevia?”

“Look, here comes Castor and Argyle.” Garrus pointed towards the finish line.

“Where’s Nirea and Aius?” Strabo looked around.

“Aius is over there, Nirea was right behind us,” I think she’s over there, trying to flirt with Corinthus the younger.” Mivea grinned and pointed a talon.

They turned around, and there was Nirea, making Celsus Corinthus’s neck flush blue with her trills and purrs.

“That’s my girl,” Argyle said when he reached them. “Told her to just go for it after the exam.”

“Go for it? Any more direct, and they’d be humping in the common rooms of the library,” Aius snickered.

There was a sudden coughing fit behind them. Shepard had returned and tried desperately to clear her throat. The red color on her face was notable.

“You all right, Shepard?” Castor said and patted her on the back.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” she croaked. “We won again, guys. Champions of the station, so hit the shower and prepare for dinner.”

“We’re the best,” Aius shouted and took off on a victory lap as Squad Four was announced station wide as the victors.

“Only one month until the field exam.” Strabo sounded like he was preparing for a funeral.

“Would you shut it? Tonight is for us,” Castor chided.

“Will you be joining us at dinner, Shepard?” It was Argyle who asked, but they all quieted down and stared at her.

Shepard looked at her onmi-tool. The inbox was empty. She could hardly believe it.

“It looks like I am.”

“Good,” Mivea smiled and patted her on the shoulder. “It’s about damn time as well.”

“Truth!” Strabo looked pleased.

“It would be nice.” Garrus flashed a careful smile.

Shepard looked over her squad with a grin. “Yes, it will be.”

 

 

Chapter Text

2175 CE – January 27th – Locker Room – 23:02

“Who was it today?”

Chellick tore open a packet of medigel and poured on a black bruise on Shepard’s back.

“My squad,” she muttered. “He made me kill them with both gun and biotics. If I was slow, he reaved me.” She smiled her sarcastic lopsided grin. “At least he allowed me to use a barrier.”

“Bastard. At least these are not open wounds.”

She gasped involuntary when he grazed the darkest patch.

“Sorry.”

“Not your fault.”’

Chellick heard the flat tone and knew she was still deep in her ‘dead-zone’, the one that made her able to carry all the crap the commander tried to drown her in. He’d always managed to coax her out of it, but it took longer and longer each time. If she was to remain under his care, she might disappear inside her own head, never to return. He would not have that.

“Jane, look at me. Jane?”

Shepard broke her intense focus of not allowing herself to feel anything and met his gaze.

“Hmm?”

“He’s not here. I am. Don’t do that thing with me, please?”

She hid her face in her hands. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry, but he.. I feel like I’m becoming a mindless weapon around him, and then you’re here, and I can’t turn it off!”

“You think you could hurt me?”

“Maybe.”

“I don’t think that.”

“Keep believing that, maybe it’ll become true.”

He knelt beside her and nuzzled his face on her cheek. “I’ll follow you to the bio-barracks. I don’t care who sees us.”

“Decian?”

“Yes?”

“Thank you.”

He rose and pulled her into his arms.

“I just wish I could do more.”

While they waited for the medigel to take effect, his purring was the only thing heard in the room.

 

2175 CE – February 10th – Shooting Range– 11:59 AM

“What the fuck is your problem?” Mevia pushed Argyle in the chest.

“You, you fucking hag! Get out of my line of sight unless you want me to blow your empty head clean off your shoulders!” he bellowed back.

“Take it down a notch, do you want Shepard to get over here?” Strabo glanced backwards to the overlook perch.

“Listen to the suck-up,” Mevia scoffed. “Think she will give you a good write-up because you take sides with that idiot?” She pointed at Argyle.

“Or perhaps you think taking sides with this gorgon will get you laid?” Argyle flipped Mevia a very rude finger.

Mevia let out a screech and charged, catching in his midriff. Both of them landed in a ditch and rolled around, exchanging blows. Strabo was confounded, not wanting to insult Mevia or being accused of taking sides with her.

“Spirits, here she comes,” Garrus hissed and motioned to a figure jumping off the overlook and floating down in a shimmering bubble. “Get those two idiots separated.”

Castor and Garrus hopped into the ditch after them and pulled them apart. Neither was willing to let the other go so easily.

“You’re an asshole!” Mevia spat.

“And you look like a batarian with mandibles!” Argyle bit back.

“What?! I do NOT!”

“Could’ve fooled me!”

“ENOUGH!” One word cut through the din, and both the turian and the human shut their mouth.

“What the fuck is this lunacy?! You just made me a laughing stock among the other squad leaders!”

“Sorry, Shepard,” Castor said.

“Don’t fucking dare apologize for them,” Shepard barked. “What is this? Mevia? Argyle? Answer me!”

“She walked in front of my gun,” Argyle volunteered.

“It wasn’t even loaded,” Mevia retorted.

“You didn’t know that!”

“Stop!” Shepard cut her hand through the air, signaling an end to the shouting match. She took a few breaths, tapping her fingers against the leg holster.

“This has little to do with neither a heatsink nor a passing-by. I know that tempers are flying high now that the Field Exam is a mere 10 days away, but this is precisely the kind of incidents we must avoid. Now many of the other squad leaders know we have dissension in our ranks. One of them might be paired against us and use this to their advantage. Is that what you want?”

“No, Shepard,” the squad chorused.

“At least we agree on that. Continue the fire drill. If I see one more unauthorized brawl, the ones responsible will regret it.”

“Yes, Shepard.”

 

2175 CE – February 15th – Mess Hall – 08:31 AM

“Stop slurping, it’s fucking annoying.” Squad Four stared at the usually docile Castor, who was now glaring daggers at Strabo.

“Huh? This is how I usually eat.”

“No, this is how you usually slurp and make noises, with table manners like a krogan. Cut it the fuck out.”

“Back off, medic! When you can shoot straight, you can come back to me about noisy eating.”

“Oh yeah!? How about I give you a lesson in manners right this moment?” Castor slammed both fists on the table and got up, growling at Strabo.

The students on the other tables started edging away from the impending fight.

“From you? That’s a fucking jest! I’ll-..”

“Do nothing and sit your ass down, Strabo Calan! Same for you, Sorio!” Shepard had arrived, her figure shimmering with biotic powers she tried to hold back. The two turians ignored her and continued to growl at each other. Shepard gritted her teeth and placed a heavy hand on Strabo’s cowl, forcing him down into his chair. She pointed a finger to Castor’s seat. “Down!

The Mess Hall was filled with low snickering.

“That’s 6 rounds in the obstacle course for both of you! Be grateful it’s not more!” The look on her face prevented further arguments. 5 more days. Nerves were fraying among all of them. Only Garrus tried to hide a smile. It was great not being the one in trouble for once.

 

2175 CE – February 18th – Armory – 18:22 PM

“Got the last of our equipment checked?”

“Yes Shepard. The sim-suits are all in good conditions, the laser targets on our rifles are accurate.” Garrus placed the last rifle in it’s crate and locked it. “Thank you for getting me out of maintenance duty five days early.”

The crate shimmered blue, and they lifted it easily onto the pile marked ‘Exam.’

“No problem. You’ve done exemplary work, Corinthus wasn’t hard to sway.”

She picked up a rag and wiped her hands. “How are you holding up? You and Nirea seem to be impervious to the stress.”

Garrus leaned up against the wall. “I’m fine. Honestly, I’m more stressed about talking to my dad. I’ve been given the first call after we return from the field.”

Shepard lobbed the rag in a large curve towards the bin, and missed completely.

“Nice to see you can’t do everything well,” Garrus grinned.

“Heh, just warm-up. Given any thoughts to what you’re going to say?” Shepard wandered over and picked up the rag, dropping it in the basket.

“Not really. Kind of hoping he would do the talking.” He scratched on a loose wood splinter. “Any ideas?”

“Lots, but maybe not suitable for Galenus’ son,” Shepard chuckled.

“What did your mother tell you? About that day?” Garrus had been dying to ask, and the words slipped from him before he could rethink it.

The mood in the room shifted, and they stood gauging the others response. Shepard relented first.

“From what I know, your father was on a mission to secure a missile silo. Most of his team ended up in a mine field, but your father survived, albeit injured. Mom took him as a prisoner of war, brought him to a hospital. I don’t know why.”

“The tunnels?”

“The metro, yes. It was an underground transportation system. In wartime, often used as shelter for civilians.”

“Was there a military presence there?”

“Some. Not many, as most were at one front or another, but enough to defend the civilians from a small attack.”

“Go on.”

“They didn’t have translators, so they couldn’t understand what the alien, your dad, said. He couldn’t understand them either. I’m told my dad tried to communicate with yours by holding up different things and saying the words in English, then having him say the word in Palaveni.” Shepard smiled sadly. “They told me he was very curious, always asking questions.”

“Sorry.” Garrus didn’t know what else to say.

“Not your fault. Anyway, your father faked an injury and got out, locking my dad in the cage and took two hostages. He made it to the surface and called down the planetstrike. Everyone in those tunnels died. There was no escaping the blast.” Shepard spoke slowly, as if she had to will the words out of her mouth.

Garrus swallowed and stared at the floor. He’d almost said sorry again, but what would be the point?

“Well, that was… jolly.” Shepard forced a strained smile and rallied her spirits. “Neither you nor I had a hand in that. I say we don’t bring it up again, and focus on the trials ahead. Agreed?” She held out a hand and he seized it gratefully.

“Agreed!”

 

 

2175 CE – February 20th – Transport Vessel – 04:12 AM

The grand day had arrived, and Squad Two and Four had been drawn to fight on the same side. Shepard and Celsus stood at attention in front of the ship’s captain with the rest of their now joined teams lingering in the background.

“We’ll be ground-side in 4 hours. The exam will begin as soon as you’ve disembarked. Squads 9 and 14 has been given the defensive position, and you will need to take them out. You will have 72 standard earth hours to complete the exercise, if you fail to overrun their position by then, you’ve lost. The planets natural rotation is 64,1 earth hours, expect jet lag and sleep deprivation.

“Which planet is this, sir?” Celsus asked.

“Eden Prime. We’ve been assigned to a remote valley, perfect for this kind of training. The air is breathable, but I would advice against drinking the water. Filters are still required in most places, so only eat and drink the rations in your packs.”

“Eden Prime,” Shepard said dreamily. “They say it’s paradise in space.”

“Not for you, Shepard.” Vyrnnus walked in. “Good morning, students.”

A low grumbling answer of ‘good mornings’ rose from the squads. They’d heard of the commander.

“We have one small detail to square away before the fun begins. Shepard, you’re a third year and a biotic. As the only biotic among these recruits, that would be an unfair advantage.”

“I understand, sir. I won’t use my biotics then.”

“If only it was that easy,” Vyrnnus said, smirking. “Unfortunately we can’t risk you cheating on the exam.”

“You can’t take away our leader 4 hours before landing,” Garrus protested. He’d closed up behind Shepard and stood right behind her. “It’s not right!”

Vyrnnus flared his mandibles in recognition. “Ah, Vakarian the younger. How strange, seeing you trying to help this human,” he said, pointing at Shepard. “Luckily for you, I have no such plans. No, there is an easier way to restrict biotic excesses.” The commander fetched a small box and picked out a bio-inhibitor collar, not unlike the one they’d slapped on her the day after she attacked Garrus.

“This will record any biotic discharges you make, Shepard. I think you can guess what’ll happen if you try to circumvent it?”

An intermittent tremor manifested itself in her right arm. Garrus noticed, and deftly took her shaking hand in his left, shielding the act from their teammates standing in the back and from Vyrnnus himself. Shepard regained her voice.

“I remember, sir. I won’t try anything of the kind.”

“But, I’m not completely heartless. Corinthus and I have agreed on a compromise. You’re allowed three biotic maneuvers before the collar will shock you.”

There was an uneasy stir from the students.

“To compensate for your biotic capabilities, your two opposing squads have been granted a second-year specialist on their team. That person does not have the restrictions you do, and will remain operational until he or she is taken out.”

“That’s not right,” Celsus interjected, “They’ve been given an unfair advantage.”

“You haven’t seen what Shepard can do,” Vyrnnus sneered. “Allow her a free reign and she would cut through the regular students like toy soldiers.”

The backhanded compliment didn’t make Shepard’s arm quit trembling, but Garrus used Celsus’ conversation with the commander to lean down to her ear.

“Got your six, Shepard.” His heart jumped when she gave his talons a quick squeeze, before releasing them as she stepped forward.

“I’m ready for anything, sir. Put it on.”

“As you wish, Shepard. Might be a good idea to get used to this before you land.” He opened the collar and clicked it around her neck. When the lock whirred shut, Shepard felt her air supply being cut off.

“Wait, it’s too tight,” she hacked.

“Oh dear,” Vyrnnus smirked, “can’t fathom how that happened. Just a second.”

Squad Two and Four stared in horror as Vyrnnus took his sweet time readjusting the collar, while Shepard gasped for air. Garrus wanted to slash the commander’s bare face, but knew it would bring only misery to both of them. After all, choking her was merely a mishap .

“There you are,” Vyrnnus said smugly, opening the collar enough for her to breathe.

“Thank you, sir,” Shepard croaked, and reverted to standing at attention.

 

They moved to the hold to prepare for the drop, and while the security brief went on for another 20 minutes relaying rules and restrictions, Garrus kept looking at Shepard’s discreet attempts to lessen the chafing around her neck. After a while she caught on, and gave him a quick thumbs up to tell him not to worry. It helped a little, but he wasn’t entirely satisfied. Every surprise and handicap would lessen their chances at winning, and this one had been sprung on them without any warning. Winning was the most important thing, after all, not that she’d wrapped those soft weird fingers around his talons and held them for a moment. He adjusted himself and focused on the brief. There was no room for mistakes, and he would obey orders to the letter. He could be a good turian too.

 

The shuttle descended into a green forest valley. Shepard caught a glimpse of vast expanses of green fields and kilometers upon kilometers of snaking rivers glittering like blue diamonds, zigzagging the landscape. When the cargo bay doors was opened, the blue skies made her squint after so many months of controlled lighting on the station. The students were given a new special designed omni-tool designed to record hits and impatiently jumped off the ship and awaited their comrades. Shepard grabbed her rifle and was on her way to disembark when her arm was caught in a steel grip by the commander.

“Remember the terms of your agreement, Shepard. If Vakarian gets ‘killed,’ you’re out of the station. Same goes for massive losses on your team. If they can’t hack it, neither will you.”

“What? We’ve won most exams on the school, and you still want to evict me?”

“It’s not that I want to,” Vyrnnus said with insincere concern, “but a deal’s a deal. You’ve been warned.” He pushed her towards the exit.

The rest of her squad was already ground-side, and she ran to catch up with them.

“Everyone all right?”

“Yep, ready to fight and win.” Aius flared his mandibles so wide all his teeth glinted in his mouth.

“Keep that optimism, we’re going to need it.”

“Shepard, over here!” It was Celsus calling her over to an impromptu HQ on a wide rock.

“Sorry about that,” he said and nodded to her collar.

“Yeah, but what can one do? I should have expected some trick from that man,” she shrugged. “How does it look?”

“The other squads should be over here,” he pointed on the map. “They’ve been dropped directly into their ‘fortress’ to make it defendable as soon as possible.”

“And we’re over here, which makes it a two hour trek to where we should set up camp.” Shepard drew a line with her finger over some uneven terrain.

“Three hours, you mean,” Celsus corrected. “You won’t get turians to swim that.”

“Damn! Three hours, then. If I was them, I’d send one or two two-man teams to cut us off and harass or ambush us on the way there, just to slow us down.”

“Maybe, if they think like you.”

“I’ve got the remedy for that, Mevia is an exceptional scout, I’d like to see what gets past her if she takes point,” Shepard smiled.

The students who were pretending not to listen turned eye towards the recon scout, whom also had overheard the exchange, and brimmed with pride.

“All right, Mevia in front, I have a scout myself who can take over is she gets tired.”

Over at her end, Mevia scoffed. There was no way she would let this opportunity slip her grasp.

“Right. Single column march, I don’t want anyone getting lost before we reach the summit.” Shepard signaled Mevia over and explained the route. Mevia nodded and plotted on her own map.

“Everyone, I want you to do a check of your omni-tool frequency. Try calling me, one by one.”

“Right. I’ll do an inspection of the sim-suits and report when we’re ready to start,” Celsus said and headed down the line.

“Strabo check.”

“Mevia check.”

“Borsin check.”

They ran the whole list and everyone’s tool functioned properly, except for an occasional interference on the channels. Shepard tried to change it, and it was present on every available channel.

“Might be interference from the planet’s com-arrays,” Nirea suggested. “Or the judges supervising our actions.”

“At least it doesn’t distort the sound to a great degree,” Strabo added. “We’ll manage.”

“Sim-suits all responding, I’ve reported that we’re clear,” Celsus said when he returned. “You?”

“Comms working, with a minor background noise,” Shepard said. “Reporting in that we’re clear to start.”

All sixteen omni-tools beeped with a single message: T minus 71 hours and 59 minutes, 59 seconds.

“Let’s move out,” Shepard shouted.

 

The three hour trek up to their designated camp area was long and hot, and the collar around her neck was gnawing her skin raw. They hadn’t been encountered an enemy ambush like Shepard expected. In her opinion it was a waste of planning on the enemy’s part. Squads Fourteen and Nine knew the location of their camp site, but remained turtled on their own turf. This meant that Squad Four and Two would have to break through their fully defended lines without having taken out a few beforehand. It would be a tough fight.

 

“Strabo, pick two sentries and station them around the area. We need to build a camp before we decide what to do next.”

“Borsin, two of ours as well.” Celsus ordered.

“A human as your second, Celsus? My, my..”

“Shut it. He was the best for the job, and I went with it. Haven’t regretted it once,” he smiled back.

“Didn’t think you would. Good judgment. Usually,” she winked and nodded at Nirea.

“I, uh, that’s.. not part of the Field Exam.”

“Maybe later?” Shepard enjoyed teasing him.

“Uuuhh,” was the only sound he made and she waved him off.

“Okay, okay, but later, I will ask about it.”

“Fine. Now, for the real problems.” He turned to the remaining members of Two and Four “The rest of you, set up the tents and dig the latrine!” he ordered.

 

While they got busy, Shepard checked the timer. T minus 68 hours and 32 minutes. She unraveled the map again.

“We need to set up a small defensive perimeter of our own, in case they try something.”

“Agreed. More people on the east than west, seeing as we have the river as a natural bulwark here.”

“Humans can still make it across,” Shepard countered.

“Yes, but we’ll place snipers here and here in the higher area, to pick them off as they cross.”

“I concur. Garrus would be perfect for this, we’ll reassign positions later. Do you have a sniper on your team?”

“I do, so we’re good on the western front.”

“We need to get some recon on their defensive capabilities before deciding from which side to attack.”

“Shepard, there is only one way that would work with our two teams, and that’s the eastern approach. It’s landed, and you couldn’t make the journey without turians. You only have one human on your team, I have 5. Not nearly enough for a head on assault on their position, and splitting our forces is a very risky move.”

“Fuck. And they know this. We have to try and snipe as many as we can before charging straight into or sneaking around whatever trap they’ve set up on the east side.”

“While we can see their camp from our western plateau, our rifles can’t shoot that far. Not even sniper rifles.”

“At least we have eyes on them from west side.” Shepard tapped on the map.

“We must go east to get close, but when we get to whatever bunker or fortress they’ve set up, we still have to get in.”

Shepard cast a sideways glance at Celsus and brushed her fingers on the collar.

“Three biotic maneuvers, remember? I think I can blast through a flimsy blockade easily enough.”

“Riiight, you’re biotic. Almost forgot.”

“Mhm.. thanks.”

“No, I mean, you’re one of us grunts.”

“I feel so honored.”

“Fuck you,” he smiled, and they both chuckled.

“So, recon first, then we agree on how to proceed?” Celsus grinned.

“Yes. Let’s get some grub in our squads, then-..”

 

“Shepard! Shepard!”

She knew that voice, and dreaded the message. Strabo came running up the path and stopped in front of them, out of breath.

“I sent out Aius and Garrus to watch the camp ground. Garrus was stationed to the east, but when I went to check on him, he wasn’t there. Celsus’ guy says Garrus saw something and wanted to scout further ahead. He went on alone. He’s not responding on his omni-tool either.”

“Oh fuck, no!” Shepard groaned. That stupid turian would ruin her day less than four hours into the exam.

“Relax, Shepard, we know he’s not dead yet, the onmi-tool counter would have pinged him deceased.”

“Celsus, this is personal,” Shepard said and touched her collar. “I need to find that moron before he brings this whole thing crashing down around me.”

Celsus was one of the few people on the station that knew of her history with Vyrnnus from her own lips, and he quickly caught on.

“Go get your moron, I got a handle of things here. Just don’t get killed too, okay?”

“Thanks. Strabo, you’re to take over for me if I fall. Find Mevia and bring her here. I’m going to need her sharp eyes for this.”

“Right away, Shepard,” Strabo said and ran to find the scout.

Celsus lowered his voice. “So if Vakarian gets himself killed..”

“I’m screwed,” she said with fervor. “You know, the first one killed on my team,” she added in case anyone listened.

“I understand.” Celsus patted her shoulder. “You’ll get him.”

 

Garrus moved quietly through the underbrush as he moved towards his goal. His rifle scope was the standard Conatix issue, and not as good as the one he had at home, and the glimpse of metal he’d seen in that tree wasn’t enough to confirm his suspicions. If they’d built a sniper’s nest in the forest line beyond this field, it would be impossible to advance here for the rest of the squads. If only he could take it down, they would be able to traverse the area safely. Right now he really wanted his visor, as it could detect body heat at great distances. Sadly it wasn’t allowed, and he had to utilize his natural skills to detect enemies. A sniper was supposed to work with a spotter, and strictly speaking he was supposed to guard the camp, but he’d given notice, hadn’t he? He didn’t just leave the camp undefended, they knew he was on a mission.

Garrus swallowed and tried to make up a plausible excuse for his sudden trip, but he knew down in his soul why he was here. He wanted to win and be praised as a turian of honor, not one stained by his family’s reputation. And he wanted Shepard to be proud of him. After taking a few more strides, he stood in a clearing of the forest where someone had dug a ditch stretching almost 5 meters, and Garrus froze. The ditch was abandoned, but they couldn’t be far away. If they’d prepared a front line here, he was already in their territory. The knowledge that he was getting in too deep was narrowly trumped by the desperate urge to find his target, and thus have a valid explanation for his absence. He pressed on, and found another trench 100 meters further ahead. Now he was on the end of the forest line, and he could see the sniper’s nest he’d glimpsed earlier in a tree beyond the open field. This trench was probably supposed to be their first defensive outpost, but it was unoccupied. They probably weren’t expecting an attack so soon, he figured, and crawled forward until he could slide into the trench. There he unhooked his sniper rifle and hoisted it to his shoulder, aiming for the tree. To his surprise, wires and ropes coiled around it, unlike anything he’d ever seen before. It would be difficult to spot with the naked eye, but at this range it was clear to see in a scope.

In his peripheral vision there was a movement on the open field in front of him, and four recruits in camouflage threw themselves down and hid from sight.

He’d been discovered.

T minus 67 hours and 1 minute.

Chapter Text

T minus 66 hours and 40 minutes

“Slow down, I can’t spot an enemy ambush at this speed!”

Mevia picked up her pace, and with a few long strides she was beside Shepard.

“Just do your best, I’ll use biotics to defend us if I have to.” Shepard kept checking for tracks on the ground as she ran, and followed the footprints of a lone turian in the wet earth among leaves and sticks. They were on the right path.

“For Garrus? Weren’t you supposed to use that in the breach?”

“Mevia, do as I say!” Shepard heard her own snappish tone, but she was irritated beyond measure. Poor Mevia got the brunt of it.

“Yes, mam!”

Her turian companion stopped questioning and searched the surroundings with narrow eyes. Shepard held back several swear words. Garrus would be in a world of shit when she got a hold of him.

“He can’t have gotten that far, we’re running and he probably had to sneak ahead.”

“Yes, mam.”

Shepard wasn’t sure Mevia was upset or focused. She’d guess the latter. That turian had a mouth like a razor blade, but was equally talented on the field. This was proven by a low exclamation seconds later.

“Look over there! A clearing midst the trees!”

“Guns ready, we’re taking a look.”

Both of them pulled out their sidearms and proceeded more slowly towards the spot Mevia had pointed out.

 


 

T minus 66 hours and 35 minutes

Garrus crawled down to the end of the trench, trying to find some cover against being flanked by multiple opponents when they reached his position. Turians were never much for ducking, but today he had no choice. He’d tried peering over the edge of the trench, but a low buzz from the omni-tool warned him of a near miss, and he knew he was running out of time. Only the occasional rustle in the grass told him of the encroaching enemies. There was little chance of reinforcements reaching him in time, but he could at least let them know where he was, even if his foolish actions would go on his exam record. He opened his omni-tool to the emergency channel.

“This is Garrus Vakarian, I’m trapped in a trench on the open field east of our camp. If anyone can hear me, I could use a little help.”

The rustling got more active and he heard them approaching now from several points. He kept on crawling until he found a minor dugout in a side alley of the trench, with several planks strewn about. There was precious little time to construct something sturdy out of this, and he made a makeshift cover in the hopes of at least taking out one of the attackers. They were very close now, and he heard one of them stand up. The sniper rifle he carried was unfit for close quarters combat, and Garrus put it away and pulled his handgun, preparing to fire.

There was a small thump as the first enemy landed in the trench and stalked forward. Garrus felt oddly calm about his impending ‘death’. Here he sat, huddled behind some flimsy wooden boards, awaiting the inevitable. At least he wouldn’t be the only one to die. The turian body was far to big for the small hideout, and the enemy recruit spotted him immediately.

“He’s over here!” he yelled, before a single shot from Garrus marked him in the head, and the omni-tool pinged with ‘Marcusson, killed in action. Headshot.’

“Son of a-..” The fallen recruit quickly left the trench, presumably headed for the extraction area.

The remaining three approached from different angles, and Garrus could heard the heavy footsteps of a turian and a triumphant hum from the bastard. He darted out and made a run for the other side of the outpost. His opponents missed the first few shots they fired after him. Garrus made a point of shielding his head, as the armor they all wore allowed for a few grazes, but not many. The shield only had four bars. He felt the sim-suit give a small sting. One down. He scrambled and threw himself behind a bend in the pit. Another sting. Two down. The turian came after him, smugly vocalizing his oncoming death. Garrus ran another turn, and the humans atop the trench hit him in the back. Three down. Now he was pretty much a dead turian walking. His pursuer rounded the corner after him. Garrus wheeled around to fire, but his foot got caught in a piece of debris, making him tumble and fall. The gun slid harmlessly along the muddy floor.

The turian in front of him flared his mandibles and raised his gun.

 

Suddenly his omni-tool whirred a warning, and his shields flared into full power. The shotgun blast hit him square in the chest, but the shields were back online and he was only registered with ‘Vakarian, minor injury.’ What was happening?

“Yaaaarrrrggh!”

A spirit of fury descended on the enemy turian from above and knocked him to the ground, before pulling out a knife and slashing across his throat. Shepard is here. Garrus slumped with relief.

Cassius, killed in action. Slit throat.’

The humans pointed their rifles at her and she threw her arm out, hitting both of them with a biotic charge. They flew apart and landed heavily on the field. Shepard hoisted herself up from the trench and emptied her clip in the nearest enemy.

Svensdottir, killed in action, gun shot wounds.”

The last human had found her gun and aimed at Shepard, when a single shot rang out and another message flashed across the screen.

Ueda, killed in action, headshot.’

“Thanks, Mevia. Fucking fine shot.”

“My pleasure, Shepard.”

Garrus shrunk in his plates. He’d been saved, now came the reckoning.

Shepard and Mevia quickly jumped down into cover, as the turian she’d ‘killed’ cast one last angry glare at her and disappeared towards the extraction site.

“Garrus Vakarian, you little shit! You were supposed to guard the camp, not run off on some suicide mission!”

“I know, Shepard, I’m sorry,” he began, but she wasn’t in the mood for apologies.

“You better have a fucking good explanation for leaving your post, and I would have it now, unless you want to be a casualty of friendly fire!”

“Uhm, I, ah..” he tried, but couldn’t find his tongue. Instead he pulled out his sniper rifle and pushed it into her hands while pointing to the strange thing in the tree.

She gave him a suspicious glance and raised the rifle to her shoulder. Both of them carefully peeked over the edge and Shepard swept the scope over the green landscape, finally finding the thing he was pointing at. She followed the wires and cables from the ground up to the lush branches above. When she sank down into the pit again, she was staring at him with a wide eyed maniacal look.

“Can’t even speak, idiot?” she spat. “No excuses, just a glory hungry moron intent on ruining everything?”

Garrus stared at her, hurt and confused. This wasn’t like her, at least, not like the new Shepard. To his further shock, she tackled him to the ground and started pounding the dirt next to his face.

“Perhaps this ‘thud’ will teach you ‘thud’ not to disobey orders ‘thud’ again.”

“Uh, Shepard, calm down,” Mevia said uneasy from the sideline.

Garrus couldn’t fathom any of this, but when he tried to speak, a soft finger was placed on his mouth plates. He looked up and saw Shepard grinning like crazy. She pointed to the tree, tapped her ear and lastly, the omni-tool. It took only two blinks before he understood what she meant. Spirits, it was so obvious. He nodded eagerly. Shepard quickly kissed him on the crest before going at him again.

“You really are the most useless twit on my team. Too bad I can’t shoot you myself!”

She spun her hands around in his direction, and he knew exactly what she wanted. It was like they were dancing.

“’m not ‘n idiot,” he said, trying to sound as if he just had his face smashed in. “..‘twas a minor mistake.”

“If you think you’re seeing any minor action again on this exam, you’re sadly mistaken. You’ll pay for this, Vakarian. Let’s move before reinforcements arrive.”

She turned and winked to Mevia, who had caught on slower than Garrus, but understood the gist of it.

“Vorcha-brain,” she barked at Garrus.

“Fuck you,” he replied sullenly.

“Enough talking, more running,” Shepard snapped and quickly jumped herself out of the trench. A few scattered shots from the other side of the field cast up dirt around her feet.

“Run!”

The three of them cleared the 100 meter distance back to the forest in record time, and Shepard was grinning the entire time.

“We need to get back to camp and discuss how get past that hill,” she said, and the two turians exchanged a look. Why was Shepard telling this when they were overheard?

“Those smug bastard think we can’t fight and uphill battle,” Shepard continued. “We’ll show them. They’re four men down, and we hold the advantage.”

“Shepard?” Mevia asked carefully, not wanting to make any mistakes.

Their squad leader spun around, smiled her insane lopsided grin and gave them two thumbs up. It did little to reassure them.

“Double time, come on,” Shepard ordered and made them run all the way back to camp.

 


 

Shepard was elated. It was a feeling unlike anything she’d felt before, the absolute certainty that she had her opponent by the balls and the only thing she had to do was squeeze. That little nest in the sky was the enemy specialist, a surveillance expert who’d monitored them since they came to Eden Prime. The background noise on their omni-tools, the echo when they talked to each other, it was all him. The enemy knew their every plan, but she would use their certainty against them like a battering ram. First she needed a few minutes of privacy, though. There was no telling if the specialist could read messages on their tools, and she’d never thought to bring primitive implements like pen and paper, but she could make do. Before they arrived in the camp, she broke of a small tree branch and whittled the end to a sharp point.

“Where’s Nirea? I need our combat engineer. Some flash bangs will help when we attack their position.”

“I’ll find her,” Mevia said and left.

Garrus shifted his weight from one leg to another, and Shepard turned to him and pointed to the sentry posts and the other squad members, making sure he understood that he was to gather them in the center of the camp. He frowned, trying to signal back that they would be defenseless. She raised ten fingers, and he understood that to mean a short meeting.

“There you are,” Celsus said behind her. “And I see you found your wayward turian.”

“I did. He’s on latrine duty for the rest of the exam. Hop to it,” she barked at Garrus, and he disappeared on his mission.

“I have plans for our eastern breach,” Celsus said as she followed him to the map.

“Good. I want Nirea to prepare some flash bangs for entry,” she said as Nirea appeared with Mevia.

“They’ll never see us coming,” Celsus grinned.

“I know,” Shepard smiled broadly.

“You wanted to see me, Shepard,” Nirea said, glancing at Mevia. She knew something was wrong.

“I did. I need you to make some grenades from what we have brought with us to mask our advance.”

While she spoke, she wrote in the dirt on the ground.

“I can do that,” Nirea said, cocking her head to the side with a confused look. “What kind of grenades?”

“Flash bangs,” Shepard said, but on the ground, she’d written ‘chaff-grenade, now!’

“Yeah, sure, I’ll see what I can do,” Nirea replied and was gone the next minute.

Celsus looked on the ground and stared at her. She tapped her omni-tool and put a finger to her lips. His mandibles slackened, but he tried to keep up appearances.

“So, the breach,” he said, sounding a lot more dejected now.

“The eastern side is the only way. I’ll lead a small team around the forest and come up on D14,” she said and pointed to the map. “Complete radio silence and stealthing so they won’t see us. When we’re in position, we’ll attack from the north-east side, and when they’re thrown into confusion, you’ll commence the attack from the front. Not even running up the hills should be a problem then. We already took out four of them.”

“Four? Impressive,” Celsus said with slightly more enthusiasm than earlier.

“I know,” she smiled. “And we’ve only just begun. Ah, here come’s Nirea with the flash bangs.”

“I think this is what you wanted, Shepard. Careful with that one, though,” she said and held out a second grenade. It’s one of a kind, but I’m not sure what it does.”

Right on cue, Garrus appeared with the rest of the two squads in tow.

“What the..” Celsus begun, but Shepard waved him off.

“What do you mean you don’t know?” she said airily and dropped the chaff grenade.

The bang deafened them for several seconds and the glimmering aluminum parts flickered in the air.

“Now listen carefully, I can only say this once. The enemy specialist is a surveillance specialist. They’ve been listening to everything we’ve said since we came here, and they know we’re attacking from the east.”
There was a murmur of angry voices.

“Except we’re not. Change of plans right now. Celsus will do as first planned and try to dig in at the front of the east gate, while I will lead a smaller team around from the west and attack from the rear.”

Nobody said a word until Danteus, a turian on Celsus’ team stepped forward.

“That means crossing the river.”

“It does. I’m going to need four volunteers. Not you, Garrus and Mevia, I have other plans for you, and not Strabo, he needs to support Celsus, but anyone else is welcome.”

“Crossing the river,” Danteus repeated. “You know turians can’t swim, right?”

“Yes, and I’ll get you guys across, even if I have to swim you there myself. I need turians to step up for this, because if all the humans disappear from the front, the ruse might not work. Everyone knows turians don’t swim, that’s why they won’t see us coming.”

“You’re nuts, you know that,” Danteus sighed. “I’ll go. Seems like the only way to win now.”

“Me too,” Aius said.

“Fuck it. I’ll come,” Metilius added, the last turian on Celsus team.

“You might need me to find the weak spot on the door before trying to destroy it,” Nirea shrugged.

“All right, that’s our infiltration team. Remember, not a word, these things are voice activated. Only hand signals, like you’ve learned in class.”

“You’re forgetting one thing,” Celsus said, brushing his talons against his crest. “You’re flying blind. If you run into the enemy when on different sides of the river, you can’t warn each other.”

“Yes we can.” Shepard flashed a toothy smile and turned to Garrus and Mevia. “The whole station knows my squad has been ‘squabbling’ the last weeks, and earlier I pretended to beat up Garrus for insubordination. We’ll use that.”

“Huh?” Mevia looked dumbfounded.

“You two will be spotting for us from our side of the river, and if you see an enemy approaching, Garrus will go on a rant about that fucking Shepard and send over the open channel.”

There was low snickering among the squads.

“Whenever we hear that, we’ll know the enemy is near and we need to take cover. The rest of the front team are allowed to tell him to keep it down, but the code word for coast clear is when Mevia says the words ‘shut up.’”

“What if we need to give you instructions on how to move,” Mevia asked.

“I think I can handle that,” Garrus interjected. “That fucking Shepard, always thinks she knows best, she goes left when we should go right, that sort of thing.”

“Precisely!” Shepard beamed at him.

“Only about 4 more minutes left of the chaff,” Nirea said.

“Right. We’ll use that system and keep it simple. I’ll signal two thumbs up when we’re ready to attack. Mevia will then leave the lookout, go to Celsus’ position and join the vanguard. Garrus, when you see us entering the camp, you know we’re about to blow the doors in 5 minutes time. Haul ass back to that surveillance nest and put a bullet in the specialist’s head. We don’t need him raining fire from atop that tree.”

“Affirmative.”

“Whenever we talk when the chaff clears, we’re still discussing our trip to surround them from the east, okay? Can’t let them know we’re on to them. And no killing the enemy until we’re inside their camp, west team. The death-alerts from our omni-tools would give us away.”

“Yes, Shepard.”

“Good. We’ll eat, have a quick rest and Celsus team will start trying to claw their way into the finished trenches to the east. The rest of us are going swimming.”

Her turian volunteers shuddered.

“We only have one shot at getting it right, I only have one more biotic attack left, so let’s make this one count.”

The rest of the team cast Garrus a sideways glance, and his neck turned deep blue.

“A small price to pay for victory,” Shepard said, defusing their resentment with a shrug. “We know their plan now, and we would have walked right into a trap without our little turian spy here.”

To Garrus surprise, the others lightened up, some of them even gave him a cordial slap on the cowl.

“Everyone is clear to their purpose? Remember, we have to keep it very simple, keep talking about our attack plan to the eastern entrance, and how my team is going silent and skirting around the forest to attack from the north east side of the entrance. Oh, and Danteus, find some rope, we’re going to need it, both to cross the river and scale the encampment.”

“On it.” Danteus left at once.

“It’s clearing up now,” Nirea warned.

“So that’s why we’re taking a small break before making that long trek,” Shepard said and made a cutting movement against her throat. No more talking about the real plan. “Those trenches were probably dug by some students from earlier exams, and we need to take them before we can advance.”

Celsus had recovered from the blow of being under surveillance, and looked very determined.

“Don’t worry, we’ll cast them out like naughty fledglings,” he hissed. “They’ll regret having been drawn against our teams.”

“In for a big fight,” Argyle grinned. “I can’t wait.”

 


 

T minus 63 hours and 14 minutes

Shepard and her small infiltration team made their way down to the riverside undetected by the enemy. Their hand signaling worked really well, even when she was the only with five fingers. Mevia and Garrus were on the overlook, and she had no doubt that between the two of them, very little would escape their notice. The river had a seemingly slow current, but the surface could belie the power below, and she knew she’d have to go first. All around them large chunks of rocks were scattered, and she briefly wondered if they’d been carried there by a glacier, like on earth. Whatever had brought them here, they provided excellent cover, and hopefully, the two on top would spot enemies thinking the same. The plan was to swim across with a rope and tie it to a submerged rock on the opposite side, so the turians could have some assistance when crossing, while simultaneously hiding the rope beneath the surface.

She darted from rock to rock down to the riverbank, and put her hand in the water. Thankfully it was not too cold, but it wasn’t warm either. No doubt the turians would have complained vociferously, if they were allowed their voices.

Shepard signaled them to hold and hide, cast one last scouring look over the river, and waded in.

The weight of her uniform and the rope around her shoulders when wet was heavier than she expected. She searched around the riverside for a rock that was halfway submerged. There were many rocks available, but they had to correspond with a similar rock on the other side. After finding a good match, she dived down and tied the rope around it underwater. It was shallow enough to allow followers to hold on while crossing and deep enough not to be seen from a distance. Now completely soaked, she started swimming across the river. The current floated her further down than she anticipated, and she was glad her turians would have the rope to help them later. The riverbank where she’d drifted was too far downstream from where she was supposed to anchor the rope, and she grabbed some tufts of grass to pull herself up.

“That fucking Shepard, thinks she’s so smart. Never knew when to keep her head down.” Garrus voice rang out on their com-system.

She immediately lowered herself back into the water and put the rope under her feet to keep it submerged.

“I mean, yeah, she can to some things, but she’s way overrated. Never really knew when to step down or duck.”

The implication was obvious, and Shepard drew her breath and ducked under water. She could hold her breath for about three and a half minute when they’d practiced in class, but this time she was a little out of breath from swimming. With any luck, it was just a passing sentry. Shepard cleared her mind and tried thinking about a slow swimming salmon, hiding like her under the river bank. For three minutes and 4 seconds she managed to stay under, but by then her lungs were burning. She surfaced under the overhang and tried to breathe silently.

Garrus was still going strong. “Humans in general are stupid, you know.”

“Will you shut up,” Mevia barked.

Thank the gods for that, Shepard thought before crawling up the bank. She saw no sign of the enemy, but trusted Garrus and Mevia to have the oversight on that part. Flitting from rock to rock, she made her way back up to the designated boulder on this side of the river. It was standing halfway into the water, surrounded by other large stones. The mere thought of crossing the river in full gear several more times was not tempting, and she began stripping away anything but essentials. Gun down, jacket down, boots off, rifle down. She kept the long sleeve shirt and pants, hiding the rest under some rubble. No need to flash those scars, and if she was going to swim with a turian clinging to her back, there might be some chafing on bare skin.

Shepard smiled to herself. The chafing happened on occasion, as she could personally attest. The river was still too cold to be truly comfortable, and she winced when wading back into the water. Another dive to fasten the rope, and they were good to go. The return trip was much easier now that she was freed of guns, rope and clothes, but when she climbed up on the rocks, she rethought the idea of leaving the boots. These things were sharp. The four turians peeked out from behind their boulders, and she pointed at Danteus first. He’d been the first one to volunteer, he should get the honor of crossing as the first turian. Apparently, the honor was lost on him, and he merely stared wide eyed at her like she’d picked him for execution. Waving her hand impatiently, she finally got him to move from his hideout. They needed to be quick, she doubted a turian would react well to being ducked underwater to hide. Danteus followed her reluctantly into the water, looking extremely uncomfortable. When they got so far in that his footing disappeared, he almost cried out and pretty much jumped on her back, refusing to let go.

Shepard repeated a long line of swear words in her head, but at least she could make use of the rope to pull them over to the other side. Next time she would listen more carefully when someone talked about hydrophobia in turians.

When they arrived at the northern bank, she managed to coax Danteus to let go once he felt solid ground beneath his feet again. He looked rather ashamed, but she gave him an encouraging pat on the shoulder, and signaled him to take cover.

“You know, I never really understood why that fucking biotic is here in the first place,” Garrus boomed over the radio. Danteus and Shepard ducked down behind the rocks.

“I mean, it must be from far above that someone got that idea, not often those pinheads have good judgment.”

Shepard knew at once what he meant. There were people on an overlook on this side too. Their intervals of checking was infrequent, as Squad Nine and Twelve was anticipating an attack from the east, not the river. What was more disturbing, was how easily she could read Garrus’ meaning. Danteus heard the same words she did, and he looked to her to see her interpretation. She pointed to the ridge above them and pretended to make binoculars over her eyes. A quiet nod told her he’d understood the message.

“Really, Vakarian, could you pipe down,” Celsus voice was heard on the channel. “You’re making an ass of yourself.”

“We might not hear an enemy attack because of your babbling,” Argyle chimed in.

“Yeah, will you please shut up now?!” Mevia’s exasperated voice added.

Shepard gesticulated to Danteus to take cover further away to avoid too many people gathered on their landing site, and prepared to return to the west shore. Three more trips with hydrophobic turians on her back, how could she ever have imagined this was going to be an easy win?

 

T minus 62 hours and 41 minutes

Chapter Text

T minus 62 hours and 25 minutes

From the overlook, the two turians perched under a camo tarp could see the entire valley below. There was no sign of an ambush on this side of their encampment, likely because the enemy was preparing for a head on assault on the east side. There was one lone sniper on a lookout on a mountain ledge, but he seemed to be bored with his posting, continuously looking eastward to where the action would take place, or making the occasional sweep with his scope over the gully.

Shepard and her team would have to take him out before the final charge, but Garrus wasn’t too worried. The mountainside was readily climbable, and a two man team should make short work of the guy without too much noise. Mevia’s keen eyes were constantly on the man when not darting around the landscape for any hidden enemies. Her skills was a great asset for the team. The worry he’d felt for almost getting removed from the exam in its first hours was much abated. And then there was the crest nuzzle. He’d heard other humans call pressing one’s lips against one another a kiss. Garrus aimed his rifle down to the river, where Shepard was returning for a second turian. It had felt like a burn. His adrenaline had been up, under threat of ‘death’, and he got floored by a female, the one he desired with painful clarity, and when she’d placed her warm soft lips on his crest, it burned him. He was eternally thankful for the codpiece sewn into the crotch of his Conatix uniform. It’s presence had prevented him from exposing himself in a very unfortunate way.

Shepard was almost across with Aius on her back, and Garrus felt a small twinge of envy. No doubt the little jerk would tell everyone about how soft Shepard’s body felt when she was out of earshot. But she never kissed you , a gleeful part of Garrus sang in his head. He searched the environment again, but there was no other enemies to be seen, beside the sniper. The worst case scenario would be if the infiltration team was caught mid stream with both Shepard and a turian. A turian being forced to submerge him- or herself would likely go into a panic, revealing their vulnerable position to the enemy. Garrus wondered if Mevia or he would ever dare tell Shepard that the lone sentry he’d told her to duck for had relieved herself in the river above her, before heading back to the enemy camp. Probably not.

Beside him Mevia tensed, and Garrus readjusted his aim to the ledge. The guy was now doing push-ups to keep himself busy. No need to warn Shepard yet. He looked down again, and saw Aius crouch behind a rock formation while Shepard tried to catch a moment’s rest. Two more trips before they started to advance. The anticipation stirred in his chest, and he wanted to vocalize a challenge to the world; that they were coming and would rain destruction and fire on their enemies. And if they won, well.. Perhaps there would be a reward? Not that he believed he’d ever get another kiss, but still.. He said a silent prayer to the spirits, asking for strength in the coming hours.

Two half drownings later, and Shepard was laying flat on her back, hidden in the reeds that grew along the riverbank. Through his scope he’d seen she was exhausted, and the three turians on the western approach had pretty much hauled her and Nirea over the river after Shepard had loosened the rope for the final turn. A talon jabbed his side, and he saw the sniper carelessly sweep the river again.

“Did you know that Shepard is really lazy?” he broadcast to the world in general. “I mean, whenever her superiors are looking for her, she’s always laying in some fool’s bed, trying to avoid a scolding.”

The river-team was already in hiding, but needed to remain there for now.

“Vakarian, this rumor-mongering will go on your record,” Celsus barked over the comms.

Mevia had problems keeping herself serious, and pointed at Shepard in the grass, then Garrus, and made a slashing movement over her throat. He grinned back at her. He certainly hoped she would be incensed enough to take him on in a personal lesson when they got back.

“It’s not a rumor, everyone knows it’s true,” he said in a sulky voice.

Mevia rubbed her crest with a horrified expression, and hummed a warning; ‘you’re one dead turian’. Out loud she said; “Will you just shut up, shut up, shut up?! I’m sick and tired of all this.”

“Whatever..”

 

T minus 61 hours and 41 minutes

Down in the valley, Shepard and her team began moving towards the cliffs under the mini fortress. Under a small patch of trees near the base of the cliff there was enough cover to hide from the outlook above, but Garrus could still see them between the trunks and branches. Shepard was signaling to Aius and Metilius to climb the precipice on the left to get to the sniper, while she, Nirea and Danteus made their way to the encampment on the right. Mevia scratched a message in the dirt in front of Garrus. ‘Soon.’ The plan was that she’d leave when Shepard gave the signal, but he’d remain in case they needed a last minute warning. As soon as they breached the camp, he’d have to hightail it to Celsus’ position and leave Shepard undefended from the rear. Four hours ago that seemed like a good plan, now his plates itched by the thought of leaving Shepard open like that, but orders were orders. Breaking them twice in the same exam would spell disaster.

Aius and Metilius split from the main group and headed for the climb. Shepard stepped out between the trees for a few seconds, gave them two thumbs up and vanished from sight. Now they were on the prowl. Beside him, Mevia couldn’t suppress a delighted hum and she slapped him on the cowl as she crawled away. This was it. Time to see if they could make the haphazard plan work.

Fifteen minutes later, the trio was still unseen, but Garrus could see Aius and Metilius make good time up the hill while making sure not to make noise. The minutes snailed by before Garrus could spot Shepard’s team again. They were huddled under a small ridge about ten meters away from the encampment’s west wall. Unless you knew to look for them, they were completely hidden. Garrus noticed they were looking at their omni-tools, and he realized they were watching for the death alert of the sniper. If it came too soon, they would be made on the wrong side of the wall, if it came to late, they would be sitting ducks while he picked them off. A hell of a gamble, but Shepard seemed to like it like that. She was completely calm and composed.

Garrus turned back to Aius and his companion. They’d switched places, as Metilius was apparently a dab hand with a knife, judging from the way he was flicking it between his talons. They were almost by the ledge, when he saw the unthinkable happen. One of them stepped on loose shale, and some of the pebbles started sliding downhill. Garrus felt his heart jump in his chest. Oh no, spirits, no, this was too soon. The sniper picked up his rifle and walked forward slowly to peer over the edge. Aius and Metilius clambered to hide under the jutting ledge, but was only a matter of time now that more stones were beginning to move. Garrus shot a look at Shepard's’ team, unaware of the danger and now tying the rope to scale the wall. His brain started to work very fast. If he sounded a warning, they would not get over the wall in time. The chasm between him and the other sniper was impossibly long with this rifle, at least with a normal shot. He ripped out the anemometer and saw the wind meter per second was next to nothing. Some fewer summations to make. He shored up the rifle on a small sandbag, numerous calculations firing in his head, distance, drift, bullet drop, elevation, risk of failure, possibility of success, and his brain almost seized with all the barrage of information he forced it to work through. Luckily for him, he’d been doing mental calculations and calibrations as a means to stay focused around Shepard for weeks now, so the computations went rather fast, and when the right angle and trajectory formed in his head, he knew he had a reasonable chance of hitting the target. The problem was, to break the shield and kill him, it needed to be a head shot, and that might be too much to ask at this distance. However, if he only wounded the man, perhaps it would give Aius and Metilius the chance to kill him.

Metilius, killed in action, headshot.’

The sniper had spotted them under the cliff, and it was only a matter of time before he revealed Aius’ position over the radio, jeopardizing the entire operation. The main camp would start looking for intruders before Shepard and her team was over the wall. What would Shepard do in his situation!? She would take the shot , a dead certain voice said in his head. That was enough for Garrus. He took careful aim at the sniper. The recruit was neglecting to call in the ambush over radio in pursuit of kill points on the exam. While he tried to get a fix on Aius, who was now scrambling in loose shale to avoid getting hit, Garrus re-positioned the small sandbag one centimeter, readjusted the angle of the rifle and slowly drew his breath.

A lone shot rang out across the gorge, and two seconds later the message flashed in the omni-display:

Warski, killed in action, headshot.”

A headshot! A fucking headshot, at that distance with this ancient rifle! Spirits be praised, Shepard would have to kiss him now. Shepard! He adjusted his aim and saw Nirea’s last foot being hauled over the wall. They were in! The breach was about to happen! He made the rifle disassemble and attached it to his back. There would be time to boast later, right now he needed to run. Another enemy needed a bullet in the head, and they needed to make a diversion for Shepard immediately.

 

T minus 61 hours and 2 minutes

Garrus ran as fast as his long feet could propel him. The enemy would be alerted to the death of their sniper, and unless Celsus’ breach team made some noise, they would find Shepard too soon. The thought of her in danger made him sprint faster, vaulting over the trench in the forest and continuing straight into the open field. There was scattered warning shouts as both friends and foes became aware of his mad dash. The enemy lines opened fire, only to be forced back into cover by covering fire from his team. With a last ditch effort, he lunged himself into the trench, rolling down the sloping wall, and crashing with the planks on the opposite side. Celsus came crouching over to his position, a thunder cloud in his gullet.

“What’s the meaning of this,” he hissed. ‘You were to be on ‘latrine duty.’

“Already taken care of shit on my end,” Garrus replied. “We need to make some noise over here, and I want to be part of it.” He hummed his urgency. It was unclear whether they could pick up on that, but they might, and Celsus wasn’t catching on as fast as Shepard could.

“Now? We haven’t heard anything from Shepard’s team yet. They might not be in position.”

“Or they might never be,” Garrus said with an imploring thrum. “We should get the glory before that crazy human can steal it.”

Finally Celsus was seeing some sense. “Perhaps we should. We’re turians, after all. All right, guys, prepare to advance. Cover fire!”

Garrus sighed with relief, then distended his sniper rifle and started scanning the nest again from behind the pile of planks. Whomever was up there was well concealed, but Garrus knew he would be forced to look over the rim to relay the position of Celsus’ advance team to the defenders. He heard Argyle and Castor laugh as they zigged and zagged from cover to cover, and knew that Mevia was out there somewhere, hidden under her camouflage net. After hours of waiting, the rest of Celsus team was rearing to go, but only Baptiste was allowed to advance with Shepard’s turians. The rest were restricted to suppressing fire, and Garrus hoped this would be enough distraction for Shepard to pull the attention away from the west side. Everything was up in the air now, and unless the gate was blown, they were fucked.

Strabo appeared behind him. “See anyone,” he said, and it could have been in reference to all enemies on the defensive line.

“Not yet, but I will,” Garrus replied laconically.

“Spirits, we should have waited for Shepard,” Strabo said in a strained voice. “We’ll get slaughtered like this.”

“Or they would have been,” Garrus replied quietly.

“Careful,” Strabo warned.

“Gotcha.” Garrus’ right mandible was pressed against the rifle stock, but his left flared wide. He saw the bastard. The surveillance expert was a turian, and a female at that. It looked like… that female that was always sitting at Shepard’s table? Was she a surveillance expert? Shepard never mentioned that.

Garrus slowly drew his breath, took aim and squeezed.

Arista Nerva, killed in action, headshot.’

“That’s Shepard’s friend,” Strabo gaped.

“Now deceased,” Garrus trilled happily. “My condolences, Shepard.”

 

In that same moment, a huge biotic surge rammed the front gate from the inside, blasting it apart with tremendous force and leaving the entrance wide open. The enemy was thrown into disarray, not knowing if whether to defend the front or the rear.

“She did it!” Celsus shouted.

“That I did,” a familiar voice said over the comms. “A little help up here, please?”

“Hell yes,” Argyle shouted, “Once more into the Fray, Into the last good fight I’ll ever know, live and die on this day, live and die on this day!” He jumped out of cover and made a charge for the entrance, closely followed by a host of his fellow students who were now breaking ranks and fanned out behind him, all eager for victory and glory. Argyle had somehow procured an additional rifle, and his large frame allowed him to dual wield them, spitting fire and death as he ran.

“Argyle, you damn madman, that’s suicide,” Strabo yelled after him.

Nobilior, killed in action, gun shot wound.’

Memor, killed in action, gun shot wound.’

Trupo, killed in action, gun shot wound.’

“Raaargh!” Argyle’s reckless frontal assault drew all the incoming fire from the enemy before they finally composed enough to aim and bring him down.

Argyle, killed in action, gun shot wounds.’

The enemy had focused on the raving Argyle and allowed themselves to be overrun by the rest. Their position was swamped and became embroiled in a vicious hand to hand struggle.

Celsus glanced at Strabo. “What the hell, let’s just kill them all,” he sneered and vaulted out of the trench.

“Where are you, Shepard?” Strabo called out and ran after Celsus.

“Shepard? Answer!” Garrus entreated over the comms.

Richardson, killed in action, strangulation.’

“That was my guy, you bastards!” Celsus howled and fired his rifle as he ran.

Demidov, killed in action, gun shot wound.’

Sanchez, killed in action, broken neck.’

“Well done, Sara!” Celsus said as he ran by.

Vindex, killed in action, headshot.’

“Thanks, Mevia.” Castor fell back into cover and gave suppressing fire again.

“No problem. Where’s Shepard?”

“Don’t know.”

Sarissa, killed in action, died from injuries sustained.’

“We need help,” Nirea called over the comms, “we’re pinned down inside!”

“Coming!” Strabo made a beeline for the entrance and shot an enemy in the back who was trying to headlock Baptiste.

Alvarenga, killed in action, gun shot wound.’

“Fuck, he was a lot stronger than he looked,” Baptiste groaned as his opponent was forced to release him and leave the fight.

Strabo burst inside the compound, and saw Danteus pull an injured Nirea away from the two on one fight in the courtyard. Shepard was holding her own while simultaneously trying to shield her injured engineer. That was two, but he counted one missing, where? Where?! Strabo saw the shadow above and leaped in front of Shepard.

Calan, killed in action, shotgun blast.”

“No!” Shepard screamed and kicked down her smallest opponent, finally wresting her gun arm free and firing between his eyes.

Hamilton, killed in action, headshot.’

She whirled around and aimed for the turian on the upper railing, but the gun clicked. She was out of ammo, and instead tossed the gun at the turian, hitting him square in the face.

The second opponent grabbed her from behind and held her, making her wide open to retaliatory fire.

Above, she heard the reload of a ten gauge and saw the turian raise the shotgun again.

A single shot rang out beyond the gates.

Ulpius, killed in action, headshot.’

“Hah, I got one, at least.” Aius had finally arrived, dirty, limping and out of breath. “You were having all the fun without me.”

“Did she make it?” Garrus’ worried voice chimed over the comms.

Shepard grabbed the assailant and did a shoulder throw. The recruit landed flat on her back, and Celsus stepped through the gates, aiming at the downed opponent’s heart.

“Yes she did.” He fired his last rounds. Shortly after, their omni-tools gave a long buzzing sound.

Romero, killed in action, gun shot wounds.’

 

Bleep.

Enemy opposition wiped out. T minus 60 hours and 06 minutes.’

Bleep.

Move to extraction point and await further instructions.’

 

Then the screen went blank.

 

“Holy fuck, we did it in less than twelve hours,” Baptiste said wide eyes. “We’ve barely been gone.”

“Doesn’t feel like that,” Shepard said with a tired grin. “I’ve nearly been drowned four times, shot at and fell on my face when I climbed the wall here.” She tapped the side of her chin where a large bruise was already showing, and wiped away a trickle of blood from her nose.

“Nobody can tell the difference,” Strabo quipped.

“Ah, there you are,” Shepard said and punched him in the chest plate. “What the hell were you thinking? Are all turians this willing to die?”

“I wasn’t doing it for fun, turians are trained to protect their commanding officers at the cost of their own lives,” Strabo said slightly miffed.

Shepard pondered that while staring at him through narrow eyes. “I concede the point, but still.”

Another punch, more gentle this time. “Don’t get killed next time, you hear?”

“What about me?” Argyle said grinning.

“What? Who’re you? Ah well, I can always get another human.”

“Heeeyy!” Argyle clutched his heart in fake outrage, and they all chuckled. Twelve hours of tension was beginning to seep from their bodies, and everyone started gathering up their equipment, getting ready to march back.

Garrus arrived on the scene in time to see Shepard wobble and sink down to the ground. Quick as the wind, he was by her side and holding her up.

“Hi Shepard. Not feeling too good? We won, didn’t we?”

“I feel great, I just.. To create this kind of blast I have to focus a lot harder than I usually do. This isn’t my forte.”

“No, it’s shields, right?” Garrus remembered his shield status resetting second before getting shot.

“That, and a few other tricks, yeah. The massive power surges is not my thing, too draining for me. Kaidan would have made fun of me.”

“Kaidan?”

“A guy I knew from my first year here. He’s probably in the military now.”

Shepard winced and leaned on him again. Garrus couldn’t help smirk in Aius’ direction, and Aius huffed and looked away.

“I got your back, Shepard. Let’s go.” Garrus knew he was going to enjoy the long march back if he could spend it with his leader clinging to his arm.

 

The trip to the extraction point was filled with chatter and laughter from the victorious contestants, but even the losing squad members was drawn into the fold and congratulated with giving a good fight. Celsus made a point of being professional to the members of squad Nine and Twelve whom had joined them for the return, and his and hers team followed suit. Garrus noted that Shepard herself didn’t say much, but always smiled and joked when addressed.

“Still tired?”

“Like a dead dog, yeah. Don’t worry about it, I’ll get better once I’ve had something to eat.”

Garrus looked around for their medic. “Hey Castor, have an emergency levo bar?”

“Yeah, looking to kill yourself again?”

“Haha, it’s for Shepard.”

“Wait a sec.. Catch!”

A single stamina bar sailed through the air, and Garrus caught it easily.

“Here you go,” he smiled.

“Gods, I didn’t think of that. You’re a life saver.”

More than you know, Garrus reflected. He really wanted to tell her about the shot, but he wanted to do it somewhere in private, for reasons of his own.

“Vakarian, I’m surprised you made it this far,” the turian named Vindex grinned as he passed them. Apparently he was the leader of Twelve. “We were taking bets on how long you’d live after that first excursion.”

“I’m just full of surprises,” Garrus answered, but a seed of contention was sown in his mind. He had disobeyed orders, several times. The first being perhaps the most egregious, but deciding on his own that he would fire across the ravine against explicit orders, that was a close second. Shepard might not disapprove, but for a turian superior, a subordinate that did not follow an order, even a bad one, was a bad subordinate. And she didn’t grade them on this exam. That honor fell to captain Corinthus, one of the staunchest defenders of rules you could think of. Besides his father, of course. Garrus sunk into a silent gloom and didn't’ see Shepard’s worried glance at him.

 

At the extraction site, Garrus let Shepard disappear into the small camp. All the other recruits were there and the noise made his head buzz. She greeted Arista Nerva with a ‘You traitor,’ and a big hug. Apparently there was no ill will against her friend working for the enemy in the field. Garrus used the moment to slip away. He walked up to a more secluded cliff and sat down. During the exam, things had seemed so simple. Live or die, succeed or fail. Now they were going back to the real world to be judged for those actions, and he dreaded the result. Up here there was line of sight in all directions, and he would see when the shuttle came for them. There was no hurry to return to camp.

 

After 20 minutes, his solitary reverie was interrupted by Shepard coming up the path.

“There you are. Almost thought you’d done another runner on me.”

The comment reminded him of his reckless behavior, and he looked down. She came up and sat on a rock opposite him, almost close enough for their knees to touch.

“Hey, what’s the matter? Aius told me of how you saved this whole operation with a single shot. You should be proud as hell.”

She smiled gently and placed a warm hand on his knee. Garrus had to stop himself from twitching.

“It’s a turian thing. No matter how things turned out, I disobeyed orders. I won’t get good grades from this.”

“Is that all?” Shepard grinned. “That would depend greatly on how those actions are explained. Leaving your post was risky, yes, but you were showing initiative and cognizance.”

“Big words. Sure you can spell them?” The words escaped him before he could stop them.

Shepard stared at him, then threw her head back and laughed out loud.

“Garrus Vakarian, being snarky with the one person that could save his hide. Bold, Garrus.”

“Sorry, don’t know where that came from.”

“I do. A glimmer of humor somewhere under all that plating. I like it.”

“Just because you do, it won’t mean that Corinthus will. He’ll probably say it wasn’t about skill at all, just coincidences.”

Garrus’ head was sinking down, but Shepard gently caught the slumping movement with two fingers under his chin. She pushed him up and smiled warmly at him.

“I want to tell you a story from earth. Might perk you up a bit.”

“Sure,” he said bewildered.

“Hundreds of years ago there lived a man called Napoleon Bonaparte. Some historians say he’s the greatest tactician that ever lived, others say he was as simple tyrant. Be that as it may, his specialty was to take advantage of the enemy’s weakness, or to allow the enemy to gain an assumed upper hand, only to turn the battle with unorthodox tactics and maneuvers.”

“Okay..”

“When he became an emperor, and new generals was presented to him as men of skill, experience, intelligence and so forth, do you know the one question he asked, according to legend?”

“You know I don’t,” Garrus said with peeked interest.

“Is he lucky?” Shepard mimicked in a nasal voice. “That was the most important thing. If a general was unlucky, no amount of skill could aid him in winning a battle.”

Garrus looked at Shepard like she was loosing her mind.

“You think I’m lucky?”

“Well, you’re lucky for me. Today was a remarkable stroke of luck, mixed with a certain amount of improvisation. And that shot of yours, I’m not saying that there wasn’t an immense amount of training and skill behind that, but a smidgen of luck was involved too. Headshot at first try from that distance? Damn right I think you’re my good look charm.”

“Meaning, you're the greatest tactician that's ever lived, and I'm your general?” Garrus flared his mandibles.

“Yeah yeah, you know what I meant, Vakarian.” Shepard tapped him on the thigh with one of her strange fingers.

“You're pure luck to have on a team, at least to me. Don’t worry so much, I’ll inform the captain of your role in our team’s victory, in no uncertain terms.”

“Thank you.”

Garrus watched her get ready to leave. When he recollected this moment years later, he couldn’t understand what had given him the courage to speak his next words.

“You kissed me on the crest. In the trench? It was distracting.”

Shepard gave him a confused look, then an embarrassed laugh.

“I guess I did. Sorry, it was in the heat of the moment. I won’t do it again.”

He placed a three fingered hand atop hers. “Not what I meant.”

Shepard frowned. “Huh?”

Garrus decided to test his luck. He went all in and purred gently at her. Shepard broke into an understanding smile.

“Are you.. purring at your squad leader, you cheeky devil?"

“So what if I am?” he retorted smugly.

Shepard laughed heartily and patted his hand tenderly. “You're a little young for me, Garrus. Maybe in a few years.”

“So there is a chance? Good to know,” he smiled back. Garrus was inclined to believe her about his luck now.

“Only if I'm available, impertinent one.”

“And you're not now?” He knew she wasn’t, but wanted to see if she’d lie. Instead, she deflected the question.

“None of your business, meddlesome turian.” The rebuke was jesting. She wasn’t upset, but he knew she would veer around further inquiries if pressed.

Garrus tried to say something clever in response, but couldn't think of a single thing. Shepard really liked having him around, despite all his mistakes, and that knowledge made him almost swoon. She stood up, and he jumped awkwardly to his feet after her, almost knocking her over.

“Whoa there, Garrus.”

He was going to apologize when she stood on her toes and planted another kiss on his mandible.

“Thank you for saving the team.”

“Uuhh." More intelligible gibberish escaped his mouth plates, and his neck flushed royal blue.

“That's, uuh.. You're welcome?” he finished lamely.

Shepard nudged him gently with her elbow and walked back to the shuttle site. His mandible already felt like it was on fire. Garrus traced the spot she’d kissed him with his talons, grinning madly. He was sure it was an emotional response and not a physiological one. Nothing in his allergy test had showed levo sensitivity, thank the spirits. A little young, she'd said. Which meant that one day, she might say yes. If his fringe was longer than Chellick's, that would probably help. Garrus strutted after her with a sway in his hips, and tried to remember which nutrients helped with cartilage growth.

Chapter Text

2175 CE – February 20th – Transport Vessel – 21:57 PM

“I can’t believe we’re going back already.” Arista peered out of the observation window and sighed. “I was hoping for another day at least. Now I have to go back to my project early.”

“You mean your spy-program?” Shepard smiled beside her.

Arista didn’t even hide her pride. “Wrote it myself in my first year. It will hack omni-tools with standard military encryption and can be upgraded. It’s voice activated, making it easy to follow the enemy’s plans.” She gave Shepard a look of miffed scrutiny.

“Unless some human discovers the transmitter with underhanded methods.”

“Hah! Underhanded, my ass. It was my lucky turian who stumbled onto that revelation.”

“Oooh, lucky turian, is he? Want me to tell Decian that?” Arista said with a sardonic smile.

“Gods, please don’t. I’d have to stroke his fringe for hours just to calm him down.”

“But seriously, did you guys notice anything when you landed? We got the transmitter up and running in less than 15 minutes.” Arista flicked through her notes. “Just wish we’d taken more care with the camouflage, but the device still requires a lot of power.”

“There was some background interference, but we thought it came from the com-buoys or from the examination panel keeping track on us. Get rid of that noise, and it’s pretty much undetectable.”

“Shh. I really shouldn’t be discussing this with you, but I need to know what’s wrong if I’m to fix this before end of year trials.”

“Before you’re whisked of to Blackwatch, you mean?” Shepard whispered gleefully.

“Sshhh! I can’t confirm or deny that.”

“Okay, okay, I’ll be nice. So long as you are.”

“Keep your lucky turian, then. I won’t say a peep.”

“Thanks. No words on the other exams?”

“Not one. I thing we’re the first ones finished. Good for you. Bad for me.”

“Come on, it wasn’t that bad. We lost people too. It wasn’t a perfect victory.” Shepard sat back. “I didn’t know our team would run amok after I blew the door. They charged like madmen.” She shook her head. “If one or two on your team had kept their wits, they could have sawed us down with gunfire halfway up the hill.”

“I know. But they too freaked out. The last thing they expected was getting attacked from the rear. Good subterfuge.” Arista wiggled her mandibles in a smile. “Even if it was me you bested.”

“Improvisation and luck.” Shepard nodded towards Garrus, sitting in the middle of a gaggle of turians and regaling them with how he hid their team’s advance by swearing her up and down.

“I thought he would ruin the entire thing, but he probably saved us all.”

“Don’t humans rub their good luck charms?” Arista said innocently.

“Bite me, Arista,” Shepard grinned back. “Better yet, get Emerus to bite you, heard that’s how he likes it.”

“Decian is spreading rumors again. I’ll beat his plates for that.”

“Heh, not too badly, I’m the one who has to comfort him later.”

“No promises.”

Arista and Shepard laughed and went to join the others. Victor or defeated, now they were all back on the same team again.

 

2175 CE – February 22nd Celebration dinner 18:00 PM

Captain Corinthus held up his arms, quieting the riotous cheering in the mess hall. “And for the first place in the field exam, Squads Two and Four. Completing their mission in less than twelve hours, with minimal losses and a major handicap, this is no less than an outstanding achievement.”

Cheers erupted again as the two teams stood up and took a bow.

“The reward is two days of leave starting tomorrow. Congratulations!”

“Oh yeah!” Aius burst out as they sat down. “I’m not going to do a single thing, only sleep and rest.”

“As if,” Strabo grinned, “I know who just got the new issue of Fornax in the mail.”

“Looks like you will be doing your ‘single’ thing,” Nirea said, tossing a piece of Pulan toast on his fringe.

“Be nice, and I’ll let you join me.” Aius waggled his mandibles seductively at her.

“Stay away from my girlfriend, Uticensis!” Celsus appeared and placed a protective hand on Nirea’s cowl. Aius looked worried until Celsus laughed it away.

“Hey, didn’t mean to sound so stern.”

Aius let out a relieved breath. “Aw, come on! Don’t do that to me. Do it to Nirea. Bet you’re doing her nice in other ways already.”

“Shut up,” Nirea shrieked and started pelting her squad-mate with every piece of toast she could get her talons on to the laughter of the whole assembly.

“Ouch, crazy females, no sense of humor,” Aius yipped as he escaped to another row.

“Great Nirea, what are we going to eat now,” Mevia said, giving her friend a despondent look.

“Plenty of appetizer still,” Strabo said and helpfully handed the plate to her.

“Thank you, handsome.”

Strabo looked very pleased at that, but Shepard got the distinct feeling that Mevia wasn’t as serious as he was. It was, however, none of her business. She had her own plans for the evening which included a certain beige turian getting naked and dirty.

“Dammit, I forgot to return the maintenance card.” Garrus held the offending item in front of him. He’d just found in his pocket. “And I have a vid-call with my father after dinner.”

“Hand it over, I’ll turn it in for you,” Shepard volunteered.

“You sure it won’t be a bother?”

“Nah, it’s fine. Need a little stroll after dinner anyway. Might as well do something useful too.”

“Thanks.” The card flew through the air and she snatched it just as Celsus made a grab for it.

“Nice try, Corinthus, but too slow.”

“I’m saving my strength for later,” he said with a pleased hum.

Nirea’s neck flushed blue, and Mevia’s flanging laugh didn’t help.

“About time our little overachiever got some stress relief,” she said.

“By that measure, you and Strabo should be the most relaxed turians on the station, which you’re not!” Nirea bit back.

“Hah, you should see me in a dry spell,” Mevia grinned.

“Ugh. Rather not.”

 

“Shepard...”

Shepard froze in her seat and tightened her grip around the steel mug to still her right hand from trembling. Vyrnnus waited while she slowly turned to face him.

“Good evening. I suppose some praise is in order. You managed to win, despite the collar. Not bad.”

Shepard couldn’t believe her ears, until..

“Not good either. You lost four recruits. Emerus Victus only lost three. Clearly, more training is needed. I will be back in three days, and I expect you to be rested and ready.”

“Yessir.”

Vyrnnus surveyed the assembled teams with disdain, before he swept out of the mess hall.

“Wow, he really is an ass,” Strabo spat.

“Yeah, I know. At least I get three days free of him.”

“Here comes the food!” Aius was almost ecstatic.

Celsus leaned down to Shepard’s ear. “If you’re planning on having your way with a certain friend of ours, make sure he doesn’t gorge himself too much on foodstuffs. My kind are rather useless when we’re overfed.”

A small snort escaped her, and she tried to conceal it with a cough.

Conatix had spared no expense that evening. Steak, turkey, salads, kheelie, lecra, craticula, anything a starving student could think of was there. Shepard had her moderate fill while her fellow students ate as if their lives depended on it. After 40 minutes, she got up to mingle and tracked down Chellick, who was sitting beside Arista. The racket of the students made it easy to convey her message without discovery.

“Easy on the Rouladen, sweet cheeks. I have plans for you tonight, Decian Chellick.”

The roll almost fell out of his talons and his breathing quickened.

“Tonight?”

“Would you rather have three more rolls?” she teased.

“Can we go now?”

“I don’t think it’s a good idea if we’re the first two to leave, but soon.”

“Soon, she says,” he growled. “Cruel..”

Shepard pretended to give him a casual pat on the shoulder, her thumb ghosting his mandible.

“Very soon.”

Arista met her eyes as she left, and the turian knew precisely what she was up to. Shepard wasn’t worried. Arista would never tell, and she was much too busy trying to signal Emerus that he better not be overstuffed, as she had plans of her own.

 

2175 CE – February 22nd Officer’s Alley 20:37 PM

“Care tell me what we’re doing here? I was led to believe there would be some serious cross-species liaising happening after dinner.” Chellick gave her a playful prod.

“It will, I only just now remembered I also promised to return this access card,” she said and poked him back.

“I think the light is on in Corinthus’ office. It will only take a minute.”

Shepard ascended the stairs in four huge strides and walked the familiar steps to the captain’s domain. Three knocks, but no answer, and no light under the door. Shepard sighed. He was probably in the officer’s bar, having his own celebrations. Dammit. On her return, she saw that the lights were out in Vyrnnus’ office as well. The commander was placed as far away from the captain as possible in the corridor. The barefaced turian was a bastard, and she had no way of getting back at him. Unless.. unless she did something only she would know? Something that would cheer her up when remembering, during those days Vyrnnus tried to chip away at her spirit. Shepard flipped the access card in her hand. Something fun, if only Decian would agree.

 

“What are we doing in here, Jane?” Chellick peered around skeptically. “This is the commander’s office.”

“So it is. How observant of you.”

“I repeat, what are we doing here.”

“Defying a most heinous turian.”

“Spirits, are we going against orders? Jane, we can’t be in here.”

“Vyrnnus has never ordered me not to go into his office,” Shepard said casually and checked out the room. The office was almost identical to Corinthus’, but Vyrnnus had almost no decorations besides some large holo-maps of different star systems.

“This room seems smaller, somehow.” She tapped on the walls.

“Are we snooping for Vyrnnus’ secrets? Jane, please, we must leave.”

“Not snooping, I merely noticed the room size.” She rapped the wall behind the desk, and it gave a hollow sound.

“Knew it.” Shepard felt around the holo-frame, but no lever, and she turned her attention to the desk. Sure enough, under it was a small crank. One pull, and the door swung open.

“Let’s see what he hides.”

“Spirits, no, this is wrong,” Chellick said, almost shaking after so much blatant rule breaking.

Shepard flicked the light switch in the room and saw very little out of the ordinary. A personal arsenal of rifles and handguns, some body armor hung on the wall and assorted items for weapon maintenance and armor welding. It was nothing but a storage room for Vyrnnus’ private effects, and it wasn’t even locked.

“How boring,” she sighed and closed the door. “The gun cabinet aside, that’s not why we’re here.”

“No? Why are you tempting fate by trying to piss of the commander. I’ve seen what he’s willing to do.”

“Yeah, so have I,” Shepard snapped. “That’s why I need a little rebellion to keep me going.”

“But what if he-..”

“Vyrnnus has left the station for three days, and we’ll never have this opportunity again. I have to give up the card soon and we can’t get in here later.”

“What are we doing here?” he whined.

Shepard stepped closer and wrapped her hands around his waist. “Me.”

His green eyes went impossibly wide. “What? No! No. No?”

“Why not?” she smiled and kneaded his soft hide in the way he loved. “I can’t get back at him in any other way, but knowing that I fucked my boyfriend on his desk will give me a moral boost to deal with him in the days to come.”

A purr was creeping it’s way out of Chellick’s throat, but he tried to resist her. “This is one of your worst plans ever,” he moaned. “So much can go wrong.”

“But the prize,” she chuckled and ran her tongue down a mandible. “Admit it, Decian, having me on top of this desk would be fun.”

“Absolutely not,” he said feebly.

“Too bad. I would have loved it.” She shamelessly stroked the front of his pants.

Chellick closed his eyes and tried to stop himself from purring while Shepard pressed against him.

“No? The thought of me bending over like this and mounting me does not appeal to you?” Shepard pushed him gently away and leaned over the desk, glancing backward at him.

“No… I have no desire to.. to..” Chellick swallowed the last words, and she smiled at the half strangled denial. One more push, and he would tumble after her. Time to be a little mean.

“So it’s like that, is it? Ah well. I’m sure I can find another turian to satisfy my needs. Emerus has offered once..”

“No!” Chellick had closed in on her and wrapped his arms around her from behind. “Not Emerus. Not Celsus. Only me.”

“Only you,” she said and rubbed her ass against him. There was a significant bulge in his groin area. “Only you, Decian. Please..”

“Spirits, if we’re caught..”

“Then we need to be fast. Can you be fast?” she teased.

“Faster than you’d like,” he growled and carefully shoved her torso back down on the desk.

He was a lot quicker than she’d anticipated, and Shepard suddenly found herself with her undersuit around her knees and a groaning turian behind her. A small plastic rip told her a condom was being rolled on, and then she felt his corkscrew cock press against her folds. She was ready to receive him, as she’d been imagining this moment since they sat down to dinner.

“Need help,” she quipped, but the snide remark soon was replaced by a yelp as Chellick shoved inside with a swift motion. His entire body trembled with lust, but he stopped and gave her a worried look.

“Too fast?”

“Perfect,” she grinned. “More, please.”

“We could be so demoted for this,” he panted as he started to thrust inside her. “Spirits, the look on Corinthus’ face if he found us here.”

Shepard felt his cock expand, as if he was turned on by his own fear of getting caught.

“Hell yes,” she moaned. “Think of the scandal. Decian Chellick and Jane Shepard, deviants of Jump Zero, to stand in front of the entire station while they read up the charges.”

Chellick keened softly and tightened his grip around her waist, thrusting harder. She closed her eyes in bliss, having discovered a new kink in her favorite turian. That discovery coincided with another, the sound of heavy footsteps climbing the stairs. Shepard jerked herself of the desk, pushing Chellick out and looked around desperately for an escape route. There was none. Chellick first looked offended, then after hearing the steps, almost broke into hysterics.

“Spirits, no, no no...”

Her mind now shifting gears, Shepard reached under the desk for the lever, and the gun cabinet swung open again. She forced Chellick inside and pressed herself in after him, closing the hidden door three seconds before the main door whooshed open. It was none other than Vyrnnus.

 

Shepard bent down to peek out of the small air ducts in the hidden wall. Behind her Chellick was trying desperately not to touch anything that could make a noise, and he resolved this by placing his hands on her back in the dark. The commander hung up his Conatix uniform and swapped it for an anonymous light gray suit from a traveler's bag under the coat hanger. Shepard felt immensely relieved. Vyrnnus was just changing clothes before leaving. Chellick’s grasp became firmer as he leaned forward over her shoulder to try and look out the same way she did. Between her legs, she could feel his still erect cock bobbing around, and a feeling of devil may care came over her. Carefully, not to warn him of her intentions, she reached between her legs and gave his cock a little prod. It slid easily back inside her, and she heard Chellick’s shocked gasp.

“Spirits, Jane..”

“He’ll soon be gone,” she whispered back. “Let’s not waste the moment.”

Chellick pressed his throat down on her shoulder and with a start she realized he was trying to prevent his second voice box from giving away their position. Perhaps this wasn’t a good moment after all.

 

“Cursed teenagers,” Vyrnnus growled outside. “Smell them everywhere.”

She closed her eyes in horror. The smell. Oh no..

The commander sat down and clicked his mandibles impatiently. Shepard tried to see what he was looking at, but Chellick had begun to thrust again, agonizingly slow, and she had to bite her knuckles to stop from moaning.

A buzz alerted of an incoming call for Vyrnnus. She shifted her hold on the door frame to keep her and Chellick from falling out, and to better see out of the ducts.

“There you are,” Vyrnnus barked. “I was waiting.”

The barefaced bastard was wearing an earpiece, and Shepard couldn’t hear the other part of the conversation.

“Is it finished?”

In the pause that followed, Shepard heard nothing but Chellick’s strained breath. Vyrnnus however, clamped his mandibles to his jaw.

“How is that possible?! I provided you with the place, the time and the underground passage. How in the name of all cursed titans could you fail?”

An almost inaudible keen escaped Chellick’s mouth plates, and he began thrusting more deeply.

“No I most certainly will not! This is now your problem! You’re the one that failed to kill the old man in the first place!”

Vyrnnus was visibly angry, and Shepard steadied her grip. Now was not the time to make a spectacular entrance. The man on the other end of the line spoke for a length of time. Vyrnnus was unmoved.

“I have tried to help you, again and again, and every time you let him slip from your grasp. This begs the question, are you the right man for the job, Vido..”

The barefaced turian jerked his head as if someone shouted in his ear, and bared all his needle teeth at the unknown speaker.

“Do not forget why we’re here. Our employer is getting tired with your slip-ups. Either clean up this mess, or I’ve been ordered to give you a reminder of what happens when you fail.”

“Hurts,” Chellick whimpered in Shepard’s ear.

“Then fix it,” she whispered back. She had no idea what he was talking about, but she almost missed Vyrnnus’ next comment.

“Business is business. I could have talked him back into the blue, but you acted in haste.”

Somewhere in the dark there was a small snap of a rubber band being torn, and Shepard felt Chellick pull out, remove something and hilt himself inside her once more. He felt larger than she could ever remember, and she had to grit her teeth to avoid becoming very vocal about it.

There was another long pause while the unknown man spoke his mind. Vyrnnus scoffed.

“Those things are hardly comparable, I’m just having a bit of harmless fun. The woman will never find out before I’m gone. It’s your idiocy that threatens the whole operation.”

In the crook of her neck, Chellick was back to his low keening and deep thrusting. Vyrnnus looked bored. He listened to the man on the other end with an expression of indifference. When he at last spoke, it was in a finite tone.

“It is of no matter. I’m to meet with them today to discuss my progress, and you have one month to sort this out. If not, there will be consequences. You’ve been warned.”

Vyrnnus ended the call with a growl and checked his side holster. It was empty. Shepard’s breath hitched. Only seconds between them and disaster, and Chellick was getting close to a disaster of his own, from his rapid movements.

“Where is.. there!” Vyrnnus picked up an old Carnifex from under a pile of datapads. He replaced the gun and moved towards the door. He sniffed the air again, then took a whiff of the Conatix suit he’d just hung on the rack.

She heard him swear;“Fuckingfledglings.” The traveler’s bag was slung over his shoulder and he locked the office as he walked out.

Shepard waited three minutes before announcing it to Chellick.

“I think he’s gone now.”

“It’s too late, too late,” Chellick whined and pressed himself against her in a feverish attempt to fill her as much as her small pussy allowed. Shepard moaned in pleasure.

“Fuck, thatfeels amazing.” She guided his hand down to her clit, and he did as instructed, if more heedlessly than usual. The danger of getting caught and defying the most heinous man she knew, combined with Chellick’s stellar performance gave her a shattering orgasm. Her hands could no longer support them, and she crashed her elbows into the wall, Chellick still clinging to her back.

“Spirits, I should not have done this. You should not have allowed it,” he panted and grasped both hands around her waist. Shepard regained enough of her senses to bend back and kiss him, and Chellick’s self control broke. With his grip he pressed her down while simultaneously pressing his cock up, and Shepard felt something larger press against her folds, before he pushed inside with a squelching sound. For a moment she feared he’d grown simply too big and tensed.

“I know, I know,” Chellick’s soothing voice was in her ear, and he started licking her neck and touching her everywhere he could reach with his hands. She gradually relaxed and started kissing him back. His body began to vibrate at this tacit acceptance, and Shepard smiled in her afterglow. She loved watching Chellick’s face as he came, see the clicking of his mandibles and the loud purrs, and this time he went overboard. The purring was deafening, and he held her so close she thought she might get permanent plate imprints on her back.

When his cock started pulsing and throbbing inside her, Chellick leaned on her neck with a huff.

“Jane, we need to talk.”

“You’re kidding me. The break up talk, now?” Her fingers entwined around his talons.

Chellick snorted. “No. Not that. Something else I forgot to tell you.”

“Can it wait? We should get out of here soon.”

“Uh.. that’s just it. We can’t. Not yet.”

“Can’t? Vyrnnus is gone, and we have escape this place unseen. Can’t have anyone see us hiding in here.”

“Uuuh, no, we really and truly can’t. I’m… locked inside you.”

Shepard slowly reached over to the light switch and flicked it. The sudden flow of light made Chellick’s green eyes narrow into two small slits.

“Explanation now, please,” she said with deceptive calm, having every intention of meting out punishment if she didn’t like his clarification.

“You see, turians have this knot,” he said, carefully wrapping her arms in his embrace to render her inoperative. “And when a male wants to impregnate a female, he pushes inside her and ties with her, ensuring a higher success rate of breeding.”

“Decian…..” Shepard said in a low threatening voice.

“I know, I know. You can’t get pregnant with me, but there were extenuating circumstances here.”

“I’d love to hear them.”

“Well, I, ah, was having sex with my girlfriend on an older and more powerful turian’s territory. My instincts just kicked in and I had to tie with you to ensure my lineage.”

“Are you making this up?”

“Some of it,” he admitted with a smile. “But being in the presence of another turian didn’t help. I want you all to myself, and got a little bit overwrought.”

“So, now we’re tied for.. how long?” she wriggled to test the validity of his words.

“Spirits, please don’t do that. It.. pulls..”

“Sorry.”Shepard regretted moving around. The pain in his voice was unmistakable.

“Not half as sorry as I am. You remember I said it hurt, and you told me to fix it? Well, that was the condom.”

“Oh gods, surely not..?”

“Oh yeah. I removed it. There will be semen leaking everywhere soon.”

“The smell..” she said wistfully.

“The smell,” he confirmed. “We have to see Publius.”

“What?! Why?”

“Can you wash on the inside? We need some sort of neutralizing compound, or you need to be confined in a small room all by yourself until the scent vaporizes.”

“Aw, fuck! It’s my days off!”

“I know.” He hummed in her neck. “I’m sorry.”

“I hate and despise you.”

Shepard gently tugged on a mandible, and he bent down to kiss her deeply, playing with her tongue for a while, then nipped at her neck with a contented smile.

“I hate and despise you too.”

Chapter Text

2175 CE – February 22nd Publius’ Office 22:09 PM

“What’s so important it couldn’t wait until morning, recruit Chellick?”

“Issues of a very personal nature, doctor. It couldn’t wait.”

Chellick shifted his weight from one foot to the other several times, and Publius could smell the sex on him. The older turian sighed.

“I see. Well, let’s get it over with. Got an itchy plate? Torn thigh muscle? Hide rash?”

“None of those.” Chellick traipsed over to the window and opened it, bent out and held his arm down. Outside there was some low swearing and a scraping sound as someone was hoisted through the window. Shepard appeared with an apologetic smile.

“Sorry about this, doc.” She landed unceremoniously on the floor, and clambered back on her feet.

“Jane Shepard, back again. What have you done this tim-...” Publius got one whiff of her and turned to stare at Chellick.

“What have you done?!”

“It was an accident,” Chellick stuttered.

“Accident? She tripped over your plates and you sprayed everywhere?”

“Uuuh, something like that,” the younger turian said, taking three steps backwards.

“Tell me, did you.. restrain yourself to only the outside, or did you release inside as well?”

Chellick’s neck turned a dark blue shade, and he started fidgeting with his talons.

“Spirits, that’s incredible irresponsible of you.” Publius crossed his arms.

“Hey, these things happen. Yelling won’t make the smell go away.” Shepard stepped in front of Chellick and stared down the doctor, whom stared right back.

“And what do you think removes that ‘smell’, recruit Shepard?”

“Well, that’s… why we’re here. Don’t rightly know.”

“That makes two of us. Sex between turians are rarely something to be ashamed of, but the two of you..”

“I’m not ashamed of it, but it can’t be made public,” Shepard snapped.

“Which is precisely the thing a prophylactic could have prevented. Did you forget that, Decian Chellick?”

Publius shifted his gaze to Chellick, who was cowering in a corner. He’d broken too many rules already tonight to be able to lie to another superior.

“No, I, uh, sort of lost it.”

“Lost it? How?”

“It was dark,” Shepard said quickly, not wanting Chellick to go into too many details.

“Dark? Too dark to see what the hell you were doing? Where were you, hiding in a cupboard?”

“No!”

“Yes!”

Shepard glared at Chellick. He was starting to unravel, nervously filing his talons against one another.

“I see. Who in this room is actually telling the truth?”

“It wasn’t a cupboard,” Shepard said, preparing to mount a plausible counter-explanation, when she was interrupted by her boyfriend.

“It was commander Vyrnnus’ gun storage.”

Shepard spun around and glared more daggers at him. Publius’ eyes widened like two exploding marbles, and his mandibles started to twitch erratically.

“Commander Vyrnnus’ gun storage?”

“Yes,” Chellick said, looking down with a shameful expression.

“With the commander still in his office, or..?”

“Yes.”

“I see..” Publius’ mandibles appeared to have developed a life of their own, separate from the man himself. They twitched and jerked in all directions.

“Excuse me.”

The good doctor vanished out the door, and shortly after they heard a series of flanging barks in the corridor.

Shepard glanced at Chellick.

“Is he..?”

“Laughing? Yes.”

He looked miserable, and she took pity on him, interlacing his talons with her fingers. Lying wasn’t in his nature, and she’d made him go against his principles more than once today.

“It’s fine. Let him laugh. At least we had fun. Some of the time.”

Chellick flared his mandibles in a relived smile.

“Some of it was great, yes. But please not again.”

“I promise, no more sex in Vyrnnus’ office, okay?”

“Okay.” He bent down to kiss her.

“Don’t you two start in here as well.” Publius had returned.

Chellick straightened up and stood at attention.

“No, sir.”

“We’ll try sending you through the process for germ sterilization, see if that won’t kill a few of those scent molecules, but internally.. That will have to wear off by itself.”

“And in the meantime, am I supposed to roam the station smelling like this?”

Publius tried to maintain his professional composure behind a cough, failed to hide the amusement glittering in his eyes.

“I think it would be better if you were quarantined for a few days under suspicion of a highly contagious yet relatively harmless human malady.” He checked his omni-tool. “Chicken pox? Rubella? No matter. We’ll pick one, and you will stay here for the duration of the scent evaporation.”

Shepard rolled her eyes. “Gods, you are never touching me again, Decian.”

“That would probably be for the best,” Publius smiled at the dismayed younger turian. “But knowing Shepard, she’ll grant you clemency once she’s out of here. Whenever that may be. Good night, recruit Chellick. Recruit Shepard, you’re coming with me.”

 

 

2175 CE – February 23rd Mess Hall07:07AM

After yesterday’s vid-call, Garrus had been most anxious to find Shepard and discuss things with her. His father had been happy to see him, as had his mother, but they were very careful to avoid the last topic of conversation. Garrus suspected his father of having brought Vistilla as a buffer against further outbursts on his part, but found he didn’t much mind. Another awkward shouting match was the last thing he wanted now that things were looking up on his part. His team was ranked number one, Shepard had written a glowing recommendati