After emptying everyone’s packs and refilling them, they settled down on their bedrolls around a small fire they built to ward off the chill of the stones. Garrus, Shepard, and Vashlani were taking the first watch, they would wake the others in several hours. They put the bar back on the door, checked for unblocked scuttles and once they were assured that the only way anything would get up to them was from the lift, they laid down to sleep. Jack complained about how hard it would be to fall asleep on a stone floor, then promptly started to snore lightly.
After everyone was asleep, Shepard approached Vashlani where he was tending to the fire. “What’s going on, Vashlani? You are cold why won’t you talk to me now?”
“Vashlani talks with Shepard, he is her friend. Nothing will change that. It is just... it is easier for me to deal with some things when I have a bit of distance. I need time is all, Shepard. I’m sorry if it distresses you.”
He went back to poking the fire with a long piece of Dwemer metal and she eventually gave up and moved back to her original position.
“You really don’t understand what is happening with him do you, Shepard?” Garrus’ voice came over their private comm link.
“What do you mean? I don’t. He went from staying in the cabin and being around, to once again disappearing. Now he wants to distance himself from me even more. I don’t have a fucking clue what I did to piss him off.”
Garrus let out a sigh, “You didn’t piss him off, Shepard. You broke his heart. That furry bastard loves you, and has loved you for a long time now, but was trying to get a few things prepared before he told you. When you turned him down and told him why he felt bad and didn’t want to hurt you. So he’s trying to get rid of the feelings he has for you by only being your friend, just like you wanted.”
“He... he what? You’re wrong.”
“I’m not wrong, Shepard. Think about it. Think about how he acted toward you before and just what caused him to change. You’ll see I’m right.”
She watched Vashlani pull out a small book and write something down then put it away again before he let out a sigh and went back to poking the fire. His shoulders were slumped and his actions were listless.
“He told me you weren’t attracted to a different species, I never thought you would have a bit of xenophobia in you, Shepard.” Garrus moved toward the lift, checked around it, and saw nothing had changed. He couldn’t hear anything but the light snores of the others, and the crackling of the fire.
“I’m not, Garrus. I told him I never thought about being with someone that wasn’t human. It never occurred to me because I’ve never been attracted to one before.”
He stopped beside her before continuing to his spot against the far wall, “Maybe you never met the right one until now. You better think hard and fast about what it is you feel for him, Shepard. If it is only friendship, give him space, and make sure he knows you care for him, even if it is only as a friend. If you feel more, then you need to stop holding back from him and tell him before he closes his heart off from you and you lose his love.”
Shepard snorted, “How’d you get so wise in the ways of love?”
Garrus strutted past her, “I watch a lot of vids.”
Shepard leaned back against the cold stone and turned her thoughts inward. She honestly hadn’t realized it... or at least she told herself she didn’t. But the way he would hold her and rub his cheek against her hair, snuggle with her at night, told her otherwise. Mordin woke up and told Garrus to go to sleep, salarians only needed one hour each cycle. Mordin went to talk quietly to Vashlani and type on his omni tool.
And what about her? She had missed him terribly when he went home and was happy when he showed back up, well except for the damage to the ship and her slipping on the ice in the mess hall. She had grown accustomed to him being with her in the loft, the way he smiled at her and laughed. She had grown to trust him, to like him, but did she love him? Would she recognize it if she did? The rest of their watch had her doing so in silence, examining her thoughts and feelings, what she had said and how things were between them. Just before it was time to wake the others she stretched and yawned. She saw Vashlani doing the same before he went to call Thane and Garrus. Jack jerked awake and her biotics glowed for a moment when Shepard woke her. Four hours later they headed back down the lift to go through that door.
When the door opened, they were once again in the large cavern with a ramp heading down. Vashlani’s arrow and a soft phut from Garrus’ sniper rifle dropped the Falmer that crouched near a brazier in the middle of a landing that had a set of steps leading down from it. When they reached the bottom floor several more Falmer and a giant frostbite spider attacked them. The creatures had everyone scrambling back up the stairs as biotics, gunfire, a flash from Mordin’s incinerate skill, and Vashlani’s own firebolts flew out toward the creatures. Before they gathered up the loot, Vashlani made sure no one was poisoned, and they were all healed, then entered the doorway into the next area.
Jack snorted as she pointed to the claw trap sticking right in the middle of the room. “That’s fucking obvious.” They all chuckled then pushed the door open to enter the next area.
One hallway contained more of the stone pressure plates and they maneuvered around them. The Falmer that had its back to them ended up nearly blown apart when everyone hit it at once with something from their arsenal. They opened yet another door and cautiously went up the set of steps they found. It opened into a cavernous area with yet more stairs and quite a few Falmer. There was a large structure in the center of the room with large metal gratings and another set of stairs behind it. It took quite a while to defeat all the Falmer, gather up all the chaurus eggs, and other loot from this area before going back in front of the gated stairs.
“Vashlani, there must be an activator for this door,” Mordin said as he studied the bars that blocked them from the set of steps in the center.
Jack jogged up a set of steps they hadn’t yet gone up and yelled out to them, “Hey, I think I found it.” She pulled a giant lever that was positioned on a pedestal. “There’s a chest up here too.”
After the gate opened the group went through. Vashlani, Garrus, and Shepard all stopped and let out loud groans over the comm line as they heard the ominous sound of steam being let out and the tread of something very heavy coming from the platform just above where they currently stood.
Once the Centurion was down they looted the area, Shepard found a key and handed it to Vashlani. His HUD showed a private message, when he activated it, “After we leave here we need to talk. Please,” showed up in flashing letters on the screen.
Everyone gathered at the top of the stairs and the large gate was opened and they started in, everyone stopped to listen when they heard two people speaking up ahead of them. Well, more like arguing. Someone wanted the other person to leave. The male voice snidely replied that the only reason they wanted him to leave was so they could have all the glory for themselves. Then they heard shouting and the clang of metal, they inched their way up the stairs to see the two people fighting each other.
After the male went down, the female’s attention was on the shadows flickering on the wall showing the group. She shouted, charging toward them, only to be slammed backward into the wall by a shockwave. The crack of the Redguard’s head against the stone wall was loud in the room, as was the crash of the shield she dropped as she landed.
Vashlani requested the enchanted shield, it would bring many Septims in his world, and left the rest of the loot to the group. He wandered over to the other lift and unlocked the door. “Is everyone ready? Vashlani thinks he knows where this goes, if he is right this will bring us back to this point much quicker.” They all piled onto the lift and he pulled on the lever. Their suits registered the intense cold again and Vashlani breathed in and released it. “This khajiit smells the fresh air of Skyrim.” A few minutes later they arrived at the top and Vashlani yanked on the other lever to open the door. When they looked out they saw they were at the top of the mountain outside the door that Jack couldn’t open. He yanked on the lever on the floor again and they descended back to their original spot.
“Now what Furball, there aren’t any more doors, only this weird thing in the middle of the room,” Jack said as she stood next to the mechanism.
“EDI, pause the cameras and audio for a moment,” Vashlani said.
After her confirmation, he told them, “This is where we stop for the day. This one has to contact someone in the College to verify our findings. It should be safe here now for all of us to enter the bag and relax.” He walked down, shut and locked the gate with the key, before having EDI announce that the stream was over, for now, they would tell her when they were ready.
Vashlani let out a sigh at the havoc that would be caused in less than a minute when they arrived at his home and Shepard saw Urz. Until now the varren was told to go outside before he had brought her into the home, now though would be different. He shrugged, how much more harm could it do? Urz was his companion, given to him in trade and that was that.
Urz came barreling out of the study heading right for them as soon as the door opened. “Hello there boy, did you miss me? Did the sphere give you your meal today? How about a nice big bone?” The varren turned and ran toward the kitchen.
“Vashlani? Why the hell do you have a varren, and why does it look like the one from Tuchanka?” Shepard asked as she stripped off her helmet and gauntlets.
“Because it is. Urz is my companion now, he lives with me here, in my pocket home. I traded Wrex many items for him,” Vashlani said as he headed for the kitchen himself.
“Well, that explains the smirk Wrex had on his butter-covered face.” Shepard let out a sigh as she kept herself from rushing after him for an explanation for taking an animal trained to fight in a pit and turning him into a house pet... or companion as Vashlani put it.
Garrus leaned down and whispered that Vashlani had made the beast the same as the goats and she let out a groan.
Everyone scattered to all points of the house and grounds.
Vashlani stood in the kitchen and apparently flipping through a rather large cookbook when Garrus told him he needed to go back and replenish everyone’s heat sinks. He had all the spent ones gathered up and tallied to make sure they had left none behind.
“All right, just let me figure out what to make for our lunch before I take you back. Please let the others know if they want to go back to the Normandy, the portal will be open soon. I need to know how many will stay for the meal, and returning to continue onward after I talk with the Arch-Mage.” He continued to flip through the book as everyone’s answers came back. Mordin would return after he went back to the Normandy to upload all his gathered data and store his samples. Jack would head back and hit the Citadel for the rest of shore leave, and to sell some shit for creds before the others sold theirs. Thane and Garrus would also return later. The only person who hadn’t answered was Shepard.
“Shepard? Will you be returning as well or are you going back to the Normandy?” Vashlani waited for a response and didn’t get one. He looked up and turned around not seeing anyone else in the kitchen. Then he heard his shower running.
“EDI? Can you patch me through to Healer, I need to speak with the Arch-Mage.” He glanced over at the datapad that he propped up against a rather large honey pot.
“One moment... connection complete.”
“Healer? Is the Arch-Mage there with you now?”
“I’m here Vashlani. We have been watching your group’s progress through Alftand. When I saw the mechanism I sent word to the Dragonborn. J’zargo should return shortly with them.”
“You sent J’zargo?”
The Arch-Mage laughed, “Believe it or not, the Dragonborn recruited him as a follower. You should have seen his eyes glow when he thought about all the powerful artifacts he could get following the Dragonborn around Skyrim. One of the other companions apparently keeps him in line and it lets him expend all that magic on things other than my windows. One more thing before you go, the task which you wanted the College’s help with has been taken care of, the precious cargo is safe and secure within these walls.”
Vashlani gave a loud purr and grinned at the dark elf, then told them to have EDI contact him as soon as they were all gathered. He put lunch on for those that would return then went in search of everyone. Jack sat on a porch chair watching the goats and rubbing Urz’s belly with one leather-clad foot while drinking an ale. Mordin, Garrus, and Thane were all down in the portal room going through their boxes. Everything they hadn’t wanted to keep was separated into various piles. The things they wanted were placed inside sacks or wrapped in leather scraps and put back into their own boxes.
“I have to find Shepard yet, wait here for another minute or two,” Vashlani told them before he turned around and took the lift to the main floor.
He jogged up the steps, looked around outside, and through the first level of the home, then let out a sigh and started up the steps to his bedroom calling out for her.
“I’m up here and I’m staying, because we will talk this through and don’t you go disappearing anywhere else.”
He let out a sigh and turned around before he stomped back down the stairs. He was still grumbling as he made his way to the portal room and activated the portal for the Normandy so the others could go through. They had been told when they were ready to return they were to just send word over the chat app. Once he received word from EDI that they had all arrived he closed the portal and went back upstairs to find Shepard in the kitchen dipping a spoon into the stew pot and standing there with just one of his shirts on.
“Mmm, this is good, what is it?” She asked as she blew on another spoonful before putting it into her mouth. He was tempted to tell her chaurus stew then changed his mind in case she did something like spit it back out or dump the pot.
“Pheasant stew. I traded some of the excess ingredients for several of the birds from a hunter outside of Markarth.” He leaned against the doorway and watched as she reached into a small basket and took out a bright red apple. He turned and headed for the study hoping that she would just forget about their “talk” if he made himself scarce. He wouldn’t leave the home, but maybe she would just leave things be.
He pulled out a small notebook and the journal of all the items that had been accumulated over the last few days. Compared the requests off of several town boards and what he had, noting the ones he could complete.
“What’re you doing?”
His fingers tightened on the quill fractionally before he laid it on his desk and capped the inkwell. “Noting down the jobs I can complete now. Lunch will be ready soon. The herb loaf just has to finish baking.” He closed his journals, put them away, and made to move out around her when she blocked his path.
“We will talk and you moving from one room to another will not stop me from following.”
“What did you want to talk about? So far the exploration of that ruin is going well, everyone seemed to be quite enjoying themselves, and they’re working together better. Maybe Kasumi and Grunt would like to come along with us. Jack wants to spend the rest of the time back in your dimension, so we will have room. I trust the other two, Grunt will need to be careful though... this place could explode if he got carried away and knocked something over.” He turned and moved over to the wall of bookcases and placed the found journals on a low shelf.
“That isn’t what we need to talk about.” Shepard padded over beside him on bare feet. “We need to talk about what is going on between us.”
“Us? There is nothing going on between us. We are friends, talking and working together.” He stood up and hurried out the study, practically running for the front door.
This time she found him inside the brewery. “Damn it, Vashlani. You know that’s not what I meant. Is it true?”
He stirred the must again and adjusted the heat on both kettles before climbing up a ladder and checking the readouts on the two large boilers. “Is what true?”
She let out a frustrated huff of air and stared at him with her arms crossed under her breasts as he descended the ladder and jotted something on a scroll of paper that was tacked to the wall. She followed him out of there and into the greenhouses. “Is it true about the way you feel about me? Garrus said you loved me and so did Tali. The other night... it wasn’t just about wanting sex, was it? Don’t lie or skirt around the truth, Vashlani. I want to know.”
“Leave it be, Shepard.” He kept his back toward her as he inspected all the plants.
“No. Not this time. I want to hear it, and hear it from you.”
Vashlani straightened up and walked past her and into the open meadow.
“Vashlani! Damn it, answer me.” She yelled as he got further away from her.
He stood in the middle of the flower-strewn meadow with his hands holding his head and covering his eyes. Why couldn’t she drop it? Did she like torturing him with her questions?
“Shepard, just stop. Nothing good will come of asking these questions. Please, don’t do this. This khajiit is trying to be what you want him to be.” He left her standing there and headed toward the orchard.
He sat under a green apple tree and fed the goat that had come over and laid beside him an apple as he tried to get his emotions under control. He tensed when he heard her coming around the tree. She stopped beside him and dropped to her knees. Her hand reached for his face and he jerked away. She persisted, using both hands to turn his face toward her. His blue eyes opened and looked into hers.
She drew in a breath. “It’s true...”, her whisper barely reached his ears, even with his enhanced hearing.
“Don’t worry about it, Shepard. This khajiit won’t bother you with his attention. He knows you don’t want him.” He removed her hands from his face before standing up, “Lunch should be ready now. After we eat, Vashlani needs to see if Kasumi or Grunt wants to join the group.”
When he arrived back at the home he opened a bottle of mead and drank it. He gripped the bottle so hard when it was empty it shattered in his hand. He pulled the larger chunks of the brown glass from his hand before rinsing it off and casting a healing spell. He finished dumping the remains into the rubbish barrel when Shepard came into the kitchen.
“I got an urgent call from Garrus then one came in from Thane. They want me to come to see them as soon as possible. After I dress can we go back to the Normandy before we eat?”
“Sure. The food doesn’t spoil or burn. The bread won’t be hot though. It will also give me time to talk with the others. EDI, can you please pass the message to the Arch-Mage that I will be in Shepard’s dimension for a brief time?”
“Of course, Vashlani,” EDI said.
Shepard met Garrus inside of the med bay because the repair crew still worked on replacing the cannon and they would have no privacy. Garrus told her an informant on the Citadel contacted him with information on how to find the turian traitor behind the deaths of his entire team on Omega. He was on the station right now, and someone named Fade knew how to find him. He couldn’t let the opportunity get away from him and wanted her help to go after him.
She agreed but told him that first; she had to go see Thane and would meet him at the airlock.
Shepard found the drell pacing back and forth in his small room, quite an odd occurrence since every time she visited he had been sitting in his chair looking out the window at the drive core.
She listened patiently, asked several questions and tried to hide her shock at learning that not only had he been married before but batarians murdered his wife, but he had left his only son with relatives and went after her murderers. He never went back or contacted his son, Kolyat, for over ten years now. But suddenly his contact informed him that Kolyat had taken on a job as a hit man, he was untrained and Thane didn’t want his son to walk the same dark path. Luckily, he was also on the Citadel.
She told Thane to join her and Garrus at the airlock in five minutes they would handle everything. Vashlani met her as she came out of the room and she quickly briefed him on what was going on.
“Kasumi wishes to come with us this time. Grunt is staying behind, something about an order of fishdog skewers he was waiting on for his lunch? What’s a fishdog?”
She looked at him and scratched the back of her head trying to figure out a way to put it without upsetting him more, “Well... a fishdog is a varren. A silver and blackish type, it resembles a type of fish so they call that subspecies, fishdogs. Krogan and other people... eat them.”
“They do what! Grunt better not even think about trying to eat my Urz.”
He was still muttering to himself as he followed her to the airlock. Shepard’s lips twitched as she remembered him trying to get into the space hamster cage, and also trying to smuggle that space monkey from the planet. Not to mention his wanting to stew up a hanar.
They waited until Vashlani was covered then took a skycar to the C-Sec headquarters to get information to help her friends.
Garrus stayed behind to search through the files for more information on this Fade person after Bailey told them he was a forger that worked out of the warehouse district. The others hurried up to the Dark Star Lounge where the person who would have information on Thane’s son could be found. Once they got what they needed they worked with Bailey to bring in the man who hired Kolyat and finally got the name of the target, and where he’d be.
Vashlani stood to the side listening to the conversation between Thane and his son. He wondered just how Thane could leave his son and not try to maintain contact, not even letters or vid calls. His brows lowered as the blue male hung his head when he heard what happened after his mother died, a comforting purr sounded from Vashlani’s chest as tears dripped from the boy’s large, dark eyes.
When the group made it back to the precinct Vashlani and Shepard gave Thane some time to talk to his son while Shepard talked Bailey into helping to get the boy back on a straight path, to keep him from becoming just another statistic.
When Thane came over to speak with Bailey, Vashlani slipped into the room with Kolyat.
“Who the hell are you?” the surly boy asked as he slumped in his chair.
“This one is a friend of Commander Shepard. I came in to see if you were all right. Vashlani also lost his parents at a young age and knows it is difficult.”
“Yeah well, seems like you turned out well enough. Or are you a criminal too?”
“Vashlani isn’t a criminal. He was one of the lucky ones to have stumbled onto a human that raised him with love. Your Aunt and Uncle, they did not do this?”
“Not that it’s any of your damn business, but no. They could have cared less, they probably would have dumped me out on the street if it wasn’t their fear of the galaxy’s greatest assassin coming back to get them for doing it. It’s all bullshit. And doesn’t matter anyway, not like anyone will care or come see me as I rot in prison.”
“Hmm, you are not going to prison. Shepard worked a deal with the human named Bailey. She is giving you a second chance at life, at being someone your Mother would be proud of.” He saw the boy shifting in his seat, his eyes widened at the news then he slumped back in his chair.
“What’s she doing? Trying to get on my Father’s good side? Guess she’s fucking him.”
Vashlani’s sharp, “no,” sounded clearly in the room. “Shepard is a friend and Commander to your Father. Do not disrespect her that way again.” Kolyat’s eyes widened again. He shifted away from the stranger and the sudden heat that came from him. His eyes glanced down when he saw flames surrounding the stranger’s hands. He swallowed when the stranger opened his hands and flames disappeared.
“I came in to check on you. I see it was a wasted effort.” Vashlani turned to slip back out of the door again when he stopped at the young man’s call.
He turned and looked back at the table, Kolyat was looking at him then looked at the table, “Thanks... for coming to talk and checking on me.”
Vashlani nodded his head and slipped back out the door.
“EDI? Can you hide Vashlani’s little outburst? He didn’t mean to lose his temper.”
“Already taken care of, Vashlani, those few minutes of video are full of static, unclear, and not repairable.”
“Thank you, EDI.”
“There you are. Come on, we will go take care of Garrus’ thing. Thane headed back to the ship to meditate, he is unsure if he will be coming along later.”
When they got back to the Normandy Garrus stormed into Vashlani’s room. He asked to be taken to his house and to be left alone, he needed to work and calm down. Vashlani opened the portal and Garrus didn’t hesitate to enter it. Shepard went to the armory and used the list that Garrus had sent her to fill sacks with repair kits, heatsinks, spare mods, and other things that the turian deemed necessary in traveling to Vashlani’s world. She restocked her medigel and Vashlani once more opened the portal before going to the Life Support area to speak with Thane.
Vashlani took off his helmet as he sat across the table with Thane and stared at the drell. “How could you leave your child?”
Thane linked his fingers and looked across the table. “When they killed my wife I fell into what my people call battle-sleep, and made the conscious choice to hunt them. In doing so I blackened my soul. Kolyat would be better off with relatives. All I knew was how to kill. I failed my wife because associates of those that I was under a contract to terminate used her to punish me. They knew they couldn’t get to me, personally, so bought the information on who did the hit. They took the one thing from me I cared about, my Siha, my wife. In doing so they brought their own deaths.”
“You’re wrong, Thane. You also had a son, he should have been your priority. You shuttled him off to unknowns while you took revenge. What would have happened if they went back to get him? You weren’t there to protect him, as you weren’t there for your wife. That should have told you something, that should have made it clear. To do everything you could to protect your son. And why did you not contact him? No letters or visits?”
Thane blinked, his full lips turned down into a frown. “Vashlani, all due respect, it truly isn’t any of your concern. You do not know the fear that comes from being a parent. The weight of the choices we make.”
Vashlani growled; a low, deep menacing sound of an angry cat. He grabbed Thane’s arm and they disappeared.
Shepard and Garrus both stared at the pair that stalked toward them. Thane had his eye ridge cocked as he allowed the khajiit to drag him toward the portal room and through the gate.
“What the hell was that all about?” Shepard asked and Garrus shrugged as he carted a load of scrap metal back to the smelter.
Shepard followed him out. “What’re you doing?”
“Melting this down,” Garrus told her as he shoveled the coal into the one area, then jammed the scraps into a melting pot and shoved it over the incredibly hot coals.
“Why?” Shepard picked up one of the small pieces she saw Vashlani rip out of one of the spider mechs.
“Because.” Garrus clammed up and grabbed the tools that Vashlani laid out and poured the melted down scraps into the various molds.
“What the hell is up with you two lately?” Shepard threw up her hands and stormed out of the smithy and headed for the stairs.
An hour later a much calmer Vashlani, followed by Thane, came back through the portal. The drell had his hands laced behind his back and his head lowered as he followed the khajiit.
Shepard and Garrus were eating when they joined them in the kitchen. “Be ready, we shall return in another hour. I must go get Kasumi and Mordin now.” He looked at Thane who gave him a small bow then moved to the cupboard and took down a bowl before he joined the others at the table.
A few minutes later they all heard exclamations in a strange language as Kasumi got her first look at Vashlani’s house. Mordin came bustling in and sat down to eat.
They snickered as they all heard Vashlani warn Kasumi several times to put things back down and to stop touching stuff.
“Kasumi, I saw that. Put it back.” Vashlani’s tired sounding sigh echoed from the sitting room. “Vashlani’s house isn’t a treasure trove for you to take from. You will have the opportunity for plenty of treasures. Just none of mine. Come to the kitchen and eat.”
Vashlani was followed by the thief who immediately broke into ohh and ahhs at everything there, then promptly asked if he knew how to make ramen. Vashlani collapsed in a chair and put his head on the table with a low growl of, “No. What is ramen?”
Shepard got up, retrieved some food for him, and placed a bottle by his right hand; he reached out and chilled it before sitting up. The sphere rolled in carrying a small basket and held it out to Vashlani.
“Thank you, Sphere.” He reached in and grabbed the bundle of papers.
He held one out to Thane, “For you.”
Thane looked at him then wiped his mouth and hands before taking the paper from him and opening it up to read.
“The Dragonborn is waiting for us at the College. As soon as we finish eating we shall head there and go back to the ruins in the morning. Make sure your weapons and armors are ready. Garrus would you be so kind as to retrieve one of the spare satchels from the special storeroom for Kasumi and explain how it works. Stock it with plenty of food, and several waterskins. I must go answer this correspondence before we leave.”
He was at his desk, hurrying to answer the inquiries that came through the portal when Thane came in.
“Vashlani, would you mind if I borrowed paper and one of your writing instruments.”
The khajiit looked up at him and pointed to a small dresser with several cabinets, “There are supplies in the left-hand side; use what you need.”
A few minutes later Vashlani tied up the last of his scrolls and Thane handed him the response he wrote. Vashlani smiled at him, opened his desk drawer, and withdrew a purple ribbon that he tied around the scroll.
“Perhaps we can talk again after we return from this adventure?” Thane quietly asked as they exited the room.
“We shall if that is your wish.”