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            Reapers.

            A name that now strikes fear into trillions across the Milky Way galaxy – those of every race and rank.

            The last Harvest was fifty thousand years ago. A pattern that has repeated itself more times than anyone could ever fathom. When an organic civilization would rise, evolve, and advance, they’d be extinguished at the apex of their glory. The Protheans are the most recent example. The Reapers would wait until a civilization developed to the level that they needed and harvest them. For what? No one really knows. Their origin has no beginning and, to this cycle that is just a blip on a timeline amongst billions of years, the Reapers are seemingly infinite. It’s unsure how many Reapers there actually are. Is there only a couple? Are there many - a legion, whose numbers would darken the sky at their return? There’s never been evidence of the so-called Reapers, so it’s unimaginable that out of nowhere, and pretty much blindsided, that artificial sentient creatures emerge out of dark space to eradicate whole populations. How could anyone prepare and fight against such a thing that they don’t even know is coming?

            It all changes with this cycle.

            Young asari scientist and information broker, Dr. Liara T’Soni, has spent the last fifty years studying and collecting data on the mysterious disappearance of the Protheans. Barely an adult by asari terms at only one hundred and six years old, her research has been consistently overlooked, though now she’s uncovered evidence that’s hard to ignore. A time capsule with artifacts, beacons, and vids from the Protheans with warnings about the Reapers and information on them.

            Having shied away from the role of a Matriarch's daughter for so long, Liara was hesitant to bring forth the evidence to her mother, but she had no other option. She needed to pass on the warning, and fast.

 


 

            “Another Noverian rum over here!” Alexandria Shepard yelled messily, barely able to keep her head up as she slumped over the counter in Afterlife.

            “This is your sixth one, human. What devils are you trying to silence?” the batarian bartender asked as he slid down over the requested drink.

            “You don’t want to know,” she murmured before swallowing a big gulp, immediately feeling the warm fluid induce the numbness she was looking for. When the sun goes down, and darkness engulfs her, Alex is forced to combat her demons. Therefore, she's in a constant battle on Omega. The dimly lit station has no artificial lighting like the Citadel – capital of the Council and place to settle galactic affairs. Even that being the case, she chose Omega where she'd never run into anyone she knows. Omega is a place she can disappear. Where no one would expect a decorated Marine to make their home.

            The bar stool beside her creaked as a new body occupied the seat that had been left empty for the last couple of hours. Alex preferred it that way.

            “A drossix blue,” her new companion ordered.

            This turian again.

            Turians have a distinctive flanging effect in their voice, their native language using subharmonics as a secondary tone when communicating. A characterizing trait of their species that Alex always found calming. Just not tonight. And not with this turian.

            “What do you want?” she asked, obviously irked, yet not bothered enough to look.

            “Can’t I just sit at the bar and enjoy a drink?” he replied, feigning innocence.

            “Not when you’ve been following me around Omega for the last couple of days. This damn pisshole.”

            “Hm,” he hummed. The subharmonics of his voice projected content. “Impressive. I expect nothing less of the Lone Survivor.”

            Her small but strong human hand clenched around the glass tighter. All the emotions she had worked so hard to dull with liquor slowly bubbled to the surface.

            “You want something,” she declared. “What is it?”

            “You.”

            “Flattered. Not interested,” she replied dryly. “Try the human on the other side of the club that’s already half naked.”

            She chugged another gulp of her drink.

            “Not what I meant. You must’ve heard the news by now. The impending arrival of the Reapers.”

            It must’ve been the volumes of alcohol that eliminated any restraint because Alex threw her head back in uncontrollable laughter at his words. The turian let her have her fun and paid no mind to the surrounding patrons shooting uncomfortable and inquisitive looks. After some minutes, Alex was done, and she caught her breath. She finished off the remainder of her drink before sliding the empty glass back to the bartender. She was unable to wipe the amused smirk off her lips.

            “Yeah, that’s rich. The race of advanced machines that come out of hiding every so thousands of years to eliminate all organic life in some fucked up plan for population control or something. What the hell does that have to do with me…” She spun her chair around to greet her pursuer, leaning in to look him dead in his stupid green eyes. “...Spectre? Don’t the Council’s lapdogs have anything better to do?”

            She never met Nihlus Kryik in person before, but she recognized the most decorated Spectre from the vids. Always on the news for some big breakthrough on a case or a heroic act. Alex was inches away from a maroon turian with brilliant white clan markings shaped in a tribal-like skull pattern. She always thought he was one of the most handsome turians she’d ever seen, and maybe, in a different time under different circumstances, she’d be more than happy to have him approach her at a dingy club on a run-down space station.

            But it’s not. She’s a spiritually broken soldier on a discretionary leave of absence, and he’s an agent for the galaxy’s governing body who’s prying into her personal life - sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong.

            So here she is, in a stare-down with one of the most talented operatives the Spectres have to offer. He remained statuesque, matching her intimidating look.

            “Maybe you should speak for yourself, Shepard. Don’t you have anything better to do than drink here every night until Aria’s men have to drag your unconscious body up to her lounge – and they haven’t always been gentle may I add – so you can wake up alone on her couch to do it all over again? You drink day in and day out to help black out the memory of your comrades running away from the thresher maw; to drown out the screams as they were hit with spews of acid, and to erase the smell of their burning flesh as it disintegrated right off of their bones.”

            That’s exactly the point of her drinking. Her unit was sent to Akuze to investigate missing colonists only to find an intact settlement with no inhabitants. The events that transpired after weren’t anything she wished to remember. Alex’s eyes narrowed as she gritted through her teeth sounding out each word.

            “Tell me what you want Kryik or fuck off.

            “Justifiably, you’re suffering from PTSD after surviving the attack on Akuze, where your team was attacked by those abominable acid-spitting worms at night. Out of fifty marines, you’re the only one that survived. And even amidst the chaos, you managed to plant and set off bombs killing the thresher maws.” Nihlus waited for a response. Her expression glazed over with watering eyes, but she doesn’t blink. “I admire your calmness under pressure, and you showed a remarkable will to live – a particularly useful talent. The galaxy could use a Spectre like you.”

            “Me? A Spectre?” she questioned, dumbfounded and caught off guard.

            “Your time is nearly up. It’s been months, and it’s time to decide. Do you return from your leave of absence with a resignation from Earth’s Alliance military? Or do you return with resiliency and help trillions prepare for the return of the Reapers? An even more morose option: you stay here on this criminal-infested space station with the lowest people in the galaxy drinking yourself into a coma knowing families of all over need someone like you to protect them.”

            Alex hadn’t ever been awake long enough to experience the reflective and self-loathing effects that came along after drinking. She blacked out by now. For the first time tonight, Alex spoke without hostility.

            “Why would a turian want a human in the Spectres?”

            “Believe it or not, not all turians resent humanity. Some of us see the potential of your species. We see what you have to offer to the rest of the galaxy…and to the Spectres.”

            Given the history between the two species, Alex was surprised to hear that Nihlus was accepting of humans. It’s been twenty years since the First Contact War. It only lasted three months, but the emotional ramifications have been abiding. Many on both sides hold onto their bitter feelings. Though, neither Alex or Nihlus are one of them.

            “We are an elite group. It’s rare to find an individual with the skills we seek. I don’t care that you’re human, Shepard. I only care that you can do that job.”

            “So, you’re recruiting me?”

            “I am offering you a mentorship. An opportunity to serve under me, on a turian ship, and train to become a Spectre.”

             “Train on a turian ship? Does the Alliance know about this?”

            “Your Commanding Officer, Captain Anderson, supports this fully. It’d be a big step for humanity to have one of their own in the Spectres. It could lead the way for your kind to gain a seat on the Council.”

            Nihlus’ words rang true – sincere in his offer. For just a moment, Alex was ready to jump on board on the romantic idea of going adventure with an avian creature to save the galaxy – something she could’ve only dreamed of. But that silly little idea was fanatical. Instead, she shook her head and motioned the bartender for one last drink.

            “I’m in no shape to help anybody.”

            Nihlus released an exasperated sigh.

            “Have it your way, Shepard. I will not partake in your pity party.”

            He paid for his drink through his omni-tool and left. Nihlus hadn’t taken one sip of the drink he ordered. Evidently, his one sole purpose was to try and pick up the shattered pieces of the Lone Survivor. To convince Alex to get off her drunk ass and make something of herself once again. To make her two dead parents proud.

            Hannah and Ryan Shepard were famous in their own right for their honorable work in the Alliance. Two legends who gave birth to another. They hoped the child would uphold their legacy. In her time with the Alliance and the N7 program, Alexandria Shepard far exceeded that. Wouldn’t they be so proud to see her like this now?

            Alex stared down at her cup, mindlessly swirling drink and listening to the ice clink against the glass. She scanned her surroundings, and all she could see was a bunch of inebriated low lives jumping to the ground-shaking music. Immersed in their fantasy of a perfect life, which in Alex’s eyes, isn’t much. But no matter what Alex thought of the way they chose to live their life, shouldn’t they at least have the opportunity to make that decision themselves?

            Only until then did realize how pathetic she must seem – sitting at the same barstool at the same bar on a regular schedule utterly alone. Alex pushed her drink away.

            “Close my tab, will you?” she called out to the batarian.

            “That turian paid for your drinks. You’re good to go.”

            Ping!

            Alex opened her omni-tool to read the incoming message.

            [NKryik]: Ship leaves at 0600. Dock 45. In case you come around to your senses.

            Alex climbed down from the bar stool carefully while she grasped onto whatever sense of balance she had left.

            “Heading up?” Aria’s turian bodyguard asked as she walked past the stairs where he’s stationed as sentry.

            “No. Out. Tell Aria thanks for everything, but I’m leaving. I have business to attend to. Here.” Alex typed into her omni-tool, and the bodyguard’s device beeped upon receipt. “This is all the intel I’ve gathered. Inventory, shipment activity, names, locations, scandalous blackmail material. All she needs to keep those mercenary groups under her thumb.”

            “Well aren’t you sweet?” he teased.

            “Go fuck yourself, Grizz.”

            “I wouldn’t have to if you’d just let me at you for one night.”

            “You wouldn’t be able to keep up,” she replied flirtatiously, patting his cheek crudely.

            Grizz had been after her since the day she stepped foot on the station. Even introduced her to Aria – much to her indignation – to serve as recon scout and provide reports of activity around Omega in exchange for credits. Alex’s first-rate information quickly put her on Aria’s good side. Her good side paid well. Though, Grizz’s kind and moving gestures weren’t enough to get the incredibly attractive commander to jump into bed with him. He held no bitter feelings about it.

            Alex was suspicious of the human-friendly turian at first, but she was in no position to turn down a friend at the time. They looked out for each other. Whenever he messed up, Alex helped cover for him so he wouldn’t be thrown out the airlock. And the nights he worked at the club, Grizz carried Alex to the second floor to lay her down gently on Aria’s couch. The other bodyguard, a batarian named Bray, was the one that left bruises on her body after carelessly dragging her up the stairs.

            “Take care, Grizz.”

            “Good luck out there, Shepard.”

            Alex walked out of the club half-coordinatingly and hailed for a skycab. She punched in coordinates into the self-driving vehicle to the nearest motel. It’d be the first real bed she’s slept in all of her time on Omega.

 


 

            Dock 45.

            Five more minutes. Nihlus would give Alex five more minutes to show up. After the state he saw her in at the club bar, he couldn’t remain too optimistic that she would. Still, he said 0600.

            “You saw how much I was drinking last night. You couldn’t have picked a later time?”

            Nihlus watched as Alex walked up with a small duffle bag strapped over her shoulder – a completely different person from the one he met just last night. For starters, Alex looked clean. Underneath the layers of dirt and grime revealed radiant porcelain skin. Her raven hair was silkier and softer without the grease build-up. Her posture now resembled a soldier – chest proud, head high, unbreakable, and commanding of respect. But what Nihlus noticed more than anything else was her eyes. At the bar, her crimson colored eyes were hazy and vacant. But now, he couldn’t stop looking at them as they lit up her face so brightly, bringing forth the robust, unyielding soldier he came to find in the first place.

             “You seem just fine to me,” he noted. What Alex consumed in a span of a couple of hours would’ve put any other human in the hospital. She didn’t appear the slightest bit hungover first thing in the morning.

            “Only because I’ve been building up my tolerance here. Not that I was a light drinker before.”

            Only a krogan could possibly match her shot for shot.

            “What made you change your mind?”

            “A change of heart,” she exhaled. “And you making me realize that I was doing the most cliché thing in existence by drowning my problems in the strongest, cheapest drink Afterlife has to offer. I think if you hadn’t stopped by…”

            Uncomfortable with being emotionally open, she shifted her weight from side to side.

            “…I might’ve turned in that resignation letter. I’ve never felt cowardice before. Not until Akuze. I don’t want to ever cross that feeling again.”

            Turians can’t exactly smile, yet when the mandibles on Nihlus’ face flared, Alex could read it as an expression of happiness.

            “Excellent. Then let’s get going, shall we?”

            “A human serving on a turian ship, huh? This should be interesting.”

Chapter Text

            “We’ve called this meeting today to discuss the nomination of Commander Alexandria Shepard for the Spectres submitted by Nihlus Kryik,” the Asari Councilor, Tevos, began.

            She stood between the Turian and Salarian Councilor, Sparatus and Valern, in the Council Chambers at their respective podiums. Opposite of them and separated by a glass floor overlooking an arboretum, Nihlus positioned himself in the center of a platform as he was called up to speak. Admiral Steven Hackett and Captain David Anderson waited a couple of paces back for their turn to speak.

            “We understand the Commander spent time under your supervision,” said Sparatus almost as question, thinking it strange for a human to train under a turian.

            “Yes. I invited Shepard aboard my ship where she underwent turian military exercises, so I could evaluate and offer guidance until she was summoned back to the Alliance to return to her duties.”

            “And the results of your time with the Commander?” the Valern inquired.

            “Exemplary.” Nihlus began to pace as he recounted. “I put her through every drill a turian cadet goes through boot camp and had her compete with the top men and women of my unit. She performed well through the physical fitness portion. Much to their bewilderment, she gave my team a run for their money scoring in the top three – if not first – in each category. Her marksmanship scores landed in the expert range. Shepard’s hand-to-hand…er, struggled at first against turians, but I can say now, she’s unmatched.”

            “You also reported that you took her along on missions. How did she perform?” the Turian Councilor questioned next.

            “My initial interest in Shepard originated from the news of a brave soldier whose entire team was obliterated in a matter of minutes, and yet, this solider adapted to the situation and defeated the enemy. What I witnessed in the field was no different. While I tend to take a more…callous approach, Shepard never deviated from her virtuous ways. Her intuitive and quick thinking greatly contributed to the success rate of our missions. She served the turian military well.”

            He discontinued pacing when he reached his original spot at the center of the platform. The Councilors didn’t respond. Instead, Sparatus and Valern signaled to Tevos with a slight nod to go ahead and ask the burning question.

            “And what of her trauma?” she requested bluntly. “The Lone Survivor is not only notorious for her actions but for her post-traumatic stress. According to multiple statements, she did not cope well after Akuze.”

            Nihlus clasped his hands behind his back and drew in a profound breath before he spoke. Hackett and Anderson exchanged side-eye looks, apprehensive if the turian would use the opportunity to sabotage her candidacy. Nihlus was the one that put her name forward, but he was exceptionally cunning. Neither of the two seasoned veterans could determine if there was an ulterior motive beneath it all.

            “It’s under control,” he answered undoubtedly.

            “Thank you, Spectre.” Nihlus nodded in acknowledgement. “Captain Anderson. Admiral Hackett.”

            A dark-skinned male and older white gentleman both wearing dress blues stepped forward, stopping in line with Nihlus.

            “Since her departure from Kryik’s ship, Commander Shepard has been serving as the Executive Officer on the SSV Tokyo. Obviously, her recent accomplishments are not in question, but it's her background that the Council has no knowledge of – aside from the incident on Akuze. Please give a quick review of her history.”

            “Shepard was born into a career military family and lived on various Alliance postings until the age of eighteen when she enlisted. Her parents both died by then, sacrificing themselves on the same mission to save their team,” Admiral Hackett told them.

            “Anything to add, Captain?” the Salarian Councilor asked.

            “Honestly, Councilors…” Anderson paused momentarily. “Not at all. I have raised Shepard since her parents passed away and watched her grow as a person and a soldier. I’m honored that a Spectre as talented as Kryik has spoken greatly in support of Shepard.”

            “Thank you all for your presentation and to all who spoke. The Council will render their decision on the suitability of Commander Shepard as Spectre within the day.”

 


         

            Spectres are not trained, they’re chosen. Individuals forged in the fire of service and battle, those whose actions elevate them above the rank and file.

            Spectres are an ideal, a symbol. The embodiment of courage, determination, and self-reliance. They are the right hand of the Council, instruments of our will.

            Spectres bear a great burden. They are protectors of galactic peace, our first and last line of defense. The safety of the galaxy is theirs to uphold.

            You are the first human Spectre, Commander. This is a great accomplishment for you and your entire species.

            A motivating speech given by Citadel Council inducting Commander Alexandria Shepard into the Special Tactics and Reconnaissance branch of the Citadel.

            "I'm proud of you, Shepard," Anderson almost cried, holding Alex tight outside the Council Chambers after awarding her the title of Spectre. The first human Spectre.

            "Thanks, Anderson," she muffled into his shoulder.

            When they broke away, Anderson apologized that Admiral Hackett couldn’t be here in person. He only docked on the Citadel to give his recommendation and had to leave immediately after.

            "Shepard," a female voice cut in. They craned their heads to see an asari waiting patiently for the Commander. "The Council has requested your presence. I will escort you to the conference room."

            "Already putting me to work, huh?" Alex spoke outwardly more to herself than the assistant.

            "I'll catch up with you another time...Spectre." Anderson grinned at the last word, shining with pride.

            Alex followed the asari down a long stretch of hallway not far from the Council Chambers. At the end, she opened the door for Alex and motioned for her to step inside. A large, oval conference table sat in the center of the room with a holo display set up, casting a blank, field of blue light - shapeless without any information or images to project.

            "The Councilors will be in shortly," the assistant said as she closed the door behind her.

            So fast. Everything was happening so fast.

            Not one minute after her promotion and Alex was already conducting her first order of business as a Spectre. She couldn't conjure the slightest idea of what it could be. Alex took the idle time to go through her accumulating unread messages, congratulating her.

            [AshWilliams]: You’ve earned this, skipper. Take me on some missions!

            [KAlenko]: Hey, Alex! Just heard the news from Ash. Celebratory dinner sometime? ;)

            [KGoto]: Hey, Shep. Let me know if you have any missions come up that include shiny, expensive objects.

            [TKrios]: Shepard, I am pleased to find that you have received such a high honor. Be well.

            [Jack]: Fuck yeah Shepard! Drinks on you!

            [Joker]: Hey, Commander! Big congrats on becoming a Council slave. If they send you on a suicide mission, you know who to call.

            [Joker]: Just to be clear. I meant someone other than me.

            [Joker]: Like anyone else you could possibly think of.

            [LT'Soni]: Alex, I wish I could be there to celebrate this achievement with you, but I'm afraid my work on Mars is too important to leave. We will get together some other time.

            [Wrex]: Sheparrrrrrd. It’s not Clan Urdnot, but it’s a good second! If you got the quads, take the rite of passage next time you come to Tuchanka.

            In the months Alex spent running around with a Spectre, she met a launching list of interesting people – and aliens – on their missions. She stayed in touch. Not only for peace-making and networking purposes but because she established bonds and genuinely enjoyed being around them.

            Whoosh!

            Alex heard the doors slide open and she shut down her omni-tool. She adjusted her posture and ran a hand over her shirt to straighten it out – as if it would help any. When she turned to face the door, it wasn’t the Councilors that walked through.

            “Nihlus…” she said softly as the burgundy turian stepped towards her, equally in awe.

            “It’s been a while, Alex,” he remarked, stopping right in front of her.

            “One year.”

            Alex held her out her hand as a greeting. Nihlus complied with the handshake. She moved to release their grip but felt a tug back in resistance. He held her hand just a little longer, letting the nostalgic touch linger. She heard an almost imperceptible purr originate from his chest.

            “What are you doing here?” he asked, freeing her unforgettably soft hands.

            “Not sure. Spectre business I guess.”

            “Ah, so they accepted you then?”

            “Less than five minutes ago, yeah.”

            “You’re welcome," he said in a light-hearted complacent tone.

            “Excuse me?” she said, raising an eyebrow.

            “Couldn’t have done it without me.”

            “Arrogant asshole,” Alex chuckled shortly, playfully shoving Nihlus’ shoulder. He swiftly caught her hand by the wrist.

            “I see you still have a pistol for a mouth. Glad to know some things haven’t changed.” His voice was smooth. He pulled her in and slid both hands down to her hips. Intuitively, she rested her hands on his cowl. Alex's stomach felt light and fluttery. Her heart pounded in her ears. It almost distracted her from the several hurried footsteps coming down the hall. They casually stepped away from each other, not letting the lascivious gaze between them break until just a few seconds before the Councilors entered. Per usual, Tevos spoke first.

            “Spectres. We apologize for the short notice, but now that Shepard’s Spectre status has been settled, we need to move onto more pressing matters.”

            Valern approached the table and pressed a button on his omni-tool. The glowing display that had been blank before transformed into a 3-D design for a sleek spaceship, rotating slowly at a steady speed. Tevos continued.

            “It has only been up until recent years that we have found evidence of the eventual return of the Reapers. Thanks to the work of Dr. T’Soni, we have time to prepare.”

            “According to her research, Reapers are massive in size, ranging anywhere from one hundred sixty meters to two kilometers. They are technologically superior and capable of destroying masses of organic life in an instant,” Valern added.

            Sparatus took over. “It’s no doubt that we will need to pull together forces to fight off the Reapers. Our hurdle remains in the reality that there are many species which will not work together. In many cases, the bad blood has penetrated too deep into each of their histories. Additionally, we don’t have enough information on how to defeat the Reapers.”

            Alex knew as soon as she heard it what the objective is, but what’s with the ship? Tevos would answer her question.

            “Now more than ever, we need to show the galaxy that species canwork together. A symbol of unity for the inevitable war. Spectres, with the sponsorship of the Council, the Alliance, and Turian Hierarchy have co-designed and will co-develop a prototype deep scout frigate. She will be optimal for recon missions using state-of-the-art stealth technology powered by an experimental drive core.”

            Valern enlarged the ship design, and Alex followed Nihlus as he approached the table for closer examination. Sparatus cast an authoritative look upon both Spectres.

            “Naturally, we’d like a turian-human crew for a turian-human vessel. That being said, you both have been selected to oversee its construction, and upon completion, head the ship.”

            Alex’s heart leaped and sped up to a hundred miles per hour. It was unclear if it was that an enormous responsibility just fell into her hands or the culmination that she was going to be spending a considerable amount of time with Nihlus – not that it’s a bad thing.

            “Kryik, you have been assigned as the Commanding Officer, and Shepard you will serve as his Executive Officer. Your primary objective is to collect intel, whatever you can scour on the Reapers and how to defeat them. Secondary: you will need to convince the galaxy’s multitude of races to provide their support when the time comes to go to war. However you decide to do that is at your discretion.”

            It was all starting to become overwhelming. Her breaths quickened, and she could feel the heat of pressure build up underneath her skin with sweat forming in undetectable places. Unexpectedly, Nihlus reached for her hand and reassuringly squeezed it for four extended seconds. For the length of time he maintained the pressure, she inhaled deeply. When he let go, she exhaled. Instant waves of calmness coursed through her and her breathing normalized. Because of the height of the table, none of the Councilors noticed the slight interaction.

            “You two have worked well together in the past, and Shepard...” Tevos directed her words solely to Alex. “You have laid excellent groundwork creating relationships with others already. Most admirably, krogan battlemaster Urdnot Wrex. It’s that with that set of skills that we are confident that you can live up to expectations. The both of you.”

            “Thank you, Councilors. Shepard and I will begin preparations immediately. We will take on the task assertively.”

            Goosebumps bloomed on her skin. Alex always liked the way how eloquent and confident Nihlus’ speech sounded. She forgot how much.

            “So, does she have a name?” Alex questioned the Councilors.

            Tevos smiled.

            “Once commissioned: The SSV Normandy.”

 

 

Chapter Text

A turian approaches the bar, wilted and vexed. He didn’t want to come out to Flux tonight. Not even for his birthday. But after a long day of dealing with criminals and writing reports, all his co-workers at C-Sec wanted any and every reason to get drunk. Or laid.

“Well, don’t you look like a magnet for fun?” an embodied voice spoke over the shrieking electronic dance music.

“That obvious?” he muttered back to the female human, leaning onto the bar.

“No. I’m just exceptionally skilled in the art of people watching.” A teasing smile tugged at her lips. “Also, you let out a groan that said ‘please, kill me now’ when you walked up. If you have a death wish, order a ryncol. Shit will destroy your stomach.”

The bartender brought her order.

“Full biotic kick, two frozen pyjaks, quad kicker, Shadowbrokertini, memory stealer, and three honey meads,” the salarian recited without pause, pushing forward a tray with her drinks.

She reached over the counter, gripping the tray and pulling it towards her carefully. Before she had the chance to run off, he remarked dryly, “I don’t think you’ve got enough there.”

“Heh.” A warm, curt laugh. “Calm down, officer.”

Garrus never had a chance to change. He was immediately dragged into a skycab the moment he clocked out of his shift. His co-workers wouldn’t allow their reason to celebrate slip away so easily. He normally wouldn’t go out in his uniform.

“They’re not all for me. These are for my crew.”

She gestured her thumb to the table of boisterous characters taking up – and destroying - an entire section of the club.

That’s your crew?” he questioned dubiously, spectating the two krogans engaged in a match of skull-crushing head-butts. The human covered in head-aching tattoos hollered obnoxiously, egging them on. An asari and a stern human with her hair pulled back shook her head at the scene, displeased with their behavior. Others in the group – humans, quarian, drell – didn’t participate. They’re caught up in their own conversation, desensitized to the outright brawl just a few feet away.

“Yeah, interesting rowdy bunch, aren’t they?” she beamed unapologetically as she gazed at them. Her ruby eyes glowed. Without notice, the corners of woman’s lips curled downwards. “Kasumi, give the nice officer his wallet back.”

A small petite human appeared beside her, face shrouded in the shadows from her hood.

“Alright, alright. Can’t a girl have a little fun?” Kasumi pouted, slapping the wallet down into the woman’s open palm like a scolded child. “Oh! My drink. I’ll take those!”

The tiny human disappeared again under a cloaking device, and the tray of drinks floated away by its invisible carrier.

“Sorry, about that,” she said, handing Garrus back his wallet. “Don’t have too much fun, officer.”

As she spun around to disappear into the crowd, he blurted out, “Wait!”

She didn’t stop. Garrus followed the raven-haired stranger into the crowd as she weaved fluidly through the sea of aliens. His attempt to mimic her movements were unsuccessful and clumsy.

“Who are you?” he tried again.

“Who wants to know?” she yelled back, still pushing forward.

“Garrus Vakarian.”

“What do you want Garrus Vakarian?” Not annoyed. Just questioning his intentions.

“Uh…”

Garrus didn’t have an answer, really. She was just the first interesting thing to happen to him all night, and he wanted more.

“To ask you some questions?”

The woman didn’t catch the inflection at the end that gave away his uncertainty. She skidded to a stop, causing Garrus to almost crash into her. She did an abrupt about-face and stared at him squarely in his ocean blue eyes. In the tight space within a cluster of patrons, their bodies pressed against each other. At 6’6”, Garrus figured the human had to be more than a foot shorter than him. His chin almost touched his neck when he looked down at her. Though, her height – or lack of – didn’t make her any less intimidating.

“Look, Officer Vakarian. I’m not interested in talking business or work to C-Sec while I’m on shore leave. My CO doesn’t loosen the reigns often, so I’d really like to make the most of this night.”

“So would I,” he said as a matter-of-factly.

“Oh yeah? Why’s that?” she asked cocking her eyebrow.

“It’s come to my attention that I’m not having fun, and it’d be a shame if someone as fun as yourself would let my birthday be deprived of that.”

Is Garrus Vakarian flirting?

 “It’s your birthday? And you came to celebrate your birthday at Flux by yourself? I think you set yourself up for that letdown, Vakarian.”

“Ah, no. My ‘friends’ seemed to have forgotten that I exist as soon as they saw the bar. Didn’t even treat me to one measly shot.”

“Mmhmm. Crappy company if you ask me.” An amused smirk came across her lips.

“But I think I may have found some even better company tonight.”

Yup. He’s flirting.

“Alright, you win.” She raised her hands in surrender. “C’mon. This way.”

 


 

 

When Garrus ceased talking, silence fell between them. It’s not awkward nor stiff. It’s comfortable. She had only asked, “So, tell me about yourself, Officer Vakarian.”

And that was it. Garrus was an open book. This woman – so cocksure and effortless to converse with – made his heart feel a liberating pleasure when he usually had qualms about being vulnerable. Garrus Vakarian never even wanted to join C-Sec in the first place.

Well.

That’s not entirely true. Garrus did want to fight injustice and help people. Just not the way C-Sec forced him to. Garrus has a reputation for being a hothead. Always bucking heads with the Executor, his boss. He never did well with rules and regulations. In his eyes, they hindered more than they helped. But Garrus’ dad was C-Sec – one of the best – and he wanted Garrus to follow in his footsteps. He even prevented Garrus from entering Spectre training.

"No shit!" she exclaimed. "You were chosen to be a Spectre?!"

"Well," he drifted, slurring, "I was targeted as a possible Spectre candidate. Me and about a thousand other military recruits. I could have received special training, but my father didn't like it." His tone became dry and bitter. "He despises the Spectres. He hates the idea of someone having unlimited power with no accountability."

Garrus chugged the rest of his drink, his neck twitching from the burning liquid flowing down his throat.

"I suppose I can understand his concern.”

She sat forward, chin propped up by buckled hands. Strands of jet-black hair flowed over her face before she pushed them back behind her ear. The cool wind outside out on the balcony untucked them anyway. Garrus was glad she led him outside to talk. Besides the individuals outside taking a smoke break, their time was quiet and intimate.

Alcohol may have swayed him a certain way too. Every time a waitress came around with the novelty test tubes filled with a range of technicolor cocktails, she bought Garrus one. The waitress stopped by their table more often when she noticed that the answer was always “yes” whenever she offered a refill.

Then, a wave of guilt crashed over Garrus. He’d been the only one talking the entire time. But she never stopped him. She nodded at the appropriate times, fed him follow-up questions, and presented him with a warm smile, specifically when he talked about his desire to make the Citadel a better place.

In the exact moment he went to apologize, a thundering bang roared from inside the club. They both whipped their heads in the direction of the screams.

“I will destroy you!”

“Fuck.” She jumped up from her seat. “Can’t go one night without Jack getting into a fight.”

Garrus saw a wash of fury color her pale face as she observed the quickly escalating bar fight. However, when she diverted her attention back to him, her expression reverted.

“Sorry to cut this short, Vakarian. It’s been…fun.”

She walked away. Garrus couldn’t let go her go just like that.

“I spill my deepest darkest secrets to you, and I can’t even know who you are?”

She spun around on her heel and continued stepping backward. “Those were your deepest darkest secrets? You must have a boring life, officer.”

“You have something better going on?” he retorted coyly.

She spread her arms out open to the side with a smug smile. “You have no idea.”

“Show me then.”

Her next step came to a halt. “You really want to do this, Vakarian?”

She dared him with a stormy look. He didn’t falter in his reply.

“Yes.”

One long breath and the smug smile returned. “Alright. You want to know who I am? Meet me outside the Citadel Embassy tomorrow first thing in the morning.”

 


 

Garrus is waiting for a stranger.

 His game was off. Well, it’s always off. But why specifically this time? How could he let such a beauty get away without so much as a name? Even after she supplied him with companionship and drinks.

Garrus never particularly had a fetish for humans. They’re small. And soft. Too many curves and not enough rough edges. She’s an exception. Yes, she has curves – tiny waist and full hips – and yes, she’s soft – she is human after all. But she’s hardened with muscles. Strong, almighty, yet gentle and caring. 

“You ready, Vakarian?”

The woman he couldn’t stop thinking about last night appeared from behind.

“Uh, sure. Why’d you want to meet at the Embassy?”

“I have an office here.” She waved her hand beckoning him to follow. He trailed behind as they walked up to the pristine building known as the Citadel Embassy, home to diplomats of many species.

“People with offices don’t lead exciting lives. I’m starting to think you’re bluffing.”

“Don’t worry, you’ll get your excitement,” she assured him.

They proceeded through an entryway that opened up to a hallway with many doors. The names of notable councilors and ambassadors glowed on electronic signs over each one. She stopped in front of a door, punching in letters on a digital console.

“What ship do you work on?”

“The Normandy,” she replied impassively, pressing her thumb onto the fingerprint scanner.

The Normandy?! She’s working on – No. It can’t be.

And then it hit him. The identity of the woman. How could he not recognize one of the most infamous humans in the galaxy? He looked up at the sign above the door where the unmistakable v-shaped Spectre logo gleamed. The security Virtual Intelligence said her name before he could.

Spectre status recognized. Welcome, Commander Shepard.”

Chapter Text

The Spectre office is everything but an office. It’s a training facility with a gym, indoor running track, shooting range, and sparring ring. It has a terminal to purchase top-notch weapons and armor not obtainable by the average person. On another terminal, Spectres can access highly classified information and records.

Not many people get to see this exclusive facility, but Garrus is here with Commander Shepard herself.

“Alright, Vakarian. Let’s see what you’re made of.” She walked over to a cabinet, pulled some pieces of fabric off a shelf, and threw them over to Garrus.

“Get dressed and meet me at the track!”

It was only then Garrus noticed the Commander wearing athletic gear, and she was expecting him to do the same. What the hell did he just get himself into?


Garrus is embarrassed. He’s lying spread out on the floor after Alex flipped him onto his back. But he wasn’t surprised. Alex is known for having received turian military training, and she had plenty of practice sparring with turians. He supposed he couldn’t be too embarrassed in that case.

Alex joined him down on the floor and hugged her knees. Garrus’ chest rose and fell hurriedly as he recovered his breath. Alex had put him through rigorous trials all morning. They warmed up at track and Garrus thought he had her beat right out of the gate when he finished the laps before she did. But again, that was just the warm-up.

Alex put him through an obstacle course, target practice, then an obstacle course with moving targets. They finished up with a couple of rounds of sparring. That’s where Alex’s skills really shined through. Every time Garrus thought he had her, Alex moved to counter and win. He put up a good fight, though. It was a physically taxing start of the day for the both of them.

“Vakarian,” she huffed, “You kept up pretty well. Hell of a shot, too.”

Garrus rolled onto his side and propped himself up on one elbow. “My dad never stopped pushing me when it came to shooting. Would force me to keep going well into the night until I hit every single target. I hated him for it. Guess it paid off.”

“Yeah, looks like it did,” she agreed, glancing over at the scorecards. A cluster of bullet holes gathered in the center on every vital spot of the human-shaped target board. It was a masterpiece.

“Must be great to work as a Spectre,” Garrus remarked sitting up, elbows on knees.

“Oh, I don’t know. I get the pleasure of doing the Council’s dirty work. But it has its perks I suppose.”

“The perks of making your own rules. You’re free to handle things your way. At C-Sec, you’re buried by rules. The damn bureaucrats are always on your back,” he spat.

“For the most part, the rules are there for a reason,” she replied, analyzing the hostility that coated his words.

“Maybe,” he shrugged. “But sometimes it feels like the rules are there to stop me from doing my job. If I’m trying to take a suspect down, it shouldn’t matter how I do it as long as I get it done.”

Garrus reminded Alex of him. They have the same mentality.

 “It didn’t start bad, but as I rose up in the ranks, I kept getting saddled with more and more red tape. I can’t take it anymore.” Alex felt the defeat that underlined his voice. “I’d love a chance to get off the Citadel and see how things are done outside of C-Sec.”

“Well, come on then.” Alex jumped up to her feet and held her hand out to him.

“What?” he asked puzzled and stared at the hand offering him assistance.

“Let’s go. We got one more stop,” Alex smiled, and Garrus took her hand.


It was one thing to get an inside look at the Spectre facility. Garrus never imagined he’d get a tour of the Normandy, to see the marvel of turian-human design and construction with his very own eyes.

“Where is everyone?” Garrus asked noting the empty vessel as they walked through the airlock to the bridge.

“Everyone’s still on shore leave. They all come back tomorrow. Any minute we can get off the ship, we’ll take.”

Alex led him to the cockpit. There was only one person that never left the ship.

“Joker,” she called out.

The pilot’s chair rotated around revealing a bearded man with a blue Alliance cap on.

“Ah, Commander. You couldn’t give me just one more day of alone time with my baby?”

Joker referred to the Normandy as his baby – love of his life. No one in the universe loves this ship more than he does, and there’s no one better fit to fly it. Brittle Bone Disease or not, Jeff “Joker” Moreau is the best damn flight lieutenant in the fleet. Joker never hesitates to remind anyone if they forget.

“Garrus, meet our helmsman, Joker. Joker, Garrus is a C-Sec officer. I’m showing him around the Normandy.”

“Did you collect strays as a kid, Commander? Because on top of the mega-krogans, crazy biotic prisoner, and the ragtag of soldiers, we really needed another turian with a stick up his ass…so thanks for bringing them home,” he teased.

“Laugh it up, Joker. I could give you shit about flirting with EDI. I think you’re taking the human-machine interface a little far.”

“I’m just having a little fun with you, Commander. No need to go all ‘unnatural’ on me.”

A holographic orb that floated beside Joker’s seat chimed in.

"What Jeff and I are exhibiting is more a platonic symbiosis than hormonally induced courtship behavior, Shepard.”

Alex furrowed her brows and squinted at the comment.

"Okay, yeah that was a little creepy..." he admitted raising his shoulders.

“EDI is the ship’s artificial intelligence,” Alex explained to the perplexed Garrus. She could tell he’s never seen behavior like this before. A strange exhibition of playful and, maybe even coarse, banter between a superior and subordinate. And she was right. Garrus knew this definitely wouldn’t fly at C-Sec. There's a chain-of-command to follow, and you’d never speak to a superior that way. Additionally, there was a fully self-aware AI equipped on board. History with the Geth put a bad taste in everyone’s mouth about AIs.

“We should get going,” Alex said turning away. Before stepping off, she requested over her shoulder, “Try to give me a heads up if he comes on board.”

“Alright. See ya, Commander.”

Alex guided Garrus through the CIC and took him to the war room: the central operations for preparations against the arrival of the Reapers. Alex showed him the cargo bay, armory, and engineering deck. On the crew deck, she quickly went over the crew quarters, med bay, and the mess hall ensuring that she mentioned they had dextro-friendly food – this was a half turian ship after all.

But it was they got to the main battery, that Alex noticed Garrus’ eyes light up. After witnessing him on the shooting range, it made sense that he’d have a fascination for guns.

“And that’s it,” she concluded, wrapping up outside the main battery. “We’ve been running around with her some months now, and it was time she got maintenance done. Could still probably use some enhancements. Then we’re headed back out to scavenge for any information on the Reapers we can find. And the Council’s secret crooked tasks, of course. Think I got a boring life now, Vakarian?”

Garrus couldn’t stop gawking at every minuscule detail of the ship. He’d never seen such a gorgeous craft. He thought he’d seen everything in the galaxy while in the turian military and as a C-Sec Officer. The Normandy and Spectre facility showed him different. And to think Garrus almost missed out the opportunity if he hadn’t let his friends drag him out for his birthday.

“Commander. It’s not that I don’t appreciate this but…” Garrus wanted to make sure he wasn’t saying this offensively. “…why are you showing me this?”

Alex half-smiled and crossed her arms. “What I –”

Commander,” EDI interrupted, “CO Kryik is on deck and heading in your direction. Joker mentioned your guest. He does not seem…happy.”

“Son of a bitch. Thanks, EDI,” she groaned and stared at Garrus dead in the eyes. Alex thought she had more time before he returned. She needed to make her point quick. “Look, you talked about wanting to make a difference and see how things are done outside of C-Sec. I want to offer you a chance to do that. To join me on the Normandy.”

Garrus’ eyes widened and scratched the back of his head, moving his stiff fringe slightly. Everything that’s happened today has been entirely unexpected. “I, uh…don’t know what to say, Commander.”

Alex chuckled softly. “I could use a good man like you on my team, Vakarian. Especially one that’s talented with a rifle.”

“Shepard,” a turian voice said with bite. The two both turned to watch Spectre Nihlus Kryik march up to them.

“Kryik,” Alex greeted plainly.

“Who’s this?” Nihlus questioned sharply.

Slightly ruffled about his demeanor, Alex rolled her eyes at Nihlus. She hoped for a pleasant interaction. How naïve of her.

“Nihlus, this is Garrus Vakarian. He’s a C-Sec officer. Garrus, I’m sure you know about Nihlus.”

“Pleasure to meet you, sir,” Garrus spoke courtly. He attempted to hide the fact that he was star-struck. How could Garrus not know the legendary turian? Both Nihlus Kryik and Saren Arterius are household names on Palaven. Both honorary Spectres.

Nihlus eyed Garrus from head-to-toe and back up. Garrus stood proud, not willing to back down from the Spectre’s scrutiny. Nihlus directed his next sentence to Alex.

“You can’t just bring outsiders in like stray cats.”

“I didn’t realize you knew what a cat was,” she retorted.

“Heard it from Joker once. Where’d you find him? Just snatched him off the Presidium?”

“Flux.”

Garrus felt out-of-place standing near a Spectre-to-Spectre conversation, but he’s the topic at hand, so he wasn’t being completely intrusive.

“Seriously? You’re scouting out crew members from a club? This is worse than breaking out Jack from a prison ship. Wait.” Nihlus paused to re-evaluate. “No, I spoke too soon. Jack is definitely worse in any instance. But you keep trying to prove me wrong.”

“I read his file, Nihlus. I put him through some exercises. He’s a good kid that just wants actually to do something meaningful. There’s no doing that with the protocol bullshit the Citadel forces on him. I want to see what he can do in action.”

Nihlus scoffed. “I’m sure there are a million others that want to do the same, but we can’t just invite them all onto the ship.”

“But they all can’t shoot a moving target five-hundred yards away.” He still wasn’t convinced. “I’ll work with him, train him, be his mentor. Like you did with me. Plus, he kind of reminds me of you.”

Nihlus and Garrus simultaneously broke their earnest composures for half a second taken aback by her comment. Garrus didn’t know what exactly she meant, but Nihlus clearly made sense of it. Just as Saren was Nihlus’ mentor, and Nihlus was Alex’s, she hoped to continue the line of succession by adding Garrus into the mix.

Garrus isn’t a very good turian - like Nihlus. Always in trouble for disobeying direct orders to instead act on his instincts and what he thought was right. Sometimes ruthless. It’s good work, but not the “by-the-book” methods C-Sec preferred or rewarded. Such traits could make a good Spectre. Saren and Nihlus were living examples.

Alex raised her eyebrows imploring Nihlus to consider the prospective recruit. They held a gaze for several heartbeats. His green eyes battled her red. Nihlus blinked first and sighed. Nihlus realized that couldn’t convince Alex otherwise. He rarely could.

Garrus wondered if the non-verbal communication of the two came from years of working together or something more.

“Fine, Shepard. But he’ll be your responsibility.”

“Understood.”

Nihlus left and returned to his quarters on the top deck. They were alone again, and Alex faced Garrus, arms crossed in front of her chest.

“So, Vakarian?” Alex started. “What do you say? I didn’t mean to pressure you by putting you on the spot. You can back out if you want to. No hard feelings.”

Garrus stood in silence, the gears in his head working to form the sentence.

“Are you kidding?” Her lips ironed out to a straight line, readily disappointed. Maybe she was even more naïve than she thought by hoping that a talented turian would be willing to train under her command. But then his mandibles twitched. “I’m right behind you.”

Alex beamed.

“Welcome to the Normandy, Garrus Vakarian.”

Chapter Text

The Normandy's first mission fresh off the Citadel is to Mars. Liara sent word that she came across something in the Prothean archives she thinks Nihlus and Alex would like to see. Garrus and Ashley Williams were advised first thing in the morning that’d they be on this mission and to gear up when they neared Mars.

But first, breakfast.

Garrus carried his tray of dextro food from the chow line and out into the mess hall. He felt like the new kid at school who hadn’t quite figured out where to sit or who his friends were. He spotted Alex off to the corner by herself at a table only for two. She sipped on her black coffee with one hand, reading on a datapad with the other. Maybe breakfast would be a good time to get to know his mentor better. Garrus made a move to be the person on the other side of the table, but someone slipped into the chair before he could make it.

Alex peered over her datapad, and an immediate radiance appeared on her face as Nihlus handed her another cup of coffee. Alex equipped a smile with every word she said to Nihlus. Nihlus' mandibles flicked happily in his responses. Their conversation was inaudible from the distance where Garrus stood.

Having to divert from his original direction, Garrus set his tray down next to Tali sitting at a table with Kaidan, Ashley, Thane, and Jack – who he only met briefly upon boarding the ship.

“You’re crazy!” Kaidan exclaimed at Tali. “Ariake Technologies makes the best omni-tools. The Logic Arrest is high-grade.”

“What a ridiculous thing to say!” the quarian chirped. “The Logic Arrest is nothing in comparison to the Nexus!”

“Ugh, can we please not talk about tech first thing in the morning?” Jack groaned.

“Can we please not talk at all?” Ashley was obviously still recovering from a hangover. She was having a well-rounded meal of water and aspirin for breakfast - the consequence of taking advantage of shore leave to its fullest.

“Perhaps you should retire to your room and rest,” Thane suggested politely, but Ashley waved him off. Too stubborn for her own good.

“We’re just going to some lab on Mars. I’ll be fine.”

"Isn't it such a shame?" Tali asked out of nowhere. Her hand cradled the side of her head as she gazed dreamily at Alex and Nihlus enjoying their breakfast together.

"What is?" Garrus asked, wondering why they were all blatantly staring at the co-captains, oblivious to the five set of eyes upon them.

"Their broken engagement. They make such a cute couple," she sighed, in her own juvenile romantic fantasy about the Spectres.

"They were engaged?!” Garrus blurted out, astonished.

The bombshell left Garrus’ mouth slightly open. It’s not every day one sees a relationship between two species that’s had a history of rancor and war. If Garrus hadn't been a part of this crew and circle of friends, he would've never guessed from the outside world. News of an interspecies engagement of two Spectres would’ve taken the airwaves by storm if a reporter ever caught wind of it. Garrus assumed that’s the way they wanted it to be – on a need-to-know basis only.

Ashley scoffed, seemingly sour about the situation. "Yeah, but then that other turian jackass -"

"We should let the Commander disclose her own personal affairs," Thane interjected.

"Thane's right. We shouldn't be airing out her dirty laundry," Kaidan agreed.

Jack busted out with an insane fit of laughter.

“Yeah fucking right,” Jack cackled, shaking her head. “You just don't want to talk about how she’s been with another guy. You've been trying to get into her pants the second they broke up."

Kaidan scowled and cast Jack a black look for airing out his dirty laundry. Ashley giggled because she knows that Kaidan's been pining for Alex since their N7 training days. To no avail.

"Besides, you know they're still fucking, right? You got no chance of sticking your dick in if there's one already in there. Somebody tell lover boy over here that it's a waste of time."

Without a word, Thane left the table. He had no intention of learning more than he needed to. This wasn't his business.

"You won't find her in the XO quarters most nights if that's what you're getting at," Ashley responded suggestively.

"It can’t be easy," Tali began, sounding sympathetic. "Getting over someone on such a small ship...when you see them all the time, have to look them in the eye, and hear their voice."

The high-spirited table suddenly shifted into a tranquil silence. No one really knew how to follow up on that comment. With the exception of Garrus, everyone at the table knew there was no way for the two Spectres to bury their feelings without having time apart to experience closure.

Jack noticed that Garrus had been quite tight-lipped. She detected the penetrating shock plastered all over on Garrus’ face. When he caught sight of her looking, his mandibles pulled tight to his face. A mischievous grin crept onto her lips.

“What do you think, Vakarian?” Everyone turned to him curiously. “You got the hots for teacher, too?”

"ETA: Thirty minutes to Mars, everybody."

Saved in the nick of time.

"Wililams. Vakarian. Gear up and meet me in the cargo bay," Alex hollered over at their table.

"Aye, aye ma'am!"

Ashley picked up her tray promptly and departed from the table to get dressed. Garrus stalled for a second as he recuperated from Jack's sneak attack, before heading off himself. He noticed both Alex and Nihlus lingering in front of the elevator as Nihlus prepared to go to the top deck to the captain's cabin. Turians are never easy to read according to other species, but being a turian himself, Garrus decoded every underlying frequency of Nihlus’ voice. There was no denying that Nihlus loved Alex. And judging by her body language – hands on her hips and a giant grin on her face – she loved him, too. So, with an undeniable showcase of adoration, what went wrong?


Alex was first to exit the shuttle. She spotted Liara waiting for them at the landing pad and longed to see her dear friend. Nihlus followed closely behind with Garrus and Ashley in tow. After a quick embrace, it was back to business.

"We finally got some answers on how to defeat the Reapers?" Alex asked almost desperately. She yearned for the day that the non-stop hunt for intel would come to an end. In the back of her mind, she knew that was still a long way ahead.

"Maybe. I think I’ve discovered plans for a Prothean device."

"Here? On Mars?" Nihlus questioned skeptically. The humans were only a recent addition to galactic civilization to have such advanced Prothean technology at their fingertips.

"In the Prothean Archives, yes."

"We've had the Prothean archives for decades. Why only now are we finding something useful?" Alex inquired next.

"I haven't spent all my time on Mars, Shepard. When we first met, I was still working out of dig sites. That's where I discovered the time capsule. Using my resources as the Shadow Broker, I searched every possible lead. A process of elimination mixed with a little desperation led me here." The fascination for Liara's work was evident in her expression and voice. She was truly in love with science and research – Protheans in particular. "The archives are full of data in an overwhelming amount. I may have found what we need: a blueprint for a weapon. One that could wipe out the Reapers whenever they show up at our doorstep.”

Simultaneously, the heart of everyone present skipped a beat.

"A weapon?" Alex inhaled sharply.

"Yes! Well, pieces of it. The blueprints are incomplete, so it’s useless until I find the rest of it, and even more challenging, translate it.”

“We’ve run into brilliant scientists along the way, Dr. T’Soni. We can bring them in to help,” Nihlus suggested.

“Thank you, Kryik. Anyone you can spare, I’ll take.”

“Williams, get with EDI to draw up a list of contacts. See to it that we get them T’Soni’s data.”

“Yes, sir.”

Ashley strolled off to carry out her orders.

“In the meantime, until we can piece together the plans, I'd like to discuss some other preparations that-"

Alex stepped away from the conversation. It wasn't anything that Nihlus couldn't handle, and he could fill her in later. Besides, she noticed a certain turian walked away to observe from the background. He was posted up against a wall with arms crossed.

"What happened to the 'mouthy hot-headed do-gooder turian' I met at Flux?" she spoke strutting over coolly. "I thought you'd be running circles around me by now with the way you talked."

Garrus chuckled. "Just taking it all in, Shepard. I see you read deeply into my file. Including Harkin's statement about me."

"Had to know every detail of the man I was inviting onto the ship." Alex took her place next to Garrus on the wall.

"And yet I know just about enough of you as I did the night we met."

"I like my secrets," she justified nonchalantly.

"Secrets like being engaged?"

Garrus wished he could take back what he said as soon as it left his mouth because the expression on the Commander's face was blood-curdling. Her eyebrows pulled down together, and her crimson eyes glared at him with fury.

"My personal life is none of your damn business, Vakarian," she hissed. He couldn't believe he ruined his mentorship so quickly and pissed off the terrifying human Spectre.

And then she dissolved into laughter.

"I'm sorry. I couldn't help myself," she said, swiftly regaining her composure. She just wanted to have a little fun with her mentee. A wave of relief soothed Garrus. "I guess it's only fair that you get to know me seeing as we'll be spending a lot of time together. So yes, I was engaged. To Nihlus.”

"You two don't make it that obvious. I wouldn't have known if the crew hadn't said anything."

"Of course they did," she muttered. "And no, we don't. It's a tired and old saying, but it's complicated."

"How so?"

"Wow. No holding back, huh?" she half-smiled.

"Sorry, I just-" Alex shook her head and cut off the apology. Most were too scared to ask in depth about her relationship. She had to respect a man that fearlessly dove into her personal life.

"If I'm going to be honest..." Alex hesitated being that honest. "...it's mostly due to Saren being a part of his life."

"Saren?"

Garrus found it hard to imagine that a Spectre as a notable as Saren would have anything to do with the marital matters of an interspecies couple.

"He hates humanity. Loathes me. Sickened by the fact that his precious protégé settled down with a lowly human," she disclosed indifferently, but Garrus picked up on the disenchanted tone she vigilantly suppressed. "Always takes a dig at me any chance he gets. He's the reason there are hardly any turians on the ship."

Garrus did find it strange that a semi-turian ship had almost no turians on board. He didn't have a chance to really question it. He only joined less than twenty-four hours ago.

"How the hell did he manage that?"

"Spectre authority," Alex stated bitterly. "He ordered the turians on the ship to walk out and follow him instead. Nihlus and I could've fought against it, but it wasn't worth his tirade about the disgrace turians soldiers would be if they served on a blaspheme of a ship. But I had some dossiers put together and built a new a team instead. Hence, my band of misfits."

Alex found Garrus easy to talk to. A little too easy. A real energy where the conversation just flowed. Where the bonding was unforced. Garrus felt it, too. He felt it from the second they met.

"Anyway, Nihlus cared too much about what Saren thought, and it caused a rift between us.” She raised her shoulder, trying to play it off like she didn’t care. Garrus saw right through it. “I guess it worked out for the best anyway.”

“How so?”

“I don’t think I could’ve gotten away with tattooing my face with his clan markings,” she smiled weakly, forcing humor back into the conversation. “They're not very subtle. Though, I wouldn't mind wearing yours."

 Fuck, she thought. Did I just say that?

"Mine?"

Garrus couldn’t be sure, but he could’ve sworn he saw a flush of color flow to her cheeks. She turned her face away before he could analyze. "They're actually wearable. Er, to a human, I mean."

Nice save…

She rubbed her face before facing him again. "So what about you, Garrus? Got a girl at home?"

"Shepard! Vakarian!" The roar of Nihlus' voice broke the conversation. “We’re heading back."

"We'll finish this another time, Vakarian."

Even through the armor, Garrus felt an instant warmth and fluttering feeling in his stomach when Alex patted his shoulder before walking away. An interesting thought ran through his mind: What would Alex Shepard look like with his clan markings painted on her face?

Chapter Text

Alex’s first panic attack was debilitating.

It happened on Nihlus’ ship during training. It was a simple marksmanship drill at the gun range with the crew. The roaring gunfire unlocked the faces of the soldiers and friends she lost. It shifted her back to just a short few months ago, far away on Akuze with the sights and sounds of a brutal massacre.

With the first few gunshots, she produced hastened, incomplete breaths. Alex kept it hidden for the most part, but then the gunfire came in rapid amounts with more crew members joining the exercise. Pronounced echoing thunder made her dizzy. A looming fear sequestered her chest. Flashes of melted bodies on the ground appeared at her feet. She had to get away.

Alex didn’t know how she got back to her bunk, but when she reached the crew quarters, she fell to her knees with an intense bolt of fear. Her hands clawed at the floor desperate to clutch onto something familiar because all she could see and feel around her was Akuze. On top of the hyperventilation, cold sweat dripped from her body from the helpless feeling she couldn’t escape. At the moment, she wanted to die. She desperately needed to end this pain.

But then a distant voice drew her back.

“Shepard!” the faint reverberating voice said. “Shepard! Can you hear me?”

Alex shut her eyes tightly and struggled to lift her head. It weighed like a baby krogan. When she reopened her eyes, emeralds glistened before her. Alex locked onto the precious gemstones until the circumferential maroon and white silhouette came into focus.

“Nih...lus…” Alex sobbed between straining breaths. A large hand cupped over hers. She peered down and Nihlus squeezed.

“Take a giant breath in and hold it until I let go,” he instructed calmly. Alex inhaled a shaky, shallow breath while maintaining a hazy stare into his eyes. Four long seconds until Nihlus loosened his grip. She exhaled. He squeezed again. Alex drew in a firmer breath. Nihlus relaxed his hand, and she breathed out. They repeated this several times until Alex completed a normal breath.

A dreadful fusion of exhaustion and humiliation bared its head as Alex recovered from the attack. She sat back on her heels and dug her nails into her thighs.

“Are you okay?” Nihlus asked genuinely concerned. He was crouched down in front of her.

“I’m sorry…” Alex croaked. Her head hung indignantly. “It won’t happen again.”

“Shepard, you don’t have to feel ashamed about your PTSD.” She winced at the word, feeling like a weak soldier crippled by anxiety. She didn’t want pity.

“I’ll find a way to get this under control. I just need some time.” A brief silence and Nihlus stood.

“Let’s go.”

“I’m fine. I don’t need to go the med bay.”

“I’m not taking you to the med bay.”


 

The barrage of bullets could be heard down the hall from the training room. Nihlus didn’t explain where they were going or why. Alex just followed. However, it became clear when he led her to the sparring ring.

“Are you trying to humiliate me more?” she grimaced folding her arms. “Every time I spar with the crew, I get my ass handed to me.”

“You need a way to manage this, Shepard, and frankly, you could use the practice. My crew won’t take you seriously if you can’t take them on hand-to-hand.”

“And I just made it worse by breaking down in front of them and running away,” she sighed. “So you think fighting this out of me will help me manage?”

“One way to find out.”


 

Alex panted lying down in the middle the ring. They sparred for ten minutes, practically non-stop. Alex couldn’t win a single round against Nihlus, but she could feel herself getting better.  Not just with her fighting skills, but psychologically as well. Any residual feelings of anxiety and edge had dissipated. He sat down next to her, legs laid out in front of him.

“Why are you helping me?” she puffed.

“You think I invested all this time and effort tracking you down on Omega to let it go to waste like this?”

“Like this? Gee, thanks,” she replied sarcastically.

Nihlus shook his head. “You’re a hell of a woman and soldier, Alex. I wish you’d to see that, too. I need you to see that. For your sake.”

Alex’s heart raced again, but not from panic. At least she could pass off the flush on her skin as an effect of sparring. If Nihlus had said this any other time, she knew the red in her cheeks would’ve been evident on her fair skin. Alex always brushed off compliments, but Nihlus’ stirred up certain feelings.

“Listen…” Alex sat up, imitating his pose. A firm yet sincere expression appeared on Nihlus’ face. She couldn’t take her eyes off his. “…whenever you feel the pressure creeping up, you come get me. We’ll do this as much as you need to.”

Surprised, her eyes widened. Alex couldn’t wrap her mind around Nihlus offering his assistance like that. Everything he’s done so far left her baffled. Tracking her down; uplifting her from Omega; recruiting her for Spectre training and now making sure she stays mentally healthy — willing to roll around with the monster in her head. And maybe the reason Nihlus was doing this was because he needed to make sure his protégé would succeed. That his investment needed to produce a great Spectre. Yeah, that had to be it.

“Nihlus, I can’t let you —”

“We’re going to get this under control.”

He said, “we’re”…

Alex couldn’t hide the smile. “Yes, sir.”

Little did she know, the same emotions that Alex manifested at that moment for Nihlus, also arose in him. He wouldn’t do all this for just anyone. Only her.


 

Alex had been having trouble sleeping due to the persistent thoughts and worries about the Reapers. For the last several weeks, Liara had been forwarding reports of indoctrination. Though, the curious thing was without any actual Reapers around, how were people getting indoctrinated? As it turned out, several Reaper artifacts are spread throughout the galaxy and, unbeknownst to many, just sitting around in a lab, or in someone's home like a valuable trinket.

The most recent and traumatizing victim was Matriarch Benezia, Liara’s mother, who somehow captured the Rachni Queen and experimented on her children to make the soldiers for the Reapers. Liara asked for Alex’s help in confronting her mother. The confrontation ended with Liara killing her mother after she refused to disclose any information on the Reapers or how she became indoctrinated. It wasn’t easy for anyone in the aftermath to realize that the Reapers could affect loved ones. Especially Liara. She buried herself in the research more so than before. Alex now felt a sense of urgency to figure out how to defeat the Reapers and to stop this from happening to anyone else.

 She needed to take the edge off. Her body’s conditioned response wanted her to spar, but Nihlus was out on a classified mission for the Turian Hierarchy, and she didn't know when he'd be back. A hot shower would have to do to in the meantime before the accumulating anxiety developed into a panic attack.

Alex turned on the shower to boiling hot, letting the water run over her as she stood directly under the shower head. She heard the bathroom door open.

Now he shows up.

“Don’t you know how to knock? These are my private quarters,” she spoke bitterly over her shoulder.

“On my ship,” Nihlus’ voice retorted.

Our ship,” she corrected, turning around to face him. Nihlus leaned against the door frame as his eyes traveled over her soaking wet body. He was entranced by her gorgeous figure, full and feminine with hard muscular lines. Her skin glistened, pink from the hot water. When he made his way back to her face, her eyes were filled with pain and poison.

“Something’s wrong. Are you okay?" Her eyes shifted downwards to the water circling around the drain. She knew he could read her tension. They’d been together far too long for Nihlus not to know what she was thinking by just a look. And Alex learned to decipher his emotions by the subharmonics of his voice.  His next words were moored with guilt. "I'm sorry I haven't been around much for you lately, Alex."

"Don't apologize," she snapped, "We're not together anymore. You don't owe me anything, and you don't need to do a thing for me."

Alex could be unpredictable – and rather difficult – since the breakup. Some days she and Nihlus could be chummy friends; other days they acted like smitten teenagers in love; and then there’d be the days they’d bickered and be at each other’s throats. Alex carried her resentment on her sleeve and held no restraint taking it out on him.

"It doesn't mean that I stopped caring about you. You know what you mean to me. Married or not."

Damn him.

Two sentences and he melted her heart. She nodded, and her aggression dispelled. She wholeheartedly believed him. It’s not like they separated because they fell out of love. This was purely Saren’s intrusion into Nihlus’ romantic life. How Saren used his father figure influence to talk Nihlus out of the engagement, telling him it’s a mistake to involve himself with such a lesser species. Nihlus knew the harassment would never end. The constant hits of criticism wore him down and made him second guess everything. It started with their engagement, but then it seeped into his decision-making during combat and operations. He changed. Grumpy and callous. But Alex wasn’t the type of woman to let herself be mistreated. If Nihlus couldn’t handle the pressure from his mentor and let it affect him this much, then maybe it was for the best that they break it off. So they did. And they kept away from each other. Until they couldn’t. Alex knew Nihlus needed her support as second-in-command to head the operation. Nihlus knew she needed support for her mental health and promised he’d always be there for her in that aspect. Sometimes that comfort took place in the sparring ring. Sometimes it took place behind closed doors.

"But let me make it up to you anyway. Seeing that this isn’t an appropriate setting for sparring, I know of another way to relieve some stress.”

His tone was drenched in sensuality. Without breaking eye contact, Alex watched Nihlus silently undress in front of her. His armor chinked upon hitting the floor. The naked turian stepped into the shower. Alex never ceased to be amazed by the perfection that is a turian body. The crest and fringe; the carapace; the mandibles; the way their chitin plates covered about eighty percent of their body, but left strips of open flesh uncovered; the narrow waist and those handy hip spurs. Nihlus’ unique burgundy color made him all the more beautiful.

He caressed her cheek tenderly, full of affection. His hands explored every contour of her body. Nihlus nuzzled into her neck, lapping at water that ran down. Alex trembled under the touch of his velvet tongue. He nibbled a trail down to her collarbone hungrily. She rubbed the back of his neck lovingly and moaned softly. His teeth grazed the top of her cleavage. It sent chills down her spine. His tongue ran circularly around her nipple teasingly as it hardened.

"Unh. You just love toying with me, don't you?" she breathed. He responded by tugging at her firm bud. An elated whimper came from deep within her chest.

If he was going to play with her like this, she was going to give him a taste of his own medicine. Alex reached for his erection, out of its sheath and dripping in pre-cum. Her soft fingers stroked along his length, swirling around the tip with his juices. His eyes fluttered shut. With every pump of his cock, Nihlus groaned in pleasure. Pre-cum dripped steadily and it allowed her to glide smoothly up and down his length. His kissing became clumsier until he completely stopped, allowing himself to be taken over by bliss.

Nihlus couldn't wait to be inside her, but he needed to check if she was ready to take him. He pushed Alex into the wall and crashed his mouth into her plump lips. His body was heavy against her. His fingers rubbed lightly over her lower lips before inserting a finger in between her legs. She drew in a sharp breath. He went in so easily. She's ready, but he wanted to play a little more. When he pushed further into her folds with two fingers, she released a hoarse noise, something between a gasp and moan. He continued to penetrate her over and over, enjoying the sheer ecstasy on her face. Nihlus withdrew his fingers and felt her shudder. He then ran them to the sensitive bundle of nerves, using Alex's own juices to massage it in gentle circles. She shot an arm out to brace herself against the wall as her desire spiked when he applied a rougher pressure. Nihlus' fingers felt so good on her swollen and sensitive clit. He inserted her again – two fingers again, glided over her clit, and then back into her dripping center. He repeated the motion at a continuous pace.

"Stop playing with me, Nihlus. I want you to fuck me," Alex demanded.

He was happy to comply. Nihlus picked her up from the back of legs and pressed her back into the wall. She wrapped her legs around his waist, hooking onto his spurs for support. Nihlus slipped right in. The pressure between her thighs from his girth caused a loud cry to escape her lips. Turians were wonderfully proportionate with their tall stature – sizeable hands, feet, and male appendages. Though size isn't always everything, Nihlus has it and knows how to use it well. He thrust into her, and she buried her face into him, digging her nails into the fleshy part of his neck. He didn't mind. If anything, he liked it. It drove him to fuck her harder - just the way she liked it.

The water hit her breasts and rolled down her stomach to where their pubic areas met, exaggerating the sounds of Nihlus pounding her. Feeling herself climbing, Alex began rolling her hips to meet Nihlus' rhythm. He loved it when she did this. It always got him just a little deeper into her pink warmth.

He gripped her thighs harder, filed talons digging into her skin. He kept them rounded for times like this, but at this intensity, he was still able to break skin. The pain was semi-erotic. When Alex released an enraptured moan from the puncture, Nihlus pumped his hips faster, legs beginning to tremble as he was reaching his peak.

Alex was so close to cumming. Alex brought her mouth back to his, dragging her tongue along his lower mandible. Nihlus granted her entrance into his mouth letting their tongues tangle. Nihlus continued his pace as they massaged each other’s tongues until she released his mouth. Alex made a high-pitched unrestrained moan as a hot wave of euphoria radiated to every cell in her body. The tightening muscles from her orgasm threw Nihlus over the edge, and he released a full load cum into her. Nihlus pumped into her a few more times, making sure he gave her every drop he had.

They held onto each other as they caught their breath and their muscles relaxed. Coming off his high, Nihlus wished to see his lover’s face. He swept the damp hair off of Alex’s face – rosy, unwound, and satisfied. Gazing into Nihlus’ vibrant eyes compelled her to press her lips against his. Alex’s heart palpitated with a hopeless passion. Feeling the way she did at this moment, she knew she could never stop loving him no matter the circumstances.

But a terrible truth hit her. What kind of future was she setting herself up for if she kept chasing the life she could never have? What amount of endless disappointment did she have to look forward to when she couldn’t be allowed to get over a broken heart because the reminder was always around every corner?

Something had to change. No more of this. No more of "us." It was time for Alex to let go and take in a breath of new life. Start over instead of trying to fix something broken. A blank slate from where to begin again.

 

Chapter Text

Admiral Hackett sent Alex a launching list of side missions that apparently only she could complete on top of running operations to save the galaxy. Fighting pirate ships, saving diplomats, transporting classified cargo, and so on.

Priorities.

Alex utilized these opportunities to play around with the dynamics of her squad mates. She already knew them on a personal level, but something about being in action on a mission formed a unique camaraderie. Before Garrus’ recruitment, Alex liked to consistently switch out her people. Whatever the mission was, she selected her squad based on their strengths or expertise. Alex was vaguely familiar with Garrus’ skills, having only taken him through the practice run at the Spectre facility, so she hesitated to take him on the first couple of missions. One day, before their departure to take out a smuggler’s cargo ship, Garrus approached her and insisted on coming along. She smirked when she caught the spark in his eyes, eager to prove his worth. How could she say no?

When Garrus shot down the smuggler’s henchmen before she could even detect them, she knew he had to be a staple in her three-man team. There was a sense of security of Garrus providing her cover fire that Alex never knew she needed. From then on out, the loadout was always Alex, Garrus, and whoever suited the mission best. They’d bond in the shuttle on the way to the landing zone, witty and sarcastic remarks bouncing off each other in playful banter. Maybe even discreet flirting and teasing. Nothing conspicuous or even anything anyone could mistake as more than just really great chemistry between friends.

Right now, Nihlus, Alex, Garrus, and Tali were on their way to Feros. The Normandy received a distress call from Zhu’s Hope that they were under attack by geth – unbelievable considering the geth hadn’t ever been seen past the Perseus Veil. The colony was founded by ExoGeni to explore Prothean ruins in efforts to find any more clues to piece together the weapon blueprint. What could the geth be after on Feros?

Cortez had to quickly drop them off because the geth were over the site like ants on a sugar cube. The colonists had put up a tough fight but were slowly being picked away. However, with two Spectres and a small tactical unit on their side, the geth were eradicated in a matter of minutes, causing the remaining forces to retreat.

“Thank God!” the colony’s leader exclaimed as he came out from behind a barricade. “I don’t think we would’ve lasted much longer if you hadn’t shown up.”

The group met Fai Dan and a scowling woman at the entrance of the colony.

“About time,” an embittered woman remarked. Arcelia Martínez, ExoGeni security, was not impressed by heroics. “Surprised you Council pets even showed up.”

“How about a little bit of gratitude?” Alex snapped. “Or better yet, go f-”

“Shepard,” Nihlus cut in promptly. Alex scoffed and let him continue. “Nihlus Kryik and Alexandria Shepard. Special Tactics and Reconnaissance. Can you tell us what happened here?”

“I wish I could. All we know is that a geth dropship flew right over us and they came out attacking. They seemed pretty hellbent on trying to get into the ExoGeni headquarters but never made it through. Thanks to you all, of course.”

At least the leader was pleasant.

“The Prothean data,” Alex commented. “Liara sent me a message that the scientists had just uncovered a Prothean artifact days ago. It could be what they were after.”

“It could mean the geth are working for the Reapers. Synthetics working with synthetics.” Garrus remarked. “Not a good sign.”

“Definitely not a good sign. The geth nearly destroyed my people. I can’t imagine what will become of them if they gain more power,” Tali added anxiously.

Nihlus gave her a comforting nod and turned back to Fai Dan. “Can you take me up to the labs? I’d like to see what they were after myself.”

“Of course,” he replied.

Fai Dan led Nihlus over to a skycar to take the ExoGeni headquarters across the colony and over a skyway. Alex exchanged brief glances with Garrus and Tali.

“And what are we supposed to do?” she called out.

Without turning around, Nihlus replied, “See what you can do to help Zhu’s Hope get back on its feet.”

You mean do the shitty grunt work.

The group watched the skycar drive away, feeling a little resentment for being left behind. It wouldn’t be so bad if Martinez wasn’t such a piece of work. Swallowing her pride, Alex asked Martinez what they could use some assistance with. The surviving colonists had recovered well after the attack and already started cleaning up the mess of slain bodies.

“We’ve been having trouble with food, water, and power since the geth arrived. They disrupted and jammed our technology. If there is anything you can do about that, it’d be nice.”

“Sure. Just tell me what to do.”

Down in the tunnels were the colony’s water valves that needed to be reset so their supply could be replenished. The colonists used the varren for meat, but the Alpha had been protecting its pack, so they hadn’t been able to come close enough to hunt. The geth also screwed up power supply by frying their power cell. Martinez believed there could be an extra one in the tunnels somewhere, but they couldn’t get to anything down there because they were remaining geth still hanging around. Stragglers were something they could handle.

“Sounds easy enough.”

“So you say,” Martinez replied nastily, taking Alex’s comment as condescending. Alex rolled her eyes and headed down into the underground tunnel system with Garrus and Tali.

"What is it about these people that they assume we enjoy being in harm's way?" Tali asked in disbelief.

“Almost makes me wish we would’ve taken a bit longer. Maybe she wouldn’t have made it,” Garrus said. Alex silently concurred.

“You know, if there are geth down here and one makes it past us, I could hack it, and have it go after her. Make it look like an accident,” Tali suggested buoyantly. Alex enjoyed the occasional evil genius that slipped out of the quirky alien.

They swept the tunnels and removed all geth from the area. Alex assigned Tali to figure out a way to reset and open the water valves on the underground consoles, and Garrus to locate the power cell. The Alpha Varren belonged to Alex. Strange that she hadn’t seen any sign of them down in the tunnels while they fought the geth. Where could they be?

She passed by Tali who was working on the console. Garrus was further down, using his omni-tool to scan for signs of energy. He was stopped in front of a large concrete door.

“Commander.” He waved Alex over. “I believe both of our prizes are behind this door.”

“What do you got?” she asked, reading off his omni-tool.

“I’m getting a reading from an object that still has an active energy wave in this room. It should be a power cell. But —”

The plumbing above them clicked, and the sound of water gushing through the pipes echoed in the tunnel. Tali walked briskly past them to the next console. When the water system reactivated, the sudden noise stirred something behind the door – a low growling traveling through the walls.

“There’s an army of varren that have just been woken up from their nap, pissed and hungry,” she finished. He nodded taking out his rifle.

“Whoever takes down the most varren treats the winner to a drink?” he proposed.

“Oh, you’re on Vakarian.” She loaded her shotgun with fresh rounds.


“I like my drink strong and on the rocks,” Alex told Garrus as she stepped through the warm puddle of blood pooled together by the pile of dead varren.

Garrus climbed on top of a broken-down tank in the room and opened the hood.

“I took down the Alpha! That counts for double,” he argued, removing the power cell from the tank.

“With my help! I shot it in the leg and slowed it down.”

He jumped down from the tank, carrying the power cell and coming up face-to-face with Alex.

“All I needed was one shot between the eyes to take it down. I didn’t need your help,” his smooth and cocky voice said. She couldn’t hold back a teasing smirk, and he reciprocated.

“Commander? Garrus?” Tali’s voice called.

“In here!” they both yelled.

“I still took down more varren than you,” she bit back, refusing to take this loss.

“What are you two bickering about?” Tali questioned as Alex and Garrus were posed toward each other in lighthearted argument.

“The Commander is a sore loser and doesn’t want to accept that she lost a bet.”

Alex tilted her head. “Actually, Vakarian took out five varren. I took out six. I clearly have the better numbers.”

Tali watched the debate, her head turning back and forth between the two like a tennis match.

“But your numbers don’t include the Alpha.”

“I helped you take down the Alpha.”

“I told you I didn’t need your help. The Alpha is two points, so that puts me at seven, beating you…Commander.”

“Okay, okay,” Tali interjected. “I will settle this or else I fear that I will spend the rest of my pilgrimage down in this wasteland, my body waiting to be eaten to the bone by varren. You two will split the win of the Alpha. One point each.”

“Well, looks like that still puts me one point ahead of you,” Alex gloated, pivoting on her heel to head back to Zhu’s Hope. She called over her shoulder, “Don’t forget my drink order.”

“I thought we were friends, Tali.”

“We are. But you’re not captain of the ship.”

“Good point.”

Having completed their tasks, the trio headed back up to the surface. Garrus sped up to a light jog to catch up with Alex. She shot him a smile when he appeared at her side. Tali couldn’t help but study the close proximity Alex and Garrus walked in. The two had become close friends aboard the Normandy. It's very well possible that they now developed something more affectionate. A relationship beyond platonic. Tali always thought Nihlus and Alex were the cutest couple, but now seeing these two together, they’re pretty damn perfect.

Chapter Text

Most days were good days. Days free of flashbacks and anxiety, and full of purpose and calm.

Not today. Alex felt lethargic and fatigued from a restless night. Wasted sleep due to rolling around in bed over a million times. Her eyelids were practically glued to the top of her forehead. She kept her eyes pried open, catching the darkness behind closed lids in small doses. With every blink, a piece of Akuze returned. A reverberating piercing scream. A lingering fetor of decay. The ground quaking beneath her feet as the thresher maw burrowed. In these episodes, she felt nothing like herself, and it was worse when it carried out for a long time. The longer it lasted, the more of herself she lost, drowning in a sea of dense darkness.

Alex leered out into the desert wasteland that covered Mars. Masses of rolling clouds moved across the surface from the monstrous sandstorm that trapped Alex inside the Mars lab. Liara’s drowned out words were white noise in the background. She was getting a sort of cabin fever hiding away in her quarters and was in serious need of a change of environment. Visiting Liara at the labs was a good excuse to get away. Alex needed to get an update on her research anyway, but she was more focused on trying to clear her head than paying attention.

"Goddess, Shepard. Are you even listening?"

“Hm?” Alex awoke from her self-absorption, looking over at Liara’s frown-painted face. “Oh, sorry.”

She sighed. “No. Don’t be. I know you have a lot on your plate.” Liara paused, mustering the courage to speak about the sensitive topic. “You look terrible. It’s getting bad again, isn’t it?”

"When someone says 'you look terrible', doesn't the question become rhetorical?" she retorted with sass.

Liara didn't follow up. Being as close as they were, Liara had always been able to pick up on the slightest shift in Alex’s mood. Where most saw coldness and detachment, Liara saw walls rising trying to hide brewing turmoil. She knew Alex was trying to mask her faults and be strong for the mission and her team. Instead of letting the misery take over, Liara kept it company. No matter how little it helped, Liara was more than happy to be there for her friend.

Liara returned to her computer, eyes glued to the feeds her agents were transmitting in. “Have you told Chakwas you’ve been having symptoms again?”

“Nope.”

“You should let someone help. I’m sure Nihlus would be more than happy to.” Her tone was suggestive and disappointed.

Alex cocked her head at her. “How did you… Right. Never mind. Shadow Broker resources.” A self-satisfied smile from Liara. She’s a really good information broker.

“I know Nihlus has been a big part of your life and recovery, Shepard, but are you sure you should be crossing those lines again? Fraternizing?”

“Liara, please don’t—”

“I’m just worried about you is all.” Alex knew Liara cared about her. A lot. As much as an undying platonic love can form between two friends. But Alex didn’t want to be a burden on anyone. Everyone has felt the pressure, and most of that weight fell on Nihlus, Alex, and Liara – the heads of the mission operations and research. They each had about enough as much as they could handle. Especially Liara. There was no way Alex would unload anything more on her after what has already happened. Not after killing her own mother.

“So did that Prothean artifact from ExoGeni give us anything we need?”

“It gave me a rather big piece of the blueprint that had been missing. The plans are almost complete. Problem is…” Her eyes flitted away from the screen to Alex. Her ruby red eyes were entrancing but frightening at the same time. Enchanting and possessing. She’d hate to be the person on the other end of Alex’s scope. “It’s colossal. It’ll take years to complete. We simply don't have enough people to construct something of this size. What if the Reapers show up before we can even come close to finishing it?”

“The Crucible?” Alex questioned. She hadn’t heard the name before. Liara blushed a light shade of indigo. She fiddled with her hands when she replied.

“It’s, uh, what the team and I have dubbed the Prothean weapon. It seemed fitting.” She shrugged bashfully.

“It does,” Alex smiled faintly. “But don’t worry. I’m working on getting you more help.”

But it wasn’t exactly going smoothly.

Wrex had returned to Tuchanka to unite the Krogan some weeks ago. He grew tired of seeing his people being used as expendable soldiers and mercenaries. He yearned for the day when the krogan were brought back to their ancient glory, but that’s hard to do when they’re slowly dying out. He wrote Alex a message that he managed to make some headway in gathering the race under Clan Urdnot but forewarned her that a cure for the genophage would be demanded in the near future.

Naturally, this didn’t sit well with the turians and salarians – more so the salarians – considering they developed and distributed the genophage to control the aggressive krogan expansion and end the Krogan Rebellions. Deemed a necessary evil at the time. Nihlus was meeting with the Primarch to convince him that they were going to need the krogan if worse comes to worst.

It was up to Alex to gather Salarian support – in an indirect way. She had several feelers out on all ends of the galaxy to search for the original team of scientists that devised the genophage. Maybe Alex could convince them to make a cure.

 As for the asari, they were pretty much Switzerland. Not doing anything more or less than what was asked of them. Totally neutral.

All that talk about uniting the galaxy and barely anyone had picked up their end of the bargain. They chipped in the bare minimum and kept most of the resources for themselves. The Council races were more concerned protecting their own than working together to protecting everyone. None of them admitted it out loud, but Alex and Nihlus were sure of it.

"The storm's passing,” Liara said. “You should go now before it returns."

Alex agreed and headed to the exit. “Let me know if anything else comes up.”

“And you keep me updated on…well, you.I know you won’t, but still.”

“Because I know you’ll be watching anyway.”


 

Metal clinked as her foot bounced rapidly on the floor. Alex’s arms were close to her chest, tense against her body and nails digging into her skin. She sat on her bed, eyes dry and unblinking – zoned out and pitifully gazing at the unopened bottle of whiskey on her desk. She really wanted a drink.

But did she need it?

No, she kept telling herself. She’d get up and reach for the bottle, fully intent on returning it to the lounge bar, but stopped short in case her hand decided to open it instead. As Dr. Chakwas had told her plenty of times before, a drink now and then was fine. To relax or in social occasions. It’s when Alex became untethered from the real world that she should avoid the liquid anesthetic. One sip during an episode and it would a gateway to her own personal oblivion.

Alex reached out one more time, only inches away from the top and her urge was growing.

“Shepard. Kryik has requested you meet him in the Comm Room.”

Like a child caught in the act, Alex snapped her arm back to her side – whatever that did to help her play it off. Clearing her throat, she replied, “Thank you, EDI. Tell him I’m on my way.”

“Yes, Shepard.”

She gave the whiskey one more longing look before shaking off the thirst and heading up to the war room.


Alex waited patiently as the security scanner swept over her and tuned out Private Westmoreland and Campbell's mindless chatter. Past the crewman, Alex rounded her path around the center console. When she heard the flanging speech flow out of the comm room, an awful, gut-wrenching twinge struck her. She stopped in her tracks right outside the entryway. Alex listened carefully to identify the voices. One of them belonged to Nihlus, and the other – she didn’t want to accept who the other voice was.

This asshole.

The voice that belonged to the man she deeply despised more than anyone else in the entire galaxy. She did her best to avoid him as much as possible. Their interactions hardly ever ended well.

Alex delayed her entrance into the room with long steps. To her content, he wasn't physically on the ship. The Quantum Entanglement Communicator was new technology and enabled live long-range correspondence between locations across the Milky Way. It was unbelievably innovative.

 He may have only been a digital image, but she clearly felt the hole he bored into her head with his frosty blue eyes when she appeared from behind Nihlus – a mass of his concentration centered on her forehead. The hatred was mutual.

"Shepard," he said with disgust. Nihlus rotated his head slightly to acknowledge her arrival. Alex didn't avert her eyes away from him. Her ill feelings were too centered on the despicable alien.

"Arterius," she returned inaudibly, unwilling to grant him the full volume of her breath.

“I wish I could go the rest of my life without having to see you again.” Derision permeated through Saren’s words.

“Likewise, you piece of shit,” she barked back.

“You’re fortunate I’m not there in person to-”

“To what? You couldn’t do shit to-”

“Enough!” Nihlus roared. “I didn’t bring you both here for a pissing match.”

Alex jumped in her skin at Nihlus’s sudden outburst but never broke eye contact with Saren. For the second time this evening, Alex felt like a child. Reprimanded and ordered to behave. She sighed, putting aside her pride. For now.

“Fine. Why am I here? Because the anticipation iskillingme.”

Nihlus ignored her sarcasm. Saren absorbed it – held onto it – because he knew what he was going to tell her next would bruise her. He couldn’t wait to see the look on her face.

"I hear you've been doing some searching." Alex inhaled sharply, apprehensive to hear about what Saren knew. "You know, the team of salarian scientists who created the genophage, so you could persuade them into creating a cure. I did you a favor and tracked them down myself."

"How the hell did you know about that?" She shot Nihlus an unholy look. Alex knew the answer before she asked it, but she needed to hear it out loud.

With a small lift of his shoulders, Nihlus answered, “We needed the help. Narrow the list down. Doing it all by yourself would’ve taken too long.” His indifference received a smug laugh from Saren.

“I wouldn’t have done it by myself,” Alex hissed at Nihlus. “I have a team for a reason.”

“A waste of everyone’s time,” Saren slipped back in.

“What are talking about?” she spat.

Saren scoffed. “Your leads on the Salarian scientist lead nowhere, Shepard. All dead ends.”

“Impossible. My intel was solid.”

“Or maybe you’re not as good of an agent as you think.”

Absurd. She knew the intel was viable. Kasumi, Liara, Traynor, and EDI. With those four on the case, there’s no way the information could be off. Before Alex could dive any further with Saren, Nihlus let him go.

“Thank you, Saren. I’ll let you know if anything else comes up we need your assistance with.”

Once the call disconnected, Alex was ready to relieve her mind of the toxic thoughts. A predatory gaze fell upon Nihlus.

“You had no right to do that.”

“It’s done now. Now we know the intel was bad, so we move on.”

“You believe him?” she questioned.

“Why wouldn’t I?”

It dumbfounded Alex how much trust Nihlus put into Saren. Sure, that was his mentor, but Nihlus had to know that Saren wasn’t the most honorable man and could be capable of sabotaging intel. Specifically, Alex’s data to make her seem incompetent. Anderson told her many times to be careful around Saren. She knew how Saren single-handedly cost Anderson his nomination for the Spectres. She told Nihlus about it too, but Nihlus always gave him the benefit of the doubt. He always defended Saren. Never did Nihlus defend her from Saren. She wasn’t the outwardly sensitive type, but it hurt. She could never forget that kind of pain dealt by the hands of the man she loved.

“Because he’s a dirty filthy liar! I don’t know how, but he’s sabotaging this.”

“He has nothing to gain from sabotaging you, Alex.” Nihlus shook his head — sure that she was just being paranoid — and spun around to leave. “Let it go. We need to come up with a backup plan.”

Unbeknownst to Nihlus, Alex already had a backup plan. One that she kept solely to herself in case something like this happened. She hoped it never would, but she couldn’t be certain in times like this. Wartime. She was fully prepared to roll out her plan, but another objective jumped in the queue. There was no mistaking it now. She needed a drink.

Chapter Text

How did Alexandria Shepard ever allow herself to become so consumed in romance that it could cut her this deep? 

It started with “I want you”. Alex and Nihlus reunited on the Normandy after receiving their mission from the Council, and they were instantly drawn to each other. The fatal attraction was tangible. Immediately, they engaged in the sexual relationship they couldn’t have under his mentorship – for chain-of-command reasons. Nihlus always found Alex’s warrior traits attractive, as any turian would. Alex was lured in by Nihlus’ good looks and unique pigmentation but captured by his benevolence to humanity. Or rather, his benevolence to her as a human. 

Next, came the admission of “I like you.” Nihlus joined Alex for her morning coffee and reading. Alex joined him for his daily workouts. They let their guards down around one another and there was no denying there was something more there.  

Then, it was the confession “I need you.” Casual nights of sex ended with spooning, or sometimes no sex at all. They just wanted to be around each other. No doubt things were getting serious, and the two Spectres were known around the ship as an item. 

At last, the profession “I love you.” Falling in love wasn’t the plan for either of them, but it couldn’t be helped. It happened, and Nihlus proposed. There was no big romantic gesture, but an eventual conclusion that they should get married. It made sense. They wanted to spend the rest of their lives together, so why not? But they held off planning a ceremony until the war was over. Something to look forward to. Neither of them foresaw the broken engagement and it hit Alex especially hard. A symbol that marked the end of something that once meant everything to her. The main thing that kept her going and want to continue fighting. 

But Alex couldn't let herself be dependent on Nihlus anymore to help with her anxiety – sparring or otherwise. And she was tired of looking foolish for holding onto a string of hope that the relationship could ever go back to the way it was before.  

A couple of hours ago, Nihlus docked the Normandy at the Citadel and granted the crew shore leave. While everyone ran out like children on the last day of school heading towards freedom, Alex sulked in the lounge staring at the liquor cabinet. She hadn’t had a drink. Yet. And she had the room to all to herself – she thought. 

“Kasumi,” Alex said without a sideways look.  

Uncloaking, Kasumi plopped down on the bar stool next to Alex. “I’ve spent too much time around you. You’re starting to notice me before I reveal myself.” 

Kasumi was one of the select people that stayed behind on the ship. She didn’t care too much for the Citadel. Too clean and too many bright lights. 

“Sorry,” she muttered impassively. Not a half a second passed before Kasumi got down to brass tacks. 

“You miss Nihlus, don’t you?” Kasumi asked bluntly. Alex’s face hardened. She admired Kasumi’s candid perceptiveness. However, she didn't want to be the subject of her adroit observations. But no one was spared. Not even Commander Shepard. 

“I’m not sure what I feel right now. With anything.”  

“Judging by the way you’ve been staring at those bottles, you were aiming for analgesia. And possibly a wicked headache.”  

Alex shrugged. She didn’t really feel like talking. 

“I can see why you like him so much,” Kasumi remarked switching to a lighter note.  

“Nihlus? I didn’t know you’ve even ever spoken to him before. He’s pretty introvertive.”  

“Please,” Kasumi scoffed, “I don’t need to talk to someone to get find out every little thing about them.” Alex acknowledged with a hum. “And I was talking about Garrus.” 

Alex gazed at her wide-eyed, her face growing hot. Kasumi grinned under her hood, and stared out the window of the lounge, falling under the spell of the starlight. 

“W-Why do you say that?” Alex didn’t mean to stammer, but Kasumi’s abrupt insights had caught her off guard – something not easily achieved. 

“If you’re asking how I know, you forget my ability to evaluate people. I may not have a fancy degree or title, but you don’t get to be the best master thief in the business without having a watchful eye. People talk, and I hear everything. They move the teensiest bit, I see everything.” 

Alex shook off the embarrassment. 

“We’re just friends, Kasumi.” It wasn’t very convincing. Even as hard of soldier Alex was, the truth had a funny way of coming out no matter how hard she tried to suppress it. 

“But you want more than that. And I can see that he does-” 

The door opened. Garrus poked his head in.  

Speak  of the devil.  

Garrus had been looking for Alex. She hadn’t been around much the last couple of days to help him train or even to talk. She’d come up from her room to go on a mission, spoke when necessary, and when they got back to the Normandy, she headed straight back to her quarters. He came to learn about her PTSD and determined that she was probably having an episode. Garrus figured he’d try to talk to her before she sought out insouciance at the bottom of countless liquor bottles. They were close friends and he couldn’t stand the void she left behind anymore. 

“Am I interrupting?” he asked. 

“I was just leaving. Here. Take my seat.” Kasumi jumped off the barstool and casually ambled past Garrus with an impish smirk. “Later, Shep.” 

The door closed behind her. Garrus caught Alex’s murky gaze. She turned back to staring down the liquor bottles. 

“You look like shit,” he commented. Alex eyed Garrus down with a sudden coldness that hit him to the core. 

Smooth, he thought, mentally kicking himself in the ass. Why did he have to be so goddamn tactless in times like this? 

A shaky, slow smile came across the corners of her lips. “I love how people think that’s an appropriate way to start a conversation with me today.”  

Garrus went to insert an apology, but she shook her head. “I feel like shit, so at least the outside matches the inside.” 

“I heard you had a virtual run-in with Saren,” he said as he settled onto the stool where Kasumi had been sitting. 

“Yeah,” she mumbled back. 

“He really gets under your skin, doesn’t he?” Alex fidgeted in her seat, uncomfortable to admit the obvious. Obvious to Garrus, that is. He knew about the acrimonious history between Alex and Saren. Whenever Garrus brought up Saren before, Alex's face twisted, and her lips trembled with rage. To say she didn’t get along with Saren, would be the understatement of the millennium. 

 “You can talk to me,” he reassured her. Garrus placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. Alex put her hand over his and rubbed back of his hand with her thumb. The touch of his uncovered talons was slightly rough yet comforting. He felt nice. She let her hand fall back onto the counter and sighed. He was so easy to talk to. 

“Funny.” 

“Funny? What’s funny?” 

“I’ve been through the death of my parents, boot camp, N7 training, and the death of my entire squad on Akuze…but he…” Alex let out a rough exhalation, a quiet growl. “Saren feeds my anger like nothing else. I find peace, and he manages to obliterate it in seconds.” 

“What happened?” 

“Those leads on the salarian scientists I had been working on. Nihlus gave them to Saren to ‘do me the favor’ and help track them down, but conveniently enough, all of them led to dead ends, and now they're nowhere to be found.” 

Garrus hummed, catching onto what she was insinuating. “You think he did purposely did something to compromise your mission.” She nodded sullenly. “I wouldn’t put it past him.” 

A quick bark of laughter. “I’m glad you think so. Nihlus didn’t. His dear mentor could never be capable of such a thing.” 

What could Garrus say now? All he could think to do was apologize for something he had no hand in. “I’m sorry. For what it’s worth, I’m here for you.” 

“Thanks, Garrus.” She blushed softly. Garrus had Alex feeling emotions she never experienced before. Not even with Nihlus. Hummingbird heartbeat. Fluttering stomach. Tingling fingertips. It frightened her. 

"I should be thanking you. For bringing me in and letting me be a part of your team. I'm learning a lot working with you. And the new equipment you got me? I couldn't repay that even if I wanted to." 

“I didn't do it to get anything in return. I want what's best for everyone. Myself included. Can't have you guys watching my six with shitty guns," she said playfully. 

He laughed long enough for Alex to see his carnivorous teeth. "That's a fair statement." 

"What were you still doing up anyway?" 

Should he tell her the truth? About how he’d been waiting around all night for the right moment to talk because he cared for her so much?  

"Got caught up in some calibrations. Lost track of time," he fibbed. 

"You’ll never stop running out of things to calibrate, will you?” The first real smile he’d seen from Alex seen in days. A beautiful sight. 

“I have to keep busy myself somehow.” 

“Or else you’ll go insane and start calibrating everyone else’s guns?” 

“If that were the case, I’d be doing everyone a favor.” 

And then a genuine laugh came from her lips. Nothing caustic nor sour. A laugh that stemmed from true joy. Finally, Garrus broke through through the walls that had built so high into the sky that no one wanted to climb it. But Garrus did. And it paid off. 

Having heard about Alex’s Spectre love story, Garrus could understand the reason why she fell for the turian Council agent. Nihlus was her unlikely hero in a time of need, willing to do anything to save her from herself. Garrus didn't have a reason to say it out loud, but he'd do the same. In a heartbeat. And he was happy to take on her demons in Nihlus’ place. Garrus also knew one of Alex’s coping skills to take off the edge of anxiety was to spar with Nihlus. Nihlus wasn’t here, but he was. Now was a perfect opportunity to offer himself as her new sparring partner.  

"How about a rematch down in the ring?" he suggested. Her eyes sparkled. 

"You're willingly asking to get your ass kicked?" she quipped. 

Garrus chuckled. "It's been a while since you and I sparred. I've improved since then." 

With a cocky smirk, she said, "Let's see then." 


When it comes to hand-to-hand combat, size always matters, so Alex knew better than to let Garrus square up in front of her with the range of a turian being far greater than a human’s. 

Alex and Garrus circled around the sparring ring in the training room. Garrus started with a step forward and overhand punch. Alex jumped out of range – she's good at evasion. He lunged. Swing and miss. The first few minutes weren’t much different from their first match, but Garrus had picked up a thing or two. This time around he kept throwing punches, so Alex had to keep moving. He was trying to wear her down, and it was working. Smart. He was keeping Alex on her toes, and it was exhilarating.  

Though, the fight was dragging out longer than Alex liked. She had to end this soon before she depleted her stamina. The next jab Garrus threw, Alex ducked and rushed forward. She drove her fist into his gut, forcing all the air out of his lungs. This was her chance.  

Alex tackled him down to the floor, straddling his hips, and pushing his shoulders into the ground. The power behind her attack made her lose balance and her body landed close to his. Their faces practically touched. Their eyes bounced back and forth between each other heartfelt silence. Alex has always been aware how good-looking Garrus is, in a way very dissimilar to Nihlus. Nihlus was sophisticatedly handsome and dashing. Garrus’ height has always been a plus – on the taller end of the turian height spectrum – but the way he emitted virile strength made him so attractive to Alex. Then there was his cool, smooth voice that gave her goosebumps. Oh, and the most appealing? His self-proclaimed “bad-boy” attitude that never really executed correctly because Garrus’ charming awkwardness killed it whenever he made the attempt. That wasn’t a bad thing. It was actually fucking adorable.  

"Feel better?" he whispered. In such close proximity, Alex felt his breath when he spoke. It made her spine tingle. 

"So much better," she whispered back, bringing her face haltingly towards his. Alex was about to succumb to the lewd urge of bringing her lips to his mouth. Then, EDI came over the comm system. 

"Shepard, we have received an incoming request to come aboard."  

Broken out of the trance, Alex immediately rolled off and cleared her throat avoiding uneasy eye contact with Garrus. "Thank you, EDI. Um, who is it?” 

Spectre Saren Arterius.” 

Chapter Text

 

Garrus has never seen her this enraged. He watched Alex, fuming and tapping her foot impatiently on the elevator on its way up to meet their visitor. Garrus tagged along with her when he should’ve gone to bed, but he needed to make sure he’d be able to reel Alex back in if things got heated. Garrus didn’t know what to expect from the interaction, but his father’s advice to never trust bare-faced turians remained in the back of his mind. Garrus knew it wasn’t true of all bare-faces, but his father was especially anchored in his notions about Saren. In addition to Alex’s criticisms of him, it wasn’t painting a favorable picture of the legendary turian Spectre. 

"Shepard," Saren said with contempt as he spotted her come off the elevator to the CIC. Before she opened her mouth to speak, Saren held a finger up and sniffed around. "What is that repulsive smell?" 

Alex cocked an eyebrow at him. She couldn't think of what scent he could be referring to. Although when Saren's eyes narrowed past her at Garrus, she could assume where his thoughts settled, smelling the mixture of human and turian perspiration. Before she could grant him the chance to shoot a verbal assault, she spoke. 

"If you're looking for Nihlus, he's not here. He's been gone for hours. And no, I don't know where he is.” 

Alex wanted him off the ship. Get him answers and get him out. The less time she had to be around him, the better. A nasty grumble vibrated through his chest.  

"You know, I invited Nihlus out tonight because I wanted to help him move on. Find himself a nice turian woman to settle down with." Alex’s hand balled up into a fist. Saren was intentionally pressing her buttons. "I kept bringing over attractive prospects, and he turned each one away. He wasn’t interested. I couldn’t help but think his mind was preoccupied with something else.” 

Someone else, he meant. Saren refused to accept Alex as an equal. She wondered why he was wasting his breath with her when he usually made an effort to avoid her as much as she avoided him. But there was a smug glint in his eye when he glared at her that indicated an imminent victory of some kind.  

He sneered. “I admire Nihlus' loyalty. Such a hard thing to come by. Though, I see you've wasted no time sleeping around with another turian. On his own ship, no less." 

"Our ship. God, you turians are possessive," she snapped. Her fists were clenched so hard her knuckles turned white, itching for a chance to punch him in his stupid face. “And we were just sparring. Besides, Nihlus and I aren't together anymore, so what I do on my time is my business. Don’t forget you played a part in all that." 

Saren chuckled jubilantly. How could he forget? Why would he want to? When Saren heard his protégé became unfettered, he was absolutely thrilled. 

“Yes. I celebrated the day Nihlus finally came to his senses and ridded himself of you vile little—” 

Before Alex knew, a turian body stood in front of her. She didn’t have time to react before the turian moved. 

“If you have no further business, I think it’s time you go, Arterius.”  

Garrus had thrown himself in front of her. Alexandria Shepard can take care of herself, but a sense of protection took over Garrus and operated his limbs to defend her. Her fist had been ready to land on Saren’s face but instantly dropped at the sudden action. Garrus’ chest bumped Saren’s in a show of defiance, daring Saren to challenge him. Saren snarled and Garrus growled back. Alex stood in shock behind Garrus, unsure how this escalated so quickly. After a few extended seconds, Saren took careful steps back, deciding it’d be foolish to go against an unmistakably capable opponent who had backup right behind him.  

“I respect your nerve, turian. What’s your name?” 

“Garrus Vakarian.” 

“Vakarian,” Saren repeatedly thoughtfully. His recognized the noble name. The son of C-Sec’s top detective could be an asset. “Wouldn’t you rather serve on a ship alongside your brothers and sisters of the turian military? You could learn so much more under me than…” Saren had to be wary of his words, already having stirred a fight. “…this human.” 

Alex couldn’t believe that Saren would try to poach Garrus right from under her. Garrus felt Alex’s body behind him jerk to charge at Saren, but he held her back with a firm hand. She looked at him curiously. 

“This human is someone I respect more than anyone else in the galaxy, and she’s my closest friend.” A heartfelt, fuzzy feeling developed within her. “Frankly, you and your methods as a Spectre are a disgrace to our people. Your complete disregard for innocent lives is despicable. I would never pick the likes of you over Shepard.” 

Garrus obtained a good amount of patience and principles from Alex. Her insights were influential and steered him away from the ruthless blood-soaked path Saren treaded. Garrus’ father would be proud to know that he’d never end up like Saren. Saren scoffed and shook his head.  

“You’ve ruined another fine soldier of ours, Shepard. I hope he realizes what a mistake this is sooner than Nihlus did.”  

The trepidation was solid in the room. Unnerving silence filled the space. Three hearts pounded at an eerily loud decibel at varied speeds. Cautious eyes bounced back and forth as they watched for the slightest move. Perfect stillness.  

“What’s going on here?” 

All necks snapped to the phantom voice originating from behind Saren at the airlock. Perhaps everyone had been too engrossed in the moment that they didn’t hear Nihlus walk up to the awkward exchange. No one responded immediately. Alex was strategically waiting for Saren to answer him. What would he say to Nihlus? A blown out of proportion piece of gossip? She inhaled a gulp of air. 

“Nihlus.” Saren turned his body sideways to speak to him. “Where did you go? I lost you back at the bar.”  

In relief, Alex released the small wind of breath. She was secretly grateful – and surprised – that Saren didn’t jump out with a bitter comment about her as he typically has done in the past. Garrus stepped back in line with Alex. Nihlus had noted the protective stance Garrus had been positioned in. An even more peculiar situation he had many questions about. Before Nihlus went asking, he answered Saren. 

“I had to get away from one of those women you brought over. She was really…persistent,” Nihlus explained with exasperation.  

It had been hard work to shake off the clingy pursuer, and he wasn’t amused with having to spend the last half an hour doing so. Since Nihlus couldn’t stay at the bar, he ultimately decided to head back to the ship. He was ready to go straight to bed, but an odd feeling was in the air the minute he stepped onto the vessel — confirmed when he walked into a three-way stare-down.  

“But you didn’t answer my question. Is something wrong?” he questioned again. This time, Saren didn’t miss the opportunity to attack.  

“You can’t smell it? It’s obvious these two have been engaging in late night physical activity,” Saren remarked snidely.  

Alex immediately searched for Nihlus’ eyes and when she caught his gaze, he was crushed. But it only lasted for a flicker of a second until a dead austerity displaced it. Because deep down Alex still carried a semblance of the shattered relationship, she felt the need to defend herself quickly and correct the accusation. To spare him the hurt. 

“I already told you we were sparring, Saren. Stop instigating shit.” 

But that wasn’t any better. Sparring was their thing. Nihlus and Alex’s hallowed ritual they’d been practicing with solely each other for years. There was a sense of loss in Nihlus realizing that he had been replaced.  

“I see.” His eyes fell to the floor. “Well, if you’ll excuse me. It’s been a long night.” 

A pit of shame formed at the bottom of Alex’s stomach as Nihlus pushed past with a certain dejection. Once again, Saren succeeded in trifling with Alex's life, and somehow, he made her feel guilty for absolutely no reason.  

"I'll be heading out, too," he yawned, moving towards the bridge. She glowered at him, and his unforgiving cockiness. He didn't care. Saren took pride in his needless petty actions against her.  

When the airlock sealed after Saren’s exit, Joker exclaimed over the comm system, “Holy shit, Commander!”  

Of course, he was listening…  

I thought we were gonna have a full-on cockfight in the CIC!” 

Garrus’ translator couldn’t accurately decipher the meaning to what humans knew as a bloody sport between two chickens.  

“Cock…fight?” Garrus questioned slowly.  

“I’ll explain later. But Garrus. You…” Garrus turned to face Alex, head tilted waiting for the rest of her sentence. She struggled to find it because she was left in awe of how Garrus had just stood up to Saren. Nihlus had never done that for her. Effortless and instinctively, there came Garrus to save the day. Nihlus had always treated like settling an argument between Alex and Saren was a cumbersome task, so he never did. This new, unfamiliar experience shifted her feelings about Garrus. An exceptional, glowing emotion. 

And then whiplash. A complete one-eighty as she was thrust into a divergent territory of her heart. An area that was dark and in shambles, but with few glistening shards that continued to bolster a fire of hope. She felt remorse as though she was Nihlus’ fiancé who had just been caught cheating.  

But that wasn’t the reality anymore. That was a fairytale long dead. She wasn’t cheating even if she and Garrus had been committing adulterous acts as Saren implied. They were really just sparring. Although, nothing could really be said about where it was leading to. Nevertheless, Alex is a single woman. Free to do whatever she wants. She suppressed the awful feeling and returned to real time, where Garrus had been calmly waiting. 

After the long pause, all she could manage to say was, "Thank you. I appreciate it.” 

Garrus’ mandible flared. “Anytime.” 

Together, the two traveled towards the elevator. On the way down, they threw quick little jabs at each other about how it had been assumed that they were having sex before Saren’s arrival. They were making light of the encounter as they usually would with any situation. The elevator stopped on the third level, and they headed towards the mess hall, settling into an empty table. They seamlessly moved from one topic to the other, discussing his life on the Citadel, her’s growing up on a ship; his experiences working as a C-Sec officer, her’s growing up a military brat.  

Before they knew it, it was well into the night. Some crew members who didn’t make enough money to spend on a hotel stay straggled back in. Their zombie footsteps dragged across the floor in uneven cadence. 

Only a look was needed for them to agree that it was time to go bed. No verbal offer was given to walk Alex back to her quarters, but Garrus gestured for her to follow behind him. They trekked to her quarters in peaceful silence, prolonging the journey with leisured steps to spend just a little more time in each other’s company. When they were at her door, their eyes locked. Her crimson eyes and his cobalt eyes were fixed – fire and ice falling into a gorgonized state. 

“Good night, Garrus.” She blinked first. 

“Good night, Alex.” 

In such a short amount of time, they’d grown close, and she wished they would continue to. A protégé turned best friend and now her protector apparently. Alex was happy to have him around any which way, but more. She definitely wanted more. 

Chapter Text

"Omega. What a pisshole," Miranda commented as she, Alex, and Garrus walked off the Normandy onto the docks. "At least it keeps you on your toes. I've had to come here on business before. I feel like I need a shower afterward – in addition to normal decontamination."

Omega reeked of sweat, musk, and gunpowder. Exactly as Alex remembered. The cesspool occupied by the same inhabitants. Those who picked Omega, and those who Omega picked. Those who ended up on Omega as a fugitive, and others who were the result of unfortunate circumstances. Just as she was years ago when Nihlus found her.

 “Why can’t we ever go anywhere nice?” Garrus asked.

“This isn’t your ideal spot for a vacation, Vakarian?” Alex responded in jest. “Omega has a one-of-a-kind culture that you can’t find anywhere else.”

“Oh yeah. The pungent stench of excrement, vomit-littered streets, dirty no-good locals, and high murders rates. A perfect getaway spot.”

Alex threw her head back in laughter, and Miranda tightened her lips together because, god forbid, she could ever be caught enjoying herself. Alex caught the blatant neon lights shining on the dimly lit space station and adjusted their course towards Afterlife. She doubted her contact’s suggestion to meet at such a popular and alien packed place like Afterlife, but he contended that it was all about hiding in plain sight. Alex didn’t have much of a choice but to take his word for it.

“Alright, so where would you want to go?” she then asked Garrus.

“Somewhere warm and tropical with a breathtaking view – and breathtaking women.”

“Men,” Alex sighed rolling her eyes.

They were nearing the entrance to Afterlife, where Alex had set up to meet her contact inside – the source for her off-the-record backup plan she didn’t tell Nihlus about. If Nihlus doesn’t know, then Saren won’t, and there’d be no chance for sabotage. She brought along two of her closest confidants: her best friend, Garrus, and the highly intelligent biotic, Miranda. Being so tight-lipped, Miranda was perfect to come along for this assignment.

Miranda was one of the most brilliant minds Nihlus and Alex met in their time traveling the galaxy. However, she wasn't the most approachable woman and extremely hard to hold a conversation with. Miranda was firm on talking business and business only. Alex’s personable charm had no effect on the ice queen. But once Alex proved that she was the right person to lead this mission against the Reapers as proven by her actions, Miranda eventually learned to trust Alex. And to Alex’s pleasant surprise, Miranda’s fiercely loyal.

“Who’s your contact?”  Miranda inquired as they walked up the steps.

“A former colleague,” she answered vaguely.

Just as she finished her sentence, a familiar face – not the one she was expecting – popped up directly in their path at the entranceway of the club. He looked disgruntled and dull, as always. She cursed under her breath as they approached him.

"Welcome to back Omega...Shepard," the deep guttural voice greeted blandly. Alex came face-to-face with Bray, Aria’s batarian bodyguard, who’d apparently been waiting for them. Alex considers herself to be an aesthete towards all alien life, but damn, the batarians sure make it hard. Not only are they ugly, but very few of them are actually nice. "Come on in. Aria's expecting you."

“You knew I was coming?”

"Of course. We had you tagged the moment you left Omega and been tracking your movements since. You're not as subtle as you think,” he answered condescendingly. “Aria wants to know what brings you back to Omega. I suggest you go to her now and present yourself."

"Cut the attitude, Bray. You know I'm not here to cause problems for Aria,” she snapped back.

"Things explode around you, Shepard. You can't blame Aria for keeping an eye on you. Her lounge. Now,” he demanded with insistence. The goon marched off to report back to his boss.

“What the hell was that all about?” Miranda asked, equally miffed about the batarian’s tone.

“Looks like it’s time for a good old friendly reunion," she exhaled roughly. She had wanted to complete her visit on Omega without Aria knowing about it. That obviously wasn't going to happen now. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing that Aria knows about her presence, but her time Omega would’ve been better spent unannounced for a myriad of reasons.

The trio continued forward into the sleazy nightclub, navigating around the central bar to head up to Aria's private booth. As they neared the base of the stairs, a rough hand reached out from one of the side nooks grabbing Alex’s wrist, pulling her in and down onto the stranger's lap.

“Spirits, I’d recognize that ass from anywhere," the flanging voice whispered brashly into her ear. There was only one man on Omega who had the desire – and balls – to put his hands on her like that. The turian's arms tugged her close to his body, inching to grasp her backside.

“Ah, always such the gentleman, Grizz," she said sarcastically, waving away Miranda and Garrus who were startled, but ready to rip her attacker to shreds. “You think about touching me like that again, and I’ll punch your teeth so far in you’ll be shitting them for months.”

Alex pried Grizz's arms open and pushed herself off. He chortled cheerfully, amused by her unchanged, charming humor. “Now, is that how to treat an old friend?”

She gave him a displeased look. “A friend would’ve told me Aria’s been locked onto my location since I left.”

Grizz's face dropped. “Ah shit. Sorry, Alex. I didn’t know. She must’ve kept it from me.”

“It’s fine." A curt shake of her head and a disappointed breath came from the back of her throat. "I got to go. She’s expecting me.”

“What about our meeting?”

Alex spun around and said over her shoulder, “If I’m going to get intel, I may as well get it from the Pirate Queen of Omega herself.”

Leaving Grizz's shadowy alcove, Alex was directed to the heavily-guarded second floor where she had to get through several guards to reach Aria.

"That's close enough," the asari clothed in a white leather jacket spoke, back facing them as she overlooked the bustling dance floor. The squad halted as Bray scanned them over with his omni-tool. She added, "Can't be too careful with Spectres."

When they passed inspection, Bray gestured with his head for them to proceed up to her, but Aria declared loudly, "Just you, Shepard. Your company stays down there."

Garrus and Miranda exchanged uneasy glances as Alex took her first step up.

“Commander, I don’t—” Miranda stopped. Alex shot them a smile to assure them she could handle Omega's de-facto ruler. Her two comrades interchanged constraint looks one more time before they nodded softly in grudging acknowledgment. Alex climbed the last small level of stairs, and at the top, Aria motioned for Alex to take a seat across from her on the L-shaped couch.

"Look what the varren dragged in. I've been expecting you, Shepard," she stated poker-faced.

"So I've been told."

"Grizz is an idiot to try to hide things from me."

"I was an idiot thinking he actually could."

Aria flashed her a devilish smirk. "I was wondering how long until you showed up at my doorstep again."

"Sorry I left without much of a notice."

"Please, you don't hurt my feelings," she scoffed. "A couple of nights together won't steal my affection."

Alex's eyes snapped to Garrus, gawking at her with an inquisitive look that read, "We're going to talk about this later." How could his best friend not tell him about the nights she slept with the infamous Aria T’Loak?

True, Alex and Aria's relationship crossed the borders of a typical business partnership, but not many knew about it. Few nights where Alex ended up in Aria's bed instead of her couch. It wasn't amorous or meaningful. Just two people lusting for a bit of self-indulgence. Alex didn't think it'd ever be brought up, much less by Aria.

"Besides, I always knew your stay would be temporary. Omega isn’t for everyone. So...what can I do for you?" she asked Alex as a club waitress handed them each a bright orange beverage. Alex respected Aria enough to be forthright about her intentions.

"I'm looking for Mordin Solus. Do you know where I can find him?"

"The salarian doctor? Last I heard he had a clinic set up in the slums for the less fortunate, victims, and refugees.”

"What can you tell me about him?" she questioned further, taking only a whiff of the curious drink. She had only just recovered from her last episode, thanks to Garrus, so maybe right now wasn’t the best time to satiate the craving. It was damn tempting, but she set it back down on the coffee table in front of her. It didn’t go unnoticed.

"I always liked Mordin. He's as likely to heal you as he is to shoot you. Used to be part of the Salarian Special Tasks Group. He's brilliant and dangerous." Aria leaned back casually, arms draping along the back of the couch. "Just don't get him talking. He never shuts up."

"Noted.” Alex eyed the drink again. It was best to leave now before she fell down a hole she couldn’t get out of. “Well, thanks for everything Aria, but I should go," she stated, standing up.

“It's not like you to leave here sober, Shepard.”

“Change of lifestyle as a result of an epiphany,” she shrugged.

“An epiphany inspired by a turian? Didn’t realize they were your type,” she teased. This stunned Alex. She and Nihlus had been especially careful about concealing their relationship to the outside world. Perhaps Aria had been watching closer than she thought.

“He’s been watching you like a hawk this whole time.” Alex whipped back to Garrus, who immediately turned away when their eyes met. “Only a really intense attachment would make him that protective of you.”

Protective. That was exactly how he was with her last night with Saren. She turned back to Aria, aloof. “We’re close friends.”

A coquettish snicker escaped from Aria’s lips. “Whatever you say, Shepard.” Ping! Alex’s omni-tool chimed. “I just had Bray send you whatever we have on Mordin. Think of it as a reunion gift.”  

Aria never ceased to amaze Alex. She’s not always as hard-bitten as she likes to appear. “Thanks. See you around, Aria.”

“I’m sure.”

Back at the bottom, Alex regrouped with her squad but didn’t make eye contact with either of them. She could feel their inquiring gaze stuck on her, anxious to ask her about her previous nightly encounter. After a strained pause, Alex groaned, “No. We’re not talking about this.”

“I just didn’t know you had such diverse tastes, Shepard,” Miranda quipped.

“What can I say? I’m a connoisseur of life,” she cracked back with a wide sweep of her arms.

Off to find the salarian scientist.

Chapter Text

The Omega Clinic was a frenzy – nurses and patients running every which way. Alex heard a distinct salarian voice speaking rapidly from the clinic lobby. She followed it down a passage where she could listen to its speech clearly.  

"No exit wound. Exploded shrapnel hidden in tissue. No major organs affected. Stop bleeding first. Then remove bullet fragments before they embolize.” 

Just don’t get him talking. He never shuts up. 

Aria’s words echoed. This had to be Mordin. The trio stepped into the entranceway of the office and observed the salarian doctor in a long white lab coat hovering over a groaning krogan who’d been shot. The doctor’s hand was placed on his chin in deep thought. 

"Professor Mordin Solus?" Alex asked from afar. Mordin swiftly approached her with a curious look on his face. He passed his omni-tool over to scan her and returned back to the patient. 

"Don't recognize you from the area. Too well-armed to be refugees. No mercenary uniform," he communicated out loud. "Not here for medical attention. Crime investigation? No. Aria wouldn’t send–"  

"Relax, Mordin," she interrupted his process. "I'm Commander Shepard, Alliance Navy and Spectre. I came here to find you. I'm on a mission, and I need your help." 

"Mission? What mission? No. Too busy. Clinic understaffed. Who sent you?" Mordin asked as he took the datapad from his assistant to read over the next patient’s record. 

"No one. Just me," she replied.  

"Personal request? Why would Spectre need my aid?" 

“To right your wrong,” she answered simply.  

“Need specifics. Scientists wrong many times before right. Incorrect hypotheses, theories, trials–” 

“Not statistically wrong. Morally.” Mordin ceased all movement. “If anything, your work was a little too effective.” 

Mordin handed his assistant back the datapad and faced the squad – totally enigmatic. “You want to cure genophage.” Alex confirmed with a small nod. “Genophage modification protected galaxy, allowed krogan chance to survive. Everyone wins. Good for us, good for them.” 

Miranda stepped forward, a bit ticked off. “And you still believe that?”  

He paced erratically as he reasoned. “Stabilized population. Averted potential genocide or devastating war. Best solution for whole galaxy, krogan included.” He stopped and looked at each of them in their eyes. “At the time.” 

The end of his sentence hinted at repentance. Practically sterilizing an entire species doesn’t sit well on the conscious.  

“And time has passed,” Garrus said next. “Haven’t the krogan paid enough with their millions of stillborn children?” 

“Ah, trying to make me feel guilty. Interesting. Especially coming from turian.” Mordin squinted at Garrus for a couple of long seconds. He shut his eyes and inhaled deeply, ruminating. “But can see your point. Noble cause but too busy. Maybe try other STG members.” 

“We did. They all seem to be…missing.” As if Alex read his mind, she proceeded to explain, “And yes. We did try hard enough. No one can find them.” 

After the confrontation with Saren, Alex double-checked with EDI, Liara, Traynor, and Kasumi about their intel and they were all dead sure that their info was spot-on. It had to be Saren. He threw a wrench in her plan somehow. But Mordin wasn’t included in her list to search; therefore Saren didn’t know about him. If Alex somehow lost the entire team to Saren, at least she could get her hands on the head scientist. 

“I wouldn’t be coming to you if this wasn’t crucial. We’re going to need the krogan when the Reapers come back. We will lose without them,” she asserted. “Dr. T’Soni’s findings prove that. As a fellow scientist, I’m sure you can understand.” 

Mordin’s hand settled back onto his chin, gears in his head running. “I see. No other option for you. Need power and numbers of physically superior krogan. Species built for war.” 

Mordin dived back into his contemplations. When he was done, his arms fell to his side, and he gave three brisk nods. He’d come to a firm decision. “Very well. Will join your efforts and try encrypted channels to contact others. Just in case. Come back tomorrow. Need to make preparations before leaving.” 

A soft smile in relief. “Thank you, doctor.” 


The following day, the clinic was considerably less hectic. Alex had Liara and Traynor work on recruiting volunteers to help with the clinic. The response was overwhelming, thanks to Traynor's suggestion of exploiting Alex's status to endorse the movement – which was laborious in itself. Alex hated pulling the Spectre card. Though, she couldn’t deny the plan worked. Many were happy to pitch in at the first human Spectre's request.  

"Thank you, Shepard," Mordin said as he met Alex in the waiting room. "Clinic now adequately staffed. Assistant, Daniel, running facility. Have full trust in him." 

"Did you hear anything from the back channels?" 

He sucked in a gulp of air. Mordin remained unusually quiet. "Yes. Unfortunate news. All dead." 

"Dead?!" Alex exclaimed softly. 

"Reason why you couldn't find. Murdered. All but one. Maelon. Old assistant." 

Miranda asked, "Maelon? He wasn't on our list." 

"Wouldn't be. Name redacted from all files. Maelon regrets genophage studies. Did not wish to be associated with experiment." 

"So he's probably still alive because he wasn't on the list," Alex deduced. That bastard, Saren, did it. Alex had the gut feeling this was his undoubtedly his doing. It was too convenient. "He'd probably want to help if we ask him. Do you know where he is?" 

"Already helping. Has been running studies on female krogan on Tuchanka. There now and expecting us. Will need chief's permission first or will be shot." 

Alex grinned. Wrex was like a brother to her so if permission was what she needed to step foot on ancient krogan territory, that wouldn't be a problem. 

"I'll take care of it," she assured Mordin. "Finish up what you need to, and we'll meet you on the Normandy." 

Following Alex's lead, Miranda and Garrus spun on their heels and climbed the stairs to exit the clinic. Miranda and Garrus argued nonverbally with facial gestures and hushed whispers behind Alex's back. Who would have the honor of bringing up a topic that would certainly boil the Commander's blood? Miranda elbowed Garrus as her final statement, and he raised his hands in surrender. 

"Uh, Shepard?" 

"Hm?" She didn't look back as they continued ascending the stairs.  

"Shouldn't we tell Nihlus about this? About Saren? He clearly killed them." 

At the next step, Alex came to a sudden halt and let out a heavy sigh. She shook her head but kept facing forward.  

"He wouldn't believe me." A sour tone filled her voice. "Not when it comes to Saren. There's no point bringing this to him now. Especially without undeniable proof. When the time is right, I'll nail the asshole." 

"And I'll be right behind you," Garrus told her fervently.  

Alex craned her neck just enough for Garrus to catch the appreciative glint in her eye. Miranda cocked an eyebrow and smirked at them. She'd heard rumors about a possible romance between the Spectre and C-Sec officer, but she wasn't one to fall for scuttlebutt. Though, judging by this moment, it may have been a valid piece of gossip. 

Strolling through the Gozu District on their way back to the Normandy, the squad went over their next plan of action when they reached Tuchanka. Everything had gone as well as Alex could've hoped for so far. Grab the intel, grab the professor, and get out of Omega. Smooth sailing. That is until old business came back to haunt her with a vengeance. 

"Shepard!" a monstrous voice howled. The three simultaneously spun around to a raging krogan holding a submachine gun pointed straight in their direction in the middle of a residential plaza filled with civilians. “You think you could make a fool out of me?!” 

Nearby people screamed, shielding their loved ones as they retreated into their homes.  

“Zrag,” Alex half-smiled, “Me make a fool out of you? I think you do a pretty good job of doing that yourself.” 

“I heard you were back. Big mistake.” Shit. This is why she didn’t want anyone to know she was here. There would certainly be plenty of people – mainly the criminals she screwed over – pissed to see her back.  More than anyone, Zrag. She did her fair share of trouble making as Aria’s agent. “Time for payback!” 

Alex detected the twitch in the krogan’s trigger finger and immediately yelled, “Move! Move!” 

The roar from Zrag’s gun rung through the air above her as she dove for cover behind a concrete half-wall. Alex scanned both ways to find her teammates. Miranda was a short distance away crouched at the rear of a skycar, and Garrus moved behind a column on the far side of the plaza. Quick thinker and a proficient sniper. He spotted a vantage point where he could take clean shots at Zrag from a well-positioned balcony. Garrus was cautiously making his way over between the unpausing gunfire. 

“What the hell did you do to him, Shepard?” Miranda questioned over the radio. 

“Well, uh, it’s a long story.” 

“We have time!Miranda hit Zrag with warp to weaken his barriers and armor. Not like this krogan is going down easy.” 

“Fine!” she groaned, peeking out of cover to send bullets down Zrag’s way. He reciprocated her attack with a lead shower of his own. “Zrag was a smuggler causing Aria too much trouble. She wanted him dead. Even as an alcoholic, I didn’t have the mind to kill in cold blood, so I messed with his business instead. Tainted his drug supply, interrupted his communications, ruined his reputation. Made him inoperable. 

Alex heard Garrus scoff. This big scene over a bleeding ego?” 

“Um…well, that’s not all. An unwarranted suspenseful pause. “I may have also cost him his testicles. All four of them. 

“Shepard, that’s just mean,” Garrus stated with mild sympathy. It’s not enough that his species is barren, but you had to neuter him too?!” 

“It wasn’t intentional!   

Garrus attempted to advance to the next cover spot, but Zrag spotted him and shot rapid firing bullets that knocked Garrus onto his back, where he briskly flipped over and crawled back to his original spot. Miranda and Alex stayed in cover nearby, timing the pause between his flurry of ammo so they could take a shot at Zrag and keep his attention on them so Garrus could get to his position. 

“I didn’t have much of a choice. He chased me down for days and when he finally cornered me, I needed to escape. I aimed for the first thing I could think of. Not my fault he wasn’t wearing armor at the time.” 

Miranda jumped back in. “So it’s safe to say that he wouldn’t be up for settling all this with a friendly chat.”  

“Not unless you got four krogan testicles handy.” 

The continuous firing stopped. Miranda took the opportunity to sprint over to Alex, while serving multiple shots at the krogan with her pistol.  

“Afraid not. Fresh out,” Miranda replied once at her side. Alex poked her head out to see what Zrag was up to. He was switching out weapons.  

“I’ve had enough of you, Shepard. This ends now!” Zrag shouted. With perfect timing, EDI came through with a critical piece of information.  

“Shepard, the krogan has an M-100 Grenade Launcher. Your shields will not withstand a hit up close, and you will take on life-threatening damage . Judging by my calculations, that is his intention .” 

I’m on my way!” Garrus’ tense voice called out. 

No!Alex argued. Get to your position and take him out. I’ll be fine.” 

“You can’ t take a krogan head on! I don’t care how hard-headed you are.” 

“Krogan charging!” Miranda announced. The ground shook as the thundering stomps of Zrag headed towards them. She and Miranda barreled out of cover, guns at the ready.  

Zrag was swifter than they thought. With the brute strength of one fist, he sent Miranda flying across to the opposite end of the plaza. Alex released a burst of shots, but they ricocheted right off his barrier. He learned well to protect himself after their last fight. Zrag charged at her again, and she reacted by striking the butt of her rifle onto the frontal plate of his head. An awful crack resulted on impact. Zrag hollered and cradled his head, dropping the grenade launcher. Alex lunged and wrestled him to the ground. Questionable move considering she couldn’t win hand-to-hand against a krogan, but she had to keep him from reaching his weapon. Alex climbed on top, delivering punch after punch. Blood dripped from the side of his mouth, particles freckling her face after each blow.  

This served nothing but to piss him off more. With a gruesome growl, Zrag smacked her off him like a pesky bug. Alex recovered quickly and scurried over on her hands and knees to the grenade launcher. Not fast enough. Alex found herself only a couple feet away from the undesirable end of the barrel. She unfolded her body slowly as she lifted herself from the ground – no sudden movements to cause Zrag to pull the trigger earlier than needed. A triumphant grin swept over his face. 

“Any last words, Shepard?” 

“Two, in fact.” 

“It’s too late for ‘I’m sorry’,” he barked. 

“I was actually leaning towards ‘fuck you’,” she smirked. 

Again, she caught the flinch of his finger pressing the trigger and watched the blazing missile emerge from the barrel. A cast of white, bright light blinded her. Heat from the missile kissed her skin. This was it. This was the end of Alexandria Shepard at the hands of a sackless krogan. 

She hit the ground hard landing onto her shoulder. All air vacuumed out her lungs. Her eardrum was practically burst open. But she was safe and virtually unharmed. A severe and intense pain jolted through Alex’s arm. Her shoulder had become dislocated as she was thrown onto her side by a full-forced shove. She barely missed a head-on collision with the missile as she was pushed out of the way. Faint and unstable from the explosion, Alex tried to re-center herself and sit up at an unhurried pace. With a slow and steady pull with her uninjured arm, Alex fastened her disjointed shoulder back into place. 

Her shaky optics failed to construct her surroundings. It was disorienting how fast the room was spinning and infuriating how badly she needed to know what just happened but not being able to see. The room finally stopped moving. She focused in on a body sprawled out on the floor.  

No… It can’t be! 

Garrus was bleeding on the floor, his flesh smoking from a direct hit to the face. He laid in a plashet of his own blood. 

“Garrus!” Alex shrieked. She began to run over but was shortly balked by another burst of gunfire from Zrag. Miranda came from behind and pummeled him into the ground with a biotic slam. With Zrag’s attention elsewhere, Alex could get to Garrus. She tenderly picked his head up and held him in her hands. Trembling human hands bearing a fleeting turian life. There was no reaction from him. Garrus wasn’t breathing. Flustered and panicked, Alex messily applied medi-gel to his face, head, and neck. Her hands were smothered in the menthol smell of the medi-gel and iron of his steel blue blood. The missile only grazed the right side of his face and neck, but it was enough to scald it to a third-degree burn. His flesh was practically melting off. 

Miranda finally disabled Zrag’s barriers with her biotics and fed him a bullet straight to the head. His body fell limp and oozed out blood. Miranda rushed to Alex and Garrus. 

“Come on, Garrus,” Alex pleaded in a cracked voice. “Wake up!” 

As if Garrus heard her from the distant light he was starting to drift off to, his eyes popped open, and he wheezed in a blood-filled gulp of air. She lifted his head up slightly so he wouldn’t choke. 

“We’re getting you out of here, Garrus! Just hold on!” she cried. Turning to Miranda, she yelled, “Radio Joker and make sure they’re ready for us!” 

“They better hurry. He looks bad,” Miranda said before urgently calling for an evac. 

“Stay with me,” Alex wept, pressing her forehead against Garrus’. A tender gesture she learned from Nihlus. She firmly laid her hand on his chest to ensure it was still rising; to make sure he was still being fed oxygen. With every last ounce of his strength, his tremulous hand reached for hers and squeezed. This made her cry harder. Thousands of words were trapped in her head and she just wanted to say anything to make him stay here with her. 

After her parents and her unit on Akuze, she made a promise to herself that she wouldn’t lose anyone else. She wasn’t about to start now. And not with Garrus. So what could she say to him? Stay with me because you're my closest comrade? Or protégé? Best friend? Tears slid down her cheeks.   

"Please Garrus...I can’t lose you..." The right words materialized. "I love you."