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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." 

Chapter Text

At this speed, Nihlus could barely make out the people or objects in his blurred periphery as he raced to the med bay. He didn't pay any mind to the people he might run over. They moved out of his way anyway. Nothing like a tall turian sprinting in the crewman's direction to get their feet moving.

 It was many, many hours ago – almost a solar day – since EDI alerted him of the attack. Nihlus was in the middle of a meeting with the Primarch and turian Hierarchy when he excused himself to set a course for the Normandy. Nihlus got there as soon as he could.

He darted past the bridge through the CIC only to be stalled at the elevator, taking an achingly long time to return. Nihlus had been so concentrated on wishing the door to open, he didn’t notice the huddled members of the crew by the galaxy map or hear Joker’s irregular footsteps come up.

“Hey, uh, CO?”

“What is it, Moreau?” he snapped. Joker always thought Nihlus was a bit of a prudent asshole, so he didn’t flinch or take the response personally.

“Shepard hasn’t moved since, well…at all,” he began atypically morose. “She’s been like a creepy statue outside the med bay. Won’t talk to anyone. Just... thought you should know when you see her.”

A grain of guilt hit Nihlus for lashing out at Joker. “Thank you.”

“Yeah, sure,” Joker mumbled before he doddered away.

The ruckus about Garrus' incident on Omega had settled, so the area around the med bay was deserted. But there was one person, still and petrified, standing at the viewing window.

Fastidiously cautious, Nihlus approached Alex, noting the way she clutched onto the framing of the window. He positioned himself next to her, and she was unfazed by his presence – just as Joker said she would be. Alex kept her desolate crimson eyes forward, blankly staring as Doctor Chakwas and a salarian worked tirelessly behind a medical curtain to reconstruct Garrus’ face and, most importantly, keep him alive.

Alex was drained of life. Her paler-than-usual skin was visibly stained scarlet and indigo, and her hair was matted with dried blood of the same colors. No longer were her lips a healthy, glossy pink, but instead cadaverous. Nihlus had never seen Alex this shaken. All too different from her panic attacks that were characterized by hyperventilation and tearful hysteria.

 Nihlus whispered her name. Unresponsive. He called her name over and over, each time a little louder than the last. Alexandria Shepard wasn’t present. He tried again, this time latching onto her elbow to pull her away.

“Come on. Let me walk you to your room,” he offered.

Her feet were rooted to the floor. Nihlus tugged gently to initiate movement. Her body fought back, resolute on staying in its place. He let out an exasperated suspiration as he withdrew his hand. What did he have to do? Forcibly pluck her from this spot and throw her into her room? He half-heartedly debated on doing this.

"This is all your fault," her strangled voice accused.

"What?" Nihlus was surprised by the sudden utterance. For a moment, he didn’t recognize it as her voice – dry, weary, and very unlike her. He waited, but she didn’t repeat herself.

He reached for her elbow again, but her body repelled his touch. Alex backed away from his reach, and her hard-rimmed eyes settled on him with detestation.

"Don't touch me," she hissed through her teeth.

Normally, Nihlus could handle Alex when she was unhappy or irritable, but right now, he didn't know what the hell to do. In this situation, she was destroyed and distant. Angry and unreasonable. Then, there was a sudden shift. She wilted, and her eyes reverted back to cloudiness. The energy she had put on reserves were wasted on having to respond to Nihlus and it depleted her any sort of will to do anything. Alex tried to comb through her hair but got caught in a knot.

"I'm going to go wash up," she announced quietly. She tilted her chin up and said at a louder volume, "EDI, tell Alenko to watch the med bay and let me know if anything changes."

"Yes, Shepard."

Without another word or glance to Nihlus, she traveled to the other side of the deck to her private quarters and disappeared. It took him about half a minute to decide what his next move would be. He followed Alex, overriding security to gain access.

"That wasn't an invitation," she called out, leaning against the bathroom door in bra, pants, and boots. She had only taken off her shirt before her intruder entered. Nihlus scanned over her topless half, covered black and blue in bruises. The krogan had done quite a number on her.

"What’s going on with you?" he asked her.

"Nothing," she muttered with a shrug.

Nihlus could only wonder: how could one small event affect her like this? Make her so absent and choleric. Was this a more significant accident than reported? Or actually, was Garrus greatly more meaningful to her than he thought he'd ever be? Was Garrus more pertinent to Alex's life than he was?

Unsure what was coming over him, Nihlus responded sourly, "It's about your little boyfriend isn’t it?"

"What?" Her brows pulled down together. "Boyfriend? You know something I don't? Because last time I checked, I’ve been single since my fiancé broke off our engagement. In case you don't recall."

"It's a small ship. Everyone is whispering about you and Garrus, so don't act like you don't know what I'm talking about."

A humorless howl of laughter. "Well, well, well," Alex started, trying to regain her composure, but the grim smirk never faded. "I never thought I'd see the day. I have to say, Nihlus, it’s not a good look on you."

Nihlus grumbled, confused and peeved at her inconsistent temperament. "What’s not a good a look?"

"Jealousy." 

His stomach tightened. "What?" he scoffed. "I'm not jealous."

Alex rolled her eyes and breathed, "Right." She moved away from the door to the corner of her room to throw her shirt in the hamper and bent over to remove her boots. "Well, if you only barged in to talk about my non-existent boyfriend, I think we're done here."

Nihlus didn't reply immediately. "It's been months since we've last had sex."

She straightened up, kicking off her boots into a muddy corner and unbuckled her pants. "Yeah, I know. Your point?"

Frustrated that she was skirting around the topic, he exhaled, "If it was because you had a new…romance, you could’ve just told me instead of blowing me off.”

After sex in the shower, Nihlus had taken notice of a change. Per their usual routine, Nihlus would send her messages repeatedly to meet up in his quarters, or if he could come by hers. But she would always come up with some kind of excuse or reason not to. Eventually, she stopped answering, and he stopped trying after he heard the rumors of Alex and Garrus. Without directly asking her, Nihlus drew his own conclusions that they were cozy and intimately involved. It bugged him to think of them together like that and he despised being jealous. It wasn't a trait he was aware he was capable of. Feeling bitter about Alex having that effect on him, Nihlus thought he’d try to make Alex jealous too.

That's when he finally let Saren take him out to bars on several occasions for the chance to calm his sexual urges with the women Saren would bring around. Nihlus would make it to a certain point with a woman – never passing first-base – and that was it. He'd send her on her way and went back to the Normandy. Alone. The thought of hurting Alex, more than he already had, caused him to hesitate and rescind no matter how spiteful he was feeling. If he crossed that line, there'd be no going back.

"For the second time, Garrus and I are not in a relationship," she reasserted. “Besides, I don't owe you an explanation about my love life. You lost that privilege when you took yourself out of it." Heartache painted her last sentence.

 They maintained intense eye contact in the lull of Alex finishing undressing. When she was down to bra and panties, she dragged herself back to Nihlus, keeping her distance a couple paces away. She raised her eyebrows, asking him if there was anything else he needed. There was, in fact, something else that had been bothering him.

"What did you mean when you said this was all my fault?"

Alex's eyes flickered away for a nanosecond before returning. She opened her mouth to answer him but only mumbled something to herself, too soft for his translator to pick up.

"There's no other way to put this..." She was wringing her hands, a self-soothing technique, giving off waves of discomfort. "What I want to say, for a long time now actually, is that I don't trust you anymore," she said slowly, lips wrapping around each syllable. "And my lack of trust in you has forced me do things a different way. Behind your back. If had been able to come to you, this all could've been avoided."

Hit unexpectedly by her confession, he repeated, "You don't trust me? Why?"

"Saren," she returned quickly and plainly. That answer had been easy to get of her, but it didn't make sense to Nihlus.

"What does your distrust in him have to do with me?"

"Everything. You have undying trust in him.” Her voice was starting to rise. "You'll believe anything Saren tells you and you don’t question him or anything he does. He can do no wrong in your eyes."

Nihlus didn't see a problem with that. “Why wouldn’t I trust him?”

“That’s exactly what I mean, Nihlus!” she exclaimed. This conversation was escalating quicklu. “You don't doubt him for a thing. For all you know, he’s been lying to you about…” She stopped. Whenever Alex got heated and impassioned, she had a runaway mouth that pushed forward until it arrived to its destination in a splendid fiery crash. It was unlike her to press the brakes for the sake of filtering her words. “Anything.”

“What proof do you have that he’s been dishonest?”

Hot blood rushed to her face dying her porcelain complexion with a blooming fire. “Why do I need proof?! You should just trust me! Like you trust him. Did you ask for proof from Saren about the missing scientists?" She sped onto her next sentence, purposely excluding him from providing input. "No. You didn't. If it were me or my team, you would've grilled my ass and asked me if I was certain I tried everything I possibly could. What makes me different than him?!"

It's not that he didn't have an answer, Nihlus simply didn't have a good one. Alex was just as good a Spectre as Saren – perhaps even better because she actually had moral values – and he had clocked in many more hours working with Alex than he did with Saren. She had a point and if anything, he should trust her more than he did Saren. Taking his silence as indifference, Alex shook her head and marched past him to the bathroom.

"Forget it. Just...leave. I'm exhausted and covered in...a lot."

No. She wasn’t slipping away this easily. “I need to know, Alex. Where is all this coming from?” She paused at the door, facing away from him. “What aren’t you telling me?”

Seemingly fighting internally with herself whether to tell him or not, she drew out her silence. “Where should I start?”


Alex and Nihlus sat across from each other on the couch in her room. She was still half-naked as she disclosed everything. About who Mordin Solus is, why he was here, the missing Salarian scientists, and how it tied back to Saren.

"But please, Nihlus..." She scooted in closer. "I beg you not to say anything to Saren. I can't risk him screwing this up. Not just for me, but for the war," Alex pleaded with him.

Nihlus was pained with another mass of guilt. How could he lose the trust of the woman he loved? Her trust was a hardly-earned accomplishment that he used to hold so dear and close. Alex deserved his full-faith, and nothing less. Aside from his feelings, the intel and recent matters regarding Saren were too coincidental not to take her claims seriously. Nihlus sincerely promised, "You have my word."

A small, grateful smile from Alex. "Thank you, Nihlus. I'm glad I can count on you."

The energy in this flash of a moment felt familiar and right. A fire that once burned blistering hot rekindled. It seduced him to gravitate his head towards her. Alex remained perfectly motionless but her eyes said she was feeling it too. Nihlus was more than ready to taste the lips he desired for so long. He went in for the kiss and his mouth landed on silk flesh. For all that Alex felt like nirvana on his lips, he was saddened to find that he missed his target. Alex turned her head away at the last second and he planted a kiss on her cheek instead.

"We shouldn’t," she stated in a low tone.

"Because of Garrus?" he asked in an equitably hushed voice.

Staying true to her established silent pattern for the day, Alex didn't answer. It may have not been official or public, but deep down, he knew that some part of Alex belonged to Garrus, and that he no longer was the sole occupant of her heart.

“Are you chasing him out of loneliness or love?”

Alex goggled at him, bewildered and vexed, as she slipped further away on the couch. A weak and dreary grin quivered the ends of her lips. "Wow, you are a total asshole when you're jealous, aren't you?"

Fuck. Nihlus was too fast-and-loose with his words. "I didn't mean to - "

"It's...whatever." She shook her head and rubbed her face in aggravation. "Contrary to popular belief, I am completely comfortable being alone despite my...issues. So if I had been chasing Garrus out of loneliness, I would've fucked him already. Many times." Nihlus cringed.

Chasing him out of love then.

"Again, that isn't any of your business, but you seem adamant about knowing the details of my love life. Out of respect of what we once had and you being my superior officer, maybe you do deserve an explanation. So there you have it. "

It was Nihlus' turn to be speechless. There had to be something he could say, a way to fight for her like he should have a long time ago. Nothing came to mind.

"Anyway, I really think it's time you go."

Nihlus deliberated, as she stood up and walked away to shower, what must he do to repossess her affection that he took for granted? He needed to do something – quick – before he lost it all.

Chapter Text

News circulated that Garrus’ surgery was a success and that he was going to make it. Though he hadn't woken up yet, Chakwas assured everyone that he would soon and granted visitation until he did. Such news should have allowed Alex to have a more restful sleep, but damn if the incident hadn't caused her PTSD demon to awaken and relentlessly torture Alex in her nightmares. A brew of Akuze and Omega that cast insomnia upon her. Instead of wasting away in her bed staring at the ceiling, Alex curled up into a ball stuffing herself into an uncomfortable chair in the med bay, keeping Garrus’ unconscious body company. Alex has been at Garrus’ side for countless hours now. She’d like to be there when he wakes up. If Alex ever had to leave, she made someone keep her seat warm and left them with the task to notify her immediately if he woke up. But it seemed like Garrus would be asleep for a while so, at the suggestion of many – Nihlus, Chakwas, Mordin, Liara, EDI, Traynor, etc. – maybe it’d be best for her to go on a small mission or two to keep her mind off of Garrus. Chakwas suggested to write up a prescription for Alex’s night terrors, as she normally did every episode, in hopes that she’d go to bed and keep herself from worrying herself sick.

Regardless of all the help she was offered time after time, Alex refused everyone until she was requested personally by one of her friends and teammates, Samara, to complete an odd inquiry of helping to murder her daughter, Morinth. Considering this was Samara’s focus for the last four-hundred years and also the reason she became a justicar, Alex couldn't say no.

Samara pinned Morinth’s last known location on Omega. If Alex didn’t want to leave Garrus’ side before, she really didn’t want to now. Not to return to the place where she royally fucked up and heedlessly almost cost the life of her best friend. But Alex already said yes and couldn’t back down now.

Alex sought out Aria – alone – for information, who had already suspected an Ardat-Yakshi presence on the space station with the numerous dead bodies being left around, distinctively more “empty” than the usual number of corpses. Aria suggested checking out the scene out in the VIP area of Afterlife - she'd heard of an "amazing" asari hanging out there often.

Samara knew the only way to catch Morinth was to lay a trap and lure her out. She felt confident her daughter wouldn’t be able to resist a cocky, skilled, experienced soldier, so it was up to Alex to draw Morinth’s attention.

Back in her room, Alex slipped into a skin-tight, low-cut black dress that exposed her supple cleavage and hugged her hourglass figure. The slit down the side of her dress showcased her firm, muscular legs, but only a glimpse. She stepped into a pair of sleek black over-the-knee boots with a stiletto heel. She even put in a little extra effort in curling her medium length hair and painting on makeup. She transformed into a human bait of carnal pleasure.

Alex trekked to the CIC to meet with Samara, strutting in her heels confidently – not too boastful, not too modest. Jaws dropped all over the Normandy. Not one crew member — especially the men —could ignore their alluring commander exhibiting her body that was typically concealed under armor and weapons.

"You sure this is a mission, Commander? Or just an excuse for some shore leave?" Traynor smirked, thinking how odd it is to see this well-known hardcore soldier in dressy civilian clothes. Odd, but very nice and welcome. Traynor archived the image for her midnight sexual fantasies. Kasumi abruptly uncloaked in front of Alex, looking her up and down.

"Looking good, Shep. Nobody will be able to keep their eyes off you," Kasumi commented. "You look great. You should wear this stuff more often.”

“I agree,” a disembodied voice said. Nihlus had just stepped off the elevator, planning to purchase materials while they were docked on Omega. He stopped in his place when he caught sight of Alex.

"You going grocery shopping, Shepard? Hm, not the outfit I would've picked."

Alex playfully rolled her eyes at him and shook her head, but there was a smile hidden away from him that he was happy to see. Samara followed Nihlus off the elevator. She’d been waiting for him to move but had to go around him when he blocked her way.

"It is time for us to go, Shepard."

"Right."

Nihlus watched her, enraptured, as she walked away, letting his mind explore the venture of what it would be like to mate with her again; to feel the softness of her skin against his hard turian plating one more time. He'd hoped to explore that option rather sooner than later.


Alex loved them both the same but in different ways.

Falling in love with Nihlus had been logical. A conclusion arrived after being together for such a long time. A deep affection that developed in stages as the clock kept turning.

But falling in love with Garrus was madness. Sweet, blissful madness. An indescribable passion took shape that couldn’t be compared to anything she’d ever felt before. An instant connection from the moment they met. And it was effortless. Alex thought about Garrus every minute of the day after meeting at Flux. It was almost obsessive. But she always held back. Never being too forward or flirtatious, and never spending too much time with him. Just Spectre training and huddle meetings. It didn’t change anyone’s assumptions of what was going on between or hinder the rumors. Either way, Alex made double-sure she didn’t send him the wrong message. In her mind, she still felt like she belonged to Nihlus. She couldn’t detach herself from him. As long as that bond was there, she couldn’t move on.

Now, things are different.

Almost losing Garrus out things in perspective. Though the attachment to Nihlus hasn’t been completely severed, it’s thinned away to a point where she could start dipping her toes in other possibilities. A possibility she was ready to plunge in head first as soon as Garrus woke up.

Coming back from the mission, Alex turned on the shower to wash away the film of ick that always developed after visiting Omega. Before she could undress, a knock came at the door. She sighed, disgruntled that she couldn’t cleanse herself of the muck.

"Come in!" she called out, shutting the water off.

“Alex?” the turian voice called out. Alchemy of feelings and memories filled her chest. Their recent chat and his attempt to kiss her created some mixed feelings she wasn’t ready to face yet. She was scared of the happiness she felt around him, especially after he displayed the blatant show of jealousy that signified that he still cared. It inexplicably made her angry and loaded with chagrin. Why couldn’t he demonstrate his true feelings before? Alex took in a shallow breath before meeting Nihlus at her door.

“Nihlus,” she spoke plainly, barely acknowledging him with a glance. She headed straight to the liquor cabinet. Nihlus’ presence in her room created an abrupt thirst. She needed something to slow down her racing heart.

“How was the mission? How’s Samara?” Nihlus watched closely as Alex poured herself a shot of tequila and threw it back. She slammed her eyes shut and tried to block her emotions.

Not enough.

“She’ll need time to process.” She rummaged through the cabinet seeking a more potent poison. Nihlus noted her frantic movement as she pulled out the vodka and a bigger glass.

“I didn’t know you picked up drinking again.”

She waved him off. Alex was exhausted and sleep deprived. She hadn’t gotten a wink since the initial trip to Omega so at this point in time, she really didn’t give a damn about her vow to sobriety. “You want one?”

He nodded and ambled on over to her couch. “You don’t usually just dive into liquor so quickly or for no reason.”

She scoffed before handing him his drink and settling down next to him on the two-seater couch. Her aggravation was bubbling. “You don’t know me.”

He squinted his eyes at her as he took his first sip. “We were almost married. I know you better than anyone.”

Alex rolled her eyes. “Keyword: almost. And it's not like I've forgotten, but I’m hoping to by the time I’m done with this drink,” she said snidely, taking a bigger gulp.

“I’d never want to forget what we had,” he replied sullenly.

“You weren’t the one left broken-hearted,” she barked back. Nihlus winced at her immediate response, reminded of how terribly he hurt her. Not that he ever really forgot, but Alex had never outright spoken about her pain. She averted from discussing her feelings, and Nihlus refrained from bringing it up, to be buried six feet under waiting to be dug up. Seems like that time had finally come.

“Look, Alex, I’m really sorry that-”

He was suddenly cut off by Alex slamming her glass down onto the end table.

“I’m don’t want to hear your apologies, Nihlus!” Steam blew out of her ears, and the runaway train was off again. “We agreed after youbroke off our engagement that we were going to move past this, but we continued having sex and cuddled and had breakfast together-” Her voice cracked, upset, and her eyes were glassy. “We were acting like everything was normal and fine, but it's not! I try to let go, but you won’t let me. Why?!”

“Because I still love you, Alex!” he shouted, a deep growl delivering his confession. His unprecedented reaction disarmed Alex’s animosity. It felt like ages since she last heard Nihlus say those three words to her. To a point when she convinced herself that he no longer felt that way about her. That he merely used her to fulfill his sexual needs. No words could describe her shock, and no sentence could form in her head that would make sense out loud. In the dead air, two sounds we’re clear: their powerful banging hearts and deep shuddering breaths. The mute juncture dragged out longer than comfortable.

Thankfully, an alert chimed on Alex’s private terminal. She shifted awkwardly in her seat, unsure if she should move, before deciding that it was best to check the incoming message to escape the strange moment. Alex pushed herself off the couch to go to her work desk, standing over the terminal screen with her hands propped forward on the edge of the table.

Nihlus’ eyes landed on her round backside that pointed in his direction. The bottom of her cheeks peeked out from under the skin-tight dress.

“Is there anything you’d like to say?” he asked, calmer now. Alex willed herself not to say what she knew he wanted to hear. She was supposed to close this chapter in her life, and the damn chapter just wouldn't end.

“There’s nothing to say.”

“Not one thing you want to say back?” He was subliminally begging Alex to say she loved him.

“Nope,” she sighed, staring at the terminal but not actually reading anything.

“I don’t buy it.” His heavy footsteps clinked on the floor, stalking towards her.

“Buy it or not, it’s all I’m selling,” she grumbled, swiping through the widgets on her screen. Nihlus’ footsteps echoed closer and louder until they stopped right behind her.

A shiver tingled down her spine and formed goosebumps on her skin. It wasn’t because Nihlus’ hands wrapped around her waist or because she felt his hot breath in her hair or even because his body pressed up against hers.

It was from the way his mandibles brushed against her ear as he whispered, “I’ve missed you, Alex.” It made her knees buckle. But she couldn't let herself give in to him.

"Too bad for you," she breathed, shaky and shallow. The attempt to show disinterest wasn’t very compelling. Nihlus’ hand crawled up to cup her breast.

“I’m sorry for how I treated you.” Nihlus began drawing tight circles around her nipple with his thumb. She stifled a moan.

“It’s a little late for that, don’t you think?” Alex hissed, reminding him once again that they were supposed to be getting closure.

“I know,” he replied. His other hand slid down her leg, playing with the hem of her dress. “I suppose I finally realized what I was losing.”

Nihlus ran his hand up and down her leg as he spoke.

“So why didn’t you ever say anything before?”

“Because it wasn’t fair to you. It was selfish for me to reel you back in when you were trying to get away. Even now I know I shouldn’t be telling you this because I broke up with you and I hurt you. I’ve seen the emotional suffering in you since that day.” He then hiked up her dressed and rubbed along the fold between her legs, moistening her lacy underwear. Nihlus’ other hand began to gently knead her breast. Alex was melting in his arms. “And I suppose now I’m asking you for one more chance to prove to you that I can love you the way you deserve.”

Softly moaning, Alex rolled her hips in a slow rhythm against Nihlus’ hand, master of her own pleasure. If this was Nihlus’ way of apologizing, she was going to milk it for all she could.

“I don’t know,” she admitted softly. “I already gave my heart away to you, and you destroyed it.”

“I want to make it right. Forgive me and give us another chance.”

Everything that Nihlus lacked during the relationship had finally been delivered in a wonderfully wrapped package in this moment. Alex was fighting with herself internally. Rationality versus affectivity. The brain versus the heart. Alex’s body inclined her head to fall back onto his chest and give in to his touch as she continued the pace. Her mind commanded a verbal response of a contrasting nature. “What would your dear mentor Saren think of this? Once you hear him badger you about me, you’re going to run away again.”

Nihlus couldn’t resist her exposed neck. He kissed and licked her throat, tasting the salt on her skin.

“I don’t care anymore. Fuck Saren,” he snarled.

A frozen body in sync with her frozen heart. She craned her neck, searching for his eyes. He was dead serious. She had waited so long to hear him say that somehow, those were the most romantic words she’d ever heard. She captured Nihlus’ mouth as if she’d been starving for him. Nihlus responded to her enthusiastic kiss by nimbly pulling down her panties and pinning her against the desk. He swiftly unbuckled his pants and let them drop to his feet, freeing the erection that had been pressing against the inside of his sheath.

Nihlus pressed his hips into Alex’s bare bottom, penetrating her slick wetness in one swift motion earning an untamed cry from her. There was a small victory in knowing she was wet enough to take him in one go. She arched her back, offering more of her drenched sex to him. In a primal desire, Nihlus latched onto her narrow waist, withdrawing his cock and then forcing it in deeper with each deliberate stroke. Every loud whimper Alex voiced, he bucked harder into her in a quickened tempo. Her ass reddened from the impact against Nihlus’ groin. The felicity Alex felt from Nihlus filling her with his manhood brought tears to her eyes. Sex with Nihlus had always been fulfilling but this was over-the-top amazing.

“Oh, Nihlus...” His name came out full-throated. He knew he was performing well or otherwise, she wouldn’t have let the next words slip out of her mouth. “Fuck…I love you...”

 He felt her body underneath tense, clearly trying to hold back a building climax. Alex bit her lip. She didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of cumming so hastily. But Nihlus had to have this win.

“Tell me again,” he ordered gruffly, switching to a painstakingly slower speed.

Unh. Don’t do that to me.” As much as she was battling the torturous lust for his cock, she knew she had to have it.

“Then tell me again.” Another deliberately torpid stroke. She held out from complying with his orders. He completely withdrew and teased the opening of her lower entry with his slippery tapered tip. Every second he spent outside of her felt like a century. Alex’s wet center ached for him. Accepting that she was at Nihlus’ mercy, she gave in.

“…I love you, Nihlus…”

That’s exactly what he wanted to hear. His insides flared with fervor, and he thrusted into her. Faster now with primitive growls, each time driving Alex closer to the edge. She rocked her hips to work his thickness. In just a few more motions, her surrender catalyzed shockwaves of ecstasy that blew through the interspecies couple in perfect synchronization. At the peak of the euphoria and with a husky groan, Nihlus dug his teeth deep into the meaty flesh of her trap muscle around her lower neck. Alex let out a hoarse cry from the simultaneous stimulus of her orgasm and pierced skin. A flow of hot fluids spewed out of her lower opening while Nihlus pumped a final few times before freeing her neck of his hold and resting his body on top of hers. Upon his release, blood trickled out of the bite marks. He savored the metal flavor of her blood.

In her descent, Alex’s head began to clear out the fogginess that culminated. With a clearer mind, she came to a certain realization that caused her to stiffen.

“Get off me,” she demanded.

“What?” he exhaled.

“I said, get the fuck off me, Nihlus,” she snapped audibly. He withdrew from her promptly, in stupor of the head-spinning change of mood.

“Is something wrong?” he questioned anxiously. Alex shook her head as she pulled up her panties and straightened out her dress.

“You turians are so damn territorial,” she spat.

“What are you talking about?” Nihlus hauled back on his pants, staring at her with confusion as she strode to the bathroom to pull out a first aid kit. She came back out with a gauze and alcohol pad. He waited patiently for her response as she cleaned the wound.  She turned away from him, pressing the gauze against her skin.

“Here I thought you actually meant what you said.”

“I did!” he yelled. Alex whipped back around, rage beaming out of her eyes.

“No! You couldn’t stand the sight of another man sweeping your woman off her feet. So you marked me!” She pointed at the gash on her neck. Again, Nihlus was left perplexed.

“I don’t understand. You always said you wanted me to give you that as my bond mate.”

“After we got married!” she exclaimed, completely distressed that he was missing the point. “When I agreed to it. The right way. Not because you got jealous and wanted to brand me as your property to show another man that he couldn’t have me. Just because I said I love you did not give you permission!”

Nihlus breathed out a vexed puff of air. “That’s not—”

 “Just…get out, Nihlus,” she interrupted.

“Alex…”

“Out!”

He acknowledged her request and silently exited the room. Alex was left to marinate in her thoughts. When she was his fiancé, she looked forward to the day they got married and would be marked as Nihlus’ bond mate. But the fire of excitement dwindled in Nihlus due to Saren’s beratement, and he subsequently talked about it less and less. She knew it was because Saren made him feel ashamed to claim a human as a sacred bond mate. Feeling unwanted by her lover churned her stomach and cut her deep. As deep as Nihlus buried his teeth into her skin. Her objective to move on was because she couldn't take any more scars from Nihlus. Now he permanently marked her with a sanctified scar, one she wasn’t sure she wanted anymore.

Chapter Text

“Shit,” Alex hissed, as she thoroughly cleaned the puncture wound. It was swollen and tender the following morning. As deep as Nihlus bit her, it was definitely going to scar, but she supposed that was the point. To be marked permanently and clearly as his.

“Shepard! Shepard!” a distant voice yelled urgently. Alex ran to her door and met with Jacob, huffing.

“Jacob? What’s going on?”

“Garrus! He’s awake!”

Her heart skipped. It’d been more than 48 hours since the incident on Omega. Less than 12 since the incident with Nihlus in her room. Too many thoughts running through her head that accumulated over the last few days, but the news of Garrus waking up triumphed over all of that.

Alex’s feet carried her to the med bay, a strange and floating feeling. Her heart was pounding slower and faster at the same time. The excitement and worry flowing through her blood fueled the adrenaline that propelled her to her destination. Jacob never knew she could move so fast. He could barely keep up as he chased after her.

The door whooshed open, and Alex just about broke into tears. She beckoned salty tears back and flashed a sly grin instead to the turian that was sauntering around the room as he was waiting to be released. Right back to his normal self. No longer was he the limp, bleeding body that had been slowly dying in her arms just a couple of days ago.

"Shepard," Garrus' cool voice said. Majority of the right side of his head was bandaged, yet the raw, tender flesh from his burns peered from underneath as it extended to his jawline, lower mandible, and neck.

"Tough son of a bitch," Jacob chuckled in amazement. "Didn't think he'd be up walking around already."

"Nobody would give me a mirror. How bad is it?"

"Hell, Garrus, you were always ugly. Slap some face-paint on there, and no one will even notice," she teased. Garrus let out a hearty laugh before he winced in pain.

"Don't make me laugh, damn it. My face is barely holding together as it is. Some women find facial scars attractive. Mind you, most of those women are krogan..." The look in his eyes relayed a question to her that asked if she would still find him attractive. Did she ever? She obviously had a thing for turians, but what about this one?

It’s not like Alex ever said it out loud, but she definitely did. She always found him attractive. However, whatever relationship they had was more complex and profound than just the physical. There was mutual respect, care, and an infrangible spiritual chain that linked the two together. Beyond platonic yet it hadn’t reached a romantic or exclusive level. Not formally anyway. Everyone around them could see this affair was just waiting to happen.

Unable to wipe the grin off her face, Alex turned her head in an attempt to regain her composure. When she did, Garrus noticed something at the base of her neck. He stepped forward to inspect, but Chakwas yanked Garrus away and back down onto the clinic bed.

“Not so fast, Vakarian,” Dr. Chakwas said. “I’m not finished with you just yet. A couple more scans and you’ll be good to go. Though I really wish you'd take my advice and rest, but I know you won't.”

Everyone chuckled lightly, except Garrus. He was too focused on whatever was on Alex’s neck. He knew it was familiar, but he couldn’t sure until he saw it up close. Or maybe he didn't want to believe it. Without a word, Jacob dismissed himself after saluting his commander.  Jacob assumed they needed the solitude to catch up comfortably. Chakwas passed her omni-tool over Garrus while he watched Alex with a pestering curiosity as she took inadvertent steps around the clinic, fiddling with anything that didn't look like it'd set off blaring alarms or cause an explosion.

In the unpleasant silence of his surroundings, Garrus blurted out, "Something happen to your neck, Shepard?"

"Neck?" Chakwas repeated, stealing a sideways glance at Alex, but concentrated on her omni-tool scans. "I don't remember documenting any injuries to your neck."

Blood rushed to her cheeks, but she played it cool. "It’s minor. Just a training mishap. Nothing serious."

"Looks pretty banged up to me," Garrus provoked.

"Take a seat, Commander. I'll take a look at it once I'm done with Vakarian," Chakwas told her.

"It's fine," she barked. The doc whipped her head in Alex’s direction, surprised by the sudden aggression. It seemed that the hostility wasn’t towards her but thrown at Garrus. Chakwas bounced between the two, analyzing the way they were fixed on each other. Sensing there was a need for a private conversation, she closed down her omni-tool and cleared her throat.

“I’ll give you two a moment while I run some diagnostics.”

 As soon as Chakwas stepped away, Garrus immediately stood up and tugged down the collar of Alex’s shirt.

“Hey!” she whispered harshly, smacking his hand away and pulling her shirt back up. Garrus scoffed.

“Did I miss the clan face marking ceremony too?” he asked harshly and somewhat crestfallen.

“It was…unsolicited,” she replied, equally contrite. The hot flush on her skin began to recede as she became uneasy.

“The bond marking is an eternal promise and a serious decision to my people. Hard to believe that this just happened,” he responded with more bite.

“The sex just happened. The bonding didn’t. It wasn’t supposed to.”

“The two usually go hand-in-hand, Alex,” he said as-matter-of-fact. In turian culture, the clan marking ceremony is performed in front of close family and friends where then afterwards, the newly coupled pair takes off in the human equivalent of a honeymoon to mate and mark each other.

“This is an exception. We didn’t have sex so we could bond. The sex was… well, just sex.” She shrugged offhandedly.

Talking about it out loud, Alex offset the whole thing seem like an insipid, meaningless event. Sure her head wasn’t in it, but her heart was a completely willing participant and didn’t change the fact that she had been exceedingly close to taking Nihlus back had it not been for his greediness. This wasn’t the time to provide that kind of clarification to Garrus.

“The mark happened without me agreeing to it. It’s…” she sighed frustrated, blocked by a lack of better words. “…complicated.”

Garrus nodded slowly and sadly. Garrus could see and accept how something like that could happen, even without an explanation. Alex had mentioned that they never really got closure, nor did they never actually try. Loose ends weren’t taken care of, so it wasn't a total surprise that those ends would engage with each other again. Garrus simply had hopes that Alex would completely decathect herself from Nihlus. He should’ve known it was an impossible task considering they were stuck with each other on a small ship for an undefined – but surely long – amount of time. Besides, it’s not like Alex belonged to Garrus. What right did he have to be angry? Hurt, yes, but not angry.

Dr. Chakwas returned, eyes down at her datapad reviewing the diagnostic results. “Alright, Mr. Vakarian, everything’s satisfactory. You’re free to go.” Chakwas departed to work at her desk on the opposite of the room.

"I'm fit for duty whenever you need me, Alex,” he said in a drastically professional, dispassionate manner. “I'll settle back in and get to work on the forward batteries.”

Before Alex gave him the chance to leave, she spoke up. "Garrus. We still need to talk."

"Not in here." Garrus took notice of all the possible breaches in the room for their conversation to be overheard. Not to mention Dr. Chakwas was nearby. "You know where to find me."

Before Alex would join him in the main battery, she traveled back up to the bridge. She could’ve just sent a message to Joker to set course for Tuchanka, but she needed to walk off the apprehension. Anxiety was draining her of all life in a cold surge.

“You okay, Commander?” Joker asked. “You look pale. Er, paler than usual. Before you just looked like you needed a little sun, but now you’re borderline albino.”

“Ha ha,” she responded dryly. “That’s what happens when you’re crippled with anxiety.”

Joker spun his chair around in a dramatic act. “Uh, did you forget who you were talking to?Crippled?!”

“Uh,” she laughed sheepishly. “Sorry. Poor choice of words.”

“No, no, no, Commander. You’re going take a seat in that co-pilot’s chair, and we’re going to have a talk about your insensitivity towards the disabled,” he stated, feigning upset.

Alex was glad Joker openly joked about his Brittle Bone Disease, but she would have preferred not to be mock-lectured purely for his entertainment for the next five minutes. Though it did ease the dread she felt about having to talk to Garrus. Luckily, Kaiden came back from his bathroom break and needed his seat back. Who knows how far Joker would’ve taken this overdramatic scene. After she gave her orders, she walked back towards the elevator to head down to the main battery.

Ping!

Alex was startled by the incoming message, and when she saw who it came from, her guts knotted.

[NKryik]: Meet me in the War Room? I need to talk to you about something.

She groaned internally, but he quickly sent a follow-up message.

[NKryik]: Don't worry. It's not about last night. I know you want to avoid that as long as possible.

A wave of relief.

[AShep]: On my way.


“Saren, you son of a bitch!” Nihlus slammed his fist down on the QEC console.

“Whoa!” the female voice said from behind. Nihlus turned to find Alex leaning against the door frame, arms crossed and an amused smirk on her lips. A rare sight to see Nihlus so pissed that he had to take it out on an inanimate object. “Careful. That’s expensive equipment.”

“Alex. Thank you for coming,” he said, pleasantly surprised that she came by without a scowl on her face.

“What’s got you so worked up?”

“I just finished talking to an old comrade, Nix. After everything you told me, I decided to look into Saren.”

Her eyebrows furrowed, instantly intrigued but also wary. She never thought Nihlus would do anything more with her words than just listen and keep the information safe. That he actually set out and did something solely on her hunch, she was grateful and in disbelief.

“And?” she questioned, coming in closer to him.

“He informed me of some…troubling things.” The way Nihlus’ mandibles clenched in tight to the sides of his face and the meek low grumble of his subharmonics revealed a bitter embarrassment he didn’t want to express to Alex. The mortification of having to eat his pride and admit he was wrong. “Saren’s people have been going missing- dead actually.Those that are still alive have stopped reporting in.”

The wrinkles between her brows deepened with concern. “What do you mean? Do we know what’s happening to them?”

“Nix worked on Saren’s ship when he’d return to Citadel for maintenance. He said every time the crew came off, they’d be bad-tempered and tired. They come mumbling out of there about hearing whispers in their head.”

“Whispers in their head,” she echoed. “Like Matriarch Benezia.”

Alex had wondered what the ludacris ramblings the spewed out of Liara’s mother meant when they confronted her. Speaking about how “his” will was her will; how her mind was filled with “his” light; how “he” whispered in her mind and how “he” was unstoppable. Perhaps “he” was actually Saren who managed to indoctrinate a powerful asari matriarch. If that was the case, they had more to be worried about.

“I caught that, too. Then Nix says Saren’s recently started riding around in a massive ship. A dreadnought too big to have serviced at the Citadel, so he hasn’t seen him since.”

“What kind of ship does he have that’s too damn big to bring to the Citadel?”

“We don’t know exactly. I checked. It wasn’t issued by the Council or the Turian Hierarchy, but he’s bringing on mercenaries, bounty hunters, and more turian military personnel. Records for these freelancers don’t exist so I can’t verify anything, but these officers and soldiers of our military have either been declared as MIA by Saren or completely stopped reporting into their friends and family.”

“So he’s killing them or brainwashing them?”

“My guess is he kills the mercs, so there are no witnesses – no one will miss them anyway – and he indoctrinates his own people to do his bidding. Knowing Saren, he works them around the clock and makes them detach from their personal lives.”

“Fucking bastard," she spat. "They have family and friends who are wondering where they areand he’s keeping them away.And we can’t even say it’s against their will because he’s making them believe he's right."

“I know. He’s definitely up to something. Just like you said. I’m sorry I never believed you before.” Nihlus placed both hands on her shoulders. His touch still made her skin tingle and her heart flutter. Alex chewed on her bottom lip as she gazed into his emerald eyes, brilliant and glistening with candor. "And I'm sorry for what I did to you. Last night and everything before."

His hands slid down to wrap around hers in a plea of forgiveness. The earnest apology crumbled her anger into a ball and tossed it away. But her ego wouldn't bow.

"This doesn't mean we're getting back together," she spoke softly.

"I know," he whispered back with a disheartened tone, lightly rubbing the back of her palms with his thumbs. "It wouldn’t be you if it were that easy. But can I at least know if there’s a chance?”

"Nihlus..." Alex hadn't thought about it honestly. She'd been so livid at what he'd done and distracted by Garrus’ recovery that she hadn't culminated any kind of plan of where they would pick up moving forward. "I don't know I can do this anymore...Not that this isn't worth saving, but after all the war our relationship has been through, I wonder if there's anything left in the debris left to reassemble."

With two dull nods, Nihlus released her hands. He obviously wanted to keep this relationship alive and hoped that she would carry the same enthusiasm, but Alex remained in limbo on whether she wanted to or not. She begged to fall out of love with him. She’d probably have to cut out her own heart to do so. At the moment, both were at a loss on how to continue the conversation. Ashley soon pulled their asses out of the fire.

“Hey, skipper!” She ran up from around the corner. “I need to ask you about the weapon upgrades you had Cortez order recently.  I want to get the armory straightened out before we get to Tuchanka.”

“I’ll be down in a minute, Williams.”

Ashley exchanged agonizingly long glances with Alex then Nihlus before heading back out of the room. She didn’t comprehend what she’d just interrupted.

“Skipper?” Nihlus asked after a prolonged silence.

A small shrug from one shoulder as Alex shortly explained, “Old school military terminology." Nihlus let out a soft grunt to signify that he understood. "Um, I should go,” she sounded out each word awkwardly.

“Right,” he said, rejection plastered all over his face. "I'll keep looking into Saren."

"Good."

There was nothing left to say. Attempting to sort out and decipher the shitstorm in her head would set her up for a splitting ache. Plaguing activity took control over her mind as she made her way down to the lower decks. Her fingers lightly traced over his bite as she rode on the elevator. Nihlus robbed her of a liberty by taking it upon himself to make a decision about their future – or ending of – without her input. It taunted her short-tempered nature. One last nagging final thought as she walked into the armory: if Nihlus and Alex were meant to be and if she was really in love with Nihlus, she wouldn’t have fallen for Garrus, right?

Chapter Text

Tuchanka: home to the mighty krogan and radioactive rubble badlands. But it was still home to those who were unashamed to claim the crater-damaged planet. Those like Wrex and Grunt. Alex received a leery welcome – or rather unwelcome – from the krogan guards stationed around the area. Krogan are sour about their sterilization, so alien species are grossly unwanted on their land. Not to mention Alex’s arrival included a salarian and turian on either side of her.

"Halt! You must wait until the clan leader summons you," the brawny krogan ordered, stepping in their way with his three-fingered hand extending out at them.

“He’s expecting us.”

“I don’t care. He is in talks."

Formalities were shot down when Wrex spotted Alex. He clambered down from his stone-crafted throne, pushing past his line of guards and rushed to greet her.

“Shepard!” Wrex roared with the corners of his amphibian mouth turned upwards. “My friend!” He grasped and shook her hand tightly and ferociously. She laughed at his glee.

“Looks like you’ve done well for yourself,” she noted.

“Not for me, Shepard. For all krogan. Clan Urdnot has just been the start, and when I’m done, we will be one people again.”

This wasn’t done without objections. Anyone who had negative opinions about Wrex’s methods received a banging headbutt from him.

“And Grunt?” She missed having the krogan equivalent of a teenager around the ship. He was rambunctious and filled with a natural desire for violence. Youthfully charming in his own way.

“Little pyjak’s all grown up!” he chortled. “He’s out there running Aralakh company, our krogan commandos.”

 “How’d he go from being new and unproven to his own command?” Not that Alex ever thought that Grunt was incapable of running a group of soldiers, but it's not common for a young rookie to rise up in the ranks so fast.

“When I put Aralakh company together, I needed a warrior that represented the finest our species. Being the second strongest of clan Urdnot, I chose him to lead. The honor of being chosen started more than one brawl. Grunt’s earned a few more scars from the last time you’ve seen him.”

Alex smirked, “Second strongest, huh? I wonder who’s first.”

He guffawed. "Ha! I won't even waste my breath. We all know the answer to that." Wrex had been so elated to see Alex, he paid no mind to her company. 

"You shady turian bastard!" he hollered jubilantly over Alex's shoulder to his old chum. Garrus stepped forward and received a friendly, rough shove to the shoulder. "I didn't see you there, Garrus. What the hell happened to your face?"

Having been indurated by Wrex's brusque ways during their time together on the Normandy, Garrus replied nonchalantly, "Oh, the usual daily heroics. Stopping pirates. Saving a damsel in distress. Rescuing a family from a burning building. Wasn't able to get out the last one without a scratch, though."

"More than a scratch is what you got there. And they call me ugly," he sniggered.

"I'll still be pulling in all the attention of the women at the bar," he replied smugly.

Wrex snorted. "I thought your loins were set on a certain female last time we spoke."

Alex subtly shifted her weight from one leg to the other and averted her eyes away from Wrex and Garrus. Krogan have a reputation for being all brawn and no brain, but Wrex wasn’t any ordinary krogan.

"On hiatus," he stated plainly. Wrex always thought the turian and human were chummy – just not to that degree – and it never occurred to him that the woman he'd been pining over and babbled on about was Commander Alexandria Shepard. Looks like Wrex was away longer than he thought for their friendship to develop in such a way. Maybe it was best that he didn't know because their current relations seem to be tense. It was half-true. Vibes on the field and off the ship were the usual quick-witted, fun banter and their teamwork was harmonious with fully intact trust. On the ship and in personal space...well, it was night and day, to say the least.

With a grunt, Wrex turned and waved them to follow him up the platform his provisional "throne room".

“Now, Shepard, what brings you here?” he asked, slumping into his seat. Power didn’t change Wrex.

As a trusted friend, Alex disclosed every detail about their search for Mordin’s former assistant. Wrex had heard about a salarian on Tuchanka but assumed he was being kept as a prisoner, not researching for a cure. Though he was ecstatic to learn a brilliant scientist was working on the salvation for his people, Wrex's damp response didn't aspire much confidence that Maelon would be an easy retrieval.

“He's been working at the Clan Weyrloc base. They're using an old hospital as their hideout and its swarmed Blood Pack mercenaries under Weyrloc Guld. I can loan you a truck to get there, but you'll want to keep your weapons hot. They're not friendly like us."

Friendly... Right.

"The little worm came by here first wanting to run his shifty science shit on our females, but I didn't like the way he wanted to do it, so I sent him away, and Clan Wyerloc took him in. Didn’t think he was actually doing anything worth our time. Good thing, too. Been hearing he's got a high failure rate and leaving corpses around to rot."

"No!" Mordin exclaimed sharply. Everyone watched him. "Maelon would never perform atrocious experiments."

He huffed back. "Believe what you want salarian, but I won't piss on your parade. You'll see for yourself."


To get to the labs and Maelon, the team fought through the Weyrloc clan members and Blood Pack mercs in the hospital, even killing the Chief in the process.

"Hard to think this place is structurally stable after the damage the rest of the planet has been through," Alex remarked as she tip-toed around the slain bodies scattered on the floor. Some fresh. Some dried-up. Some disintegrated and putrid.

"Repurposed krogan hospital. Sturdy. Built to withstand punishment," Mordin replied without looking over at her. Mordin stumbled across an active console, and he filtered through it to find any useful data.

Garrus groaned. "That’s unfortunate. Hospitals aren't fun to fight through.”

“What is fun to fight through?” Alex asked him with a humored cocked eyebrow.

“Gardens, electronics shops. Antique stores, but only if they’re classy,” he answered with dry sarcasm.

She wanted to break out into laughter, but their recent discourse had left them in an ambiguous place. If their current status leaned towards unfriendly, would it be inappropriate to laugh? Or would not laughing expand the distance between them?

 Their gazes met, and it was like they mentally asked each other where they stood. They both knew things changed after Omega. After all, she declared her love to him. Although, she was shortly branded another turian’s mate and that left the whole situation abstruse and perplexing. After an unsure pause, awkward staring contest, and crooked smiles, they shared a soft chuckle and soon dissolved into deep laughter. All the pressure of their compounding cocktail of emotions lifted. It wasn't a solid resolution to their dilemma, but it was as a start and another step forward. An actual conversation to be continued in private.

Alex caught up with Mordin who was impressed by Maelon's thorough reports but disgusted by his experiments on female krogans whose bodies were overspread by tumors as a result. Mordin would never conduct tests on live subjects as Maelon had done. He'd never kill with medicine or put them through extensive pain. Yet, there remained a speck of belief that a fellow scientist couldn't be capable of such perverse actions. The krogans must be forcing his hand, he convinced himself.

Studying his reaction, Alex had to ask, "If you're disgusted by that, how can you agree with using the genophage, Mordin? Look at what happened to Tuchanka as a result."

He was appalled. "State of Tuchanka not due to genophage. Nuclear winter caused by krogan before salarians first made contact. Genophage medical, notnuclear. No craters from virus. Damage caused by krogan, not salarians. Notme."

Garrus had a prying query of his own. "So if the krogan banded together and formed a united government, you'd welcome that?"

"Yes," he replied, insulted that he'd even ask such an absurd question. "United krogan saved galaxy, destroyed rachni. Genophage not a punishment. Simply alters fertility to correct." Mordin ran his hand lightly over the tarp-covered corpse of the rotting female alien and sorrow coated his words. "Goal was to stabilize population. Never wanted this. Can see it logically...but still unnecessary. Foolish waste of life. Hate to see it."

Mordin visited Tuchanka every year on secret recon missions. He made it a point to visit personally. To see, to look, and to accept that all his time and effort was necessary. Outwardly, Mordin didn’t assume guilt, but he did assume responsibility. His virus only affected fertility, never outright killing anyone.

“Is that why you opened a clinic on Omega? To…repent?”

Alex was running a mental investigation as she probed around Mordin’s brain. Whenever interrogated about his work with the genophage, his statements of defense were etched in grief. She wanted to get to the benevolent doctor that lied beneath. He’d emerge in random spurts but would hastily be buried in cold excuses. Maybe if she just outright asked about his feelings, his real self would appear.

“Wanted to heal people. Good use of last decade. Something easy. No ethical concerns. Understand rationale for modified genophage. Right choice. Still hard to sleep some nights."

And there he was. The humanitarian for all species she knew existed. Satisfied with the breakthrough, they pushed forward. The squad knew they were closing in on the labs when the smell antiseptic and hint of dead flesh wafted into their noses.

Breaking through the lab doors, the repulsive odor smacked them in the face and clenched their guts, but they all suppressed from launching their stomach's contents all over the floor. Maelon stood in front of a giant screen facing them with a brush of antipathy painted in his demeanor. It was then that Mordin realized that the krogan weren't influencing Maelon in any way to perform his barbaric studies. That Maelon had abandoned all moral principles to silence the haunting beasts of his past. Mordin bolted straight to Maelon's face, lodging a finger in his chest.

"This your doing?!"

“For such a smart man, Professor, you always had trouble seeing evidence that disagreed with your preconceptions," Maelon said with venom.

Mordin backed away horrified. “Experiments performed here. Live subjects! Prisoners! Torture and executions. Why?!”

“We’ve already have the blood of millions on our hands, Doctor. If it takes a bit more to put things right, I can deal with that," he replied in a chilly tone. "But you can’t face the truth, can you? Can’t admit that your brilliant mind led you to commit an atrocity."

Alex knew the answer, but she had to ask. "Mordin, did you ever perform experiments like this?"

"No! Never taught you this, Maelon," he answered with great disappointment.

"So your hands are clean?! What does it matter if the ground is stained with the blood of millions?! You taught me the end justified the means. I will undo what we did, Professor."

With a new sense of purpose of shutting the makeshift research clinic down, Mordin raised his pistol to the center of Maelon's forehead, "Have to end this. Unacceptable experiments. Unacceptable goals. Won’t change. No choice. Have to kill him."

"Wait!" Alex shouted, reaching out to snatch his gun away from, but she only managed to lower Mordin's gun. Salarians are not all as weak as they seem. Not Mordin, at least. Maelon was bewildered and doe-eyed with fear. "You don’t need to do this. You’re not a murderer."

As Alex said the words, Mordin knew she was right.

"No. Not a murderer," he agreed, holstering his gun. "But experiments indicate how far he’s fallen. Expected it from krogan. Not one of mine..."

Fortunately, there were female krogan that survived Maelon's experiments, and as the energy died down, Alex sent Wrex a report on their mission through her omni-tool. While he demanded for any surviving females to be transferred to the Clan Urdnot camp, Mordin urged Alex to have them transported to one of the finest, high-tech labs on Sur'Kesh. Wrex wasn't having that. No way were the "slimy lizard bastards" going to house his people on the salarian homeworld. However, there wasn’t a "real" scientific laboratory on Tuchanka to work on the genophage cure. They compromised.

A state-of-the-art facility on neutral territory manned with scientists, all different of species who were willing to help the cause, including salarians. Mordin would head the project with Maelon as his assistance once more. His procedures were despicable, but he and his research were too valuable to lose. Only if he abides by Mordin’s rules and regulations. The dalatrass held a mass of contempt as she's always been against the uplifting of the krogan, but what would the supposed united war efforts look like if she were to refrain her people from participating? So that was the final decision.

One major accomplishment under Alex's belt. After everything Saren had done to ruin her endeavors to saving an entire race, she showed Saren that he couldn't stop her. This was victory Saren couldn't take away from her. The Virmire labs were a milestone.

Chapter Text

For an entire week, Garrus developed a daily routine of working in the main battery well into the night, busying himself with his beloved calibrations. Trying to, at least. The recent findings of Alex and Nihlus lingered in his head and persisted to glare at in point-blank range. He’d begin his night with several rounds of sparring against the VI in the training room followed by a long hot shower, yet he remained in the same wrapped-up mental state. The image of Alex's bond mark looped over and over before his eyes in plain frontal view. It was irksome and taunted furious envy. In the eyes of his race, Alex belonged to someone else and was off-the-market.  If Garrus were to follow the unwritten turian customs, he should not be anywhere around Alex as in interested suitor. She’s the marked mate of another. All the same, she didn’t want the bond mark, and the bond mark was applied unconventionally, so it didn’t really count. She could still be claimed by another. If that’s what she wanted. If she wanted him.

Garrus continued to try to push the never-ending thoughts out, but all his efforts were meaningless when the subject of his anxious heart and mind appeared behind him.

"Have you got a minute, Garrus?" Alex said at the entrance door.

"Sure. Couldn't concentrate anyway." Garrus finished tying up the night's project, and when he turned around, he noticed a bottle and two glasses in her hands. "Rum. Going to be one of those nights?"

Alex responded by pouring them both a glass and then handed him one. It was starting to become a concern that perhaps Alex would soon relapse with the desire of stifling the problems that screamed loudly in her head and all around her. Thankfully, she hadn't arrived at that point yet. So much activity stirred up as a result of the news of a possible cure for the genophage, too much going on for her to want to handle it sober. Corresponding with Wrex on Tuchanka, the dalatrass on Sur'Kesh, Admiral Hackett on Arcturus Station, and Anderson on Earth. Between all that, she had to work closely with Nihlus on the ship because of the Turian Hierarchy, Asari Republic, and the Council requesting updates from him. It was a lot to handle, but Alex would never let anyone see that it was affecting her. On the bright side, her time with Nihlus was cordial and strictly business. They hadn’t spoken about their getting or not getting back together since Nihlus uncovered Saren’s suspicious activity. There was no time for that type of drama right now.

Alex made a special exception for Garrus. She hadn’t hit the bottle as of yet, saving coherence for a chat. So if she was going to throw her sobriety down the drain, who better to do it with than Garrus? She always felt safe around him. Alex pushed herself up to sit on a nearby workbench, gulping half of her drink.

“What’s on your mind?” Garrus asked, resting his elbows back on the bench near her dangling legs and watching her face. Her expression displayed a troubled and broken spirit, the true identity of Alexandria who was trying to hide underneath intoxicants.

“A lot,” she exhaled, staring down at the remainder of her drink and mindlessly swirling it around. “Specifically, how to pick up where we left off.”

“Frankly, I’m not sure where to start, Alex.” His tone faded to a grim discontent.

“Trust me, neither do I. Just tell me the first thing that that comes to mind.”

Garrus didn’t have to think about this one. He followed Alex’s example and watered down his feelings with rum first.

“What comes to mind is what's on your neck. You said it was uncalled for, but you still had sex with Nihlus." Her heart ached, and the knot in her stomach tightened. The despair in his voice was heartbreaking. She couldn't bear the sound. "Does it mean you two are back together?"

Their eye contact was intense with an unspoken, overcoming emotion that had her at a loss and with nothing to say in defiance of how much she actually had to express.

"I'll take that as a yes," he mumbled, obviously blue.

"No!" she exclaimed almost immediately. "I'm sorry. I knew the question was coming, but I didn't really prepare an answer."

What is that supposed to mean, Garrus thought.

"So you two are planning on it, then?"

"No, no, no. Fuck. I'm horrible at this." An exasperated suspiration tumbled out of her lips. She really didn't want to talk about this, avoiding the subject within her own thoughts. Even so, Garrus deserved an answer. "Look...I mean, we briefly talked about it, and he wants us to be together again, but I couldn't really give him an answer."

"Why's that?"

Alex threw back the rest of her booze. It was time to be brutally honest. Not with Garrus, but with herself. Liquor definitely helped. "Because it's not what Iwant. The bond mark wasn't supposed to happen. Maybe a couple years ago – months even – I would've wanted to be marked as Nihlus’ mate, but circumstances have changed. I don't have that one-hundred percent certainty that being with Nihlus is the best thing for me anymore."

Garrus tipped his head towards her, daring to sneak a longways glance for an opportunity to read her better. It had thrown him off kilter to see that was already set on him with a look of fierce passion beyond lust. A weighty sensation. Neither averted their gaze to play it cool as maybe they normally would’ve done in other instances. They didn’t care that they’d been caught peeking at each other like high school kids in class with secret crushes. Garrus was hooked and reeled in by her ruby eyes. Alex was drowning in his ocean blues. The distance closed between them, each moving at the same steady speed and falling deeper into an infinite well of heaven.

“What do you want now then?” he asked silently, advancing another centimeter towards her face, fantasizing what human lips might feel like. They came to a synchronous stop, and she ran her hand lightly over the bandaged side of his face. A magnetic touch. Garrus let his head fall into her loving caress.

“You.” The steadfast implication in her reply made him shudder. Garrus’ mandibles fluttered happily, and a diffused purr vibrated against her hand, tickling the sensitive inner surface. Alex never made him uncomfortable. Just really, really nervous sometimes, and right now, it was the most nervous he’d ever been. Perhaps because his heart had never been more on the line.

With a seriocomic tone, he commented, “I didn’t know you had a thing for younger men.”

Alex dropped her hand, laughing at the exaggeration, and poured herself another drink and refilled Garrus’. For fuck's sake, they were only about two years apart. “Only if they have scars. A bad boy with scars really gets my blood pumping.”

A bold retort that embarrassed Garrus. Alex observed with a mischievous smirk wrapped around the rim of her glass as Garrus ungainly rubbed the back of his neck. Two could play that game.

“Hm, yeah, it could be that. But it could also be because you love me.”

Alex choked on her next sip. She hadn’t expected him to come back with such a blunt remark. Her mouth opened to counter, but only a coughing gurgle escaped. Amused that he managed to throw her off as well, Garrus took his own victorious swig. She cleared her throat several more times. With a thin and nervous smile, she said, “You heard that, huh?”

He chuckled quietly. “It was a bit foggy, but a guy doesn’t forget the overly romantic scene when a beautiful woman professes her love to him as he’s slowly dying in her arms.”

Beautiful. She suppressed a smile, further hiding it behind her hand. The mood of their conversation had switched so suddenly, moving from painful inelegance to complacent vulnerability and heavy flirtation.

“Well, you did take a rocket to the face for me.”

“Is that all it takes to win you over? Heh, if I knew that, I would’ve done so sooner.”

Garrus had her blushing mad. Too much to even try concealing. Her cherry colored eyes were glued to him again, sparkling with irrepressible content fawning over his honeyed words.

“Why didn’t you ever say anything?” Alex questioned him. She would’ve loved to know his feelings before.

“Time never seemed right. Between the Reapers, Saren, and Nihlus, you had enough going on. I didn’t want to add onto that.”

“Fuck,” she groaned loudly.

Garrus shot her a curious look. “What?”

“You’re really hot when you’re being sweet and thoughtful.”

A deep, mirthful burst of laughter came from the depths of their chests.

“Thoughtful, young, hot and scarred. I sound like the total package.”

“You are,” she confirmed with warm eyes, but then her smiled melted. “I wish I would’ve never wasted all that time on Nihlus when I could’ve been here with you.”

“Alex…you and I both know that wouldn’t have gone over well.” Garrus turned his body towards her slowly like every minor movement stung him. He began again with a grave tone, “I’m not an idiot. I know a part of you will always belong to him and you trying to break away before you were ready...well, it would've been a painful mess."

Garrus wasn’t wrong. As her first love, Alex couldn’t ever fully evict Nihlus out of her heart. Regardless of what they’ve been through and the current circumstances, Nihlus would always hold a special place.

“But that doesn’t scare me away. When it comes to you, I’ll take anything I can get.”

“Garrus…” she whispered. She felt so light and weak at this moment that no other words could be produced.

“I love you, Alex.” Lightning struck her. As soon as the three lovely words left his mouth, it overwhelmed her. “There’s nobody in this galaxy I respect more than you, and I’m not asking you to run off and marry me right this second, but if we can figure out a way to make this work…then let’s see where it goes.”

His voice rose goosebumps all over her body. How could the pure vibrations of his speech have such an effect on her? Her chest and stomach were blooming with butterflies. Alex couldn’t differentiate if it was the alcohol that coursed through her body or if it was Garrus himself. Either way, she rather liked the feeling.

“Okay. Yeah. I’d like that. I just hope you’re ready.”

“For what?” he questioned, head cocked.

“You realize any plans you make with me has you walking straight into hell, right? I’m a super effective lure for chaos,” she jested. Garrus chuckled.

“I don’t know exactly where you’ve been or where you’re going Alex, but I do know one thing–” Garrus placed himself in between her free-hanging legs, resting his hands on either side of her. He was practically on top of her and so close that Alex could taste him on the tip of her tongue. Craving him. “—Wherever you go, I go. Right by your side.”

And then the turian kiss. Garrus leaned his head down to press his forehead against hers. She accepted the gesture by lifting her hands to cradle his head. Again, her palms were tickled by his gentle purring. She was grinning from ear to ear. Usually, Garrus would typically hesitate to tell her the following, but with the new developments between them, modesty was long gone. “I have to confess…I’ve spent a lot of time trying to imagine what, uh, cross-species intercourse might be like.”

She giggled, holding the forehead to forehead contact. “Oh yeah? Care for a lesson in human anatomy?”

“Definitely,” he answered with a deep and smoky voice, nuzzling her. “Maybe we should head back to your quarters and have ourselves a little clothing-optional sparring match. Something to test my reach and your flexibility.”

Garrus was exuding confidence by the gallons, and it was titillating. Earlier Alex joked about her blood pumping, but it wasn’t a laughing matter anymore. She wanted this just as bad. The underlying tempting thought bubbled to the surface. Truth be told, Alex had thought about it many times before. How many nights her mind would go crazy, dreaming of the things she’d let Garrus do to her. How’d she open herself up and let him caress the curves of her naked body.

“Purely for scientific research, right?”

“Exactly.”

Perfect. The timing was finally right. Alex inclined her head to lock onto his mouth. Garrus stiffened, wholeheartedly wanting this, but unfamiliar with the sensation of pillowy human lips. Alex gradually applied more pressure, easing him into the experience and he relaxed at last. Succumbing to the human kiss, he pushed his mouth more into hers, instantaneously becoming enamored with how her soft lips moved across his mouth plates. Definitely different. But the right kind of different. He nipped at her full bottom lip resulting in a gasping moan from Alex. Garrus brought his hands in to hold her hips and slid her closer to him. She eagerly complied, wrapping her arms around his neck and pressing herself against him, exchanging body heat on top of the workbench. Time and space departed as they plunged further into each other, closed off entirely to the outside world.

“I knew it!" a voice screeched.

"Oh, sh–!" Alex yelled, pulling back so fast she fell back and slammed her head against the back wall, utterly scared to death by the abrupt intrusion.

"You two are fucking! I knew it all along!” Jack cackled with a proud grin, arms crossed as she leaned against the opening.

“Oh! Kee’lah!”Tali gasped over Jack's shoulder, bringing her hand over the mouthpiece of her helmet, mortified catching her two friends in such an intimate act.

Instead of jumping back to save his suave and cool appearance, Garrus rushed back in, gripped Alex's arm and tugged with slight force to sit her up. He massaged the back of her head benevolently and asked, "You okay?"

She laughed bashfully, her face burning red.

"Yeah, thanks. I just wasn’t expecting an audience," she answered him appreciatively. She hopped off the workbench and walked over to their unanticipated guests. "What are you guys doing here?"

Jack had been offered and taken a position at Grissom Academy to help "young, troubled biotics" like herself while Tali was occupied with junior diplomatic affairs of the Quarian Flotilla. If anyone were to walk in on them, she definitely had not expected it to be these two. Apparently, Liara had spontaneously decided to rally the female crew members together – those boarded on the Normandy and not– for a girl's night in on the ship to distract Alex from all the recent stresses. Jack and Tali happened to arrive first and wanted to warmly greet the Commander. When EDI informed them of Alex's current location, Jack came up with the heinous idea to sneak up on the supposed “just friends” and confirm her notions.

Assisting Alex to escape the overly uncomfortable scene, Tali came forward and grabbed Alex’s hand to lead her away. Jack flashed Garrus a broad, knowing smile and a wink before following them out.

Leaving the main battery trailing behind Tali, Alex craned her head to catch one more glimpse of the turian. Their gazes both read of how much they wished it could’ve gone further tonight, to let their inhibitions fall to the floor. But this was only the first of many chances. If not tonight, then there’d be another time and place for it.

Alex couldn’t pinpoint how it happened but now more than ever, Alex knew what she wanted. Who she wanted. Garrus Vakarian felt like forever.

Chapter Text

“Alex! Nihlus! It is so good to see you both!” Liara greeted the two Spectres with cheerful and elevated voice. They were only seeing her over the QEC, but Nihlus and Alex could tell she was glowing.

“You too, Liara,” Nihlus replied, unsuccessfully reciprocating her excitement.

“Sorry we couldn’t get back to you sooner. We were on Virmire,” Alex added.

“I haven’t read the updated report on that yet. How is it coming along?”

Alex answered, “Mordin and Maelon just finished setting up the lab and settling in the surviving female krogan from Tuchanka. Now that the facility’s up and running, we have males and females lining up to volunteer as test subjects or provide, uh, fluid samples.”

“It seems a cure for the genophage may actually come to fruition,” Liara commented with hope.

It damn better, Alex thought. She couldn’t let their efforts be all for naught. With the entire galaxy living on borrowed time, Nihlus and Alex had to make sure there’d be enough bodies and military forces to fight back the Reapers. A cure and its subsequent effect would ensure that.

“Traynor mentioned you had an urgent message for us,” Nihlus told her.

“Oh, goddess! Yes! You won't believe this: Eden Prime colonists have uncovered a major Prothean, artifact and we need to recover it immediately!"

"What makes this artifact so important?" Nihlus asked with distinct uncertainty. No offense to Liara, but Nihlus was skeptical about anything she considered "major" when it came to Protheans. Her fondness for the ancient, extinct civilization tended to create a veil of exaggeration to those who weren't as enthusiastic about Prothean studies.

“Because it’s not just an artifact, it’s a Prothean,” she returned with bite, slightly miffed about Nihlus’ response. “And he’s alive.”

“That doesn’t sound possible,” Nihlus breathed huskily, holding onto his dubiety.

“But it’s not impossible. In fact, it’s highly unlikely for stasis chambers to maintain power for fifty-thousand years, but it happened. And there’s a Prothean who’s waiting for us.” She folded her arms, solidifying her confidence. “Think of what we could learn. Finding one alive represents an incredible opportunity!”

Alex offered Liara a line of support. “He could be what we need to finish the Prothean device.”

Liara beamed a grateful smile towards Alex, and she returned to her childlike wonder with stars in her eyes. “I hope so. If this one, single Prothean was sent into stasis, he could be the foremost scientist of his time or perhaps the wisest Councilor.” A frustrated sigh released as she brought her hand up to her forehead, shaking her head with dismay. “However, the scientists accidentally damaged the pod when they excavated it, and the Prothean’s life signs are unstable. Breaking open the pod would kill him, so we need to find some kind of command signal that ends the stasis mode and prevent any more damage.”

"Don't worry, Liara. We're on this," Alex assured her. Nihlus followed with small supporting nods.

Liara's expression was colored with forlorn. "I only wish I could be there myself, but there's too much going on here for me to leave."

"We'll call you as soon as we find him, okay?" Alex reaffirmed.

"Thank you. Both of you."

After they disconnected, Nihlus headed straight out to get ready, but Alex stopped him before he could get away.

“Hey, Nihlus, about what we talked about the other day…” Nihlus came to a halt and half-turned towards Alex.

It was time for the Council's Spectre nominations and Alex had already submitted her recommendation for Garrus. She wanted Nihlus to submit his, too. It would pretty much guarantee Garrus the honor, and he was more than ready. For several months, Garrus had taken it upon himself to single-handedly complete missions if neither Alex or Nihlus weren't available to depart because they were dealing with diplomatic affairs at that moment. Alex knew Nihlus was impressed with Garrus' initiative, especially to go on solo high-risk missions and come back without a scratch. It appealed to his "I move faster on my own" motif. Though, she feared that Nihlus would hold a grudge against Garrus for the love triangle situation they found themselves in.

“If this is about Garrus again, can we table it? We’ve got to get going," Nihlus replied, somber and austere. His demeanor took Alex aback, not used to him being so apathetic. It wasn't cold or hostile or anything she would take offense to.

"Uh, sure. I'll remind you when we get back."

Conveniently enough, the Normandy wasn’t far from Eden Prime so they could get there fairly quickly. Be as it may, Liara had unfortunate timing as the Normandy was currently under maintenance. It wasn't desirable for the Council vessel to remain a sitting duck, so all hands were on deck to reduce the amount of time the Normandy would have to stay dormant. Tali returned from the Flotilla to help Adams, Donnely and Daniels in engineering; Garrus was in his happy place calibrating the ship's guns in the main battery; Jacob, Jack, and Thane had old contacts that could install substantial upgrades; the less technical but more athletic of the crew provided physical aid; and even EDI was out of commission as Traynor was installing hardware updates that required her to be powered down to minimize the chances of glitches. Every single member of the crew was assigned their task and couldn't be risked pulling them off their jobs. Only Alex and Nihlus were non-essential to the maintenance.

A two-man team it is.

Garrus didn't like the idea of being left behind, the concept of Alex going on a mission without him to watch her six was unsettling. Sure, both Alex and Nihlus are two fully-capable soldiers and esteemed agents of the Council in their own right, but Garrus didn't have a good feeling of letting the two go alone. She's never gone out on a mission without him. As much as he insisted on going, she assured him that it was a simple pick-up operation and he had nothing to worry about. He reluctantly accepted.

As they were about to board the Kodiak shuttle, Garrus snagged Alex away to take a moment to say goodbye and wish them luck. First, Garrus delivered a soft thump to her forehead with his own, holding the lovely moment as long as he could. Alex transitioned the interspecies gesture by planting her lips onto his mouth. Her fair skin tinged pink under the soft, firm kiss as Garrus' mandibles flared into a gentle smile. He still wasn’t used to the human expression, but he certainly liked it.

It was a strange position to be in. Stepping into a new romance without the puppy lovesickness that would be expected from a new couple. This was genuine true love that didn’t need the showmanship of flowers or candy – not that those gestures aren’t nice or appreciated – but proven by the way Garrus would check in with her at random times to make sure her anxiety was under control. By being readily available to get Alex through her PTSD nightmares. By the way he stopped to kiss her when she passed him around the ship as her gaze was downcast at a datapad. And she reciprocated. Holding his cheerless hand in comfort after comm conversations with his ailing mother. Sending him audio links of song recommendations to listen to while he did his calibrations. Coming by on a regular schedule to help change his bandages. They were true romantic gestures of true love. Alex always thought she’d be an adversary of love given the refuse of a dismal love life. But here she was with Garrus watching it all begin again.

Even having finally acknowledged that they were ancient history, it didn’t make the sight of Alex and Garrus sharing a goodbye kiss any less uncomfortable for Nihlus. He found it hard to disentangle himself from their rollercoaster relationship, even knowing full well it was over. Nihlus was the one who messed things up anyway, and above anything else, he just wanted her to be happy.

Alex slowly broke the kiss, allowing them to exchange whispering “I love you”s, before giving Garrus one longing look as the shuttle door closed behind her.

Closing in on Eden Prime, Cortez shifted in his seat to speak to his two passengers in the back. "We'll be there in a few minutes. I’ll bring you in as close to the dig site as I can, but this settlement doesn’t have a lot of landing sites.”

"Understood," Alex responded.

Cortez could only bring them into the loading dock, a location close enough to the dig site. Before she climbed out, Alex directed, "Don't worry about sticking around, Steve. We need to get a status update on the settlement anyway, so we'll radio you when we're ready for pick up."

"You got it, Commander."

The dust settled after the shuttle’s takeoff, and Alex couldn’t help but notice how beautiful Eden Prime is. A paradise really, adorned with rolling hills of lush greenery and agricultural farmland spanning out far and wide. But it’s quiet – eerily quiet – for a colony that has just come across a sole survivor of the Prothean race. It should be full of bustling scientists and colonists.

“Stay sharp and eyes up, Shepard. Something’s not right.”

“Roger that.”

Paying exceptionally close attention to their surroundings, they cautiously stalked forward with assault rifles in hand, stepping in cadence and instinctively covering each other’s blind spots. Had the colony been attacked, dead bodies should’ve been littered over their path but there were no active signs of life. They passed through the vacated facilities trying to find some indication of people, but no such luck. Alex wondered if they were evacuated in some kind of emergency, though the notion was dismissed as no sirens were going off. What the hell happened, she wondered.

With absent answers, they had to keep moving, pushing further into the colony. It was perplexing that they couldn’t detect an ounce of activity of any kind, but the suspicions were overwritten with fascination when they finally made it to the dig site and stumbled across the stasis pod, ready for pick up and transport. Neither Alex or Nihlus have ever been this close to a piece of Prothean history before, usually behind protective security glass in a lab. Their mission objectives usually leaned more towards operations.

While Nihlus ran numerous scans on the stasis pod with his omni-tool, Alex circled and surveyed the stasis pod. A small fragment of metal with a lime-colored glow caught her eye. She bent down, tilting her head as she watched it flicker brighter and brighter. Alex reached for the object and all of a sudden, a surge of green light illumed from the shard vibrantly.

Alex got too close. Without warning, Alex's hand was pulled in by the shard by an unseen gravitational pull – glued and unable to let go. She was caged in her own body. Her body frozen stiff; her breathing turned sharpened and short emptying her chest of any air; her mind tormented with visions of destruction in a filter of black and red. What she envisioned must be a dream, she concluded. No. She is seeing the end of mankind. On Earth. Bodies torn apart over the terrain she called home and more of the astounding ships called Reapers hovering over the world by the hundreds, leaving an apocalyptic badland behind. Everything engulfed by flames. Screams drowned out by gunfire. Ancient voices of the dead and a Prothean named Javik telling her to destroy the Reapers before it’s too late. To be vigilant of those around her and be careful of the indoctrinated. The flashes of devastation flicker like a slideshow, going faster and faster by the second followed by an explosion of neon limelight and then a blanket of darkness. She couldn’t see anything anymore. Hear anything. There’s nothing. Just a vacant abyss.

Having his back turned to her, Nihlus hadn't been aware of the occurrence until he heard a blast. He was struck with an urgent fear seeing her lifeless body on the ground.

"Alex!" Nihlus shouted, sprinting into a slide to end up at Alex's side. He reached under her upper body, gently cradling her head up where blood then poured out of her nose as a result of the eruption.

"Normandy! I need an evac!" Nihlus listened closely to his radio. Static. "Joker? EDI? Traynor? Anybody?! Shepard is unconscious, and I need an emergency shuttle now!"

Radio silence. Nihlus cussed viciously under his breath. How were the comms jammed right now?

A strong, cold wind began thrashing through the colony, and Nihlus peered up at the sky, darkening with tumultuous and ragged clouds. If things seemed wrong before, it was certain now, and the signs were clear. Nihlus felt a sense of foreboding that something bad was about to happen. A drilling, buzzing noise tore through the air, flooding and deafening his ears. Surrounded by forks of red lightning, monstrous metal claws descended from the black sky. Nihlus didn’t know what the fuck was happening, but he had to get Alex to safety. This was no time for clemency. Nihlus threw Alex over his shoulder and rushed into the nearest building: a cozy, single-family residence. He laid her down gently on a sofa, pushing her raven hair back to let an adoring gaze fall on her face, comatose yet somehow angelic. The most significant fact: she was still breathing.

Peeking through the window, Nihlus observed a bulky, tapered body come down with the tentacle-like “legs”. Another droning sound rang through the air, making Nihlus recoil and growl in agony. Then, as if the noise spoke to him, Nihlus came to a terrible realization: this colossal vessel is actually a Reaper.

As much as he wanted to be wrong, there was no mistaking it. A real-life Reaper was here on Eden Prime. Having spent hours upon hours in the labs with Liara and her research, he’d seen composites and renderings of what Reapers might look like. Alex often joked that they looked giant metal squids, an earth marine species no one on Mars was really familiar with. If Alex were awake right now, Nihlus was sure she’d make a snide, boastful comment on how she was right, regardless of the awful timing.

Touching down in a quake, Nihlus peered up at the towering length of the vessel, barely able to catch sight of the top. For a supposed sentient creature, the Reaper was pretty dormant. Perhaps this was the ruse that made others believe it was just a ship, not the universally feared machine of doom. A hatch door opened on the Reaper and much to Nihlus’ surprise, a couple of geth troopers and a krogan exited the vessel. The krogan directed the geth in opposite directions to scope out the area while he stood there, chest puffed, like a proud monarch watching his grunts work.

Geth?! Shit. That’s why the comms are jammed. They’re the only ones capable of a mass disruption of this caliber. But then that means some were here before we did. What are they doing here with the krogan?

His question was soon answered as a tall, familiar figure ambled out of the Reaper, brashly pushing the krogan forward.

“Don’t just stand there with that stupid grin on your face. Find me that Prothean!” Saren snarled at his incompetent minion.

Saren, you bastard! You’re behind this…

Before the disgraced krogan executed his orders, the geth troopers returned, chirping their synthetic language that was somehow comprehensible to Saren. Whatever they reported to him enraged Saren. He stormed off to the dig site. The small group huddled around the stasis pod, the geth pointing at it with digital warbles.

A deep rumbling roar stirred in the back Saren’s throat and in one swift motion, he pulled out his rifle and pulled the trigger, shooting a hot bullet between the krogan’s eyes and killing him instantly — an act of senseless, passionate violence. The geth didn’t flinch, desensitized the turian’s ruthless ways.

“Take it to the ship,” he said calmly thereafter. “We’ll figure out how to wake him up from there.”

Nihlus couldn’t stand by and let him take possibly the biggest advantage towards the war effort they’d ever been able to get their hands on. As much as it pained him to leave Alex’s helpless body alone, Nihlus had to step out and stop this.

“Saren!” he yelled. Saren whipped in the new guest’s direction.

“Nihlus,” he greeted roughly.

“What are you doing here?” A rhetorical question, but he needed to hear it from Saren himself, but Saren wasn’t dense. He approached Nihlus, placing a firm hand on his shoulder to formulate confidence.

“The Council thought you could use some help recovering the artifact.” Nihlus knew better now.

“You can’t lie to me anymore, Saren. I know what you’ve been up to.” Nihlus backed away a couple of paces and kept an alert eye on Nihlus. “Sabotaging the Alliance and Council missions, killing those salarians, and Spirits knows what else you’ve been doing out in the Terminus System.”

“Heh. No doubt that vile little alien girl told you about this.”

“You leave her out of this,” Nihlus growled.

Saren chuckled. “Nevertheless, I can’t let you disrupt what I have accomplished so far.”

“What you’ve accomplished? Does that have anything to do with missing humans from Eden Prime?”

“They’ve been extracted by my geth and will be put to proper use.”

“What the hell does that mean? What are you doing with them?!”

“You can’t possibly understand what’s really at stake, Nihlus.”

“Then help me understand.”

“You’ve worked the young asari scientist. Seen the evidence. The Reapers cannot be stopped. The Protheans tried and were utterly destroyed. If we work with them, we can be spared. Is submission not preferable to extinction?”

Nihlus scoffed. “Do you think the Reapers will actually let us live?”

Saren shook his head, pacing back in forth in front of Nihlus. “Now you see why I never came forward with this to you or the Council. As organics driven by emotion instead of logic, we will fight even when we know we cannot win.” He stopped in front Nihlus with an outstretched hand. “Nihlus, work with me. Work with the Reapers. We can save so many lives.”

Nihlus stared at his mentor’s hand, filing through emotions of conflict, betrayal, and disappointment. “I can’t do that, Saren. I’ve followed and defended you blindly, but I can’t do that anymore. You’ve crossed a line and obliterated it. Whatever your plans are with that Prothean…You can count me out. And you’re not leaving here with it.”

Saren’s arm fell and dangled at his side, dissatisfied with the response and maybe even hurt with the distance his best friend and protégé was trying to place between them.

“Very well. I think you know that’s there only one way this ends then.”

“I do,” he stated, facing Saren squarely and unyielding. “Only one leaves out of here alive.”

Chapter Text

Nihlus darted from cover to cover, dodging the barrage of bullets that burrowed into the soil just inches away.

What a damn coward, Nihlus thought.

Saren hadn’t fired any shots, letting his geth troopers do all the work. But they were just cannon fodder anyway, eliminated with a single well-aimed bullet. Nihlus marched towards Saren, ready to take this fight hand-to-hand. Saren merely stood there with an indifferent smirk on his face, like he knew secret Nihlus didn’t. Just as he was ready to lunge, Nihlus was yanked back by the collar of his armor and pulled down to the ground. He gazed up at the geth hunter who’d gone undetected due to its cloaking device. Recovering rapidly, Nihlus swung his legs to knock the geth off his feet and jumped up to shoot two rounds straight through its head.

Upon turning around, Nihlus was met with a cheap right hook from Saren, taking advantage of a distracted Nihlus, and rapidly followed with a brute uppercut. Nihlus stumbled back, wiping off the small drip of blood coming out the corner of his mouth with the back of his hand. Saren wasn't pulling any punches. Neither could Nihlus.

Their next moves were matched equally in strength and agility, neither able to land a blow on the other as they both blocked and dodged. The two turians had fought alongside each other so long they naturally knew what move was going to come next. What attack pattern their opponent was prone to using. What their shortcomings are. What were their signature moves are. Nihlus knew if he was going to get the upper hand, he needed to do something new and unpredictable. Nihlus stepped in close, using his elbow to strike Saren near his temple, though Saren moved away enough that Nihlus only grazed him. Yet, the attack cut him still, and Saren was momentarily blinded in one eye by his own blood. Furious that he had actually been hit, Saren pushed Nihlus back with a snarl and thrust the sole of his foot onto Nihlus' knee, causing his legs to buckle. Saren then grabbed his head with his two predacious hands, driving his knee up to clash with the center Nihlus' face. He growled in pain and swiftly jumped out of Saren's reach. Embarrassingly, Nihlus found himself spilling more blood than he ever had before in a fight and judging by their current pace, there was a lot more blood to draw.

But it seemed that Saren had enough of this.

Saren pulled out his gun, pointing at his dear protégé and best friend of many years. Nihlus surveyed his eyes, searching for a remnant of the stern but compassionate soul that once cared what happened to a young turian who’d been raised by a widow; the father figure who took in the adolescent under his wing and showed him what his responsibilities were as a man of the turian race; and the soldier who was willing to train the talented yet troubled youth when all others gave up on him. Nihlus confirmed it after a few, hard seconds: the old Saren Arterius no longer existed within this Reaper puppet. Innate ideals and personality were there, but the core of who and what Saren was had vanished. Nihlus lacked time to draw his weapon. If he tried to reach for it, Saren’s reflexes would kick in one split second and pull the trigger to end Nihlus’ life.

They both heard it simultaneously — a distant shtoomph boomand a disturbance in the air. Sharp whirring propelled towards their location, the sound of a rocket on route to its target. When they spotted the projectile approaching, they momentarily forgot about each other to tend to their own safety. They ran in separate directions, escaping the rocket’s range. It edged more in Saren’s way, so after determining that he was far enough away, Nihlus spun around to see the missile explode into the ground, ultimately missing its mark. A flurry of ammo followed Saren, chasing him away from Nihlus. The battleground and Saren's position were soon masked in the smoke. Nihlus urgently scanned his surroundings, thinking Saren might use the diversion to sneak up on him. He did recognize a presence around him, but it wasn't a threat.

"You've lost your touch, Nihlus," it teased, walking up to be at his side. "Has being a diplomat softened you up?"

"Just needed to warm up is all," he playfully said back, glancing sideways at Alex – awake and alive.

She snorted, "Right. That's why I had to come over and save your ass. Get him away from you. You're lucky I found that missile launcher.”

"I had it all under control," he shrugged with faint reassurance. "You okay?"

"Yeah. Hell of a headache, though."

Nihlus and Alex exchanged short debriefings: solid confirmation that Saren's working with the Reapers – the geth now, too – and the vision from a Prothean named Javik sending Alex a vivid message to make sure that the Reapers never get to wipe out future civilizations like they did to his people.

“I fucking knew it,” she said, keeping a watchful eye for any sign of Saren. “That son of a bitch has been their slave for who knows how long. But the geth…this is worse than I could’ve imagined.”

“Not a slave,” Saren responded, projecting his voice through the dust cloud that was slowly dissipating. The lines of his silhouette sharpened, and they noted that there more figures standing by his side. "A partner and willing participant."

"Willing my ass," Alex spat. "They're controlling you! I've seen the visions from a Prothean himself! I know what the Reapers are capable of. Including indoctrination."

At the same gradual rate the smog leisurely faded, more figures appeared around Saren.

“I was aware the dangers when I joined Sovereign.” Sovereign? That hunk of junk has a name? “My mind is still my own…for now. I will not let the transformation from ally to servant happen to me," he tried to explain in his insane state of mind. It's obviously too late. “And now that you’ve seen what the Reapers can do firsthand, you should know better than anyone that they cannot be defeated.”

“We don’t have to submit to the Reapers, we can beat them!” she argued, not really clear why she was trying to dissuade him – the man she severely hated. One less enemy, she justified. “We’re preparing for that now! You can help us.”

“I’m sorry, Shepard, but the visions cannot be denied. I no longer believe we can win.”

In amazing dramatic timing, the smoke completely lifted at his last word and revealed Saren with a small army of geth – hunters, troopers, primes, and all of the above. There was no sugar coating it. Alex and Nihlus were drastically outnumbered. Given their odds, Saren wondered why the sly looks never left their faces. His fellow Spectres didn’t seem a bit shaken.

Because they truly weren’t.

What Saren always failed to realize, much to his disgust, was how compatible Alex and Nihlus are. One could say what they like about the tumultuous relationship, but on the field, Alex and Nihlus are a well-oiled machine. No one could read each other even in absolute silence as they could or hear their partner’s commands and words in their own unheard language. A perfect partnership. The only anomaly to this formula was Garrus, the secret ingredient that worked even better than the original – fully in tune as inexplicably bonded souls. Nevertheless, they felt good about their odds.

The geth goons made their charge towards the Spectres. Saren spectated from the background as his forces were mowed down by the lethal former lovers with their assault rifles and omni-tool blades. Geth soldiers dropped left and right. The Spectres keen eyes were trained to never miss an enemy, cloaked or not. They adapted to picking up on the hunters that resorted to using their stealth. They kept their distance from the boasting and gargantuan primes who dealt detrimental damage if given the opportunity. Alex and Nihlus were strategic and efficacious without even having the time to plan their assault. The tandem Spectres were unstoppable. Untouchable. For the first time in a long time, Saren wasn’t sure he’d be able to combat two formidable opponents. Good thing he had an ace up his sleeve.

After an elongated fight, they exhausted their ammo, but not before killing every single geth in their path on their way to Saren.

“I suppose I should’ve expected nothing less from my successors,” Saren commended reluctantly as they positioned themselves in front of Saren directly and uncompromising. “But this is far as you two go. I’m leaving here with that Prothean.”

“God, you’re cocky for a man who’s about to get his ass handed to him.”

Saren sniggered vilely. Alex would hate to admit it, but there was a darkness to his words and presence that made her skin crawl. Still, she wasn’t backing down. “You know, I’ve never had the opportunity to challenge the alleged human expert on turian hand-to-hand combat.”

“You’re in luck then,” she said dropping her weapon and cracking her knuckles. Saren scoffed at her pathetic show of intimidation. A torrent of twisted excitement rushed through her veins. A feeling that had been brewing for a long time underneath the surface, awaiting the moment she’d finally get to knock Saren on his ass, or more preferably knock him out cold on his face. Alex believed Saren received her desires through their intense eye contact.

Thump!

Alex looked over at Nihlus. He tossed his rifle off to the side, stating sternly, “You’re not doing this alone.”

“Hey, just because he fucked you up, doesn’t mean he’ll do the same to me,” she frowned.

“Alex,” he repeated harshly.

She rolled her eyes. “Alright, alright.” They did just wipe out a small battalion of deadly synthetic enemies together, so they extra help wouldn’t hurt. “Let’s go.”

Saren didn’t hesitate to make the first move, rushing forward to catch them off guard – all to no avail. It was two against one and with Alex and Nihlus on either side of him and running on good momentum from their previous fight, Saren stood no chance. They kept Saren busy having to defend and attack from both sides. Alternating punches and kicks, one hitting high and the other hitting low at rapid paces. Each hit to his face sprinkled blood over their faces. Every punch to the gut stole a breath of life from him. Every kick to his legs weakened his stance. The gruesome fight endured for several minutes, and even for experienced specialists like them, it was draining. Exerting energy to make powerful punches. Keeping up the speed to ensure their opponent wouldn’t gain the upper hand. Accumulating wear from the hits absorbed. Though Saren had it the worst of all taking double the hits and wielding half the strength. His cobalt blood was splattered everywhere.

Noticing his energy was finally dwindling, Alex drove her fist into Saren’s stomach and knocked the wind out him. He buckled over, and Nihlus executed a brute uppercut ensuing an odious cracking sound. Saren fell backward, and his body went limp. Alex and Nihlus waited a good few seconds before approaching cautiously. She examined his form, bleeding from practically every orifice and missing shattered pieces of plating from his face and torso from Nihlus’ punch. Most importantly, he was incapacitated. Relieved and enervated, Alex sighed as she hinged forward at the hips and placed her hands on her knees - back rounded and chest expanding in rhythm with her heaving. It was finally over.

For extra security, Nihlus moved in to and flipped Saren onto his stomach. He wanted to cuff Saren’s hands behind his back on the chance he woke up. As Nihlus bent down to bind Saren's wrists, Saren's body suddenly started to twitch and light up with ruby electrical charges. Startled, Nihlus stepped back alongside Alex and placed his arm straight out in front of her to keep her back. Saren rose up slowly, unfolding himself as chipped pieces of his armor and natural turian plating fell to the ground. Both were in awe of the previously immobilized turian now able to rise up. At full stature and half of his protective shielding missing, it was clear that Saren was no longer the turian he used to be. Revealed was an entire geth arm grafted in place of his left limb, several cybernetic implants and ports that glowed an electric blue replacing his organs and appendages, and distinctive incandescent eyes similar to the geth flashlights. The feral look in his eyes shook Alex to her core. It unnerved Nihlus. This was a monster of a different construct. What had Saren become?

Chapter Text

Neither of them saw Saren charging. His arm and leg movements were a blurred smear to their slow, adjusting eyes. Saren was too fast, brute and unsparing. The first blow to their faces were explosive. Gashes opened inside their mouths from their teeth smashing against soft flesh. Iron tasting fluid trickled down their throats. It stunned them briefly, but they quickly jumped back into the cold reality that they needed to stay in this fight or else it would sure mean certain death. The next hits came in such a burst, they didn’t have a chance to block or counter. Where their original tactic of attacking Saren from both sides worked the first time, it was futile in this round. Saren agilely deflected their hits and responded with a strike ten times more menacing. They could barely breathe, let alone dodge. Their bodies jerked opposite of the lines of his attacks, keeping them off balance and never allowing them to regain their bearing to fight back. Alex’s turian combat skills were now useless.  

As they were being knocked around senseless, Alex worked out in her head that the Reapers must’ve given him these abilities and he was enhanced by geth. It was unthinkable that he would’ve recovered so hastily on his own after they’d already defeated him, but that had to be it. It was the only conclusion. 

The tide of the battle had changed at a complete one-eighty. Nihlus and Alex were losing at a radical pace and in record time. It seemed like Saren wasn’t tiring or slowing down at all. Surprising to even Alex herself, she was keeping up. Keeping up by barely standing, that is. The first attack should’ve rendered her unconscious, and she would’ve been if it weren’t for all those tireless hours she trained with turians and became their punching bags until she could finally fend for herself. 

Noting the two Spectres were swaying and struggling to maintain cognizance, Saren’s decided to stop playing with his food put this battle to rest. His next maneuver, a whirling tornado of a back kick, sent them tumbling back several meters away, rolling and skidding along the dirt. Alex wounded up on her stomach, cheek pressed into the earth, bleeding from the multiple lacerations, and marred all over. The lack of physical stimuli from her opponent made room for the pain to settle in. She groaned heavily while catching her breath, balked by a sensation like a serrated knife stabbing her in the chest. Her ribs were broken. The simple, involuntary act of supplying her body with oxygen caused rippling agony.  

Even in her state, it wasn’t herself she was worried about. Alex's head faced Nihlus who was lying next to her and coughing in blood-filled fits. Saren had not been equally brutal to the both of them. Nihlus was in far worse condition. Saren’s assaults towards him were powered with rich acrimony. Profound betrayal. Exceptional disappointment. Her attacks were dealt with only bare hatred. Regardless, the simple fact was that they were beaten to a pulp and soon to be dead.  

Alex heard the soil shift under Saren’s feet as he neared them, surely on his way to finish the job. Alex couldn’t let that happen. She pulled out a flash-bang grenade, removed the pin with her teeth and threw it over Saren’s way. Three intermittent blasts erupted from the grenade that diverted Saren’s attention and provided a smoke screen. 

She didn’t know if it was adrenaline, determination or simply a will to live, but Alex managed to take herself and Nihlus somewhere safe. They came across an area of residential bunkers and decided on a random one, hoping there may be some weapons or ammo inside someone’s personal belongings. Alex first grabbed a first-aid kit. Nihlus sat on the floor leaning up against the wall as he let Alex work on his facial injuries, hissing at the sting of the antiseptic. He gazed at her as she tenderly cared for him before she even thought about caring for herself regardless of how black-eyed and bruised she was. As Nihlus wallowed in his pain, he thought to himself how he never quite deserved Alex and hated himself for only realizing now that he cost himself the most amazing woman he’d ever met and good fortune to be engaged to. Nihlus felt like a guilty bag of shit. 

“I’m sorry…” he spoke hoarsely. 

“For what?” She continued dabbing blood off his face, eyes only tearing away momentarily to catch his saddened emeralds. “If I’d just listen to you sooner—” 

“No,” Alex interjected immediately. “We’re not having a pity party or whatever you’re trying to do here.” Her hand withdrew as she shook her head and gave him the bandage she was about to apply on the gash she disinfected, knowing full well he wasn’t going to bother with it. “I’m going to try to find us a weapon.” 

His eyes followed her as she stood up and dug around the small room. He observed the slight limp and her stiff posture. The uneven and shallow breathing. How did she expect them to fight back?  

“Shepard! Nihlus! Come out and finish this!” Saren taunted in a chilly voice. “Are you too scared to face me now?!” 

Saren sounded far away, so Alex continued scavenging, under a little more pressure now. “We have to end this.” 

“You know we’re not fit to,” Nihlus said. 

“Always the pessimist.” 

“Realist,” he corrected. “We’re barely alive.” 

“And I want us to stay alive. Ah, here we are!” Alex found a couple of heavy pistols in a drawer. She shuffled over to Nihlus and rested her back against the wall, letting herself slide down to sit on the floor next to him. Alex passed him the second pistol. 

“I don’t blame you for anything,” she told him.  

“You don’t act like it.” 

Alex half shrugged. “It’s easier to be mad at you than to–”  

“Admit you still have feelings for me and be nice,” Nihlus finished for her, chuckling. She smiled and nodded. Alex never thought she’d ever get the chance to fight alongside by Nihlus like this again. Nostalgia took over their minds and ran them through memories of training as a mentor and mentee, hanging out at bars as friends, on missions as comrades, and intimate moments as lovers. Alex placed her hand over his resting in his lap.  

“So how about it? Let’s do this…one last time?” Cryptic to say this would be the last time they’d march into battle, but somehow, they both knew it. If this was going to be their last fight ever, they could at least go out together giving it all they had left. 

Nihlus and Alex ducked stealthily out of the structure, armed with their pistols and single-mindedness to take out Saren once and for all. They advanced through the residential area of the colony, walking back to back scanning for Saren when they spotted him around the corner, about to search an empty home. Together, Alex and Nihlus fired their pistols several times – specifically aiming for the vital points – until there was nothing left in the magazine. A waste. Each bullet ricocheted off Saren, apparently now equipped with a biotic barrier. 

“When did he become a fucking biotic?!” Alex questioned out loud, another skill clearly gifted to him by the Reapers. Before she knew it, Saren jolted into Alex with a biotic charge, leaving a stream of sapphire radiance behind him. She didn’t think it was possible, but his strength was augmented. So when Saren collided with Alex, he sent her flying backward into a heap of construction debris, and when she landed, she let out a horrifying scream. The events happened so fast. One second, Nihlus was staring at Saren at a distance and then the next he was gaping at Alex impaled through the abdomen by a steel rod in a waste pile.  

“Alex!” Nihlus shouted, launching off to run to her aid, but Saren caught him and flipped him around to deliver more rampant strikes. He pummeled Nihlus into the ground. When another attack didn’t come, Nihlus peered up. Much to his astonishment, Saren was holding his hand out to him. 

“Join me, Nihlus. You’ve now experienced the power of the Reapers before your very eyes. This power can be yours, too.” Nihlus glanced at Saren’s hand, then over at Alex, tearfully grunting as she attempted to dislodge herself. “Forget about her. She’ll bleed out in due time. If you come with me, we’ll fix you up. And then some.” 

Nihlus shot him a glare full of hatred and resentment. “You think you own me, but I’m stronger than you, Saren. I won’t be used by you or the Reapers,” he said through gritted teeth. 

Saren’s mandibles pinched against his face, and he abruptly turned, stomping towards Alex. Nihlus deeply tried to get up and stop him from whatever he was going to do to her, though he was too much in a frail state. Saren callously plucked Alex from her skewer, resulting in an eardrum-piercing scream. Blood flooded from her wounds as he dragged her over by her black hair, kicking and flailing. Saren chucked her over at Nihlus. Wide-eyed, Nihlus keened and crawled to her. She was essentially half-dead, paler than normal from the loss of blood. The rising fighting spirit was overturned. 

“If that’s what you’ve decided, then allow me to end your lives together like the trash that you are.” 

Saren violently forced Nihlus up onto his knees, then hauled up Alex’s limp body to do the same. Alex hocked a thick, blood-coated mass of spit at Saren’s feet. Enraged and disrespected, Saren snatched a fist full of Alex’s raven locks and pulled her head back about to give her the beating of a lifetime. With her head pulled at an angle, Alex’s neck was exposed and revealed to Saren the most repulsive thing he’d ever seen. A bond mark. On a human. On this human. Saren growled and let her go, eyes flashing to Nihlus. 

“You marked her as your mate?!” Saren snarled. “How far you’ve fallen, Nihlus.” 

“Speak for yourself,” Nihlus spat. “You betrayed the very people you were sworn to protect. When everyone finds out what you’ve done here, you’ll be known as a disgrace to our people and the entire galaxy.” Fueled by more rage and with a vicious roar, Saren battered Nihlus into the ground, a force that came down in his head like a freight train. Alex cried out his name, feeling helpless that there was nothing she could do. Saren picked him up and placed him onto his knees again. He looked over to at Alex and crouched down in front of her, level with her field of vision. Saren snatched her head by the underside of her chin with one hand and squeezed her face within his palm. Saren always hated this human. Every little thing about her irked him, down to the crimson eyes glowing with detestation. It filled him with joy to know that he would be the reason those eyes would soon go dark. 

Roughly, he turned her head forcibly to face Nihlus who was already watching her, on edge wondering what Saren’s next move was going to be. The two ex-fiancés immediately found each other’s eyes and were stung with the physical near-death appearance of the other.  

One last time, they had said. 

“You should be grateful that I’m giving you both one last chance to say your goodbye’s before I kill you,” Saren told them. For whatever the reason it was, they were thankful and immediately took him up on the offer. 

“No matter what we’ve been through, Alex…I’ve always loved you and always will.”  

 Alex’s vision became hazy with tears. A choked-up laugh broke through her lips, inappropriately happy that she got to hear those words another time. “I love you, too Nihlus.” 

In one smooth motion, Saren shot Nihlus in the chest killing him instantly. Alex wailed in distress, ache swelling inside of her chest as Nihlus’ body dropped dead in the dirt. Still within Saren’s grasp, Alex tried to break free and miraculously fight back. With all the lingering strength she was able to forage from her bones, Alex activated her omni-tool blade and executed a rapid uppercut, but Saren stepped back out of range by just a breath. The blade clashed against Saren’s armor, shrieking with flying sparks. Saren retaliated swiftly. 

Alex found herself dangling a couple of feet off the ground, neck imprisoned by a turian talon and staring into Saren’s icy eyes. Alex wrapped her hands around his wrist, trying to unfasten his hold, but she was merely a rag doll against the upgraded turian. 

“I was merciful with Nihlus because he was a close friend, but you… I’m going to enjoy drawing out your death and making you suffer.” Alex tried to speak, but her airways were too narrowed by Saren’s clutch. “All these years you claimed to be just as skilled as me but look at where you are now. Pathetic and weak. You couldn’t save Nihlus, and you can’t save yourself.” 

His grip was firm and unwavering. Saren was sure her life was fleeting slowly and painfully, so he wondered why a grin suddenly swept over her face. 

Kaboom kaboom! 

Two consecutive explosions originated from the direction of Saren’s Reaper ship. His hands unintentionally loosened around her neck and Alex managed a dry snicker. Saren glowered at the human within his palm. “What did you do?!” 

With a smug smile, she explained with shaky projection, “Before I came to save Nihlus, I ran across a small group of geth. Looked like they were protecting something important, so I took them out. Turns out it was a comm jammer. I set some bombs to go off and activate a beacon distress call. You just heard the bombs so all Alliance ships within range should be here in just a couple of minutes now that they’ve heard my message asking for help. You won’t be able to draw out my death as long as you want unless you want an entire fleet surrounding you.” 

“You filthy fucking bitch!” he snapped, and his grip hugged her neck so tightly that she couldn’t even catch one last gasp of breath. 

Alex’s head was spinning and the edges her sight became dark. Her lungs were desperate for oxygen, and her hands clawed at his wrist. Mind was disappearing. The image of Saren became hazy. His ghastly gaze never tore away from her, savoring every second of her dying and suffering. Alex let out one final unheard scream and her arms dropped to her side, pendulous as all life energy escaped her.  

Alexandria Shepard is dead.