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and a shield upon her palm

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"Rodriguez, you better not be showing off over there!"

Rodriguez, who is absolutely showing off, yelps and jumps about a foot in the air, hastily dropping the shimmering field around her as she searches the plaza for the source of the shout.

"N-no ma'am! Sorry, ma'am! I was just, uh, practicing! Ma'am."

Jack folds her arms and raises her eyebrow while Octavia laughs into her hand. She's only seen the new teacher from afar; the young woman is wearing a "Kiss Me, I'm Biotic" tank top and excessively-short cutoffs, which is still more clothing than Octavia's seen her in since she joined the staff a month ago. Grissom Academy imposes a fairly strict dress code on its students, but clearly Jack doesn't think it applies to her. With the stories Octavia's heard about her, they're probably too scared to try and enforce it.

"Oh!" Octavia finds her forearm abruptly clamped in a viselike grip. David has leapt to his feet, scattering his quantum mechanics homework across the floor, and is now pulling her across the quad. She's been friends with him long enough to know that trying to reclaim her hand will be futile, so she allows herself to be confusedly propelled along.

"You," David says, coming to a halt several feet away, and offers nothing further. Jack cocks her head, looking him up and down, and is suddenly transformed. Octavia knows only a little about her—Cerberus experiment gone wrong, former convicted murderer, and part of the legendary Commander Shepard's team to save the known universe from the nightmarish Collectors—but for all the horror stories, the smile that spreads across Jack's face is soft and kind.

"Hey, kid," she says. She takes in the ugly scars that crisscross David's face and trail beneath the collar of his uniform. "How you doing?"

"Alive," David says. "You gave me a blanket."

"Yeah, well," says Jack, glancing away. One hand reaches up almost absently to trace one of her own scars: a thick, angry red line that flows from the base of her ear all the way down the side of her neck to her shoulder. "You looked like you needed it."

Octavia looks over at David curiously. He doesn't talk about his past much. She knows he had a brother who worked for Cerberus, and then something had happened"Loud," he'd shouted, before curling into a ball, rocking back and forth with his hands clamped over his ears, and she hadn't wanted to pry again after that.

"David, how do you know her?—Hi, Professor, uh, Jack."

He turns to look at her, or at least her left ear. "She gave me a blanket," he repeats. "She helped make it quiet."

Once again Octavia finds her eyes drawn to the twin puncture scars at David's temples, the even lines like stitches across his lips. Nausea roils in her stomach at the thought of what he's been through. Jack isn't the only one that Cerberus has hurt.

"Look," David says, pulling Octavia's hand up to present it to the professor as if for inspection. "This is Octavia. Sometimes she helps me count when remembering is too loud. She makes it quiet too." Octavia doesn't say anything, but she feels the heat creeping into her cheeks. Coming from David, that's about as high as praise gets.

Jack studies her for a moment, considering. "Your last name's Cardoña, right?"

"Yes ma'am."

"Your professors say good things about you." She smiles, less widely than she had upon seeing David, but no less sincere for it. "I'm glad David's making friends."

"Well," says Octavia earnestly, "I'm glad to be his friend."

David's smile is dazzling, but the professor's still appraising her. The woman can't be more than two or three years her elder, but Octavia still squirms a little under her scrutiny.

"Yeah," Jack says finally, and maybe Octavia imagines the sudden hitch in her voice. "Listen, kid—" this is to David— "anyone ever gives you any shit, you come to me, got it?"

David nods vigorously. "Okay."

"You too, Cardoña."

"Uh, yes, ma'am."

The ten-minute alert chimes, signifying the start of evening classes, and Jack nods politely and turns to leave. "Oh," she calls back over her shoulder from halfway across the quad, "and tell Rodriguez to stop showing off!"

Behind Octavia, Rodriguez makes a sound like a mouse being stepped on.